The Surprising Help I Got When I Hit Financial Rock Bottom

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Over the past few years, the media has made a big deal about the “boomerang generation” — twentysomethings who decide to move home with their parents while they look for gainful employment or recover from an economic rough patch. But for some of us, moving back home with Mom and Dad isn’t so simple. When I was hitting financial and emotional rock bottom a couple years ago, I was taken in by family, but not the one I’m related to by blood.

In 2013, I decided to take a risk and a significant pay cut in order to pursue a different line of work. I finally left a job I hated at an education nonprofit for an internship at an environmental group that paid a paltry $1,000 a month. It wasn’t nearly enough to cover my Chicago rent and my monthly student loan payments, let alone pay for food, insurance, and other necessities. But I was in a long-term relationship, and my boyfriend promised that he would pick up more of the shared expenses while I pursued my dream. I was thrilled by the new career opportunity and that I had found a partner who would support me and believe in me during a rocky time.

But suddenly, everything went to hell in the most spectacular way. My relationship was crumbling — if I’m being honest, it should have ended six months earlier. To make matters worse, we very abruptly had to leave the apartment that we shared with another couple. One of our roommates was struggling with intense and frightening mental health issues, including a drug addiction problem, and repeated threats of self-harm and suicide.

Suddenly, everything went to hell in the most spectacular way.

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In less than a month, I found myself without a boyfriend, without an apartment, and working a job that didn’t pay enough to cover close to half of my monthly bills. Naturally, I was a mess. I’ve always prided myself on my work ethic and I had been financial independent since graduating from high school. Now I was faced with not having enough money in my savings account to find a new apartment. I was out of options and worried that the only solution was to move back in with my parents in Minnesota.

I wasn’t ready to leave Chicago, though, and the life I had worked so hard to build here. It might have made short-term financial sense to return to my hometown, but in the long run, it felt like a bad career move. And to tell the truth, I just wasn’t ready to admit that level of defeat.

So I swallowed my pride and texted my friends John and Daniel, asking if I could live with them for awhile, just long enough to get through my internship and then find regular employment. They texted me back with a yes in under 10 minutes. I have known these two since college, we were close, and they are some of the most generous people I know. They have a two-bedroom apartment on the northwest side of Chicago, so there was certainly room for me. It was risky, though: It’s one thing to be friends and a whole other thing to rely on people for major financial and emotional support. I wasn’t afraid to admit that I needed help. And I was lucky that they were willing to welcome me into their home without a second thought.

The initial deal was that I’d just stay for the summer. I thought that would be enough time to sort out my life and find a full-time job. And as soon I had a plan, I felt an instant wave of relief flood over me. I was so lucky to have such amazing friends to help me at this low point — and over the year that we lived together, I was overwhelmed by the amount of generosity they showed me. (Yes, that’s right, it took me a full 12 months to truly get back on my feet and move into my own place.)

I worried constantly that I was taking advantage of John and Daniel. And some people might say that I did. They charged me very little rent, never expected me to chip in for utilities, and often picked up the whole bill if we went out for dinner. But it was more than just the financial support that got me through that rough time. The two of them have always been great at listening to me rant and encouraging me when I’m down. Daniel let me lean on his shoulder and cry like a baby when my boyfriend and I finally broke up, and both of them cheered me on when I started meeting new people.

I knew this wasn’t a moment to be prideful.

My ego definitely took a hit. But I knew it wasn’t forever. And I knew this wasn’t a moment to be prideful. We joked that they were my parents and I was their boomerang millennial who’d fallen on hard times. A sense of humor is essential when you’re struggling like I was. And so is a sense of gratitude. I did everything I could to pitch in around John and Daniel’s home and make things easier for them. I helped with their two dogs, kept things tidy, and lent a hand when they decided to redo their backyard. That might have been the most rewarding project. I was going through a breakup, I had very little money, and my career outlook was shaky at best. Using giant tools and throwing sod around felt great.

It’s been more than two years since I texted John and Daniel asking for help and they opened their home to me. I’ve been living in my own apartment for more than nine months now, and while I’m happy to have my independence, I miss living with them. I also feel indebted to them in a way that I have never felt toward any other friend. I still wonder how I could repay them — and I’m not sure I ever can. But I wouldn’t hesitate to help them in a minute. And in truth, I would do the same thing for other friends. No matter how well it seems your life is going, things can change on a dime. Even if you work hard, financial security is never a promise. I was out of cash a couple years ago, but I was fortunate enough to have friends who are as close as family.
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