I have never hidden the fact that since I lost my flower business and got divorced five years ago, that I was in financial ruin. Starting your life over again at 36 with $500 is not an easy task. I have clawed my way back, often having less than $20 to my name as I traveled. I didn’t grow up rich, but I grew up resilient. So to say I know how to get by on very little is an understatement.
But that isn’t my financial reality right now. I might not having much in savings, but I have paid off my debts and live within my means. If I don’t have cash for something I don’t buy it. I look at every purchase and ask myself – is this a want or a need? You can bet I know the difference.
My campfire selfie the night – just hours before the stress of being without money in the middle of nowhere kicked in.
I was camping in Denali National Park this past week photographing the wildlife. I came into McKinley Park and went to the Salmon Bake. I needed to warm up as I was freezing and I had to work, plus they had great WiFi. I ordered a cup of coffee, soup and a bite to eat. It came up to $26 with tip (things are not cheap in Alaska!). Imagine my surprise when the server returned with my PayPal debit card and told me it was rejected. Twice.
Rejected? That is a brand new card! My old one had expired and they sent a new one just a few weeks before to my dad who forwarded it on to me in Alaska. PayPal had canceled my old card, but had turned it back on when I told them that I was without access to funds if they did that. I immediately called PayPal as I have had great customer service with them in the past. I was STUNNED when they told me they couldn’t turn my card back on. Why not? The credit card number had been leaked over a year ago in that whole Target credit card fiasco.
Wait. You turned off my card a year after the numbers were leaked? Am I missing something here? Well, turn it back on!!! I had exactly $26 cash on me and my USAA debit card that had less than $30 in that account as I had just paid all of my bills for the month. The day before I filled up my gas tank and had less than half a tank now. From my calculations, I would make it to the little town of Talkeetna before I ran out of gas, still over a hundred miles away from Anchorage where I could ask for help. I was 250 miles from Anchorage, which takes a full tank of gas from Denali.
You see, the money was still in my PayPal account and I could transfer it to other people, but I couldn’t physically withdraw any of it. It would take 2-3 days to transfer money to my USAA bank account. Three days of surviving on $26. Seriously? I needed gas and food as all I had with me were some cashews and fruit chews. I hadn’t packed for a long road trip as I was just stopping in Denali on my way back from Fairbanks to Anchorage. The tears formed in my eyes as I realized I was screwed.
I’m in the middle of nowhere! I knew two people in Denali that day – one was on a moose hunt without cell service and the other was deep in the National Park photographing bears with no cell service. This is not the place where you want to be with only $26 available and gas was over $3.50 a gallon!
I was so upset and frustrated that I posted an update to my Facebook wall. I didn’t write it to solicit help, but rather to shout from the rooftops about how angry and pissed off I was. Just like the text I sent my brother – I’m not asking you to fix it, I just need a place to vent.
The responses to this post floored me. When I first wrote this status I was overwhelmed, scared, and so damn angry. My friends not only gave me solutions, ideas, a place to vent, but even offers of help, which I never saw coming. You want to wire me money (how does that even work?) or call in a pizza for me? I wasn’t expecting that and it took me by surprise. I was crying from gratitude at the end of the day. I am so used to doing everything alone that I forget that I truly am not alone in this world. I have friends and family that are there for me, even when I don’t know I need them the most.
I had friends sending me private messages and texts. One friend wasn’t too far away and would fill up my tank and give me some cash if I could get to her. Another sent me money via Facebook’s new Payment via Messenger. It was overwhelmingly for me. I couldn’t stop the tears. I didn’t want to take anyone’s money, I wanted to be self-sufficient. This experience made me feel like I had way too many times in my life – broke and not able to fix it. But I wasn’t broke, I just couldn’t get to my money. It was like it was beyond a glass wall that was just out of reach. You could see it, you just couldn’t touch it. So incredibly annoying and frustrating, to say the least.
I headed back to my campsite and continued reading Wild by Cherl Strayed. Ironically, I was at the part where she got down to just two cents on her journey. I was reading the same feelings in her that I was experiencing. This book mirrored parts of my life that I am still struggling to put into words. But in this moment, sitting around this campfire, I felt as if a woman I have never met was sitting beside me. I took this photo as everything in it says so much about me if you look hard enough.
This picture is more reflective of me than any selfie ever will be.
The next day I was still very angry at PayPal for putting me in this situation to begin with and I sent a Tweet out to them. The PayPal supervisor had told me that if they found that PayPal was at fault, that they would offer me compensation. They gave me $20. I’m sorry, but I just didn’t think that was enough for what I was going through. It would take 7 days before I had a new debit card in my hands. Seven days of worrying when I didn’t need to be. 7 days of not having enough money for gas, food, lodging, whatever. $20? Sorry, not nearly enough.
— Kristi Trimmer (@KristiTrimmer) September 10, 2015
PayPal reached out to me via Twitter and through a phone call and was just as stumped as I was on how to fix this. The PayPal rep was incredibly nice and was trying quite a few different things to make this right. They ended up wiring money from my PayPal account to my non-PayPal bank and it would fund in 24 hours. I used my last $20 cash to buy a tank of gas. I had just one more night to get through before I would have money again. The next day I had enough funds to get me through the weekend as I still wait for my new card to arrive.
This lesson taught me a few things I’d like to share.
- Keep cash on you or hidden in your things.
- Have more than one debit or credit card when crossing remote areas
- It is ok to admit when you are in a bind. It is even more ok to accept help when it is offered. This one is super tough for me.
- Have a contingency plan in place if you find yourself without access to your money online. We have become a society that has gone digital. Well, sometimes that digital world fails us and we need to be prepared for it.
For everyone who sent me positive thoughts, reached out in whatever way, or offered to help me – THANK YOU. Remembering that I am not alone is the biggest lesson I still struggle with. Thanks for the gentle reminder that I’m not alone, I have all of you out here with me.