Learning to Take Care of Yourself First

After a lifetime spent making things work, Mission Lane card member Beatrice learns that in order to help others, you first need to help yourself.


Alex Cramer

Beatrice has spent her entire life putting things together and making them work. She began her career as an assembly line worker when she was just nineteen and was responsible for constructing the products made by some of America’s most iconic brands. 

“I worked on an assembly line for Chrysler. I also worked on the assembly line for Otis where we did all of the elevators and then I worked on an assembly line for RCA where we did the TVs. My last job was for General Electric where we built refrigerators.”

Working in manufacturing for more than thirty years taught her that success is only possible when the entire team comes together and does their job the right way because even a single mistake can ruin a product. 

“When you're working in a factory on an assembly line, everyone has to do their job correctly or it's not going to work. When you’re building a refrigerator, you can have just one screw out of place or one wire missing, and the entire door won’t work.”

Beatrice realized that what is true for an assembly line is true for a family as well because it only takes one person's mistake to hurt everyone else. 

Struggling to Keep her Family Together 

Illustration by Kyle Duong

That’s why even though she spent her entire life working hard and earning a good paycheck, she still found herself struggling with money because her husband wasn’t paying his share of their bills.

“When we were together, we’d split the bills down the middle and each pay half. But what I found out was that he wasn’t paying his bills and my credit was being dragged down because of his decisions.”

She faced further challenges when she found herself taking financial care of several family members, including her adult children and grandchildren. 

“We were just taking care of the family because we had the most money. One family member got into a horrible marriage that cost a lot of money to get out of. We adopted our youngest grandchild in 2009. We almost adopted another grandchild, who is now being cared for by a different family member. It was expensive to keep that grandchild out of the foster system and with our family.”

There’s no question Beatrice loves her family and wanted to do everything she could to take care of them, but the financial demands and lack of support from her husband left her stretched thin until she fell behind on her bills and watched her credit score plummet. 

She had big dreams for her retirement but she knew they wouldn’t be able to achieve them until she got her financial life back in order. 

Reclaiming her Financial Freedom

Illustration by Kyle Duong

“I decided in my late 50s that I would try to go forward and just clean up my credit and make it better. I want to travel to Canada. I want to be able to fly and do the things I want to do. I’ve realized that you have to take care of you first. You can’t keep helping other people if you can’t help yourself.”

She made a major life change. After 49 years of marriage, she divorced her husband and took back her financial freedom and independence. 

“I decided to separate my finances from my husband. Now I have my own bank account but we still have shared debt.”

Beatrice found that rebuilding her financial life took the same level of hard work and commitment as assembling an intricate elevator car or a new refrigerator. 

I got my credit report and started disputing mistakes and getting them deleted. I wrote letters to the creditors to challenge negative items that were bringing my score down, and if the items weren’t in compliance with the rules I got them removed.”

Building Back Credit with new Habits

Illustration by Kyle Duong

Beatrice knew she needed to do more to improve her credit rating, so she went about scouring all the resources she could think of to learn how to get her financial life back in order. 

“I would go on YouTube and watch videos to see what it took to get rid of certain things on my credit report that were keeping my score down. I used the Fair Trade Commission website to learn how to clean up my credit. I really had to educate myself on what I needed to do.”

After researching her options, Beatrice decided to prioritize her debt and pay off multiple credit cards at once. 

“Instead of paying down one bill at a time, I started paying all of them down so you get two or three paid off at the same time. In some cases, if I had a medical bill for $300, and I had extra money, I would just pay it off because those bills never go away unless you pay them.”

She even negotiated with her creditors to see if they would settle for less than what she owed. 

“You can negotiate with them too and I got three of them to give me a settlement offer. So I could pay them off right away for less money. That helped a lot.”

The hard work paid off. Not only is her credit score improving, but she’s receiving offers for additional credit. 

“It feels great that people now see me as trustworthy to have credit again.”

Take Care of Yourself so you can Take Care of Others

Illustration by Kyle Duong

Now, instead of giving her money to family, she gives them guidance so they can improve their own financial situations.

“I teach my relatives what I know. I’ve been talking to my niece and helping her get her credit straight. I always want to share what I know and help pull the next person up.”

Working on an assembly line is hard. But rebuilding your credit after decades of helping other people is even harder. Beatrice learned a lot of tough lessons in the process but one of the most important was to never lose sight of her own needs, even as she was helping others.

“What I learned was never spend everything that I had. Never spend it all. They call it a side pocket. I always have a side pocket and save for me first because I never want to have to look to someone else for help. Giving to others is not the solution before you give to yourself first. That’s my mission statement.”

Rebuilding her finances took time, effort, patience and a commitment to learning, but now Beatrice’s credit is as solid as the elevator cars and home appliances she used to build. 

“I’m independent now and that’s what I’m most proud of.”