There’s a Japanese proverb, Nana korobi, ya oki, which means “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
Donna is possibly the definition of standing up in the face of adversity. Despite setbacks in a financial journey that spans several decades, Donna’s life is built on a foundation of perseverance, resilience, and a strong work ethic she’s passed on to her daughters.
Though she’s an optimist by nature, Donna admits, “I’m not always positive. I have my moments where I grumble and complain and say everything under the sun. But I vent it and let it out, and I don’t give up. Ever.”
Donna believes she learned about perseverance and the value of work from her parents, when she was a child.
“Growing up, my father lost his business in the mid-70s, after a financial crash. He lost more than $500,000, which he was never able to recover. My mom got a job, and eventually my father did too, and we didn’t have a lot but we never went without the necessities of food on the table, clothes, and a roof over our heads. They did what they had to do because the rest of us were relying on them.”
Donna’s own financial struggles date back to when she herself was a young mom with three daughters and her then-husband became disabled and could no longer work. She took a part-time job to keep the household afloat, but despite their best efforts, the couple fell behind on their mortgage, due in part to a two-and-a-half year delay in receiving the social security disability benefits her husband was entitled to.
Donna’s parents stepped up to help. “They took out a second mortgage on their house to save ours,” she explains, “and when my ex-husband started receiving his disability benefits, we were able to get a new mortgage and start over.”
Eventually, though, Donna and her husband divorced, and her finances took yet another massive hit. She became a single mom working three jobs to make ends meet. “I was on a rollercoaster of just trying to get by with my girls, but I didn’t give up.”
Though her schedule was grueling, Donna felt the lessons she was imparting to her daughters were worth it.
“My daughters may not have had everything growing up, like fancy electronics, but we always had what we needed. There are so many people who don’t even have the basics.”
When her daughters got old enough for cell phones, Donna informed them, “If you want a cell phone, you’ll need to get a job.” Each of her daughters has worked since they were 14. “When you have to work for something, you appreciate it more than when it’s handed to you,” she says.
In 2013 Donna met her fiancé, and they’ve supported each other through good times and bad ever since.
“My fiancé and I lost all four of our parents within three years,” says Donna, “and none of them had life insurance.” The debt she and her fiancé incurred covering the costs of funerals and other bills set them back significantly.
“Our credit was in the low 500s,” says Donna. “We were back at square one, starting over.” Donna says she started paying down as much debt as she could. “I pay my bills on time, if not early, and I don’t just pay the minimum, but will pay whatever extra I can whenever possible.”
Donna’s efforts paid off — her credit has climbed into the upper 600s.
But life still had more curveballs ahead for Donna and her partner.
When her fiancé, an auto-mechanic, had to leave his job due to a disability that endangered his safety on the job, Donna once again became the breadwinner for her household, a role she says she doesn’t mind, though she struggles with health challenges of her own. “That’s what families do, they take care of each other. Every relationship is a give and take. You step up when it’s your turn.”
Donna has also been stepping up for her middle daughter, much the same way her own mother stepped up for her. For years, Donna both worked and helped take care of her grandchildren while her daughter worked two jobs as a single mother. “But my daughter recently got a new job that doubled her salary, so I still watch my grandkids, but every once in a while.”
Donna describes another time she and her fiancé struggled when one of their vehicles was repossessed, leaving her without a way to get to work. “A good friend co-signed the loan on a used car for me until we could get on our feet.”
She can sympathize with those who get knocked off track by one hardship. “You need a car to get to work, or like my daughter, you need childcare so you can work, and if just one thing goes wrong—it’s a vicious cycle,” she says.
In early 2021, Donna contracted COVID-19 at her job in a doctor’s office, which subsequently infected her partner. She still suffers from symptoms that compound her already-challenged immune system.
Recently, Donna’s home was destroyed in an electrical fire, made worse by the fact that her partner was unable to detect the first signs of smoke due to losing his sense of smell from COVID-19. While everyone, including pets, was thankfully okay, the insurance claim didn’t come close to replacing their home. Donna and her partner are temporarily living in a camper they own, while contemplating their next move, which may include renting a house or an apartment.
Despite the setbacks and challenges, Donna remains upbeat. “We’ll just see where the next step takes us.”
Donna glows with pride when talking about her adult daughters and their achievements. It’s clear the perseverance and resilience Donna learned from her parents has been passed down to the next generation.
“All of my children put themselves through college,” she says, beaming.
Donna’s oldest daughter attended a prestigious university, spent time teaching abroad, received a Fullbright scholarship, and is currently working towards her PhD. Her middle daughter earned a bachelor’s degree while working full time and single-parenting two children, graduating Summa Cum Laude. Her youngest daughter attended the same university as her oldest daughter, studied in South America, and recently started a program that teaches kids gardening and cooking skills.
Donna says she cultivates a sense of empathy by reminding herself and her family, “No matter what problems we have, someone always has it worse.”
Her sensitivity to others who “have it worse” and struggle after setbacks is remarkable. “If I ever win the lottery, I’ve always said I would buy land and build small homes, one or two bedrooms, just for people who need to get back on their feet, who need a safe place to live while they get going again—that’s what I’ll be doing if I win the lottery.”
Donna’s situation is still full of uncertainty. Rent is exorbitant in her area, so she’s not sure when she and her partner will be able to move out of their camper. Plus, they both have serious health challenges that impact their ability to earn a living.
True to her nature, Donna remains hopeful. Her goals include getting her credit score into the 700’s, financing a car in her name, and buying a home.
It would be easy for Donna to throw up her hands and believe it’s impossible to change her circumstances - why bother? But that’s not her style. As she puts it, when people hit a challenge, “they think it’s the end. It’s not. It’s really the beginning, a new opportunity to try again.”