Monday, August 31, 2009

Portrait: Puyallup, Washington

My husband and I have spent our entire young adulthood making what we thought were the "right" choices. He got me through nursing school so I could get a good job and I could, in turn, get him through chiropractic school so he could get his own great job. We moved to Vancouver, WA and he started school in Portland, OR. We had our daughter while he was in school and I was working a job that was less than ideal...we just knew that after he was done with his program, we could move home, he would be hired on in a thriving practice, and I could drop back to part-time work. My dream is to work only a couple days a week so I can primarily be home with our beautiful two year old. 2009 was going to be the year our "real life" started--great jobs, the stress of student life behind us, maybe our second child?? Back in March, when my husband graduated and we were moving home, life seemed exciting and without limits.

Fast forward to now, nearly six months later. Shortly before moving home, we made the stupid, stupid decision to buy a house we can't afford, assuming (stupidly) that a chiropractor and a nurse combo team would make excellent money and an outrageous mortgage wouldn't be so outrageous after all. We were lured by the promise of being able to refinance in a year...which hasn't happened, despite my husband's repeated efforts to contact our bank and inquire about our refinancing options. He is continually told to call back in a month, maybe then a new opportunity will come available.

I immediately went back to the job I had before we moved. At first, my husband got a job in a clinic as an associate chiropractor and for a month (maybe six weeks?) things seemed like they were settling down. We were paying our bills and trying to pay off our credit cards, I was working three days a week, we enrolled our daughter in a fantastic (if very, very expensive) daycare. But then my husband suddenly just...stopped making money. He was never hired with a salary, only on a per-patient-visit basis. And let's face it, people. Chiropractic care is not a necessity, it's a luxury. People weren't flocking in to see him, and the insurance payments on the few people he was seeing were taking weeks and weeks to roll in. First, he went two weeks without a paycheck. Then three, then four...we were able to piece it together during that time, eating up what was left of our savings, but eventually we realized he was essentially working for free...not the plan we had in mind when we were struggling all those years to get him through school.

He quit working at that clinic, after going six weeks with no paycheck, and the owner of the practice still owes him money. Apparently, it is still tied up in insurance payments. Let's hear it for insurance companies, yes? We went on an uber-budget immediately while he started pounding the pavement looking for a new position as a salaried associate chiropractor. I went back to work full-time. He finds odd jobs working for family, a paint job here, roofing a barn there...all while still trying to find work in the field he loves.

And I am feeling desperate. Like so many other Americans, I am just trying to hold it together and praying that my paycheck will cover all the bills this month. I have $2500 in credit card debt and it eats at me. I have never carried such a high amount on my credit card and I am ashamed to even type in the amount, but there it is. I make payments every month and I feel like the balance never changes.

I try to focus on the positive in my life, but that, along with my faith in my small family, is starting to unravel. I am grateful for my job and bitter at the same time that I have to spend 40 hours a week there. I am thankful we have enough money to spend on groceries each week but growing weary of the stress that goes along with trying to make only $100 per week feed three people. I remind myself that we still have extras...a great daycare for our daughter and a membership to the YMCA, but I am filled with sadness and dread that these extras might have to be cut in a month or two, if my husband still can't find work. And I am constantly humbled, and flabbergasted, that things like quality daycare and a gym membership have shifted from the "necessary" to the "extra" category in my budget and my mind.

We are not where we thought we would be in 2009. We have no savings, we are (still) living paycheck to paycheck, and my husband has no job. At least I know we are not the only people struggling. Thank you for keeping this blog...I am hoping to email an update in a month or two saying my husband is employed and things are turning around. I guess we'll see.

Amy Murray
Puyallup, Washington

Monday, August 24, 2009

Portrait: Vermillion South Dakota

A few years ago, I was 22 and enjoying my own quiet riot of excess and stupidity.  I was mindless about everything.  Mindlessly dating and sleeping with a man that didn't love me and vice versa.  Mindlessly wracking up thousands in stupid debt, living off of my mother, and just sort of bouncing from idea to idea of what I wanted to do with my life.  I didn't really care or realize the damage I was doing to my future, until I got pregnant with my daughter.  Instantly things changed in my mind and mentality but not necessarily my life.  I broke up with my daughters father, he terminated his parental rights, and I realized how desperately I needed to get myself together.

So, I took a short break (so I thought) from school, got a full time job and bought ridiculously expensive things for my baby girl.  I had no idea of the actual needs for an infant nor of how drastically your finances change with a child.  I was suddenly dead ass broke and desperate.  I met and married my husband in a fiery hurry and realized he was even worse off than I am financially.  We were both stupid and excessive- having drained our savings accounts, lived off of plastic, and not caring at all.  However with a baby and a tender new marriage we had to face facts- no one was going to save us anymore.  It was like looking down the barrel of a gun.

Between our two short lifetimes of collective financial stupidity, he and I had managed to accumulate well over $20k in debt, not including student loans.  We had to borrow money from both of our families to get rid of as much as possible but a funny thing occurs with debt- it never really goes away.  There's always more of it popping up everywhere in your life once you get the vicious cycle started.  Ever heard of zombie debt?  Well, apparently debt collectors can sell your debt files to other companies before you pay it off and they dont have to tell the new company that you paid it off.  So you can get hit up for repayment on your debt several different times.

Isn't that swell?

Then this recession hits.  We were not even living paycheck to paycheck, that wasnt even CLOSE to covering everything.  We both were in school, working, getting government aid because we're parents and still couldn't make ends meet.  We were also painfully awful at budgeting.  It's so embarassing.  I can barely even face myself in the mirror sometimes, I'm so embarrassed by my own financial stupidity.  We've cut back and don't live glamourously by any means but still cannot make ends meet.  

We just had our second child and I got a tubal.  We talk daily about the dreams we have of financial comfort and stability and the life we want to give our kids but honestly, I wonder if we really actually can give them anything other than poverty.  I'm going back to school to become a nurse, my husband wants to design software and do web development, so he's in school for that.  But we still have the rain cloud of debt, bad credit scores, and unsteady finances over our heads.

I know there's more we can do to cut back in our lives and we do try.  Somehow money flows out of our fingertips faster than we can hold onto it.  Every time I blink there's some new expenditure.  Our cars are barely standing or driving but we have no cosigners or ability to get new ones on our own.  I'm bitter and ashamed and hungry for more.  In my world, true success comes in quality not quantity but that doesn't always put food on the table and pay the rent.  We need a break to eliminate the money owed from past mistakes so we have more in our pockets to contribute to the future.

Around here, right now, people have money.  We seem to be in a strange little microcosm- here in South Dakota people can still afford things.  When we have to go to buy the bare necessities at Walmart, there are the plastic wives with their pink polos and frosted hair with their 2.5 children and tiffany chain link bracelets jingling on their teeny wrists.  They have carts loaded and overflowing, they own Sam's Club memberships they don't need, and they load all their purchases into shiny yellow SUV's.  Their kids come away with the big toys like Wii's, etc.  We're lucky to buy our daughter a $5 barbie once in awhile.  Around us people are snatching up LCD flat screens, new vehicles, boats, clothes, etc.  The few times we've been to a mall lately- it's always teeming with hundreds of people loaded down with shopping bags.  How lucky for them.  People are building hugely expensive houses and enjoying the good life.

I lie awake at night worrying about money and the reality of our future.  We want so desperately to leave this place, despite the low cost of living and seemingly good employment rate.  The thing is, we don't have the skill sets to get long term good paying jobs here.  I have nothing against small town living but I'm a loner at heart and a bit of a wanderer, so I want to take my children to cities and other countries.  How will I ever be able to do that?  We are in our late 20's, in debt, with two very small children, and neither my spouse nor I have started our careers yet.  This sounds so whiny and I do accept responsibility for my actions.  But I can't help the fear that creeps over me when I stare at my checkbook and think about how to pay electricity next month.

However, I get incredibly angry at the people who bash our presidents desperate attempts to save our country's economy.  We've been spiraling downward for close to a decade and he's got to undo that or basically lose his job.  All the negativity and hatred directed towards him saddens me and has made me lose faith in America.  People's belligerence and denial of our the reality that is America Today has disgusted me so completely.  I cannot even say I am patriotic anymore.  I have so much faith in the man that leads our country but absolutely no faith at all in the people who live in it.  I see no way we can release ourselves from the recession without him and some very serious changes in our lifestyle that is so devoted to consumerism.

Signing off-

Sara Rose
Vermillion, South Dakota