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