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