I’ve been cleaning out that upstairs built-in this morning. There has been much sneezing, because much of what is in there has not been disturbed, even a little tiny bit, in the eight years since we moved in.
Among all that undisturbed stuff, I found a small binder. Inside the binder…my financial papers from 1995.
On September 30, 1995, I had the following account balances:
Business Checking Account: $2,024.84
Personal Checking: $867.24
Personal Savings: $1,277.70
Boyfriend’s Checking Account: $0 (snort!)
Total assets: $4,169.78.
Of which $2,024.84 was for my business – not a whole lot of cash to run a business on, eh? Notably missing: retirement savings and emergency funds. That $1,277.70 was only half of what I needed for the month – it barely covered October’s rent. **sigh**
But this is the part that gave me the jolt. LIABILITIES:
Discover Card: $4,343.40
First Card: $7,212.27
First USA: $5,548.21
Chevron Card 1: $1,183.18
BOA Mastercard: $1,566.27
BOA Visa: $3,707.02
Chase Visa: $5,319.71
Colonial National Visa: $2,800.36
Second Discover: $2,379.23
Chevron Card 2: $650.52
Personal Loan 1: $544.02
Personal Loan 2: $16,000.00
Personal Loan 3: $1,273.95
Total liabilities: $59,631.37
All of the credit cards were at 19.99% or more; the personal loans varied between 9% and 21%.
Four months later, my old van unexpectedly yakked up it’s carburetor and died. Well. By “unexpectedly”, what I mean is, “in spite of my youthful conviction that faith and trust could keep a vehicle running in perfect condition, it did in fact also need pixie dust – which was very unexpected.”
So a $10,000 car loan was added to that lot. Oddly, I ended up with a new car rather than a used one because, well, my ‘asset’ situation had not improved, and I couldn’t get a used car loan!
Funny how that worked…want to get a loan for a $3,000 used car? HA! HAHAHAHAHA! We LAUGH in your face! HA!
Want to get a $10,000 loan for a new one? Sign here, and here, and here and heeeeere’s your keys! Congratulations! Let’s all do the happy-happy dance and pose for a picture!
THEN, within a few months after that, my husband's truck shot its rods right across the parking lot and likewise died. Enter a new Civic, and another new car loan – this one for $20,000.
There are times when I’m writing something about debt reduction and I put down, “We had $60,000 in credit card debt, and $30,000 in car loans when I got serious about debt reduction…”, and I pause for a moment to mutter, That can’t be right…we never REALLY had that much did we?
Yes, we did.
And my early efforts were so bad we actually added debt rather than taking away – at the absolute worst, we had $65,000 on the cards.
When I look around my neighborhood at all the abandoned houses, their browned lawns and spider-web-sealed garage doors, their fences knocked down by marauding teenagers and homeless people looking for a place to crash or party or both, I see what we so narrowly escaped.
Escaped so far, anyway. I often feel like we are just a few bad decisions away from joining our ruined neighbors in their exodus.
The price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance. Sometimes I get almighty tired of worrying about day to day decisions, and I want to just throw credit cards at problems, real or imagined, as they come up. Don’t care how, just make it go away. Here’s my card. Tell me where to sign.
The card issuers are happy to help me out. They’re delighted to offer me balance transfers, to allow me to have vacations I can’t afford, new lamps and shoes and anything else my little heart desires. One affordable monthly payment at a time, they help me…right into slavery.
Unless I stay vigilant. Unless I keep a firm hand on my whims. Unless I keep my wits about me, and focus on discerning what is a need, and what is merely a want - and act accordingly.
Damned tiring, sometimes.
But even more tiring is sitting up late at night after coming home from the second job trying to figure out how to make a $1,200 check cover $1,400 in bills, or what I’m going to do for food this month, seeing as how the larder is bare – and the checkbook even emptier.
Well, the built-in won’t finish cleaning itself (unfortunately). I’ve already got a huge pile of things to shift off to Goodwill, and another pile that is Just Plain Trash – and a few empty shelves, even! With any luck, I’ll get this area finished with another hour-long burst of energy…c’mon, energy…energy? Hellloooooo?
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