Sunday, December 29, 2013

Do you want to be debt-free? Our Story Part 2

So here we were. Two beautiful children, a newborn and a two year old, living in a place we didn't like, with jobs that did not pay the bills. We had to make a change, but also needed to tie up some loose ends.

When all was said and done...we moved into my mother's house, where the job market was much better and took a look at our finances. We had charged approximately $65,000 between my mother's needs and our living on cards to keep the house. In two years. We were stunned. These were not trips. These were not eating out. No hotels. No lobster. It was pampers (and depends), expensive cancer-approved lotion to deal with radiation burns and peeling skin, heating--since baby and mom got cold in our old house, formula (the same reason I "couldn't" get pregnant also made it impossible for me to breastfeed, even with lactation consultants, doulas, fenergreek and lots of funny tea).

And now we had a mortgage (about $110K), a time share ($5k) and school loans ($18K since we consolidated in my husband's).We couldn't make the minimums anymore. I was sick with worry. Even with us both working again--and making more than we made up there, the credit card debt was killing us. We tried to refinance our house. We didn't qualify. We finally consolidated our debt, with a great non-profit called American Consumer Credit Counseling ( but still owed about $850 per month in credit cards plus our expenses, mortgages, and school loans.

We weren't making it. It was hurting our marriage. A lot. Anytime either of us wanted to spend any money, it was a fight to prove we needed it. I wouldn't buy. He would. We were both hurt.

Even though we were making an okay amount of money, between health insurance, required retirement payouts and other required deductions, we really weren't taking home much. It felt hopeless. We felt hopeless.

Then I started hearing a little bit here and there about a program that helped people get out of debt. And it also helped people pay for things like cars and houses with cash. You didn't need to be rich. You actually didn't even need to be solidly middle class. Hmmm. This sounded like something I was interested in. But, I wasn't sure my husband would go for it. He hated planning. He hated budgeting. He hated not being able to get something he wanted when he wanted. I just pushed it aside and decided to focus on continuing to make ends meet, sort of.

Then, our pastor talked about how in September our church was going to sponsor a financial class to help people learn more about their money and how to save, spend and give. We'd been going to small groups. I asked my husband if we could go to this. He, surprisingly, seemed excited. We signed up. I wasn't super hopeful, but thought, well, at least we'd listen and give it a try.

As September approached, our marriage was quickly disintegrating. The day of the class, we met with our pastor and I wasn't sure if we were going to be together again. I was in shock. I was sick. I was numb. I came home from work that night and asked if he was going with me. He said, "sure." We got in the car and went to class.

A lot changed in that two hours. Read more in my next post.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Do you want to be debt-free? Our Story Part 1

I think most people would say a huge, "YES!" to the question, "Do you want to be debt free?" But, I think most people don't have all the tools necessary to energize themselves to actually make it a reality.

We are not debt free...Far from it...But we are getting there. We have a plan. We have a goal. We are working hard to achieve it. We sacrifice. We reward. We get defeated. We get back up. We get excited again.

Here's our abbreviated story...

I watched my parents struggle underneath debt all of their lives, really not getting by at all and having to sacrifice some necessities and lots of extras. Then, we'd splurge and pay for it for years. I did not want debt. I did not have any idea how to do that. I took out some loans for school (about 10k) but the rest was scholarship. Other than that, I would pay off my credit card each month or keep a small ($100-300) balance. Then, I met my husband.

My husband's family lived on assistance or subsisted most of their lives. He opened a checking account when he met me. He did not understand how money worked at all.

I helped him to learn some basics. Then we had fun. Too much fun. Then my car broke down as I traveled from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania. And, I had a test the next day...In Pennsylvania. I bought a car...not wildly expensive...but charged about $1500 and financed about $3000. I thought I'd pay it off in two-three months off of my card and make double payments for the monthly financing. But, instead, we took trips, I paid more than the minimum and told myself I was building my credit history.

Fast forward about 5 years and we carried about $5000-8000 in debt and lived with minimal savings. We bought a house we shouldn't have bought--not too expensive, just should have spent more time living in the area to realize it didn't "fit" us. Then....the recession...our taxes went way up, our house value, way down. We were finally saving and had about $10,000 saved and were expecting our first child. And, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. We used some of our savings to pay for updates to her house and ours. We used more to pay for the two and a half hour drive to and from the hospital for chemo (every two weeks for 1.5 years)...and then we paid for some chemo, because insurance said they wouldn't. We were out of savings. But, my husband was still working at a job he loved and we decided I should take a year off with our newly born daughter and my mom-since this would be her last year with us. So I resigned from my teaching job, and my husband was promptly laid off.

Oh, oh. There goes the little money we had for normal expenses. I cashed in a 401k...still no job. We lived in a rural area that felt the recession more than most places. Our town had about 85% of males on unemployment due to two mills shutting down and most local businesses going under. There were no jobs. We took service industry jobs on opposite schedules...and we used my wonderful credit history and line to charge, and charge, and charge. Diapers. Groceries. Medications. Everything we could so that we could make the mortgage and the car payment. And, I became pregnant again. (I had seen fertility specialists and been told we would never conceive unless we did IVF, and even so miscarriage was an extremely high possibility.)

Read more of our story in the next post.