Posts Tagged ‘debt’
Welcome to Money Mondays!
I once saw a homeless man holding a sign that read: “Spare debt?” So clever — and apropos these days, I think.
We all know how much debt I have (you remember my Money, Money, Money post)… Do you have debt, too? (Don’t worry — you don’t have to tell me how much!)
What kinds of things are you doing to whittle it down? Or are you ignoring it?
My Money, Money, Money blog post about my excessive student loan debt made me think of a short story I had published, “Free Faith for Sale,” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People: 101 Stories about Overcoming the Economic Crisis and Other Challenges.
As you may have guessed, it’s all about having – and maintaining – faith…
The story took place in late 2008/early 2009. Here you go:
After I was laid off last winter, I didn’t know what to do. Having worked in television as a writers’ assistant on several different shows, I was used to them being cancelled; such is the life of a freelancer in entertainment. But I wasn’t used to not having another TV show to go to. I had bounced from show to show for nearly ten years straight. And now… nothing?
Unfortunately, I wasn’t eligible to get unemployment (that’s what happens when you default on your student loans enough times). And my temp agencies were all on a hiring freeze until January; it was only November.
I made a list of everything I could do for money (everything that was legal, anyway): baby-sit, dog-sit, plant-sit (don’t ask), return unworn new clothes, brew coffee at home versus buy it out, and so on. But it still wasn’t enough money to live on.
My family in Chicago had none to spare, nor did my friends, for many of them were unemployed, too. Maybe they couldn’t loan me money, but they could help me out with other basic needs? I decided to put my requests on Facebook. After all, God had said, “Ask, and Ye Shall Receive,” right? I couldn’t afford to pay for heat in my apartment; a friend loaned me her space heater. My cabinets were bare; friends gave me food. (I would also go to the grocery stores for free samples; I had each store’s free sample days memorized.) My laptop died (not good for a writer); a friend loaned me one for “however long you need.” I got a flat tire; a stranger fixed it for free. I couldn’t afford to go home for Christmas for the first time in ten years; my L.A. friends hosted a dinner for me. My cell phone broke; Verizon discovered that my plan was up and I could get a new phone for just thirty dollars. The list goes on and on, all in the same few weeks.
I kept job-hunting, but to no avail. Finally, I remembered my roommate was up in Mammoth, snowboarding. That was it – ski resorts were probably hiring! I immediately applied and got hired.
Everything L.A. is, Mammoth is not. In L.A., my life is all about working 60-80 hours per week, networking, trying to get hired as a writer, and no longer having to work 60-80 hours as an assistant… which leaves very little time for the key component to being a writer: writing. In Mammoth, I only had to work around twenty hours a week, didn’t have any entertainment people to network with, and had all the writing time in the world. In L.A., “the industry” is entertainment. In Mammoth, “the industry” is snowboarding (or “riding,” as they call it, which I kept mishearing as “writing”). In L.A., I see the beach from my apartment. In Mammoth, I’d see mounds of snow. In L.A., I drove everywhere. In Mammoth, I didn’t (my MINI Cooper didn’t like the snow). In L.A., my roommates and I had WiFi. In Mammoth, we didn’t. I learned to rely on face-to-face interaction, something we tend to forget about in big cities, where texting someone is easier, even if the person is just in the next cubicle.
Soon, I learned to enjoy the simple life, to take in and appreciate the beauty of the mountains around me. I started to not fret over things I did in L.A. – mainly work and guys; I just focused on the thing I love most: writing. I spent every free moment working on a book, and finished it by the time I left seven weeks later.
All was going well, until there was a snow and economic drought; everyone’s work hours were reduced. Just my luck. I went from working 28 hours a week to eight. So much for the idea of going to work at a ski resort. Now how would I pay my rent?
I realized the only thing I could do to save money was give up my apartment I so loved by the beach. All day, I prepared my “Sorry, but I have to move out” speech for my roommates.
I decided it was time for some inspiration, to finally read “The Secret.” I would read a chapter every night. Tonight, I was on the money chapter, which encouraged you to think positively about wealth, even when you don’t seem to be making any money. To pretend you have money, even when you don’t. To pretend your bills are paychecks written out to you, and so forth.
I drove back to L.A. that night and found a stack of mail – all bills. Except for a greeting card-looking envelope. I went into my room, to rehearse my moving out speech once more, and looked at the card’s return address. It was from a writer I knew, David, who was like the father I never knew growing up. Also one who had tried to kill himself a year prior. At that time, he had been obsessed with Starbucks CDs; he said he couldn’t believe that his morning cup of coffee always ended up costing him twenty dollars instead of two. And what do you say to someone who tries to commit suicide, anyway? So I made him a card, telling him how happy I was that he was alive, bought him the latest Starbucks CD, and popped it into the mail. A few weeks later, he thanked me, and we have sent emails to each other about once a month since.
Now, I opened up David’s card immediately, hoping he was all right, for he was not particularly a letter-writing type. I read the card, “Merry Christmas, sweet girl. I hope you have a good holiday. I miss you! Love, David.” I was touched. As I reread the card, a check fluttered out of the envelope. I got tears in my eyes: it was the exact amount of my rent. I wouldn’t have to give my moving out speech, after all. I didn’t know if the note from David was karma, faith, God, “The Secret,” a Guardian Angel, my biological father in heaven…? Whoever it was, I thank you. I immediately had renewed faith that all would be okay. The odd thing was, as I looked at the postmark, I noticed that David had mailed the check over two weeks ago; it had gone to my previous apartment first. And, now, I received it the same day I needed it most. I hoped the same would happen with a new job.
The next day, I got a phone call from a friend who had seen my status on Facebook, which read: “Natalia will be sleeping on your couch soon if she doesn’t find a job.” My friend said to call her friend right away about a new TV show. I interviewed, and got it.
Being unemployed was not fun, but it did re-instill my faith in the goodness of people. It also reminded me to continue to have faith in myself, even when it seems like all is lost (like a ski resort without snow). And the good news is, faith is free.
Funny about that Facebook couch status, huh?
When I couldn’t sleep the other night, I thought it was a sign that right when I turned on my couch host’s 500-some-channel TV, Suze Orman’s Money Class came on.
Everyday people from the audience asked her all kinds of questions – When should I start saving for my child’s college education? (Her child was less than a year old. Suze advised the woman to check out savingforcollege.com.) My girlfriend and I are moving in together, she makes twice as much as I do, how should we split the rent? (Suze advise that if he and his girlfriend have different incomes, they should contribute the same percentage toward their rent versus the same amount.) And the good old, I have almost $100,000 in student debt and am thinking of filing for bankruptcy to get rid of it. What do you think?
Of course, this last question was the one most relevant to my financial situation and to many of my friends’ as well. Suze told the teary-eyed man that even if he filed for bankruptcy, it would not take care of his student loan debt. Rather, interest would continue to accrue and he’d be in even more financial trouble later. (I think this is a common – and scary – myth, people thinking bankruptcy will erase their student loans.)
As many of you know from this CNNMoney article about my couch-surfing that ran a few months ago, I have a lot of student loan debt. A LOT. As of April, it teetered around nearly $100,000.
Like the man, I wanted to cry. (I think more from shock than anything else.) But as I figured out a payment plan and solution, instead of seeing the debt as a burden, I saw it as an opportunity. (After all, if I had not lost my job in 2009, I would not have given up my apartment and started couch-surfing, which is an incredibly fascinating/rewarding/too-many-things-to-mention-here experience that I would not trade for anything.)
When people ask me why I still do not have an apartment, I remind them that I do pay rent – but to a collection agency; the Department of Education is my landlord. (They obviously had no home to garnish, just wages, so setting up a monthly rehabilitation payment plan was my only option, which was scary for someone who freelances, especially at times when my freelance jobs ebb more than they flow.)
As ABBA’s “Money, Money, Money” song (from the mid-‘70s, mind you) says: “I work all night, I work all day, to pay the bills I have to pay/Ain’t it sad/And there still never seems to be a single penny left for me/That’s too bad…”
Yes, it is too bad for the millions of us who are under- and unemployed, wondering when we will be out of debt, when we don’t have to worry about every penny, when we will no longer have to work three jobs for the price of one.
We all know people in this situation: ourselves, friends who have lost their homes or downsized, Boomerang Kids who have moved back in with their families… And as Suze said on her show, we used to live beyond our means and now we are living below our means; our pleasure in saving money needs to exceed our pleasure of spending money; and don’t let one dollar go to waste.
It’s all about adjusting our attitudes, I think. That’s all we can do, right?
I know it’ll still take months – years – to pay off my loans, but after doing so for several months now, I have to say it is a very satisfying feeling. Instead of being depressed about the insane amount of money I still owe, I get excited about all the money I no longer owe.
We just have to make the most of it in this economy, even if the most seems like very little. But if we add up all the “very little”s, they amount to a lot. Someday, to $98,122.30.