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a broken furnance, credit card debt, what to do, and and being “lucky”

November 25th, 2009

Here’s what NOT to do when you’re broke: “payday loans.” (Which are now illegal in Oregon and 14 other states, thank God.) And avoid the damn credit cards, if possible. Get a roommate, move in with friends, reduce expenses, stop eating out, walk and don’t drive, take the bus and don’t pay for parking, balance the checkbook daily, don’t rack up “courtesy fees,” switch to a credit union, on and on. Yes, we know all this. Pay with cash when possible, put your money in little envelopes marked “groceries,” “leisure,” “emergency,” turn down the thermostat, donate money, supplies and volunteer when you can… But what about if you’re already over the edge? Hang on. You just have to hang on. Try to have hope when it feels like there is none.

Here’s what else you can do: Watch this show. It’s a Frontline special called “The Card Game,” all about the credit card fiasco our nation is diving into headfirst. We caught the end of it last night, it’s good.

I try not to talk money, sex or religion with anyone other than my lover, but you know. This is my blog and we can talk freely. I’m really pissed off about the state of the economy, our country, my friends’, neighbors’ and family’s state of mind. And even though I don’t understand the way a lot of this crap works, I do know that a lot of us are getting in over our heads. So talking about this now is important.

A disclaimer: I’m not a financial consultant, okay? OK. Just someone trying to get the finances in order. I also consider myself “lucky” because I am working (half-time, but still, a job) and Steve is working (furloughed some of the time, but still, working) and we bought our house almost a decade ago. And yay! I get to have surgery over the holiday break, what a “lucky” girl, and insurance might pay for half of it! Fantastic. The last time I had a “surgical procedure” they wanted a couple thousand in advance. “Just in case.” Even though, that’s right, we actually have medical insurance.

Argh.

Some background about the Money Thing: We got a letter here at Wacky House last week from one of the credit card companies — they’re jacking up our interest rate. I called them, hey, what? We pay on time, we pay more than the minimum balance… what?

They told me I can “lock in” at our current interest rate and not pay the higher rate — but this would mean closing the account. And I want to keep this account open — it’s our “emergency” card. Or go with the higher rate and ha-ha, suckers.

So I said keep it open, thanks for your time, and (quietly, after I hung up), ha-ha, suckers — I’m paying this thing off and hopefully won’t have to use it.

Then the furnace died.

Yep.

So we switched from our too-small, clunker, oil furnace to a gas furnace (finally!), with the filters and the energy-savings and the rebate for being environmentally not assholes or whatever they call it. The furnace company is financing us at a low (but not low enough) rate, we’re fine. After four days with no heat, we have heat. Which is good, cuz the space heaters blew the circuits.

Steve and I both work, and if you’ve read my blog regularly you know that I was off work on family leave for a few months when my Dear Granny broke her hip, knee, head… and heart… and later passed. So that threw me a little with the payment plans I had been doing, once I wasn’t getting a paycheck.

Funny how that works, isn’t it? No, it’s not funny at all. But I am glad I got to spend time with my Granny, she was an amazing woman. You cannot put a price tag on that.

Anyway. We don’t get behind on payments, the checking account is balanced and we don’t have some kind of jet-setting lifestyle so we do all right.

But I’m calling this one right now — the credit card companies are going in for the kill. If you are “lucky” you will avoid the mess. So please be careful out there, all right? Watch the show, it lays it all out in layman’s terms. It sounds to me to be a big gamble the credit card companies are taking — they jack up the interest rates, then raise them again, and again — and of course people are going to default and end up with lousy credit and possibly in court. (And they will keep dreaming of crazy, crazy things — buying a house, keeping a job, feeding their kids, going to the doctor when they need to. Crazy pipe dreams. “Luck.”)

Those of us who can scrape by, or pay more than the minimum payments, will shoulder the burden. Those of us who are “lucky” will pay off the balances, get out of the circle, and not accrue more interest charges. Those of us who are extremely “lucky” (and it is sheer “luck” now, it seems like — I know so many people out of work right now) will keep our jobs and our health insurance.

It sounds to me like a pissing match between Congress and the card companies, with us stuck in the middle. This is where I just want to start throwing stuff, because of frustration and because I just don’t get it.

No, I do get it. People are taking advantage of people who are vulnerable. The attitude now is, oh, you’re out of work? Your husband was killed in the war? Your kid has chronic health problems and you don’t have medical coverage? Too bad you’re such an idiot. Too bad you were “unlucky.” What kind of society is this, with this kind of attitude? What are we teaching our babies? No wonder the teenagers are depressed — who the hell wants something like nothing to look forward to? We all need something to look forward to. We all need to have hope and not just hope for “luck.”

I heard Jesse Jackson speak when he was running for President. He said we don’t need to tell kids to “just say no” to drugs, we need to ask them, “Why do you want to anesthetize yourself?”

I know why and I think you do, too.

You talk to kids about college and they’re already savvy — If I take out school loans, will I be able to find a job to pay off those loans when I graduate? It’s a huge gamble now, college. College should be a security blanket, not a gamble.

There are a lot of us who are under- or unemployed right now, who have crummy medical coverage, who aren’t able to feed our kids, or provide a new furnace when the old one breaks, so to speak. We’re going to be okay here inside the four walls my family lives in. We have jobs (part-time), we have family (full-time), we have love. We will donate some money and a lot of volunteer time. We give to the Oregon Food Bank, Meals on Wheels and the public schools.

We are “lucky.”

A lot of people aren’t.

I don’t know how to end this post, other than to say, I want us all to have hope, to hold on, to keep fighting. It’s just — if we’re this tired, now, how are we going to feel a year from now? I worry. The Anxiety Index is up.

My four grandparents, who were just intense, gifted, funny, smart people, all four lived through the Great Depression, and it made them better people. It made them tougher and it made them have more heart, too.

They didn’t screw people over, they never took advantage. They worked, got their kids fed, got their houses paid for, had hobbies, had dreams. They fought really hard. I was with my grandfathers when they died; I was with my grandmothers until close to the end. I would say they were all at peace with going. We had good talks, right up ’til and including their final days.

My Granny, at the end, had hope that she was going straight to Heaven and seeing my Grandpa, then she was going to chat with President Truman. That’s what I want — no, not to talk with President Truman — to not feel, at the end, that I should have done something differently.

Peace,

wm

9 Comments

  1. The Other Laura says

    Oh. Oh. Oh. You have done such a good job of articulating what has been lurking (like a bad dream) at the back of my mind for a good long while.
    We are hanging in there, keeping the faith, trying to spread a little hope wherever we can. I’m just praying it will be enough.

    I am grateful to know you and call you a friend. Happy Thanksgiving to the whole damn wacky family!

    November 25th, 2009 | #

  2. WackyMommy says

    TOL, I wish it was just a bad dream and not reality. I kept pushing it back in my head, too. Happy big Thanksgiving to your family, in return. You know I feel just the same about you. I am going to force myself to make a list of what I’m grateful for. It will start with 1) heat 2) sunshine 3) good friends. Just read “Life as We Knew It,” by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It hits too close to home, with the desperation and hoarding.

    November 25th, 2009 | #

  3. Jennymcb says

    I got so pissed off when the first letter came that I canceled my jcpenny mastercard. Now we are going to opt out and keep one of the cards with the current interest rate until they expire. We have had to use the cards for tuition this past September and had a balance, never again! Went the home equity route, paid everything off and refuse to use the credits card unless we have an emergency, which a furnace would qualify as. I think that the smart people like ourselves see that this is all one big game between the government and the banks, but we are choosing to opt out of using the cards. I truly feel bad for the people who have large balances, they are screwed.
    So true about college, my son who is graduating realizes that jobs will be scarce and is seriously thinking about the service. My worry for him? I just want him to have a job with insurance!
    Your post rings true for the middle class who I feel has become the forgotten class in this country. Christmas will be light here, we have what we need and won’t buy into more stuff equals more love.
    Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for a well written post.

    November 25th, 2009 | #

  4. WackyMummy says

    * Holy cow, woman, have you ever said it! This has been on my mind a lot the last few years… we have so much in common! I moved back to Canada from the US, couldn’t find work because I’m not qualified, have health problems so can’t take physical labor, etc etc etc. I now have a whole “screw ‘em” mentality about credit cards and their ilk… I totally agree with you: it’s (unnecessary) credit that’s screwing over everyone. Last year was a serious mess. We’ve been pulling ourselves out of the hole this year by our own bootstraps. Seriously, without good friends, last Christmas wouldn’t have happened. And I won’t ever forget that. I’m jaded and anxious and, if not pessimistic, then at least fatalistic about the economy and what to expect. My parents didn’t prepare me for the real world, so now I’m probably going to over-prepare my son. His one saving grace–he’s part native. You can bet I’m going to bank on that for his future… that’s going to open doors for him, and I swear to god that he’s not going to have his life predetermined by what society or the economy says he can have based on what’s temporarily available to him.

    * Sorry about ranting just a bit.

    November 25th, 2009 | #

  5. LIB says

    You said it girl! I am SO THANKFUL that Chris & I have the same feeling about credit/debt–and don’t have any. When we needed a ‘new’ car earlier this year, we bought a good used car that we were able to pay cash for.

    I’m thankful that Ali & Andy are of one mind about credit/debt. They will be entering their marriage with (almost*) no debt and they will keep it that way.

    *Ali does have a Student Loan that’s in deferment until she gets a job.

    I wish everyone in the Wacky Household a VERY HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

    November 25th, 2009 | #

  6. WackyMommy says

    Jennymcb, thank you.

    WackyMummy, rant away. We all need to be talking about this and do what we can.

    LIB, that is the way to go with cars. We’re making two car payments right now and i’m thinking — how did this happen? Got good deals on both of them, and halfway thru paying them off, but still… Nice to start out married life in the black and not the red, good for them A & A.

    November 25th, 2009 | #

  7. Vixen says

    Well I think you know where I fall in there somewhere. I haven’t had a credit card since the great Vixen Family Credit Card fiasco of 98. Which resulted in a BK that took care of us ever getting another card. Which is good. Unfortunately, even though after that we rebuilt (stronger, better, not) we did get a car loan. Even more unfortunate is that since then we have lost our bank acct (closed for reasons I’d rather not go into, but I know you all will guess) for over a year, have no reliable income at all (I still have volunteered at the Neuter Scooter, all I have is free time), have had to beg for money to eat, live in a home by the grace of someone who “dates” someone I am related to and have had to CRY hysterically with a hospital two hours after being released from spinal surgery for them to allow me to make payments on my $1000 portion of Medi-Cal due, because if they didn’t mark it paid I could not pick up my PAIN PILLS. For spine surgery.

    I worked since I was 16 part time and since 18 full time, even while raising three kids. Hubs has worked full time since he dropped out in 10th grade. All that time we supported society, paid bills and paid taxes. I never, never thought I would say I deserve something from someone else, but after the last 10 months, I am really starting to feel like we deserve better treatment from someone. I don’t know who. But I feel it.

    November 25th, 2009 | #

  8. WackyMommy says

    Vixen, you know how much love i send out to you guys in my prayers all the time. It sucks, what you’ve had to deal with. It just totally, completely sucks and is ridiculously unfair. Thank God y’all have each other, and that we have each other. love, me

    November 25th, 2009 | #

  9. Zipdodah says

    Hey girlfriend, you know I have a lot to say about this shOOt…..and there isn’t enough gigs for me to say my piece. However, I love this guy, and he is out there for the consumer, and has a lot of good advice, so just sayin’….ya don’t have to luv him, or his annoying voice, but we have received some awesome financial advice and tips…..so maybe you can pass this along….http://clarkhoward.com/
    see you next week with some foodies for your family while you are in recovery……..always got your back…and front….xxxooo z

    November 28th, 2009 | #

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