Monday, March 03, 2008

Save Me

Posted by Lizzy from Hilarities Ensue.

Right smack dab in the middle of my world, of my second pregnancy, I'm hit by another round with my old friend/enemy. It's been a while. It's been nearly 9 years since I've been down this round and it really doesn't ever get any easier.

I've written and re-written this post in my head a thousand times. What's too much to share? Where is that line between keeping my private life private and Keeping It Real? In the end, here's where I'm at.

We're being crushed by debt. Every day the phone rings every 10 minutes, another bill collector trying to get paid. I have medical bills of past and present, I've had to ask our pediatrician to wait a week to deposit our co-pay and I've asked the same of our neighborhood pharmacist so Henry could antibiotics for a persistent ear infection. Suddenly, where we were just scraping by has amounted to an enormous financial weight, to the tune of $70,000. SEVENTY. THOUSAND. DOLLARS.

How is it that two educated people can't make ends meet? I've worked full time since I was 17-years-old. I've never had extra money, I've always been able to get by. Get the rent paid, pay the bills from time to time. We don't live extravagantly…we don't take vacations, I'm not getting jewelery, we drive a 2000 Chevy Prism/Clown Car, neither one of us has a gambling problem, we don't really live beyond our means. Sometimes we would use our credit cards to buy some stuff for our house, or once Henry came along we liked to buy him some things. So how is that we suddenly can't move forward with our lives as a family without someone asking for more money.

I was squeezed out of my job shortly after Henry's birth and, as you might remember, The Mistah lost his job teaching on Long Island in April of this year. After spending 6 years working for the city, The Mistah had taken the risk and had accepted an nontenured position teaching out on LI, the job didn't work out. In the year he taught out there, we paid $250/month for medical insurance (while working for the city, we paid nothing for our coverage); our insurance coverage was lousy, every little thing had at least a $500 deductible so we paid out nearly $6,000 in deductibles along; gas was insane with The Mistah driving 250 miles a week, with gas prices rising by the minute, this added up so quickly, even for our "fuel efficient" clown car.

I stay home with Henry, truly the toughest job I've ever had. At this point, if it were possible for me to find another full time job for the fall after Alice is born, I would have to be earning at least $70,000/year in salary to cover day care expenses for two children. In my career, I would be leaving the house before the kids were awake and coming home after they were asleep. Which isn't to say that there aren't people who do this and make it work, but then call me selfish, but it's not a life I think I can live with. I've worked in jobs where I slept for a few hours a night, under my desk, in order to make deadlines…and for pittance, as well. It's just not a life I'm willing to go back to. I think it goes without saying that there is something very, very wrong with a society that can't allow for a working family to make ends meet. There has to be a way that a mother can stay home and raise her children and be able to afford to buy her kid a banana when he wants one.

For the first time in my life, I'm having what I believe to be anxiety attacks–rapid heartbeat and trouble breathing. I'm feeling paranoid and judged and I don't often want to leave the house. In fact, not having any spending money has basically limited our social activities to our once-weekly Music Class, sponsored by Henry's great-grandparents. With all of our young friends turning two in the next 6 months, I'm declining invitations to birthday parties because I can't afford to give the children gifts. Two weeks ago, I paid my subway fare with change from the change bowl on our dresser.

And what about this baby growing in my belly? Are we doing some sort of disservice to her that we can't afford to have her? I feel completely disconnected from her and have had some uncomfortable thoughts…should she go to a family that can feed and clothe her? I know I can and will love her, but if I'm honest, I'll admit that I have times when I can't see the forest through the trees. I hear the judgements in my head, I hear the whispers. Don't worry, you don't have to flame me in the comments. There's nothing you can say to me that I haven't already said to myself.

I want what's best for my family and for myself. I want to love and protect my family, but right now I'm feeling like I can't get out of bed. I can't catch my breath, I can't surface. How can I do what's best for family when I so clearly have let them down? I'm so conflicted between What Should Be and What Is. How can I do what is best for my family when I can't really take care of my own self right now?

How did I get here? How do I get out?


ewe are here said...

No one is going to flame you in the comments here, because there is nothing flameworthy in what you have said or what you are going through or how you feel about any of it.

In fact, I think these two sentences say what the real problem is:

I think it goes without saying that there is something very, very wrong with a society that can't allow for a working family to make ends meet. There has to be a way that a mother can stay home and raise her children and be able to afford to buy her kid a banana when he wants one.

Because that is the real problem: how are average couples who work hard and just want to live happily and modestly and see their kids supposed to make it today without going bankrupt or insane?

I'm so sorry you're going through all this... I hope you can find somebody to talk to about what you're feeling, because I'm sure they'll tell you it's absolutely normal to be having all these feelings and worries and stress under the circumstances.

Kate said...

I wish I knew the answer. I happen to have married into a family with money, and we recently received an inheritance.

And you know, I would so, so rather that my husband had a few more years to figure out some workable relationship with his father and still be $80K in debt. But that's neither here nor there.

The irony is, despite the inheritance, we'll - *I'll* - still be deeply in debt, because of my unreasonable (>>$200,000) student loan debt. I planned to finish my doctorate and earn enough money to pay them off. Instead, things changed, I chose to walk away from the doctorate with less than a year to go, and those loans are coming due in a few months.

I have absolutely no idea how we're going to pay for them.

And we're actively trying to conceive our third child at the same time.

Pass the chocolate, would you?

motherbumper said...

Ewe Are Here said all the same thing I wanted to say, she is great like that. I totally agree that there is something wrong with a society that allows this to happen (perhaps proof of a disappearing middle class?). I'm sorry that I don't have suggestions to offer, I can only offer support.

Christina said...

I wish I had advice to give, but all I can do is say I understand.

It is insane that the average middle class family can't make ends meet anymore. My husband took on a part-time job in addition to his full time job, and then got upset that we still had trouble meeting bills each month. I explained that with food, energy and gas bills all going up, we've lost any gain.

We're struggling too, and I keep wondering when it's going to get any better. Seems this is starting to become a common theme for many families.

Right now I'm just trying to hope that the right help will come along at the right time. I hope the same will hold for you, too, and just when you worry that it's too much, fate will step in and give you a hand.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a stay at home mom. We have five children between the ages of 8 & 15. Our annual yearly income is $32,000. And we have only made that respectively within the last 2 years. Before then we were doing good to have made $24,000. My husband is the sole income maker. We also homeschool. We have atleast $20grand in medical debt alone. Mainly because the government claims that we make to much for my husband and I to qualify for the state medical insurance card. We tried insurance through his work but it was at the cost of our food budget. We canceled and decided to buy groceries instead. Currently we are looking at moving from our 5 bedroom home and into a 2 bedroom to reduce the cost of living.

I think I understand your stress of feeling suffocated. It's extremely stressful to not have enough money to make ends meet. It's devastating to not feel secure. And it sucks to not be able to afford anything extra, including new clothes or even toilet paper for the bathroom. Sometimes I don't want to get out of bed either. The weight of it all is enormous and it can take my breath away. Yet I find strength each and every day to keep living sane. I know you can and will too.

With all of that said. My children are fed, clothed, and have a roof over their head. Most importantly they are loved. If there is one thing that I have learned in this life it is this, family is the most important thing you have. It's more important than stuff, more important than anything else.

My advice for you. You can do this. It will be ok. You may have to restructure, reprioritize,and rethink everything. You will find what's most important to you. Just take it one day, even one moment at a time. Keep hanging on because the best is yet to come. Surround yourself with good friends, like you have done here. Talk to a professional if you need to, a counselor or pastor. Call the debt collectors and explain your situation and what you are willing to do about the debt. There are even some great debt counselors out there and they can help.

Most importantly right now, take a deep breath and let it all out. Give your self a squeeze, you deserve one! You will find your way. I'm sure of it! The trees can be looming, thick, and scary, but the small winding stream that runs through the forest will lead you out and bathe your senses in serenity and peace.

From one mom to another, it will be ok.

nell said...

A year and a half ago my partner and I bought our first home - a modest 932 square foot house. He had been promised a promotion and raise that would make it work financially, but he works for a non-profit, and the raise was delayed. Within two months I was sure they were going to take our house. We were getting calls from creditors and I was so stressed out that I couldn't make it through a day without falling apart in one way or another.

Eventually the money came though and we've been scraping by (sometimes barely, because what you said about this country is true) since then. But the thing that helped me the most was dealing with my debt. Debt that I had accumulated before I even met my partner and started a family with him.

I knew that it would wreck my credit rating, but joining a debt consolidation program was the best thing I could have done for myself and my family. In retrospect I don't think I picked the right company, so I won't recommend them directly, but the consumer credit counseling service (CCCS) is a national non-profit organization that can help you. Even though my debt isn't gone yet, joining a program relieved so much of the stress and the pressure. They told me what to say when people called, they took over organizing my repayment, and it was such an immense relief not to be in charge of it anymore, just to know that someone else was taking care of it.

I know it's not for everyone, and it certainly doesn't help with every aspect of not having money, but for me it was completely worth it just to have that extra pressure disappear.

You can get through this, you and your husband, your son, and your unborn daughter. You can get through this together, because love and family are the most important thing. Money helps, but love is the glue that binds you together.

Avalon said...

I will echo exactly what the above poster said. I was a single mother for my daughter's entire life. I never received a dime of child support. I struggled financially for all of her younger years. We made it by, but barely. as she approached high school, it became clear that she needed much more educationally than our school system could provide her. I opted to send her to an expensive private school. I knew that it would be costly, but I felt it was possibly the wisest investment I could make. It was, but it plunged me into debt.

After a year of fielding calls and shuffling meager funds to try and pay bills, I was racking up penalties and interest rates. I finally broke down and joined ACCC. They counseled me on creating a budget that worked, THEY dealt with all of the creditors directly and i made one simple payment (1/3 of what I was paying prior) to them monthly. This past October, I finished a 3 year program and except for Parent College Loans, I am completely debt free. This is in no way an endorsement for them, but it is really a great feeling to be in control again and not have to avoid the ringing phone like the plague.

I wish you luck.

Anonymous said...

you need to see a credit counsellor ASAP. this will help. they will work with your creditors for a lower interest rate and reasonable payment plan so that you can survive better.
i am nor sure where located but in toronto:

i know many people who have done this and it worked out great. were out of debt in 2-3 years and then had to build up credit rating again in order to get a mortgage but were able to no problem after 5 yrs.

my MIL did this too and save her from bankruptcy as a senior.

i also highly recommend reading DAVID BACH as he is matter of fact and gives great ideas about money. You should try the credit agency first though.

good luck!

dkaz said...

Being in debt is so stressful and makes you feel so bad about everything.
I know its hard (practically impossible for me) but you have to try and think about money unemotionally.
See a debt counselor - check around for a good one and check references. Don't wait! Things will not get better by waiting - they will continue to compound. There are resources available; make a decision to get out of debt and stay out of debt in the future. Somewhere along the line, you made decisions that got you into this mess. I've made plenty of "seemed like a good idea at the time" or "I don't feel like I have a choice" decisions that ended up costing me, big time.
Get educated about money and budgets and take control of your situation. Our fear of dealing with our debt and the subsequent blame-throwing ruined our marriage. You might have to make some hard sacrifices in the short-term, and its not fair that it has to be this way, but it will be better for you all in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever tried listening to Dave Ramsey? He has a free radio show and you can find his web site at He has good advice and thousands of callers in your same situation. He IS a little bit on the Christian side but I just tune that part out so, if that's not your thing do turn him off right away--his advice is totally secular.

Anonymous said...

I want to echo dkaz's point that you might have to make some tough short-term decisions. Just because your husband might have to take a second job--or you have to take a part-time one--doesn't mean you'll be stuck in those jobs forever. Just because you might need to downsize your house or your lifestyle for a few months (or years) doesn't mean it's permanent. Don't beat yourself up over this and don't let yourself spiral into it-will-always-be-this-way despair. It will get better.

I wish you luck and peace.

Anonymous said...

i truly feel terrible for your situation. when your husband left the bd of ed, did he get approved for a leave of absence to keep his options open with the city? i know its not ideal to return to the city...when all the money is in long island, but at least then there would be a salary, better health benefits and lower commuting costs. also another not so ideal option would be for you to get a job in the evenings when your husband is home from work and you don't have to leave your children with daycare. it sounds from your post that your career was related to writing, perhaps you can find some freelance stuff? i agree that society sucks in that the majority of families now need to have two parents working in order to make ends meet.

Dawn said...

I was you last year - only we were $125,000 in debt.
I live in Canada, so I don't know if it's the same for the US, but do you guys have consumer proposals? They asses your debts and your assets and then they determine a budget that's affordable. For example, we will have to make a payment of $400 a month for 4 years to pay off our proposal. In this way, the creditors get something instead of nothing, like if you declared bankruptcy.
Another option is to max out the equity in your house. You can take this equity and apply it to your bills.
When the phone used to ring, it would send shivers down my spine. I really thought I was having a nervous breakdown. Other than my father dying, it was THE worst experience of my life. I would take the phone off the hook when friends would visit, so they wouldn't have to hear the endless phone calls. It was so embarassing.
We are much better now. Hang in there - there are solutions, you just have to make a call.
All the best to you.

Jennifer said...

I am so sorry. It is so hard. A few years ago my husband and I were in a similar situation when I was pregnant with our first child and he was unemployed. It was scary and the only way I got through it was deep breaths and taking things one step at a time. If you think of everything all together it seems overwhelming. What gets me though is to remember that our children are only young once and for so little time. Things are harder when they are little because of the cost of daycare/staying at home. But once you get past those years it should get easier.

You should probably see a credit counselor to figure out a good way to manage your debt. That might help a lot, especially with the phone calls.

Carolie said...

My best friend and I owned a restaurant...and it went under. My first husband left me (and left me with all our joint debts when he left the country!) My friend chose bankruptcy, but I was afraid to do that.

Going to a credit counselor saved my credit rating, and honestly, I think it saved my life. I was ready to toss in the towel. I was working three jobs, and felt like I was running as fast as I could, and still sliding backwards...that I would NEVER get out of that pit of debt and despair.

I wasn't easy, but it worked. The best part? I have a spectacular credit rating now, am debt-free, and we're in the best financial shape ever! And it isn't as if we're high-powered attorneys or plastic surgeons -- I'm a freelance graphic designer and my husband is Enlisted (not Officer!) Active Duty Military.

Best of'll make it!

Anonymous said...

carolie, you are a success story! Thank you for sharing your experience. Being able to ask for, and getting the correct help, can turn this thing around. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Do it for yourself, do it for you kids.

Anonymous said...

kate, just curious as to why you would you actively try to conceive a third child when you're so in debt?

MamaMichelsBabies said...

Money is the root of all evil, and it's the cause of many migraines, and guess what? It'll come and go, but your family, it's forever.

70G is alot, it sounds like alot, the weight of that kind of debt is immense, but it is temporary if your proactive about the outcome. Adoption? It's forever, whatever you decide to do, think about that. The debt can go away with a few changes, perhaps even a debt consolidation, adoption isn't. It's an awesome, amazing, selfless thing for a mother to do, something that takes a kind of courage and strength I've never in my life have witnessed. Something I don't know if I would have the strength to even consider for the sake of my child, but it is so much more permanent then this debt is.

Like posters have previously stated, talk with a credit counselour, there IS hope, and there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing you have done and the amount of money owed isn't anything they have never seen before, and there is no cause for shame. Sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to step forwards. Consider this child the motivating factor to go in and talk with someone.

It can and will get better.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I am so, so sorry. I grew up as the child in this scenario. It wasn't easy, but we all made it, and hey, my brother grew up and paid off my mother's crushing debts.

Don't give your child up. Don't give up. Do see a credit counselor/debt consolidation program. For birthdays, if you want Henry to go (and maybe you don't want him witnessing an orgy of consumerism ), send along a handmade card with a certificate for an evening's free babysitting (if your partner can stay home and do bedtime) or something.

There is no shame in what's happening to you. Just in a society that lets it happen.

Anonymous said...

There is an answer. There is a way and it's been stated multiple times here. You just have to do it. Go get a credit counselor. You're smart, you know how to do this....just do it. The more you delay, the worse it will be because situations like this simply don't get better on their own. So, pick up the phone and make the call and you'll start moving towards the light once again? Why do I know this for real? Beacuse I had to do it, too. And now I have doing great...tight but really great and quite a lot of reduced stress. And i have 2 little ones (twins) myself.

good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Someone also mentioned it but... Dave Ramsey. You will have to work hard, you will have to sacrafice for a while. But it can be done. Have faith in yourself.

You can do this.

Anonymous said...

I second the suggestion of a creative gift. Can you make something for the birthday present, or have your kids help you make something? I also am in an enormous amount of debt that I'm slowly climbing out of. In the meantime I have decided to make saving money a game. I win when I find the most creative ways to save money and yet still eat and not be hungry. The more stuff I figure out how to do with less money, the more I win.
Getting rid of extraneous things like cable tv, expensive cell phone plans, magazine subscriptions, non-generic food items, and more can save tons. For me, I loved getting a manicure, but now I love doing my own nails, I bought at $10 kit last year and I can do it better than they did at the nail salon! It's all about the attitude. If spending less money makes you feel powerful rather than defeated, it can go a long way into making the situation better for yourself and for your children. They will remember this as their childhood, and many people grow up poor but happy and well loved, and in a family full of joy.

Anonymous said...

I have the same thoughts-- how did I get here, and how the hell do I get out?

I owe:
$145k in student loans. And I'm still not done.
$8k on a home equity loan.
$8k on a credit card.

My husband owes:
$25k in credit card debt.
$6k to his divorce/custody lawyer.

I'm eating a banana for lunch because I need to save what little gorceries we have until payday. Why are there no groceries? Because I decided that my girls having new shoes for school so they don't get teased was more important than me eating.

Go see a credit counselor. Don't give up your baby or your hope. Take a deep breath, and go for a walk. Breathe. It will be okay.