Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Remember When Wednesdays: The Debt Story Pt 2

(To read Part One of the Debt Story go HERE.)

"I don't get it!" I exclaimed with frustration.
"What's wrong?" Officer Hottie asked as he sat down next to me on the bed.
"I can't seem to get this budget form to work for us. When I fill in all the blanks we come up short. Really short. It's just that we can't be that far off - there has to be something wrong with my math. There is just no way that we are coming up so negative every month."
"You're probably just missing something."
I sighed. "I don't think so. After our mortgage, car payment, credit card payment, car insurance, phone bill and utilities we hardly have anything left for groceries or gas, let alone tithing, gifts, oil changes or anything else."
"Don't worry so much," he tried to reassure me. "I'm sure Dawn will have some insight."
I sincerely hoped he was right. We were almost at the 30 day mark, and Dawn, the financial class instructor, had promised if we kept track of our expenses for 30 days she would sit down with us and come up with a working spending plan. The class had been good for me, although most of the information I already knew, I'd just never put it into practice.
Dawn had said to get $1000 put into an emergency savings account. I wondered where we'd come up with $1000 when we could barely come up with the $245 to make our credit card payment. She said never refinance your mortgage and tie up your credit cards and car payments into the mortgage payment; that within one year the credit card bill would be back up to where it had been. I wondered if she'd looked at our last refi. We'd rolled a $15,000 car loan and an $11,000 credit card into our mortgage...and 10 months later we had a new car with a new payment and our credit card balance was at the $11,000 mark again.  Yikes. She said to pay cash for everything. I wondered how in the world it was possible. Never use a credit card?

The next week Officer Hottie and I headed over to our church to meet with Dawn. We were excited to finally get a plan for our money. I was hopeful that she would be able to find a way for us to not only make our payments, but maybe even have a little extra.
I handed over all our bills, our list of expenses we'd kept track of and our pile of one-time expenses (like our dentist bill we hadn't paid yet), smiled and asked her to work her magic. Dawn was so gracious; I'd liked her the minute I met her. She had worked her way out of a mountain of debt so I felt comfortable letting her look at our situation. She seemed to have it all together and I admired that about her. Her husband had been injured and unable to work so she bore the burden of getting the debt worked out on her own. She had inspired and encouraged me and I felt that having her on our side was going to be a huge help.
Quietly Dawn looked over our transactions. She paused when she got to the last one, a charge to the credit card at Claim Jumper the night before. She looked up at us. "This," she said, circling the charge with her finger, "can't happen anymore. You guys are in no position to be going out for dinner right now. You have a very tough road ahead of you."
There it was, plain as day. We were in trouble and she had called us out on it.
I laughed nervously as she looked back at our paperwork and began making columns. At the top of each column she had OH's take home pay. Underneath she began making lists; mortgage payment, food, auto, insurance, etc. She used a pencil and would write numbers under each column, often erasing and rearranging. She paused every so often to ask us questions: "Is this a recurring bill or a one time bill?" "Is it possible to spend less money on gasoline?" "Have you ever considered clipping coupons?" "Is this cable AND internet?" Each question, each erase, left me more and more worried. I wondered if I had been right, if we really were that far behind every month.
Finally, after lots of math, Dawn looked up at us.
"I think this budget can work. But it'll be tough and you have to be committed. You can do it though." She handed us the paper she had put together. Officer Hottie and I leaned in to read it.
The first thing that stuck out to me was tithing. She had left it blank.
"Wait, what about tithing?" I asked. "Where's the money for tithing?"
Dawn looked at me kindly, but somewhat sadly. "If you tithe, which you can do, you won't have money to pay your mortgage, or make your car payment, or feed your children. It's up to you, because you have to follow your convictions, but I'm telling you, if you tithe, you will not be able to make it."
"Can't the money come from anywhere else?" Officer Hottie asked. "I mean, I'm sure we can cut money somewhere."
Line by line Dawn showed us what we were up against.
A mortgage payment that was 51% of OH's take home pay. A car payment. A credit card payment that was almost as much as the car payment. Utilities. $321 a month to spend on groceries, diapers, toilet paper and shampoo. For our family of five. I kept trying to smile but reality was quickly sinking in. We had spent so long over-spending and it had finally caught up and over taken us. When everything was said and done, simply to pay our bills OH was going to have to work a minimum of one hour of overtime every pay period.
"Ok. Ok. Ok." I think I felt that if I kept saying 'ok' than everything really would be ok.
"You have to cancel your gym membership, reduce your cell phone plan, cancel cable, not drive around so much and get that overtime if you guys want to stay afloat. If you want to keep your home and your car," Dawn said matter-of-factly.
"Ok."
She sighed. "Here's what I want  you to do. If OH gets more than one hour of overtime, you need to think of something you want to do with that money. What do you guys like to do?"
"Eat," we said at the same time.
She laughed. "Ok. So, if you get more than one hour of OT, you get to go out to dinner. Then anything extra you put towards your savings until you get $1000."
"What about Christmas?" I asked, fearful of the answer.
Before she could respond Officer Hottie spoke. "I work Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving," he reminded me. "We'll use that money for Christmas." I was relieved. I really didn't want our children to pay for our mistakes. "Plus," he added, "I get a CPI raise the first of the year, and my step raise soon after that."
"Excellent!" Dawn replied. "Use your tax refund to finish putting the $1000 you need in savings, put about $500 aside for clothes, because your kids will need new clothing, and then put the rest toward your debt. It will only be tough for a short time."
I felt slightly better, but it was only October and we wouldn't be seeing any raises for three months. On top of that, overtime was never guaranteed.
We packed up our things, left the church and got into our car. The car I had been so proud of, so excited to start driving. I now looked at it as a weight that was sinking our family. I plopped into the passenger seat and began crying. Sobbing. How did we let this happen?
Before we left the church's parking lot, Officer Hottie was on the phone. He canceled our cable, took text messaging, internet and the extra minutes off our phone plan. He canceled the gym membership.
"We can't do this," I said.
Officer Hottie grabbed my hand and gave it a firm squeeze.
"We can do this," he stated. "We can and we will."
"We can and we will," I repeated.
I was so thankful one of us had confidence and I tried to remember that three months really isn't a very long time.


To be continued...

5 comments:

Twyla said...

You left it like a cliffhanger... will they make it? Do they buckle down? Will they become stronger? Even though I know the answer, I find myself on pins and needles to read the rest.
So when does your book come out? You are an amazing writer!!

Deputy's Wife said...

Did you really just look at my life and write about it? I haven't done the financial classes yet, but we need them. I'm so tired of living paycheck to paycheck and having to ask my parents for money. If they didn't give us money, we wouldn't make it some months. And the bad part is that I got us into a house we can't afford and we have a truck payment we can't make. I don't know what to do. I've prayed that same prayer you have so many times and God always comes through. It's amazing how HE works!

Momma Hen said...

Twyla: (or Hi-la as B calls you) You crack me up! My book...pbshhh. Thank you though. You are an amazing friend!
Deputy's Wife: God IS amazing in how He comes through and there are SO many resources out there to help. Email me with any questions you have!

Katie said...

I am SOOOOOO excited to hear your story!!!! And Twyla is right....talk about a CLIFFHANGER!!!! I want EVERY day to be a WEDNESDAY!!!

All I've Ever Wanted said...

Oh wow. Ouch. Again, the timing is so perfect. When I need it, the message is there. Your financial situation was tough, as is ours, and you got tougher. I'm wondering if I can buckle down and get rid of more. We've eliminated eating out (our biggest hurdle, where we screw up every time! Your Claim jumper bill, I'd feel the same and I've done the same, and I'd probably want to hide under a rock with someone looking at me and calling me on it.) But I've justified the gym membership (it's the Y! We get so much out of it! I just had a baby, it's our ONLY entertainment...) And we need the cell phone plan sice I ran over our minutes over and over and over...) (These are my excuses.) Ouch. Thank you Again and again for sharing.