Tough economic times indeed

Given the nature of the economy we live in it is no wonder that so many people have fallen on such hard times. Jobs are being lost, houses are being foreclosed on, cars are being repossessed, families are being destroyed and the list goes on and on. It is a tough time to be alive but thank God we are alive. I cannot wait to see the end of this thing.

Today reminded me of how tight things are for us. Before I get into all that I have to qualify my situation a little bit. I was not affected by the housing crisis like everyone else. I rent, I don’t own. So that means that in a world of people losing homes to outrageous mortgage movement I have remained pretty much untouched with that. My landlords are awesome people. They own the home we live in and during the course of tenancy, which has now extended to six a half years, they have not once raised our rent. They have done everything they could do for us as landlords and have done it faithfully.

No, my financial situation stems from my own personal inability to be a strong man. I let the spending in our house get ridiculously out of control over the last few years and allowed our debt to climb to a point where there really is no light at the end of the tunnel. Well there is, but it is attached to a large train barreling down the track.

Because of my decisions our once very good credit rating has evaporated into the depths of credit risk. Though I make a very good salary it is nowhere near enough to manage the levels of debt I have allowed my family to take on. Gone are the days of a large 401K (not because the market shafted me but because I had to draw on it in order to get out of what I thought was a critical mess I was in about 18 months ago). Gone are the days of no car payment because I had to refinance my car that owned outright in order to pay off debt that was run right back up within a few months. Bad decisions have led to most of the trouble I am in. And we are in some trouble.

As I checked my bank account this morning I realized that after the rent is paid and an obligation I have to tend to is handled (this is an unavoidable obligation that must be handled) my family – me, my wife and five kids – will have about $100 to live off of for the next two weeks. That gets to pay for food, for gas and anything else that might come up over the next two weeks. I cannot remember being in this tight of a position ever. Especially when not having any savings or credit to rely on for that time.

Worse yet, everyone I know that could possible assist me are in the same predicament I am. My brother and sister are both fighting their own personal financial demons at the moment. My sister-in-law makes barely enough to support herself. My in-laws are on one income since my mother-in-law got laid off a few months ago. So there is really no one to turn to for help right now.

I can’t borrow because my credit is crap in a can. I have no credit because we ran up our credit on stuff we didn’t need and could probably not even find anymore. I have no savings because it was spent on paying back creditors for credit we ran up. I have no assets because they were all used up before. This all leaves me in a rather precarious position. And quite frankly I am scared.

I know we are going to make it. We always do. And I am finally at a point where I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for real. We are about a month away from being back on time with our creditors and utilities. A month from now we will have plenty of money to live on after the bills are paid. Two weeks from now it will be a struggle again, but not as bad as this.

But for now I have to find a way to contend with all of this. Not sure how I am going to do it, but it will get done. Of course, if you have any suggestions or ideas, I am all ears. Well, eyes, as it were, since I am reading. 😉

No sooner did I say I didn’t want to …

… then I do it anyway: today was teh suck.

What made it the suckiest day of the year so far was a combination of miscommunication, lack of financial accountability and complete failure of management on my part. You see, it was just after noon today and Sandi had gone to the store. While she was out a black, unmarked tow truck slowly drove through my court. Up the court it went, down the court it returned. And it stopped, in front of my house.

Anyone that has ever been even remotely associated with the car business knows that plain Jane tow trucks, whether white or black, mean only one thing: The repo man cometh. But it couldn’t be for me.

Immediately I thought that there was no way that this truck could be at my house to take my Vibe. I just paid it, just before Christmas. And the Suburban had to be in at least decent shape. At least I thought it was. But to be on the safe side I decided to call GMAC and see where my account stood. Apparently it didn’t stand at all.

I was told by my account rep that my account was severely past due and that I needed to come up with some ungodly amount of cash to remove the repo order that was on my account. Yes, you heard that right, my truck was slated for repossession. And that scared the hell out of me.

I had a vehicle repossessed once before, back in 1997, and it took forever to get that case resolved. It was costly, embarrassing and detrimental to my credit for years and years. There is no way I could allow this to happen again. So I had to negotiate and negotiate fast. And I did.

In the end I agreed to immediately pay some smaller ungodly amount of money to hopefully get the repo man off my back. That was, of course, after I discovered that GMAC has apparently been trying to get in touch with me for weeks. Though I have had no messages from them at work, at home or on my cell phone. There has been this one 800 number that has called quite a bit but every time I answer it there is no one on the other line. I guess this must be the times my rep says he left messages for me.

Either way I had to get the repo order lifted, so I ran around today getting large sums of cash gathered up and sending it by wire to GMAC in hopes that the repo man could be called off in time. I am still not sure if it worked, but I am hoping that when I wake up tomorrow that my vehicle will be where I left it (which incidentally is not at my home – I cannot take the chance that the order didn’t get lifted in time). This is a hell of a way to start the year.

Pray for me. I need it. Times are tougher than I thought they would be two days into the year. I really cannot afford to start off this way, so I am coveting as many prayers as I can get. And pray for my kids, too, please. They are taking this well without knowing everything. But I can sense they can sense something. So I need prayer for them as well.

Regardless, something has to give. I cannot end a year like last year by getting off to a start like this year. That is a recipe for disaster.

Broke as a joke ain’t funny

Every now and again I am faced with the realization that I am broke. Not “down on my luck” or “in a tight place” but freaking broke as a joke. I am so poor I cannot afford to pay attention right now.

Case in point… I left work today and had to use alternate transportation means in order to get home because I did not have the few dollars I needed to put gas in the truck to get it home. That broke.

And at times like these I cannot help but think back to a couple of years ago to when I was not only not broke but was thriving. I had a savings to fall back, credit for emergency situations, a small chance at success based on the availability to use emergency money as needed. I also had a good name in the credit realm, being able to get a loan for almost anything without issue.

Today if I cannot scrounge up a few dollars from my change cup there are days when I cannot eat lunch. There are times when I have to decide between putting gas in the car or paying for certain foods at the grocery store. I have actually had to look at various ways of getting a hold of my money before the bank does because I have accounts that have been severely overdrawn for a period of time now.

My credit is shot. I don’t think I could qualify for a hard case loan or even a high risk loan right now even though I have specific needs that must be met and continue to go on unmet daily. I can for surely say that unless a financial miracle takes place in my life that there may come a time very soon that life as I know it will change dramatically for the worse. I pray that it doesn’t and I am fighting like the dickens to keep that from happening but in all honesty and seriousness, things are financially that bad for my family right now.

I cannot imagine that anyone should ever be in this place. People were not built to handle this level of stress. Ever. Though I know it happens, and that I am largely responsible for this downturn in my life it doesn’t take the edge off the fact that I am usually out of resource four to seven days before my next pay day. This is not living paycheck to paycheck, this is living paycheck to a week before paycheck. And I am scared to death by it.

Of course I do count my blessings daily as well. So I will never lose perspective on my situation. While I might not have money I do have a roof over the heads of my family and for the most part a means by which to feed them. My kids do not lack for much. For some, yes, but not much. Yet as much as I know that I am still richly blessed I still yearn for the days when I was financially solvent and had the ability to make decisions based on want and need as opposed to lack of ability to do one thing versus an ability to do the other.

Pray for me please. I need help.

I say to this TV be healed!

A couple of weeks ago my TV died. Flat out flat lined. Kicked the bucket. Gave up the ghost. Called it quits. Went belly up.

Amid the turmoil that ensued with no babysitter for the kids (yes, this is a joke – don’t call child protective services on anyone now) we were forced to maneuver our way around parenting without the aid of Barney, Teletubbies, Calliou or Arthur. Now that’ll stretch a parent.

To facilitate our sanity my in-laws, being generous and kind, offered us their old TV that was in their guest room. We, being the fairly needy and much maligned family that we have been, resoundingly approved of receiving such a gift and as of this past Tuesday acquired it. And last night, after a very long day at work, I began the process of removing our old TV and replacing it with our in-laws old TV.

On a whim, while the old broken down TV of ours was out of its TV stand place, I decided to plug it in to test if it was indeed broken. And you know what? The darn thing fired right up. Talk about excited!

You cannot imagine the glee and joy I feel knowing that I will not need to spend money fixing a broken TV or yet more money on buying a new TV. It is nice knowing that our TV is working again. I am not sure how it broke to begin with but at the moment I don’t care. All I know is that it is fixed and I am happy. And my in-laws, being the cool people they are, not only told us we can keep their old TV but that we were more than welcome to the TV stand that it occupied. How freaking cool is that?

Now we not only have our babysitter back, we now have a TV that my wife and I can fall asleep watching in the comfort of our very own room. Yeah, life could probably get better, but for now it is pretty good.

Wonder what might happen tomorrow?

Back to work (and public transportation)

Dude, I have no idea why but for some reason today was just not a day that I even wanted to get out of bed. The Zend Conference is over but I seriously had a lot to take in and wanted to spend some time going over that with my coworker today. No such luck.

Instead I was forced to come in to the office and try to manage my way through a day (yes, this reads way more dramatic that it actually was). At the end of the day the only thing I could honestly say was…


If it wasn’t for the fact that you have to get from the train station to your place of residence/business then taking the train would be choice. But there always lies that little extra that makes the train ride suck and that little extra is the fact that I need to bum rides off of people in both directions.

Now these people are more than happy to help me out, but I hate to take advantage of my wife and coworker like that. They do have better things to do than to make sure I make my train on time. Of course being on the train means I get to get a lot more work done because it is just me and my computer for over an hour. But that is about the only benefit I find in the whole thing.

Which leads me to think that it might be time to call my sister and ask to borrow a car from her since I have literally no other outlet at all by which to handle this public transportation/no engine having/broke as a joke condition I am in.

Wish me luck. This is just one more person that I am putting out to make my life easier. God I hate being in this place. And I hate working on a Friday after a four day conference.

Feeling the effects of cowardice and the economy

I have been going through a major transformation in my life the past few weeks. Most of this transformation has stemmed from the fact that a few weeks ago I came to a life shattering conclusion that I have been a coward for a very long time. Somewhere in my life I decided that it was more important to make people feel good than to do the right thing. And because of this decision I made, Lord knows when, my life has been a series of bad decisions based on someone’s tears, fears, angst or discontent.

The effects of a cowardly man are far reaching. Everything that requires the strength of a man are shot to hell when a man refuses to be strong. And I believe things are designed to be that way. Men are made strong so we can use our strength. We are made aggressive so we can be aggressors. We are made to withstand because we need to withstand. It is in our makeup. Strength is not supposed to be something that looks good on a model or handles itself well under circumstance, strength is a meant to a be a lifestyle, a characteristic that is exuded daily by all men.

I have not lived that lifestyle. I have indeed allowed myself to be swayed by many different circumstances. And in so doing I have surrendered my position as a man, a leader and head of household to my wife. I have not only stripped myself of the authority and dominion inherent to me as a man but I have also placed my wife in a position where her identity as a woman is cloudy because of the things she has to do because I have chosen not to do them.

One area of long standing contention in my marriage has been finances. I am the sole provider of the house and have been for about five years or so. In the 13 years that Sandi and I have been married she has worked outside of the home for about five years with the remaining eight years being spread out over several periods in our marriage when we had new children or some other life event allowed/necessitated her be home with the kids.

Up until a few years ago I had managed the money in our home. I was diligent, relentless and incredibly passionate about making sure our bills were paid and our obligations met. I had the bank account balanced against my register every morning. I knew, to the penny, how much money I had available to my at any given point of any given day. I was on it.

Unfortunately at that time we did not make a whole lot of money so even though I had things firmly under control we did not really have a lifestyle. We had kids, a place to live, cars to drive and a little bit of food in the fridge. But that was about it. And Sandi felt like she was being locked out of the finances.

So in response to her feelings I decided to offer control of the finances to her. I am not one for two people handle the same task at the same time so I told her that she could have it if she was willing to take it all. She agreed and a few years back I gave her everything I had in relation to our finances. And you know what? For a couple of years she did a kick ass job of making sure everything was handled appropriately just as I had done. She also saw to it that there was money for other lifestyle type things so we were not always so stuffed on what we could do or when.

She even made sure our credit improved. From very early on in my adult life I seemed to do everything under the sun to make sure that my credit was craptastic. She actually improved our credit standing and in late 2005 we began taking on credit again. It was nice to be able to qualify for things that required good credit because had, for so long, been such a huge credit risk that we were either completely unable to do things based on credit or we paid a huge premium for doing things on credit. So I felt great about her handling the money and the success we were having.

In September of 2006 I changed jobs. I began to earn about 50% more than I was earning at my old job. We had lots more money and what appeared to be a growing lifestyle. And then things began to take a turn for the worse in our finances. We had amassed an enormous amount of debt. Things were not getting paid. We began to get calls from creditors. We began to not have money. This was about summer 2007.

Being faced with some troubling circumstances ahead I made a few decisions and didn’t make a few others that led to an increased lack in my household. The long and short of it is that I ended up costing my family my retirement to get us out of hock in June 2007. The biggest bills were paid, some smaller ones were paid off completely. We put some money (about $6,000) into savings and put a little more (about $2,500) into savings for our children ($500 each for five kids). It felt good, but in a bad way. While the bills were paid and we had some savings immediately I knew that withdrawing $60,000 worth of my retirement would have a negative effect on our lives.

Spring forth to December 2007. Even though we had paid off almost all of our debt just six months earlier we were maxed out again. I had about $200 cash to spend on Christmas for my entire family, my wife and my kids. My credit cards were shut off or at their limits. Times were tough. Bills were not getting paid again. Calls were coming in again. The kids began to understand that Privacy Manager, or 1-800 Services on the phone meant that neither mom nor dad wanted to take that call. In January of this year I was faced with another decision to make.

I chose to borrow against my paid off car so I could pay down our American Express bill. Again. We paid a few others too but the AmEx bill has always been the one that has gotten us into trouble. And mind you we had burned through the $6,000 grand in savings (I was saving that for the tax bill on the retirement withdrawal that I knew was coming) and the kids savings had been wiped out too. We had nothing at our disposal except my car. So I had to do something. I hocked my car.

Now in the midst of all this I had made a firm decision in my head to take back control of the finances of our home. And each time I was completely swayed by my wife’s tears and heartfelt sentiment that she could get things back under control if she just had a little more time. Plus she said that she didn’t want to be kept out of the finances again and that when I was doing the money before I would just push her down and not listen to her. So again, I caved. Each time we hit rock bottom I would try to get us back up to a point and still let the situation run. I was scared of my wife’s reaction and feelings.

Let’s come back to here and now shall we? We are just about to move into August. The last time we paid anything to American Express, I come to find out, was April. Our truck payment is behind. Most of my cards are behind a month or more. Some have even gone all the way to collection agencies. I am getting multiple calls daily from various collectors that want to be paid. And, even though I was just told a few weeks ago that our car payments were up to date and that we are good, I also find out this past Saturday that we are overdrawn in our back account by $800.

“What? How could we be negative?” she says. “I was watching that.”

This morning we are up to $1,000 negative in our account. If it gets any worse we will not be able to pay our rent. We are already not going to be able to buy groceries. Our utility bills are mounting because they are months behind and I have a truck payment that is about to get to 60 days late. How much longer should I wait to see if this thing gets better?

Granted things have gotten out of hand in terms of cost all over the place. The economy is crap right now thanks to fuel prices. The cost of gas is driving the cost of everything else up so things that we rely on daily are getting harder and harder to afford. But when it comes right down to it, how would that explain the condition of our expenses?

I blame myself. Sandi should never had been put into a position to handle this. It is my role as the leader of our household to take care of things like this. I have failed her, my family and myself. I have let this get out of control. That gets fixed now.

A man with no balls allows all sorts of mischief to take place right under his nose because he is too damned scared to make a change. Today, I take my balls back. This will be fixed.

Being broke is never opportune

Today, after cranking out my “brought from home” lunch of dried out refrigerated chicken and rice that tasted like everything that has ever rotted inside the fridge, ever, I was told that the little diner down the street from where I work was celebrating their 50th anniversary. Breakfast… a complete breakfast… was only 2.99 and it included a cup of coffee.

Burgers were only 3.99 and included fries and a soda. And you know what the crappy thing about this is (if there could be something crappy about this)? I have no money. None.

I will be broke for about the next week or so. How suck is that?

I just needed to vent that because I am stewing in my irritation that I cannot go get a $4 lunch at a place I really like. Crap.