The Other Side of the Fence (Life After Bankruptcy)

I think that it’s a big thing that I can say that Jessie and I never fight about money.  When things are tight and we are stressed about how we are going to make our money stretch, we are able to sit and talk it out without fighting about it.  This is a part of my marriage that makes me very proud.

Oh, it wasn’t always like that.  We had to do a trial by fire to learn how to calm the hell down where money was concerned.  We learned young, and we learned hard.

I was 19 when we moved in together.  We moved into a small trailer in our college town.  It was our first love nest.  Things were cheap, which was good since we were both still in school.  We both worked as work studies and made next to nothing.  We lived lean, but that was okay with us.

We had two credit cards, one in his name and one in my name.  Both had insanely small limits so we were never in any horrible danger of getting in over our heads.  The credit cards were used mainly as a way to break the monotony of being broke by splurging on dinner and a movie every now and then.

Then about a year later my mom moved to PA to live with her boyfriend.  We took over her house and her mortgage payments.  The mortgage payments were actually a little bit cheaper than the monthly lot rental we paid on the trailer.  We thought we’d found a sweet deal.  But then we discovered termites.  And a completely rotten roof.  And a completely rotten exterior wall.  And a rotten floor.  And sub-par electrical wiring.  And burst water pipes.

By this time, Jessie had gotten his degree and was working for an upstart company (it’s only employee) and was making $20k a year.  With my still being in school and doing my work study program, we weren’t bringing in much more than $23k a year together.

I can blame the hardships on that house falling to shit.  In all honesty it was part of the problem.  But we had a lot of help, too.  I can blame the credit card debt on the fact that we were promised a lot more help with the paying of our wedding than we actually received.  A lot of shitty circumstances came our way all at once and we were bulldozed into a corner.

The simple truth is that we were young, inexperienced, and not as careful as we could have been.  I dropped out of school and got a job.  Jessie got a raise to $30k a year.  That helped a little, but we ended up in that vicious cycle of paying the minimum payment on our credit cards (one of which had a limit on it far too high for us to keep up with) and then not having enough money to pay bills and buy food, so we’d have to use the credit cards to take care of that stuff.  We fought a lot about money in those days.

Then the offer was made to move to Seattle.  The small company was wanting to expand and WV simply wasn’t the place in which to do that.  We seized an opportunity to leave WV (something so few residents of that state actually do) and left for the West coast.

WV is a poverty state.  When we left, the number one employer in our area was Walmart.  Food is cheaper there.  Utilities are cheaper.  Living was cheaper.  We suffered from a massive and constant case of sticker shock for about 6 months when we first got to Washington.  And yet another set of unfortunate circumstances gripped us.  We were 3,000 miles from anyone and anything we ever knew.  We were without a car, and although the one person we knew in the area had previously offered to be of help in the transportation department, we soon learned he was a bit of an unreliable flake.  Jessie had to get to work, so we had to buy a car.  Not knowing that you could get financing on used cars (again, we were young) we bought a new car.  We were able to get a good price on it, but it was still a NEW CAR.

Jessie was given a raise upon moving to Washington to $40k, but once we got there and started paying rent on our scary little apartment in the middle of gang-murder-town and buying groceries, we learned that $40k was going to cause us to sink.

That feeling of knowing that things are spiraling out of control was unbearable for the both of us.  That constant panic that we could possibly be homeless so far away from family and friends scared us to death.  We never confided in anybody our situation because we were dead set on doing this thing on our own, but it was starting to get out of our hands.

Then we decided to file for bankruptcy.  This was back in 2006, before the economy went all the hell.  This was before bankruptcy laws were changed.  At first we contacted a lawyer.  He was over-zealous about getting ALL of our debt cleared.  We weren’t ok with that.  We wanted to continue making payments on our car and to pay off one small credit card on our own.  He argued with us.  We went the online route and paid a small fee to an agency that helped us with the paperwork, gave us online financial classes, and got us through that whole humiliating process rather quickly and painlessly.

That period of constant freaking out, living off of beans and hotdogs only, and eating a big fat piece of humble pie taught Jessie and I that of all the things in life to fight about, money was the most useless.  Not even with the insurance reaming we got when I had Lukas did we fight over money.  We learned that lesson.

We didn’t tell anyone about our filing for bankruptcy.  It’s something that we both feel we need to be ashamed of.  But seeing how the economy is now, and how hard it is hitting some people, I thought it might be helpful to one or two people to write about my story.  I asked Jessie if it was ok, and explained to him why I wanted to write about it (we still haven’t told many people about this) and he agreed it would be helpful.

I’m writing this to let you know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  There is a pasture on the other side of the fence with green grass and cool water.  With a little organization, penny pinching and some good decisions, I am in that green pasture.  Here I am, 4 years after the bankruptcy a homeowner.  We bought a house.  That’s huge.  We had a credit score good enough in this shitty economy to even get a terrific interest rate on our mortgage.  We still drive that car that we bought new in Washington.  It’s our only car and is 18 months away from being paid off.  We can take small vacations.  We can afford to go out to dinner every now and then.  We have two credit cards that are in no way choking us.  We can afford to spoil our kids.

It’s not the end of the world.  It’s hard and it’s painful to go through, but you’ve just got to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and charge forward.  It also taught Jessie and I to be self-reliant.  We know that we can live far away from family and live just fine with no help.  That sense of independence has been precious to both of us.  We know that we don’t NEED anything from anybody else.  We’ve got each other and that’s all we NEED.  It’s a weird thing to take away from such an experience, but it’s something we are both so glad to have.

I hope someone can find this and find some sunshine in it.  I hope someone who is starting to lose their grip on their finances sees this and says, “Well if she can get through it, so can I!”  And if I can be of any help in that department by imparting the wisdom that I gained from the experience, please feel free to email me (contact info is under the ABOUT tab at the top).  I’m more than happy to be of assistance.

Somer blogs at Merry Wife of Canon as well as Smell My Plate.

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