Wednesday, January 26, 2011


There are two kinds of criminals:  the kind that do something bad and the kind that are just poor.  More on this later! 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

“Why do you write about how poor you are?”

“Why do you write about how poor you are?”

I was asked this question recently. At first, I let it shame me. But, as the question, and the venom with which it was asked, have lingered in my mind, some of my own truths have bubbled to the surface. I’d like to share those truths.

We are not our wallets or our bank balances. I am not ashamed of either because neither defines me. I am proud of who I am and what I can accomplish and the ways I find to survive despite what the numbers might indicate to someone who defines merit with dollar signs and decimal points.

I started my blog out of a desire to be genuine -- to write about what’s real, to process my own experience, and to voice something that many people are going through (or have gone through or will go through in the future). There is no need to struggle in shame and silence.

When I think about The Great Depression, I think about how people survived and about how the country eventually pulled itself out. I don’t think poorly of those who went through it. I respect their courage and strength and survival.

I would also like to assert that there is no shame in good, honest work. Period. I have great respect for anyone who gets up and goes to work and gives it their best effort – no matter how menial or low-paying the job might be. I’d much rather work and earn my own way than sit around, spoiled, and have everything handed to me. In the end, having it given to you doesn’t feel good.

In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter how I got to where I am. What’s important is how I get out.

I wanted to write a rags-to-riches story from the beginning (though I don’t need riches but I do intend to work my way to financial security). I wanted to capture the depths of the despair, to write about how I found directions, detail the steps I took that led me out of it, and to celebrate the victory achieved in the end.

I write about how poor I am because I don’t intend to stay this way. Because, after I’ve dug my way out, I want there to be a chronicle left for my children and their children (and anyone else who cares or might benefit) that tells about how we all go through difficult times, that there IS a way out, and that this is a universal life experience that most of us will go through at one time or another.

The most important thing I’ve learned: I can be miserable and walk around all day every day ruminating on my misery. Or not. I choose NOT! It’s about living in the now. It’s about rising above. Tomorrow will come anyway and we will all die in the end so why make myself miserable when I can choose not to be? In turn, I am more productive and more successful at bringing about positive change and I am able to enjoy each day if I am not consumed with my own misery. This is a HUGE and incredibly valuable life lesson that I would never have learned without this time of struggle. Very Zen!

My blog is not about how poor I am. My blog is about creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and optimism. Those are some of the best states of being that I know. If a little financial strife is the catalyst for these things, then I welcome it. I have been pushed by circumstance to be more of all of these. Isn’t this a phenomenon that occurs over and over in life – that challenges push us toward growth? I embrace that growth and the situations and experiences that create it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Exonerating My Husband

The problem with writing a blog about money is that doing so tends to inadvertently implicate one’s husband.

For the record, I want it to be known that our financial situation should only reflect on Mark positively. MY dire financial state has nearly taken us both out but it is mine alone in its origin.

To properly orient you to my financial situation, I would have to tell a tale that goes back over 100 years and involves many characters and multiple plot twists. That would be too complicated to write (I’ve tried!) and too exhausting to read (you wouldn’t want to!). I will mercifully spare you.

Suffice it to say, Mark and I agreed to a 50/50 split when we married. I was to pay for my house, cabin, car, and children. He was to pay the household bills. We agreed to contribute equally to the spending money.

Then the bottom fell out of my financial world. My previously secure income completely ceased. As in ZERO! Try losing most or all of your income and then try to hold on to everything you have!

Mark graciously stepped in to try to fill the gap in an impossible situation. He has worked day and night to help me. He has done without in huge ways. We have had to live in different states for most of our marriage. My situation has been a huge burden on him and one that many a lesser man would have walked away from. If it weren’t for Mark, I would have lost everything.

Mark is the hero in this story. Don’t anyone dare think anything else!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I Am Looked After

Over the last two years, as I have tried to scrape by after losing about 90% of my income, I have been blessed to be shown over and over that I am "looked after" (as my dear mother-in-law always says and fiercely believes about herself -- and she's right)! 

Yes, there are bills I haven't been able to pay.  Yes, I will be working for a long time to dig myself out.  But, in the thick of it all, when it really comes down to it, most of the time, something has come through at the last moment to make sure I have what I need (insert Rolling Stones background music here: "You can't always get what you want. You can't always get what you want.  But if you try sometimes, you might find, YOU GET WHAT YOU NE-E-EED!"). 

Somehow something always seems to fall out of the clear blue sky and land right in my lap.  I often picture my dearly departed mother and grandparents gathered above me on a cloud, preparing these care packages for me for just that moment when I most need them -- perhaps with little invisible parachutes to insure a gentle delivery!

Earlier this year, we didn't have gas service for about five months.  I know that sounds massively dire, but one of our two water heaters is electric and that water heater supplies the kitchen and one bathroom so we had hot water for dishes and bathing.  And we didn't need heat during those warm months so we didn't really suffer (except for not being able to use the whirlpool bathtub which, of course, is dire, massive suffering at its worst!).  We were able to get the gas turned back on just in the nick of time -- mere days before the weather turned cold enough to require heat.

Yesterday I had immediate shut-off notices on three utility bills.  I had already negotiated extensions and gone to through all the borrowed time.  Having these utilities shut off would have incurred additional expenses to get them turned back on plus additional fees and deposit on top of that -- thus compounding the problem.  The bills just simply HAD to be paid IMMEDIATELY!  But I had no money.

There was a $104 water bill, a $143 electric bill, and a $26 electric bill for the cabin totaling $273.  And there were four coins in my wallet (I had $35 in my bank account but it was food and gas money for the week and was, therefore, sacred and untouchable so that doesn't figure into the equation).

Almost magically, within 24 hours, I sold a TV cabinet to a friend whom I knew wanted it ($125), received a paycheck from my second job ($120), and was compensated for helping out another realtor while she was out of town ($25).  Total = $270!  Three dollars away from exactly what I needed!  Whew!  Bills paid! 

Last week I had $300.70 in my bank account. The emergency services at the vet that were necessary to save our dog's life and had to be paid up front were $300.20. I walked away with 50 cents and a live dog!
Squeaked by again!

It amazes me how often this happens.  Enough money comes in to just cover impending expenses -- like the cosmos knows and has it all arranged or something!  We just have to sit down here on earth and wait to see how it all unfolds! 

Though I don't enjoy having my bank account cleaned out completely, at least the dust, crumbs, and cobwebs get swept out regularly with the powerful vacuum that takes out all the money!  And I get the very touching privilege and honor of seeing that I am, indeed, somehow, in some complicated and mysterious way, "looked after" and that the Lord DOES provide -- though just not exactly on my terms, on my timetable, or in lottery-sized proportions (darn it)!  But I appreciate it massively anyway!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Domino Effect

In my driveway sits a shrine to my former life.  Sad, dormant, neglected.  My 2004 Toyota Sienna sits idle and forlorn, gathering dust, leaves, bird droppings, and wandering trails of cat foot prints.

Heated leather seats, quad captain's chairs, side curtain air bags (the whole reason I bought the car in the first place), kickin' stereo, CD player, tinted windows, digital compass, outside thermometer, double lighted vanity mirrors, SEVENTEEN DRINK HOLDERS (the other reason I bought the car)!  I'm sure there are amenities that I don't even remember.  OOH!  POWER DOORS!  How I adore the power doors!  I have completely failed to teach my kids how to operate car doors themselves because I always hit the button on the key fob before they even get to the car!  We are SO spoiled!  After seven years with my Sienna, the thrill of the power doors has still not worn off!  I remain completely tickled by them.

As I write this, I realize that today is "Sierra Sienna's" 7th birthday. 

It was snowy and dark on the evening of January 4th, 2004 when I first met her in a frigid parking lot where the transport company unloaded her onto the icy pavement on the evening of her trip from Arizona (had to order from Arizona to get that beautiful dark blue color!). 

Over the next few days I spent an arguably unhealthy amount of time sitting in the car in front of the house listening to music on the stereo and reading the owner's manual to learn how to use all the bells and whistles.  My daughters would wander out to visit me periodically, stay awhile, and then wander back inside -- probably wondering if mom was out in the car looking for the screw she had lost!

I ran out and bought rubber floor mats to protect the pristine carpeting (putting the carpet mats away for safekeeping).  I bought organizers for the backs of the seats, an organizer for the jumper cables and other stuff like that that needs to ride around in the back, an organizer for CD's, a case for the registration and insurance verification papers, and a turbo ice scraper.  I stocked my beautiful new car with kits: a first aid kit, an road emergency kit, an office kit, a sewing kit, a care-care kit, and the most important thing to carry around in you car because you'll use it daily: a pair of scissors!  I had everything I needed!  I was good to go!

The smell of the leather, the bells and whistles, the seventeen drink holders, the CLEAN! It was well-equipped heaven on wheels!  Ahhhhh....

That was seven years ago.  Today.  And today is a very different reality. 

"What happened?," you ask?  Let me tell you a very sad story.

My ex-husband and I owed $385 in personal property taxes.  The deadline came and went.  We didn't have the money.  Neither of us.  So they put our name in the newspaper as delinquent tax payers.  Big whoop!  I wasn't too worried about the public shaming.  I only know one person who reads those notices and she likes me anyway!

Last January (2010), my license plate came due for renewal.  At the time, I didn't even have the $25 for the renewal stickers.  When I finally came up with that money, I found out that I had to pay the personal property taxes before I could renew the tags.  $385.  Didn't have it. 

But one must still go to work and one must still take the kids to school.  So I drove with expired plates. 

I'm a mom in a mini-van.   I drive safely.  I always wear my seatbelt.   I don't attract too much law enforcement attention. I didn't get my first ticket for the expired plates until May.  In June I got a second one -- even though I cried and told my whole sad sob story and the officer felt really bad about giving it to me.  I think he would have let me off if he hadn't already typed my offense into his in-car computer and had Big Brother watching over his shoulder. 

After that, I parked my car and started driving Mark's mini van -- a very nice black 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan.  Not my car, but still nice wheels.  I felt very cared for driving Mark's car.  He drove the work truck.  We were good.

In August, I had Mark's van stuffed full of staging furniture and needed to transport children so I took my van for a drive.  Until suddenly it wouldn't drive.  The transmission had gone out.  Dead. Kaput. Broken. 

There are only 130,000 miles on the Sienna but I will admit to neglecting the maintenance.  The last time I took it in for service, it cost $1100.00 (WHEN did I have $1100 sitting around to put into my car?  THAT was a very different life!).  I'd been ignoring idiot lights for a very long time (what could they know after all -- they're "idiot" lights!).  There was nothing I could do.  Car repairs were beyond my means.  I didn't have money for even an oil change.  I prayed the tires would last.  I knew a breakdown would be catastrophic.  Maybe I made the mistake of saying that out loud where demons and evil spirits could hear me and get ideas! 

So I limped Sierra Sienna home (she still had first and second gears, barely) and parked her and went back to driving Mark's van.  Until his van quit on me too.  TWO transmissions in one month!  And transmissions are expensive, in case you didn't know.  My rotten, rotten luck!

So then my dear Mark put me in his mother's little 1995 Ford Aspire, "Bonnie", which has great gas mileage but that's about it in terms of perks -- other than that it GOES!  (See my piece on "The Tin Can Peddle Car" for an elaboration on Bonnie!)  I've been driving Bonnie since August and I am very, very grateful to have Bonnie and her 47 miles per gallon and her just plain simple mobility.  But I'm terrified that Bonnie will die beneath me and my mother-in-law will never forgive me!

I still can't afford to replace the transmission in my Sienna.  Even with my ex-husband willing to find a used transmission and put it in for free, there has not been $375 available.  And, even then, I know owe another year's personal property taxes on tope of that original $385. 

But Bonnie HAS gotten a new fuel pump, two new alternator belts, and a new tire out of the deal -- just to keep her running!

To add injury to injury, while the Sienna was sitting idle in the driveway, a gallon jug of water that I had left in "the way back", sprang a leak and drained onto the carpet and under the rubber mat in the rear cargo area.  In the summer heat.  In a closed-up car.  With all those mold spores taking their summer travels on humidity vectors.  The result is a very nasty, noxious mold that makes me deathly ill in five minutes and seems impervious to bleach, borax, and vinegar. 

So now there's a new transmission, personal property taxes, license plate renewal fees, the expense of renewing the insurance, AND the cost of replacement carpet between me and getting my old mode of transportation back.  And, even then, the mold may just be everywhere and impossible to eradicate.  But that's a nightmare for another day...!

So, that's the whole long sad story of how one thing after another after another that have convened to leave Sierra Sienna sitting in the driveway (where, by the way, the basketball goal, the metal rose arbor, and a cabinet have all been blown over by stong winds right onto my once-beautiful, but now somewhat dented car!)

As for those traffic fines, I requested community service and will be working 24 hours ($10 per hour) at a local thrift store to work off my $240 in fines.  Little do they know that thrift stores are my heaven!  Maybe there is some mercy in the universe after all!