The question has been raised, and the answer is, in truth, quite simple. No! Not even close!
I lost my full-time job on January 5, 2009. The intervening seven years have been very good years in many ways. They have been full of adventures, business entrepreneurship, cross-country moves, family weddings, wonderful friendships and a whole lot of love!
But to the question raised, seven years of under and unemployment doesn’t get erased in one year. What does it mean to have substantial debt? It means that you are in bondage. It means that there are a whole lot of things that you want to be able to do, or help with, or purchase or enjoy, that you have to reject outright or put on hold. Some of those things are very painful. Unlike our national debt which keeps growing exponentially without ever causing us to reign in our spending, our family debt has caused us to stop in our tracks and radically change course: carefully evaluating every expenditure and developing a plan to eliminate existing debt.
My husband and I developed such a plan one year ago when I finally landed my first full-time job since 2009. We put between 50-80 percent of every paycheck I make toward paying down our debt and 20-40 percent into savings and whatever is left for current bills. We work hard to not incur new debt. But life happens and a large dental bill requires us to divert some of that debt retirement money to paying off the dentist. Non-negotiable: digging out continues but slows down for four months.
We are making progress. We have retired one debt. We have paid thousands against the next debt. We keep on working the plan. We put off getting things that we can’t afford. The list is long but includes buying me a second pair of pants for work, buying much needed shoes, and replacing my husband’s shirts with badly frayed collars. It includes replacing or re-upholstering the sofa which now has its gaping tears covered with a woven throw. Way down at the bottom of the list is replacing the dishwasher that came with the house but has never worked; we don’t need one. I’ve had to put off tuning the piano, which pains me, as it hasn’t been tuned for seven years, but it isn’t in the cards. It means trimming the grocery list, making our own Christmas cards and trimming the list of the people we send them to. It means deciding to decorate for Christmas without buying a tree and instead getting each other one joint gift for Christmas: a Sauder bookcase so we can finally empty the boxes of photo albums that are still in our bedroom nearly three years after moving in.
Yesterday morning I read on Facebook that every one of our county’s bond issues failed to pass. They included some infrastructure issues for roads and flood issues, but also libraries, swimming pools, parks, walking trails, tourism things, etc. According to the tally of the bond issues the estimated total cost would be $1,019,092,224., over one billion dollars. There are many people who are disappointed that these did not pass. Yet the unemployment in our town is high and there are many people here who are really hurting financially. But I digress, I was talking about personal debt.
Being in debt is very humbling. I have to keep relearning to stay focused on the plan and quit thinking about the big picture. I need to remember that we are making progress and one day this will all be better. It helps when I don’t dwell on the fact that my salary is the lowest I’ve earned since 1979. It helps when I don’t dwell on the fact that I have a master’s degree and am working in a call center. It is sobering to look around me at work, and see how many people there have advanced training in other fields, including many with master’s degrees, Ph.Ds, and engineering degrees, and yet this is the job they were able to get. Like I said, times are tough here. It helps me to be mindful that there are many people who are in the same place or in worse places than we are financially. I am cheered daily by a terrific neighboring call center employee who regularly responds to her customer’s greeting with the words: “Living the Dream!”
In truth there is a great deal to be thankful for: my amazingly devoted husband; our quirky, fun and loving family; scads of terrific friends; a church to belong to with faithful preaching and liturgy; a nice house in a nice neighborhood; good meals; spectacular and awe-inspiring sunsets; and night skies full of stars. It puts me in a better frame of mind to heed my wise husband who regularly reminds me that our present trials won’t last forever, and that our debt is temporary.
So I give thanks, enjoy my wonderful cup of morning coffee and keep on keeping on.