So I did end up having that conversation with my Dad about our finances and getting out of debt. The debt dig out system he described is not radically different than others I’ve read about – the basic idea is that you pay off your card with the lowest balance first, making the highest possible payments on that card every month till it’s gone. In the meantime, you pay only the minimum on all other credit cards. His plan doesn’t include the whole “snowball” thing (where as you move on to paying the second card, the amount you pay on that card is what you paid on the first card plus the minimum of what you were paying on the second card), or worrying about which cards had the highest interest rate. It’s basically just do whatever is in your power to pay off the lowest card first, and then move on to putting all your energy and resources towards the next lowest card, so on and so forth.
So we’ve decided to try it. My personal credit card currently has the lowest balance (and mind you, that number is not low, per se – it’s just he “lowest” in the scheme of all our debt), so we started with that. We were fortunate to get a tax return this year, so we took that money and applied it to the balance on my card, and managed to cut my debt in half. The amount I still owe continues to be daunting, but only half as daunting as before, and it will be accruing less interest as well. I feel good about that.
After my card is paid off, we’ll pay Ron’s off, and then move to our joint credit card. I hardly ever look at the balance on that card because it makes me sick with anxiety and stress every time I see the number. All of the balances do, really. I hate debt. It makes me angry at myself, because I know it’s my fault. It’s a definite wrinkle in my love of shopping.
The other thing we have to do right now is avoid accruing any further debt if at all possible. That is where I’m really feeling the pinch. Today, I changed the sheets on our bed, and the elastic was so worn out on the fitted sheet I was trying to put on the mattress, I couldn’t get it to work. I also noticed two rather large holes near the corners of the sheet. It’s clearly time to toss them. But I can’t afford to replace them right now, so they’re staying. I also did a ton of mending today and one item was a strapless bra that has been mended so many times that I am having to add extra pieces of fabric to it, because the original fabric has been mended to the point where it is all repair stitches, and there is no actual fabric anymore. But bras are ridiculously expensive, so there was no choice but to keep working with it.
I know this is how a lot of people live their whole lives. There is no luxury of buying something new, even if you really need it, since doing so might mean not being able to afford food, heat or shelter. I am lucky to have what I have, and some of what I own is quite nice. I’ve been following the events of the tornado in Oklahoma, and as I watch what the people there are going through, I am grateful just be alive and out of harm’s way. I have not lost my home and everything in it in a matter of minutes. I have not lost my loved ones, my pets, or any members of my community. I am bummed out and sick of being broke, but I am not suffering.
But my finances, or more accurately my LACK of finances, sure is depressing. And right now my relationship with my stuff feels very depressing as well, and confusing. I feel like there are things I need and want, while at the same time being overwhelmed by the volume of what I already own. The Oklahoma tornado got me thinking about what it would be like to lose everything – all your worldly possessions just gone in the blink of an eye. What would I miss? What would I try to save or replace? What would I never remember losing? How would I handle that level of loss?
It’s impossible to say what I would REALLY do, because you don’t know until you’re in the situation. But if I had to guess, I think I would spend the time immediately after the loss experimenting with trying to live as possession free as possible for as long as possible. I don’t think I would spend a lot of money trying to replace the things I’d lost, with the exception of my computer and phone if they were destroyed. But other than that, I think I would want to take the insurance money and travel for a while, seeing as much of the world as we could reasonably afford to for as long as possible. There is something very luxurious in the thought that while you are experiencing what the world has to offer, there is no stuff to worry about – no payments due on big ticket items, no yard to maintain, no mail piling up, no home or possessions to secure and check on.
I mentioned this to Ron, and he laughed a bit ruefully. When I asked him why, he said, “I lived that way for fifteen years, and I don’t miss it. It’s nice to have a home -it was hard to not have one for such a long time. I like how we live now better.” I had forgotten that before we met, Ron was a professional cyclist, racing bikes in Europe, and pretty much everything he owned besides his bike fit into a couple of suitcases. He was dirt poor and lived hand to mouth during that time, staying with host families or in questionable lodgings. That wasn’t really what I was picturing when I thought about how we would travel, but it occurred to me that my “plan” hadn’t really included any “work”, so our travel would probably be a) very short lived, or b) more “roughing it” than I would enjoy. Ron then went on to talk about smart, responsible things like the importance of retirement funds, at which point the conversation became too depressing to continue so I rolled over and went to sleep.
Right now, I’m not buying stuff because I can’t. And I kind of hate it. So why do I have this fantasy around having no stuff? It doesn’t make a ton of sense. I wondered if the current amount of stuff I own somehow makes my buying restriction feel worse – and if I were to clear a bunch of stuff out, would I feel better? Maybe all my stuff makes me feel unhappy and overwhelmed and the only way I’ve known to cope with those feelings is to go buy more – a sort of self-perpetuating vicious cycle.
Well, I’m about to take steps toward finding that out. I’m embarking on a purge of the category that has put me in so much debt in the first place: my wardrobe. Maybe paring down the very items that have caused so much financial stress will also remove some of the guilt I have around owning them. I don’t know if it will work, but I’m about to find out. Wish me luck!