Thursday, October 21, 2010

One Year Ago.

I realized Wednesday night, as I was balancing my checkbook, or trying to, (I shouldn't do that when I'm tired.) that it's been one year since the "Great Financial Meltdown of 2009". One year ago, 5th 3rd botched a deposit and my house of financial cards collapsed. I struggled last night to find a $3.63 error. Thursday morning, that error mushroomed into a $14.43 error. In going back, I found a subtraction error. I still can't find 3 cents and that kind of bothers me. It starts with 3 cents that you can't find and will, eventually, balloon into more substantial dollars because you've just ignored it.

I thought I might do an Excel spreadsheet that would, in large type, let me see all the subtraction I've done. Maybe that would help me find it. But I can't figure out how to automate the process and, if I'm going to wind up typing everything, heck, I'll use the in-computer calculator. It's probably a copying error on my part, but I can't find it right now, mainly, I think, because I know what the numbers should say and that's what I read instead of what's there. I'll come at this again over the weekend and see if I can find it.

What have I learned in a year of living without? First of all, my capacity to do without is huge. When you can't afford things, you learn very quickly what is and is not a necessity of modern life. There are things I should fix such as the kitchen overhead light which has ceased to work and I don't think it's bulb related. But, I can get a cheap floor lamp and plug it in next to the kitchen phone. Combined with the over-the-sink light, I'll be able to see. I think fixing the kitchen light is going to mean a rewiring of that fixture, which would involve going into the attic for access. This is not just "replace the bulb". This is replace the wiring and I just don't have money for that.

Secondly, everything gets analyzed from a "do I really NEED this" standpoint. In some cases, it's things I would like to have. Those are very few. Most of the time, I don't NEED what I think I need or I can get along, just fine, thank you very much, with something less expensive. It sometimes takes some digging to find that item but find it I do and it works.

Third, I am not very good with numbers and understanding finances. I still make costly mistakes, mistakes I probably shouldn't make, but that leads to item number four, I've learned more about finances than I ever really wanted to learn. It's been forced upon me. My head still swims after a couple of articles, but I do read up on financial information, almost daily and that knowledge has helped me. I should have one card paid off in a couple months. Although it has taken a full year to do it, that's money I can apply elsewhere now.

Fifth, the capacity for a financial institution to drag you through the mud or elevate you to almost star-status is dictated by the kind of people who are at the front line, customer service. I still go around and around with a couple of credit cards because I don't have the money to pay what they demand. I send them a little something every month and then endure the phone calls and the incessant demands and the comments. It always ends with me saying, "Well, we are at an impasse. I will keep on keeping on. I just wish someone at your company understood what people like me are up against." Then I wish them a good day and hang up. There's no further reason for me to talk to them. I know what I can pay and they either want that or they don't. Nothing much changes from month to month. If I have more, I'll send it their way. It is what it is.

Chase has been nothing short of golden for me. I love the simplicity of their on-line statement. I have, and I know some of you will faint, begun paying some bills electronically. I vowed I would never, ever do that because I need to write the check to make it more real. But, I have discovered that it's easy to set up and do. Maybe, once things are more stable, I'll be doing that all the time. Maybe not. But I can do it, have done it and it's easy for me to do. That makes a world of difference.

Sixth, the capacity for friends and people I don't know for kindness is beyond my wildest wishes. It's hard for me to just accept, without reciprocity, kindness. I guess that comes from my grandmother. My mother tells the story of a friend of my grandmother's dropping off food one time when my grandmother was battling almost pneumonia. She was under a doctor's orders to stay in bed. Instead, she got up and made this lady brownies because she couldn't accept the food dropped off without reciprocating.

It's hard for me to do this, too, just accept the gift and not feel that I owe someone something other than just my conversation and time. But there is no possible way I can take people to dinner regularly. I'm worried about Christmas, what will I have to spend, and my desire to give a gift to someone because I want to, not because they expect something. Yet limited resources means limited ability to give anything.

The anonymous Target cards are incredible gifts. I have stopped wondering who sent them; no, really, I have. The kindness and generosity shown to me helps me endure the nights when one credit card calls, gets my standard answer, and then calls 3 more times with increasing hostility, as if demanding in louder and broader tones is going to change my response. I think, for whomever sent those my way, knowing that I am so very, very, very grateful for this kindness is thanks enough.

As I look ahead to the next year, I have closed all 5th 3rd accounts and wouldn't recommend them to my worst enemy. I've been reading about increasing my contributions to my IRA and wondering if it would be in my best interest to take the money I will gain from paying off one card and stick it in my IRA or if that would be best added to the next card targeted to be paid off. The fact that I'm even thinking this has to be a date you circle on the calendar. My recovery is in baby steps, some days one forward and two backwards, but baby steps. It took me 7 years to recover from the divorce. It will probably take me that long to recover from this. I have no illusions now. I no longer have the "I can charge this because I can pay for it later" mentality. I charge gas and that's it and, even then, if I know I have the money in my checking account, I will use my debit card for gas. I'd rather have it paid for than have it revolve.

A new me? I suppose, but it's a new me that still walks gingerly. There are still too many mistakes and land mines for me to stride ahead comfortably. I'm trying. I'm learning. It's just a slow process.

Beverage: Irish Breakfast tea


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