Staying The Course
Last year I ran into a couple of problems. None of them involved money. I was having money thrown at me like I was some kind of up and coming athlete. Everyone loved the training I was delivering, and my “work ethic” as one broker put it. Of course by “work ethic” he was referring to my willingness to take on new courses that I had never taught, on material that I was hardly familiar with. That seemed to be what separated me from the overpaid pre-Madonna’s of the training industry. My wife and I recognized it, and cashed in on it. Before long, the phone was always ringing with awkward requests, and it was difficult to keep track of everything coming in by e-mail. But with every success came a fair bit of sadness as everything I agreed to meant leaving town for a week at a time.
As we went into April, I was running from one week stink to another. From home – to airport – to a dirty hotel. The sweet victory of returning home and sending out the invoice just didn’t seem to counter the hard fact that I would probably have to do it all over 24 hours later. I simply didn’t want to leave any more. And my time at home was hardly productive. I usually sat around in my pajamas all day when I wasn’t on the road.
The money was great. And everything else sucked. My wife and I had always agreed that money shouldn’t drive our goals in life as the result is a miserable existence. And we were right. So I quit. The phone continued to ring, and I turned away job after job while working to get my resume out on the street – talk to old acquaintances and set up interviews. There were two jobs that stuck out in my mind as something obtainable. And I landed a position with one of them. So what’s happened since then?
I like my new job. I was once again part of a mom-and-pop style business, with a real team atmosphere. There are four of us working to stay ahead of service requests, phone calls, and security incidents, and a fifth member writing all the software. The boss and his wife run the sales, billing, and general customer service aspect. It works. It works well. The company has grown by at least a third, putting a stress on the four of us providing support and we suspect we’ll get a fifth partner by January.
I start every day trying to finish yesterdays load, and by noon I have far more to get done than I can ever commit to. The result is that I end up stuffing down lunch when I can, usually muting a customer so they don’t hear my munching. I’m busy, all the time. It’s nice. The days fly by, and I have fun at what I’m doing.
I suppose there are a few problems though. Namely, I’m flat fucking broke. When I applied for the job, I asked for $20,000 a year more than I ended up being hired for. But seeing that I was not getting calls from anyone, I took it. My wife and I ran some numbers and figured that we were going to barely squeak by. But there were surprises. The taxes were a bit higher than expected. Health care and dental insurance take a large portion of my check. And in the end, we were $200 short paying all of the bills.
How could we save our house? We would have to prove to the mortgage company that we can afford it. But here we are months later, and the mortgage company has figured out that we really can’t afford our house. I guess it was more like “fooling them” into thinking we could afford it. They’re nice people and they’re pretty understanding. I guess they have to be. As I look up and down my street, we hardly have any of our original neighbors. They’ve all moved away because they couldn’t afford their homes either. When we see moving vans, it’s never anyone moving in. It’s someone else who’s given up. Our street is littered with realtor signs, some boasting “HUD property” and one even boasts a good deal for “distressed property”. My wife an I figure that translates to “dog shit smells” and “urine stains”.
In an attempt to satisfy the mortgage company I cashed in on my retirement account. There’s very little left. A thousand bucks, or so. With the money we paid off our tax debts with mounting interest, our car which was nearing repossession status, and all of our utility bills which were starting to come to the mailbox in festive orange colors. That ought to do it, I thought. I put it all in front of the mortgage company. In my naivety I guess I thought that they would be willing to help me lower my payments. But the response instead was “that’s great, but you still don’t make enough money”. They always ask weird and insulting questions such as “do you have any other sources of income?”. I’m never sure how to answer that one. I guess I really want to know, “what do other people answer that with?”. Not because I am a smart ass, but I could use some more money myself!
The night after calling the bank and signing the papers to watch my retirement vanish, I had a nightmare that I was in prison. It was awful there, and I wasn’t being treated very well. It seemed like I had expected better, but upon getting there I realized that prison really sucks. Nobody came to see me for weeks. Eventually my dad showed up for a visit and said “we’re working with your lawyers, it may take some time”. But I kept pleading “you have to get me out of here … I mean, I’m not even sure what I did”. But after I was awake, and I could make sense of what was going on in my head, it was clear. I had put myself on trial for my financial ruin, and it was for my father who was judging me.
I explained the whole dream to my wife – adding that I was in grief over a financial decision that my father will not be happy with. She was quite understanding and assured me that we were doing the right thing and the only thing. I admitted that it was rather sad to sit around depressed about what my father would say about my financial un-successes.
Retirement spent, and bank account empty, I continued my new full time career making 13% less than I did when I was laid off several years ago. I felt I was underpaid then. I feel really underpaid now. While waiting on hold to talk to the mortgage company, they constantly remind you of their website. So I headed there to a section on “payment help” where they offer “alternatives to foreclosure”. My heart sank. There were five options. The first three were options that we have tried in attempts to get back on track and keep paying on our house. All options that have failed, as there is just not enough income to go around. The latter two unexplored options involved leaving your home in a voluntary fashion – to avoid the black mark of foreclosure. Those, I thought, were the only two I haven’t been through.
So I broke it to my wife. Monday I will call the mortgage company. I will tell them that we cannot make a payment. A payment that we needed to make if we wanted to stay on a plan. The plan being a “test” to see if we could stay on the path to repayment. The result of missing my deadline? Options four and five on the list. I don’t have to speculate. The whole thing is laid out for you. If you aren’t content leaving your home, there’s always the missing option six (foreclosure).
Likely, I will be leaving my house in the coming year. Not because I don’t like the place. I just simply can’t afford to live in it. I’m not bitter about it, but a little depressed. I’ve raised my kids here. We’ve painted the walls together. There are lots of great memories here.
I suppose that things might turn around. But I have to be honest with myself. I’m not going to get a large raise any time soon. I’m doing a great job at work. The boss even told me so, and he’s not a complimenting type. And it was a little sad to hear that one of our team members who has been there for years, makes the same thing I do.
Should I look for a new job? I guess it’s time to. I like my job. But I need more money. A lot more money. So much more money, that when I am asked by an interviewer “what is your current salary”, I had better put on a pretty good poker face.
In situations such as these, I wonder what the Buddha would have said. Likely he would remind me of suffering. He would tell me that when the things we like are taken away, we feel suffering. It brings me comfort in knowing that it’s just a house that’s gong away and not the life of someone I love. Life has dealt me much worse, and I’m not going to call this situation sour grapes. The time I have had with my kids, and not being on the road all the time certainly seems better than paying all my bills and leading a miserable life. I still feel we’re better off than this same time last year.
What’s next for me? What’s next for us? At 30 years old, and lacking a college degree I’m in no shape for demanding a large increase from my current employer.
It looks I will be back to the job search engines and updating my resume for one last stand. Wish me luck.?
DEVO | 11.19.06 - 7:23 pm | #
Hey Ray, I am a long time reader of your blog. Been reading since I found you on the legendary thebroken forums. I come back from time to time and catch up on how you are doing, and somehow I always find a mirror of my own trials. This one is no different except for the fact that it reflects my situation 6 months ago. I dropped a job that was great for my bottom line, but bad for me personally. I left there and never looked back - instead, waiting tables to get by, and not even doing that. But alas, I did find a job that I love, and that loves my checkbook, and it all seems worth it now. Don't hesitate to do what needs to be done, in the end you will see the wisdom of your choice fully. Best of luck..
Ty | Homepage | 11.28.06 - 5:02 pm | #