Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year's Destitution and How the Other Half Lives

Brother, can you spare a dime?
So. On New Year's Day, I paid bills. No, I didn't need sobering. I just needed to pay bills.

Before I left for Utah, I left a stack of bills for Eric to mail and two to drop off. One to drop off was the mortgage, a rather important bill. Somehow (I'm blaming grief), I missed two other bills, so last week, when I was rummaging through piles of crap on Christmas eve, trying to make a space for Santa, I found these two bills. One was the light & gas bill, the other was Kohl's department store. The late fees arrived with the new bills a few days later. Late fee for utilities: $2.81. Late fee for Kohl's: $25. Like I love just tossing money into the wind. Man, that could have been a delicious dinner for two. Or given to the kids since we haven't been putting any money in their savings accounts recently. Or any number of other things.

This came after my trip. During my trip, Eric mailed the mortgage instead of dropping it off at the bank. Unsealed envelope, no return address, no stamp, the day before it was due. Let's add the $29 stop-payment fee so the bank doesn't get paid twice or some hoodlum doesn't cash it. We haven't received it back in the mail or gotten nastygrams from either bank involved.

After the New Year's Day bill paying, we have approximately 48 cents to last until Jan. 15, when Eric gets paid again, at which point most of that check will go to the mortgage. If we can get it there.

We've been living beyond our means since we met.

We bought a house when I was 22. I really just wanted a cheap apartment close to campus. Eric wanted a nice place to live and didn't care what it cost, as long as it was appropriate for throwing parties. But my mom really put the pressure on to get a house. So we did because I couldn't ever put my foot down in those days. It was a lot of money, of course, and we borrowed the absolute limit that we were allowed. It makes it hard when, just after you close the deal, everything inside the house needs fixing, and suddenly you need things you never needed before, like a lawnmower, a ladder, caulk. Oh, and a new car. A month after we bought our house, our car died.

And then I got pregnant. Kids cost a lot of money.

I want my kids to have clothes that fit that aren't 17 years old. I want them to have shoes that don't cause their toes to become disfigured. I want them to have music lessons and play sports. And I want them to have a Wii for Christmas if that's what they want. It all adds up. A lot.

I don't buy them ridiculously expensive clothes. They've come home very satisfied from Good Will, and Kayleigh's favorite pants came from some chick in Alabama who sold them on eBay along with two other pairs and a couple of shirts (Girls lot jeans pants blouse shirt CUTE!) They get their share of new stuff, too, usually from Kohl's or Penney's.

If they ever want something outrageous like Seven for all Mankind they can save their pennies. Good god. Asses just don't care what stitching is on the pockets that cover them. Especially when we're talking the asses of children who are just going to grow out of them.

Cry me a river, right? There are loads of people who'd love to struggle with how much money we have. So what the hell is our problem? We have this incessant desire for more stuff, more enrichment, more everything. Even food. I'm fat, for cryin' out loud. (Don't even tell me I'm not because I have the power to see through even the thickest, darkest bull shit.) And I hate it.

So what am I going to do about it? I'm going to plan our trip to Disney World. We all have the same week off for spring break for the first time since Kayleigh was in kindergarten, and we're going. There's a credit card on my nightstand just waiting to be used for the very first time.

All this crap has been on my mind. The price of plane tickets has gone up. The train, oddly enough, is a pretty good deal. But, like driving, it takes so long. Look out the windows, kids, there's Disney World! No, we don't have time to stop, we have to head back home! Hope you liked Florida! and Georgia! and Tennessee! and Kentucky! and Indiana! and Illinois! Nope, no time to stop!

If we do fly, we'll have to rent a car. We have to sleep somewhere. And eat. And surely we'll buy a few fucking souvenirs. Just chuck it all on the credit card. That's what it's there for, huh? Let the kids sort it all out when we die.

Did you send the Christmas card to the Riff-Raffs, lovey?
Anyway, this was all swirling through my head when we got our annual Christmas card from our very successful friends we've never met. They live in Edina, Minnesota, and own a mortgage company. They ski, they golf, they collect Porsches. Their garage is larger than my lot.

Years ago, when we bought that first house, we got a Christmas card from them. There was their picture, in their robes before their Christmas tree. A fairly ordinary couple with fairly ordinary children we'd never seen or heard of. They opted to send their son to traditional kindergarten rather than the French immersion program they'd been considering. I would have laughed, but they were very solemn. French? Pull my finger. Anyway, I figured they had the wrong people and didn't think much about it.

The next year we got another card. By then we had Kayleigh, a fine human specimen, so I sent them a card with our family picture explaining how sorry we were if we were just morons, but we didn't know them at all, and here was our picture and what we did in the world. We got no response.

Until the next year when we got another card. Well, it was more of a book by then. They must have had a good year in the mortgage business. There was a note that said they would have to catch up with their friends another way, but it didn't seem right not to send us a card.

So we've been sending cards and letters at Christmas ever since.

They bought another Porsche this year despite having to let some people go at their company. The housing market has been terrible, you know.

This year, they tell us they've been exchanging cards for years with these people in Appleton with our name because they thought their address was ours. And I'm wondering exactly how many people they're sending cards to that they don't know, or do they suddenly think we're the ones they do know?

They seem like fine people. I'm sure they'd make good neighbors. Maybe they'll lend us some money.


The Rotten Correspondent said...

It's that time of year all around. After all the gluttony of the season it's time to pay up and it sucks. It's like the second part to a song that you know is coming but every time you hear it you forget it. Does that make any sense?

We make a very nice living and are still always struggling. It doesn't help that my husband has the highest student loan payment of anyone I've ever met. It doesn't help that my three kids eat like elephants. It doesn't help that I single-handedly spearheaded the effort to buy a 120 year old money pit of a house. It all adds up to...angst.

I know it will pass...sometime. But could it possibly be soon? Please?

laurie said...

doug and i worry all the time about our papers folding and/or our jobs going away.

we don't have enough for retirement. i'm getting old. (he's getting old, too, but he's five years younger than i am.)

we don't have kids, but for some reason we don't have much money anyway. we will be making house payments until we're retired. we might have to help take care of his mother at some point, who has little money.

most of our friends are counting on big inheritances, but my mother has eight kids to divide her modest wealth among, and doug's mom has no money.

money is a constant worry of almost everyone i know.

Amy said...

Let's hear it for the richest country in the world.