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I have decided, for lack of anything “better” to do while waiting on one computer or another to finish clunking away, to sit around contemplating my journey from LAMM to LWMM to LBMM. I'll try to take it in installments, see if I can get through the highlights of the journey. I think this is one of those 'when Fools were fools' kind of things – a lot of self-flagellation, hopefully some helpful hints for those starting out and, if nothing else, maybe some folks will feel better about anything dumb they may have done in their lives. Because brother, I about corner the market on the 'dumb' category!

Back in the Way Back Days, there was a lot of stuff I wanted that I just couldn't afford. I remember my first credit purchase: a pair of shoes at Macy's. I paid just shy of $200 for a pair of shoes, breaking in the very first plastic addition (other than an ATM card) to my wallet. Of course, if you want shoes, you need to also buy new pants, and socks. And naturally, the pants are going to require a new shirt (or two) in order to really accentuate the fabric. For $25 a month, I can look like a millionaire!

I think you all know where it goes from there. A three thousand dollar stereo system, for a person making ten thousand dollars a year, tops. Financed at 24%, of course. Five thousand dollars on clothes. Ten thousand dollars for 'travel' – trips to Hawaii, little jaunts up to Canada for the heck of it, eating every single meal out. And, BTW, retirement investments? Uh, duuuuuuuuuh, but I'm twenty-something, I'm not going to retire for like, forever! <squeak, squeal, flip hair disdainfully>

I got my first apartment. The rent on that little place was $1050 a month at first. $1050 a month. I was making $24000 a year at that point, a $19K net after taxes. My rent was well over half of my take home, and was the cheapest I could find 'in the area.' I turned my nose up at a lot of the things I could have done to make this a better deal for myself. Roommates? Puh-leeeze! Move out of the Super High Rent district? What, and leave all this!? ('all this' consisting of about 600 square feet of the dingiest, shabbiest, darkest little cave of a habitat you've ever seen, overlooking the dumpsters yet)

But I continued to scrape by, working harder rather than smarter. Job #1 started at 7:00 sharp, ended at 3:30. By 4:00, I was pounding the keyboard at job #2, which ended at midnight. Lather, rinse, repeat. I also worked on weekends, at everything from piano bars to waiting tables. I kept up with the minimum payments, and said, “Everything's great!” if anybody asked. I didn't know how much I owed. I had no idea at what percent it was all riding. I had no idea how much money I made in relation to how much I spent.

Looking back, I have to say there was a kind of freedom there. When I was between contracts, I could spend days at a time just loafing around in a state of unencumbered bliss. No boyfriend, no kids, no commitments to anybody else's anything. And at the time, another job was literally just a phone call away. It was harder to stay unemployed than employed.

But trouble was brewing. There were the occasional rumbles of it, mostly in the form of an embarrassed clerk handing me back my card and saying, “I'm sorry, your card has been declined.” That was OK, though, because I always had another one that had just raised my limit – based, probably, on the demographics they had of my area. High rent district, remember? It was good to be the Queen…

Then, I met this guy. He was cute. He was tall, he had lovely long hair and beautiful eyes and was a great singer. He laughed a lot. We had a great time together for a while, and then he moved from LA to live with me, in my adorable little closet. This, of course, necessitated a few purchases. A bigger bed, plus of course a few towels and more dishes, plus a real coffee maker and some more furniture for us to sit on. And lest we forget, there are also the instrument stands for his cittern, mandolin and guitars, plus the additional CD rack and…

We lived this way for three years. I began 'making a living' as a musician – you can read the 'making a living' as 'lived on the boyfriend's income and got by on cute a lot'. When things would get really, REALLY bad, I'd sacrifice my Muse and go back to work for a little while, usually soothing my ruffled soul by buying 'a little' something on the basis that SOON I would have the cash (living AHEAD of your means). The rent on our apartment went up to $1400 before we finally caved in and moved elsewhere. Our debt load was staggering. We had virtually nothing after the minimum payments had been made on everything, yet we continued to spend-spend-spend. We seldom even bothered to check if we could pay cash, we just charged it! Whatever 'it' was! Worry about it later!

We got engaged. We were making some of those last-minute arrangements when I wanted to make a $200 purchase…and I couldn't do it. I couldn't find the money. I couldn't find $200 crummy dollars, not from any of the more than twenty sources of credit we had available to us.

“Well,” I said breezily. “We've been charging kind of a lot lately, it's probably some silly 'fraud' thing the credit cards are doing because of all these charges hahaha, I'll look into it when we get back from our honeymoon.”

Went off, got married, spent a week in Ireland (in February, cold but marvelous!) and then returned home, gathered all the bills together, put on my green visor, picked up a pencil and started writing. When I started, if you had asked me, I would have said we probably had about, oh, maybe, $15,000 on credit cards. Maybe. And a couple car loans.

At the end, I sat back in shock. We had just a hair over $60,000 on credit cards. We had $16,000 on a car loan for the husband's brand new Civic, and about $7,000 on a car loan for my Escort wagon. We had a rent obligation of $1250 a month, plus a repayment to his mother of an old family loan of another $300 a month.

Our combined monthly take-home pay was about $4500. Total minimum payments on the credit cards and car loans were just a hair under three grand every month. The minimum payments on many of the credit cards were literally only a few dollars over the interest charges. By sending that $225 minimum payment, we were only getting $5 in debt reduction. But of course, the minimum payments and our rent were bumping up within a hundred bucks of our total take home pay. Then there was the PG&E, and the cable, and the telephone, and gas for the cars and…

Holy Mother of Pearl. We are going to die.

I relayed this assessment to my DH, who sat there staring at me in dismay. Not because of the debt problem, but because I was closer to hysterics than I had ever previously been in his presence. I am not a person who cries much. I might mist over during Pepsi commercials, but in terms of out and out bawling – naw, not much.

I bawled. I waved the ledger book at him. I showed him all those numbers, which he dutifully stared at and then waited for me to explain – again.

“What are we going to do?” I wailed at him.

“I dunno, what ARE we going to do?” he wailed back. “YOU'RE the bill-payer around here! You're the CFO, babe!”

“You. Are. No. Help. At. All.” I snarled. I snatched up my purse.

“Where are you going?” he called after me.


To the mall! I bought myself a suit – for interviewing, of course, since naturally I was unemployed. And shoes, because the shoes I owned just wouldn't do. I needed 'lucky' shoes. And a briefcase. Can't interview without a briefcase (what I was going to put IN the briefcase, I don't know) (I think I just liked the feel of the leather). I maxed out my Nordstrom's card, then sat in their café with a latte (on the card, of course) and pondered my fate. I sat there, surrounded by bags, sipping at that overpriced milk and coffee, and told myself I was one abused person. I told myself that it was all HIS fault. I was certain, 100% certain, that 98% of those debts would be his, directly or indirectly. HE was the one who always wanted to go out, HE was the one who would always invite friends who would NEVER put in when the tab came around…it was the housing market, that put rents up so damned high…it was my parents, who should have known better…it was my high school teachers, it was my government my church my state my GOD!

And there I sat, staring out at a cold, crisp February Saturday, unemployed and in debt beyond my eyebrows, thinking and thinking and thinking…

NEXT: Forcing a LAYM person into a LWYM lifestyle

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