Thursday, January 30, 2014

No judging me please!

I was having a conversation the other day with two women who started discussing another woman who had been found to have stolen funds from their sons' baseball team.  It appears that she was an upstanding citizen who others trusted with their money.  Apparently she had also stolen money from a church that she worked for as well.  All in all, allegedly, it was over $100,000.00.  She is facing jail time for these crimes!

I asked these women about her because I do not know her.  They told me that she was a wife and had 5 children that they were raising.  They lived in a rather affluent neighborhood and supposedly the husband had a decent job.  So I asked these women if they thought she stole all the money because she "needed" it.  They said that she must have otherwise why would she have stolen the money.  They assumed that something had happened where they must have fallen on hard financial times to have done this.

You know me, at this point I could not hold back.  Keep in mind that neither of these two women know about my financial situation.  I posed this alternative to them.  Why is it assumed that if someone has fallen on financial hard times that they would steal?  Stealing, many times, is an addiction to deception!  I can not say for sure if this woman stole the money because she was having financial difficulty or because of an addiction to deception or for any other reason.  But that is the point, no one knows what made her do it.  But the idea that someone who doesn't have a "good" financial life would automatically steal because of it, is not fair.

There are people all over the place who have more than I will ever have in my lifetime that steal from others.  There are allot of rich thieves (Bernie Madoff comes to mind).  I am just extremely sensitive to this thought.  I do not feel that I have to defend myself in this, but I do know that I have met people over the last several years that when they learn of my situation, automatically feel that I am not trustworthy.  That, if given the choice, I would steal if the situation presented itself.  However, I am not a thief and I would no sooner steal from someone than I would stab them!

I guess we all have something that others pre-judge (prejudice)  us about!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Pulling yourself up

I am feeling kind of sad today.  Something happened to me today to make me realize and remember how very hard it is on people who lose, and as a result, have very little money!  Not only do you lose your dignity, you lose your confidence and you lose the confidence that other's once had in you.  That does something to a person!  It is a pivotal point in ones life and there are many different directions a person can take.

When you find yourself down and out financially, a certain panic can arise and creep in.  How you handle that panic will make all the difference in your recovery.  You may reach for something, anything to numb the pain.  It could be food, it could be drugs, it could be gambling or it could be depression.  All of these things will leave scars on your life.

Try and remember as you go through this tragedy that life won't always be like this.  This pain you feel will not always be there.  There is a higher power that will help you get through this.  Use this time to better yourself and change your attitude about life.  You might feel that the only way your life will get better is if you somehow "get more money"!  But the truth is that life will get better when your "attitude" about money and the role it plays in your life changes.

If you are reading this and you are knee deep into financial problems right now, I know how hard this is to hear.  I know that the fear you feel over the state of money in your life can take over your life and make you do things that you never thought you would do.  But, believe me, someday your situation will turn around and you will have to live with the decisions you made at the beginning of this process.  Keep your integrity intact and make sure that you can look in the mirror and like the person looking back at you.  Try not to fall victim to taking or using money in a bad way.  The temptations are all around you to make a decision to wallow in this, but choose the higher ground.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Filling a hole

I was watching an interview on TV yesterday very early in the morning when I could not get back to sleep.  The interview was with Mike Tyson.  I think he was a professional fighter, maybe a boxer years ago.  He was very popular but I remember him having a very dark side and I think he spent some time behind bars.  I am sorry that I do not have the exact details of it all but I specifically remember him falling from his very high status.

In the interview he was asked about the amount of money he made in his hey day.  It was something like 6 million dollars.  The interviewer then stated that he spent all the money he had and then started spending money he did not have and became bankrupt.  Mike Tyson was shaking his head in shame.  He then said that he spent so much money on drugs that at some point he wasn't even able to keep track of what he needed every day.

Then he said something that struck me.  He said, "I spent all that money to fill a hole but the hole was never filled.  I had all that money but didn't have anything, anything that was real. Now I don't have that money and I feel like I have everything."  He was then talking about the hole and void, that you try to fill the hole with things and then when that doesn't work, you try to find a drug that will fill the hole.  You keep spending money on drugs in hopes to fill that hole.

You hear stories all the time about people who had so much money and lost it all.  I have to say, even though I did not ever have a lot of money and I never used it on drugs, I kind of understand.  Whether you lose 6 million or six thousand or six hundred, it is still losing!  And no matter how much you lose, you still have to start to rebuild.  But rebuilding with the same holes can be a huge mistake because you can end up in the same place.  This is why I think it is important to use bankruptcy as a healing process in the way you look at life.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bankruptcy...self inflicted or not!

There is a definite stigma about people who have filed bankruptcy!  Years ago, when the bankruptcy laws were different, filing bankruptcy was abused by many people.  I remember hearing stories of people who would rack up thousands of dollars of bills, file bankruptcy and then do it all over again!  Those images of bankruptcy weigh heavily on the minds of my generation.

The bankruptcy laws have changed and it is not so easy for people to take advantage of the system.  I am sure there are still people who do, but the laws are in place to help the people who really need it.  Thank God for that!

Unfortunately, for some, the stigma remains that people filing for bankruptcy are either abusing the system or taking the easy way out.  I can never change any one's mind that thinks that way but I wish that compassion could take the place of not understanding!  Being a bankrupt American is not easy in any way, shape or form.  Getting to the point of being bankrupt is like going through the worst nightmare you can imagine only it it is real!  No, one, I mean no, one, would know that unless they have been through it!

As a society, we stand by and support so many causes.  But I have noticed over the years that we tend to do this with causes that we deem "out of ones control".  If something happens to someone that appears they could not help, like an illness, we stand up and support the situation.  Don't get me wrong, I am happy about this.  I am always happy when people help other people!  However, if misfortune happens to someone and others think it was "self inflicted", they turn their heads away.  To some people, it makes them feel empowered that others mess up so bad.  It makes them feel filled up with pride that they never had that problem which makes them feel better than those who have messed up.  That is the part I am not very happy about!

This is hard to write about without sounding like a prude!  Why is it that when something bad happens to some one's body, we act like it is out of that person's control and that there was nothing they could have done to prevent it but when something happens to your financial should have been able to prevent it?  Why do we rally around those that become physically sick but walk away from those who are financially sick?  Why do other people who are financially stable think they are more special in some way because financial instability has not come to them?

We are all human beings and what happens to one, can happen to any one.  You can not be too perfect to avoid it.  Just like you can live your life making your body healthy and fit but that does not guarantee that you will never be susceptible to disease.  Cancer is something that can enter anyone's body no matter how well you think you are taking care of the body.  Sometimes, just the obsession of not wanting any disease to enter a body is enough to make it happen.  Just like the life I have lived being scared to death of losing everything might have just brought it into existence.  The very thing that I worked so hard to avoid is, in fact, what happened.  Disease can be the same thing.  Life was never meant to be perfect...that you are born and the goal is to never have anything bad happen in your life.  Bad things happen to everyone, but the concept of what is self inflicted and that which is not, determines what we will help others through or not is a sad look at the human race!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Acceptance, a key to healing!

To a bankrupt American, the question comes about how important we are going to make the pursuit of money in our lives.  As we start putting together our financially broken lives, this decision about the importance of money has to be made.  How do we prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes we made to get into this situation?  Do we know enough to be better at managing our finances?

As I have stated many times before, everyone is different.  When I was going through my darkest times financially and found myself scared to death, I turned to God.  God had always been a huge part of my life but now I needed God more than ever because I felt that my financial problem was bigger than myself.  I felt like I could not pray to God for money for many various reasons but I prayed to God for healing my financial life and all that I needed to learn regarding it.  This brought me much peace but my faith, unfortunately, was not very strong.  It was not because I did not believe that God could handle such a big problem but it was because I did not feel that this was something God should have to fix.

Somehow, the little bit of faith I had, helped.  Buy most of my healing (which God helped me through) came from acceptance.  It is so hard to accept your life as it is when you are drowning in a financial mess.  I heard it said by so many teachers and writers that you need to be OK with were you are in life before you are given any more.  I tried so hard to incorporate that into my life but I just could not feel it!  What the heck, the rest of the world could never look at my life and accept any part of it as worthy and good so how could I?
It took me years before I understood how to surrender and accept my life right where it was.  I no longer felt that this was a weakness but a tremendous strength.

I realized that what had stopped me from accepting my life was from growing up in a belief system that related success with what you own.  Once I realized that it was just a belief and not the real truth, I was able to see the good in my life instead of basing its importance on how much money I had/made and what I owned.  I also started seeing the value in having a simple life and the freedom that comes with that.  I stopped chasing the accumulation of money.  As soon as I was able to get to that point, life became so much easier.  All this time I thought that getting more money would make my life easier and here it was that a shift in thinking was all that was needed.

I am not perfect at this by any stretch of the imagination but I do feel the healing happening.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Being "better than"!

Most bankrupt Americans share a unique perspective regarding money.  If you become bankrupt, it usually means that you had something and then you didn't.  When I say that it is unique it is because you live and experience two ends of the spectrum associated with money!

We fight and battle to get more money!  We fear losing the money that we have and we fear having our money run out.  We give up so many things, like time, in pursuit of acquiring more money. When you become bankrupt, you generally have lost your money, somehow, someway.  Everyone is different and it is not fair to group all bankrupt people in one category.  I have no intention of minimizing nor maximizing any bankrupt person's situation. However, in general, bankrupt people had some money and now they don't.

So the question becomes, why are we always pursuing more money? We need money for our basic needs but most people pursue much more money than they need for their basic needs.  So what could the importance be of trying everything to accumulate more?  I have some ideas.

First of all, I think we live in a "better than" society whereby we try to do everything in our power to be better than or to be thought of as better than others.  This is a huge problem in human relationships because this mentality creates a process of separation.  When we start separating ourselves from others, we are living in a judgemental of other state and judgement is the opposite of love.  Love is the answer to every human situation that causes suffering so if we try so hard to separate ourselves from others, we are turning our backs on love. The premise that if you are able to purchase a larger, more expensive home, a more comfortable automobile, name brand clothing and accessories, a more expensively bought education and/or anything else that inflates one's ego, makes you a better, smarter, happier person, is just insane!  But that seems to be the goal of so many people and an accumulation of more money is the only way that can happen.

Many people say that they want enough money so that they can be comfortable.  What does that mean exactly?  Look at all the people, who on a daily basis, become bankrupt.  What does that tell anyone?  It should tell them that money is something that can be accumulated and lost.  Money is not something that can be promised to stay the same.  So how can money make you comfortable?  What is comfort?  Do people seriously think that they know how much money will make them feel comfortable?  Is it possible that comfort is a state of being and not a state of having?

For the bankrupt person, we generally no longer seek "better than" because to our circle of influence we have reached the place that no one wants to be...rock bottom.  Filing bankruptcy give us a new lease on our financial life but we also have a new lease on how we think of money.  At this point we can be truly free by not allowing the accumulation of money fill up our lives and not identify ourselves by it or we can go back to the same pattern and let the amount of money we have or make determine who we are.  I choose freedom!

Friday, January 17, 2014

The fear factor of MONEY

Sometimes, I look around and when I am aware of people who seem to have much more money than myself, I think about how easy their lives must be that they do not have to worry about money!  But then I realize that having a "certain" amount of money is not what gives people that worry free ticket.  Just because someone has much money, does not mean they have no money worries, however, I believe that most people want more money because they feel that then they would not have to worry about it. The lottery mentality of if I just won the lottery, all my problems would be over is very prevalent in our society.

Although I am no expert, I have found that handling money is somewhat easier when you do not have much of it and when you only spend money that you have.  It is so much easier to stay on track with your spending when you have an exact amount and that is it.  I do not go "shopping" unless I am going because I need to get something specific.  Lets say that my sons need socks.  I go to the store to get them and I may buy something else that is needed like paper towels.  If I go past something that I want like a book, if I do not have enough money in my wallet, I pass it up and think nothing of it.

I can remember back on the years that I would go to the store to purchase something specifically and come out of the store with a whole shopping cart filled with things that I wanted once inside the store.  Then as I was unpacking the bags, I went through so much buyers remorse that it took all the fun out of it!  Buying many things at one time used to make me feel powerful.  Now passing things up that catch my eye and leaving the store with just what I came in to get makes me feel powerful.  I now have a clearer line of the difference of what I want and what I need.

When I was driving down the highway the other day, I was observing all the different cars.  There were so many different sizes, shapes, colors and brands.  I drive a car that is 24 years old (that I just love) and that I paid only $300.  A car is a vehicle to get you from point A to point B.  If people were only interested in a vehicle that would get them back and forth from where they want to go, so much money would not be wasted on all the bells and whistles.  Since I began to drive, I have never been without access to a car.  I have not had a car payment since 1999.  That is 15 years without a car payment.  Since then, I have driven cars that were both comfortable and reliable.  That is 180 months without a car payment.  The average car payment is $300 per month so that is $54,000 that others have paid out over the last 15 years that I haven't!

Please know that I am not bragging in any way.  But I have learned that we all have the same basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, transportation and insurance.  The difference between people who do not have an excess of money and those that do is that those that do pay much more for their basic needs.  People with more pay more for food (because they don't have to find lower food prices), pay more for the room over their head, buy more expensive clothes and accessories, buy higher priced cars and are forced to pay more to insure all these more expensive things.  Are their lives really better because they can pay more for all these needs?  And then again, define "better"!  Is it perhaps that people think that their identity is associated with what they have?  Do people strive to have "better than everyone else" because they will somehow be looked at as smarter, more intelligent and/or more successful than the people who don't have as much?  Have we really come to that point where that is how we think people are more highly regarded because of the quality and quantity of things they are able to buy?

This I will brag about!  Think about the value and esteem of those people who lose all their material possessions in life and wake up everyday putting their lives back together in an unknown to them world.  You basically leave one way of living and enter into a totally different one.  Don't we, as a society, cheer those that overcome a disease?  Those that fight to keep their bodies alive are applauded.  But the people who fight everyday to overcome the loss of life as they knew it and pick up a paintbrush to work on a totally blank canvass with little or no direction of where to begin, are whispered about!  What is wrong with this picture?

Many, many people spend a lifetime worried about losing everything.  Their whole life is designed for making more money off of the money they have and trying to insure that they never get into a situation where they lose everything.  When you have lived a life where you pretty much have lost everything of material value, you no longer fear money.  You can feel disappointed at times, but the fear is gone.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Shouldn't that be discrimination?

When I was selling real estate in the '80's, we listed homes according to the Catholic parish and/or the school district of which they were located.  In the city where I live people looked for homes based on this criteria.  We never saw anything wrong with this.  Then in the early '90's everything changed with the way we listed houses.  It was now considered discrimination to list the parish or school district according to the Federal Fair housing laws.

As a woman, I have felt the burn of discrimination many times in my lifetime.  Admittedly it has never been to the extent of what many other groups of people go through.  So, yes, I now feel the discrimination from bankruptcy.  The assumption that if you have been bankrupt and most likely broke you will have a thief mentality.  It is this assumption that makes me just burn inside!  There are so many people who rob other people blind (did someone say corporate America) and the thing that makes them steal from others is not because they are broke but because of greed.  So this assumption that if you do not have much money would make you into a thief, is just preposterous!

Several years ago, I received our renewal bill for our automobile insurance and it had risen substantially.  I called the agent and he told me that their company had gone to credit based billing.  So to give you an idea of what that meant was they calculated my insurance rate based on what my credit score was.  Forget the fact that we were long term customers with only one minor claim and that we had excellent credit for two decades before we got into trouble, the rate was determined by our (now bad) credit score!  The agent explained to me that their company felt that people who had bad credit generally turned in more claims.  Wow, I could not believe it!  The only thing I could do was change insurance companies!

So fast forward to now.  I just applied for a job and was turned down because of my credit report!  I know that this is a trend for employers right now but I think it is both outrageous and discriminatory!  Personally, I would be a great employee to any company or business.  I am responsible, reliable, intelligent, able to think on my feet, honest and can handle just about anything!  For me to be judged based on my credit report does not make any sense.  Do they think, like so many others, that I am a thief and they can not trust me?  Oh, how wrong they are!  It would make me feel physically ill to take something that did not belong to me.  With everything I have been through, I have never entertained the idea of stealing!

Oh, I understand someone not wanted to extend me credit, but to reject my employment application is ridiculous! How is this not discrimination?  Please, someone explain to me what the difference is between not being hired because of the color of my skin or my sex and not being hired because of my credit score!

I am very frustrated  by this!  I guess that until this group of "bankrupt, credit unworthy" people starts growing and becoming powerful in their own right and take their case to court, nothing will change!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Losing the Job...Part 3

I thought that what was going to help/change our financial help for the better was, to say the least, MORE MONEY! Never did I think that my ATTITUDE about our situation was the thing that needed to change and turn in order for things to get better.  In fact, I was drowning in my not-so-good attitude but it was so hard to turn it in any other direction.  Sometimes feeling like a victim gives you a golden ticket to go around the responsibility to fix the problem.  As long as you can tell your sob story and have someone, anyone, acknowledge your pain, your desire to fix the actual problem dwindles.

Thinking too far off into the future is another determent.  Thinking that if you invest in something right now, even if you do not have the money right now that will bring in future money, is just not wise when you are trying to fill the holes of your financial woes.  Joining any type of money making ideas where you have to do allot now and maybe you will make allot of money later will more than likely make your problems worse.

Taking one day at a time and taking care of the problems for that day is a better way to handle things.  Just breathe and look for the opportunities that arise today.  Have patience that things will get better.  Know that there is so much YOU CAN HANDLE and that you can live on very little if you can just stop wanting so much.  Accepting the fact that this is the way life is for you right now does not mean that you are weak, it just means that you stop suffering.  Take from me who has been through this, you can live on very, very little if you can just not be angry about your situation.  Everyone gets into situations that seem very hard to other people.  That is the way life is!  Everyone has highs and lows in their life.  It is how you handle those highs and lows that make all the difference.

Some of us deal with harsh financial times, some of us deal with harsh health times, some of us deal with the harshness of death but we all deal with something.  Bad things happen to good people all the time.  But when we take other peoples tragedy and puff ourselves up with it because we dodged that particular tragedy so far in our life, we are separating ourselves from each other.  Although, separation feels good temporarily, we are meant to function together as a whole and will only be successful at living life when we are connected to others.

Money did not fix our situation but our attitude about it did.  It is hard to pull yourself out of fear and have faith but this is what must be done to feel like you have control over your financial situation due to a loss of a job.  Always know, you have to take one step at a time and be extremely patient!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Losing the job Part 2

Continued from last post

Losing the Job...

There are so many feelings and emotions that come when you lose the "family" income/job.  In our case there was the husband (the one who lost the job), the wife, and two young sons.  All four people had different feelings and emotions and all of us had to try to support each other while going through it.  My husband was totally and completely devastated!  He had this job for 21 years and was quite comfortable in it.  He would never say that he enjoyed the job but he would say that he liked it!  He liked the pay, the hours, the level of intelligence that it took to perform the job, some of the people, some of the bosses and definitely the location.

When he lost the job, he felt real fear!  It was a fear of the inability to provide for his family.  As most of you know, this is a particularly difficult thing for a man.  His attitude that accompanied this was "I have worked all these years and made a living.  Now it is your turn to make the living and I can sit back and relax."  This was so very annoying to me and it rocked me to my core.  Never had I seen this side to him and quite frankly, I did not like it.  I had always felt that I was married to a hard working man that always had our back and would always take care of the family.  Seeing this side to him made me feel so very frightened and uneasy.  To me, we did not just lose our family income, I lost my foundation and my trust in life.  I just could not reach him and he seemed like a stranger to me.

My kids were kids and their fears were from other friends whose parents lost their jobs.  They did not show much fear or emotion at the time about what it meant to lose a job but they were very aware that there was a change in their Mom and Dad's relationship.  They would not realize for a very long time that the freedoms we had from having a steady income and a sound financial life, would forever be altered.  Really all my kids growing up life is a memory of their parents struggle with money.  No matter how much we tried to keep it from them, they knew.  Sometimes now, I can see how their foundations were rocked as well!

The frustration at trying to find a new job, one that would pay a decent wage, one that was a good distance from home, one that had good benefits became insurmountable!  Just dealing with the lack of income was difficult in itself.  Please understand, we believed, for a very long time, that this was all temporary.  We carved holes in our budget based on what was a temporary fix.  We really thought that this was all going to turn around and we tried to just keep moving forward.

I read so many books and listened to so many cd's to try and help me get through this mentally.  Everything and everyone said that you should never focus on what you don't have but to be happy and satisfied with what you do have.  I could not grasp this concept.  I could not pretend to be happy about our situation.  The fear of our impending doom overwhelmed any positive changes I tried to make.  I felt like my whole world was crashing around me and I did not know how to pick up the pieces.  I knew that something major was going fall apart if we could not get an income!

While going through all of this for over a year, I felt like I was totally alone.  My husband was a stranger to me in how he handled the whole situation.  Instead of working together as a team, we were separate entities who were totally working from a base filled with anxiety and fear.  Some how, some way, we were going to have to make this work!

More on my next post...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Losing the JOB!

What I would have done differently...I would have kept my tax returns current.  Once one year gets away from you, it gets so much more difficult to go back and put it all together.  I kept telling myself that it was OK because we did not owe anything.  I was so very wrong!

Losing the Job!

You can go anywhere in the United States and find people from everywhere that over the past 10 years have lost a job.  Some of these jobs were career jobs and some of them were moving up type of jobs.  It doesn't matter what kind of job you lose, losing it is so very traumatic!  Our story is so very similar to so many people in this country and even in other countries.  We have all experienced the devastation that comes with losing a job!

My husband was in the graphic arts/commercial printing business.  He was at the company for 21 years and was considered a "union" job.  For the most part, it was a good job!  He made a very decent hourly wage and there was always plenty of overtime available.  We were not rich, but we were comfortable.  Life was moving along quite well.  Many people in the United States might have thought that what we made was nothing compared to many others, but it was fine for us.

The problem was that this was a very specified field and you could not really transfer the trade except to another printing company.  At this time, the printing industry as a whole was disintegrating. Personal computers and programs were becoming more available so that people could do it themselves.  Finding another union job in this same field was going to be almost impossible!  The thing is that we just did not see it coming and even if we did, I really do not know if we would have done anything different.

Unemployment at that time went for about four months.  When that ran out, we were in trouble.  My husband was diligent about finding work but came up empty handed.  When he did finally find something a year later, it was seasonal and paid about $8.00 per hour with no benefits.  I was making about $9 an hour working for another restaurant as a manager.  It was very tough getting by on this amount of money and things started to slide financially at this time.  We tried to cut out as much as we could but it did not help much.  We lived very simply compared to most people so there was not much to cut.  We had two boys that were 5 and 7 years old at the time.

We cut up all of our credit cards the day my husband lost his job.  We had a mountain of debt from the restaurant business that we had closed two weeks after losing the job but we decided that day that we would not create any new debt.  We could not afford to purchase anything on credit because we had no idea if we would be able to pay it when it came due.  We have lived for 10 years without credit.  We have gone through losing our home and bankruptcy during that time but we have not used any credit.  I am not saying that because I am proud of it, I just saying that it can be done.

Next post...the feelings and emotions that happen with losing a job and how to control them.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hello, is anyone listening?

What I would have done differently…I would have realized that when you become a business owner, you have to commit yourself to thinking, acting and doing like a business person or you will be eaten alive.  You can not be a person who is running a business.  You have to be a business who can not think like a person.  This is sad really, and what I believe is the demise of our culture but not realizing this will bury you in business today!


I used to be a person that people listened to.  I normally did not add things to conversations that I knew very little or nothing about.  But if it was something that I knew about, I had no problem expressing my point of view and was very good at it.  Real estate was my forte in the late eighties and nineties.  Then I became a restaurant owner and gained knowledge in that area as well.  I was considered an expert in marketing since I not only studied it extensively in both Real estate and the restaurant business but was in charge of it as well. 

Even though it is rather egoic to want people to listen to you, I still liked it and always wanted to become a public speaker.  Simply put…when I spoke, people listened!  Then came our financial ruin and I have not been heard again!  No matter what my opinion is about anything, I am basically ignored by most people who knew me before our financial ruin.  Am I to assume that most people believe that if you experience financial ruin no one can trust what you have to say anymore?

I can see it!  If I engage in a conversation, instead of people staying around and listening and participation, they look away when I am speaking.  They shrug their shoulders and give an attitude of “whatever”.  At first, it really hurt.  I was treated like I had a disease that someone could catch if they were in a conversation with me.  It was hard to understand why I had to endure this treatment by others.  Wasn’t the financial situation painful enough?

Becoming a person who was no longer listened to is actually one of the hardest changes I have endured during this process.  I felt like it changed who I was.  This situation of financial ruin was something that happened in my life, however, it should not label the “who I am”.  The society that we live in is extremely hard on people who experience financial ruin.  I believe it is because most people view it as “self inflicted”.  More on this in future posts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

It isn't all negative!

What I would have done different...I would have ran my FREE credit report once every year, print it and put it in a file.  Even if the credit score was horrible, it was just for my eyes.  I would have cleared up anything that was not correct right then and there.  There were so many incorrect things on my report when I had to use it for the bankruptcy filing.  I did not have time to get them cleared up and had to add them to my filing.  I know that we are always advised to do this and just put it off but it is really, really important to have it done and corrected.


During the time from when we filed and the date of our actual court hearing, I started to  realize, among other things, that I will be getting used to a whole new way of thinking regarding our “situation”.  One thing is …we no longer have a situation.  That is going to take getting used to.  A relative, who at the same time was in the process of a chapter 13 filing, had told me that she is scared to death of going to court on their designated day.  I was thinking, “what the heck, I have been scared to death for eight years, I am looking forward to going to court and ending this”. 
Now, when thinking about our financial state today, I couldn’t help but think about how long I have just wanted to live debt free and how, for so long, I thought that was never going to happen.  I will have to say that right now we are about as debt free as we are ever going to be and it feels good.  The burden of all of this has taken its toll but I do know that it could have been worse.  This morning as I was getting dressed, I began to realize how blessed we have been that we have always had clean clothes to wear, shoes to wear, the ability to purchase personal items like shampoo, facial wash, hair products, toilet paper, Kleenex, deodorant, perfume, body spray, etc..  We never went without those things.  We have home telephone service, internet, cell phones, cable TV.  We have always had the money for gasoline in our cars.  We have transportation that we own free and clear (the cars might be really old but they still get us where we are going).  Even though we have had some trouble having groceries at times, we still always had food to eat.  We have running water that gets hot when we need to take a shower.  We have an air conditioned and heated home.  So really, we have everything that we need and more. 

I think that the real fear came in at the possibility or probability at losing the ability to provide any of these things.  Again, the fear that came from what was lurking around the corner was absolutely miserabl.  When was it going to happen that we would not be able to pay for any of these “basic” things?  So far, it has not happened.  So we really can not say that we lost everything, because we didn’t. 

That is the thing about when you become “bankrupt”.  It means that you had more and that you do not have it anymore.  It means that you are unable to pay for the excess.  But we are blessed enough to pay for what we need and quite frankly, two thirds of the world probably can’t.  Two thirds of the world would love to be in our shoes!

Even though I entertain some very bitter thoughts about what we have been through and how we got there, my appreciation for living in this country is increasing.  Where else could we be living that would extend the opportunity for us to have a “new beginning”?  You can not become bankrupt if you did not have anything in the first place!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The importance of a good paperwork system

What I would do differently....I would have opened every piece of mail when it arrived and had a filing system to keep it organized.  I had gotten to the point that I let mail pile up.  When mail arrived and I saw it was someone I owed money to, I did not bother to open the envelopes.  It was as if I did not open the envelopes I would not have to think about the situation I was it.  I had years of envelopes that I had to open when we filed for bankruptcy.  The envelopes will have to be opened some time or another!

I was doing my yearly purging of paperwork yesterday and was thinking back on the paperwork nightmare I was in just a short time ago.  Like I said, I got to the point that I had years of unopened envelopes and the situation my paperwork was in was quite a nightmare.  I know that this situation made it extremely hard to file anything, taxes, bankruptcy, etc.  It isn't because I did not know how to keep a good filing system it was because it got out of control and once it got out of control, it was impossible.  What was I scared of?  Opening the mail and having it being a reminder of what a mess my financial life was would not take care of anything.  I was constantly reminded in a million different ways every day!

I was in deep denial.  I knew that we were fact we were already sunk!  Did I not do anything because I did not know WHAT to do?  Probably!  Most of the time I did not believe  that we could do anything.  Did I talk to anyone about this?  Besides my husband, no one!  Maybe if I would have, someone would have advised me to file for bankruptcy.  Instead I kept my dirty little secret and the mail just kept piling up.  I was drowning with the idea that I was doomed!

There was a point when we were in the midst of losing our house (which we did but that is another post) and we went to see a bankruptcy attorney.  We had to bring a ton of paperwork with us so I worked and worked on some of the paperwork to some semblance of order.  We filled out two hours of paperwork once we arrived.  We wanted to file a chapter 13 which would have saved our house from foreclosure or so I thought.  After going over everything, five hours later the attorney let us know that we were not eligible to file a chapter 13 because we could not qualify for the re-payment.  The chapter 13 is a reorganization and repayment plan for your creditors. 

When we asked about the chapter 7, we were told that we could not even file until our taxes were all filed.  The chapter 7 would not protect our house from being foreclosed.  At that time, I should have gone home and started putting together all the paperwork for 7 years of tax returns that needed to be filed but instead I went home and started the preparation to move!

I'm just saying that it makes good sense to get your paperwork in order.  Make a file folder for each creditor and start opening that unopened mail.  Even if you are now where near a bankruptcy situation, your paperwork should be in order. If you think you don't have time, do it in front of the TV, just do it! 

This disorganization stopped me from filing things that I should have filed.  It was not the only reason but it was a huge monkey on my back!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Life...Post Bankruptcy

What I would have done differently... I would have kept some type of spreadsheet, whether on the computer or handwritten of every creditor, name, address and phone number, account number, date opened, high credit, amount owed and any communication I had with them.  Seem like a lot of work but this information should be kept whether you get in financial trouble or not.  This information is absolutely needed when filing bankruptcy and if these accounts are old, it is hard to locate it.

Life is a bit different!


Adjusting to this new way of life has been interesting.  The new way of life I am referring to is not having to live in constant fear that our financial life will be rocked to the core.  That there are no surprises lurking around the corner of someone taking the very little that we have.  This is big for me because I have lived like this for so long that it is a huge sigh of relief to not live like that anymore.    Our financial life just seems to be more manageable because we are dealing more with exacts than surprises (and not the pleasant ones).  We learned a long time ago to live very simply so, right now, that is easy for us.  We learned a long time ago to do without many things, so, right now, that is also easy for us.


Granted, my “BANKRUPTCY RADAR” may be especially sharp right now, but people have some very different thoughts about bankruptcy.  I have heard people say that they just pay their credit card bills every month to avoid getting into this situation.  Others have said, “well it is too easy to get bailed out so people do not have to own up and take responsibility for their actions.”  While still others say that they would NEVER let themselves get into this mess!  Everyone has an opinion of those of us who file bankruptcy!  Hell, I probably even did in the past! But the hard, cold truth is that this could happen to anyone at any time.  It did not happen to us because we were stupid, naive maybe, but not stupid.  Just because this happened to us does not make us any less than anyone else however, I have witnessed that it does make some people feel superior over us.


Here is the thing…not everyone who files bankruptcy has the same problem.  Not everyone just could not control their use of credit cards.  It is the same as the assumption that everyone who is overweight is that way just simply because they eat too much.  The problem exists as to the “why” does an overweight person eat to much.  People who never have been overweight say it is because they do not care enough about themselves to not overeat.  Well, in bankruptcy the problem came into being as to “why” they could not pay their bills.  In our case, we lost the ability to pay our bills because we lost the income that we had when we agreed to the debt.  We used credit because we were led to believe that we had more assets than we actually had.  Then when our cash flow was also taken away with the loss of our major source of income, the ability to pay the debts became impossible.  With these two factors, anyone, anywhere would have the same problem and probably end up in the same situation.  But that is what others do not understand.  Situations can change on a dime and most people could not keep up with their current lifestyle, and that includes the ability to pay your bills, for very long before something breaks.



Sunday, January 5, 2014

Frozen Bank Account

What I would have done differently…

I would have been shopping for a bankruptcy attorney as soon as I thought there was a possibility that bankruptcy would happen sometime in the future.  How would I have shopped?  I would have asked others who went through it for a referral, I would have done my homework on the internet and I would have interviewed the attorney’s based on their attitude towards my situation.  I would have found out how much it was going to be and I would have asked what the whole process was and how long it would take!


Help!  My checking account is frozen by a creditor!  What should I do?


This happened to us and was the deciding (desperation) factor in filing bankruptcy.  We went to use our debit card to purchase gasoline and it was declined.  We found out that a very old creditor was able to put a garnishment on our checking account.  I was a bit unnerved by the fact that someone could do this without any prior notice to us, but what the hell, nothing surprised me anymore!  The account was frozen and we had 7 days before all of the money we had (all 1027.00 of it) would be sent to this creditor until the whole $5000 was paid in full.  Seriously, how were we supposed to function?  How ridiculous was this? At this point we already had an IRS levy and a garnishment on my husband's paycheck, how much more could we take?


Talk about panic!  This had to end and it had to end now.  My first reaction was to file bankruptcy immediately. The sad thing was that our so called bankruptcy attorney did not bother to tell us the full story.


Did you know…that if you receive a garnishment against your checking account that there is only so much that they can take.  Well I did not know that, in fact, I did not find out until the bank forwarded the garnishment papers.  Who ever is garnishing you can not take the whole checking account.  I believe that every state is different but if you are having financial problems and are close to having a legal judgment against you, you might want to find out what the “exemption” is.  In the state I live, they can not take anything over $1250 in your bank accounts if you are the head of the family.  They also have to leave $350 for each dependent.  This is not an automatic exemption.  You have to go to the circuit clerk office or sheriff’s office of your city or county and file it.  It is granted automatically.  This is good information to know in case you get this far into problems. 


Another thing we learned is that if you go to court and make an agreement with a creditor, do not ever write them a check out of your working checking account.  The reason is because if you default even in the slightest way, they know where your account is and can quickly garnish it without you even knowing about it until it actually happens.  If they do not know where you have your checking account, it will take them a long time to find out.  Send them a money order from 7/11, it will protect you just in case things get worse.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Different Stages of Poverty

On this blog I can not give legal advice because I am not a lawyer.  But what I think may be helpful to anyone reading this blog would be a "what I would have done differently had I known what I know now" section.  If I could just help one person with this process, I would feel it was all worth it.

My "what I would have done differently" comment for today is that I would have acted and reacted quicker.  Instead of waiting and waiting for things to someday get better, I wish I would have recognized the point when things were so out of hand that I knew deep down inside we would never be able to recover.  That point was when I could no longer open the mail as soon as I got it and when I had to change our telephone number.  There were so many calls from bill collectors that we would not answer the phone when it rings.  Still to this day my family doesn't answer the phone when it rings.  This is the point when I should have acted.  Filing bankruptcy was always an option.

Here is the thing, when you become bankrupt, it means that you had something and lost it.  Having and losing it is a different kind of poverty than growing up in poverty your whole life.  I never grew up in poverty.  I do not know the ways of impoverished people.  I am not saying that anyone is better off if they grow up in poverty or became impoverished through losing everything.  I do know that there are systems in place that are passed down generations for people who are raised in poverty that teaches and helps them cope with poverty.  Again, I do not mean to insinuate being poor is any easier or harder based on when it happens in your life, but what I am saying is that I do not know what it is like to live in poverty your whole life.  I only know how to live in poverty after you have lost everything.

 I have said to my friends many times that I am not good at being poor.  Maybe, in the long run, that will help me.  And then again, to put it in perspective, two thirds of the people in this world would love to have what I call poor!

Friday, January 3, 2014

The bankrupt holidays

Well another holiday coming to an end and I have to say...Good!  Please do not misunderstand, I love Christmas and the real meaning behind Christmas.  I celebrate the birth of Jesus and love the meaning behind this holiday.  However, in this world we are surrounded by the other meaning...PRESENTS!  The commercials on TV, in the mail, on billboards, in the newspapers are everywhere.  There are commercials on TV about giving a car all wrapped up in a red ribbon!  The commercialism for the Christmas holiday is unbelievable!

That said, it is also a reminder about what little you have.  You also see endless stories about giving to the less fortunate and making people who have fell on hard times have a "good Christmas".  Believe me, I am all for that.  In fact, in my pre-bankruptcy days I was one who always gave to the less fortunate and people who needed help.  But you see, if you have been bankrupt, chances are you do not have too much but you are not considered "less fortunate".  How many years do I have to tell me kids that I do not have ANY money for Christmas presents?  How is this going to affect them later on in life?  How many times do I explain to them that it is not about the presents?  It truly would not be such a big deal if the rest of the world did not make it such a big deal...or would it!

When family and friends tell me that they did not have very much money to spend on Christmas this year I find myself feeling compassion for them because I know how they feel.  Then I see what their kids get and can not believe it!  Then I realize that what "not very much money" means to most people means something completely different to me! 

Over the years, I have had "secret santas" that left money for us and I never found out who it was.  It is so overwhelming to receive gifts like that when you do not know who gave it to you! It warms my heart and the financial help is such a relief.  I know that there are so many people who need it more than I.  I know that our financial hardship is nothing compared to so many others and I appreciate those people who recognize quietly that we need help!  I only hope that some day again I will be able to give to those in need again.

We do not use credit cards any more.  We stopped using them about 10 years ago.  I know that if we tried we could probably get one but have decided not.  When you only have enough money to pay for your daily needs, how would we ever be able to pay a bill from a credit card.  Those days are over!  Our bankruptcy did not happen because we bought a lot of stuff for ourselves or our kids.  It happened because we used personal credit cards to pay for things for our restaurant business.  We believed we were in a different financial situation than we actually were and that we really could pay those bills.  Now we only buy what we have actual money for so most of the time that is nothing outside of our real needs.

The insensitivity that surrounds the holiday season for those that can not afford anything outside their daily needs is amazing.  I truly wish that we could go through the holidays just celebrating what the real meaning is instead of going through a month and a half feeling totally inadequate.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How it happened

The Family Business

My story is a simple one…sort of!  It wasn't just that I had credit cards that I used to spend a ton of money because that was not the case.  Instead, our problem came from a dream of owning our own business.   Fifteen years ago, my husband and I decided to buy a restaurant.  This was something that he always wanted to do.  Although we had no restaurant experience we thought we could figure it all out.  So, when his idea to own a restaurant came into existence, there was no stopping us. At the time I was a stay at home mom raising our two boys.  Admittedly, I was excited to be the “owner” of a restaurant as well!

I had the real estate expertise to purchase the building in which the business resided and was able to write a business plan to present to the banks for financing.  We were able to secure the financing through the bank that held our personal accounts.   Now mind you, we had very little money to work with but we were able to secure the loan for the property.  To this day, I really have no idea why the bank decided to go out on such a limb for this endeavor, I mean everyone knows that the restaurant business was the toughest business to be in.  Silly me, to be all puffed up with pride because I felt so privileged that the bank lent us the money...they must have thought we were so special that they invested in us!

I must interject at this point that at the time we bought the restaurant, we had perfect credit, had a 6 room house with a small mortgage, 5 automobiles all paid for, a decent income (by our standards), a stock broker with a stocks portfolio and a pretty good financial life.  When we bought the restaurant, my husband had to officially “personally guarantee” almost everything we bought because he was the one with the income.  Every vendor account, every utility and insurance purchased had to be personally guaranteed by him.  We never really thought about the impact that it could have on us someday that we were literally signing our life away.  What the heck, we just believed that we would continue to rise up from day one of the business opening.  I remember saying to someone after the first month we were open that I was able to pay all the bills and still have money left in the account!  Little did I know that it was probably the only month that would ever happen.

The business should have closed probably after year two.  The successful business that we had dreamed of just was not happening!  Our business after 9/11 dropped off considerably and we had no clue on how to get it back.  We constantly needed money and the bank was right there, every time, to hand us a check. BANK “You have plenty of equity in the building, no problem!” ME “ Are you sure because we are spending so much of our own money and are counting on getting it all back.” BANK  “No problem, you have PLENTY of equity.” 

When year number 5 came along, we were deeply in debt, behind in our taxes, unable to renew our liquor license, had a couple of payrolls bounce and many, many more problems. We had no choice but to close the doors. It was an excruciating decision.  It was like when you are at the casino and have lost all that you brought with you but the thought of walking out of the casino empty handed was not good enough.  So then you go to the ATM and pull more money out in the hopes that you can turn it around and win some money to at least break even.  I am not a casino gambler but have gone occasionally so I know the feeling is the same. 

 One week after the decision and announcement was made to close, to our complete and utter surprise,  my husband permanently lost his job of 21 years!  The income that we lived off of and helped support the business was now gone.  I ran the restaurant and was never able to pay myself a salary and that was OK with me at the time because our family was financially supported by my husband’s salary.  Now we had nothing but unemployment for him coming in for a while. 
Talk about scary!  But I just believed that things would turn around.  Like many others in the same situation, you just think things are going to turn around!  At this point, you still do not make many changes in your lifestyle because you just think things are going to turn around!


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Being a Bankrupt American

Wow! I am a Bankrupt American

As I am sitting in a psychiatrist’s waiting room with my 15 year old son, I am staring at a breathtaking painting of the ocean with a beautiful  port and some gigantic cruise ships, when I suddenly realize that I might not ever get to experience this scene for real. I will never be able to go on fabulous vacations, visit other countries, buy a boat, a house or even own a new car.   It was probably the first time in my 52 year old life that I felt like so many things were out of my reach.  For a moment, I felt so sad, so very deeply sad!  This feeling of sadness was not a new one, in fact, it was all too familiar.  So familiar that I just get sick and tired of feeling it.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of BANKRUPT is:  1. A person who becomes insolvent (unable to pay debts as they fall due in the course of business, having liabilities in excess of a reasonable market value of assets held, not up to normal standard) 2.  A person who is completely lacking in a particular desirable quality or attribute.

I am an American who became insolvent!  Wow, just that description overwhelms me. It happens to so, so, many people!  People who had good jobs, worked hard to support their family and then lost their jobs and could not find work. So many of us who are considered “underemployed" because we  took jobs at a fraction of what we were making before losing a job.   So many of us who cut back on as many expenses as possible to try to make ends meet.  So many of us who accepted credit with a promise to pay because at the time we could afford to fulfill that promise. So many of us who had medical issues either with or without insurance which financially wiped us out.   So many of us who were living the American Dream until the bottom of our lives dropped out. 

So many people who have had their lives turned inside out, upside down and totally destroyed because of financial woes and then dealing with what prevails as a result of those financial woes.  How many of these people’s children won’t be able to apply for student loans to go to college because their parents are or were bankrupt?  How many people can not have access to good housing because of bankruptcy or foreclosure?  How many people can not have a bank account so that they can cash their paychecks and instead have to pay huge fees just to use their money?  How many people are hiding their money problems from their friends and loved ones, living a lie and hoping no one will find out?  Many, many more than you would know.  In this society we live in where everyone tries to be better than everyone else, it is a secret that people move heaven and earth to keep to themselves.

They are everywhere!  They are standing in line behind you in the grocery store, they are sitting next to you at the baseball game, they are in the car behind you picking up your kids from school, they are sitting next to you at church because bankrupt Americans are everywhere! They are all trying to pick up the pieces of their broken, difficult lives while trying to keep as much of their lives the same as possible.   They are bankrupt and having to live their lives under a different set of rules than most other Americans because, you see, once you become bankrupt, all the rules change. 

In the process of becoming bankrupt, you keep trying to stop the bleeding!  You keep thinking that you are going to turn the corner and things will get better.  You hope and pray that this financial situation will end.  You hope no one will notice. And then the day comes where you can not hide it anymore!!!! 

It has been a very rough 5 years.  Yes, the writing was on the wall for several years before but it was written in a language that I did not understand. I didn’t understand because I truly thought that I could never fall so deeply that my entire life would feel the impact.  I truly always believed that things would get better, in fact, I lived my life with that belief. My future thinking, instead of taking care of the present,  stopped me from healing much sooner than I could have.  Sometimes I think that it might have been part of my downfall.  I was always looking toward the better financial days.   But better financial days never came.