Monday, November 16, 2015

When life falls apart... on money and self-care, part 1

Something I don't talk about very often is money and finances. I generally avoid it because a) it's really not the subject of this blog, and b) I don't particularly like talking about money. However, some talks that Marc and I have had lately got me thinking... sometimes you just have to talk about money in relation to your self-care.

I know I've touched on the history a bit, the job loss that brought us to New Orleans and the devastating hit to my self-worth... but here are the details. The nitty gritty details and reasoning behind every decision. I'm sharing this as much for myself as I am for you.
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Marc and I have never really been money-motivated. We've always just wanted to live debt-free, and not live paycheck to paycheck. When we returned from Korea in April 2011, things were looking pretty great. I had a good job making decent money, enough that Marc could be a stay-at-home parent after Karinne was born in August, and our only debt was our (modest) mortgage and my student loan. We paid a total of $7000 cash for 2 cars after returning from Korea--we are still driving the beat up 1999 Mitsubishi! A few months later, I received a fairly significant raise that just had us feeling really great about where we were financially. We were confident that we'd be able to easily pay off that student loan, then the mortgage, and put a good portion into savings. We truly felt like we'd made it... we had a nice home in a good neighborhood with good schools, we were attending church and making friends with our neighbors, we were mostly debt free and on our way to complete debt freedom, and we had a beautiful daughter (and shortly thereafter would have another on the way!).

My favorite photo of us, May 2012; I didn't know it yet, but I was pregnant with Ryan!
Well, wouldn't you know it, the carpet was ripped right out from under us when I lost my job just a few months later. We weren't too worried, as we assumed one of us would find a job fairly quickly and in the meantime, my 12 weeks of severance pay would carry us through. So I lost my job in October 2012, and we were still unemployed in February when I gave birth to Ryan. I'd already started collecting unemployment, so that plus my remaining severance was keeping us afloat (I was able to put my student loan payments on hold, so our only debt we had to pay on was the mortgage). Marc was delivering pizza, just to generate some income while we looked for jobs, but it really wasn't much. In December, we came home one day to find an envelope stuck in our door with a $100 gift card for groceries; I still don't know who gave it to us, but I've never felt more humbled and grateful. By April, we made the decision to apply for SNAP (food stamps) and WIC--of course, with both of us practically unemployed, we were quickly approved. We also realized by that time that we were going to have to sell our house (whether we stayed in Birmingham or not) and rent if we ever hoped to get back on our feet and rebuild our savings.

In June 2013, Marc accepted a position as an assistant manager for $14/hr at a fancy movie theater in New Orleans; we got our house on the market, and he left to start work while I stayed behind with the kids until the house sold. Fortunately, we had an offer for our asking price within a week, so (thanks to Marc's extremely generous parents) the movers came and packed us up and off we went to New Orleans!

We moved from our cute 3bed/2bath 2-story home in the 'burbs, to a 2bed/1bath shotgun double (duplex) in the heart of New Orleans. We did the best we could afford; housing prices in New Orleans are much higher than we were used to. It was a rude awakening, to say the least. I could see the surprised look on the movers' faces as we tried to figure out where to fit everything; fortunately, this house had a basement for storage (a rarety in New Orleans) otherwise we never would have had space for all of our stuff. Because that's all it was... just... stuff.

The night the kids and I arrived in New Orleans; the moving truck is just off to the right. That's Marc in the doorway!
Whether that look of surprise from one of the young 20-somethings was real or imagined, it's not really important. I think what matters is that was the first time I recall actively being ashamed of our situation. I realized I was already tired of the pity... we'd been getting it for long enough. So I turned the pity inward, into real, palpable shame. 

Things were really rough for a while. We no longer qualified for SNAP because Marc was working so much overtime, and I was no longer collecting unemployment since we weren't in Alabama anymore. (Though our SNAP benefits carried over from Alabama--whatever you don't spend each month stays in your account until you spend it. I also believe our caseworker gave us some extra help by not closing out our account as soon as I called to say we'd moved; she left it open a few days until the next month loaded into our account.) I was stuck at home with 2 babies and no money, in a brand new city. Marc worked mostly nights (5pm til 2am or later) and mid-shifts; Ryan wasn't sleeping well at night, so it was kind of a never ending nightmare for me.

I didn't realize it yet, but I was extremely depressed, and falling deeper into depression every day. Looking back, I realize that depression absolutely stole Ryan's first year of life from me. I just... I don't remember it. I was in such a haze, such a fog of depression... all I remember is his screaming all night long. I still feel guilty because when I try to recall Ryan at various months, I just remember the crying, the bad parts. I don't remember much about Karinne during that time either. I look at pictures, and I feel like an outsider, like I wasn't there--like I'm looking at someone else's photos. 

It took some time to get our money from selling the house; we moved out quickly because the buyers said they wanted to close as quickly as possible, but it wound up being at least a month before we closed. (Our realtor apologized profusely for some miscommunication as well, as he was fully aware of our situation.) I remember clearly, the day we had exactly $15 to our name and Marc's next paycheck was over a week away. I said, "Screw it" and went to Starbucks anyway because that and Lindor truffles were the only things that brought me any joy.

The very next day, our check arrived. We padded our checking account, loaded up our emergency fund, paid back whoever needed paying back, and put a significant amount toward the student loan. We felt some relief at that point; the weight of the world didn't feel as crushing as it had been. For just a brief moment, I didn't feel like I was suffocating. 
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to be continued...





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