I am about to get real.
Like, really real.
Are you ready for this?
Well hold off just one more second, because I have a disclosure of sorts to share first.
I want to preface everything I am about to say by reminding you all that I don’t have to do this. I need you to remember that, before you feel compelled to judge. Nothing in the rules of blogging would ever dictate I put my financial situation on display for public consumption. But I’ve been playing with this post for a long time now, and the more I thought about it the more I realized – I am not the only one who has gone through this. I am not the only person who has ever had to take a good long look at their finances and try to figure a way to dig out. If I am here, others are as well. And maybe it’s time we all stop feeling so alone in that.
Besides, maybe there is something to be said for the accountability of it all. Maybe if I am giving full disclosure here, it will help me to dig the shovel in a little deeper.
One could only hope.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming:
My dad taught me well.
I grew up knowing about money, and understanding both its power and its traps. I was probably the most fiscally responsible teenager you have ever met. I babysat and nannied from 12-16 (working full time in the summers) and held down a regular waitressing job from 16 on. I saved up money for college and rarely ever asked my dad for cash. From the moment I went off to university, I was 100% financially on my own. I graduated college with very little debt, mostly because I worked full time throughout school. My student loans were a small fraction of what my tuition had actually run me and my car was paid off in full. I had never (and I mean never) carried a balance on my credit card, even though I had one I used frequently for both the air miles and the boost it provided to my credit score.
I was smart.
Wise beyond my years.
Fiscally responsible in every single way.
Then I moved to Alaska.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that Alaska did this to me – because nothing could be further from the truth.
But in the last 4 years, my financial situation has changed a great deal.
I traded in my paid-off civic for a brand new CR-V, reasoning that the newly acquired car payment would be worth it when I needed 4 wheel drive in the winter time. I still argue that to be true, and don’t regret the purchase at all.
Then I bought a house, or rather – a condo. Again, I’m pretty sure this was a wise move. In looking at renting vs. owning, it just made more sense. I have seen identical versions of my condo rented out for more than $400 over my monthly mortgage, and when I have a roommate – I am able to reasonably charge almost 2/3 of my mortgage payment for that space. Overall, a totally good investment that I don’t regret for a second.
But then… things started happening outside of my control.
First surgery number 1, and 2 – both within the same year.
Even with good insurance, I spent around $5,000 that year on medical expenses.
The problem was of course, that even though I had always been responsible in not acquiring debt – I had never been stable enough to build up much savings.
Those expenses all went on my credit card.
But what could I do? It wasn’t like I had any choice in the matter. I was sick, I needed surgery, and this was my only option.
Then came 2 rounds of IVF in 2010.
I spent about $30,000 on treatments and medical care that year.
I still had no savings to contribute to that amount.
How did I do it?
My credit card, a line of credit through my bank, a loan from the clinic, and help from my grandmother (who I still, to this day, send money to every month without fail – something I will continue doing until I have paid her back every last cent, even if it kills me.)
When you see it written out like that, it really sounds incredibly irresponsible.
But I have to say, as much as I hate paying those bills every month… I can’t bring myself to regret it. I had to try. I had to know. I just… I had to. And I truly believe I am closer to healing now than I would have been if I had never given it a chance. I always would have wondered “what if?” The not knowing would have haunted me.
The thing is, people see numbers like that (and how I financed those numbers) and immediately assume I can’t handle my debt.
Or that if a person talks about being in debt, they must be on the brink of bankruptcy.
They must clearly be milking the system.
I want to clear up that misconception right now.
I can handle my debt. I do handle my debt. And I am nowhere near bankruptcy or of being in need of public assistance.
I have never, in my entire life, made a late payment on anything. My credit rating is in the “good” range, and has been for years.
It hurts, and money is tight, but… I still pay my bills. I am not a deadbeat, or some irresponsible girl who borrowed money she can not pay back. Even if the very worst were to happen and I lost my job tomorrow – I happen to be lucky enough to come from a family that would be able to help me. Not that I want that to ever happen (my pride is a very big deal to me). But at the end of the day, if I could not handle this myself – I have resources to turn to long before claiming bankruptcy or public assistance would ever be an option.
For the record – I don’t for one second judge people who have no choice but to turn to those options. I just want to make it clear that I am lucky enough to be in a position where that will likely never be a path I will have to take. My family would step in before that ever happened. So my debt really should be no ones concern but my own.
But the reality is, I make a pretty decent living. Between my stable job and the money I make on the side through various writing endeavors – I would imagine that I make a good deal more than what would be considered “average” for most women my age. I really can’t complain. Under any other circumstances (without the infertility and illness) I would have enough money to do whatever I wanted.
That trip around the world sure sounds nice right about now…
So you have to understand, I was still in a fairly good spot after those IVF cycles. Not great, but I was in a position to pay that all down in a reasonable amount of time. And since I was not hurting too badly financially, I went a little crazy – because I was hurting emotionally. I turned my focus to something I could control. Something I could set out to accomplish and succeed at.
New floors, new appliances… new things I really did not need. About $5,000 in total.
I couldn’t think of that at the time though. All I could think about were those 3 embryos that had not stuck. All I wanted to do, was to think about anything but them.
Even as recently as the beginning of this year, that desire to make my home “perfect” was there. I truly think part of that stems from the fact that I could not control how I would build the family that would live in my home. It made me feel driven to at least make it a place I wanted to be.
Still… I was more or less in the position to handle it. With 0% offers and 18 months to pay things off, I was still treading water fairly easily. That is probably the money I regret spending the most (because it was the least necessary) but at the time… I just wasn’t thinking clearly enough to recognize that. And honestly, doing something with tangible results… it did make me feel better.
The problem was – I was still very (very) sick.
Queue Dr. Cook, along with the last 2 years of surgeries, alternative therapies, and a reliance on supplements that are hardly ever covered by insurance.
The good news is, I am now healthy. I am strong, and happy, and endo free.
In my mind, that alone is priceless.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t actually priceless.
In the last 2 years, without looking at my budget to verify, I would guess I have spent around another $20,000 on medical care and travel for medical care.
Out of all the money I have spent, that is the money I regret the least. In the end, I can honestly say that every single penny has been worth it.
(Courtesy of kitchencabinetkings.com)
But again, it was all money that I had no savings to cover.
I know, I know – you are all thinking right now “Lady, why do you not have savings?!?”
It’s because before all of this, I had been in college. My money went to tuition, and rent, and booze (like most college students you probably know). And since, I have had debt that I have just felt this overwhelming desire to get paid off. I don’t think I could have money simply hanging out in the bank knowing that I am paying interest on everything else.
And to be fair, I do have a 401k. It isn’t exactly busting at the seams, but I have been contributing to it consistently for the last 3 years. So there is that.
Where things stand now, I have paid off the loan I took out through Seattle Reproductive Medicine (an early pay-off that took place on a happy day this summer). I have also paid off all those cards I financed at 0% (for 12-18 months, depending) to remodel my home with. But I still owe my grandmother a fair amount, I have one credit card that is near maxed out, and that line of credit is not exactly in the greatest shape either (although, that is where I have turned the majority of my focus towards since paying off the IVF loan). In total, I still owe about $35,000 of that original $60,000 in accumulated debt (not counting my car or house, which for whatever reason – I view separately). I refinanced my car about a year ago, mostly for the reduced interest rate. I hope to have that paid off in the next year or two and barring any unforeseen circumstances – plan on keeping it long after that. And my mortgage, well… obviously my mortgage is not going anywhere.
I am still able to make my payments every month, usually with a little left over to enjoy a dinner out with friends or some other small luxury. I want to make it clear that I pay more than I owe, month after month, and that my credit rating still sits steadily in the “good” range. I recognize that there is always the possibility of something happening that would render me no longer capable of moving forward as I have, but for now… I am handling it. Even making dents into it.
A few months ago though, as the bills were rolling in from this latest round of surgery – I called my dad and really broke down. For the first time, I told him how bad I had allowed it to get. I was ashamed. Embarrassed. Mad at myself for not reflecting the lessons he had taught me growing up in a better light. But mostly, I was scared. Because while I know there are pieces of my debt I could have done without, I also know some of it I have felt helpless against. If the choice is between my health, or being free of debt – I am going to be handing someone my credit card every single time. I choose health. And I won’t apologize for that.
But it is what scares me as well, and what especially scared me that day as I cried on the phone to my dad – the fact that I was not sure I could see an end in sight. It scared me to think that my life from this point forward could be a revolving door of expensive medical procedures and hefty bills I really have no choice but to accept. Eventually, I am going to run out of wiggle room. I don’t know when that day will come, or how much room I have, but… I know that I cannot keep piling on medical debt as I have been over the last few years. Not without eventually hitting a point where I can no longer pay it back. And thinking about that, makes it hard for me to breathe.
My dad of course calmed me down. For all the financial lectures he has given me in my life, this one time he suddenly revealed a compassion and understanding for the debt I have gotten myself into. He talked me off my ledge and told me again and again how proud he is of the woman I have become. How proud he is to be my dad. He then offered to send me a check, however big I would need, to get me to a point where I felt like I could breathe again.
I considered it. Trust me, I considered it. But a few days later, I told him “no”. I knew that this was something I could handle on my own, at least for now, just as I have been doing up to this point. It isn’t easy, and even more – it isn’t fun. When all my friends are established and in a position to spend as freely as they choose, it is hard for me to be the one constantly having to temper my spending. Especially because I know, were it not for this last 4 years of medical expenditures – I would be just as comfortable and established as they are.
I would probably even have a savings account.
With actual money in it.
Money I had saved.
The concept is novel to me now though.
And it probably will be for a long time to come.
I don’t bring this up because I need advice, or because I want any of you to take pity on me. I have read plenty of Dave Ramsey and picked up tricks all across the web. I have a process. A plan. I am slowly working my way through this debt.
But I bring it up now because… it does go to describe a situation that might be a deterrent to this whole adoption scenario.
Not in the realm of costs exactly, because while there are home study expenses and other fees I’m going to have to pay along the way – in general, adopting through foster care is much cheaper (sometimes even completely subsidized) compared to typical adoption.
What I worry about though, is how that debt will look to a social worker.
Because right smack dab in the middle of those 35 pages which made up my application, there were a good 5 pages dedicated to my finances.
Charts and percentages and questions that were not so easy to answer.
One of the calculations had me figure out my net worth, something I had never bothered to do up until now.
My net worth came out to be somewhere around -$11,000.
Yes, that is a negative number there.
Meaning, I am worth nothing. Worse than nothing. I have negative value.
My first reaction was to text that to my dad and a good guy friend of mine who I have talked about finances with before.
Along with the text, I wrote “That is not supposed to be a negative number, is it?”
My dad wrote back saying that everything was going to be OK.
My friend wrote back saying “I guess we could co-sign for you. I mean, for a kid.”
I laughed, and told him I didn’t think it worked quite like that.
My finances are one of the reasons I initially thought I should wait until Mr. Right came along before pursuing this endeavor. By then, I hoped that I would have gotten a better handle on this situation. That is what a reasonable person would have done anyway.
But then… I was struck by that change of heart.
And that voice in my head telling me that I can do this.
That everything is going to be alright.
And that I am on the exact path I am meant to be on now.
I don’t know what the future holds. The agency has had my packet for over a week now, and so far they have not said a thing about my finances. No one has called shrieking “How the hell did you get yourself into this mess?!?” Maybe they never will. Maybe this is more normal than I have allowed myself to believe. Maybe in looking at the numbers, they see what I see as well… that I can handle this. That these numbers are not going to drown me. That I may not be the mother who can provide designer purses and expensive vacations, but… I will be the mother who can provide love, and necessities, and love.
I have a plan.
I have budget, and a plan.
Month after month, I dig a little deeper.
Digging my way out.
Until these numbers are no longer something for me to be embarrassed about.
I pay my bills.
I have a good credit rating.
And I have a steady income that does not seem to be going anywhere.
But still… I have debt.
More debt than I had ever believed I would one day have.
And I would like to see it gone. For good. I would like to wipe those numbers out once and for all.
So for now, I continue to give up things like cable and those beautiful snow boots I so covet.
I dream about ordering a meal service, or a bi-weekly cleaning lady, but instead… I continue to cook and clean for myself.
I say “no” to most expensive outings with my friends, allowing my arm to be pulled only every once in a while.
And I pick away at a debt that will one day be gone.
My hope (and dream and deep down crazy wish) is that when this book is complete and ready for publishing – it might just be my way out.
Or at least, my way to make an even bigger dent.
I want to believe that there might just be enough interest and support to make a difference, and that this time next year – I might just be able to breathe a little deeper.
But even without that, I will be fine. I’ve got this. I am not proud of the debt I have accumulated, but I know that with much of it – I forged the path I needed to forge. And now, I will do what I need to do to get out. Even if takes me the next 10 years. I will keep chipping away until I am there.
I will not give up, and I will not stop until I have paid every last cent back.
But I also will not stop living my life in the meantime.
I am ready to be a mom. Now, not 10 years from now.
And there are over 100,000 kids in the system looking for a home.
I may not have gobs of money to give, but I have love. I have determination. And I have a safe, clean, and warm home to share with the child who is meant to be mine.
For now, I am telling myself that is enough.
That for the right child, it might even be everything.