The Debt Of It All

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.

$30,000

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.

I remodeled my condo.

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.

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25 Responses to The Debt Of It All

  1. melanie says:

    this is the number one reason i feel like adoption is not an option for me. no one is going to look at me and my life and my financials and give me a dog, much less a child! I’m gearing up for thousands of dollars worth of surgery myself and my current fertility chances are less than 2%…but what the hell are my other options? I own a tattoo studio – no small business owner has any money, and were a “weird” small business. I have a mortgage and credit cards up to my eyeballs and stupid debt we took to open the business… and sure, my car is paid off but my appliances arent. Who would give me a baby?

    I read your blog and I feel like you have it SO much more together than I do… its nice to know that even the “put together” girl is stressed about this stuff! I’m not the only one who feels like I’m the horse you shouldn’t bet on….

  2. Lilly says:

    This is probably one of the biggest things that frustrates me about infertility. Not only are we infertile – but – like you – we make a “decent’ living…we have debt (that we’ve worked our asses off to pay down!) but we took out my 401k to do our first round of IVF. I did NOT want to put it on a credit card for a few reasons…#1 we’d paid of thousands of dollars of credit card debt and I didn’t want to put more money ON a credit card…and #2, if it didn’t work (which it didn’t) I’d rather have the money come out of my check without me even looking at having to “pay back” a creditor, and at least I’m paying MYSELF back the money.

    But – with that said – my biggest frustration is how we have to PAY $$$ thousands of dollars to even TRY to get pregnant when so many people out there – who don’t even WANT to be pregnant get to do it for free.

    We have great jobs, work hard for a living – WE ARE responsible with our money – yet we have to PAY to GET pregnant? really?

    If we don’t get pregnant – while I’m all for adoption, the thought of it terrifies me. I’ve heard of people being turned down for adoption because of the amount of debt they are in, which is normally BECAUSE of infertility treatments! I have a friend who skipped IVF and went straight to adoption and has spent over $30,000 in adoption fees.

    I’m not saying that to steer anyone from adoption, but the thought of how much it is terrifies me.

  3. Heidi says:

    Thank you for your honesty. You didn’t have to be so open about such a private matter…but your words helped me. I’m facing yet another surgery while I’m paying off the last one from 2 years ago. I don’t know how to look at my husband and children and tell them they have to go without in order to get mommy healthy. I feel selfish and the guilt weighs on me. So I just endure the pain and pray one day to magically have the extra money to spend on a surgery. Well…as you so eloquently stated…this is my health and it must be a priority. So thank you for being so honest and for writing these words at the perfect moment.

  4. Nikki says:

    We have debt but not even from something good. From Hubby’s family ditching us with our wedding bill. I admire you and think you’re doing a great job!

  5. Jen says:

    You are so much smarter than a lot of people. Take my boyfriend and I, for instance. It’s taken us 13 years and multiple mistakes to finally start thinking clearly about money. We knew better but kept falling for traps like the most expensive cars in our price range, cars that are no good on winter roads in Wisconsin I might add. Most recently we fell for smart phones. In our defense, we got them before all the medical expenses piled up with our daughter, but we should have known better.

    We live on a single factory worker’s income, so we knew better. And still, it took us 13 years to even begin to learn our lessons.

    If I were you, I’d be proud. Not many people can say the same these days. ;)

  6. Lawfrog says:

    Money as a topic in general has such an air of secrecy attached to it, so I say bravo for being open and honest about where you are. That is what a lot of people should be doing so they can feel free to say to friends “No, I can’t afford to go on vacation with you/go to that expensive restaurant because I need to pay my debt.” I think people would be more understanding of debt if we talked about it more freely.

  7. Josey says:

    I love this post – I love the honesty of it all, because anyone who has been through the ALI journey (or really, any expensive medical journey) will get it – that we put ourselves into debt for reasons that maybe not everyone understands the importance of, but MAN is it important. Great post.

  8. jeanette1ca says:

    If you need more encouragement that finances need not stand in the way of adoption, read this blog:
    http://twondra.blogspot.com/
    I don’t know all the ends and outs of how they managed, or how they are managing now, but certainly their story is one of overcoming many obstacles, including the financial issues. You are a determined lady, and you will find a way. And if this book doesn’t make you a famous, rich first-time author, well, then the next one will make you a famous, rich second-time author! Besides, I remember how much you loved those new appliances. No regrets — love is too rare, even for appliances, to regret any of it!

  9. LuckyGirl says:

    I don’t remember how I originally stumbled upon your blog, but I’ve been reading since prior to your first IVF attempt. I’m a social worker who has worked with foster kids for almost 10 years. This past year, I had a scare that made me take a good long look at my future where parenting is concerned. I considered many options, but have so far decided to pursue foster-to-adoption. So, i was pleasantly surprised to see you decide to pursue this route too! I’d be happy to answer some of your questions and worries if you’d like someone to run things by! One major word of reassurance – we desperately need foster and adoptive parents for waiting kids. As long as you are making your payments, we don’t care that much about your finances! We care that you can support yourself and a child, not that you are wealthy or even debt free. Don’t let this keep you up at night! ;) Feel free to email me if you have other questions! I can tell you about my experience from both the professional and personal sides!

  10. Leslie says:

    I’ve had several people get angry when I talk about my road through IVF, so if I upset anyone I apologize in advance.

    I got BEYOND blessed at my last job. We had infertility coverage up to a 20k lifetime maximum. All of my surgeries were billable under insurance and didn’t take away from that maximum since they weren’t specifically fertility surgeries. The main reason I went for this process now is because I knew I might never have the chance again.

    I, like you make more than most women my age and even than most men my age. But unlike you I was not raised to understand money. At 23 I was close to 50k in debt from credit cards. Not from being a selfish brat but from being uneducated in that area. Anyway, it’s been a looooong road and I’m still on it and will be for several years. My goal is debt free by 30. Hoping I can make it!

    All of that to say, you’ll get there. We took different roads but ended up in somewhat similar financial boats. And as far as adoption, it will be worth every cent even if you’re paying until you have grandchildren. And when I looked into it years ago I was told as long as the child had their own room and three meals on the table that was all that mattered in the way if finances.

    Good luck!!!! Xxx

  11. Alaina says:

    While I have never been through what you have been through, I can completely understand the debt thing. Law school, and I came into my marriage with three credit cards with balances of $5,000 or more, and T had none. I feel so inadequate about it. And I beat myself up about it. It’s hard. So while I don’t completely understand, I do to some level. I appreciate your honesty more than you know.

  12. heather says:

    I know we only know each other vaguely through the web, but I would guess that by now you know I have no problem being honest.

    I read your post twice and I can find nothing you should feel embarrassed or ashamed about. Your story is unique in its own ways but there are millions of people in the debt boat you are in for different reasons, from student loans to home repairs and all sorts of other situations. So, while what got you to where you are, compared to others…I don’t think you are bad off (as you said you have a good job). What I do think is amazing that even at a pretty young age, you chose to pay off your debt, rather than allow others to do so for you (your dad) or just let it lapse, file bankruptcy and start over. Those choices should be a source of great pride.

    I would hope that as they look over your finances they would see what I see, a very courageous young woman , when dealt a terrible blow, fought like hell. You didn’t give up even when people told you to (your gyn). You are paying your debt. Honoring your word. I would hope they would view those choices as valuable character traits you can help pass on to a child, a child that might not have been raised in a home where there was a whole lot of good character.

    As much as I disagree with you at times, I have no doubt you will be an incredibly loving and devoted mom and they would be total fools to keep a child out of your arms. Good moms, put their children first. Looking at how hard you fought for yourself and all you have conquered, I cannot imagine how hard you would fight and what you would conquer for your child(ren).

  13. Jessica I. says:

    The financial stuff is so nerve-wracking (along with most of the other points where it feels like someone could cross you off the list as an acceptable parent)! In our experience, the finances were not an issue for the home study really (grants and loans are another issue, but you probably won’t need to pursue those with foster-to-adopt). Right before we began our home study my husband left his very lucrative corporate job and took his dream job in ministry, making less than half of what he had been making (yikes). So even though my income stayed the same, his dropped a ton and I was worried that would look so irresponsible to the state. Turns out they were way more interested in the fact that he now had more time at home that could spent with our family!
    I am hopeful you will have the same type of experience; that the quality of life you offer will trump any financial concerns.
    I appreciate openness about adoption (and infertility, of course); I think it helps to reduce some of the mystery that seems to surround it. So thank you for sharing so openly!

  14. Jess says:

    I, for one, think you are doing GREAT and are being responsible with your finances right now. I know that big number looms over your head, but you’ll slowly see it chisel away!

  15. Love IS everything.

    And seriously, I’m sure those social workers see all sorts of financial situations. The fact that you’re paying every cent and that your credit rating is still solid says a lot more about you than the actual numbers do.

  16. Natalie says:

    Girl! Are you serious? I know for a fact that they won’t blink an eye at your financial situation when it comes to adoption. I have a friend whose family just threw a “paying off the adoption loan” party. Their adopted son was 10 years old….you can finance adoption! So that tells me that they consider people in much worse financial states than you to become parents. Your heart is bigger than your debt could ever outweigh. So keep your chin up.

    It is hard to not feel overwhelmed by debt. I think a LOT of us are. Like you, I keep chipping and chipping and there are times it feels like it will never end! But I know that someday it will. I just have to stay the course and keep motivated. Like you, I also don’t like to give up on certain experiences though. I try to keep it in check, not do too much….for example, we went to Alaska for vacation, but I am still wearing dress pants I bought 8 years ago. It’s a give and take.

    You are incredibly financially responsible. Most of your debt is/was unavoidable. And those few things you splurged on, are paid for. So that tells me you’re going to be just fine.

    I have a bit of debt I am not proud of and an incredible amount of debt I am proud of (education). I couldn’t be where I am now without that big chunk of money. I like where I am. So you being healthy is the same thing to me. I am working quickly to kick the shit out of the debt I feel guilty about, so then I will just have the debt I don’t feel bad about to take care of. We’ll all get there someday.

  17. rob says:

    If I may make a recommendation… consolidating all that debt into one loan/one payment will save you money on interest. And best of all, if you’re able to get that loan from your dad, and pay an interest rate you guys agree to (for sure lower than a cc rate and highly likely lower than a bank rate), or even with no interest (if your silly pride is capable and dad is agreeable). There is no shame in it, and isn’t it better to keep that wealth in your family rather than let it go to a bank?

    It seems I’m not afflicted by pride as much as you SIF, but I was downright giddy to borrow 40k from a family member and pay him 2.25% interest rather than let an even higher amount (can’t remember the bank’s interest rate) go to a frickin bank. I only use Credit Unions now. Keep up the good work.

    • Lawfrog says:

      I’m with you Rob. Taking a low-interest rate loan from a family member or consolidating all debt is a good idea. Everyone is different though in how they want to handle their debt and I respect the fact that SIF has likely thought about these options and not done them for her own reasons. Just wanted to say though that as a general rule, I completely agree with you that consolidating into one payment and getting the interest lowered is the way to go if you can.

  18. Jamie says:

    Giving up the cleaning lady, restaurant meals, trips, and cute boots are ALL things most of us do for 20+ years as parents, you just have a head start on being selfless which I’m sure adoption agencies will recognize as a virtue. Good luck!

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