The Night I Found Out I Was Broke

Note: If you got notified of this post yesterday, I apologize. It got messed up by the holiday weekend, and I didn’t catch it until it posted early. What follows is the edited and much funnier version!

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Now I was wishing I was the person holding the phone in that scary movie, because I was only moments away from the sweet release of that orange traffic cone.

Starting Debt (01.01.19): $126,310.77
Current Debt: $110,102.44
Total Paid Off: $16,208.33
Income Going to Savings: 1%

Okay, so I’m not broke. It’s a sensational post title to get views because I guess that’s what my life has become. I’m really close to broke, but I’m not broke. I’m still paying my bills, but I just don’t have anything going to savings and a mountain of debt. So maybe I am broke.

In any case…

My wife and I have had an agreement pretty much since we got married 23 years ago, and that agreement goes like this:

I keep my mouth shut and she lets me continue to live inside.

Wait… wrong agreement. Here is the right one:

My wife handles the bills, and I don’t ask questions.

If there was something I wanted to buy I’d say, “I’m going to buy this,” and then she would either say it was fine or it wasn’t fine.

My wife is one of the most caring and loyal people walking the face of the earth, and slowly over time my kids and I began to wear her down. She hated the feeling of being “the bad guy” and telling one of us that we couldn’t have something, so she continued to find ways of saying yes.

When it came to something like me taking out a 0% interest (if paid in full) credit card from the local electronics store, she agreed this would be best so that I could just go buy the things I wanted and we’d pay them off later.

When it came to my kids, she got a couple of department store cards to make buying clothes and things for them easier. No big deal if we paid them off right?

Then I went back to school and took out huge student loans.

Then we got a hardware store card for buying things for the house.

Then we got a few more low interest cards, because why not?

Then I had multiple surgeries and we got a card to pay for those bills, but it only covered part of them, so we got on a payment plan with the hospital.

Then we bought new cars.

Then we got a new house to put all of the crap we purchased in.

To be 100% clear, this didn’t happen overnight. We’ve been married for well over 20 years. We slowly worked our way into crippling debt without ever even really noticing until it was too late. To be fair, I think my wife noticed, but I kind of refused to listen.

In fact… during this entire time I think I personally made it my mission to remain blissfully unaware. Slowly though I began to see a change in my wife’s stress levels. The bills had always freaked her out, so I had gotten used to her saying things like, “We’re really broke this month,” or “Bills are going to be so tight this month that I don’t think we can pay them all.”

These are the times when I should have offered to help shoulder some of the burden. Instead I would just smile and say, “You always say that.”

But she wasn’t effing around.

So one night in early January our little bubble finally burst. My wife was really upset and stressed, and while this is somewhat normal following dropping a bunch of cash on Christmas presents, this year was different. This wasn’t about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or his and her matching hot cocoa cups.

I was actually so naïve that I didn’t even know her stress was about anything money related. I just thought she was going through some post-holiday blues, or that the kids had really given her a hard time that day or something.

But her level of stress this time felt extreme enough that we sat down and had a really good heart-to-heart. She told me she was extremely stressed out and had a feeling of panic and anxiety at almost all times. I asked her what the number 1 thing was that was leading to this stress. I said, “Let’s start with the number 1 thing and tackle that. Then we’ll work our way down.”

[Just so you know, I fully expected her number 1 thing to be me. Sarcastic attitude, lame jokes, odd odors, hairy back, socks on the floor, etc.]

She replied, “There won’t be much to work down. There is only one thing and it’s our finances. We’re in real trouble.” Then she began to cry.

Seeing just how affected she was made me realize that this wasn’t a “you always say that” moment. There was something really wrong.

So I got out my computer and began constructing a spreadsheet. My wife is not big into computers (up until a year ago she didn’t have a Facebook account), and used paper ledgers for almost everything. I wanted to create a spreadsheet so that every single dime we were spending was tracked, and we had outstanding balances on every single account. We spent hours calling credit card companies and banks and utility services and anything else we could think of. We put every single penny on that sheet.

I took the sheet to work the next day and started adding things up while eating my sandwich on my lunch break. My findings were that we were paying $3700 over the amount I was bringing home on my paychecks every single month.

“Exactly how much extra is she paying on these things per month?!?!” I pondered as I looked at the totals, “We need to take everything down to the minimum payment for now until we get things sorted out.”

So when I got home I said, “Let’s just go down to minimum payments on this stuff for now. Otherwise we are in real trouble.”

She replied, “Those are the minimum payments.”

You know that moment in a scary movie when the person finds out that the call from the killer is coming from inside the house and then has the look of terror wash over their face as they realize said killer is standing right behind them about to put a traffic cone through the back of their head? I felt so much worse than that.

I said, “Well that sucks. We’ll have to use the money in savings to try to pay off as much as we can and then replace it over time.”

She replied, “There is no money in savings.”

Now I was wishing I was the person holding the phone in that scary movie, because I was only moments away from the sweet release of that orange traffic cone.

My face went white, my blood ran cold, and I’m pretty sure several appendages on my body inverted. Read into that what you will.

I was upside down on my bills by nearly $4,000 Every. Single. Month.

What has followed has been 6 months of digging, scraping, cutting, and stressing beyond belief. We have clamped our spending in almost every possible way imaginable, and while we’re not out of the woods yet, we feel we have a plan in place to correct our situation. It’s just going to take time and discipline.

I’ll share some of the things we did in later posts, so keep checking back in!

The feeling I felt that night is one that I hate ever feeling, but it’s also one that I don’t want to soon forget. In the days and weeks that followed, my wife and I agreed that this frankly should sting. We made really dumb mistakes, and we don’t want to ever make them again, so we want to feel the pinch.

I lost around 90lbs a couple of years ago and have kept it off. I liken my finances to my weight: I had spent years eating anything I wanted and not caring about the consequences, and then one morning I woke up fat. It sucked to diet and lose all of the weight, but remembering just how hard it was to accomplish has made me keep the weight off and remain a loyal member of my gym at work.

We spent years financially consuming anything we wanted to, and now it’s going to take time to get healthy again.

Anyone know what part of my body I put the rubber band around to lose debt fast?

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