Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bankrupt

Hi lovelies,

As some of you who follow me on twitter might already know, I had a piece published on xoJane.com last week, which revealed that I filed for bankruptcy last year, and continue to have a hard time making ends meet financially. I've been trying to write that piece for a long time, almost a year, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it, to admit that things were really that bad. But they were.

The xoJane article
In some ways, they still are. 

I'll be digging myself out of the hole I ended up in for many more years, and things will continue to be very tight for me for a long time.

That part of my story isn't unique, of course. So many of us are struggling every single day to make ends meet. The point I was really trying to make with the xoJane piece (which I think got lost in translation for some people, if the comments section is any indication) is that I couldn't reconcile the fact that I had just graduated with a doctoral degree, and had (by then) a decent job, but also couldn't afford to eat because of all the debt I had wracked up in the 2 years after my divorce, when I was living for a time on part-time work, and still in school.

It didn't add up, didn't seem right, and it was really hard for me to take a long hard look at how that had happened.  It was (and still is) almost impossible for me to tolerate telling my peers and friends the truth about my situation. It remains extremely embarrassing and shameful for me, but I also wanted to start telling more of the truth about my life, as I promised a few posts ago.

The point of the xoJane piece was really intended to be more about that part, that I feel ashamed and hide a lot of my current life from my friends because money and money problems aren't talked about, and how I feel that I especially can't talk about that because on paper my life should be pretty sweet. That's what the piece was supposed to be about.

But there a lot of things I left out of the xoJane piece, in terms of the things I wish I had done differently:

  • I wish I had not listened to my husband when he said that I should stop working while in school. This was his idea, when we moved in together, before we were even engaged. I should not have stopped working.  It was just a retail job, and I hated it, but I should have kept it.
  • I wish that I had started saving from that time as well.  I should have kept working and been saving, always. As I wrote in the piece, I think I felt that if I had kept a separate savings account while I was with my husband I would have been expecting the worst, expecting the end, saving to protect myself "in case my man left me." I see now (and as many commented on the piece) that I should have been saving in case of ANY unforeseen situation, like, for example, me realizing my husband was an asshole and, oh, also that I am gay.
  • Once I finally had a decent, paying job, I should have stopped using the credit cards. Had I done that, so much stress would have been avoided. To stop using them, of course, would have meant living more meagerly, and that's what I should have done. But I was foolish, and not thinking ahead, and was consumed with keeping up with the Joneses, and had been privileged enough my whole life to not really understand how much I could live without. I only really started to figure that out in the past year, what I really need and what I don't. It's been quite a wake up call.
  • I should have remembered that my student loan payments WOULD START. I was in denial about the reality of that inevitable burden.  I was in school for so long that it just kept seeming like something that I wouldn't have to deal with until "later." When later actually came, I was totally, utterly screwed. The little bit of planning I had been doing, the budget I was living by, did not include paying back 125K in student loans. Whoops.
  • I should have sought out financial planning help, since none was ever provided in all of my 30 years. Some people in the comments of the xoJane article said that at 30 I just "should have known" how to deal with my money. I agree with that, in part. Some things are common sense, aren't they? But part of my issue, privileged as it is, is that I had never been on my own before. I went from my parents' house, to college, to living with my boyfriend. When I think about that now I can't help but shake my head. What a child I was, you know? I didn't realize it at the time, but I had not ever been truly independent until I was 29 years old. I didn't know how to do it, clearly, and so I made a mess of things. So I stand by saying that I wish someone had told me how to plan and save my money. I don't think that most of us get those lessons from anywhere, particularly if you're in the academic world.  Money is JUST NOT TALKED ABOUT. I can't emphasize that enough. Add to that the fact that I was sold the fantasy that my expensive degree would guarantee me easy access to a great, high-paying job and I was sunk before I even began.
I'm curious what you think about all of this. I know what the xoJane crowd thinks, but what of you lovelies? Be honest, I promise I can take it!

xx




10 comments:

  1. You're so brave to write this! Sure, you made mistakes, but it sounds like you've given yourself some tough love and you're moving on. What more can anyone ask of herself?

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  2. Thank you! Ugh, it was a big step to finally rip the band-aid off. But I feel better now that it's out there. Writing as therapy and all that :)

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  3. I stumbled upon your blog through #wwwblogs this morning, and I am SO glad I did. I had lived alone for some 4 years after grad school before I met my partner. I don't even remember when we considered her officially "moved in" with me, but it was a good two years into our relationship before she was spending most days (and nights) in my apartment. I'm glad we took our time, and I'm ESPECIALLY glad I had time to live alone and realize my strengths, weaknesses, pet peeves, and the like before I tried to incorporate someone into my life. Congratulations on this new step in your relationship! Just remember that pet peeves don't go away just because you love someone. They just become more bearable. Best of luck to you!

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  4. Personally, I'm rather amazed by the level of judgment shown by people commenting on your xoJane post. First of all, it's goofy for people to be telling you what you "should have done" when you so freely admit what you should have done differently. Second, living beyond your means and on credit is one of America's most popular pastimes (as is believing that "Everything will work out"), yet very few people realize that it can lead you down a hole you can never dig your way out of. And finally, although my experience was entirely different from yours - I was on my own at seventeen and lived in my car because I couldn't afford rent - even at 29, you were, by modern financial standards, still very "young." I live in the SF Bay Area now, where rent, although not quite up to NYC standards, is still incredibly high. And because of that, it's quite common here for college kids to continue to live with their parents until they're done with school - it isn't affordable otherwise. In other words, there are plenty of thirty-year-olds running around who have no idea how to manage money, simply because they've never had to do it. And I agree that a big part of the problem is that no one wants to talk about it. If people who are in financial trouble didn't have to suffer shame in admitting it - and it seems to me that shaming you is exactly what a number of those commenters did - then perhaps potential problems could be addressed before they got out of hand.

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  5. Hahaha such a good reminder, thank you! My gf and I are at that point, where we're spending almost every night at one or the others' place, PLUS I've gotten to the point of being able to talk about the pet peeves before they turn into a deep resentment that ruins everything, so I think I'm ready! And thanks for the congrats--glad you found my blog today! xx

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  6. Thank you so much for this, that's exactly how it feels! Yes, I'm 30, but also have no clue what I'm doing b/c I have yet to have to do it, which is actually kind of the norm unfortunately for my age! And I know, some of those commenters didn't read the whole piece, I'm pretty sure! Thanks again :)

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  7. Hey Edie! I wanted to thank you for writing your post over at xojane.


    I sort of choked up while reading your story because I'm in a similar position : My Ph.D will be "official" in a few days, but I found out my mother--who has bipolar and struggles with money binges--opened four credit cards in my name in 2008, didn't tell me and didn't pay any of them. I'm basically in a position where I'm having to choose between her survival and mine. I have been hiding this from everyone I knew in grad school and most of my friends and other family as I work through this issue (talking to lawyer soon), so I definitely can relate to that aspect of what you went through. I'm also 29, and feel so stupid for not catching all of this sooner...I just hadn't opened up any cards for myself and, thus, for some reason didn't feel that I had any need to check my credit report.


    Random question: Are you working in academia, and/or do you have any insight on the negative impacts of filing bankruptcy while looking for an assistant professor position? I have no idea if universities run credit checks for positions that don't require handling money, and am petrified of this possibility.

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  8. I think it's brilliant you're speaking up about your bankruptcy! The only way to actually remove all the money talk stigma is to confront it. And I think it's great that maybe someone will read your story and learn from your mistake instead of just committing it themselves... at least, that's what I tell myself when I spill embarrassing money decisions.


    Good luck getting your financial feet back under you!

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  9. First
    of all-congratulations for being done with your degree. It is SO HARD in the
    best of circumstances, so CONGRATULATIONS!! I hope you feel proud for making it
    through.


    I'm so sorry that your mom did that to you--and to be going through it
    alone! I think you're being hard on yourself, you had no reason to check your
    credit since you weren't using it! I hope you're able to come to a decision that
    you feel at piece with, though I'm sure either decision will be so hard for
    different reasons.


    In terms of the academia question--I'm actually not in
    academia, but I'm not sure that's allowed, to check someone's credit history
    when hiring? I think they can only run criminal background checks. Anything
    more seems like way more of an invasion then should be legal??

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  10. Thank you! that's my hope too, that this gets some dialogue going, or someone thinks a little more about the choices their making.
    Looking forward to chatting more with you--heading over to check out your blog more today! xx

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