Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Financial Idiot

I've been totally stumped for something to write about lately. You may have noticed that I haven't written anything decent in 3 weeks. I guess I've been a little depressed lately, which is a pretty rare thing for me.


I think it is because my mind has been entirely consumed with other worries. As a result I have no motivation to do anything, let alone write something entertaining.

If there is one thing in my life that causes me huge amounts of shame, this is it. It's a secret that I keep from all my friends and family (except Jules of course). I figure I can spill it all here because I have a certain amount of anonymity through my CanadaDad persona so here it goes.

I've been terrible with money my whole life.

It started when I was in grade 9 when I signed up for the Columbia House Record and Tape club. You know the one, 11 tapes for one cent. I was always late making my payments to them but eventually I fulfilled my obligations and quit the club.

A couple of years later I signed up again. This time I was even worse. It eventually got to the point where it was sent to a collection agency. This was my first experience with these guys and their no-nonsense, high pressure tactics. Once contacted by them I quickly payed up what I owed.

I was good until University. While walking through the mingling area one day I was approached to sign up for a Student Visa card. I was pretty excited about the possibility of getting a credit card so I didn't hesitate to sign up.

A couple of weeks later I got a call at home by someone wanting to offer me a special Mastercard through my Union at Safeway. I jumped at the opportunity and a couple of weeks later my credit card arrived.

There I was 18 years old with 2 credit cards.

About 8 months later both were maxed out from buying gas, cigarettes and booze not to mention regular cash advances.

Then the collection agencies started to call. Every couple of days they would call me. I'd tell them what they wanted to hear on the phone and then immediately disregard everything I'd said. Eventually I did pay off those debts but it took me a good 4 years to do it. When I was all paid up I swore that I would never get another credit card.

A few years passed and we had our first child. Jules got a Sears credit card at some point afterwards, for emergency use only, of course. We had lots of emergencies like groceries, Walmart shopping sprees and Christmas and again we had a maxed out credit card and a collection agency on our case.

Then I went back to school and picked up a shit load of student loan debt. I got a Canada Student loan and a British Columbia student loan time two. When we moved to Manitoba I had about $30,000 of student loan debt to repay. I scrambled to get a job and get us on our feet after the move and totally ignored these student loans. I got letter after letter in the mail threatening all sorts of action if I didn't address this issue as well as the daily phone calls from various financial institutions. I ignored them all. Why?? Because I didn't know what else to do. We were barely scraping by as it was and we certainly didn't have the kind of money these collectors were asking for.

One year, right before Thanksgiving, I deposited my paycheck only to find that it was being held hostage. I couldn't take out a red cent. This is not a good thing for a family living paycheck to paycheck, let alone the day before Thanksgiving weekend. I managed to make payment arrangements with the bank and have been making those payment reliably for a good 5 years now.

This took care of the 2 Canada Student loans and one of the BC student loans, however there was still a second BC student loan out there that wasn't dealt with. In fact it is still out there. I get letters regularly saying that they will take action if I don't pay them immediately.

Since moving back to Manitoba I've had another maxed out credit card that had to be repaid through a collection agency.

You see a trend here??

Aside from student loans and credit card debt we also have a terrible time paying our bills on time. It seems that there is always one creditor threatening to shut off our service if we don't pay up. When we get caught up on one outstanding bill there are always two more to take it's place.

I can't even tell you how many time our services have been disconnected in the last 6 years. Every service we have has been disconnected at one time or another with the exception of water. Cable and internet are regularly cut, like about once or twice a year.

This last month has been a hellish month as far as financial stress is concerned. Our hydro/gas bill was out of control because we aren't on a budget due to shitty payment history and we use a ton of electricity and gas during the winter here. We paid them $700 and made payment arrangements for the remainder so we will be OK with them for a while.

That $700 made it impossible for us to keep up with everything else. We had our cable cut off at the beginning of March. We juggled stuff around and got it reconnected only to have our internet cut off a week later. Again we juggled some cash around to get that one paid up and reconnected. Two weeks later the phone got shut off and with it we lost the internet again because it runs on the phone line. Yesterday that got paid off and as of last night we have all of our services going again.

That's not to say we are in the clear. We still owe a good chunk of change to hydro/gas and we have a water bill that is now outstanding.

Oh and on top of that I got a call from our most recent credit card company telling me that our account is over it's limit and it had been 38 days since the last payment was made. I had to tell the guy that he was going to have to wait 2 weeks and I would pay off everything that is over the limit. He actually threated to send it to a collection agency if I didn't make a payment of $60 immediately. By this point in my life this does not scare me anymore. I told him that I couldn't make that payment and that if they couldn't wait the 2 weeks then they could go right ahead and do whatever they needed to do. I don't think my credit rating is going to get any worse than it already is. All of a sudden waiting two weeks became just fine with him.

And so my life goes. I drive a shitty van and rent a shitty house and have no one else to blame but myself. I wish I could just give my paychecks to someone else and let them take care of everything because it's pretty obvious that I can't do it myself.

This is really the kind of skills that should be a mandatory part of high school. Personal accounting 101 or something like that.

Do I feel better about it now that I've vented? No. Not really. At this point the only thing that's going to make me feel better is a winning lottery ticket.


Heather said...

Wow, I'm really sorry. =( I can totally relate, I am also a financial nightmare. If it weren't for my husband being the money handler around here now, I'd probably be in a homeless shelter. And we've been really trying to cut back on the non essentials even more lately to help balance out the increase in gas costs and groceries. I've been getting my hands on some used books and using quite a few websites to help me with this, because I admit I need help with it.

Kris said...

You're definetly not alone. I can relate personally to almost every aspect of your situation. I don't even allow myself to have a credit card these days because I just can't handle the responsibility. I like shiny new things far too much for my own good.

Heather said...

Aren't we a sorry bunch of credit card abusing losers?