“Some of the best deals are the ones you walk away from.”
~ my father
“I don’t throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things. Read Sun-Tzu, The Art of War. Every battle is won before it is ever fought.”
“The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good”
~ Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street & Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
How does one measure a person’s success?
I have known many wealthy individuals who have worked themselves almost to death and for what? A bigger house. A nicer car, designer clothes, more vacations and hair by Fredric Fekkai….why are all these things so important? Do they really measure a person’s worth? Do they calculate their success or value as a human being?
I knew a woman once that would give you the shirt off of her back…knowing it was her last shirt and never bring it up in a conversation again. She had ruined her credit, had no vehicle or home and was virtually broke. I also know a man who has earned a lot of money, helped his family members when he could, but was quick to use it against them in the future. Yes, this man worked long, hard hours. He was rarely home and saw little of his children. He had everything he ever wanted, but there was always something lacking…. something more…something better to buy…something more expensive or trendier to obtain. So he kept working way beyond what should have been his retirement age.
Now, this woman died penniless, but with all of her friends and family surrounding her.
This man is still alive. He has a strained relationship with one of his children. He lives under constant stress and is still striving to obtain “the American Dream.” Most people would agree that he has already achieved it, but not in his mind. He has to have more…has to keep up with the lifestyle he has made for he and his wife. I don’t discount for one second all the hard work he has done to have this level of success…but is it really success?
I have shitty credit. It’s my own fault. I made huge mistakes and now I am paying for them. I don’t own a home right now. I rent a really great two bedroom, two bathroom apartment. This is where I am right now in my life and I am taking steps to change my life. Not only monetarily, but spiritually as well. I am truly happy with my life right now. It has improved greatly from over a year ago and my husband and I are doing more to insure that our family will always be comfortable.
Now….am I successful? In one respect, no, as my credit is shot and some months are harder than others with the bills. On the other hand, yes. I am in a much better place than last year. I am healthier, my kids are happy and my husband is much more relaxed. We have improved our lives 100% in the last year, but we are by no means wealthy. Does this mean I am not successful? Do I have to be Donald Trump to be a success? Is the measure of ones success based solely on their economic status?
Is it so horrible to die broke? I really don’t plan on that happening, but if I do, does it mean I died with nothing to show for it? My children are always well cared for. They have everything they want and need and more. We do things as a family all the time. No…we don’t go on elaborate vacations to exotic destinations, but we go to Disney-world or Universal Studios for the day every few months. We go to the park and the beach. I spend almost every day at the pool with my kids and their friends. My oldest has sleep-overs constantly and my house has become the Kool-Aid House. I write every day, which is what I love doing. I have friends that I talk to every day. But most importantly, my husband loves me and I love him. We have had some of the hardest times one can imagine, but we got through them. We have both made mistakes, but we worked them out. We will be married 11 years on August 31st. He is the only man in my entire life that has never disappointed me.
Some would define our life as average….some below average.
Why is it so important to be wealthy and powerful to be considered successful? Does it not count to have a loving family and friends living a less than middle class life? The middle class has been totally screwed lately, but they continue to pick themselves up, brush off and start over.
I was middle class once. I screwed it all up. I am below middle class right now. I don’t plan to live paycheck to paycheck for the rest of my life….who does? But life happens and people screw up. What else are we supposed to do? I could drop into a deep depression, make my kids miserable, ruin my marriage and really make my life a royal fuck up. But I am choosing to pick myself up, brush off and start all over again….with the help of my husband. We did it before…we will do it again.
I would say that sounds pretty successful.
If you want anything to be completely fucked up, let the government handle it. I learned this the hard way early Tuesday morning.
My family and I moved to another county in Florida back in June. I had our electricity transferred to our new address as soon as I knew our move in date of 6/4/09. We were on a budget billing plan before moving, which is an average of the past 12 months of usage compiled into a set amount to be paid each month. What I didn’t know is that when you move, even just transferring service, the difference in the amount owed becomes due immediately….just as if I had moved and required a final bill. Our electric bill is $1100.00. It has been transferred over to our new address and due on 8/18/09. I called to set up a payment arrangement, but was told we didn’t live here long enough.
No kidding….we just moved in geniuses…..but we did have service for the past 11 months. They decided we were eligible for a partial payment arrangement in the amount of $650.00. That’s great, but how does that help for the balance of $450.00 + our actual new bill of $334.00 + the payment arrangement added on each month for $650.00, which is $108.33? Our new total due on 8/18/09 is $818.83. Ummm….we still don’t have that amount lying around either.
I don’t know anyone who has an extra $1100.00 or $818.83 just lying around, so I started looking into agencies for help. I don’t want someone to pay my bills, but if the electric company in question, Progress Energy Florida, will not let me pay in installments, I have no choice…I need the electricity on. Duh?
I finally found one that had funds available. Seminole County Emergency Financial Assistance Agency. They help with rent, utilities, medical, dental, funeral and cremation expenses. I had to print out a six page application. I filled it out, copied all necessary IDs, Social Security cards, bank statements, my lease agreement, and most importantly, my huge electric bill. Oh, and I had to write a personal hardship letter explaining why I was in this situation. I had everything in order. When I called on Monday, they were very specific. I had to be there by 7:30 AM, but recommended I come earlier, as people were lining up as soon as possible. They only let 37 people in and stopped letting people in at 8:30 AM. No more applications would be taken after that. So, I decided to go at 5:30 AM.
I had to take my 2 boys, ages 8 and 1 year. My husband had to work. I get there at 5:40 AM and there is a line already with people on air mattresses with blankets. I talked to a few people, all very nice, all had jobs, and almost all had been there multiple times. One man in particular explained that this was his 5th time coming here. Not for help each time, but atatempting for the same assistance each time. He proceeded to tell me that if one thing on the application was incorrect, left blank or didn’t have N/A, if appropriate….they sent you home. If you don’t have to pay for water and you don’t write a zero in the space, they don’t let you fill in a simple zero in the blank….off you go. It sounded ludicrous.
After a few hours, one of the biggest women I have ever seen came outside. She was easily 6 foot 5 inches tall and weighed probably 300 pounds. She could have been a bouncer at any club. Her voice was like a bomb going off. She was yelling at everyone in line.
“If you don’t have all of your paperwork filled out correctly, you will be sent home.” ; “Make sure that this line in straight.”; “I am only letting in 37 people and the kids count, so if there is anyone with you that doesn’t need to be, have them stay in your car or go home.”
She started counting….she let they babies go uncounted, but my 8 year old was counted. This seemed nuts to me, as my son was not asking for assistance and he was taking the place of someone who really needed the help, but I had no choice. I was lucky I came early, as I was number 25 and Jake was 26. We went in, single file, no one speaking for fear of getting thrown out. We were handed a number just like at the Wal-Mart Deli and told that we were being locked in, could not leave, could not use any cell phones, no food or drink allowed and if we missed our number being called the first time…too bad. It was like being run by the Russian Mafia. Not one person was rude or inconsiderate. I am sure that woman has had to deal with her share of assholes, but there was no reason to be as rude and outright mean to any of us in there. Not one person was rude to her or out of line in any way.
I was there for 6 1/2 hours. I went over my application and paperwork over and over again, just to make sure there was no reason to send me home. My kids were exceptionally well behaved. I felt so badly for them, as I had to wake them up so early for this. I always carry a cooler bag with drinks and lots of snacks when we go anywhere. I was damned if my kids would be denied foor and drink because of some unsufferable rule. I watched how each person was called and could not help but notice what they had to do. There were seats for us to sit and wait to be called up to a big plexi-glass window with a hole cut out to speak through and a space below to slide paperwork through. This counter was lower to the ground than most service counters and there were NO chairs to sit at this window. Each person had to literally get down on their knees in order to pass paperwork through. Their files and folders were all over the floor and the symbolism was so blatant. Everyone was on theirs knees asking for help. It was degrading, demeaning, demoralizing and just plain pathetic.
It’s a good thing I was raised Catholic…I was used to kneeling.
When my number, 77, was finally called, I was legitimately scared. Thankfully, my application was all in order. I had everything they needed. I was honest. I had cash deposits on my bank statement. My husband has not been able to find a legitimate job in over a year. He works for cash doing various home repair and remodel work for homeowners and Realtors. He has business cards and bids jobs through word of mouth. If he could find a legitimate job that deducted taxes, offered benefits…all the usual stuff, don’t you think we would have took it by now? But their guidelines were this:
Anyone who worked for cash or “under the table” was not eligible for any assistance. I waited 6 1/2 hours with my 2 children to be told no in 10 seconds. I could have lied. I could have said he was out of work….no job…unemployed. But no, I was honest and I was told no.
A few minutes before this happened, a woman came out from the back. She was hysterical. Tears streaming from her face. I could not understand what she was saying, as she spoke Spanish. I felt badly for her and gave her a bottle of water I had in my cooler bag. I told her everything would be fine. A worker came out from the back to speak to her. I couldn’t understand most of the conversation, but I saw that the worker gave her other agencies that may be of help. I know all of the agencies by now and there is no other help available. I couldn’t help but think that she may be homeless in a few days…maybe she had kids….it was an awful scene.
This is what makes me so angry:
This is a county, governmental run agency. Every single person in that room who had a job was paying for these workers to belittle and degrade them. We pay their salaries and this is the treatment that is afforded to the people who are working 12 hour days, 7 days a week. We were here for help, not to be treated like animals.
So, for all of those people that got down on their knees and essentially begged for help….myself included…do not feel ashamed. There is just not enough help out there for the working class. All of the bank executives and CEO’s are being bailed out and going on huge retreats in exchange for bankrupting their companies…while the working middle class is being belittled by government agencies for help with the electric bill that has skyrocketed because Progress Energy was granted the permission to increase their rates…..yet again. If anyone should feel ashamed it is the workers who treated us all like second class citizens. Those workers have a job and had no sympathy for the ones who just could not make ends meet. I wonder how they would feel if they were in our positions? It is the government that should be ashamed that they allow people to be treated this way all in the name of serving the public. Don’t advertise government help if the end result is going to be discouraging and degrading.
So, I am off to research other assistance agencies. I am trying my best to stay positive and I am definitely not one to cry over the failure of our government or my difficulties paying my gigantic elelectric bill. I will find a way…I always do. There will be accountability. There will be change.
Until then, letters to my Senators, Congressmen, Governor Charlie Crist, Mayor John F. Bush of Winter Springs (how ironic) and every single News Station for Central Florida have just begun.
By Charlie Reese
Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them. Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits? Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes? You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The president does. You and I don’t have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does. You and I don’t write the tax code, Congress does. You and I don’t set fiscal policy, Congress does. You and I don’t control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does. One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country. I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but private, central bank. I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason.. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a president to do one cotton-picking thing. I don’t care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator’s responsibility to determine how he votes. Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party. What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating deficits.. The president can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it. The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. Who is the speaker of the House? Nancy Pelosi. She is the leader of the majority party. She and fellow House members, not the president, can approve any budget they want. If the president vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to. It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million can not replace 545 people who stand convicted — by present facts — of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can’t think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist. If the tax code is unfair, it’s because they want it unfair. If the budget is in the red, it’s because they want it in the red .. If the Army & Marines are in IRAQ , it’s because they want them in IRAQ If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it’s because they want it that way. There are no insoluble government problems. Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like “the economy,” “inflation,” or “politics” that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do. Those 545 people, and they alone, are responsible. They, and they alone, have the power. They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses. Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees. We should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess! Charlie Reese is a former columnist of the Orlando Sentinel Newspaper. What you do with this article now that you have read it………. Is up to you.
The Inheritance tax, Accounts Receivable Tax, Building Permit Tax, CDL license Tax, Cigarette Tax, Corporate Income Tax, Dog License Tax, Excise Taxes, Federal Income Tax, Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA), Fishing License Tax, Food License Tax, Fuel Permit Tax, Gasoline Tax (currently 44.75 cents per gallon), Gross Receipts Tax, Hunting License Tax, Inheritance Tax, Inventory Tax, IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax), Liquor Tax, Luxury Taxes, Marriage License Tax, Medicare Tax, Personal Property Tax, Property Tax, Real Estate Tax, Service Charge Tax, Social Security Tax, Road Usage Tax, Sales Tax, Recreational Vehicle Tax, School Tax, State Income Tax, State Unemployment Tax (SUTA), Telephone Federal Excise Tax, Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax, Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes, Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax, Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges Tax, Telephone State and Local Tax, Telephone Usage Charge Tax Utility Taxes, Vehicle License Registration Tax, Vehicle Sales Tax, Watercraft Registration Tax, Well Permit Tax, Workers Compensation Tax
STILL THINK THIS IS FUNNY? Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, and our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids. What in the hell happened? Can you spell ‘politicians?’ And I still have to ‘press 1’ for English!?
Preface: I thought long and hard on whether or not to start writing about this experience in my life. It has been a painful, humiliating and humbling journey. I had a conversation last night with someone. It solidified what I have been thinking all along.
I have nothing left to lose.
I have never been good with money. I have never been able to balance a check book. I have bounced countless checks and have received an exorbitant amount of fees throughout my lifetime. I have ruined my credit twice in my life. I am incapable of handling credit cards. I have been under the delusion that I could always afford anything I wanted. I was always wrong. I have been the true cliche of “champagne taste on a beer pocketbook”. I have been doing this since I was 18 years old. It has taken me close to 20 years to realize that I have a serious spending problem….and only now I have been learning how to control it.
I learned the hard way. I learned in the worst possible way imaginable. I lost my family.
I am married with 2 boys. We lived in Pennsylvania from 2001-2008, right next door to my grandmother. My father’s mother raised my 2 sisters and myself while he had custody after the divorce. He was just starting his career with Continental Airlines and Gram was essentially our “mother”. My husband and I moved to PA at just the right time, as Gram was at the point where she could no longer drive and needed help with things. My husband and I did everything we could from going grocery shopping to taking her to doctors appointments. My son went over to visit her everyday. We helped her because we wanted to. I remember saying to her when I was in high school that she took care of me as I grew up and that I would always take care of her. I didn’t think much of it at that time, but who would have thought that it would come to pass so many years later.
During these years I was cleaning up our credit. Mine was from way before I met my husband and my husband mainly had lots of medical bills. After a few years we were able to get some small limit credit cards. But I wanted a bigger one. I wanted the freedom and status that came with an American Express or Chase Visa. I wanted to feel important. I know it sounds stupid, but we had so many hard times (that’s for another blog) over the years that I wanted to feel like a normal person. Someone who could go out and buy clothes for the kids or take a vacation without worrying about a budget.
I applied for larger, more prestigous cards, but was declined. Then I decided to do something that I never should have. I asked Gram to get a credit card with me as a co-signer or authorized user. She said yes, of course. I knew she would and I should never have asked, but one turned into two and then three. Gram was the primary and I was an authorized user. I wasn’t accepted as a co-applicant. Everything was fine for over a year or so. I was careful, paid on time and even over the minimum payment. Then it all turned to shit.
My husband and I were adopting a baby through a family member. They needed help with their other 3 kids, so we decided to help take care of them for a few months. We also had custody of our niece, who was 15 at the time. So, with my son, the 3 boys, my niece and then the new baby, we had six kids. I had applied for help from the state because we were taking care of these children, but unbelievably….we didn’t qualify for anything. We were over the income limit. I couldn’t understand how, but we were. So, what’s the first thing that goes…..the credit cards.
I didn’t mean for it to happen I didn’t plan it. I didn’t take care of my grandmother for seven years just to get some credit cards in the end. I fucked up. They were maxed out and I couldn’t pay them. I told Gram that she had to call the companies in order for me to be able to speak to them to try and fix it. She was the primary…they wouldn’t say anything to me without her say so. I had taken the optional protection plan, but because I was already behind (Note To Self: always read the fine print) it was void. Gram asked if I was taking care of it and I told her I was doing my best. I told her I was sorry….that I never meant for this to happen. I tried and failed.
During all this time, my family wasn’t really even speaking to me because of the decision we made to take in all the kids. You see, all the kids were from my husband’s side of the family. My side doesn’t see family like that. They were not my true family. Not my problem….let them go to foster care….just not my problem to deal with. My friends were more than supportive. I even had strangers telling me what a great thing we were doing when I was out with all the kids. Once I would have a conversation with someone and the inevitable question of “are these all your kids?” came up…I would breifly explain and people were dumbfounded that my husband and I would do such a thing. That we were willing to help all these kids was incredible to people. I didn’t see it as some saint like activity…just helping family.
After a few months, the three boys went back to their parents. Things were quiet around my house, but still, no one from my family was in touch with me. I used to talk to my father every day on the phone. That had stopped a few months back, but he had called me one day and said, “well, I guess you heard about Gram.” Ummm, no I didn’t hear anything about Gram. Apparently, she had fallen that morning and broke her hip and was lying on the floor for two hours before my upstairs neighbor (my father’s wife’s sister….long story….another blog) went over and found her. No one called me. She had been at the hospital all day. The woman who lived just up one flight of stairs from me didn’t even have the courtesy to call me. She called my father’s wife, as he happened to be in Mexico for God knows what. Neither one of my sisters called me. Not my aunt and uncle, cousins….no one. My husband and I took care of this woman for over seven years and no one told us. I was sick that day, so I didn’t call her. I always called her every morning, but because I was sick, I didn’t. I will never get over that guilt. But I will also never understand the reasoning why no one called me or my husband.
My father and uncle (my Godfather; my father’s brother) had found out about the credit card situation. Gram had always told me to make sure I paid them because she didn’t want to hear anything from my father or uncle about it, as they took care of her finances. I said before, I fucked up. I had talked to Gram…apologized…said I would do what I could to fix it. I couldn’t. Not only were my father and uncle mad, but everyone in my family…sisters, brother-in-laws, cousins….everyone. They all wanted an apology for what I did to Gram. I didn’t understand it. Eventually it came out that they all thought that I took out all these credit cards without Gram knowing. That I did it behind her back. No matter what I said, I was screamed at and never could explain anything to anyone. Gram told my father and uncle she only knew about one card. I know why she did that….I know she had already been reamed out for doing it in the first place, but if she were to admit to all of it, they would have treated her like they always have….like a child. Yes, I made a huge mistake and I know I should have never thought to ask her….I couldn’t handle it, but I was convinced I could. I don’t blame her for telling them what she did. I know she did it for legitimate reasons. It didn’t matter how many credit cards there were….I was completely shut out from Gram’s life.
She spent the next few weeks in the hospital and then was transfered to a nursing facility for rehabilitation. This was supposed to be temporary. My father and uncle said they would never, ever put Gram into a home…….
TO BE CONTINUED….