Photo by hypertypos

Debt. It’s the American way. It’s just something that we accept – right?

FOR MANY YEARS, I did just that. I accepted that I was going to be in debt and I would try my best each month to pay off those credit cards, school and car loans, and at the same time pay for food, gas, and other essentials an adult needs to live a simple lifestyle.

Seven years ago, I was enjoying a successful career in the music business. As life would have it, things changed and I was faced with a fact that my music job was going away and the prospect of finding another job was very slim.

So I made a decision to change my career. I would go back to school and become a teacher.

I began working as a teaching assistant in Los Angeles Unified Schools. Reality set in when my income dropped dramatically – I was now making $9.75 per hour.

I had no health insurance. I had to pay for tuition and books. I had no savings. I couldn’t pay my rent. I began dipping into my retirement account and I used my credit cards.

Photo by asplosh

Fast forward three years. I’m out of school. I get a great job in Northern Virginia as a teacher. I’m finally making a decent salary but again reality sets in. My retirement account was emptied by my move across the country.

I soon found that at the end of each month, I was using my credit card for basic living expenses – like food and gas to get to work. Before I knew it, I had $30,000 in credit card debt and $30,000 in school loan debt.

I was only paying the interest on my credit cards (about $500 each month). There was no way my credit cards were going to ever be paid off unless I won the lottery or someone died and left me a mess of cash.

The stress of this sent me into a depression that I didn’t understand at the time. It was as if I was being strangled each day and I didn’t know how to get or where to turn.

I went to see a lawyer. He was very kind and said, “You’re right. You do not have enough money to live with these credit card payments.” He advised bankruptcy. This wasn’t something I wanted to do. Only losers declare bankruptcy, right?

Loser or not, I decided to go down that road. Now, two years later, I feel it was the right decision. The pressure I felt each month was gone. I no longer had credit card payments, and my school and car loans were manageable. The feeling of being a loser began to disappear.

Of course, there’s a bit of a lifestyle change when a person files bankruptcy. There is no “using my credit card”. My credit union, God bless them, gave me a credit card with a $2,000 limit.

For the most part if I cannot pay cash for something, I go without. I cannot travel much, and although I’ve never had an extremely extravagant life style, I am very careful to stay on budget. As a teacher I get a small raise each year, and my hopes of being able to save some money were actually beginning to blossom. All is good, yes…?

Photo by sittered

This summer there was a terrible flood and I lost just about all of my worldly possessions. They don’t tell you, but renter’s insurance only pays out about half of the value of the items to be replaced.

The other half came out of my pocket. Soon, my $2,000 credit card was up to the limit. I took this in stride, paying as much as possible each month, thinking that all would be ok.

It hasn’t been. Things needed replacing, and other life things happen, and I haven’t paid off my $2,000 credit card. Again, I kept telling myself all would be fine; I would just have to be careful each month until my credit is paid off.

And the topper. Last Friday I went down to my car to go to work and discovered that all the tires and wheels of my car were stolen. My car was literally sitting on the ground.

When I saw my car I just thought, “You’re kidding me…this seriously isn’t happening.” I now have to come up with $500. Winter is coming, all of my warm clothes were destroyed in the flood, and I’m not sure what I will do. I cannot charge these expenses. What will I do?

Things like this happen to people each day. I cannot be bitter or feel sorry for myself. I’m not sure what I can do…just have faith that I’ll be OK.

I went to school on Friday, finding comfort in my 6th graders’ smiles. That’s what I focus on. My students and work. Maybe that’s the real American Way. I focus on the good in my world, my work, my friends, and bottom line, it isn’t as bad as it seems. Life always moves on.