Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Silver Lining pt 1

Wow, when I got into that "little" fender bender a few weeks back, I had no idea what was in store for me. Frankly, I still don't, but today, the possibilities seem a lot more positive than they did. I saw this dark cloud roll over me and I wasn't sure how long the rain was going to last. In the last few days, I really thought it would stick around a lot longer, too. Today, though, the sun started shining just a little bit. I think I might be seeing that silver lining after all.

For so many years I have operated on the assumption that any little problem would turn into a crisis that we would not have the resources to deal with. I feel like we are always "behind the 8 ball", constantly playing catch-up, never having enough to go around, always halfway between "just got paid" and "just about to be broke." At this time 10 years ago, we had lost our house, our car, and the tax return we did get that year went to our landlord to keep us from being evicted. Since then, we have not had a steady climb back into financial security, as I would have hoped, but things are so much better than they were. 

We have worked hard to get out of the kind of hole you find yourself in after one spouse has been out of work for more than a year and the other gets too sick to keep a job for more than a few months at a time. We budgeted. We scrimped. We "made do". We moved houses and even cities, trying to find a way to make it only on what we had from monthly income. When we had no working vehicle, we accepted help from family and we drove an older vehicle. That vehicle is the 15 year old van that is still sitting in our driveway. The windows don't roll down and the A/C and heater don't always work, but we keep fixing it when it breaks, because it is paid off. However, the cost of repairs are starting to outweigh the actual worth of the vehicle. Still, we keep driving it because it means we don't have a car payment.

Because of our credit history, we don't get all the fun stuff that it seems like everyone else does. We have paid ridiculous deposits for utilities. Getting a cell phone without decent credit means that we had to go through a pre-paid company and we don't get the benefit of bonuses and rebates for all the newest gadgets. Instead of "Shopping" we go "Treasure Hunting" and we come away from the Thrift Store with what we need instead of going to the Mall for what we want. Sometimes our bills have been more than we had in the bank and sometimes we ate beans and rice for too many days in a row. I have lost count of the money that was wasted in late fees and bank fees and "Your credit simply sucks" fees. It often felt like The System was designed to make poor people even more poor by punishing them with more fees just for being already broke.

Now, we could have joined in the Great American Pastime of buying stuff with credit that we really couldn't afford, but I already knew what a terrible thing a credit card could be. Right before we got married I was blessed with three different credit cards. Within a year we had run them all to the max paying for wedding things, but they just seemed to stay maxed out even months and months later. Once things started to get really bad, I realized they were more of a burden than the life boat we wanted them to be. When I got laid off, I used my severance to pay off and and close every credit account we had, knowing that if we couldn't be sure we could afford the monthly payment every single month, we weren't in a position to have a credit card in the first place. In fact, the only new credit I have had in the last 10 years was the car I paid off just a year ago.

That was the car that I paid too much money for. Not only was the price tag disgustingly inflated, but the interest rate was so high, I'm actually embarrassed to admit I fell for it. I was desperate. I HAD to have a vehicle for work. I didn't have enough  cash to buy a car outright and I couldn't afford to sink cash into another lemon. I had to have a reliable car. So I paid for it. But that was also the first car I ever paid off, completely. I had been saving this purple fairy sticker for five years and I put it on the back window to help me find my car in a crowded parking lot. This was the first car I had felt was truly mine since the Dodge Neon I drove 20 years ago when I got my first full time job.

This was the very same car that I was in when I rear-ended an SUV in the snow, on the way to pick up the kids from school.

Sitting there in my busted up car, all I could think about was how we had just gotten our tax return and now I would have to spend all of it to fix my car. Well, honestly, I had a thousand things going through my head. Thank God no one was injured. DH is already on his way home from work so he can pick up the kids so they don't have to walk home in the snow. So thankful I decided to keep Full Coverage insurance on the car, even after it was paid off and I was only required to keep Liability. I really hope I don't cause another accident in the backup from THIS accident. If my car is still running, should I move it out of the traffic, or leave it here until the police shows up? Please, Mr Police Officer, don't give me a ticket for the expired registration. I've been trying to get it updated for a week. I just paid to get the radiator replaced LAST WEEK, and now the NEW radiator is probably destroyed. If I spend all my extra cash on fixing this car, how am I going to pay the cheer fees for Tiny Dancer. They are due next month if she she makes the team at the tryouts next week. How is she going to get to tryouts if I don't have a car? Hey, the engine is still running! Since the engine does still start up, I should drive it back home instead of waiting for a tow. I should be able to make it since I'm only a few blocks from the house. I'm sure the tow trucks would be needed more somewhere else. Let them help out some poor person who is wrecked and too far from home and can't drive at all. If we HAD to have an accident, at least we had it while we actually had money in the bank to cover the deductible. Thank God I'm ok. Thank God everyone else is ok. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God.

For the last two weeks, I've been driving a rental car that is covered by my insurance. Again, THANK GOD, because have you ever tried to rent a car without a credit card? Not easy. It's taken longer than I thought it would, but finally, yesterday my old car was officially determined to be a Total Loss. I met with the adjuster, signed over the title, cleaned all my personal things out of it, and said a final goodbye to it. That was WAY harder than I thought it would be, by the way. I  get entirely too emotionally attached to physical possessions. Anyway, something else positive happened that balanced out (a little) of the sadness.

I got a CHECK for the value of the car. It's like a last little gift from the car I've driven and taken care of for the last five years. Now, it's nothing to brag about, considering it was a base model Kia that was nine years old. But, it's more than I thought it would be and it is enough to help me actually replace this car with another car. At this point, I have the choice to use it all to buy a "cash car" (ie a junker that may or may not make it through the 30 day warranty) or I can maybe use it as the biggest down payment I've ever put on a car before.

But either way, now I have to go car shopping. 


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