Paige is leving Trading Spaces.
Mudslides in California and North Vancouver.
George Bush calling from inside the White House to speak to a pro-life rally OUTSIDE the White House.
Damn people at Visa tacking on another $1300 to my credit limit.
Further signs of the apocalypse…
A lot of us are in the same boat. Things just aren’t like they were in our parent’s day. We didn’t get unionized jobs-for-life out of high school, we couldn’t even get a decent job unless we went to post-secondary school… a system which is inherently favours those already with money.
Some of us amassed our debt via a government sponsored loan, the whole system of which has been shifted and fluxuated over the years, handed over to financial institutions to manage more scrupulously. Some of us, like me, amassed our debt through generous loans via plasic cards shamelessly doled out by the very same financial institutions.
We’re living in a crippling debt problematic environment. On average, wages havn’t gone up with the cost of living, government privatization has only served to jack up the CPI. The only way some of us can survive is via credit cards and other such money making schemes.
But that’s not the only symptom of the crippling debt polemic, aggressive advertising and the focus on consumer culture in North America is actually brutalizing our way of life. We all buy into it. We’re all fanatic about buying something. For me it’s been different things over the years… action figures, dvds, comics, trading cards. For others its shoes or clothing or stamps or sports equipment. Still others are constantly buying new technology, having the next best thing. Not to mention that nothing is really built to last anymore. Cars from the 1950s lasted decades. Cars from the 1980’s on have a general 10 year lifespan. Televisions get fuzzy, speakers blow, software becomes outdated (if it ever truly works right in the first place). Telephone companies turn everything into “extras”, cable and satellite offer you many choices but never configured to optimize your dollar.
Everything in this world is out there to take your money and drive you further into debt. The banks are the biggest culprit, especially in Canada. We have about 5 major banks here: TD, RBC, BMO, Scotia, CIBC. There are other institutions but those five are the BIG five. They gross billions every year, with no exaggeration. BILLIONS. And each year, they need to get more money. All corporations are like that. It doesn’t matter how much you’re making, the next year you need to make more. Shareholders return and whatnot.
Just how much money does a company need to have, anyway.
Remember back in the mid 80’s when instant tellers were first emerging, and banks were imploring you to use them instead of the real people behind the counter. Remember they said it was cheaper for them to have instant tellers than it was to have real people. Remember how they made a big fuss, waiving various account fees when using the teller…
And what’s it like today, now that we all rely on instant tellers for the majority of our banking. Service fees and interac charges, $1, $1.25, $1.50 and climbing… sometimes 10 or 12 bucks a month for me. Times that by millions of customers. No wonder they’re doing that.
the story of my debt
the descending slope
My debt began with the best intentions. I had a credit card throughout University which I did a good job at keeping a close to 0 balance. When I decided to get engaged (the first time) I paid for the ring on Visa, which effectively maxed me out. I never had a chance to recover from that.
At the time, living in Barrie in ‘99 with my then-fiancee, I was working Management at Wal-Mart. If you’ve ever worked there, or if you know anyone that’s worked there, then you know that they pay shit, and they pay their management even less than shit ($36k/year for a 60+ hour work week). So I wasn’t making any money, and then, you know, building a life with someone, you start buying things together like furniture and televisions and computers and whatnot.
We didn’t have a good computer at the time… it had problems. So we decided that since I didn’t have student loans to pay off that I should apply for an increase on my Visa so we could buy a new computer. When I went into the TD branch to get that extension, they asked if I wouldn’t want a line of credit instead. They sold me on it with their low interest rates and the integration with my regular bank card (so I wouldn’t need another card). We were only going for a $2000 credit card, and they gave me a $5000 line of credit instead.
Now, I didn’t want a $5000 line of credit, because I knew me, and I knew my spending habits and I knew I would use it. So I had them restrict usage to the $2K I had initially wanted.
We bought our computer, and I would pay off bits on my Visa and bits off my line of credit, but invariably, with car troubles and gas and food and entertainment, I would always spend what I paid off. I was always maxed out. (Heh, “was”). It didn’t help that I was unhappy, and so I was finding other avenues to happiness, which for me had always been collecting stuff. I bought, literally, thousands of dollars worth of action figures and accessories during that year, and then DVD came out and I became obsessed with movies. Why rent when you can buy? And I bought both a Playstation and a Nintendo 64, and kept buying games I rarely played (there were a few that I was addicted to and would waste much time with them… much, much time, which is why I don’t have a gaming system now).
When I broke off the relationship (in a very bad way, mind you) I left most of the “mutual purchases” behind. All the furniture, the television, computer, my grandmother’s table (which my sister is still pissed about)… I just wanted out you know.
But I wasn’t heartless about it. We were locked in a lease which, when I spoke to the landlord, he wouldn’t let us out of, so I did the honourable thing and gave them the remaining 5 months worth of rent in post dated cheques. Of course, I didn’t know where the money would come from. I was leaving town and my job to go live back home. I had to call the bank and get them to lift the hold on the rest of the $3000.
a steeper grade
Back in Thunder Bay mid 2000, I was having a rough time coming to terms with where my life was at. So I was spending credit wherever I could… nights out at the bar, frequent restauranting, movies, photography… and every Tuesday… “new release Tuesday”, I was at the Future Shop buying at least two DVDs and some cds. Not to mention Amazon.com was just taking off and I was getting unprecedented access to things I wouldn’t be able to get at home. It was a bad scene, forgetting the fact that, having been transferred to the T.Bay Wal-Mart, I actually took a pay cut (from shit to shit eater).
But the credit gods saw my activity, paying off my minimum balance and spending it again, and so during my year back in Thunder Bay, both Visa and the Line of Credit had increased my credit amounts. Twice.
And I spent it. Oh boy did I ever.
Especially when I started dating again. I was paying for everything, not with out my lady companions offering mind you, but at the time I was too much of a gentleman big shot with my Wal-Mart smock and “GRAIG” name badge.
By the summer of 2001, I was done. I love my friends there but I was going crazy. My girlfriend had moved out of town, I hated my job, and I wasn’t feeling like I was doing anything with my life. So I quit that hell hole, packed up a duffle bag, threw it in the trunk of the car, took my riding companions (Steve, Eddy, Tibor and Jimbo, they were actually action figures of Spider-Man, Nightcrawler, a Star Wars droid, and a Powerpuff Girl) on a trip around Ontario.
I had about $400 saved for the trip, and when I decided that I was going to quit, I still had about $5000 left in credit to use. I took a trip into Ottawa and looked for work there (don’t even bother if you’re not bilingual), but fortune favoured the bold and a good friend landed me a job in Toronto.
Within three days of being in Toronto I had a new job and a new apartment, and a car with a duffle bag. Having never lived on my own before, I knew I needed some essentials. I managed to snag a bed/futon from my ex and I went to Ikea for the first time an loaded up. I ploughed through two or three grand easy.
My Visa was still maxed out and my line of credit ($14k) was withering away. I started trying to cub my expenses, having a decent job and all, and I actually started to do it. I pared back my Visa by almost $2000 and my line of credit receeded around $10k. I was happy to be making progress. But then my contract ended. I was unemployed for a few months. It quickly began to eat into my reductions, even with unemployment insurance covering the major bill (rent).
Food and leisure were still taxing my credit line. And then, in 2002, Emma came along.
I don’t blame any of my relationships for my crippling debt problem (CDP). The CDP is a symptom of my own personality quirks… obsessive and completist behaviour, as well as damnable pride with a bit of chivalry. Emma took good care of me, actually, but I still tried to impress her with my frivolous spending habits, which, when I wasn’t working, was managing only to drive me to the point of complete credit exhaustion.
Thankfully (!?) Emma found me a new job. It payed about as well as Wal-Mart did, but slowly it began to be a completely uninhabitable environment to work in… toxic. I was pretty unhappy again.
Emma and I had moved in together, and once again I found myself building a home with someone, with all the financial burdens that causes. It’s not just about furniture, but it’s also food, and cleaning supplies, regular maintenance, and I still had a car that was having a severe breakdown. We soon found ourselves living beyond our means, and I was stuck in a perpetual cycle of paying off debt and rapidly accumulating it again.
I was getting nowhere.
Relationship wise, we were both pretty grouchy and spending money, either on dinner out or a great trip to the east coast certainly alleviated some of the stress we were experiencing. It’s unfortunate that it was in large part the financial details causing the most stress between us (our secondary stress was environmental… Emma’s home office just wasn’t working for her and my work was bringing me down, man) and ironic that spending helped alleviate it.
to the rescue, sort of
Mercifully, late in the summer of ‘03 I managed to ditch the horrid job and land a temp job where I’m at today (and, actually, where I was working when I first came to Toronto). I quickly went from being paid meh, to being paid “oh, okay”… and it was nice, the extra couple hundred a month really helped, but I was still stuck in the “pay off debt, put it back on again” loop (only now, I was using debt to pay for entertainment instead of necessities).
I managed to ditch the car, which has been nothing but money saving, we moved this past April into a place where we didn’t have to pay for a garage or utilities, and I wen’t permanent which gave me a great pay raise.
And yet I still was having trouble managing my debt. I was still getting maxed out all the time. I had even calculated this plan to have all my debt paid off in 18 months, which would entail me basically surviving on potato peels but I don’t have the conviction for that.
And so, after the Christmas money sucking, I formulated a plan. A New Year’s resolution. And for month one of January, I’m doing okay at sticking to it. It’s involved me taking on another credit card but it’s for the best… really.
I requested a President’s Choice Mastercard, with a Balance Transfer Rate of 3.97%, instead of the <10% and just >10% of my line of credit and Visa respectively. I could only transfer $2k to the PCMC from my visa, but I can pay that off slowly at a comfortable and, all things considered, negligable interest rate.
I’m paying off my line of credit $400 a month (so this is a long-term project), and my Visa gets an average $300 influx each month. This is going to take two or three years to do, but I’m determined to do it.
With my current salary and expenses planned out each month (I’ve even included my regular comics, food and transportation purchases) I’ll still have some fun money to toss around. Oh it’s hardly enough to do much with but it’ll mean a few dinners out and a lot of movie watching. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to afford any vacations this year (maybe I should start pinching those Honeymoon pennies…?).
So far this month I’ve dipped into my credit less than expected so I’m actually even less than my targeted amount. I’m still not thrilled with my current CDP status but things are looking better. Let’s just hope there’s no surprises.
I think I’m going to have to put that puppy off for another year though.