Living With Debt
About a year and a half ago I made what now seems like an exceedingly ambitious goal for a freelance pop culture writer with two children, a preschool teacher for a wife and nothing much in the way of savings or a nest egg: I vowed to completely pay off my credit card debt of about fifteen thousand dollars in about a year’s time.
Being in debt makes you feel vulnerable and scared. You feel powerless and alone, like you’re on a cursed treadmill and you can never get ahead, just further and further behind. I hate that feeling so much that in the past I was willing to resort to desperate measures to avoid it, including signing onto a debt consolidation company that wasn’t just unethical and immoral but blatantly criminal: they were the subject of a very successful class-action lawsuit and were forced to give back some of the money they stole from desperate, broke people like myself.
My campaign to get my credit card debt down to zero was successful for a while. Through self-discipline and self-control, I was able to get my credit card debt down to five thousand dollars, which is certainly more than zero but was also a level of debt I was comfortable carrying.
Comfortable: in this economy it’s about the most you can ask for. I don’t trust anybody who is more than just comfortable when it comes to their finances. I realized that with my income, and my expenses, and my industry, I would probably never be in a position to save a substantial chunk of money. I don’t even know if it’s possible to even re-build a nest egg with a job and a career like mine but I felt, with reason, that if I somehow managed to get my debt down to nothing it would feel incredibly liberating and empowering.
This would be one area of my life in which I had control.
I got my debt down to a place where I was okay with it. Then life happened. My son had his tonsils removed, which set me back something like twenty-three hundred dollars out of pocket. Then the two most lucrative outside columns I write, columns that previously made up about twenty five percent of my income, were either cancelled or changed so that they can be updated at most once or twice a year, instead of monthly as before. Oh, and I need to take my son to his nanny via Lyft every morning, which sets me back about six hundred dollars a month.
Oh, something else kind of big happened eight months: we had another baby. That was a game-changer. I did, and have been doing what parents are supposed to do: I do without for the sake of my children. If having a second child means being in debt indefinitely, then I’m willing to make that sacrifice.
I went from having my debt right where I wanted it to being right back where I was before I began my debt-slashing quest: fifteen grand in debt with less money coming in and more going out than before. And that fucking sucked. It really, really sucked. It made me once again feel powerless and overwhelmed, vulnerable and alone.
I’m doing everything in my power to try to get my credit card debt under control. That includes not leaving my condo except to drop my baby off at his nanny’s two or three days a week so that I spend less money and have more time to work, since I won’t be wasting anytime walking anywhere.
I’ve come to realize that I need to live with debt the same way I have to live with a bunch of other depressing but incontrovertible facts. I need to learn to live with being in debt the same way that I have to live with the president of the United States being a racist sociopath. I have to live with debt the same way I have to live with the dispiriting reality that my father, whom I adore, is deeply depressed about living in a nursing home and the only thing that would seemingly lift that depression—moving out of the nursing home—is an impossibility.
I have to live with debt the same way I have to live with my industry of pop culture media becoming more prohibitively difficult to make a living at by the day. I have to live with debt the same way I have to live with our country similarly becoming an angrier, uglier, more divided, less kind place.
The world has a clever way of forcing you to be Zen by continually taking away the things you think you need to survive as a way of showing you just how strong and determined and resilient you can be. I’m still very much intent on paying down my credit card debt, which I hope to at least chip away at with some of the money coming in for the Weird Accordion to Al book Kickstarter but I have come to accept, if not quite embrace, the cold reality that I might always have to live with some level of debt and the sooner I make peace with that fact the less oppressive the prospect of being in debt indefinitely becomes.
I make my living largely through crowd-funding so if you would be kind enough to consider pledging even a dollar a month over at https://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it would be awesome
OR more pressingly, you can contribute to the Weird Accordion to Al book over at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/weirdaccordiontoal/make-the-weird-accordion-to-al-book-a-ridiculous-r?ref=user_menu and that would be even more awesome.