Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

April 17, 2011

Starting Over

Here's a scary-ass prospect:  I'm nearly 47 and facing what is for me, financial ruin. Gone are the days when our combined salary was edging close to 6 figures.  Gone are the days of being able to afford a weekly lawn service like we had in 2008.  No more trips to Canada or the coast.

I've always prided myself on having a fairly decent ability to budget my money really well.  My cousin Sharon has always said that Diane and I have always been able to make $10 out of $1.  Back in about 1977 or 1978, when Di and I started earning money from babysitting and chores, we both started budgets, which we kept in cigar boxes.  Inside the box was a little notebook and pen with the envelope of the money I'd earned.  We were between Christmas-Club-Account-Age and Real-Grown-Up-Savings-Account-Age, so all our cash was kept in our respective cigar boxes.  I'd do the math out in the notebook to keep track of when I was taking stuff out of the envelope, how much and what I bought w/ it.  And then adding in my chore and babysitting money.  I was what, 12? 13?  My parents were very frugal and were constantly drilling into my head the importance of hard work and not wasting money on what they referred to as 'crap', i.e., records, books, Teen Beat magazine, cheap jewelry & blacklight posters from Spencer Gift's. I was expected to have enough money to finance Christmas gifts for my large family of aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as my friends, and also have enough money to finance birthday gifts for my family & friends.  Most of my yearly saving went toward that end, but yeah, I did like to spend money on 'crap'.  I still do.

So far we have ridden out this recession fairly well, thanks to my awesome budgeting skills.  We would have gone under a loooooong time ago.  But if I don't walk away from this situation now, I'll really be screwed.  I have no choice but to cut my losses, and return to the east coast broke and jobless, seeking a career change, just like when I walked away from TV Production and started over in law.  I've got one chance left to rebuild my life and this is it.

The cruelest real irony is that I'll be unloading the boxes of my stuff into the Coop nearly 22 years TO THE DAY that I moved them out of the Coop, when I left to move to San Francisco.  I won't have an apartment so I'll be crashing at mom's for a bit, just like I did the 2 weeks between moving out of my Sandwich apartment and leaving for California.  I'll have about the same amount of money, but it doesn't stretch near as far as it did in 1989, before gas, groceries and everything else skyrocketed in price.

The thing that's really breaking my heart is the house.  It really is a great piece of property and I wish w/ all my heart that Brian could keep it, but it's not feasible.  Not without any income.  And he finds himself in the exact same position he was in when we met, which is flat broke, living on the edge of homelessness, and I feel just terrible about that and for hurting him.  This situation has been very hard for him to accept.  I don't know what the answer is for him, but if I am ever going to find my happiness and try to make a positive change in my life, I have to get out before my own depression eats me alive.  And at least I have people to go home to, back east.  My sweet boyfriend, my friends and family won't let me fall.  But Brian has no one here.  Moving near his family in NJ isn't an option.  Without an income, he is going to run out of money and that scares me to death.  Believe me, I am fully prepared to take both Pepper and Sagan, and that means Brian would be really alone.  I don't think he will survive without us, and that also scares me to death.  

22 years is a long time to be with someone, esp. as much as Brian and I have hung out.  We have acquired a lot of stuff.  I have started purging stuff and it is surprisingly easy to part with it.  I can't believe we hauled all of it with us from California.  Brian and I made a lot of great memories and had a lot of laughs.  Unfortunately we got off track, and fairly early on too, but we both opted to stay together because for the most part we get along well, as friends and roommates.  We moved to Washington for a fresh start after a particularly rocky patch in the mid to late 90's.  It was good for the first couple years here, but then everything went back to the way it was in California.  And now I'm closing the door on that part of my life and hurting someone who I do care about and did love, once. I have chosen to try and forget the bad times and look upon "The Brian & Jo Era" with the good memories of vacations and Dead shows, protest marches and hiking, and all the laughs we had, b/c we did have a lot of laughs.  I'm torn between happiness and excitement at my new life and sadness for ending this chapter in my life.  Balancing my passion for my squeeze and compassion for Brian is difficult at best.   It just sucks to be in this position.  Sometimes it's hard to get up in the morning and deal w/ all of the stress, yet staying home and calling in sick is almost a more stressful option, because I have to be here.  I want it to be July already.  And I'm not looking forward to saying goodbye to Brian either b/c he's already so emotional every time he thinks about my leaving with Pepper....and, more than likely, Sagan too.  He has already unfriended me on Facebook b/c of my being out in the open about my relationship status.

Our realtor is not optimistic on the chances of selling the house any time soon.  I had hoped that it could be listed at its assessed value.  That would have put a little bit of profit in our pockets after closing costs and the mortgage was paid.  But b/c it needs work and upgrades, it can only be listed for a few thousand more than what is owed.  We may break even, but it's not looking good.  He thinks it'll have to be done on a short sale and I'm still trying to understand what that means.  I'm not up on real estate stuff and I haven't had a chance to look through the short sale info my boss gave me.  To be honest, reading that stuff takes tremendous effort b/c it's just so all unpleasant and boring, no matter how positive I try to keep my attitude.   All I know is that it's going to fuck up my credit and I'm not happy about that.  Everything else on my credit report is stellar.  I don't think it's fair to put foreclosures on people's credit reports anymore because it's happened to millions of people.  I really thought we'd walk away w/ some money but we may, in all likelihood, walk away owing money.  How's that for a kick in the chicklets?

I just cannot believe how bad we fucked up by refinancing the house so much during the good times when banks were throwing loans and credit card applications at people, and I don't even remember what we pissed the money away on either.  When we refinanced, in 2005, it was to tap into the equity and buy that cursed property on the Olympic Peninsula.  Biggest. Mistake.  EVER.  We poured so much money into that place only to sell it a year later.  Yeah we put the majority of the sales money into an interest-bearing account and used it towards the mortgage balance when we refinanced the last time in 2008, but it wasn't as much as what we'd borrowed to buy the property in the first damn place.  I will, one of these days, blog about the Curse of the Neilton Property experience but I'm even creeped out by the photos I shot of it.  I can't even make myself scan them.  But I digress....

Could I have saved more money over the years?  Yes.  Should I have, instead of catalog shopping?  Definitely.  But compared to most other people, we did OK.  We were always able to see Grateful Dead shows back in the day, we always had enough to cover our bills.  We could go out to eat and take vacations.  I've never fallen behind on any payments to any creditors. We never had tons and tons of credit cards.  But now it's our turn to fall victim of the economy.

So.  There it is.  Nearly 47 and in the same financial situation I was in when I was 24 and headed to California.  Except I no longer have youth on my side, or years and years ahead of me to work to make it up.  I learned from working at Channel 56 that money doesn't buy happiness.  And I must be honest that the best years Brian and I had were the ones when we were really poor.  I didn't start making decent money till about 1991 or 1992.  We couldn't even afford cable TV that first year in San Francisco.  My main concern now is finding a place that will allow 2, possibly 3, dogs. As long as I am with the people I love and I am finally happy, that's all I care about.  I had hoped to take some time off to decompress when I got back, however I will probably have to job hunt fairly quickly, which is a disappointment, but a necessary evil.  I've already decided that I am not going to apply for any law jobs.  I can't do it anymore.  The stress is horrid and it took me 12 years to unlearn everything I learned in California when I moved to Washington.   I just don't see being able to learn Mass. law, and I'm just too damn tired to learn a whole new set of Court rules.  Ideally I'd like something mellow and part time, Mon-Thurs, at least for now.  Plus I'll pursue selling my jewelry stuff, once everything's unpacked.

And so I will limp back to Cape Cod financially battered, but hopefully mentally & emotionally healthy, or at least more mentally & emotionally healthy than I have been over the past 6 or so years.  Just like I've made my peace with being a Townie, I've made my peace with this as well.


  1. oh Jo Jo hugs to you! I had not been making the rounds much and I'm just getting caught up on your life, I am so sorry to hear that all of this is happening. I went through something similar, though not in every way, and I'd be happy to listen if you want to talk. If my house will be on the way for you (East Central Illinois) you are welcome to spend a night here.

  2. Uncertainty is so scary. Thank goodness for the certainties, such as you are going to be happy despite being broke.

  3. Damn, I have a MILLION things to say, Jojo. Literally. But throughout the entire read of this post, all that I kept in my head is "Keep your eye on HAPPINESS"
    It must be terrible for Brian, yes, and I fear the worst for him, but honey, make a change to happiness, albeit poor and jobless and living with other people...make it NOW, not at 67, wishing you HAD done it.

    You have come full circle now, to be "diminished" to your previous state, but it has brought you through a journey to the very thing we all pursue in life and THAT, babe, makes it absolutely worth it all. It's a new life of love and happiness, calming down and just going with it --- which is al life should be about.

    I am so excited and happy for you and I know you are sad to close the book here, but you have to close one chapter before you can read the next.

  4. I'm so sorry to hear this. :-( I have experienced the 'downsizing' as our fortunes have decreased but at least my husband and I are still together. I can't imagine how scary things are for you but I know you'll land on your feet. I hope Brian will be all right as well.

  5. Wow JoJo, this is devastating news, I am sending positive energy your way for the best and happiest outcome, and the same for Brian.

  6. What a kick in the teeth! I AM glad you went private though.I was going to suggest it when we chatted last but for some reason I thought it would seem "negative".

  7. Aha... So that explains your recent trip to the E Coast!
    Sorry for this turmoil, & sorrier still that you are giving up your precious puppy (you're taking Pepper but leaving Sagan?) - ex & I used to joke in happier times that we could never break up, the custody battle over the critters would be catastrophic!

  8. Wow, JoJo, I'm really honoured that you thought I was close enough of a friend to have "invitation only" access to your blog. Thanks for including me.

    As for your situation, all I can say is, I understand what you're going through and I really admire you for having the guts to do what you need to do to make yourself happy. I know how hard it is to be flat broke and to have to haul up your life to move to another city, all the while feeling guilty and worried about the person you are leaving behind. Basically, I'm here if you need or want to talk.

  9. Anonymous10:05 AM

    i have no doubt what so ever that a year from now, things'll be looking up for you joj. you're too smart and too strong to let this bump in the road hold you back. ~kris

  10. Anonymous11:25 AM

    Scary it may be, but at least you see how it IS, not how you'd like it to be, so I think you're already on the 'right' path. I wish you - and Brian - all the best with everything

  11. Anonymous6:31 PM

    I hope that Brian can summon up the courage to make some kind of move towards happiness for himself. The thing that is different for you is the support you will have back home; peppered with an added happiness you have found. Being that I worked for Wamu, I can tell you that as a company we saw many short sales as a result of the economy...and the result of Wamu's own illegal practices. I digress. A short sale is an agreement between seller(s) and lender to agree to sell the property at a loss. Meaning, the sale proceeds are less than the balance owed. Special circumstances such as financial hardships are taken into consideration for this process. It is a way of avoiding foreclosure, not ruining your credit and the bank receiving something in return, although at a loss. You may still be liable to pay the remaining balance of the loan or "deficiency". You could try to sell the home yourself "as is" and take what you can get. Or you might try renting as an option to make the mortgage payments. Since you are in a tourist area, that might be appealing to a family looking for somewhere comfortable to spend vacation time. Just a thought. I still think you should throw in a couple of your photos along with your jewelry to sell. Try it as a test. That photography talent shouldn't go to waste!

  12. I am so heart broken for you. The economy is crushing our society. The rich get richer the middle class is disappearing and that is what made us a great country.

    I'm sorry about Brian but you HAVE to take care of yourself first. You are always here when someone needs s friend.

    I'm still recovering myself so I understand your uncertainty. We lucked up and the contractor offered us one third what we paid for the house. We took it and were grateful. I hope yours sells with extra money for you both.

    Take care of yourself.


  13. I know so many people in your position, but let me say: THANK YOU for writing this.

    We have lived in apartments forever, and I was complaining all the time about it... till this foreclosure crisis happened. We nearly purchased houses twice, and now? I am just grateful we dodged the bullet. Refinancing would have been an enormous temptation! We would have ended up with our asses, not much else. So thank you for reminding me of how much I have to be grateful for! :D I sometimes still want a HOUSE and I remember: hey, so do lots of other people!