I didn't have time to make my lunch before work today. What with getting dogs fed, and getting kids up and showered, and writing a check for this school activity, digging for cash for something or other, and signing permission for that, hell, I only vaguely remember getting dressed myself. So, again I ended up at noon, rooting around in the office fridge, hoping for a forgotten slice of pizza. I settled for an unmarked yogurt with a relatively recent expiration date.
I'm trying NOT to buy my lunches, since now that I have a steady paycheck, we are putting an extra effort into paying off the credit card debt that I racked up while NOT making any money as a Realtor. I sat down at a table with some of the girls, to drink my free office coffee, and eat my purloined yogurt. One of them, the married-but-we-choose-not-to-have-kids one, was leisurely munching her homemade sandwich, and homemade cookies drinking her pop prominently labeled with her name, while reading the paper. She came across one of those financial advice columns titled "Do I Need A Bankruptcy Attorney?" and she asked us,
"I'm sorry but, how is it even possible for a person to rack up $100,000 in credit card debt?"
I briefly stopped licking the inside of the yogurt cup, and said simply, "Kids."
When confronted by her blank stare, I added, "ex-spouses debt."
When she still didn't seem to understand, I whispered conspiratorily, "borrowing from Peter to pay Paul."
This she seemed to understand, but only partially.
"But, Why?" she asked.
I patted her young hand, and in doing so, palmed the remaining uneaten quarter of her sandwich. "Well, when your kid pays for his college education with a credit card, on which you are the co-signor, and then defaults on it, and when your kids need not only school clothes, but costumes, uniforms, participation fees, and the occasional birthday gift, when your utility bills triple, and when a two paycheck household is reduced to one paycheck… let's just say those credit card offers come in mighty handy."
I popped the pilfered morsel into my mouth as she rolled her eyes smugly. "But you'd still pay off the balance every month, wouldn't you, I mean doesn't every one?"
"You would," I said taking a slurp from her unattended pop can, if you could afford it. But sometimes, you have to make the minimum payment, for a long time. And sometimes," I added, emptying the crumbs from a discarded bag of chips directly into my mouth, "you can't even afford to do that! Sometimes, you have to take a cash advance from one (or two or three) of those credit cards you can't make payments on, just to make the payments on other credit cards. That's what we call borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Pretty soon, you're digging through your mail searching frantically for a note from a Peter, one of those offers with the checks attached, so you can pay a Paul, or make the house payment. And God forbid something doesn't go wrong with your car, or the washing machine doesn't give out, or the water heater, but it does, and then you have to run back to Peter and say, just one more man, just this one more time, I swear! I'm not buying boats, or expensive clothes, I'm just trying to raise good kids! And he gives you the money, but the interest rate is gonna be 25% and you say fine, because you know that next month there wont be so many extra expenses, but next month there are. The price of gas has gone up, and your kid needs braces, and your mom's 80th birthday is coming up and we're all going to chip in to buy her a trip, which turns out to be way more expensive than you were told because your older sister never comes through with the money even though she promises you she will. And your husband gets a raise and you think you start to see a light at the end of the tunnel and then he says 'hey, let's go out to dinner and celebrate' and what else can you say but 'well, OK' because you haven't gotten up the nerve to tell him that Peter, the loanshark is threatening to break your kneecaps if you can't come up with the money you owe by next week. And your poor blissfully unaware husband orders steak and buys an expensive bottle of wine and says 'thanks hon, for doing such a great job with the finances - I know it's been a little tricky now and then.' And then you drink the wine and realize that well, we've got our health, so cheers to that. And you realize that things aren't really all that bad after all."
"I still don't get it." said the married-but-we-choose-not-to-have-kids one, as she got up to leave. "If we somehow got that rediculously far in debt, my husband would never take me out to dinner, and we certainly wouldn't order wine..."
All I could do was shake my head, and polish off the cookies she left behind.