It was winter of 2010. I had been back at work since September and things were going really well. I had loved every moment of being on extended maternity leave with Girlfriend between March 2008 and late August 2010, and have so many wonderful memories to look back on. But let’s face it. Being a stay-at-home-mother has a downfall or two – for example, the pay is really bad.
But it was so important to both Husband and myself that I stay home with Girlfriend for as long as I was able to. That would be 18 months and then it was time to head back to what I call real life. Almost my entire maternity leave was unpaid, but we’d planned for this for, well, forever. We knew when we were around the age of 23 we would someday get married, have a family, buy a house, and that I would be at home with our children after teaching for a few years, and we even had a silly ‘ole dream that maybe we’d summer at The Lake. We saved what we could and hoped hard for good things.
Well, Life has its own plans and ours did not exactly turn out that way. Yes, we got married. Yes, we bought a house. Yes, we had a baby. Yes, I stayed home. But I was not able to stay home permanently, and we never did summer at The Lake for more than a couple of weeks. But Life was good to us. We really couldn’t complain.
Back at work, it was very hard being away from Girlfriend, but it felt so satisfying to earn that regular paycheck, enabling me to contribute to our financial life and obtaining the things we wanted.
And then one dark February evening, Husband flat out told me that he was losing his business. The business that he had worked so hard to build with his friend and partner, T-Man, over the last 6 years. The business that was raking in so many customers and so much money that you couldn’t shake a stick at them.
But this. Losing the business? What?
He told me then that it had been a possibility for months and he had been deeply worried, deeply ashamed, and deeply hopeful – so hopeful he did not tell me. But now, there was no hope. The business was over. He and T-Man were going their separate ways.
To add insult to injury, for the first time in my teaching career, I was faced with entering the upcoming new year with no contract. Which did end up happening, lasting for two entire school years.
I can’t even begin to explain the financial burdens we experienced. I am positive that I have never, in my entire life prior to this, been so angry and hurt and worried.
Thus began many months of the worst anxiety either of us have ever experienced in our lives. We knew that if we could not get our mortgage lowered, we would lose our house. There was no question. But the bank would not help us. They said I made too much money (I’m a public school teacher, trust me when I say I don’t make too much money!) and that unless we could prove we were bankrupt, they would not be able to help us. Well, we weren’t bankrupt. And thank God, we didn’t have a lot of other debt, just my car and college loans. I wasn’t willing to stop paying my car loan but I was able to stop payments on the college loan for 2 years.
So, we had a serious conversation with our accountant who advised us to stop paying the mortgage. Because if we wanted to make the point to the bank that we were a family in serious financial trouble and we could not pay our mortgage at the current cost, we would have to prove it by paying nothing. We were told we would get phone calls. Lots of phone calls. We were told that our house would go up for an auction sale but that the date would continue to be put off because this was just how the ugly business of trying to get a mortgage reduction worked. We were assured that we probably would not actually lose our house when it got down to the wire, but we would go through every step and it would feel absolutely like we were going to lose the house. We would even get notices on taped to our house. All of that happened.
We spent many evenings talking about selling. But the economy was so bad that our house was worth dirt even though it wasn’t. To put it into perspective, $700,000 houses were going for $325,000. We live in a standard cape. Wanna guess what our house would go for if we sold it? We would lose an obscene amount of money if we sold. We would destroy our credit which was probably going to be destroyed once we stopped paying the mortgage. We would be living in a condo and a not very nice one at that. If we could even get one. And we didn’t have family we could live with.
I started to look at the world around me very differently. It seemed to me that people, myself wholly included, just spent money so thoughtlessly, with zero consideration to wants versus actual needs. I guess I always knew that, but it didn’t matter to me before, because I wasn’t in danger of losing the very roof over my head. I bought whatever I wanted. I went where I wanted. I did not think that would ever change. What did I know about having to scrimp and save?
Now, all I thought about was money. Where is the best place to buy gas? Are coupons really going to save a significant amount of money? Where can I find the best ones? Is Market Basket really wayyyyy less cheaper than Shaw’s? I put together outfits to wear from the clothes I already had. I actually made lists of what garments I owned so I could piece together outfits from those so that knew what I had, what I needed, and what I did not need. We started to buy generic whenever possible. We changed grocery shopping from every evening to once a week and bought only what we needed. We actually made meal plans, which we had never done before.
I was so sad. And worried. And embarrassed. But I was honest with people. I didn’t tell everyone. I told my best friend and I told some of my colleagues. I told my parents.
I started to look at people differently, too. Did they have financial troubles? Were they in danger of losing their homes? Had they ever been? Was this situation completely abnormal or was I one of many, many, many people going through something like this?
I yelled at the mortgage people when they called my house. Soon, Husband made it a point to get the phone before I did when they called, which was every week.
I did not understand why this was happening to us. We were good people. We were honest people. We were hardworking people. I was a public school teacher for crying out loud, my husband an engineer!
Where did we go wrong?
Why us? Why now?
It was for no reason other than the economy. 2010’s economy, if you remember, was one of the worst our country has ever seen. And we got trapped in it.
Several months later, one day, after school had released and I was driving to pick Girlfriend up at the early learning center she attended, I decided to stop in at the local farm store to purchase some cucumbers and tomatoes for a salad I’d been thinking about preparing with dinner. As always, the scents of the place were immediately intoxicating as I walked through the doors, particularly the baked goods section. I walked over and took a peek. Fresh out of the oven were sealed boxes of bumbleberry pie, one of my all-time favorites. The crust was so golden flaky, the filling so sweet and juicy, this pie was an angel on the lips.
And it was $20.
I didn’t have $20 for pie. I thought of the things I could use the $20 for. And bumbleberry pie wasn’t on the list.
I picked out my cukes and tomatoes and continued on to pick up Girlfriend.
2.5 Years Later
We didn’t lose our house. The bank worked with us. Our mortgage payments were drastically reduced. My credit score wasn’t damaged and to this day is still high.
The business never recovered to its original success, but it was doing fine – plenty fine. We were able to have new windows and siding installed – both definite needs, not wants. We had a pool – a need in our opinion. Nothin’ fancy, just an above ground that served the purpose of cooling off, swimming like fish, and providing loads of family fun. We were paying our bills, mortgage included.
By the Fall of 2013, we had settled into a comfortable routine of weekly budgeting. It was just the way things were now. And it made sense.
Girlfriend continued to attend the quality early learning center we had enrolled her in when she was a year and a half. Husband lost his business with T-Man, true, but soon after started up a new business for just himself, doing the same kind of engineering work. (To this day he is still at it and working as diligently as ever.)
Sigh of relief.
But I have never forgot the way almost having nothing felt.
One hot afternoon, late in the summer, after working in my classroom to prepare for the start of a new school year, driving by that same farm stand as a few years back, I stopped in to purchase some fresh ears of corn to have with dinner. And I saw, fresh out of the oven, sealed boxes of bumbleberry pie. $20. I bought one. After dinner, we sliced it up and we ate some. It was delicious. We saved the rest for later.
Every summer since, I buy one, just one, bumbleberry pie, to eat and enjoy with my family. It serves as my simple reminder that there was a time when financial matters were so dire that I didn’t dare spend a single cent on anything we did not need, including an insignificant pie that before, I would not have thought twice about. I am reminded of what it feels like to come so dangerously close to having everything taken from me, and in that, to be grateful, truly grateful, for what I have, and to never want for what I do not have. Including bumbleberry pie. I eat my slice and I am grateful.