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8.21.2009

And That Is All I Have To Say About THAT

A widely read blogger had the misfortune of being on some asshat's radar the other day when she posted an intensely raw and personal picture of her financial situation. One that included her efforts to seek relief from her steep mortgage payments, among other things.

And even after she pulled the post a short time later, the vultures continue to pick at its carcass. Dissecting each photo, criticizing each word.

Money seems to be the flavor of the internet lately. You're trying to make money with your ads. You're trying to make money with free products. You're asking for things from your readers. You're giving away things to your readers. You didn't manage your money well enough. You have no money and it shows.

Let me be clear. Money was a big issue in this house. A huge one. A big ugly cry yourself to sleep issue. BUT. If I were honest? My worries about what COULD HAVE HAPPENED were much worse than how things have actually played out.

We're nowhere close to where we want to be, but we're still making six figures, paying the bills and saving a little and from what I can tell, that's enough to get excited about these days.

But, boy am I empathetic for those on the downswing right now.

And I can tell you from experience that they don't need any help kicking themselves.

I'm talking to you, internet.

It's so easy to draw conclusions from someone's Starbucks cup in a photo or a Blogher trip or a day at the zoo. (Maybe if you stopped feeding the giraffes you could pay your mortgage!)

You're never going to have the whole story. You're never going to know the details of someone's finances whether you read their blog or live next door or see them at church.

Shortly after we moved to our new wealthy neighborhood, where we rented among homeowners, I stumbled upon a name I recognized in an online foreclosure database. The name belonged to a mom from Savannah's school. Fortunately for her, she was nice to me. (I kid! Sort of.) But my first reaction when I saw her name was to flash on her car: newer BMW X5, her shoes: Coach, her bag: Louis, her hair: freshly highlighted, and her nanny. All the while her house was in foreclosure.

Since that day I've seen her name pop up on the foreclosure list like clockwork every three months. They're struggling to stay afloat while awaiting a loan modification from their bank.

I could judge her. My first reaction after all was to judge her. I could think nasty thoughts about her "poor husband" or "poor kids". I could let powerful words like "selfish" and "greedy" and "my tax dollars" and "bailout" flow through my brain and even out my mouth to the other moms around us.

But I know a few things about this woman.

I know she grew up extremely wealthy.

I know she's attempting to start an at-home business.

I know she's a good mom.

I know she's quick to laugh.

I know every time I see her with her husband they're holding hands and smiling.

Maybe her nanny is a family friend. Maybe they have medical bills. Maybe they owe more on their car than its worth.

In other words, do I know the whole story? No.

Would I like to? Yes, because I'm very nosy. But that's another post.

I'm just not comfortable with this notion of using "my tax dollars!" as an excuse to get all up in someone else's business. Because, trust me, people are not getting bailed out. BANKS are getting bailed out. I worked for these criminals claiming to "help you access the bailout money". They take your money and rarely even make a file before throwing your "case" to the bottom of a pile worked by a bunch of clueless 18 year old kids.

And do you know who these criminals are? The same brokers who put people in the loans in the first place, coming back around to double dip into their empty pockets.

I've had brokers hand me their own grandmother's mortgage file WITH A SMILE to try to "help" her get out of the horrendous loan her grandson PUT HER INTO while he pocketed thousands of dollars in fees. And do you know what happens to grandma now? She has no equity so she gets evicted by the bank. And do you know what happens to the bank? They get money from the government.

There's no "government program" to help "people". There's only the government's own self-serving program to adjust their OWN loans (freddie mac and fannie mae backed loans). Loans they insured. They are "helping" these people to make sure they don't walk away from those lucrative mortgage payments, leaving the government to hold the bag. And oftentimes? These modifications force the homeowner to agree to yet another government loan which sits silently on the books and is due and payable when the homeowner sells the house. And the cycle continues.

Of course there will always be those who try to game the system. Whether it's welfare, disability, taxes or their mortgage. I know this, but don't kid yourself. People are not getting anything for free. They're just being victimized again. And yes, it's their own damn fault most of the time. Having dealt with thousands of these people all over the country, I can say with certainty that the majority of people who agreed to these loans did so out of a little ignorance and alot of greed. It doesn't mean they weren't victimized. It just means that they were willing participants. They wanted the bigger better house. They didn't want to read the not-so-fine print (my God, it's on the FIRST PAGE of the mortgage in plain English) and the broker didn't want them to read it either.

It was the perfect storm.

So don't think there's one villian and one victim.

There was entitlement. And it met up with greed. There's a reason those Ten Commandments are so handy!

I'd like to say that I'm not one of them. That Chris and I didn't play into the game. But the truth is we did. It's taken a long time to admit this, but we weren't victims. We were greedy.

We started off smart. We started off responsible. But as time passed and we started buying more stuff and more credit was being thrown at us and more money was pouring in, we lost our way. It became about more more more.

We lost our way.


We didn't want to pay off our credit cards the old fashioned way. Why should we when all we had to do was refinance (again) and be in Cabo by next week with the cash out?

True story.

But do you want to know how I feel about that? Initially I felt like a victim. Then I felt like a loser. Then I felt like an idiot.

But now I just feel like someone who made a conscious choice.

Yes, we chose to live a very full, fun, active, materialistic life for a few years while deluding ourselves that $10,000 or $20,000 in the bank and $200,000 in equity made us untouchable.

Yes, we spoiled ourselves and traveled and ate out and charged charged charged ahead. (pun!) We didn't drive Bentleys or live in a huge house. But we made enough bad decisions that when the house of cards fell we were left holding a dead hand.

And I've written about our penance in great detail.

It's been a rough two years.

And I'm not interested in going over it any more. But I will say that Chris and I paid for our mistakes. Ten times over. Things have been sold, dreams have been shattered, goals have been put off, many nights have been sleepless.

I fought tooth and nail to get our house sold and then fought even harder to get the short sale approved and escrow closed all within four weeks. (Anyone who knows anything about short sales knows that is nothing short of a miracle.)

I went back to work.


Savannah went to day care.

I clipped up credit cards.

I clipped out coupons.

And Chris tore out his hair.

For many long months my poor husband waited for news from his employer, a failing bank. And then when the news came - he would be laid off after the acquisition - he made sure to shine like a star to secure not one, but TWO potential positions at the new acquiring bank.

I'm a new woman. He's a new man. We're forever changed. We've cried. We've apologized. We've felt sorry for ourselves, each other, and our daughter. We've been exhausted.

But we have never stopped living.

We continue to go to Starbucks. We catch the occasional movie. We still drive nice cars. We still pay for Savannah's weekly gymnastics. We splurge on the occasional dinner out.

Do you want to know why? Because it keeps us sane. Because it keeps us moving forward. Because sometimes the little pleasures remind you that you're alive. And, yes, sometimes they cost money. Money that may be better spent replenishing our 401K account, but dammit maybe I just want a funnel cake! Or hazelnut crusted halibut!

You'll just have to grant me a few of life's pleasures and look the other way.

When a blog invites you into their life, tread lightly.

I assure you, there's no judgment that can possibly be harsher than what whispers in their own head. You're just going to have to trust me on this, Internet.

34 comments:

Kelly said...

I went to the site you are talking about for the first and last time the other day. I was so mad and outraged and disappointed that one blogger could take what was obviously a heartfelt blog post by one person and CRAP upon it as they did. Then I looked at the last few posts, and seemed to see a pattern emerging. If the blogger that they are putting down is the least little bit successful or popular, then it is a free for all. The vile things this person and some (Not All) of his/her commenters said about these people are totally made up, or imagined. I was shocked that this person decided to use a blog forum for the sole purpose of picking the scabs off the hurts of fellow bloggers or sometimes just to scratch new hurts into someone. I guess that all I can say is that not all of us are as mean, vindictive, sad, petty, cruel, and bitchy as that particular blogger. I am ashamed of that person, just as I am ashamed of someone I do not know, making a racial slur or a joke at someone's expense. Their actions reflect on us all, whether we are bloggers or readers.

Michelle Smiles said...

We work so that we can live - so those occasional splurges make getting out of bed and going to the office every day worth it (says the one who gets out of bed and puts on sweats and stays home with the kids LOL - but you know what I mean). I don't think anyone should apologize for trying to enjoy life a little while putting their lives back together.

Petunia Face said...

I am so happy for this post (so desperately saddened by that OTHER post). I read that mean blogger the other day and was absolutely fluxomed how someone could be so cruel, so small? And I commented, albeit under a different name because she scares me. Her cruelty. I honestly don't know the point of her blog--to bitch about other blogs. Very strange. And very very sad.

I, too, got greedy, got stupid, wised up and sold my house. I've been laid off twice in the last year and have radically changed my lifestyle. Still, I've had some anonymous comments on my blog judging me for xy and z. And it sucks.

Anyway, thanks for this post. I agree a thousand different ways, and feel better that there are people who feel the same way I do.

Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting said...

This post is made of awesome. Seriously so well written and exactly what some people need to hear. Some people just can't seemingly get over themselves long enough to stop spouting off hatred.

I'm so sorry about your friend's situation who got hammered in her comments, eventually removing her post altogether. I find it really horrible she had to do that when she was only seeking help. That really sucks.

Daisy, Just Daisy said...

I'm not sure who posted about their situation, but man, that stinks. Being judged, for whatever it is, stinks. And I agree that sometimes you have to spend a little to live a little. But I *do* think there is a difference between what you described (that is pretty much describing how I live) and knowing someone who ran up the last couple of grand on their credit cards because they knew they were filing for bankruptcy the next week. I mean, seriously?! Or having a friend mention that their checking account has been overdrawn for three weeks *after* you went out to dinner with them the night before- you sit there thinking, "Wow. We could have made some mac & cheese and watched something on Tivo & drank the bottle of wine on my counter instead....."

Girl, Please! said...

I hear you. If I posted my falling off the wagon lately, I would get reamed. But since my blog is non existant and my DH's best friend is an asshole and reminds us on how stupid we/he are/is I don't need a blog. Nothing like a "best friend" to always point out mistakes and brag about how he makes double mortgage payments and goes to Europe.

I need to regain myself and stop buying lunches, take the train despite a little rain, and use coupons. But I will say it was nice to "live" again. Shopping never really was my style and now with the baby, I just don't. I'm still wearing post maternity clothes that are swimming on me. But I think that one hot chocolate from Starbucks is worth it over new pants. Who needs pants anyway?

Although I will say that Karma is being a bitch. The last 3 places I ate out at gave me wicked food poisioning. No one should poo for an hour after eating a burrito bowl! Ok I learned my lesson. Make my own food where I know where my hands have been.

LucyCooper said...

GREAT post. Ever noticed that money now seems a more taboo subject than sex? Like with sex, some of us are open, carefree, and uninhibited, but a lot of us feel shame, secrecy, and discomfort when the topic of money arises. And no wonder, with shit like that on the internet. Sheesh.

katie said...

Lena you could not be more right. Bravo!

kdiddy said...

If there's one bright spot to the economic shitstorm of the past several years, it's that a lot of people gained a lot of understanding for their fellow Americans. I got a LOT of judgment for being on state programs when I had my son, but still indulged in luxuries like Starbucks (the indignant cries of shit like "my tax dollars paid for your latte" still ring in my ears). we never know someone's story and while personal experience with shitty people might make us uneasy, we owe it to each other to trust each other enough that we're aware of our sins and are working for forgiveness, and allow our fists to unclench a little.

Janssen said...

What a great great post. Thanks for sharing.

margalit said...

If it makes you feel any better, that mean blogger with her hideously vile blog hasn't said a word of truth in years. She's scary, I'll give her that, but when I outed her last year, I did so because people needed to read her previous blogs and read what her life really is like. Because not only does she have a vivid imagination, she's also been picked upon mercilessly by other bloggers and should know better.

I think your post is brilliant. As one that has been attacked for being on welfare (I'm not, I'm on SSDI, disability insurance), fsking my illness (like the US Government justs lets EVERYONE on SSDI), being bipolar (nothing like some internet diagnosis to make me want to vomit), and cheating taxpayers by being on foodstamps (I'm not), live in subsidized housing (I don't) and take take take (I wish!). And guess who made all those accusations? Our little friend CL, the most toxic trainwreck on the internet.

She's just a bug that needs to be squashed. The more people expose her, the more she retreats. Some day she'll get squashed and come back as yet another personality.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your candor. We have lived in a time of excess and I do believe that some of what is happening currently in our economy is a correction of the excesses we had become so accustomed to. Perhaps living more simply is not a bad thing. Rewards and treats are absolutely necessary, why work so hard if you can't have a little fun in life. I have seen so many friends on the brink of financial ruin. I am no position to judge whether they did it to themselves or whether they inherited crap in their lives that forced them into a bad position. Maybe we will become a little more compassionate toward each other in the end? Teetering on the brink of financial ruin is a very humbling experience!

Mrs JP Chaos said...

Wow, the internet must be very small for me. And you know what? Right now I'm glad that I had no idea about any of this.

This was a fantastic post. A lesson about much more than money.

Well said.

An Expert in Other Peoples Lives said...

If people would just walk to the bank to deposit their money instead of driving and spending all of that money on gas, no one would be fat NOR would they be in debt.

Jennifer said...

2 words. Powerful. True.

Tanis said...

Thank you for saying all this.

It needed to be said. And you said it brilliantly.

Kim said...

As I said on FaceBook- I love reading what you write all the time Lena, but this was just absolutely so well written! Your message can't help but be heard, and I like how you spank with a silver spoon! Two thumbs UP... keep talkin'!

Nancy P said...

This post was beautifully written!

Mommy Melee said...

I'm working through foreclosure and struggling for a short sale right now while I rent in another town.

I don't talk about finances often on my blog. Even saying "this is hard" or "I'm scared" or "I can't sleep" feels like it's inviting asshats to wonder how I got to Chicago or how I afforded a tattoo or while I got takeout instead of making a crock pot dinner for $5.

Ugh.

Thank you for saying this, for putting yourself out there like this.

alice said...

This was incredibly unvarnished - thank you for putting this out there. Honesty like this can really bring us to a more compassionate, deeply understanding place, and it makes me angry that some people turn it into a chance to cluck and criticize. Thank you for doing this anyway.

Geege said...

AMEN.

You should be proud of what you and Chris have accomplished and what you've dug yourself out of to ensure Savannah continued living her life, regardless of your situation.

Frema said...

Lena, you are on a roll. I want to take the entire second half of this post and mail you one big head nod because YES. "Sometimes the little pleasures remind you that you're alive." With the upcoming loss of my Parents.com gig, Luke and I are doing a lot of rebudgeting and a little bit of praying. However, we are also digging out a lot of change from our proverbial couch cushions because hot damn, is a tall iced mocha refreshing every now and then. The two of us share one and call it "recession coffee."

On a more shallow note, I'm dying to know which blogger you're talking about. Because I am also nosy. (And apparently behind on my blog reading.)

Boxer said...

I think you are a gifted writer.

Julie @ The Mom Slant said...

I love this post from start to finish. Thank you especially for your personal insight on the topic of mortgages and investments - near and dear to my heart, thanks to my husband's hard and honest work in those areas, just like Chris - and for your honesty regarding your own mistakes, which I can sadly identify with as well.

Katie said...

Mean people suck... and that's all I have to say :)

mpotter said...

gotta love your honesty.
great writing.
and soul-bearing.

Anonymous said...

Lena,
You failed to mention that this person got screwed over by irresponsible people, people like Eden. So you're a renter now, imagine being at the mercy of someone elses poor choices. There's validity in her voice too, and just because she's not popular, or says things people don't agree with doesn't mean she has a right to say those things outloud too. You're only seeing YOUR side of the story. She at least lets people debate both sides.

Lena said...

@Anon: And therein lies the point. Who's to say that Eden is irresponsible? I only see MY side because that's the only side I can trust to see correctly. You should try it sometime.

Beth said...

THANK you for this. For having the balls to be honest about mistakes that you made. Mistakes a whole lot of us made. Compassion is the key, isn't it? 'Cause last time I checked, none of us get out of here alive.

I've never commented here (I don't think), but I'm glad you're blogging again.

Deb said...

You are absolutely right that one never knows. I have a friend who seemed to be a genius entrepreneur--really had family money that she was actually blowing through. Another friend on WIC and TANF following horrific domestic violence, and her brother buys her family nice things and friends slip her an occasional Starbucks and restaurant card, as you say, because she deserves to keep her self esteem up--and she also deserves the state help. You just don't know what people are really carrying.

Mom101 said...

As my dad always said, you never know someone's worth until you open their bank statements.

It's sad how easily it is to jump to a conclusion about someone's entire life, history and motivations based on a single moment in time.

You do a great service by sharing your story. Even if it's not the whole story. Which it doesn't need to be.

Serious Replies Only said...

I loved this post. Thank you.

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