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?
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.