Friday, October 10, 2008

Taking on Water, No Bailout in Sight

Last week Citymama wrote a great post juxtaposing the global economic crisis with her personal financial struggles. She took a big, nebulous issue and made it accessible. The point of her cathartic post, I think, was to show that normal folks who work really hard, people like her and JB, are struggling too and also to spark a dialogue with her readers. Soon, the comments flowed, other people blogged their stories, and this post was born.

Eight years ago I was a mid-level Human Resources manager for a mid-sized start up. It was my first real job after college. The money was good and I enjoyed the work. Madhhubby had six months in on his new job. Life was calm and predictable. We had one kid and plenty of expendable income. Then, the house bug bit us.

Lizzie was four years old and would start kindergarten the following year but we were still living in an apartment. I fantasized about a shaded yard, about a kitchen big enough for entertaining friends and neighbors, and about having our own space free of shared walls and communal cooking smells.

After Olie was born, we left Boulder and bought our first house in the suburbs. The hemorrhaging of money began. I thought buying a new house would be great. It was great but it was also very, very expensive. We suddenly found ourselves dropping huge amounts of cash at Home Depot; we were on a first name basis with the clerks in Lighting and Paint.

It took about a year for me to determine suburban life was not for me. Living in a city there is a certain anonymity, but in the suburbs my neighbors were nosy, busy bodies who chastised us for skipping church and allowing our daughter to be friends with Jews because "the Jews killed Christ." After two years in the suburbs, we leased out the house and moved back to Boulder where no one cares if you go to church or if you stick a pink plastic Flamingo in the middle of your lawn. For the most part, Boulderites just let you be. We landed back in an apartment and paid big bucks for a storage unit to hold all the trappings of our "house" lifestyle. We were miserable.

Soon, we found another house we loved and we bought it. The only problem was our tenants had moved out and our old house was sitting on the market. Making two mortgage payments on a single income was painful. Luckily our first house sold in forty-five days but we gave a buyer's concession that left us taking money to the table at closing. Oy!

We have been in our current house for nearly three years and we like it here, but because of where our kids attend school I know we will move to a different home soon. Our mortgage most likely won't increase because, unlike last time, we actually have equity to use as a down payment; people keep moving to Colorado for the lifestyle and we happen to live in a booming area. Between Madhubby's salary and my part-time income, we cover our nut but that could all change when I graduate next May.

I have six figure student loan debt that worries me. In retrospect, I should not have gone to law school because I took on additional debt for a career path I now loathe. Our goal has always been to live on one income but I screwed it up when I decided to attend law school; we now need one-and-a-half incomes to fund our lives. Two full-time working parents is not what we want for our family but that could happen too. Sure, I regret some choices we made but it's too late. There is no turning back the clock to eight years ago when we had a nice nest egg, little debt, and few worries. I'm optimistic though. We will make it work - we always do - but it will definitely be a challenge.

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