January 27, 2009


I've always jokingly described myself as poor. Mostly when I didn't have enough money to pay for whatever pair of fancy shoes, exotic handbag, or some other useless item I wanted at the moment. If I didn't have the cash on hand, the item went on one of several credit cards with balances that never completely got paid off.

Sometimes the phrase, "We're so poor!" would crop up after I paid all of the household bills. While these bills never took up all of the available funds, seeing my bank account shrink all-too-rapidly the same day I received my paycheck was frustrating. My husband and I would complain to each other that we needed more money to spend on dinners out and trips to San Diego to visit my family.

In February 2008 Frinklin lost his job. We told each other it was for the best, that he hated that job, that he could now use the time to look for something he really wanted to do. Grand plans were discussed; he would go back to school, start a career in writing, or even spend more time acting! I withdrew money from my healthy 401K to pay the mortgage for a couple of months while he searched for his calling.

After a few months of anemic unemployment payments it was clear that Frinklin's search for his perfect job would have to be reexamined. The few writing gigs he had picked up paid next-to-nothing and steady income was required to maintain our standard of living. Our conversations often started with, "I know you don't want to stay in medical billing but..." Dreams were set aside, and Frinklin began sending out resumes in his field.

In April things at my company took a turn for the worse. Instead of the much-anticipated (and hopefully, much sales generating) website launch happening in January, it was pushed to a later month. And pushed again to an unknown date. A short essay entitled "Why I Should Get to Keep My Only Method of Communication" was required in order to keep your BlackBerry or cell phone from being confiscated (although in many cases, it still was). Travel budgets were eliminated. The word "layoffs" began to be whispered around the halls.

Despite assurances from my boss that my job was safe, I applied for a position with a non-profit that solicited book donations for poor children around the world. The pay was comparable with what I was currently making, the people were nice, and I was convinced I would get it. While on a self-financed trip to an industry trade show in LA I networked for my current position as well as my potential new job. A few days later I received a call notifying me that my department had been slashed and I was a casualty. I spent two hours frantically contacting my customers and e-mailing myself documents and contacts from my work account until I was cut off. After 11 years at the same company I was set free with a couple of month's severance and instructions on how to set up Cobra health insurance.

I didn't get the non-profit job.

No problem, right? I have severance, and unemployment and Frinklin's unemployment. I'll start up an Amazon store and sell the extra books I accumulated over the years. We're good for a little while. And I'm sure he'll have a job any second now. And it will give me time to look for something I really want to do…

After two months of searching for a job, a position opened up at a (sort of) local school for the developmentally delayed. A friend employed there made sure my resume made the top of the interview pile. After a couple of nerve-wracking weeks I was in – I had a new job! When my first paycheck arrived it was less than I made on unemployment.

Frinklin continued to search. Tallying up the number of resumes sent out, he had submitted over 2,000 in the last 4 months. While he had a number of successful interviews, none materialized into actual paying jobs. He began to search the local retail outlets for something – anything. Even part-time work would be a blessing. Along with the housing market, the job market was tanking.

I continued to mine my 401K for mortgage payments (as well as a few other necessities, like car payments) and started worrying about the remaining balance. Maybe I wouldn't be rolling it into an IRA anytime soon. My credit cards were melting at the edges from their frequent use on groceries, gas and other essentials. We stopped going out to eat. We stopped going out, period. Our active social life, it turns out, revolved around money - dinners, movies, pedicures (for me, anyway). Goodbye cable. See you Netflix. Sayonara Paperspine.

In August my severance ran out. In October we stopped paying our mortgage. The two events were not unrelated. My 401K ran dry. I called the lien holder on our house to discuss our options. After waiting on hold for 43 minutes, I was told several times, by several people, that unless I could make the total monthly payment they would not like to have any payment. No partials, no breaking it down, no interest-only options. But please give them a call as soon as I was ready to pay the current and any outstanding balance in full. Perfect.

Frinklin's unemployment ran out, but after a week-long hiccup was extended for another 13 weeks. Past due notices were piling up. I stopped opening them, something I had never done before. I hid from the mailman. I started searching for a second job. The land line phone was disconnected because it cost an extra $30 a month, plus the only calls we seemed to receive were creditors. Even worse, as Frinklin's parents traded off being unemployed for a few months, their home went into foreclosure.

The holidays were a bust. Our oldest dog went downhill suddenly and had to be put to sleep the week before Thanksgiving. I realized I really missed being able to pick out special gifts for everyone. I know it's materialistic and wrong to say such a thing, but I prided myself on being an excellent gift giver. My family sent much appreciated gift cards. I declined decorating the house and we skipped getting a tree. Save for a couple of (quite fun) parties, we avoided talking about Christmas.

I experimented with stopping my anti-depressant medications I had been taking for two years. It was costing us a couple hundred dollars every month, something we desperately needed. I started having panic attacks (probably justified) about losing our house and having to send our two remaining dogs and five cats to the humane society. I was only getting a couple of hours of sleep every night. I'm ashamed to say I started blaming Frinklin for his inability to get a job – something he worked at night and day.

January kicked off with something new from the mortgage company – a warning of impending foreclosure. Unless we could come up with several thousand dollars fast, our house wouldn't be ours for much longer. Tearful phone calls were made and my parents saved the day. Despite my own father being laid off in December, his lengthy severance package, consulting income, and a new job allowed for some financial assistance.

Last Friday my in-laws' house sold at auction. Several months ago they had discussed living in an empty house owned by another family member for a period of time while they saved for an apartment (and my father-in-law found a job). When the phone call was made to discuss the arrangements for move-in the empty house suddenly became unavailable. And when I say "unavailable" I mean that it's still there, empty, but the family member would prefer that it remain that way. Frinklin's parents would be homeless in 20 days.

So we're getting roommates. I didn't struggle with the decision to invite them into our home, but I'm not exactly pleased we'll be sharing a tiny house with two people, three dogs, and another cat. I'm trying to remain gracious and understanding, to make them feel welcome and not resented. But it's hard. They won't be paying rent, but will help out with utilities. It will take a tiny bit of weight off our shoulders, all while sharing one bathroom.

While writing this entry, we were waiting to hear back on a very successful series of interviews Frinklin had been on with a Seattle hospital. We got the news yesterday that they have decided not to hire him. I wanted to call the hospital and tell them how great my husband is, how this job would be perfect for him and how by giving it to him they would be saving us. But making myself sound desperate and crazy probably wouldn't win him any points.

Because of the generosity of my family we still have our home and I'm able to keep taking my (much needed, it turns out) anti-depressant medication. We're learning to live on $40 a week. I wish I could be more hopeful, but the last year has taught me that things can always get worse. I've cried buckets over losing my old job, the one that was so perfect for me in retrospect. We both wonder if the decision to move to Tacoma from San Diego was a good one – if things would be different if we were still in California.

So blogging has fallen by the wayside over the last few months. The only thing I've been able to concentrate on is getting to work and making it home. I'd love to report that my marriage is stronger, that this has drawn us closer together, and in some ways it might have, but this year has also taken its toll on both of us.

I wish I had some profound statement, or even one of those crappy clichés ("God never closes a door but he opens a window") to place here along with a story about how things are turning around. But I'm still waiting for the breeze from that open window to tell me that the winds are changing.

Posted by Ensie at 07:25 PM | Comments (174) | TrackBack