I really don’t have a good before and after photo to share today. Not for a lack of trying, you see. I tried. Take a gander at this:
Before – Piping hot sugar laden funnel cake
After – Mostly eaten funnel cake surrounded by three girls who kept saying things like “We really shouldn’t have gotten two desserts” and “Boy do I feel pukey."
The Before and After I have in mind really can’t be photographed. Let me tell you a story instead.
Way back in the old days (aka 2006) Scott and I bought a townhouse. It was a decent house but it needed a lot of care. It was nearby to my mom and sister which was a bonus. It was in a semi decent school zone. It cut down on my commute although it added time to Scott’s. Centrally located in a large metropolis the neighborhood nonetheless felt more suburban than city.
In 2006 buying this house made perfect sense. Until, HOA fees skyrocketed, the economy collapsed and it took my entire pay check to pay the mortgage. See, back in 2006 we had crummy credit and a high interest rate. We were convinced real estate agents and mortgage brokers that after three years of faithful payments, the bank which held the mortgage (and would never, ever sell it because *this* bank didn’t believe in doing things like that) would be more willing to negotiate a refinance for a lower interest rate. It was a gamble that we took.
When the crash started, we were just starting our third year of payments. We struggled still from paycheck to paycheck and we needed that refi. HOA’s kept going up. Stress kept going up. And the mortgage company our loan was sent to wouldn’t even consider us for a refinance. When I called and begged them to work with us, they told me that I spent too much on groceries and should only be spending one hundred dollars a week for a family of four. And I should also consider getting rid of the pets.
Scott and I fought. A lot. They were quiet, simmering fights that often erupted over the most insignificant things. At the heart of everything was the financial whirlpool we were struggling against.
The house was now worth 70,000 dollars less than when we bought. The cars needed repairs. Doctors needed to get paid (and despite having decent insurance, you know that isn’t always enough). Bills, student loans, everything. And each month we watched as nearly every penny we earned was paid out to someone else.
By the end of 2010 we knew we couldn’t do it anymore. The house needed a new ac/heat unit, two of the three bathrooms were in major disrepair, the cars were still falling apart…the list goes on and we could afford none of it. But the more important concern was Scott’s and my relationship. Screw the house, the cars the money, we were falling apart.
Concerns over everything else turned us sour. We didn’t talk except to argue. Stress from both of our jobs played a role. I struggled with my job daily. I was frustrated and fed up with a system that I didn’t think would ever work. I came home everyday crying.
On a particularly bad night in December 2010, Scott and I made the choice to walk away from the house. It wasn’t worth our sanity anymore. The mortgage company told us they wouldn’t consider a short sale. They didn’t want to work with us. We stopped paying. We concentrated on getting other bills paid off and saving up money for the summer when we knew we would move.
I felt such tremendous guilt the entire time. I was raised to be responsible, to take care of my debts. Walking away from the house went against everything I believed in. But I did it anyway. I hurt my mom and sister, as I knew I would, because I didn’t turn to them for help. I didn’t want help at that point – I still don’t. Even worse, they made the assumption that I was jumping into this blind. I already felt miserable knowing I was disappointing them now I felt incompetent. In the end, I had to do what I thought was best for me and my family.
Scott and I found a place to rent in a great neighborhood at a price we could afford and we took the plunge. We knew I would quit my job. The commute and the stress were just too much. It wasn’t worth it. We knew that we’d still be tight just living on his salary but we figured I would find some form of job to cushion our bank account.
As promised, this is a before and after snapshot of my life.
It has been eight months since we moved. I still don’t have a job although I look everyday (I’m actually rather picky about what I will do as it has to fight around my schedule with the girls). Money is still tight because of it. But we budget and make do with less.
The other day, Scott was leaving for work and I walked him out to his car. The cement carport was cold beneath my bare feet and the air held a crisp bite that promised to warm up. We held hands and hugged.
“Have you noticed how much nicer it’s been since we’ve moved here?” I asked him. He knows I don’t just mean the money or the bills.
“Less stress,” I said. “Less fighting, more peaceful.”
The birds chirped and the sun just tipped over the top of the garage out back turning the sky a delightful rich pink. Scott pulled me tight into his arms. He needed to go to work and I was delaying him but he didn’t seem to mind. His commute now is about three minutes. He kissed the top of my head and rubbed my back.
“Yes,” he said, “Much better.”