Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Cutting Costs, Corners . . . and Concerns

with 3 comments

Total Black: $435.42
Total Red: $230,977.94

I’ve received a lot of comments, questions, feedback, and suggestions over the past day or so.  Since the blog is just beginning to pick up traffic, I have the luxury of responding directly in a post to many of those responses.  First though I need to lay out my monthly expenses.  That’s something I haven’t done.

Rent: $2,000
New York Times: $30.40 (subscription)
ConEdison: $120.00, approximate (gas and electric)
AT&T: $130.00 (cellphone bill)
Time Warner: $140.00 (cable, telephone, internet)
COBRA: $199.61 (health care insurance)
Metropolitan Transit Authority: $81.00 (monthly subway pass)
(Netflix: $18.00 [on hold since August])

I want to say that some of these expenses are not adjustable, but laying them out like that, I see that that’s not true.  I told a friend of mine two months ago that I’d cancel the New York Times subscription.  I called once but the call center was closed and I never got back around to it.  I know that I can cancel cable.  I don’t need that to survive.  I just haven’t been willing to admit that things have gotten that bad.  Frankly, the television is my only source of entertainment.  I do have a number of DVDs that I could watch.  And I could swap Netflix for cable, I suppose.  I guess I’ll call the New York Times and Time Warner tomorrow to figure out my options.  As for other expenses, rent, for example, isn’t negotiable—at least not yet.  The lawsuit may adjust that expense, but at the moment it’s not.  One of the replies on the blog captured a few of the different ideas I had about reducing my rent expense.  It is my largest recurring expense and it sickens me to think that one month’s rent could eliminate nearly all of outstanding American Express credit card debt.  I haven’t looked lately for any alternative arrangements like renting out my couch, for example.  And I’ve already spoken with my mother about possibly subletting my apartment for a month or two and commuting to work.  But now with the bedbug lawsuit, and having discovered a few in the apartment, I’m apprehensive about moving back to my mothers in case I inadvertently bring them with me.  And I’m also concerned about renting my place to someone else and not fully disclosing that fact.  That could hurt my case if the landlord’s attorney found out.  Plus, technically, I’m supposed to ask the landlord for permission to sublet.  So, adjusting rent or supplementing it might not be an option just yet.

Changing apartments is another suggestion I received (and often hear).  Getting a new apartment is not simple like switching cellphone carriers, however, especially in New York.  There’s the practical frustrations of just moving: packing and then unpacking everything, washing things, cleaning the new and old place, and so on.  Then there’s the financial frustrations of moving: moving expenses, security deposit, first and last month’s rent.  I don’t have the money to pay any of that.  Then there’s also the real risk that any landlord who runs a credit check might not approve me.  And given my current landlord’s lawsuit, a search of public records could uncover that lawsuit for nonpayment of rent.  Corporate property management agencies probably wouldn’t look too favorably on that point.  And lastly there’s the fact that I renewed my lease on this apartment, meaning that I’d have to get out of it if I wanted to move, or at least find a good sublessor.  (And we can’t forget the risk that I’ll bring bedbugs to the new apartment.  Moving almost everything into storage during the coldest months of the year might be the safest decontamination actually.)  From what I’m told, finding cheap rent in any location bordering Manhattan is difficult.  If I looked long enough though, I’m sure I’d find it.  And there’s always neighborhoods quite far from Manhattan but still accessible.  But for right now, moving is just not something I’m willing to entertain.  Maybe I’m being irrational about it, but I just can’t handle the hassle, stress, and frustration.  And I don’t have the money either.

Otherwise, there’s not much wiggle room left.  COBRA payments are set.  And though I’m usually one to poo-poo people’s maniacal obsession about health care insurance, I am very happy that I had it.  The bill arrived for the drunken debacle I discussed in A Day Without a Post.  It cost $626.00 for the ambulance.  I don’t see any charges on the statement for the treatment (or lack thereof) that I received in the emergency room.  But thanks to my health care coverage, I only owe $49.00.  So, health care coverage isn’t an expense I’m willing to eliminate just yet.  I can reduce my cellphone bill a bit.  I can also walk a bit more and use the subway less.  I might actually do that.

This is good that commenters got me to think about many of these points because I’ve been poised to fall back into the old routine of just working and making minimum payments.

One other point though needs mentioning though.  In addition to costs and corners, I must also cut some concerns readers may have about some luxurious lifestyle of mine.  There isn’t one.  The last movie I saw was Julie & Julia.  I wrote in my first entry, In Medias Res, that it prompted this blog.  That was nearly one hundred days ago now.  The last Broadway show I saw was Avenue Q in October 2008.  (Technically I saw Altar Boyz last night, but that was free because I signed up to be a volunteer usher and got to watch the show for free.)  A law firm colleague and I bought tickets to see the show.  Two weeks later we were laid-off.  I haven’t taken a vacation since May 2008, and before that it had been since December 2006.  Sure I’ve traveled a bit: to Philadelphia for the bar exam; to Chicago for a conference (I’m on the board of directors of an organization).  But I haven’t gone somewhere to treat myself and just relax in a while.  The gym membership has been suspended since August because I can’t afford to pay it.  I can’t recall the last time I bought new clothes.  I didn’t purchase an automobile or expensive jewelry that I’m still paying on.  The only “luxuries” I permit myself now are coffee, the occasional meal out (many New Yorkers rarely cook), a book or two, and maybe an on-demand movie for between two and five dollars or the occasional CD purchase at the store or album purchase through iTunes.  And even those are rare.  I never retrieved the two sets of books that I mentioned Small Town Boy in the Big City and A New Day Has Dawned, for example, so they went unclaimed, were returned, and credited back to me.

Buying coffee is a weakness.  And I do fight it.  But it gets me thinking what a luxury is after all.  We don’t need anything but water to drink.  We certainly don’t need expensive clothes or designer anything.  Hell, coffee itself isn’t a necessity.  So should I bread and raw vegetables and walk to work in the same suit everyday?  Frankly I have to wonder where and when we draw the line on cutting corners.  We treat people in debt like they’ve committed a crime and should be deprived of any enjoyment out of life.  As if I’ve given up the right to be happy or the right to treat myself to something just because I owe Bank of America or American Express.  I’m exaggerating and being flippant for a reason, of course.  I don’t mean to backhand my readers (or my friends) for their comments.  A knee-jerk response might be to suggest that I just stop talking about my debt if I don’t want tough advice or criticism about my conduct.  That’s not what I’m shooting for.  Instead, my point here is just to highlight the stress and pressure debt places on us all, and the subsequent compounding effect we have on other people’s debt when we undertake to advise.  I’m also saying that we shouldn’t assume that people who are in debt are frivolous spenders.  And even if they did live beyond their means previously, if they’re working to get out of debt now, there’s no basis to assume they’re still spending unwisely.  In my case, I need to get income.  The prior temporary attorney position got me enough money to get current, but then the position ended just as I was about to start paying on my debts.  But I can definitely cut some costs and corners.  I’m starting on that tomorrow finally.

3 Responses

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  1. I think we’d all be more willing to give you leeway if you were only dragging yourself down. But you’re frittering away your own mother’s retirement because you want to keep two phone lines and meaningless TV and you don’t want to go through the hassle of packing and cleaning. I can’t wrap my head around how you sleep at night with that knowledge. Or maybe that’s just it — you haven’t put things in those terms, so you just keep on making excuses. Your mom needs to cut you off ASAP. It’s what you need more than anything.


    November 14, 2009 at 00:49

  2. You push back about how your commenters think you should cut corners. Remember, it’s your goal to get out of debt, not ours. How badly do you want to accomplish it?

    Not Mike

    November 14, 2009 at 09:35

  3. It is my goal. I agree. That’s why I mentioned possible “knee-jerk” responses to my reply post. With the exception of Mike, much of what everyone has said or questioned is valid. I noted what I think I can do, what I can’t do, and what I’m not willing to do. But I also wanted to draw attention to delivery, not just content content.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    November 14, 2009 at 09:50

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