Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Defeat the Debt

with 4 comments

Total Black: $66.95
Total Red: $229,387.70

As I was walking to the contract attorney position this morning, I saw an awesome billboard in Times Square: Uncle Sam, broke and penniless, begging for $12 Trillion dollars.  Defeat the Debt.com posted the ad.  I definitely feel where they’re coming from.  As a nation we have a debt problem.  But more so I think we have a shame problem.  We don’t talk about our debt.  And everyone else is in perfect, pristine financial health.  They’ve never paid a bill late, never bounced a check or overdrew their accounts, and they’ve got a whole year’s worth of savings stocked away in the bank.  If only that were true, eh?

Lately I’ve received a lot of criticism and flack from a few readers.  Basically naysayers who insist I won’t get out of debt in a year.  I don’t know why.  Not sure just what thrill they seek in trying to defeat me.  You’d think people would be overall supportive of others trying to eliminate their debt.  Even if one does have a few missteps or stumbles a bit along the way, you’d think others would generally encourage her or him and keep pushing the person to get out of debt.  But debt in America doesn’t work that way.  For whatever reason, here we’re ashamed of our debt and try to keep it under wraps.  And if you’ve got it, you’re fair game for every imputation possible from idiot to criminal and everything in between.  I suppose this silence and shame is one reason for the national debt clock in New York—to force us to see, in numbers, what we owe.  That’s also what I’m attempting to do here.  By being able to cite my total debt load I, at the least, demystify it and strip it of some of its power over me.  By owning my number and working to bring it down, I begin to control it and not the other way around.

I put in a few hours yesterday and today at the theatre gig, tonight wrapping up the night with a bit of gratuitous nudity by having to usher at Naked Boys Singing.  And it really is just a bunch of naked guys . . . singing.  But I digress.  Last night I stopped by the bar at the Time-Out New York Lounge in the theatre to grab a beer.  As I mentioned in Dreaming in Tongues, I had woken up very early from a dream and posted my entry, went to the gym, and then to the contract attorney position.  I left at 6:45 p.m. to get to the theatre by 7 p.m. and by 10 p.m., when the shows were over, I was beat.  But I was also overtired so I figured a nightcap would set me up for a good night’s sleep.  Ultimately it did.

While at the bar I started talking with one of the bartenders.  I had mentioned to her that I was working at the theatre as part of my effort to get out of debt; she recalled that conversation and asked me how I’d been progressing at getting my debt down.  She was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned that I’m roughly $1,500 lower than before Christmas.  That got us talking about debt and she mentioned her own struggles to hold down two jobs and make ends meet—all while living with two roommates and paying about $775 a month.  She’s decided that she’s tired of having roommates so she’s saved up some money to move into a place on her own, but the cost of starting a new place frustrated her: first and last month’s rent, security deposit, moving costs, rental van, etc.  It sort of struck me that in an odd sense, we’re in the same boat.  She said that she can’t fathom the idea of living this way ten years from now but also noted how every decision she makes is constrained by financial worries.

That got me thinking: about how I’ve stopped worrying about debt and whether I’ll free myself of it and how now it’s slowly starting to trickle away.  I won’t waltz into new age thought by citing positive thinking gurus but I can say that her stress was palpable.  More so than I think she knows because when I first met her, frankly, I thought she was a bitch.  Last night I learned that she’s working at a dead-end fashion company that isn’t planning to promote, and moonlighting on the side as a bartender.  Seems to be the story of many New Yorkers.  It’s a hardscrabble life here.  But only for those trying to “make it,” it seems.  The old Puerto Rican man in my building, who’s probably lived here his whole life, doesn’t seem to be struggling much to get by.  Shuffling definitely.  But not struggling.  There’s plenty of people who just live in the city, and no . . . not out by JFK Airport in Queens, but right in Central Manhattan, and they get by too.  So it’s possible.  I wonder if part of the difference is the stress and worry and anxiety.  If the woman I’m speaking about had come before me on an interview, I would not have hired her.  She’s just not happy, not upbeat, not pleasant to be around.  Well . . . that is, she wasn’t at first.  Now that we’ve come to know each other a bit more, I can see that she’s a different person than the first impression left on me.  But in interviews and such, we only have that one moment.

Gets me wondering a bit whether mind over matter does matter and whether one true way to start to defeat our debt and financial woes is to stop letting them stress us out.  Anxiety and stress can be literally written upon our faces.  We don’t notice how often we may grimace or narrow our eyes or wince from some passing thought or reminder about an unpaid bill or an upcoming debt, but those subtle shifts do get picked up by others around us, if only subconsciously.  Talking about debt, about how much we owe, about what we’re doing or should doing to free ourselves and reign it back in are all ways to start digging out.  In that sense it’s probably time to start talking about our national debt too.  DefeatTheDebt is on to something.

4 Responses

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  1. The thing that gets you flamed is the unrealistic view about this massive debt. Tell us how someone in your shoes comes up with a quarter of a million dollars after taxes in 12 months. We aren’t naysaying, we’re being real with you.

    Bobalino

    January 16, 2010 at 21:48

  2. At least you have some form of income. I’m an unemployed attorney–totally unemployed, no doc review projects at all for months and months. I received my eviction notice today. I’ll be on the streets next week. Count your blessings–no matter how small. The reality is that no one cares unless you have some “special-interest.” No one cares.

    Anonymous

    January 16, 2010 at 23:09

  3. Have you at least considered transferring the balance of the credit cards to new card(s) that offer 0% interest for a limited time? I have not read all of your entries so maybe you have.

    Al-2

    January 17, 2010 at 10:53

  4. I would love to do that, but there’s two drawbacks. 1) If you miss even one payment or make it late, they get to void the offer and jack your interest up to whatever they’d like it to be. 2) I don’t have the credit score to be able to open a new card and transfer a balance. In fact, last time I paid my cards down, when I borrowed the money from my mother to pay the IRS, the credit card companies responded by “periodically” (just like airport screenings are random, eh?) reviewing my account and reducing my credit limit. So I can’t even ask for an extension and then transfer from other cards. Those credit card companies run a tight (war)ship.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 17, 2010 at 11:11


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