I almost moved. I’m not surprised that others have found it a necessity, and that others find that they can’t. Three months of unexpected financial weirdness seem to be almost over. Somewhere in those three months are enough episodes for an album of country music songs, or maybe the basis for some dark comedy routine. In the end, it may seem that little has changed. Ha! And, yes, some day this will seem funny.
The overture was about when I signed up for Social Security in June, reached a clashing crescendo in July, swirled through August, and is finally settling out in September. From beginning to end it required daily maneuvering, or at least an excess of strategizing. It also involved hearing too many stories about too many struggles, and yet being glad that others would share. OK. So, maybe this entire period of our lives is going to generate entire bookshelves and film libraries of stories to amaze generations. Dust Bowls? Ha! We’ve had the literal and figurative equivalent of fires and floods.
Let’s see how concisely I can chronicle this so we can get on to the useful stuff like lessons and straight lines. (My note as I edit: Not concise, but as I’ve said before: If I Had More Time I Would Have Made It Shorter If I Had More Time I Would Have Made It Shorter. #IIHMTIWHMIS)
Covid – The pandemic confuses everyone and everything which also means real estate, especially in remote places like Whidbey Island, gets busy as few people want to sell and leave while far more people want to move here to get away from their version of ‘here’. Prices rise which is great for the brokers who help sell a house, and for the equal number who help buy a house; but with more brokers than houses many brokers don’t make much money. Ah, selling in a chaotic market while also wiping down the houses that clients visit. I look for another source of funds. (Required Disclosure: I am a real estate broker with Dalton Realty, Inc. on Whidbey Island.)
(MVIS fans can appreciate that this would’ve been a great time for great news or even a more dramatic short squeeze.)
Social Security – I signed up! A bit early, but more money later doesn’t matter if there isn’t enough money now. Wait a while and I get my first deposit. That was easier and harder than I expected, but at least I got exercise pulling every old box of old official papers out of the attic crawlspace. The payments aren’t enough for retirement, but they’ll take care of my mortgage plus a bit. Time to relax, but while also maintaining the business. So, don’t look scruffy, but don’t spend much money; sort of seeing if mildly distressed jeans are mildly in style.
Hacked – I rarely sign up from Notifications from businesses because they spend more time selling than helping; but this time the credit card company notified me, we caught it in time, and they’ll issue and send me a new credit card. It was probably just a result from a global database hack, but I get the opportunity to update every web site I use that needs my credit card information. Oh fun. Oh joy. Oh, what were those passwords, again? The hacker may know.
The Truck – Covid relaxed enough, or at least the data relaxed enough, that street dances began, again. Yay! I smile, I dance, and I needed to smile. Alas, none of my dancing friends were there and ready to dance, so I left early. And about a half a mile later the truck breaks down at a rather important intersection in the tourist town of Langley. It is a pity that no one grabbed the video of me directing traffic while on the phone answering twenty questions with the AAA dispatcher who has a new questionnaire to try out. It is a weekend night (a good time for a dance, duh), which also meant no garages would be open until Monday. Oh well, get it towed, and catch a ride home in the tow truck. Oops. Covid. Only the truck gets a ride. (Resourceful friends get me home. Thanks.)
Typically, temporarily replace a broken vehicle with a rental vehicle – but I don’t have a credit card.
On Monday find out that, because of Covid and summertime in a tourist town, the first garage that can even have time to see if the truck is out of gas is more than thirty five miles up the island.
The Jeep and My Credit Score – I contacted that specific garage because they are on the bus line, and beside a Jeep dealership. My business requires a vehicle. The truck is becoming too unreliable. Grit those teeth. Prepare to implode my IRA to find the funds for a new used car, preferably one that can carry four, drive down long and rutted gravel driveways (and mountain roads, but they come later), and turn around tight enough to not have to back up the entire way. Their used car selection was as strained as the housing inventory. But, there’s a bright red Renegade which will do well. I ask about a loan, get them some data, and rather than wait for days find that within a few minutes that, as they put it, I “…have the highest credit rating they’ve ever seen.” I can qualify for two of those used Jeeps. One will suffice, but the image is entertaining. From a big white pickup, I find myself with a little red Jeep; or for islanders, I go from paying a surcharge to use the ferry because the truck is so big to getting a discount.
Credit Card – The credit card arrives a few days later; just late enough that it was as if the universe wanted to force me to buy the Jeep. OK.
The Truck Second Act – The truck and the Jeep and the credit card successfully bring me back to ‘normalcy’, but with two vehicles and over $20K in new debt.
Credit Score and Loans – With such a stellar credit score, maybe it makes sense to get a loan on the house to take care of the Jeep, some unpaid bills, and create a buffer if my business continues to languish. Why, yes! My house is worth about 50% than what I paid, more than 100% more than the remaining mortgage. Ah. With such low interest rates, this is a nice opportunity – to take on a new loan to pay off a loan that is only days old. Paperwork and emails begin to fly back and forth to a confusing degree. All it takes is a month (a month?!) but they need to check out me and my house. OK. OK. Such is life being prudent and responsible. All I have to do is wait – after paying over $800 for an appraisal in a few weeks or over $900 for an appraisal within ten days. Wait. Wait. Wait.
MVIS – The waiting isn’t easy or cheap, so I sell some stock out of my IRA (which also means taxes) just in case the loan takes too long, or doesn’t come through.
House – Doesn’t come through? Another real estate client or two either back out of the market or buy somewhere outside my region. If that loan doesn’t come through, and business doesn’t pick up, and MVIS doesn’t suddenly rise, and I don’t win the lottery jackpot, then I might have to sell the house. So, while waiting and worrying, I start cleaning and clearing my stuff, the house, and the yard. Maybe at least it will look nicer for the appraiser – who will show up when?
Loans – You know how it goes. Spend money in one place – and start get unsolicited offers from too many places. I got so many offers from so many places that I started to think that my car loan was already being sold off to other loan companies. The loan company on the paperwork hadn’t sent me a statement. Maybe that’s what was happening. Cue the scene where the person is buried in “Important Document” envelopes.
Governmental Meetings – I also started getting emails, letters, and texts referring to meeting with various government agencies. Eep! I called on one or two (I won’t go into those details but some agencies sound more like bill collectors, even when they’re just asking for data), got so confused that I resorted to advice I received from a counselor about a decade ago; only pay attention to the mail. Still overwhelming, but more manageable, and something to handle while I handle the earlier things, like the loans I know I applied for.
Time to Stew and Simmer – No news is good news, right? Nope. No news is an opportunity to consider all of the possibilities, including having to sell the house. So, keep cleaning and clearing, and almost get sweetly tearful when a couple of dear friends offer their excellent tiny home as a refugee for either a little while or as long as I need – within reason, of course. At least I wouldn’t be homeless, I’d be with friends, and get to enjoy a panoramic view. (I just realized, their view covers more territory than the view from many million dollar homes, and they got it by enjoying a tiny house and a barn.) Hey, but at least my house is lighter, and ten years of abandoned projects have been swept away.
Jeep Loan – No news went on too long. If there was a problem with the Jeep loan I wanted to be prepared to buy it if necessary. But, that means paying the balance by the end of the month, which means having the funds in the right account by a day or two ahead of that, which means selling some stock and transferring those funds days before that. Just a few hours before that I call the loan company to ask about my statement. Oh, a statement? They don’t send those out. They just expect people to either have auto-pay set up, or call to pay. Whew. The Jeep is good. That loan is good. One hurdle cleared.
House Loan – Still waiting on that appraisal, oh and then a review period that should delay things about another week. Another week means another month which means bills that need to be paid without a loan.
Governmental Meetings (hacked) – I finally got a consistent series of text messages from a .gov account, confirmed the meeting, then saw something odd about the notification. Someone else’s name was on it, which I assumed was my contact in the agency. Nope. That was where my name should be. A day before the meeting I called the agency to find out what was happening. They didn’t know either. The note had my phone number and email address, but that name was someone else who was trying to schedule a meeting. Hello Fraud Department, which after a day tells me that someone needed a phone number and email address to schedule meeting, probably didn’t want to give theirs, found mine somehow (not hard considering how many business cards real estate brokers hand out), and expected to have the meeting that way. The Fraud Department said I didn’t have to worry about it. Another hurdle crossed.
House Loan – Signed! Today I signed the paperwork for a Home Equity Line Of Credit (HELOC, which sounds like some superhero or villain). So, do I immediately pay bills? No. ‘For my protection’ the government instituted a required waiting period (for money but not for guns?) in case I decide to back out of the deal.
Next Week – Next week will be another flurry of financial activity. Get the funds. Pay off the Jeep and get title to it. Pay off my credit card. Pay one outstanding but not critical bill. Refill some checking account buffers. Buy back some stocks to re-establish stock positions. Get a new credit card because the old one won’t change my interest rate even though my credit score is ‘stellar’. And start preparing the house for winter rather than preparing my house to sell. And do what I can to find the funds to pay down the debt.
Serious Note – Also set up appointments with a mental health counselor. Sorry for the downer, but one reason for this blog is to point out the realities of personal finance. While this chronicle can make an excellent farce, it also has a real cost. The stresses we joke about can reach the point where the side effects are more than something a massage can handle; and a good massage can also be necessary to alleviate some physical side effects (and while I am a fan of openness, those details are Too Much Information and I know some don’t want internal disturbances described in graphic detail.) About the time of the beginning of the pandemic I was retiring anxieties. Their bigger cousins just had an opportunity to take over and I am going to fight them, and I don’t plan on doing it alone. Sadly and ironically, I can only sign up to help resolve financial anxieties when I have healthy enough finances to address those anxieties. It costs money to be healthy.
Second Serious Note – Throughout this, as I’ve shared aspects that are commonly taboos, I’ve heard too many stories from too many people who are in such vulnerable situations that they can’t mention them to co-workers, customers, or even friends. We continue to live in a society that blames victims, and equates wealth with self-worth. My story isn’t the worst or the weirdest, but I tell it because too many others can’t tell theirs.
Serious And Positive Note – Throughout this I found support from expected places, but also from people who are unexpectedly incredibly generous. Some are generous with buffers of money. Some with hugs, hugs that last as long as needed and without reservation. Some with epic listening skills. Some with experience who may have gone through the same or at least similar things. Some who can tell when the main thing to do is to do anything except remind you of what you’re going through; consider it a conversation vacation from unpleasantness. It is unrealistic to expect one person to do it all.
Next Moves – I’m going to follow my doctor’s orders. She’s finally found a prescription that I’m likely to actually follow: Go for a hike a week. That’s one reason why I bought new boots today. It is time to schedule those various healing sessions – after the funds arrive. It is always a good time to thank my friends. And I guess it would be handy if someone could help me get those boxes of papers back up into the attic crawlspace. The spiders might want to go back home.
Hmm. Imagine seeing these three months from the multiple eyes of a spider that was born in a folder, then borne to various meetings, then borne back again. Well, at least my creativity hasn’t hit a hurdle.