Back to the Future: Broke

Rereading this post from January 2010 was a bit of a surprise because I had forgotten that things were so bad that even a promotion and a pay raise could temporarily cause problems. I can’t even begin to imagine where we would have been back then if Brett had lost his job versus just losing a portion of his income (although a nearly 40% loss of income is a pretty strong blow).

I can see now how fortunate we were that we didn’t have to worry about losing our home. Brett’s military retirement income covered our mortgage, insurance, and taxes – all were paid by automatic deduction every month. But of course, that left everything else we had to cover: food, utilities, car payments, credit cards, the girls’ braces, and more out of our diminished income. Those were the things that were overwhelming us, even with income still coming in and an upcoming increase in Brett’s pay.


Brett is out right now selling used books and a few DVDs we found so that we have a few dollars (hopefully) to get us through the next couple of weeks. We have two necessary doctor visits which will require co-pays, a prescription for one child that must be filled, and there will hopefully be enough left over to buy milk the week after next. Otherwise, we have no cash flow for the next two weeks, nothing in reserve, nada. We are broke and are now getting a taste of what millions of families have been going through during the recession with their jobs lost and/or their incomes reduced, or what low-income families go through all the time. As my husband and I are both employed and have good benefits, we have no excuse for our current financial state except for getting ourselves heavily into debt.

Thankfully it’s just going to be a small taste of going without income. We did get a nice surprise at the end of the year – Brett received a promotion (!) and somewhat decent pay raise (!!) week before last and is transitioning from weekly to bi-weekly pay. It will not solve our problems but it is going to make things a bit easier going forward. However, next week is the first week he skips getting paid. I only am paid once a month, on the last day of the month, and that will arrive the same day as his new pay and we will catch up then and be back on track. But even knowing this week was coming and preparing as best as we could, arriving here has been a real eye-opener and frankly, frightening. It is the first time in my life that I won’t be making (a few) payments on time. I made sure that every automatic payment in our account will be covered, but that took every dime of what we had on hand. The non-automatic payments will just have to wait until the end of the month even though their due dates start next week. I have made sure that there is enough food on hand for the next two weeks. Meals will be simple for sure, but at least we have enough food (other than milk; I don’t have room to store more than a week’s worth of milk) to get us through. The children thankfully have enough in their school lunch accounts to cover them for the next two weeks. Faced with a situation like this in the past, I would have broken out the credit cards, but not this time. They are what got us to this place, and not the way out anymore.

What weighs constantly on my mind is the question, “What if Brett had lost his job instead of receiving a promotion?” We are selling books and DVDs now; what else would we have to sell to survive? How would we feed our family? Would we eventually lose our home? Would we survive?

This is where our debt has brought us and it’s not pretty. This is definitely not how I want to spend the rest of my life, looking over my shoulder, or checking out the window to see if the wolf is still hovering at the door.

In retrospect, Brett’s “promotion” turned out to be a way for his company to get more work out of him once again to take care of the backlog of work that had piled up once the overtime was cut off. The new position was salaried versus hourly but came with the same long hours as before for the same work. The pay increase, although appreciated, ended up being nowhere near what he had been making previously so once overtime was approved again, he left the salaried position and went back to hourly pay until he retired.


14 thoughts on “Back to the Future: Broke

  1. Well look how far you’ve come! What a change! Quite a scary position. But for luck we could have been in the same position. I think a lot of dual income families are in the same boat. Needs and wants confused. Regular incoming giving a false sense of security and independence. Debts.

    Mr S is worried that we haven’t paid off our house and he is nearly 60. Once that is gone, we will be debt free.


    1. We really did have a false sense of security back then. Brett had survived several rounds of massive layoffs at his company, especially following 9/11, and while we always worried about a layoff, we never saw a pay reduction coming and the effect that would have. We always had debt, but it had always been “manageable.” And then it wasn’t any more.

      But here we are. We righted ourselves and are enjoying retirement. But we know things could have gone very, very differently.

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  2. This reminds me of my early years as a single parent. It was really frightening. I was always thrilled to get to the next paycheck without going completely broke. Even having $5 left in my purse was nice. I did end up using credit cards for certain emergencies — like DD driving the car through the garage door while learning to drive a clutch – funny now, but it sure wasn’t then.


    1. The credit cards came out after we depleted our savings in 2009 and it was shocking how quickly the balances climbed on those. I don’t remember using them to buy food, but just about everything else did. And we were not those people buying big screen TVs, or new furniture, or taking fancy vacations. For us it was just trying to live, or keep things working.

      We found out though how much we could still cut back and survive in order to get rid of that debt. Those were scary days though, but in hindsight I’m grateful for them for what they taught us.


  3. It’s crazy to see the progress you all have made in the past few years. Sincerely – you have such a great handle on your finances.

    Sorry we missed you in Portland. My nephews were with their dad over the holidays, so we spent our last day in Portland catching up with them at Big Als. It’s a giant arcade/bowling alley. And a real way to separate you from your money. 😉 But, the cousins got to hang out for the afternoon before we flew home, so we were happy to get a chance for them to spend time together.


    1. It’s almost hard to believe where we started 10 years ago and where we are now. 2010 was a crazy year for us though. We persevered though and I love where we are now, and what we’re able to do.

      I’m sad we weren’t able to connect as well. I don’t know what your schedule is looking like for this year, but we’ll be back in PDX in June and again in December. Maybe well get lucky and our paths can cross then!


  4. Yup, that is pretty scary. Our time after my husband left the military was pretty crazy.
    One thing I can say is that it helps me in my work at the food pantry with my church. There is sometimes criticism of those who show up in a nicer car or live in a better place in town. Why would they need food? I know EXACTLY why. If you give it up, where will you live???


    1. 2009 was a very scary year for us. We’ve heard from several friends that now know what our situation was back then that they had NO idea what we were going through.

      We have since learned of others who lost everything or went under during the same time – some from their own bad choices, but others through no fault of their own. Until you know someone else’s story and have walked in their shoes, no judgements allowed. Letting go of things is not always the best path.


  5. There is a “calm terror” coming through your writing and I so appreciate your honesty. It’s what kept me coming back and reading the “losing it” blog. This is your “hitting bottom” and in 12 step programs they talk about awareness, acceptance, and action. This post is the start of the action!

    I’m trying to come up with a play on words about it being the year 2020 and that hindsight is 2020, but I’m failing. I hope you are able to be proud of the 2010 Laura and all she has accomplished to create the life you are now living.

    Thanks again for sharing from the archives. Please keep them coming!



    1. “Calm terror” is a great way to describe those days. We were terrified because we were so close to losing everything.

      Back when our son was born, Brett’s navy pay was so low that after we covered our rent and utilities, and a $25/month payment to Sears for a washer and dryer, we had just $72/month left for food. How we managed on that, including infant formula and baby food, is unbelievable to me. We tried to do it again a year later, once we’d moved into on-base housing and couldn’t; I think the same would be true today if we tried to duplicate what we endured back then. Besides all the things that have changed, we’re also very different people, and much smarter and more savvy now.

      2010 was a wild year for us – I almost can’t believe what we dealt with that year, and that we survived and kept going. Stay tuned!


  6. Oh, does this strike a cord! I had the 39% pay decrease that I was still having to deal with, which actually happened on October 23, 2009. That day is forever embedded in my mind! What I didn’t know was that all funding for my job would eventually dry up in early 2011. It took me five months to find a job, but when I did it was almost at the top salary of my previous job. I was required to move though, two hours a way. I so remember the struggle to pay the mortgage, car, food, utilities, and gas on the greatly reduced salary. I didn’t even have credit card debt nor student loan debt. That time was awful, so I do understand. I had one kid finishing up high school and one in college.


    1. Our “moment” came in October 2008. In 2009 we were like frogs put into a pan of water though, with the heat slowly turned up – we had no idea how bad things were going to get.

      Looking back, we can see how truly fortunate we were that Brett was not laid off, as so many were at his company. 2010 turned out to truly be the year from hell though as we struggled to get rid of debt and get used to living on a diminished income. In retrospect I’m grateful for the experience as we completely changed our mindset about spending and saving. Those were lessons I don’t think we would have learned otherwise.


  7. 2010 was eye opening for as well being in construction in a mountain resort town. It all came to a HALT. We were living with his Mom, had a ton of Debt from his multiple surgeries, using CC to pay the basics. My job was secure but came no where near paying the bills. In the past 10 years we have moved 5 times including chasing his dream job to Texas and then back 10 months later (my employer rehired me and gave me a promotion), filed BK 8 years ago and finally we have bought a house after 8 years of living with his mom and 8 years of renting. We have no Cc’s and never want another one, he is still self employed but construction jobs in Denver are plentiful for his skill set.


    1. Wow – you have really had quite the ride, so I was happy to read that things have evened out and settled down for you and your husband. 2010 was a very rough year for so many people. In our case it threw everything but the kitchen sink at us and how we got through it I’ll never know, but here we are.

      We are using credit cards again, but pay them off and collect the rewards these days!


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