Many of my recent posts have focused on the trillion dollar mugging perpetrated today on the American public. Wall Street took the US economy hostage and demanded this money in ransom. The Democratic Congress held our arms behind our backs while the Republican administration beat us to a pulp and took our wallets. Record numbers of people protested this action; we were met with a deaf ear. I wish I thought that we could vote these crooks out, but both McCain and Obama championed this theft, and most congressmen are too gerrymandered to really pay any political price for any decision they make.
So, what can I do?
I've been protesting against high public debt for years. During these same years, I've gone into debt for a variety of legit reasons--buying a house and buying a car, for instance. But, I've also made a thousand foolish, tiny, bad choices to go into debt. I've put lunches and dinners onto a credit card, especially if I'm travelling at a SF convention or something. I figure, eh, it's tax deductable, and it's only twenty bucks here, twenty bucks there. I've also thrown some unexpected expenses on, things like dental work my insurance didn't cover, or replacing a tire that had a nail in a sidewall. All these little things add up: I currently have over $15k in credit card debt. A lot of this is old debt--after my second divorce, I had a lousy run of bad luck. I had a car die, then bought a used car that turned out to be a lemon. It seemed like every other month I was throwing another thousand onto the card as the radiator blew, and the clutch went out, egr valves died, and the starter stopped. In my house, the water heater blew up, the furnace went out, and I was paying a mortgage I couldn't afford alone. Then I moved, and was paying rent and the mortgage for months, until I sold the house for a $7k loss just to stop the bleeding. I probably run up 12k of my credit card debt during two lousy years. Yet, over five years later, it's still hanging around, because, like many people, I pay the laughable minimum payments.
I've always justified this by saying that my money situation isn't so bad. If I add up all my assets and compare it to all my debts, I'm solidly in the black. I pay all my bills without sweating, and I'm never late on anything. I've always thought that, one day, I'd finally crack down and just get rid of this debt.
That day is today. The goverment is preaching that the threat to the economy is that credit is drying up, and people can't borrow money. If the government wants me to borrow money, given the actions of the last two weeks, I can only assume it is the worst thing I can possibly do.
I've been keeping track of my budget closely since I bought my house two years ago. Right after I bought the house and spent a couple of grand renovating it, I was at the peak of my debt load as a single man: I owed roughly $86k, a figure that included my mortgage and the 401k loans I'd taken out for the downpayment, but technically owed to myself. Today, I owe just under $76k, meaning, on average, I'm paying down about 5k a year on my debts, and I've been patting myself on the back for taking my debts seriously. But, it's not enough. My new goal: $10k a year. I'm paying off my car within a year, then my credit cards, then doubling up on house payments. I'm 44. My new, firm life goal is to be debt free when I turn 50.
Seven years ago, when terrorists attacked America, the president went on television and told us all that the most patriotic thing we could do for our country was to go out and shop. In reality, for many people, this meant going out and digging themselves further into debt. No more. I know that I'm probably jinxing myself by making this public vow. The clutch on my car is probably crumbling to dust as I type. But from now on, I'm keeping my lowest interest credit card open purely for emergencies, and intend to free myself from my servitude to the corporate banks that have gotten fact on my financial sloppiness for too long.
If the banks want my damn money, they'll have to get it the old-fashioned way, by going to the government for their slice of my taxes.