Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sexy & I Know It

The world’s economies are all in a tizzy.

Apparently, our nations’ eyes are bigger than their stomachs.

I know this not because I’ve been examining the specks in said eyes, but because I’ve been chipping away at the log in my own.

I gave into the lies.

I actually believed that taking out student loans had only positive consequences. That taking out a credit card as a college student would be supplemented by the income I would receive post-graduation, and that I would be able to stop relying on credit. I believed that a job helping people would actually provide me with enough income to afford housing in the low-rent district, a reliable vehicle and food on the table (and, obviously, student loan repayment). Beyond those beliefs, I had wants. And I believed I deserved to have those wants – because I was a college graduate, and I should be able to afford things like the occasional new outfit, new CD, and small vacation.

I allowed myself to live into this deception, and I still felt like I was living way below the means of most of my cohorts.

Fast forward, and I’m living in community with others, sharing rent and a few other resources. The economy is tanking. Credit companies are panicking. The owners of my two credit cards issue official letters letting me know that, due to the turn in economic circumstances, they will be raising my interest rate to an astronomical level. I have two choices, they inform me: 1. Accept our new terms, or 2. Cancel your card and continue paying off your balance at your current interest rate.

I called both companies to inform them I would be choosing the second option. They spent a lot of time sending me up the chain of command, each person counseling me as to how much I needed their service, how lost my life would be without them, how I really had no choice but to accept their terms and pay the price required to remain a slave to credit.

I stood my ground. Protest #1.

Not too long after making this decision, our little community fell apart and I was faced with a choose-your-own-adventure moment:

1. Cover myself in sackcloth and ashes and camp out in front of the credit issuers home office.

2. Find some new roommates and continue a lifestyle where my life choices are dependent on the choices of others, and where relationships become a burden rather than a blessing.

3. Move out on my own and continue a lifestyle of credit dependency.

4. Move out on my own, get a second job to slowly pay down debt, thus effectively plunging myself into anxiety and retreating from the world for an unknown period of years.

5. Swallow my pride, move back with my parents as a 30-something, and aggressively pay down my debt.

I chose the completely unsexy option of moving home. Protest #2.

While I am immensely grateful to my parents for giving me this option, there have been innumerable moments when I questioned if it was worth it. Having all of my possessions in a bedroom and an awkwardly accessible storage unit is not the ideal. I have certain goals for my lifestyle that are difficult to achieve in someone else’s home. But I am learning to practice a deep patience.

I can’t tell you right off what my balances were on my two cards and a bank line of credit when I said “no” to the economic powers. I can tell you that at the beginning of 2011 I had over $17,500 left to pay off from those three credit sources, and today I am down to one creditor (other than my student loans, which are a whole other giant to slay) and less than $3,000 to go.

I very much feel like Sarah in Labyrinth, standing up to the Goblin King: YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME!

No, I did not make signs, or walk sidewalks, or camp out in a tent to protest the economic powers. Not that I oppose those measure – I fully support creative protest and civil disobedience.

I chose a less sexy option.

But I stood nonetheless. And in the process I have learned to live within my realistic means. And I have new expectations for my life that are much more in line with the DIY, homesteading ethos I claim to espouse. It’s a small, slow impact, but I follow a teacher who taught that a new and better way can take over as yeast affects dough, subtle yet sure.

Today, Little Rock’s Occupy Wall Street group was forced to break camp.

A week or so ago, Raleigh’s OWS camp voluntarily packed up, after deciding this portion of their protest had run its course: “As many people as are going to drive by and see us have driven by and it is time to look for other ways to protest.”

I prefer the second option – the group that can look at themselves, and say “We’re not done speaking truth to power, but we recognize that there may be a better way to do it.”

I think Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove did a good job, early on in the OWS movement, of laying out what that better way may look like:

“But for many of us who believe that another world is already interrupting the status quo, the most important thing isn't to occupy the centers of power and insist on economic reform. The crucial thing is to carve out spaces where we can begin to create a new society within the shell of the old. These spaces are being crafted and cultivated by people in co-op movements, in local currency experiments, in cost-sharing health care ministries, and in slow food collectives. In small ways that are admittedly incomplete, some people who are discontent with the world that is are stepping out to begin shaping another world with their daily economic decisions. Not all of them are 'people of faith,' but there is a radical faith behind their actions. They are trusting a system other than what they have known and seen. They are believing and living toward a new reality.”

Protest is not wrong. Speaking truth to power is necessary. But at some point, we have to start living into the daily practice of what an alternate economy will look like.

Sexy or not…


Amy B said...

Thanks for being brave enough to post this. While my situation is a bit different in details, our financial story is pretty much the same. I too bought into the lies about student loans and the necessity of credit cards in college. When my husband and I married, I brought $3000 of credit card debt and $19,000 in student loans to the table. (He brought no debt, good man). A year later, we were credit card debt free, and chipping away at the student loans at the 25 year rate. We lived that way for 2 years, without the cloud of credit card debt - but we didn't save. At all. Nor did we attack the student loan debt. Then a few "necessary" purchases came up - a new laptop, a trip to Arizona, trips to the grocery store on weeks where the paycheck ran out before the month was over. And my husband started seminary. And we had a baby. By the time we were married 4 years, we had over $5500 in credit card debt, and over $30,000 in student loans. And we wanted me to be able to stay home with our son. And my husband only had 2 part time jobs with no benefits. We kicked our selves in disgust for our poor management of money when we had some to spare. So we also made two very unsexy decisions - one was to stop taking out student loans for seminary. If God wanted my husband to finish, he would have to provide a way. And we moved into my mom's basement. A year later, we still have almost $2000 in credit card debt, and we are still paying the student loans off at the 25 year rate. We have a long way to go, but we will get there. Yet EVEN NOW we make purchases we don't need to because in small ways we are still clinging to a lifestyle we can't really afford. Thank you for this reminder to recommit myself, even in the small ways, to living WELL within the provision that is given to me by the Giver of all good things.

Kimberly said...

Thank you, Amy, for sharing your story! May you be blessed with all kinds of unsexy perseverance to keep patiently moving forward. ;) I always appreciate your insights & learn so much from you, and I look forward to seeing what is up around the bend for your family.