Celebrate! This is worth much more than a cupcake. Today I wrote myself a check. The check was the largest I’ve ever written from my business to me. Maybe, maybe, I can convince the mortgage company to renegotiate my mortgage rather than foreclose. Maybe, regardless what they do, I’ll become one more story of recovery. Despite conventional wisdom, stereotypical patterns, and ideological promises, there are no guarantees. There is, however, considerable and very welcome hope.
Regular readers skip ahead, but for those tuning in late, the last two years of personal financial implosion nearly eradicated my savings, have left me in threat of foreclosure, and have left me with a great imbalance where work overwhelmed life without the commensurate compensation. Triple Whammies, Backup Plans, and decades of practiced frugality have been my drama, effort, and style as my net worth dropped by more than 95% while my income has been building from almost nothing to maybe enough. (Need a consultant who understands the ride from not much to millionaire to not much to who knows where next? Give me a call.) Just in time, my two largest clients (HCLE and NRM) agreed to more than double my time, earning me enough to buy hope and maybe more.
Okay, regular readers, re-engage.
Experienced entrepreneurs, I have some lessons to learn from you; particularly, how you pay yourself and the government, and how you’ve managed to get through tough times. (Got a blog? Add the link to the Comments section so others may learn too.) Self-employment involves an internal wage negotiation between employee and employer. How much can the business really afford to pay? Folks in the bank lobby may have heard the logic gears whirring in my head as I stood at the counter trying to decide on a number. I hope I picked right. Too much and my business can’t sustain it. Too little and my pay can’t sustain my mortgage and the rest of my bills. The only true test is experience. Stay tuned. The next few months will tell a tale.
I’ve bounced along the poverty line, staying above it, but seeing it on a regular basis. Until 2013, I stayed clear by selling my investments. Want to see my historical returns? They’re in my book, Dream. Invest. Live. Unfortunately, when the investments were nearly gone I had to make the painful decision to quit paying my mortgage. The mortgage company wasn’t happy about that.
The mortgage company wasn’t happy about my lack of payment (not a surprise considering that I wasn’t happy about not paying either), but the reality of how many other people were in similar situations sunk in when I witnessed how practiced the debt collectors were at attempting to extract payments. The industry’s annual revenues are more than $10,000,000,000. In general, creditors are due their money, but so much money is involved in trying to reclaim the arrears that I suspect the incentives are skewed. If all of the debts were forgiven, how many debt collectors would be unemployed?
Poverty is defined by money, and money carries taboos, so most conversations avoid discussing poverty, or only discuss it as an abstraction. Oh yes, we must do something about that. But don’t give that homeless person a handout.
The surprising thing is how many people experience poverty, and how many get out of it.
“So while 38.9 percent of Americans will live at least year under the official poverty line between ages 25 and 60, just 11.6 percent will spend five years or more impoverished.” – The Atlantic
In my opinion, even 11.6% is too high a number for a developed nation because what have we been developing if that many are in that much distress?
The positive side is the 27.3% that get themselves out of poverty. We are a hard-working people, regardless of what the pundits say. Productivity continues to rise faster than wages. That wouldn’t happen with a population of slackers.
My personal recovery is redefining my life, though not my lifestyle. Frugal remained my style when I was working hard when young, retired early, or working hard at recovery as I near the border between middle-aged and aged. The major redefinition is retirement. Significant positive financial news is always possible (hello lottery tickets and MVIS), but retirement has returned to the realm of speculation rather than planning.
There again I am not alone. Within the multi-layered cultures that are my community, it is common for non-corporate folks in their fifties to be telling tales of expecting to work as long as they live. Necessity, not choice, drives their expectations.
Too many of them have been told that, for their situation, they’ll need more than a million dollars to retire. Many are aiming for such a figure. Maybe that number is correct, based on a given set of assumptions. Sadly, the reality check is that only 13.5% of households have net worths of more than $500,000. The borderline for the top 1% is about $8,400,000. Even if it only took $500,000 to retire, then about 86.5% of households can’t retire. If it really takes millions, then the real number of households that can retire is between 1% and 13.5%. Granted the numbers are skewed because many households represent younger people, but retirement is a financial criterion, not a chronological one.
The good news is that the greatest control any of us have on our lifestyle and chance for retirement is our own spending habits. Frugality, or even just ignoring most advertisements, is more powerful than how much is money is saved. A frugal lifestyle has provided me with stability when I needed it most, and is an amplifier on every earned dollar as I recover.
So, time to pour a glass of wine, stoke the fire, eat a bit of chocolate, and read a good book at the end of a very long day amidst an incredibly busy phase of life. Celebrate – because amongst the world’s turmoils, it is possible to exert just enough control to create fine moments.