The realization of what we had gotten into kept me up at night. Long after Jaleen drifted to sleep, I would lay, staring at the dark ceiling, and condemn myself for the choices I had made that now created a chain that bound our family in debt. It started with that $6000 and just continued from there. Another $300 for the dentist, put on the credit card. The kids needed new clothes for school--add $1000 more to the card. Christmas one year arrived on the heels of cut backs at work. We were desperate for presents for the kids. That December we nearly exceeded our credit limit.
A few times Jaleen sat me down and tried to discuss our finances. In fact, she was the one who arranged to refinance our mortgage, which cut our payments by nearly $100, as well as calling the mortgage company and getting a deferral on our payments the year I got sick and was out of work for nearly two months. But when she tried to tell me we needed to take a closer look at how we were spending our money, I didn't want to listen. I resisted her suggestion that I bring a lunch from home instead of grabbing something from a nearby restaurant, and when she hinted that I not buy every movie when it came out, I tuned her out.
My parents had never had much money, yet they still managed to always have a $20 bill to hand me when I wanted to take my girlfriend to the movies or needed to fill my gas tank. I remember hearing my father say to my mother once that if a check hadn't cleared the bank, then that money was still there for the using. He got really good at the balancing act--writing checks based on money that was destined for somewhere else, and managing to replace the funds before the checks cleared.
I tried my hand at my father's game early in my marriage. When Jaleen found that first overdraft notice in the mail, we had a good long argument. In the end, she kept the checkbook. More overdraft notices followed, not because I was trying to ruin our finances, but because along with being unable to finish what I start, I also have a terrible memory. I simply forgot to pay the bills, or deposit the check, or tell Jaleen that I spent $50 at Costco.
When we finally emerged from the dark ages and subscribed to high-speed Internet, Jaleen pretty much took over the money. She tracked everything using a computerized finance program and began to pay the bills online.
After she straightened everything out, checking our bank account daily for any of my "oops I forgot to tell you...." incidents, our situation didn't look so bad. As long as I knew we had some money in the bank, I figured we were fine and could afford whatever we wanted.
One night, as I stared into the darkness, wondering how I could get us out of our small house and into the home my family deserved, I decided to take a look at Jaleen's finance program. I crept out of bed and out to the living room where we kept the computer. The old machine took a few minutes to boot up, and then it slowly brought up the program I wanted.
What I saw made my stomach drop to my knees. I covered my open mouth in disbelief.
(to be continued...)