Monday, May 21, 2007

Ebb Tide

This morning, I'm feeling like I'm at an emotional ebb tide. Although the news on the scale this morning was good, I'm worn out. I didn't sleep well last night, and I found out this morning that we have unexpected, unavoidable and really big bill coming our way. I expect we are going to need to come up with a payment that is equal to, or slightly greater than, our mortgage payment on very short notice. This is really going to mess up our finances.

Yeah, I know everyone should have three to six months set aside as emergency savings, but we just don't have it. Housing in our area costs so much that it's not funny. Add to that health insurance premiums that equal about 2/3 of our mortgage payment every month, and it's pretty much guaranteed that we run out of money long before we run out of month. We are on a financial diet as well as a calorie-restricted one, but there's some realities one just can't avoid.

I feel like I'm caught in some crazy middle-class kind of poverty. We make decent money, but by the time we cover our mortgage, insurance and utility bills, there's not much left over for anything else. Of course we are lucky in that we don't have a lot of debt. We owe on our mortgage, of course, and we have one car that's not paid off, but we have no other outstanding bills, and most importantly, no credit card debt.

I look around at my neighbors, though, and I wonder how they do it. They buy new cars every several years (we bought our first new car in 17 years last summer), they remodel their homes and their yards, they wear fancy clothes, and their kids are in expensive extracurricular activities that I only dream of affording. I wonder if they are just up to their eyeballs in debt, or if they are just making a lot more money than we are. One family just added a second story to their home, for a total of $100,000 in remodeling costs. Unbelievable.

Looks like we'll probably have to put this monster bill on one of our credit cards and tighten our belts to make sure it gets paid off quickly. My guess is we'll have to cancel our summer vacation plans.

Losing vacation yet another summer in a row isn't a huge surprise. Although I'm disappointed, I'm not that disappointed. I haven't been able to take a vacation in 10 years because I've found myself stuck every year between one of two problems: either I have time off but no money, or I have money but no time off. This year the problem is a combination of two problems -- I only have a week off, but the money I planned to spend on vacation (and then some) has suddenly evaporated.

Don't worry, we'll get through it. We always do.

At least this isn't as bad as some of the financial crises we've been through in years past. Ten years ago I was in far worse shape than we are now. Ten years ago I was technically homeless, living in substandard housing because I lost my home to foreclosure. This is a very small crisis compared to that.

I do wonder, though, how much of my weight problem can be attributed to years of living in that middle class poverty zone. For many years, I made what seemed like a relatively good salary, but after all the mandatory bills were paid there wasn't much left over for food or gasoline. I cut corners, I skimped, and I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese and ramen noodle soup. I didn't shop for clothes, shoes, or anything. If I desperately needed something, I'd buy it at a thrift store. My underwear was all full of holes. I can remember remarking to someone that I was getting fat on food I didn't even like, and I understood why so many poor people were obese.

Things are better now that our household consists of two wage earners and only one child, but I look around and it seems like a lot of people are doing much better than us. I wonder if they are actually doing better than we, or if they are just up past their eyeballs in debt.

My emotional ebb tide wasn't caused just by the money issue. Last night, I decided it would be a good idea to take pictures of me in my new bathing suit so that I would have them to compare to my later "after" pictures. When I look in the mirror, I can see that I'm fat, but the photos make me seem so much larger. When I look at myself in the mirror, there's no question that I need to lose quite a few pounds. When I look at the photos, I feel a little grossed-out.

That's me? I think when I look at the pictures. How could that be?

I haven't decided whether or not I'll post those pictures online. I'm embarrassed and disgusted. I don't even recognize myself.

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