DEBT #2: The Story Behind a Dead-Weight Debt

 DH = Dear Husband
“Signing you up for that course was nuts,” I recently said to DH as I thought about Debt #2.  He was putting something in the dishwasher, and without skipping a beat, he just looked over at me and said, “Totally.”
Debt #1 was for a car that we’re still driving.  Debt #2 was for a car that we’re no longer driving and for a two-year part-time interest course that DH took when he had almost no employment.  With his current business, DH has no time to pursue that interest.  So it’s a completely dead-weight debt.  We have nothing to show for it.  It’s just a $12,800 line of credit that’s been sitting there, requiring monthly interest payments to the tune of about $40 per month over the last five years.  On top of the debt itself, we’ve spent roughly $2,400 to service it.  Ugh!

Career crisis in slow motion

Yet I can’t be too harsh.  We were at a real low point when we made those choices.  When I refer to DH’s career crisis, I speak in terms of its having happened ten years ago.  That’s not quite accurate.  Like most crises, it was years in the making.  He lost his first hi-tech job, one he’d had for thirteen years, in 1998 as the company gradually went out of business.  He soon found a lucrative government contract job, to do with Y2K, which lasted for about a year.  Then early in 2000, he gained employment with NORTEL, the biggest and best of Canada’s hi-tech companies.  His salary was fabulous and there were perks at every turn.  I resigned from my part-time teaching job to fulfill a dream of being a stay-at-home mom.  Life was sweet.
NORTEL went down like the Titanic.  No one could believe that this monolithic company was sinking.  60,000 people – two-thirds of the staff – were laid-off in 2001.  DH got his notice late in the year.  I went back to work as a supply teacher.  I hoped that our need for my income would be temporary.
DH found employment again with a smaller hi-tech company.  But there was an atmosphere of impending doom as company after company in the region failed.  After a year and a half, in 2003, this company also closed.  DH worked a little while for a start-up company that never ended up getting financed.  He then went through an interview process for another company, but after twelve interviews, he was not hired.  (By the way, that company ended up failing too.)  At this point, he’d lost heart, and I supported him in going another route.  Again, I was hoping that after a year or two of his finding his way, I’d be able to stop working.

The wilderness years

It actually took six years.  And for those six years, we were like the tribes of Israel wandering in the wilderness.  There was no clear path for DH to take, so when we became aware of a certain interest course, it seemed like a good idea for DH to take it.  It didn’t register with us at the time that we couldn’t afford it.  At the same time, a pastor friend who was doing the kind of business DH now does hired him for jobs now and then.  With time, this pastor asked DH to take over some of his work.  It was a good thing, but there was not nearly enough work or income in it to support a family.  Meanwhile, I was teaching full-time, and I realized that I would never be a stay-at-home mom again.  It truly broke my heart. 

Back to work – needing a car

The silver lining for me was that after a sloppy re-entry into teaching, I ended up at a school I never would have chosen of my own volition, and I LOVED it.  It’s an urban, multi-cultural school with students from all over the world, many of them recent immigrants, and a staff that is cohesive, quirky, and all about the students.  It’s the best school on the planet, and I felt blessed to be a part of it, even while I was aching to be at home.  It’s far away, both in literal and figurative terms, from the neat, prosperous suburb where we live, so getting to work was an issue.  For the first year and a half, I took the bus.  Over an hour each way.  I was a pathetic picture of drudgery, marking papers on the bus two to three hours each day – that is, when I was lucky enough to get a seat.  The odd time I drove the van, it took me about 30 minutes.  Hmmm . . .
Time and time again, I told DH I needed a car to get to work.  He, who was navigating our finances without any help from me (see previous post “Reflect Upon Where You Started . . .”), was aware of our scary debt situation, and always said “We can’t afford it.”  One week, when his job took him out of town, I had coffee with a neighbour, and I made a decision.  I would buy a car while he was away. 
I phoned a couple of car dealerships, and at one, the name of the salesman was familiar.  “Did you go to (name of school) High School?” I asked him.  “Yes!” he answered.  “I taught you,” I said.  “I owe you!” he answered.  My former student sold me the demo car that his own pregnant wife had been driving.  I didn’t have the wherewithal to note that the car was not my style.  It had a big fat spoiler at the back.  But I didn’t care.  I needed a car to get me to work, and this one would do it.  And it was inexpensive for a new car since it had been a demo.  I ended up saying that I would buy it with DH’s blessing.
When DH got home, he was surprised at my news.  He came to the Ford dealership with me and got a real kick out of the car.  I guess he saw how determined I was – and it didn’t hurt that he really enjoyed being behind that wheel.   We leased the sporty 2007 Ford Focus for four years.  It made a huge difference for me to be able to drive to work and back.  Although I became more and more embarrassed about the spoiler, I drove it until the end of the lease.  And that’s where the story of Debt #1 comes in.  (See post “Behind Every Debt, There’s a Story . . .”)

Alternative plot line?

What should we have done instead of incurring that debt?  I think that DH should have worked the night shift at a local wholesale store while he slowly made his way in the business he would eventually take on full-time.  He should not have taken that course (even though I encouraged him to do so at the time).  And I should have bought a used car instead of leasing a new one.  But we were shell-shocked; in denial; wandering in the wilderness.  And we didn’t have the perspective we now have – or the money sense that we’ve gained.  “If I’d been working the night shift at the store, I might not have been able to take on the jobs that led to my business,” DH says.  Although he agrees that our choices at the time were nuts, when I ask him what he would do differently, he says, “Nothing.”  And so, with empathetic understanding and not much regret, we’re going to tackle our dead-weight Debt #2.

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