Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Dime, One Day

I have been struggling with money issues as of late: some of them in my wallet, more of them in my head. Monday, I contacted our local hospital where I do all my oncology work (lab work and consultations) to find out why I was no longer receiving hospital bills. Our local hospital is part of a larger conglomerate and it turns out that somehow, somewhere, between April 2010 and October 2010, the system's computer resurrected my old mailing address (last used in October 2008) and was shipping everything to that address. That explains the recently received collection letter on a bill from October that I never received and never saw, and that explains why I only just learned the April totals.

The April total was higher than I anticipated. Had I known, I would have been paying on it but I didn't and I haven't been, so now I have a whopping bill to pare down. (Before you say "but April, surely you knew you had a bill, why weren't you more proactive?," let me add that I also have a pending application for financial assistance and I initially thought the bill was being held up while the assistance application was being reviewed.)

So by 5:00 Monday night, I was thoroughly demoralized. But then I rallied: I will pay it off bit by bit; yes, that means stretching some other things out a little further, but I can do it; it will be okay.

That was before I looked more closely at the account sheets and saw something on the master account called "bad debt balance," with a large sum after it. A large sum as in four figures. Where did that come from? When I applied for financial assistance last time, the counselor referred to some unpaid (and unmentioned ever) 2004 charges that should have been picked up by Medicaid or bundled into my bankruptcy in 2005. Could that be them? What charges are they? And why that amount?

I don't know about the figure; it apparently is written off but still pops up in internal documents (which is what I was looking at as we tried to figure out where my bills had gone). Regardless, it is so discouraging. As I told Warren when I related the day's discoveries, I pay and pay and pay, get close to finishing off a major bill of some sort and plan on adding that payment to another bill's payment (the snowball effect), and then learn I have new bills. Or older bills newly discovered. By the time I pay my share of the household costs and make payments on the bills (now including the new ones), there is little left to my paycheck. 

It's hard. It's hard to be perpetually tight on funds. It's hard to realize that some necessities I have delayed spending money on are just that much more out of reach, even with being hyper frugal with my dollars. It's hard to not feel that even a small item once in a great while is an extravagance I should not indulge in.

But like so many times when I am feeling stressed or struggling to cope, all I really needed after Monday was a different perspective.

A change in attitude.

A reminder of just how much I am blessed.

What a difference a day can make.

The first reminder, small and sweet, happened when I dropped Warren off at work yesterday. After he got out of the car, he bent over and reached down to the curb. Had he dropped something?

Warren straightened back up and held up a slim dime. One thin, silvery dime. "It can go in the vacation fund!"

We both laughed. We are ten cents (ten cents!) closer to whatever we are doing next summer. And the dime knocked my perspective a little closer to center. It doesn't have to be all about the money. It so rarely is all about the money. So many times it is about other things: emotions, anxieties, stresses. But it is so much easier and convenient to blame it on money rather than deal with those messy, squishy topics. 

The second reminder was neither short nor sweet. Last night at 10:20 the phone rang. In our household, phones ringing after 10:00 are usually not pleasant calls. This one held true to type.

Our "almost daughter" Amy was on the phone. She is at risk to lose her already insecure housing situation (she lives with her dad) due to family conflicts, she is at risk to lose her already insecure means of transportation due to family conflicts, she is underemployed and has not found additional work that would give her the financial ability to meet the risks, she is going hungry more times than she will admit, and she is so emotionally battered and worn down due to family conflicts that she is almost too numb to respond to the immediate crises. I tried making suggestions, until I finally realized I needed to shut up and listen because she was in no shape to hear the offers of help. Amy talked and cried, cried and talked.

Then she blurted out, crying even harder, "and we only have a half roll of toilet paper left and I don't get paid until Friday."

That I could respond to concretely and immediately. "Amy, come over here right now. We have toilet paper."

I went upstairs and gathered some rolls of toilet paper. I also raided the vacation fund box, which held a few dollar bills (along with Tuesday's dime and some other loose change), and Warren contributed a few more. The toilet paper went into a grocery bag, the dollar bills went into an envelope.

When Amy pulled up five minutes later, I met her on the lawn. I handed her the grocery bag and the envelope.

"This is a gift from us. It'll help you get closer to payday. And here's the toilet paper."

We hugged for a long moment. Amy is thin and shaking and sad. It breaks my heart to see her that way. She is so young to have so many sorrows and difficulties. I walked her back to the car, thanked her friend who brought her over, hugged her again.

"We love you. We are here for you. You can stay here while you figure things out."

After Amy left, I walked back into the house and plopped down beside Warren on the couch, drained. We talked a little about what had just happened, about what we can do for Amy. It was still on my mind as I fell asleep. This morning, Warren said "I think Amy was in my dreams last night."

Yeah, mine too.

Amy was the big jolt to my perspective, a real live reminder of just how much I have. I have what she is lacking presently, starting with toilet paper, food, and a secure place to live. Most important, I have a loving home to shelter me when times are tough.

I have a different attitude today. I still have a large pile of medical bills that I will need to pay down bit by bit. I still have some important purchases that I will need to defer yet a little longer. I still have an anemic checking account balance which will rally only briefly on payday for some time to come. We even have a little tiny vacation fund that might just maybe allow us to get away for a few days next summer.

And I still have a wonderfully loving household where Warren and I work together to make the most of what we have, dime by dime, day by day.


Terri said...

I teared up as I read this post...I was once an Amy type person and because of the kindness of people like you I learned to pay it forward, just as you have down. The value of what you shared with her is huge.

Sharon said...

I'm up unusually late this evening ...(we are still at the lake) and I decided since I couldn't sleep, I'd catch up a bit on blog reading. I've been a little cranky lately..We've had a bit of an ant problem at our lake house and I can't shake the feeling that there are bugs all over the place. I itch all the time. We may also have to cut our trip short by a day, as my daughter is not feeling well. As always, your post is very thought provoking. It certqainly gives me a whole new perspective on our situation. We've had a good time, and it's okay if we leave a bit early. I have a wonderful home to go back to, and we were fortunate enough to get a bit of a respite from the everyday. Thank you for the reminder!

My heart goes out to you regarding your medical bills. I imagine it's very frustrating. I know it's not just about the money...there is a huge emotional connection to them as well. You'll get them paid off..eventually. Just keep contributing to your vacation fund. This is something you need to do for YOU. The bills will still be there when you return. Thanks again!

Sending {{hugs}}!!

see you there! said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your struggles. I know you are a strong woman and will cope tho. Amy on the other hand? She sounds like a child or perhaps a very young woman. It breaks my heart.

My friend Phyllis posted this on her blog the other day. ***

People ask God, "why haven't you provided for your children?"
God would say..."I kept what I provided and didn't take care of those I intended for you to. YOU are my hands and feet."
I have so much more than I need and can sacrifice so much
more than I have. God forgive me. ***

While I'm not conventionally religious this really hit home with me. I have some work to do.


Ellen said...

You're spreading your attitude of abundance by sharing your story. Thanks again, April.

judy said...

What a wonderful people you and your husband are. I truly admire people who speak with there hearts, and share with others. I am working harder to be that type of person.


I am the working poor. said...

This broke me heart when I read it. My youngest daughter just returned home after trying to make it on her own with friends. She was so happy to be in a house with toilet paper. Walking through the parking lot on my way to work this morning I found a dime and thought of you!