Posts Tagged debt

Debt Takes a Holiday

IMG00074-20110131-1702Over the past several years I have had to find ever more inventive ways to become ever more frugal. Mind you, I have never been one to let money burn a hole in my pocket, but turning the heat down in the winter went to hardly ever turning it on; if only to avoid frozen pipes and the like. However, there does come a point when cutting back on spending begins to feel like a more extreme deprivation of little things that make one’s life worth living. When that point is reached, you really need to give yourself a little break and loosen the purse strings, if only for a short time.

As I have begun to regain my financial footing, the need to “live a little” has become not as worrisome as it was just last year. In fact, buying a few less basic items in the supermarket in exchange for some things that might cost more, but would greatly enhance mealtime were purchased more frequently. That being said, those occasions usually happened when I started entertaining again.

Being frugal to the point of excess might be acceptable when it is dinner for one, but to play host and expect others to also partake in your self-inflicted poverty would be considered absurd, especially when you extended an invitation to play host. Living on an island, as I do, you need to make the most of off island excursions and stock up at Trader Joe’s and other such stores; you just cannot find certain items on the rock.

Such was the case several times over the past year or so; every time I had an opportunity to fill my pantry with select morsels, I carefully did so. The fact that I happened to invite people over after that was no mere coincidence, rather thoughtfully planned. I must emphasize the planning aspect for the simple reason that my visiting guests are in fact visiting the island, so it adds a twist to playing host in that they are usually staying for longer than an evening, but rather an extended stay.

The ability to play host can make a simple meal into an event, given the proper perspective and vision. Many gatherings during the off season are potluck affairs here on Martha’s Vineyard. When guests are coming to visit from off island, they might bring a few items that travel well, but seldom do they bring “hot dish”. That leaves it to the host to prepare something decent, if not memorable. I have always taken a certain pride in being able to cook for my guests, but having a stocked pantry always makes the task a little easier.

There are few things in life that enrich one’s life more than good food and friends. The fact that it might take little extra money to make the meals and visits a little more memorable has, until quite recently, been sorely lacking in my life. The ability to turn a visit into a “holiday” for guests make the bleak days of winter a great deal more tolerable. If I can look past the debt I still owe for a few days to enjoy the company of friends, then I have, in fact, made it a holiday worth celebrating; essentially a holiday from debt.

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The Post-Season

My yard is an un-kept mess of overgrown weeds and vegetation. My desk at home has bills, mail, and paperwork from the past four months piled high. My cupboard is nearly bare, only a few canned goods and rice constitute the majority of the stock. My car needs numerous maintenance and repair jobs from summer driving before inspection. It must be the end of the summer season. Welcome to the post-season.

As a business owner onMartha’s Vineyard, I must remain focused and make my business the priority each day of the summer season, however long it may last or linger. The consequence of remaining so focused on my business is that most every other aspect of my life is put on the back burner until I can safely say that the season has actually ended. There is no exact date, no expiration when the calls will stop or the clients will no longer wander in. I might try to plan the events for any given day, but if there is business to be done, I must heed the call.

September is a transition time for many year round residents ofMartha’s Vineyard. For me, I begin working with the Cross Country Team at the high school while trying to maintain a viable practice at my business. It has proven to be a manageable feat, but trying, to say the least. Between the physical demands of training on my own as well as with the team and the time issues scheduling clients around meets and practices, it gets quite stressful. Each serves as a piece in my life that I find integral to remain part of the island community, so I continue the balancing act year after year.

As the days grow shorter and the calls in the office less frequent, I begin to chip away at all of the tasks that have been neglected during the hectic summer season; the bills and papers on my desk will slowly be filed, the yard will eventually be manicured in time for the fall, trips off island will re-stock the cupboard with Trader Joe’s goodies, and my car will finally pass inspection for another year.

When the last of the seasonal stores close onMain Street, the last of the leaves fall from the trees, and the ferry schedule shows only Vineyard Haven as being open, I can finally consider the season to have been declared “over” for this calendar year. Many stores will close not only for the season, but the space will become available for the next starry-eyed dreamer to open the store they always dreamed of. Then they too can join the ranks of business owners that spend endless days trying to keep not only their professional dreams alive, but also their threads of sanity intact until the end of the season. Only then will they be able to take a deep breath and determine if it is all worth they effort.

In my many years of owning and operating a business, it has only been the last two or three seasons that have really given me reason to pause and consider what else I could possibly do on this island to be able to afford living here. I see all of the unemployed residents “toughing it out” during the off season and think to myself, “I really am quite fortunate to be financially successful at what I do.” After all of the griping, complaining, and general frustration caused by the chaos during the season, it is only in the post season that I remember that I do it all for the reward of being able to live here year round, as a part of this community, on this little island of Martha’s Vineyard.

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The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Yes, it has been quite some time since my last post. As with most posts, I will try to stick with one theme, expand on it, then draw to a tidy conclusion that will bring it all together and leave you feeling that the time reading it was not wasted. That being said, let’s begin.

If you read the title of this installment, you already have a synopsis of it, but please allow me to expand upon that title. For the past four years, I have been dealing with so much uncertainty, stress, and financial difficulty that I have had moments where I wondered just how long it could possibly continue. Well, it would appear that the worst of it will be ebbing quite a bit. I made it through the off-season down-cycle of my business without incurring any additional debt. That may not seem significant, but considering the alternative, I am quite relieved.

Probably the most significant financial burden has been the debt owed on my credit cards. The total had been six figures when it was at its worst. No, it was not my crazy shopping sprees for kitchen gadgets, but rather bridging loans to complete construction of my house and carry me through the off-season when the business literally died. Well, I have crunched the numbers and if I match the dismal numbers of last season, I should pay-off the last of the credit cards by the end of September. Seriously, six-figures paid off in less than five years while paying two mortgages and everything else like utilities, taxes, insurances of every type, as well as sometimes buying food. No small feat, in my humble opinion.

So this road has been rife with speed bumps, potholes, and a few near breakdowns (pun intended). All the while, there was one thing that was constant; a belief in myself. All through my life I have faced any number of challenges and difficult situations. Over the years I learned how to best confront and deal with what was before me, with varying degrees of success. I would view this latest episode as the most challenging and difficult. To say that I almost did not make it would not be far from the truth but I never gave up. I never doubted my ability to utilize every resource and make the most of every opportunity that would bring me closer to the goal, even when I felt the goal was being moved further from me as my struggle continued.

There were setbacks. Credit card companies kept lowing my lines of available credit, both for business and personal use. They closed accounts without notice and raised percentage rates by four-fold. Instead of being disheartened, I strengthened my resolve and used the accounts like pieces on a chess board, pitting them against each other to move the debt around while paying off a little each time. Every off-season was a struggle, forcing me to borrow a bit more before I could pay it down after each season’s profit made itself available. Last season may have been the worst yet, with my income being almost exactly half of what it had been the previous year. Yet, even that had an upside.

Earn less money, pay less taxes. Yes, it sounds silly, but there comes a point where the tax brackets favor you more if you earn less. Crazy, huh? It would seem as though the government would rather see more taxpayers closer to minimum wage earnings than middle class. Go figure. Well, with less money going toward taxes, more went toward debt and it was then I saw my first glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Funny how things went my way, but I’ll take it any way I can get it. I bet you would, too.

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