Last week I made the mistake of looking at Valentine’s Day cards at Whole Foods. One of the cards had a picture of a beach with a couple dancing on it. It is beautiful and idyllic and says in a horrible script font: “Wherever we’re together is paradise.”
This made me angry. No it’s not, card. You are lying, card. Because this is Year Two, and Year Two is three hundred and sixty-five days of hell.
One year ago this week, my husband and I decided trepidaciously to get our financial act together. We had just gotten engaged, and I was having a severe, persistent anxiety attack about the cost of having a wedding. So, like others before us and others since, we enrolled in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, had a bunch of bibles and shame thrown at us with great force, and figured out that we could probably be making better choices than we were. So we started to do just that.
In Year One, we cut our living expenses down to the barest bones. We took on second jobs. We sold prized possessions. We focused every cent on getting out of debt. And we paid off $28,000. We were really, really proud of ourselves.
And we deserved it. We worked incredibly hard, were incredibly diligent, and were trying to do something nobody does when they are young and idealistic: get out of debt. We are trying to set ourselves up to win with money at an early age, and we made an important step forward.
But that $28,000? That’s just barely the first step. We’re not even halfway done yet. And that’s the realization that kept hitting me during week one of Year Two: We are going to do all of that miserable stuff for another year, and more. It’s no longer the exciting beginning, where we got to watch those tiny, easily paid debts drop like flies. We aren’t in the homestretch. We are not down to that one last pesky bill, throwing gobs of money toward it and only it. We are in Year Two, and we’re in the ugly thick of it.
We have another year of creating one million spreadsheets to try and formulate our way out of this. We will continue to solicit roommates to share the burden of rent in our miniscule house, where we have started to keep the heat at 58 degrees in the middle of Midwestern winter. I will once again consider selling the rest of my clothes, my final possessions, which will leave me with one old hoodie, so many tee shirts from high school, and a pair of shoes that do not fit me or any human person. I will apply for overnight jobs, because I had been getting a solid six hours of sleep most nights, and that’s time I could be working. I will find no solutions, and I will cry while looking at cards in Whole Foods.
Because that’s the truth of Year Two: We will have to do what we did in Year One, except it will be harder. I will have to go from my real job to my horrible part-time second job at the mall for as many hours as they will take my indentured servitude per week, every week. I will have to continue to tell myself that a can of black beans and some baby carrots is a meal because it has two colors in it. I will have to continue my streak of friendlessness, because everything done with friends costs money, and no one wants to be friends with the girl who only talks about paying off debt anyway. I will have to cancel Netflix because my brain does this thing now where it doesn’t just count the $7.99 a month, it factors in the cost of the electricity and Internet service I’m using while watching season one of Law and Order: SVU and the amount of money I could have made in that time and the depreciation of my laptop and then SUDDENLY NETFLIX COSTS $500 A MONTH AND I NEED TO QUIT.
There is promise at the end of this madness, I suppose. Like the idea of getting to keep all that money we’re paying other people right now. A year and seven months from now, what we’re paying other people each month in debt repayments could be funding a trip to a script-font-y island. And that is a nice thought. An even nicer thought is the idea of bringing children into this world without the burden of debt. Or getting to go back to school and pay for it with money, not debt, so that maybe, theoretically, we can work in the fields we actually are passionate about, not the first place to offer us jobs.
But right now, this is Year Two. And nothing’s going to fix it except (endlessly, tediously, agonizingly) more of the same.
Lisette Reed wants nothing more than a PhD in health education. She lives in Iowa. Photo: Damien_p58