Death and financial train wrecks – different types of devastation

While the post title sounds like related issues, in fact they are two separate soundtracks running through my thoughts the past few days. Nothing pretty to see here, so if you are looking for my usual glitter-bombing unicorn outlook, this may be the post to skip.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my client who lost his 13-year-old son last week; the young man took his own life. While he is a client, most of my self-employment clients are people I consider friends as well, the business just another anecdotal box of experiences we happen to share. Understandably, he is completely broken, destroyed by what has happened. That little boy was the sun and moon and stars in his world, and now he’s gone. Interlaced with grief, though, is this intense, white-hot anger from the circumstances that may time will cool and bring peace. I am not an especially religious person; I offer no platitudes about better places and safe from harm. As a mother who has been through the grief that comes with the death of a beloved child, such statements tend to piss me off even as I know that my children are only on loan, they are meant to grow up and become independent beings well outside my scope of control and direction. But 12, 13 – it is way too soon. Please do not ever suggest to me it’s God’s will, or it’s part of a bigger plan, or they are happier in their place in Heaven. Fuck that shit. Our children – we are good parents; our children should be her on earth with us, getting awkward and hormonal, getting angry and screaming at us, assured in how little we know and growing up into people who again like and respect us for the mere mortals we are as they mature into adulthood and realized that their parents are imperfect, do not have all the answers, but try their best.

In a lot of real and direct experience ways, I am someone who understands. I listened and pretended not to notice when he cried. There are no words of comfort in these situations, and sometimes it is only human warmth that makes us feel less alone and lonely with our tragic losses. As I still think to this day, when there are no words, hugs speak volumes.

Into this profoundly emotional and poignant time with one slice of my life, comes all the bullshit and pettiness of small-ball problems. Comparatively speaking, anyway. There are no universal bandaids that remove physic pain and perceived injustice, and sometimes my patience with those who want to escalate petty grievances into something bigger, badder, much more complicated and time-consuming – let’s just say I’m short and dismissive. Every person I know who works or has any type of relationship with expectation of performance and results has similar stories of such disagreements and less motivated, less first-choice options for bosses, coworkers, worked hired out. So I know I am not the only manager at any level in the world having to deal with people and their problems. And I also know what is a Very Big Deal to them is smaller than small-ball to me. Most of the time, I try to deal with them professionally and compassionately, even while telling them to grow up and get real.

In other words, more drama in the office. And it is not that I don’t care – I care very much, particularly as it impacts perceptions about me and my performance of my job functions – but when you are dealing with a slice of pirated information (salaries) and without complete context, the leg you’re standing on is kind of weak and shaking. When it comes up, I will deal with it. Right now, my head is filled with thoughts of death.

And I hate it.

I hate that my client and friend is suffering so miserably. I hate that another dear friend is thousands of miles away and alone and facing a procedure on his brain. I don’t think it’s just me that gets nervous when people speak of brain surgery, and to not be able to be present and there at this time – it’s really, really hard. While telling myself thousands of times daily that it will be fine, he will be fine, I cannot get my mind to buy the reassurances. Sometimes being a “hope for the best, imagine the worst” version of Pollyanna does not work out all that well for me.

Truthfully, I cannot imagine my life without him somewhere in it. M is far more stoic than I am, thankfully, but even he has his reservations and concerns. It’s BRAIN surgery, and no matter how normal and routine it might be for the surgeon and the specialized team of doctors and nurses, this is someone we love and it is a world-class BIG DEAL to the rest of us sitting on the sidelines and metaphorically wringing our hands and trying not to be consumed with worry.

So yeah, head is kind of stuffed to overflowing out my ears with thoughts of death and what life is like imagining and trying to shut off the imaginings of life after the worst.

Ugh.

Another of my clients asked begged (his term, not mine) me to work with his niece on her finances. I thought it would be relatively straight-forward; after all, my client is very intelligent and sensible, his sister (the referral’s mother) seems the same in the times we have met. I figured at worse she would have student loan debt and need some help with her budgeting.

Oh my, I was so very wrong.

We met yesterday, and after 30 minutes of discussing the state of her life, I put away the green tea I was drinking and order the fully caffeinated, full-sugar version of a coffee-flavored milk drink to fortify myself. It is quite ugly.

She is a college graduate with degrees in chemistry and literature. Her parents paid for college so no student loan debt. Her home was gifted to her from her grandmother along with just over 6 figures in cash. She is employed in the local hospital system, which brings to mind decent wage and benefits. The car she drove up in a later model Camray – nothing fancy or flashy. While she is telling me all this, I am listening and nodding and thinking she needs a financial planner more than she needs a budget coach.

Then she pulls out the sheaf of check stubs, bank statements, credit card bills. I am still thinking, okay, everyone gets into trouble with credit cards; it’s almost a right of passage. I can help her, I’m sure.

It is with the documents that the real story comes out and why her mother and uncle asked me to talk with her and see if I can help her out.

This girl is 29, working at a job that pays about $42K per year, because she only works part-time (20 hours per week) by choice. There is a maxed out line of credit on her paid-off home, she has less than $500 in the bank, and an astonishing amount of credit card debt racked up in just a few years. On top of which – before inheriting her home and money, she had declared bankruptcy because of other credit card debt accrued in college.

I asked her how all this debt came about and got some pretty vague answers about shopping and paying for a couple of fender benders to keep them off her insurance and travel and charitable giving. I asked what happened to her inheritance, and got similar responses, with the addition of … plastic surgery. Did I mention she is turning 30 in a couple of months?

Ugh. Financial train wreck? More like mushroom cloud of financial devastation.

While I suspected this was going to be a huge challenge, I valiantly tried to help her.

Does she have a budget? Yes, but she routinely runs out of money and has to use her credit cards. Okay, can she show me her budget. Well no, because she keeps it in her head. She does pay all her bills when she gets paid and lives on what’s leftover. Except with this much credit card debt, there is a whole lot more living going on than a single person should be doing.

Or so goes the judgmental budget coach in me.

I did not have time to crunch the numbers to even get a sense of where she was, so we set up another appointment for this weekend after I had a better chance to look through her stuff and figure out how truly bad things are for her. And after looking through all her stuff last night, it’s really bad.

Since I know quite a few people in her age bracket, I know it is not just an issue of financial literacy. Yet I cannot fathom how someone could go blow through a just over $100K in inheritance, take out (and then max out) a line of credit on a paid-off home, and run up enough credit card debt to owe just over $150K on a $42K per year salary. And yet, I have seen so much worse through the years.

I know and have heard all the arguments and sob stories about the evil banks and credit card companies taking advantage of the consumer. Bullshit. No one makes us take on debt, although I do know sometimes it’s an uncomfortable only option we have. My sympathy in this is primarily with her family, who – rightly – refuse to bail her out of this mess and merely try to find her resources to help resolve it.

The discord in this is that she is in such a deep, dark place of denial. The typical millennial mindset is stronger than average in this one (and I do apologize to all my very level-headed millennial friends who may be reading this vent).

Either way, she’s in a huge financial bind and it will get worse long before it gets better. I want nothing but success for her, but from conversations with her uncle and her mother, she is not listening to them and is unlikely to listen to me. However, I will do my best.

I think she sees herself as living a life of freedom, whereas I see a young woman anchored by debt and being smother by the increasing interest and monthly payments. She could sell her home – the only assets I see that she has – which would likely clear her debt. But I know already the idea will float like a lead balloon.

At a very minimum, she needs to request a full-time schedule and accept every single hour of overtime that is offered to make more cash. With some negotiation with her creditors we might be able to get her squeaking through each month and with a very strict beans-and-rice type budget.

Buuuuttttt – one of the first comments out of her mouth is that she is unwilling to work more hours. Her debt is a combination of shopping, world travel, philanthropy, and just plain deranged, out-of-control spending. Seriously, I cannot think of another way to describe it.

I cannot save anyone, except perhaps myself. For the sake of my client, I will do my best to create a realistic plan … that she’s unlikely to agree to much less follow through with. When I met her, before we began discussing her finances in detail, I thought she was smart, funny, interesting, and quite physically beautiful. We chatted briefly about fitness – she works with a trainer 3 times per week and does yoga religiously 4 or 5 times per week – and I briefly, VERY briefly, thought she should meet trainer J. Or one of the associates I work with.

No, oh no. I love and adore my trainer, I really NEED my trainer, and I simply cannot do such a horrible thing. And my associates, it’s important to me to maintain my professional relationships. My goodness – what if someone I happened to introduce her to actually likes her? No, just no.

I was actually relieved to find out she likes girls.

The bottom line, at the end of a difficult day on a multitude of levels, what I find almost sadder than the real life agony is this silly, silly girl with the great big entitlement boulder resting on her shoulder.

Some things, some choices, some events are so far beyond my understanding. Where I can help, I try my best to do the right thing and provide what assistance I can. Sometimes it’s out of my realm of expertise, and the eventual outcome is in the hands of others far more skilled and more knowledgeable than me.

I have my hopes for the people in my life – I want what I want for them, whether it peace of mind or recovering their health. When someone new wanders into my midst, if I can help I will try. If they refuse help, I can and will step aside and let nature take its course.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it much, any of it. Sometimes I just wish people did not have to endure so much hardship, and sometimes I just wish people would be realistic and make better choices about their lives.