Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Teacher, what does "in the red" mean?

So I had a humbling experience over the weekend.

I had to go to the doctor, and like
47 million other Americans I do not have health insurance. (Thanks, Fartless School!). So I looked through a bunch of doctors listed on the website of my boyfriend's insurance (which I cannot be on because we are not a gay couple and thus not discriminated-against enough), and found "Country Doctor Community Health Clinic," which had a bunch of family practice docs, sounded harmless enough, and was close to my house. I called them, and they even said that they had a sliding scale for patients like me without insurance, and that there would be a billing specialist on hand (during my Saturday appointment, no less) who could talk to me about my special circumstances and determine what I would have to pay.

Well it turns out it was the scary, "poor-people-get-inferior-health-care" kind of doctor you have probably seen on TV. Among other problems I experienced there (including waiting in my little smock in the freezing appointment room for an hour), there was in fact no billing specialist on hand to talk about my special circumstances and, besides, they do not consider tens of thousands of dollars of debt special circumstances. Or at least special circumstances they care about. So I would have to pay for the whole appointment by myself.*

Anyway, long story short I learned a lesson I had learned in the past before. It is possible to be not quite poor enough. You can have no money, you can spend every dime you get paying bills, you can have a tuition bill roughly 12,000 x more than you can afford to pay, but someone can still determine that you technically make too much money to qualify for help. This happened to me while filling out my FAFSA for college loans, and at various other points. Granted, at this point in my life I am less poor than I have ever personally been, and I feel extremely grateful for that. It is only when I am afraid that my doctor bill might be two thousand dollars or something that I get worried about it. That or when they tease me with the idea of a mythical sliding scale. I am pretty broke at the moment, I think, and the vast majority of my paycheck is earmarked for paying down debt. So I don't have a bunch of money sitting around for medical expenses, and help sounds great.

I guess it's the only way that social programs make sense--you can't help everybody, right, and technically I accrued all those school loans and credit card bills myself, so the welfare state should not be obligated to help me. That jackass on the phone just shouldn't have mentioned the sliding scale at all and I probably wouldn't have even thought about it.

But the grand conclusion I decided to come to was that if the welfare state thinks I make enough money to not be broke, then I am going to stop being broke. (Rather than just be pissed off about not getting help, which I admittedly did do for awhile in the waiting room.) There are millions and millions of people who need that help more. The only reason I struggle is because of this debt: if I didn't have these payments to make each month, then life would be pretty easy. I do actually make a decent living wage (although of course I should make more, as I am teaching teh childrenz while my bosses are out building yachts for fun). I just spend a much-too-large portion of that wage on credit card bills and school loans.

So I am making a resolution. I know it's not New Year's, yet, but maybe that will help (since those resolutions never stick anyway). I am going to use fewer parentheses in my writing.

Just kidding.

We all know I'm not going to stop that.

(Just kidding again.)

My real resolution is going to be to make a serious, dedicated effort to pay down my debt. I go out to dinner several times per week with Airbear, particularly on the weekends, and I am going to see how few times I can do that. During the week shouldn't be hard, as he is entering crunch mode at his work for a few weeks and they'll be catering dinner there, so I can eat very inexpensively at home. I can also suggest cooking on the weekends, and Airbear gets excited by "real" food, so hopefully that will feel like a treat and will help encourage me to do it. I am going to keep myself out of used bookstores, too. I currently have fifteen tons of homework to do anyway and no time to read books, so that shouldn't be hard. I am going to take lunch to work (which I do most of the time anyway). I am going to make sure I get up early enough on Fridays to take a bus to my volunteering job so that I don't pay for gas (or $11 parking!!!). I am still going to drive to work Monday-Thursday, though, because my hours are just too long those days to add additional hours of bus time.
Sorry, Al Gore.

When I was growing up, we didn't eat out all the time. Almost never, in fact. And when we did, it was a treat. It's like a fact of life for these crazy gamer kids, and once I get my debt paid down I can do it too. But I am going to do this, because I don't want to have it hanging over my head. The school loans are one thing--they're for a good cause and the interest is tax-deductible. It's not the end of the world. But I do not want to have credit card debt anymore. It means I can't comfortably go back to school; it means I have to have a job, which can put you in less-than-desirable situations; and I want it gone before I get married or have kids. Plus just think of all the books I could buy guilt-free.

But almost everyone I know is living in debt, and still buying more stuff they don't need and can't quite afford. Why are we all living beyond our means? Why have we all stopped counting how much money we have left before we think about what we buy? Why have some of us even stopped thinking about what we buy? It's getting out of control, and it's going to break. We don't need this much stuff, and we shouldn't be wasting this much money on it anyway. How did we all get into this mess?

Anyway, I want out. And I hope you will join me, because I would love some company :)

One big problem: what about Christmas?

* I got a bit upset at this point, because I didn't know how much the appointment was actually going to be, and the guy at the front desk couldn't estimate it for me. So my options were to cancel it and wait another couple months for an appointment slot I could actually attend or have an appointment and hope I would be able to pay for it. It ended up not being that much (because she did NOTHING for me), so it wasn't that expensive, and the front desk guy felt bad about making me get teary, so he only charged me $15. Which just goes to show you that it does not pay to be middle class, but it does pay to be an emotional basket case.

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