4 Things You Should Do When You Owe People Money
Are you good with finances? Congratulations, you're an anomaly. The numbers say that more than 75 percent of American households carry some form of debt, and a good chunk of those carry over $50,000 in debt. That's a hell of a lot of money. In fact, according to Federal Reserve stats from May 2015, total credit card debt is at just over $90 billion. Billion! That's so much money that you could buy all the waffles ever.
Turns out, I am one of the many, and have royally screwed my finances -- specifically, with student loans. In fact, I recently received a most ominous letter requesting $25,000, with a less-than-implied "or else" tacked on to it. This prompted me to start my own Indiegogo campaign wherein I offer an abundance of fun perks to anyone willing to help me out with my monster debt. Donate $1 and I'll write you a 100-word story. Donate $20,000 and I'll get your portrait tattooed on my back, no word of a lie. Or there's more fun stuff in between. I'm dead serious and dead serious in debt, so I need help. Feel free to check out my campaign and offer assistance if you can!
My mistake doesn't have to be yours. Learn from my foolishness now to save yourself trouble later. Here's what I know about mismanaging money!
Give Your Money A Job
Every dollar you possess should have a job. Don't let it just float around all willy-nilly like that breezy bag from American Beauty. The moment you have fun money is the money you hopped on a sled made of dipshittery barreling down a hill to ruin. No money is fun money, even if you spend it on fun things. That money should have been responsibly earmarked for entertainment.
Does it sound stupid to make yourself an entertainment fund and draw from it to go to movies, party with friends, buy yourself a kazoo? Maybe. But would you rather think you're a bit of a tool in your own head, since no one ever needs to know you do this, or wake up one day and realize you're so poor that you literally have less than a hobo? Just because you're in a house with a job doesn't make you better than a guy on a street corner. At least he's at ground zero. You're below it.
"Wait, he has multiple pairs of shoes? Shit."
If you don't respect your money -- how much you have now and how much you can expect tomorrow -- you're setting yourself up for doom. This is also known as "credit cards." They're awful things that we should have never invented. They're financial Balrogs, born from us digging too greedily and too deep into a mountain of eBay crap and Etsy brownies.
"YOU SHALL NOT PASS ... and especially not with a 400 score."
Every month, at least, you should plot your spending. Why? Because it offers perspective. If your money has no purpose and you order a pizza here, take a cab there, you might find yourself looking at your bank account with a $100 balance, wondering where that other $300 you swore you had went. And you'll look over your transactions and confirm that nope, you were never robbed. You kept spending little bits and little bits and little bits, until you buried yourself in a hole where you can choose to not spend any money for the next week or rely on credit. Boo!
If you're old enough to make money, you're likely in a place where you can determine how it needs to be spent. You need this much for rent, this much for your phone, this much for Internet, this much for groceries. Do this every time you get money, and then, when you have leftover money that isn't absolutely, positively needed for a specific expense every month, divvy it up between having fun and saving. But make sure it all has a purpose.
For example, this is my "buy a new jar" fund.
I said you should have savings, and that's a good idea, because you probably want a yacht or a flamingo. It's good, then, to have vague big-picture savings and clearer small-picture savings. Like, save in general for the sake of it, because who knows, maybe a trip to the moon will be affordable in 20 years. But save in specific if you really want that flamingo by next year. Don't just spend money because it's sitting around. If you put $100 in your savings, put $20 in the flamingo fund, just so it has that specific purpose.
If you don't have any goal or purpose to having money, you end up like me. Yeah, I have goals now, but I had to get kicked in the head a lot before my brain sorted itself out. One time in grad school, I had just gotten my latest student loan and used it to buy the books I needed, but of course I had extra money for things like food and not living in a dumpster. In my wisdom, I went out to a bar with my friends that night.
Now, this isn't necessarily bad. Like, as far as I've written it. It was bad for me, but it didn't have to be. That night, not only was I buying shots for all my friends; I actually recall (the night is very fuzzy in my memories -- warm and fuzzy) getting the shooter girl to sit with me and have shots. And I was tipping her for each shot. So she's getting paid to be at work, I'm paying to buy her drinks, and then tipping her to drink the drinks I paid for. And have no doubt, that girl loved me. For one evening, I was her best friend, and I was drunk enough to be convinced that I had suddenly become amazingly charming. Because she was hot. And sitting in my lap a lot. Because I gave her $400. In about two hours.
I could have gone to Safeway and bought enough bottles to open an actual bar in my living room.
I am dumb. I know that.
Your best bet for financial stability is to never do that. You can do that by knowing what your money is for. I can't stress that enough.
How significant are financial problems today? They're a major (if not the leading) cause of divorce. I found stats that kept contradicting one another, but all agreed that a hell of a lot of people, if not most, end up getting divorced not because of infidelity or foot fungus or lycanthropy, but because of financial problems. These things are often linked to a lack of communication; one partner doesn't talk to the other about what they need to save for or spend on, and they get nervous even broaching the subject. And if you've ever been in a serious relationship where you need to do financial shit together, this is often the case. If you're coming up short, you can often feel like your partner is scolding you like a child, or you feel guilty for not being able to cover things on your own, and one or both of you get resentful. This ends up being compounded if one person makes significantly more than the other, and you start thinking of your partner as wasting "your" money, even if you agreed that it's everyone's money.
"You think we can afford PBR? We're Natty Ice people until this kid is 18."
Money problems destroy relationships first and individuals second, but they don't have to. Never let your fear get the best of you. And this is hard, because collections people -- the ones who want all that money you can't pay -- are just ruthless shits. It's their job to threaten, cajole, strong-arm, and browbeat you into paying your debt. They don't give a shit if you can't work because raccoons ate your foot. Get a job as a pogo stick.
Yes, you still owe the money. And yes, the people you owe it to both want it now and have no interest in being your friend. But that doesn't mean things have to get ugly. Remember: Americans owe $90 billion, and that's just in credit card debt. The people you owe are used to being owed. They're going to be able to handle waiting for you to pay them back. They'll probably work out a deal with you as well, because in the face of that much debt, anyone willing to pay anything is kind of awesome. They won't tell you you're awesome -- they're stuck in their habit of being intimidating assholes -- but you are. They like people like you, and they need them. Without you, their lives are much harder. I mean, you could have paid your debt right off and avoided this altogether. But what are we, genies? We're working with what we have here.
Besides, genies don't have to pay rent.
When you try to work out a deal, they're going to want more than you want to pay, and that's where you're going to start panicking again. You might be able to spare $100 a month, and they might want $400 a week. So you negotiate, and if that fails (because these dudes can be obstinate), do yourself a favor and find a local nonprofit debt counselor. They can and will help mediate on your behalf, often getting you a much lower rate than you could on your own. That's good stuff. And maybe it will be more than that $100 a month, but you're going to have to make concessions.
"They've requested that we shut down your Amazon Prime account
until it's clear that you can control your drunken self."
When you panic, you turn to things like avoidance. Do you know what avoidance gets you? When you just put your fingers in your ears and refuse to acknowledge that you have debt? You get to be me. You don't want that.
Keep Track Of Your Money
It wasn't exactly like that for me; I didn't straight-up pretend that I had no debt. But I did some debt consolidation way back when, and got some amnesty on paying for a time, due to my financial situation. That was awesome. And as dumb as it sounds, as time went by, I actually forgot about my debt. I paid off credit card debts and other stuff that had happened more recently, and because the student debt was further in the past and had been back burnered, it wasn't a pressing issue. I literally forgot about it.
Every so often, I'd see a commercial about paying student loans, and I'd think, "Crap, I need to look into that." And then maybe the next commercial was for Taco Bell, and then I'd think, "Crap, I need a chalupa," and the loans were forgotten once more. And the sons of bitches literally never sent me any letters about it. I feel that was a mild failing on their part. Yes, I owe the money, and it's like 99 percent my responsibility, but come on. Give me a nudge. Clearly, I was irresponsible.
"As a courtesy, we now ask each customer if they remembered to pay their crippling loans."
You need to know what you owe, and to whom. Sounds entirely reasonable, but again, $90 billion. This is a huge issue for a lot of people. If this means literally writing it on a piece of paper and putting it on the fridge, then do it. Never let feeling silly be the reason you ruin your own life.
I genuinely don't want anyone falling into the same hole I did. And if you're between 18 and 23 or so right now, you're probably just not equipped to know how much damage it can do in the future. Some of you are. Some of you are smarter than I'll ever be. And that's good, but so many people stumble into these patterns of bad choices, bad spending, credit on top of credit, that it's devastating. The sooner you can look at money like a tool, like a finite resource you need to plot out and use with a strategy, the better. Lots of people do it. We should all be so wise and follow their example.
No. I said to use money as a tool, not to be a tool who uses money.
As for me, I'm absolutely in a bind. When I first started this campaign, I thought I'd just tell people I'm an affable goof. "I fucked up my loan repayment. I'm dumb. Please help me." But as a friend pointed out, if pride is an issue, then why am I asking for help at all? So to be completely honest, it's not just that I'm a financial disaster; it's that I am unable to manage all I took on. Years ago, my dad was in an accident at work. An elevator that carries supplies between floors at his workplace broke and fell, crushing his leg and almost taking his foot off. He was never able to work after that. Eventually my parents lost their house, and they now live in a co-op apartment, which is where the rent is reduced a bit with the agreement that the tenants do some simple property upkeep to offset that. My dad gardens.
For a while, I helped as much as I could, and my mom kept working. Unfortunately, she's too sick to work now, and was very recently diagnosed with multiple forms of cancer. And I'm just spread too thin. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll see me talking about new writing projects all the time. I write screenplays, I'm working on a novel, I do my work here, and I have a full-time job. But it's not enough. I can't do it, and it kills me to say it. I don't enjoy failure, and I enjoy admitting it even less. But again, if pride is an issue, why am I asking for help at all? Suck it up and just accept it. If I could have kept these loans at bay just a little longer, then who knows? Is my big break right around the corner? Am I the next big thing in screenwriting? As a novelist? I wish I knew. You have no idea how much I wish I knew. But I ran out of time, and it doesn't matter now. But like I said, I'm a comedy writer. I want to write or comedy my way out of this jam. My plan? Custom hilarity, just for you. If you donate even a single dollar to help me, I'll write you a 100-word short story. Check out the campaign, and see an example featuring Cracked's own Adam Tod Brown!
$10 will get you a custom 500-word story by me. You pick the genre!
$20 doubles up and I'll do a 1,000-word story. Your choice of genre!
$25 will get you an honest-to-goodness doodle made by me, with an accompanying backstory. Just look at this thing!
Is that drawn in mustard and ketchup? IT IS!
For $30, you get the super-coveted memento pack. What's in it? Two randomly chosen mementos from my life, and a story about how they made me the man I am today that may or may not be true. What sorts of mementos might they be? Look here!
Lube, anime, and a toothbrush chewed by a dog? Among other things?!?
For $50, not only will I write a 2,000-word story, but I'll also print it, sign it, and mail it to you. To your house!
For $75, you get the Felix Clay Surprise Pack. I can't tell you what's in it, or else the word "surprise" would be pointless. Suffice it to say that it's a magnificent risk that is guaranteed to be awesome.
$100 will get you your very own Cracked-style article on a topic of your choosing (so long as I don't find the topic too insane, awful, or obtuse). I may research it poorly, but I'll still write it, and it'll be one of a kind and all yours.
After $100 is when things get salty. $250 gets you that Cracked-style article, printed up pretty, all display quality and signed by me for your enjoyment.
$1,000 may be an insane amount of money, but I offer an insane perk. Your name will be tattooed on me. Literally. A fully real, permanent, rest-of-my-natural-life tattoo on my flesh.
$5,000 is way over the top, so I have to up the ante. See those Tyrannocopters in my column header? You get to be tattooed, as a Tyrannocopter pilot, right on my flesh. Again, this is 100 percent real, no-joke stuff. I know a guy who will give me a deal on these tattoos because he thinks it's funny.
And the big one, the most insane thing of all: If someone can pony up $20,000, I will get their portrait tattooed on my back. Like a giant, full-back tattoo. The whole thing will be recorded and photographed as proof that it's real. I'm not playing here.
Whatever happens, I'm still writing comedy, and still appreciating the people willing to help me beyond words. I do what I do because I love it. I like making people laugh, and maybe being a bright spot in your day. That's not changing any time soon.
Debt collectors will hound you wherever you go. Heck, they'll attack you on social media. See what else they'll do in 5 Disturbing New Ways Debt Collectors Are Getting Your Money. And for more reasons why when it rains, YOU are poor (see what we did there?) check out 4 Legal Loopholes That Screw You When You're Poor.
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