Well, here we are, folks… the last week before Christmas. I’m amazed by how quickly the year has flown by. I’ve probably helped a few retailers make their sales goals this year. Last night, our neighbor hosted an outdoor gathering in her driveway, passing out Gluhwein for people in our cul-de-sac. It was really fun, except Arran threw a fit because he’s become so averse to being separated from us, even if we’re just outside the house.
As we were enjoying hot mulled wine, I realized that I hate my five year old parka. I’d been toying with the idea of buying a new one, but the one I liked was very expensive. I bought my current parka from Eddie Bauer some years ago, when we still lived near Stuttgart, and I needed it more. I never bothered to replace it, because it doesn’t often get that cold up here. This past week has been an exception. So, after getting pretty cold last night, we said goodnight to our neighbors and went into our house, where I promptly ordered a new parka from Woolrich. Woolrich used to be an American company, but it got sold a few years ago. Now, most of its physical stores are in Europe, and the US only has a few. I found a coat that, for me, was very expensive, but wasn’t anywhere near the most expensive parka on the site.
I felt a slight twinge as I put in my order, as it wasn’t so long ago that we were climbing out of what seemed to be insurmountable debt. But then I realized that I currently have plenty of money to pay the credit card bill. In fact, even if I’d chosen the most expensive parka on the site, I’d have more than enough money to pay for it. And it’s time I got a new coat. Bill really needs one, too. Maybe after Christmas, he’ll pull the trigger. I think he’s been wearing his coat for about ten years.
We’re still feeling the effects of having once been “poor”. When Bill and I first got married, we had little money. He was recovering from divorcing Ex, and the horrifying financial situations that resulted from that marriage. I was just out of graduate school, for which I’d taken out federal student loans. We both also had credit card debt, and Bill had child support to pay. Thankfully, our cars were mostly paid for. Still, there were months when we had just a few dollars in the bank before payday. I remember when Bill used to freak out when we’d spend $100 at the grocery store. And now, he doesn’t bat an eye when I spend $900 on a new coat.
Bill and I have worked very hard and diligently to secure our finances. From 2007 until 2014, we gradually chipped away from our debts. Then we moved to Germany, lived in a relatively inexpensive house, and Bill started getting military retirement pay, along with a salary. We knocked out our debts as quickly as possible. When we moved to Germany, I still owed about $40,000 on my student loans (originally about $57,000 for all three degrees), in spite of paying more than the minimum for years. But for the four years we lived in Stuttgart, we kept throwing money at that debt until it was finally gone, nine years ahead of time. I was shocked we were able to do that. I certainly wasn’t expecting it when we moved here.
We both know that the future is uncertain, and even though we’re now in a good place, there could be “rainy days” ahead. So I squirrel away money every month, and make a concerted effort to pay off debt as soon as possible. It’s a GREAT feeling to no longer owe anyone… especially Nelnet, the student loan servicer that bought my loans just a few months before I finished paying them off.
Yesterday, it became very obvious, yet again, that I am very different from Ex. I have an eye toward the future. Ex, on the other hand, lives in the present. And while I’m not sure exactly what is going on with her right now, I strongly suspect that she’s about to be a “free agent” again. Why do I suspect this? First off, she’s been making comments about her marriage on Twitter. She’s tweeted a couple of quips to the actors on The Outlander on how their characters’ examples could “save” her marriage. Secondly, she approached Bill’s stepmother for financial help, asked her to give her items that she might want to “pass down”, and even suggested that she move in with her in New Hampshire. We know that Ex has “hosted” other seniors in her house– her late mother (whom she apparently despised) and #3’s mother have both lived with her. Bill’s stepmom owns a home and has retirement income. Ex would no doubt love to get her hands on that money/equity. And now, something new has come to light…
Yesterday, Bill heard from his younger daughter, who told him that older daughter has now enrolled in graduate school. Older daughter is 31 years old and still lives with Ex. She doesn’t have a job, but spends her time taking care of her severely autistic younger brother. Ex doesn’t have a job, either, and in a recent crowdfunding plea, mentioned that she lives in a “one paycheck” household. It’s no doubt earned by #3, who gets paid by the hour.
Now… I happen to know that student loans can be a temporary lifesaver in terms of living expenses. When I was a graduate student, I got federal loans. I was also a graduate assistant for all but one semester of my time in school. Being a G.A. drastically knocked my tuition costs down, which allowed me to pay rent and other bills with my loans. I also had a part time job, and got paid a very small stipend for being a G.A. It was a Godsend to have that assistantship. If I hadn’t had it, I don’t know how I would have survived, since I was an out of state student. I probably would have had to become a South Carolina resident. I also would have needed private loans.
Older daughter went to a private college for her bachelor’s degree. Younger daughter has told us that both she and older daughter went to college, and Ex would siphon the extra money from their student loans into the household… and her many impulses to buy junk on the Internet, food that would rot in the fridge, or anything else that struck her fancy and might “fill the void”. Younger daughter eventually dropped out of college and paid back her loans. Older daughter, on the other hand, seems to be following her mother’s lead.
The program older daughter is pursuing actually sounds very interesting. I don’t know how employable she’ll be at the end of it, or even if she intends to find employment. Ex supposedly got a graduate degree, but she doesn’t use it. She has claimed that her loans have been “paid off”. My guess is that she used money from her children’s loans to take care of that debt, if, in fact, she’s being truthful about paying off her loans. We also happen to know that Ex doesn’t have a great record of paying off debts. She has declared bankruptcy more than once.
Last night, Bill looked up the program older daughter is studying. We don’t know which school she’s attending, but the one closest to where she lives is at a private university, takes about three years to complete, and costs about $75,000 (total, not per year). But it does offer a “low residency” option, which means she can do a lot of it online, which will suit Ex just fine. Ex doesn’t care if older daughter actually finishes the degree, after all. She just wants the influx of loan money to keep her going. And she definitely needs older daughter around to take care of Ex’s son… and do the housework. Younger daughter has said that her older sister struggles in school. She has dyslexia, doesn’t drive much, and has other challenges that make school difficult for her. So there’s a good chance that this stab at higher education may do nothing more than plunge her further into debt.
Now… none of this is any of my business. And, for all I know, this could turn out to be a great thing for older daughter. Maybe she’ll meet someone special in school… either a love interest, or a mentor who can help her escape Ex’s clutches. Maybe she’ll succeed beyond her wildest dreams. She legitimately is a very talented artist, and this graduate program would use those talents. But… I have my doubts about this plan, and since I’m not LDS, I don’t subscribe to the “doubt your doubts” mindset. Common sense is telling me that this graduate school plan is likely going to explode in their faces. Or, it will not be so good for older daughter, anyway… since the loans it will take to pay for school will be in her name, not Ex’s. Student loans, by and large, can’t be discharged in a bankruptcy.
I was fortunate in that all of my loans were Stafford or Perkins. When I got out of school in 2002, I took advantage of a very low fixed interest rate of about 3% and consolidated all of my loans at that rate. I see that currently, Stafford loans for graduate students is at 6.54%. I’m pretty sure older daughter still has loans to repay, although COVID has stalled payments and Joe Biden has been trying to give students a break. She wouldn’t have to pay on any government loans when she’s in school, although I have no idea if she took out any private loans to fund her undergrad education. I know from personal experience that even with a low interest rate, paying back big loans is onerous. And even if she just gets government loans, it’s going to be hard to retire that debt.
Now that I think about it… I kind of wonder if Ex has taken out life insurance on anyone in her sphere… Seriously, I wouldn’t put it past her. Well, it’s not my problem. But it’s sure sad to observe. I hope it works out for older daughter. And I wish Ex would get the karma she so richly deserves.