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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Coming Clean

Sick in the Pit of my Stomach

I should be paying bills...but I'm not... because every time I look at a bill I get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not unlike the feeling you get when you learn someone you love is incredibly ill or the feeling I get when I watch the increasingly sad news from the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

Those of you who know us, know a bit about our circumstances. For others, I will come clean....(why I feel like our situation is akin to a dirty little secret that I need to "come clean" on is the topic for another blog post, another day..)

One of "THEM" (squared!)

So here it is....We are one of "THEM" and actually, in more than one category... Not only are we one of the "long term unemployed" who Republicans consider slackers and not deserving of extended unemployment benefits (even though unemployment rates are at the highest levels since the "Great Depression") but we are also a family with a disabled son who needs health care in a society where his medical history and disability actually disqualify him for health care. But for the grace of God and President Obama's Democrats who passed much needed Health Care Reform our son is now eligible to stay on our COBRA policy even with his age and non-student status. While this sounds like we have been saved, understand this--Our COBRA premiums currently cost us over $1000 per month. This cost includes the Federal subsidy that will run out soon thereby increasing our COBRA premium to over $1500 per month. My husband is still unemployed and received notification today that his unemployment benefits have run out. (this hits especially hard on the heels of Congressional Republicans refusing to pass legislation last week extending unemployment benefits to millions of families like us).

The American Dream=Reversal of Fortune
While we consider ourselves better off financially than many other families struggling with similar issues, it does not feel great when you sit down to pay bills and know that each penny you spend comes out of your life's savings. The same savings you worked so hard for, for so many years. The same savings that was to be your retirement, your nest egg, your college funds and a million other dreams you worked towards. The American dream---work hard, take care of your family, give back to your community, care for others who are less fortunate, and in the end, take a deep breath and enjoy your twilight years reflecting on the good life you have lived, the child(ren) you have raised. Spoil the grand kids and enjoy the spoils of your labor. Each time I sit down to pay bills I see that dream slipping further and further away.
In the past 15 months, we have watched our "cash" assets drop over $40,000. Medical co-payments and prescription medications account for over $13,000 of that figure (and that was BEFORE we added in monthly COBRA premiums of $1000 a month). And don't forget...we are insured...for now. But bills come monthly, mortgage, utilities etc. and although we continue to be unemployed...there is no more unemployment.

The "Fortunate Unfortunates"
Yet, even with these numbers, we are some of the "fortunate unfortunates"(i.e. we had $40,000 in the bank to pay these expenses). For we made choices along the way that have served us well up until this point. We chose not to buy the McMansion and mortgage our lives to the hilt. Instead, we stayed in our modest home and remodeled. (And yes, part of that remodel was my dream kitchen). As a result the value of our house is currently between 3 to 4 times the outstanding mortgage....even with the downturn in real estate. That is so much better than most that we feel blessed....
We also made the choice to aggressively save as opposed to aggressively spend (which seems to have been a huge pitfall of many six figure income families in the suburbs). Therefore, we did have the recommended six month's income (and more) in liquid assets. This has served us well...at least up until this point. So now it is up to us...on our shoulders alone. But our shoulders are broad, and we are strong, resolute and resilient. We possess some of the traits and work ethics of our forefathers who founded this country. So now we are at a cross roads... While watching our life savings dwindle we have been forced, by virtue of extended unemployment and health concerns, to re-evaluate our lives and we have "come up wanting."

How Do You Plan for Your Future When You "Come Up Wanting"?

"Sometimes the universe provides you an opportunity to make a change you would not make otherwise"...so we are taking this opportunity to make some changes.

Our wants:
-A better climate to assist all three of us with various pain levels due to disability, joint replacements, arthritis, etc.
-Medical providers trained for the specific care of Marfan syndrome patients.
-Affordable housing (by comparison to the Chicago suburbs...not too difficult).
-Commuting distance to good University system should Cory recover enough to return to his pursuit of higher education.
-An economy with potential for growth with the advent of a national economic turnaround.

Sounds like we "want" a lot doesn't it? Well, we have been researching for a number of months now and are ready to move forward with this "contingency"plan. (Contingency = "what will we do if Brad does not find a job?"). While surgery is pending for Cory (July 14th), shortly thereafter we are taking a "look see" trip to the inland valley area within commuting distance of Standford, Ca. We are in the process of cleaning out our house and will have it ready to list by mid-July. Our hope is to NOT spend another winter in Chicago....not purely due to weather considerations...but in an effort to preserve as much of our remaining "nest egg" as possible which will allow us to have more options wherever we land.

Pay attention President Obama, Democrats and GOP

So here is our plan. Preserve our remaining savings, sell our house, move to a smaller community with more affordable housing. Invest in a small business, provide local jobs in our new community with benefits that will include affordable health care for employees.

As I said before our shoulders are broad, and we are strong, resolute and resilient. We accept the challenge of making the changes necessary and embrace the opportunity to follow this new path with optimism, faith and a bit of trepidation.

But we cannot do it completely alone. We need to know that if we are willing to turn our lives around 180 degrees, sell everything we have, and invest in our future (thereby investing in the future of our country) that when we get there, we will have affordable Health Care....for us, and for others. That's all we need. The rest we will do ourselves. The good old fashioned way-- like our fore-fathers, with initiative and hard work ...God willing and the creek don't rise.

Please leave me a comment. Let me know if you would like to hear more as our plan progresses.

7 comments:

Michael Hoffman said...

Wow, a bold idea for unusual times. We are with you in spirit.

Advocacy for Patients said...

What an inspiration you are! Thanks for all you do. Jennifer

Lisa Mack said...

I would love to hear how things are going. Do you think you'll turn this into a book in the future? (Can I suggest a blog and a #hashtag on twitter?) My husband and I are in a similar position and continue to look for a business that we can maintain even with our disabilities. My brothers-in-law started a family trucking business before the recession and found out the money is in brokering shipments instead of driving. My sister-in-law took the broker's course and is now licensed for the next phase of the business. A broker finds shipments and pair them up with the truckers to pick up and drop off the merchandise. For example: a 200lb order is worth about $1150.00 and the driver gets paid $80.00. This is just a suggestion. I wish and will pray that your family succeeds in whatever yall choose. Good Luck! Even though there are some people who think the unemployed and the disabled are content to sit back, just hold our hands out and don't want to work, I know there are many others who feel the way we do and are doing more than they are really capable of doing. We don't want to be in our situations and we keep trying to make it better.

stephanie parkinson said...

Hey Lisa Mack---thanks for the comment--can you send me contact info for you. I would like to talk to you more about your situation too.
BTW Irony--I used to arrange trucking for acompany in Denver---many moons ago---woorked with brokers, independants and client trucks as well. Please contact me @ stefpark@aol.com

stephanie parkinson said...

Thanks Michael,

We are either bold and brave (as our fore-farthers were) or nuts....I guess we'll find out soon enough...

stephanie parkinson said...

Hi Jennifer,
Whenever I feel like I am stalling and starting to get discouraged, I look at you and all that you do and my inspiration is renewed....

Rosalind Joffe said...

Hi Stephanie-I had no idea about your story and although I felt raw grief as I read it, I also wanted to stand up and cheer. Your attitude and your hope is still strong and it keeps you going. Thank you for sharing and please continue to do so.