This little ostrich pretty well sums up how we feel from time to time. Too much to do every day, not enough time to do it. More bills than money, no time to enjoy what we pay for.
I am lucky. I don’t have to work full-time at the present. When I was working full-time – for a year and a bit over a half – I was so stressed I couldn’t enjoy a minute, let alone a day. It didn’t help that the job was horrid. It involved listening to people scream at me for 8 hours a day.
My life at home was stressful too. My husband became seriously ill a couple of months after I started the job. If we hadn’t needed the money I would have quit. I couldn’t take time off to be with him or get him to the doctor as often as he needed to go. I had no time during the week to do anything. I would come home, throw something together for supper, sit down for a couple of hours and be in bed by 8. I was so tired.
Luckily that job got shut of me. And I it. I had some time to relax and cook and do those things I do. And I recognized the difference.
I started thinking more about what I was willing to give up for money. My husband’s health and comfort? My positive outlook on life? The desire and interest in fixing a meal? Creating something, anything? The peace of being around people who support you? All of these things had been absent in my life for a long time. What was not absent was money.
Money is the primary karmic lesson of my life. To distill money down, it is actually the security having excess money provides or not having it is really the karmic lesson. How to live happily whether it is there or not.
One of the stories in Vasishta‘s Yoga concerns Bushunda. Bushunda is a crow that lives at the top of a tree. He explains what life is like to a questioner. Bushunda says that since Shiva put him in that tree, he survives no matter what happens. He is always there. He asked why he should treat abundance or poverty differently as they are both the same, much as one wing or the other is the same. Nothing swayed him and nothing knocked him out of his tree. His tree was his home and he was always there.
I started thinking about our culture and why so many Americans are stressed. We are natural go-getters, a fact that seriously upsets people from other cultures. They haven’t lived here, so they don’t know. If they immigrate and try to attain the level of material comfort they think is the norm in America, they get the idea that it may not be as easy as it looks. We never stop. We don’t flow with our lives. We grab the bull by the horns and make things happen.
Making things happen is what puts too much on your plate. What are you chasing? My answer to that is security, money, wealth. We think if we have these states then we will be happy and then we can relax. The problem is once you figure you have enough money to relax, something will come along for which you need more. Unless you win the Powerball and manage to hold onto most of it, there will always be just a teensy lack of money. Something you think you need that you can’t get because you just don’t have enough.
Back in 1992 we bought a home in a suburb of Detroit. By 1998 the value of that home had doubled. Whoot! This meant we had money. True, we had to refinance to get it, but the interest rate was lower and it seemed a great idea. Everyone was refinancing then. We all had serious equity in our homes and a serious need to spend what we had. If you needed a new roof – no problem – the money was there. If you needed a new car – no problem – the money was there. If you wanted to leave the country and buy a house somewhere else – no problem – the money was there.
Well we all know that didn’t last. It did, up until 2007 when all hell broke loose in the housing industry. People had been buying houses with little or no down thinking that in five years they could refinance and the house would have doubled in value. This would leave them with a small mortgage payment and excess cash. The only problem was that the value of the homes no longer doubled. There wasn’t any equity. They had been paying a low-interest – sub-prime – and their new payment was going to sky-rocket out of all scope.
So the shit, as they say, hit the fan. Homes were put into foreclosure. The markets that had invested in mortgages given to people who couldn’t afford them collapsed. Banks, investment companies and mortgage underwriters took a beating. Nobody was building homes so the construction industry died.
The powers that be got up in arms and decided it was the bad old mortgage brokers giving out loans that caused the problem. Whatever. So they regulated how a loan had to be approved. All of a sudden, those of us who did not buy a house we couldn’t afford, lost all the equity in our homes. Once the foreclosed properties were on the market, our homes were worthless. Nobody was buying anything.
This housing problem took down the American economy to a point that I have never seen. Sure, we had a recession in the 80s. I understand then that whole blocks of people in Detroit and the suburbs were out of work. We moved there in 1984 and it was just coming back. There was a bit of a recession again in the early 90s but we faired pretty well as a country and it wasn’t as painful as it could have been. Another recession hit in 2000. That brought in the tax cuts and the economy perked back up. Until 2007/2008 when we hit this recession – you know, the one we’re still in?
They, being the talking heads, say we’re in a recovery. It doesn’t feel like a recovery out here. It feels like a recession. I work for a retail Maine outfitter and people don’t buy as much as they did 10 years ago. People consider their purchases more. Do we really need that? It makes selling stuff hard. And considering that our economy is 70% based on consumer spending, our economy is not recovering the way it should have by now.
Many people are out of work. Some of these, in my age group, will probably not work again. Finding a job at all is difficult, when you are 60+ it is almost impossible. Most companies won’t hire you thinking that you will retire in a couple of years and they will have spent money training you. Kids coming out of college, trained in only doing homework and schmoozing with their buds, they have a rough time finding something that will actually pay them enough so they can pay off student loans. A lot of kids are foregoing college because the cost is so high and the proof that there is any point to the education is slim.
The feeling I get from all of this is stagnation. I see our country sitting in a swamp. We’re stuck. We have a huge government that requires regular influxes of money to pay the interest on its debt, not to mention to continue paying its bills. We keep borrowing more money, or worse, printing it. Folks lucky enough to have a job wonder if they’ll ever be able to retire from it. All of those great commercials about retiring and living on your yacht are gone. No one, or only the very wealthy, can retire now and live off their 401K in luxury. It may all be taken away at any moment. That would be enough for me to put it all into cash and keep it under my bed – if I had it.
I too thought that our home would appreciate in value when we bought it 6 years ago. For a time, the value of this house was far below our mortgage – and this even though we put 20% down on it. I have often looked back at homes we’ve owned and calculated how wonderful it would have been if we stayed there – anywhere – because then the house would be paid off and we’d be facing retirement with no mortgage. This didn’t happen.
I see reverse mortgage commercials on TV all the time. I think this is the next housing crisis. Older Americans borrowing 40% or more of their equity to pay for Things. Things with a capital T. What’s going to happen when the house has to be sold and the value isn’t there and there’s nothing left? What will happen? In order to keep the reverse mortgage, one or both of you has to live in the home. What happens when you need to move to assisted living or a nursing home? If there’s nothing left you go on Medicaid and if there is something left – it’s going to the nursing home. Quickly.
I got my first “this is not a bill” from my husband’s nursing home. For a month and a couple of weeks the charges amount to $10,272.00. Yes. That’s ten thousand two hundred and seventy-two dollars. The room he shares costs $279 per day.
The irony is that for 3 years, I took care of him at home. While he was at home I received absolutely no support or assistance in his care. I did everything single-handed. I couldn’t work so I have no health insurance except a really bad major medical that is through his UAW retirement. They don’t pay much because he’s on Medicare and I’m not. I spent 3 years struggling to make the mortgage, the heating bill, the car payment, the utilities and food. It was a struggle of epic proportions. And it still is. There is now some light at the end of the tunnel. I hope.
I say to myself – wow. The state is going to pay for his care under Medicaid. At least that’s what has been intimated to me. I know they won’t pay the full amount, but enough of it to compensate the nursing home. The figure I have is what private payers would have to pay out of their own savings. So why is it, exactly, that we, as a huge country, can’t figure out how to help caregivers in the home which would save the states and the federal government so much money?
I looked at that bill yesterday and I thought “Yup, what I did is worth $10K a month.” I couldn’t even get help with the heating bill from LIHEAP. No, we had too much income.
I didn’t qualify for a lot of things, like a loan from the state to fix up the house. That’s because, as I’m not working, the bills fell behind. So I don’t have a decent credit score anymore. And nobody will lend you money unless you don’t need it. And that my friends, is the definition of a depression.
And it continues. Being a go-getter all my life has not improved a thing. Sure, from time to time, I felt financially secure. For a bit. Until something else demanded I pay more for it than what I had. And until I had to put normal things on a credit card to make it through the month. And until the bills got larger than our income. And that’s when I stopped going and getting. All I had got was more bills and more stuff. Stuff that now has little or no meaning for me except stuff to move to clean. I’m trading stuff for experiences.. (Except my fabric stash.)
So if you’re feeling like go-getting has got up and gone – let it go. Instead of trading ease and relaxation and joy for money – trade money for joy. You’ll feel a lot better. And it won’t make a bit of difference whether you have a huge savings account, 401K or investments. It is all fleeting – and let it flee.