Trusting the wrong people, repeatedly...
It helps me to tell some of these stories about how I got here. Hopefully, it helps you too. If I can keep one person from going through what we went through, then that's a good thing.
One of the problems my wife and I have had over the years is assuming other people behave the way we do when they say things like "Let me help you." When we say, "Let me help you," we mean it. And we do it truly to help, not to benefit ourselves.
Facing bankruptcy, and laid off, we decided to do something we always wanted to do: move from gray, cold southeastern Michigan to sunny Tampa, Florida. We were losing our house no matter what, and I had no job. I could find a job and a new place to live in Michigan, or I could find a job and a new place to live in the Tampa Bay area. I chose the beach.
My sister-in-law owned a condo in St. Pete, 15 minutes from one of the country's best beaches. The condo next door was owned by an elderly man who lived up north. He hadn't been there in 2 years, and wasn't planning to be there for quite a while. She took care of it for him.
She said she had permission from him for us to move into the condo rent free for 6 months while I found a job and we found a permanent place to live. She called storage places and reserved a storage unit for our stuff, since the condo was furnished.
So off we went.
We got to St. Pete after a 20 hour drive to arrive at a trashed condo. She had let someone she knew live there and they moved out that day and left it a mess. We spent 6 hours cleaning it the day we arrived (after a 20 hour drive). That turned out to be the highlight of the experience! The A/C was broken (Florida in July!) so she went out and bought a window A/C unit. With that running, the condo averaged a comfortable 81 degrees.
Two days later, our stuff was ready to arrive. I called the storage place to find out that she had never reserved a spot. And they were sold out. We went into a storage place down the road from the condo and the lady there, while also sold out, called every place she could find until she found a spot for us. When she originally told us she was sold out, my wife broke down in tears. She had relocated her family from Ohio a few years earlier and she understood the stress. So we had a place to put our stuff, but at a monthly cost of double what we originally budgeted.
Then the fun started. Apparently, because she was helping us, she now owned us. She basically wanted us to clear every day's activities through her. She asked us where we were going, and when we'd be back. I became her next-door tech support for any computer problem at any time of day. My wife became her constant companion, going everywhere she wanted her to go. My kids were too loud. The window A/C was too loud. The dog barked too much. If we walked out the condo door, she'd be there wanting to know where we were going, and when we'd be back.
That 2 weeks felt like the longest three years of my life. We had to get out but we had no money. I had a severance, but I still hadn't started working. Also, my bankruptcy wasn't discharged yet, so landlords didn't want to rent to us for fear we'd include their lease in our bankruptcy after we signed. So the security deposit, extra rent required, etc. would leave us cleared out.
My mother in law offered to loan us the money to pay for the rent and security deposit. We agreed to payments, etc., and she sent us the money. We moved into a rental house shortly after, and started paying rent after 3 weeks, when we had planned on a 6 month period without rent.
We tried to to the right thing financially, but relied on the wrong person who offered to help. If only we had learned from that...
When we filed bankruptcy, we exempted our cars. We knew that with a bankruptcy, anything we could buy after that would have excessive payments so that we'd be paying the same amount for worse cars.
However, my wife's car lease still nagged at us. The payment was high, and it was still a lease, so we'd own nothing at the end. What we wanted was to put her lease into the bankruptcy and replace her car with a quality used car. My sister-in-law (yeah, the same one) had sold her condo and bought a cheaper place. She had a bunch of cash in the bank. She offered to loan us the cash to buy a decent car, that we knew we could pay off in about 8-9 months. We knew it wouldn't be pretty owing her again, but she wasn't right next door anymore, so we thought we could make it for a few months.
We allowed her car to go into the bankruptcy and found a fantastic used car. It was a 96, but it was immaculately cared for, and relatively low mileage for the age. We knew we could pay it off in about 8-9 months just by using what we had been paying on the lease.
We were ready to go! But what my SIL hadn't told us, is that between the time of the promise and the time we found the car, she had gone on a spending spree for her new place, and didn't have any money left. She couldn't loan us anything.
So now we needed a car, but would have to finance it. Great. Problem is, that when you are post bankruptcy, the bank rightfully decides that you are an irresponsible person. If they are going to loan you money for a car, they want to know they will have something worth while. So we had to buy a car that was less than 4 model years old, and had under 45,000 miles. Our new payment (at 18% interest) was now exactly $25 a month less than the lease we gave up.
In the meantime, my MIL loan went south. She had put the money she loaned us on a credit card, and we were making the card payments. We were going to pay extra on it when we got back on our feet. My wife had just gotten a new job after being a stay at home mom so we could try to get everything caught up.
For some reason, my MIL decided to pay off the card out of her savings. So she did. Then she called us and told us she needed the entire balance right away. We didn't have it, because we had agreed to a repayment schedule. She called me all sorts of things on the phone and hung up. We haven't spoken since. (It's been over a year)
So what did we learn?
Number 1 lesson: We dug the hole ourselves, we have to climb out ourselves! This time, we're doing it all on our own without relying on whatever anyone else might promise us.
Number 2 lesson: Murphy lives. Things will go wrong in spite of your best plans. Promises will be broken at the worst times.
Number 3 lesson: Unfortunately, not everyone does everything for the same reasons. We took offers as honest offers to help. But the real motivation for the offers came from this competition between my SIL and MIL over who could 'save us.' They were offering to help not because they wanted to, but to make the other look bad.
Number 4 lesson: While you can't pick your family, you can pick the type of relationship you have with them. And our Christmas budget is a lot smaller now.