Thursday, May 17, 2012

Stop the World, I wanna get Off!

Get your mind out of the gutter, I don't mean anything at all sexual by that title!  There now, isn't that better?  I thought it would be.  Anyway, on to tonight's mad musings.  This is a long one, because I have a lot to get out of my head and written down - so if you're short on time, or simply don't like relatively long reads, I suggest either skipping this one, or reading it when you have ample time to digest all of it's contents and ramifications.

I am, without a doubt, one of the world's Worst money managers.  Almost singularly amongst my friends, I can't manage money to save my soul, much less save a few pennies here and there.  If you were to look at my finances over the past 20 years, you would scratch your head and start asking if I took my financial management training at the hands of the big banks that got government bailouts earlier this year.  Yes, it's That kind of bad.  Sadly, since I'm strictly small time rather than a mega corporation whose funds got "mismanaged" into the CEO's pocket, I don't qualify for government bailouts springing from taxpayers' wallets.

Oh no, I have to try and bail Myself out of the hole that never seems to get any shallower.

And therein lies the problem.

In some respects, I'm at a distinct disadvantage (to myself, at least) when it comes to sucking up, pulling myself up by the bootstraps, and gettin' it done.  I spent all of my childhood and teen years relying on my parents, and rarely being denied what I wanted - and Never being denied what I Needed.  In my early adulthood, I prided myself on not accepting any more help from my parents than was absolutely necessary in order to assure that my children had what They needed, even if I had to frequently deny them what they Wanted in order to see to the first part.  I did remarkably well during De's early childhood and teens, when the entirety of my household budget was approximately $500 a month, from her SSI.   Only looking back, I've come to the realization that I never really worried about it, on the occasions when I would indulge myself rather than being strictly responsible - because mom and dad were always there, and always willing to pick up the pieces for me or be my bailout when push came to shove.  Always, in the back part of my brain, I was aware of the fact that I "could" fail - almost with impunity - because my folks would always be there to make up the difference, help me out, and see to it that Somehow both ends met in the middle even when they shouldn't have.  I took it for granted.  It was simply a fact of life.  For all my pride in not Asking for help, I always knew that I 'could' if I needed to. And for all my pride in not asking for it, and not Expecting it - I still relied on it always Being There and Being Available if I DID happen to seriously need it.

That was then.

Now things are a damn sight different than they were while I was growing up, and while I was raising Deirdra, my oldest (now 25 year old) daughter.  Mom has been dead for 10 years, and her ashes occupy a space in one of the curio cabinets, waiting for dad's to join them.  My maternal grandfather - another source of "it will always be there" help, and not-so-subtle financial bolstering through the years - has been dead and buried for 15 years now, since 1997.  Dad has been in a nursing home for the majority of the past 6 years due to stroke, his parents are both deceased and my maternal grandmother (The Bat) is still pissed off at me that I didn't turn all the money over to her when I sold my old house back in December of 2004. 

I don't have my backup systems any longer - but somewhere deep in my subconscious, they are still there, and if I just close my eyes and think hard enough, one of them will step out of the shadows and suddenly everything will be OK again.  The bailout will be there, things will return to "normal," and it will suddenly be off my back to make an earnest attempt at being both responsible and self reliant.

This is especially true when it comes to daddy.  Even after all these years, and all the headaches, kvetching, griping, and bitchy snarling I've done concerning dad "dumping" everything in my lap when he had his stroke, there is a portion of me that still clings to the belief that if I just wait and have enough faith, he'll suddenly recover and everything will go back to the way it was prior to his strokes.  Consciously, I know this is simply not the case, and is never going to happen.  During my more rational, less emotionally charged moments, I tell myself repeatedly that it isn't going to happen, and that I have Got to make some changes in the way I do certain things to account for this FACT in my life, regardless of how distasteful it is to me.  In some of my Less rational, more emotional moments, I mentally rail at the old man, cursing him for not being here NOW - when I "most" need him to pick up the pieces for me like he always did.  And then I'll spend a few minutes cursing him for picking up the pieces so often in the past, and feeding that subconscious sense of dependence on his help.  And then I'll waffle back and forth for a while between blaming him and mom for all my shortcomings, faults, and flaws ("Why did you let me get away with this? Why didn't you train me better?  Hell, Why Didn't You Beat The Stupid Out Of Me?") to feeling guilty for having even mentally blamed them for a few minutes, to reminding myself that I need to simply suck it up and make the changes that need to be made rather than whining about them.

What all of that brings me to is the present, and my current situation and the thought processes that have been taking place in the past few weeks.  Finances aren't great at the moment, and it's all wrapped up in a combination of things - some of which I could have controlled (at least to an extent) and some of which I couldn't have regardless of whether I had attempted to do so or not.

When my grandfather died in '97, my grandmother couldn't bear living in their home any longer, and it subsequently became mine.  I learned a few things during that period - one of the main things being that while I make a good tenant, I don't make a particularly good home owner.  I don't like dealing with the maintenance issues that come with owning a home - I would much rather leave those to someone else to contend with, especially on a financial level.  Owning a house isn't cheap by any stretch of the imagination, even when it's a paid off inherited house.  Anything and everything that goes wrong has to be dealt with - by you - out of pocket. 

It hasn't gotten any easier in the intervening 7 years since I sold that house - in fact, the prices of replacing worn out or broken necessities (like hot water tanks and roofs) has gotten significantly higher.  Property taxes have increased every year, insurance costs have increased disproportionately, the city has gotten a lot more hassle prone on lawn maintenance issues, and I've gotten no younger or healthier or more prone to dealing with things like mowing when being out in the sunlight for long periods of time makes me ill for several days afterward.

When dad had his stroke, the paperwork was already in place making me his Power of Attorney, his Health Proxy, and the successor Trustee for the family Trust which he and mom had set up just prior to her death.  What that meant on a Practical level is that everything got dumped squarely in my lap, bypassing my older but significantly less capable brother.  That paperwork put me in charge of dealing with Everything - doctors, insurance issues, dad's former employer, all financial matters (remember me saying at the beginning of this just how Bad I am as a financial manager??) managing all his property, seeing to his care, and making all the decisions whether I wanted them or not for the duration of dad's life, however long that happens to be.

What it meant in real world terms is that I suddenly found myself inheriting another house which I was ill-prepared but obligated to attempt to maintain and preferably improve; a lot of headaches dealing with insurance companies about his long term care insurance; dealing with doctors concerning the best course of care to sustain not only dad's length of life but the quality thereof, while abiding by his written wishes in certain particulars, and dealing with attempting to keep my now out of control older sibling half way under control. 

The last of those proved to be an impossibility.  I'm going to leave it at that.

The insurance issues and doctors didn't ever really resolve themselves.  The insurance got cut off when that critical paperwork got purposely "mislaid" by my brother.  The doctors are still dealing with daddy, via the nursing home, and will continue to do so until he finally expires - I simply don't attempt to keep up with what they're doing any longer, other than to remind them every now and then that they aren't allowed to use certain methods or equipment even if that's all that will keep him alive. 

The finances were taken out of my hands by the state when I suffered a nervous breakdown due to the stress of all the rest of it, a couple of years ago.  While the PoA was reinstated once I was released by the psychiatrist, it was made plain to me that any attempt on my part to access any of dad's funds for any reason - even maintaining dad's property - would be met with hostility by the state and I could count on the probability of charges being brought against me for "attempted fraud" and "gross negligence" and "mismanagement."  That stress induced breakdown, and subsequent loss of ability to access any of dad's funds in order to maintain the rest of dad's assets, has come home to roost at last.

And then there's the issue of Property Taxes.  This is the government's way of telling you that even though you own your home, you don't Really own it, and they're going to charge you for the "privilege" of having a place to live that isn't huddled under a bridge somewhere.  That's right, not only do you get to pay for the house, and all it's maintenance, and it's lawn care, and everything in it - you get to pay the government for the privilege of living in the home that you bought and paid for, decorated, furnished, maintain, and take care of!  Oh yeah - and if you don't pay their legalized extortion for using what you already paid for, every year, they're going to steal it from you and sell it to someone else!  And you aren't allowed to do anything to stop them, other than paying whatever amount they deem is "required" in that legalized extortion.  And just like a loan shark backed by the Mob, you can count on the amount to go up disproportionately if you don't have their money when they say it's due.  Although unlike the Mob, they'll "only" steal it from you for not paying their extortion, rather than stealing it from you And breaking your legs.

When all the hoopla came about back in 2007 and 2008 between my brother and myself, one of the pieces of paperwork that he took to the habit of hiding was the bill from the county treasurer concerning the property taxes due on the house.  Which meant that the taxes didn't get paid that year.  In the intervening years, I was without any source of income for a large chunk of that time.  Which means they didn't get paid in 2009 either.  Or 2010, or 2011.  Have I mentioned that property taxes aren't cheap?  Even if they are cheaper here in Oklahoma than they are out on the east or west coasts - they still aren't cheap.  Have I mentioned that if that form of legal extortion isn't paid on time, the government hits you with disproportionately high penalties, to drive the amount even higher and less cheap?

2 months ago, I got a letter from the county treasurer, informing me that none of the property taxes have been paid on the property since 2008.  Along with a bill, in dad's name, for approximately $5000 to catch it all up from then to now.  And the notification, included in the letter/bill, that I had until June 11th to catch up at least $1100 of said bill - the portion of it covering 2008, and it's late fees and penalties - or the house would be sold at auction by the state to cover that tax bill.  I received this letter less than a month after finally getting my old electric bill paid off so that I finally had electricity in the house again after nearly 2 years.

I'm in a bit of a quandry concerning the whole thing. 

I'm not fond of moving.  I hate the packing up, and getting settled into a new place.  I detest having to go through all the accumulated "stuff" and deciding what to keep and what to throw away and what to simply give away to whoever will take it.  I had zero plans on ever moving again, unless it was after daddy finally died and I had sold this place and I was moving out of Oklahoma never to return.  I've lived in this house, off and on, for 38 out of 46 years of my life.  My childhood was spent here.  My teen years, with all their angst and anxiety, were spent here.  The formative years of my children's lives were spent either here, or at least with my parents still living here.  A large part of my memories of growing up, forming friendships, and learning about life are centered Here.  The house was to be a largish chunk of my inheritance, and my children's inheritance after me if I kept it after daddy died.

It is...... difficult, at best..... to let go of all that and move on. At the same time, I have to consider a few things on the practical side. 

I have failed - spectacularly and miserably - to save the necessary funds to get the bill paid during the 2 months since I received the notice.  My attempt to get a room  mate as a financial backup plan, while well intentioned, was also a singular failure - the would be room mate never paid her rent the first time it was due, and skipped out while I wasn't home when the rent came due a second time.  While my employer (Wal-Mart) has a grant fund for associates who have serious critical financial problems to contend with, they have very specific guidelines as to what that grant fund will and won't help with - and one of the things it specifically Won't help with is (you guessed it) any sort of tax related issue.  So that option is not open to me to solve this (Though it will be open to me to help me get deposits paid and get moved into a new place once the house has been sold out from under me. Go Figure!)  I can't simply go access dad's funds - they're being managed by an accounting firm put in place by the state Department of Human Services while I was out of things from the breakdown.  While I thought They were dealing with the taxes, they were apparently told that the taxes were My problem.  Either way, they aren't going to cough up the funds to keep the house from going on the auction block unless some sot of major miracle happens.  Also in the catagory of "major 11th hour miracle happening" would be myself or one of my closest friends winning some major cash via the lottery, and being able to pay it all off that way.  Or of course being informed within the next 5 to 6 days that dad has died, and the insurance will be settled in time for me to pay everything off that way.  The house is falling apart, and will require Thousands of dollars of investment to repair everything that needs repairing, just for it to be considered truly livable again rather than woefully substandard.  The roof alone is going to cost $5000; the plumbing issues are going to cost another $5k to $7k; leveling the foundation via jacking it up on one side will cost about $2500; rewiring to bring it up to code is another $10k; replacing the central heat/air unit is another $3500.  So I'm looking at about $22K worth of repairs needed on the place even if I managed not to get it taken by the state in the meantime.

My choices are not simple. 

Option 1: I can continue to fight to try and save the house.  It has a high likelihood of failure.  The currently due utility bills will have to be allowed to simply sit, probably getting those utilities turned off at least temporarily.  Since one of those is the electricity, and I fought for 15 months to even Have electricity, I'm not inclined to let it get shut back off now even for a few hours.  It also means not getting dog or cat food to keep the pets fed, and not getting any people food for myself - instead making due on what is currently in the kitchen and/or hitting the local food bank in order to keep myself fed.  Foodstamps aka SNAP is not an option for that, because according to the state, I make too much money per month to need any sort of assistance, and like the ACNT fund at work they won't help out when paying taxes is what causes the problem that you need help with.  It means continuing to live in a house without functional hot water for at least another 2 months, because to pay the bill, I can't spend the money that I would otherwise have in 1 paycheck to replace the tank.  It means continuing to have an only partially functioning kitchen due to plumbing issues, and can't do anything about the roof, the electrical issues, replacing the central AC.  It means having to go through this all over again Next spring in order to bring it one more year up to date , unless dad has died or I've miraculously won the lottery in the  meantime.

Option 2: I let the state take the house.  I start looking now for a cheap apartment somewhere in this area.  (Fortunately, there are several decent and reasonably priced apartment complexes within a 3 mile radius of here - it's simply finding one that I can afford without a room mate, because I'm DONE trying to deal with That sort of thing.) I find new homes for both Blue (my pup) and Sheva (the rottie that I've been "babysitting" for someone else who was supposedly looking for someplace of her own to live where there is room for a large breed dog.)  An apartment is way to small for me, 3 cats, and 2 dogs, especially when both dogs are large breeds that need a lot of room.  I start going through my stuff, packing up what I'm going to move with me, and throwing away what's broken, and sorting everything else into piles of "last minute garage sale" and "donate to goodwill."  I lose a large chunk of my inheritance, but also lose the stress that said inheritance has been inducing for several years now.  No more property tax worries.  No more lawn maintenance issues.  No more having to pay out of pocket to deal with other maintenance issues like plumbing or ac units going out or water heaters going on the fritz.  An immediate reduction in the number of utility bills I have to deal with - no water/sewer/garbage bill in an apartment, and no gas bill either - but replacing those with a bill at the first of each month for Rent which I haven't had to worry about since 1997 other than a 10 month span during 2005 while I was living out of state.  (That's right, other than that brief period 7 years ago, I haven't had to contend with keeping rent paid for the past 14 Years since my younger daughter was born - I'm not exactly still in the habit of worrying about it!)  It means living by a much stricter budget, but in the long run having a lot fewer sudden out of pocket expenses to contend with.

I need to make up my mind post haste, because June 10th (the last day I can effectively go pay the old tax bill) is rather rapidly approaching.  I think I've pretty much decided, but it's still painful to contemplate.  I've given up hoping for a miracle - they don't happen.

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