Here’s part 2 of Susan’s journey to regain her sanity and credit after she finds out that her fiance racked up thousands in credit card debt – in her name. I have some questions for Susan in quotes but maybe readers can share some insights as well.
I couldn’t believe it; I had become a deplorable statistic. I was now “one of those” inferior, inadequate people who made the pathetic resolution to gulp… declare bankruptcy.
Why weren’t you able to tell the credit card companies that you were a victim of identity theft since he used the cards and obtained the credit without your permission or knowledge?
The day of my hearing, diamond studs adorned my ears and a Raymond Weil watch garnished my bony wrist. (By this time, I was short one very expensive rock.) My petite one-hundred- and-two pound, five-foot frame donned a jet-black, freshly-pressed Ann Taylor pant suit; three-inch Calvin Klein patent leather heels; and Burberry Nova Check satchel, the designer labels and gleaming jewels a feeble attempt to disguise my humiliation and crumbling sanity.
Contrary to my fashionable look-at-me ensemble, I wanted nothing more than to be invisible. Since their arrival, I had prayed that those statements would somehow dissipate and now wished the same fate on myself.
My body language spoke for itself; arms crossed, eyes downcast, lips pursed, posture slumped. My attorney strained to hear me as I spoke in clipped, hushed tones.
While waiting my turn, I eavesdropped on others’ unfortunate situations. An AIDS patient was too ill to work and had dwindled through her life savings. A divorced father grappled with hefty child support and alimony payments and feared losing visitation rights. Another solemn-looking individual lost all of his possessions in a fire, literally escaping with just the shirt on his back.
Despite my decimated status, I established an odd comfort listening to these bleak circumstances. These people weren’t low-lifes who mooched the system because they were too lazy to earn a living. They weren’t delinquents or freeloaders or bums who slept until 4:00pm, too intoxicated to keep a job.
None of us asked to be there, or “deserved” the hand we had been dealt, but we had been given a clean slate. (Literally. My account had been expunged with the exception of a thousand dollars that I was permitted to amass.) I had my health, and the love and support of family and friends who were simply grateful that I never walked down the aisle.
I surprised myself with a hefty dose of motivation and enthusiasm in the plan to resurrect my psyche. I landed a job that paid me more than any other position ever had, and although I could have treated myself to an occasional splurge, I opted to deposit almost every dollar that wasn’t geared towards the basics – rent, utilities, pet care, groceries and transportation –into an automatic online transfer. A few thousand dollars transitioned from direct deposit into savings every month.
Hoarding money became a hobby, a goal, an obsession – an addiction of my own. Despite living in the country’s most expensive city, I saved and sacrificed out of necessity and penance. I couldn’t afford – and felt I didn’t deserve – luxuries and extravagance. I slithered past Barnes & Noble and instead applied for a library card. I manicured my own nails. Outdoor runs replaced a gym membership. Coupons were cut. Cereal was consumed at 8:00am and again at 8:00pm. My cable package was downgraded, only keeping
HBO to sustain my fill of “Entourage”. With the ‘B’ word stamped on my credit report, I paid cash for everything and even followed the rule of writing down every penny I spent.
I still have the ‘B’ word stamped on my credit report (and will for the next few years) and learned lessons about trust the hard way, but am proud to say that although I am by no means
wealthy, I am smarter about money (and relationships!) now than I have ever been. In an odd twist, I eventually had to learn to let go of money – to spend it, enjoy it and stop punishing myself. But despite this back-and-forth tug-of-war with my personal finances, I know one thing for sure – my thrifty lifestyle repaired my bank account, my heart and perhaps most important, my self-esteem.
Originally published on Oct 6, 2010. Updated August 1, 2014.