How This Family Paid Off Debt Using Unusual Tactics.

It seems the media is full of impressive testimonies on how couples paid off debt by tightening their financial belts. But none of these tales come close to matching the hardship and ingenuity of Brad and Angie Dickerson, of  Parsimony, New Jersey.

The Dickerson family knew they were in trouble when they no longer had money at the end of the month to pay the mortgage on their 4,000 square foot home.

“It was rather alarming,” Angie said, “I’m not sure how it happened. Brad and I have always been frugal.”

The Dickersons point to how they chose the base model Porsche Cayenne, skipping certain luxuries so the ticket price would hover around $60,000.

“And restaurants? We never use valet parking. We park our own car and walk. Even in the winter,” said Brad.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. The Dickersons knew their credit score would be squashed if their lifestyle continued. So they cut back.

“The first thing we did,” Brad stated, “was sell our house. Got rid of that pesky mortgage for once and for all. The only problem, though, was that we realized after the closing, we didn’t have anywhere to go.”

The Dickersons went to the nearest homeless shelter, where they were warmly welcomed.

“We were each given a cot, so we pushed them together to make our own queen sized bed.” Angie said, “it was romantic, in a depressing sort of way.”

The next step? Unloading the Porsche and Angie’s BMW. The Dickersons soon found themselves in a quandary: they had no way to work now that their vehicles were sold. The Dickersons brainstormed and decided to try public transportation. But there was a problem.

“Do you know you have to pay for public transportation?” Brad was incredulous, “have you ever been on those buses? Why would anyone pay to ride those things?”

The Dickersons went back to the drawing board. They decided to rely on friends and family.

“I started asking friends for rides to work, or asking to borrow their car,” stated Angie.

Cell phones, with hefty service plans, were another financial drain on the Dickersons. They quickly cashed those in and now communicate through the use of Native American smoke signals.

“It is inconvenient,” Brad admitted, “especially when I’m in a meeting and see Angie signaling me. I’ll have to excuse myself and go outside to answer her.”

Food bills are no longer an issue for the Dickersons. The homeless shelter provides free breakfast, and most churches offer lunches and dinners.

“It requires a lot of networking,” Angie admits, “the Methodists are fond of baked hams on Tuesdays, while the Protestants? Turkeys on Thursdays. Non-denominationals are anybody’s guess.”

But there are certain things the Dickersons can not part with, such as their Hyannis beach house and membership to the Tennis Club.

“I mean, come on,” said Angie, “we may be thrifty now, but we’re not stupid.”

 

The Underground Writer Reporting

 

Fly the Unfriendly Skies

Last week, JetBlue Airlines announced they will no longer offer free checked baggage for their passengers. To add insult to injury, the frugal airline has also decided to add fifteen additional seats to their Airbus A320 planes resulting in less legroom. (See Forbes.)

Following suit, other airlines have decided to make cutbacks to get out of the red. In order to save costs on fuel, EconoJet Airlines is now using a large sling-shot to send their planes soaring.

“Take off can feel a bit … treacherous,” said Humphrey Garret, CEO of EconoJet. “But I assure passengers the sling-shot is mighty strong, and will get you in the general area of your destination.”

McAir Airways has decided to do away with landing costs – those pesky fees required by airports to use their runways. Instead of landing their planes, McAir passengers will need to parachute out.

“But please remember it’s B.Y.O.P (Bring Your Own Parachute),” Linda McFadden, President and CEO of McAir Airlines stated, “McAir is not responsible for providing passengers with parachutes. When we needed to make some cutbacks, landing fees and parachutes were included. These were difficult, but necessary cuts.”

McAir recommends all passengers pack lightly as heavy suitcases can be quite burdensome when parachuting. (And yes, there are still baggage fees.)

Another cost cutting method used by some airlines is reducing unnecessary safety equipment. Payless Planes has removed all seat bealts from their aircrafts.

“When you’re plunging thirty thousand feet from the sky in a fiery ball, what’s a seat belt really going to do? Upon the realization that seat belts do nothing in the case of an airline crash, we decided to include them in our cost cutting,” said Michael DeAngelo, Chief Financial Officer of Payless Planes.

But after much deliberation, Payless Planes has decided to not only do away with seat belts, but seats entirely. Passengers now sit on benches, hanging onto handles, subway style.

“I have certainly been on more comfortable flights,” Timothy Blummert of Irvine, California said, “but at least with this airline, I know we’re actually landing on a runway … if we land.”

Other airlines have decided to keep fuel, seats and the usage of airports, but have simply done away with flight crew. Fly-Mart recently announced they have laid off all flight attendants. Vending machines and self-serve coffee makers have replaced the smiling flight attendants of the past.

“It was a bit strange at first,” Macy Wallace of Des Moine, Iowa said when interviewed, “There was a line all the way down the aisle for the vending machine. When one guy’s Snickers bar got stuck, he got real mad and started shaking the machine and rocking it. I thought we were gonna crash! But other than that, it worked out alright.”

**The Underground Writer Reporting**

Think You’re So Tough?

I give my empty plastic water bottles to the homeless instead of cashing them in for their five cent refund. “How nice of her,” you must be thinking.

Well, you can stop. There is nothing altruistic about my giving empty water bottles to the homeless. In fact, it’s pretty selfish. I don’t want the 5 cent refund because I am deathly afraid of the bottle return room. Ever been? If not, let me forewarn you: It’s brutal.

Last summer I hauled three garbage bags overflowing with empty bottles to my local grocery store’s bottle return room. When I entered, there was a man with a long, dingy stained beard and shopping cart full of bottles. We nodded a greeting to one another and I watched as he expertly fed his bottles into his machine. He moved in a rhythm that reminded me of an interpretive dance. It was almost … artistic.

Inspired, I fished out my first bottle and tossed it into the machine. Instead of creating my own fluid interpretive dance, however, I screamed and jumped back. The machine had sucked the bottle from my hand with intense force and an accompanying crunching sound.

I gingerly inserted my second bottle. The machine immediately spat it out. I retrieved the bottle and tried again. The machine spit it out a second time. I looked over at Dirty Beard for help. He came over, took my bottle and effortlessly tossed it into the machine.

“You have to use more force,” he said.

I shoved another bottle into the machine. It was accepted! I rammed in a fourth bottle, then a fifth. It was getting fun! Soon I had the same rhythm as Dirty Beard. As I slowly emptied my first bag, a public transportation bus parked outside. A stream of people entered. They took one look at my two garbage bags full of bottles and instantly became grumpy.

“Almost done?” one lady asked curtly.

I looked down at my bags, “Well, not really.”

The bottle return machine sensed I was nervous. It immediately began rejecting the bottles I tried to feed into its cavernous mouth.  I could hear people sighing behind me as I battled with the temperamental machine. Then, to my horror, the machine groaned and froze.

“Now look what you did!” someone said.

I stared at the machine – mentally begging it to start working again. I even reached into the machine (risking amputation) and tapped the trapped bottle with my finger. It didn’t move.

“I’ll go get help,” Dirty Beard offered.

I thanked him profusely and, like sharks to blood, the crowd behind me attacked the machine he had left. Most of them did the same bottle return dance as Dirty Beard, and within seconds several had finished returning their bottles.

Dirty Beard returned with a store employee . She marched up to the broken machine and peered inside.

“What animal did this?” she snapped.

Animal? Everyone exchanged smug looks. There was a moment of awkward silence until I slowly raised my hand.

“That would be me.”

The store employee’s eyebrows shot up. She looked me up and down.

“You? You did this?”

Swallowing, I nodded. Was I the first person to break a bottle return machine?

“You can’t be so rough,” she sighed, turning back to the machine, “You gotta be gentle with these things.”

I was confused because Dirty Beard had told me to use more force.

“I’m sorry,” I explained, “But this is my first time.”

First time? Well! That was the wrong thing to say. Everyone turned to look at me with their eyebrows raised. The store employee shook her head in disgust.

“Now I gotta call the vendor. This machine is broke.”

Audible groans were heard around the room. Fumbling with my bags, I leaned over and ripped the receipt from the machine.  I had returned a total of $1.35 cents worth of bottles.

“Here,” I said, handing my two remaining bags of bottles to Dirty Beard, “You can have these.”

I turned and fled. I ran to my car and climbed inside, grateful for its familiarity. There are a lot of things in life I know I’m not tough enough to handle.  Add returning bottles to that list.

For A Good Time Call…

When my husband and I bought our first home, the phone company gave us a new telephone number. The number we were given was recycled – meaning, it had previously belonged to someone else.  That “someone else” happened to be a girl named LaShawn.

Within a few days of receiving our new telephone number, it became clear that being the recipients of LaShawn’s old number was going to be a problem. Our first inkling occurred around 3 in the morning, when the sound of our ringing phone jarred me from sleep. I frantically jumped out of bed, fearing someone was calling with an emergency.

“LaShawn baby,” the voice growled, “It’s Tyrone. Where you at?”

“LaShawn?” I repeated, feeling instant relief. Everyone was okay. “I’m sorry. You have the wrong number.”

I was climbing back into bed when Tyrone called a second time. Tyrone was clearly disappointed when I answered, and he was even more disappointed when I explained that no, LaShawn was still not here, and I had no idea who she was – or where she lived.

Several nights later, we were sound asleep when the phone rang again. It was another man looking for LaShawn. When a third man called several nights after that, we started to suspect two things: first, LaShawn was popular with the gents. And second, she was giving out her old telephone number (which was now our new number) to men she didn’t want contacting her. I had a vision of LaShawn – young, slender and pretty – tearing off a slip of paper and writing down our telephone number for some creep who kept hounding her for a date. If these men hadn’t been calling our house at all hours of the night in their futile attempts to reach LaShawn, I may have found her idea clever.

At some point, it occurred to LaShawn that she could give our number to everyone, and not just the men hounding her for a late night rendezvous.  Soon, banks, medical offices, and even her family started to call. Our phone began to ring off the hook, with all sorts of people looking for LaShawn.

“LaShawn! It’s Aunt Tiana! Where you been hiding at girl?”

“Hi Aunt Tiana,” I said wearily, “But this isn’t LaShawn’s number anymore.”

“It ain’t?” Aunt Tiana said, “How can that be? She just gave me this number!”

“I know, I’m sorry. But this number used to be LaShawn’s. You see, my husband and I just moved into this house and the phone company gave us LaShawn’s old number.”

“Damn!” Aunt Tiana said, “Wait till I get my hands on that girl! Trying to give me her old number like that!”

“When you do,” I said, “Could you tell LaShawn that her doctor’s office called? And the results of her pap smear are in?”

“I sure will! Now, you take care! And enjoy your new house!”

“Thanks Aunt Tiana.”

Unfortunately, not all of the calls for LaShawn were as pleasant as Aunt Tiana. Our phone rang constantly throughout the day from creditors (let me be the first to tell you that LaShawn owed a lot of money, and didn’t seem too keen on paying these people back), social service departments, and former boyfriends.

I finally called our phone company in desperation and explained what was occurring. The representative was apologetic – and slightly intrigued – for the many intrusive calls we were receiving on behalf of LaShawn.  For an $80 fee, we could get a new telephone number. I asked if we could have a brand new number, one that had never belonged to anyone else. While that wasn’t possible, the representative explained, she could find a telephone number that had formerly been used for a computer modem. I took it.

Twenty minutes later, our new telephone number was active and our phone became strangely silent. When the phone did ring, it was someone actually calling for me, and not LaShawn. It felt like an older, popular sister had moved out of the house taking all of the drama with her.

Sometimes I think about LaShawn, and wonder if she’s made her Chase credit card payments, or if she and Aunt Tiana finally connected. I also really hope Aunt Tiana gave LaShawn the message about her pap smear results.

An Urgent Plea

Dear At – Home – Party – Consultants,

In all honesty, I do not need a potato peeler, onion dicer or pizza stone. Nor do I need an overpriced whisk and cheese grater. Buying a $60.00 nine inch bread knife would not make me feel pampered. It would make me feel swindled. Let’s also remember, I hate to cook (click HERE for proof). In other words, please stop inviting me to your Pampered Chef parties. Besides, all of that talk of kitchen gadgets would make me feel guilty – like I should be whipping up something gourmet for my family.

Soy candles are wonderful. I burn one a year. Therefore, I have no need for two or more. I also fear fire, and candles remind me of flames. (I would have made a horrible cave woman.) I also can’t help but feel a bit disgruntled by the inevitable jolly woman who would sit next to me and announce how she must have the $75 wall sconce and $25 votive holder.  While I am grateful you were thoughtful enough to include me on your PartyLite or Scentsy party invitation list, I ask that you no longer add my name.

Tupperware parties tend to get a bit too rowdy for my taste. All of that screaming over 8 oz containers and three piece plastic mixing bowl sets. The demonstration on the Zest and Press gadget always makes a few ladies faint. Forgive my weakness, but I simply do not have the fortitude to purchase a $33 plastic water pitcher to only have it break several days later (true story). Perhaps the decline in Tupperware quality is because Tupperware items are no longer manufactured in the United States. In any event, if you are thinking of inviting me to your next Tupperware gathering, please don’t.

Scrapbooking is downright intimidating. I do not have the patience or gumption to sort through my drawer full of photographs. This is why I never attend Creative Memories parties. Creative Memories consultants, please do not take this personally. Should I wake up one morning with the burning desire to crop pictures and write captions for them, I will contact you. I promise. Besides, I have heard rumors of brawls breaking out at scrapbooking parties – usually when high school photographs are unveiled. (“Wait! I thought you looked familiar! You were the one who I sat next to in Mr. Gibson’s math class. You used to make fun of my perm!”)

Homemade cards are wonderful. I admire the talent and creativity whenever I receive one. Yet, I  do not stamp and would rather spend time reading Hallmark cards in the store than making my own. If I am to stamp anything, it is a Bingo sheet with a dauber. Bingo is interactive and fun. Sometimes you win things. In fact, the next time I receive a Stampin’ Up party invitation, I may visit my nearest Catholic church hall for a competitive game of Bingo instead.  My sincerest apologies Stampin’ Up ladies.

Your cooperation in ceasing to invite me to these types of parties is much appreciated. I wish you well in your at-home party endeavors!

Warmest Regards,

The Underground Writer

Special thanks to Adam J. Holland of the Unorthodox Epicure (click HERE to check out his humorous and often touching essays) for assisting with this piece. And always – my beloved husband (Mr. Underground Writer) for his editing suggestions.

Crazed Woman in Cereal Aisle

Selling a house. The death of someone you love. Separation from a spouse. Mental health professionals consider these among the most stressful life events. While I’m not a mental health professional, they all sound about right to me. However, I think one more trigger should be included: grocery shopping.

Sadly, I’m not joking. I find my weekly trip to the grocery store mentally exhausting, physically demanding and financially grievous. I envy those of you who do not share in these grocery store afflictions. And for those of you who actually enjoy grocery shopping? Well, I applaud you.

My food shopping journey sours quickly; usually before I have even placed an item in my cart. I always (and I mean always) manage to pick a shopping cart that has a noisy, vibrating wheel that makes it sound as though I’m clicking castanets as I push the cart down the aisle. These wobbly-wheeled carts also tend to veer to the side, so I have been known to crash into another shopper on more than one occasion.

As my cart shimmies its way down the aisle, I begin to feel overwhelmed. Does anyone else find the immense selection of items mind boggling? Take canned tomatoes, for example. There are whole, crushed, stewed, diced, paste and sauce. These tomatoes are available with seasoning or without. Low sodium, organic, and not organic. There are literally dozens of brand names, and the inevitable store brand that is competing against those fancier name brands. (Are the brand names really that much better than the store brands?) As if these weren’t enough choices, then there are canned tomatoes from San Marzano, which implies the location these tomatoes were grown should be considered. To make matters worse, some of the canned tomatoes are on sale but (wait!) their amount is slightly less than the other brands. I finally close my eyes and randomly grab a can and proceed on.

The tuna fish selection is next. For the love of God, why are there so many choices of tuna fish? Chunk light, solid white, chunk white, and Albacore. Fish in pouches, fish in cans. There is gourmet, premium and organic. Then come the brands: Bumble Bee (what marketing weirdo thought of that name?), Chicken of the Sea (another marketing weirdo), StarKist, Natures Promise, Genova, Wild Planet. Just as I think I’ve finally narrowed down my choices, I realize some have that dolphin safe emblem while others do not. I can’t forget about the dolphins! And please don’t get me started on mercury levels. As I spend ten minutes deliberating over tuna fish cans, inevitably someone driving one of those motorized scooters will approach. I move my cart out of their way and proceed to wait as the person driving the motorized scooter also ponders their tuna fish choices.

It is usually around this point that my three year old son spills the snack I have given him to keep him occupied. Goldfish crackers cover the floor, making the other shoppers jump out of the way. Some smile patiently while others give me the evil eye as they walk over the goldfish, their shoes making a crunching sound. I try and pick up as many goldfish as I can – shoving them in my pockets. (Later on I forget to empty the crackers from my pockets and the pants go in the wash. I then open my washer door to find a goldfish paste is coating the barrel of my washing machine.)

I rush through the frozen food aisle that is as warm as a tundra. As I pick out frozen waffles for my children’s breakfast I feel a pang of guilt that I’m not making them waffles from scratch. At that moment an Extreme Couponer passes with her binder bulging with coupons. I haven’t brought any coupons, let alone an amount that would require an actual binder to house them. I can’t decide if I hate or admire the Extreme Couponer, so I push my gyrating cart past her and avoid eye contact when she looks up from her binder to see what is making that horrific clacking noise.

By the time I reach the checkout, my cart is so full I have to lean into it in order to move the cart forward. I resemble an orderly in the hospital who is pushing an obese patient through the hall. Occasionally I grunt as I brace my feet to keep the cart from veering to the side. As I stand in line, my son frantically tries to grab every packet of gum from the display next to us. After I unload the food from my cart onto the belt, I realize I forgot several important items. I also realize I have left my reusable grocery bags in my car, which means I will have to use those flimsy plastic bags the store provides. The environmentalist within me cringes.

The shopping journey is nearing its end and I want to rejoice – except the bagger has thrown my canned items into the same bag as my tomatoes and apples, bruising them before they have even made it home. The cashier announces my total and I let out a sigh. Despite my best efforts, I have managed to spend more money than I had budgeted. I also wonder if, perhaps, I would have saved more money had I gone to one of the other five grocery stores that are within a 1 mile radius from this one.

Upon returning home, my arms ache from keeping the food laden grocery cart straight and not veering to the side. It  also seems as though a literal hole has been burnt in my wallet from how much these groceries cost. At that moment my phone rings. It is a friend calling. She is weeping and proceeds to tell me she and her husband are separating. “I feel your pain,” I commiserate, “I just came home from grocery shopping.”

Is Age Just A Number?

Recently, I overheard a woman say she was too old to have long hair.

“At a certain age,” the woman declared, “ponytails and braids just start to look foolish.”

As I pondered her statement, I was reminded of the time my grandmother said that old women shouldn’t wear sleeveless tops. (Conversely, my other grandmother wore pink baseball caps with matching pink shoelaces well into her 60s.)

This brought a question to mind: when is someone officially old? Is a 76 year old woman who bicycles 3 miles a day, every day, old? Or is it the woman who is also 76 but uses a walker and reeks of White Diamonds perfume?

I lost sleep. I paced the floors. I forgot several items on my shopping list because I kept repeating the thought, “When is old, old?” I studied everyone. I took notes. I visited random nursing homes and stuck my head into the rooms before visiting a local American Legion to watch a Bingo game in progress. I then sat and worked late into the night –  by candlelight. I compared my findings. I chewed through three pencils and drank two cups of coffee until, at last, I had answered the question to my satisfaction.

“I have done it,” I whispered to a silent house, “I now know when someone is truly old.”

Actually, I didn’t do any of the above. I simply thought about the question as I washed breakfast dishes one morning. But I was – among the suds and aroma of lemon scented dish soap – able to devise a “You Know You’re Old” list.

The Underground Writer’s “You Know You’re Old When …” Checklist*

If you do five or more of the following, you are officially old.

  • There is a tissue box in the rear window of your car.
  • A flower is taped to your car’s antenna. 
  • You use the term “slacks” for pants, and wear said slacks when you exercise.
  • Everything costs too much, and you have difficulty making a purchase without comparing the cost of the item to what it used to cost “back in the day.”
  • You’re astonished that an adult could be born as recently as the 1980s.
  • Even if your financial situation does not require you to use the Early Bird Specials at restaurants, you always do so out of principle.
  • You are simply appalled by the younger generation: their clothes, music, behavior, and/or electronics. You also take issue with what people are naming their children nowadays. Names such as Kaden, Brooklyn, and Jayden are not real names in your mind.
  • If you are female, you wear nylons all of the time – even with “slacks.” 
  • You find electronics mind boggling. Just as you finally figured out how to set the time on your DVD player, your younger friend questions why you even have a DVD player since they will soon be obsolete.
  • Your car is either large (such as a Lincoln Town car) or small (such as a Toyota Corolla). Mid-size cars, such as Honda Accords, are never considered.
  • Your reason for visiting the mall is to walk for exercise, and not to shop.
  • While sleeping at night is nearly impossible, you find yourself randomly falling asleep throughout the day. 

*This checklist has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, or any other professional organization for that matter. This list it not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent aging*