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

 

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.

The Prostitute

I didn’t notice her enter the Hallmark store. I was up to my elbows in Mother’s Day cards, attempting to find one that didn’t have “mother” scrawled dramatically across the front in cursive letters. (I don’t know about you, but I have never, ever, called my mom ‘mother’ – but apparently Hallmark seems to think that is quite common.) It was then that I noticed the two teenage employees whispering and pointing to something behind me.

Turning, I saw a prostitute looking at cards. She was clad in thigh-high, high heeled boots, miniskirt, and a shirt that exposed her stomach. Basically, she resembled Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman before she cleans up. The prostitute then moved to where I was standing and, shamefully, I lowered my head and acted as though I was engrossed in what I was reading.

I tried to focus on finding a card for my mom, but I have to admit it was a challenge. The prostitute reeked of powdery perfume that was so strong I could practically taste it. The two employees were also doing a not-so-subtle job of watching her. Each time I  reached for a different card I couldn’t help but notice the two teenage employees who were whispering to one another and staring at the prostitute. When I finally found a card I liked, I approached the cash register only to stand behind the prostitute I had been trying so hard to ignore.

She was digging around in her denim purse before she carefully placed the money, a dollar at a time, on the counter. Avoiding eye contact with the prostitute, the one teenage employee who was operating the cash register took the money with her fingertips and quickly dropped it into the cash drawer, as though the money were contaminated.

The prostitute asked the two teenage employees if she could borrow a pen. The other teenage employee mechanically handed a pen over and stared, speechless, as the prostitute bent over her Mother’s Day card and wrote. As the prostitute filled out her card, the two employees nonchalantly looked down at what she was writing  before looking at one another and smirking.

“Thank you,” the prostitute said as she handed the pen back.

Without a word, the teenage employee took the pen and continued to stare as the the prostitute left the store.

The other teenage employee exhaled, as though she had been holding her breath.  “Did you see that?” she asked me.

“Yes.  She was pretty hard not to notice,” I answered as I put my card on the counter.

“Did you see what she wrote?” the teenage employee asked. Without waiting for an answer she said, “She wrote ‘Happy Mother’s Day Mommy’.  But get this: she spelled “mommy” m-o-m-e-e.  She didn’t know how to spell mommy!”

Both girls burst out laughing.

I paid for my card and left.  As I headed towards my car I saw the the prostitute walking down the road, clutching the Hallmark bag that contained the card she had so carefully chosen for her mom.

We rarely see these women in such common places as a Hallmark store or grocery market. And no wonder. Even I admit that I stole a few glances at her. And yet, we forget that they were once little girls who giggled and wore nightgowns and loved ice cream. We forget that these women were once little girls who dreamed of being a princess, or of growing up to be a movie star. But something terrible happened to them.

After her purchase, the prostitute was headed back to the streets; back to pimps, drugs, and abuse. This was not the Hollywood version of prostitution. I am sure she wished Richard Gere was waiting to rescue her from the horrors of her lifestyle.

I think it’s safe to say that it is only out of desperation that a woman (or worse yet: girl) becomes a prostitute. It’s not as if she woke up one morning and said, “Ya know, I think I am going to leave this perfectly good job and have sex with strange men for money despite the risk of disease and my personal safety.” The majority of prostitutes, if not all, fall into it as a desperate way to support a drug addiction or as a result of past sexual abuse. Usually both.

While her lifestyle was vastly different than mine, she still had a love for her “momee.” The prostitute and I were looking at the same cards, each thinking of our own moms.  The love she had for her mom was no less than the love I have for mine. Yet, I was not subjected to whispers, mocking and judgement when I purchased my Mother’s Day Card.

Later that day as I filled out the card for my mom, I couldn’t stop thinking of the prostitute. I wish I had made eye contact with her. I wish I had smiled and said hello. That would have made my mom prouder than anything I wrote in her card.

Special thanks to Heather Dellamore, editor extraordinaire,  for her thoughts and guidance while writing this.