3 Ghosts of Debt Stress
It was a clear Christmas Eve Eve night at my parents’ house in Montana. I stepped outside to look at the stars. I could hear the clock begin chiming in the cold silence as I stood there, admiring the universe. I had been stressing about my current state of debt and needed a minute to remember what a small part of the universe my debt really was. I was concerned about my debt from the last 12 years, the new debt we started our marriage with and the possible debt that could result from starting our family. The ninth and final chime of the hour rang and was followed by a most peculiar sound, the sound of chains. I looked down and saw a delmise with a note attached to its handle.
Ace Trainer Tojo, there’s no need to fear.
If you are patient three ghosts will appear.
They’ll show you some stories, parts of your life.
We know that it’s debt that fills you with strife.
When I looked up from the note, delmise had disappeared. I went inside to show my husband. “What does this mean?” I asked. He read the note and passed it to my sister. “Sounds like you’re going to be busy tonight,” he said. “We’ll just be hanging out, so join us when you’re done,” declared my sister. “Have fun.”
After watching them play a round of cards, I moved to the couch and stared out the window at the mountains anticipating what tonight would bring. What would happen? What would I see? Would there be snacks? I would soon find out.
Ghost of Debts Past
The clock struck ten and the lights immediately went out. I found myself at the end of a hallway with a faint glow at the other end. I approached the light and heard the sound of childlike laughter. It was a little litwick playfully extending its hand. I grabbed hold and with a flash, we were transported to my senior year college dorm room.
I saw myself sitting at my new computer writing a check for my monthly Parent PLUS loan payment. The loan was my parents’ way to help me pay for a semester abroad in Argentina and Peru because I couldn’t get another loan, for whatever reason. I had wanted to go to Argentina since I was 11 years old and less than ten years later, I finally had the opportunity to go. I made a deal with my parents that I would make the payments on their loan. I knew exactly what I was paying for with each payment I made, and I was happy to do it.
As I started to address the envelope, another flash brought me to my graduate school bedroom. I was sitting at the same computer and, on the same website. This time I was crunching a bunch of math. “I remember this night!” I told the litwick. “This was the night I realized my credit card’s monthly interest outweighed my monthly payments.” I was surprised to see that a credit card payment of $300 only lowered my balance by $100. I watched the fear and feeling of helplessness grow across my face to be interrupted by another flash.
Once again, I was sitting in front of the same computer with the same webpage open. However, this time I was editing a budget. In an open notebook, I saw that all my student loans had entered repayment. I could see that I was close to paying off my Parent PLUS Loan. The loans that I had purposely ignored for seven years were just getting started. I also noticed a bill for my mostly maxed-out American Express card. I understood how I had ended up surrounded by these debts and I was ready to take action. I watched as I processed all the information and built my budget. Once I completed the budget and hit “save” I heard the litwick giggle again. With a final flash, I returned to the dark hallway.
Ghosts of Debts Present
Time’s chimes began their echoed voice once again. On the eleventh chime, light started to escape from behind a door. Inside was a giant gourgeist in a warm, lodge-like classroom. On one of the walls were two large chalkboards.
I dubiously followed the gourgeist to the first board. It had my thirteen loans written on it, classified by servicer, with the initial loan amount painted next to them. Next to that, was the current balances written in chalk. With its large, hair-like hands it grabbed my hand and guided it to write a percentage next to each loan. We wrote 122% for NelNet, 39% for UAS and 56% for ACS. As it let go, I could see my loan progress.
Then we moved to the second chalkboard. Each source of my revolving credit was taped to the board with the year I began using it. Their current balances were written in chalk next to each source. The gourgeist took my hand again and erased all of the totals with one swift motion. As we wrote the updated balances, I remembered how moody revolving credit is. It goes up, and it goes down. Although I could feel my revolving credit heat crashing me as it fluctuates, I felt as though the gourgeist was telling me to just focus on each day’s balance, one day at a time.
I handed the gourgeist the eraser and asked, “So, debt isn’t permanent is it?” Gourgeist nodded in agreement. “With debt constantly changing, I can only control what I do today to affect its future." I saw gourgeist smile and a great light started to beam from its carvings. With a loud explosion, I once again found myself in the dark hallway with chalk dust filling my lungs.
Ghosts of Debts Yet to Come
As I stood there coughing, the chimes rang out twelve final times. It was officially Christmas Eve Day. My body’s temperature began to drop, and I began to shiver. I felt an ice-cold hand grab mine and start moving me forward. I blinked my eyes and a froslass was leading me down a walkway toward a beautiful, cerulean house with a car and a truck in the driveway. As we approached the door I heard children's voices inside.
After we passed through the door, I saw my husband walking into the living room with a plate of warm cookies and glasses of cold milk. I immediately followed him and saw me with two children decorating the Christmas tree. “This was grandma’s ornament when she was my age, right papá?” “Yes, it is,” I told the oldest of the two, “So be very careful with it.” “Daddy, we should put those closer to the fireplace,” said the other kid referring to the cookies. “It’s too early for Santa, these are for when you’re done decorating,” he replied.
“But how?” I inquired in my delight. I needed to ask because I worry about the amount of debt we could work up. I had an idea how much a house and cars cost and had recently learned how much it could cost a same-sex male couple to add children to their family. The froslass only responded by gesturing at the four of us.
We watched in silence until the Christmas tree was decorated and the cookies were eaten. As the kids started preparing for bed, I realized that I don’t need to worry about the future because it’s taken care of. However we ended up with this house, vehicles and these two wonderful kids, we figured it out. We were happy and no one was worried about our debt. The only worries that night were about breaking Grandma’s ornaments and Santa not getting his cookies.
I watched my husband and I put tuck the children into bed and I started to feel joy warm my body. The dream faded and I woke up next to my husband. Although I was unsure if it was a dream, I was less stressed about my debt. I woke my husband with a kiss and we joined my family for breakfast. I enjoyed the rest of my holiday debt-stress-free thanks to those three ghosts type pokémon.
Let’s chat: What is one of your debt ghosts and how does it haunt you?
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