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bird poops on plum branch


Buster Benson

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Best of 2009, #9) Challenge
bird poops on plum branch
Something that really made you grow this year. That made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you?


This had to have been the closing of McLeod Residence, and the settling of all the bills, leases, creditors, partners, hopes, visions, etc. Kellianne and I started the year having drained all of our money from 2 years of McLeod operations and of course our wedding and honeymoon. Maybe drained isn't the right word, since in reality we were about $100,000 in debt on credit cards and equity loans, not counting the $3,660/month lease (with 3 years remaining), the $10,000 in unpaid taxes, the equipment lease, etc, etc, etc. Needless to say, I was definitely feeling a bit stretched to the edge and worried about my future.

It's probably the most worried I've ever been about anything. I don't know how to explain it sufficiently. It was like being in a huge pit, while sinking quickly at the same time. Nobody could help me because I had gotten myself into it, and nobody really has $100,000 lying around to help. Plus the economy had just tanked and leasing out our space to someone else seemed impossible. Plus we had some ideas about re-opening in a new space or doing the work required at our current space but nobody could really commit to it and in the meantime I was having to account for the rent that was due. Then overdue.

To Kellianne and all my friends who put up with the crazed look in my eyes and listened to me voice my fears, or helped me maintain somewhat regular interactions with people while the whole thing unfolded in its own weird time, THANK YOU.

My strategy was to simply take it a day at a time. Let bills go unpaid, try to negotiate with people who could help, get enough sleep, try to stay calm, think about options, stay optimistic, look for opportunities that come up, etc. The world would not fall apart, I hoped. I hoped that by remaining as calm as possible (sometimes not very calm at all) and making the right decisions at any given time, that things would slowly improve.

And they did. I hired a lawyer and got out of the lease with a reasonable buyout. I negotiated with the IRS and with creditors bringing down the amount owed. I let some things go to creditors if they refused to negotiate and depending on the amount and how much they cared, some of them eventually came around and others didn't. I didn't take my own debt personally, and just saw it as a number that needed to be changed slowly over time.

Kellianne and I cut our monthly spending by about 40% over the next few months, and keep trying to get it down to 50% but it just hasn't happened yet.

Luckily, also around that time I also came up with this idea for an iPhone app. And, with its success, I've been able to pay back almost half of the total debt accrued with McLeod. The remaining debt has been moved to low interest loans and is somewhat manageable, assuming I can continue to make money with other work-like things.

This challenge taught me that money is money, it comes and goes, but it doesn't define me or my ability to live a decent life. It's just a thing with no flavor. Of course, we could always use more of that flavorless goo.

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wow, this is impressive. for the first time in my life, i owe the IRS tax money from my unemployment. it's been a dirty secret. how did you negotiate with them? congrats for tackling money stuff head on-- i get so avoidant about it and i know it's something i need to overcome if i am ever going to improve my lifestyle!

Well when you don't pay the IRS they seem to make a point of reminding you about it. They had by far the highest interest rate on debt of anyone I interacted with so I had to deal with them first. I basically called every number on every notice they sent me, and with the help of an accountant we talked them down a bit. It sucked. But I tried to appeal to their human side, explaining that my business had gone under and I was unable to pay all of my debt, but that I was trying to prioritize payments based on who was able to negotiate with me. That seemed to work... and being generally pleasant with them also seemed to help get their extra effort in helping me figure it out.

It's true that sometimes the biggest obstacle in handling these money situations is the avoidant nature we take on. It really is best to face the money problems head on, not take it personally (debt doesn't say anything about the quality of you as a person), and make those numbers change little by little until they disappear. At least, that's my take on it.

I wish you luck though... let me know if I can help talk it out at all.

thanks! i am okay. i don't have credit card debt, but i don't have great credit either. i opted to get all of my unemployment checks (and not have taxes deducted) which meant owing money later. i was promised some help but the family member forgot, and it's been awkward to remind. i finally sent an email today b/c i got scared from those notices.

good for you!

btw: i saw just saw locavore on the back cover ad of saveur magazine last night.

Yeah, you did really well this year on the holyshitwehaveatonofdebt front.

I think that having a challenge of that magnitude during the first year of our marriage made me realize 10 fold that we are capable adults who can work hard together. AND the whole experience went a long way towards making me comfortable with your self-employment.

And, if I may seize my hormonal right to wax poetic over anything family related for a second, I think that having constants like a happy marriage and a semi-content Sopor help with things like stressful goo coming (and mostly going).

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