Five Steps to Escaping the Nightmare

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Mel writes in:

For the past six months, I’ve been getting letters from creditors in the mail. I don’t want to read them because the thought of facing them makes me sick to my stomach with worry and I don’t sleep well for days, so I just throw them in the trash as soon as I get them. I have a part-time job with variable hours and it just makes enough for me to pay the rent and keep food on the table. I have nowhere else to go and I don’t know what else to do. I found your site but all of the information just seems overwhelming and impossible.

I fully understand how hard it can be to face a problem that seems completely overwhelming and beyond your ability to handle. There have been times in my life where I’ve dreaded the thought of facing a piece of mail or even simply getting out of bed in the morning.

It’s incredibly easy for me to say something like “you’ve got to face this problem” or “things are only going to get worse each time you throw away a letter” or “you need to open up all of your mail and come up with a debt management plan”, but saying things like that don’t really resolve anything at all. Of course things get worse each time you throw away a letter. That’s why they’re so painful to look at or think about.

Rather than little unhelpful nuggets of wisdom, you need some things you can take action on. Here are five direct steps you can take to start directly dealing with this situation.

First, stop throwing the letters away. If you can’t stand to actually read them (for now), at least put them in a box somewhere so that you can retrieve them at a later date. Throwing them away eliminates the ability to ever get to the source of your financial problems.

As painful as they are, you’re going to need those letters if you’re ever going to right this ship.

Second, collect up all of the documentation you have and put it with the letters. Surely, you have some documents relating to the debts you’ve accrued. Get everything you can find and put it in the box with the letters.

If you can handle it, try sorting this documentation so that the documents associated with each debt are in the same pile together.

Third, find a local bankruptcy lawyer that you can reasonably trust. If you’ve ever heard positive statements about a local bankruptcy lawyer from friends or family in the past, start with that lawyer. If you don’t have any sort of a lead, do some research online to find one. Read reviews of the lawyers and pick one with a good track record.

Next, find out if that lawyer offers free bankruptcy consultation and make an appointment. At that time, take your box of documents with you to the appointment. The appointment will go much more smoothly if you have the papers in order.

Why do I suggest going straight for a bankruptcy lawyer instead of trying to come up with a debt management plan on your own in this case? One, the fact that Mel is only working part time and barely making enough to eat and pay the rent means that there’s not much juice to be squeezed here and two, the best way for Mel to move towards functional management of her debt is to get the slate as clean as possible.

If the description here is accurate, the courts will likely mandate some sort of payment plan to take care of this debt. It will likely involve some small portion of wage garnishment along the way, but it will mean that you’re being proactive about this problem and actually moving in the right direction rather than the wrong one.

Fourth, don’t accrue any more debt. You absolutely have to live on what you’re earning, no matter what. If you continue to spend more than you earn, you are never, ever going to get ahead.

There are two ways to get there. One is to spend less, but it sounds like that option is pretty thin as it is. The other is to earn more. Since you’re just working one part time job, I’d strongly encourage you to get out there and get another part time job to supplement the one you have.

You need more money coming into your life to start turning this ship around in a sustained fashion, and more working hours is pretty much the only way you’re going to do that.

Finally, build a real functional support network of friends and family. Close relationships and community make almost any obstacle much more solvable than before.

Look through your life to the people who have always been there for you in a positive way. Who are the people who have been there through thick and thin?

Spend more time with those people. Look at them as the role models they are. What do they do, day in and day out, that makes it possible for them to be that reliable? What routines do they have?

Don’t be afraid to admit your failings. Don’t be afraid to pick their brains, either. Look for ways to spend time with them that do not involve a financial cost for either one of you. Go over to their house and make dinner together sharing the ingredients. Put together a big family photo album. Swap some books and spend some lazy afternoons reading the books that your friend or loved one recommended to you.

Don’t look for or ask for a dime of financial help here. Let the lawyers and the courts take a crack at that, and step up to the plate yourself by working more hours. What you need from the people in your life is closeness and camaraderie and a sense that there are people out there that care for you and love you and want to laugh with you and just be with you, because there are people out there who feel that way, and having that support makes even the hardest things in life feel very possible.

It may be that you have relationships that need mending. Give those relationships some time and some love. Don’t ask for anything in return and expect that it might be hard for the other person to get there with you. You’ll find that if you give a little and don’t ask for anything back and are patient with things, eventually you start to receive a lot.

Follow those steps and everything will start moving down a better path.

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