Category Archives: finances

debt, credit cards, loans, checking and saving accounts, and other monetary issues

My family and AAA

Yes, that AAA.

BACKSTORY
Okay, so when I was first in college, I learned that if I was a member of the American Automobile Association, I could get 10% discounts on train tickets, hotel expenses, and other travel-related stuff. Since I was attending school in Pennsylvania, where Amtrak actually has a decent railroad presence, it was a great deal for me to sign up even though I didn’t have a car or motorcycle or other vehicle. Then, a couple of years later, my dad mentioned that he thought he could use some of the discounts and car-towing services AAA offered, and I put him on my account for his birthday. I was an adult, and AAA only allows two adults per “family membership”, so I wouldn’t be able to add anyone else to my “family membership” after that since by that time, my younger siblings were both adults (18+ years of age), too.

That didn’t become a problem until my sister obviously needed car service that AAA provides a while later, and when we discovered that we couldn’t add her to my “family membership” as well, she went ahead and signed up alone.

Fast forward in time again. After falling and breaking her hip living on her own, my grandma came from Texas to live with us in California. My parents moved out of the master bedroom into the living room to provide her with a two-room apartment of sorts: a bedroom and a sitting room. (Do not even get me started on how ridiculous I think this whole thing is—it’s another story entirely.) She brought her car with her, which was still registered in Texas. After ignoring the mandatory registration timing, we finally got our shit together and headed down to the local AAA to register the car in California. That involved new plates, new registration stickers, and lots of official documents that had to be signed in multiple places.

Because my grandma is super old-fashioned and likes doing things in person and refuses to pay for anything that isn’t strictly, absolutely necessary, my dad (my grandma’s son) suggested she and I go down to the nearby AAA and register the car there instead of taking her to the DMV because uuuuugh DMV. So, we did.

Except that’s where another problem popped up. It wasn’t enough, according to the AAA staff person, that I, the car’s primary driver, was a member… the car’s owner had to be a member for them to process the car’s new plates and registration. Except we’d run into this problem before, and it wasn’t as simple as just adding her name to my “family membership” because there were already two adults on that account.

But no fear! My sister had a separate membership by herself! All we needed was her permission to add our grandmother to her “family membership” and then we could proceed as planned and have the car stuff done at AAA instead of the DMV. (If you knew my grandma, you would know why I wouldn’t volunteer myself to take her to the DMV if there was any way to avoid it.) So! We called up my sister while we were standing there at AAA and she gave her verbal assent to add our grandma to her account. We processed the car stuff—which is what we’d gone there for in the first place—and went home. Crisis over.

American Automobile Association 50th Anniversary 1902-1952 U.S. postage stamp 3¢STORY
Or so we thought. Time moved along like normal until tonight, when my sister noticed that she had an overdue AAA membership bill sitting in her pile of unread mail and asked my dad why Grandma needed a membership in the first place, especially since she doesn’t drive. She wanted to take Grandma off her account and add our mother, who drives further than any of us daily and goes to see sick friends in the hospital all the time and is generally on the road more than the rest of us most days.

I was reading and not paying attention to the growing tension around me, so when my sister called me into the living room (yes, the place that is now my parents’ bedroom) to talk to her and our dad, I didn’t know what a mess I was stepping into. Already frustrated by the apparent complications the rest of us were adding to what seemed to her like a simple problem with a simple solution, my sister verbally attacked me on the spot, immediately putting me on the defensive and not making the conversation any easier for any of us.

“Why does Grandma even need AAA?” she asked angrily. “She doesn’t even drive.”

“Because the staff people at AAA wouldn’t process her car stuff without her being a member, and I already had Dad on my account, and she wouldn’t pay for her own membership, and so we asked you if it was okay to add her to your account, which you agreed was fine, so that’s what we did, and I paid for it,” I started to say, but I didn’t get so far as “…process her car stuff—” before she cut me off.

“You and Dad have and account, and I had an open space; I know all that,” she said. I frowned, my defenses up. “Grandma doesn’t need a membership and Mom does.”

We bickered back a forth for a minute or two until my dad finally said, “I wanted you [me] to come in here so that I could ask you a question, which is”—he gave us both a look and we remained silent, waiting for him to finish—“if you were a member of AAA as a driver of the car, would they process the car stuff for Grandma on your behalf?”

“No,” I said. “We tried to do that the first time.” He nodded.

“And that time that the car died in the left turn lane on Foothill? Did you use your AAA card information, or Grandma’s?”

“Grandma’s.”

“All right,” he said, looking back toward my sister, “so Grandma does need a membership then.”

“No, she doesn’t,” my sister argued. “She doesn’t drive. What does she even use the membership for?”

“Were you not even listening just now?” I asked, slightly incredulous.

“I just don’t want to have to pay for something that Grandma doesn’t even use when we know Mom would use it.”

“Then don’t pay for it,” I said.

Not have AAA?” she asked, and it was her turn for incredulity. “Last year, I was the one who needed it the most!”

“No,” I said, irritated, “Don’t pay for Grandma’s part; I don’t care. If you do that, though, you get to take her to the DMV to reregister her car.”

“She could do it by mail, you know.”

“Then you get to help her with the paperwork,” I said, not even missing a beat. “We can do it your way, but your way means you also have to deal with Grandma and doing shit her way. Good luck getting her to register her car by mail when she knows there’s an in person option she could use, even one at the DMV.”

My sister narrowed her eyes at me—we both know that I’m the one who’s supposed to deal with Grandma and her car when it relates to her car—but I just looked right back at her.

“Do whatever you want,” I said. “I don’t care. I deal with Grandma and the car, but I’m not going to unnecessarily deal with the DMV.”

“I don’t think—” my sister started, and I held up a hand to stop her.

“Look, you called me in here to help you, presumably, and I came in here thinking I was going to be helpful, but all you’ve done since I’ve turned the corner has been to attack me. I’m not going to put up with that, so I’m done helping and will be going back into the other room to read.”

“Mom’s the one who drives the most around here,” she said. “She should have the membership, not Grandma.”

“And Mom’s also the only person who has a driver’s license in this house who’s also never gotten a ticket. Her little guardian angels don’t work overtime like yours have to… No offense.”

“That doesn’t sound like ‘no offense’,” my sister frowned, her eyes tearing up.

“Does Mom even want a AAA membership?”

“Well, when she comes back,” my sister said, “we can ask her.”

You can ask her. This has nothing to do with me. I wasn’t even part of the conversation before you called me in here.”

“It was Dad who wanted you in on the conversation, not me!” she cried.

“Here’s what I think,” my dad finally cut in again. “Katy needs her own membership. She has her own car; she needs her own membership.” My sister opened her mouth to say something and then closed it again when it was apparent our father wasn’t finished. He continued. “In a perfect world, you”—he nodded at me—“and Grandma would have a membership together because the deal with her and the car is with you, not Katy. And your mom and I would have our own membership.”

“Fine by me,” I said to him, “but I already paid for your and my ‘family membership’ for this year, so figure it out.”

My mom walked by behind us toward the kitchen and I said, “Whatever, people. Figure your shit out and I will do that.” I looked pointedly at my sister: “Remember what I said about the DMV, though.”

I left the room. My sister, in tears, fled upstairs. My mom, standing in the kitchen pouring herself a glass of water, asked, “Everything okay?”

I shrugged. “Drama.”

“Should I go in there?”

“You can if you want; we were talking about you.” She looked alarmed, and I shook my head. “It’s stupid; it’s about AAA.” She blinked, gave me an owl stare for half a second, and then burst out laughing.

And that, my friends, is my family and AAA. /dies

(Unrelated side note: I got as much of this as what I was expecting when I typed “AAA” into Google’s image search.)

Blog Action Day 2013

Today is Blog Action Day, and its theme is “human rights”.

I’m going to be honest here: I know next to nothing about human rights, except that I have enjoyed them my entire life and hope to continue doing so. Seriously, I had to look up “human rights” on Wikipedia because I was unsure what that exactly entailed. As I am not an uneducated, uncaring person, my lack of knowledge about humanity implies a sad, sad state of mind regarding how United States citizens, generally speaking, view rights within our own country and throughout the world.

I’m not asking anyone to educate me. (Education is no one else’s job but mine.) Except that I, like many other people living in the United States, also don’t have the energy or time to educate myself about things that are outside the scope of my own life. I realize I’m admitting to some serious selfishness here, but what else can I do but start where I am and move forward? I can’t (truthfully) say that I care about people in other countries without actually caring about them, and that’s not going to happen as long as they’re just numbers on a page to me.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this, actually. Maybe it’s an effort to start moving in the “I care about humans” direction? I barely have the energy to care about myself, and I can only take one day at a time at this point, but I wanted to say something to at least acknowledge the goal of equitable human rights for all humans. I’m all for that. I want us to have basic rights and freedoms, and not just if we can afford them.

I’m sorry I’m not more committed.

Entitlement

My little brother has taken to writing more and more often (something that I, as a writer myself, wholeheartedly support), and he’s working on published an article about entitlement and our generation (Millenials, generally speaking). He asked me in a text “Do you think our generation is lazy and entitled?” And I responded, “Entitled, yes. Lazy, no.” I elaborated via text:

I think it depends on two things. Social class (parents being able to afford stuff for their kids), and upbringing. If you’re dirt poor, you can’t be lazy or you’ll die. Literally. We’re not dirt poor, and we got good stuff when we were kids up to now, but our parents raised us to work for things and punished us for being stupid. So we may feel like we deserve some things (being entitled) but we’re not unwilling to work for said things (not being lazy). I think that’s generally true across our social class, at least… I think [entitlement and our generation] is interconnected with a bunch of things and it gets complicated.

I offered to elaborate more via email, but not at that very moment, and he readily accepted. And… then I completely forgot about it and other stuff came up and… well, life happened.

But! Now I’m thinking about it again and I’d like to clarify what I told my brother and go into more depth about how “it’s complicated” and since this is my internet home, I get to do that. Yay. So, onward!

I grew up on the “poor” end of a very rich town in Southern California. My friends and I jokingly called the area “the ghetto” even though it was really anything but. None of us knew what a ghetto really was, and none of us had so much as walked through one at that time. My high school homecoming game included fireworks and a parade, and there were several dances per year besides the homecoming dance and prom. The area was (and is) primarily rich white people who work in upper class jobs: lawyers, doctors, business owners, and the like. I think there may have been one black kid in my entire grade the entire time I was in high school, maybe two or three others in the school at all. We had ceramics and art, science classes with actual working equipment, lavish theatre productions, school-owned instruments for orchestra concerts, and enough college prep to drown the entire town in SATs and advanced placement classes.

My brother (and sister) and I grew up in the same town and attended the same, rich high school. We (all) attended college at private institutions. I went on to get a terminal degree, an MFA, in creative writing—something I was able to do because I was born into a relatively privileged family and was encouraged to pursue my dream instead of “something practical”. I didn’t have to work during high school or parent my younger siblings because our parents were always working (or not there at all). Our home life was relatively stable; my siblings and I share the same parents, who have been married to each other for more than thirty years. As a family, we took road trips to see our extended family in Texas and even traveled throughout the United States by car with our paternal grandparents to see the sights: the Grand Canyon, the Ozarks, and so on.

I can only speak from my own perspective, which is based in a privileged childhood. I have at times, as an adult, lived a paycheck-to-paycheck life wherein I must sometimes decide whether I should feed my cat or myself since I haven’t had enough money for both. Though it could be argued that I led a sheltered life through high school (the theme of one of my high school yearbooks is—no joke—“living in a bubble”), I was not wholly unaware that I was living said sheltered life, and when I grew up, moved out, and moved on, I became acutely aware of what a privileged youth I’d actually had. After all, I became an adult and had to pay for things for myself… and I couldn’t afford them. I lived in New York for a couple of years, where more than half of my monthly pay went to rent for my one-room apartment. I paid my outstanding bills as far as I could every month, and then I worried about food and basic necessities.

This is all to say that Millenials—at least in the upper-middle and upper classes—are entitled. We’ve been told all our lives that we can do anything we want (“follow your dreams”) and that we can have it all, as long as we work for it. Or, we can have it all, if only we pay for it. And because we’ve been raised as though we deserve everything we need and want, we also believe we deserve everything we need and want. That is, in a nutshell, entitlement. I was told that if I attended and graduated from a good college or university, I would be able to get a good job and support myself and my (potential, theoretical) family. I feel entitled to work (in my field of study) that pays enough for me to live on my own and have a similar quality of life that I had while I was growing up. And, I think that some jobs are “beneath” my station and education—though I am, in fact, working in one of those jobs right now. If Millenials are entitled, it is because our parents’ generation made us so. We want more, and we expect more.

My brother and I have privileges we’re not even fully aware of. We are given more than the benefit of the doubt based on our race; our respective biological sexes align with our respective genders. We grew up with books in our home; we are fully literate and speak well. We did not grow up in a “broken home” or split our time between separated parents. We have no visible physical disabilities or deformities; we’re healthy and young. My brother is straight and married to a lovely young woman who shares many of these privileges with us. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Now, all that being said, my generation knows that work means work. It doesn’t necessarily mean digging ditches or hauling lumber (though that’s obviously work, too), but also means putting in more hours at the office than we do at home, forgoing a nice dinner with our friends in order to meet a deadline, and rushing every morning to be on time, eating lunch at our desks, and staying late to “just finish this one report”. Work may mean more money, but it also means more time away from family, if we even have time for a family. My generation (of which I am on the older end and my brother is on the younger end) is a generation of latchkey kids. Our parents gave us everything they never had, but they also showed us what was really important by missing our school plays, skipping teachers’ meetings in favor of meetings with clients or coworkers, and staying late at the office and compelling us—as kids—to eat popcorn and Dr. Pepper for dinner, again.

Don’t get me wrong; my ten-year-old self is totally fine with eating popcorn for dinner every day. But tell me this: is a ten year old who makes herself dinner, albeit a completely unbalanced dinner, a lazy kid? I think not. We are a generation of figuring shit out for ourselves. Don’t know how to work the microwave? Press the buttons until something happens (while simultaneously hoping nothing explodes). Can’t reach the sink to wash your hands after using the toilet? Wash ’em in the bathtub instead. Sister’s hair keeps getting ridiculously tangled? Learn to French braid.

Now, we’re the ones who are teaching our parents how to use new technologies as they become available. If something’s not obvious to my grandma (admittedly part of the generation before my parents), it’s not worth learning about at all. If she can’t learn about something by reading about it (and immediately understanding and comprehending it), she won’t bother. Millenials are masters of of trial and error. “How do you know so much about Microsoft Word?” my mother asks. The answer is: I messed around with the program until I figured out how to do what I wanted to do. Obviously, we can read directions, too, but my generation is hardly put off by complexity or mystery. We are hardly lazy. We know that work has more than one meaning, and we employ it in all its forms.

What many members of older generations assume is laziness is actually scrappy, we’ll-pull-it-together-somehow-ness. We have to think of better, faster ways to do the same things that our parents and grandparents did. It’s impossible to know everything, to do everything. More information passes through our hands in one day than ever did in the entire lifetime of someone who lived 120 years ago. We have to make difficult decisions, and we have to make them with more choices and less time. If anything, our “laziness” is a defense against the figurative floods that threaten to topple us from our precarious positions in the crows nests of our respective ships of life. Every day we step outside our doors, we are categorically not lazy.

Entitled, yes; I admit it. Lazy? No.

At The Last Bookstore

I sit in a place called “The Last Bookstore” in downtown Los Angeles. It’s not really, literally the last bookstore, I don’t think, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from asking if it is, I’m sure. The interior has a vaguely warehouse feel, kind of grunge and coffeehouse at the same time. It is, let’s just say, a place where a hipster would not be ashamed to be found. There are even book pages in the inset florescent lighting. It’s not particularly cooled air, like a Barnes & Noble might have, but it’s moving and it’s cooler than outside, and when I’m surrounded by books, that’s enough.

I’m here at The Last Bookstore because I’ve been forced to cull my personal library—again. Once again, it’s a self-imposed directive, but I’ve run out of space and cash, and selling some of my books will alleviate at least some of both of those problems. I can’t afford to simply donate to the library, as I have in the past, because… well, they don’t pay for donations. Obviously. Not that I’m expecting a lot of return on selling pre-loved books, but even $100 would help out my finances, you know? Starving artist writer, and all that.

The thing is, I can’t. I mean, here I am, selling my books, but it just hurts so bad. I will never have children, so this may be as close as I even come to giving up for adoption a wanted child. That sounds kind of… extreme, I guess, when I write it out like this, but in trying to convey how I feel, only the extreme comes to mind.

Books! Interesting books, prophetic books, heretical books, long and short books. Poetry, all kinds of fiction, how-to, history, travel writing, religion, manga and comics, reference. I have to give it away. True, I’ll be paid a pittance for these stories, but not nearly what they’re worth. Each book is someone’s creation, someone’s sweat and blood. Even if it’s the worst thing I’ve ever read (though I’d’ve gotten rid of a terrible book long before this point), it’s still someone’s work of art. Sometimes the art’s not good, true, but that doesn’t mean the effort isn’t there.

The young man behind the “buy counter” is going through my books in order to separate the “Yes, we can sell these” books from the “No, sorry, these aren’t for us” books. I hope that he takes more than he rejects, and at the same time I dread it. I have five boxes of books in no order whatsoever, and it’s not the largest set of books he’ll see today.

He finally calls me over and offers me $145 for what amounts to three boxes worth. That means I’ll be taking two boxes home with me, but I’ll be $145 richer. My hands clench and I set my jaw.

“So why are you selling these books, if I may ask?” he asks, making conversation while we load the unwanted books back into a couple of crates so that I can take them back out to my car. I don’t want to tell him the real reason. I don’t even really know the “real” reason—that I need the money? That I need the space? Those things are true, but they aren’t the “real” reason. I guess… I guess I’m just growing into myself and these books don’t fit into my life the same way they once did. I have to let them go. And they have to find new readers to love them. Sitting in my room, there’s no way they can do that.

But I don’t say any of that. Instead, I blurt out, “I’m moving to New York City.” Gods, do I want to move back to New York. Maybe I am moving back, in the long run, but for all intents and purposes, that’s a lie.

His eyes widen a little, impressed, and he says, “Oh, well, have a safe trip, then.”

“Thanks,” I reply easily enough, and we both drop the subject. He asks for my ID, counts out the cash, and helps me take the two crates out to my car. I feel like I’ve just sold heroin, and I look around, half-wondering if anyone will ask what the hell I’m doing, out in a public place like this, and during the daytime. Books aren’t something to be taken lightly, why would I ever sell any of them? Donating to the public library is one thing; that’s an act of love in order to support reading in my community. But selling pre-loved books is like… it’s playing out a tragic heresy.

Of course, no one asks. The people who walk by look like they’re wondering why I have so many books in the first place, not like they’re judging me for just having sold a bunch of them.

I get into the car and before I can get a hold of myself, the tears start rolling down my cheeks. I know I’ve done the right thing—these books are already a part of me, whether or not I have physical copies in my hands or not—but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I look at the cash sitting in the passenger seat next to me and grimace. It’s… dirty money. I don’t want to touch it. I put my bag over it so I can’t see it and look away.

As I pull out of my parking spot on the street, the meter already expired fifteen minutes, I don’t look back. I can’t. It may be the last time I ever visit The Last Bookstore.

It’s a touchy subject

Sometime back in late April or thereabouts, my best friend mentioned that his brother was flying out of LAX for a trip somewhere. I asked, “How does he have money to fly places, honestly?” It seemed to me he was flying off someplace every other weekend, and—I admit—it irked me.

“Well, how much disposable income did you have during college?” he asked in return. I snorted a laugh before I could stop myself.

“None,” I said, and I bit my lip before saying more and making it all about me, again. I wanted to say, Why do you think I’m up to my eyeballs in credit card debt now?, but I didn’t. I wanted to explain again how I didn’t have money just falling off the tree like he and his brothers seem to have, and that was okay (not everyone is rich, obviously), but that he needed to check his privilege and stop assuming everyone’s had the kind of funds he’s had. I didn’t want to get into it, though, so I held my tongue.

He raised his eyebrows. I was driving, but I glanced over in time to see him purse his lips, as though he wasn’t saying something, too. What were we holding back? Well, I knew what I wasn’t saying, but what wasn’t he saying? I frowned, but the moment passed.

“I know your parents couldn’t pay for as much—” he started, but I cut him off, irritated.

“My parents helped me as much as they could, but I have loans, now, so… no, I didn’t have much money at my disposal.”

It’s always the money, for me. It’s a touchy subject. Turns out it’s difficult to do much in a world that runs on money when you don’t have any. Maybe it should be more about “knowing people” and “networking” (gods, I hate buzzwords), but I’m not exactly extroverted or a “Let’s hang out sometime this weekend!” kind of person, even with people I actually consider my friends.

I realized then, again, as I was turning onto a side street towards my parents’ house, that I resent others who’ve had a more well-to-do upbringing than I have, and trust me—I’m hardly at the bottom of the barrel. I realized that I feel entitled to things I don’t already have because I grew up in the type of community that gives its children everything it can afford… and my parents couldn’t afford much. And I realized that my feeling entitled is the problem, not that my best friend’s brother wastes his money on stupid shit like flying up to San Francisco for the weekend. Plenty of people could (and do, when they get the chance) argue that I “waste” what little money I have on “stupid shit”, too, and obviously, our priorities are different.

My best friend still gets an allowance, and he’s never really had to worry about how he’s getting back up to Montana for work or school. His parents always come through for him, and they probably think they’re doing right by him. Maybe they are, I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to deny him something I could feasibly provide for him, either, but that doesn’t make me any more patient when he fusses about how little he can actually do with “only” $80 per month.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to make ends meet with therapy and doctor’s visits, and the cavity that was discovered at an appointment a few weeks ago is just right out. I’ll just have to deal with a painful mouth for a while (probably a long while) because I honest-to-gods truly can’t afford a crown or filling at this point in my life, even with medical insurance, which I have. And you know what? That’s just sad. I know; I know that dentistry is a first-world privilege, so to speak, and my not being able to pay for it is a first-world problem. I know that.

Part of the reason I dislike going over to my best friend’s house, even, is that the brothers… they’re just so obviously spoiled. It irritates me how spoiled they are, and I’m saying that as a person who considers herself relatively spoiled. I mean, honestly. (My own family has its own problems, but at least it’s mostly things I can understand. With my best friend’s family? What-the-hell-ever.)

I guess some people (my mother cough cough) would tell me to count my blessings: I can afford the therapy I need, even if funds are tight. I can pay the bills I have, even if I keep racking them up because my teeth are falling apart or I suddenly get tendonitis in my writing arm. I do have a roof over my head. I mean, it could be worse, right?

Well, of course it could be worse. It could always be worse. That doesn’t mean what I’m dealing with now is easy, or is less painful, or is worth less just because I’m not at the bottom of the barrel. If I was at the bottom of the barrel, I would kill myself and be done with it. But there’s so much further I could fall that I still have to seriously weigh the options before I take a giant leap into the unknown like that.

It’s said that money can’t buy happiness. Obviously, whoever said that was never poor; he or she never had no money. That saying is bullshit. I may not be any happier with money, but at least with it I would be able to think about something else.

Read her lips

This made me lol:

Supermarket [in] Brisbane, Australia

(I am scanning a customer’s order when I notice she is buying a $30 lip-gloss that is also being given away with a magazine).

Me: “Miss, if you’d like to buy [magazine] for $7.20, you get this exact lip-gloss free inside.”

Customer: “But I don’t want the magazine. I just want the lip-gloss.”

Me: “I understand, but even if you give the magazine away, you still get the lip-gloss for $7.20 and save $22.80.”

Customer: “Do I look like a charity? I’m not going to give away a $7 magazine. Haven’t you heard of saving money?”

Me: “Well yes, what I’m saying is you can save money by buying the magazine–”

Customer: “Stop trying to rip me off and scan my lip-gloss!”

(I ring up her lip-gloss for $30 and she storms off. The next customer puts the same magazine on the counter.)

Next Customer: “I don’t want it either, but I have half a brain.”

via, which was via

Thanks to my sponsors!

Over the course of this Blogathon, I’ve gotten three sponsors!

tikva
anon #1
anon #2

Thank you so so so SO much for sponsoring me this year, you three! It really helped me keep going when I was (am! lol) feeling sick or exhausted.

I earned a total of $25.00 for The Sex Workers Project!

Since I wasn’t really expecting to have any sponsors at all, $25 is an enormous improvement!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Two more posts (one more hour!) and I’m off the clock. I’m excited for sleep. ^_^