The State of Things: Plus One Laptop, Minus One Car

by Mike Dang and Logan Sachon

Logan:‬ Did you get a new laptop or keep your old laptop and take the $100? I can’t tell by looking at your computer.

Mike: ‬So I crowdsourced this question from the Billfold community, and more people wanted me to make the upgrade than take the check. I decided I was going to make the decision once I was in the store, because then I could actually look at the new line of laptops and see how they were.

But when I got inside the store, and said I had just bought my laptop two weeks ago, the Apple lady said, “Oh, let’s trade you in for the new one then!” And I looked at her and said, “Okay!”

LS: A man who likes to be told what to do. I LIKE IT. Are you happy with your decision? Trader’s remorse?

MD: Well, I can’t really tell a difference. But again, all I really use this laptop for is to read things on websites and do my daily blogging. The programmer in our office said he was jealous, which secretly made me happy. Also, I guess I don’t really need $100 right now.

LS: That’s a weird thing to say, Mike Dang. There is always something you can do with $100.

MD: True, but I also accepted a freelance gig to write for a men’s website this week, so I thought, “Well, I’ll be getting money there.” Also, the Apple Lady was more like an Apple Mom. She made me feel good about the trade, and I sort of wanted to hug her, but I didn’t want to be creepy

LS: Nothing creepy about a hug.

MD: Which is what creepy dudes like to say when they hug employees sometimes! I’m guessing you would have asked about the $100, and then taken the $100.

LS: Actuallllyyyyyy, the same thing happened to me when I bought this very laptop I’m typing on! An upgrade came out within two weeks. And yeah, I took the money.

MD: Do you remember what you did with that money?

LS: Don’t be ridiculous. We’ve met! Plus it was two (or three?) years ago. The Apple Store was in the mall, so if I had to guess, I’d say I walked across the hall to The Gap.

MD: Haha. You’re right. Not everyone remembers stuff like that.

LS: You do. You remember ALL OF THE THINGS.

MD: So people want to know how your Get Out of Debt Plan is going. Let’s have an update.

LS: Oh, yes, I think the consensus is that by now I should be halfway there and maybe also living with my parents again and working 12 more jobs. My life is not that! Yet! It’s still early days in my DEBT PAY-OFF PLAN. Because here’s the thing: It’s not a goal I’m going to reach this year, or even next year. It’s a processssssss. And I’m working on it.

MD: Yes, you did have a freelance gig to write about your undergarments, recently.

LS: I’m still just bringing in enough money to pay my bills and live. I know there is also some confusion on why I feel like I can still do things I want to do (like go out with friends, or bring things to a picnic), but I think it’s ridiculous to assume that I’m going to change my whole lifestyle in order to pay off these debts. Obviously, some things need to change, yes. And certainly there are people who have just drastically changed everything. And who knows — maybe I still will. But right now, I feel okay that I’m not making the problem worse, that’s a big step for me. Just living within my means is my current journey, man.

Also something happened this week that is going to change things a lot for me when it goes through, at least, I hope it will. My parents bought my car from me. I left it in Virginia when I came to New York, and they’ve been driving it while it’s there, but they decided last week they wanted to pay off the loan so they could transfer insurance. When my dad suggested the plan to me, I felt pretty weird.

Not having the car payment and insurance will be an extra $300 a month, which is a big deal for me right now, obviously. But it almost feels like, well, once again, things are working out for Logan. I mean, that’s the thing right? I’ve been able to skirt through my twenties with all this debt because of luck, basically. The luck of getting a job at just the right time before I couldn’t make payments anymore, sure, but really just the luck of having incredible and generous parents who have helped me out a lot throughout my adulthood.

MD: But you are not using your car. Just think of it as putting your car up for sale, and that your parents just happened to be the buyers.

LS: Yeah, but the part of that that makes me feel really icky is that they put the initial downpayment on that car, and have helped me out over the years in so many ways. Selling something to these people that I owe so much to seems so gross to me.

I tried to tell that to my dad, but he said, basically: Listen. That’s in the past. In doesn’t matter what’s already happened. You have a car and car payments you don’t need. We have money to buy the car. This is a transaction, it’s not charity, it’s not bailing you out.

I appreciated so much that he said, but it still feels uncomfortable. The other layer to this is that I refinanced the car two years ago to pay off my credit card debt. So the car in actuality should be paid off by now. It should just be in a place for me to gift it to them.

MD: Oh, I see. Well, are they helping you out in any other ways besides the car?

LS: Well, yeah, they’re my parents. They gave me some money for my birthday a few weeks ago (gosh, a month now?) and also a gift card to Trader Joe’s which I’ve basically been living off of. And they’ve told me that if get in a bind and need money, to please talk to them. So I know I’ll never be on the streets, you know? It will never get so dire.

MD: Okay, well, that was them being generous for your birthday. These are just fortunate turns of events. Besides these things, if they offer to help you money-wise, you can say, “Thank you for the offer, but I’m okay.” You have to wean yourself off your parents so you can stop feeling like your parents are bailing you out all the time.

LS: Well, I don’t know that I’m really in a position to say no to anything? Though that’s an interesting point. I have several friends that have joked that if their SICK STARTUP makes it or they win the lottery or whatever, they’ll pay off my cards for me. And: Yes, please. But maybe I would hate myself even more if I did that. I kind of doubt it? But I might.

MD: But you have the ability to say no, and have said no. You have said it to me. Whenever I’ve offered to help you do something like open a new bank account so you have a place to put your money that you can’t touch to pay all your monthly bills, you’ve always refused and said that it was something you wanted to do on your own. And this cannot be true if you’re accepting money from your parents, or your friends (and yes, in the past, I’ve been totally guilty of offering you money to help bail you out of a situation). I remember a month ago when you were going to be late for a payment, and I offered you some money so you could make that payment on time, and you turned me down and said you had it under your own control. I really respected that.

And I think you said something interesting the other day, which was: “The most/only effective way I’ve found to control my spending is having zero dollars to spend.” But I actually don’t think you’ve ever actually had zero dollars to spend because you’ve always been able to rely on the kindness of the people who love you. You haven’t allowed yourself to let yourself believe that there is this powerful, self-sufficient individual inside you who can be resilient when facing the debt that you’ve built for yourself — money that you’ve borrowed from creditors to experience as much as you can while you’re young, and money that you’ve agreed to pay back. Your parents and your friends are doing you a disservice when they offer to give you money to pay off your debt. Because when they do that, what they are essentially saying is that they don’t think you have what it takes to make it on your own. But you do. I want you to believe that. I want you to believe that because it’s true. Because I think that if you were to ever face the reality that you really do have zero dollars, you’d do whatever it takes to get through the bad times. You would write a million articles about your undergarments for whatever websites or publications would be willing to pay you to do it. I have faith in you, and I want you to have faith in yourself.

When you are paying your own bills, nobody can tell you what you can or cannot do with your own money. Nobody can tell you how you should or shouldn’t be able to live your own life, because you are paying your own way. I think you can do this.

LS: Well my parents don’t tell me what to do. And if I took my friends’ money, the most they’d tell me to do is, like, go hang out on some island nation with them, and: Okay.

One more thing: Whenever I’ve read stories about other people getting out of debt, I feel like there’s always been a catch. They always were able to sell their two sports cars, or liquidate stock options, or use an inheritance. And I used to read stories like and get so disheartened. Because the beginning would be exciting — if she can do it, so can I! And then later you find out she got a huge alimony or whatever. But now I think that’s maybe just how it works a lot of time. There is no one quick fix, you have to work at it no matter what, but bits and pieces get paid off in chunks maybe, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes it goes quicker.

MD: I think it’s good that there is no windfall or quick fix, because you wouldn’t learn anything in the process. The refinancing of the car to pay off your debt was sort of the quick fix in that situation, and I don’t think it helped too much. And you’ve made tiny, important steps so far.

LS: Yes. And people always say they remember their poorest years as their finest. Right? That’s a thing people say? So maybe one day I’ll look back on these years and value them. Just cherish the heck out of them. I hope so.

Previously: The State of Things (Logan Has $138.95, Mike Has Some Stress)

Photo: Flickr/Hannah Nicole