No, there’s no typo in the title—I really mean signing for your supper.
You may already be familiar with the expression “sing for your supper,” which refers to entertainers who perform like trained monkeys in exchange for food. (Before anyone finds fault with my reference, I was a trained monkey, too.) But y’all have seen the folks who “sign” for their supper. You know the people I’m referring to. They may be on the side walk or grassy area near a strip mall, holding a large “Going out of Business” sign or one with a large arrow pointing to a store with HUGE sales. Or they might be weighed down with a wearable sandwich board, turning themselves into human billboards.
Or how about those guys and gals dressed in a green Lady Liberty gown and a Styrofoam crown, who wave at us to come on in and get our taxes done!
Have you ever wondered what causes someone to take a job like that? Do you think these folks have a choice or do they perform this work out of dire necessity? Many of us might shudder to imagine our skills being so limited that we are forced to carry a sign for money. Or our funds being so low we need to take on “menial” work.
Impossible, you say? You sound like Mr. Groovy. He always says,“We got this!” when it comes to funding our retirement—but do we?
I dislike taking anything for granted. Something awful could happen to anyone. It could certainly happen to me. The market tanks. The Social Security Administration stops paying benefits. I lose my health insurance. A hurricane wipes out my house and community. Or perhaps I have a terrible accident, or worse.
I listen to Dave Ramsey frequently. I hear many of his same stories over and over, and his “better than I deserve” response to callers asking him “How are you?” But I heard this story for the first time a few months ago.
One day, when Dave was a kid, he and his friends were hanging out on the street and saw a guy running through the neighborhood—a big, overweight guy. They began to notice him running every day. This was before jogging became a craze and they were very intrigued by this guy. After a few weeks, they called the guy over and asked him, “what’s up with all the running?” The guy said, “It’s simple. My doctor told me I’ll die if I don’t lose weight.” Sure enough, they watched him run by week after week and he dropped pound after pound.
That man took the sign saying “you will die” seriously. Mr. Money Mustache would call that a hair on fire moment. Who knows how many diets and exercise programs the man previously tried, or whether his family repeatedly begged him to lose weight. But when faced with death, he finally took action to change his predicament.
Dave segued this story into a conversation—well, more like a RANT, about how we do not PAY ATTENTION to the signs telling us we’re heading towards a path of financial ruin.
Are there signs in your life, financial or otherwise, you’re choosing not to notice? There were several in ours that could have led to ruination had we not paid attention in the nick of time.
Folks, don’t wait for the bottom to drop out. Pay attention to the signs so you don’t end up signing for your supper.
Signs we chose not to notice
Woodpecker in the walls
A few months ago I thought I was going crazy. Every night after dinner, I began hearing this rat-a-tat-tat sound emanating from one of our kitchen walls. Mr. Groovy spent time upstairs writing after we cleared the dishes so he didn’t notice it. When he’d join me in the living room later, we’d listen to the radio or a podcast and I’d forget about the sound. This went on for several weeks.
Then one evening Mr. Groovy delayed his after-dinner writing session, and he too heard the sound. He became alarmed! He thought perhaps we had a rodent living behind the wall. But I was positive the sound was more mechanical. What could it be? I began referring to the sound as our woodpecker.
I turned to Google and YouTube and soon realized the rat-a-tat-tat was a sign that one of our GFCI electrical outlets in the kitchen was dying. Now I became alarmed! While a rodent would have a difficult time starting a fire, a failing GFCI outlet could easily start one. Within a few days we got an electrician to replace the outlet and the noise stopped. (I insist on one DIY rule in this household: no playing with electricity. Besides, we made good use of the electrician’s time as he fixed several switches.)
Our nemesis: the front porch
We’ve had separation issues with our front porch here in North Carolina for several years—that is, portions of our front porch are separating and water damage is accumulating. This can become a structural issue if not taken care of. Mr. Groovy did some additional caulking a few years ago but didn’t realize the extent of the problem.
The real fix involves a lengthy process we’re still in the middle of. Luckily, we dodged a bullet and the expense and damage are not as great as we feared. But we want to sell this sucker, soon, and in good consciousness we could not put it on the market, even if it might get past an inspection. And water damage is insidious; the longer you wait to deal with the problem, the worse it becomes.
Skin rash 101
I made an appointment with a dermatologist for a small, unattractive mole on my face Mr. Groovy was harping on me getting removed. Since my wifely duties drove me to fill up Mr. Groovy’s dance card with medical appointments he neglected over the years, he drew a line in the sand—YOU do something for ME! But I digress.
I also had a rash on my neck that was annoying me. I treated it with cortisone cream and didn’t give it much thought. My complexion is extremely fair, I have numerous food and skin allergies, and I sweat when we walk in the sun—no alarms went off.
When the dermatologist took one look at me, she said, “I think the mole on your face is nothing. I think the rash on your neck is skin cancer.” Holy sh*t. She did a biopsy and she was correct. Two weeks later a huge chunk of my neck was sliced off. OK, I’m being dramatic, it was a two-inch excision that needed stitches and took over a year to heal. The first few months were a real pain because it was difficult to keep the spot covered up outdoors. Bandages don’t like sticking to the neck.
I’m happy to report the cancer was basal cell which is a very typical outcome for a fair skinned person who was heavily exposed to the sun 20+ years ago. But, if left neglected, basal cell can spread and cause further damage to skin and bone, and lead to disfigurement. I’ve been on a six-month dermatologist visitation schedule for the past two years with no additional cancer detection. After an appointment this week I can go back to yearly visits if I’m all clear.
High-Cost New York
And all of the following were signs we could no longer afford New York—signs we should have seen sooner:
We had no money to invest
After paying our monthly expenses in New York we had little left over to invest. Mr. Groovy and I were both in our 40s when we married and although we understood the “pay yourself first” concept, we had no means to follow through with it.
Crazy housing and transportation expenses
We paid over $4,500 a month in expenses (they’re under $3,000 now, and that includes budgeting $10K annually for vacations). We had a mortgage, home owners’ association (HOA) fees, an additional assessment for building maintenance, homeowners’ insurance, and mandatory flood insurance. Car insurance was high as well. And for the lovely privilege of me taking the smelly Long Island Railroad to work, we paid over $2,000 a year. We couldn’t catch a break. Heck, even though we were spending more and more time at work and commuting, our electric bill kept growing like The Blob. Thank you, LIPA.
No money for social events
Any invitation from friends usually meant spending money—money we didn’t have. Try going out with a group of friends in Manhattan or on Long Island for a bite or a few drinks without spending at least $50. Knowing what we know now, we could have pulled it off. But back then we didn’t have the courage or the spirit to explain our financial situation. We didn’t have the backbone to say “meet us at Starbucks” or invite friends over for a potluck dinner and beer.
Our light bulb moment
Our 2003 property tax bill was the death knell for New York.
In 2003 we received a property tax bill for $5,400. Previously we’d been paying around $3,700. Mr. Groovy turned to me and said, “Do you want to get out of New York?” I replied “hell yeah!” I was actually doing mental back flips because I already wanted to leave but I never even suggested it. Mr. Groovy still had so much family and extended family in the area, I didn’t think he’d go for it.
It took that tax bill to force us to see the tell-tale signs that we just had to leave New York. Our three-year countdown to relocate began. That’s another story.
What signs do you choose not to notice?
Is the company you work for downsizing employees by the dozens?
When was the last time you improved your job skills? Moving up from MS DOS and floppy disks to a windows operating system doesn’t count. And neither does learning how to mount your iPhone to a selfie stick.
Are you worried that your rent continues to go up and up while your paycheck doesn’t keep pace?
What about the infrastructure where you live? Are the roads and other services keeping up with the population? Or are people leaving your town? Is crime on the rise? What’s the unemployment rate?
Is your emergency fund plummeting but your emergencies are rising? Or perhaps you don’t have an emergency fund? We didn’t. In New York we had absolutely no margin for error.
Mr. Groovy and I walk every day in a town park. It’s the same park where he does his Talking Trash with Mr. Groovy episodes. A few times a week we see a very large, older man on the path. He kinda reminds me of the guy in Dave Ramsey’s story, except he can barely walk. He huffs and puffs and has to stop along the way to sit down or lean on a post to catch his breath. Recently we crossed paths and he was so red in the face, I asked him if he was alright. He smiled gently and said “I’m alive”.
I think he got the sign.
Do you need help recognizing the financial signs life is giving you? Or interpreting them?
Do you need help with your financial behavior?
Mr. Groovy and I would like to help. We’re not trained in any professional way to provide guidance. We can only listen and tell you what we would do.
If you’d like to contact either one or both of us, email me at:
[email protected] com
We’d be glad to answer questions by email or jump on Skype for a conversation.