When we last left off my multi–part Why Debt Sucks saga, I had made the brilliant decision to pay off one debt with another debt to somebody else. Even more brilliant (insert dripping sarcasm), I decided that it would make the most sense to borrow that money from my employer in the form of a salary advance.
Don’t even get me started on how incredibly stupid this was to do. Not only is it colossally dumb to pay off debt with other debt (I’m looking at you, people who pay for “home improvements” with HELOCs and Second/Third/Eighty-Fifth Mortgages), it is even more stupid to go into debt to your employer. I mean, that kind of gives new meaning to “Another Year Older and Deeper In Debt,” as the old folk song Sixteen Tons says. When you’re in debt to your employer, you aren’t even afforded the luxury of working paycheck-to-paycheck anymore. Nope, in this situation, your employer takes your pay that you earn working for them back before you even get your hands on it.
As if this all weren’t stupid enough, I worked for a freaking temp agency. I asked a freaking temp agency for a salary advance when there was no guarantee that I would have a freaking job from one week to the next. I mean, seriously, this was ridiculous. Granted, it was a shitty recession at the time, and I was still in my 20s, and I was more interested in “flexibility” than job stability, and I had just gotten out of a crummy relationship, so maybe some people would cut me some slack for my bad decisionmaking. But don’t cut me any freaking slack. I could not have been more stupid about how I went about all of this if I had tried.
The first week I worked with this payroll-based debt hanging over my head, I worked 38 hours for $17/hour (A good pay rate for the early 2000s). Guess what my net pay was after taxes and debt/interest deductions?
It gets worse.
The following week I only worked 21 hours because my long-term temp-to-perm assignment got terminated early. (Really puts the ‘temporary’ back into temp work, doesn’t it?). Guess how much that week’s paycheck ended up being for?
Suffice to say that taking home $280 in two weeks while working full-time, living in an expensive city, alone, with a car, and no support from parents REALLY. FUCKING. SUCKS.
I still had the part-time waitress job, which helped a little. But I only got shifts on Friday and Saturday nights, and only made about $75-$100 a night on good nights, but on some slow nights (like when we had bad weather that kept customers away) I might only bring home $25. I was not making enough money to keep a roof over my head or gas in my car (which I didn’t want to get rid of, in case I needed it to drive to interviews at jobs that weren’t accessible by public transportation). Between the two jobs, there was no reason I couldn’t have squeaked by—even lived semi-comfortably—without debt. But since I was burdened by more and more debt (because of that pesky problem of high, weekly, accruing/compounding interest), 75 cents of every dollar I made didn’t belong to me—-it belonged to my creditors.
See where I’m going with this? Oh by the way, it gets even worse.\
The third week of my indentured servitude (because that’s exactly what it was) I lost my freaking temp job, and there were no other jobs available with that agency because they lost a giant staffing contract. And you would think that since my temp-agency employer took away the means for me to pay back the salary advance I still owed them (plus interest), they would forgive the debt. But noooooooooo. I. STILL. HAD. TO. FREAKING. PAY. IT.
IN FULL. IMMEDIATELY. Or else.
Or else, what? Well, they could take title on my car, for example. Or garnish my (non-existent) wages, provided I could ever get another decent job. I couldn’t file bankruptcy to get out of it, because I had done that just three years prior. (Because of course I did. <eyeroll>). Having that kind of debt on the books against a former employer could even prevent me from getting another job at all.
I tried to keep from drowning by asking for more waitressing shifts at the restaurant and pounding the pavement in search of a better job every waking minute that I wasn’t waiting tables. I started putting my very meager possessions up for sale on Ebay (kind of pathetic, since I owned almost nothing by this point). I sold plasma. I sold CDs. (They were still somewhat valuable back in the early aughts, and not even as collector’s items.) But most of all, I ducked bill collectors.
Bill collectors called me constantly. I narrowly missed having my car repossessed several times. Good thing the repo man wasn’t able to find me (or my car) before I landed a big job interview out in the suburbs with a Fortune 100 company, which I somehow managed to land mostly because the hiring manager (a sexist marketing exec who wanted a 20something blonde for an assistant; and I was a 20something blonde—the one time sexism worked in my favor, natch), which would hopefully lead me out of this debt-ridden nightmare.
I was lucky enough to land that job by the skin of my teeth. Just barely. But there was a catch. (There is always a catch.) The job wouldn’t start for another three weeks, and so I had to somehow straggle through the best I could with next to no money coming in, and a repo man jockeying to repossess the car I would need to get out to the suburbs for my Ass-Saving Job.
It always gets darkest just before the dawn, or so the old saying goes. Guess what happened next?
I remain your Cheap Yuppie Mom.