She signed up for automatic bill pay for her utilities.
That's it. Go ahead and look at that for a minute. I'm guessing you had a couple of responses:
- You said, "Oh, sure, everybody should do that, it's so convenient." (As in, this is not a big deal.)
- Or you said, "Oh my god, that's amazing."
My response was the second one. Because signing up for automatic bill pay presumes that when a bill comes in, you are CERTAIN that you will have enough money in your account to pay it.
I'm in my late forties and I don't even know if I have ever been in that position in my life.
I settled my divorce late last year. I'm digging out from some debt from that. I've got bills that I've been trying to pay down for years. I'm paying off student loans from 1992. Debt is something that I have carried with me for years and years and years. Forever. Since college.
The idea that someday, I will be in a position that I can pay a bill as soon as it comes in is like a fantasy. Autopay? That's wild. A wild crazy fantasy.
Except maybe I can actually do that now. Here's what happened. I got a new job last year. My pay jumped significantly. Suddenly, I've got some discretionary income instead of constantly chasing bills from one month to another.
I actually have money left over after I pay my bills. This is wild.
And I'll admit that I bought some furniture and bought some frivolous things. (Yeah, like book cases are wild crazy extravagances. But anyway.) We went out for dinner a few times.
But my real fantasy was, hey, maybe I can finally get caught up on my bills!
It felt briefly like things were crashing down this month. I'm just getting on top of overdue utility bills, and it feels like I'm dealing with a serious cash crunch right now. It's scary, every time this happens, because I panic about whether some major bill is going to come up that I won't be able to cover. Like, the rent. Or the electricity.
So what you do, when you don't have enough money to pay the bills, is you pay a little at a time and you hope someday you're going to have enough money to catch up. Like, if I just pay the past due now, someday I can be in a position to pay the light bill before it becomes past due. You have this illusion that someday, something good will happen and suddenly, you'll be caught up. (Sometimes, this is people fantasizing about winning the lottery. it's about that realistic.)
But now, I'm now making enough money that I can see that happening. I can get caught up. It's actually within the realm of possibility.
So this month was the month that I was going to get on top of everything. And then I got hit with a $1000 car repair bill.
So fine. Dammit. I have no credit cards available for emergencies (when you live paycheck to paycheck, your credit cards are always maxed out.) So I used the $1000 I was going to use to pay down the bills this month, and pay for my car instead.
So next month, I'll get caught up.
It all gets overwhelming so easily, especially when my anxiety kicks in. So I'm trying to take it all in steps.
This month, I got caught up on the light bill.
Next month, I get caught up on the utility bill.
The month after that, I start paying those collection notices. (I don't pay them off. I just start payments.)
Getting out of debt is a process. I'm not there yet. Nobody goes from "deep in debt" to "completely caught up" overnight. Sometimes I have to remember that. I'm going to have occasional times when the bills all hit at once and I panic. But I think those times are going to become much more rare.
And maybe, sometime by the fall, I will be completely on top of my regular bills. And I can take one bill - the cable bill, maybe - and put it on autopay.
I'm getting caught up. It doesn't feel like that sometimes, but I am getting caught up.