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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Does Money Still Not Buy You Happiness

There is an old adage that says money can't buy you happiness. The inference is that love, be it familial or romantic is what brings you happiness.

I used to believe that.

I believed that if we had the love of our family and even more important a romantic love interest, we had everything. In the past few years, however, I’ve begun to question that adage. Not because of any changes in my family or romantic interest. Rather from changes in not only my life and those close to me. I’ve come round to believe that an important component to happiness is security and money can provide that security.

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to work in a private sector law firm where I not only made a great salary but also had tons of overtime and with a low monthly rent, shared utilities and my car paid off had money to spend. I took vacations, bought clothes, celebrated major events with my friends. I paid my credit cards off every month. Then in 2005 I made one really big mistake – I was offered the opportunity to refinance my house to a 15 year mortgage with a really good interest rate – or so I thought. I had a job where the payments wouldn’t be an issue and up until that time never had a problem finding a job. Shortly after my loan closed the city I worked for developed money problems such that for the first time in its history layoffs happened. I was one of the people laid off. And at the same time, very few places, either private or public sector were hiring. They were holding firm.

When I did find a job it was about half what I made at the previous one but the benefits were really good and there was, reportedly, room for advancement. The advancement wasn’t a reality for anyone – just something they tell you. It’s kind of a catch 22—if you do the job well you pass probation and anywhere you want to promote to likes having you do your job well. The problem is, if you do the job well, there is no incentive to promote you because well, you do a good job right where you are.

The summer of 2006 through summer of 2007 I attempted to refinance my house and go into a 30 year instead of the 15 year mortgage. My lender (a bank that starts with a “C” and ends with a “k”) played a wonderful game of telling me it looked good. Three rounds of paperwork one of their “customer no-service” reps told me that it was better for them if they foreclosed because then they’d get the foreclosure insurance AND be able to resell my house for a higher rate. After that, in 2008, I embarked on the modification game – and that’s what it is – for some – a game. The “customer no-service counselor” repeatedly told me not to do the things the website asked for but to do other things. I checked in with him weekly – he seldom returned my calls. On December 27, 2010 he told me I’d hear the results in a few weeks but it looked good. Two days later I had a rejection.

Meanwhile in spring 2009 I accepted a job with a salary that would have righted everything – we were immediately furloughed 3 days a month. Half of our bargaining unit either filed bankruptcy and/or lost their homes. We’re talking over 30,000 people.

As 2010 crept by, more and more of my friends reported losing benefits, losing jobs, filing bankruptcy and a few lost their homes. Even with two incomes, they lost their homes. A few marriages broke up over money concerns. Even those who had relatively secure jobs were stressed and buying a burger at a fast food restaurant off the dollar menu equated with fine dining while eating out.

I submitted a second modification package in the spring of 2010 and this time I called every week and got the name, ID, city and state the “counselor” was in. I wrote down every word they said and in each conversation told them what was different from the bank’s website. They often acknowledged that there were three pieces of information: what the paperwork said, what the website said and what they were telling me to do. I noted the discrepancies and when they would contradict each other I’d tell them what the person – using their name and ID number told me. Then one day I happened to mention to the “counselor” that one of the attorneys I worked for was watching my case very closely with me – and I mentioned the location of where I worked. Ten minutes later I had my modification.

THAT kinda proves the other old adage that “it’s who you know, not what you know.”

Bit by bit things improved – I still needed a tenant/roommate – and the first one was entertaining at best. Not a day went by where there wasn’t some sort of drama—either real or imagined. That was 18 months of gratuitous drama. I've often thought her penchant for using strong chemicals to clean -- and freely so -- contributed to Molly's death. Shortly after she moved out I had to have another one more in…that lasted 4 days and I became the not so proud owner of a restraining order.

And then some money that had been owed me for some time arrived. I was able to pay off some heavy duty bills and bring outgoing money under control. I sleep better, am less stressed, know I can take care of my cats if something happens to them, I can pay to get my car tuned up…I can buy a new shower curtain without having to budget for it, I can buy the kind of bread I like and not look for day old. I can afford the deductible to get my teeth cleaned. We’re talking basic day to day life things. I feel a LOT more secure. In fact, I feel secure for the first time in almost 5 years and you know what? I feel a lot happier.

Money can’t buy happiness outright but it can certainly provide security and feeling secure that there will be food on the table and a roof over your head goes a long way to being happy. So at this point in my life I have to say – money CAN buy you happiness because for me, if I’m secure there is room to be happy.

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