Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wherein the Geezer Learns New Tricks

In 2005, when, as we know now, real estate values were akin to fairy tales, we bought a condo in St. Petersburg, Florida. Our purpose was twofold: (1) to have a condo in the same development as my mother so we could care for her in her last years, and (2) to put our money in a place where we wouldn’t be tempted to give it to the kids.
That was 2005.
Back then, condo fees were $90 a month. Now they are $265 per month.
Back then, if we had sold the condo in the year or two after we bought it, we would have been able to pay off the mortgage and make a small profit.
Those were the days.
Now, if we were to sell the condo (and units in our development are selling, finally), we would get at most about $15,000 less than our mortgage.
Since 2005, I have completely retired and our income is a little more than half of what it was before I retired.
Last year, the condo owners voted to assume management of the development on their own. A qualified condo management specialist was hired and procedures were adapted to this new management structure. One of the procedures that had to be adapted was the way in which condo fees are paid. Specifically, we changed the organization to which the fees are paid. Old authorizations for direct debit of checking accounts were moved to the new management company, and all of us were given the option of paying the fees ourselves rather than giving the management association authorization to debit our accounts directly. I chose to end the direct debit and set up an automatic payment, which I control, in my on–line banking with Bank of America. I notified the company by email on 30 November that I wanted this change. The change was to be effective 1 January of this year.
They say they didn’t get the email. They say it probably went to spam and was deleted.
So last week the condo fee for January was taken from my checking account twice: once by the standing automatic debit, which I thought I had cancelled, and once by my automatic on–line banking payment.
Even in the best of months, I have to pay daily attention to my checking account balance. Being on a strictly fixed income makes such vigilance a must. I am thankful that I caught the double payment the morning after the automatic debit was posted in my account.
The double payment had left me close to $0 in my account. Two on–line bill payments had already left the bank for the payees, and I wasn’t able to cancel them. I wound up being in the hole plus I was charged a $35 overdraft fee. Our savings are gone. I used the last of our savings for some emergency in October, 2013. I was up a creek. In addition to being in the hole in my account, I had no money for food, gas, and other necessities for the rest of the month.
I had to ask three of my four daughters for help. I borrowed the money I needed for my checking account from the three of them, spreading the damage among them so they wouldn’t suffer. One of them graciously went to the grocery store and bought us the food we’ll need for the next few days.
The manager of the condo association was very nice and agreed immediately to send me a check for the overpayment. This was last Wednesday, a week ago. Unfortunately, she told me, she was leaving town that very afternoon and wouldn’t be back until Monday (19 January, a bank and postal holiday). She promised to send the check on Monday, 19 January. I asked if she could either Fed-Ex it or send it by USPS 2–day mail. She told me that wasn’t possible. She did mail the check on Monday, but, it being a holiday, it didn’t go anywhere until yesterday.
So I’m waiting.
This has been a huge learning experience for me. I hate to ask other people for help, especially for financial help. I especially hate to ask our kids. It is absolutely humiliating! But I did it and discovered that the kids, and even the condo manager, were very kind and understanding and, at least our kids, were willing to do what they could to help us. Once the check arrives, I’ll be able to get us through till the first of February and from there I’ll just have to continue our Spartan "lifestyle," and maintain eternal vigilance on my accounts.
Life has taught me a lot in the last week. It’s taught me some humility. It’s taught me to be more open with others, especially my family. It’s taught me—AGAIN—that I am not in control of my life. It’s taught me appreciation. And it’s taught me that I can be at peace even when we have no money.
Most of all, it’s given me a deeper appreciation of those many people I see in our town who never have any extra money, who always worry about having food, who can’t afford a car, much less the gas to make it run.
I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.