Sunday, August 23, 2009

Going from broke to spiritually enlightened in a few easy steps

It's a a shame that in our culture, being broke and unemployed with no future is often equated with being a loser.

People who used to identify success and happiness with material possessions and the ability to acquire them at whim, are understandably having problems dealing with prevailing economic setbacks.

Upon having their credit declined at the apple store when attempting to buy the newest iPhone, some have spiraled into depressions so deep, only a lexapro/klonopin cocktail can help them. Sadly, these people are usually the ones who gave up their health insurance a few months ago to buy the last lastest iPhone. As a result, a large portion of the population could descend into a black hole of despair that's not only fiscal, but mental.

Fortunately, all it takes is a slight shift in attitude and behaviors to turn the stigma of being broke, into an attribute to be admired.

The Gandhi manuever
Say you used to dress in the latest from the haute designers and now everything you own is so hopelessly two months ago you've gone into hiding. Find an old sheet and wear it Gandhi style. Tell anyone who will listen that it suddenly occurred to you that all those ridiculously expensive designer clothes ultimately brought you no happiness and were merely expensive cover ups for a gaping hole in your spirit. If you see someone wearing the Christian Leboutin shoes that you would have coveted before you found your soul, mention that for the same price, the proud owner could feed a starving Somalian family for a year. See how quickly you can re-spin your poverty into moral superiority. And it's not like a vow of poverty is irrevocable. If you ever get your financial bearings back, you can start shopping for the hottest designer sheets and matching accessories.


Now that you have nothing better to do, volunteering for a worthy non-profit organization is a great way to network, add to your resume and appear to give a damn about people less fortunate than yourself (link to list of worthy non-profits). Tell everyone that you're tired of working for the big corporate machine, chasing the dollar to feed your shallow addictions and you want to pursue an area where you can really make a positive impact on the world. Choose an organization that you either feel passionately about, or one that confers status on you. If you're opposed to manual labor, find a volunteer project that utilizes your preferred skill set and requires lots of dinner meetings. If you miraculously find gainful employment while you're in the middle of a project, you can always bail at the last minute. They'll understand that your new job will keep you incredibly busy shopping for new work clothes.

Environmental activism
Repeat after me: "I'm not living in a tree because I got evicted due to non-payment of rent/forclosed on. I'm living in a tree to make an environmental statement because I'm socially and environmentally aware and I have the balls to DO something about it."

The pros of tree sitting: Free rent. No utility bills. Well-meaning environmentalists will bring you food (free food.)

The cons of tree sitting: Free food is usually vegan. In other to maintain your integrity of an activist, you've got to stay up there. It can get pretty boring. But during daylight hours you'll have plenty of time to do some research and learn why sitting in a tree contributes to the environment.

Getting started
Nothing is easier than spinning your newly acquired poverty into socially conscious altruism once you get the hang of it. Here are a few things you need to tell yourself in order to begin the transformation.

Your electricity is off because you're tired of being held hostage to the energy companies.

You've started taking public transportation to reduce your carbon footprint and to experience life amongst the masses.

You're boycotting Wall Street by not using your credit cards (no need to mention they've all been cancelled)

You've eschewed personal grooming in order to shed the superficialities that society has imposed on you and focus on developing your inner beauty. Or just complain how all the grooming products are animal cruel, environmentally bad or owned by an evil corporation.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The pros and pros of declaring bankruptcy

The idea of declaring bankruptcy has always seemed a bit shameful, something to be avoided at all costs. In these times, that attitude is archaic and foolish. Especially when you consider that some of our most prestigious companies have done it, not to mention luminaries like Donald Trump, Larry King, Toni Braxton, Francis Ford Coppola and any number of Jacksons. And not one of them had to sacrifice their lavish standard of living, status or credit rating for one minute.

Clearly, it’s time to get over the stigma. Bankruptcy is awesome. Once you know the specifics, you’ll wish you did it sooner. I know I do.

What makes bankruptcy particularly appealing right now is the fact that the courts are so clogged with cases (over 6,000 new ones a day), it’ll take years for yours to be processed by the courts. That means after you file the preliminary papers, all your debts will be frozen and no further payment will be required until the court date (which should occur no sooner than 2014 at the current rate). In the meantime, nobody can take legal action against you, evict you or charge interest and penalties. Sure, it may screw up your credit rating for awhile, but let's get serious: your credit rating is so screwed, bankruptcy may be a step up. The past part is, you get to live exactly as you have been, without the annoying monthly payments.

Let me compare the lifestyle of two people who have been unemployed for over a year. One has declared bankruptcy (who we’ll call Prince) and the other hasn’t (we’ll call him Pauper)

Pauper has been trying desperately to pay off credit card debt for years. Unable to deal with the threats of creditors and predators, he moved into his parents' laundry room so he wouldn’t have he added burden of paying for a place to live. Since then he has staunched the financial bleeding, but has also acquired a chipped tooth from the zipper on the pants he intercepted on their flight to the washing machine, a nervous tic, and stress induced eczema (diagnosed by Google). Despite no longer having to pay rent, he still struggles monthly to pay his minimum balance, which is mostly interest. The principle debt is not going down. Pauper hasn’t been on vacation for years. His last clothing purchase was a pair of $2.00 flip flops on sale at Old Navy. He avoids people, because it usually involves spending money on drinks and food and he doesn’t want to blow his monthly food budget on a cup of coffee and a scone.

Meanwhile, Prince filed bankruptcy six months ago when the incessant calls from creditors were making it impossible to enjoy his new $500 Blackberry. Prince is still living in his lovely home, purchased for $300,000, borrowed on at $850,000 and now worth $600,000. Well, actually Prince is currently vacationing at a spa in Hawaii, which he can afford because he is no longer paying bills and isn’t accruing one bit of interest or penalties, while he waits for his case to make the court calendar. Now he can spend every cent he earns on necessities like food, clothing, vacations, premium cable, exfoliation and Cuban cigars. His skin is clear, his belly is full and he is up to date on the latest episode of Weeds.

The old way of thinking would have labeled Prince an immoral cad. Today he probably qualifies for a top banking job. On the other hand, Pauper comes off a naïve douche with bad teeth, unattractive skin and a twitch.

Before you rush off to declare bankruptcy, a few important tips. Maximizing the amount you'll be absolved from owing is just good business sense. Make sure you charge all your credit lines up to the limit before declaring. Get things you really need like a good haircut, pedicure and fancy Italian espresso/cappuccino maker (think of the money you'll save on Starbucks). While Chapter 11 is the most famous kind of bankruptcy, you'll want a Chapter 7, which lets you keep your material possessions without necessitating a repayment plan. You’ll probably lose your house if you have one, all your other possessions like your flatscreen, Dolce and Gabbana ensemble and sub-zero remain yours. You just don’t have to continue paying them off. And now that your house is worth less than you're paying for it, squatting there for free is a welcome relief from the burden of ownership.

Sound too good to be true? Well, there is a catch. It’ll cost you. In order to declare bankruptcy, there's a fee and you’ll probably need a lawyer, which usually costs $5,000 – $6,000 (which if you had it, you wouldn’t need to declare bankruptcy). So before you enter into an arrangement with any lawyer, make sure he or she accepts credit. If you can’t find a willing lawyer, try bartering. Sure, you may have to sacrifice your first born child, but you’re doing it for your child's own good (bankruptcy law is booming—he/she shall not want).

The other option is to file the initial claim yourself and go to law school. You'll earn your degree before the case comes to court.

The sooner you file, the sooner you can begin your new stress- free life and start accumulating new debt. Rumor has it Narciscoo Rodriguez's fall line is to die for.