My Bankruptcy Story, A Rebuttal

by Emily · 14 comments

in Living Frugally

Writing my last post for Almost Frugal was one of the more difficult things I’ve done in the last few months. For the most part, the AF community was supportive and encouraging, and I want to thank you for that. It’s not easy to hang yourself out there and lay your personal failures open for all to peruse and pass judgment.

But I knew I couldn’t get off scott-free. Abigail over at I Pick Up Pennies picked my post, and pretty much eviscerated it on her post: A bankruptcy story… redux.  I hope you don’t mind if I do some clarification and rebuttals here.   Go ahead, read her post.  I’ll wait.  🙂

True confession: my first thought after reading Abigail’s post was “Woman, who peed in your coffee?!?!?”  I was steamed.  After about an hour of “I can’t believe she said that!” and thinking of interesting ways to get revenge, I understood.  I’ve been in her shoes.  Passing judgment on people’s financial mistakes, grouching about how I was forced to pay a higher interest rate on my credit cards because of people like them.

What she was saying wasn’t anything I hadn’t said about someone else.

When we bought our first store and got the mortgage for our house, we truly couldn’t have had better credit scores.  Our decision to purchase the second store when the first store was sliding a bit wasn’t a good decision.  True.  However, there aren’t many opportunities to purchase D.omino’s franchises, the store was in an adjacent town, the price was low.  It seemed too good to be true.  In hindsight, it was.

When you make a business decision like that, it’s almost always a step of faith.  Yes, there are no guarantees.  Abigail, the nonchalance you intuit in my post is there.  I’m married to a very headstrong man, I was saying the same things you said to him, but his focus was only on the store, he was going to make this store succeed at all costs.  After a year of arguing bitterly about the personal credit card checks he was writing to cover the payroll and rent and other store expenses, I threw up my hands.  I love him dearly, and married him for better or worse, but I had no control over his drive.

(In hindsight, I’m very glad he did.  Our flagship store is doing okay, and our future with D.omino’s looks moderately bright despite the crappy economy and the complete saturation of pizza joints in our town.  We may only ever be owner/operators with one store to our names, but we have our health and sanity, praise God.)

I guess my comments about the trustee having nothing to liquidate and my wistfulness for at least a happy memory of a vacation with my family was out of line.  Not that we’ve ever been extravagant, but once we saw that we were sliding down the slope towards bankruptcy, we were especially vigilant about our purchases.  I’m grateful I can look back and be glad I don’t have unnecessary purchases to feel guilty for.  I never would have taken that vacation, anyone that knows me would be able to vouch for that.

Harassment by collections.  Yes, Abigail, I stand by that terminology.  Harassment.  Collections agents are the jackals of the financial world, and they will stop at nothing (including complete disregard of their rules and regs).  I’ve been called at all hours, belittled, called names and cussed at, made to feel just this side of suicidal.  In the beginning, I tried to explain.  We had no income.  The store was barely staying afloat.  Blood from a stone, and all that.  There was no talking to them.  Nothing like being called a “deadbeat” when I can’t afford to buy groceries, let alone pay back what should rightfully be a business debt and come out of the business account.  I DID try, in the beginning.  Then I just stopped answering the phone.  Yes, I’m a coward.

A few words about the credit counseling class.  I don’t ever want to “sneer” at the chance to learn something new.  And I thought, and still think, the class is a great idea, covering the basics so hopefully the individual can pinpoint their mistake(s) and never go there again.  But it was very one-size-fits-all, winding its way from “what is a checking account?” and “what kind of life insurance should I have?” all the way through the importance of emergency funds and how to rebuild your credit (?!?!?!?).  No, my chief complaint was that we had to sit through this 2-hour PowerPoint presentation covering mostly basics, and my husband and I were the only ones in the classroom.  When I explained our situation to the teacher? proctor?  (she certainly wasn’t doing anything but reading the slides for us, as if we were too stupid to even put consonants and vowels together to form words), she just gave me a blank look and continued to read.  Like an automaton.   Then we started feeling a little patronized.

And, as a final point, Abigail mentions my “glib” attitude about our whole financial history.  I don’t want to pull the dead baby card, but it’s relevant here.  Once you lose a child, things that would at one time put you into full-blown crisis mode tend to roll off.  Very little of what you might experience that would have previously knocked you under, i.e. bankruptcy, foreclosure, business failure, will ever compare to that pain.  Ergo, I am glib.

Abigail, I’m assuming you’ve never walked the hell that is financial meltdown.  I pray that you never do.  Bankruptcy was our last and only option.  Yes, absolutely, we took on all the risks involved in buying a small business.  However, we never expected to crash and burn this badly.  Yes. I choose to look at my future with rose colored glasses.  It’s not like I can look back at my past and be proud of what happened. The most that I can do is learn from my mistakes so that I do not repeat them, and share them with you all so that hopefully you never have to tread down this path.

And, as promised on Abigail’s blog, stay tuned for future posts where I walk you through my personal hell for your entertainment and pleasure, and hopefully for your education (here’s to praying this isn’t something you’ve already experienced firsthand).

Kelly says: I asked Emily to become a full part of the Almost Frugal team in part because of her having lived through a bankruptcy. Her story is so different from mine in so many ways that I really draw inspiration from it.

And one more note from Emily: If you’re considering saying something derogatory about Abigail or her opinions, please think first.  She is entitled to her say as much as you or I or anyone else.  She was expressing her opinions based on a lack of information and a perceived poor attitude in my original post.   I am grateful for her post, if not for it I never would have thought to clarify or quantify my words otherwise.  I hope you’ll take a moment to thank her for stepping up and saying what’s in her heart.  That takes courage.


1 The Nester April 5, 2010

I have no words but that's kind of useless in the comments.

First of all, thank you for sharing your story. I thought the first post you wrote was more than enough information, and told your story well.

I read Abigal's post as well and even though she wasn't outwardly mean, I felt it was cold-hearted to question some of the things she questioned, in the way she did it. I'm so sorry. I'm not at all saying that she doesn't have the right to do so, but, I want to thank you for sharing your story, in an environment where you know people just won't "get" it all. It is naive for anyone to think that someone would take bankruptcy lightly. We all know it is NOT the easy way out, but at times is the only way out. I think we all understood that you were not writing that post to advocate the B word, but to at least let us know some of what is going on with you.

Thank you.

I haven not walked in your shoes, although at times we've felt close, but it's been a good lesson on not judging others. As a wife, who adores her husband, but doesn't always agree with every decision he's made financially, I feel your pain and applaud you for putting your marriage above your finances. This issue drives so many to divorce and that makes me sad. Money is important but there are more important things.

I wish you would have taken that vacation as well, back a few years ago and paid for it in cash.

2 Nicki at Domestic Cents April 13, 2010

I completely agree with The Nester. She pretty much sums up what I would have commented. Thank you so much for being vulnerable and sharing.
.-= Nicki at Domestic Cents´s last blog ..Cloth Napkin Rings =-.

3 Rhona April 5, 2010

Congrats on posting about your situation. I personally have never been through this but I commend you.
I have to comment that saying you wish you could have a beach vacation is not ignorant or extravegant. How is saying something too much? It is just a wish! I wish I can make it to NZ but I dont think it will happen within the next few years. Planning and having your sights on new things is progression and human.
I personally try not to pass judgement b/c I dont know what will happen to me tomorrow. By the grace of God, I am blessed and continue to be.
Sometimes having a blog is great but other times, all the self-justification is a bit much. And, it can be hard on the ego. I want you to succeed on your financial and personal end. I don’t relish the fact that you will be updating posts for our pleasure. I never felt one second of happiness while reading these posts. I have a deep respect for your trials and tribulations.
Keep your dreams alive. I want you to buy your house cash and take that beach vacation. The blogging community can be harsh at times but also wonderful. All the great tips on basically everything in life is out there so keep posting, keep reading, save like crazy and get on top of that heap. I am rooting for you!

4 Lauren April 5, 2010

Thanks for sharing.
I used to work for a bankruptcy lawyer. It’s not easy for people to make this decision. People would often come out of his office crying. Others would retain the lawyer just so the creditors would have to stop calling them because yes, they sometimes do harass people. People file bankruptcies for many different reasons… they make mistakes, they have terrible medical bills — there are irresponsible people but for them bankruptcy is usually a wake up call. Glad you made it through.

5 DanaMc April 5, 2010


I took your first post well enough. I've been on the receiving end of those calls. Sometimes the person on the other end will treat you with respect when you do the same. Sometimes they are just horribly belittling and call at all hours – whether or not it's lawful.

I didn't get the impression that you took the bankruptcy lightly. I did get the impression that you were relieved that you were on to the next chapter of your life. The life without credit cards. And, one where each step is monitored carefully so that you do not end up where you were.

I have received financial counseling – the best of which came from someone who was desperately in debt and had dug her way out. The best teachers…have BEEN there. I'm under the impression that the powerpoint proctor who was reading those slides to you had never been there. Her unempathetic demeanor gives me that impression.

Note my intentional choice of empathy, not sympathy in the paragraph above. I do not think we have to wallow with a person – helping them to victimize themselves, holding their hand, telling them they made good choices, but the world was against them. Nodding, listening, and encouraging someone to put one foot in front of the other to get out of the hole and never, ever go near it again is a different story.

You've been there.

many who read Almost Frugal are close.

And, you can offer warnings without being condescending and encouragement to those who feel they will never be able to pick up a phone without screening the number.

Thank you for sharing your story.

It was a reminder that I still don't have enough in my savings.

And, that I should put Dave Ramsey on "Season Pass" on TiVo.

And…I really should pay off (and cut up) that last credit card.

All the best,

.-= DanaMc´s last blog ..So Sad – Man is Losing His Entire Spaghetti Farm =-.

6 Junebug April 5, 2010

Personally I think that by the time we attend a credit counseling class it is usually after we are already pretty deep and possibly too far. I agree that it is so formula that it is hard to find out how to get the information to work for your situation. Financial messes are overwhelming, stressful, terrible on your confidence, etc. When we attended our first Ramsey seminar we felt so stupid for all the mistakes we had made. We were relieved to find out that others had made the same mistakes. We were normal. I think it is difficult to make any decision while you are feeling so down. We all make bad decisions. The answers are not all the same. However, I applaud you for taking ownership of your experience and trying to use it to help others. I try not to throw any stones because my own house is so shaky. I look forward to hearing more of your story and learning more.
.-= Junebug´s last blog ..Monday Musings =-.

7 Carol Sanders April 5, 2010

Man she was tough. Some points were good but could have used more tact! As a business owner myself, it is a tough enviornment and we are all doing the best we can by ourselves and mostly our employees. Learn but don't beat yourself up. None of us knows what tomorrow brings so hold your head and high and enjoy your family! You are blessed. Thanks for sharing.

8 Carol April 6, 2010

Emily, As a small business owner, I have to respond to your post.

Being in business during this recession has not been easy! I've known good businesses with interesting ideas go under–or at least be severely weakened. Many of us can say, "There, but for the grace of God (or whoever) go I."

Bankruptcy sometimes happens to good people, and I don't know a small business owner I cared about who has ever taken it lightly–and I'm sure you didn't, either.

I hope you are more cautious the next time. It is always easy to be reckless in good times, and we all have to guard against that! It always amazes me what a terrible grasp of history humans have. During good times, we imagine that it cannot possible go back to the terrible days of recessions and depressions. Wrong!

But don't let your recent bad luck destroy all your dreams, either! The economy will come back. Keep working, and planning, and learn from your mistakes. And don't listen to mean-minded people–especially those who have never been in your shoes.

You don't seem like a person to whom this will happen twice to. I hope not! The best of luck to you in the future!

9 AMD @ Make Do, LIve April 6, 2010

Emily, I'd read your story on your individual blog some months ago and so was not shocked by anything in your recent post on Almost Frugal. Abigail's response was at times a little over the top, but overall I think a good rebuttal. It would have been even better if she'd not made certain criticisms so personal.

I think a key aspect of your story is that you were an entrepreneurial debtor. Encouraging small business is one of the prime rationales behind the existence of the institution of bankruptcy. I don't think this gets you off the hook for criticism, but it's certainly a mitigating circumstance, imo.

The topic that really gives me pause and leaves me unsure about my own beliefs concerns pre-bankruptcy collections. You have as much experience as anyone with debt collectors, and it sounds like they did indeed mistreat you in an almost criminal way. But I totally feel Abigail's point about how small-business debtors are also cheating other small-, medium-, and large-businesses. One person's irresponsibility can have a chain effect that destabilizes a much larger business community. It ultimately seems that you were a good employer (managing to pay wages, etc), but a very bad debtor.

I'm sure it's difficult for you to bring up these painful issues and expose yourself to criticism, but doing so in the forum of this blog can only be a good, philanthropic thing.
.-= AMD @ Make Do, LIve Well´s last blog ..Desk Lamp =-.

10 Nancy April 6, 2010

I didn't read Abigail's post and don't plan to. It's not necessary. What I do want to say is that sharing our personal failures with others is difficult. Downright hard and uncomfortable no matter the magnitude of the failure. Kudos to you for being brave and sharing.
.-= Nancy´s last blog ..why didn't i think of this sooner? =-.

11 MSnow April 7, 2010

Been there done that!!! I can't tell you just how emotionally devastating a financial meltdown can be – you KNOW!! Only those who have lived that nightmare can truly relate. It was not for lack of knowledge, lack of planning, or any one specific reason it just was… Mine cost me a very emotional breakdown as well, and getting thru that was just as difficult. Thank you for being brave & sharing your story. I'm sure that was tough, I found it just hard to utter the words "I filed bankruptcy" its been 10 years and it is still a hard thing to swallow.

12 Bouncing Back Betty April 12, 2010

Emily, Your story about your Bankruptcy is your story. It's easy for others to look in on your situation and judge you, your husband and your decisions. As someone who filed a BK and is on the way back, I can understand what you are going through and what you went through, from the collection calls to the filing to the credit counseling education class. I have stated in my blog that filing a bankruptcy is never and easy decision or one taken lightly. For some people, life can go so horribly wrong in so many ways that can and do contribute to a BK. Like MSnow said it's not for lack of knowledge, planning or what ever.

Thanks for sharing your story with the PF world.

13 April April 14, 2010

Well done. I followed your blog over to this one to read the original story, read Abigail’s story, and then came back to read your rebuttal. This is well put and as many of the other comments indicate, even the best laid plans can go awry for reasons out of our control. No one knows what a bankruptcy is like–or why one has to go through one–until you are in that position. You told your story bravely and clearly.

14 eemusings May 14, 2010

Like most of the others, I thought your original post was well written. I’m glad you guys came through it and that you’re continuing to make the most of the situation – like you say, you’ll never repeat the same mistakes again.
.-= eemusings´s last blog ..The skill of paying bills =-.

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