Two months minus one day. That is how long you can go past your car payment due date before the finance company seriously thinks about taking their car back. I learned that lesson as a child while driving to GMAC headquarters with my mom so she could make a payment. She was not going to catch up that day — it was more like staving off a hungry wolf with some crackers. This trip happened month after month for years.
In the beginning
When my parents were married, my dad was the person with the income. He gave my mom a set amount every two weeks that she used to buy groceries and anything her children needed. It was never enough, but my mom found that she could effortlessly get department store credit cards by using the household’s income on the form. JCPenney and Carson’s didn’t know about her biweekly allowance, so they had no issue handing her credit. Once my parents separated, Mom started to rely more on those little plastic cards. She also made some awful financial decisions.
Practically as my dad was walking out the door, my mom hit the mall with my sister and me. She was looking for a big purchase that screamed, “I’m free, and I can buy what I want. Take that, José.” She found the perfect revenge purchase — a $1,300 patio set. That’s not a trivial amount now, but it was a lot of money a few decades ago. It was also equal to about three months of that grocery allowance she used to receive, and child support was going to be even less. I tried to talk her out of it, but her mind was set. Of course, she didn’t have that kind of money, but she had her purse full of store-sanctioned IOUs.
Over the following years, the consequences of her ill-advised financial decisions seemed to pile up around us. My mom was a fantastic juggler — pay the mortgage with the Mastercard, pay the Mastercard with the Visa, pay the Visa minimum payment and late fee with that other card, and hope the card at the end of the line could wait a bit. My grandma moved in with us, and my mom was on her in a flash, pen in hand. Before long, Grandma had cosigned for a car and more credit. Banks apparently love the reliability of social security payments, or at least they did back then…