My Financial Beating: Episode 2

Yes, another one of 'mine', not ours. I've not had an easy time with this thing called money.

Still in college, but with a different set of house-mates. Through a bit of last minute shuffling and scrambling, I ended up living with two people who were subletting for the original two - one who got an internship and the other who bailed altogether. The one sub-let was a fellow classmate who was graduating in December and only needed the apartment for the Fall. Our house-mate-come-intern was covered. The other sub-let was a friend of the intern house-mate. He seemed nice enough, but was not in school, but rather running his own small, but successful business. He signed up for the full year without hesitation. We thought we were busy with our school work-load - we rarely saw this guy.

Then came that arduous day - dividing the utilities. After the previous phone monopoly debacle, I volunteered to take the water/trash/sewer bill. My classmate took the phone bill and Mr. Small Biz took the power bill. Being clever young adults we devised a simple plan. Each month, we would pay our respective bill and list the amount on a white board in the kitchen. If the bills were the same, and we estimated that they would be close, then we would call it even. If they were off, then we would do the math, and chip in to reimburse the one who payed that bill. It seemed smart.

The first month went as planned. The bills came in and they were close enough that we called it even. A couple months went by. Our two bills were similar but Mr. Small Biz never listed his. He was always gone before we were up in the morning, and would hear him come in late, if at all. We assumed he saw the white board with our bills and saw that his was similar. Another month went by, another set of bills. We saw Mr. Small Biz one day (without the cell phone glued to his ear) and asked if he needed any money for the power bill. "No, we're cool, it's fine." Little did we know, we were anything but cool.

Occasionally we saw our businessman roommate. Coming, going, raiding the fridge. There were even times that we actually hung out and had conversations. Absolutely nice guy. Always had a smile on his face. Always. Was always on the cell phone. If he wasn't then it was ringing. Always. Once or twice he left his phone in the apartment when he left. I grew to hate that ringtone of his.

Winter break came. My graduating house-mate left for home, but would be back later finish moving. I left to visit the soon to be Mrs. NtJS. We returned a couple days later. Mrs. NtJS noticed something was up right away. Certain things were missing or moved. She walked straight back to Mr. Small Biz's room and opened the door to find it.... empty. He had left larger, noticeable items in the common areas, but taken a few things that were important to him. It was clear that by doing all of this and leaving his room door shut, as it usually was, he was trying to hide his untimely departure. But why? What was going on? We spoke with some mutual friends as well as the original intern roommate. They had no clue. We went around to his businesses, only to find them just like his bedroom. Empty. He was gone.

Christmas break came and went. The graduating roommate moved out. The intern roommate moved in. He even came up with another out-of-school friend to take over Mr. Small biz's place. Hopefully he would be better than the last 'friend'. But then came the real sting - we went to transfer the utilities. The power company had a local office down the road, so we went to do it in person. No go.

The account was past due. In fact it was 6 months behind. How could this be? We never got any letters, any disconnection notices, let alone have the service disconnected. This couldn't be right. As it turned out, Mr. Small biz made just one payment to the trusty power company. He made the first one, and that was it. With our class schedules keeping us on campus most of the day, and Mr. Small Biz coming and going as he pleased, he was able to snag the notices off of the door and out of the mailbox. He had successfully intercepted every notice. And yet somehow they never shut us off, despite being 6 months and over $200 behind. He had swindled us, and we were pissed. But this bill was between him and the power company, not us. This was their problem.

No, it was my problem. How is that so? Nowhere did I sign anything. The overbearing lady from the power company called the leasing office and found out that of the three previous delinquent renters, one remained on the lease - Me. In her words, this constituted a "moral obligation" on my part to pay the bill. Moral? Moral!? A utility customer service rep, who was likely lying to me, was going to lecture me about morals? How about the morals of Mr. Small Biz? Tell it to him, not me. I pay my bills (usually). Like most college kids, and as stated in Episode 1, I was less than prepared to deal with this effectively. Still, I was having none of it, but neither was she. She had this role down - she had heard it all before and turned it back on us every time we turned it on her. It was like it was scripted. She won the battle of wits and our new roommate chose to foot the bill in order to have power in the apartment we had just helped move him into. It was a really classy move and it totally saved the day.

As it later came out, Mr. Small Biz was bankrupt. Duh. Not only that, but he was on the run from unpaid vendors and clients with unfinished jobs. He had run the whole deal into the ground. I remember reading his bankruptcy case in the local paper. Something like ~$120,000 in debts and ~$8,000 in assets. What a mess. We chased him for a bit, and even spoke to him over the phone one day. Said we would be getting something in the mail. A check? No. A notice that we were to be named in his bankruptcy proceedings. But we didn't even get that. We were small and insignificant. I always felt bad for our new roommate who had to walk into that mess. That is until I saw the way he spent money on video games.

We chose not to take the easy way out on bills that following semester. Each month we listed the bills, split them 3 ways and wrote each other checks. It wasn't creative, but it worked, and we all knew what was going on. One month, I forgot to cut the check to the water company. Before the next bill arrived, a service man stopped by to "collect payment or turn off service". He was also good at his roll. He said it with clipboard in hand and a large wrench hanging from his tool belt. I cut him the check.

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See the original 'Financial Beating' article here.
See My Financial Beating: Episode 1 here.


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