Today’s excerpt is from the fictional tale: Financing Your Life—The Story of Four Families Taking Their Financial Lives Out of the Red and Into the Black. In this excerpt, we meet Toby and Shannon, two professionals battling a layoff and personal spending demons, must find a way to work together with honesty—a proposition that’s tougher than Toby expected.
Shannon and Toby
Separate Finances and One Lost Job
Despite the cacophony of angry noise they created, Shannon didn’t register the beeping cars behind her. She was so lost in thought about her day at work, she had no idea that she was holding up a stream of rush-hour traffic by sitting at a green light in a busy intersection.
What are we going to do? Without my job, we’re dependent on Toby’s income. I can’t believe they laid me off. And here I thought I was safe since I missed the paper’s round of layoffs last year. Safe—no such thing, I guess.
She was roused from her thoughts by the incessant flashing of lights behind her as eager drivers sought to communicate their urgency. She glanced at the traffic light, making sure it was still green, and moved her foot to the gas pedal, heading for home.
Toby was sitting in front of the television when she walked in. He must’ve just arrived home because he still had his shoes on.
“You’re home early.” He glanced up from his sports highlights show to give her a smile and patted the seat next to him on the sofa.
“Can you turn the television off for a minute? I have something I need to tell you.”
While he was interested in the sportscaster’s breakdown of his favorite team’s loss the night before, he could tell by the tone of Shannon’s voice that this was serious. He clicked the remote’s power button and shifted himself back against the couch, watching Shannon’s furrowed brow as she tried to get her mouth around the words she wanted to say.
The longer she took to say what she needed to, the more worried Toby became. Shannon had never had a hard time with words. Heck, her whole career revolved around them. In college, when they met, he was charmed by her need to scrutinize all text she came into contact with—from menus to encyclopedias. But whenever he wrote her a love note, a sweat-inducing task for a math major who didn’t know a preposition from a participle, she never criticized his spelling, grammar or sentence structure.
He put his hand on her knee and patted her leg, encouraging her to get it out.
“I … I lost my job today.”
Toby sat forward and said, “You—for good?”
She nodded. “Yeah, it was a layoff but, you know they aren’t going to hire anyone back. It wasn’t my fault, just cuts the paper is making. They let go a few copy editors.”
“Okay. That’s—okay. We’ll get by. Your résumé is amazing. It won’t take you very long to get a new position.”
Shannon shook her head and stood, pacing. “I don’t know if it’s going to be that easy. The whole industry is in flux right now as we see how the Internet and tablets and other technology affects readership. I don’t know how long I might be unemployed.” She stopped pacing and stared at Toby to get her point across. “I could be unemployed for a while.”
Toby felt his stomach clench and a sense of dread begin to build. “What are we going to do?”
“I guess we’ll have to sit down and work on a budget. We’ll have to cut back on some expenses and tap into your savings.”
At the words, “your savings,” Toby’s burgeoning sense of dread fully matured and set off loud, clanging warning bells in his head.
Toby and Shannon handled their finances separately. In their early twenties when they’d first married and were getting started in their careers, it had seemed like the best way to balance their individuality with a shared life together. They split the bills, had separate savings and retirement accounts, and were not accountable to each other beyond paying the bills that kept a roof over their heads and food on the table.
Toby had been meaning to start contributing more regularly, and more substantially, to his savings account, but he never seemed to have enough money to do so. Sure, he made a comfortable living, but he always seemed to find something more important, and more fun, to spend his money on.
“Toby? Are you listening?”
“Yes—I heard you. We have your savings too, right?”
“I do have savings, but it’s all in my 401(k) and IRA, so I think we should look at yours first.”
“But we’re going to try to cut our bills first, right?”
“Why are you being weird? Yes, we’ll cut our expenses, but I don’t think your income is going to cover us even after we re-budget. I know that we keep our finances separate, but this is an emergency situation. I’m not going to be able to pay my portion of the bills. Even if we stop eating out and shut off the cable, we’re not going to have a choice but to dip into your savings.”
Toby had always believed that tearing off a Band-Aid quickly was the smarter move, and while this situation was more painful than any physical injury he’d ever endured, he thought the quick tear was the best. He took a deep breath and said, “Shannon, I’m so sorry. I don’t have any savings.”
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