Debt Solutions For Serious People (The Mad Hatter Method)
Today we’re discussing a powerful thought process for getting out of debt.
But let me tell you something right up front:
This approach to becoming debt free isn’t for the light hearted.
It’s for the lion hearted!
For the purposes of full disclosure I need to tell you a little about myself. My name is Brent Truitt and I’m a personal finance blogger, where I post stories about real people struggling with debt and financial ruin. I’ve been featured multiple times on Rockstar Finance, and other notable places online, such as the great Freedom is Groovy blog.
I claimed personal bankruptcy in my early thirties, and that experience sent me on a journey of self discovery that has partly culminated into what you are about to read.
This information is intended to encourage and inspire people to take control of their financial affairs and become debt free. Even better, I hope this document becomes a turning point in your life, and assists you on your own unique journey to the ultimate realization of financial freedom.
In an effort to leave an impression upon readers, and provide entertainment value, I employ a storytelling format. Jennifer Aaker, Professor at Standford Graduate School of Business explains in this video why I chose this format.
Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people I interviewed, but the vast majority of their story is factual. I have purposely altered some facts for the sake of dramatic effect, but the chronological order of events is accurate.
Table of Contents
Why The Hatter?
You’re probably wondering what the Mad Hatter has to do with getting out of debt.
Let me briefly explain.
In Lewis Carrol’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass, Alice first meets The Hatter in chapter VII, A Mad Tea-Party. The Hatter’s nonsensical comments, blunt declarations, and sudden insistence on changing seating arrangements, sparked my young imagination.
The reason I chose Carrol’s character in a metaphor for debt recovery is twofold;
- recovering from debt usually requires an awakening to cold hard facts, and bluntness (even bordering on rudeness) from a partner or family member can be instrumental in facing the truth
- recovering from debt almost always involves a rearrangement of priorities and stations in the debtor(s) life and the lives of those around them
Meet The Debtors
“Time is drowning
Hearts are burning
Heads are rolling
Nothing can save you now
Tick tock, tick tock”
― Emory R. Frie,
John Debtor is married with two children and works for a telephone company in Seattle.
His wife Jane works part time as a teacher and is the central figure in their household.
From the outside they appeared to be a happy and prosperous family, but secretly they had fallen into deep debt from years of overspending.
They took ski trips when the slopes were open, expensive vacations in the summer, and they leased two vehicles – nice ones!
It got to the point where their home equity line of credit was maxed out – and their credit cards were on the verge of the same.
Both Jane and John were under a lot of stress, and to make matters worse, they were getting phone calls every day from debt collectors.
The pressure was affecting the entire family.
The adults in the house were losing patience with each other, and worse than that, they were losing patience with the kids.
The jig was up. The handle had been pressed, and their cozy lifestyle was swirling the bowl.
Hell Hath No Fury
Jane ran out the school doors.
It’s what everybody does when trying to avoid a Seattle soak-down on the way to the car.
She had her keys ready as she flew around the corner into the parking lot.
And she wasn’t alone. There were teachers and students running right along side her.
The difference for her was that she didn’t have a car to run to.
It’s common knowledge that all Seattle repossession companies only repossess vehicles when it’s pouring rain. They won’t even leave the compound, or lift up their rocks, when the sun is out.
Jane’s heart sank. Shocked and bewildered, she ran back into the school.
She called John at work but he was out doing a phone installation.
Jane was numb, as she silently stared out the school window at the pouring rain.
This was a turning point. She’d had enough.
Eventually Jane got a ride home with some co-workers.
She thanked them, closed their car door, and ran to her front door in the still pouring rain. When she got in her house she broke down in tears.
She was mortified, and hell hath no fury like a woman embarrassed.
Once she calmed down, she tried calling John again and this time he was there.
She made it clear to him that there was going to be some big changes coming.
That evening when everyone was home, she announced to John and the kids that she was getting rid of her phone.
The announcement barely raised eyebrows, but the fireworks (more like mortars and napalm) started when she informed the kids they were giving up THEIR phones too. The rest of the evening was a descent into unadulterated rage.
Hell hath no fury like teenagers losing their cell phones.
The next morning the house was quiet. Few words were spoken as they all got ready for their day – save for the oldest daughter making one last plea to keep her phone.
But that’s what happens when there’s been a death in the family.
Maybe not a literal one. But something died that day, and it was hurting.
Not only did the girls lose their phones (catastrophic enough), Jane told John he shouldn’t play golf anymore – at least not anywhere it costs money.
She reminded John that her sacrifices were the first ones on the alter.
Her pride and her BMW.
When the girls sulked back home after school, they had passed the first four stages of grief.
Shock, denial, anger, and bargaining were pretty much over.
They were obviously under the heavy weight of nasty old number five – depression.
They barely spoke, and when they did it was in grunted mumbles.
It was then that Jane decided the list would have to wait until the end of the week.
When Sunday came it was the usual mandatory “Sunday Dinner”.
The girls (ages 14 and 16) showed up reluctantly as usual, still grieving the loss of they’re phones.
When dinner was over and everyone was about to get up from their seats, Jane asked them to sit back down.
The oldest daughter rolled her eyes as Jane pulled out a crumpled, and coffee stained piece of paper with a list on in entitled,
“THINGS TO STOP!”
Note the last item on the list.
Those three words “girls get jobs” was responsible for their household falling into the tenth circle of hell (where even Dante didn’t dare go).
Jane was called out by their oldest daughter for being rude.
Even her husband John complained that she was upending their lives too much.
Their youngest was very upset. She just wanted her iPhone back, and everyone to stop fighting.
But Jane was unwavering. She scoffed at the idea she was being a bully, and to make things even worse, she dropped a bomb that left her family speechless.
Well….for about 5 seconds anyway.
She told them a realtor was coming over to the house the next day for an appraisal.
This was something John didn’t even know!
He told the girls to go to bed, and demanded Jane join him in the kitchen.
He was furious!
He told her she was entering into deal-breaker territory!
But she still wouldn’t budge. She knew John would never agree to selling the house and downsizing.
She also knew it’s what they had to do.
After more pain and squabbling John and the girls eventually succumbed to Jane’s demands.
They sold the house for a good price (got lucky on the timing in the Seattle market), and downsized their lifestyle in almost every respect.
The girls learned a valuable lesson that will stay with them for the rest of their days.
The oldest got a job working part time after school, and they’re youngest got work babysitting and cutting lawns.
Because of their work, the girls gained a lot of confidence and they even got their cell phones back, albeit they weren’t the latest models and they were pay-as-you-go-plans.
John and Jane’s relationship survived the upheaval caused by the sudden reshuffling of their lives.
“Great. Nice wrap up there Pollyanna”, I can hear my well-read readers lament (or should I say well-ridden).
My only response is that sometimes there is a happy ending, and in the case of this family that’s how it turned out.
In our next story, we see how going “full hatter” (like Jane did) can have a very different outcome.
And way in the back I can hear my manly misogynists muttering, “Harrumph…she sure wears the pants in the family”.
To them I say, “No, my neanderthalic brothers…..she wears the hat.”
Sources of inspiration, and content references: