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Bankrupt in The Sun: Why Do Smart People Do Stupid
October 18 2008

I am in serious debt problems and it is spoiling what should be the best time of my life. My third age, early semi-retirement in the sun. Things are getting progressively worse and while I am looking for employment, at 54 and living in Spain at this recession time I am not hopeful of finding a lucrative role any time soon.

I have arrived at this situation because I did a lot of smart things over the last three years but unfortunately I also did two very stupid things. Moving to the Costa Tropicale on Spainís Mediterranean coast was a really smart move! How did I put up with the UK climate all my life? I sold my house for a good price pre credit crunch, more by luck than judgment.

My all-time favorite author is John D. MacDonald and especially his Travis McGee series. In these wonderful books the hero lives on houseboat in the Florida sun, Ďtaking his retirement in chunks, while he is young enough to enjoy ití. This was my fantasy and so I went for it. Admittedly I was more of a Meyer character, McGeeís economist sidekick living off his investments. I was doing well by trading forex on the Internet. A couple of hours work a day with all my capital in open currency positions. Then came the sub-prime mortgage crisis out of America in August 2007 and the financial dominoes began to fall thick and fast.

Of course it is a really dumb thing to put all your financial eggs in one basket. But it is like you get used to things and they cease to have any real meaning. As Joni Mitchell puts it in ĎBig Yellow Taxií, ďYou donít know what youíve got till itís goneĒ. The debts seemed normal, accepted. It was really easy to get loans and credit card balances and everybody else was doing it. It seemed the whole world was having everything now and paying later. It would just go on and on wouldnít it?

They call it a depression, a slump and a recession because thatís how it makes you feel. I will never forget the sickening sight and stomach-churning feel of all those currency charts zooming downwards faster and faster until the red pop-up box told me simply there was a margin call and I was broke. Other charts were going up but I hadnít bought into those particular roller coasters. I had never experienced such big losses before. Surely the dollar couldnít just go down and down. It had to turn up at some point! I could wait it out! How dumb can you get? The banks, Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae had all been doing similar things. It was like pyramid selling Albanian style. So the mortgage market domino crashed into the stock market domino that crashed into the currency market domino and so the slide rushed onwards with no handholds in sight.

I went through the four stages of bereavement for my lost fantasy life. First there was denial. This canít be happening to me? If I just reboot my computer that tiny figure at the bottom of my account balance will be back in five figures not three. Surely I donít have to sell my boat and move into a cheap rental apartment. There is no way I was going back to England and the rain and cold winter. Surely I wonít have to find real work again? Who would possibly want me on their team at my advanced age?

Then there was disorientation. How can I change my lifestyle to meet my new income? What can I do without? Where can I cut down? Where can I get more money? Could I start my own private detective agency or maybe become a taxi driver? No need really because surely it was my turn to win the Euro lottery millions. Just hold out till Saturdayís draw and everything will go back to normal. So your mind races round and round like a rat in a maze and at the same time you have to take the practical steps to deal with the new reality.

Next came reorientation as I tried to realize some assets and the fruition of my second really dumb thing. Two years previously I had trusted my son-in-law in a house build venture. Never go into business with family. They can be crooks too. I had left a lot of money in the value of his house but as the economy turned down it becomes Ďevery man for himself and the devil take the hindmostí. Charles Darwin could make a good study of human behavior when resources are scarce and even family turn into cannibals. Feasting on the remains of other peoplesí fortunes. Money is the new meat in our post modern world. Will it be ruthless selfishness or altruistic cooperation that is the characteristic to take the human race forward now?

All evidence to the contrary I like to think of myself as a smart person but I do need help with this debt situation. My income isnít sufficient and my debts too large to make a consolidation loan feasible. I never tried to restructure my debts when the times were good. Perhaps I should have, but now when things are bad all round, the banks just want their money back. They have no interest in giving me a repayment holiday or freezing the interest payments. So my next domino to fall is the one marked bankruptcy. I tell you the legal and financial administration of bankruptcy is a job in itís own right. But it has to be done.

I feel I am entering the fourth stage of bereavement by integrating my new status into my everyday life. I have taken stock of my skills and attributes and found that I have an aptitude for writing. I had always done bits and pieces of creative writing throughout my career. You know, employee briefings, reports, and in-house magazine pieces. I always enjoyed this and got a kick out of seeing my words in print. So Iím beginning to build a reputation and steady stream of work from freelance writing.

Iím still living in the sun. My wife is beautiful she loves me and supports me. Life is good and Iím off for a walk on the beach before getting back to my red-hot word processor. I have my health and lots to look forward to, so my fantasy isnít really dead at all.

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