1.27.2013

don't step on my blue snake shoes (going carless: part 3)

secondhand, like-new B.P. (Nordstrom Brass Plum) blue-green leather snakeskin-print flats

It's official: I'm carless. The Volvo was driven off yesterday by a newly licensed 16-year-old kid who lives up on Mt. Hood with his parents and wanted "something that wasn't a Subaru like all my friends have." (I didn't own a car till I was 27.) His dad, who supervised the transaction, said sheepishly he was sorry I had to sell my car (to someone young enough to be my son). I said something about a useless master's degree. It all feels like punishment for being an English major—not in the zapped-from-above sense but a basic consequence of the market, the price of ignoring supply and demand.

But thanks to my English-major skills of analysis and interpretation of symbols, this last year can be viewed as a full-blown midlife crisis, only instead of buying a new red Porsche, I signed on the line for a used blue Volvo. But then costs mount. Reality hits. And one has to figure out how to un-sign, backpeddle, humble oneself among the rattling, tin-can reek of the poor, frugal, and mentally and physically challenged on American buses and hoof around on foot, loaded up with grocery bags like a mule.

And all this walking leads to another first-world problem: the cutest, sexiest shoes, i.e., those with heels, are the least comfortable. And at 40 and single, feeling even a little bit sexy when gravity has begun its intractable pull is crucial. For older women, comfort always wins, but I am not there yet. So my new thrifting quest will be to hunt down sexy walking shoes, if that isn't a complete oxymoron. These like-new, blue-green leather, barely-glittery, snakeskin-print flats from Nordstrom's B.P. line ($2.50 at Goodwill) might fit the bill when the weather warms, but for now I'm alternating between flat-soled Hunter rain boots and heeled Hunter rain boots, depending on the state of my right first metatarsal. (Guess which pair is cuter, more work-appropriate, and more painful?)

But you know who rescued me from my evil lien holder? No, not some guy in a pinstriped suit (I'm long past belief in Prince Charming). No, not either set of parents (though I was tempted to ask)—not this time. My credit union, that's who.

A few years ago I got fed up with paying my bank—one of those massive conglomerates that created the housing bubble and its burst and our subsequent Great Recession—fees each month for letting them use my money (which admittedly wasn't much but still) to further their nefarious speculative schemes, allowing them to stock every corner of the country with ATM's. I had one of those free checking plans with fine print, the print being that I would be charged a fine if my checking account dropped below $1,000. Pre-divorce, because my Web-engineer ex made ten times what I do, it was never a problem. Post-divorce, with my underemployed adjunct-teaching income, the checking account soon became a problem. Switching to a credit union was the solution.

Instead of paying fees to a bank because of being poor and underemployed, my credit union deposits a dividend into my checking account every month at a rate higher than any bank interest rate—if I fulfill a certain number and kind of debit, wire, and online transactions each month, which is easy to do. A credit-union teller even gave me personal encouragement in my job hunt last summer during a low point: "Something will come along when the time is right" (whatever that means, except something did come along, just in time). Most recently, when trying to figure out how to sell my car private-party without owning the title, a credit-union loan officer told me, "No, there are no fees for this personal loan or early repayment. We want our members not to be in debt but save money."*

What kind of upside-down world is this when most Americans have been convinced that debt is good and savings are bad, that all-fees-all-the-time big national banks are better value than small, local co-op credit unions? "Why," I asked the guy who was setting up my wire transfer, "don't more people know about credit unions? My parents were credit-union members when I was young, but they never talked about why." "We're nonprofit," he said. "We don't have big advertising budgets. We get most of our members by word-of-mouth."

Do the research. Compare interest rates. Compare fees. Make the switch to a local credit union. Compare customer-service experiences past and present. Then spread the word. There are quiet, bright-shining knights all around.

And this spring, strolling around town in my blue snake shoes, maybe I'll click my heels like Dorothy and wish like the lion for courage to effect my own transformation. 


*Note: Getting the lien into my name cost me $28.75, $18 for the wire transfer and $10.75 for a week's worth of compound interest—well worth it to slip the monkey off my back.

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