WESTMINSTER — Bonnie H. Smith gets Thursday mornings off in her fight against debt. But only every other week.
For years, bills from Fashion Bug, Sears, Roebuck and Co., VISA, Montgomery Ward and Co. and Discover credit cards had accumulated.
Now she's paying, but she's not sorry she spent.
On weekdays, she races from a morning job at McDonald's to second-shift work at a car-parts maker with a stop at the gym in between. Every other Thursday morning when she doesn't work at McDonald's, she cleans house for a Westminster woman.
Smith, 41, of Westminster, is a woman with three jobs and hope for the future.
In 1989, when she said she "hit bottom," her monthly bills were $200 to $300 more than her income, and she could only see her financial situation getting worse. She had raised two children alone and was proud of the job she'd done, but credit had been a necessity. One company was threatening to take her to court.
"I had all the credit cards. Not one, not two, but all of them," she said. "I had to learn to control myself. It was just a bad habit we all can get into -- even rich people do the same thing.
"When you come out of a big family, there are things you never had that you want. I just overdid it. I spoiled myself. I spoiled my kids," she said.
Smith was one of 18 children in a poor family, she said.She and her twin brother, who lives in Montgomery County, came in the second half of the family. She quit school in 11th grade to help her mother at home.
She plans to study for a high school degree whenshe pulls herself out of debt, which probably will be in 1993. She said she cut up most of the cards and sent them back to the companies.
"I don't regret going into debt. My kids were happy, with decent food in their mouths and decent clothes. I don't feel bad. I proved Icould do it all without a man in my life, without a husband," she said.
Her oldest, Karen Magruder, has had to fight some of the same battles her mother did.
Magruder, 21, of Westminster, raised her daughter alone for several years before marrying the child's father several months ago. She said she was working two jobs at one point.
"It was pretty tough, but I knew I had it in me because of what my mother had done," Magruder said. "I wanted to give my daughter more than I had."
Magruder said she realizes she's more like her mother than she thought she ever would want to be.
"My mom used to clean house like crazy," she said. Smith would ask her daughter to do the dishes, and Magruder said she would reply that it wouldn't hurt the dishes to sit in the sink overnight. Now, Magruder said she can't go to bed unless all the dishes are washed.
"I'm starting to be just likeher. It burns me up," she said, laughing.
Magruder works as a cook at Carroll County General Hospital.
Smith's son, Floyd Hopkins, is 20 and lives with his mother in a town house on Charles Street. Hedoes masonry work.
"She's a workaholic," he said, adding that he wished he could help his mother more financially.
In 1989, when Smith realized she needed help to pull herself out of debt, she went tothe Cooperative Extension Service for financial counseling. She and her counselor, Maureen M. Rice of Eldersburg, agreed she needed a second job.
For almost three years, Smith has worked second shift Monday through Friday at Marada Industries Inc., a car-parts manufacturer in Westminster. It was dependable work, but she needed more money. Besides the credit card bills, she also was paying the mortgage on her town house.
"I wasn't making enough to carry the load," she said.
So, last September, she went to work at McDonald's on Route 140 in Westminster. She works four mornings a week and sometimes Saturdays, from 7 a.m. to noon.
Rice, who volunteers as a counselor, said,"There's a lot of pride involved. A lot of her friends come into McDonald's and say, 'What the heck are you doing here?' and she says, 'I'm paying off my bills.' It takes a lot of guts to do that.
"I am in awe of her. She has just pulled herself up by the bootstraps like I've seen no one else do in my life," Rice said.
To keep her energy up, Smith exercises three times a week at a Westminster health club.
"I feel good. If I didn't exercise and keep myself in good health, I wouldn't be able to have these jobs. I wouldn't be able to deal with people. I would have a bad attitude," she said.
Her faith in God also helps her keep a positive attitude, she said.
"Without God, I probably would've hit bottom, and I wouldn't have gotten back up.
"I'm very pleased with my life," she said. "I have faith in God that I won't be in debt forever."