A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

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Our Financial Journey Three Years In


Last year, right before quitting The Job From Hell, I posted a comprehensive update describing our progress over the two years we'd been working to improve our financial situation. Since then, several things have changed:

    1. I left the hellish job and took a career break. (I have never - not even once - regretted this decision, though it felt like a gamble.)

    2. I started a part-time, no-benefits job that I generally like. It's probably a dead end, but for now, it's a reliable gig that allows me to keep a toe or two in academia. 

    3. We refinanced our remaining student loan.

    4. The pandemic happened. Yayyyyyy such a fun surprise, life. 0/10 do not recommend.

Given these changes, I figured I'd post another update. Disclaimer: I don't know what, exactly, is acceptable to disclose in a global crisis. On one hand, I feel guilty for being in an okay financial spot, and that part of me thinks I should keep quiet. On the other hand, I've had people encourage me to share more. Plus, this blog is a personal record. If I don't write it down, I won't remember it. 

So with all that in mind, here's a peek under the hood of our firmly middle-class, slightly dinged-up financial vehicle. I've included the strategies we're employing in the various facets of our finances along with the changes we've seen over the past year or so.


Debt


Debt three years ago: >$76,000
Debt April 2019: ~$37,000
Debt August 2020: $34,713

Our current debt repayment strategy: Pay the monthly minimum on our recently-refinanced (to 4% interest rate) student loan.

What's changed in the past year: I figured I'd start here because paying off our debt was once the main focus of this blog. We started off with a mix of credit card, auto loan, and student loan debt. For a year or so, we were bringing in six figures from two full-time jobs. For the first time in our lives, we had money to spare. We were able to pay off everything except one student loan (which constitutes about half of our initial debt balance) by January 2019. 

We've slowed our roll since then, in part because our income has dropped by ~1/3 since our period of peak earning and in part because we realized we wanted to save more. In the past 15 months, we've paid off only ~$2K or so. However, after refinancing this past spring, we already see a difference in how quickly we can make a dent even with just the monthly minimum.

While I'd like to get this last debt paid off sooner rather than later, I'm comfortable putting the brakes on if it means that we have more liquid savings at our disposal, especially at a time when so much is up in the air



Savings


Savings three years ago: 0
Savings April 2019: $8500
Savings August 2020: $17,500

Our current savings strategy: Pay our bills, set aside a little money for fun/miscellaneous things, and save the rest. We also save most of every bonus that Fortysomething receives.

What's changed in the past year: We started ramping up our savings last spring because I knew I needed to quit my job. Our "windfall earnings" - bonuses, mostly, and then the stimulus check a couple of months ago - allowed us to squirrel away a lot in a short period of time. Not being able to do much or go anywhere this summer helped, too: we usually splurge on a vacation, and that didn't happen this year.

When we hit $10K in savings at the end of 2019, I remember thinking that we were all set. With a roaring economy, hoarding anything more than that seemed silly to me. But COVID-19 has completely upended my approach to savings. Instead of having three or four months' worth stashed away, I'd love to have a year of expenses on hand. That hasn't happened yet, and it probably won't - not right now. But it's certainly enough to get us through a few months, especially if Fortysomething leaves his job. 




Retirement


Retirement three years ago: ~$1000
Retirement April 2019: ~$17,000
Retirement August 2020: ~$35,000

Our current retirement savings strategy: Increase Fortysomething's employer-sponsored retirement contributions by 1-2% every year. His contribution is currently set to 10%, with a 3% match from his employer. We invest in index funds. Set it and forget it.

What's changed since last year: We've continued to contribute to Fortysomething's employer-sponsored retirement account, although back in March, we were seriously questioning the wisdom of tossing money into stocks. The weird behavior of the market still makes me a little uneasy, although whatever's happening is working in our favor at the moment.

This is a benefit that would truly suck to give up if he leaves his job because a) I don't have retirement benefits through my gig and b) his match increases every couple of years. I have an IRA that I occasionally contribute to, and he could open one, too. But the maximum contribution limits are so much lower than they are for 401Ks.




Net Worth


Net worth three years ago: -$65K
Net worth April 2019: -$13,600
Net worth August 2020: $19,500

Our current net worth strategy: We don't track our net worth regularly, and I try not to think about it too much.

What's changed since last year: We're finally in the green! 

I don't have a net worth graph because when we refinanced our student loan, I deleted the old one in Personal Capital, thereby screwing up our net worth history in the system. But I guess the main point here is that our net worth has increased quite a bit thanks to a combination of savings and investments (and the stock market doing its thing).


The Long Slog


There are a lot of inspiring stories out there about people who went from broke to rich in a span of a few years. Those narratives are motivating. However, I'm guessing there are far more untold stories that look like ours and that reflect years spent moving from a not-great financial situation to a better but not spectacular one. And that's fine! Progress is the key, even when it's not easy. Even when it's mainly gained through many, many small steps over many, many months.

I feel good about the financial improvements we've seen over the last year, although I'm worried about what the rest of 2020 holds. If we have to dip into savings, our situation could change rapidly. But what's the point of building financial security if you can't occasionally lean on it? So we'll just keep moving forward, taking it a day at a time, sharing with other people when we can, and hoping the intensity of the current crises wanes over the next few months.
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According To My Notes, I Did Some Things


I'm trying to dig through my work to-do list today and ugh, it is SLOW GOING. I've been in this job for almost exactly a year, and I haven't taken any time off at all. I do the same thing week in and week out. It's not particularly difficult, and since it's part-time, it never feels overwhelming. This isn't burnout, but at the moment, I'm feeling bored and uninspired and not into it.

Which is why I'm now writing a weekly update instead of grading.

(To clarify: yes, I find my work kind of tedious, but I also generally like the job, but I wish I felt more challenged, but I'm so glad I quit that horrible job last year, but now I'm making a fraction of my prior earnings, but I appreciate my paycheck... All of these things are true.)


This Past Week


This pandemic is doing strange things to my sense of time. Whereas the months of March and April felt interminable, time seems to have folded in a weird accordion-like way since then. Like, how many weeks have passed since Memorial Day? Two? And yet here we are at the end of July.

I've started writing down my/our daily activities and the things I'm feeling - just logging them in my notes on my phone because otherwise I forget to stop and reflect. According to this mini-diary, this week I/we:

-went to the local lake to fish
-went for a drive in the rain
-finished the first season of Russian Doll (in some ways I feel like I'm living IN Russian Doll. Also, it's the perfect dystopian show for the current times and I highly recommend it)
-started Mrs. America on Hulu 
-read 1.5 books
-attended an online needle felting session and made a cute little hedgehog that looks like a donut, and now I'm contemplating a felted donut collection
-attended Zoom book club
-worked out almost every day

It's surprising to me to see how much we actually have done, because it feels like I don't do much of anything anymore. 


Job Things


Fortysomething is back to work, online for now. School starts in less than a week, so he's in prep mode. For people who think teachers don't do anything when teaching online, my response is to laugh heartily. He's working as hard as he does when he's teaching in person, if not more. There's so much that goes on behind the scenes that people don't see, and there are so many technical issues to anticipate and troubleshoot.

As for me, I think I've been ghosted by the organization that asked me for more information. I haven't heard a peep from them since. What annoys me is that some of the questions they asked me to address in detail were of a problem solving/brainstorming nature. It's possible they could just take my ideas and use them without ever interacting with me again. On the silver linings side of things, now that this has happened repeatedly, I am mostly numb to it and don't care much. Please don't waste more of my time, have a nice day, goodbye.

I also heard back from two other organizations that decided not to move forward with my applications. Again, I'm okay with it, but I'm starting to wonder if there's much of a future in me working for other companies/organizations vs. figuring out a way to work for myself.


Money Things


Not much has changed since last week. We spent money on groceries and the aforementioned donation. That's about it. Later in the week, we'll need to order some school supplies for our kid, though I'm hoping that since he'll be learning at home, he'll be willing to reuse a lot of his worn-out (but still perfectly serviceable!) items from last year.

I'm trying to figure out how transparent I want to be about savings, net worth, etc. on the blog. These are things I often enjoy reading about on other people's blogs; the more specific, the better. But now that we're in coronatimes, it feels a little icky to put it all out there, even though we are as average (or less than average) as you can get. On the other hand, according to at least one person on Twitter, I've apparently been giving the impression that we are financially self-destructive... which is not true. So maybe I need to highlight the stuff we've done well? Emphasize the successes more? I don't know. I will note that we updated our debt numbers, which you can find here
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$76K Can't Relax


I keep going back and forth on whether to shut down this blog. When I started it back in 2017, it had such a clear, succinct focus: debt payoff. Both Fortysomething and I had jobs that paid well enough, and as a result, we were eliminating our credit card and student loan debt relatively quickly. Our progress was gratifying for us and also, I think, for the people following along. 

Then I quit my editing gig, which launched my already-fragile career off the side of a cliff and brought our progress to a crawl. Moreover, we started to realize that although getting rid of debt is great, it doesn't really do much for you when you need some cold hard cash to get by (like, say, when you suddenly find yourself trying to keep up with rent during a deadly global pandemic). So we started redirecting more of our funds to savings and retirement. 

Our financial journey evolved. It became more about financial wellness in general and less about debt, specifically.

So things have changed, but I don't think I'm ready to let the blog go, especially because a few people seem to find it helpful or maybe just entertaining. However, I do think I need to commit to posting more regularly, even if it's  a quick update once a week.

So here we go.


I'm Fucking Sick Of This Pandemic


I mean, we all are, right? Especially those of us living in the most incompetent country on the planet, where our cases continue to rise... and rise... and rise... The $76K household has been largely housebound since the beginning of March. Because we reside in a state with a 24% test positivity rate, we've been super careful. We're still getting grocery delivery. We don't go into stores unless we have to. We haven't gotten together with friends, we haven't eaten a meal out, and we haven't traveled anywhere beyond the outer edges of town. It isn't safe yet.

But also, it seems as though our state and national government are not interested in making it any safer. 

It's endless.

I'm hoping that with more testing we'll eventually get to the point (for our family, that point = 5% or lower test positivity) where we feel okay doing more normal things. The first normal thing I want to do is rent a place in Colorado for a few days and chill in the mountains. I don't know if that'll happen by the end of 2020, but that is the carrot that keeps me going.

In the meantime, my family and I are trying to put together some semblance of a new normal life, one that doesn't revolve around screaming at the television during the governor's press conferences or obsessing over the daily data reports. We take walks, we sit on the porch, we read, we get takeout sometimes. The guys go fishing. Last week, I even took a petsitting gig, which was a big step for this hypochondriac. 

It still isn't normal and it feels awfully small in a lot of ways, but maybe we're doing better than we were a few weeks ago? I don't know. I just need to be able to figure out how to relax in this constantly stressful situation.


Jobs, Teaching, Etc.


Some good news on the job front: 

(1) Fortysomething and his school will be teaching/learning online until at least early September. In the interest of everyone's safety, we're hoping the district will choose a concrete, objective metric for returning to the classroom rather than picking random dates out of a hat. As I wrote about in my last post, if school re-opens while our numbers are still high and before appropriate measures - e.g., testing, contact tracing, mandatory mask-wearing - are in place, he'll have to walk away

(2) Fortysomething was offered a substantial-ish contract by a company he works for every summer. This is a huge deal for us because it means that we will be financially okay through the fall if his full-time job falls apart. He's worked for this company on and off for a long time and knows the higher-ups pretty well. I get the impression that this contract is no accident and that his supervisor is trying to look out for him.

(3) I finally - FINALLY - heard back about one of the many applications I've submitted over the past 4-5 months. I was asked to respond to a series of follow-up questions via email. We'll see if the employer decides to move forward once reviewing my answers (or if I even want the job - I don't know how much it pays). If not, I'm still very happy to know that at least my application was considered.

(Sidenote: As I typed this, I received a rejection notice for a job that I was COMPLETELY qualified for, but whatever.)


Running


I don't know what happened here. After years of being super devoted to running and super consistent about training, I basically stopped. At first it was because we didn't know that much about COVID transmission and I felt uncomfortable being around other people on the trails. Now, though, it seems like hiking, walking, and running outside are pretty safe as long as you're not bunched up in an unmasked group. 

And yet I still just... don't want to run. I think part of it has to do with the running community itself. Pre-pandemic, I had this idea in my head of what the running community stands for, and that's why I loved it so much. Runners love the environment! Runners can see the big picture! Runners care about other people! I'm sure that's still mostly true. But I've been discouraged by the bad trail etiquette during the pandemic: people running in groups, people spitting or blowing their nose (!) without checking to see who might be behind them, people traveling with friends to run in places with high COVID numbers, people dumping their gel packets and water bottles instead of disposing of them properly, etc. I was also unimpressed by the community's tepid response to Black Lives Matter. 

There's been a lot that has rubbed me the wrong way over the past few months.

Finally, I'll admit to feeling burned by the amount of money I lost on race fees this year, although I don't blame race directors for not offering refunds. In total, I lost about $1700 between the three-day stage race I was supposed to run next month and our local summer race series. That's... a lot of cashola. Yes, I can defer the long race until next year, but... Part of me is like, why am I spending so much on a sport I'm not even that good at when I can buy some inexpensive equipment, do home workouts, and still be in shape?

For now, I'm working my way through my second round of Beachbody's The Work with Amoila Cesar. It's a functional fitness/strength training program. My pushups have improved, I can see my triceps again, and I've already moved up to heavier dumbbells. It doesn't feel like running, but it's still gratifying.


Money


I keep reminding myself that this is not three years ago. We are not in dire straits anymore. We have an emergency fund that will last us about four months even if both of us lose our jobs. We've diversified our income so that if one job dries up, we'll still be generating income. 

And yet there's a part of me that is still in panic mode, completely convinced that this situation is going to do us in.

At this point, we are basically taking every extra cent and throwing it into savings. I don't know how long we'll keep doing that. Will I ever get back to the point where I feel "safe" putting that money towards the student loan? Or am I turning into my Depression-era grandfather, who hoarded his money so carefully that we all assumed he was completely broke until he passed away?
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Is Teaching in the Time of Covid Worth the Risk?


Disclaimer: Before I launch into this post, I want to acknowledge that a lot has happened in the weeks since I last wrote something. There are crucial issues that need continued discussion: racial inequality, police violence, trans rights, and more. Before I broach any of these in any detail, I need more time to formulate my thoughts and figure out the best way to use this little platform. I don't want to write something and have it come across as just another thing checked off of some Good Ally To-Do List. In the meantime, I'm focusing on amplifying the blog posts, podcasts, books, art, and other creations of those who are addressing these matters head-on. I am also doing the slower and less visible work of discussing these issues with my family, donating when we can, educating myself, and paying close attention to the times when I start to feel defensive (because that's a personal red flag for me, signaling an opportunity to learn).

This is going to be one of those off-the-cuff posts that, by the time I'm done with it, may not make much sense or sound very pretty. But I haven't written anything since the end of May, and it's time to get back to the blog.

Since this pandemic started, there's been an endlessly available smorgasbord of COVID-19-Related Things You Can Worry About RIGHT NOW!, and I've indulged in many of them over the past few months: Will My Parents Stop Going To Parties?, How Long Will This Shutdown Last?, Is Takeout Safe?, Is it Okay To Run Outside?, Why Are Bars Opening?, Why Is Disney World Opening?, Will My Child Need Therapy Due To Bad Dad Jokes + Lack Of Socialization And How Much Should I Be Saving For That?, Are We The Only People Still Distancing?, Will I Get COVID At The Doctor's Office?, and Why Aren't People Wearing Masks?, among many others.

For the past few weeks, the thing that my partner and I have been most concerned about is whether he will be required to return to his classroom in August. Here in Arizona, we have the highest test positivity rate in the entire continental US (nearly 27%). The number of positive cases continues to increase (more than 4000 just today), and the death toll has doubled in the last month. But our school and school district plan to bring kids back to the classroom starting on August 17. Because students have the option of learning online instead (which we support, and which my own kid will be doing), my partner and his colleagues will likely be expected to pull double duty by teaching in-person and managing the online cohort, too (which we do not support). Meanwhile, there's no information about: social distancing requirements, whether teachers will have to pay for PPE, whether the school will be updating its ventilation system (many of our school's classrooms have no windows; in the ones that do, the windows do not open), or what happens if a kid or teacher gets sick (do entire classes quarantine for two weeks?) We do know that although students will be required to wear masks, there will be no testing.

In short: More work, less money, taking major risks every day.


Is It Worth The Risk?


We've had several difficult discussions about what we'll do if the school opens before we feel it's safe for him to go back. My partner is currently the family breadwinner. He brings in the full-time salary. His employer supplies our health insurance. My part-time job comes nowhere close to meeting our financial needs.

But at the same time, COVID-19 is slowly revealing how versatile and insidious it is. It's not "just" a respiratory infection that affects older adults. It's a multifaceted illness that can attack different parts of the body, and often in an unpredictable way. It can sicken people of all ages. People of all ages are getting very, very ill.

And where does it tend to transmit most effectively? Indoors... amongst groups of people... either from coughs or sneezes OR when the aerosolized virus spreads through activities such as talking and breathing.

We've decided that he will quit if school opens and he doesn't feel that going back is safe. We're not going to risk it. We'd rather struggle financially than run the risk of ending up in the hospital or our child losing a parent.

It shouldn't be this way. As a country, we should have spent the summer containing the virus using methods that are proven to work so that essential workers can operate in a lower-risk environment. Instead, thanks to incompetent/nonexistent leadership, the virus is now completely out of control in many places. That hasn't stopped schools (from preschool through college) from planning face-to-face fall sessions.


So Where Would This Put Us Financially?


We've been saving as much as possible since the pandemic started. Our emergency fund isn't where I would like it to be, but then again, where I would like it to be is one year of expenses - something that seemed completely over the top until, like, April, so that's not happening.

Still, we're in okay shape given the situation. Based on our current savings and expenses, and guesstimating the cost of ACA healthcare, I've calculated that we can live off our emergency fund and my income for approximately 6-7 months, assuming my job holds. After that, we could rely on credit cards. Not ideal, but we'd do it if we had to. My partner has been looking for other jobs and would of course continue to do so, so hopefully he'd find another position and it wouldn't come down to that.

But doing so has the potential to completely derail us financially. Only now, after three years of working very hard, are we starting to catch up on savings and retirement. Quitting would be a major setback from a money standpoint.


This Is Incredibly Stressful


To put it mildly.

Under normal circumstances, I'd feel more confident that those in charge will ultimately prioritize people over profits and make decisions designed to protect the public. But right now? No. I have absolutely no faith that the state government or the federal government is looking out for the people they're supposed to serve. Not after what's happened so far this year. Not after more than 130,000 people have needlessly died. Not after our governor has continuously refused to make any meaningful mandates to get this thing under control, even as our numbers have soared.

We want to protect our family, but clearly, nobody is going to assist us with that. We're on our own. Everyone in this country is on their own at this point. You're not a billionaire or a politician? Good. Fucking. Luck. Utterly depressing, considering that the only way we're going to manage this pandemic until a vaccine is available is to work together and look out for one another (as other countries have).

Fortysomething does not want to quit. We do not want to lose our income. We do not want to make that decision. We're losing sleep over it.

But we will do anything to keep our family physically safe and healthy.


If You Have Kids In School


One request: if you have school-age children (or even if you don't!), speak up to your representatives at all levels about the need to create a safe environment for children, teachers, and staff. By "creating a safe environment," I don't just mean wearing a mask in the classroom or buying the teacher an extra container of Clorox wipes or moving to an online platform. We can do those things, but they don't do much to address our current challenges (people dying in droves, parents not being able to return to the office, etc.) I mean working together as communities to (1) lower the numbers to the point where transmission risk is low and (2) establish vetted protocols (testing and contact tracing, anyone?) so that kids can actually return to school.

That's what it will take to get back to semi-normal life. Our government doesn't want to do these things, and people don't want to be inconvenienced any more than they already have been... and yet school workers are expected to be on campus, with kids, day in and day out, just praying they can get through an entire school year without contracting a potentially deadly illness and spreading it to the people they care about*.

We are not willing to roll the dice on that.

I acknowledge that even considering this as an option is an immense privilege. The fact that ANYONE has to risk their life because our country won't get it together is completely unacceptable.

*I'm focused on teachers here, but we need to be doing this for the sake of ALL WORKERS WHO ARE PUBLIC-FACING. 

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Adjusting The Budget For Summer + Covid Times


Back in February, I shared that I'm trying a new, seasonal approach to budgeting based on our distinct spending habits throughout the year: Boring Season (January - April), when our earnings roughly equal our spending; Bonus Season (May - August), when our income exceeds expenses, thanks in large part to Fortysomething's bonuses; and Celebration Season (September - December), when we budget to accommodate two birthdays, two major holidays, and an anniversary.

I'm not sure this framework will hold up during Covid Times. First of all, we have yet to hear about bonuses, and we expect that even if they do materialize, they'll be a fraction of what they were last year. Second, my institution is now actively discussing furloughs, pay cuts, and layoffs, so will I even have a job by the end of the summer? And if I do, what will my paycheck look like? Third, I don't know what's going to happen with Fortysomething's job, either. 

But I'm making a budget anyway based on the information we have right now. We'll adjust later if we have to.

A few things to note:

(1) Our income has changed now that the Kiddo and I are on Fortysomething's health insurance plan. The damage is not as bad as I'd anticipated because the premiums are a pre-tax deduction. But still, there's less coming in. (I don't explicitly include the health insurance premium in the budget because it comes straight out of the paycheck. I also don't include retirement contributions. Yup, we're still making them.)

(2) Our rent has decreased by $50/month.

(3) We've made some adjustments to our electric bill and subscriptions. We try to limit A/C use, but we know we'll be turning it on periodically now that the weather's getting warmer (I have terrible allergies, so simply opening up the windows for some free cool air isn't always an option). $250/month is probably an overestimate, but I'm leaving some wiggle room there. We've also signed up for a few more subscriptions (e.g., Hulu, Kindle Unlimited) because we're spending more time at home.

(4) The new monthly payment for the refinanced student loan is $366. We'd like to pay more than this, but for now, we'll go with the minimum. We're prioritizing saving over debt repayment.

(5) Although we anticipate bringing in some additional money over the summer, it's hard to know how much that will be. That's why I've put a zero in the "Savings" line below. Fortysomething should (???) receive some sort of bonus at some point this summer. Furthermore, he'll be earning some extra cash through his contract gig. We plan to funnel almost all of the extra earnings into our emergency fund, with the exception of a few treats here and there.

A bit of good news for us: We were able to contribute to the emergency fund in May because our loan refinance meant that we didn't owe anything this month. Payments start back up in June.

What about you? Have you had to make any budgetary adjustments lately? How has Covid affected how you spend and save your money?

May - August Monthly Budget:

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This Is Hard


I wish I could say that I'm adjusting to this whole global pandemic thing, but that would be incorrect.

I am not. I'm not adjusting. If anything, I am becoming less adjusted as it becomes ever clearer that this virus is going to be with us for a long time, along with a tanking economy, abominable leadership, and an increasing death toll.

It's not really the virus itself or the possibility of getting sick that's causing most of my stress. It's the secondary effects of the virus, the waves it's made. For example:

Jobs. I mentioned it in my last post and won't rehash it all here, but like many people, I'm stressed about the stability of my job. Higher education wasn't in great shape before the pandemic, and now it's getting completely pummeled. The virus is taking advantage of all the cracks in the system. My institution is in the process of figuring out what and who to cut. Meanwhile, I'm absolutely terrified about my partner having to return to a classroom full of children in August.

Both of us have been applying for jobs; neither of us has heard anything.

Money. We're saving as much as we can at this point. Fortysomething is starting his annual summertime contract work, and most of those earnings will go into our emergency fund. But we've received no news about his yearly bonus, which is usually announced and set in stone in April. We rely on that extra cash, and this year, we're depending on it to help cover our health insurance premiums. I hope it shows up. If not, I hope the powers that be let us know - and soon - that it's not happening this year.

The thing is, we were feeling absolutely fantastic about our emergency fund a mere three months ago. Now it seems like peanuts.

Relationships. In Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles, which features a profound global event that bears some resemblance to this one, the protagonist notes, "Later, I would come to think of those first days as the time when we learned as a species that we had worried over the wrong things: the hole in the ozone layer, the melting of the ice caps, West Nile and swine flu and killer bees. But I guess it never is what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different—unimagined, unprepared for, unknown."

As a professional catastrophizer (someone please start paying me for this thing I've been doing for free my entire life), I've thought a lot about all of the bad things that could happen in the world. It's not like I wasn't aware of the possibility of a global pandemic. But what I hadn't considered - what I think a lot of people, even scientists who study these things, hadn't considered - is the isolation that comes with a new biological threat. During other types of disasters, people can lean on one another. They can visit each other. They can physically comfort one another. But with this, the only thing we know will protect us is keeping our distance from those we care about.

Worse, the confusing government response means that we don't have clear guidance on things like whether we need to wear masks outside the house, whether it's okay to hang out with someone as long as we're more than six feet apart, whether we should cancel our travel plans, whether it's safe to eat a meal outside, etc. etc. etc. And so everyone is basically making their own judgment calls, leaving a lot of room for each of us to question what others are doing. Even amongst my own friends, I see this happening. Maybe it's not an overt thing, but the differences in opinion are threatening relationships that are already under strain because of physical distancing requirements. And that's hard.

Running. All of my races have been canceled. That's a bummer, but I can handle it. What's tougher to handle is the way coronavirus has fundamentally changed how I feel about running.

For me, running has always been more about being outside and getting into a more focused headspace than it has about losing weight or looking a certain way. It's fresh air. It's freedom. It's a chance to challenge myself. For half my life, it's played a key role in my effort to maintain and improve my mental health.

But now the trails are crowded, and the people using them aren't always considerate (I'm looking at you, snot rocketers). Lacing up my shoes feels like preparing to traipse through a minefield. Running used to be my happy place. Now I'm constantly on high alert, and my brain never settles. I know not everyone sees it this way; in fact, some runners are logging more mileage than ever. But for me, this situation has put a serious dent in my trail mojo.

It's like the one thing I could always count on to get me through is no longer available.

(That said, I've started strength training again. I did a lot of weight lifting a few years ago, and while it isn't the same as running, I enjoyed it. So I'm going back to it - partly to stay in shape, partly to ensure that I get my daily dose of endorphins.)

Worrying is a mostly pointless endeavor, but it's not something I can just shut off, especially when there's so much to worry about, when there's so much death and suffering. And I get that some people are seeing the opportunities in this situation. I wish I did. I don't. I wish I had something insightful or encouraging to say. I don't.

I feel like I'm in a holding pattern, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for something to change. Waiting for the other shoe to drop (although, seriously, how many shoes can drop?!? Haven't we run out of shoes yet?)

I'm okay. I just wanted to write it out. I can't tell if other people are feeling this way. I think they are?, but it's hard to know, especially based on social media. So I'm putting it out there - partly because it's a form of catharsis, partly to let you know you're not alone if you're feeling any of this, too.
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$76K Updates


Some updates from $76K Land:


(1) Twitter


I left Twitter about a week ago, and since then, I've received several kind emails from people checking in. I haven't responded to all of them yet, but please know that I really, really appreciate the concern and encouragement.

I'm okay. I'm just over Twitter.

For years, I somehow managed to avoid the Twitter trolls. Recently, though, something's changed. As I told Abigail over at I Pick Up Pennies, I feel like I've been getting bullied more and more, even by people I've interacted with for a long time. I'm tired of it and tired of feeling as though I'm not allowed to say anything even remotely honest and/or negative (which is... most of the time, given the current situation) without people getting on my case, giving me advice I didn't ask for, lecturing me, treating me like an idiot, dismissing my feelings, telling me things I already know, or just being straight-up rude.

If I complain or push back, I'm told to toughen up. I'm told it's just part of being on social media. It's like middle school all over again, and I'm not here for it. When I share things about myself, I share who I really am. I'm not going to sugarcoat. I'm not going to censor myself and pretend to be the positive, optimistic, and non-anxious person that I'm not (especially right now) to make other people feel more comfortable. Nor am I going to try to grow thicker skin simply because much of the world has decided that bullying by fully-grown adults is something we just have to accept. (I did try restricting who can see my posts, but it was like whack-a-mole: I'd get rid of one jerk and another one would pop up a second later).

So for now, I'm out. I really miss interacting with my friends. I don't miss feeling like shit.


(2) Student Loans


In better news, we refinanced our student loan. The one we weren't planning to refinance.

Here's what happened: When the government announced that it was suspending federal student loan payments for a few months, we were super excited. We logged into Nelnet to read the details and discovered that... our loan did not qualify.

Anyway, it was the perfect incentive to finally look into refinancing. After clearing a few weird hurdles (for instance, we were told that we had to provide a picture of Fortysomething's diploma rather than his transcript, and we don't have his diploma anymore; we reached out to someone in management, and they relaxed that rule for us), we were successful.

The old loan had a 7.25% interest rate. This new loan has an interest rate of 4.0%, and the monthly minimum payment is actually a bit lower. We'll be able to pay it off in less than 10 years (hopefully much sooner than that, but there are other financial priorities to consider right now), and we'll save about $10K in interest.

So yay.


(3) Health Insurance


Thanks to the pandemic, I've ditched the short-term health insurance plan that I was on. It's just too risky and too sketchy. The Kiddo and I are now on Fortysomething's employer-sponsored plan, which isn't fantastic but offers more protection. Although the premium is hundreds of dollars more than we were paying, it's a pre-tax deduction. When the first premium hit this week, the damage wasn't as bad as I expected to be.


(4) Job Stuff


Like many people right now, we're feeling very anxious about our jobs. We're lucky in that we are both still employed. Personally, as someone in higher education, I'm feeling pretty vulnerable at the moment. So far, the administration at my institution has offered nothing but vague platitudes about working together through difficult times, but it's clear that something has got to give. Rumors are flying about layoffs and furloughs. I work in online instruction, so you'd think I'd be okay - but I wouldn't be surprised if my little part-time gig was offloaded to a full-time, tenure-track faculty member to help justify their position.

Fortysomething's job as a grade school teacher seems fairly stable at the moment, but we're both worried about him having to go back in the fall. I know not everyone is concerned about catching this virus at work, but he's around kids all day, every day. In a normal year, he gets sick at least three or four times and passes it on to the rest of the family. It's one thing when those illnesses consist of the common cold, a stomach bug, or even the flu, but coronavirus is a whole different beast. Sure, you could get it and barely notice. Or you could end up on a ventilator.

I'm not going to lie. I'm scared - for him, for me, and for our kid. I know that people want schools to reopen, and I understand why they want/need them to reopen, but it seems absolutely bananas to do so unless a comprehensive testing, monitoring, and isolation program is in place. It's not enough to provide everyone with hand sanitizer and hope things will work out. We need to protect kids, teachers, and their families. Frankly, my partner and I aren't so dedicated to education that we're willing to sacrifice our lives and finances for it. So we're exploring our options.

I'll say this: if you're a parent and you want your kid to be back in the classroom, advocate for students and teachers by reaching out to the powers that be (school board, state government, reps in Congress) to demand frequent testing. Because that's the only way this will work.
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