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

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I Won A Plutus Award!

A few days ago, on the last day of FinCon 2019, The $76K Project won the Plutus Foundation's Best Debt Freedom Blog award, presented by Sandy of Yes, I Am Cheap.

Thank you so much to Sandy, the Plutus Foundation, the people who decided my blog was worth nominating, and the panelists who made the final decision. Oh, and JD Roth of Get Rich Slowly, who accepted the award on my behalf. You guys rock.

The win meant a lot to me. Because I wasn't at FinCon (I mean, how do you maintain your credibility as an in-process debt freedom blogger while shelling out hundreds of dollars for a conference across the country) and had a bunch of stuff going on at the end of last week, I'd completely forgotten about the awards ceremony. I found out about the win while I was out on a run; my phone started pinging like mad. You can bet that news put some extra pep in my step.

The weird thing about winning this award now is that I've been feeling rather conflicted about The $76K Project. I don't know if it's useful for anyone. It's supposed to be a debt freedom blog, but... I rarely give advice on how to tackle debt. I can tell you what we've done, but I cannot in good conscience prescribe a specific approach for getting your finances in order because (a) everyone's circumstances are so different and (b) what do I know. We still have student loan debt, and given that I recently transitioned to a part-time job with no benefits, we're gonna be hanging onto that debt for a while. A long, long while.

If someone were to take a quick peek at our finances and offer advice on how to press the gas on this whole process, I'm pretty sure I know what they'd say:

     Get a higher-paying job!

     Move to an area with a lower cost of living!

     Find a cheaper apartment!

And although the sentiment behind the advice would be appreciated, I'd apply none of it - because that advice doesn't mesh with our current circumstances:

      I had a higher-paying job. It made me depressed, stressed, anxious, and mentally unwell.

     For the first time ever, we live in a place we love, in a community we adore. Plus, the sunshine helps my mood, and that is no small thing.

     If we moved to a cheaper apartment, my partner would have to drive a long way to work and we'd be sharing walls. No more wall sharing.

People can think what they want, but at the end of the day, we have our non-negotiables, and we're not sacrificing them to get out of debt faster.

Because money isn't everything.

If all you're focusing on is your finances - whether that's paying off your student loan as quickly as possible or banking a few million bucks by the time you're 35 - you might find that you're pretty damn unhappy.

Personally? I don't think it's healthy to obsess about money for years on end, and I'm not going to. Our approach now is a blend of "Plan For The Future" and "YOLO".

All this to say: unsolicited advice is a tricky thing. Frankly, it is often completely useless (yes, I'll go there), usually influenced by the advice-giver's own unique experiences, and sometimes harmful (looking at you, Schmave Schmamsey). I don't like getting unsolicited advice. I feel more than a little squirmy giving it.

Which is why I question my efficacy as a debt freedom blogger. I'm not sure I'm a good example, and I can't tell you How To Get Out Of Debt In Ten Easy Steps! (You'll find some advice on this blog about budgeting and tracking expenses, but all of a dozen people have actually read those posts. As it turns out, budgeting and expense tracking are effective but also extremely dull, no matter how many ways the talking head money guys on cable television spin it.)

So. The plan moving forward is to continue with the blog but just keep telling our story. It may be boring, and it may be long, but hey, if you stick around for the next ten years, there might be a final chapter worth waiting for.
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Staying Afloat: 2019 Goals Check-In

My kid started seventh grade a few weeks ago, my birthday is in less than two months, and FinCon 2019 is a mere 48 hours away.

Though I can offer no scientific proof, trust me: time is accelerating.

Anyway, given that it's suddenly September 2 - 2/3 OF THE WAY THROUGH THE YEAR HOW IN THE WORLD - I figured now might be a good time to review our/my 2019 goals and see how we're doing.

Are we succeeding? Failing miserably? Somewhere in between?

Let's take a look.

Goal #1: Quit my current job. 
Status: Goal met! Twice!

That's right, folks: being the overachiever that I am, I met this goal two times by the end of April! First I quit the bullshit job that made me want to crawl under my desk and weep on a daily basis, and then I quit the exploitative job that made me want to crawl under my desk and weep every hour on the hour.

Things were so bad when I quit the second job that I felt like I was jumping off a cliff to get away from a hungry lion while wearing a hastily-donned parachute full of duct-taped holes (i.e., exhilarating! Terrifying! Nothing left to lose!) But the risk was worth it. It gave me the time and headspace I needed to land a job I (generally) enjoy with hours I can tolerate.

Goal #2: Pay off my student loan. 
Status: Goal met!

I paid off my student loan in March. We now owe less than $37,000 in total (on Fortysomething's student loan). You'll find our most recent debt update here.

Goal #3: Pay off our remaining medical bills.
Status: Goal met!

As of the beginning of the year, we still owed $1300 to the hospital for the Kiddo's appendectomy. We wiped out the balance by March.

Goal #4: Save $10,000 in our emergency fund.
Status: We're so close!

Here's what I wrote back in January about the rationale for this goal: "My impending job change makes me nervous. What if it doesn't work out? What if I suck as an editor? Or what if - GOD FORBID BECAUSE PLEASE CAN I ACTUALLY LIKE MY WORK FOR ONCE - I'm miserable again?"

Haha. Ha. Hahahahahahahahaha.

Anyway, as of this writing, we are 95% of the way there. Despite our tight budget, we may still meet this goal in 2019, especially if we're willing to take on some extra side gigs to make it happen.

Goal #5: Pay off our campground membership. 
Status: Not yet. 

We have less than $2000 left on this loan/membership. If we can make our current budget work without dipping into our emergency fund, I'll be tempted to pay it off by the end of the year. That would free up a little more than $100/month.

Goal #6: Achieve a positive net worth.
Status: Nope.

But again, we're not that far off. We probably won't hit this goal in 2019, but that's okay because we have less than $10K to go.

Goal #7: Max out my HSA. 
Status: What HSA?

Before I left The Worst Job Ever, I was planning to max out my HDHP-associated HSA. Now that I'm working part-time with no employer-sponsored benefits, I don't contribute to one. That said, I still have about $1000 left in my previous HSA accounts.

Goal #8. Attend a financial workshop or retreat. 
Status: I'll meet this goal twice!

I attended Lola Retreat back in February after receiving a ticket scholarship. In October, I'll be going to CentsPositive in Seattle, thanks to a very kind hero in the personal finance community who offered to cover my registration costs.

Goals #9, 10, and 11: At least four days a week, meditate for 10-15 minutes, work out, and drink 64 ounces of water.
Status: Wellllll...

I was completely crushing these goals in the first quarter of the year. I fell off the meditation wagon while working the hellhole job, and I stopped tracking water intake back in April or May (although I definitely drink more of it than I used to).

But I'm doing great with working out. I run at least five days a week and lift weights twice a week. I've also been stretching for 15 minutes a day to improve my flexibility.

Goal #12: Get my passport renewed.
Status: Hasn't happened yet.

Because we have no immediate plans to travel internationally, and because passport renewal is kind of expensive, I just haven't gotten around to checking this one off the list. It isn't a top priority.

Goal #13: Attend mini family reunion at Disneyland. 
Status: Goal met!

In retrospect, I'm thrilled that I included a trip to Disney in my goals list. Remind me to do something similar every year. It felt great to count doing something fun and frivolous as a big win. 

Goal #14: Visit family in the northeast.
Status: No, but we did visit other relatives.

We didn't visit Fortysomething's family this year, but we did travel east to see my family.

God, travel is so freaking expensive. So. Expensive. It's a problem.

Goal #15: Visit family in the Pacific Northwest.
Status: It's going to happen!

Because CentsPositive is in Seattle, I'll be able to visit my family then.

Goal #16: Comment on or share three posts, four times per week.
Status: I'm trying?

I'm not meeting this goal right now. I don't read blogs every day. But when I do, I'm making more of an effort to comment and share.

Goal #17: Make $100 on the blog! 
Status: *snort*

I made this goal back when my AdSense account was still functional. Then I switched to my own domain... and I haven't been able to make it work since then. It's fine. I've decided that I probably won't make any money from this blog. The fact that I've been maintaining The $76K Project for two years now is a major success in and of itself.

Goal #18. Read two books per month and log them on Goodreads.
Status: Sort of.

I'm reading (mostly thrillers and mysteries). I'm not logging them on Goodreads. I probably never will.

Goal #19: I'd like to worry less. 

Maybe it has to do with the current political climate, or with the fact that the rainforest is burning down, or with my neverending midlife crisis, but I worry now more than ever. If I could make money from worrying, I would be Warren Buffett rich.

My sense is that a lot of this worry stems from this year's massive job upheaval. My whole professional identity has been completely dismantled, an experience that has been unsettling and kind of traumatizing. I'm still working through it. But my hope is that as I start from scratch and build a work life I actually want, my brain will settle down a little.

In short, it looks like we'll meet about half of our original 2019 goals. I think that's pretty darn good, especially considering how much has changed this year.

With that in mind, there are a couple of goals I'd like to add:

Goal #20: Avoid dipping into the emergency fund for regular monthly expenses. That is, I'd like to be able to cover our bills using just our monthly income. It'll be tight - the amount coming in is close to the amount going out - but I think we can do it.

Obviously, if an actual emergency arises, relying on the emergency fund will be a great move.

Goal #21: Make $1200/month from my online teaching job. My hours were recently increased, and they may increase again. I should be able to meet this goal. I can always supplement with Rover gigs if I need to.

Goal #22: Per my Life Elimination Diet, continue culling activities and obligations that are no longer serving me. Rover is still on the chopping block, but I haven't made any final decisions.

What about you? How are you doing with your 2019 goals? Which ones have you met? Which ones have you abandoned? (PSA: It's a great idea to abandon goals if they no longer apply!)
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Part-Time Lifestyle And Income Report #3 (Week Of August 19)

Income Report Context

Earlier this year, I was earning a salary of $60,000 in a job I despised, and my family was making over six figures annually. We were able to pay off some debt, invest, and save. After many months of searching, I took a lower-paying job that I hoped would be a better fit. The new gig turned out to be a total horror show, so I eventually quit and embarked on a career break.

Now I'm trying to figure out my next steps. I don't feel like I'm on a break anymore, but I'm also not working 40 hours a week. Instead, for the time being, it looks like I will be cobbling together freelance and hourly gigs to help bridge the gap between our family's expenses and income. This is an entirely new journey for me: until now, I've always worked full time.

Fortysomething's job covers many of the bills, but not all of them. I need to earn ~$1000 a month after taxes in order for us to break even. Ideally, I'll earn more than that so that we can put money into savings and investments.

I thought it might be fun and informative (if only for myself!) to post a weekly recap of what I'm referring to as my New Part-Time LifestyleTM.  Assuming I can make myself stick with it, I'll stop in every Friday or Saturday to share what I've earned throughout the week, any challenges that have come up, and how I'm feeling about my new approach to work life.

Personal Income This Week

Online Teaching Job: $264

This week I worked 12 hours, per my boss's request. I could have worked more; there's plenty to do now that we're updating all of the courses. I'm not entirely convinced that management's expectations and budget are realistic given the time frame they're working with, but if I feel crunched next week, I'll ask if I can work 15 hours on a regular basis.

Updating the courses is actually a lot of fun for me. Curriculum design was always my favorite part of teaching, and I think I'm good at it. However, the online learning system we're using is clunky, and making changes is not as straightforward as it should be.

Fortysomething keeps saying that this is one of those jobs that will probably expand over time and that if I stick with it, I'll probably get more and more hours. I would not be opposed to that.

Rover: $21

My Rover total is rather paltry, but that's because I had only two bookings: a drop-in visit with a regular cat client whose human friend likes me to check in while she's doing overnight shifts at work, and a "walk" with a shy dog who just wanted to sit under the table and eat treats (me too, buddy). Keep in mind that a) this reflects my total earnings after Rover took its cut and b) I don't charge much for the cat because her owner was one of my first clients and I haven't upped her rate yet.

That said, two good Rover things happened this week:

1. I met with and booked two new clients for next week. Both of these clients have expressed an interest in me being their regular sitter. One client needs me to check in with her puppy twice a day, several days a week, for the next few weeks. That will definitely be worth it.

2. The shy dog's human friend has decided to have me come over weekly, so that's another regular gig.

Total income this week: $285

In Other News

1. I officially found out that I didn't get the job that semi-ghosted me. "You were a good candidate, but we selected a better candidate!" Cool, thanks.

I'm not disappointed by the rejection. The whole process has been rife with red flags, leading me to believe that the job probably isn't worth what it pays.

In retrospect, I'm starting to think that their candidate search was a charade put on to appease HR when in fact they knew who they wanted all along. It's just a hunch. The lack of a true phone screen, the fact that the second-in-command missed 3/4 of my panel interview, and the blase manner in which they communicated with me following the interview make me think it could have been a sham. I was a good candidate for the position, I would have done the job well, and I should have been treated with more respect.

Anyway, frustrating situations are beneficial in that they help you figure out what your boundaries are. I've decided I am done applying for full-time job openings posted on the Internet. If opportunities arise through friends or my community, and if it feels like the hiring process will be a collaborative one, sure. But I'm done with the apply, wait, interview, wait, interview, wait, wait, wait nonsense. It's too inefficient and gives the employer way too much power.

If you're thinking, Wow, this really seemed to bother you! Yup. It did. I have no patience for bullshit.

2. I played a lot of online board games with Done By FortyTenacious Feminist, and Frugalish Physician this week, which was immensely fun despite the fact that Done By Forty is a total game shark. I know, I know, he's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. Still a shark.

3. I've been running a lot. My current goal for the rest of the month is to run 4.5 miles x five days a week, plus 7-8 miles one other day. After that, I'd like to ramp up to 5 miles x five days a week, with one long run.

I've also been thinking about what I want to do with my running. Although I'm the most average middle-of-packer you'll ever meet, I am absolutely passionate about the sport, and I really want to push myself to see what I can achieve. Establishing a healthy, sustainable training regimen is part of that. Racing is another part.

For the first time in years, I have the time I need to train for whatever I want to do. But as is so often the case, there's an inverse relationship between time and money. With us being on a limited budget (and OH YEAH, still working to pay off $37K in student loan debt), it's hard to justify paying, like, $70 to enter a 25K race.

On the other hand, I'm healthy now. I'm in shape now. And running is something that is very important to me. So maybe it's worth taking a page from YOLO me of the past and just diving in, even if it's not the most budget-friendly thing to do.

So I don't know.

Anyway, how was your week?
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Part-Time Lifestyle And Income Report #2 (Week Of August 12)

Income Report Context

Earlier this year, I was earning a salary of $60,000 in a job I despised, and my family was making over six figures annually. We were able to pay off some debt, invest, and save. After many months of searching, I took a lower-paying job that I hoped would be a better fit. The new gig turned out to be a total horror show, so I eventually quit and embarked on a career break.

Now I'm trying to figure out my next steps. I don't feel like I'm on a break anymore, but I'm also not working 40 hours a week. Instead, for the time being, it looks like I will be cobbling together freelance and hourly gigs to help bridge the gap between our family's expenses and income. This is an entirely new journey for me: until now, I've always worked full time.

Fortysomething's job covers many of the bills, but not all of them. I need to earn ~$1000 a month after taxes in order for us to break even. Ideally, I'll earn more than that so that we can put money into savings and investments.

I thought it might be fun and informative (if only for myself!) to post a weekly recap of what I'm referring to as my New Part-Time LifestyleTM.  Assuming I can make myself stick with it, I'll stop in every Friday or Saturday to share what I've earned throughout the week, any challenges that have come up, and how I'm feeling about my new approach to work life.

You can find the first installment of my report here.

Personal Income This Week

Online Teaching Job: $330

I worked 15 hours this week. I'm usually slated to work 12, but my boss allowed me to tack on some extra time so that I could deal with an enormous grading backlog. I'm pleased to say that I'm almost done!

Overall, I'm enjoying the job. It's fairly easy, interacting with the students is fun, and I feel like I know what I'm doing, which is always a plus. My bosses don't seem like micromanagers (never change, bosses. Never change!) Also, I don't have to talk to anyone over the phone! HURRAY!

Oh, and happy day: last week's earnings were deposited this morning!

Rover: $56

Ohhhhh Rover. Rover, Rover, Rover. Last week, I described some of my recent frustration with Rover petsitting gigs. That frustration hasn't abated.

Perhaps my biggest source of stress is the last-minute nature of most of these requests. More often than not, people contact me the day before they're leaving town - or even sometimes the day of! - to ask if I'm available. If I say yes, it throws my schedule out of whack; if I say no, I'm dinged in the Rover algorithm (which is why it's important to say yes to as many offers as possible when you're first getting started).

Since I began petsitting in May, I've accepted most of these requests. Now? I'm over it.

The other problem is that I seem to be a magnet for difficult/awkward situations: key is missing, roommate is home and wasn't expecting someone to blast through the front door, nice dog has turned aggressive, dog refuses to go for a walk, suddenly there are three pets instead of one and nobody told me, dog has destroyed a giant ornament and now there are glass shards all over the floor (that last one happened this week), etc. etc. etc. Things happen. I get that. But do they have to happen at almost every visit? 

Some of my friends have told me I'm charging too much. I've tried to explain to them that the fee doesn't cover just the time I'm cleaning the cat litter, filling food bowls, or taking a pup for a walk. It also covers drive time, gas, and these crazy headaches I keep arriving to. If anything, I feel like I'm not charging enough.

I'm not ready to give up on Rover yet. Instead, I've made some changes to my petsitting profile in an effort to cut down on the less-than-ideal requests. First, I'm marking my calendar as unavailable a week out. That is, the earliest someone can start a booking with me is a week from today. My existing clients will still be able to make last-minute requests, but for new clients, my name won't pop up in the search results if they're looking for someone immediately.

Second, I've adopted a strict cancellation policy, meaning that if someone cancels at the last minute, I'll still get some of the money. Rationale: people who are apt to change their plans probably don't want to deal with a rigid cancellation policy.

My guess is that I'll receive fewer requests, but I'm hoping that the requests I do receive will be for longer-term bookings by organized people who know their pets and respect my time. Those are the people I want to work with.

Total income this week: $386

Last Week's Challenges: Where Am I At?


Status: Resolved! Yay!

Last week, I shared that a claim for a recent doctor's visit was inexplicably submitted to my expired insurance plan. It took a while to get people on the phone to discuss the problem, but I eventually reached both my health provider and the insurance company. The doctor's office resubmitted the claim to the correct company, and we're all set (I hope). I received the appropriate insurance discount and now owe $55 instead of $165.

This is the first time I've used my short-term insurance plan. It's nice to know that it's actually doing something for me.

Ghost Company

Status: Who knows.

After one of my best friends got sick of hearing me rant about being ghosted for a job (her: "...that you are perfectly qualified for... We know, we know..."), she made me email the hiring manager and ask for an update. Nobody responded for days. Finally, I received a 3-sentence note explaining that they've been too swamped to make a decision and everything's just CRAZY BUSY and SORRY!

Um. Maybe hiring someone would help with that? Just a thought.

I know that these processes take time, but come on. Everything about this situation screams WE DON'T CARE. This is a terrible way to do business (though an excellent tactic if you want to drive people away). It is stupid, inefficient, and disrespectful. WHY DO BUSINESSES OPERATE LIKE THIS.

So... I'm just moving forward as if I did not get the job.

This Week's Challenges

I've already mentioned Rover. Hopefully, the adjustments to my profile settings will help.

Another challenge was trying to figure out what to do about my kid's extracurricular activities. He's the type of preteen who likes nothing more than to spend his afternoons cruising through his homework, firing up the Xbox, and eating ice cream. Can't blame him, but we figured cross country would be good for him both physically and socially. He participated last year and generally enjoyed it. I can't say he was super into it, but he did it, checked it off his list, and then went to play Minecraft.

This year, the fee for cross country has ramped up to $200 per participant. My eyes just about fell out of my head when I found out. Maybe that's not a substantial sum of money for some kids at his school, but it's a wallet buster for us.

In the end, we asked him if he really wants to be on the team, he said meh, and we were like, okay, let's not do it. It's not the ideal solution. I think cross country offers a lot of benefits. But... yeah. I don't want to pay that much, and all of the other team fees are about the same price.

Lastly - and this isn't really a challenge, just something I did this week - I applied for one more part-time online teaching position. I'm qualified; however, I don't know what it pays. Sometimes adjuncting isn't worth it. Sometimes it is. We'll see.

I'm still keeping an eye on the job boards for full-time employment opportunities, but the options were limited this week.

How I'm Feeling Overall

Good! I feel pretty good! This week was relaxing yet invigorating. If work-life balance is something one can actually achieve, I think I did it.

In addition to working, I did a lot of fun things: taking time with my morning coffee, making healthy breakfasts, running, reading, cleaning (I like cleaning), napping, baking cookies, and watching Survivor. The nice thing about working part-time is that there's so much room for variety in one's day.

I also decided to go on what I'm referring to as a Life Elimination Diet: that is, I'm going to cut out all extraneous activities and obligations and keep only the necessities. The necessities include family time, my job, running, blogging, book club, and helping my kid with homework.

But I also had all of these other odds and ends in my schedule that were stressing me out. Like an experiential Marie Kondo, I did not feel the spark of joy and needed them gone.

Some of the things I cut included last-minute Rover requests (see above), uncomfortable Meet and Greets (if I feel even a little weird about meeting someone at their house for the first time, I'm not doing it), random parent meetings at my kid's school (some of them are important, but others are totally unnecessary), a race I was not going to be ready for, and a trip I was supposed to go on in September. I was not excited about this trip and realized that participating in it was just going to make me feel bad about myself. So I emailed the organizer and asked if I could back out. They were totally fine with it.

I'm also not going to do some of the things I've thought about doing simply because I feel like I should: serving on the PTA, tutoring, freelance writing. These are all good ideas... for other people.

Anyway, that was my week. How was yours? Any big wins and/or challenges?

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Part-Time Lifestyle And Income Report #1 (Week Of August 5)

Income Report Context

Earlier this year, I was earning a salary of $60,000 in a job I despised, and my family was making over six figures annually. We were able to pay off some debt, invest, and save. After many months of searching, I took a lower-paying job that I hoped would be a better fit. The new gig turned out to be a total horror show, so I eventually quit and embarked on a career break.

Now I'm trying to figure out my next steps. I don't feel like I'm on a break anymore, but I'm also not working 40 hours a week. Instead, for the time being, it looks like I will be cobbling together freelance and hourly gigs to help bridge the gap between our family's expenses and income. This is an entirely new journey for me: until now, I've always worked full time.

Fortysomething's job covers many of the bills, but not all of them. I need to earn ~$1000 a month after taxes in order for us to break even. Ideally, I'll earn more than that so that we can put money into savings and investments.

I thought it might be fun and informative (if only for myself!) to post a weekly recap of what I'm referring to as my New Part-Time LifestyleTM.  Assuming I can make myself stick with it, I'll stop in every Friday or Saturday to share what I've earned throughout the week, any challenges that have come up, and how I'm feeling about my new approach to work life.

Personal Income This Week 

Rover: $94 (after Rover fees)

This week, I booked a few one-off drop-in visits as well as a steady four-day dogwalking gig. To be honest, I'm not sure it was worth it. I drove across town on Monday to discover that the owner had forgotten to leave a key. Another person booked me to walk a super-shy dog who refused to come out (which was fine, but I felt bad that I couldn't meet the owner's expectations). In a couple of other instances, I walked into my clients' homes to find that their roommates were home and were unaware that I'd been stopping by. It was awkward.

Dealing with one or two of these situations on a weekly basis is okay, but having to manage unexpected, people-related issues or challenges at every visit is exhausting.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I've kind of had it with Rover at the moment, but I'm going to keep going to see if I can get some better bookings over Labor Day. I've found that the best petsitting gigs are those that span several days; that way, you have a chance to get to know the pet, develop a routine, and figure out what to expect from the owner.

Online Teaching Job: $264

My new part-time online teaching job started on Tuesday. I'm slated to work 12 hours per week. This week, those hours were quickly allocated to administrative tasks, meetings, review of course materials, and grading. My position has been open for a while, so by the time I'd met my hourly quota, I still had piles of tasks to finish... but I stopped, because I'm not working for free.

Overall, the job is enjoyable. Online teaching was my bread and butter for years, so even with new policies and new courses, it's still relatively easy for me to dive in and get things done without feeling overly stressed out.

I've already asked my boss if I can work a few additional hours next week to help get them caught up, and she said yes. Yay for some extra income on the horizon.

Total income this week: $358

This Week's Challenges

Aside from the petsitting debacles and typical new job anxiety, my biggest challenges this week were an insurance issue and being ghosted by the organization that interviewed me for a full-time job I was pretty excited about.

The interview took place two weeks ago. I've heard nothing since then, except for a brief acknowledgment of the thank you note I sent. It's upsetting. Some people will probably argue that this is just the way it is and that I should move on. I agree, and yet I still feel angry and frustrated, probably because this situation serves as yet another instance of being treated like shit by a supposedly professional organization. I prepared for this interview. I researched the people and the mission, and I gave a lot of thought to how I could contribute. I took time out of my day to attend the interview and spent money on parking. I gave real, honest, and detailed answers to every question they asked. I did not BS my way through any of it.

Ultimately, the entire experience was a complete waste of time and energy, but there was no way for me to know that at the outset. How am I supposed to trust prospective employers when so many of them behave so badly? Why would I want to continue doing this to myself?

As for the insurance issue: the company that offers my short-term insurance is the same one that offered my insurance at my previous job. My employer-sponsored insurance ended in April, and my self-sponsored insurance started in May. I had a skin cancer screening at the beginning of July, at which time I provided my self-sponsored insurance card to the doctor's office.

For whatever reason, the insurance company decided to file the claim under my expired insurance instead of my active insurance. And WHAT DO YOU KNOW: expired insurance covers a grand total of nothing! So now I have to get on the phone with the company and try to get it sorted out, because nothing about insurance in the U.S. is ever straightforward.

How I'm Feeling Overall

Overall, I'm feeling that I do not want to drive my car off a cliff, which is a substantial improvement over how I was feeling earlier this year. So... win? I have no regrets about quitting my old job, taking time off, and starting over. No regrets whatsoever.

At the same time, I do worry about being able to make ends meet, and I feel frustrated about some of the things associated with this new part-time lifestyle:

  • Job searches are a giant pain in the ass.
  • Shitty insurance is a giant pain in the ass.
  • Dealing with people can be a giant pain in the ass.

Also, before someone hops onto their soapbox to tell me to JUST BE POSITIVE, I keep this blog mostly as a record for myself and my family. Therefore, I'm writing things down the way that I see and feel them.

So how was your week?
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Starting Again

One of my goals is to write more frequently on the blog: shorter posts, most likely, but more often. So here we go!

A Fresh Start

Two things happen tomorrow: my kid starts a new school year, and I start a new part-time job.

The Kiddo has mixed feelings about school. He's been a bit bored the past few weeks, so I think he's looking forward to seeing his friends and having more to do. On the other hand, he's not excited about homework, and he knows his days are likely to be long and tiring. It will be a challenging year from an academic standpoint.

Meanwhile, I have mixed feelings about starting this part-time job. The extra money will be extremely nice, but because so many of my previous jobs have been terrible, I can't help but walk into this endeavor with a hefty dose of skepticism.

I'm particularly skeptical about the pay structure. In previous teaching positions, I've always been paid a salary or a per-class stipend. In this case, I'm on an hourly timesheet-type structure, and I'm limited to 12 hours a week. I'm wary because it's hard to know how long grading, responding to emails, reviewing material, and attending meetings will take, especially at first.

What I do know is that I will not be doing any of it for free.

(Repeating for myself: I will not be doing any of it for free. I will not be doing any of it for free. I will not be doing any of it for free.)

Secondly, although I greatly, GREATLY appreciate the fact that I didn't have to jump through two dozen hoops to get this gig, I am not super excited about the job itself (I have to be honest). It's another version of work I've done for the last 10+ years, work that I keep falling back into because it's familiar and generally fairly easy.

But it's just 12 hours a week, so there's that. In a sense, who cares if I'm not pumped about it.

Still Waiting

I'm also still waiting for news on the full-time job I applied and interviewed for. Fortysomething, while supportive of whatever I do, thinks I should forget about it. He believes going back to 40 hours a week will be too stressful for me and that the part-time option will be better for everyone. Between my part-time job and pet sitting, we should be able to get by without dipping into savings. Plus, one of us will always be around to handle kid-related activities and issues.

I'm on the fence. I see his point, but I think the right full-time job, especially one in my field (which this is) with friendly in-person coworkers and good work-life balance, could be beneficial financially and emotionally.

Financially, we'd be able to live comfortably, especially with employer-sponsored benefits thrown into the mix. By my calculations, we'd be able to pay off our campground membership, throw $1000/month at the student loan, and still put a good chunk of cash into savings and investments. We'd have something to fall back on if something happens to Fortysomething's job.

Emotionally, although I'm wary of finding myself in yet another stressful situation and will never again work for an employer like my last one, I do appreciate having work to occupy my mind and keep it from spiraling out of control, especially at a time when everything in this country seems so scary and catastrophic. And... I went to school to do science. I'm good at science. Is it too much to ask to have a science-y job that is both fulfilling and manageable?

That said, I'm not enjoying the waiting game, and I strongly suspect the fact that I didn't hear something last week means I'm not getting an offer.

We'll see. I'll let you know. And I suppose I'll keep applying for other jobs as interesting ones pop up, though the job market here is looking pretty sparse at the moment.

Am I Still On A Career Break?

This is something I keep asking myself, and I'm not really sure what the answer is. I suppose I'm in a transitional phase: I'm actively trying to figure out what's next and experimenting with some different possibilities. What I do know for sure is that I'm ready to dig back into something now that I have renewed energy and a better idea of what I do and do not want.
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It's The End Of July As We Know It

...and I've written a grand total of two posts this month. Three, if you count the Finances After 40 contribution by It's A Kate Life, but those were her words, not mine, so I can't take credit there.

It's not that I don't want to blog. I do. But July just felt so up in the air. I kept telling myself that as soon as things settle down, as soon as I figure things out, I'll write.

Things didn't settle down and I really didn't figure anything out. Hence, no writing. Until now.

July In Review: Wildfires, Video Games, And Getting Back To Work

In July, we wrapped up a vacation to Disneyland. My kid spent several hours a week practicing for soccer and participating in weekend matches. My partner read like it was his job and worked on one of his side hustles. We lazed around, ate ice cream, and played video games (I'm now dangerous in Beach Buggy, so watch out).

At the end of the month, a wildfire started about a mile from our house and grew rapidly. It unsettled our neighborhood and our entire community. Nobody was prepared for it. Unlike early 2018, which was scary dry and led to the precautionary closure of an entire forest for more than a month, we had a wet winter and a drizzly spring this year. As a result, information about fire danger was sparse, and there was generally less awareness despite the fact that we had almost no rain in June. Nobody's said it officially, but the fire was almost certainly human-caused.

The level of stress fueled by the fire was off the charts. It was palpable. I and everyone I knew spent the last part of July obsessing about wind direction, air quality, the safety of the animals in the forest, possible evacuation routes, where we would go if we were evacuated, whether our houses would be okay, and whether our friends' houses would be okay. Luckily, the firefighters and hotshots were able to get in there quickly and prevent a total disaster. As of today, the fire is mostly contained, and people have now turned their attention to the increased flooding that the fire scar is likely to cause when it rains.

I had petsitting gigs lined up almost every day this month and brought in a grand total of $429 (after Rover fees and taxes) for what in retrospect felt like a lot of work. My bookings included one incredibly stressful housesitting situation with an unexpectedly territorial dog who refused to let me get within six feet of her (it was nobody's fault, but it was still terrible for everyone involved). The experience cooled me a bit to the entire endeavor and made me feel wary of taking on new clients without careful consideration.

The thing about Rover, though, is that it really is the Uber of pet care. People don't want you to spend hours assessing whether you and their pet are a good fit; they just want you to say yes to the job and show up so that they can go on their last-minute vacation. Usually, it works out. Now I know that sometimes it doesn't.

I realized that if I want to continue petsitting, make money at it, and set myself up for both safety and success, I probably need to branch off and create my own business, one where the emphasis is on forming lasting relationships with clients who have trained their pets and want to pay a decent wage for someone to look after their fur babies. But am I ready to take on my own endeavor and everything that entails? I don't know yet. For now, I'll keep going with Rover - but I'll be much pickier about who I say yes to.

Lastly, I applied for several jobs in June and in July, thereby signaling the beginning of the end of my career break. Wrapping up my self-imposed sabbatical wasn't planned. I just a) got bored and b) started daydreaming about what we could do with an increased income. I was ignored or ghosted by several companies, but two of my applications led to interviews. One "interview" was actually more of an informal meeting for a part-time online teaching job that was essentially created for me after I applied for a different position that had already been filled. The other was a much more typical interview for a full-time lab manager job. I was offered the part-time position (yay!) and am waiting to hear back about the second.

Money Talk

So given that this is supposed to be a debt blog, where are we at with money?

It turns out that we're in pretty good shape. Thanks to Fortysomething's side hustle and his bonuses, we were actually able to put money into savings this month, bringing our total emergency fund to $8700. We didn't have to dip into savings at all in June or July.

My new part-time job is supposed to generate 10-12 hours of work a week. Whether that work will be truly consistent remains to be seen (I'm always skeptical until it actually happens), but if it is, I should be able to earn around $800 a month. If I can make an additional $200 a month from petsitting, we will break even - meaning that we won't have to touch our savings account for regular monthly expenses. That's exciting!

With one more bonus in the works, it's also possible that (and this blows my mind) we'll meet our $10K emergency fund goal that we set at the beginning of the year.

And if I can earn more than $200 a month by petsitting, we can even start a vacation fund (which we've determined is something we all want) and/or just throw more at our campground membership and student loan debt.

If I'm offered the full-time job and accept it? Financially, we'll be in really good shape even though the salary is lower than it should be.

In other words, so far, this career break has not led to a financial implosion. Even if I don't go back to full-time work and even if I do have to find another health insurance solution, we will probably be okay. It's a huge relief.

Part-Time Freelance Or Full-Time Traditional?

I'm now at a point where I'm figuring out whether I want to pursue a more flexible but lower-paying, part-time lifestyle or a more traditional but higher-paying, full-time lifestyle. When I quit my last job, I was aiming for the former - and I've managed to create that exact situation in a little more than three months. Go me!

But I'm not ruling out the possibility of the latter. I think a regular full-time job could work out if it's the right job. In retrospect, the last three jobs were so not the right jobs, but I couldn't see that because I had no room to stand back and gain some perspective. (Also, I had brainwashed myself into thinking that I had to have another job before leaving.)

The right job would use my skills and experience, be of interest to me, allow me to interact in person with cool coworkers, give me autonomy, and respect my personal time. The right job would not exceed 40 hours a week. The right job would have me working for a boss who won't micromanage and doesn't need to know where I am or what I'm doing every minute of the day. The right job would give me the stability of health benefits and a retirement fund.

If I can have all that, then maybe.

That said, I'm holding off on applying for anything else right now. Per my recent Twitter rant, the job application and interview process seems like a dog and pony show to me, and I generally abhor it. I want to get started with my part-time job and see how the full-time opportunity pans out. If it doesn't materialize, I'll probably experiment with part-time work life for a while just to see how it goes.

Where This Blog Is Going

For the past six months, I've written almost exclusively about work satisfaction, mental health, and unconventional career choices. I'll continue to pursue those topics when I feel like it and when the opportunity arises, but I also want to get back to what this blog was when I first started, which was a personal record of our financial journey.

Instead of writing less often, I'd like to write more often - but more in the vein of what A Dime At A Time does on her debt blog. In other words, I'd like to write shorter posts more often.

Moreover, I'm okay with keeping it personal and not feeling the need to craft something exceptional every time I'm faced with a blank page.
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Finances After 40 #6: Saving On A Single Income (Kate's Story)

Photo by Nicole Harrington

Welcome to the 6th installment of Finances After 40! This week, we're featuring Kate from It's A Kate Life. Kate is in her early 40s. She works in corporate accounting, is a devoted cat friend (see below - GOOD HUMAN ALERT), and has a wealth of actionable advice to share. She's living on a single income and is absolutely acing the whole saving-for-the-future thing. I've been following her for a couple of years on Twitter, so I was thrilled when she volunteered to contribute to this series. I knew she was a badass, but I was not really prepared for this level of badassery. You'll see what I mean...

Take it away, Kate!

About Kate

I live in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis/St. Paul) in Minnesota. I’ve lived here my entire life. The quality of life is good overall, but the past few winters have gotten me thinking about other places I’d consider living that aren’t quite as extreme. It’s tough enduring winter temperatures around -20 and summer temperatures that can reach 100.

I’m single and don’t have any kids. My family consists of my parents (still married after 52 years!), an older brother and a sister-in-law. My parents also live in the Twin Cities and my brother and his wife live in Wisconsin.

Most of my career has been spent doing corporate accounting, although I’ve also worked in finance. I’ve worked across many industries including retail, medical supplies, advertising and education. I’m a numbers person so this career has suited me well and I wouldn’t change anything. I have a Bachelor’s in Economics and an MBA.

I was a homeowner for 18 years and sold my house in April. I now rent an apartment and chose to put the proceeds into a savings account in case I decide I’d like to buy another house in the future. So far I’m enjoying being a renter, so I don’t foresee this happening.

"Ten years ago I had a negative net worth and now my net worth is about 21x my current expenses."

I have one cat, who is diabetic and requires insulin injections every 12 hours. He was diagnosed 3.5 years ago and it drastically changed my life. Because I don’t trust anyone else to care for him and I live alone, I haven’t taken any trips since 2015 and my social calendar is coordinated around his feeding and shot schedule. Fortunately, my employer is understanding and knows that I can only be in the office during certain hours. I adore him and don’t view this as a sacrifice. He’s not going to live forever (he’s almost 14 already) and I’m happy to do whatever I can to give him the best life possible.

I’m in a great place financially. Ten years ago I had a negative net worth and now my net worth is about 21x my current expenses. My salary (including an annual bonus) is enough to max out my 401k, Roth, and HSA and still allow me to put a little bit of money into a brokerage account each payday.

Although I might consider myself FI at 25x expenses, I wouldn’t pull the trigger on early retirement until I had at least 33x expenses. But rather than use a basic calculation, I have an Excel file the projects all my account balances through age 55. Seeing the account balances each year provides a better illustration than using a simple multiplier.

Looking Towards The Future: FI Goals, Medical Costs, And Living Arrangements

Medical costs never crossed my mind when I was younger. I just figured that insurance would always be good enough to cover any kind of medical expense. As we’re seeing with increased costs and the decline of insurance coverage, this just isn’t the case anymore. This is the one thing that actually keeps me up at night and I really hope that there are changes that make healthcare affordable for everyone, not just the wealthy.

"The idea I’m trying to pitch to friends is that we should all live in the same building so we can help and keep an eye on each other, but still maintain independence and privacy. A few friends joke that we should buy a house together, similar to the Golden Girls, but this is something I’d actually consider."

While my parents are doing fine financially, I consider them to be an indirect impact on my finances. The main reason I want to pursue FIRE is to give me the option of leaving the workforce so I can help care for them and spend more time with them. They’d be in their mid-80s if I retired at 55. I never want it to be a question of whether I should continue working or leave the workforce to help them. They always come first.

I also never thought about what would happen as I got older and couldn’t live independently anymore. I don’t have plans to marry and I don’t have kids to care for me, so this is something I’m still trying to plan for. The idea I’m trying to pitch to friends is that we should all live in the same building (either renting apartments or owning condos) so we can help and keep an eye on each other, but still maintain independence and privacy. A few friends joke that we should buy a house together, similar to the Golden Girls, but this is something I’d actually consider. One friend plans to buy property in Oregon and has offered to let some of us put tiny houses on it. I’m glad that we are having conversations now and really happy that we agree that we’re all kind of in this together. As the cost of aging increases, it’s important to adopt a community mindset.

I’m really fortunate that I’ve been able to save and invest as much as I can. My main challenge is ensuring I’m doing enough and allocating my money effectively so I can reach my FI goal. Taxes are on my mind, as far as wondering if I should reduce my 401k contributions and put that money into my brokerage account while tax rates are low. There are so many scenarios and variables to consider. I’m sure in the end these things won’t push the needle very much, since contributions matter the most.

I’m hoping to reach FI by the time I’m 50 and I’d like to have the option to retire by the time I’m 55. Of course, healthcare will play a major role in this decision. I have an autoimmune disease that’s easily managed now, but it’s entirely possible that I’ll develop another one or inherit one of the many health problems my parents have (i.e. type II diabetes, glaucoma, high blood pressure). Because of this, I might be forced to continue working until I’m eligible for Medicare.

"Women this age are in the 'sandwich generation,' so they’re often caring for kids and starting to help care for their parents. It’s not hard to understand why they feel stretched so thin financially and in regards to their time."

Hopefully investing as much as I can and being conscientious of my spending will be enough to get me there. How the market acts during this time is completely out of my control.

Reflecting On Past Choices

I really wish that I hadn’t spent as much money in my 20s as I did. Shopping with friends was an easy pastime and I constantly gave into peer pressure and the idea that it wasn’t a big deal because I’d make more as I got older. Not only was it a waste of money, but it bothers me to think of the environmental impact as well.

I’m really proud that I’ve always contributed to a 401k. At some points, it might have only been 1% (i.e. when I first bought my house) but I always put something away, no matter how small. I’m mostly proud of paying off my house within 14 years of buying it. Beyond that, I’m proud of constructing a life where I can contribute the maximum limits to my 401k, Roth, and HSA and still live a great life.

Perspectives On Finances After 40

One of the easier parts of being older is that most of my friends don’t want to spend a lot of money when we get together. They have other expenses (mainly kids) and I’ve benefited from this. So, as someone who is single and childless, I only have to think about myself. My main concerns are the cost of healthcare and the possibility that my parents will need money for a nursing home in 10-15 years.

"For the single and childless, we have the challenge of saving enough money on a single income to ensure we can retire comfortably and pay for expenses for care when we’re in our 80s and 90s."

Women this age are in the “sandwich generation,” so they’re often caring for kids and starting to help care for their parents. It’s not hard to understand why they feel stretched so thin financially and in regards to their time.

For the single and childless, we have the challenge of saving enough money on a single income to ensure we can retire comfortably and pay for expenses for care when we’re in our 80s and 90s. It’s also important to ensure we have a good support system as we get older. It’s easy for friendships to fade as your friends get married and have kids, but the key is to be flexible and understanding to help keep these friendships going.

Kate's Advice And Recommendations

Always save money, no matter how little it is. Think about what you want your future to look like and take steps to help you get there. While it’s fine to anticipate getting married, don’t include a second income in any of your projections. Know that there are so many other ways than the traditional idea of working until you’re old enough for Social Security. You have the ability to create whatever life you want, as long as you have the determination to get there.

"Always save money, no matter how little it is. Think about what you want your future to look like and take steps to help you get there."

As polarizing as she is, Suze Orman can be credited with helping me turn my finances around. I watched her show every week on CNBC in the early 2000s. What I like best about her is how she makes the connection between emotions and money. My favorite Suze-ism is “When you feel less than, you spend more than.” She taught me to identify how I’m feeling if I get the urge to spend money on a want. If it’s boredom, I snap out of it immediately.

Mr. Money Mustache can be credited for teaching me about FIRE, specifically his post titled The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement. This was intriguing to me and drove me to learn more, which lead to so many blogs: Root of Good, Go Curry Cracker, Our Next Life, and lots more.

For books, I’m a fan of The Simple Path to Wealth by Jim Collins (I’ve given this to a few people as gifts) and Work Optional by Tanja Hester.

When I was starting out, I would go to the library every week and pick out 5 books from the personal finance section. Now there’s so much information in the form of blogs. I’d urge people to seek out blogs that not only represent where they currently are in their financial journey but also read blogs representing where it is you want to be.

Where To Connect With Kate

Twitter: @itsakatelife
Blog: It's A Kate Life
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Career Break Musings: Letting Go?

"I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.” - Brene Brown

I haven't felt up to writing super-long posts lately. Ideas, sentences, and paragraphs are sloshing around in my brain, but I lack the motivation to pull them together in a coherent, complete way. It just seems like too much work requiring too much energy.

But at the same time, I know these thoughts need to get onto a page. That's what I've always done to work through complicated situations: throw words onto paper and see what those ideas look like on the outside.

It helps. It always helps.


Still Lost But I Guess It's Cool?

In my post about quitting, I compared my career path to being inexorably lost in the woods and my indefinite sabbatical to sitting down on a tree stump to wait for either help or an epiphany. I'd spent more than four years stumbling pell-mell through the employment wilderness, searching for the right path and getting more and more lost instead (as if I'd started out in the Adirondacks and somehow wound up in, like, Death Valley), and I felt done. Pass the sleeping pad and the trail mix.


It's been nearly 2.5 months since I took a seat, and I'm still here. No unicorn or recruiter has come to rescue me, and it appears that what was left of my career map has disintegrated altogether. Nevertheless, it's kind of nice here in Whoknowsville. I've set up a metaphorical hammock, am gathering wood for my metaphorical fire, and am learning to hunt metaphorical squirrels!

Hanging Onto A Pile Of Poop For Dear Life

Over the last few days, two people have reached out to ask me how I'm doing, which is very thoughtful. I haven't been sure how to respond. I'm... great? Confused? Relaxed? Frustrated? In a weird midlife twilight zone? Jonesing for gummy worms? All of the above?

So I've spent some time trying to work through my stack of mismatched thoughts.

In previous posts, I've shared that I went back to school for my PhD when I was in my early 30s. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. I was passionate about teaching, passionate about research, passionate about fieldwork, and passionate about my academic community. I finished in four years and landed a tenure-track job right away, which in my mind was a sure sign that I had done everything exactly right.

I thought I had found my calling. I thought I had it made.


But that's not how it went. Everything after my PhD was kind of a disaster. I taught for two years under the direction of a brain plagued by anxiety, in a department driven by testosterone, before calling it quits. (That one sentence doesn't adequately describe the complexity of the whole experience, but good enough for now.)

After I left, I couldn't bring myself to let go of academia entirely, so I went the "alt-ac" route.

My next job was as a college advisor.

The one after that was as an online instructor.

The Job From Hell was editing in my area of study.

In general, each position was worse than the one before it, but I never considered going for something completely outside of academia.

As my friend Lisa Munro, who also left the world of tenure-track academia, wrote last year in her post When Moving Forward Requires Letting Go, 

"I wasn’t sure what else I could possibly do and I desperately wanted to still have one foot in work that I still loved. Instead of directly participating in oppressive and exploitative academic systems, I found that as an alt-ac person whose work still relied on academic research production, I’d simply continued participating from the sidelines. Academia-lite."

Exactly. Exactly.

Here's the thing. Neither academia nor academia lite has been great to me or for me, to the point that I should probably go to therapy for the sole purpose of dealing with academia's aftermath. It's been very difficult in a way that's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it.

In summary: I loved it, it treated me badly and made me feel terrible most of the time, and yet I can't seem to get over it because I loved it so much and because so much of my identity is wrapped up in it. So I keep taking whatever scraps it's willing to give me.

Now, as I start to scrounge the job boards and prepare applications, I find myself once again honing in on academia and its periphery like the proverbial moth to the flame.

Or as Lisa so beautifully put it,

"...in my now pseudo-academic life, I find myself trying too hard to still prove that I’m a smart person who deserved the career for which I’d invested a huge chunk of my life and a lot of money."

And maybe that's the problem. Maybe that's why I've started to feel so confused and conflicted over the last few weeks. I've been looking for jobs, and there's a deep chasm between what I feel I should be doing because it'll make me feel smart/needed/legitimate/worthy and what I want to be doing (if I give myself the space to admit what I actually want).

What's Holding Me Back From Letting Go?

Honestly, I think it's shame.

Everyone (not exaggerating, ev.er.y.one.) else I know who graduated from my program now has a top-notch job in our field of study. They've stayed focused, worked hard, and moved up.

Meanwhile, I've bounced around from job to job, lived in an RV for half a year, moved to two different cities, and am now... pet sitting. Don't get me wrong: I love it and am seriously thinking about trying to build a business. I love where I live. I appreciate my family and good health. In the grand scheme of things, we are doing fine.

But here I am, holding on with one hand to a career that has never worked and with the other hand to a giant bag of shame that grows heavier with time as I toss in more and more self-perceived failures. How am I supposed to try to grab onto something new? And... given what I'm holding onto, why am I not letting go?


One more quote from Lisa, because everything she says is so spot-on:

"...Here’s what I’m learning: saying yes to new possibilities, especially ones that seem risky and thrilling and exciting and make me feel dizzy and like I’m going to throw up often involves letting go of that which is no longer serving me. And letting go, even when necessary, still provokes strong feelings of loss on top of the huge amount of loss and heartache I already feel with the loss of my academic life. But sometimes letting go is a necessary part of moving forward."

I don't know what, exactly, letting go looks like yet, but I'm starting to think it's the key to figuring out what's next.
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Career Break, Month Two: Eight Things I've Learned About Myself

As I begin to type this post, I've been on my career break for 68 days. I'm kind of astounded at how much time has passed and how quickly it's gone by since I kicked Nightmare JobTM to the curb. (Guys, THAT GIG WAS A SHITSHOW. How did I last even two months?!)

On the other hand, I often feel as though the days themselves pass more slowly than they did when I had a traditional job. Sometimes I'll lie awake at night and think, "Wow, did I really do that today, or did it happen earlier this week?" It's possible to pack a lot of activity into a span of 16 hours.

That said, month two of my career break was challenging for me. It felt very different from the first 30 days, when I was basking in every moment of freedom and enjoying the shiny newness of owning my time. Month two was more like, OMG, what am I even doing with my life (cue panic, doubt, lack of self-confidence, etc.)

Plus, my energy seemed to tank. Right after I quit, I felt ready to conquer the world; more recently, I feel ready to take a nap. I chalk this phenomenon up to life settling down and me finding more of a routine. Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies warned me that this might happen - that I might need some serious rest and downtime to recuperate from what boils down to years of stress.

Basically, month two was a time of reflection, figuring out what's working and what isn't, settling into a new lifestyle, and grappling with the question of, Where do I go from here?

Here's what I've learned.

1. Despite my Type A proclivities, I would make a really good retiree.

As a quintessential Type A personality, I went into this career break with serious concerns about how I would respond when faced with boredom or a super slack schedule. Predictably, the lack of productivity and aimlessness that I faced a few weeks in made me nervous and uncomfortable - but only briefly. After a short adjustment period, I found myself relishing the opportunity to stay up late and sleep in (although now that I've given myself permission to do so, it happens less often than you might think), stare off into space while nursing three cups of coffee at breakfast, go for long walks or runs, dive down random Wikipedia rabbit holes, and scroll mindlessly through Twitter.

I mean, I'd like to accomplish more than that in a given day, but it turns out that the world doesn't fall apart when I don't. And... wasting time is kind of fun.

I'm impressed that I've been able to relax to this extent. Apparently, I'm not as attached to productivity as I thought I was.

2. That said, there's always something to do.

My days can be empty, but they can also be jam-packed with activities - and it's not hard to find things to do. Recently, I've filled hours with things like learning Italian, running, reading, hiking, going to my kid's soccer practice, hanging out with friends, baking, and petsitting.

In other words, you don't need a job in order to create a completely full schedule.

We're trained to think that work is necessary in order to find meaning and structure in life, but based on my super-scientific study of n=1 (me), I'm here to tell you that this is a lie.

3. I don't want to be a freelance writer.

I went into my career break with the vague sense that perhaps I should pursue freelance writing as a job. It seemed like a good idea: after all, I've watched many friends in the personal finance community find success in the wordsmithing arena. I've even received a couple of emails asking if I can write about certain topics.

When I was a kid, my mom used to say to me, "When you WANT to do something, you're really good at it. When you don't want to do something, it's impossible to make you get it done." As annoying as it is to admit that she might have known me better than I thought, it's true. Even if something sounds like a good idea, something I should pursue, my level of interest is always reflected in whether I actually do it.

Because at the end of the day, no matter what I say or promise, if I don't want to do something, I simply... won't.

That's how it's been with writing. Do I enjoy it? Yes - but only when I feel like it, and generally only when I'm talking about my own life. To be a paid, professional writer, I'd need to move beyond my little me-bubble and actually do what editors want me to do. I'd have to research stuff and, you know, take direction.

Right now, I don't want to. Maybe that will change. For the right gig, I might do it, but it's become apparent to me that professional writing is not something I'm ready to pursue at the moment.

4. Petsitting is a different story.

I started petsitting with Rover a couple of weeks into my career break to make a few extra bucks. At that point, it was the one side hustle that sounded even remotely palatable to me. One, it didn't require me to be parked in front of a computer. Two, it's something I can do even when I'm not feeling particularly sharp or energetic (more about that in a minute). Three, although I often feel overwhelmed and depleted by other people, especially in a work environment, I'm great with animals and am naturally comfortable around them.

I landed my first gig in early May, and since then, I've had only a handful of days without at least one drop-in visit. Because I set my rates low in order to quickly land clients and reviews, I haven't made a ton of money - but I've made enough that I'm now eying the possibility of turning petsitting into more of a full-time job. In fact, I'm seriously thinking about starting my own business.

5. I don't think my brain is built for traditional employment.

This is something I wasn't fully aware of until I quit. When I was doing traditional 9-5 work, I almost always felt like I was dragging my brain through sludge. On average, I felt confident and alert and on just one or maybe two days a week. I thought this was normal. I figured everyone goes through their working life alternating between exhaustion, anxiety, and cloudiness. I also figured that I was just a weenie who wasn't handling adulting as well as everyone else.

What I've discovered is that even when I'm not working, there are many days when I'm operating in sloth mode and can't pull myself out of it. I've had a full physical and a full set of blood tests, all of which came out squarely in the "normal" range, so it's not that I'm facing some sort of underlying health crisis.

I think the truth of the matter is that I am a highly sensitive person whose circuits get overloaded very, very easily. And when the circuits get overloaded, the whole system shuts down. I need time and rest to get back up to speed, and by time, I don't mean a few hours. I mean a couple of days.

One coping option is to make the system - i.e., my brain - work more efficiently. I've tried that. I've attempted different eating plans, sleeping plans, workout plans, not drinking alcohol, drinking more water, etc. etc. etc., and none have made a significant or lasting difference.

The other option is to accept that this is how I am and stop putting myself in situations where I'm setting myself up for failure on a daily basis. In other words, as a highly sensitive person who gets overwhelmed by interactions with other people, I should probably avoid jobs that involve frequent interactions with other people. I should probably create or find a job that gives me the time and space I need for regular recuperation.

6. I am a pretty good person.

This might seem like kind of a ridiculous statement. I think most people who've met me would say that I'm a good person - or if not good, then relatively average and mostly tolerable. Most people don't seem to think I'm a jerk.

But over the past four years, I haven't felt that way about myself. I viewed myself as:
  • angry
  • impatient
  • bitter
  • frustrated
  • disorganized
  • scatterbrained
  • inarticulate
  • generally dissatisfied in a lot of areas of my life
I felt that way because work made me feel that way.

Now that I've separated myself from my former workplaces, I see more of my innate positive traits surfacing more often (or maybe they never stopped surfacing, but I couldn't see them through all of the negative emotions). I'm more aware of my kindness, generosity, creativity, ability to listen to and empathize with other people's stories, and sincerity.

I mean, nobody's perfect, but I'm not the asshole I was starting to suspect I was.

7. There are a lot of things I really, really want.

This one surprised me. I'm typically not a materialistic person. I hate shopping, and I generally buy new things only when I absolutely need to replace something (like if there's a hole in the butt of my jeans or if my running shorts are literally falling off). 

But this whole being-on-a-super-strict-budget thing has brought out the wanter in me - big time. All of a sudden, I'm a 40-year-old with a list for Santa.

I'll tell you what I want, what I really, really want:
  • a new phone (the screen on mine is doing weird, poltergeisty things)
  • a mountain bike
  • new running shorts and tights
  • entries to three different races
  • a trip to FinCon
  • a trip to the next CentsPositive
  • a weekend getaway with Fortysomething
  • a vacation in Colorado 
  • dinner at my favorite pizza restaurant 
  • regular visits to local breweries
  • a donut
They say money can't buy happiness.

I understand the sentiment, but trust me, a lot of things would be easier and more fun if we had more money.

8. I'm less worried about our remaining debt than I thought I'd be.

After spending almost two years obsessing about our debt and paying off credit cards and student loans with almost religious devotion, I'm a bit shocked to discover that it's been easy to let go of our original debt payoff plan. Yes, we still have an obnoxious student loan to destroy, and yes, the balance is still something like $37,000. Yes, $400 a month is going towards this loan. Yes, it's money that could be used elsewhere.

But what're you going to do. We're in a pay-just-above-the-minimum mode, and that's how it needs to be for now. It'll get paid off eventually. 

Going into month three

I'm excited to see what the third month of this career break will bring. More running, more naps, and more petsitting, I hope.

I've applied for a handful of jobs so far, and I plan to ramp up my application efforts over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I'll keep taking whatever petsitting jobs I can snag and try to get a better sense of whether establishing my own business is a viable possibility. Between working for someone else and working for myself, I'd rather choose the latter - but we'll see what happens!
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Finances After 40 #5: Finding Joy In The Moment (One Frugal Girl's Story)

I'm thrilled to share another installment of Finances After 40a series that profiles women 40 years and older who are making their money work for them.

This week's post comes to us from One Frugal Girl, a financially independent blogger who's been writing in the personal finance space since - DRUMROLL PLEASE - 2006. 

This makes OFG a PF OG, if you ask me. There's something extraordinary about bloggers who are willing to share their stories over the span of many years and who invite their readers to join them as their highs, lows, challenges, and successes unfurl. Thus, I was kind of beside myself with excitement when she offered to write a post for the series. 

If you aren't familiar with her blog, I suggest setting aside a couple of hours and diving in, as she's a skillful storyteller with a wealth of experience and advice.

Note: If you're just catching up with Finances After 40, be sure to check out the first four posts:

Take it away, One Frugal Girl!

Embracing The Detours

I am a forty-one-year-old wife, mother, blogger, personal finance enthusiast, optimist and former software developer. I believe in the power of reframing unfortunate events and trying my best to see the good in bad situations. My husband and I are financially independent.

In my mid-twenties I faced a medical crisis that forever changed my outlook on life. What began with flu-like symptoms quickly escalated into a frightening trip to the ER, a weeklong stay in the hospital and a six-month quest for diagnosis. I spent the majority of my late twenties managing debilitating pain and searching for answers from the medical community.

"Fate has an odd way of interfering with my plans for life. Over the years I've learned to accept those detours and sometimes even embrace them."

I started my blog, One Frugal Girl, in 2006 during the height of my medical saga. It began as a way to distract me from my pain, but over the years it played a pivotal role in my financial success.

Career-wise, I worked as a full stack JAVA developer for over twelve years. Due to ongoing health issues, my husband and I delayed having children until our early thirties. Then we struggled with infertility for two and a half years. Four months into my pregnancy, my job was cut in a massive round of lay-offs that obliterated my entire department.

I interviewed and accepted a new job offer, but never started in that position. Thanks to a healthy severance package and over a decade's worth of savings, I seized the opportunity to stay at home with my newborn son. It was not an easy decision, but I now view my lay-off as a blessing in disguise.

Fate has an odd way of interfering with my plans for life. Over the years I've learned to accept those detours and sometimes even embrace them.

Choices On The Road To Financial Independence

I bought my first house at the age of twenty-two and the second at age twenty-seven. Financially speaking, this was a great decision, but if I could go back in time, I wouldn't do it again. I spent my twenties worried about paying down mortgages, mowing lawns, trimming bushes, painting walls and doing a whole lot of housework that my peers in apartments never considered. Buying that first house made us grow up too quickly. I don't think we took advantage of our youth because we were bound to our financial obligations.

"The power of compound interest is truly amazing. We are proof that saving today can lead to a huge net worth in the future."

On the flip side, we are most definitely financially independent because we spent our twenties and thirties focused on the power of earning more, spending less and investing the excess. The power of compound interest is truly amazing. We are proof that saving today can lead to a huge net worth in the future.

I am incredibly proud of my relationship with my husband. We've been through a lot together, including a medical crisis, difficult family members, co-owning a business, a workplace assault and infertility.  Yet somehow we've managed to push through life's obstacles together. Our marriage is a work in progress. To be honest, it has not always been great, but when we drift apart we work hard to bring our relationship back together.

I'm also super proud that we reached FI as equal partners. We co-own all financial responsibilities. We can interchangeably manage the books, review our taxes, discuss upcoming expenditures, journal credit cards, pay the bills and do anything and everything else related to money.

Preparing For The Future

Despite my medical problems, I wasn't concerned with long term care or quality health care when I was younger. This fear has grown over the past decade.

It began when my 80-year-old grandmother wanted to move to a clean, well-run long-term care facility. She could afford care for five or ten years, but if she lived longer than that she would run out of money. She had a net worth of $500,000. Imagine reaching the end of your life with half a million dollars and then realizing you need more. Thankfully, she was healthy enough to remain home alone until the age of 94, but I do believe the quality of her life suffered. Despite having family nearby, she was very isolated and lonely.

More recently I've watched my mom suffer through a horrible medical ordeal. She now needs full-time care. Just one day of 24-hour round-the-clock care costs $600. That is simply not sustainable over the long haul.

I worry for the health of my family and I am concerned that even with a sizable nest egg we will not have enough to help us deal with situations like these in the future.

"I wanted to earn a significant amount of money, but I didn't feel the need for work to be meaningful. Now I would like to find a job that provides value beyond the money."

I have absolutely no idea what my future holds. Financial independence is the ticket to endless possibilities! I plan to return to work when my youngest reaches kindergarten, but I'm not sure what I will do.

Looking back, the focus on my software career feels very selfish. I wanted to earn a significant amount of money, but I didn't feel the need for work to be meaningful. Now I would like to find a job that provides value beyond the money.

I spend a lot of time volunteering for worthy causes and I would love to find some way to earn money while helping others. I plan to spend the next year volunteering more as well as polishing off my dusty coding skills.

Advice For Other Women

I think many women (not just those over 40) lack the confidence to take control of their finances. Some women are worried about the math required for money management, but I promise there is no reason to be afraid. You don't need to be a math whiz with knowledge of advanced algebra and calculus. Simple addition and subtraction is all you need.

"If you are knowledgeable about your finances, speak out loudly and clearly to the next generation of women. We need to speak to young girls about money and we need those same girls to see their parents talking about money together."

We also lack female money mentors who can guide us. My grandmother loved to talk to me about personal finance. She focused on the importance of education, increasing income and living within one's means. Despite living in a time when men typically controlled the money, my grandmother took the reins of her family's finances. She demonstrated that gender should not divide financial responsibilities. I am eternally grateful for the lessons my grandmother shared.

If you are knowledgeable about your finances, speak out loudly and clearly to the next generation of women. We need to speak to young girls about money and we need those same girls to see their parents talking about money together. Remember that women can be a powerful financial force even if they don’t earn money on their own.

We all think happiness is lying just around the corner. Slightly out of reach. When we land that next job, meet the right partner, go on that next vacation then we can bask in bliss. Unfortunately, happiness isn't lurking somewhere else. If we cannot find joy in the here and now, we will most likely never find it.

My advice: figure out how you can feel fulfilled in this very moment. Search for hobbies. Explore your passions. Find friends. Connect with a supportive community of women. Look for mentors online and in real life that can guide you. Yearn to feel confident and secure in your decisions and trust your instincts.

"Happiness isn't lurking somewhere else. If we cannot find joy in the here and now we will most likely never find it... My advice: figure out how you can feel fulfilled in this very moment."

Financially speaking, search for ways to increase your income. Request additional work, demonstrate your eagerness and constantly strive to learn more. Many of us stop learning after graduation. To excel in the workplace you need to attain new skills and continually look for ways to improve processes.

Now is also the time to focus on mindful spending. It's easy to swipe your credit card or enter numbers into an online shopping portal. Use the Marie Kondo method of decluttering before purchasing something new. Ask yourself, "Will this spark joy?" Then at the end of the month diligently review your expenses and decide if it did.

Remember every dollar you don't spend is a dollar you can invest.

If you are looking for guidance on FI, check out "Meet the Women of the Financial Independence Movement" at Tread Lightly Retire Early. When I began blogging fourteen years ago, it was difficult to find women writing about money. Now there are so many amazing voices echoing and empowering women across the Internet.

Where To Connect With One Frugal Girl

Website: One Frugal Girl
Email: onefrugalgirl@gmail.com
Twitter: @onefrugalgirl 

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