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

Winning AND RANTING, September 2019 Edition


Welcome to another edition of Winning, the consistently inconsistent series in which the $76K family celebrates its financial achievements, from the substantial to the minuscule. The last time I wrote one of these was in... March. Oops. The last few months have felt very messy and uncertain with respect to budgeting and employment. I wasn't up to celebrating, so the series got moved to the back burner.

Six months later, the leaves are changing colors, the nights are getting colder, and both $76K adults are bringing in paychecks again. Time to get back to winning.

To be honest, I'm still not feeling particularly celebratory. I haven't found a way to adequately organize and articulate what's been stewing away in my brain regarding money, but what I can say is that lately, it often has me seeing red - both on my own family's behalf and on the behalf of other people who struggle to pay their bills and meet their financial obligations.

Personally, I feel frustrated by the simple fact that there isn't enough money to fund all of the important things:

  • Rent
  • Student loan repayment
  • Retirement
  • Health insurance 
  • Sinking fund
  • Vacation/hobby fund 

More generally, although I've long been aware of the broader problems that are so intricately woven into personal finance, quitting my job, losing my employer-sponsored health insurance, and cobbling together a rather bare-bones budget have elevated those issues in my mind. I think about systemic inequality a lot, and I'm frustrated by the deepening and widening gap between those with financial security and those without. I'm even more frustrated by the shitty advice and the needless judgment dumped on people who are in debt and/or living paycheck to paycheck and/or barely getting by (if they're getting by at all).

ETA: Clarification for the person/people who are apparently confused by the above comments: I am not saying that me feeling stressed about my bills is systemic inequality. I am not saying that I am not privileged (the fact that I was able to go part time to take care of my health is a privilege). I am not saying that me having to quit my job = the universe shitting on me. Yeah, I realize it was a choice. A good choice.

I am saying TWO DISTINCT THINGS THAT I AM CAPABLE OF PONDERING SIMULTANEOUSLY:

1. Bills are stressful on a limited budget.

2. I think about systemic inequality more than I used to because I now see how easy it would be to fall off a financial cliff. Even if you HAVE some resources, it can be like walking a narrow ridgeline with nothing but air below, thanks to the price of healthcare, rising costs of college tuition and rent, and stagnating wages. Welcome to 'Merica, 2019! So then add in situations where someone is being oppressed, overtly or subtly, by someone specific or by outdated societal norms, and they've got limited finances... It's worrying.

Does that make sense or do I need to spell it out in easier words? If it's just that you don't believe in inequality, then this is the wrong blog for you and you should go somewhere else. Find another smug rich stoic, and together the two of you can talk about how dumb and lazy the rest of us are. Just don't do it here.

Anyway, that mini tirade might be fodder for a longer post at some point.

Moving on to September wins:

1. We paid our rent! We paid our health insurance! We paid all the bills! This is a win.

2. We're thisclose to meeting our emergency fund goal. Just $200 to go! Related win: we didn't dip into our emergency fund this month even though we were a little more lax about spending than we usually are. We went out to eat a couple of times, I bought some not-cheap moisturizer, and my kid talked us into getting a fish tank, which came with a lot of unexpected (to me) accouterments: heater, gravel, plants, decor/fish hiding spaces, water testing kit, water conditioning kit, etc. I was picturing a happy little goldfish in a $5 bowl, but... that's not what happened. Oh well. It looks nice, the cat loves it, and the kiddo is learning about aqueous chemistry and nitrogen cycling.

3. I was offered extra hours at work. I'm slated to work 18 hours per week, but thanks to a big project with a non-negotiable deadline, I've been asked to work 30 hours a week for the foreseeable future (probably through October and maybe November). Money-wise, this is obviously a good thing. We'll be able to sock some cash away into a sinking fund for car repairs. However, the project we're working on is energy-intensive and a bit stressful. I'm glad it's not something I'll have to do indefinitely.

I continue to scour the job boards for a full-time, with-benefits job that I think I could manage, but man, there is really not much out there in the way of well-paying, reliable, halfway-enjoyable employment. Except for benefits (the pay could be a bit better, too, but isn't that always the case), I feel like I've hit the jackpot with my current part-time gig.

4. Our total debt continues to decrease, albeit at a snail's pace. You can check out our latest debt update here. Our total is now under $37,000. If we keep up this pace, we'll have this baby paid off in... 11 years.

Hang on a sec. I need to go bang my head on my desk.

Ideally, by the end of 2019, we'll be able to bring our student loan payment up to $500/month (in which case we'll have it paid off in eight years), but I don't want to count on that. See above re: competing budgetary interests.

In short, I feel conflicted and a little frustrated, but it is what it is, and we're celebrating anyway.

What about you? Do you relate to the "not enough money to go around" situation and/or do you have any financial wins to share this month?
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16 comments:

  1. I can definitely relate in many ways. I spent some extra money over the summer for several things:
    1. An actual, real vacation
    2. A new laptop (my old one had so many things wrong with it I chose to just get a new one) with all the bells and whistles
    3. The first new pairs of shoes I'd bought in well over a year (two pairs; they fit perfectly and that is super rare for me and my weird feet)
    4. An outlandishly expensive blood test my insurance refused to cover for stupid reasons
    5. Car repairs

    I'm not doing badly--no debt, saving close to 25% of my total income overall--but that feels theoretical when I have a few months like this, and it just generally feels theoretical because expenses keep going up and I just don't feel like I'm getting ahead in any way. I'm behind on retirement savings. I'm probably never going to own my own home. I'm one of the most frugal people I know, and I just never feel like it will matter.

    I'm cheering you on finding a job that really means something great for you, though. I dream of the day that will be true for me, too.

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    1. "I'm one of the most frugal people I know, and I just never feel like it will matter." Yes. YESSSSSS. I almost cried when I read this because it's so exactly how I feel as well.

      Really really happy that you took a nice vacation, bought a laptop, and got those new shoes. Good for you. And I'm sorry to hear about the blood test (ARGHHHHH why is this stuff not covered?!?) and car repairs.

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    2. Thanks. My real vacation didn't take me more than 50 miles from home, but it counted. I spent three nights near water, watched boats, and saw new things. Those are important things to do. The rest of my vacation I used my own apartment as home base. I took a vacation, and it was real, but it wasn't exactly a visit to a resort. The shoes and the computer were both on sale.

      As for the blood test, I so agree, but their answer is that it's not "standard care," meanwhile, I have very rare problems and there is no "standard care" for things like that so...?

      I have always been frugal; I was a frugal student who incurred very little debt that I paid off within a year of having a real job. But starting from zero and fighting for every dime sometimes makes me wonder why I bother if this is as far as I can get.

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  2. Congrats on the progess - even if it doesn't feel like a massive step, incremental progress is still good to celebrate.

    And I do think the anger is justified - I can't believe how much student loans and tuition fees are in the US - the numbers are staggering.

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    1. Honestly, it's the health insurance that gets to me the most. It's crushing and it's anxiety-inducing.

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  3. Well at least you are going in the right direction, that's something worth celebrating. You probably have to reconcile the systemic equality thinking with the fact that you voluntarily quit your job without another one lined up. I'm sure you had your reasons, but own it and move on with it. Its not the system here, its the choices you are making and right or wrong they have consequences on your finances. Most of us actually have a somewhat stressful or at least not truly enjoyable job. Sad, but true. Don't get discouraged though. What I mean is that you have the power to do this in way more time than you think. You are very educated and a darned good writer by what I've seen. If you resolve that you will pay your debts off in 11 years, well that's probably what will happen. If you say 2 years, then that can just as likely happen. You know what they say, "If it is to be, it is up to me."

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    1. Wow, do you even read this blog? "Own up to it and move on"? Good work anon, I can see why you dont have the balls to post who you are. If you read the blog you would know that she has owned up to it, she was very clear in why she quit her job with no other job lined up. As for move on...she has. Try actually reading her blog before you post this nonsense.

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    2. If you're going to be the world's biggest asshole, own it. Don't hide behind your anonymity.

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    3. The reason it says anonymous is because you don't have a real http, just blogger and it only posts either your actual email address, your own web site(I don't have one) or anonymous. Wanna post your personal email on here? I don't. If I find a way to make it say Glitter Girl is that more helpful? I am not saying you didn't have a reason to quit your jobs, only that decisions have consequences. And you can either jump up to the occasion and decide to make more and pay off your debts or not. I don't care. But the fact that you keep quitting jobs is not systemic inequality! You posted several times about lazy days and just kicking back for mental health, which is fine but its a choice and it won't get you anywhere financially. Its not the world keeping the man down! Don't say oh it can't be done and there's just nothing much poor people like me can do, except pay off our debts in 11 years(maybe). Just listen to Dave Ramsey or any number of podcasts and you will hear of a slew of folks who got after it, and are debt free. I guess we are all assholes, as is anyone who doesn't give you the advice you want, which is to do exactly what you are doing and life just isn't fair. Either you have control of your fate or you don't - I believe that I control my fate. Ok, Back to the regularly scheduled sympathy.

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    4. I really don't understand what your problem is. I am not saying me quitting my jobs = systemic inequality. If you read my post (which seems unlikely), I said I am frustrated by (1) personal financial challenges (as many people are) AND (2) systemic inequality, which I have been thinking more about *because if I find covering all the finances difficult despite doing okay, then I imagine it's even harder for other people*. Two things.

      I do have health issues that prevent me from working full time, but you don't want to hear about that because clearly illness = weakness in your mind. I don't think I can convince you otherwise, so I won't waste my time.

      Also, I didn't ask for advice. I rarely do. So... no need to give it! Yay!

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  4. Yay for some great September wins! I'm so impressed with your continual forward march, despite changing circumstances.

    Interestingly enough, before I was diligent about budgeting and tracking, I had only a general, vague, not terribly concerned "there's not enough money" feeling. Once I gave every dollar a job, that feeling got a lot more...intense. Suddenly, I had all sorts of financial goals, and funding most of them is a marathon, not a sprint, in which I have plenty of time to lament that there is not enough money, LOL.

    Theoretically, I could stop saving for emergencies and long term goals and then...voila! Suddenly, it would feel like there's plenty of money, and enjoy that short-term feeling. But we know better, don't we? Keep on, keeping on, 76.

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  5. I read this and thought of your comments about inequality:
    https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-seven-year-auto-loan-americas-middle-class-cant-afford-their-cars-11569941215?mod=hp_lead_pos8
    Although I'm not in a position to have to roll forward debt or take out a 7 year auto loan ("m an attorney in a privileged position), I can understand why someone would or how they could get trapped in that cycle of debt. Add that to student loans and health care costs and it's a disaster. This isn't just a matter of "choices" in my opinion when consumers may not understand the loan terms, what the vehicle will be worth in 7 years, whether there are truly other options for cheaper cars, etc. etc. It's like transferring balances on credit cards or the mortgage crisis of 2008 with lines of credit on inflated houses, redux. I'm old enough to remember the early 2000's program where the government paid "cash for clunkers" to get old cars off the road. This helped with emissions but guess what, a whole group of working poor lost their potential inventory of very inexpensive used cars (I know because I'm part of a group that gives used cars to people who are struggling with transportation). Keep going and know that you are doing just fine/winning in my opinion.



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  6. I really have to wonder about Anonymous's inability to handle two thoughts at the same time and to therefore assume you can't do so. Obviously you're not equating your personal struggles with systemic inequalities.

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  7. Revanche, I am not saying her personal struggles are related to systemic inequalities. She frequently writes about her frustration with systemic inequalities (as she touches on at the beginning of her post here) and that's what prompted my comment. I agree with her frustrations (part of the reason I read her blog) and am supportive of her struggles and her accomplishments and getting out of horrible jobs. When I read the article about auto loans, it reminded me of her blog and her comments about the larger policy issues. This is why I don't post on blogs - ha - try to be helpful/supportive and get attacked. Have a great day!

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  8. Revanche, Just to be clear, I am not the same person as the prior "Anonymous" if you are lumping the posts together and thinking we are the same person. I am at 11:06 (10/1) and 2:28 (10/2) only. Not sure if you are responding to me or both of the Anonymous posts combined.

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  9. I live in USA Florida and i am a happy woman today? I told my self that any Loan lender that could change my Life and that of my family, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to Them. If you are in need of loan and you are 100% sure to pay back the loan please contact them and please tell them that Mrs Sharon Coolidge referred you to them. barrymoreloans12@gmail.com or send a text +15852823682

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