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

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Our Financial Journey Three Years In

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

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

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

    3. We refinanced our remaining student loan.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Net Worth

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

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

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

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

The Long Slog

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

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

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

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

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

This Past Week

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

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

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

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

Job Things

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

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

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

Money Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here we go.

I'm Fucking Sick Of This Pandemic

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

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

It's endless.

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

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

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

Jobs, Teaching, Etc.

Some good news on the job front: 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Worth The Risk?

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

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

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

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

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

So Where Would This Put Us Financially?

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

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

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

This Is Incredibly Stressful

To put it mildly.

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

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

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

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

If You Have Kids In School

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

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

We are not willing to roll the dice on that.

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

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

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Adjusting The Budget For Summer + Covid Times

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

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

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

A few things to note:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May - August Monthly Budget:

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This Is Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some updates from $76K Land:

(1) Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

(2) Student Loans

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

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

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

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

So yay.

(3) Health Insurance

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

(4) Job Stuff

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

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

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

I'll say this: if you're a parent and you want your kid to be back in the classroom, advocate for students and teachers by reaching out to the powers that be (school board, state government, reps in Congress) to demand frequent testing. Because that's the only way this will work.
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I Quit My Job A Year Ago - And I Have No Regrets

I just wanted to briefly poke my head in for a rare non-COVID moment to acknowledge the one year anniversary of this event:
That's right: April 18 was my quitiversary! Happy Quitiversary to me!

I have no regrets at all. Not about leaving that job, anyway. Yes, our income dropped by about 40%, and yes, I lost employer-sponsored health insurance. I decided not to return to full-time work, opting instead to spend a few months walking dogs before picking up a part-time adjuncting job that is enjoyable most of the time but that is, admittedly, probably a dead end. I had to buy my own short-term health plan and it was every bit as crappy as I expected it to be. The budgeting has been tricky at times. Not knowing what's next has been stressful, and the COVID pandemic has not helped.

Still no regrets. It turns out no amount of money is worth that level of misery.

There is a part of me that has regrets and maybe a little embarrassment about my overall career path, but that feeling isn't tied specifically to the job from hell. But what can I say, other than it didn't pan out for me? It wasn't for lack of trying. I threw myself into multiple jobs, all of which I appeared to excel in, all of which left me feeling stressed out, exhausted, anxious, and desperate to escape.

What I said in my quitting post still holds true:

"The fact is, I'm not sure that full-time employment is for me. I'm not sure it was ever for me. Between my mental health constraints, my desire to do what I want to do, my hatred for unnecessary meetings, my disdain for pointless tasks, and my resentment of micromanagement, perhaps I'm not a good fit for corporate culture. I did it because I thought it was something I had to do. I did it because I was told that I was above making coffee and selling Goretex... and I believed that, because our culture has brainwashed us into thinking that some jobs are more dignified than others."

And I'm still working hard. Aside from the part-time job, I do plenty of things I don't get paid for: manage the household finances, clean, cook, help the Kiddo with schoolwork, make doctors' appointments, fix things, etc. Not to say that Fortysomething doesn't do household stuff - he does - but obviously, for both of us, there's a lot of work that doesn't bring in a paycheck.

Somehow (miraculously), we've managed to cobble things together on a reduced income. We get by on Fortysomething's full-time salary, Fortysomething's bonuses, and the part-time peanuts that I earn. Some months, we've been able to save. Some months, we've had to dip into savings. We sock away cash whenever we can and try not to feel bad when we can't. We've ultimately been able to grow our savings since I quit.

In a couple of weeks, the Kiddo and I will move onto Fortysomething's health insurance plan (we need something more reliable in the era of COVID), an expense that will translate into an extra $550 or so a month. This will make our current arrangement a little more challenging, but we can make it work through the end of the year thanks to the recent stimulus checks and the afore-mentioned bonuses.

I often wish I had a little more direction - What am I supposed to be doing with my life? What career will perfectly mesh with my experience and abilities? What am I passionate about? - but I've been sitting with those questions for a year, and I'm still not sure. Sometimes that really bothers me. Sometimes I just shrug it off, knock out a few hours at my little part-time gig, bake some bread, wash some dishes, run a few miles, watch some Survivor with the family, and call it good enough. After all, isn't the whole "your career is what gives your life meaning" spiel nothing more than emotionally-veiled capitalistic propaganda designed to encourage all of us worker bees to continue propping up the billionaires? (Not to imply that there's a problem if your work does feel meaningful - if so, that's great. But I don't think that has to be true for everybody.)
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Everything Has Changed

I wanted to write something about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it's affecting us, but until today, it's been hard to find enough motivation + brain space to make that happen. Let's see what I can put together on this incongruously sunny Sunday.

The Current Situation

As of this moment, more than 2,200 people in the United States and more than 33,000 people worldwide have died from the coronavirus. In the U.S., the shit really started to hit the fan at the beginning of March; since then, it has deteriorated drastically, in large part due to the federal government's absolutely abominable handling of the situation. I won't get into that here because my head will explode. But I will say this: I don't feel safe.

Arizona's cases have started to pick up over the past two weeks. There are now more than 900 documented cases in the state, and there have been 17 deaths, two in our county. All restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and other gathering places are closed along with schools. We are not under shelter-in-place orders yet, but given that our local ICU is already full and the hospital has insufficient PPE, I'm guessing that may happen this week (the Republican governor is reluctant to take such measures and refuses to let mayors make the call for their own cities; don't get me started). 

Day-To-Day Self-Isolation Life

My family has been preparing for this since the end of January, when the first coronavirus patient in Arizona was identified. We were closely watching what was going on in China, and the first inklings of community spread were emerging in Europe. We're both scientists; Fortysomething is a biologist. We knew the virus would spread, and we knew it didn't care about borders. We slowly stocked up on dry goods and emergency supplies, and by mid-February, we were pretty well set. 

I began self-isolating at the end of February, and Fortysomething and the Kiddo have been doing so since school closed on March 13. We're not going out except to run (to avoid crowded trails, I've been getting up before dawn and heading out as soon as it's light enough to see the road) and bike (the Kiddo's chosen form of exercise). We were going to the grocery store every week and a half or so, but a positive experience with Instacart yesterday has us convinced we'll have our food delivered from here on out, unless Instacart shoppers decide to go on strike for the long-term. 

Day-to-day life includes work for the adults, online learning for the Kiddo, baking bread (I was doing it before, but with the Kiddo home all the time, it gets consumed more quickly these days), Zooming with my book club and other friends, watching the newest season of Survivor, working on puzzles, preparing meals, and napping. Lots of napping. I feel like I'm tired all the time.

Basically, we're lucky to be able to stay at home, so we're just trying to hunker down, not get sick, and keep out of the way. The not-getting-sick part is especially important given my shitty health insurance - another thing that I can't think too much about before losing it. That's why we're shut-ins at this point. That's why I have a hard time walking out my front door without having a panic attack.

Mostly, we're trying to take it a day at a time, something I've never been good at. Now, it's a relief to focus only on the handful of hours ahead and make them as good as possible.

Finances in the Time of COVID

Financially, we're okay at this point. We have emergency savings, though we did draw them down a bit to purchase supplies (if this doesn't qualify as an emergency, I don't know what does). Fortysomething and I both still have our jobs. I worry a little bit about my gig: I could see my employer cutting some of us adjunct instructors to save money. On the other hand, my work is in online instruction and my pay is peanuts in the grand scheme of things, so I hope I have some security? Our state has mandated that nobody can be evicted right now, so even if we did lose our jobs, we would be able to keep living here.

I'm supposed to re-up my short-term health insurance next month. We'll see how that goes. It's a terrible plan, and if the premiums increase too much, it won't make sense. But paying the $800+ to be on my partner's plan would also be a huge crunch for us.

Although I don't like to live with regrets, I now have serious regrets about signing up for the stage race in August. I mean, there was absolutely no way for me to know that this was going to happen. But man, I'd really like that $1400 to be in my bank account right now. The race, which is supposed to take place in August, hasn't been canceled yet. Surely it will be. I don't see how it will be safe for hundreds of participants to camp, eat, and run together for days on end only four months from now.

We should be receiving a stimulus check from the government in a few weeks, which will be greatly appreciated. We'll save about half of it and use the rest to support local businesses, the food bank, and the city shelter. 

In the Tornado

I wrote a few things about five weeks ago that I ended up not publishing. Re-reading them, I'm struck by how insanely different things are now. Everything has changed, and we're all going to continue living in the middle of this tornado for at least another month or two. Let's face it: most of us can't even tell which way is up. We're just trying to get through the day. We don't have time to ascertain long-term repercussions. But when the tornado is gone? We'll have to deal with the fallout. There's going to be a lot of it. 

The immediate silver lining is that my community is working together as best it can to deal with this massive challenge. I hope that the long-term silver lining will be things like the adoption of universal healthcare and living wages for hourly workers. And I hope that rich people are finally getting the message that if we don't fix our rampant systemic issues, everyone will pay the price for it.
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Why "Just Find Another Job!" Isn't As Simple As It Sounds (For Me)

This isn't even really a blog post, guys.

It's probably going to be more like two paragraphs. It's a mini reflection on anxiety and sleep.

I was thinking about something last night and then again today when I was out on my run. I was thinking about how last year, things at work got so bad that I basically stopped sleeping and fell into a vortex of insomnia that was really, really hard to escape, even after sent in my letter of resignation.

Then I remembered that the same thing had happened in my advising job and in my tenure-track teaching job. The only reason it didn't happen in my full-time online teaching job was because my boss let me come in late every day and change my schedule whenever I wanted to (and then she left and that perk ended).

I mean, I knew I'd had issues with insomnia in the past. I just hadn't connected the dots to see how prevalent this problem has been for me.

Some people can get by without sleep. I can't. Lack of sleep makes me angry, resentful, confused, and inarticulate, none of which are conducive to a positive performance at work (or a positive life in general). Sleeping pills have addressed part of the problem - namely, the falling asleep part - but leave me perpetually groggy. It is a sucky, scary, personality-altering condition.

Insomnia is a beast. Those of you who've experienced it know what I mean.

I look at/for jobs every day. I find about 2-3 jobs per week that pay a decent wage and that I'm at least somewhat qualified for. But I will admit that I'm picky even beyond those considerations because I just can't dive into yet another job that will destroy my health.

As a result, I routinely discard any job ad containing words such as "obsessed," "passionate," "driven," and "go-getter," because in my experience, those kinds of jobs are breeding grounds for my stress and anxiety. Management jobs? No. Jobs requiring frequent presentations? No. Jobs where I have to help other people through difficult situations? No, though I wish I could be effective in that sort of position.

So... I eliminate many possibilities simply because I know those gigs won't be good for my anxiety and will destroy the healthy habits I've developed over the past year. And I don't want to give up good sleep. These days, I go to bed by 10 and wake up around 6 without much issue. On the nights when something does keep me awake past midnight, I'm comforted by the knowledge that I'll have time to nap the next day.

I'm not saying this as a sob story or to make excuses. It just is what it is - a factor that requires a lot of consideration when I'm sifting through options.

It's the kind of boundary I need to set for myself, but it also feels somewhat limiting, and that can be frustrating. Because I do feel like I have more to give to meaningful work... and yes, I also really want to earn a higher income.

That's all.
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I Need A Break From PF Twitter

Around the time that I started this blog, I joined Twitter and became part of the very active personal finance community there.

At first, it was a real boon. I met other people who were going through similar experiences or who'd had similar experiences in the past. When I asked for feedback on things like debt repayment vs. investing, how to set up an IRA, or how much to keep in our emergency fund, I received invaluable advice. And when I'd post about our debt repayment victories, my new PF friends would respond with nothing but encouragement. 

As a somewhat shy introvert who often struggles with in-person interactions, this realm of social media was the perfect place to talk about the things that interested me - personal finance, yes, but also careers, our kids, etc. - and meet likeminded people at various points in their life/financial journeys. 

Overall, it was a positive place to be, and I was (and am) grateful for it.

Lately, though, the discussions and commentary in the PF Twitter community feel... not positive. I log on and see Tweets to the effect of:

People who can't afford school shouldn't take out student loans.

If you are in debt, someone else owns your future!

I can't believe how much debt people have. It's SCARY. People have NO financial literacy. They're SO irresponsible.

If you're struggling with money, you're just not trying hard enough.

If you're struggling with money, you just need to work harder. Take on a second or third side hustle.

Increasing your income is easy! Just get a new job.

I can't believe my friend bought a car/new furniture/a vacation. They can't afford it and they got mad when I told them what I thought! [Sidenote: your friends don't want your opinion on their purchases unless they ask for your opinion.]

Frugality is dumb. Just increase your income.

OMG, look at this chart of millennial net worth! This is so SAD. I have SO MUCH MORE than this because *I* planned ahead and saved.

Look at this article! This 53-year-old has no retirement fund! She is SCREWED.

Who the eff takes out a car loan. STUPID PEOPLE THAT'S WHO.

Don't be AVERAGE. Average is SAD. Be extraordinary and FIRE! 

If social media doesn't get to you - if you're immune to comparing yourself to others even when you're in what essentially amounts to a virtual room full of people telling you (directly or indirectly) that you're doing it wrong - then cool. I salute you.

I, a melty, vulnerable little snowflake, am 100 percent willing to admit that these messages do get to me. Because we do have student loans. We don't have enough retirement money. My job change has made our lives better but it doesn't pay enough. We did struggle with finances for a long time. 

Using basic logic to connect the dots, I can't help but read these Tweets and feel like I'm dumb, lazy, whiny, ungrateful, and irresponsible.

But we've put a lot of work into our finances, and we/I don't deserve to feel that way.

Our story isn't exciting enough to become personal finance clickbait, but we've made an enormous amount of progress. We're finally in the green on our net worth (and before that, we were in the red but on a positive trajectory). We have some savings. We've paid off some debt. Because I ditched a soul-sucking job with a good salary and health benefits for a no-benefits job that I actually enjoy, I no longer feel constantly depressed, anxious, and stressed out. 

And that's just us/me. Other people with debt, behind on retirement funds, and/or lacking in savings have their own stories. Maybe those stories involve poor choices made way in the past. (News flash: everyone makes poor choices sometimes. It's called being human.) Maybe they involve really expensive, unavoidable life situations. There are any number of possible reasons. You don't know. You can't know. And yet we continue to send out the message that if you're not in a good financial place, you're an idiot, plain and simple.

You can say whatever you want, of course. I'd just like to point out that if your goal is to help other people, none of the above messages are in any way motivating, uplifting, or encouraging. If your goal is to pat yourself on the back for making all the right financial choices, can't you do that without putting other people down?

Many Tweeters in the community are amazing and wonderful, but somehow it's the negative stuff that gets lodged in my brain. I've spent most of these first few weeks of 2020 with the vague sense that I'm failing, and Twitter is not helping. 

So I just need to step back, clear my head, and recalibrate. 

I'm not deleting my Twitter account. I'll be back sometime, when I get my head on straight and feel less sensitive to the commentary. And I'll still be writing on this blog. I plan to comment more on other people's blog posts because I really do like interacting with fellow money nerds. 

If we're friends and you want to connect elsewhere (Instagram [where I don't talk about money at all], Twitter DMs, text, probably not the phone because I hate the phone), then let's do that. 

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Three-Seasons Budgeting: Season 1, 2020

When I started The $76K Project, one of my good intentions was to write a budgeting post once a month. I don't think I ever succeeded in doing this with any regularity, in part because I'm allergic to forced blogging schedules and in part because I felt like I was sharing the same numbers over and over again, which makes for boring reading.

However, this is a normal-person-does-personal-finance blog, read by (I assume) fellow average people who are also trying to get their money situations in order. I do think budgeting posts are important given the scope of what I write about. When we started our financial overhaul, it was immensely helpful to see how others manage their finances. I used to devour other people's budget breakdowns. I assume at least some of you guys might feel the same way, and anyway, I want that kind of transparency to be part of what I'm doing here.

But how do I write about our budget without being totally repetitive?

Budgeting By Season, Not By Month

The other day I realized three things:

1. Our budget changes throughout the year, even when our income doesn't.

2. That change happens in a somewhat predictable way.

3. We can loosely break our budgeting into three "seasons":

The Boring Season (January - April): During this season, we're just holding steady. We're not making much extra money through bonuses or side hustles, but we're also not spending it on vacations, kid activities, or anything major. In general, income = expenses.

Bonus Season (May - August): During this season, our accounts are usually bolstered by Fortysomething's annual pay raise and bonuses; he occasionally takes on some freelance work, too. Extra money! Wheeeeee! We always save some of it, but we also use a chunk of the extra cash to go on a frugal-ish vacation. Income > expenses.

Celebration Season (September - December): With two birthdays, an anniversary, and Christmas/New Years, we always end up splurging in the fall and early winter. I've stopped trying to fight this trend. It's a fun time of year, and we like to enjoy ourselves. If we have to dip into savings to top things off, that's okay. Income < expenses (though not to an extreme degree).

NEW PLAN: instead of writing a budgeting post each month (which won't happen anyway, who am I kidding), I'll write one at the start of each season. That will allow me to keep a record of our budgets and share them here without being tedious.

Boring Season Budget 2020

Currently, we're in the Boring Season of our budget, which is shown below.

For Boring Season 2020, our expenses and income will be approximately equal. As always, rent and food are the two biggest line items (I've stopped trying to chip away at the grocery budget - it's too stressful, and we eat all the food we buy). We've reserved $200 for miscellaneous things like school supplies for the Kiddo and going out to eat once or twice. I've probably overestimated our electric bill, but temperatures are notoriously unpredictable at this time of year, so I want to leave some wiggle room in that category.

You'll notice that we're not planning to put any money into savings this month beyond what's auto-deducted from Fortysomething's paychecks and the pet sitting money that I'll put into my IRA. That's okay. Our emergency fund is in good shape for now. We'll add to it later in the year.

I definitely feel some pressure to make more money (especially because I worry about health insurance and the limitations of my current plan), but I also feel like I need to devote my energy to other things right now: running, being a parent, household stuff, etc. I can re-evaluate income in a few months and/or if/when a good opportunity finally comes along.

Stay tuned for the second (and probably more exciting) budgeting installment at the beginning of May.

What about you? How do you organize your budget? Does it change throughout the year or hold fairly steady?
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The Pros And Cons Of Working As Part-Time Adjunct Faculty

It's been about six months since I started working part-time, and because I've found myself reflecting on the experience over the last couple of weeks, I figured I'd share those thoughts here on the blog.

My Current Part-Time Job

I've worked in higher education - online higher education, specifically - for a long time. I landed in this field accidentally: as a graduate student, I cut my teeth on a Blackboard-based class that nobody else wanted to teach, and opportunities snowballed for me during the online education bonanza of the early to middle aughts. I never intended for this to be my area of expertise, though, especially because there are several aspects of it that I don't particularly like or believe in. 

Going back for my PhD was an attempt to branch out and away from online education. Because I have so much experience and know all the lingo, it's also the realm where finding work has always been pretty easy. So here I am... again.

My current position entails a combination of teaching (more like coaching, as there are no live classes and all of my student interactions occur via email or phone), grading, and curriculum development and design. I work entirely from home on an hourly basis. I'm allowed to put in up to 20 hours per week (and I always, always work 20 hours, because I want that money!). Although I have two bosses, my communication with them is sporadic, and our online meetings are few and far between.

What I Like About My Part-Time Job

1. The flexibility. This is by far the biggest perk. I work when I want to work, and I set my own schedule. I have plenty of time each day to run, conduct petsitting drop-ins (not every day, but some days), read, mess around on Twitter (I'm working on not doing that as much), blog, cook, help my kid with homework, and tidy up the house. My life feels way more relaxed than when I was working full-time, and I think those benefits get passed on to my family.

2. The work itself. I'm comfortable interacting with my students, I usually enjoy reviewing their work, and I get a kick out of the curriculum design aspect of things. It requires subject matter expertise and creativity, and when I can utilize both, I really get in the zone.

3. The autonomy. Although my bosses will occasionally ask me to do something specific, they generally let me run the show with the courses I facilitate. I never feel like someone is breathing down my neck - an extremely welcome change from my previous two jobs, where my every move was recorded, analyzed, and critiqued. This being higher education, where the trend is always, ALWAYS towards micromanagement, I know my autonomy could dissolve at any time. But I'll appreciate it while I have it.

4. My immediate colleagues and supervisors are friendly, professional, and reasonable. This is a huge plus given that I had the opposite experience in previous workplaces. Even online, and even in a setting where my communication with other instructors is pretty minimal, collegiality makes a huge difference. Also, despite the negatives (see below), I feel like the higher-ups have acceptable expectations of me that reflect the limitations of what this job can offer.

In sum: as far as adjuncting goes, this is probably as good as it gets.

What Bothers Me About My Part-Time Job

At the same time, now that I'm six months in, I find myself wondering whether this position is viable over the long term. It is definitely not perfect. There are a few things that rankle me about it:

1. The pay. If I work as much as I can every week of the year, without taking any time off, I'll make a little over $20K annually (before taxes). Obviously, I can't expect to make as much as I did when I was working 40 hours a week, but given my education and expertise, the pay is low. Everyone in my position supposedly makes the same wage that I do, so I'm not sure how to approach management about a raise. It doesn't feel like the right time. Maybe at the one-year mark.

2. No benefits. To be honest, this is the part of the job that bothers me the most, both personally and in principle. It's not just that I don't get health insurance or access to a retirement account; it's that my employer actively works to ensure that I will never get those benefits. The way they do this is by dividing what could easily be full-time roles between two half-time people.

Moreover, I am officially listed as a temporary employee, meaning that my employer could let me go for any or no reason on any given day, without any repercussions. But in reality, my role and my colleagues' roles are critical: this entire program is dependent on a cadre of adjunct faculty. Without us, there would be no program at all. Without us, the organization would not be reaping the financial rewards of an online education option.

Note: If I had benefits, everything else on the "cons" list would be easier to accept. Part-time workers should receive benefits. Period.

3. People in my field don't take me seriously. They just don't. Former colleagues basically act as if I've left the discipline altogether. If you aren't a REAL professor or a REAL researcher, you are a washed-up, second-rate hack (fellow adjuncts, I know you know what I mean). Elitism runs rampant in higher education, and there's no greater evidence of this than the way in which adjuncts are treated by people who have the same level of education and experience that they do. Being kicked out of the club makes me very sad, and I try not to think about it.

4. I have to use my own computer. For multiple reasons, I disagree with this policy. If I'm doing online work for a big organization, said organization should supply me with the necessary equipment so that I'm not putting in extra miles on my own equipment. Moreover, I'd prefer to not view student information on my personal computer, as technically, my equipment could be seized if there's a work-related investigation of some sort.

5. No advancement opportunities. I suppose I could apply for my boss's role if she quits. But it's more of a management role than an instructional or designer role, and I'm not sure I want that. Instead, what I'd really like is the option to move into a full-time instructor role, which doesn't exist.

6. I get bored. While I don't want to work 50-60 hours a week as I did in my last job, and while I appreciate the flexibility, I think I'd be more satisfied with my work if it required more like 30 hours a week (I had the opportunity to put in extra time last fall and found that six hours a day was ideal) and if I had some real options for professional development. 

7. I have way, way more to give. This is something I thought about a lot last week. I could be doing so much more with the knowledge and experience that I have. Instead, I often feel that they're going to waste. I just don't know how to make that happen without ending up too far on the other end of the spectrum and overworking myself. That balance is so elusive. Although I look at the job boards on a daily basis, I haven't seen anything locally or online that fits the bill (but I'll continue to look!)

As I write this, I realize that I am probably not alone. I know there are other people out there in similar situations, especially people with PhDs who now find themselves in less-than-ideal adjunct roles.

I'd love to know what you think:

Have you ever worked part-time? What was that experience like?

And if you're working as an adjunct or part-time instructor in higher education, how do you handle the low pay and lack of growth opportunities?

Please note: Before giving off-the-cuff advice, please consider that most people don't really need advice when they're just sharing an experience (sorry, guys, I'm burned out on unsolicited advice). Yes, I have talked to my supervisors about benefits. Yes, I asked about a computer. Yes, I keep an eye on the job boards. No, I cannot just waltz in and demand more money, as pretty much anyone who's been in this position will understand. Yes, I am grateful for what I have. No, I will not be writing a gratitude list. Thanks!
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Why We Decided Not To Buy A House

Hello, $76K readers! Just checking in with an update. Not sure yet whether it'll be a short one or a long one, as I'm not feeling particularly blogger-y today. But when I started The $76K Project, I promised myself that I'd document all of the major steps along this journey. So here I am, a reluctant writer chaining herself to her keyboard.

As I outlined a couple of weeks ago, two of our 2020 goals were to (1) figure out what we're doing about our current housing situation and (2) apply for a home loan. As of today, January 19, we can check both of those items off the list. Whoop! High five!

We Spend A LOT On Housing

Housing has been an ongoing concern for us because it's a major chunk of our budget. Currently, our baseline monthly income (not including petsitting earnings, bonuses, or Fortysomething's occasional freelance work) is about $4600. Rent for our two-bedroom, two-bath duplex - where we've lived for nearly two years now - is $2200. That means we spend just under 50% of our income on housing, which is... a lot. It's especially a lot now that I'm working part-time and purchasing my own health insurance.

Sooooo... we've been trying to figure out whether to stay put and deal with an anticipated rent hike in the spring (more on that in a moment) or throw our hats into the housebuying ring. (A third option is to move to another rental, but rent here is high across the board, so it doesn't seem worthwhile.)

To see how much of a loan we're actually qualified for, we completed a home loan pre-approval application. We gathered and submitted all of the paperwork (so much paperwork) and agreed to a credit check, and within a couple of days, we learned that we were pre-approved for up to $375K. We enlisted the help of a Realtor and started perusing the listings.

But at the same time, we were questioning whether we really want to buy and whether it's a smart financial move.

Housebuying: The Pros...

Although I have some issues with where we live, we generally love it here and can't see ourselves leaving - at least, not before our kid graduates from high school. Personally, I have never been as attached to a place as I am to this place. I feel very, very connected to our town, its surroundings, and the outdoors. I love the mountains, I love the trees, I love the climate and the sunshine, and I love the trails. From a nature perspective, I love everything about it.

Anyway, seeing as how we don't intend to move anytime soon, we'd love to find a way to stabilize our housing costs and make them a little more manageable. At least at first glance, buying seems like a good way to do that: the mortgage is your mortgage; unlike the rent, it's not going to go up every year.

...And The Cons

Nevertheless, we also recognized that there would be some major hurdles associated with buying at this point in time:

(1) $375K is A LOT of money. A breathtaking amount of money. A sum that kept me up at night once I learned that someone was actually willing to lend us that much. Do we want to take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt when we've just managed to get our heads above water?

(2) We don't have much of a down payment. We could use the $10K in our savings account, but then... we would have no savings.

(3) When we ran the numbers, we realized that we could end up paying between $150-$200K in interest over the life of the loan. Obviously, we could curb that total by paying off the mortgage sooner, but it's likely that even under the best circumstances, we'd still end up paying tens of thousands of dollars in interest.

(4) Housing in our area is expensive, but that doesn't mean these are turnkey properties. In reality, anything less than $400K will likely need work. As renters, we don't have to worry about that. If something breaks, the landlord fixes it. If the roof leaks, the landlord takes care of it. If the lightbulbs burn out in the kitchen, they'll replace them. We do... nothing.

(5) The monthly numbers would be roughly the same. Ideally, buying a house would allow us to cut our monthly housing expenses by several hundreds of dollars, but realistically, after factoring in the mortgage itself, taxes, and PMI, it would probably be a wash.

(6) We'd likely have to depend on other people for help with the down payment and closing costs - and I want us to be self-sufficient. One reason we pursued homeownership was that a family member offered to help out. That offer changed over the weeks, and as more and more strings were attached, it became less and less appealing. If we're going to buy, I don't want to deal with any of that. I want to be able to do it without assistance.

(7) We love our current rental. With the high rent come numerous benefits that align with our interests and values: there's a trail literally right out the front door, Fortysomething and the Kiddo can walk to work/school (a real boon in inclement weather), and we need only one car (and use it rather sparingly). Because we're centrally located, we can get to any side of town in minutes. And we have beautiful views. Honestly, I can't imagine living anywhere better.

Our Choice: Keep Renting And Play It By Ear

A few days after we were pre-approved for a mortgage, Fortysomething talked to our landlord about what would happen if we decided to break our lease. During that conversation, the landlord offered to lower our rent - not by a lot, but lower it nonetheless - and lock it in for the next 1.5 years. (Note: we tried negotiating our rent last year and got nowhere with that; I guess us telling them we were looking to buy was a gamechanger.)

It didn't take us long to decide that, at least for now, continuing to rent is the way to go. Neither option is great, but with renting, we don't have that burden of debt on our shoulders. We don't have to worry about moving across town, or gathering a huge chunk of money for the down payment and closing costs, or finding a way to replace/repair the appliances that will inevitably break within the first six months of homeownership.

Sometimes you have to try something to see if you really want to pursue it. I'm glad we applied for the loan and started this process because it showed us that it's not the right time. It's amazing how crystal clear that became, and how quickly.

When this lease is up for renewal, I suppose we'll just play it by ear. Maybe we'll be ready to buy then. Maybe not. You can't know everything in advance, and that's okay.
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How We Finally Achieved a Positive Net Worth

Okay, real talk? That title is just an SEO gimmick. We all know I suck at how-to posts.

What I'm really here to say is simply that

according to Personal Capital

we have finally crossed the red/green line into positive net worth territory!

It has been... a road.

Our Net Worth Story In Graphs

This first graph spans November 2017 to now. The starting number on the left is something like -$65,000. That doesn't really capture the whole picture, though, because we started overhauling our budget in April of 2017, when our net worth was more like -$80,000:

Okey dokey. Moving on to the next graph, which covers the last year. In January of 2019, our net worth was -$23,000ish:

Finally, here's our net worth over the past three months:

The jump you see on the right doesn't reflect some magic injection of cash. It reflects the fact that until a few weeks ago, Personal Capital was unable to deal with our multiple eTrade accounts. Now it can, and so it's finally registering an IRA that contains some fairly high-performing stocks.

(Did you see what I did there? I sound like I know what I'm talking about! I'm practically an investment expert now.)

So we're in the green! Just in time to consider dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into buying a house!

Fine, Here's How We Did It

For the sake of truth in advertising, here's how we went from negative net worth to positive net worth:

1. Got rid of some, but not all, debt (see: this blog).

2. Saved some money in our emergency fund.

3. Put more money into investments once we paid off our highest-interest debt.

Again, steps 1-3 took us almost three years, more than 2.5 years of which I tracked every single expense and obsessively policed my family's spending. It was sometimes fun, sometimes not. Often not, TBH.

So how's that for a jazzy how-to?

Things To Remember If You're Fixing Your Finances (From A Non-Expert Who Is Still Way Behind)

I keep making comparisons between long distance running and personal finance because they have one key thing in common: for us middle- to back-of-the-packers, progress essentially boils down to putting one foot in front of the other over and over and over again, even when it's tiring, boring, and painful. Even when it feels like everyone and their pet newt is flying past us. Even when we're so far behind that all of the gummy worms and lemonade powder are gone when we finally reach the next aid station.

(Sorry. I might be taking this analogy too far.)

Here's what I'd tell other people in similar situations:

1. It takes time. For most people, everything money-related takes time. Don't get discouraged by the clickbaity "I paid off $1 million dollars in three weeks!" articles. Trust me, there's always a secret inheritance or surprise property sale involved.

2. Your net worth is in no way tied to your worth as a person. There's literally (I love that word, even when I use it improperly) no correlation. You can be the most amazing, giving, wonderful person in the world without money. You can be Scrooge McDuck rich and also be a total life-sucking shithead.

3. Seriously, the secret sauce to personal finance is to keep taking small steps. It's going to feel like you're going absolutely nowhere sometimes, but if you're moving forward - even just a little - you're progressing.

That is all. That's all I've got in the way of advice.

I'm the next Suze Orman, I know.

Anyway, this "crossing into the green!" thing is kind of arbitrary, but it still feels good, and I wanted to share it.

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