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

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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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