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

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According To My Notes, I Did Some Things


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

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

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


This Past Week


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

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

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

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


Job Things


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

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

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


Money Things


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

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


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

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

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

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

So here we go.


I'm Fucking Sick Of This Pandemic


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

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

It's endless.

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

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

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


Jobs, Teaching, Etc.


Some good news on the job front: 

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

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

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

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


Running


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

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

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

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

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


Money


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Is It Worth The Risk?


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

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

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

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

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


So Where Would This Put Us Financially?


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

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

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


This Is Incredibly Stressful


To put it mildly.

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

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

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

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


If You Have Kids In School


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

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

We are not willing to roll the dice on that.

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

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

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