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

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The Autumn of 2019 Was A Century Ago

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what I was doing last year at this time. For some reason - maybe because so much of 2020 has been exceptionally monotonous from a daily routine standpoint (not from a national goings-on standpoint - that's very different) - I recall clearly what I was doing in September and October of 2019:

1. I was preparing for a long-ish, grueling mountain race. On October 5, I hit the trails with several dozen other (better qualified) participants and, despite tripping over rocks multiple times, running out of water, losing a toenail, and nearly rolling ass-over-teakettle down the final hill, managed to slog my way through the whole thing. When I was done, I felt like a real runner and couldn't wait to participate in more events like it. On the heels of that successful day, my endorphin-powered self eagerly paid big money for a big multi-day stage race to take place in August of 2020. (Bye, money. I shall never see thee again.)

2. I was getting ready to go to CentsPositive! When I sign up for things involving a gathering of people I've never met, massive regret usually starts to wash over me as the big day approaches. I get nervous and self-conscious and have to fight the urge to change my mind and stay home. This time, however, I was just excited. The beautiful autumn weekend in Seattle with a room full of other lady finance geeks did not disappoint. I was sick the entire time (good LORD, can you imagine going anywhere now with a fever and cough?!?), but I truly enjoyed every moment and felt so empowered by the other women who attended. 

3. Fortysomething was teaching science to high schoolers and generally loving it (or liking it well enough). He'd received a raise and a bit of a promotion. The plan was for him to hang onto the job until he was ready to retire. 

My kid was finally finding his groove at school. Our lives were settling into an equilibrium.

I remember feeling very hopeful about the year ahead. I was going to run! A lot! And have adventures! And ramp up my blog! And participate in more personal finance events! And focus on doing things I love! And we were going to keep saving, but we were also going to spend money on the things we valued.

And then... 


A year later, things are so different:

1. What running? I have been running a little more lately than I was a few months ago, but it's not the same. If I had to participate in that stage race tomorrow, I'd probably make it, like, five miles. At this point, running still feels like a chore rather than the escape it used to be. When I run, I want to tune out. I don't want to have to think about masks and distancing and how far six feet actually is and the snot rocket that appears to be blowing my way. 

Instead, I've shifted from running to weight training, which I can do at home. Alone. Away from the maskless. I'd still rather be running, but this is far more relaxing. Also, now I have arm muscles.

2. That CentsPositive trip was the last big trip I went on. Not that we were ever planning any major vacations in 2020, but it's still mindboggling to me that I've essentially been in the same town for almost 12 months straight. We're considering a Vrbo weekend in Phoenix at some point this fall if finances allow (big, big if) because we're starting to feel kind of stir crazy after months in isolation.

3. The job situation has completely changed. Fortysomething's final day was last Friday, and now he's making himself comfortable in freelancer land. As I write this, he's happily ensconced on the couch in sweatpants and a t-shirt, brainstorming for a project he's excited about. 

Goodbye, health insurance. Goodbye, retirement fund. But hello, free time, hello, creativity, and hello, freedom from terrible administrators. 

4. The Kiddo will be learning online this year. On one hand, he seems to be thriving academically. A lot of the stressors of in-person school - like having to get from one class to the next in a short amount of time, trying to keep track of all of his papers and books and whatnot, and figuring out how to deal with the disruptive kids in class - are now non-issues. He can just focus on his schoolwork. On the other hand, he hasn't hung out with anyone other than family since March. 

5. I've decided to write a book. I've always wanted to do it but was too scared to do it, and also I didn't want to write about something I didn't care about, so I've been hunting for a project for more than a year, ever since I quit the Job from Hell. Inspiration didn't strike until last week. Since then, I've been writing every day for 45 minutes. Shockingly for me, it involves giving advice, which is a new one for me. But for once, I feel like I have something to say that might be helpful for other people.

Inspired by writers like Michelle Jackson (Michelle is Money Hungry) and Hiro Nishimura, my plan is to self-publish and see how it goes. Worst case scenario: nobody wants it and it doesn't sell. I can live with that. But I think I've landed on a subject that some people will care about, and I'm excited to write about it.

(I'll share more about the topic in a few weeks, assuming I don't decide it's a shit idea and abandon it altogether.)

So... yeah. Things have changed, and I suppose in some small, individual ways they've changed for the better. I feel like we're making the best of the situation as a family. But this whole year is still so awful, and I just hope that next year we're all looking back on it from a better place.
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Another Job Bites The Dust


Update: No sooner had I finished writing this than Fortysomething came in to let me know he's officially resigned. Apparently, someone he trusted told his boss he was thinking about leaving (loyalty, it's a beautiful thing). His boss then contacted him to find out what was going on. So he was forced to quit a bit sooner than planned.

Well, this is it: within the next two days, Fortysomething will put in his notice and leave his job unless there are some major last-minute policy changes.

Although this isn't going to be an entirely depressing/blah post, and although I've known for months that this job might not work out, I must say that I'm disappointed that we find ourselves in this position. He's worked at this place for more than three years. He used to talk all the time about how he was probably going to stay through retirement. He enjoyed teaching science to middle and high schoolers. He had a great rapport with them and with his colleagues. He recently received a raise, and he was going to be eligible for a pretty hefty retirement fund match in 2021. 

It was nice.

And then: COVID.

Teachers and students started off the 2020-2021 school year entirely online. For the first few weeks, administration appeared to be making thoughtful decisions with the best interests of everyone in mind. They invested in new technology and ensured that all of the kids had Internet access. They opened their doors every day to the limited number of students needing supervision while their parents were at work. Everyone seemed to be getting into a groove with virtual learning. Technical problems were surprisingly rare and short-lived. It wasn't a perfect approach, but it was a rational approach.

Then something - I don't know what - changed. All of a sudden, admin decided it NEEDED to get everybody back in the classroom ASAP. A series of hastily prepared and, frankly, scary decisions were rolled out very quickly. The reopening strategies they've chosen represent a potpourri of what seem like the worst possible options (I started listing them all, but the list got too long and ranty, so I cut it). 

Teachers have pushed back with scientific papers, county and statewide data, and proposals for a more thoughtful reopening, but leadership has been entirely disinterested in the opinions and concerns of workers on the ground. They're opening, come hell or high water or another surge in cases.

I know a few people who are going to tell us we're overreacting, but for us, it doesn't make sense for him to return under such brazenly unsafe conditions given what we know about how COVID operates. So he's out. At least for now, he'll be focusing on some short-term contract work.

Here's what we've done to prepare for this shift in employment:

Income and savings: We've been saving as much as possible since the pandemic began, so at least for a minute, our emergency fund is looking better than ever. We'll deploy it if we have to, but we're hoping that we can cover all expenses through the rest of 2020 with our combined part-time/contract income. 

Health insurance: We'll be losing Fortysomething's employer-sponsored health insurance, which is perhaps the scariest aspect of this entire situation. I don't receive insurance through my employer. We should have coverage through the end of this month. After that, we can access either COBRA ($$$$$$$$) or short-term insurance. When open enrollment becomes available, we'll apply for a subsidized ACA plan for 2021 and just hope that the program doesn't disappear entirely.

Job search: I've been applying for full-time and part-time jobs since the early spring of 2020. Fortysomething has as well, though he'll be ramping that up a bit once he has more time. We've decided that we're open to job opportunities elsewhere in the state and country, which will give us more options.

Vacations and fun things: On hold through the rest of 2020. The pandemic makes not traveling for an entire year a little easier to accept.

Housing: Our lease runs through next May. Even if we have no new employment in 2021, we should be able to cover our rent each month until then. If things are looking decent financially, we'll probably re-up for another year. If not, I don't know. I really don't.

I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself, but I do worry about what will happen next spring if one of us doesn't have a new job lined up or a buttload of contract work in the hopper. In that case, we couldn't afford to keep living here, and... I have no idea where we'd go instead. I'm not panicking about it, but I'm definitely mulling over next steps. I want to have some ideas and options lined up just in case. Maybe RV life is back on the table as a possibility?

There are some benefits to this new arrangement, and I'll cover those in another post when I've come to terms with everything. For now, yeah, we're fine. It's a bummer, but I'm glad we're doing what we know is best for us, and I'm glad we've wrapped this up after months of worrying about it.

ALSO: For another post by someone whose plans and income got derailed by COVID, check out Return of the Budget by my friend at Table for One. 

COVID can suck it. 

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Conjuring Up My Financially Carefree Past Self


In 2016, I quit an academic job that I'd tried to make work for two long, difficult, and mentally draining years. My brain was basically silly putty by the end of it; I wasn't ready to jump straight into a new job. Instead, we decided to buy an RV and travel around the country for as long as possible. We sold almost all of our stuff, including our furniture, kitchenware, and most of our clothes. We loaded up what few belongings remained, and off we went to spend a sweltering (but honestly rather lovely) summer in Texas.

Looking back at past me, I'm like

via GIPHY

Our status at the time we got the hell out of Dodge:

-We had enough savings to cover a few months of expenses

-We had lots and lots of debt (see: the title of this blog)

-We had "health insurance" that probably wasn't legit, now that I think about it

-We did not have normal or reliable jobs (Fortysomething had contract work, but if I recall, it was pretty spotty; meanwhile, I was in training to teach some online courses, but since our Internet was really touch and go, I don't think I ever actually did?)

AND YET we bought (financed) an RV, traveled to various parts of the south and west, lived in state parks on the cheap (where we were often the only people there, because who vacations in Texas in July?), subsisted on ice cream and tacos, and generally had a grand old time.

I worried about tire blowouts in the middle of nowhere, the mysterious leak that emerged from beneath the sink, the cat getting carsick, and mold, but I do not remember losing sleep over finances. 

When we rolled into our current town and decided to stay, we didn't wonder whether we could make it work. We just... made it work. I got a job at REI and then at the local college. He found a teaching position. I started this blog. We got our money in order, and it was fine!

via GIPHY

Fast forward to now, the fabulous year of 2020. Fortysomething's planning to quit any day now, but he has multiple freelance contracts in the works. My job is small but steady (knock on wood). We have more in savings than ever before, and we know how to budget. 

Yet, this is me for the past week:

via GIPHY

I AM FREAKING OUT

I mean, I'm completely on board with him quitting given that we're in the midst of a global pandemic featuring a silently spreading virus that has killed more than 180,000 people in the U.S. to date, but the financially responsible me of 2020 is having trouble letting go of regular paychecks and employer-sponsored health insurance.

Although I will readily admit that 2016 me was pretty clueless in many ways, she was also more optimistic than 2020 me (understandable). She had this certainty that things would work out somehow. 

Was she financially responsible? 

Not really. 

Worse off? 

In some ways, no.

Until this past week, I didn't realize just how much my mentality has changed. I've gained a lot of knowledge, skills, and good habits, and at this point, they're pretty ingrained. But while it is indeed great to be in a better financial position four years later, I don't want to lose the part of me that was willing to take risks, either, because risk-taking has generally been a positive experience for me and my family. I also don't want to lose the part of me that was able to look uncertainty in the face and not lose sleep over it.

So, 2016 me, COME BACK! I need you and your carefree, "money isn't everything!" mentality. I can't promise that I'll stop compulsively reworking the budget, and I can't promise that you can go back to vanlife anytime soon, but with your help, I do promise to chill out a little and trust that it'll work out. 

P.S. Part of the reason I'm hyperventilating is that I didn't get that job I interviewed for. Took it a bit hard yesterday. It's probably for the best in some ways, but nevertheless, it's a bummer.

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We Didn't Want To Make This Choice Yet



Stop Trying To Make Normal Happen


Welp. It's the weekend, which is typically when my partner's school prefers to send out long, nail-bitey emails to employees. And sure enough, one showed up in the inbox today.

The gist of it is that they're planning to re-open school by the end of September, calling teachers back to the classroom much sooner than we were predicting. I'm disappointed. Secretly, I was holding out hope that the school and district would decide to limit in-person learning until January 2021. 

Although we'll technically meet Arizona's stated reopening metrics (~5% or less positivity rate, <100/100,000 cases for at least two weeks, COVID test turnaround time of three days or less), Fortysomething and I don't feel ready. From a science-based, data-driven perspective, we just don't think it's a good idea:

1. All of the health professionals I've been listening to, including virologists and epidemiologists, seem to agree that a combination of testing and contact tracing should serve as the foundation of a strong return-to-school plan. Testing and contact tracing are particularly important given the prevalence of asymptomatic COVID transmission. But that's simply not going to happen. Although everyone is expected to wear masks and conduct daily self-administered health checks, nobody - not kids, not teachers, not staff - is required to get tested prior to returning to the building. 

Moreover, there's no plan to test anyone throughout the year or notify potential contacts of those who are diagnosed with COVID. Every time someone asks admin what will happen if a kid or teacher tests positive (will whole classrooms quarantine? For how long?), they deflect or ignore the question.

2. Social distancing will be impossible in many classes. Some kids will continue with online learning (including my kid), but a recent school survey indicates that the majority of students plan to return to the classroom. The fact that the school relaxed enrollment limits this year and ended up with more students than ever makes social distancing all the more challenging.

3. Flu and cold season will ramp up soon. Ah, a potpourri of viruses! To school administrators, this is apparently the perfect time to bring large groups of people together in enclosed, poorly-ventilated, windowless spaces, despite the fact that enclosed, poorly-ventilated, windowless spaces represent the ideal environment for COVID transmission. 

4. It's unnecessary. Our school has already opened its doors to students who need supervision during the day. Everyone else is learning at home. It's a good compromise in that it meets everyone's needs while maintaining social distancing as much as possible. Online learning hasn't been perfect, but overall, it's been going pretty well. Why does everyone need to come back to the classroom?

5. I'm not convinced the school is considering vulnerable populations at all. Racial and ethnic minority groups appear to be at increased risk in this pandemic, for various reasons. We have kids who come into school from the nearby reservation... the same reservation that's lost hundreds of people to COVID since the spring. We have kids who live in multigenerational households. We have kids who live with their grandparents.

Who's making the decision to reopen? Rich white people, mostly. (Oop, I just checked. Everyone in our charter's leadership is white. Wow! Yay diversity! Hurrah representation!) 

6. Also, some teachers and staff have pre-existing conditions that put them at greater risk. No worries. Admin doesn't care, so it isn't an issue!

7. My partner and I are in our 40s. Yes, we're both healthy (knock on wood), but COVID seems to have a greater impact on people the older they are. There are plenty of examples of people in their 30s, 40s, and beyond who've had bad reactions to the virus (hospitalization, debilitation, death) even if they had no prior medical conditions. And even relatively minor bouts of COVID seem to leave a lasting physiological mark on most people who catch the virus. We certainly can't eliminate our risk, but we'd like to minimize it.

8. If he goes back, we won't see anyone else the entire year. I already don't know when I'll feel comfortable seeing my family or my partner's family again, but I certainly won't feel comfortable with it if we're at greater risk of exposing them to the virus.


Drawing the Line and Getting Prepared


Back in early July, I wrote a post about how we're not into playing Russian roulette with our lives

That hasn't changed. The plan remains the same: walk away when teachers are required to return to the classroom. It still seems like the most logical choice for us given the situation. 

I was just hoping we'd have a few more months to prepare.

I've spent the better part of today fighting off a panic attack. I'm trying to keep my cool by reminding myself that we will (probably) be okay if and when he quits:

-We have about six months of expenses in savings.

-He's got several contract jobs in the works for this fall.

-I still have my part-time job.

-I'm searching for additional job opportunities and have made at least a little headway on that (still waiting to hear back about the results of my recent interview).

-He's going to see if a leave of absence is an option.

-He'll be less stressed out and probably sleep better. 

But nevertheless, being in this position is anxiety-provoking.

This isn't where we'd be if it weren't for this damn pandemic. This isn't a choice we wanted to make. And financially, it sucks: we'll be losing employer-sponsored health insurance and retirement.

Sometimes I sit back and think about the frontier of this current moment. All of it is new. All of it feels uncertain and dangerous. The right choices are often not apparent. We weren't ready for this; we didn't know we'd have to make these decisions. And we have no real leadership to guide us. 

It didn't have to be this way, but here we all are, muddling through, doing our best, and crossing our fingers and toes that our tough choices in this moment will work out for us in the long run.

I hope we're making the right choice. I hope we feel confident in that choice. And if you're in a similar boat, I'm hoping you'll feel peace with your decisions, too.

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Mommin' It Up, Pandemic Style

 

It's 10 AM and so far this morning I have:

-run two loads of laundry

-unloaded the dishwasher

-washed the breakfast plates

-badgered the Kiddo to brush his teeth and get to (virtual) class on time

-cleaned the cat litter and fed the cat

-investigated a missing Target shipment

-checked our bank accounts

-done a smattering of "official" work (grading, etc.) 

Although I'm only a few hours into the day, this list is fairly representative of my daily activities in the COVIDtimes. Add in more cleaning, some baking, some managing of finances, some schoolwork assisting, some lunch making, and some working out, and that pretty much covers it. 

One thing I'm struggling with right now is, well, this. When I went to graduate school 10 years ago, I did so intending to land a full-time job that would mostly or entirely cover our expenses. Our plan was for me to be the breadwinner - a solid idea, considering that Fortysomething loves doing introverty, stay-at-home-dad things with a sprinkle of contract work when he feels like it, and I like being part of an organization (in theory) and having Society-Approved, Overachiever-Friendly Important Tasks to do. When I graduated and immediately landed a tenure-track job, I felt like everything I'd strived for was falling into place. I couldn't wait to be a career lady! 

Until my brain was like, Yeah, sorry, this isn't going to work.

What we've realized since then is that Fortysomething is better than I am at managing a full-time job. He doesn't suffer from anxiety and depression. He's never experienced insomnia. He isn't prone to panic attacks in the middle of meetings. When he makes a mistake on the job, he doesn't obsess over it. When someone tries to micromanage him, he nods, smiles, and proceeds to ignore them for as long as possible. Unexpected policy changes don't send his blood pressure skyrocketing. He doesn't love what he does, but he also knows how to compartmentalize.

So Fortysomething and I have switched roles. He's now the breadwinner by far, with his exhausting combination of teaching and contracting, and I am very much the active parent/homemaker, at least during the day. In the COVID era, this division of labor makes sense for us. He has time-consuming jobs that make money, and we need to sock away as much money as possible to ensure we can ride out this pandemic without backsliding financially. My income-generating job doesn't take much time, so I have more opportunities to cover the other necessary tasks in our household. 

(Important disclaimer: Fortysomething also contributes to the chores, including recycling, taking out the trash, putting in the grocery orders, and making dinner several times a week. I think our physical division of labor is pretty fair, though like many women, I take on more of the emotional labor.)

And let me say this: logically, I know the way we've divvied up our responsibilities is ideal, at least for now. I know I'm contributing in a meaningful way by ensuring that our household and finances are operating smoothly during this stressful time. I take pride in creating an environment that is clean, comfortable, and relaxing so that when they're done working at their computers all day, they can kick back and chill. I realize that having one parent who is always available to help out with online schooling is a major privilege. Besides, I love being a mom, and I enjoy managing our home life.

Sometimes, though, I still feel like it doesn't matter very much, like I'm futzing around all day while other people do Important Things That Contribute To Society. People can tell me that what I'm doing does matter, but sometimes it's hard to believe that. Maybe it's because I grew up in a very traditional household with a homemaker mom and engineer dad, and I saw day in and day out who got the respect and who didn't. Or maybe it's because I equate meaningful work with money, and the people doing supposedly meaningful work at home don't get paid anything for what they do. Maybe it's because everyone I graduated with is now doing cool research projects and applying for tenure/promotion while I'm baking cookies and trying to determine why the Internet has suddenly gone out.

My floundering career has been low-key bothering me for the past five years. The effects of the pandemic seem to have cast those insecurities into much sharper relief in my mind, especially in the weeks since Fortysomething and the Kiddo have gone back to work and school. I'm trying to find a way to move on. Sometimes where you thought you'd end up and where you worked really hard to end up isn't where you end up. That's life, but it takes a while to come to terms with it.

Has anyone else had this sort of experience? That is, has the pandemic forced you to grapple with issues that were previously lurking beneath the surface? Or tossed you into a role you weren't planning to occupy?

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Pandemic-Induced Emotional Whiplash


What's New This Week

It's been a rough week. I've been taking notes on what I've done and how I've felt each day, and the words "bored," "lonely," and "depressed" keep coming up. I remind myself over and over again that it's normal to feel these things given all that's happening in my life and in the world. I'm worried about my extended family (my parents sounded low the last time I talked to them, and they're making some questionable choices in terms of socializing), stressed about Fortysomething's job, frustrated by the feeling that I'm not doing anything meaningful, sad that my local friendships are withering due to lack of in-person contact, and sometimes overwhelmed by my kid's school schedule (I'm so glad he's online, but it does come with a new set of challenges that will take some time to address). 

I've toyed with talk therapy and even considered antidepressants (please no advice on therapy and/or medication thank youuuu), but what I think I really need is a change of scenery. I need a vacation. I need to get away from all of this stuff for a week or two. Which won't happen right now because (a) we feel like a pandemic is not a good time to travel, a belief we continue to hang onto despite the fact that everyone else seems to be on the road and (b) school and work are back in session. 

Anyway, point being, just as I underestimated the importance of human interaction in my life, I underestimated the importance of making plans and adventuring for keeping me sane.

Other, less-morose highlights from the past two weeks:

-Finished a workout program (6 Weeks of The Work) for the second time

-Deep cleaned parts of the kitchen

-Made bagels and soft pretzels from scratch (successful on both accounts)

-Mastered the art of my kid's F1 game on the XBox (no more crashing into walls and/or other cars!)

-Went running for the first time in a few months! 

-Started watching the second season of Umbrella Academy

-Listened to a few true crime podcasts

-Worked (but my work has kind of slowed because I wrapped up a project I was working on)

-Applied for a couple of jobs

Speaking of which...


The Job Front

I really need to keep myself busier, so I've applied for a few additional online teaching jobs over the past few weeks. One of them seemed particularly right for me. I was able to tick off all the boxes in terms of qualifications and experience. Plus, in a refreshing turn of events, the job ad offered a comprehensive overview of pay (not great, but not terrible), training expectations, and course responsibilities. The class is already set up; I can tweak it, but the material, syllabus, etc. are all ready to go. I have a Zoom interview scheduled for next week. If I can just remember how to formulate complete sentences, I may have a shot at this!

Meanwhile, Fortysomething received another contract invitation from his side hustle. That makes three contract offers for this fall: two major opportunities and one smaller one. This is great news except that, oh yeah, he still has a full-time teaching gig. The next few months are going to be extremely busy for him if his school decides to keep everyone home through December. We have no idea what they will decide to do. It looks like it could go either way; many parents and even teachers want a return to in-person learning starting in September. We hope to know more by Friday.

This whole whiplash-inducing "teachers-are-heroes-oh-wait-no-they-are-assholes-for-not-wanting-to-have-full-classrooms-during-a-pandemic" situation that's unfolded over the summer has taken a toll on his desire to teach. It's demoralizing. I can tell that what he really wants to do at this point is work for himself, and I don't blame him. Too bad healthcare is so expensive.

Sometimes I feel like we're hastily trying to board up the windows and throw down the sandbags before the storm hits, and crossing our fingers it'll be good enough to keep out the worst of the weather.


This Week's Expenses

Aside from the usual (groceries, student loan payment, etc.), we forked over $75 to rent a camera for the Kiddo's photography class and $50 or so on other school supplies. Fortysomething also spent a chunk of his upcoming contract earnings on a new computer. It's been at least five years since we upgraded our home technology, so as hard as it is to wave goodbye to that money, this investment (that's really what it is - by purchasing this equipment, he has the opportunity to snag contracts that will make a big impact on our savings) needed to happen. 

So that's this week in Coronatimes. How have you been?

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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


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


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


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.)


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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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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