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

Why "Just Find Another Job!" Isn't As Simple As It Sounds (For Me)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's all.
Read More

I Need A Break From PF Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frugality is dumb. Just increase your income.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More

Three-Seasons Budgeting: Season 1, 2020

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

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

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

Budgeting By Season, Not By Month

The other day I realized three things:

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

2. That change happens in a somewhat predictable way.

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

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

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

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

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

Boring Season Budget 2020

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

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

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

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

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

What about you? How do you organize your budget? Does it change throughout the year or hold fairly steady?
Read More