February 2022 – Life Update

I know, I know, where have I been and what have I been doing? And even if you don’t care about that, why haven’t I been writing? Honestly, I didn’t feel like writing. So, I didn’t. I hope you all have been well and haven’t been too disappointed by my absence…

1) Work – Organization C: So far, I like my job, I love my colleagues, and the networking has been incredible. That being said, I dislike my boss. At first, I thought it was just a difference in communication styles or how we show up but…no. I don’t like him. He is a much older gentleman who comes across as condescending, dismissive, and entitled; and there is a clear gender bias as he behaves this way towards all of the female employees but not our male colleague who is his age. Initially, I thought it was just me who perceived him this way but…no. Not only have my colleagues divulged that this is also their perception but so has one of our principal donors in an “off-the-record” conversation. This is such a great opportunity for my career so I plan on enjoying it as much as I can, networking, and positioning myself well for my next jump but this is looking more and more like a 3-year stint than the long-term role for which I was hoping. Unless there is a leadership change…

University B: Most days I think, “Why did you decide to keep doing this?” (I actually asked that question out loud to a friend/colleague and she replied, “Honestly, I don’t know. At the time you said you were trying to pay off your student loans…” And then I said, “Right.”) I am putting in about 18 hours a week at University B and my pay rate is $23.00/hour. I will receive my first part-time paycheck from them on the 25th of this month and actually should receive a final “salaried” paycheck that includes the first couple days of this month and potentially the stipend from my on-call work which I have continued to perform. I was given the option of changing my 403b elections but I left them the same. I have no idea what this paycheck (I billed for 37 hours over two weeks) is going to look like at the end of the month and will be totally surprised. I am still doing the weekend work for University B at the moment but that will taper off completely come April. I am just trying to stick it out until then. Once April rolls around, my work from then until the end of June will mostly be end-of-year communications and reporting which I actually enjoy.

2) Taxes and a Sinking Fund – I completed my taxes earlier this month and was happy to find out that I was actually entitled to a small federal refund (~$1,000.00) and owed $11.00 in state income tax. Once received, I moved these funds to a savings account and promptly checked off 2021 Revised Financial Goal #2 of establishing a $1,000.00 sinking fund that is separate from my emergency fund. Well, the universe decided I was far too self-satisfied and my car’s check-engine light came on for the first time since I have owned the car. More on that below…

3) Dating – I am taking a break from dating in general. There is so much going on at work that I just haven’t felt like it. I also have made friends here and they need attention too. If I’m really honest, I think I also needed a break from Gentleman Avery. While the chemistry and interest are clear, I feel like maybe we missed our moment… Generally, when I decide that a romantic relationship won’t work out, I have a mature conversation with the other party, and we amicably part ways. As I explained in a post earlier this month, that’s never worked with Gentleman Avery. I could pretend to be confused as to why that is the case but that would be disingenuous. I don’t want to part ways. There is still some small part of me that hopes it will work out. I’d like to smother that part of me. Or at least make it quieter.

Lunar Do-Over Day FAIL: Still Chuggin’

1. How much did I spend today? – $0.00 – I haven’t spent anything today because it’s Sunday and as I have previously recounted, Sundays are usually days I stay at home. My spending (register below) since I last posted it on February 5th is pretty typically of what I spend during the month. Including the far too many sweets, around my cycle, during the middle of the month. The only other things of note are 1) the $3.00 ATM fee will be rebated by my bank at the end of the month (I know there are some folks who would have immeidately gasped at frugal person paying an ATM fee) and 2) I will get around to telling the automotive story in another post. This one is already far too long.

$29.76 doesn’t seem like a lot of money for what remains of the month but given that my pantry, fridge, and freezer still have food in them, and my gas tank is full, I suspect I’ll make it pretty easily.

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $29.76

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? – I’ve learned that it’s probably going to be okay… Since sharing my debt story with Mr. Pokémon, he has talked to me a lot more about investing and the power of compound interest (Like…don’t I know it? Who better than a person in thousands of dollars in debt to tell you about the power of compound interest?). He consistently has talked about the power of investing early and given that I am not done paying off my debt, in many ways I have been a bit down about my investing prospect. Allowing myself to get hung up on how much time and money I have “lost.” However, this article from Investopedia gave me a reason to feel a bit more hopeful. Specifically,

An employee in this age category who is offered a 401(k) at work should consider funding it to the maximum amount. To provide you with a sense of how powerful maxing out a 401(k) can be, consider the following: An individual who is 40 years old and who contributes $17,500 annually to a 401(k) could accumulate more than $1.3 million in savings by age 65. This assumes an 8% return and no employer contributions...

While this is by no means an excuse for my past financially irresponsible behaviors, it does give me hope that if stick to my current plan, and pay off my student loan debt before I turn 40, that getting more aggressive with my 401K savings at 40 can still leave me comfortable in retirement.

3. How have I lived abundantly? – Today is a rest day. Sometimes, on Sundays, I force myself to be productive and get all of my personal tasks and cleaning done. And if I don’t, I feel incredibly guilty. Today, I’ve decided to let my body rest and my mind wander. I’m happy it wandered over to my neglected blog.

I Respect the Hustle

I am doing some committee work for University B this week that is eating into my evenings. While yesterday wasn’t too bad, today made for a late night. I will return to writing a bit more substantively tomorrow…

Lunar Do-Over Day 8: February 8th

1. How much did I spend today? – $5.00 – In my city, it is fairly common for young boys to sell water and other drinks at busy intersections for money. Almost like urban lemonade stands. While I rarely buy anything to drink, depending on how well they’ve honed their pitch, I sometimes make a donation. Today he was well-rehearsed and polite so I parted with five dollars. To approach busy, annoyed, city drivers and attempt to sell them something would seem to hone skills necessary to be successful at other entrepreneurial endeavors. While I am often concerned about their safety, given that idling cars can move at any moment in response to the changing traffic lights, I certainly respect the hustle.

Other than this small donation, I didn’t “need” anything. I have two social engagements planned for this weekend, and I am slowly running out of fruit, so I expect a slight uptick in spending later this week.

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $334.37

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? – Not a damn thing. I have been binge-watching “Till Debt Do Us Part” on Amazon Prime (US). It’s an older, Canadian reality TV show that focuses on the marital fracas between couples that results from financial stress. The financial stress is usually a lack of communication that is exacerbated by overspending. The host’s solution is always to move the couple to a cash-only, envelope (jar) based budget for a month, paired with other activities and challenges that are designed to get them to communicate more. While the show is fairly formulaic, it is always interesting to get to peer into other people’s finances. But you all get that 😉

3. How have I lived abundantly? – I went for a midday workout so that I could take a class with my favorite trainer. At first, I felt a bit guilty about stepping away from work in the middle of the day. However, I later accepted that this is one of the benefits of remote work, and as long as I put in an eight-hour day, it doesn’t really matter when I do the work unless I have meetings.

Friends and Debt: “One” is the frugalist number…

Hopefully, my reference to the Three Dog Night song “One” was clear. If not, I highly suggest you check out this classic…

I am an introvert who has learned to be extroverted, at times, as a way of getting by in the world. People generally like extroverts and being extroverted can make everyday social interactions less awkward. For a long time, I envied my truly extroverted friends. You know, the kind of people that could go to New York City, and sip and glide on the current of energy that flows through it, without becoming depleted. Truthfully, it is only as I have gotten much older, and lived through a global pandemic (I kid…mostly), that I have come to appreciate being introverted; and, come to understand that maybe there has been more to my isolation than just “me.”

Before the onset of the pandemic, I often wondered if there was something wrong with me. Despite having just moved to a new city, after work on Fridays, I would put on pajamas, crawl onto my couch, and rarely speak to a soul until Monday. When I reflected on this behavior, out of concern that I might be depressed, and perhaps I was, I would generally attribute it to the fact that I often had to work long days and weekends for University B. This belief was furthered by the pandemic, where I seemed to thrive in a fully remote work environment, managing much better than I ever had in person. However, as has become common, things began to change late last year.

In the span of a couple of months, I had made several new friends and became much more social. Rather than just sitting on my couch on Fridays after work, I was proactively texting my new friends to see who might want to hang out, even when I had to work the following day. What changed? My debt had changed. I realized that I had been refraining from making friends because I didn’t feel like I had the time or money to spend in the company of others. My time was better spent working gigs and my money was better spent being put towards my overwhelming debt. One may be the loneliest number but it can also be the most frugal.

These days, my life is much different. While I am still an introvert, I do not constantly shy away from the opportunity to spend time in the company of others. The reduction in my debt has allowed me to be more comfortable telling close friends about the fact that I am in debt and in response, they have been considerate of this fact when we plan outings together. Mr. Pokémon and I have set up regular Friday afternoon walks which are always one of the best conversations I will have all week. Kelly Kapowski (a nickname for a new friend who is a dead ringer for Tiffani Amber Thiessen) and I often drink wine and chill on her couch. As I have mentioned previously, because I opened up to her, she has also felt comfortable telling me about her own challenges with debt. And for that, I have felt even less alone. These days, my life is much richer.

Lunar Do-Over Day 7: February 7th

1. How much did I spend today? – $0.00 – My fridge is now stocked and I had no immediate needs.

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $339.37

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? – Have any of you read the blog, book, or musings of Jacob Lund Fisker? He is a Danish personal finance blogger who retired at 33 and is the author of “Early Retirement Extreme.” He argues that anyone (I think the caveat is anyone without debt) can become financially independent in five years. There is a Wiki page that summarizes his principles and strategies. I initially encountered his work almost ten years ago, the very first time I took stock of my debt. At the time, I admired what he had achieved but didn’t think it was applicable to my situation given how significant my debt was. I am now reading his work again, hoping to see what I might learn and apply so that “retiring” by 55 is a real option for me.

3. How have I lived abundantly? – I made a ton of kimchi fried rice for dinner. I know! I did this yesterday. But it was so good and I wanted it again. I have a reunion coming up in mid-April and I am supposed to be shedding the winter weight. Eh. I find that when I totally deprive myself, I am much more likely to snap and binge than if I am more moderate in my eating.

Dating and Debt: “Anchor seeking yacht.”

One of the great things about my 28 days of blogging in February is that it is forcing me to finish a lot of posts that have been lingering, half-finished, in my drafts…

Recently, I have tried dating again. Apps, online, being social, etc. I’ve been doing a little bit of everything. Dating is exhausting but can offer you a great deal of insight into what you value about yourself and other people. I think I had gone on my fourth date when I realized that I was far more confident with where I am at in life and what I have to offer a potential partner than I was a couple of years ago. A couple of years ago…

A couple of years ago, I met Dude Gentleman Avery. Gentleman Avery is incredibly smart, well-educated, funny, curious, engaging, and attractive. He is all the stuff. He has faults, and I could enumerate them, but to what end? Despite them, in spite of them, I love him very much. Unfortunately, mistrust arose early in our relationship as a result of our shared desire to “hide” from each other. While it would impolitic for me to speak for him, I can say that my desire to hide from him resulted from insecurity. I met Gentleman Avery in March of 2019 before I had even started this blog. At the time, my debt felt like it was crushing me and I could not see a way out. I felt like I had so little to offer someone. Conversely, while Gentleman Avery was divorced, he had gotten everything else “right” in life (divorce can also be “right” but I know it is a sore spot for him and not how he would characterize the experience). He was attractive, fit, had a great career, a great income, had paid off his $100,000.00+ professional school debt, and was generally in the prime of his life. He also liked me a lot. But I couldn’t understand it, couldn’t imagine how someone like him would want me, and even if he did, I couldn’t imagine he would after he knew how much debt I had. Why would a yacht seek an anchor?

And so I held him at arm’s length. Enjoying his company and intimacy, while always hiding a bit of myself and hoping I would somehow never have to share with him about the coins that go clink in the night. As you can imagine, over time, this became exhausting for both of us. Both of us hiding and unwilling to be entirely vulnerable with the other person. At different points we tried, I tried, to just be friends. Hoping that this amazing connection could be something if it couldn’t be everything. I dated other people. He dated other people. But it never quite worked out. There has always been this thing with him. This thing that makes you feel warm, excited, annoyed, and a bit crazy. When being friends didn’t work, I tried to cut him out of my life entirely. More than once. But he always found me. Always assured me that it wasn’t how our story ended.

So here we are, years later, both single and tentatively reaching out once again. I don’t know that our story will have a happily ever after. I don’t know that it works like that in real life. What I do know is that I’m not an anchor. And I’m done hiding.

Lunar Do-Over Day 6: February 6th

1. How much did I spend today? – $0.00 – As a result of my upbringing, I generally treat Sundays as a day for family and rest; with preparation at home for the upcoming week. Most Sundays, I don’t leave the house, and consequentially, don’t spend any money. Today was such a Sunday.

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $339.37

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? – As I shared in my post earlier today, I am currently reading up on Roth IRAs and trying to decide whether opening a Roth IRA or pushing my debt goal even further this year makes more sense. Both choices are about the future but one is decidedly more long-term than the other.

3. How have I lived abundantly? – I made a ton of kimchi fried rice for dinner. Kimchi can be expensive but I bought it fresh, whole, and bagged at my local HMart rather than in a jar. This means I had to spend time chopping it up but it was worth it. I love fermented dishes and Kimchi always makes my meals feel a bit more extravagant than they are.

Dignity of Work

This one is coming late, I know, but this was my first weekend off in three weeks and I didn’t feel like writing yesterday, so I didn’t. I feel like writing today so not only will I write a post for yesterday, I will still write a post for today as well.

Recently, as I have stepped into my new role with Organization C and shifted to part-time at University B, I have been much more honest about what I was doing to survive thrive financially while earning so little at University B. (I say “so little” while recognizing that $50,000.00 is a fair salary in many parts of the United States, at various points in someone’s career, for various levels of responsibility. However, I would maintain that it is not enough for a job for which a master’s degree is “required,” and that requires the level of work experience and skill set that I have.) In conversations with friends and close colleagues, about why I am departing University B, I have finally admitted to working gigs and working part-time at a golf club.

Finally, and more freely, making these disclosures to others, I realize that it is not something I would have done a couple of months ago. When thinking about why this is, at first, I thought that it was perhaps another positive vestige of getting below $90,000.00 in student loan debt. However, recently, I have come to realize that it is more than that. That what allowed me to feel comfortable telling people about what I had done to thrive financially while in my role at University B was that I was no longer there. That my new role at Organization C, with its better title and pay, meant that I set down most of the shame (I know, I know…but you should know who I am by now) about where I was in my career as a result of prioritizing experience and education over career growth in my 20s. I realized that I was ashamed that I had to work gigs and work part-time. That at this point in my life, I should be far enough along in my career that it wouldn’t be necessary.

While this reflection made sense, it also made me a bit uncomfortable. If I was ashamed of working gigs or working part-time, what was I saying about how I view people that perform that work? Having thought about it some more, I realize that it says very little about them. I greatly respect people who perform work in the service industry (particularly retail and foodservice). I think having worked in both industries actually makes me a better consumer and a more appreciative customer. I think the shame was not about the work being performed but about the pay and position relative to how much time and money I had invested in my personal development and education. That is, if an “education” and “time for experiences” is going to end up costing you $130,000.00, subsequently feeling shame about earning $14.00 per hour serving food should be expected. And that I likely wouldn’t feel that same shame if serving food is just what I decided I wanted to do with my life and I hadn’t spent years and significant money to do a job that doesn’t even require a high school diploma.

Lunar Do-Over Day 5: February 5th

1. How much did I spend today? – $39.83 – I finished my grocery shopping, and except for some augmenting of fresh fruit, this should get me through the next two weeks.

2/5/2022American ExpressH MartGroceriesBagged fresh kimchi (1lb), firm tofu (5 pcs), seaweed snacks, and blueberries $        (32.87)
2/5/2022American ExpressH MartGroceriesSpicey soup base $          (2.87)
2/5/2022American ExpressKrogerGroceries18 ct. organic, cage-free, brown eggs $          (4.09)

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $339.37

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? I am currently reading up on Roth IRAs. Having crunched the numbers (which I will share with you soon), I think I will quite comfortably make it under $60,000.00 this year. So my thought now is, should I then work towards making it under $50,000.00 this year (so very, very tempting) or should I be pushing money into other investment vehicles given how paltry my employer match is?

3. How have I lived abundantly? – My food purchases. If I were really trying to squeeze every penny that I could out of my budget, I could easily eat even cheaper. I am a big enough fan of rice and cheap green leafy veggies that I could even do so fairly healthily. Buying non-seasonal fruits is not cheap (and probably not great for the environment). However, fruits help me make better food choices that allow me to have a better relationship with my body. So, as with my gym membership, I feel like this money is better spent on me.

The true “costs” of cheap rent…

As I sit here writing this post, I do so without the benefit of a hot shower at the end of the day. And “Why is that?”, you might ask. Because the hot water heater in the house share I am renting is no longer working. Ugh.

Housing, rent, or the ability to put a roof over one’s head is generally the most significant, regular, financial obligation one has each month. Generally, if you are in debt, the first question anyone asks is, “How much is your mortgage?” or “How much is your rent?” This is why, if you are someone who has significant debt, one of the first things you may try to do is reduce your mortgage/rent. However, this, like all things, has costs. Costs that must be carefully, and continually, balanced against other interests. In my previous apartment, the cost of cheap rent was occasional pests and a neglectful landlord who believed that the cost of cheap rent was living with these significant discomforts. My current place is much nicer but my absent landlord means the cost of cheap rent is significantly more responsibility than what would normally be expected of tenants. So tomorrow, instead of spending my first weekend off from work, in more than three weeks, on my back, lazing and not doing much, I will instead be trying to find a plumber to address the fact that the house does not have hot water. A the moment, this cost seems significant.

The reality is, I don’t know that I have a choice. Clearer: I don’t have a choice. Maintaining cheap rent is very much key to me getting rid of my student loan debt before I am 40. At one time, I think I thought I wouldn’t have a choice until I was entirely out of debt. However, as I prepare for life after debt, I think this calculation, what I’m willing to “pay/sacrifice” for cheap rent, is something I am going to have to decide sooner than I would like…

Update: The hot water heater began working again. The power to the house occasionally goes out and this seems to be something that is triggered by the HVAC system. I can hear it struggling to turn on and then the power will go out for a moment. When the power comes back on, the HVAC system starts right back up. I think this power outage resulted in our “smart” water heater getting a reset. In the future, if this, unfortunately, happens again, turning the electric breaker off and then back on may be a solution. It feels like I have dedicated far too much time to figuring this out but…cheap rent.

Lunar Do-Over Day 4: February 4th

1. How much did I spend today? – $41.41 – The free ride is officially over now that I am back home. I am making an effort to eat out of my freezer and pantry, so most of the money I spent today was on fresh foods. I also bought a chopper to help make meal prep a bit faster and dry shampoo and conditioner that were on clearance to make a few of my hairstyles last longer.

GroceriesTaiwanese cabbage ($1.29/lb, 7.79lbs) $        (10.35)
HomeChopper $          (9.12)
GroceriesBroccoli crowns, strawberries (2), mandarins (5lbs), turnip greens, and dry shampoo and conditioner $        (21.94)

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $379.20

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? – See the true costs of cheap rent above.

3. How have I lived abundantly? – I am slowly learning to stop treating my pleasure as “frivolous.” I love fresh flowers (and plants) but while I have been in debt, when I have wanted to buy fresh flowers, I have refrained because I couldn’t justify it. Flowers are not functional and the fact that they literally die within a week of purchase would seem to make them an incredibly self-indulgent purchase. But they make me happy. So happy.

Every time I walk past this Dollar Tree vase and a bouquet of flowers, it makes me so happy. On my way to my bathroom or looking up from work. Happy. Now, before you think I have jumped off the deep end…

Yes…I find my pleasure in the reduced bin. But I find it.

Living on Last Month’s Income

The concept of living on last month’s income was recently made popular by the folks at You Need A Budget (YNAB), and I learned of it from Stephanie over at Six Figures Under. While Stephanie convinced me of the benefits of living on last month’s income as she chronicled her and Mike’s journey out of six figures of student loan debt (most of which is breaking the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck), I was never willing to forgo making an additional debt payment to save for the following month. And for the most part, that was okay. Because University B pays on the last day of the month for that month (e.g. pay for January is disbursed on January 31st), I would use that income for the following month. Technically, I was living on last month’s income…but not really. I was still living on income from my most recent paycheck.

Organization C, unlike University B, does not pay monthly and instead pays on a biweekly paycheck cycle. Having worked at University B for almost three years, I have come to enjoy budgeting and paying all of my bills at the beginning of the month. Initially, I thought that biweekly paychecks with Organization C meant that I would no longer be able to pay my bills monthly. However, I realized that if I actually committed to living on last month’s income, my employer’s paycheck cycle would no longer matter. Beginning in March, I will actually begin living on last month’s income. This transition was made a bit easier because of the slight overlap in full-time paychecks from University B and Organization C. I was paid by University B on 1/31 and used that money to pay February’s bills. I will get paid by Organization C on 2/15 and 2/28 and use that income to budget and pay bills on March 1st.

I am excited about this transition, the continued simplicity, and the additional security it will lend my financial life.

Lunar Do-Over Day 3: February 3rd

1. How much did I spend today? – $0.00 – Today was my last day of travel for Organization C and I was able to expense my meal and travel. I just got home and my fridge is empty so I will have to do some shopping and meal planning.

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $420.61

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? – See living on last month’s income above. I think this will significantly improve how I plan and budget forever.

3. How have I lived abundantly? – I’m sitting on my bed, 5 minutes to midnight, eating black cherry sorbet, and chatting with someone I really shouldn’t be. I may regret both of these things in the morning but at the moment…it feels good.

Avoiding Lifestyle Creep

1. How much did I spend today? – $31.20 – As I shared yesterday, I am currently traveling for Organization C and my travel (and meals) can be expensed. However, you can only expense travel if you can get someone to pick you up. Unfortunately (or fortunately for my snow-thirsty, northeastern, southern residing soul), the small city in which we are currently staying is experiencing significant snow flurries, and finding a Lyft or Uber has been incredibly difficult. One of my colleagues, who permanently resides in-town, has been exceptionally generous and has been chauffeuring me to and from our local office. After work today, we went out for drinks, and as a thank you for her generosity, I picked up the drink tab.

February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Initial Balance: $463.77
February Variable (food, gas, misc.) Budget Remaining Balance: $420.61

2. What financial information have I learned to help me when I’m debt-free? – Avoiding lifestyle creep. While this seems relatively obvious, my spending in both December and January convinced me that this is something to which I need to be even more attentive. I think one of the problems with aggressive debt repayment plans (and I think Bee astutely makes reference to this in her comment on my REVISED: 2020 Financial Goals post) is that you are forgoing pleasure and making sacrifices for a really long time. I think this prolonged delayed gratification can result in you making rash choices because you “deserve it.” I think as I get closer to becoming debt-free, and still need to be conscious about my spending, as I shift to saving and investing for my earlyish retirement, that I need to find a better balance between what I need to reach my financial goals and actually living.

3. How have I lived abundantly? – I ditched my $10.00/month Planet Fitness membership for a Burn Boot Camp membership ($128.70/monthly). Burn Boot Camp is unlimited fitness classes and I absolutely love it. After getting my Planet Fitness membership, I didn’t go for almost a year. I really am not a fan of gyms but I love classes. Burn Boot Camp has the cheapest unlimited fitness class membership in my city and I’ve actually been going. I am already getting stronger, have better endurance, and I feel better about myself. I think in the past I wouldn’t have ever considered spending this much because I’d see it as money I could put towards my debt. I’ve decided this money is better being put towards me.