Today, I quit.

Yea, that title is a little…dramatic. But this is a blog, and I gotta keep it interesting.

The title is also little…inaccurate. I began writing this post more than two weeks ago when I sent my letter of resignation to my part-time employer. I had been wanting to do it for some time, for a confluence of reasons, which I share below…

So, I quit.

(Technically, I allowed them to keep me on the payroll in case someone calls out in the future but that’s not quite as dramatic).

I kinda know what you must be thinking. “Really, chick? You quit a part-time job that was moderately inconvenient while still in -$112,707.46 of student loan debt?” I sure did, and I mostly don’t regret it:

1) My wage was decliningMy wage continued to decline as the site I worked at underwent renovations, and the hours available decreased based on the construction work.

2) The work became increasingly laborious – The work I was being asked to perform continued to stray significantly from the tasks for which I had been hired, and were increasingly labor intensive. (i.e. Moving office furniture and cleaning up after construction workers). I don’t think there is anything wrong with this work, but the people who perform it generally get paid more than $10.00/hour. The new construction also previewed that in the future it was going to be a lot harder to complete the tasks I was usually assigned. I had been “making due” with a less than ideal site since I started and my employer had stated that he was looking for a solution to some of the challenges the site presented but despite being a very nice man, he was a very bad communicator. Because I was responsible and completed my work with little oversight, he would often not visit my worksite for several weeks at a time. I would tell him about the changes and what it meant for our work and he kept promising to stop by but never did. He finally showed up this past week, my final week at the site, and realized how much harder it would be once the construction was finished and why he should have been to the site much sooner. He apologized, but for me it was a bit too little, too late.

3) Increased commute – My commute time slowly creeped up from about nine minutes to about twenty minutes, each way, in traffic. Admittedly, some of this was most certainly due to holiday shoppers on the road, but some of it is was also due to the fact that I live in a city and more folks have slowly returned to working in person.

4) Cut into my evening availability/Time tradeoff – The increased commute time in the evening, after my primary job, was tough because I have been pursuing consulting work (I landed some and will be paid in January this month for a recently completed project). The more I looked into it, the more I realized that with a bit more effort, that the consulting work could be pretty consistent. Ultimately, the last project I completed took me two full work days (16 hours) and a couple of meetings to complete, and I was paid more than I made in a month in my regular part-time role (80 hours). The work is very “hot” at the moment and each consulting project is also good for my resume.

5) Wage stagnation – In the past, I mentioned that I covered another site for a coworker. What I didn’t mention was that I actually spoke with them when we met to exchange site and access information. While I was speaking with them, they mentioned that they had been working for my employer for almost five years. I was quite frank and asked them how much more they were making now as opposed to when they started. They were very forthcoming and told me they were currently making $10.00/hour. I was kinda blown away. Even in retail you get a $0.25, $0.50, or $1.00 bump after each year you are employed.

For all of these reasons, I decided that it was best for me to be a bit more aggressive in my pursuit of consulting work and to let go of the part-time gig. While I appreciate the additional income earned and the experience, I owe it to past and future Afro Penny to make sure that the investment and sacrifices for my education and personal development are used in the most strategic (and lucrative) way possible.

So, how do I think this will impact my ability to accomplish my financial goals for the next year? I’ve done the math and to achieve my somewhat audacious goal, in addition to my monthly minimums, I need to pay an extra $1,500.00 on my student loans each month. At least $900.00 of that is scheduled to come from my monthly paycheck, which means I really need to pay an additional $600.00/month or $7,200.00 over the year. That seems like…a lot. And it is, but I think it is the right kind of stretch goal.

In my first post of 2021, “2021 Financial Goals” I will break down my 2021 financial goals, and how I plan to achieve them.

December 2020 Budget Forecast / November 2020 Budget Review

November wasn’t terrible. To the numbers…

November 2020 Budget Review

This overage is a bit deceptive as it was actually “planned” spending on Christmas gifts. While I could have waited until December so that I didn’t have to count the “overage” in November, it made more sense to save money on some Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals instead. As of December 2nd, I only have two more relatively inexpensive gifts to purchase and then I’m all set for gift giving. While I resisted doing it at the outset of my debt repayment journey, next year, I may finally commit to creating sinking funds.

One change that did materialize in November was my expectation that my part-time paychecks would be much smaller now that I am no longer picking up extra shifts at other sites, and just working hours at my current site. I shared that I needed to do this to avoid additional “costs,” and I am disappointed to see that my monthly part-time income has declined from about $500.00 when I started to now less than $400.00. As I have shared previously, my employer really seems to like me and has reached out to reassure me that the renovations at the site will be completed by New Years day and that my hours should return to what they were. I still don’t know…

When I was in graduate school, I was working for a company that was paying me a miserable wage for what was expected (and they were super smug about it) and I finally decided I was finished and my time and skills were worth more. A very short time later, a new opportunity came along that paid me twice as much. While it was likely just coincidence, I think there is something to be said about appropriately valuing your time and making space for the market to respond…with help from a good gig search of course. I think it might be time for me to do that here.

December 2020 Budget Forecast

So the exciting news I shared on December 1st is that I made my three (3) month emergency fund goal of $5,000.00 and will return to aggressive debt repayment this Friday, with my first part-time paycheck for December! However, I know most eagle-eyed readers will immediately look at that “food, dining, gas, and miscellaneous” budget and say, “What?” Yea, I know. So this month is one of those months where I “know” there is “income” coming in from some other places as a result of some contract work and gifts (December is my birthday month). Additionally, I have quite a bit of time off this month that I will likely spend at my parents’ home where I will have to fight my mother’s inclinations to overfeed me. For that reason, I’m not really worried about overspending this month.

November 2020 Budget Forecast / October 2020 Budget Review

I overspent in my October 2020 budget by $454.68. There. I said it.

Let’s get to why I am not freaking out as badly as I might during any other month…

October 2020 Budget Review

YIKES! What the heck happened? I was so excited as I was creating this budget that I put a note for myself at the bottom of the budget! I had crushed it in September and then…this. October was one of those months where a lot of things (some predictable, some unpredictable but preventable) came together in a way that was financially costly. Like, locking my keys in my car and having to call a locksmith to get them out at 11:00PM at night 😳 I also got sick (Not COVID-19; I think we forget that there are still other viruses and bugs out there waiting to prey on our immune systems) and began ordering take-out soup and comfort food. I was bad. And the social-political tension in the United States didn’t help. (I work in a student affairs role and have to provide support to students who are stressed out, anxious, and experiencing mental health concerns. It can generally be a bit draining and this significantly increased over the past few months.) Over the last two weeks or so I had a low level of anxiety about work and all that is happening in the U.S. Unfortunately, food is my crutch. Working on that.

This should be freaking me out. I should be ashamed AND worried about no longer being able to meet my early December goal for a three (3) month emergency fund ($5,000.00). But…I’m not really worried. Why?

November 2020 Budget Forecast

I worked hard in October. And while this isn’t an excuse to blow my budget, it does mean that some of that hard work is paying off in November and cushioning the impact of my overspending…

1) I picked up shifts at my regular part time gig – I blogged about that in a post on the cost of earning more. Overall, the extra shifts I worked over these ten days resulted in approximately ~$181.94 in additional income. (That is not net income and does not include the increased fuel costs).

2) Activity referee – As I mentioned previously, I sometimes serve as a referee for an activity that has transitioned successfully into the virtual space. While this does mean the number of opportunities for refereeing are more limited, and I am now competing against a larger and more qualified pool of candidates for gigs; ultimately, when I do find a gig, they are still pretty lucrative. This month, I got paid for work done primarily in October and I was paid $300.00.

While some of the additional income was used to payoff my spending from October, and pad my November FDGM budget, most of the additional income went towards my emergency fund as planned. In fact, because of the additional November income, I now expect to have my emergency fund completely funded on December 1st when I get paid by University B, AND to still have a few dollars to restart aggressive debt repayment. I KNOW!

Part of me is like, you could have been done even faster if you had been more careful and disciplined in October. The other part of me is like, my debt repayment journey will be long. I will undoubtedly fall short sometimes. It seems like the most important thing is not to lose sight of the end-goal and to keep going.

P.S. Sorry it’s late Ellen 😓 I didn’t have it in me to write on election day. Hello to all my new visitors 👋🏿

The cost of earning more…

I still love my part time job. It’s mindless and I’m pretty good at it. And my bosses treat me like a rock star because I show up and do my job. It’s a low bar for sure and I’m nailing it.

Unfortunately, the place/worksite of my part-time job is undergoing significant renovations so the work has been scaled back a bit. While previously I could count on being on site between two and three hours a night ($20.00-$30.00), the renovation means that I am often only on site for between 45 minutes and an hour. However, the company I work for guarantees a two hour minimum, so even when I am only on site for 45 minutes, I still earn $20.00. Not a bad hourly rate. Unfortunately, consistently earning this minimum would result in an overall decrease in my paycheck when compared to what I was earning when I was putting in two and a half to three hours an evening, which is why when the company asked me if I would cover someone else’s shift at another site, for $15.00/hour and a guaranteed three hour minimum ($45.00), I agreed. Because all I could think about was the few extra bucks I could hastily put into my emergency fund so that I could return to paying off debt.

But there were things I didn’t think about, like the extra half hour of commute time in traffic. While my usual gig (worksite) is only nine minutes from home, this second gig (worksite) is about a half-hour a way with traffic. (Not to mention the associated increase in fuel costs). I also didn’t think about how much those extra hours, in addition to the first gig and my full time job, would cost me in terms of scheduling anxiety. My role at University B often results in evening obligations and I have been juggling like a mad-woman all week. It also just makes for a pretty long day/week. I am…tired.

I agreed to cover the second site through next Friday so I am just going to tough-it-out until then. However, this has reminded me that I need to think about the total cost of earning more.

Note: In many ways, this blog serves as an outlet for me as I go about my debt repayment journey. However, I also realize that at some point in the future, some other person, perhaps on a similar journey, may read it. For the sake of that person, and anyone else who might read it, I want to be honest about how I feel at different moments along the journey. Yes, there is the elation of pay days and huge debt repayments. But there are also moments where you are just a bit tired, sad, and wish you had made different financial choices. I think it’s important to be honest about those moments too.

Income Update/Am I saving enough?

I know, I know. The same woman who was so impatient to get back to debt repayment that she made a post about it, is now asking, “Am I saving enough?” I will address what led me to ask this question momentarily. First, an income update…

Part Time Job

As I shared in an earlier post, I picked up a part time job. And…I actually love it. It’s usually two and a half hours per day (a minimum of two hours and a maximum of three hours), Monday through Friday. After I wrap up my day job, I get changed and head over to my evening gig. As of the this post, I have been there about six weeks and I have only encountered two other people, both of whom were wearing masks and who spoke to me from across a room. I go to the site, I complete my tasks, and I head home. I don’t think about it before I show up or after I leave. It’s mindless and when I first started I was listening to music, but recently, I have begun listening to personal finance and business podcasts…

So…umm…what’s the downside? The pay. I am currently earning just $10.00 per hour. While that isn’t a terrible wage, given the cost of my education and professional experience, it seems like my time could should be spent earning a higher wage. And I’m working on that. But for now, the additional income is very much appreciated. For the month of September, I earned the following:

Paycheck (9/11): $195.28 (I, thankfully, did not have to work on Labor Day…)

Paycheck (9/25): $237.23 (I covered someone else’s shift.)

Given how modest my income is relative to the size of my student loan debt, this consistent, additional income will meaningfully help me along on my debt repayment journey.

Additional Responsibilities

At my full time job at University B, I recently took on some additional responsibilities. While this is often an unsaid expectation at colleges and universities (that faculty and staff will perform uncompensated labor in service to the university), due to the nature of this role, I will actually receive a very small stipend. While this labor is significantly more intellectually and emotionally taxing* than my part time job, I was interested in the role because it is in-line with my long term career goals before I learned it came with a stipend.

University B pays us on the first of each month but the HR payroll portal allows you to see your pay stub about a week before payday. I logged in today to discover that the monthly stipend is $200.00 which after taxes and 403(b) contributions (which are a percentage of my salary), resulted in a net increase of $129.85.

While this stipend isn’t life changing by any means, it does represent a very modest improvement in my ability to pay off debt…or save…

*This job requires I work a couple of evenings, during one week, every two months.

DIY Money

Above I shared that while at my part time job, one of my favorite things to do is to listen to podcasts while I work. Currently, I am listening to DIY Money. Hosted by Quint and Daniel, it is straight-talk about personal finance and investing presented in a super accessible way. The show’s outgoing message sums the show up pretty well: “The key to wealth is simple: Live on less than you make, invest the rest, and do so for a very long time.

They have over a hundred podcasts and I have just made my way into the double digits but one of my favorites thus far is, “Like a Roth to a Flame.” In this podcast, in addition to learning a ton about Roth IRAs, one of the key takeaways for me was, “You don’t get time back.” As I went about my tasks, I began to think about my financial journey and where I want to be in five years. Not to be Carrie Bradshaw but, “Is being debt free enough?”

As I progress through even more of the DIY Money podcasts, it is clear that Quint and Daniel are not in complete agreement on this question. Quint believes there are three categories of debt: 1) bad, bad debt (credit cards, store cards, rent-to-own agreements, pay day loans, etc.), 2) bad debt (student loans or automobile loans), and 3) debt (mortgage). He believes that one should only have category 3 debt or a mortgage remaining before one begins to invest. This perspective is pretty Ramseyesque. Daniel agrees that category 1 debt must be eliminated, but thinks investing is possible with category 2 debt remaining depending on individual circumstances (interest rates, stage in life, overall portfolio, other obligations, etc.).

Looking Ahead

I know she has to be tired of me name-checking her by now, but one of the things that stuck out to me the most about DDSW’s debt free post (Double Debt Single Woman Has Paid Off Over $142,598 and is Officially Debt-Free!) was that not only was she out of debt but that she also managed to amass considerable assets along the way. (Note: I am confident I make significantly less than DDSW, so I am not worried about having as much as she has at the end of my journey. Instead, I am looking at it as a model for potentially doing both debt repayment and retirement savings.)

Another somewhat recent addition to my blog reading list is Millennial Mayday. Despite starting off with an enormous amount of student loan debt ($200,000.00), Avery seems to have done everything right. While they have received some support from their parents, they were smart and took on this kind of debt for a six-figure profession (pharmacy), hustled to pay it back, moved back in with their parents, refinanced where appropriate, and invested and saved like a beast. Which is why it’s not really surprising that less than three years into their journey, Avery already has a positive net worth. As I was reading through their debt update posts, I noticed their repayment slowed a bit and Avery explained that with just under $50,000.00 in student loan debt remaining, they have decided to invest even more

For all of the reasons you can imagine, the DIY Money podcast, DDSW’s post, and Avery’s blog have me really thinking about my long term financial goals and what I need to do now to get there…

P.S. I know I was super vague about exactly what my part time job is. That was obviously intentional. However, unlike secrets I plan to keep, like my identity, this is one I will give up once I’ve paid off my debt. I am sure there will be other secrets along the way, and at the end of this journey, I plan to divulge a few.

That time I almost signed a $1300.00 apartment lease but got another job instead

This post has been in the making for quite some time but it was only after a post over at Double Debt Single Woman (if you don’t already read her blog, you definitely should) that I finally sat down to write. Okay, that and the job thing…

Living in a not-so-great apartment, in a not-so-great area, sucks. And it probably kinda sucks in your twenties but at least then you have all of the excuses for why you live there. The, “I’m saving up…,” “This is my first place…,” “This is my starter home…,” “I’m a student…” excuses. In your thirties, you generally don’t have those excuses anymore (although, you might be a student). What you do have is, “I made poor financial choices.”* Hopefully it’s, “I made poor financial choices so this is what I have am willing to do to have a better financial future.” Hopefully it’s that. And on most days, you are able to remember that, and make peace with where you are, and look toward the future. But other days…other days it just sucks and it is all that you can do to resist the sweet, sweet rental and real-estate sirens.

Their call has always been there, softly singing in the background. You are usually able to resist them but then something happens, like your apartment building is suddenly dealing with a pest issue as a result of a filthy tenant moving out, or you have a roommate or landlord making your living arrangement a bit more precarious than it once was. And you think, “What could it hurt just to see what else is out there…” So you look. And your rent is only $682.00 with ALL utilities included so you look to see what else is out there around the same price point. Nada. So you ratchet up your range to $800.00 and maybe you’re suddenly looking at apartments in a bit nicer area. But as long as you’re willing to pay $800.00, $850.00 doesn’t seem that bad, and so on, and so on, and eventually you are in the $1000+ range. And at that point, if you are going to pay upwards of $1000.00, you might as well get what you really want and at least consider that gorgeous $1300.00 apartment, that is giving away a month’s rent, and in a super nice area, convenient to everything…by foot.

Yea, or so that’s how it went in my head. And, how I found myself sitting across from a leasing agent, completing an application for a $1300.00 apartment while justifying that it was really only ~$1200.00 per month because I would get a month’s rent free and that the value was really higher because the apartment rates had been temporarily reduced due to the pandemic.

However, as I was writing out that blog post in my mind, for how I was going to have to explain this choice to you all (or considering abandoning the blog altogether out of shame…just trying to keep it real) I decided to reach out to a frugal friend who I thought might be able to talk me off the ledge. And she did, but she ultimately left the decision up to me. At this point, I realized that I was too far gone for the gentle approach and knew I would need someone a bit harsher so I called another friend. He was much…harsher. He spent several minutes explaining to me (almost patronizingly) why it was a poor financial decision and why if I was going to make such a decision in my financial circumstances (he knows of the student loan debt but not even the full extent) that I should at least buy a home so then I had an asset. Once it was apparent that I understood what I had to do, but was just a bit sad, he was a bit more gentle with me and told me that if I really was unhappy with my apartment, that I could consider investing one months’ difference in rent on upgrades and repairs to my current apartment ($1300.00-$682.00 = $618.00). Yea.

But he is right. The goal shouldn’t just be to get by or  survive. If I am going to be able to climb out of my massive student loan debt before I am 40 (I’m currently 34), at my current income level, then cheap rent has to be a part of the equation. So it is worth it to invest up to $618.00 to make my apartment more habitable IF it means I am willing to stay here until my debt is gone. For now, this is the plan. It’s official. My lease ends on July 31st, so I will call the leasing office tomorrow to re-sign for a year.

In less shocking, or shocking but different, news…today I finally got a part time job. It’s an evening job and only for about three hours a night, five days a week. And the wage isn’t great. But it’s more than I’m bringing in now, there is a possibility for more hours assuming I want them, it doesn’t interfere with my day job, it won’t leave me exhausted, it doesn’t require additional contact with humans, and if it is something I like, I could eventually turn it into my own side business.

Being an adult a financially responsible adult sucks.

*I understand there are circumstances that create cycles of poverty that result in peopling living in fraught living conditions regardless of what choices they make. I am not speaking to this but about my relatively privileged experience.

March 2020 Budget Forecast

I promised I would start doing these post once a month at the beginning of the year but exposing your actual spending seems…hard. However, I realized, one more thing to make me accountable is probably for the best, AND February was a pretty decent month so relatively low embarrassment, so I might as well start now and force myself to stick to it.

Here is a screenshot of the budget I set up in Excel for March 2020. These are my actual numbers, so at some point I might freakout about this level of transparency and take this down. For now…

Some explanations…

Note: I get paid once a month, on the first of the month.

The (*) – My Federal Student Loans are currently in a deferment that will end in December. This is why it would be really great to get rid of Private Loans 1 & 2 this year because it would allow me to reallocate those minimum payments to my Federal Loans once they come out of deferment which would mean my minimum payment amount wouldn’t really change that much.

The (**) – I realized I don’t really use my Kindle Unlimited because of their current content, so I cancelled the service. After a Prime card credit I had, the remaining balance due was $1.05.

Paycheck from University B – This is a net amount after taxes and other deductions like health insurance, dental, and 401K.

Food, dining, gas, and miscellaneous – This amount is about $100.00 higher than it usually is due to the activity referee side money. However, I am still trying to spend as if I only have $222.55. At the end of the month I would hope to be able to push another $100.00 towards my student loan. But I have been too aggressive in the past, small things have come up, and then I have had to rely on credit cards to cover the difference. My goal is to try and leave a bit of a buffer in much checking account vs. my budget so that doesn’t happen. Also, I drive my car for work a lot this months as it is a peak time for my office at work. Unfortunately, this eats into my gas money which is also budgeted here. In May after the semester is over, I will get a reimbursement check from the University but until then my work travel chips away at my budget each month.

Any thoughts?