Sunday, December 9, 2018

The $76K Project's Top Twelve Posts For 2018

I'm talking directly to you: thank you thank you thank you for reading The $76K Project. When I started this blog in the summer of 2017, I suspected my enthusiasm would dwindle after only a few months. But this blog has become something I'm deeply invested in from an emotional standpoint, and it's still going strong. A big part of its (relative) longevity is due to your encouragement. Every pageview and every comment means something to me.

My Early Retirement Journey recently compiled her top 10 posts for 2018, and she's inspired me to do something similar. Looking at my list, I'm realizing that the pieces people seem to like the most are the ones that display the greatest degree of vulnerability. Which is a little scary, to be honest. It's hard to put myself out there, to admit my fears and mistakes and frustrations. But clearly those are the posts that resonate the most, and so one of my goals for 2019 is to be even more transparent about finances, mental health, midlife crises, money dilemmas, career hurdles, and other life challenges. 

So grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea, curl up in your favorite reading spot, and enjoy the most popular $76K posts from 2018:

1. Why I Decided To Quit My Job And Find A New One (January 2018): "Your job shouldn't be creating 40 hours of weekly unhappiness. You deserve to have a job that doesn't make you lose sleep, that offers decent pay and opportunities for growth, and that harnesses your knowledge, experience, and passion. You shouldn't settle for less."

2. Here's What Our Financial Recalibration Looks Like (February 2018): "Financial situations fluctuate, meaning that the achievement of our long-term goals depends in part on our ability to adapt and be flexible."

3. Dollar Dilemma: To Sign Up For The Race Series, Or Not (March 2018): "My attitude has clearly evolved in this respect: in the past, I had no problem shoving the budget aside, doing what I wanted to do, and telling myself I'd worry about the cost later. Now, I take our budget seriously: it tells us the unwavering truth about our financial situation and what we can afford."

4. Doing More Of What I Love (May 2018): "What I hope to achieve by doing more of what I love is to stop treating work as the centerpiece of my daily life. If I can re-allocate some of the massive amounts of mental space that I currently devote to my job to the things I love, I think I'll feel more rooted in my own life, and less frustrated by the sense that work is stealing my time."

5. Why We're Taking A (Short) Break From Debt Repayment (June 2018): "For more than a year now, a huge chunk of our lives has been about debt. Frankly, it's tiring: tiring to always be tracking expenses to the penny, tiring to have to say no to so many things, tiring to constantly be reminded of our mistakes. We need some time away from this whole process so that we can re-energize and gear up for the next phase."

6. These two go together: How We Crushed Nearly $25K Of Debt In One Year (June 2018) and Our July 2018 Budget And Credit Card Zero Celebration! (July 2018): "The fact that we managed to meet this milestone, and well before we ever expected to, feels shocking in an is-this-really-happening (or as my former therapist would have coached me, did-we-really-make-this-happen) sort of way. It hasn't sunk in yet. Credit cards have been my ball-and-chain financial reality for so long that the idea of existing without carrying a balance seems... outside the realm of my understanding... And yet here we are!"

7. We Should Be Talking About Our Salaries. Here's Why. (July 2018): "It is disingenuous, for example, to attribute your financial independence to the eschewing of Starbucks lattes and avocado toast while failing to mention that you make a six-figure income. Someone making $200K a year and someone making $40K a year could be doing the same things in terms of cost-cutting measures and savings rate, but obviously the higher earner is going to achieve financial independence or debt freedom more quickly. It's helpful to know that you're not actually working with the same resources. It's helpful to have context. That doesn't mean that people with different incomes can't learn from one another."

8. Why We're Prioritizing Our Emergency Fund Over Student Loan Repayment (August 2018): "For the past few months, our e-fund has hovered somewhere between $1K and $1.5K, the amount that debt repayment guru Dave Ramsey recommends keeping in savings until all debt is paid off. Adding our bonus cash to the pot would bring the balance to $5K and give us a little more financial security in the face of an unexpected and expensive crisis."

9. When Your Mental Health Affects Your Financial Well-Being (August 2018): "But the way I respond to these challenges has changed for the better - mostly in the sense that I act less impulsively now - and as a result, I have a much better handle on my personal finances than I used to. I'm very proud of that. Do I think it's going to all go perfectly from here on out? Nope. The goal is to simply do my best with the quirky mind I've got, consider the long-term effects of the decisions I make, and let go of non-ideal choices made when things get difficult."

10. Stuck: A Job Post (September 2018): "I do see the pros of my job: the paycheck, the benefits, the chance to finally pay down my debt. But if you've never experienced it for yourself, it's hard to describe how mentally and emotionally taxing it is to feel as though you are throwing away 40+ hours of your life every week. If you've been there, you know what I mean. It's exhausting. It shouldn't be that way."

11. These two go hand in hand, too, because they revealed the same lesson: Coming To You LIVE From The Debt Repayment Pain Cave and Breaking: Debt Repayment Journey Gets Delayed By Midlife Crisis! (October 2018): "I don't mean that we should go back into credit card debt or that we should quit our jobs tomorrow. But maybe it's okay to slow this whole thing down a little bit, because I really don't see why I should sacrifice the things I like about myself for the unknowns of tomorrow."

12. This Financial Update Comes With A Free Blogging Rant (December 2018): "It's not that I don't want to blog. I do. I enjoy it: the writing, the interaction with readers, the creating of a detailed record of our financial journey. I like knowing that some readers might relate to our goals, challenges, setbacks, and wins. But do I want to do all the things you're supposed to do in order to be a successful blogger?

Well. No."

What about you? If you're a blogger, what post or posts are you most proud of? Share them here and I'll post them on my Twitter feed. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

This Financial Update Comes With A Free Blogging Rant

It's been a couple of weeks since I've posted here, and even longer than that since I've offered an update on the $76K Project's financial progress. The delay is due in part to end-of-year busy-ness: work, everyday chores and tasks, appointments, and getting ready for the holidays are taking up a lot of time. (Also napping. And arguing with people on Twitter. You know how it goes.)

But it has more to do with my conflicting feelings about this blog.

Wherein I go off on a tangent about blogging

I see so many personal finance bloggers on my feed absolutely killing it. Some of them are creating snazzy fresh websites and/or re-shaping their brands. Others are broadening their content by delving into new realms of commentary and advice. Several of my PF blogging friends have even invested in courses through Pete McPherson's BloggerU*, and they're seeing results. They're growing their audiences. Which is awesome.

*Please note that this is not an affiliate link. Pete McPherson has no idea who I am. I'm not even sure I spelled his name right.


Clearly I'm not doing any of that. If I were anywhere near serious about growing, I'd at least have the decency to move to Wordpress. Instead, I haven't even found the motivation to figure out how you can comment without having to identify every single car or crosswalk in the picture and if you don't do it right the first time, you're done, goodbye.

It's not that I don't want to blog. I do. I enjoy it: the writing, the interaction with readers, the creating of a detailed record of our financial journey. I like knowing that some readers might relate to our goals, challenges, setbacks, and wins.

But do I want to do all the things you're supposed to do in order to be a successful blogger?

Well. No.

For the past few weeks, I've been feeling stuck on the things I feel I *should* be doing with this blog. And the more I try to convince myself that I need to do and write about what other, more successful writers are doing and writing about, the less I want to do anything at all.

I don't want to feel like I'm writing things just to be noticed by Rockstar Finance (I'm not saying anyone else is doing it; I'm saying I found myself feeling this way). I don't want to create an email subscription thing. I don't want to learn SEO. I don't want to make my blog look better, even though I am very much aware that the current design is very 2002.

I don't want to write about things like: to invest (no idea; I just stick everything into index funds) to travel hack (I'm convinced I'd just end up in credit card debt again) to negotiate your salary (though I know people who can help you with that) to find a better job (hell if I know) to make frugal Christmas crafts (though I would like to *make* frugal Christmas crafts)

...FIRE (so not my wheelhouse...)

(If YOU are writing about any of these things, know that I think YOU are doing a tremendous job.)

Really, I don't want to tell you how to do anything. You should not be here for advice. That is not my strong suit. I mean, I know I've offered some advice in the past, and maybe some of it is a little helpful, but there are other people who are saying the same things in a better way. And okay, I've also written some how-to posts, like how to make a budget and how to find cheap shoes on eBay, but I don't always enjoy writing those types of pieces and don't want to feel like I have to.

Instead, I'll keep doing what I'm good at doing and want to do, which is shamelessly talk about myself. And if there's something in here that you can relate to, or find encouragement in, then that's awesome.

Anyhoo, here's a financial update

So here's what happened in November.

We did all the things we said we were going to do. We made a budget and mostly stuck to it. We went on a mini-vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday and had a pretty good time, except that I ended up with food poisoning on the last day and now feel that I deserve a complete vacation do-over.

We went out to eat less. We tried some new recipes and drank less wine.

The emphasis going into this month was on saving, not paying down debt, and so we initally put money into savings, as planned, and paid just the minimum on our student loans. 

But a few weeks ago, Fortysomething shared with me that he's really sick of the student loans. Like, vomitously sick of them. We've been dragging them around for over a decade (I know, I know) and he's getting older and it's just ridiculous to have them and BLURGH.

We've both wanted to have these loans gone, but he's never made such a passionate case for getting rid of them ASAP. I think he brought it up because he was worried I'd up and quit my job, and then we'd be looking at several more years of paying off the damn things.

In that moment, we decided: we're going to stick to the original plan and obliterate the loans as fast as we possibly can given the constraints of our income and budget. 

This means that for now, I need to stick with my job (either my current one or a new one, if a viable new one comes along) even if I'm not thrilled with it. Fine. Paying off the loans in full will take about 1.5 years if we go all-out; I can last that long (I think). 

Can we do it?


Will it be fun?


Will I complain along the way? 


To seal the deal, we took some of the extra money we'd put into savings and threw another $1600 at my student loan.

And it felt good:

Total debt as of today: $43,802.

Keep in mind that in January of this year, our debt total stood at $65,934.

If I have any lesson to offer, it's that you can make progress if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can even complain while doing it, like I do.

Anyway, that's where we're at. I'll post the nuts and bolts of our December debt totals in the link at the top of the page, so check it out if you're interested. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

How We Used Our HSA To Pay For A Medical Emergency

It Started With A Stomachache

One early morning last March, my son shuffled into our bedroom, his hands clenched to his abdomen.

"Mom," he whispered. "Mom. I don't feel good. My stomach hurts. Can I stay home today?"

"Mrrrph," I said from beneath the covers, wondering how long it'd be before I'd be cleaning up puke off the bathroom floor.

Three hours later, I was about to log into a conference call with my boss when I heard an odd, gut-wrenching moan from across the house. Parental alarm bells went off in my head. I hurried into the Kiddo's room to find him curled up in a ball on the bed, his skin pale, his face scrunched up in pain. 

I cancelled my meeting and we headed to urgent care, where the doctor took one look at him and announced that we'd need to go straight to the ER.

The verdict: a classic presentation of appendicitis. By 8 PM that evening, the Kiddo was in surgery. By 9 PM, he was enjoying a popsicle in the recovery room. By noon the next day, we were on our way back home with instructions to let him rest for a week. Two weeks later, he met with the surgeon and received a clean bill of health.

All in all, it was a sudden but relatively short-lived emergency, and we quickly returned to life as usual... until the medical bills started rolling in.

A Hit To The Old Bank Account

As anyone who lives in the United States and has encountered a medical emergency knows all too well, the aftermath of a hospital visit looks something like this - but with demands for payment instead of invitations to Hogwarts:


Once the bills started showing up in our mailbox, they just kept coming. For months.

Our 30-hour medical emergency generated bills from the following providers and offices:

  • Urgent care
  • Ultrasound technician
  • Ultrasound analysis
  • Pathology
  • ER services
  • ER doctor
  • Surgeon
  • Anesthesiologist
  • Nurse anesthetist 
  • Use of operating room
  • Use of recovery room
  • Follow-up visit with surgeon
  • Hospital stay

Luckily, I have health insurance through my employer, so we weren't responsible for the full amount. But because I have a high deductible health plan with a family deductible of $2500 and an out-of-pocket maximum of $7000, we were still on the hook for thousands and thousands of dollars. 

Did we have thousands and thousands of dollars saved up?

Nope, sure didn't.

We evaluated our options:

-Call providers and ask for a big discount. If you ever get hit with a medical bill, you should absolutely request a discount. Just know that results vary widely. When my son was born via C-section, we didn't have insurance. That was fun. On the bright side, the hospital was willing to chop off a huge portion of the balance if we paid in full (which we were able to do with my parents' help). This time, though, we negotiated only 10 percent off the total. The remainder was still too high for us to pay outright, so this option was a non-starter.

-Pay with a credit card. We may have done it for the points had we had cash on hand, but since we knew we couldn't pay it off right away, the credit card route was a great big NOPE.

-Request a payment plan. Ultimately, this is what we ended up doing, and with the help of our HSA, it was a relatively painless choice. Even if you don't have an HSA, I highly recommend that you do this. I've heard that hospitals will generally agree to proposed terms of payment, at low or no interest, as long as you are paying something each month.

HSA To The Rescue

High deductible health plans kind of suck, but one of their few redeeming qualities is that many of them come with a health savings account, or HSA. You (and possibly your employer, if it's an employer-sponsored plan) contribute money to the account, which rolls over from year to year and is yours to keep forever. Not only are your HSA contributions tax-deductible (up to $3500 for an individual and $7000 for a family in 2019), once you reach a balance threshold, you can invest your HSA cash and earn tax-free interest. Woohoo!

Anyway, when my son ended up in the hospital, I'd been at my current job for only a couple of months and had only a few hundred dollars in my HSA. But I was still able to use my HSA to pay all of our medical bills with little impact to our monthly budget. 

Here's how we did it:

1. I made a list of healthcare providers and how much we owed to each of them. 

2. I reviewed every bill carefully and contacted the insurance company and providers to discuss apparent errors. Have I mentioned that I hate talking on the phone? This part was challenging for me but ultimately worthwhile. In a couple of instances, the providers made some... interesting billing choices, and the insurance company stepped in on our behalf. We saved a few hundred dollars in the process.

3. I paid off some of the smaller bills with the money I'd already saved in my HSA. I did this for organizational and motivational purposes: eliminating a few bills right off the bat made me feel like I'd accomplished something. It also meant I had fewer accounts to keep track of.

4. I maximized my HSA contribution. I calculated how much my employer would contribute in 2018 (close to $2000), figured out how much I'd need to chip in to meet the HSA maximum, and adjusted my biweekly HSA contribution accordingly. It did make a dent in my paycheck, but not an exceedingly large one. The fact that contributions are tax deductible made it an easy choice. I'll be maxing out my HSA contribution every year from now on.

5. I participated in my company's wellness incentive program. Many big companies have programs like this. Basically, you accrue points by completing a bunch of health-oriented tasks - getting a flu shot, scheduling a yearly physical, participating in a sport or other healthy activity - and when you earn enough points, you receive a discount on your monthly premium or some extra HSA cash. In my case, my company deposited an additional $500 into my HSA upon my successful completion of the program. I used this windfall to pay off the anesthesiology bill.

6. I calculated how much money would be coming into my HSA each month - about $500 - and set up automated monthly payments accordingly. Basically, I called each provider's billing department and told them what we could afford to pay each month. To my surprise, they all agreed to my suggested terms. I then set up automated monthly payments directly from the HSA. That was key: money goes into the HSA and comes out of the HSA, but it never touches my bank account. Which means that it never touches our budget. 

7. As I paid off smaller bills, I used the debt snowball method to increase payments to other providers. A few weeks ago we paid the balance of the surgeon's bill, so now we can allocate $500/month to the last remaining bill for hospital services.

As of today, that bill holds a balance of $1800. We'll pay it off by March - one year after my son's surgery.

A Member of the HSA Fan Club

My company does offer a more traditional health insurance plan, one that would have us paying higher monthly premiums but much lower deductibles. Personally, though, I'll never go back to a more traditional plan because the HSA offers so many benefits. 

Lower monthly premiums? Nice.

Free money from my employer? Yes please.

A tax deduction to the tune of nearly $7K? Mmmhmmm.

Tax-free interest? Ooooooh yeah.

An account that we can use to pay for healthcare expenses as long as there's money in it? Sign me up.

DON'T GET ME WRONG: the healthcare system in the United States is a complete shitshow (hashtag TRUEFACT), and if you don't see that, well, lucky you because clearly you've been sheltered from its horrors up to this point. I also know that I am writing this from a relatively privileged position: we have the financial wiggle room to contribute to an HSA. But if you have an HSA available to you, you might be able to use it as a tool to wrangle a little bit of control if/when you face a medical emergency.

Have you ever been hit with a big medical bill? How did you handle it? Do you have advice for others going through a similar experience?

Friday, November 16, 2018

November 2018: Budgeting For Celebration Season

Budgeting at the end of the year is always a challenge for us. During October, November, and December, we've got a lot to celebrate in our household:
  • Two birthdays
  • Our anniversary
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas
  • New Years Eve (this one doesn't actually count because our celebration usually consists of eating potato chips in our pajamas and falling asleep at 11:15 PM)
Although we make an effort to restrain ourselves, we often end up going a little overboard on extras during these special occasions. Last year, for example, we had every intention to lay low at Thanksgiving and enjoy a quiet long weekend at home. Instead, we found an impressive hotel deal and ended up taking a last-minute, three-day getaway to the desert

Last year's desert pool party
We had such a good time that we decided to take a similar get-out-of-town approach to Thanksgiving 2018. This time we're going on a road trip and visiting a national park a few hours away from home. It's going to be more expensive than last year's adventure because we're staying in a hotel for four nights. Breakfast is included with the room, but we'll be paying for groceries and some meals out, plus gas, plus kitty camp for our Very Expensive Feline. 

Will it be cheap? No. But do I need this mini-vacation? Yes. YESSSSSSS. I don't feel bad about spending the money to enjoy ourselves. 

(P.S. IMPORTANT PSA: You shouldn't feel bad about spending money on things you care about, either. Okay? If you need a break, if you need to get away because your brain is on the verge of cracking into a million little pieces like mine is, SPEND THE MONEY AND TAKE THE BREAK.)

As you'll see in our budget below, we're paying the bare minimum towards student loans this month. Half of our disposable income will be reserved for our getaway; the other half has already gone into savings. 

Speaking of savings, the student loan vs. savings dilemma continues. Part of me wants to go all-out on our loans and get them paid off lickety split. Another part of me is so miserable in my job that it seems wiser to put intensive debt payoff on hold and save up the cash for a one-year career break. For now, we're going the savings route, but we'll re-assess the situation in February and possibly pay off my remaining balance then. 

November 2018 Budget

Note: I may have overestimated gas and pet expenses. I'd rather overestimate than underestimate, though, and if we do have extra at the end of the month, it'll go right into savings.

Rent (including water, sewer, trash)
Student Loan #1
Student Loan #2
Thousand Trails
Classroom stuff
Total Expenses

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Step Into My Time Machine: Highlights Of My 30s

I turned 40 last month, and in the weeks leading up to the big day, I couldn't help but reflect on the previous decade. Overall, my 30s were a wild, fun ride, and although I have clearly made some career and financial mistakes, I regret very, very little about any of it.

Want to take a trip back in time with me? 

Age 30-32:

When I turned 30, we had just purchased our own home in a bedroom community outside a big city. Although I wasn't a fan of the neighborhood - too cookie cutter - I loved everything about our cozy little house. It was the first time I'd lived in a place that felt like home. We were also the proud, exhausted parents of a two year old who refused to sleep through the night (he didn't sleep through the night until he was five).

My little dude, back when his motto was,
"Sleep is for the weak!"
This was 2008 - Great Recession time. We were lucky. Other than the fact that the value of our house plummeted right after we bought it, we didn't feel the direct effects of the economic downturn because both Fortysomething and I were working as contractors in online higher education. Many people went back to school when they lost their jobs, and universities couldn't seem to hire instructors fast enough to keep up with the pace of registration. We were able to teach as many classes as we wanted to. Financially speaking, 2008 and 2009 were actually banner years for us. We made over $100,000 in 2009 from contract work and were able to pay off $30K in credit card debt that we'd amassed in the previous decade.

The upshot was that we were earning a good income, but we were chained to our computers all. the. time. I despised it. We'd just moved to town, so we didn't know many people, and we didn't know how to meet anyone because we were so busy working within the confines of our house. I often felt trapped and miserable. I wanted to throw my computer out the window and smash my desk to smithereens with a sledgehammer. 

Age 32-35:

Frustrated with my dead-end career, I researched graduate school opportunities at local universities and applied to a program in the physical sciences. I landed a full ride complete with health insurance, tuition, and a small teaching stipend. Initially, I was nervous about being one of the older students in the department, but it turned out to be an excellent fit. Every day was full of new information and new adventures and I just soaked it all in. 

Plus, I got to travel. I presented at conferences throughout the United States, conducted fieldwork in the southwest and South America, and even traveled to the Caribbean and Italy (twice!) I missed my family while I was abroad, but I'm not ashamed to say that I relished every moment of these experiences. (Sidenote: when I ask my son now how he felt about me being away for weeks at a time when he was little, his response is usually, "Huh? Where'd you go? CAN I GO?" so it's nice to know that I don't need to hang onto any guilt in that department.)

My favorite part of graduate school was the fieldwork and the labwork, but I was also a good teacher. I had creative ideas for the classroom, and students liked me. People kept telling me that I should teach. I kept trying to explain that I don't actually enjoy human interaction that much, but I kind of got pigeonholed. My advisors pigeonholed me and I pigeonholed myself. It is my one regret from my grad school experience.

Fieldwork in the desert = heaven on Earth
Also heaven: when you have to present at a conference in Florence, Italy. DARN.
Financially, these were not great years for us. I wasn't making much money. Fortysomething - who was also the primary parent during this time and didn't question it once because gender roles aren't his thing - busted his butt with contract work to make sure that the mortgage and bills got paid. I'll admit that I was almost completely checked out of the money side of things, especially when I was traveling. The credit card debt crept back up again.

Age 35-38:

Because my graduate program was committed to helping people obtain their degrees in a timely fashion, I defended my dissertation and earned my doctorate exactly four years after I started my PhD. I don't think I've ever been more proud of myself.

My family was also relieved that grad school was done.
The academic job market is a shitshow, but I somehow managed to find a tenure-track teaching position with my very first application. In retrospect, it's probably because everyone else took one look at that particular job ad and thought, "NO WAY IN HELL." The school was located a tiny, middle-of-nowhere Midwest town populated by lots of corn and a few people. Not really my cup of tea, location-wise, but it sounded like an adventure, and I'm always up for that. So we sold our house (at almost the exact same price for which we bought it), packed up the moving truck, and headed north for a glorious new life in the academic ivory tower.


We lived in a moldy house with a rent of $500 per month. My salary wasn't anything to write home about, but given the rock-bottom cost of living in the area and the fact that Fortysomething was still doing well with contract work, we didn't have to worry about money. We paid off some of our credit card debt and upped our student loan payments.

Exploring our new area
I quickly realized that the job itself was a dud, in no small part because my school announced budget cuts right as we were moving in. Disconcerting, to say the least. Halfway through the first semester, I almost had a nervous breakdown (for a variety of reasons - another story for another time). I forced myself to finish out the year and decided that I just needed to give the job a chance. The first year of academia is hard for everyone, I told myself. Give it another go. But the second year was also hell and involved another brush with severe mental illness, so in the spring of that year I announced to the dean that I would not be returning in the fall.

Fortysomething was still working as a contractor and I was feeling totally lost, so we did what seemed like the most logical thing at the time, which was to sell everything we owned, buy an RV, and start traveling around the country. For six months we lived as vagabonds, saw some amazing scenery and landmarks, and bonded as a family. We intended to travel indefinitely. Then we rolled into our current town and immediately fell in love. We meant to leave. We just... didn't.

This sign in Austin, TX summed up our philosophy.
Note: At some point I'll have to write a post about full-time RVing. It's actually a very affordable way to live and we truly enjoyed it. 15/10, would do again.

Age 38-40: 

New town! No job! Money got tight. I applied for a part-time hourly position at REI and landed the gig. Much to my surprise, I loved it. I loved not being confined to a desk, loved learning about hiking and climbing, loved talking about the outdoors with coworkers and customers, and loved the culture of the company. But it paid next to nothing, and this is an expensive town. So I started looking for other work.

I found a position at the local university and quickly realized that meeting with 16-20 students every day was not my idea of a good time. When will this introvert learn? I lasted about a year. 

Back to the classified ads. This time I found a position as an online course instructor. I applied, interviewed, hit it off with my boss, and thought I'd found my dream job... which explains where I am now. My boss left unexpectedly and since then I've struggled. It isn't lost on me that at 40, my job is similar to the job I had at 30, though my pay and benefits are much better. My feelings about said job are also similar. 

And so here I am!

I've actually been working on this post for the past few days and almost gave up on it twice. But then I started to relish the walk down memory lane and see it as an opportunity: an opportunity to reflect on what works for me and what doesn't. 

What I've learned from looking back and writing this post is that...
  • ...throwing myself into new situations doesn't faze me. 
  • family is awesome (I already knew that).
  • ...I'm at my best when I'm having an adventure.
  • ...I need to stop trying to force myself into job situations that are clearly not working for me. 
  • feels good to look back and see all the things I'm proud of.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Winning!: October 2018 Edition

It's another edition of WINNING, a semi-monthly series in which I focus on the things that are going well on this long, slow, and sometimes painful debt repayment journey.

Welcome back! Here - grab a slice of cake!

As those of you who follow this blog are well aware, I've been in the weeds lately. Part of it is probably seasonal depression, something I've struggled with every autumn for as long as I can remember (and yet somehow I'm caught off guard every. single. year... Who's with me?) 

Part of it is my job. It's hard to show up every day for something that generally makes me unhappy. 

Part of it is this current spot in our financial journey. Progress demands sacrifice. Sacrifice is hard. It's especially hard when you have to do it for a long time. Makes me cranky.

Part of it is turning 40, which was a surprisingly tough pill to swallow. I wouldn't have expected that - I've always believed age is just a number - but as the day approached, I couldn't stop thinking about where I thought I'd be right now versus where I'm at. It was a bit of a mindfuck.

But dare I say it? I'm feeling a bit better, and I think things are looking up. I hope it sticks. C'mon, brain! I believe in you!

So for today anyway, let's focus on the positive, shall we?

(1) The personal finance community is awesome, and I'm grateful to be a part of it.

Not only have I learned oodles and oodles from you (I mean, thanks to PF Twitter, I'm at the point where I can explain the pros and cons of Roth vs. Traditional 401ks... WHO AM I), I've benefited enormously from your support. So thank you. Thank you for being so kind in response to my last few posts. Thanks for not telling me I'm a narcissistic, self-indulgent, navel-gazing whiner. Thanks for giving me the space to let me feel my feelings about my job, debt, goals, and the future. Thanks for empathizing. Thanks for your encouragement. Thanks for not judging. Thanks for accepting me even when I'm a mess.

I'm here for you whenever I can return the favor. Need a boost? Need someone to tell you how awesome you are? Need someone to commiserate about budgeting, debt, or the state of the world? You can email me (, message me on Twitter (@The76KProject), or comment on the blog. I will warn you that I am TERRIBLE at giving advice, but if you're looking for compassion and empathy, I can do that.

(2) I turned 40. I TURNED 40!

Hence the invitation to share some virtual cake with me.

As my incredibly supportive and extraordinarily talented friend Penny at Picks Up Pennies often points out, getting older is a privilege. And she's so right. 

I turned 40! And yes, it did force me to reflect on my life so far. I'm human, so I can identify several things that I regret doing (credit card debt, I'm looking at you) and not doing (should have had way more fun in college). But damn, I've also packed some pretty amazing things into the first 40 years:

  • I gave birth to a beautiful kid who's smart, funny, and more emotionally savvy than most adults I know.
  • My partner and I have made our relationship work for the past 20 years. Whaaaaat?! (We credit our marital longevity to our love of dumb jokes, our shared coffee addiction, and the fact that neither of us ever remembers our anniversary.)
  • I've earned graduate degrees in a field I truly enjoyed for a long time, and I was able to make some meaningful contributions to that field.
  • I've hiked the Alps, sailed from England to Spain (yes! I did that!), been sort-of kidnapped in Jamaica (a misunderstanding, as it happens, but I was 15 years old so it was quite a disconcerting and memorable experience), and had all sorts of other travel adventures and misadventures.
  • Thanks to therapy and time, I've come to terms and mostly made peace with some difficult circumstances in my past.

Not everything has worked out the way I wanted it to, but SO MUCH HAS WORKED OUT. Even as I gripe about my current situation, I know I've got it good. And I'm realizing that as much as the last 10 years were about grappling with my past, the next 10 years are wide open. It's all about the future now!

(3) I've got some goals and a mission for this year!

Back in August, I shared that I was developing some goals for my 40th year. And let me tell you, it took FOREVER to draft these goals. Just last week, I was telling some other badass babes in the PF community that I was having a hard time coming up with goals that are feasible and affordable and that I truly want to pursue. It forced me to accept - or at least try to accept - that some of the things I used to care about, some of the things I used to want very badly, are simply not in the picture any longer.

Once I allowed myself to let go a little, I discovered that there are a whole bunch of nascent goals that are just waiting to be cultivated. Not all of them will come to fruition, but some might will, and I'm excited about that.

I also put some thought into what I want my personal mission to be this year:

Take more risks and be more transparent.

I've already taken a leap of faith that I hope will give me an opportunity to be more transparent about my mental health issues. I really care about this topic and want to talk more about because I know how isolating mental health challenges can be. It doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be that way. I'll be writing more about this soon!

(4) We paid down almost $2000 in student loan debt in October!

I'm not sure whether we'll be saving next month or continuing to focus on obliterating my student loan, but for this month, anyway, the student loan balance took a big hit, and in a good way! 

Note: in order to screenshot this graph, I had to log into my Personal Capital account and scroll past the Investments section. I tried to avert my eyes, but it didn't work. Talk about a Halloween horror show. IT ISN'T PRETTY, GUYS. 

But this is: 

As someone on Twitter pointed out, "Those are some nice cliffs you've got there." 

Why, thank you!

What about you? What are your wins for October? And what are you super excited about as you head into the end of the year?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Breaking: Debt Repayment Journey Gets Delayed By Midlife Crisis!

Before we became financially responsible, we very much lived by the principles of YOLO. We took the vacations we wanted to take, bought the things we wanted to buy, and moved when we wanted to move. We paid little attention to whether we could afford those choices, which explains why we're now digging out of debt.

When we started our debt repayment journey in April of 2017, we wholeheartedly abandoned our YOLO ways so that we could reach our goals as quickly as possible. Every choice we made - from the things we purchased (or didn't purchase) to the jobs we took to the money we started investing - became about setting ourselves up for success down the line.

We've become obsessed with our financial future.

I'm not sure that's entirely a good thing.

I miss YOLO me

I'm proud of how far we've come. I really am. 

But here's the thing: I'm not necessarily happy with who I've become in this process. 

Before we started tackling our debt, I was:

  • Adventurous
  • Spontaneous
  • Relatively optimistic about the future
  • A risk taker
I wasn't always happy - who is? - but I was idealistic. I had faith that things would work out if I just had the courage to take the next step. I was excited about life and its possibilities. Some of the best and most indelible things I've done in my life have been done on credit, supported by crappy health insurance.

Now we're out of credit card debt and well into our student loan repayment. We have real jobs and employer-sponsored health insurance and I am:

  • Unfulfilled in my work
  • Bored out of my mind most days
  • Constantly worried about things that could go wrong, financially or otherwise
  • Cautious
  • Not really excited about the future
This past weekend I sat down to make some personal goals, and outside of some well-defined financial benchmarks, I couldn't bring myself to write down anything. Why? Because I'm completely uninspired right now. Every goal I could think of that fits into our current debt repayment paradigm seems lackluster and pointless.

Something needs to change, and I think the thing that needs to change is that we need step back for a few months and prioritize the present over the future. I don't mean that we should go back into credit card debt or that we should quit our jobs tomorrow. But maybe it's okay to slow this whole thing down a little bit, because I really don't see why I should sacrifice the things I like about myself for the unknowns of tomorrow.

So what's that going to take?

One, I need to find a satisfying career path. That could mean getting a new job, but more likely it means saving up and planning for that career break I've talked about and figuring out a way to work for myself. Which feels scary. What about health insurance? What about a steady paycheck? What about being able to afford our rent? Will we be able to get by on one income for a while?

I don't know, but venturing into the unknown, even if it means occasionally MacGyvering my way along, sounds way more appealing than sitting at a desk for the next 25 years. 

Two, at least for now, we need to change our emphasis from debt repayment to saving. I've had a lot of good conversations on Twitter this week about the best way to use money: pay off debt? Invest? Build up the emergency fund? As several smart people keep pointing out, there's no right answer because personal finance is personal. 

Yes, paying off debt feels fantastic. It's a high, and it's addictive. But. I also want to be able to make this career shift. I want to be able to attend events like CentsPositive and Lola Retreat. I want to be able to take a trip outside the country with my family. I don't want to wait two or three more years to do that.

Is it worth it to me to keep paying $600 a month to student loans a while longer? 

I think so.

So in November, we're going to take a little break from the student loans. We're going on a family hiking trip over Thanksgiving, and then we're going to put the rest of our disposable income into our savings account. We'll build up that savings until the end of next summer while we try to map out a career plan, whether that means me finding a new job, re-training, or building my own business.

It doesn't sound like the wisest move financially, and yet it feels like the right path.

Don't get me wrong: I'm all for planning for the future and making wise financial choices. But not at the expense of the things that make me who I am.

The $76K Project's Top Twelve Posts For 2018

I'm talking directly to you: thank you thank you thank you for reading The $76K Project. When I started this blog in the summer of 2...