Thursday, October 18, 2018

Coming To You LIVE From The Debt Repayment Pain Cave

There's a point in every long race that's known as The Pain Cave.

It's the point where you can't remember why you ever thought this was a good idea in the first place and where the finish line seems about eight million light years away.

It's the point where the only things you can think about are the giant blister on your big toe and how much your quads hurt and how you'd love to eat something except that if you do, you'll probably just puke it right back up.

It's the point where you want to punch all of the cheerful bystanders who are yelling that you look great and just keep going! (WHAT DO THEY KNOW. THEY'RE JUST STANDING THERE.)

It's the point where you say to yourself, You're closer to the finish than you've ever been! and somehow that doesn't help.

It's the point where your only motivation for persisting is your allegiance to your selves: your past self, who worked so hard to get here, and your future self, who will reap the rewards when you somehow make it to the finish line.

Yeah, you'll do it for them. But it's hard, because for once in your life you are so 100 percent in your present self, and your present self is miserable.

Right now, I feel like I'm in the debt repayment version of the pain cave.

Real talk (and don't you dare lecture me for being totally honest): I'm sick of it. 

I'm sick of 1/3 of our salary going to our student loan companies every month.

I'm sick of saying no when friends invite us out for dinner or to other activities that cost money (why can't we stay in and play board games? But they don't want to.)

I'm sick of the FOMO that comes with watching other people travel to amazing places and eat amazing food and have amazing experiences.

I'm sick of my kid complaining that we never go anywhere.

I'm sick of feeling alone in this. I know other people have debt, but so many of them don't talk about it. I wish they would.

I'm sick of certain people on social media acting like I'm a complete idiot because somehow my student loan debt is "bad" while their mortgage debt is so much... better?

I'm sick of financial success stories that provide no details. "One day I was working in fast food. I quit, and the next day I just put my mind to it really, really hard and now I'm a millionaire! If you work hard, you can do it, too!" 

I'm sick of being stuck doing something I intensely dislike because I need the paycheck and the health insurance.

Cold hard truth? I'm sick of feeling like a financial failure.

I'm fully aware that these feelings, though difficult, are temporary.

No worries: I'll keep going; I'm too far in to quit now. Present moment self isn't feeling great, but I'm doing this for the self that started the journey and the self that will end this journey with a $0 debt balance, a much higher net worth, and the satisfaction of finishing something so hard that many people never even start.

Sometimes life, like a long race, is going to be difficult, and the only way through is through.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Why I'm Sticking With This Job (For Now)

A few weeks ago, after two months of non-stop organizational turmoil and a meeting with my boss in which I took the heat for something completely inane, I was ready to walk out on my job.

Put in my notice. Shut off my computer and phone for good. Quit. Leave, a la Peggy Olson.


And yet despite the overwhelming temptation to pack it in, here I am, still employed.

Don't get me wrong: I still feel bored most days, disengaged, and underutilized. I still get the sense that nobody above me has ever looked at my resume or ever will and therefore doesn't quite know what I can bring to the table. Not sure they care. This is still not my dream job (do those even exist, actually?) But for now - not necessarily forever! - I'm staying put. Here's why:

1. Limited job prospects 

Currently, there's nothing else in my smallish town that (a) I'm qualified for, (b) pays a worthwhile salary, and (c) doesn't involve sales or customer service. I've been stalking job sites for weeks and despite the supposedly low unemployment rate, there's just NOT a lot out there beyond minimum wage positions. If I were to find a lower-paying job that made me jump out of bed with excitement every morning, sure, I'd take the salary cut. But to earn less money for some tepid gig that isn't going to get me anywhere in the long run? Nah.

I'll keep looking, but it's clear that if making the move to a different company is the answer, it's going to take a while. And I'm going to be picky.

2. We're on an upward financial trajectory for the first time in... ever

I've never been the kind of person who does anything just for money, and yet now I'm sticking around mostly because I enjoy my paycheck, my 401k, and my HSA match. All of these things have given us a level of financial security that we haven't experienced in years. Our savings account is growing, our debt is diminishing, and I don't worry about being bankrupted by a medical emergency. For now, it's worth it. Even on the days when I want to scream every few minutes.


3. I got a raise!

I actually found out about this after I started writing this post. I knew that my company was making compensation adjustments, but I had no idea if I'd receive one given that I haven't been in my position for long. Skeptic that I am, I was prepared for disappointment. Then, earlier this week, I received an email announcing that I'll receive a modest raise, effective immediately, and that I'm on track for an in-line promotion within the next year.

What most pleases me about the raise is that I didn't have to beg for it. It just happened. My company seems to understand that increasing compensation is a great way to retain good employees (which I am; I know I complain, but I work hard and have high expectations of myself). That's something I didn't experience in previous workplaces.

(In my last job, nobody in the office had received a raise in four years. In the job before that, the organization pushed back against demands for higher pay for months before unsuccessfully trying to shut down complaints with a $200 holiday bonus. Lesson learned: few things damage employee morale more than stagnant compensation.)

4. These student loans have got to go

Epiphany as of last week: at the moment, I care more about eliminating my student loan debt than I do about job hunting. My calculations show that I should be able to pay off my loan by February. That's so far away! But... it's so close! Unless something completely intolerable transpires at work between now and then, this goal alone should be enough to make me hang in there even when I really want to quit. I mean, ideally I'll be able to keep going longer than that, but February represents the first goalpost here.


5. I need to demonstrate that I'm not a serial job hopper. 

I've changed jobs three times in four years. I lasted in my last job for 11 months, and I've been at this one for about nine. I worry that if I continue with this pattern of short-term employment, my resume will start to raise red flags and end up in the "no" pile without a second glance, regardless of how qualified I might be. Begrudgingly, I'll admit that if I want to shift gears at some point, sticking around here for a while longer will probably be beneficial.

6. I'm still sleeping at night. 

My last job (you can read about it here) was so stressful that I developed an intractable case of insomnia. I'd regularly go in to work after having slept only a couple of hours. I blazed through my sick time and vacation days within a month and had to start taking leave without pay. When I finally dragged myself to the doctor, she prescribed sleeping pills and advised that I quit my job immediately.

In retrospect, I should have quit long before I did. I stuck it out because I was afraid to be unemployed without another job lined up and because I wasn't thinking clearly about my health and well-being.

On the up side, now I know: if it ever gets that bad again, I'll follow Xennial Blogger's lead, put my own well-being first, and peace out. But in actuality, it hasn't gotten that bad. Nowhere close to it. Sure, I have bad days. Sure, I cry at my desk (less so now). But I sleep just fine and I'm healthy and functional, signs that even though I don't love this job, it's not completely toxic.

7. Maybe I can learn to deal?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about some techniques I'm going to use to make this job more tolerable. So far I've tried power posing, meditating, and watching motivational TED talks. I don't know whether it's the techniques themselves that are making a difference or simply the fact that I'm doing something that I have some control over, but I do get the sense that it's actually working. Especially the power posing. Like, it doesn't seem as though standing in front of my mirror and assuming a Wonder Woman stance should have any effect, and yet every time I do it I have better, more articulate interactions with people, including my supervisor. I even feel more confident about how I'm using my time.


Of course, I reserve the right to retract every single word of this if the shit hits the fan next week and I can't take it anymore. But for now, I'm sticking it out.


Monday, October 1, 2018

September 2018 In Review: Budget, Savings, and Debt Payments

Current status: I'm sitting at my kitchen table on my day off, sipping coffee out of my favorite mug, admiring the blazing red leaves on the tree right outside the window and watching fog roll across the hills on what is supposed to be a very rainy day if the weather forecast pans out. The forecast here is usually completely off base - by this afternoon it could be 80 degrees and sunny again - but for now I'm enjoying a moment of unquestionable fall. I grew up in the northeast and still miss a traditional autumn.

Reflecting on September, it was a month of running, obsessing about work, and depression. September is a month for depression. Something about the changing of the light. It freaked me out until I remembered that I go through this mindfuck every year at around the same time. I think I'm on the upswing, but I can't say for sure. My approach is to take it day by day.

September was also a month when we took a careful look at our current financial strategy. As Simplistic Steph pondered in her recent September-in-review post, "I don't know if I'm doing the right thing with our finances. Does anyone ever feel 100% confident in their money decisions?" And for us, the answer is a definite no. Last month, for example, we found ourselves wondering whether we should pull back on debt repayment and dump more into savings. In the end we decided to increase our automatic investments a smidge but otherwise stay the course and keep throwing money at my interminable student loan. Said loan will be paid off by February if we don't alter our plans.

Here's a breakdown of our September finances:

Budget: Although we stayed fairly well on track overall, we were off our September budget in a few categories. Our grocery bill was partly to blame, as usual, but we also had a couple of surprise expenses come up. The Kiddo had an eye exam and discovered that he badly needed glasses, so that was an unplanned $240 (I adjusted our planned loan payment by a couple hundred dollars to accommodate this). Then there were some books for school and a couple of unnecessary restaurant outings. Oh, and a $310 car repair, but that came out of our emergency fund. On the savings side, the Kiddo decided not to play soccer for his school, something that would have cost $150.

Debt repayment: After a slow summer, we're back in business with our debt repayment plan. I paid a total of $1300 to my student loan, bringing the balance from $9,800 to $8,570. With Fortysomething's usual $400 payment, our total debt dropped from $48,776 to $47,361 - a total of $1415!

Investments and HSA: Although we didn't add much to our regular savings account in September, Fortysomething and I both increased our 403b contributions to 6%. He has a 3% match from his employer and I have a 6% match from mine. All told, we're putting about $800 a month into our collective investments. We're also putting $500 a month (including my employer match) into our HSA, though much of that money is getting funneled directly to medical bill repayment. Thus, while it might not feel like we're saving much right now, in actuality we're making some progress in that area, too.

What about you? How was your September, financially or otherwise?

Coming To You LIVE From The Debt Repayment Pain Cave

There's a point in every long race that's known as The Pain Cave. It's the point where you can't remember why you ever...