Friday, October 13, 2017

Winning, October Edition

I almost wrote a post entitled Debt Sucks And I Want To Kick It In The Groin* - that's the headspace I've been in over the last few weeks - but then I decided to turn it around and focus on the positive. There IS some good stuff happening in the 76K Project financial world, and I want to take a few minutes to acknowledge it.

(1) We used allocated savings to pay for new tires. Total cost: around $800. We'd squirreled away this money several months ago, knowing that the tires on our little sedan were worn down and would need to be replaced before the winter. This is a massive departure from our former M.O. in situations like this: we used to toss every big, unbudgeted expense onto the credit card and then look away. Far, farrrrr away.

New tires = less stress when traveling to our favorite places.
What I like best about how this went down is that although the tires were pricy, we didn't have to fret about the bill. There was no stress involved because we were, for once, prepared. All we did was transfer the money from savings to checking (actually, we *did* put it on our credit card so that we could get the points, but then we immediately paid it off). 

Speaking from maaaaaany past experiences of this nature, trying to pay for something expensive... that you absolutely do need... when you absolutely don't have the money for it... is frustrating, exhausting, and demoralizing. To be able to avoid that emotional turmoil this time around is an amazing feeling and a huge win for us.

Bye, old tires!
(2) We still have money IN SAVINGS! Thanks to our overestimation of the cost of the tires and our continued side hustle revenue stream, we'll still be well on our way to meeting our Emergency/Holiday Travel/Sinking Fund goal, now set at a nice round $3000. 

On the topic of the savings account: due to some possible changes in the new year, we've decided to hold steady on debt repayment (for which we allocate $1600 a month and will continue to do so) and build up our savings account to several month's worth of expenses. Paying off the debt is critical, but so is having a financial cushion when life takes you in a new direction. More on that later, if and when the time is right to share. /vagueblogging

(3) Something I realized this morning: six months into our family finance overhaul, we're really committed to debt repayment and gaining more financial security. Evidence of this commitment:
  • Since April, we've created a detailed budget each month and tallied every single expense. 
  • We've cut way back on impulse spending. Gone are the days of last-minute Target purchases, impromptu runs to Starbucks, and every-other-day restaurant meals.
  • We have an emergency fund, holiday fund, and sinking fund now, and bit by bit, they're growing.
  • We're taking the long view when making decisions. There are things we would like to be doing RIGHT NOW, but we recognize that waiting and saving will make those things more doable and less stressful down the road. 

*I still want to kick debt in the groin, so maybe that's a topic for a future post.

Disease Called Debt

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Hard Week; Budget Adjustments

A note on this past week: It was tough. Like many of you, I was left reeling by the shooting in Las Vegas. I didn't know anyone who was killed or injured, but the senselessness and horror of what the killer did and our inability to get a handle on gun violence in this country have left me feeling depressed. Getting through the last few days has been like running through taffy: I'm defeated and exhausted. Based on what I saw from you guys via Twitter, I'm not alone. These are difficult times (understatement), and I know many of us are mentally exhausted. Let's take care of ourselves and each other, okay? And let's do what we can, whenever we can, to make the world a better place.

*     *     *
Moving on to much more mundane things, our financial situation and budget changed a bit this month. Here's why:
  • Fortysomething's health insurance kicked in at his new job. His employer covers his health insurance almost entirely, and thus, I was able to take him off of my insurance. Our total monthly premium dropped by a little over 1/3. Savings!...
The Very Expensive Feline loves savings.
  • ...But. My employer started putting 11.5% of my pay into the state retirement fund. Don't get me wrong: I know this is a good thing in the long run, especially because I get an employer match (although the big caveat here is that I only get this match if I stick with the organization for 25 years, which seems like a stretch, so...) That deduction leaves a big dent in my weekly paycheck, something we definitely feel given the high cost of living around here. Even with the offset in health insurance savings, my take-home pay is still about $140 less per month. 
VEF pondering budgetary changes. She's thinking real hard.
  • We increased our weekly food budget from $150 to $175. The Kiddo is like a bottomless food vacuum. He eats everything, and then he's still hungry. He and Fortysomething lobbied for $25 more per week in the grocery department, and because this whole debt reduction thing will only work if everyone is on board and satiated, I agreed. I'm okay with it as long as we eat all of the food we buy. If there's food waste, it's back to the old budget (says the stern money dictator).

  • We created an "Other" line item in our budget. I got tired of trying (and generally failing) to anticipate every one-time expense at the beginning of each month, so this time around, I allocated $450 to  a general fund that should cover all of our October extras: household items, birthday dinner, new jacket for the Kiddo, etc. I'll need to be careful, though, because my tendency when I have wiggle room is to spend more than I anticipated.
Sometime in the next week, I'll try to do a "How'd We Do" post for September... but frankly, we totally blew the budget and I'm not exactly champing at the bit to give all the details. 

Disease Called Debt

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Pros and Cons of Side Hustling

As most of you are already aware (thanks to my not-so-subtle kvetching), my current work life consists of both my full-time job and a side hustle, an online teaching gig that I tackle in whatever open pockets of time I can find in the evenings and over the weekend. I decided to take on this extra work for two reasons. One, we wanted to build up an emergency fund and sinking fund, something that would take forever and a day to accomplish if we were relying entirely on our salaries; and two, we wanted to speed up our debt elimination process (we’ve currently mapped it out over a five-year timespan, but we want to shorten that as much as possible). 

Both Fortysomething and I found side gigs we can live with and have been investing our time in them for a little over a month.

Her side hustle is napping.
Many folks in the personal finance/debt elimination circles see side hustling as an efficient way to make up lost financial ground. Generally, I agree. But I also think it’s not a strategy that will work for everyone: it’s such a tradeoff between time and money. So one of my main questions when I decided to give side hustling a chance was, Will it be worth it for me?

TL;DR: Generally, yes, but the SH life comes with both pros and cons.

First, the pros:

Not surprisingly, it brings in some extra cashola. Our gigs generate an extra $1200 or so a month, a sum that currently goes straight into the emergency/sinking fund (though we may end up using some of it to increase our grocery budget because both Fortysomething and The Kiddo are bottomless pits when it comes to food). Our budget is pretty tight, and the amount we can allocate for savings via our steady income stream is limited. Thus, side hustle savings is a major boon for us.

It offers a safety net through job diversification. I don’t know how many of you are as paranoid as I am, but here’s an admission: I’m always worried about losing my job. I’ve had this fear from the very first day that I commenced my very first job as an administrative assistant. My boss was a family friend and the likelihood of me getting canned was, despite my obvious inexperience, pretty much zero, but such rationalization is no match for my brain, which prefers to wallow in worst case scenarios. In my mind, no matter how secure my position might seem, there’s always a chance that it could slip through my fingers tomorrow. Having a side hustle makes me feel like I have a safety net in the event that my employer decides to downsize or reorganize. Damn, would that be a problem, but at least I’d have some stopgap measures in place to staunch depletion of savings.

It helps me avoid stressing about my day job. I have a tendency to come home and fret about any lingering problems or negative experiences I might have had at the office. I’ve been known to spend entire evenings obsessing about the day, which of course is completely pointless and unproductive. (Okay, so in rereading this, I sound pretty neurotic. Which may be true.) With a side hustle, though, I don’t have time for endless rumination. I’m forced to shift gears. The upshot is that I'm more refreshed and mentally ready for the day when I head to my office each morning.

It presents an opportunity to dabble in something I enjoy. A side hustle should be fun – or at least mildly pleasant. I’m enthusiastic about teaching because it gives me an opportunity to immerse myself in science, something I don’t get to think about in my regular line of work. Geeking out about topics like star clusters, genetic engineering, and earthquake prediction with a bunch of enthusiastic undergrads? I can happily live with that. 

To be honest, I feel pretty passionate about what I’m doing in this side hustle, and that in itself makes me want to continue. 

And now the cons:

Also not surprisingly, it eats up a lot of time. I spend at least 12-15 hours per week on the side hustle. The nature of my work dictates that I’m in my virtual classroom every single day to answer questions, participate in discussion forums, and grade. By the time I’ve walked home from work, made dinner, and finished my online class checklist, I am usually way past ready for bed. My free time has definitely dwindled. Fortysomething devotes anywhere from half to one full day of his weekend for his work, which means less rest for his weary teacher brain and less time for us to go explore the world as a family.

The VEF loves our side gigs because it means we spend 
more time at home, paying attention to her.
Occasionally, it can be frustrating. My interactions with my students are overwhelmingly positive. Every now and then, though, something will come up: a student disagrees with a grade, for example, or there’s a misinterpretation of instructions and an ensuing angry email. Or my supervisor decides to tack on an extra outreach initiative and wants it done an hour ago. It happens, and when it does, I sometimes question whether the job is worth it.

Side hustles often pay a pittance. I’ve dipped my toes into enough side hustles to know that many of them aren’t worth it (at least for me).  Case in point: last year I tried freelancing with Rev, a company that transcribes audio files and adds captions to videos. After my first week of dedicated caption-making (which involved listening to audio files over and over and over again), I raked in a grand total of… wait for it… $25. It didn’t take long before I quit*. The same goes for survey-focused outfits like Swagbucks and Inbox Dollars. Yeah, it’s kind of fun to take the occasional quiz or watch a short advertisement for a few points that eventually turn into a few dollars, but as a real revenue stream, they don’t seem worthwhile (If you’ve had a different experience, I would love to hear about it!) 

Basically, my time is valuable enough that I’m not going to dedicate myself to underpaid employment. One of the reasons I decided to pursue online teaching is that this particular school pays a wage that seems fair to me. Fortysomething's happy enough with his pay as well. I wish more side hustles offered higher wages and made the work more worthwhile. 

*(On the other hand, I did meet an experienced Rev captioner who earns upwards of $1500 a month. He’d figured out how to transcribe quickly, efficiently, and accurately, and he’d turned what started as a hobby into a full-time occupation. So I’m not saying Rev is a scam. I just didn’t want to put in months of nearly-free labor before getting to the point of being able to make some significant money.)

So will we stick with it? For now, absolutely yes. For me, at least, the pros far outweigh the cons. I have four more weeks to go in this class and have agreed to teach another section in November. The earnings from our side hustles will first fund our emergency and holiday accounts, and then we’ll use it to pay down debt. It’s hard to say no to that opportunity. Even with limited time and occasional frustrations, it’s a challenge we're happy to accept, at least for a season or two.

Disease Called Debt

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


I'm just popping in for a couple of minutes to say that, well, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed.

Yes, I'm feeling overwhelmed with work + side hustle, but I knew that would be the case and was somewhat prepared to cope.

As the seasons change and as I approach my 39th birthday, I'm also overwhelmed by other questions and thoughts (I mean questions and thoughts aside from natural disasters, politics, and suffering, which occupy a big part of my headspace on a daily basis):
  • Was that career change (from academia) two years ago a good idea? I don't miss the stress of being a tenure-track professor, but I miss my area of specialty to the point that I feel almost homesick for it on a daily basis.
  • What are my career goals now? Do I even have a career goal, or is my goal simply to use my job as a way to live in a place I love, do the things I want to do, and get good health insurance? 
  • I keep thinking about starting my own business - it's something I've wanted to do for years - and I have some ideas... But at what point would I be ready to make that leap? Is it worth trying to map out a plan, or is that just a total pipe dream from a very privileged lady?
  • What are my goals - other than debt elimination! - and dreams? What are the things I love? How do I make those goals and dreams part of my life?
  • Man, life is short.
So I'll keep thinking on these things, and meanwhile, if you have anything to offer in the way of suggestions, advice, or your own experiences, please feel free to share! I'd love to get your thoughts.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Winning, September 2017 Edition



It was an uncomfortably warm summer in our second-floor apartment with no air conditioning. The return of crisp temperatures is a massive relief. We're relishing the luxury of thick blankets at night, the tinge of bright colors spreading over the trees, and the coziness of autumn-themed baking and coffee making (remind me to share my favorite homemade pumpkin spice coffee recipe with you!)

After the usual end-of-summer, beginning-of-school upheaval, we've settled into a September routine. The Kiddo is busy with homework and video games. Fortysomething is constantly grading and making lesson plans. I'm juggling my day job and a side hustle. The Very Expensive Feline is sleeping all the time (except when she's supposed to, because nighttime is PARTAY TIME). On the weekends, we alternate between lounging around like slugs and getting outside to enjoy our beautiful surroundings. We're busy, but for the most part, we're enjoying it.

As I've done for the past few months, I want to motivate myself by identifying a few financial wins for September. Because let's be honest: even with our big long-term goals to inspire us, this debt repayment thing is a slog. Without this blog and massive amounts of encouragement from others and myself, I'm not sure I'd be willing to persist. Taking the time to identify what we're doing well is crucial to our long-term success. 

So here it is: three ways we're winning this September:

(1) We're on a roll with side hustling. I started my online teaching gig a couple of weeks ago. As I mentioned in a previous post, it's definitely time consuming. The grading itself requires several hours of committed time each week; most of that has to be done later in the evening after a full day at my regular job. But on the plus side, I get to teach science! The opportunity to share my passion makes this extra responsibility more palatable.

(2) As of this writing, we have almost $2K in savings. The pay for the side hustle is decent, and we're putting every single penny of it straight into savings. Seeing that balance grow is gratifying because it shows us that our hard work is paying off, literally. At this time last year, we had next to nothing put aside for a rainy day. Thus, this is a big deal for us. I estimate that our emergency/holiday/sinking account will be fully funded by December. We're already more than halfway there. It's going to feel amazing to travel at the holidays and buy new tires without stressing over finances.

(3) We're finding more ways to entertain ourselves on the cheap. Gone are the days of going out to eat every few nights. Instead, we're making peace with home-cooked meals, offset by the very occasional restaurant treat. We also make every effort to avoid purchasing full-priced tickets for movies, festivals, concerts, and the like. We're constantly on the lookout for free stuff to do - and much to my surprise, there's plenty on offer. One example: last Friday we attended a free movie night hosted by a local nonprofit. This Friday, we're going to a star party at a local park. We're spending more time at the library, too, and participating in picnics and gatherings. Our newfound frugal ways seem to be strengthening our ties to our community.

Bonus win, because it's my blog and I can break the rules of three:

(4) I've been hiking and running more! My leg is almost all healed up (damn, IT band injuries are persistent), allowing me to hit the trails more often and for longer periods of time. I'm up to 5-6 miles of running per session, and I recently conquered one of the steepest hikes in our area.

So that's us! Tell us about you: what are your wins this month so far? What are you proud of?

Disease Called Debt

Thursday, September 14, 2017

What Should We Do With Our "Extra" Money?

It's crazy to think about it, but at this time last year, we had nothing in our savings account.

Well. Full disclosure: we didn't have a savings account.

We just had our checking account, the balance of which perpetually oscillated between a couple thousand dollars and nearly zero, depending on which bill was due when, how many late fees we'd accidentally accrued, and what impulse buy seemed like a good idea in the moment.

In April, we finally started saving. Our initial goal was to set aside $1000 for emergencies, a stopgap that would allow us to diligently follow our debt repayment plan even if the famous Murphy were to take a poop on our lives. So we earmarked a hundred dollars or so per paycheck to the emergency fund. Much to our surprise, we met that goal within a few months.

Now our savings is growing. The pace of growth was slow at first, but it's picking up speed thanks to our new side hustles. Fortysomething and I have agreed that any money generated via side employment should go straight into the savings account. But once it's in there, what to do with it?

We have three options:

(1) Keep the cash in savings and watch it blossom. This option appeals to me. A lot. I love the motivation that comes from watching our balance balloon. Having substantial savings at hand would also make us feel more secure in the event that something more catastrophic - such as a job loss - were to transpire.

(2) Put that cash to work and throw it at debt. The idea here is to set aside all of our "extra" money and make a monster debt payment at the end of each month (in addition to the $1600 we already allocate for debt). The obvious benefit of this is that we'll be able to pay off our debt faster. 

(3) Establish sinking and holiday funds. We currently have neither, but with our car begging for new tires and my parents begging us to visit them at the holidays, we need both.

Option #2 was our original choice. We just want to get out of debt, and the more money we devote to that goal, the faster it will happen. Eventually, though, we realized that the sinking and holiday funds are more pressing priorities. We do need new tires - in reality, we're overdue - and we do want to spend time with family, something I don't want to put off even though it requires purchasing pricey plane tickets for holiday travel. Debt repayment is important. It is not, however, everything.

Now, BEHOLD: our Holiday Travel/Sinking Fund:
  • New tires: $1000 (could be less than this, but I'd rather over-estimate)
  • Annual fee for Thousand Trails (more about this in a future post): $500
  • Air travel for three: $900 (my parents will contribute to airline tickets)
  • Gifts for 8+ people: $200
  • Activities while on trip: $250
  • TOTAL: $2850
Once the savings account hits $3850 (emergency fund + sinking fund + holiday fund), we'll put any money in excess of that towards additional debt repayment.

I keep reminding myself that while we're paying off debt, we also have to live our lives.

We have to strive for happiness and stability.

We have to avoid blowing our threadbare tires on the highway.

This savings fund will help us achieve all of those things. After that? Watch out, debt. We're coming for you.

Disease Called Debt

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Season of Side Hustling

Y'all, I am 1.5 weeks into side hustling, and let me tell you: I need more hours in the day. Not that I'm complaining (much). The side hustle - an online teaching gig - will allow us to purchase new tires for our car and fund a holiday trip to see family. Moreover, my students are engaged and motivated, and I get to talk about science, my favorite subject. It's a fruitful opportunity for a variety of reasons.

But seriously. More hours. I need them.

Here's what my day looks like right now and pretty much what it will look like through December:

6 AM: Wake up, stumble around the kitchen in a daze for 30 minutes while getting absolutely nothing accomplished (to put it mildly, I am not a morning person), slug coffee, finally pull it together, make child's lunch, drink more coffee, make own lunch, get dressed, panic about not being able to find keys/shoes/some other vital item that has mysteriously disappeared in the last 12 hours.


7 AM: Pour another serving of coffee into travel mug. Say goodbye to the family, walk 2.5 miles to work, usually reach railroad tracks just as train is starting to pass through, curse train for next six minutes, speedwalk the rest of the way to office so as to avoid being late.


7:50 AM: Arrive! Beeline for the bathroom and change into fresh, unsweaty shirt before coworkers catch a whiff of any unprofessional odors.

8-Noon: Work, work, work, work, work.


Noon: Lunch! Cram food into face while reading personal finance blogs.


12:30-4:30 PM: Work, work, work, work, work.


4:30 PM: Walk home (uphill the whole way, of course). Get sweaty again.

5:20 PM: Arrive home, say hello to fellow exhausted family members, go for a run, take a shower.

6:30 PM: Make dinner per meal plan devised earlier in week. Sit down to eat with The Kiddo and Fortysomething. Sometimes converse. Sometimes share in communal catatonic silence.

7:30 PM: Log into online classroom. Participate in discussion forum. Answer questions. Post announcements. Grade.


9 PM: Start watching a show with Fortysomething. Give it my full effort. Get halfway through the show; start falling asleep. Discover that Fortysomething has also crashed out.


10 PM: Usually drooling onto my pillow by this point.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I keep reminding myself that sometimes we need to sacrifice short-term comfort for long-term goals. Historically, I haven't been too adept at this: my need for an immediate panacea to momentary discomfort/boredom/inconvenience is one of the reasons we're in so much debt. I'm committed to changing my perspective. For the next few months, for this season, I'm going to do what it takes to honor the future.

But I'm sure all of you other side-hustlers can attest to the fact that it isn't easy.

Tell me about your side hustle. How do you fit it into your day? How do you manage your time?

Winning, October Edition

I almost wrote a post entitled Debt Sucks And I Want To Kick It In The Groin* - that's the headspace I've been in over the last few ...