Saturday, February 17, 2018

Here's What Our Financial Recalibration Looks Like

One thing we've realized over the past 10 months is that budgets and debt repayment plans require periodic recalibration. Emergencies happen. Cars break down. Jobs come and go. Living situations change. Financial situations fluctuate, meaning that the achievement of our long-term goals depend in part on our ability to adapt and be flexible.

When we started this process in April of 2017, we were working with the following constraints:
  • One of us had a somewhat unpredictable contract job
  • One of us had a regular but low-paying job
  • We were repaying three credit cards, two student loans, and a car loan
At that time, we were able to allocate a total of $1600/month to our debts and had calculated a Debt Freedom Date of March of 2022.

By last September, our situation had changed:
So we decided to ramp up our debt allocation to $2200/month, giving us a modified Debt Freedom Date of November 2020.

Now our plan and budget are changing again, and for several reasons:

  • We paid off Credit Card #2, which leaves us with one more credit card and two student loans
  • We broke our lease (via our tax refund) so that we can move from our raucous, sleep-inhibiting apartment building into a quieter but more expensive duplex 
  • My new job pays more...
  • ...but my health insurance is more expensive...
  • ...and we're putting slightly more money into both retirement and an HSA

So what does all of this mean in terms of actual numbers? 

Here's our totally transparent breakdown of the old budget versus the new one:

In sum: rent and health insurance are going up. We'll be contributing slightly more to long-term savings. Our debt repayment allocation is going down. 

Sidenote: We are well aware that the rental is expensive, though for our ridiculously-priced city and given its ideal location (right by a trail and within walking distance of school and work), it's considered reasonable. I'll write another post in a few days that explains our decision to keep renting instead of taking the leap into buying.

Here's what all of this means for the big-picture debt repayment plan:

This new plan is only a couple of months off from the old one in terms of the projected payoff date.

Of course I'm hoping that we'll be able to pay it all off sooner than that, and I think we will, especially if we receive work bonuses. But regardless, this new plan seems reasonable to me because it reflects goals and values that have become increasingly important to us over the past year:
  • Even though it's expensive, we love our community, and we're willing to pay the price to live here.
  • Our home is our haven. We value a quiet place where we can truly relax.
  • We want to become more dedicated to saving for the future.
  • We're determined to pay off this debt.
No doubt all of this will change again at some point. It's probably inevitable - because life - and that's okay. We can be flexible. We can adjust. Our pace of debt reduction might fluctuate, but we're moving forward nonetheless.

What about you? Have you recalibrated your finances lately, and if so, what prompted you to do so?

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Biggest Monster Debt Payment Yet

Yesterday was a big day in $76K Land, and here's why:

The above graph is a Personal Capital-generated visual of our credit card debt (y axis) versus time (x axis). Actually, it's incomplete: it shows our consumer debt load since November 2017. In reality, we started paying off the credit cards last April, back when the total balance was more like $23K.

Here's a more complete (though no less awkward) graph. This one starts in June 2017:

The arrows indicate where we just made a monster debt payment of $3000 (thanks to a big side hustle for which I finally received my check, and yes, we put every single dime of it towards debt), bringing our balance from $14,700 to $11,700! We've made some big payments before - when we paid off our car, for instance, and when we ditched Credit Card #1 - but this is the largest one to date.

Here's where our credit card balances stand now:

CC #2: $1,524
CC #3: $10,218

We should be able to pay off CC #2 within the next few weeks via our normal repayment schedule. As for CC#3, we're waiting on a tax refund that should dispatch a major chunk of it. The goal is to bring our total credit card balance to zero by the end of April. 

Sidenote: I feel compelled to point out that the first phase (i.e., nearly a year) of debt repayment was painfully slow and uneventful. The balance has decreased so incrementally that it's sometimes been hard to celebrate the small victories. Only after we assessed and stabilized our financial situation, established a workable budget, took advantage of some side hustle income, and built up some snowball-y momentum did we start seeing some real progress. It feels amazing.

With our student loans, we still have a long way to go... but the journey seems doable now.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Anatomy of Our Current Housing Dilemma

If you're following us on Twitter, you know that we're currently dealing with loud, inconsiderate neighbors in the apartment below ours. They blare music at night, hold thunderous conversations, interrupt our sleep, and basically make our home feel like a place we want to avoid. Our lease ends in June, so we're looking at another five months of living on edge.

If you've ever gone through something similar, please accept my sympathies. Having your space besieged by noise, especially when you're thisclose to drifting into dreamland, is both physically and emotionally exhausting. 

I have little control over what my neighbors decide to do: we've talked to them, we've contacted management repeatedly, and we've filed a complaint with the police, so we've kind of exhausted our options. Thus, I'm trying to focus instead on what we can do and what our options are.

The first thing we're trying to figure out is whether we want to stick out our lease or break it early. 

If we stay, I will probably continue to have nightly heart palpitations as the music starts blasting through my floor just as I've closed my eyes (or - probably a better choice - I will force myself to take up yoga and meditation). Money-wise, though, it's a strong option, and lately I've been surprised at just how motivated I am by our financial goals. So sticking it out is certainly not out of the question.

If we break it early, we'll have to pay rent until the landlord finds a new tenant. We're fairly certain he'd be able to do so within a few months at most. Our apartment is in an excellent location, has some gorgeous views of the surrounding hills, and is reasonably priced (all huge reasons we decided to lease this abode in the first place, and all reasons we were hoping to stick around for several years). But we'd be on the hook for up to $7000 in rental payments, and that's... a lot of money.

Regardless, we know we'll be out of here by June, so the question at that point is whether we should rent elsewhere or purchase a house.

The argument for purchasing is that we're committed to living in this town: we're not going anywhere. It's likely that a mortgage would be equivalent to (or possibly even less than) what we'd be paying in rent. The problem is that the housing market here is limited, expensive, and exceedingly competitive. The average price of a single family home is around $400K, and many folks offer to pay in cash to sweeten their bids (that is so far outside the realm of my own experience and abilities that I can't really wrap my mind around it). Our credit scores are excellent, our income is solid, and we're eligible for a VA loan, but we don't have a lot of money for a down payment. If we do decide to buy, we're likely looking at months of searching, multiple offers, and multiple rejections.

The whole thing sounds like a complete circus, and not in a good way. Part of me is so annoyed with the current housing market that I don't want to deal with it at all.

If we opt to rent again, we'll definitely be looking at townhouses or single-family homes. No more shared walls on all sides for us. Rent for such properties is expensive, and for what we need, it's likely to exceed a mortgage payment. There's no doubt that rent would increase on a yearly basis. On the other hand, we won't have to deal with maintaining or fixing up a new home, and we can find something that comes with all necessary appliances. 

Sometimes I wish we weren't so invested in such an expensive community, but here we are. We love our town. These are the choices.

If you have advice for us, I'd love to hear from you. Have you ever been in a similar situation? What was your course of action?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

New Job, New Income, New Benefits

My new job has started! In-person new hire training took place at company headquarters all last week. I came home on Friday. It's Sunday evening. I'm still trying to recover. Who knew job transitions could be so draining?

The upshot is that this post isn't going to be particularly clever or eloquent. 

Still, I wanted to share a little more about the details of my new pay and benefits because they pertain to our finances and our debt repayment plan. If you're uncomfortable with income talk, then this post is probably not for you. I'm putting it all on the table for a couple of reasons: first because I'm a big fan of transparency, and second because it's easier for me to discuss the implications of this job change if I don't have to be coy about the actual numbers.

Here's the rundown of the Big Three (income, health insurance, and retirement):

Income: My new work-from-home income is $58K per year, plus possible bonuses. My previous job paid $35K per year (of course, that was before taxes, health insurance, and a required - required! - 11.5% contribution to my retirement fund... so my actual take-home pay didn't leave much room for things like, you know, paying the rent). Needless to say, the pay bump will have a major effect on our debt repayment. Once I start receiving a biweekly income, we'll be able to increase the amount budgeted for credit cards and student loans from $2200/month to at least $2500/month. 

I was initially planning to devote more of my pay to debt repayment, but then I heard about the company matching for HSA and retirement and realized I couldn't pass up free money. See below.

Health insurance: As I did at the end of last year at my previous job, I chose a high deductible health plan with HSA. Fortysomething still has comprehensive health coverage through his work, so my plan covers myself and The Kiddo. The plan has a $2600 family deductible and a $6500 family out-of-pocket maximum. The health insurance itself, including dental, comes out to about $175/month. I'll also contribute $173/month to my HSA, which my employer will match. Yay matching!

Retirement: My company offers both traditional and Roth 403b retirement plans. I selected the traditional 403b for tax purposes. Regardless of my contribution, my employer automatically contributes the equivalent of 3% of my salary. They offer an additional match of up to 3%, which of course I'll take full advantage of. I plan to contribute $185/month to my retirement fund. (Once we have more of our debt paid off, I'll invest more.) Can you tell that I'm pumped about the matching?

When all is said and done, the pay increase won't affect our budget that much because most of our "extra" earnings will go straight into debt repayment. Lifestyle inflation is not an option. If we stick to our adjusted plan, our credit cards will be paid off by August at the latest... and by the end of May if my tax refund calculations are correct. Then we move on to student loan repayment, which will take another two years (uuuuughhhhh).

Don't get me wrong: this isn't all about money for me. I'm excited about the job and the opportunity to help the people I'll be working with. But I'm also incredibly grateful to be able to ditch this debt more quickly and start getting more on track in the savings department.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Tips for a Sustainable Side Hustle

Last September, determined to ramp up the pace of our debt repayment, I decided I needed to make more money. My regular paycheck was consistent, but it was also relatively meager. Forget the credit card bills - it barely covered the rent. When a search for more lucrative employment initially yielded few opportunities, I took a popular page from the personal finance playbook and leapt into the world of side hustling. (A side hustle is basically a part-time job designed to supplement other employment, and at present, it's a much-touted way to plump up your income.)

Faster than I expected, I landed a position as an adjunct online science instructor. The first term went well: My students were engaged and enthusiastic. The workload felt reasonable. The material was interesting. Best of all, the extra cash made a satisfying dent in our debt. Side hustling FTW!

Soon I was invited to take on a second class. I said yes immediately, eager to maintain momentum. Then an editing job landed on my plate. I wasn't super excited about it and didn't know what to expect, but I said yes to that, too, because if one side hustle was good, then surely a second one was even better!

It was a lot, to say the least. The last two months of 2017 found me burning the candle at both ends: working 8 to 5 at my regular job, spending a few minutes with my family at dinner, and then digging into two side hustles before crashing into bed around 10, only to repeat the same process the next day. Oh, and searching for another full time job and trying to have a social life, too. What started out as a positive experience slowly morphed into one that made me grumpy and frustrated on a daily basis, especially when I realized that the editing gig was a poor fit for me.

Now I'm putting the side hustles on hold. My new job has a one-year non-compete clause, for one thing. For another, I was more than ready for a break. I just plain wore myself out.

Although I'm not saying never again, the next time I pick up a side hustle, I'm absolutely going to do some things differently. Here's the advice I'd give to myself and to anyone else venturing into the realm of side hustling:

1. Don't pick a side hustle that you don't enjoy. I genuinely enjoy teaching, so I didn't mind logging into the classroom for two hours every night. It was fun to talk science with my students and see their interest in the topic grow over time.

The editing gig, on the other hand, was a slog from day one. I regretted it almost immediately. I quickly discovered that it would require way more time than I'd initially anticipated and that what I was being paid wasn't reflective of the amount of work I was putting in. The instructions were haphazard and vague. While completing my tasks, I regularly felt the urge to cry and/or pound my head on the keyboard - but it was too late to back out.

It seems obvious, but it's worth reiterating: because a side hustle involves work in addition to your regular work, often during your "free time" when you might rather be hanging out with your friends or family, make sure you choose a gig you like. Be a little picky! Preferably, choose something that feels more like a hobby than a job and gives you an opportunity to employ your skills and strengths.

2. Calculate your pay per hour, and assess whether the compensation is appropriate. From personal experience now and in the past, not all side hustles pay fairly. Talk to others who have worked similar gigs, and use sites like to research what the going rate is.

Many side hustles pay a set fee instead of an hourly rate. Fortysomething and I suspect that some companies go this route because it allows them to hide the fact that the pay is actually pretty underwhelming. If you've been offered a fee for service, don't let yourself get carried away by the big shiny number in the offer letter until you have a chance to do the following:
  • Estimate how much time you'll need to devote to the project (easier said than done in some cases, but try to ballpark it).
  • Calculate what you'll make per hour after taxes. 
  • Assess whether that hourly rate is fair.
Example: Let's say I'm offered $1000 for a project. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but whether it's actually worthwhile depends on the amount of time I'll need to complete that project successfully. If the project takes 20 hours, that's $50 per hour. Sign me up! If it takes 80 hours, that's $12.50 per hour.  Probably a no-go.

Only you can decide what qualifies as fair pay for you, but just remember that your time is incredibly valuable, especially given that you're using time that would otherwise be spent on more personal endeavors. Your side hustle should be worth your time. 

3. Pace yourself. When you have a big financial goal - paying off debt, saving for a vacation, stocking up your kid's college fund, getting off the paycheck-to-paycheck hamster wheel - it can be tempting to take on every opportunity that comes your way. That's what I did because more side hustles mean more money, and more money means less debt, and faster.

The danger in taking on too much at once is that you'll quickly burn out. Instead, start with one side hustle and make it your only one until you're comfortable with what it entails and how much time it's going to require. If things are going well after a few weeks or months and you're still hankering to take on another job, then give that a go. But build up slowly so that you can figure out what your limits are. Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling so overwhelmed that you can't finish all of the projects you signed up for.

Also, don't compare yourself to others. There will always be people who seem to turn 24 hours a day into 48, who can work multiple jobs without losing steam, who seem to thrive on a few hours of sleep a night. I'm not one of those people. Maybe you're not, either. And that's okay. Run your own race!

Pacing yourself is particularly important if you're using your side hustle to dig out of debt and/or stop living paycheck to paycheck. In both instances, consistent and slow progress is more sustainable than a set of hustles that have you working nonstop and exhausting yourself in the process. Note to self: it's okay to go slow as long as you're moving forward.

4. If you start to feel bitter and angry about the time you're devoting to your side hustle, ditch it. This goes back to Tip #2: life is short. It's too short for wasting your time on things that make you feel bad on a regular basis. If your side hustle is constantly stressing you out, making you bitter, or igniting frustration, consider cutting back... or maybe even cutting out. It doesn't mean you have to walk away forever. Just take a break.

If you've side hustled before, what advice would you give to others? In particular, how do you manage your time when you're working multiple jobs?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Job = Ch-ch-ch-CHANGES

It's no secret that I'm over-the-moon excited about my new job. If you follow us on Twitter (you don't follow us on Twitter?! Join us at @The76KProject!), you know that I was live-Tweeting my last week of work and that I was going slightly bonkers because time seemed to be approaching my final day in an excruciatingly slow, asymptotic way. I was convinced that Friday at 5 was never going to arrive.

(Spoiler alert: it eventually did.)

Now my desk drawers have been cleaned out, my access card has been deactivated, my power strip is off, and I've said goodbye to the most wonderful coworkers on the planet. This former employee has left the building for good. Time for my next adventure: a full time work-from-home job.

With the new gig comes a series of big changes for me and for the whole 76K Project family, cat included:

(1) Goodbye cubicle, hello "home office": Whereas my previous work took place in a building that bore a terrifying resemblance to the office in Office Space, the new job is an entirely work-from-home position. Goodbye, cubicle, and good riddance. Instead, I'll set up shop on my "desk" (aka card table) in our "home office" (aka our second bedroom) with my new "coworker" (my cat, who I'm guessing will sleep most of the day except for conference calls, when she'll likely jump on my computer and stick her butt in front of the camera). 

Am I concerned about being in my house all. the. time.? Well... yes. That does worry me a bit. However, one of the best things about my previous job was that it offered me an opportunity to meet people in my community. I've made friends and joined organizations. So even though I'll be spending a loooooot of time in my house, there's no excuse for me to become a hermit.

(2) A bigger paycheck: Honestly, this was one of the most appealing things about the new job. Not because it means we can buy more stuff, but because it means we'll have more money to allocate to our debt payments. Come February, we'll ramp up our monthly debt payments from $2200 to $3000. Look for an upcoming post on how this will affect our debt payoff timeline (if you're interested in our current timeline and how we came up with it, you can find that here)

The higher income will also be helpful in that we're starting to think about purchasing a home. The location of our current place is as perfect as it gets, but we're tired of sharing walls with noisy neighbors, and we need a little more breathing room. Given that there's not a big difference in mortgages and rent prices here, purchasing seems like a reasonable step - if we can get a good deal. We'll see. But the bigger paycheck will definitely help in this respect.

(3) Less comprehensive benefits. My previous job came with outstanding, affordable health insurance coverage and an 11% retirement match. My new job comes with a decent but more expensive health insurance plan and a match up to 6%. Given that my family's in decent health (knock on wood), I'm okay with the insurance changes. As for retirement, you can bet that I'll take advantage of any free money that's on offer. 

(4) No more side hustle: My new job comes with a one-year non-compete clause, so I'm giving up my side gigs. I'm fine with it. I'm burnt out on side hustling. Working a regular 40 hour job, helping The Kiddo with homework, keeping the house reasonably clean and the family reasonably fed (of course Fortysomething contributes to these tasks, too), AND devoting hours of my nights and weekends to part-time work turned out to be too exhausting to be sustainable over the long term. 

Don't get me wrong. The side hustle was a great experiment, and it certainly helped us kick our debt repayment into overdrive. But it's no longer manageable, so it's time to set it aside - with the understanding that it may be an option again somewhere down the road.

(5) No more walking to work (but I'll still be walking!) Last spring, I decided to leave my car at home and walk the 5 miles round trip between my house and my office. Those walks turned out to be one of the best parts of my day. I looked forward to the time outdoors and the opportunity to transition between home and work, work and home.

There's no place I'd rather be than outside, so even though I'm losing my commute, my goal is to still walk and/or run five miles every day, ideally in the morning. It's good for my health and good for my mind. 

What about you? If you've changed jobs, what was that transition like? What changes did the job shift entail?

Friday, January 5, 2018

Why I Decided to Quit My Job and Find a New One

The best present I received this past holiday season was one I've been eyeing for months: a new job. After weeks of interviewing, reference-requesting, and nail-biting, I finally received the offer the day after Christmas. When my new boss called with the good news, it was all I could do not to jump up and down and scream as if Publisher's Clearinghouse had just showed up on my doorstep. (Don't worry, folks, I played it cool. Or cool-ish.)

Pursuing a new job - scouring the job boards, revamping my CV, putting myself out there, knowing that I might only get a few bites, if any - felt terrifying. There was a big part of me that wanted to just stay where I was at for the sake of convenience and comfort - the devil you know vs. the devil you don't and all that. Plus, I can't deny that my current job comes with several attractive perks, including a competitive benefits package and plenty of vacation days. I'm rarely asked to work outside of the 9 to 5, and even when I do, I'm awarded generous flex time. Most importantly, my coworkers are some of the most genuine and empathic people I've ever met.

Given all the positives, I told myself to just stay put and adjust my attitude. And I tried. I really did. I pep talked myself every morning on my walk to work. I reminded myself of all the things going well in my life. Who was I to complain?

But despite my best efforts, I was so. damn. unhappy. with the job. I tried to hide it at first, but eventually my negativity started to seep out around the edges. Getting up on weekdays began to feel intolerable.

Finally, I took a deep breath, tossed the fear aside, and committed myself to a full-on job search. And that, as it turns out, was a very good life choice.

Ultimately, there were four factors that prompted me to get past my fear and seek out another job:

(1) Lack of advancement opportunities: Looking around, I saw that even my most dedicated, knowledgeable coworkers, people who had been there for years, hadn't been promoted despite their talent and innovative ideas. Advancements were few and far between because leadership roles were few and far between. The same seemed to be the case for professional development opportunities. When, after months of mustering up the courage, I asked about the possibility of attending industry workshops or conferences, I was told that there just wasn't enough money, and besides, nobody really needs that stuff to be successful in the job. The message I received was, Hey, this gig's not hard, right? We won't ask too much of you, but in return, don't ask too much of us.

I tried to picture myself in two years, or three years, or five years if I stayed with that organization, and the image never changed: it was just a vision of me in the same cubicle, doing the same stuff, over and over again. And that felt suffocating to me. I've always pictured myself in a career that offers plenty of room for professional growth.

(2) Low pay, with no raise in sight:  I've written before about what an expensive city we live in. The disparity between my salary and cost of living was so great that without Fortysomething's income, we wouldn't be able to afford to live here at all, not even in the smallest studio apartment. When recently asked about the prospect of raises, my institution's administration was forthright in sharing that no pay increase of any kind - not even a cost of living increase - was imminent. 

I calculated what I was making per hour, an exercise that was as enlightening as it was depressing. The question that started to float across my mind on a regular basis was, Am I willing to give out my time for such a small sum? And increasingly, the answer became obvious: no. It's not all about the money. It's about how I use my time, and time is far more valuable than what I was receiving for it.

(3) My mental health: As a die-hard introvert and reluctant empath, customer-facing jobs (especially those that take place in person) are challenging for me. And my current job is all about customer service. During our busiest times, I'd meet with up to 16 people a day, back to back, with only a short break for lunch. Like a human sponge, I'd soak up whatever potent mixture of anxiety, worry, depression, frustration, anger, and/or excitement each individual brought into my office. The thought of hiding under my desk started to sound more and more appealing.

It was exhausting, and yet as the months wore on, I slept less and less. I just couldn't seem to shut work out of my brain. Every night, I felt overcome by a breath-taking anxiety. Some nights, I didn't sleep at all. I ended up missing a bunch of work, using up all of my sick time and part of my vacation time, and going to the doctor for sleeping pills. She gave me a prescription, but my anxiety was so through-the-roof that she also advised me to quit my job as soon as possible. 

Perhaps due to sleep deprivation, I also felt increasingly depressed. What was supposed to occupy my mind for only 8 hours a day started to become a waking obsession and thought spiral: I don't like this job. What should I do? What's the answer? What's the best course of action? Get with the program! Try harder! Stop whining!...  I don't like this job. What should I do? On repeat all day, every day. Not productive, fun, or healthy.

(4) An atrophying skill set and knowledge base: When I accepted this position, I went in knowing full well that it was in a different field than that of my previous career. But what I couldn't predict was how much not utilizing my background and experience would bother me and how panicked I would feel as I realized that concepts I'd once known like the back of my hand were starting to atrophy thanks to lack of use. 

That wasn't my employer's fault, of course. And overall, it's been a good thing: being in this job has helped me better understand what I really want to do, and the field I really want to pursue.

The new job fits the bill perfectly.

So here's the advice I'd now give to the me of three months ago, or anyone else who's unhappy in their job: searching for a job is hard work. It's work on top of the work you already have. It feels like it takes forever to even just get an interview. It's scary. It's full of uncertainty and waiting.

But 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.

It was an exhausting experience, but so well worth it, and I'm excited to see what I can do with this new opportunity.

Here's What Our Financial Recalibration Looks Like

One thing we've realized over the past 10 months is that budgets and debt repayment plans require periodic recalibration. Emergencies ha...