Friday, January 18, 2019

21 Months Later, My Student Loan Is GONE

Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash

(Note: I wrote this yesterday evening but wanted to let it sit for a few hours before sharing it with the blogging world.)

Today was a big day.

Today I paid off the last $3500 on my student loan. The student loan I’ve been carting around since 2003

Yes, this loan has been in my life for almost 16 freaking years. If it were my child, it would be a teenager practicing for its driving test.

When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t planning to pay it off. I was going to wait until I was a week or two into my new job so that I could be certain of my next paycheck. But you know how sometimes you get a wild hair? That’s how it's been with this loan for the last month or so. I just need it out of my life. I need to delete it as a budget line item so that we can turn our attention to other things, like our remaining medical bills and Fortysomething’s loan.

To cover it, I took the money out of our emergency fund. The e-fund isn’t empty - there’s still a cushion there - but I’d be lying if I said that the lower balance doesn’t make me nervous. I’m a worrier and fully expect that something could go wrong at any moment.

Nevertheless, this debt needs to go. There’s never going to be a perfect time to get rid of it. Today simply seemed like the day, and although the decision was more emotional than practical, it is done.

Honestly, the moment I submitted the payment felt pretty anticlimactic:


But as the afternoon went on, my excitement grew:


And I’m pretty sure that by the time my balance officially registers as $0, this will be me:


A short history of our debt repayment 

We have now been at this debt repayment thing for 21 months. In that time we have paid off:

  • our car loan (paid off in October 2017)
  • a credit card (paid off in July 2017)
  • a second credit card (paid off in February 2018)
  • a third credit card (paid off in July 2018)
  • and now the student loan!

(Originally, my student loan started off at >$20K, but after so many years and multiple loan companies, I can't remember what the exact number was.)

Total paid off so far: $39,000

Imperfect but persistent

It's worth noting that although we’ve made sacrifices throughout our debt repayment journey, there are also plenty of things we haven’t sacrificed. We’ve gone on some (affordable) vacations, eaten at overpriced restaurants, purchased Christmas and birthday presents, and paid for activities for our child. We live in a rental that takes up approximately 1/3 of our income (sigh). We exceed our grocery budget almost every month.

Could we be managing our money better? Could we be living on less? Undoubtedly yes, but even with our imperfect approach, we’re still making strides. I attribute our progress in large part to livable wages and our budget, but I think persistence plays a bigger role than any other factor.

For us, persistence is the real key. 

The crazy thing is that after all this time we’re still only halfway there. We have $38K to go - more than that, if you count our medical bills and no-longer-a-secret campground membership.

On the other hand, we are halfway there. We’ve eliminated half of our debt in less than two years. These debts are gone from our lives forever.

And that feels fucking phenomenal.

Friday, January 11, 2019

19 for '19: My Goals For The New Year

By now you already know that I love a set of fresh new goals! 

I've given a lot of thought to the things I want to focus on and accomplish in 2019. If it's going to be on my goals list, it has to be something I'm excited about doing, something I really care about and can commit to. This year I've decided that I want to focus on money, travel, and health, with some blogging goals thrown in just for fun. These are the things I'm thinking about lately. These are the things I want to work on.

So without further ado, here's my carefully-curated (cringing as I write the c-word there) list of 19 goals for 2019:

Job Goals

1. Quit my current job. This is my only employment-related goal for 2019, and hey look, I've already achieved it! I've decided to forgo other job goals for this year. Anything I could come up with would be almost entirely dependent on the employer, and there are too many unknowns as I change careers. I want to make goals that I have full control over. Completed January 2019.

Money Goals

Like last year, money will be a big focus for us in 2019 - but instead of directing all of our attention to debt repayment, we're also going to make saving a priority:

2. Pay off my student loan. The current balance sits at $3,500. My feeling is that this loan just needs to go away. I'm sick of seeing it on my monthly spreadsheet! It's taking every ounce of willpower for me not to obliterate it right this second with money from our emergency fund, but I'll wait until I'm safely ensconced in my next position. Then? It's gone.  Projected completion: February 2019.

3. Pay off our remaining medical bills. Last March my kid landed in the hospital with appendicitis. We're still chipping away at the bill and as of this writing have $1,300 to go. We've been using our HSA to make our monthly payments, but now that I'm changing jobs and insurance providers, I think we're going to eliminate these bills altogether. It'll be one less thing on our plate. I'll use my Southwest credit card so that we can rake in some points, and then we'll pay off the balance. Projected completion: February 2019.

4. Save $10,000 in our emergency fund. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that we've been embroiled in a long, ongoing mental tug of war between paying off debt and saving for a rainy day. Since last summer we've put most of our disposable income towards debt repayment.

But my impending job change makes me nervous. What if it doesn't work out? What if I suck as an editor? Or what if - GOD FORBID BECAUSE PLEASE CAN I ACTUALLY LIKE MY WORK FOR ONCE - I'm miserable again?

I've job-hopped enough that the writing is on the proverbial wall: I need to have some funds in reserve. $10K would allow us to meet our financial obligations for 5-6 months without too much stress. Projected completion: August 2019.

5. Pay off our campground membership. Secret debt alert!: we have another loan that I've never talked about, though I've included it in our monthly budgets. It's for a campground membership that we bought when we were RVing around the country. Had we continued to live a nomadic existence (our original plan was to be on the road for years), it would have been worth it. But we stopped much sooner than we'd anticipated and as a result we're saddled with what turned out to be a pretty silly and expensive decision*. I'm sure an hour of focused therapy would help me figure out why I chose to reveal our other debts and not this one, but whatever the reason, I'm sharing it now. Surprise! Our current balance is $2,500. Projected completion: September 2019.

*If any of you are RVers and are interested in purchasing our campground membership, let me know and we can chat. It's through Thousand Trails. We have at least 2.5 years left on the membership.

6. Achieve a positive net worth. This is a big one for us! We've been in the red for so long. This year will be a turning point for us: between paying off debt and saving, we should be able to bring our net worth above ground in 2019. Projected completion: Fall 2019.

7. Max out my HSA. Once I change jobs, I'll have a new high deductible insurance plan with an HSA. I don't think we can go wrong by saving up for medical expenses, so I'd like to max it out this year. The maximum family contribution for 2019 is $7,000. My employer will contribute up to $1,500 if I participate in their wellness program, so I'll be responsible for around $5,500. Projected completion: End of year.

8. Attend a financial workshop or retreat. Watching so many of my friends in personal finance attend these gatherings and have such a great time has given me a serious case of PF FOMO! Big events like FinCon make me anxious, so I'm looking instead at Lola Retreat or CentsPositive. Projected completion: Depends on the event and when it takes place.

Health Goals

9, 10, and 11: At least four days a week, I want to:

  • meditate for 10-15 minutes.
  • work out.
  • drink 64 ounces of water.
I'm already pretty good about working out on most days, but my water consumption is spotty and I'm still in the early stages of developing a meditation practice. In 2019, I'm going to tighten up these habits and make them part of my everyday routine because I can tell they make me a happier and more balanced person. For this week, anyway, it's so far, so good!:

Projected completion: Year-long goal.

Travel Goals

12. Get my passport renewed. I should have done this last year when it first expired, but typical me: I put it off. I want to get it done this year but will wait until the shutdown has ended. Projected completion: Summer 2019.

13. Attend mini family reunion at Disneyland. A few months ago, my family decided that it'd be fun to take all of the kids to Disneyland. I'm not a huge fan of the parks or the Disney empire in general, but I do want my son to spend time with his cousins, so we're going to make it happen. Projected completion: Summer 2019.

14. Visit family in the Northeast. We were planning to visit my husband's family last summer, but then The Kiddo ended up in the hospital and our travel cash got diverted to medical bills. Knock on wood, we will head east this year to see everyone and catch up. Projected completion: Summer 2019.

15. Visit family in the Pacific Northwest. This might be pushing it. After all, travel is expensive. But if I use my Southwest points, I should be able to organize this trip at little to no cost. Projected completion: Fall 2019.

Blogging Goals

I hesitate to make goals related to the blog because I'm afraid they'll deter me instead of motivate me. I've been blogging for nearly two years without any set schedule or structure, and that haphazard approach seems to be working for me. But that said, there are a couple of things I really want to do:

16. Comment on or share three posts, four times per week. I've received a wealth of support for my blog, and I want to make sure I'm supporting other bloggers in turn. I haven't been great about this so far but am planning to improve in 2019. Projected completion: Year-long goal.

17. Make $100 on the blog! I'm not that serious right now about building the blog or monetizing my content. I have no desire to dive into Pinterest or branch out on social media beyond Twitter. I just like sharing our story. But that said, my pageviews increased throughout 2018, and by the end of the year, I'd made a total of $10 (BIG MONEY!) I want to see if I can continue that trend in 2019. I hope to get there simply by increasing reader engagement and continuing to be genuine and consistent in my communication. We'll see if that's enough. Projected completion: End of year.

Fun Goal

18. Read two books per month and log them on Goodreads. I'm well on my way for January: I finished Defectors by Joseph Kanon (meh) and am a quarter of the way through Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (which is excellent so far). Projected completion: Year-long goal.

More Of An Intention Than A Goal

19. I'd like to worry less. That's not a goal, per se, because I don't know exactly how to make it happen. I'm a worrier by nature and always have been. What I do know is that life is a complicated mixture of good times and hard times, and while there are some things I have a say in and plenty I can plan for, there's so much that I can't control. I want to be able to enjoy my life without constantly wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. If anyone has ideas on how to turn this into an actionable goal, let me know!

What about you? What are your big (or small!) goals for 2019?

Saturday, January 5, 2019

How I Fought Through Burnout And Found A New Career

I did it. I finally did it! After months of searching and weeks of interviewing (and lots of waiting), I got a new job.


Better yet, after years of feeling like I was trapped in the wrong field, I got a new career. And that's a really, really big deal to me because for the longest time I thought I was stuck for good, a fear that sometimes kept me up at night and made me feel deeply regretful of certain choices I've made.

How did I end up on the wrong career path?

In the first week of my PhD program, my department's director of graduate studies asked me what my ultimate career goal was. I told him that I wanted to teach at a small liberal arts college. The truth was that I wasn't sure, but it seemed like the appropriate academic response. It seemed like something I should want to do.

I've always been vulnerable to the shoulds. 

The director took my response seriously and shared it with his colleagues. Soon all of the faculty knew what I (thought I) wanted to do with my life.

My department was small and supportive, and they gave me every opportunity to prepare for my future career. Throughout my four years of graduate school, I worked as a teaching assistant and head teaching assistant, substituted when lecturers were out of the office, and attended teaching workshops and seminars. I even won a teaching award. 

My department's support was amazing, but I felt conflicted. When I was doing research - processing samples, working in the lab, analyzing my data - I felt centered and in control. I felt like I knew what I was doing. When I was teaching, I felt like I had to be someone else. I felt like I had to entertain my students to keep them engaged and justify the time they spent in my class. Standing at the podium, all eyes on me, made me uneasy. From the outside, though, I looked like I was doing it right. People kept telling me I was good at it, and I liked that.

In my final year of grad school, I applied for tenure-track teaching jobs. The job market in my field was unusually hot that season, and I landed a position right out of the gate as an assistant professor at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. It was exactly what I'd said I wanted to do. Feeling very lucky and very grateful, I signed my contract. My family moved to the middle of nowhere and I started writing lesson plans.

That was the beginning of the wrong career for me.

I worked as an assistant professor for two years. Once again, I gave the appearance of doing well. My lectures were lively and interactive, my students were pleasant to work with, I served on various committees, I made friends with the other faculty, and I earned an outstanding first-year review. Behind closed doors it was a different story. I was self-conscious, depressed, suicidal, and anxious. I hated living in the boonies. I hated the pressure of having to be in front of a classroom every day. I developed a stutter and started to lose my words mid-sentence. I cried on the kitchen floor most mornings before work. 

After the second year, I made the right decision to quit. We embarked on a six-month RV adventure across the country before landing in our new and expensive town, where it quickly became apparent that I'd need to make some money if we wanted to stay. Soon I found a job at a local university as a freshman academic advisor. I thought it'd be perfect for me: no teaching required, but I'd be able to deploy my experience in higher education. It didn't take long before I was once again feeling overwhelmed, this time by low pay, long hours, high stress, and the emotional toll that comes with trying to support a few hundred people who are going through an earth-shaking change in their lives. Within months, depression and anxiety returned, as did the stutter. I started job hunting.

Finally I found another employment opportunity - my current role. This one was in higher education, too. It gave me pause as clearly I'd struggled in my previous two jobs, but as an online instructor, I'd be able to work from home. My interactions with other humans would be buffered by distance, phones, and screens. Plus, I'd taught online before and hadn't totally hated it. I felt hopeful that perhaps this was the perfect fit. 

Within months it became evident that the position was little more than a thinly-veiled customer service role. The only students I interacted with were the ones who were unhappy, frustrated, and completely disinterested in the subject matter. I spent hours on the phone... and there was the stutter, right on cue, accompanied by the now all-too-familiar depression and anxiety.

This is what burnout looks like

Teachers aren't supposed to say these things, but here we are:

I've been working in higher education for more than 4.5 years, and I am spent. I am burnt out. I no longer wish to educate. I have no desire to try to motivate the unmotivated. I'm sick of administrations that expect me to convince people do things they clearly don't want to do. I am tired of having to make my area of specialty seem fun! and exciting! and applicable! so that students will want to engage with the education that they chose to pursue and pay for. I'm resentful of my job and sad that I'm using just a tiny fraction of the knowledge that I gained in graduate school. And while I empathize with the gut-wrenching hardships that so many students experience in their lives, I feel ill-equipped to help them navigate those challenges. I am not a counselor or a therapist. I am not their parent or friend. I'm just a science geek with questionable social skills.

Clearly something needed to change. 

Finding a new path

Several months ago I stumbled upon a job ad for a full-time academic editing position. I eyed it for a few days. I was intrigued yet doubtful: although I love writing, I have little editing experience and know next to nothing about grammar. But the application was brief and straightforward. I took an hour to fill it out, fully expecting to never receive a reply.

A few days later the company got back to me and asked me to try a test edit. I read through the manuscript and my stomach sank: it was a complicated piece of work. Where would I even begin? I almost deleted the message but finally decided to give it a shot. I set a timer, did what I could in 90 minutes, and returned my edits to the recruiter.

It must have passed muster because I was invited in for a preliminary interview. The interviewer's passion for the company and his work was obvious, and when he described the mission and culture of the organization, I felt a glimmer of excitement. I could picture myself in this role. It scared me because I started to really want it.

After a couple weeks of radio silence and some scheduling mishaps, I was invited back for two more interviews with various managers and other personnel. These, too, went well, though I had no idea how to answer some of the more technical questions. I kept expecting a "thanks but no thanks" email to materialize in my inbox.

Waiting... and more waiting... and then my references were contacted... 

and then suddenly there was a job offer!

Changing the things that aren't working

For me, the most amazing part of this isn't getting a new job. The amazing part is that my job life wasn't working for me and I found a way to change it. The result is that in a few weeks I will no longer work in higher education. I'll be an editor - or at least an editor-in-progress. 

I doubted myself at every. single. step. in this process. Putting myself out there was terrifying.  I felt like I wasn't smart enough, experienced enough, or articulate enough. I worried that they'd see my work history and dismiss me as a job hopper or notice my graduation year and think I'm too old. As unhappy as I am at my current job, part of me felt that staying put would be the better and safer option.

Still, I got out of my comfort zone and gave it my all. Every time they held up a new hoop, I made myself jump through it to the best of my ability. I told myself to focus on the process and what I could learn from it. I convinced myself that trying was a win in and of itself, an experience worth having regardless of the outcome.

I'm a worrier by nature, and so even though I'm excited, I'm also a little nervous. Okay, no. Really, really nervous. What if I give notice and then the new job somehow falls through? What if I give notice and the current place lets me go? What if I start the new job and I suck at it? And what about money? The new job pays less than the current one. We'll need to adjust our budget and extend our debt payoff goals. Financially, it's a big shift.

There are no guarantees, but then again, there are never any guarantees in life. So this year I've decided I'm taking some risks, and this is the first one. I'm going to take a chance on myself and see what happens because I think this next career step could be good. Really good.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Why I'm Addicted To Goal Setting (And 2018 Goals In Review)

I've recently realized that I am addicted to goal setting. 

In my life, there's a goal for everything:

I set daily goals, monthly goals, and yearly goals. 

I set personal goals and professional goals. 

I set goals related to finances, hobbies, travel, blogging, and family. 

Heck, I even set goals for my vacations:

I crave challenges, and goal setting allows me to create personal challenges for every aspect of my life. It's stimulating. It makes even the most boring daily grind feel like a playful experiment.

Another benefit of goal setting: it helps me distinguish between what I actually want and what I only think I want. I can't tell you how many times I've drifted completely off course while going after something I felt obligated to pursue or that I thought I might enjoy doing because it looked cool on paper (remind me to tell you about the time I signed up for boat-building school...) As a result, I'm now plagued by indecision and uncertainty: do I want to work for a company or work for myself? Do I want to stay in my current career or make a big change? Do I want to prioritize saving or paying off student loans? Do I want to lose a couple of pounds or enjoy my wine, chocolate, and bagels? 

Feeling directionless and muddling through myriad possibilities seemed okay (even good!) when I was younger, but now that I'm 40, I'm more inclined to cut to the chase. More than ever, I desire clarity.

To this end, specific and manageable goals help. If I care about my goals, I'll make them happen. If I don't, I'll quickly lose interest - a sure sign that I'm moving in the wrong direction. It's a great way for me to shuck off the dead weight of pursuits that don't mean that much to me and focus my energy on the things that do.

So What Did I Learn From Our 2018 Goals?

In 2018, I collected lots and lots (and lots) of goals:
Here's how some of them panned out and what I/we learned from them:

Goal 1: Pay off our credit cards by May 2018.

Did we do it?: Sort of! We didn't meet our May deadline, but we did pay them off at the beginning of July. Considering that we landed a hefty hospital bill earlier in the spring, I'm counting it as a major win.

What did we learn? As we worked to bring our credit card balances to zero, we realized that paying off our debts is one of our biggest priorities. Reaching that goal made us even more determined to knock out our student loan debt.

Goal 2: Become homeowners!

Did we do it?: Oh my sweet summer child (I'm talking to end-of-2017 me here). Not even close.

What did we learn? Realistically, buying a house was always more of a pie-in-the-sky dream than a true goal because houses here are expensive and we had/have little money for a down payment. We are in no position to take on the financial responsibility of owning and maintaining our own home. We know it now, and we knew it then. But when I wrote this goal at the end of 2017, we were in a horrible, noisy, smoky-smelling rental situation and I was looking for a way out.

Luckily, we managed to find a new rental in February. We paid thousands of dollars to break our former lease, but we love our place and have no regrets whatsoever. Not a night goes by that I don't bask in the glory of the silence that surrounds me. I'd live here forever if we had rent control.

Goal 3: Find a new job that better aligns with my education, experience, and interests.

Did I do it? Yes! I was offered a new, higher-paying position almost exactly a year ago.

What did I learn? My old job was terrible and I stayed much longer than I should have. So when I landed my current job, I was over the moon... for about two months. Then I realized that I'd jumped out of a frying pan and straight into a fire. Pro tip: do not leave a job in a field you've grown to despise for another job in the same field. Now I'm in the process of trying to change careers. We'll see how it turns out.

Goal 4: Refinance our student loan payments.

Did we do it: Nope. 

What did we learn?: One, it's possible that we're a little lazy. Two, we're okay with our current monthly payments. Three, although our interest rates are somewhat high (at 7% and 7.25%), federal student loans come with some nice perks, including the ability to defer payments if needed. I'm not completely convinced that refinancing with a private lender is worth giving up that wiggle room, but we will look into it in the coming year after I pay off my loan. 

Goal 5: Volunteer with a local running group.

Did I do it? Yes! I volunteered with a Couch-to-5K program that prepares new runners for their first race. 

What did I learn?: I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I thought I would. I'm not good at making small talk with people I don't know that well. Nevertheless, I'm glad I did it and would consider doing it again because it's a good way to be involved in my community.

Goal 6: Run a 50K.

Did I do it? No. 

What did I learn?: I learned that running for long periods of time can actually exacerbate my depression. I ramped up my running mileage throughout the summer and into the early fall with the intention of completing my first 50K in November. But as September wore on, I started to dread being out on the trails by myself for hours at a time. It wasn't fun. It felt like punishment. It made my seasonal depression even more painful.

As a compromise to myself and a nod to the hard work I'd already put in, I ran a 20-mile relay with a bunch of other women in September but backed out of the ultra. Then I shifted gears and began weight training. I'm not sure I'll set a running goal in 2019. I'll have to see how I feel in the spring.

Goal 7: Open my own Etsy store.

Did I do it? Yes, and I made several sales.

What did I learn? This is a classic example of me realizing that I don't want what I thought I did. I quickly lost interest in maintaining and advertising the store. I just didn't feel passionate enough about it and didn't have the time or motivation to improve my product. Now I know!

Goal 8: Do a dry June.

Did I do it? No again.

What did I learn? For a goal that involves habit change, you have to really want it. I was on the right track: I started my dry spell at the end of May and made it through the first week of June without touching any alcohol. Then Anthony Bourdain died. I don't know why it hit me so hard, but it did. My partner and I had a few beers to celebrate his life and that was that. I could have picked up where I left off, but I didn't, because I didn't want it that badly.

The Tally

Four out of eight. Not the greatest outcome, if you're looking at it from a pure numbers perspective. But for me, it's not about success or failure. It's about staying motivated and learning more about myself. As I make my goals for 2019 (stay tuned!), I'll keep these lessons in mind and focus my efforts accordingly.

What about you? What goals did you set for 2018? Which ones did you reach, and which ones didn't work out?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winning: December 2018 Edition

Current status

It has been a week. 



This interminable f&*%ing week featured a packed work calendar that left me exhausted at the end of every day, multiple parenting fails, and at least two ugly meltdowns. The meltdowns were from me, not my kid. I was the meltdown-er. Rather embarrassing, given that I'm a 40-year-old professional who's supposed to have her shiz together.

I do not have my shiz together. 

Luckily, it's now VACATION TIME, and for the next few days I can be as un-together as I want to be. I'm going to put this job mess on hold, drink some delicious wine, watch some of my favorite Christmas movies, sleep in until whenever, and eat my body weight in holiday-themed Reese's peanut butter cups. I might maybe also get some fancy hair products to cover all the extra gray hairs that have suddenly sprouted across my head.

To kick off my five days of unrepentant slothdom, I figured I'd crack open said wine and delve into our December wins. You know: turn my frown upside down and all that.

And actually, there's a lot to smile about:

1. I completed a full round of interviews for a job that would tap into my strengths and that I think I'd enjoy. I don't want to speculate on the outcome because I won't hear back for at least another week, but I will happily celebrate the fact that I applied for the job, jumped through all the hoops they asked me to jump through, and lined up some solid references. It's evidence that I'm trying to improve my current employment situation instead of just complaining about it.

It's out of my hands now. If they want me, yay! If they don't want me, well, that's more experience that I can tap into the next time around. (Sigh.)

2. We paid another $1600 to my student loan, bringing the balance to $3700! In the chart below, you can see that our progress really ramped up (ramped down?) after we paid off our credit cards in July of this year:

*If* everything goes to plan, we'll pay off the entire loan by the end of February. This assumes that my salary holds steady. It might not. If I get this new job, my salary will decrease substantially and we'll need to recalibrate our payoff plan. Stay tuned!

Shoutout to the debt snowball method. It's the reason we're now able to pay $1600 a month to my student loan. If you go back to our posts from summer of 2017, you'll see that we were making rather small payments towards all of our debts (credit cards, car loan, student loans). But once we knocked out a couple of them and re-applied the money to the remaining loans, our progress accelerated.

3. The Kiddo and I found a new dentist and got some much-needed dental work. I don't know if I ever wrote about it here, but at the beginning of the year we started seeing a dentist who was just... creepy. 

We have an extremely limited dental network under our insurance plan and he was the only one who had an immediate opening. But after he nearly broke my jaw during a filling (okay, not really... it just felt like it) and did some shady stuff with my kid's dental records (really), I decided we needed to find someone else, even if it meant waiting a couple of months for an appointment.

We lucked out. New dentist is as fantastic and un-creepy as a dentist can get. He takes my insurance, his office is clean, and he doesn't make weird sexist comments to his staff. He did, however, identify a couple of items we needed to take care of: a small filling for the Kiddo and a crown for me, because one of my teeth was disintegrating under a hodgepodge of previous dental work.

The total bill came out to around $700. Although it's never fun to spend that much money on mouth ceramic, I was able to work out a payment plan wherein I paid half the balance up front and will pay the rest in three monthly installments at zero percent interest. As with the Kiddo's appendectomy, I'm using our HSA to cover the cost and thus we won't feel the effects in our monthly budget. YAY!

Other December wins:
-Kiddo has discovered a renewed interest in school and is generally enjoying himself.
-Kiddo has realized that more studying = more retention = higher grades, and he's digging it.
-Fortysomething finished out his third semester of teaching and still loves it.
-It's vacation time!
-The PF Twitter community is a neverending source of information, advice, and encouragement. I love you guys!

What about you? What are your December wins?

Happy holidays, everyone, and thanks so much for reading.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Coping With My Job While I'm Searching For My Unicorn

Not much has changed on the job front since I first wrote about my work woes back in September. To be completely honest, I'm dealing with the exact same issues three months later. It's stressful, frustrating, and sometimes exhausting. It is an exercise in endurance.

Endurance is hard.

I'm in the process of exploring other employment opportunities. I've even had a couple of preliminary interviews. Unfortunately, many of the openings I'm seeing on the job boards would involve a significant pay cut, and while I'm not totally opposed to a salary reduction, I'm willing to go that route only if it's a gig I'm truly excited about. I'm hesitant to scale back our debt repayment plans to take a lower-paying job that doesn't make me want to jump out of bed in the morning. 

I want that debt-free life bad. Real, real bad.

So I'm being picky. Really, really picky. As I told my writer/Twitter friend Lisa Munro, I feel like I'm searching for a unicorn.

To save my sanity while I'm out unicorn hunting, I'm busting out every coping mechanism I can reasonably sustain, including:

  • meditating at least 10 minutes a day (inspired by my friend Frugalish Physician)
  • working out daily
  • taking frequent work breaks (I aim for every 15 minutes or so)
  • setting three non-work goals every day 
  • reading the job discussion boards on Reddit if I feel like I need some commiseration and understanding
  • avoiding unnecessary meetings (or, if it's a phone meeting, muting parts of the call)
  • taking at least one mental health day every few weeks - that way, I always have a break to look forward to
  • spending more time with friends outside of work and making my non-work life as big as possible 
  • incessantly reminding myself of the benefits of my job: paycheck, insurance, paid time off. Paycheck, insurance, paid time off. PAID TIME OFF. PAID TIME OFF.

I'm also finding that my work life is easier if I don't think too far out into the future. Can I deal until the end of January? Sure. Can I deal for another year? Cue panic attack. So I don't focus on a year from now. I focus on getting through the next few weeks. I focus on making it to the next break or vacation.

Lastly, I do not allow myself to fall into the "I'm wasting my life away" rabbit hole. It's a very unhealthy and dangerous line of self-talk - especially for someone with chronic depression - so when my mind veers in that direction, I immediately try to put up a mental roadblock and stop that thought in its tracks. I am not wasting my life. Ultimately, as not-thrilled as I am with this job, it is benefitting me and my family in myriad ways and therefore is not a waste of my time or energy.

I know I'm not the only one dealing with this challenge, so tell me: have you ever been in a similar situation with your work? What are your strategies for coping with a job that seems generally unsustainable?

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. 

21 Months Later, My Student Loan Is GONE

Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash (Note: I wrote this yesterday evening but wanted to let it sit for a few hours before sharing it wit...