Category Archives: Stress

Disoriented Savings Strategy

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Gah.

Where I have had a few lean months over the summer, I’m looking at a bit of a credit card bill again in addition to having depleted my emergency savings substantially.  On the plus side, I’ve figured out three new ways to bring money into the house, even if it is sometimes at a trickle.  I find that my savings goals are absolutely overwhelming me.  There is simply too much to save up for and now I’m confused as to my priorities.  Halp!

Money needs:

Emergency fund.  Goes without saying why you need one.  While I’m so aggravated to have bled mine down, boy am I glad that I had one to bleed down!  It did its job.  But now I need to put it back.  I’m just always so confused on what constitutes a good amount of money for me.  Personal finance gurus all have a different number.  Dave Ramsey advocates $1000 while you’re digging out of debt.  People like Suze Orman say 6 – 8 months of emergency money.  That is nearly a year’s pay for me, as I work on a 9 month contract.  No idea what to do here.  My emergencies in general have been under $1000.  Should I consider that my lean emergency fund operating margins and once that is hit move on to the next money goal?  I have about $650 left in the fund.  Is this a number one priority?  I don’t know anymore.  My job contract is good for the next three years, but even that is no ironclad guarantee.  That’s as good as it gets in academia, though, for a non tenure-track person.

Summer money.  This is a critical thing for me to accumulate every year.  I only get paid for 9 months.  I have to live 12 months.  I need around $7500 to cover the amount of time I’m off work, as my operating budget is around $2500 a month, give or take.  I’m not sure if this is a #1 priority or further down the list, but it’s something I have to deal with every year.  Last summer, I was able to get some supplemental work with the college developing a course.  But between that and some copywork, I still had to hit the credit card and dig into the emergency fund a few times.  This is the main reason why it’s bled down to where it is now.  It just wasn’t enough.  I’m sure some of this is budgeting skills and money management related, but I also cannot always guarantee I can find 3 months of supplemental work every year to help me pay my mortgage.  Some years I might need more or less than $7500, but I know that’s what it takes to see me through to my next fall paycheck.

Random crap that keeps nickle and diming me to death.  This is eating me up alive.  It’s some school supplies here, a medical bill there.  I have no way to predict these things, and any extra cash I might be able to save dies a death by a thousand nicklings.  I don’t even know how to track this problem appropriately.  I feel like I’m fighting a thousand tiny foes and don’t know where to turn first!  Do I need a “mad money” fund or a “miscellany” fund or something??

New-to-me car.  This is the big x-factor in my future.  My trusty little 1998 car goes to the shop about four times a year.  She never needs anything huge, but she always costs me a couple hundred in random repairs.  I don’t think I’m going to stay this lucky for the next four years.  She has an oil problem and is basically blowing oil out of the exhaust.  I’d still rather pay a few bucks in oil every two weeks than a new car payment.  But the writing is on the wall — her final days are here.  I don’t want to be surprised with the need for a down payment and now a new bill to pay every month.  I’d like to prepare for this in some way.  I have no idea how much money to divert per month, etc.  I just know I’d like to pay cash.

Credit card balance.  Not very high, only a few hundred dollars.  But I end up having more month than money, it seems, so I’m dipping into the credit card more than what I want.  I do have a slight threshold for a credit card balance, mainly because I cannot seem to avoid it.  My rate is 7.5%.  I understand that a continuing balance is costing me money.  I’m just freaked out as to whether it’s better for my situation to have $200 in the bank cash on hand, or throw it on the credit card bill and have no cash on hand and have to use the credit card.  Ugh.  I’m feeling very demented chicken and egg on this one.

Roof.  When I bought my house 2 1/2 years ago, the inspector said I’d need new shingles within about 3 years.  That time is upon us.  I have the labor organized for it, I think, but I’m still looking at materials costs.  This will be around $1500 – 2000 I think.  The roof doesn’t leak, so I might could push it another year, but I feel like doing so potentially opens you up to bigger problems.  Ugh.  Not sure.

Divorce debt coming due in 4 years.  My biggest outflow is that in four years, my divorce settlement debt comes due.  I bought out my ex-husband’s down payment into the house.  So, $30,000 is what he has coming to him.  I *might* have enough equity in my home to cover that amount.  But probably not.  I will need to come up with the money somehow.  I’m trying to avoid a HELOC loan.  I’d like to pay for this in cash.  There is a very good possibility that I’ll have to pay at least some of it in cash and take the rest out in equity on the house.

Total Needed:  ~ no idea.  lol.  I was going to put around $55,000, but I realized that is hard to determine.  How much do I want to spend on a car?  How much emergency should I have?  That could push that figure to $70,000 in the next 4 years.  That makes me want to pass out.

Things that Compound or Help the Problem?

The money coming in is erratic.  My regular money, my paycheck, is usually mostly spoken for.  I can most times eke out about $200 a month to throw into savings.  But I only get paid for about 9 months of work.  Even if I faithfully saved that money, it’s a far cry from what I need to live on in the summer time.  Hence why I went looking for other income streams.  I took in an international exchange student, and I get about $2200 a semester for that.  It’s not guaranteed, however.  I go one semester at a time.  I cannot bank on this regularly, though it has been regular so far.  Additionally, I’d like to NOT do that over the summer, for example, and have some alone time.  But it pays my mortgage.  So I think I have to resign myself to doing this as long as I can and count myself lucky that I get on well with people and this opportunity is available to me.  If I did it year round, I could make $6600 on it.  My copywork is very erratic.  Some weeks I’ll make a couple hundred dollars.  Other weeks there will be no work.  I used to use it for my fun money.  Now I think I’m going to have to shove it all into savings regardless.  I also finally filed for child support, something I should’ve done a long time ago.  I don’t know what that will amount to, and that’s still an ongoing process.

Strange thinking about payments vs. paying in cash.  I really, really don’t want or need more payments.  I don’t want a HELOC or a car loan.  I’d like to figure out how to start paying for things in cash.  Maybe I need to get over this and just take the damn payment.  I can figure out how to come up with a payment.  I have a harder time figuring out how to come up with savings.  But this is a big skill I’d like to develop over the next few years.  Seems worth figuring out instead of taking the “easier” (and costlier) payment.

Not sure how to save the money for all these things.  I’m not sure if I add it all up and say I’m trying to save $X for everything.  I’m not sure if I rank order them and check the box each time I hit a new target.  The problem is, some of these are recurring costs.  I’ll always need $7500 for the summer — so even if I save it, it’s gone and needs replenished every year, while a car would be a one time purchase (and then hopefully it lasts as long as my old gal has so far!).  The divorce debt is also a one time gig.  Not sure how to even think about or process these things.

Hard to save.  I suppose I could try to save the summer money by living on reduced pay and saving what it would take to cover the summer.  Living on 12 months with 9 months of pay, basically.  But that means saving $350 a pay — I can barely seem to manage $200 a month.  I can try for a while, I guess.  Even if I am not 100% successful, it would be more saved than what I normally did.  This, of course, works only if there is no emergency (like car repair).  And with my first paycheck for the fall coming this Friday, I already have car repair scheduled.  Sigh.  I have, as someone else put it to me, “very thin operating margins.”  It doesn’t take much to shove me in the red.  If I hadn’t developed other income streams, erratic though they might be, I would be able to save very little.

Motivation.  I’m overwhelmed, not galvanized to do something about it.  On the one hand, I’m very proud of my little home, with its comforts and cheap mortgage.  I’m proud that I’m supporting my teenage son and myself on what money is coming in, and that our lives are comfortable — not fancy by any means, but comfortable.  But most times I feel like I’m treading water and that is the only victory I get.  I fear that I am one push away from a disaster — a skipped mortgage payment, a big, new bill that I can’t figure out how to pay, or taking on another part time job and being exhausted to make ends meet.  Granted, having divorce debt is a very temporary problem.  Getting a car is a temporary problem.  So it could be that this is just one of those tight, hard times that one has to live through.  But that is depressing as hell, and I need energy to meet such big goals.  I feel like I’m barely treading water and surviving, not thriving.  😦

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Toxic Environment = Toxic Finances

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Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  In part, that’s because I was dealing with a highly toxic environment and it’s taken a while to get my head above the noxious cloud that seems to have been my permanent weather state for the past very long time.  Once I did get (mostly) clear of the nasty weather, I can see how choosing to stay in a toxic environment also poisoned my finances.

It’s easy to spot a literal toxic environment.  We all know what bad water looks and smells like.  But sometimes it’s not so easy to recognize metaphorical toxic environments.  Doesn’t make them any less poisonous, though!  Consider the places in life where your environment is less than uplifting.  Do you feel a heaviness fall on your shoulders when you get close to your job site every day?  What about when you are headed home?  There are some people and situations that can just suck the life energy out of you and I’ve found it’s important to recognize them as soon as possible.

Example number one from several years ago:  I used to help run a couple of nonprofits in the area that had to do with literacy issues.  This is work I loved to do, even though it was drastically underpaid.  I loved most every aspect of the job and I had my hands in pretty much everything.  It was a great learning experience.  The environment, however, was highly toxic.  We had a mostly unsupportive board of directors — and anyone who has worked nonprofit can tell you that basically makes you dead in the water.  They were full of suggestions for how we do our work and not forthcoming with money or help to get those things done.  They actively worked against us on some occasions.  Our partner organizations were sometimes just as bad.  One particularly bad Americorps hire led to all kinds of human resources issues that went unsupported.  Needless to say, there was stress.  Lots and lots of stress.  And I don’t mean the productive, deadline making kind.  Underneath it all, the director and I were angry.  And that’s how we came to work no matter what was actually going on.  We’d start out OK, but inside, we were prepped for battle.  That’s no way to live.  The majority of people and experiences in that work were toxic — and they slowly poisoned us into bitter people.

I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that when I got a job outside of nonprofit, I made at least 50% more money and certainly far better benefits than I had there.  Not because nonprofit is spectacularly underpaid — there are plenty of positions in this area in nonprofit that make a lot more than I do now.  I think it was because as the toxicity of that place washed out of me, I got better at seeing opportunities for better money and circumstances.  The director of that nonprofit left it several years later — and the same thing happened.  After she left, it took a few months, but then suddenly she started seeing more money where there was none before.  I think this is because cloudy judgment from toxic atmospheres keeps you from being able to see opportunities that might be right in front of your nose.   When your vision isn’t obscured by a poisonous fog, money happens.

Example number two from these past months:  toxic relationships.  I got tangled up in what turned out to be a highly manipulative and dishonest relationship with someone I thought I knew well.  Blech, whatever.  In that process, though, I found myself doing a bunch of toxic things I never really would’ve done much of otherwise.  Things like spending money to make myself feel better.  Or buying dinner out because I was too upset to cook.  During the relationship, I was watching money go through my fingers like water because we weren’t on the same page about finances and I couldn’t seem to communicate without him starting a fight (yes, he started the vast majority of the fights.  I hate fights.).  So instead of arguing the point or putting my foot down, I’d take all those unnecessary items in the grocery cart and just pay for them.  It got to the point where I dreaded coming home, so toxic was the home environment.  He did me a favor by running away.  But even afterward,  it still took me some time to come to grips with what happened, how I’d gotten myself into that mess in the first place, and to get over it.  In the meantime,  a few trips to the salon, a few nights on the town with a bad case of the aw-fuck-its, and you’ve got yourself  a small credit card mess.

This also applied to me when I was sick and going through treatment for the beginnings of cervical cancer.  Or going through divorce.  Or a house refinance.  Or whatever it is that causes you to have a giant case of the aw-fuck-its.  My budget is the first casualty to that disease.  Being filled with negative emotions from that toxic situation also helps you miss important connections from other people.  Maybe if you’re in a haze you’ll get lucky and someone will reach out to you with an opportunity.  Too often, though, what happens is other people either think you’re in over your head anyway and don’t want to bother you, or they  have no idea you actually want or need new opportunities and you have been too busy in a fog to notice the things right in front of your face.

After I came to terms with my last disaster relationship, got through the sickness scare, got everything lined out budgetwise and knew where I stood, some of the fog started to clear.  As it dissipated, I noticed that I had a spare bedroom and that the international exchange student program was looking for host families on a per semester basis.  This pays basically my mortgage.  So I signed up.  Then I noticed that I could do enough copywriting quickly enough to make the per hour cost somewhat OK for a second job.  It’s not huge money, but it’s paid a few bills in a pinch.  And it let me go to the salon once completely guilt free and paid for in cash.  I also filed for child support for the first time in 15 years.  Why?  I was too busy with my head down being toxic to notice that we were suffering when we shouldn’t be.  Also not coincidentally, I landed a three year contract at my job to develop a new course for my college.  I think it had everything to do with attitude and of course previous work history.

When I cleaned up my environment, things really started to bloom.  I won’t and can’t say I’m flush with cash, because I still have to work hard for my money and I enjoy working.  But I went from drowning in worry on my tiny budget to popping back up to the surface and floating along, with three additional income streams coming down the pike, giving me anywhere from $700 to $1000 extra a month, depending on what is going on.  Three.  Not one, not two, but three!  And that, my friends, is making all the difference.

Midterm Mania

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Midterm grading has come and gone, but the stress, she lingers.

For whatever reason, I fell behind on midterm grading, making the process even more wretched than it already is.  I think it’s a combination of residual stress as well as odd assignment timing.  I tend to put my nose down and start working only to look up and see stressy things ready to pounce on top of my little head.

Energy is flagging in the classroom, as well.  I don’t know why the Spring has always been the more difficult semester for me to finish out, but it is.  The students are feeling it as well.  Our Spring Break is in a few short weeks.  I cannot wait for it, and my goal is to go into Spring Break NOT having to grade a single thing!  I’m not exactly sure what I would do, but…surely there are such things besides working one’s tukis off?