2020 Check-In: Is It Over Yet?

What Next.

In November I wrote a brief letter to my past self, two years more or less from the day a roof leak led me to start blogging my financial despair and recovery.

This past month, at the closing of one of the strangest years any of us has ever lived through, I was still trying so hard to get an inkling, to grasp even the vaguest sense of the whole year: what it was for me and my family financially (the subject of this blog), and what it was for us broadly, beyond money into our community and our nation and our human-being.

I’ve kinda got nothing. No good words.

What I can begin to say, I can only say in pictures.

what is happening.
I don’t get it! I’m sorry, I don’t get it!

I’ll tell you what I know:

  • I got a great new job.
  • one month into the great new job, we were all sent home for a few weeks.
  • the weeks became months, and the numbers of the sick and dying and dead just grew and grew.
  • in the cotton batting of existence that was my life in the suburbs, we stayed home a lot, baked bread, pondered the birds in the yard, and attended a lot of Zoom meetings.
  • It became clearer and clearer and clearer that those at most risk of falling ill and dying were people of color, particularly Hispanic and Black people, largely due to the jobs they had to work during the pandemic — “essential” jobs, so named.
New York Times, May 5, 2020, “We Are Not Essential. We Are Sacrificial,” by Sujatha Gidia
The more you earn, the more likely you can work from home and stay safer during the pandemic. Zoe Schneeweiss, Dan Murtaugh, “This is How Deeply the Coronavirus Changed Our Behavior.”
  • Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor were murdered, the first while jogging, by self-appointed racist vigilantes who then nearly covered it up; the second by the City of Louisville, in a SWAT sting said to be close to a task force in the city intent on “cleaning up” portions of historically Black West Louisville to make it more responsive to redevelopment and the ensuing gentrification.
  • On Memorial Day weekend, when still another Black man, George Floyd. was murdered by police, the murder was filmed by a brave young woman who is still traumatized. This time, the outpouring of support for Black Lives, particularly and finally among white people, felt completely new and really real, really this time, this time I am telling you — even as it also felt completely old and sometimes as if like nothing would change.
  • Has anything changed?
  • Perhaps. The power, force, and focus on Black women and particularly Black and Queer leadership may never have been so powerful before now. Black Lives Matter, you may or may not know, is the now-8-year culmination of a dream by three Black women — two of whom identify as Queer — to raise up the lives that have never mattered enough in the United States except, sporadically and exploitatively, for the value of their labor. Yet we see how the movement’s largely “leaderful” (rather than leaderless) and peaceful demonstrations of power are met with character assassination and literal assassinations, a practice in America that stretches far back, and won’t stop just because we wish it so. It is up to any of us with skin privilege, financial privilege, or citizenship privilege to get on board with the fundamental call to compassion and to confronting and tearing down anti-Blackness. Start by really understanding what BLM is seeking, here. Then get involved with your local BLM or anti-racist group, and don’t be surprised if some of their agenda is very different from the national call. It is a movement, not an organization with chapters.

“We’re 13 percent of the country, but 90 percent or more of us who vote end up voting for solutions that benefit all Americans….And yet what we’re finding time and time again is that LGBTQ communities are under attack. Whether it be Black trans communities who are being murdered at rates that are quite concerning. Whether it be Black LGBTQ folks who frankly also report that low wages that are not enough to support a family is one of the top issues impacting us and impacting our lives.” — Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter

Okay, 2020, let’s continue:

  • A despot was voted out legally (in large part due to the organizing and voting of Black women), and has continued his gaslighting and haranguing from an ever-shrinking platform, thankfully to little formal avail but to a disturbing amount of faith from true believers and paid shills. Let’s not have the last laugh so fast before we remember that 74 million people voted for this man, about half of all white people who voted by some accounts, and a larger majority of white women thank in 2016. So the Tiny Desk jokes and #DiaperDon hashtags have been funny, but I’m not laughing only right now, and neither should you. We need to stay alert. If you’re in Georgia, VOTE.
  • And we must never forget because the next despot is likely to be better organized.
  • I left a lot out.
  • Our family is still okay, in the least okay way possible. I’m watching our country suffer and democracy waver and stand like a punch-drunk underdog, from the relative comfort of a suburban home, the same old mountain of middle-class debt, and the security (for now) of a decent job. I can’t get over the way the stock market has floated above all this misery and criminally bad safety nets all this time, as if it has nothing to do with us.
  • And it doesn’t. It hasn’t for a long time. The stock market, in case you haven’t noticed, has not been much about value or productivity for a very long time. In fact, I am beginning to believe that the very success of the FIRE movement is a canary in the coal mine. Hoarding your money and cameling up on income only to “retire” at 35 or 40 shouldn’t really work for so many people in a healthy and well-functioning economy, to be honest. The fact that it does should have been our first warning that the mere accumulation of capital is in the US is now so devoid of guardrails that it is effectively untethered from what is happening or needs to happen in a shared economy. So even relatively ordinary people can hoard and hoard for a few years and coast for many more, with little consequence to themselves. A relatively dispassionate description of F.I.R.E. and its risk to the economy (told in a delicious Australian accent) is here. Minute 12 is where the analysis begins.

Where we are at now — my family, I mean.

Somewhat by design, we are sinking deeper into long-term debt as we pull out of credit card debt. Looking only at our consumer spending, our credit usage is a low-low 23%, y’all! I can’t remember the last time I could say that.

On the other hand, this is the last big borrow I hope for: five figures more for my son’s next-to-last semester at college. So, in a year when we did manage to pay off the car, wrap up our roof loan with a low-interest transfer, and pay down many bills, the big amounts kept canceling out any progress.

Also on the other hand, I am saving something like 10–12% of our take-home income, and we do have a small emergency fund. 2019 me would be so proud!

Total debt is $514,761 compared with $512,000 in November and only $497,650 in January.

Credit card & consumer debt is $18,619, compared with more than $21,719 in November and representing little net loss since we owed $18,265 on credit cards in January.

Net worth: Our net worth is at $132,600. That is significant growth from $94,074 in January. So that’s amazing, and we still have an encouraging curve, even if we have challenges ahead.

New year. What could possibly go wrong?

Say, drop me a line and tell me how your plans for the new year are going. I’d love to hear your goals. Keep going — and don’t lose your nerve!

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I’m a 50-something bohemian with a mountain of debt and regrets. Can I dig out before it’s all over? I brake for poets.

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