October Check-in: A Frightful Month

Haunted by my bad decisions, I carry on in the dark.

My black cat Huginn sitting on my long, colorful paper chain of debt.
My black cat Huginn sitting on my long, colorful paper chain of debt.
I hope my cat Huginn is good luck; he’s sitting on my debt.

As a month that was not supposed to suck, but then did, I guess October was okay. My bouyant relief in September notwithstanding, we were hit hard by two expenses: a surgery for someone in our family, and the replacement of tires and realignment for our car. All of it went on credit cards; couldn’t be helped. For while , we have economized as far as we can.

The rest of the problem, sadly, is with our income. Each month, we have only enough for the baseline expenses, a considerable amount of which is service to debt. Anything out of the ordinary, if it costs more than a hundred bucks, bowls us over.

Some good news:

  • I started publishing articles with Ben Le Fort’s Making of a Millionaire here on Medium. Through Ben, I’ve started to also contribute to a new site called . Wealthtender is designed to create a community environment where people can achieve their financial goals and learn, with a personal touch. With reviews, personal perspectives, and how-to’s, it’s been a great place to take part in so far. Check out my latest article there,
  • Four more links off the , including a balance of $2,482 on a family loan that was forgiven this month. While I can’t claim any special virtue or credit for that, I am heartily grateful.
  • My debt went down by about $2,700, and my net worth improved, too. Considering, however, that I had a debt worth about that amount forgiven this month, you can see that at best we are standing still.

I wish I had a magic bullet for this. I wish I could see into the next six months and predict with my customary optimism that we will beat back the debt again, but I frankly do not know. I’m feeling discouraged. Even after the costumes and fangs and fog machines have been put away for another year, I’m scared to death.

The numbers.

Total debt: $496,788, compared with $498,014 at the end of September. Could be worse.

Credit card & consumer debt, including our car loan is $13,364, compared with $11,867 in September, climbing upward for the second month in a row, and this time by quite a lot. I am thinking of rolling the car loan into our HELOC, which would free up $166/month for the HELOC payment and result in a faster pay-down.

Net worth: $82,244, compared with $81,692 in September and $80,431 in August. Despite everything, it is cheering to see that this number, at least, is getting stronger, bit by bit.

Life and Budget Goals: A Candle in the Dark.

  1. Be more analog each day, and enjoy more hands-on pursuits like reading offline, playing cards and board games, journaling, and coloring. Eh, I fell off the wagon this month. I got addicted to playing Mahjong on my phone and laptop; I think it’s the stress, frankly. Even the best book ain’t got nothing on that repetitive matching, hour after hour, when your month has been as crappy as mine has.
  2. Get more of the 3 M’s: Music, Museums, and Movies: We’ve been watching trash TV this month. So sue me.
  3. Perfect my handwriting, using , essentially a form of meditation for me. I really ought to take this off the list.
  4. Read more women and trans writers of color, queer writers, many more voices. Slow but steady (it will take me all year, I’m sure) I’m still reading Isabel Wilkerson’s , and the third volume of Marcel Proust’s to come from the library (Hey, I can’t afford to buy these yet, but maybe you can: affiliate links to ).
  5. Memorize two poems I have loved for years, which is way harder than you’d think. They are and Jane Hirshfield’s I remain behind on this.
  6. Have a holiday fund that includes money to give to charity and to have a New Year’s Day party in 2020. Mmmm, I think I will just bake cookies.
  7. Prepare a financial advice document for my son that is relevant to his needs and puts him on a smart path to not fuck up like his mama did. Nothing much new since I made him his sample budget last month. I did loan him the money for a plane ticket to see friends, at 1% interest so I could teach him about amortization.
  8. Articulate and keep alive the ideas of one day dedicating time to teaching ESL, teaching in prisons, teaching to people who are caregivers, teaching to people without homes, studying herbal medicine, practicing mindfulness, and perhaps learning Reiki at last. Still thinking about it.
  9. Have a garden plan and budget for spring 2020. I have no plan, but my prepaid order from American Meadows is showing up this week. Little steps.
  10. Increase our saving rate to 10% by the end of the year (with a goal of 20% by the end of 2020). We’ve started and I hope to meet this goal early next year.
  11. Make sure that every single debt goes down each month, if only by a dollar. This. Really. Sucked. This. Month.
  12. Get my credit card debt usage to 50% (it was 66% on January 1). I’m at 42% now, so we’re doing better.
  13. In hard numbers, pay down a total of $12,000 in all debt; $6,000 in consumer debt. I can’t really evaluate this one well, since we have added the roof and parent loan debt. I do not even know what a realistic goal will be, with only two months left in the year.
  14. Abolish two particularly annoying debts of $500 and $700 each. Only $100 to go!
  15. Save a total of $3,000 in emergency funds this year. We still have more or less $500, counting some money in a CD. If I reclassified two small investment funds, we will have met this goal, but I am holding out for amassing new savings.
  16. I am working on this but won’t report specific results here.
  17. Secure a roof and school loans. Done.
  18. Incur no more credit card debt this summer, which is our most difficult time. FAIL.
  19. Initiate contributions to my company’s HSA plan by September. Missed this deadline on purpose; will reconsider by December.

I think my biggest victory this money is in the big picture: overall, we’ve gained net worth and slightly reduced our debt. I hate that we are back in credit card debt, large enough that it won’t be addressed in even six months. It’s an important reminder, I suppose, that bootstrapping alone won’t get any of us very far: we need systems and supports in place to either help us stretch our meager dollars, or help us find the means to earn more.

Say, and tell me how your plans 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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