September Check-in: Glass Half Full

It’s Nice to Have Money in the Door Again, and Relaxing to Watch it Whoosh Back Out…

Young man in dark sunglasses, a suit, slicked-back hair, pushing dollar bills out of a wad of cash to “make it rain.”
Young man in dark sunglasses, a suit, slicked-back hair, pushing dollar bills out of a wad of cash to “make it rain.”
It’s raining money over here. I just wish we had a bucket. Image by Geoffrey Taylor on Tenor

This month, my husband’s stipend returned, and we could all heave a collective sigh of relief. Now we can tackle the mess of the summer credit card debt, which should take 3 to 6 months.

In even better news, we are six links down in our original chains of debt, made possible by the optimistic way I calculate the moment of removal: If I have 7 links on a chain representing $7,000, one link comes off when I dip to $6,999. A few smaller debts are represented in increments of $100, so those go even quicker.

My overall pattern continues to be in place: the big, predictable, non-consumer debts are steadily paid down, while the credit card debt is volatile. Already, my consumer debt, including the car, is back up to $11,867 after having fallen to a low of $6,777 in May.

On the other hand:

Oh, Credit Karma, I wish I could be more excited about this.

This is my complete feeling-of-being-a-little-more-okay.

Plus ça change

This overspending, I see ever more clearly, is not the result of profligacy. We are doing all the things: skipping haircuts, lattes, most travel, most clothes shopping, using thrift, shopping frugally for groceries. My birthday present to myself was three sample vials of perfume from LuckyScent. Twenty-one bucks, y’all. Happy birthday me.

No, the problem continues to be this: You can’t really sustain a middle-class lifestyle in America and save much at the same time.

Yet, saving we are, at a clip of at least 5% per month, inching up to 10%, which we do with the smoke and mirrors necessary to avoid putting every penny to our outstanding debt. Doing that is the form of slow financial suicide I committed for years. So instead, we save a bit each month now, even though in some respects we are losing money by doing so.

It’s a long game, y’all. Live a Little.

Despite — or because — of this, I’m pretty happy right now.

Prioritizing joy became my focus in September. I am recommitting myself to more parties, more fresh air, and more love. Also more chicken soup (an excellent, frugal dish).

I’m living a glass-half-full life on a glass-half-empty budget.

Pass the perfume samples.

The numbers.

Total debt: $498,014, compared with $498,818 at the end of August. I mean, I’ll take it.

Both numbers are a bit of woo-woo magical thinking, anyway: We are using a fixed number for my husband’s student debt right now, which is in deferral while he’s in school, but is still incurring a lot of interest. We won’t look at that or begin to address it until December. I expect a big adjustment then. Just can’t face it right now.

Credit card & consumer debt, including our car loan is $11,867, compared with $11,582 in August. The good news: this is the month it will start to recede. Our car is one-third of the debt, something we don’t regret. We have only had to pay for small acts of maintenance and, so far, no major repairs that weren’t covered by a warranty. (For an interesting view on the wisdom of having car debt in order to have a more reliable or safe car, see K M Brown’s article about car buying on Ben Le Fort’s Making of a Millionaire, here.

Net worth: $81,692, compared with $80,431 in August. A gain of $1,261, even when some of our investments declined. This figure represents a major victory of holding the line: We’ve been able to make gap payments of about $800/month on our son’s college tuition since August, depleting the college fund that we set up for this, yet overall we have still gained in net worth.

Life and Budget Goals: I Love Me!

  1. Be more analog each day, and enjoy more hands-on pursuits like reading offline, playing cards and board games, journaling, and coloring. Doing MANY times better! Played games with friends this month, read a lot more from real-ass books, cooking, began reading the daily paper on the bus, doing the crossword, watering and weeding outside, walking…the list goes on.
  2. Get more of the 3 M’s: Music, Museums, and Movies: This month, we watched quite a few great movies and one strange, slow, beautiful one: The Mill and the Cross, Rutger Hauer’s last film. I fell asleep in the middle, but for days afterward I walked around seeing the world as if it were a Flemish painting, so...
  3. Perfect my handwriting, using the Spencer method, essentially a form of meditation for me. I am totally off the wagon here. No handwriting, no haiku, no nada.
  4. Read more women and trans writers of color, queer writers, many more voices. I’m still reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and waiting for the third volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time to come from the library (Hey, I can’t afford to buy these yet, but maybe you can: affiliate links to IndieBound).
  5. Memorize two poems I have loved for years, which is way harder than you’d think. They are Jane Kenyon’s “Happiness” and Jane Hirshfield’s “Rebus.” 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. Will focus on this, this month.
  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. I made him a sample budget and filmed myself talking it through on Jing — the free version unfortunately uses Flash, so almost no one can view them yet. I’m going to figure this out and maybe tape myself talking it through on YouTube. I’m cute! Not as cute as this lady, though (with thanks to Elyssa Kirkham).
  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). At last count, we’ve started to inch up our savings rate 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. I expect more dramatic gains in October when we’re caught up.
  12. Get my credit card debt usage to 50% (it was 66% on January 1). I’m at 54% now, so that still needs to be addressed.
  13. In hard numbers, pay down a total of $12,000 in all debt; $6,000 in consumer debt. This is a funky goal now because of the combined $48,000 or so in roof and parent college loan debt. I’ll be happy if we only have the car loan as consumer debt by the end of the year, and if we’ve chipped away at the high of our debt of about $498,000 right now.
  14. Abolish two particularly annoying debts of $500 and $700 each. $200 to go!
  15. Save a total of $3,000 in emergency funds this year. We now 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. Get a raise at work. 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.

All in all, it’s a great beginning, considering that this is the year anniversary of me looking up to realize that we were basically in a very bad place. We haven’t experienced miracles, just a lot of hard work. But it feels like it’s been paying off.

Say, drop me a line 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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