Money, Debt, Truth & Change

What is this blog about? I have no idea. I know bloggers are supposed to be super specific about their target audience and their intentions, and the truth is, I’m just not like that. This blog started as a business blog, and to share eco tips, and then went toward beauty (a natural topic for a bath and body shop) and then feminism and then radical self-acceptance…and now I’m moving into a new area: Money.

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Why? Ultimately, I want to share things that I think will help people live a simple, beautiful, happy life. Money is not a topic I have really broached in the past, but I feel it’s time. It’s an issue that many people struggle with, after all, and it’s important to sort out our financial messes in order to simplify and beautify our lives.

As the Resolve to Love Challenge came to a close in December (though I have some follow-up posts coming!), I started thinking about what I could do for 2013 – a personal goal (though I’m not really one for traditional resolutions) that I could share with others who may be facing similar struggles. Many things vied for my attention, but there was only really one that seemed to need immediate and thorough action: money.

I was taught not to talk about money – that it was both rude and dangerous. But in the spirit of brutal financial honesty, I’m going to air it out!

Here’s the deal: I graduated with an MAT in 2008. Along with the degree came a $25,000 debt. And a realization that I didn’t want to teach middle or high school (which is what I’m licensed to teach). Ahh, the surprises of life!

Even if I had wanted to teach, the economy took a dive that year and I was not able to find any teaching jobs in my area. I subbed for two years and hated it (it was a horror for an introvert like me). In my dreams, I imagined throwing away my license, degree and debt and just starting fresh with a self-defined career and salary. That’s when Five Seed came along – only reality dictated that I keep the degree and an outside job. I found my current job, teaching reading at an elementary school, last year. It’s only an assistant job – you don’t even need a college degree for it, and as such, the pay is not so great. It’s also only 3.5 hours a day. This was ideal last year, when I only needed a little boost and was able to keep afloat with Five Seed.

But as the 2012 school year began, things changed. Five Seed was no longer doing so well and my finances were suffering. The monthly payments on my student loan are enormous – $350, which is almost as much as I pay for my share of the rent. With the drop in sales at Five Seed, I had to find a second job. I now teach afterschool classes at another school, which I do enjoy. But guess what? At only 2 hours a day, it’s still not enough to make ends meet.

There’s more to say on all of this, but the gist of this post is that it’s time for a change. I have been bemoaning my student loan for years now, and am tired of it. I’m tired of being afraid to look at my bank account balance. I’m tired of trying to make every penny stretch. Enough is enough.

I have not been particularly conscious or responsible about money in the past. Umm, not really at all, in fact. Without the safety net that I once had, I’ve been dipping into my savings for the past three years, to pay off that loan, and it has made barely a dent. Some months, I don’t even make enough to pay the regular bills, let alone the loan. I am proud to say that I shaved off about $3,000 of the loan last year and between that and what I’d already paid off, I’m down to $19,000. But it’s still draining me, both financially and emotionally.

Over the years, I have googled “how to pay off student loans” dozens of times. It’s like I’m looking for some magical solution out there that will save me. But the truth is, there is no magical solution. You just have to pay it off. Period. This is not easy, as any who has debt knows. I find that when I make more money, I spend it on something fun for myself.  But the whole point of making that extra money is to put it toward the loan!

Last year, I started the Your Money or Your Life program – and promptly quit about three months in. Is anyone else completely overwhelmed by Step 1? And Step 2 got depressing fast. (I believe in the program and the book is amazing – I’m just struggling with my lazy self!)

I was also determined last year to stop all extraneous spending and put every penny toward my debt. That lasted until January 15th. Seriously.

I find it very hard to make goals around this issue for several reasons. For one thing, my student loan seems like a non-corporeal monster, always shifting and changing. It has been passed from one clearing house to another, and just keeping track of how to log in to the new websites has been a pain. Trying to figure out how the interest is being compiled and configured is another issue. And trying to find out more information from the source – nearly impossible! It takes forever to get a customer representative on the line, or on email, and it feels like they read scripts to me and never veer off the page. I can ask the same questions again and again and will not get an answer that makes sense to me. (I can’t even figure out if paying more than once a month will land me with an unwanted fee. Yes or no, people?!)

Further, I never make the same amount of money in any given month. My paychecks are always different, depending on how many school days there were. I can set a goal of putting aside a percentage of my wages toward the loan payment, but it is never enough. There just hasn’t ever been enough to even cover the minimum payment.

And thus, this year, the ugly truth has come out: I just don’t consistently make enough money to meet my expenses.

Thankfully, I ran into help in the form of a book and a blog. I’ve looked at my accounts, finally. I’ve added up some figures. I’ve realized I cannot keep living on the roller coaster ride of Hope & Fear. I don’t want to keep avoiding my bills or praying and hoping for a miracle that will pay off my student loan or scraping by penny by penny. And I don’t want to keep giving up. People have crawled out of worse than this. It’s time for me to do so.

I have two simple goals to start with:

1)      Find another job so I can pay ALL the bills

2)      Find out whether or not I can make multiple monthly payments on the loan

There is so so much more to say on all this, but this post is already too long. But this is what I’m planning and I hope that blogging about it will keep me accountable.

Are you in? What are your financial truths that you have been avoiding? Or if you’ve already kicked your debt, how did you do it? I would LOVE to hear from any of you, on either side of the spectrum. Please drop me a line or leave me a comment. I’d love to feature you all in guest posts/interviews!

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32 thoughts on “Money, Debt, Truth & Change

  1. Oh gal I have a story to tell about my money situation… It is one that I very rarely think about because I have totally moved on with my life. Mine is not a fear, but a total lifestyle change. Let me explain briefly…

    I graduated highschool with a great GPA and immediately started college the next semester. My love at that time was art and that’s all I wanted to do, so when I didn’t get ANY art classes I got bored REALLY fast. I was living a life of excess at that time, moved into an expensive apartment with my boyfriend, kept getting tickets and court fees, bought lots of random stuff I didn’t need, went out to eat – mostly on credit cards and student loans. I ended up with so much debt I can’t even remember the number… perhaps $18,000 for one year of university and a bunch of effing credit card debt! I dropped out of school and worked three jobs for a while trying to pay off debt and keep living an excessive lifestyle.

    Eventually I just said fuck it, and started living a vagabond lifestyle. Obviously many things happened in between, but I ended up working on farms, traveling, doing work trade, and bartering. I have dealt only cash for 4 years until just recently when I finally caved and got a Paypal debit card. I never paid off my debt and I don’t ever intend to. These days I only spend the money that I have. I don’t have bank account (aside from paypal for my business) I don’t have credit cards, etc. All of my debt went to collection agencies and I really don’t even get calls from them anymore! I just moved on with my life. One day I hope to buy land and have a commune and farm. It will be purchased with cash and dealt with personally. I try to abstain from involving myself with any big corporations because I just don’t support them. Debt related stress is non existent for me.

    Not sure if any of this helps you… I know you can make money to pay off your debt if that’s what you choose to do and I totally support you! I’m sorry to hear that your business isn’t going well recently. Perhaps you can change things in your shop and keep it afloat! I love what you do. You have been an inspiration to me.

    • @regrowroots: As I’ve gone through this, I’ve learned that there are so many people who are experiencing this kind of thing. It’s something of a comfort! Thanks for the well wishes!

      • I’m going through a whole different set of troubles with money now – fixing our RV and deciding whether or not to pay some hefty tickets that I got in Oklahoma when we drove through… oh geez. I’m just starting to get in this mode of accepting money in my life and all these things are pulling at me!

        My word of the year is believe. To believe everything will work out and my dreams will come true, I must ALLOW. Allow myself to be happy and allow miracles to happen. :)

        Sending you much love.
        Desiree

  2. Our financial life got so much easier to keep tabs on (and money just gets saved naturally) when we found the You Need a Budget (YNAB) software. I’m so much less stressed about making sure I’ve taken care of everything and it is easy to set aside money for recurring expenses and to budget for the things that seemed to always eat up our money! I’m not too tech savvy, and this is super easy. I’ve found it to be an invaluable tool for getting our financial life in check and manageable.
    Hang in there. I’ve been through several career changes (just turned 37!) that involved returning to school (and some student loans). Don’t give up what you love-it’s just a matter of figuring out how to make it a sensible part of your life that contributes to your happiness and not your stress. You’ll work it out.

  3. there are a ton of remote (work from home) opportunities these days including call centers – not the old ‘envelope stuffing’ scams anymore…my friend and i were just talking about them yesterday as another form of revenue stream as we both work for ourselves…worth checking into!!

    • @EcoGrrl: Oh no, not $350! I meant that my student loan payment is ALMOST as much as my share of the rent. I WISH my rent was $350. LOL. If I didn’t have that student loan payment, I would be fine with the income I have now. So it’s frustrating to have such a huge monthly payment!

  4. i read your money or your life and found it empowering but i’m still confused about their final steps…they seem to imply that interest on savings invested conservatively will somehow generate enough income to live off of. not sure how that works unless you’ve saved a shitload of money, but this program isn’t exactly directed toward people with high powered jobs. i feel lucky that i’ve never had to deal with student loans. good luck with your job searching and finding your right money-life balance.

  5. Pingback: Inspiration #1 | Mindful Mixture

  6. ahhh budgeting gives me indigestion- this is rough! Teachers are finding it extremely difficult here in NS as well- a colleague of mine is moving to Korea because her bf can’t find a job here.
    Also- Andrew’s undergrad degree was in sociology… seriously what can you do with that?? nothing. SO- we made the conscious decision that he would go back to school and we are now accruing more debt- but hopefully it will pan out with a job that will allow us to pay it off. and for him to be happy at what he does.

    you know what’s an AWESOME career that is loads of fun and assures you can pay off debt (and there are jobs)? SPEECH THERAPY!!! (moohahaha lol) :)

  7. Finances are certainly a tough issue all around. And the fact that most people operate under the taboo of really talking about them makes dealing with them even more difficult.

    My first wife and I have been on the debt roller-coaster and are currently trying to get off of it again…for good. Our hope is to put the days of debt behind us and find a way to live more simply, on less so we can begin doing things we really love and want to do, and hopefully require less in terms of funds to live.

    A couple of thoughts you may look into:

    * Is there anything you can do to reduce your rent or utilities?

    * Rather than working multiple jobs that don’t cover the bills, is there a way to work one that will? I hate asking, especially if you are doing things you love. But having time for YOU is essential. For your physical, mental and emotional health. Working yourself into the ground is detrimental and miserable (been there, done that!)

    * EcoGrrl mentioned interest only payments on your student loans. I don’t know if they do it any more, or for graduate degrees, or in your area, but when my ex-wife’s sister and her husband graduated with their education degrees and teaching certificates, they could get loan forgiveness for time spent working in lower-income/at-risk schools. They managed to keep at it long enough to get their loans totally forgiven. I’m not talking inner-city type schools only either, but some schools which would make them eligible were in rural communities which were struggling economically.

    * Don’t be hard on yourself for spending a little on you. Discretionary spending is a double-edged sword: Two much and you kill any semblance of a budget you may have, being so restrictive you have none will make you feel trapped. Allow a little bit each month for some treat…a cup of tea with a friend a couple times a month; a couple of skeins of yarn you’d really like to knit into something nice for yourself (or a friend). Just be thoughtful and realistic in it.

    * Can you engage in a non-monetary economy for some of your needs? i.e. can you barter for things rather than pay for them?

    • @Mark: These are FABULOUS points, which I will both be looking into and blogging about in the future! :) I also just emailed to see if you would be willing to do an interview on this subject. I’d love you to share your tips!

      I am definitely going to allow some fun spending – I know you are right and like a diet, if I don’t allow for some fun, I’ll fall off the wagon. So I’ll definitely do that. And I’ve been looking into loan forgiveness, but just finding the job that will allow me to do that has been an issue, for many reasons. (Availability of jobs, my lack of desire to teach middle/high school and location.) As for rent and utilities, I’m at pretty bare bones right now. I would be totally fine, financially, if I didn’t have the additional $350 payment for the loan. I’m a fairly spartan person, so there’s not much left to reduce, unfortunately!

      Anyway, more on this stuff in a future post! Thanks for your input. Much appreciated, as always!!!

  8. I love the Dave Ramsey plan for financial peace. It has given me complete autonomy in my life and encourages debt free living, giving, saving and investing. This is such a great subject! Thanks so much for illuminating it and giving us a chance to talk and share.

  9. I’m really sad to hear that five seed is not doing as great as it used to be :( i love the lip balm i got from you by the way and might get more ;) my parents had lots of struggles with money when i was younger and I know the strain that could cause. Hope you find a way that will make you happy with it all! I really do! Take care and good wishes are sent your way…

    • @Cul de Sac: It’ll be okay, I’m sure. Maybe this is just a low and things will climb again. I’m not too worried – just trying to figure out what to do in the limited time I have (outside of my jobs). But I’m confident things will be good! Thank you for your support!

  10. Such honesty. Thank you :)

    I was a lucky generation that went to college and university for free. No loans, nothing. These days though it costs £9k a year at least so there are going to be a lot of young people in a position like yours. Good luck to you xxx

  11. Hey, not sure if you’ll see this comment or not, but I’ve found the book All Your Worth by Elizabeth Warren to be a great book on finances, especially for those struggling to get out of debt. I found out about it on the blog Get Rich Slowly (also a great resource): http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2007/12/03/book-review-all-your-worth/

    The basic formula is 50% of your income for needs 30% for wants 20% for savings, The book goes into more detail as to what is categorized in each and how to deal if you can’t reach those exact percentages. What I love about it is that it’s incredibly simple and forgiving. I’m able to live without always worrying about finances (every once in a while I still do, just for old times’ sake).

    There’s also info on getrichslowly about budgeting when you have an income that fluctuates month to month: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2009/07/27/how-to-budget-for-an-irregular-income/

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