Been such a long time!

I have a kind of sad history with this blog in that I have had some long periods where I have fallen off the face of the earth and have neglected to record what is going on. It has actually caused me to feel some guilt, which is kind of silly, because what I write here may cause someone to think, but it isn’t the life and death work with which I have been involved with while I have been away.

So, I decided I won’t feel guilty, but I will share what has been going on for the last 15+ months. 

Family

Our two daughters moved in with us in July of 2011. They were in the foster care system and we fostered them for a long time until we were finally allowed to adopt them. They were older and had experienced a lot of trauma, which meant that there were some significant challenges to come for all of us. I am NOT whining, but I can tell you that this has been the most costly and difficult thing that I have ever done. My husband and I have both had to leave jobs, lost friends, income and have found ourselves isolated on several occasions. This is a tough spot to be in when you are trying to reduce debt. When the rest of your life feel constricted, the last think you want is to feel like you can’t provide yourself some self-care because you wanted to pay that bill down by $20 extra. But we still managed to, even if it wasn’t as much as we had originally planned.

School

Well, after 7.5 years of slogging along part-time, I finally (!!!!!!) finished my masters degree! It has been great not to have to pay for tuition any more. And the last two years, we decided not to apply for another student loan, but to pay out of pocket. Which hurt. A lot. But we didn’t incur any additional student debt, which is good, because that bad boy bill is HIGH. 

Work

This has been the biggest area of change. When I was last “current” on the blog, my husband had finally gotten a new job after being fired from his last job when his performance at work was affected by the special needs of our children. He found a position at an organization that really understood where he was coming from and that supported his focus on family over work. His 10 months of unemployment was PAINFUL. But then, when he went back to work, we discovered that our youngest was disintegrating at school. Eventually, the school asked us to come in for a meeting in the Spring of 2013 to let us know that they didn’t want our little 2nd grader there because she was too disruptive for the class. And this is the best school in the district (and they would not give us a permit to go to another district), so my husband and I had to talk and pray about the whole thing. Eventually, we came to conclusion that we would homeschool for the 2013-2014 school year to address the emotional and psychological needs of our little one. Which meant a 58% reduction in income. In your head, remember what E.T. said to Elliot when he cut his finger on the saw blade – “OOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCH!”  Yes, that is what that felt like.

I’ll write more about some of the things that we did to replace income, but it should be clearer that I was away for a good reason and that while it kept me so drained that I couldn’t write, it didn’t stop our debt journey. 

Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more soon!

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It has me thinking…

Today, on the way to work, I was listening to a report on my local public radio station and it caught my attention when I heard that,

“In the coming years, a lot of people will still be paying off their student loans when it’s time for their kids to go to college,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FinAid.org and Fastweb.com, who has compiled the estimates of student debt, including federal and private loans.

The article from the NYT/msnbc.com talks about how Student Loan Debt is now outpacing Credit Card Debt in the US economy. I can attest to this, as we currently have more SLD than we do consumer debt.

And after working for non-profits for the last 9 years, with no plans to move back into the private sector, I know that it will be a long road toward paying my loans off, even as I continue to take my classes in the evenings.

But I’m starting to think that we should be move vocal about disputing the idea that SLD is “good” debt…I think if we are honest, we can admit that it is a form of indentured servitude that keeps us striving for better paying jobs (let’s ignore the fact that adjusting for inflation there have been no increase of earnings for the lower 90% of US earners in the last 30 years) instead of working for organizations and companies that may contribute more to society and the development of culture. Sure, they say that degree earners make more money than those without, but they don’t say that they are happier and that doesn’t mean that every field that requires advanced degrees will pay more.

I’m sure there is MUCH more to say about this, but I’m still just mulling it over at the moment, so I’ll end it here…

But I’d love to hear what YOU think.

So…about the student loans

If you have ever looked at our updates of our debt reduction, no doubt you have noticed the asterisk that notes that “* doesn’t include school loans.” Perhaps you are wondering why we have not included these, as they are most definitely debt.

This is why we have decided not to include them – because we are still adding to the total. As I am still pursuing my grad school education, I have taken loans out to fund this part of my journey. It seemed to us as this would only be going up in the next few years (until we had our consumer debt paid off) we would wait to add it to our total for the time being.

But the reality is this — it is around $50,000 at the moment. Which is a little scary, but we are very grateful that the interest rate is low and that mine is in deferment as I am continuing my studies.

upromise3However, even while in deferment, I am trying to put little bits here and there toward my school debt, and one of the ways that I am doing that is through UPromise. This site is allowing me to earn pennies here and there to put toward my school loans. I earn them by registering for grocery coupons, using my debit card for certain restaurants and online shopping. Also, my mother has registered on the site, so when she uses her grocery cards or shops online, I get a percentage toward my debt reduction, too.

I debated about whether I should put this link on the site, but after talking to a few people, I was convinced that it would be okay to tell you that if you were interested, you, too could help add pennies to my debt reduction journey by signing up as a Guest Shopper. You will get access to thousands of coupons and deals, and I would get UPromise savings with every eligible purchase you make, helping us on our journey.   So, if you are interested, please feel free to click on this link:

http://www.upromise.com/guest/2286768763

***If you have your own student loans, or someone you are close to is trying to reduce them through this program, I encourage you to sign up to help them, or yourself instead of me. I’m not trying to take the opportunity from anyone; I’m just looking for ways to add to our debt reduction that are win-win situations.

The Luxury of a Career that You Love

I’ve had a couple of queries from some people I know about my choice to continue to pursue my grad school education in the face of our financial situation. Their logic is that I should get a 2nd job (and maybe a 3rd) to pay down the debt instead of pursing more education. Of course, my degree program is pretty specialized and if I’m able to work in my field, I’ll actually probably make less money than I do now – that’s what the non-profit world is…sacrifice. So, in a way they have a point.

But I’m still stuck in this idea that we should be able to work in the areas that we love and pursue the work that fulfills us as a person. I think a speaker I saw once called it “Marrying your vocation with your avocation.”

My questions are as follows – is this mindset part of an obsolete reality? Is it no longer “wise” or “advisable” to seek the career that you love? Has the world’s economy changed so much that we should be seeking work opportunities that promote financial “security” and upward mobility? Or, are things so bad that we should just be thankful for the jobs that we have and shut up?

I work a 8-5 M-F job that is probably considered a career for about 1/2 of the people in my job classification. I do not consider this a career for myself, it is a job. It is a job that requires a latitude of skills, and I certainly enjoy knowing that my work supports significant changes for our community and society. The non-profit I work for does wonderful things and that often makes it more “worth it” to cool my heels there while working on my Masters.

That’s great and all, but I just can’t see myself here in another 5 years. Today is my 5 year service anniversary, and I’m grateful for the job and the environment in which I work. But I know that I won’t be happy here long-term, because I won’t be pursuing the work that I love.

Have you struggled with this kind of question, too?

Getting ready for school

This week I registered for my two classes for the fall term. I’m excited to start back, but I’m a little nervous that the rushing from work to school three nights a week and the ensuing exhaustion will make it hard for us to stick to our meal plan. I will have to rely on my husband greatly to help prepare and pack my meals and I’ll need to make sure that I put time aside each week for the planning and shopping (we do the shopping together and the times that I am not able to, my husband is wonderful as long as I give him a good list).

The other thing that tickles the back of my brain is the fact that grad school is so darn expensive. It’s about $3,000 (classes, texts and gas) for me to take two classes for 10 weeks – ouch. What has changed for us from the first 9 classes I took is that I have applied for and accepted financial aid – this is a much better choice than what we were doing before, which was to do a payment plan or to put it on a credit card (I know – bring on the ridicule). After this term, I’ll have 23 more classes to complete to receive my Masters degree. So if we do the math…carry the one…yup, that’s $34,500 to come. My hope is that when we are done paying off our debt in 2 years, 10 months, I’ll be down to 11-13 classes left, and that the extra cash that we will have will be paid for by our additional cash flow. That should work since we’ll have an additional $19,800/year.

It is thinking about these things that help me to pack my lunch, or make wise choices when shopping – the rewards at the end of this journey are worth the hard work…