Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Adventures in Debt: Acceptance & Regret



Despite living off our credit cards this summer, I'm giving up my second job - today is my last shift at the wine shop. This might seem like a bad idea, and my bank account would probably agree with you, but after examining my schedule and listing all the things I need to accomplish during my last year in the MFA program, I realized there was no way I could do it all. With an MFA exam looming, family to visit, readings to organize, classes to teach, classes to take, and a thesis to write, something had to give. A big part of me feels terribly guilty for quitting this job, but I have to keep reminding myself that I'll still be working - my teaching assistantship is my main source of income, and there's no way I'd give that up. 

When I conducted my Reader Survey a few weeks ago, someone wrote that they were curious about our finances - our jobs, how we pay for school, etc. I had to laugh. The truth is, we can't actually afford our current lifestyle. We're living outside of our means, using our credit cards to pay for utilities and groceries, and it's simply not sustainable. This is a truth I try to ignore, except for those moments when I'm moving small amounts of money from one account to another so we don't overdraft, or calculating our income to see if we'll make rent this month.

Meanwhile, our student loans are piling up. Our credit scores are dropping. We've given up a lot of things - restaurants, decent wine, trips out of town, new clothes, a sense of security - in order to minimize the damage. And yet, even while I worry about paying our bills on time and stress about our financial future, I don't regret the choices we've made, and I'm not writing these confessions in order to garner pity. Nathan and I chose this situation. I knowingly quit a good paying job because I wanted to be a writer and felt an MFA would help me achieve that goal. Nathan decided to leave his field because it wasn't satisfying, and become a paramedic instead. We're both taking time away from the working world, in the hopes that when we return, we'll be able to find jobs that fulfill us more than just financially - though even that, too, is a gamble.

Don't get me wrong: I love my life right now, despite the darker moments. The question that haunts me is whether I'll feel the same way in ten or twenty years, if Future Chrissy will wish Present Chrissy had done things differently - taken out less loans, kept the job at the wine store, put the MFA off a few more years and kept working and saving money. There's no way to tell at this point, and so I just keep doing what I'm doing, trying to make responsible choices, hoping things will work out in the end. 

In one year, I'll have an MFA and a book, but I plan to start job hunting before that, sometime after the new year. Nathan will finish his program in six weeks (!) and just started working part time as an EMT, which will hopefully turn into a full time paramedic position. I feel like we're about to turn a corner, and I until then we just need to hold on and stay positive. Hopefully the next installment of this series will be titled, "Adventures in Getting Out of Debt." Fingers crossed. 

8 comments:

  1. I don't think I was the reader you mentioned, but I have been curious about your situation as well. Bravo to you for an honest post that really captures the mixed emotions! I agree with you, that with one of you almost done with school and starting to work in the new field, things are going to improve on the financial front.

    As for the MFA, I think in the end, you did the right thing. Who knows if you would have found another funded spot later? Yeah, you left a good-paying job, but you knew in your heart you weren't planning a career in that work. Transitions are scary in part because of the unknowns, and looking back right now, at least you can say that you chose an awesome program. That, I think, is priceless :-)

    Good luck and godspeed! Inspired by your example, I think my next post will be about my own wonky money situation.

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    1. I'm not sure who the reader was, since it was anonymous. But I'm always interested in folks' finances, mostly because mine are such a mess. I feel like I do a lot of gushing about my program and writing and this lifestyle, which is honest and how I feel, but I think it's important to be honest about the less wonderful stuff as well. I wouldn't want to misrepresent my experience!

      Thanks, also, for those kind words in paragraph two. You're right - the MFA might have been a now-or-never thing, and I didn't love what I was doing before, even though it paid well. I keep reminding myself that this is a transition, and that transitions are temporary. It will get better!

      I'm interested to hear about your money situation! I look forward to the post. :)

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  2. Best of luck to you! It's so tough to live the kind of lifestyle society makes you *think* you should have. Someone recently made a comment to me that was kind of offensive, that since we got married, we are languishing/fattening at home because we don't go out anymore. And really, that's not the case -- we just don't go out eating/drinking/etc. as often, and I really don't understand how some people can snark on us about that when they are complaining they don't have "enough money" and just bought a car, went on vacation, and starting a $$ grad program.

    Ahem, sorry about the rant. I just mean that everyone has their own financial situations, and it's sad to see people who think they know what other people need. It looks like you guys have EVERYTHING you need, and even though it might be a little rough in the interim, you're enjoying yourself for the most part. As for me, I often wonder if all the stress of my new job is worth the "stable income"... I've given up most of my hobbies and am always drained as a result, though I'm hoping it's just me adjusting to it.

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    1. I know exactly what you mean! We're not homebodies because we're married, but because we're broke. I'd much rather hang out at home and not dig ourselves further into debt than go out and spend money I don't have.

      And you're right - we do have everything we need, more than most people. I need to remember that, and be okay with the fact that we'll be paying off our debt for a long time. I like our life, and if this is what it costs, so be it. :)

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  3. My generation and yours (I think you are about 10 years younger than I am) have to live a completely different life than that of our parents. My father-in-law has a PhD, married my MIL - they had my husband. He worked she stayed home. His salary as a research chemist allowed them to live a comfortable life. They were able to buy a home and property for about what his yearly salary was and they paid the house off in 15 years. They now have a nice savings and are living very comfortably. My parents were factory workers, my mom stayed home when I was little but went back to work when I was about 10. That income from factory work allowed them to live a middle class life - own a home that they were able to buy for about their yearly salary.

    Fast forward to my generation. My husband and I went to college. My husband graduated with no student loans - I wasn't so lucky since my parents couldn't help at all. Had three jobs to get through college, but still graduated with debt. My husband had two associates degrees and a BA in journalism. Took him two years to get a job, and that job wasn't even in his field. His pay was low - but it was a job. We were both working when we had our first child. We purchased our first home - which happened to be for about twice what our yearly income was. Paid on that home for several years only to have it be worth about $30k less than what we owed. My husband decided to get his MBA (while still working full time and being the father of four kids at this point), I was still working part time. After graduation my husband landed a job 1400 miles away from our home. We had to short sale the home (thankfully it sold). What little savings we had went to my husband's MBA - but we were also left with 65k in student loans for his MBA. After two years of working here my husband had to take a 25% paycut.

    Our generation has to live a different life than the one before us. We aren't spenders. We don't have fancy cars (a 20 year old car and a 4 year old minivan). We don't go out to eat or go to the movies. We don't have expensive clothing, boats or toy. We don't take expensive vacations. We have 5 college degrees between the two of us and we are both working - yet there isn't enough to save for our retirement, let alone our kids colleges or braces for their teeth.

    My advice - ignore those who might talk poorly about your decisions, love the life you were given and move forward. Don't be stupid and fly to England for the fun of it but at the same time know that somehow it all ends up working out.

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    1. Angel, thanks so much for sharing your story! You're right - it's a different world now, and we have to make the best of it. I do love my life for the most part, and I'm happier than ever, mostly because I don't work a job I hate, and have time to do things that I enjoy (read, write, spend time with friends and dogs). I think we'll always live a modest, no-frills life, and I'm okay with that if it means I get to spend my time on things that matter to me, instead of working for other people.

      I hope that makes sense! You've given me a lot to think about. I'm sure I'll blog about this again!

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  4. I've definitely been there (am right now -- thus my absence from the blog world), but although you can and should think of tomorrow, you can't let it destroy your present. Looking back at the past few years, some of our best times were when we were broke and unable to afford the extras...or even the basics.

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    1. Thanks for this comment. You're exactly right, of course. Worrying about debt isn't going to make it go away, and there's nothing I can actually do until I'm working full time again, which won't be until I graduate in May 2014. Might as well make the most of my time until then!

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