Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Not Quite Zero Cost New Year's Eve

Unlike last year, when I spent an absolutely lovely evening in, I'll actually be going out and socializing tonight. Yeah, it'll be a bit more spendy: I'll be out the cost of a bag of chips and some onion dip to bring to a party at my dear friend S.'s apartment. The invitation didn't make it quite clear what sort of party it will be. Previously she has had the sort of events where everyone plays Trivial Pursuit or Settlers of Catan and also the sort involving huge crowds, sixteen flavors of jello shots, body glitter, and French hip hop. I'm rather hoping this will turn out to be the former, but I'm so eager to see everyone I'll gladly endure being the socially awkward sober person if it's the latter.

Adventures in Used Car Shopping, Part 1

I've scoped out Consumer Reports, started looking seriously at what's available, and tried to narrow things down a bit. I'm pretty much set on a sedan (or, well, maybe a hatchback, coupe, or wagon, but anyway a car). Hondas or Toyotas are my top choices, with Nissans, Mazdas, and Suburus in consideration as well. I wouldn't be opposed to another Taurus if the price is right and the mileage is low.

Yesterday afternoon my mom and I fit in a little bit of car shopping around driving my grandmother places and running errands for her. We stopped at the first place to ask about test driving a Taurus wagon that it turned out wouldn't even start! (This does not engender confidence in a used car dealer.) I tried driving a Focus just to see what it was like, and, while it seemed like a decent car, they wanted way too much money for an American car with 90,000 miles. The owner of the dealership kept arguing with me when I told him that I wasn't interested in another Taurus he had because, although it was fairly new, it had been a rental car and thus had probably been driven by quite a few people who treated it like a disposable toy.

We then headed to a small used car dealer that had a Suburu Legacy I'd scoped out online. It would fit, just barely, in my budget. The guy was nice, helpful, and not high pressure at all, which was a pleasant change. The car, however, failed to impress. It was neat and well maintained, but the steering just felt sloppy.

The used lot of the massive car superdealership didn't yield any fabulous finds. There was a Honda we'd wanted to see, but it was a bit high compared to Blue Book value, especially for a car that turned out to be sticky and smelly so I didn't drive it. I tried out a nice, late model Taurus. It was comfortable and had reasonable mileage, but it was again at the very top of my budget, in part because it was a fancy model loaded down with power everything, leather seats, trim that looked like wood, etc., etc., utterly unimportant to me etc. The salesman wasn't too obnoxious, other than insisting I address him as "Coach" and correcting me every time I tried to cal him "Sir."

We then headed way the heck out into the country to go see a 2004 Civic I'd found in the classifieds. It was a one owner car with 87,000 miles on it and was in good condition. They'd done the oil changes and routine maintainance on schedule, and the asking price was a mere $6,200. Alas, there was someone else there at the time we'd arranged to see it. By then it was getting dark, and we all stood around with flashlights looking over the car. The other guy offered $6,000, and the owners accepted. They were very apologetic about our coming out for nothing. As we were walking back to my mom's car, a third prospective buyer drove up.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Figuring out how the heck to buy a used car

Thanks to a combination of wrecks and parents, I'm going to be hunting for a decent used car this week. My car shopping experience to date is fairly limited. I was involved in the hunt for my first car and was the one who found it in the classifieds in the paper, but my parents made all the decisions. They set a budget, looked at Consumer Reports buying guides, and decided on a Ford Taurus. I, who had managed to reach the end of my senior year in high school without getting a driver's license, didn't really have any say in the matter, or else I would have had no car at all.

Immediately after moving to the Delta, I helped my friend U. go car shopping. I'd expected to offer little more than transportation from one dealership to another, but he was someone who'd lived with his parents throughout college and never had to deal with so much as checking his own oil. He's also the nicest man on the planet and had this idea that he wanted to "put money into the local economy" when purchasing a car. U. was lost, and he asked for advice. I'm not a car guy, but my dad is so I grew up reading Road and Track, changing spark plugs, and helping bleed the brakes on the Mustang. I may not be an expert on this, but I was in better shape than U. Fortunately, when two twentysomethings of opposite genders go into a dealership together, it seems to be a universal assumption that they are buying a car together and will want to go off and talk about things. Thus I was able to steer U. away from the satin shirt clad vulture at the first dealership, introduce him to the Kelly Blue Book so he could determine whether he was being cheated, and gently inform him that driving three blocks at 30mph does not constitute an adequate test drive. Still, the ultimate decision was his.

Now I've got to sort out what I want. My still achy neck has convinced me to scrap my plan that my next car would be a Miata. The priorities are now crash test ratings, reliability, and decent gas mileage. Beyond that, I don't really know. My dad advises me to buy Japanese, but I've been very happy with my Ford. I haven't quite figured out my budget yet either. The car fund was at $6,000, but I could probably go as high as $8,000 without feeling overly pinched. Is $2,000, a vast sum to me, likely to make a big difference in the quality of the car? Any advice from my wiser and more experienced readers on how to avoid screwing up the first major purchase of my adult life?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I got asked that basic question on Saturday by the professors who consider themselves to be my extra set of parents. They want me to figure out whether I want to be a biologist or a physicist so I can start preparing for the application process next year. Naturally, my answer is that I want to be a biologist who understands EM and quantum. So, basically, I'll be looking for a graduate program where I can be a physics student doing interdisciplinary research so I can keep working on the squishy systems I perversely seem to prefer. (What can I say? Biology was my first love. One Scientific American article on the mechanisms used by antibiotic resistant bacteria while I was in elementary school and I was hooked.)

If only I'd made that decision firmly a year and a half ago...I knew then it was almost certainly what I wanted, but I felt the need to do something else first. There was no point in being mad as hell about the inequality of educational opportunity in this country if I wasn't going to do something about it. However, it doesn't feel like I'm doing much about it now. There are a lot of good kids here, but overall I'm not moving them forward as much as they need. I'm getting better as a teacher, but the classroom management remains a struggle. Even that seems to be improving, but every now and then I'll have one of those awful days where no one learns anything one period because, for example, two of the girls decide to fight in the middle of class and I have to physically restrain one of them and drag her into the hallway to keep anyone from getting seriously injured. It's draining.

Now we have had regime change in the school, with the head principal quitting and the superintendent taking over as acting principal. I remain hopeful that this will have some positive effect, but on the day before Christmas break began we had our first faculty meeting with the superintendent, and the gist of his speech was, "Things around here are screwed up. You aren't doing your jobs. I have no problem firing any of you. I am in charge and you will do exactly what I say, or else. I have no problem firing any of you. Have a Merry Christmas." Yeah, the school is failing dramatically and we need major changes, but I suspect he might make more progress if he tried a slightly different tone and tried to get us pulling together to improve things. Maybe I'm bad enough that he should get rid of me at the end of the year, but we're what he has right now, and if he'd start by offering us guidance on what he wants done differently, he might find that his teachers are as eager to turn things around as he is.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In non-financial news...

Quite to my surprise, I've somehow ended up with a new beau. It still doesn't make sense to date someone who lives 300 miles away, but he's kind, funny, charming, and delightfully insane. Thus I now have someone with whom to get sushi, take long walks, browse bookstores, and watch old episodes of Star Trek on the weekends I go home and the promise of more emails and phone calls while I'm here. So I'm willing to see where this leads.

It also doesn't hurt that he seems fairly financially sane, brokish, but with a plan in place so he won't be that way for long. I doubt he has much in savings, but he has no debts. He was until recently living just barely within his means, but he was pulling it off with a very careful budget. Now that he's living in a cheaper apartment with a roommate, he's taking $100 a week in cash to use for all expenses besides his share of rent ($162.50 a month for a somewhat crummy but not that terrible apartment) and utilities and finding that to be the height of luxury.

He knows what I earn, which is more than he makes as an apprentice electrician, but possibly less than he'll get once he gets his journeyman's license. I've told him about my savings goals while I'm here, my struggles with my job, my dreams of grad school, and my uncertainty about my future plans. It's a trifle bizarre to let my guard down about these things this soon, but I guess a relationship founded in years of prior friendship engenders a certain degree of openness. On the other hand, while he's one of the handful of people I know in real life who're aware I dabble in personal finance blogging, there's no way I'm letting him read Not Living on Ramen just yet!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I guess car shopping is in my future after all.

Well, there goes my glee over the seemingly reasonable repair bill for the 1999 Taurus. My parents technically still own "my car", and tonight they informed me that they won't let me have it back. They let me borrow my mom's shiny newish Altima to use until I can come collect the Taurus during Christmas break, and now they are insisting that I must continue driving the Altima until summer! They're planning to get a new vehicle for my mother and have my father use the Taurus. They insist that they don't want me making the 300 mile trip home in a car with 115,000 miles because they picture me broken down by the side of the road somewhere. (Never mind that I made the much longer trip from Houston to the Delta just fine and the car has been thoroughly checked out structurally following the wreck and found to be fine.) They might let me drive it while I'm home during the summer, but it'll never be mine to use as I see fit again.

I'm completely uncomfortable with driving my mother's car. First of all, I feel ridiculous driving something that shiny and new. It's not an appropriate vehicle for a recent grad living on a teacher's salary. Yeah, it's an image thing. I know that's shallow, but I hate feeling ostentatious with a passion that burns with the intensity of a thousand suns.

Second, its my mother's, and I know my mother. No matter what she says now, if anything were to happen to it, she would hold it against me for the rest of my life. The odds of something happening to it aren't encouraging either, when you consider that I'm not a good driver, I live in an area with a ridiculously high crime rate, and students think it is great fun to throw rocks at my car.

Third, I'm doing my damnedest to become an independent adult. I've been leaning on my parents far more than I should because I found myself alone in a strange place, stressed past my breaking point, and grieving and wracked with guilt. I love my parents and there's no way I would have survived this without them, but I need to learn new coping mechanisms and find a little more space to become myself. That became increasingly clear when I was left dependent and feeling helpless in the aftermath of the wrecks, hurting and fuzzy from the meds, watching my parents fall into their old patterns of fighting and then spending days avoiding each other and seething, getting yelled at a lot by my mother because I seemed like a convenient proxy for my father and/or am just generally a worthless human being who almost never manages to meet anyone's expectations, listening to my father's detailed analyses of everything that's wrong with my mother and why his responses are wholly logical, and remembering just how painful it often is/was to be home. I could accept keeping my old car as a vestige of my parents' kind efforts to launch me into the world, but accepting the use of the newer Nissan would give them leave to continue treating me as a dependent child and would not help me disentangle myself financially or emotionally.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The damage

It sounds like the total cost for the repairs to my car is going to be slightly under $400. Jasmine contacted her insurance so the police were able to find her, and I talked to a claims person on the phone today. Other than that, there isn't much to report. I still hurt.

My father is now trying to figure out what he should get to replace his poor Mazda Protege. He's been considering a small Toyota pick-up, and my mother called car dealerships to start checking out prices so while I was home we were getting calls from salesmen about every two hours. They're getting desperate, I guess, so someone who's prepared to pay cash for a brand new vehicle is a very hot prospect. My dad thinks a Toyota would be a practical choice, and, while buying new may not be the single greatest idea in the world, he's an obsessive car guy, mechanical engineer, and former Navy mechanic who would probably maintain it and drive it for a couple of decades.

What he really wants to get, however, is a Model A coupe. (I'm hoping he goes for it.) He argues that once he gets his '66 Shelby GT 350 running enough that he can move it into and out of the garage easily he can focus on fixing up the '55 Chevy and use that on days when he wouldn't want to commute in the Model A. My mother will be aghast at the idea, but I don't think he cares much.

At no point did I claim to come from a normal family.

Monday, December 1, 2008

So I may be breaking into my car fund a bit earlier than expected...

The short explanation is that people in Arkansas, me included, have no idea how to drive on ice. I still feel like crud so I'll start by just giving you with what I wrote to a friend last night so that he wouldn't worry when I failed to call to let him know I'd made it home. It's full of irrelevant details, and I don't promise much in the way of coherence.

So, first of all, I am fine. However, I am decidedly not in [Delta town where I teach]. The first car wreck of the day involved spinning out of control and sliding backwards down an embankment for what seemed like forever, and then realizing in amazement that I was able to get out and climb up the embankment, where I was greeted by kindly alpaca farmers who kept me warm until the state police arrived. The state police turned out to be my parents' neighbor. He kept me in his car until my father arrived, then told us to go park by the side of the interstate with hazard lights on while we waited for a tow truck to arrive. After said police officer drove off, my father got out and started climbing down embankment to see what had become of my car. Then a 28 year old Vietnamese chemist named Jasmine slid off the road at pretty much the same spot I had, only this time my father's car with me in it was there for her to collide with on her way down. That time my neck hurt like hell, my leg hurt somewhat, and I had no glasses and was missing my right shoe. My father confirmed that I was conscious, told me to stay where I was, and went down to check on the other people. I lay there in the dark and got snowed on for a bit. Eventually the fire department showed up, then one of my dad's old EMT instructors, They backboarded me and got me out of the car and into an ambulance where I rode beside the very distraught and apologetic Jasmine whom I could not see because we were both strapped down, though I did hold her hand for a while as my dad and the paramedic tried to calm her. We got to the hospital, I eventually had various X-rays and was deemed ok to go home. So I'm home, feeling utterly lousy but basically ok, and am hoping the muscle relaxers and pain meds kick in shortly.

My father's car was apparently totaled. They finally located my car in the past hour or so and will be towing it out and bringing it to my parents' house. The police officer said it might be drivable once they get it out, but I suspect I have repair bills ahead of me.

Since there were many wrecks last night, the police didn't arrive before they had taken us in the ambulance so there isn't any police report on the second wreck at all, and we have to figure out how to get a hold of Jasmine. My mother is deeply annoyed that we didn't exchange information, but it wasn't the something that occurred to me at the time as my primary concerns were whether Jasmine was badly hurt since she sounded a great deal worse off than I was, how to get her to stop worrying about me, and my throbbing neck. I'd just been in two car wrecks and was in a crowded ambulance with sirens blaring; I sort of assumed that someone else would take care of that sort of thing. I know her last name, her university and year of graduation, the city in which she was visiting family for Thanksgiving, what sort of company she works for and the city in which it is located, how old she was when she emigrated, what make of car she drives, and the name of her cousin who works as a nurse at the hospital to which we were transported because all of those things came up in conversation during the long ride to the hospital, but none of that is adequate for the bureaucratic hassles my mother is dealing with today, and I'm not in any mood to get griped at about how my father and I screwed up by not getting phone numbers. So now I'm fighting with my mom, hurting, loopy from the muscle relaxers, and basically want to go cry.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gift-shopping season is upon us.

Somehow that just now occurred to me. Maybe it was a side effect of living in a television-free bubble, maybe I've just been too busy with students, but in any case, Thanksgiving is over and I haven't figured out what I'm going to get anyone. By this time the past two years, I had researched prices, ordered everything online, and been done with it all. I was one of those smug people who began making lists of gift ideas in July. Now I have no clue and less access to shopping facilities if my plan of getting everything through the interwebs doesn't pan out.

I used up my one halfway decent gift idea for my brother last month. My parents are in a position where if there was something they really wanted that I could afford, they've probably already have bought it for themselves so I have to find things they'd enjoy but aren't aware of. Thanks to the C. family drawing of names, I need to figure out what to get for my cousin's wife, a very nice woman I barely know. Are my roommate and I doing gifts? Would it be thoughtful to get her something I know she could use in her classroom, or is it better to explicitly acknowledge that she's a person who cares about things beyond elementary school music?

I also have no sense of my budget. As backwards as it seems, for Christmas shopping it was always easier to set a budget once I had somewhat figured out what I was buying most people. That only works when you've planned ahead. I could stick with the budget I kept the past two years, but since I've transitioned from being a student to being a teacher I have considerably more discretionary income and it seems a little chintzy. However, if I don't budget at all, I'm liable to go wild.

I guess I have a day to think about it. Although I probably won't quite observe Buy Nothing Day this year since I'm having lunch with my friend today and still intend to try to pay, I have no intentions whatsoever of hitting any of the big box stores. My friend did mention visiting our favorite used bookstores as a probable activity for today's (gulp) date, but I suspect it will be reasonably well removed from today's consumerist feeding frenzy so I wouldn't feel quite so bad if I ended up leaving a few dollars there as well.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Advantages to living in the middle of nowhere.

I suppose it is actually a blessing that I live an hour and a half from the nearest office supply store. I'd spend far more on my classroom if I could just go buy things when I need them. (Sigh.)

Dating, oh no, dating!

My old friend and I have kept emailing. We agreed to get together and catch up one day after Thanksgiving when I'll still be in town visiting my family and he'll have returned from visiting his. Then the emails led to telephone calls, the fantastic, funny, "Are you aware that we've yet again spent over an hour on the phone without realizing it?" sort of calls. It was nice.

Then he rather abruptly asked me, "How do you feel about me?" In the course of what may have well been among the top ten most stilted conversations of my life, he asked if we could consider it a date when we go out. Fool that I am, I said yes. Then I proceeded to explain why I really shouldn't be dated by anyone. Unfortunately, he was not dissuaded.

I'm going to panic, already am panicking actually. Although I have, as he pointed out, dated before, I'm pretty sure he is unaware that the total number of first dates I've been on is exactly one. The only thing I know for sure about this whole date thing is that he's already insisting on buying me lunch, and I don't want to let him, but he insists that he's really happy he can do so (his financial situation was much tighter a couple of months ago before he got roommates), and I don't want to wound his pride. So money is complicating things before they even begin.

I'm nervous that things will go badly, and I'm even more nervous that they'll go well. If the whole thing crashes and burns, we've needlessly added layers of awkwardness to what was a pretty pleasant non-romantic relationship. If it proves to be an enjoyable experience, well, I still don't need a boyfriend. There are far too many reasons why that's a horrendous idea right now, most of them too personal to go into here. Tentative, casual dating might prove to be not the worst thing in the world, but I can't see how casually dating someone who lives three hundred miles away would work. So I'm doomed, doomed but momentarily happy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'm not quitting my job, not this year at least. If I had it to do over again, I would probably have chosen a different path, perhaps one that involved teaching in a sane school district, but I'm here now so I should make the best of it, even when it sucks, which is often. There are moments when I wonder how I can possibly make this work, like when I had to call security to haul out the bully who decided to threaten one of the special education students or when I deal with one particular kid in my homeroom who has decided he hates my guts and is going to tell me so loudly, repeatedly, and in the most disrespectful manner possible in class every day. There are the days when I wonder why I'm part of this, like when we had staff development and some of my colleagues started yelling at the workshop leader about how he could not possibly have anything valuable to offer because he didn't grow up a poor, black child in the Delta. Then the principal joined in and started ranting about a documentary he considers to be a "KIPP propaganda film" and things just went downhill from there.

Then, of course, I learned that one of my favorite kids made a 12 on the ACT last month. One of my most diligent students asked me at the end of class one day what one could do besides teach if one decided to study anatomy in college, and I now have a swarm of seniors asking me for advice on applying to college. I met the enchanting toddler daughter of one of my seniors, and I couldn't imagine walking out on her father and his classmates. I'm still not good at this, but I'm needed here nonetheless.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Oh crud.

I had my wallet this afternoon when I stopped by the water department to pay our bill on my way home. Now it is nowhere to be found. I probably just set it somewhere when I got home and then forgot about it, but I'm not sure. There's a small but extant chance that it fell out of my pocket in the parking lot.

I've made a quick phone call to USAA to put holds on my debit and credit cards. The ETS webiste revealed that my passport will indeed work for identification for yet another Praxis test tomorrow morning (Earth Science Content Knowledge, yes, Earth Science, because my brilliant state has decreed that all 7-12 science teachers must become familiar with geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy). I have plenty of cash on hand, and I still have the debit card to my old hometown checking account stashed in my lockbox so I have access to the $990 remaining in that account if I need it. So if worst comes to worst, I go get a new license and library card, send off for new debit and credit cards, and end up losing the $9 I had in my wallet. It's a minor blip, but I'm still feeling very annoyed at myself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Happy Birthday

My little brother turned twenty one today. I called him during lunch to wish him a happy birthday because I wasn't sure I'd be able to catch him before he had to leave for work if I'd called after school. Afterward, I sat in my classroom weeping and struggled to pull myself together before fifth period. I'm not altogether sure why. He's three hundred miles away, and that's just wrong.

We fought a lot when we were little, and things didn't really get easier as we got older. I was the annoying good example our parents expected him to live up to. He had the good sense to rebel, and my parents expected me to try to get him back on track. He didn't take kindly to my coaching him through the scholarship application process, and we were both wildly unenthusiastic about my parents' idea that I needed to offer sage council after his first semester of college when his grades put him perilously close to losing that scholarship.

Yet, we got closer nonetheless. During his first year of college, we started getting together on Monday nights, grabbing dinner at the student union, and then heading back to my dorm for silly sitcoms. Sibling t.v. night became sacrosanct, and we carried the tradition on last year after we moved into apartments a couple of blocks away from each other. We'd meet at his place, cook dinner, often go do our grocery shopping for the week together, watch television, talk, do homework, and just generally enjoy each other. It was amazing.

Now we're both trying to figure out how to cope with life outside of college. He's back home, struggling to pay his bills on wages from a part-time job at a pizzeria (plus some parental subsidies) while he spends the year trying to figure out what to do with his life before (we hope) heading back to school. I have more money than I know what to do with, but I'm marooned in the Delta trying to teach. One of the bright spots in the past few weeks was my brothers' suggestion that we both wait to watch Heroes together this summer, and I can hardly wait for the chance to go hang out with one of my favorite people.

I miss him like crazy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I've got to try to be extra good this month.

It's only been two days since payday, and I'm already feeling the budget crunch. My brother's birthday is next week and I haven't ordered his gift yet. Thanksgiving means travel home, which means a couple of tanks of gas, though gas prices hovering just above two dollars a gallon have given me new hope that the trip won't have the same budgetary impact it had in August. Going home also means I'll be in a city with interesting things to blow money on, and I know that I probably won't be able to resist the temptations of Thai food, my favorite used book store, or a movie theater that's less than an hour and a half away.

This should all be manageable on one paycheck, but not if I succumb to my frivolous whims in the meantime. I keep going to the Supercenter for groceries and then thinking, "Ooh, makeup! Ooh, scented candles. Ooh, overpriced but delicious cookies!" Not good, not good at all. Any one item wouldn't make a big dent, but if I let myself start to slip, there will be nothing left at the end of the month.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Darn it.

Lately I began writing to an old friend with whom I lost touch for a couple of years, and his ridiculously bizarre, goofy, wonderful emails have given me a reason to get out of bed on a couple of truly lousy days lately. Tonight I was perusing his myspace page and found that he's posted about the struggle to afford to go out and have fun and still fund his IRA. How cool is that?

I don't need to have a crush on anyone right now. I can barely find the time to compose a decent email daily so a relationship is out of the question. As emotionally wrecked as I am right now, it wouldn't be healthy either. He also lives five hours away. And even if none of those things were considerations, I'd feel weird about pursuing someone I repeatedly rejected in high school. Unfortunately, it seems that a couple of mildly flirtatious emails plus evidence of some financial awareness is all it takes to pique my interest these days.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bigger and better things.

I had a job I was good at, once, spending the odd Saturday working in my art teacher's son-in-law's plant nursery. My qualifications were impeccable: I was young, able-bodied, and willing to work for a pittance. It was fantastic. I'd come out of the chill and drizzle to a bright, verdant paradise heavily perfumed by the microbes in the fresh loam.

I screwed up at first, adding fertilizer pellets that would have burned the plants' tender roots, but my boss noticed, I owned up to the mistake, and he patiently showed me what to do differently. From then on, the work was simple and pleasant, filling pots with soil, transplanting flowers, adding fertilizer, and hauling the pots across the greenhouse to hoist up and hang along the irrigation tubes. My boss praised me for doing my job efficiently, with no qualms about getting covered in dirt in the process and no proclivity toward getting sidetracked by conversation. I proved useful in other ways, as well, using my meager knowledge of Spanish to translate for my boss and the two men whose task it was to mix the soil, a job that required a worker with a strong back, but not necessarily a command of English.

So went my days, plodding cheerily on in my own little world, carrying out my small tasks and listening to Patsy Cline on the radio. At lunchtime, the boss's wife brought us hot dogs, and we rested, telling dumb jokes and washing our meals down with icy Cokes. When evening came, I'd survey the rows of petunias and impatiens before heading home, aching and filthy, eager to stumble into a hot shower.

It couldn't last, of course. I had ambitions and so headed off to university. When the summers came, I sought employment that would further those ambitions, and, with transcripts full of A's and letters from learned professors attesting that I was bright and diligent, I found plenty of labs willing to induct the newest bottle washer and button pusher into the profession. So my days played out under sterile hoods that reeked of ethanol and in basement laboratories lit only by the laser light and the dim glow of ancient computer monitors.

My tasks were less clear cut than in the greenhouse, and I struggled mightily at times. I found eighty-seven ways not to stain rat hippocampus for immunofluorescent microscopy and watched filters explode again and again. It took weeks and months to develop the techniques to get crotchety equipment to yield meaningful results. I wrote painfully dull grant proposals.

On the best of days, I sat for hours in the dark pushing buttons and adjusting settings while watching my proteins dance to the Brandenburg Concertos as a squiggly line produced by inscrutable software. When I managed to steal away for five minutes while waiting for heaters to come up to temperature, I generally devoured a granola bar and a stick of reduced fat string cheese in the windowless office adjoining the lab. At the end of a day, if I was very lucky, I'd have some grainy pictures of red and green blobs or a string of numbers that hours of analysis would turn into meaningful graphs, and I was eventually able to cobble together a poster and a thesis. I clung to the hope that my techniques might help the biology lab progress in their effort to help treat stroke victims or that my protein denaturation data might provide some clue to some latter-day Watson and Crick unraveling the mysteries of life.

As my undergraduate career drew to a close, I began seeking yet another job. After writing essays, getting still more letters of recommendation, and going through interviews, I somehow managed to dupe people into believing that I was not just a good student, I was a problem-solver, a striver, a potential leader in a grand movement. It was enough to get me a position teaching science in a room where the grey paint peels from the cabinets and the students litter the floor with wrappers from their forbidden sweets.

I fail daily here. Even when it works, it isn't enough, never really enough, for significant gains. I worry that I'm actually widening the achievement gap. The best sound I can hope for is a moment of silence, an instant where every student is on task instead of chattering or striving to invent new ways to annoy me or his neighbors. I rarely eat lunch, save perhaps a packet of the saltines some clever student keeps leaving on my desk, as I spend my time grading and planning. At the end of each day, I head home with a headache and another bag full of failing quizzes to grade. I pray that someday some student will be better off for my having been here, that something he learned from me about Newton's Laws, ionic bonds, pseudostratified epithelial tissues, or how to study and solve a problem will make a difference, and he'll end up with a career instead of a dead end job or with some new spark of curiosity about the world, or at least there will be one fewer poor black kid in prison or on welfare, but, honestly, I doubt it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Frugal but frumpy.

I'm funny looking. Always have been, always will be. I also have no sense of style, preferring to live in jeans and flannel shirts when given the option. My hair is generally a mess. I made my peace with this at twelve, pretty much walked away from any thought of being feminine or pretty, and I'm ok with it.

Usually. Now I have fourteen year olds giving me a running commentary on my appearance every morning in homeroom. I don't care that they mock my slacks and cardigans. Nope, my shoes are not as cool as your Jordans. No big deal. I could, however, do without the daily updates on the state of my skin. Yes, my breakout has gotten worse. No, despite all of your mocking claims, it isn't herpes, just bad acne, probably exacerbated by the stress of dealing with you charming children every day.

It doesn't matter that it makes me look ugly, but I'm getting sick of looking so young. When I went to picture day, the photographer asked what grade I was in, even though I had my best no-nonsense updo and slacks and blouse that in no way resembled the school uniform. When I swung by the art teacher's room on prep period to get my face painted for homecoming, there was a chorus of complaint about his insisting I should cut in line until one of the kids I know yelled out, "Shut up, she's a teacher." Last night I went by Wal-Mart after the football game, and the checker noticed my school spirit t-shirt and asked if I "go there".

So every time I go to the store, I have to talk myself out of buying more soaps and potions, reminding myself that I already have plenty at home. If they were going to help, they would have. I've been tempted to buy make-up as well in some foolish attempt to look a bit more mature.

I was vehemently anti-cosmetics throughout my adolescence, refusing on principle to support an industry that can exist only by making women feel dissatisfied with their appearance. I was the only teenage girl I knew who had fights with her mother about not wearing make-up. Then when I started college my aunt marked the occasion by mailing me a box full of Clinique, and I began to relent and wear the darn stuff for interviews, weddings, thesis defenses, and other such occasions. I gave the mascara to my mom, but the tube of lipstick and tiny trial sized blush and eye shadow got me through four years and aren't quite out yet. I discovered that a dab of concealer, a quick swipe of powder, and some lipgloss could make me look a bit more presentable on ordinary days when I was feeling blah.

But, alas, I left all that at home when I moved. Buying everything I want to replace would easily run $25, and I can't justify spending that on vanity, not when my retirement account has lost almost a quarter of its value. I need to suck it up, accept that this is what I look like, and get on with my life.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Getting funny looks from the checker at Wal-Mart

I spent portions of my senior year more or less living on generic maple frosted shredded wheat. Not the healthiest choice, I'll admit, but not wholly devoid of nutritive value either. As a breakfast and lunch coupled with a protein rich dinner with plenty of veggies, it probably wasn't too terrible to do for a week or two at a time. It's cheap, tasty, and I've never gotten sick of it.

A couple of weeks ago the store quit carrying the cereal. I sighed and resigned myself to finding other breakfast choices and perhaps occasionally getting my fix by buying a box of the much more expensive name-brand variety.Then today I strode into Wally World determined to buy one, and only one, needed item. No impulse buys for me today, no siree. I'm over budget as it is.

Naturally, the first thing I saw as I walked in was the huge display of clearance cereal with the name-brand maple and brown sugar shredded wheat marked down to a dollar a box. For a mere $17.12, including tax, I was able to acquire 196 servings of the stuff, all guaranteed by the manufacturer to be good through June 12. (Andrew Tobias would be proud.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody

I did indeed just get paid on Friday. Spending the evening lesson planning and compulsively checking my email every five minutes in the hopes that there's someone in the outside world who wants to contact me counts as frugal, right? Is it terrible that I wish I had somewhere to go and someone to go with, costs be darned?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What gives, HSBC?

I decided to move more money into a c.d. since I wouldn't be surprised if the Fed tries some more rate cuts in a futile attempt to keep credit available so the economy doesn't crash down around us. I'm not sure HSBC is that stable right now, but I've been sticking with them largely out of inertia, and I figured that moving $1,000 from savings to a c.d. wouldn't increase my risk any. The six month 4.00% a.p.y. looks pretty good right now, and I can afford to decrease my liquid e-fund by that much since I'll be able to replenish it with over $900 after payday tomorrow. So Sunday night I took about a minute and a half to set up the transaction.

Tuesday I got the nice confirmation email informing me that I have an account and the information would all be available online in 3-5 business days. Today when I logged on, I discovered that I do, in fact, have a new c.d. With $0.00 in it earning 0.00%. I'm planning to ignore it for a day or two in the hopes that it's a computer glitch that'll get straightened out without my intervention. At least the HSBC customer service people are generally nice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My first raise (w00t?)

The school board has approved a 3.5% raise for all teachers and staff in the district. Even me. Even though my most significant accomplishment so far is finding 87 different ineffective teaching strategies. It isn't remotely fair. In a truly merit pay based system I'd probably be earning 17 cents a day. (Can you tell I feel a bit guilty?)

Emergency preparedness revisted.

Roommate and I both brought rabbit ears, but we get absolutely no reception. We've decided that we're too cheap/broke to spring for cable right now, but she likes to have something going in the background while she works. Since we're first year teachers and work spills over into pretty much all of our time at home, her dvd collection gets a lot of use, with House and Numb3rs in heavy rotation. It's a nice distraction when I need something soothing to do to keep me from crying while grading, except, of course, when I become emotionally invested in a darn crime show and stop to realize that we're totally unprepared for a terrorist attack on the water supply in our small town. (Even though that's a whole lot less of a threat than, say, gang violence.)

Back in December, I set a goal of increasing my emergency preparedness in 2008, and I'm afraid I've failed rather miserably. I have a terrible habit of lapsing into complacency for months at a time. I'm actually in even worse shape now than I was six months ago since I left my cache of water and food at my parents' house when I moved and am only now beginning to rebuild it. Roommate and I could get through 72 hours of sheltering in place after a natural disaster with no problem, but beyond that we might not fare so well.

After perusing the web for a bit, I'm reasonably certain I could dramatically improve our readiness level with about $200 worth of additional supplies. Obviously, I should purchase those supplies. I'm tempted to take a chunk of Friday's paycheck and order everything we need in one fell swoop. Then we'd be set, but it'd be a pretty hefty unbudgeted expense. I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn't actually stick to paying this back into savings over several months.

The other option is to space out these purchases over the next few months and budget a smaller sum each month. That would be a lot more sensible financially, but I'd be gambling on not absolutely needing any of the things I don't have in the intervening months. Since my 72 hour kit is solid, we'd probably be ok. Thoughts on which way I should approach this?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Various teaching updates.

I've made it through 80% of another week of teaching. Most of my major problem students have gotten themselves suspended, and following the sage guidance of my amazing long distance mentor, pleading with my TFA program director for help figuring out how to deal with major misbehavior, and getting the least helpful of my assistant principals to at least agree that I don't have to admit students who've physically threatened others back to class that same day has made for a somewhat saner situation.

The physical science students still aren't learning much, but they aren't throwing chairs. They were actually relatively attentive today in two of the three sections so I got to spend a lot of time helping them decipher the textbook and get past unfamiliar terms like "billiards," "atmosphere," "swat," "table tennis," and "opposite direction" in order to figure out what the heck forces and inertia are. I had football players up in front of class shoving each other around to help demonstrate, and, by some miracle, they were into it and yet stopped when asked!

Also, even though I'm a lousy teacher, I could conceivably have some positive impact on my anatomy students. So far this week I've helped a high school senior on food stamps make a game plan for applying for financial aid and pointed him toward free ACT prep resources. I probably haven't yet convinced my student with type I diabetes that she needs to get back on her insulin no matter how much she loathes giving herself the shots, but she has agreed I'm allowed to check in with her every day about her blood sugar and harass her about it. Can I count that as progress?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

There are sane jobs out there.

When we hit orientation in the Delta, we were given a speech about blogging and talking to the media. Basically, we're expected to think long and hard about how what we say will impact society's perception of our kids, our schools, and our organization. So I haven't been writing much about my job.

I know that all workplaces have their problems. I've listened to my dad's stories about when he first started in the engineering department under a boss who managed by belittlement and intimidation. I know that police officers, firefighters, and the men and women of the armed forces face more dangerous situations than I on a daily basis, and for this I am immensely grateful. Practically any job involves an element of stress.

There are, however, probably a lot of jobs that don't involve teenagers threatening to shoot you. There are jobs where you don't get cursed at on a daily basis, where you don't spend any significant fraction of your time trying to keep violence from breaking out in your workplace.

There are probably also a lot of schools where you can use the Fred Jones methods of body language and proximity to show you mean business without having students inform you that you are going to get hit if you keep doing that. I would guess that in most schools, if a student picks up a chair and threatens to throw it at another student while calling him a [racial epithet], refuses to go to the office, and wanders the halls until security hunts her down, the office wouldn't send the student back to class after talking to her for a few minutes.

I'm getting better at handling the minor misbehavior, the talking and juvenile silliness. The options at my disposal, a referral to the office or a phone call home, generally have some impact on that. Not so much on the student who piped up during a discussion of speed to tell me he has a rifle with a scope on it, suggest that that travels faster than 70mph, and inquire whether I could outrun it. He was back in the hallways making shooting motions with his fingers and grabbing his crotch as he walked by me a few days later. I'm not sure what impact sending him back to the office had. At least the kid who directly threatened to shoot me is being much friendlier now and is no longer in my class.

It's also highly ineffective for administrators to tell students that they view anyone throwing anything at me as assault and that they will pursue legal action and expulsion and then give the one student of the many I know are doing this who I'm able to actually catch three days of in school suspension and send him back. (Don't threaten consequences you won't enforce, please.) The kid continued throwing things. Upon catching him again, I wrote him up and dealt with his subsequent defacing of the referral form and managed to get him to stop screaming expletives at me and get the hell out of my room. As I began to write another form to send down to the office, I was hit by an open bottle of lotion which spilled all over my pants, absolutely hilarious in the eyes of my students. Then, of course, the 2L bottle of hand sanitizer I provided because there is no soap in the bathrooms was thrown my way, along with several paper wads. (At least it wasn't a book this time; my medical dictionary is in pieces because of that class.) I went to the office to get help, and an assistant principal told me he'd try to get to it that day but that there was little he could do unless the students confess. I ended up leaving early after struggling not to break down in front of my next class, and I know that by Monday every kid in the school will know that and perceive me as even weaker than they already do. I fully expect to be hit by a student someday.

In short, my classroom culture sucks. There's this charming idea in TFA that if I can just invest my students in doing well and get them to want to succeed all of these problems will go away, but I can't envision doing that with some of these kids. The year got off to a poor start, it's largely my fault for being such a shattered wreck the first weeks of school, and I don't know if it is fixable. I'm exhausted and running out of emotional resources to devote to this task.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

These Christmas gifts brought to you by Bank of America

As I was flipping through the glossy alumni association magazine yesterday, I noticed a Bank of America ad touting new Alumni Association checking. I'm not about to be swayed by a debit card with a mascot on it, but the ad also promised $100 for new customers. A perusal of the fine print revealed that I need merely sign up for free checking by the end of October, make an opening deposit of $25, and wait 90 days.

Now, I have no desire to use Bank of America. They have a lovely reputation for inventing random fees, and based on my mother's experiences with my grandparents' accounts Bank of America's customer service isn't as good as that offered by my hometown bank, USAA, and HSBC. But, heck, I think I can deal with the minor hassle of opening and closing an account to get $100. Nowhere in the ad did it say that you had to actually be an alumnus or association member to get this deal so if you aren't a Bank of America customer and feel like making a quick $100 drop me an email and I'll send you the offer code.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An almost payday net worth update

The rough total stands at $22,866.71. That's substantially less than last time I calculated in June, which is slightly depressing, but this is the first month in ages that I've gotten paid and the market turmoil hasn't been kind to the index fund in my Roth. For a bit of perspective, my first year's take home pay will be $23,759.44. So, yeah, it could be a lot worse. Meh.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Just checked my Vanguard account...

My Roth is currently down $753.14. Considering that I had $5,000 in there on May 15, I'm not too thrilled. I'm still hoping it will rebound sometime in the next forty years :)

On the plus side, my mother got panicky the week before last and I dutifully moved her IRA out of a target date fund and into a Treasury money market so she has lost a lot less. That matters far more to me than what happens to my own money right now since I'm reasonably good at keeping my own financial worries in check.

I'm going home!

I was dreading this week. Today was my first official observation by my mentor teacher for state licensure, and I've been struggling a bit to get my classes back on track after I was sick at the beginning of last week. There are a lot of days when it feels like my best efforts still accomplish nothing with these kids. So Sunday afternoon I decided that I'll go home this weekend.

I needed something to look forward to. My parents will be coming down here in two weeks anyway for a music festival, and I am eager to see them, but I also want to see my brother, grandparents, and college friends S. and J. Getting to pet the dogs and possibly get some Thai food won't hurt either. I'm not yet sure whether this is me moving my planned end of the month trip up or whether I'm adding another trip with all the extra fuel costs. To heck with the budget!

I thus got up this morning with a smile on my face, knowing that I was one day closer to returning to civilization. Classes went remarkably well, although I did abandon hope of teaching for the first half of first hour and decided to just made my students work problems until I was confident they had finally settled down enough to tackle new material. One of the assistant principals sat in at the same time as my mentor second hour, and my students were really getting it for a change. (Maybe I'll still have a job a year from now!) Life is getting better.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not nearly as bad as I'd thought.

This is what I get for trying to blog while sick with a stomach bug. A mental review of my accounting system while in the shower and a quick glance at my bedroom mirror revealed that this month hasn't been quite so financially dismal as I'd thought: the water bill that was due a week ago has been taken care of using September's first paycheck so the one that'll be due in mid-October should come out of October's funds. I can transfer a full $60 to personal escrow for insurance, buy groceries, replenish my dwindling supply of toilet paper, and likely still end the month with a few bucks left over from paycheck #1 to put toward a trip home in October.

Fie! A pox on unexpected expenses!

I was doing pretty well with the one-paycheck challenge until the phone/internet bill arrived today and I discovered AT&T has finally gotten around to charging us for the modem they sent us a month and a half ago. Under my current accounting system, the money Roommate pays me for her half of the September bills will be October income so I'm currently out the entire extra $67.66. Throw in the $28 I spent on toys, oh wait, lab supplies, this weekend, and my financial picture is looking decidedly less rosy.

I have $107.78 left to get by until October 3rd. That doesn't sound bad at all until you consider that I need to set aside roughly $60 in personal escrow for auto and renters' insurance and there's the pesky matter of an upcoming water bill. It looks like I may fail this first month, unless I'm willing to alter my accounting system and start treating interest income from my savings as spendable rather than trying to "hide" it from myself. I'd had high hopes of getting started on saving for upcoming birthday and Christmas gifts as well, but that's clearly out right now.

I'll need to be much, much more careful in October. My parents will be coming to visit that first weekend, but I'd like to plan a trip home later in the month so I can see my brother, grandparents, friends, and dogs as well. Who knows what gasoline will cost then? Registering for yet another Praxis II test will eat a sizable sum, but if I passed the Biology Content Knowledge test I took this month, I'll be able to get that fee reimbursed by TFA so that should work out to be a wash. I'd been hoping to add a paper subscription to the newspaper and a gym membership as well, but that will be difficult to fit into the budget.

I'm not sure what I can cut that will make enough of a difference. I know that I can shave a few dollars a week from my grocery budget through more cost conscious meal planning and that I can eliminate fast food and school lunches, but I'm not wildly extravagant right now so there's only so much I can reduce those areas. I'll try to be more mindful of my driving and walk to the store more often. I suppose the key will be to avoid being seduced by random temptations like this month's new socks ($6.60), bicycle helmet ($9.46), and legal software ($19.95).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Estate planning for the young and broke

There's something to be said for having your affairs in order. Even though I'm 22 and seemingly healthy, you never know what tomorrow might bring. After watching all of the legal hassles my mother has to go through to take care of my grandparents, I've resolved to do my best to make things simpler if I'm ever incapacitated or otherwise out of the picture. Since I need only a handful of basic documents to take care of that, I've opted to get some software and set things up myself rather than paying a lawyer.

Thanks to an organizational membership, I was able to get Quicken Willmaker Plus 2008 for $19.95. (Note: I have no affiliation with Quicken or reason to believe this program is any better than any other. It was just my cheapest option. If you've found glaring flaws or a better program, please do let me know.) The program has thus far been easy to use and seems reasonably comprehensive. I may still ask my lawyer aunt to look over everything when I'm done.

Here's what I figure I need:

1. Alien Abduction Packet
If I ever need my parents to take over my finances, they'd better be able to find my accounts. At the moment, my mother is aware of my checking, savings, and Roth accounts, but she doesn't have the user names or passwords. Come to think of it, I've listed them as beneficiaries on my pension and group life insurance through work but have no idea whom they'd contact about that.

2. Durable Power of Attorney
Knowing where my money is won't do my folks a lot of good if they can't legally access it. I trust my mom and dad to make good decisions and act in my best interest if the need arises so I should make sure they have the authority to do so.

3. Health Care Proxy and Living Will
I'm stalling on this since making decisions about the end of my life is surprisingly difficult. It needs to be done, though. I wouldn't want to put the burden of making those choices wholly on my parents.

4. Will
Honestly, I could probably skip this if I felt like it since I don't have a ton of assets and would want everything to go to my parents anyway. I'm in the process of getting my HSBC account set up as P.O.D. so that money won't have to get held up in probate. As long as I'm in the process of getting everything else squared away, I might as well take care of this.

Once everything is done and notarized, I'll just pop it into a big envelope and have my parents stick it in their safe. Now, if only I could find a tactful way to ask them to do something similar and draw up such papers for themselves as well. I'm hopeful that it'll be decades (well, actually, centuries, but that's probably overly optimistic) before they'll need such things, but it would give me peace of mind to know I'd have one fewer thing to worry about in an emergency.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Plenty of turmoil

I don't have any insights into the whole financial market meltdown extravaganza. I'm trying to avoid the temptation to mess with my Roth's asset allocation even though the swings in value have been leaving me a bit nauseated. It probably doesn't help that I've managed to get the interwebs working in my classroom so I can follow the financial headlines in the New York Times during my lunch break.

If the whole system is crashing down around us, there aren't that many things I can do. For the moment, I'm going to try to focus on being happy about my students who actually tried on today's quiz, getting my second $985.81 of my teaching career, the cheap thrill of buying a new package of socks and eating frozen pizza for dinner without overmuch concern for the cost. I'll worry about the bigger picture in the morning.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An open letter to my students:

Yeah, you are absolutely right.

Of course my primary motivation for delaying graduate school, uprooting my entire life, and taking a fairly low paying job that makes me miserable and leaves me with almost no free time was to oppress you. Trying to ensure you have some understanding of physical science is just a clever tactic for keeping you down. That's what white people do, right?

I couldn't cut it in college. I'm a pathetic drop out; after all, that's the only possible reason I would end up teaching in a school like this and living in a town like this.

I'm terrible at math, even worse than you, ninth grader who has no idea how to multiply fractions and sometimes struggles with long division. That whole thing where I sometimes solve an algebra problem and find that my variable to be something other than a positive integer is evidence of my stubborn ignorance.

I'm only here because I want to pay off my student loans.

Your math teacher and I do have terrible crushes on each other. The fact that we were talking to each other at the football game is absolute proof. Sadly, there's no way we'll ever work up the nerve to get together without the intercession of dozens of fourteen-year-olds. Maybe if you can persuade him to ask me out, you'll get to be best man at our wedding.

I am indeed a former gang member. How else could I have known what those signs you've been throwing meant and written you up?

I want you out of my class. It isn't that you are being so blatantly and persistently disruptive that none of your classmates can learn right now, or anything, I just get a kick out of sending people to the office. Also, if I can manage to get everyone suspended I won't have to work.

I am nuts. Not only do I not watch Hannah Montana, I don't even have television. My car is old, my cellphone is terribly uncool, and I wear the most pathetic assortment of hand me down clothes known to man.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Job Loyalty

This month brings my dad's twentieth anniversary of working for the same company. I suspect that's an anomaly in this age. He doesn't feel any particular loyalty to the company, and recently told me he'll consider it a failure if he's still there when it's time to retire.

He's been happier for the past decade or so after he got out of the engineering department, off of the management track, and into a job out in the factory where he also gets to do some machining. It didn't hurt that he traded a job where he sometimes ended up working twenty-four hours straight or sleeping under his desk for one that required fifty hour weeks. He traded advancement and more money for sanity and time with us, and I'm glad.

His company isn't a great place to work. He has a pretty good relationship with his immediate supervisor, but the upper management doesn't grasp what he does or that the plant can't function without him. That isn't a good thing considering the problems his company has been having.

I'm 99% certain I won't be staying in this job for more than two years. My classes are improving, but I'm still far from the teacher these kids need me to be so there's the possibility that the school won't renew my contract at the end of this year. If, as I hope will happen, I continue to improve and become an effective teacher who enjoys teaching, I still wouldn't want to remain here. I see graduate school in my future, and even if that changes and teaching at the secondary level becomes my permanent career, there are school districts that are actually somewhat functional and aren't five hours away from the people I care most about.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I've devised a simple way of tracking spending to accompany my simple non-budget. I'm setting a starting balance of $985.81 and then noting the amount of each transaction, the nature of the purchase or inflow, and the difference or sum so I have a running total of what I have left for the month. If I can avoid hitting zero before October 4, then September will have been a financial success. Once I get the "personal escrow" fund going I'll track its total in a similar fashion.

My bedroom door has a full length mirror; naturally, I decided the best use of the space was as a writing surface. All I needed were a couple of wet-erase markers left over from this summer, and voila! Tracking where I can't help but see it several times a day. I think I might also tape up a picture of a nice house in the woods as a reminder of why I bother.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Planning purposefully

Hello, my name is E.C., and I don't like budgets. Oh, in theory they're all very nice. I always get a kick out of the planning, meticulously allocating every cent. I'm even reasonably good at sticking to them, and therein lies the problem.

I get a wee bit too attached to the budget, and then I end up resenting it. By the end of the month I end up kicking myself because if I'm out of money in the dining out category, it doesn't matter if I'm ten bucks ahead of the game when it comes to household expenses, I'll deny myself an eighty nine cent bean burrito. That feels like a moderately stupid way to go through life, and thus the budgeting isn't sustainable.

The alternative that I've fallen into the past few months, making no plan and looking at my balances every couple of weeks and thinking, "Hmm, I seem to be spending money at an alarming rate," and then continuing to make no plan, is clearly an even more stupid way to go through life. There has to be a system that'll work well for me.

I'm hoping my new non-budget will turn out to be that system. Paying myself first seems simple and flexible enough to keep me on track without driving myself crazy. As long as I meet my goal of putting aside one of my paychecks each month, the other will be mine to do with as I please. If I'm saving diligently and paying rent and bills on time, does it really matter what I choose to do with my discretionary funds?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Big Goal

I've been putting one foot in front of the other, somehow getting through the days. I'm still having moments of overwhelming grief, guilt, and anger with the world, and my mental state hasn't been particularly conducive to connecting with a lot of unfamiliar teenagers. Things are gradually getting better, aside from yesterday when one kid threatened to shoot me if I called his parents again.

TFA is proving to be more helpful in the region than they were at Institute. Even though I still feel woefully unprepared, I haven't lost hope that I'll eventually get my classroom management issues under control. There's also a possibility that my school will eventually figure out what they want the class schedule to be so I'll know what subjects I'll be teaching and when. (Long story. It'll probably seem funny a few years from now.)

However, this is more of a personal finance blog than a teacher blog, at least for now, so I suppose I ought to report on that aspect of things. Thursday I received my first paycheck, a long-awaited end to the months of hemorrhaging money. Now that I've seen the first check and all the various deductions, I can plan a budget based on bringing in the princely sum of $985.81 twice a month, including summer.

My roommate and I independently set similar goals for our finances: we each want to live on one paycheck a month. Getting by on a net income of $11,829.72 sounds quite manageable since we're quite willing to continue the broke collegiate lifestyle, at least in theory. She's planning to throw the rest at paying off credit card debt and a loan from her mother before tackling student loans; I want to sock away a bit more money for a newer used car and then get aggressive about saving for retirement.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


When someone you love kills himself, blogging doesn't matter any more.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I want a frozen pizza.

I've been craving the warm cheese, zesty tomato sauce, and crisp crust for days, but my favorite kind, the kind we got almost every Friday night when I was a kid, the kind that brings back all sorts of warm, fuzzy memories of home and safety and love, costs $4.25, and I just can't justify spending that kind of money right now. It's time to quit trying to comfort myself with food anyway; this hasn't been a great summer for healthy eating habits and exercise, and that's now reflected in extra pounds and lethargy.

Classes start Monday, and I'm not ready. I'm not ready for a first period class in which none of my students are proficient in either reading or math, for ninth graders who already have two children, for the prospect that violent unrest in certain sections of town will spill over to school and make a dangerous situation worse, for administrators who've assured us it's ok that the schedule is screwed up since we shouldn't expect to teach anything meaningful until after Labor Day anyway. Monday morning I'll get up and try to do everything I can to help my students learn, but today I am scared and want a damn pizza.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Miscellaneous updates

Well, I finally have internet access at home, sort of. The modem arrived today, but my laptop won't connect to the network now that we've set up WEP encryption (maybe a linux issue?). Worse yet, my desktop chose today to go berserk. After a couple of system restores, it is somewhat functional, but whenever I attempt to enable the wireless, it reboots itself instead. Fortunately, my roommate is willing to let me make use of her ancient desktop until I get these issues ironed out. If there are any techies out there with brilliant suggestions, please do drop me a line.

On a more positive note, I'm officially employed now, which is really nice considering the students start school on Monday. My gross salary is $34,000 a year. Naturally, the first thing I did once I had internet was head to the IRS site to scope out the 1040EZ form and estimate how much I'm likely to pay in federal income tax. The number is far less than I'd imagined. I'm a bit too sleepy to deal with the more involved form for calculating my state tax liability tonight.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Really, I'm not broke, just frugal!

Never before have I felt this weird about having savings. There hasn't been much opportunity for it to cause social awkwardness since I don't talk about it in real life with anyone besides immediate family. Now, however, pretty much everyone around me is talking about money all the time.

That's largely because the many of the other first years are dealing with a serious financial crunch induced by being unable to work all summer, moving, and having to pay all sorts of costs to get certified, ranging from $900 for graduate tuition to $3 to have forms notarized. People who received transitional funding have all depleted it, and lots of people are scrambling to figure out how to make it until we get paid in September. There's lots of talk of living on popsicles, using credit cards to pay utility bills, and taking out loans from parents.

I'm keeping quiet and taking advantage of the opportunity to embrace the bare-bones lifestyle. It feels slightly disingenuous, but I am much broker than I was in May and I don't want to deplete my savings any more than I already have. Still, I'm not sure what to say when the second years ask me what I'm doing for lunch, I explain that I packed a sandwich, and they try to commiserate and launch into reminiscences about getting down to $4 in their checking accounts before they got their first paychecks.

Yes, I will probably ratchet up my lifestyle a wee bit in the next few months. I do want Netflix and a newspaper subscription, and I'll probably treat myself to an occasional chocolate shake at the fast food joint next to my school. If I'm feeling wild and crazy, I might even shell out $25 a month to join the gym. However, overall, I'm hoping not to abandon my frugal habits, and I find it a little annoying that people assume that the only reason I could possibly have for bringing a pb&j is a cash flow problem.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Technical difficulties: please stand by.

After over an hour on the phone with unhelpful tech support yesterday, a visit to the AT&T store this afternoon, a call to my roommate's old isp for clarification about her modem, a call to the AT&T store, a call to the number the AT&T store guy gave us, a trip to our friends' home so we could go online to find the number for AT&T that would allow us to talk to a human on a Saturday, a call to that number, and a call to yet another AT&T number that the person at the other number provided, we should have internet access within three to five days. (I'll believe it when I see it.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Life amidst the boxes.

I've moved most of my worldly possessions to the Delta. It's been an expensive few days since I paid for half of a washer and dryer and value being able to eat and thus had to purchase some food to fill our empty fridge. With any luck, we'll get our internet access up and running tomorrow and won't have to drive to our friends' homes to steal their wireless anymore.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Is it time for more sophisticated software?

I vow to get back to tracking my spending in August. I have no formal budget since I have no baseline for what utilities will cost, and there will be plenty of added expenses this month like stocking the pantry in my new place. The goal isn't to reign in my spending so much as get a feeling for what my new life will cost, but I know the discipline of writing things down will help me avoid overspending. It's just easier to stay on track when every penny gets recorded every day since that makes it much easier to see when silly little expenditures begin to have a serious impact.

Up until now, I'd been perfectly happy recording my purchases in the original, free, spreadsheet-based version of PearBudget. It worked quite nicely for my purposes, and the price was right. However, I'm wondering whether it may be time to switch to something like Quicken or MS Money. If I start investing in taxable accounts, there are far more things I'll need to keep track of one way or another, be it with software or a big folder in a filing cabinet. I'm not eager to give up the simplicity of an Excel (or Open Office) approach, but it's possible learning to use a new program could make my life easier in the long run when I have to do things like figure basis in order to do taxes after selling a mutual fund.

Do you use some form of money management software? If so, do you find that the benefits outweigh the costs in both money and time?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

If you are a renter, you need renter's insurance.

I went an entire year in my apartment without taking out a renter's insurance policy. Paying premiums seemed like yet another drain on my already tight budget so I managed to keep putting it off. It was pretty idiotic since replacing all of my stuff if there had been a break-in or a fire would have been a much bigger expense and a huge hassle.

My roommate is a musician with some fairly valuable instruments so insurance was a priority for her, and I agreed to handle it since my mother works at an insurance agency and all. Getting renter's insurance was much cheaper than I'd expected. Our stuff is covered for losses up to $24,000, plus we have $300,000 in liability coverage in case we accidentally catch our house on fire or someone gets injured falling off of our deck, for the low cost of $215 a year. We'll even get a further discount once we get our security system working. The whole process took less than half an hour.

So, seriously, no excuses. If you had to replace everything you owned, that would be a major pain. If you had to pay for everything you owned out of pocket all at once, that would be far, far worse.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


The new teacher meeting thing wasn't quite a resounding success. I'd thought we'd be getting our contracts, but it turned out that we were just filling out applications and miscellaneous paperwork. Worse yet, it looks like there probably isn't a 403(b) plan at all! There were forms for the state teacher pension program, but nothing about defined contribution plans, and current teachers in the district haven't heard of one being offered.

This doesn't change my plans to save as much as I can during these next two years, but it does force me to reassess my savings goals. What exactly are my priorities after I max out my Roth each year? Am I saving for retirement in taxable accounts? Building up a larger cash cushion for grad school? Trying to amass a down payment for a house purchase that may be a decade hence? I wish I had a better sense of direction.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Leaving on a jetplane.

My time in Houston has drawn to a close. If my flights aren't delayed, I should be in the air somewhere between Dallas and Memphis when this is posted. I'll probably be grumbling to myself about having to pay fifteen bucks to check a bag. Some corps members are planning to fuss at the regional office about that in the hopes that they'll reimburse us. (I probably could have managed to somehow fit six days worth of professional attire into my carry on bag, but when you're required to bring your own sheets, towel, and pillow as well as textbooks packing light becomes a bit trickier.)

I'll be without internet for the next couple of days before I head home Tuesday night to see my family and figure out how to transport my stuff. Rest assured, I have plenty of fun activities planned to fill the void left by being unable to blog, namely possibly spending all of Monday waiting for the gas company (They've said I can expect the technician to show up sometime between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. but also stated, "Please note that, on very rare occasions, our technician may arrive after 5 p.m., but no later than midnight.") and filling out employment papers and such at the district office Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Unsolicited advice girl strikes again!

I was all excited for about a minute and a half when I read Jonathan's post on cd rates. 4.25%>3.50% that I'm getting now! Except, of course, I can't afford to tie up every penny I have for the next eight months since that would defeat the purpose of the emergency fund. I then ran the numbers on moving $5,000 into a cd and quickly decided it isn't worth the reduction in liquidity. meh.

Then I had a semi-brilliant idea: my parents would probably benefit far more from such rates. After all, they have a lot more money to worry about. A quick visit to their bank's website revealed that they are currently earning either 1.70 or 1.80% APY depending on how much they have sitting in their money market account. A few months ago their money market account was competitive with the major online savings accounts, but I guess those days are no more.

So I mentioned the rates to my mom when we talked tonight. She's been hesitant to do any online banking before, but it sounds like she's willing to make the jump and open a Bank of America cd online since the rates are so much better than she can get at one of their local brick-and-mortar branches. It's all part of my dastardly plan to minimize the chances I'll end up supporting my parents in a few decades.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The intersection of cheap, lazy, and bored.

I want to go see The Dark Knight. I watched Batman Begins with my dad on opening night, during a heady summer when I spent many a Friday night at the movies decompressing after organic chem tests, and it was fantastic so I've been eager to see if The Dark Knight will live up to its promise. Now my dad and brother are raving about the movie, and everyone around me has either seen it or is trying to carve out some time time to do so. Tonight for the first time in weeks, I have absolutely nothing productive I ought to be doing, no lessons to plan, papers to grade, or houses to go see. It would be the perfect opportunity to head to the movies, except that I'm in a strange city with no car, not interested in trying to negotiate an unfamiliar bus system alone at night, and feeling far too broke to spring for cab fare and a ticket.

Fortunately, the internet connection at Rice is much faster than the one at University of Houston so I can spend the evening watching Firefly on Hulu instead.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Temptation abounds.

I've signed a lease on a sensible little rental house, the place with the big deck that costs $650 a month. My roommate will be handling all of the annoying little details of getting the utilities turned on since I'm back in Houston for round two of TFA boot camp, a seminar on long term planning for math and science teachers. I'm happy to rent that house. I am. Really.

But during the past week I kept driving by a charming historic two story brick house with a fantastic porch. From the outside, at least, it has tremendous appeal, and there's a sign in the front yard that reads, "For Sale By Owner: $60,000". I managed not to give in to the urge to knock on the door and present myself as a possible buyer, but it took a bit of willpower.

There are a million good reasons not to even think of buying a house right now. I could well decide to go off to grad school or move to a school district closer to my family at the end of my two year commitment. The housing market in this town isn't booming so finding a buyer or renter later could become a huge hassle. Technically, I'm unemployed until next week when I sign my contract for the year. The house might need a lot of work, and I don't have time, energy, and money to devote to a fixer upper at this point in my life. A 20% down payment would leave me with an uncomfortably small emergency fund. I'm also just not mature enough for that kind of a commitment.

Besides, you simply don't buy your dream house two months after graduating from university. Life just doesn't work that way, and if it somehow did, I'd probably worry myself to death wondering what tragedy would befall me to balance out my good fortune. There will still be great houses a few years from now when I'll likely have more money and a better sense of where I'm going in life, right?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Feeling like a fiscal failure.

I was getting by on way too little sleep this summer, my anxiety levels were through the roof, I was failing dramatically at everything I attempted, and I honestly just quit caring about the future. It wasn't pretty, and I'm still having to work hard to avoid slipping back into those sorts of thought patterns. Needless to say, carefully tracking my spending hasn't been foremost on my mind.

I ran the numbers today, and it wasn't pretty. I'd hoped to keep the costs of this transition to $2,000 or less, covering the entire summer using the fellowship money. However, I never really developed a concrete plan for doing so, and that's reflected in how badly I'm overshooting my tentative spending plan. It looks like once I pay a deposit and first month's rent, pay my credit card bill in full, and pay other random fees and deposits that'll doubtless crop up along the way, I'll be about $300 over.

Admittedly, some of that spending was predictable and unavoidable. I had to pay $900 for graduate tuition in order to get my provisional license. Assuming our meeting with the landlord tomorrow morning goes well, I'll be spending $650 for a month's rent and the deposit. There was no way to get from Houston to the Delta without spending money for gasoline, but that expense will be reduced if I let U. reimburse me for half the cost, as he keeps insisting I must. Keeping the temporary health insurance policy and paying for prescription medication without coverage isn't great fun, but I still see it as essential.

Then there were the other things, some large, some small, many necessary, some not, most forgotten until I checked my credit card statement. Looking back, if I'd done this right, with proper planning and sanity, it would have been extremely tight but I would have at least gotten closer to achieving my goal. I screwed up. Now what?

I know I need to get back to tracking my spending now, budgeting as soon as I have an idea of what bills will be, and saving as soon as I get my first paycheck. If I effectively execute those three steps, all should be fine, and this will be nothing more than an insignificant blip. That bothers me.

Shouldn't there be some consequence? It's difficult for me to avoid devising punishments for myself, ways to reinforce the message that this isn't something I may do again, but I know that such impulses stem more from the dark and destructive recesses of my soul than from any rational system for keeping myself on track.

So if I survive next week back in Houston, I'm going to allow myself to buy the gas necessary to drive home and see my family for a few days aftwerward. When the time comes to stock my pantry, I'm going to buy groceries that will enable me to make varied and enjoyable meals rather than trying to calculate the cheapest possible way to meet my dietary requirements. I'm going to try to keep living my life despite my shortcomings.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

There's no doubt about it.

Money makes a lot of things easier. The house hunt has been going well so today many of my fellow first-years spent the afternoon strategizing about how best to scrape together a deposit and first month's rent. There was much checking of bank websites to determine account balances, some speculation about when the university is going to cash those $900 checks for the graduate tuition for this summer's coursework,and a few plaintive phone calls home. It looks like everyone will be able to pull it off, but there were several tense moments.

I know I'm incredibly lucky to be in a position where this type of thing isn't a big concern, but, at the same time, I can't help wondering why many of my compatriots waited until now to address this issue. If you know months in advance that you'll be facing a large expense, why wait until the day before you absolutely must have the money to start planning?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

House Hunters: Delta

I'm typing this while lying on the couch of some kind strangers who've opened their home to the next cohort of teachers in this town. Tomorrow the first order of business is finding a place to live for the next year, and all eleven of the new TFA teachers are planning to plunge into the house hunt en masse, hoping to maximize our odds of getting the whole thing sorted out as efficiently as possible. Our orientation coordinators and some current teachers were kind enough to vet some places for rent and compile a list, pretty much a necessity since the rental market in our town of around 15,000 apparently operates primarily by word of mouth.

There are numerous options. I'm still not sure whether I want to try to live alone so I've also been sussing out the suitability of one of my acquaintances from Institute as a roommate. We both require a fair amount of private space, quiet, and solitude to function; don't really care whether it's possible to see the floors of our bedrooms beneath the clutter; aren't fond of keeping dwellings cold during the summer months; and like large dogs, an important consideration since she's been volunteering with a weimaraner rescue group for a couple of years and is eager to adopt one of her own. It all sounds promising.

Coming in, I set a target of spending no more than $400 a month on rent, possibly a bit more if utilities are included, reasoning that that's what I paid last semester so it ought to be quite manageable on a teacher's salary. It turns out that could get you a two bedroom house around here. An apartment complex that looked quite decent from the outside is listed as having one and two bedroom places available for $150 to 200. My potential roommate is especially interested in a three bedroom, two bath house with a big deck, fenced back yard, and landlord who welcomes pets, for $650 a month.

Does spending $325 a month plus half of utility costs seem reasonable? There's a constant trade-off between present comfort and future benefit when making financial decisions. As much as I'd like to maximize my savings during the next two years, I also want to live somewhere I'll look forward to coming home to.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ambitious vs. Feasible

We've spent more hours than I'd care to recall being lectured on the importance of setting appropriate Big Goals for our students. It's crucial to set an ambitious goal that will move our students toward accomplishing something meaningful, possibly even life-changing, and yet also ensure the goal is something we and they could conceivably pull off. The same basic process should apply to setting financial goals.

My new friend U., who'll be teaching Biology at my school, rode with me from Houston to the Delta since he had to leave his car with his parents when he moved. We tried to keep a conversation going pretty much the whole trip, partly to get to know one another better and partly to keep whoever was driving at the time alert and focused. Out of the blue, somewhere in the middle of Louisiana, U. mentioned that he wants to save $30,000 in the next two years.

Ambitious, yes, but is it feasible? I suspect that even if I lived on ramen noodles or beans and rice for two years, lived in a dilapidated house with lots of roommates, and avoided shopping I still wouldn't be able to pull it off. We won't meet with the administration and get our contracts for a couple more weeks, but the word on the street is that starting salaries will be about $31,000 a year. Taxes, insurance, and pension contributions will take a hefty bite out of that. U. will have to buy a car sometime in the next few weeks, likely financing it since he has around $5,300 to his name, $5,000 of which is tied up in a cd for the next few months, plus another $1,500 in transitional funding that he'll eventually have to pay back. (I wasn't being nosy, I swear, he volunteered this.) Throw in that he's a great son who has promised his struggling immigrant parents he'll send home $300 a month, and I just don't see it happening. I would, however, love to see him prove me wrong.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Greetings from the Delta!

After the five weeks of sheer exhaustion that is Teach for America institute I'm finally here! Well, sort of. We started orientation at a college campus today and won't be heading to our towns until Tuesday evening. I'll be sleeping on my air mattress on some current corps members' floor and trying to find housing, along with seeing my school and meeting with my principal during the rest of the week. Then Sunday morning I'll head to Memphis to catch a flight back to Houston for a mandatory week-long Math/Science seminar. It will almost certainly be valuable, but having to leave for a week won't make transitioning to a new community any easier. My parents want to know when to make the five hour drive to bring my furniture from home, and I can't give them a definite answer because I don't know with certainty that I'll be able to find housing this week.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Out of the loop

I've felt strangely disconnected from the real world lately. Shuttling back and forth between a dormitory full of stressed-out twenty-something overachievers and a high school full of failing summer school students and trying to get by on an average of four hours sleep a night during the week will do that to a person. It also doesn't leave a lot of time to follow the news. Every few days I check my retirement account and discover I've lost more money, but that's the extent of my awareness of financial goings on.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A victory over Teach for America insanity

The percentage of days when I walk out of class smiling instead of wanting to hide and cry is increasing even though I still start each morning sick with worry. Most of my students know a few things they didn't three weeks ago, and they're nailing the concepts even when their math and problem solving skills fall far short. My kids and I may not be anywhere close to proficiency, but we're moving in the right direction. Still, there's still a nagging little voice in the back of my mind asking if I'm really strong enough and brave enough to pull this off.

That voice went from a whisper to a shout Wednesday evening when I got my official placement. Apparently, my tentative categorization as a physics teacher meant nothing: they wanted me to teach anatomy and physiology full time. Given that I haven't had the subject since high school, purposely avoided it in college since I found it to be the only dull area of biology, and have forgotten most of the little I ever did know, I was more than a bit shaken by the idea.

Thanks in part to the assertiveness training that's part of the classroom management coursework here at Institute, I worked up the nerve to tell the person in charge of placement how I felt. She informed me that they'd figured that it would work out because they knew I could learn the material, but I still remained unconvinced. Given the lengthy list of subjects I'd told TFA I'd be eager to teach (physics, physical science, general biology, any math from algebra I to calculus, and chemistry) and the shortages of teachers with my skill set, the placement just didn't make sense. I made it clear that I found it difficult to envision spending the next two years teaching a subject in which I lack sufficient content knowledge to feel well qualified, and the placement coordinator agreed to investigate the options while still stressing that my placement was a much better fit than what many other corps members have received and managed to live through. I spent twenty-four hours fretting about whether I could reasonably hope to get through two years of trying to stay a few chapters ahead of my students with my sanity intact and what my life would be like if I couldn't.

Oddly enough, Teach for America was trying to fill a vacant 9th grade physical science position at the same high school where they'd assigned me to teach anatomy. The placement coordinator told me that it is extremely rare that they change placements as a result of corps member requests, but she agreed to let me switch. They certainly don't lose anything by allowing it, and I gain a lot.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The soothing surety of numbers.

I awake each morning with dread in my heart and a tight, uncomfortable sensation radiating through my body. Teach for America is an organization of perfectionists, and perfectionism means you're constantly failing. Wednesday night I got 2.5 hours of sleep so that I could finish everything that was due Thursday morning, and the work I turned in was painfully sub par. Thursday I couldn't keep my class under control and didn't finish the lesson I had planned as a result. Then Thursday afternoon we all had to attend a school wide meeting about improvement plans and dismissal procedures. The big theme was that Teach for America is much, much, bigger that we are, and their movement is far too important to jeopardize by allowing less than excellent teachers to enter schools with their imprimatur. I wept on the bus ride back to the dorms.

I spent the night wondering how many more days I'd be allowed to stay and struggle before being dismissed from the program. How could I get 100% of my students to meet their growth goals for the summer when I couldn't keep order in my classroom? Some of my students know the material reasonably well but rarely bothered to come to school during the year. Some are working and learning. Some are openly defiant, brag about getting kicked out of classes, and turn in no work. One can barely read. In the eyes of TFA, if I cannot reach all of these kids in the next three weeks, I will have failed.

That night, I fantasized about simply getting in my car and driving away. I wanted, more than anything, to go home, but I couldn't return, couldn't bear the thought of my father looking at me with disappointment for the rest of my life, living with the shame of being weak-willed, a quitter. I managed to push the thoughts of the only apparent alternative way out to the back of my brain and resolved to stay until they fire me.

Things were better Friday. My direct supervisor decided our group needed to have a debriefing on the previous day's school meeting and apologized for the tone. He tried his best to reassure us that dismissal from the program is a last resort. I did a better job of maintaining discipline in my class, and my students seemed genuinely interested in our experiment. A box full of wonderful books on teaching and physics from TeawithBuzz was awaiting me when I got back to the dorm. Life in general seemed a bit more manageable.

I'm still not sure that I can do this. I want to teach, but I doubt that I'll be the educator I need to be by the end of the summer. Honestly, my getting fired might be for the greater good, however desperately I want that not to be the case. If my best effort isn't enough, then what?

I'm an obsessive worrier and hate not having a solid plan b. It's too late to reconsider declining the graduate program in education at my university and way too late to reconsider grad school in physics for the fall. The only real option would be to find a job of some sort, reboot, and start making plans for the next year. It's frightening.

This morning I was in need of a way to calm myself down so I ran the numbers to remind myself that even if I get dismissed from Teach for America and don't manage to find a job right away I won't be starving in the streets. It's a silly thing to do, but it helped me realize that I do have options.

My current net worth, not counting the few bucks of cash I have on hand, is $25,913.64. If I end up leaving or being dismissed, I'll have to pay back some fellowship money. I'm also going to have to pay for graduate tuition next month in order to teach in my region. Allowing for all that, I could still leave at the end of the summer with $23,013.64, less whatever else I spend this summer on niceties like printer ink, health insurance, and cough drops, and probably also less whatever else my Roth loses between now and then. That'd cover a lot of months of bare-bones living if I have a problem finding a job.