Thursday, December 17, 2009

The day my job finally drove me to drink.

After the homecoming game, one of my former ninth grade physical science students was shot in the back of the head. He died in a hospital in Memphis a few days later. Recently, a sixteen-year-old from my town was charged with capital murder in an unrelated incident, and today I learned through the grapevine that it's another student from that same period. Oh, and last night there were four shootings. One of the victims was one of my seniors last year. I heard from his cousin that so far he's stable.

So, yeah, I had a bourbon and soda and am now ready to have a good long cry, get some sleep, and get up and grade tests.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I've done no Christmas shopping. None. It doesn't help that I've been up to my eyeballs in student papers thanks to the finals grading crunch and the nearest shopping is an hour and a half away, but there's no excuse for not at least ordering the one thing I've already picked out online. I'm also wearing increasingly unflattering outfits as the supply of clean laundry dwindles (Fortunately, today's diversionary tactic of wearing lipstick to distract from my admittedly ugly slacks somewhat worked, and I got about one compliment for every three insults.), and dinners lately tend to consist of balanced and delicious meals like a bagel with cream cheese and some carrot sticks. I stink at life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


I've been overspending since school started. It hasn't been the result of any buying binges; I'm still happiest in a pair of hand-me down jeans from my little brother, and my $10 Tracfone is probably currently out of juice in the bottom of the laundry hamper. This is actually bad news: it would be much easier to correct the problem if I could point to one area of my life where I'm messing up, chastise myself, and get back on course. Instead I'm experiencing the far more insidious lifestyle inflation.

I've gotten sloppy. I'm putting money into savings every month, yes, but I've been doing an incredibly slipshod job of tracking my spending lately. I'm falling into some bad habits like buying lunch at least two or three times a week, and I'm hanging out a lot more with the rather spendy crowd of TFAs. I'm getting whatever I feel like eating when I'm at the grocery store instead of trying to plan frugal meals, and I'm just generally less cost conscious.

There are a million justifications for why this is ok. I'm young, have a stressful job, and should go have some fun. Unlike many of my friends here who have tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, I have no debt. I haven't been missing my targets by that much; although, that is in large part due to a small windfall when I learned I was getting paid for attending a follow-up meeting for some professional development. I'm still saving, just not as much.

Truly, I haven't been doing that bad. For September through November, I met my savings goals even though it was a lot tighter than it should have been.This month it just isn't going to happen. Maybe, just maybe, I could make it work if I didn't buy anyone any Christmas gifts, but I'm not willing to do that. Still, it hasn't been a terrible semester, especially because I threw a bonus I got right before Thanksgiving into the house fund, bringing the total over $9,500. I completed my goal of getting my car fund up to $10,000 right on schedule, too.

All of which contributes to that dangerous sense that all of this spending is somehow ok. Some of it is, much of it isn't, and I need to sort out which is which. My unbudget system of paying myself first and then living on what was left and meticulously tracking spending worked well for quite a while, so I wouldn't call the experiment a failure, but it isn't a good fit with how I'm managing my money right now. I need more structures in place to track whether I'm meeting my goals and spending an appropriate amount on both the necessities of life and frivolity. I need more carefully thought through prioritization.

In other words, I need a budget. On January 1st, I'm starting fresh with a new budget for the new year. I'm looking forward to it, actually. I always took a certain geeky pleasure in entering all of my purchases in the free spreadsheet-based version of PearBudget. It's a lot easier to spend without guilt when you know you've budgeted for whatever it is, no matter how silly your want. Plus setting meaningful goals and then achieving them is very fun and fulfilling.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

November is the new October.

October is generally regarded as a lousy month to be a teacher. The novelty of the school year has definitely worn off by then, students start getting frustrated with the workload and then apathetic, and it is a long time until you or your students have any days off to look forward to. This year my October was pretty good, so good in fact, that it didn't even feel like October. Sure, there were bad days and frustrating students, but my classroom culture remained positive even though the hallways of the school certainly weren't.

Then November hit. Nothing really went wrong; I just got tired. There was a week where it felt like I was barely going through the motions. They were a lot of the right motions so kids mostly kept on learning, but it still wasn't a good feeling. Everyone I talked to agreed that it was just that point in the year and we'd all be better after resting up over Thanksgiving, enjoying a few days of seeing people who didn't think of us only as teachers, goofing off a bit, and ultimately returning to planning with renewed zest.

So I survived Tuesday, when I had the first really major discipline incident that took place in my room this year and had to discuss with the assistant principal whether I wanted them to pursue expelling the student. I'd initially planned on heading home that night, but after getting up a 3 a.m. to grade and then having that kind of day, I just wasn't up for a five hour drive at night. Instead I grabbed Mexican food with friends, ran into my TFA program director and her (boyfriend, partner, common-law husband? What's the best term for people who've been together since college and own a house together?), discussed whether the acts of wanton destruction in the hallways that day topped the previous year when the bathrooms were set afire (consensus: yes), laughed a lot and was reminded why I love my friends, and then passed out at home. Wednesday I packed up, made the drive, and then took the boy out for sushi. When I got home, there was no one there but the dogs so I headed to the bank to open a c.d. and take advantage of some nice rates.

My dad came out to meet me when I got back. That's often a harbinger of bad news, and Wednesday was no different. My grandfather had had a major hemorrhagic stroke and wasn't going to survive. He was unconscious and would remain so. The focus was on making sure he wasn't in pain.

He died late Thursday morning. It was, I think, a good death, mercifully quick after years of struggle, to slip away at ninety as your wife holds you and tells you how much she loves you and your daughters and granddaughter look on. I'm grateful for the hospital, the nurses especially, who always made time to talk with us, who scrambled to find cots for my grandmother and aunt, who showed compassion for my grandfather in his last hours. I'm grateful to the staff of the nursing home who made his last few years as pleasant as possible, who were never anything but completely warm and caring, especially the nurse's aid who adopted my grandparents as her own and was at the hospital the night before my grandfather died and at the funeral Monday.

So the next few days were a blur. We all knew this was coming eventually, but that didn't diminish the sadness. I was a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, a listener, a maker of tea, a mediator of disputes, quietly attempting to comfort my grandmother and keep my family from snapping, yelling at each other, and storming out as they are so prone to do.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How much do spend on your job?

Last week I spent thirty dollars on lab supplies. I don't do that every week, but it isn't particularly unusual either. Then there's the big package of dry erase markers I bought on Halloween, the ink for my classroom printer since the monthly copy limit is so low, the pad of chart paper for my anatomy students' presentations, the tickets for my incentive system, the seemingly endless stream of pens that I hand out to kids who can't be bothered to bring them (I've given up lending them after my administration told me I wasn't allowed to request collateral; if I'm not getting the pens back anyway, I might as well be the nice teacher who is always happy to provide pen and paper when you forget .), more staples for the stapler so I can update the student work on my wall of fame, and so forth and so maddeningly on.

I should probably just let it go and accept that this is what teachers do, but I'm feeling a wee bit frustrated today. The department meeting where I found out that we still don't have textbooks or half of the required lab supplies for the AP Bio course that started in August, the district cut everything the science department requested out of our budget for some federal money we're receiving, and the school board's decided to budget $0 for consumable supplies like dry erase markers, graph paper, staples, and tape for secondary classrooms for the year. Maybe the frustration stems partly from the fact all this is happening when the new superintendent and assistant superintendent each got a $50,000 SUV as part of their contracts.

Don't get me wrong: I can afford the to buy basics for my classroom myself. I can and have done things like writing Donors Choose grant proposals to get somethings I couldn't otherwise afford. It isn't a huge burden. Still, I wonder how teaching compares to other careers.

The boy had to have some of his own tools back when he was an apprentice electrician, but they certainly didn't expect him to provide his own wire and nails. My engineer dad has pretty much everything supplied for him, as does my pizzeria assistant manager mom. I don't know enough about the day to day of that many other careers.

I can somewhat grudgingly admit there are a lot of pluses to my job as well. I didn't have to go $200,000 in debt to get the education to get this job. My commute is under ten minutes. Unless I happen to feel like wearing a suit, my usual uniform of slacks and a sweater works just fine. I have more freedom than others to pick my own schedule in the summers. Maybe our society has done the calculations and decided it balances out.

Or maybe they think of teaching as noble work, something we should be glad to do for no compensation. After all, in addition to the satisfaction of helping shape the next generation, we get the joy of working with all of the wonderful little kiddos, a group that consists not only of the truly terrific teens(and there are many) for whom I stay after school to tutor, coach quiz bowl, and help with college applications, but also the kids who've just gotten out of juvy, jail, or a behavioral facility, who threw flaming toilet paper rolls and raw eggs at the algebra teacher last year, who'll walk down the hallway with their pants sagging, tell you, "Fuck you!" when you tell them to fix their uniforms, and then harrass you about the suspension they received when they see you in the grocery store, who hit one of my friends in the head with a rock today while he was trying to break up a fight. I'm doing my best to respect, believe in, win over, and educate all of the students, no matter how challenging, but, some days, I do not love my job.

Monday, November 16, 2009

So I've been bad...

I haven't actually funded my Roth this year. The money is sitting in a savings account, waiting for me to figure out what to invest it in. Back in 2008 when I started saving for retirement, I spent a long time obsessing about what to invest in before finally settling on Vanguard Balanced Index (VBINX), which is about 60% total U.S. stock market and 40% total U.S. bond market. It wasn't a perfect choice; I could definitely use exposure to international markets, but I figured I should dive in with a not completely unreasonable choice and reassess later on.

I never quite got to the reassess part of the plan. Then the stock market tanked, and I got a lot more skittish about investing. I'd been telling myself that I believe in investing for the long term, buying and holding, and indexing, but I'm pretty risk adverse to begin with. (A 60% /40% portfolio isn't exactly what the blanket advice for people in their early twenties suggests, after all.) It was easiest to just quit thinking about it entirely. I have no idea how much I have in my Roth right now, and I'm going to keep telling myself it doesn't matter.

That doesn't really encourage thorough research into the options available. I really want to stick my head in the sand, throw $5,000 in a c.d. and be done with it, but that isn't a rational choice if I ever want to have enough to retire. What do you think, is sticking with VBINX for another year a reasonable default option, or should I try to find the time to do some more research?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I'm still here.

Still teaching, still working on loving my kids even when they drive me crazy, still frequently frustrated with my administrators, still a million years behind on my grading, still spending too much (at least in my own eyes), still managing to sock away a good chunk of savings, still without electricity in my bedroom after multiple promises from the landlord to be over with an electrician "tomorrow", still loving my new roommate, still trying to figure out this whole adulthood thing.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How to blow $99 in a weekend

Step 1: Decide to go see your boyfriend Friday night.
He was working for his parents last week, and you go have dinner with them. Buy gas and chewing gum before heading off on the two hour drive. His parents are kind enough to take you to dinner at a very noisy pub so you barely talk. Two and a half hour later, he goes home and so do you.

Step 2: Have a spending-free Saturday.
Sleep late, make waffles for your roommate, read, and enjoy the day. Over waffles, decide to go see a movie with the roommate the next day.

Step 3: Give the roommate money for gas.
She's the most frequent driver in your group since she has the most fuel efficient and newest car. Get gas and pick up one of your friends on the way to the city a little over an hour away.

Step 4: Have breakfast out.
The waitress is excellent so leave a really nice tip.

Step 5: Go to Target.
Consider buying a $10 shirt that would be perfect for one of the theme days of spirit week, but decide against it because short sleeves aren't practical for fall. Do buy a friend a roll of dental floss. (Long story.)

Step 6: Go to Old Navy.
Find an equally good shirt with long sleeves in the men's department. Pay $15.

Step 7: See a movie.
The Invention of Lying is moderately funny, but $7.50 for a matinée is highway robbery.

Step 8: Work for a while in a Starbucks.

Everyone else feels compelled to get a drink since they're using the space, so go ahead and give into peer pressure and get a tall hot chocolate.

Step 9: Buy unattractive costume jewelry.
Spirit week and peer pressure combine.

Step 10: Have dinner out.
Choose one of the cheapest things on the menu. Do leave a decent tip because it isn't the waiter's fault you're broke.

Step 11: Return home with $1 in your wallet.
Be happy you have plenty of bread, peanut butter, jelly, oatmeal, apples, ravioli, and frozen vegetables to get you through until Friday.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I once again resent my budget.

I have $7.91 to last me until Friday afternoon, a need for modeling clay for tomorrow's lab, and a bad case of the I wants. I knew that spending over the weekend meant a leaner week, but I'm feeling very grumbley about not getting to buy a school mascot hoodie now that the weather has turned cold and rainy, to go out to dinner on Thursday, to grab a few more groceries that aren't strictly necessary.

I can do this. I should do this. $100 a week should be plenty to cover groceries, household and personal items, gasoline, and fun if I just prioritize correctly. Self discipline is good. Houses are nice. Being able to send hypothetical future kids to college is important to me. Everything has an opportunity cost. Tell me to snap out of it and just be more careful next week.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Life happens.

I haven't had electricity in my bedroom for about a week now. I think it was last Monday night when I flipped the light switch, heard a pop, and stood in a dark room. (The days of flu blur together a bit.) My clock was dead as well so it obviously wasn't the light bulb. The breaker is conveniently located directly above my bed so I tried flipping it, but it felt floppy and wouldn't stay in position. I tried unplugging my clock to ensure I wasn't overloading the circuit; still nothing.

This would have been a good time to call the landlord, except for the minor difficulty that the only thing I know about him is that his name is Larry. I talked to my roommate, and her old roommate used to have his number, but she lost it some months ago. My roommate does, however, know both his name and where he lives. She was expecting him to come by that weekend to collect October's rent since he always shows up within a couple of days of payday so we decided to just wait and tell him then. It was a bit of an inconvenience, yes, but I can get my work done in the living room and now have an excuse to wear this cool headlamp I bought a year ago and pretend I'm spelunking even as I type this post.

The weekend has come and gone with no sign of the landlord, and I'm a bit less charmed by my electricity-free quarters. It's time to either get serious about fixing the circuitry or buy a kersosene lantern. I'm about ready to take matters into my own hands. After talking to my favorite former apprentice electrician, I now know that the place to start is to replace the breaker and see if that fixes the problem. It sounds simple enough, and it'll probably be safe as long as I cut off power to the house, invest in a circuit tester to be doubly sure, and get my roommate to stand by with a broom handle. The prospect of moving on from fixing our toilet to doing our own electrical repairs is pretty exciting, actually.

There's just one teensy problem. A weekend visit to see that former electrician and his family has left me rather low on funds for the week. I have $8 cash plus $13something on a Wal-Mart card for groceries, gas, and school supplies. I suspect that won't get me a breaker, and I am loath to wait until I collect my Friday afternoon allowance to try to restore power to my room. I think it may be time to break into that $1,000 "life happens fund" sitting in savings. Based on the cost of bills for the past two months, I'll certainly be able to replenish whatever a breaker costs by the end of the month. It doesn't really matter whether I just take the money out of checking instead, but I'm more likely to take it seriously if I treat it as a debt to myself.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I do not have swine flu. I do not have swine flu. I do not have swine flu.

I've been telling myself that since Sunday evening. So far it hasn't been helping. I haven't been to the doctor to confirm flu since the symptoms have been fairly mild, but I have been staying home from school to avoid infecting anyone. I figured that something that gives flu-like symptoms and a fever wouldn't be nice to spread around whether it is technically flu or not, plus I've been feeling the need to sleep twenty or so hours a day. At this point, I'm not so achy anymore, but I still want to sleep all the time.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I guess this means I won't be getting my security deposit back after all.

As I mentioned, I moved at the start of this school year. My old roommate would really have preferred to live alone, but since she has such large student loan payments, keeping the $650 house herself would have been prohibitive. She felt that she needed a house with a fenced yard instead of an apartment for the sake of her dog, and she also didn't want to move because she owns a lot of furniture and it would have been a hassle to move all of it. She also made noises about not wanting to live with a first year teacher because they are "too much trouble to support emotionally", but none of the second years or alumni wanted to move in so she didn't have a lot of choice.

It looked like she wasn't going to find anyone at all, but eventually "Guy" wound up in search of housing after a last minute switch of district and subject. He asked my new roommate about my old roommate, she said something vague along the lines of, "All of my interactions with her have been positive," he decided he could live with her crazy dog, and he moved in. I was a bit relieved he didn't ask me anything because, although I hadn't loved living with my old roommate, I didn't want to make it more difficult for her to find a new roommate.

When he moved in, I offered to wait to get my $300 security deposit back until after he got his first paycheck since most first years are in fairly dire financial straights until then. Shortly thereafter, he started pondering moving out. He discussed this with everyone besides his roommate and began seeking other housing options.

Most of his complaints sounded awfully familiar. My old roommate isn't mean or a bad person, but she can be difficult to live with. She takes over not only her room and the office, but the entire living room as well with her projects, spending almost every hour of every evening camped out on the couch working in front of a dvd. She expects others to follow her rules, not opening the blinds in the living room ever because someone might look in and see that she owns a stereo and a television, consuming seafood only on weekends she was out of town because she didn't like the smell, informing me when I was moving out that whoever was moving in would not be allowed to get cable, and if he or she did, it would have to run directly to that person's bedroom and not the living room. I always got the feeling that I was living in her house, at least in her mind. She tended to express frustration on the occasions that my weekend plans conflicted with her hope that I would once again watch her dog while she went out of town to visit her boyfriend. She didn't interact much, often treating a roommate as an annoyance to be endured for the sake of rent money. I think we might have been better friends if we hadn't tried to share living space.

Guy found all this hard to come home to after long days of struggling at school, and yesterday he moved out. My old roommate is venting her frustrations in her facebook statuses about being unable to trust anyone's word and needing to look into small claims court. Guy wasn't on the lease, they had no written agreement, and he paid his share of rent and bills every month. Does anyone know if she has legal grounds to sue him?

This cannot be a fun time for my old roommate, but I also understand why Guy decided to move out. I'm planning to stay as far from the drama as possible. I'm a little frustrated that I won't ever see my security deposit or any reimbursement for my half ownership of the washer and dryer that my old roommate kept, but I don't see any way to pursue it that wouldn't cause a scene.

My cards are on house arrest.

My debit card and credit card are going to stay locked up unless I have a good reason to use them, such as going to the ATM for my weekly allowance or paying a bill online. I guess they will get to travel with me, but in an envelope with a note across the seal reminding me not to use them unless there is a real emergency.

Either I'll end up planning more purposefully and making better use of the cash in my wallet, running out of money and having to say no more often, or breaking into my lockbox to increase my allowance. Obviously, I'm hoping for outcome one. If that isn't what happens, I'll have to monitor and adjust.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Please talk me out of my new bad habit.

My grand plans of living on the contents of my wallet until next Friday have already fallen by the wayside. Some of the spending was justifiable. I'm pretty sure getting a new flapper valve to fix our leaky toilet was ok even though we could have technically just kept turning the water to the tank off in between uses for a few more days. I'm also comfortable with purchasing a new bottle of bathroom cleaner so I can clean this weekend. It needs it, plus scrubbing bathrooms can be oddly therapeutic.

You'd think that budgeting this year would be easier because I moved to a new place where rent is $87.50 lower, but it isn't. My new roommate is terrific, and having a friend and fellow science teacher to come home to at the end of the day is doing wonders for my sanity, but living here isn't cheap. Some of the savings is being eaten up by the cost of cable television that my roommate already had, but spending large amounts of time with someone who seems to like going out and doing things with me is proving even more costly. Plus, now going out and spending money whether roommate is involved or not seems to be becoming a habit.

Wednesday, Roommate and I had quiz bowl coaches training in a town half an hour away, and afterward she suggested we take advantage of the rare opportunity to have Taco Bell for lunch. Taco Bell bean burritos have been a weakness of mine for several years so I agreed, and we had an enjoyable meal together before heading to the hardware store for our toilet part.

Next I decided to ignore the budget and go to the traditional gathering Thursday night gathering of TFA teachers at a little Mexican joint in our town. The food's mediocre, but the company is good. I'd be just as happy if we could start a bring your own peanut butter sandwich gathering in someone's living room, but I suspect it might be a hard sell.

Today I carpooled to the professional development session over two hours away. The junior high teacher drove to this one, and I'll do the next one. This cut gas costs and added sociability, but after spending the whole morning with her, I opted to continue hanging out over lunch. The sandwich I bought was tasty, but I wish I'd had the guts to just eat the Clif bar I'd packed, especially since we ended up eating on a bench on campus anyway.

My new social spending trend is likely to grow even worse this weekend. Most TFA folks are recent college grads who're trying to some extent to replicate a few aspects of their lives before they were teachers. Getting out of the house is a high priority for a lot of people. In the north delta, there's a fairly robust potluck culture that helps with that, but there isn't a potluck this weekend. My roommate and a couple of other friends are talking about heading to Tunica to go to the Paula Deen buffet at a casino today, and I said I might go even though I'm already over budget and my eating habits have been atrocious lately. Could someone please give me the speech about how succumbing to peer pressure is bad?

Friday, September 25, 2009

To go generic or not?

After reading J.D.'s post on the money you can save by buying generics or store brands and skimming most of the comments I thought about my own decision making process and thought I'd chime in. First of all, I agree wholeheartedly with the people who argued his methodology was flawed because he refused to consider sale prices for brand name items, even those on sale during the week when he conducted his study. If brand name items are cheaper, they are usually the way to go. Aside from that circumstance, I've concluded that most of my consumable purchases fit into one of three categories.

For most items, generics are fine. A quick look around my bathroom reveals generic mouthwash, dandruff shampoo, salicylic acid astringent, maxi pads, and anti-itch medication for those pesky mosquito bites. I don't think I've ever bought name brand medications when there was a generic equivalent available, and my fridge and pantry are usually stocked with generic milk, pasta, oatmeal, etc. I'm definitely in favor of trying a generic if it is available.

For a few items, I stick with name brands because I've yet to find a generic option that isn't pretty bad. There's a bag of shredded Parmesan cheese in the refrigerator that looked convenient but is actually nearly tasteless. I gave up on cheapo deodorant years ago after trying a Suave version that was very ineffective at fulfilling its sole purpose. For all I know, it could have been reformulated several times since then, but since deodorant is nonperishable and I'm not tremendously picky about what kind I use, I can buy brand name whenever it is cheapest so it isn't worth experimenting with generic again.

For a handful of items, I've concluded that a specific brand adds enough value to be worth the extra cost. All frosted shredded wheat are exactly the same from what I can tell, but once in a while when I want oat cereal, I want it to taste like actual Cheerios. I know it is largely a matter of conditioning, but the other kinds just taste off somehow. It's a small indulgence. The same goes for conditioner: I've tried lots of things, but nothing leaves my hair quite as soft and shiny as Pantene for curly hair. So for these items I keep a close eye out for sales and coupons, remind myself of the trade offs associated with spending my money on them, and then try not to worry about it if I decide to go ahead anyway. That's all subject to reassessment if I ever find myself in need of a stricter budget, but it seems to work for now.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Not that it is really any of my business...

After reading Dog's post about how she thinks it is hard to believe that someone would find it difficult to find a job in this economy, I finally decided to post about the boy's employment situation. He quit his job earlier this summer without having anything else lined up. He debated for weeks and finally just jumped, a decision I thought was short-sighted at the time, but it wasn't my choice to make. After taking about a day off, he started calling the electrical contractors he'd heard were hiring. They weren't.

He proceeded to contact every other electrical contractor in the region. A couple accepted applications to keep on file, but there have been no nibbles. In the ensuing weeks, the boy pounded the pavement, putting in applications for just about anything to tide him over as his savings dwindled: janitorial work, maintenance, retail, fast food. So far, nothing. He's done a little illegal electrical work for his family and some friends (apprentices can't officially work on their own), discovered that a laminated social security card isn't accepted by BioLife for purposes of selling plasma and ordered a new card, has two roommates scheduled to move into his two bedroom apartment early next month, and is vehemently refusing to accept money from his parents.

So he's stressed, and I'm stressed. Note that long distance makes this a bit worse; he wants to drive down to his parents' place some weekend to visit, but I don't think he should spend the money on gasoline. He feels judged and emasculated by the situation. I feel frustrated that he won't just let me pay for gas while simultaneously worrying a bit about establishing a precedent of trying to bail him out of his own decisions. If it were our life and our money, the situation might be less of a problem, but his latest plans for the rest of his life all but guarantee that we won't end up together so I guess he's lurching toward the realization that he's never going to get past the point of thinking that I'm easily replaceable.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

At least tonight wasn't quite as expensive as I'd expected.

After my department head asked me the sixth time, I concluded it would probably be in my best interests to go on the school's dinner cruise on the Tunica Queen. $20 doesn't sound so bad, but my budget was already a little strained this week due to some dumb splurges this weekend so after paying for my ticket I had $6 and a $8.32 gas card left in my wallet to get me through until Saturday morning. The $8.32 will definitely be needed since I have to travel to a workshop a couple of hours away to go disaggregate test data on Friday. (I'll get reimbursed for the mileage, but I was hoping to add that to the house fund, along with at least half of the incidental money I get this year.)

The food wasn't half bad, but the dinner cruise still seemed to combine the most uncomfortable aspects of a wedding reception and a faculty meeting. I was charged with the task of keeping my somewhat inebriated sexagenarian department head from falling overboard, and in that respect the evening was a success, although he expressed his disappointment that I declined his invitations to dance. Other than watching one of my dear friends attempt to learn the electric slide, the high point of the evening was when they held a drawing for door prizes. I was quite pleased to win a $10 Wal-Mart gift card, which was by far the most useful thing they gave away.

I'm toying with the idea of making the next week a low spend week and trying to make the $24.32 in my wallet right now last until next Friday afternoon. So my response to unexpected extra money is to try to save even more.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I need more bank accounts.

Six bank accounts spread among five banks, one brokerage account, and some paper savings bonds just aren't doing the trick when it comes to keeping my financial life on track. Ok, to be perfectly candid, cashing out and closing out the HSBC and ING accounts or making my Roth contributions for the year would actually have been a better first step, but I needed something that fit into a weekend full of ProSat and a Confluence of Special Events pasta potluck celebrating both Rosh Hashana and Eid al-Fitr, plus a couple of random Catholic and Wiccan events thrown in for good measure so I focused on a smaller goal. Having over $20,000 in one account does nothing for my motivation to save.

Fortunately, FNBO has been touting the option to create multiple accounts lately so I decided that breaking that undifferentiated chunk of money into more specific goals was worth a shot. Because FNBO only lets you have one account opening request processing at a time, I only got one of the two new accounts done and scheduled for funding, but the other should be up and running soon. My new savings accounts will look like this:

Car fund (for replacement or major repairs): $8,000
Long term savings (for funding retirement accounts, etc.):$5,000
House fund: $7,683.41

That's all well and good, but now I have to figure out which account new savings should go into. They won't start taking out union dues until next month so I don't know exactly what I'll be bringing home every month, but it will be very close to $2,000 a month. I'm once again setting a goal of saving half of my take home pay. The challenge is to allocate $12,000 in a sensible way that keeps me motivated enough that I actually manage to save $12,000.

If I wanted to be really responsible, I would funnel everything into long term savings and make sure I'm able to either keep funding my Roth at a reasonable level throughout graduate school or start doing some taxable investing. I'm not sure I could remain motivated to do that, though. Saving for retirement is about saving for not having to eat catfood or live on the streets, about not winding up a burden to others or on government aid if I can avoid it, about saving enough now that if twenty or thirty years from now I have to scale back my savings to help my parents, I won't be hurting in my own dotage because of it. It isn't something to daydream about.

I want to drive my car until it dies, but I also want to be prepared to replace it tomorrow if that becomes necessary. If I had to, I could. However, I know from my brief, abortive attempt at car shopping that $10,000 opens the doors to far more options than $8,000 so I'm considering boosting the fund a bit, but cars aren't my passion. Sure, I drooled over Ferrari convertibles in my dad's Auto Weeks and Road and Tracks when I was younger, but I can think of plenty of things with a better pleasure to money spent ratio.

A downpayment on a house is something of a goofy goal at the moment, given that I have many years before I'll know where I'll light. I'm probably going to be renting for a long time. Still, that's the goal I dream about, the one that I care enough about to sacrifice some short term fun. I want four walls to call my own.

I also know that I'll be much more motivated by seeing big changes in one account balance than by a slow and steady progression in all three. Looking at what I'd like to have in each account a year from now, subtracting what I already have, dividing the difference by 12, and putting that away each month isn't likely to work. I think this tentative plan might work better:

September and October: full second paycheck goes to car fund. This tops the car fund off so I no longer have to think about it, a quick victory.
November and December: 1/2 of each second paycheck to long term savings & 1/2 to house fund.
January-May: full second paycheck goes to long term savings (or directly into Roth)
June-August: 3/4 second paycheck goes to long term savings and 1/4 to house fund

If I can pull this off, by the start of next September I'll have fully funded my Roth for 2010, saved an additional $3,250 for retirement, increased my car fund to $10,000, and boosted my house fund to over $9,000. Does that sound ambitious enough? Feasible? Nuts?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Where I stand

I'm still feeling unmotivated about finances these days. I feel like I've been spending with wild abandon these past few months, but I'm still socking away a decent amount. The picture wouldn't be quite so pretty if it weren't for stipends from a couple of great professional development sessions this summer, however. (Does attending science teacher training count as a side hustle?) I know it is time to get serious about living beneath my means again.

As of yesterday, my financial picture looked like this:

Life Happens fund (in USAA savings): $1,000
Personal escrow (in USAA savings): $260.83
Emergency fund (in I Bonds): $8,050 + accumulated interest
Roth IRA (in Vanguard Balanced index 60/40 Total U.S. Stock/Total U.S.Bond): whatever remains of the $5,000 I put in in May of '08 (I've put a moratorium on checking.)
Main savings (in FNBO): $20,683.41
Account I only use in summers (Hometown bank checking): $1,000
Account opened to get sign up bonus (ING): $275
Account I really ought to close (HSBC): $1.79
Paycheck I got on Friday and haven't cashed yet (all going to some sort of savings):$1,071

I don't count my main USAA checking account because as far as I'm concerned, that money is as good as already spent on daily living. I should probably exclude personal escrow for similar reasons, and $5,000 of my main savings account will be 2009's Roth contributions. By that methodology, I'm a twenty three year old with a salary of just over $35,000 who has over $27,081.20 in addition to fully funding an IRA for two years. That doesn't look so bad.

Except that I won't be making $35,000 for long. Teaching is going much better, so much so that I'm leaning toward spending a third year in the Delta, but after that I still think graduate school is the right path for me. My feelings of missing research aren't diminishing any. Getting that Ph.D. is going to mean several years of probably making just enough to get by. I need to regain my sense of urgency now so I'll still be in decent financial shape when I'm thirty.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

So this is what teaching is supposed to be like...

I've just finished my fifth day of school, and while it's frequently frustrating and continually exhausting, it's also rewarding and somewhat fun. This year is better in more ways than I can describe. First, I know how to watch twenty eight people while simultaneously presenting academic content. That's huge; situational awareness is absolutely crucial to good teaching, but it sure wasn't instinctual for me. Second, the new head principal seems both sane and determined to set a good tone for the year, firm but friendly. Third, this years ninth graders just aren't as insane as last years. It might be the honeymoon period, but last year there was no honeymoon.

Then, there's the more personal stuff that doesn't apply to all new teachers: this year I was actually ready to meet students, work with them, and start building relationships. This year I think I looked and sounded like a teacher on day one. Last year on day one I looked and sounded like someone who'd found out the day before that someone she loved deeply had committed suicide. I wasn't a functional human being at that point. I'm not sure I ever really will be again, but as time goes on I'm getting better at faking it.

I don't pretend that I've mastered teaching (I'm still a million miles away from being the teacher my kids really need.), but I have the sense that I am gradually getting a little bit better and seeing those gains reflected in my classes. I wouldn't have made it to this point without a lot of help. Without veteran teachers like the absolutely amazing Tea with Buzz and my favorite junior high school math teacher to offer suggestions, encouragement, and a safe space to vent, I probably would have quit before Christmas. Without the physics professor who called to check in every couple of days during the impossible first weeks when simply getting out of bed and talking to people seemed like more than I could take on, I'm not sure I'd be here to write this. Many other teachers in my building, TFA and non-TFA alike, played integral roles in helping me make it through. So I'm back for the second year, ready to try to make more meaningful gains with my students, plus try to help a whole slew of first years keep sanity and perspective so they can do the same.

I'm looking forward to seeing what this year will bring.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

First, the good news.

Things on the employment front are going swimmingly. My district mailed me a contract so I have official confirmation that I have a job. Naturally, it arrived at my parents' the day after I headed down to the Delta to take care of a few things so I haven't gotten it turned back in yet, but I'll get it signed and sent in tomorrow. I'll be paid the princely sum of $35,811 next year.

The boy got a dollar an hour raise. This has no impact on my finances whatsoever, but it still makes me happy. He's planning to rework his budget to take this into account. The fact that he has a budget makes me even more happy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's nice to get paid.

Last week the second of my June paychecks arrived. On the same day, a $250 stipend also showed up in the mailbox. The first of the June paychecks is still AWOL, but it still felt pretty darn good to have some money flowing in to counterbalance the steady gush of money out. Even though I had plenty to get me through the entire summer if need be, I was inching toward the point where I would have had to "borrow" money from my designated long term savings account at FNBO to pay my bills, and I found that somewhat disquieting.

Today an envelope containing my pay for all of July and August arrived. I have this secret worry that that means they've decided to fire me, but that's probably just my irrational fears taking over. In any case it meant I now have enough to live on until September (barring any big unexpected expenses, of course) and transfer another $3K into savings. I feel rich. Those of you who make much more than I do may now commence laughing at me.

Once this deposit posts, I'll have over $20,000 in my savings account, a new milestone. Throw in my savings bonds, my Roth from 2008, the contents of two other checking accounts and another much smaller savings account, and my stash of emergency cash in case I ever need to go on the lam, and I think I'm doing ok, not great, way too much frivolous spending in the past year to be anywhere close to great, but ok. However, note that that list does not include contributing to a Roth in 2009.

I've been setting the money aside; it's all there in that nice big savings account. I'm just being indecisive about what to do with it. It might make sense to keep contributing to the same index fund I used last year, but I'm finding the current losses a bit harder to stomach than I'd imagined.

FNBO has been promoting the option to set up multiple accounts, probably in an effort to compete with ING, and I've been toying with the idea of setting up one account for eventual Roth contributions, one for my car fund, one for graduate school application costs once I get my next stipend check to use as seed money, and perhaps later one for the costs of transitioning to graduate school. It might help me focus more on specific goals and keep me from coasting on the idea that I've got this big chunk of money so I can quit worrying so much. On the other hand, I'd still have the bulk of the money sitting there with no particular purpose at the moment, maybe a house fund for ten years from now, but nothing tangible so it might not help with that as much as it might otherwise.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


My father is on a mandatory two week unpaid vacation. In other words, they're closing the plant down and doing temporary layoffs. It isn't the cheeriest of news.

I'm not sure what he did for his first day because I ran away to the library, where I had to pay $1 to replace the card that's floating somewhere amongst the flotsam of my life back in the Delta. In the future, I shall judge all possible places to live by the quality of their libraries, I think. Bustling libraries bursting with books suggest that a community actually cares about being part of civilization. I had no idea how nice the area where I grew up is until I went away.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I have a handful of half-finished posts started in the past few days, but tonight I don't feel like completing any of them.

This morning I took my grandmother to the nursing home for a conference to discuss my grandfather. They do these every so often, and the news is always the same. He's stable for an eighty nine year old who has suffered two strokes leaving him with a significant degree of aphasia and little use of his right arm, had had breathing problems and been on supplemental oxygen since a bad case of double pneumonia in December of '99, and has been unable to walk ever since he was bedridden due to minor surgery in the summer of '06. They tweaked the dosage of one of his meds, but his condition is basically unchanged. There isn't really any hope that things will get better.

Afterward, I met up with my mother at the movies. We watched Up. I wept repeatedly.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Only the truly cheap

My boyfriend has a new kitten. She's pretty rambunctious so she's going to need some toys to keep her occupied, although, like most cats, she seems to prefer a crinkly ball of paper, a ballpoint pen that fell under the table, and some stray dice to her spandy new store-bought playthings. However, I do wish she'd find someplace to sharpen her claws besides my flesh.

I offered to buy a nice catnip-infused corrugated cardboard scratching contraption for the little darling, and a discussion of whether it mightn't be more cost effective to just let her shred the sofa ensued. Given that the couch in question is a very threadbare and somewhat uncomfortable blue reclining monstrosity for which my boyfriend proudly paid the princely sum of ten entire dollars this spring, I can see his point, but I still oppose letting kitties wantonly destroy living room furniture. Finally, I came up with an argument to support my gut instinct: what if ten years from now he gets a couch that costs, say $200, which I know from furniture shopping with my mother would buy a much nicer used couch but not a new one, and then she destroys it because she's developed bad habits. He countered that he can't imagine ever having furniture that costs that much.

Good grief! I like frugal finds, but I plan not to base all of my home furnishing decisions on what I can score cheapest at the thrift store when I'm in my thirties. I guess I'm hoping for a little lifestyle inflation.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

It sure would be nice to get paid.

Normally, I get a paycheck on the fourth and nineteenth of every month. The school had said they'd mail the summer paychecks since our salary is divided into twenty four increments. Then the day before the end of the year, word came down that they had decided not to mail the first of the June checks and to come pick them up instead. This presented no minor difficulty since I planned on being five hours away. My assistant principal called down to the central office to see if there was any way I could pick it up before I left, but no dice. Then one of our wonderful secretaries volunteered to send it on if I'd bring her a self-addressed stamped envelope, which I did. My June fourth paycheck has yet to arrive.

Thus, I guess I'm going to have to call on Monday and try to figure out what happened. I'm also not betting on my other paychecks actually making it parents' house either. I went to central office three times to try to change my address for the summer, and all three times the one person in the entire school district capable of inputting the information into the computer was out of the office. On the third try, I think one of the other ladies took pity on me; she told me to write down my new information and she'd be sure the correct person took care of it. At least if those paychecks get mailed to the wrong place, my roommate will let me know.

On the bright side, although it is somewhat frustrating and will probably be a hassle if the checks got lost in the mail, it's nice to have enough in savings that even waiting until August to get paid would be just a blip on my radar. I can't imagine how stressful this would be if I needed the money to make bill payments on time. Maybe I will go to direct deposit next year, but given my school's record for messing stuff up, I'm not all that keen on letting them have access to my bank account.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Your Tax Dollars at Work, Part 2

Someday, I'm going to have to sit down and calculate how much extra money the government has devoted to me, above and beyond the normal things like public schooling and my salary as a teacher. I suspect the total will be staggering.

There were a couple of nice summer programs in junior high and high school, science and literature camps funded entirely by the state. Things got a bit crazier when I hit college. In addition the standard state subsidy for my university, I got a sizable scholarship from the state. They were willing to throw $40,000 at me to try to keep me around after graduation, and I accepted $30,000 of their money. I guess it worked; the feeling of moral indebtedness played at least a small role in my decision to ask to be assigned to teach in my home state when Teach For America asked about my geographic preferences.

Then there's the research funding. My first summer research internship was partially funded by a private foundation, but the second was funded entirely by the NSF and paid handsomely. Throw in the funding for lab supplies and a dorm room, and that was an expensive summer. Then my great state decided to give me a grant to pay myself to shoot lasers at proteins, pay my advisor a pittance for his help, and buy still more lab supplies. That struck me as a spectacularly inefficient use of state funds, especially given that I was going to do the work for my thesis anyway and could requisition funds for supplies from one of my fellowships.

I probably don't want to know how much has been invested in turning me into a TFA corps member. I'm sure paying all of the people involved in my training has not been cheap, and later this summer I'll be getting a Americorps funding of $4,700-something to use for graduate school. If they renew the funding, I'll be getting a similar award next year.

Now I'm up to my eyeballs in "professional development". By the end of the week I should have 82 hours, all from classes that are not only free, they come with stipends. I wasn't aware that this program came with a stipend since the packet of materials they sent me went missing in the mail, and I have no idea how much they're paying, but last week I got $250. This program also registered me for a dorm room even though I told them I could commute from my parents' so I'm typing this from a two bedroom, four bed, private bath suite that the luck of the draw has me occupying alone. I've got another week in July down where I went last week; that one pays $625 and provides a dorm room. The programs also provide some supplies to take back to the classroom that are worth hundreds of dollars.

I can't help but think there's been some mistake. Huge amounts of money were invested in developing one individual believed to be valuable human capital, but I'm not sure what the return on that investment will be. My undergraduate research was a lot of fun for me, but I suspect it could have been done better, faster, and cheaper. I'm gradually getting better at teaching, and I suspect this week in particular is going to have a positive impact on how I approach ninth grade physical science, but I would have been equally happy commuting and not getting paid. I can't help but feeling that somehow, someday, I need to do something to justify all of this expense.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Today at lunch the other teachers were debating whether attending this training is worth the $250. It sounded so good, but the best thing about day one was that one of the presenters looks like a Muppet and occasionally talks about Star Trek. In other words, I haven't learned much. However, I had a delightful evening in the motel pool so the trip thus far has not been a total waste.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Living in the lap of luxury

That's right: I'm in a Motel 6.

There are a couple of days of teacher workshops on weather and soil at a university in my state. They didn't have enough teachers to fill the slots and were practically begging people to come help them spend their grant money. In exchange for attending, I'll be getting a $250 stipend and a weather station worth $200 which I assume science club will put to good use. The only downside is that it's for teachers in the region where I teach, not where I'm spending the summer.

I could have driven five hours to my delta town today, then risen at the crack of dawn to drive another two and a half hours to the training site. Instead I chose to drive directly to the university town, a trip that also happens to take five hours, and get a room for the night. Frivolous? Heck yes! Worth it? Absolutely! Even with two nights in the motel, gasoline, and food, I'm going to come out ahead financially in addition to learning new things and getting twelve hours of professional development credit. If I had to do all of the extra driving, I would have been tempted to stay home.

Plus, I'm counting this as my vacation trip for the summer. It didn't involve traveling until the wee hours of the morning crammed into the backseat of a car with my little brother while my parents either bicker or seethe up front , I have an entire queen size bed to myself instead of sleeping on some relative's floor, and I get to eat out wherever I want instead of living on sandwiches from an ice chest for days on end. It's everything I dreamed of as a kid.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Self doubt and selfishness.

It's time to get serious about the rest of my life. I need to register for tests and start studying in earnest, blocking out the hours a day to devote to binging on esoteric vocabulary words and learning to speed solve tricky physics problems. Once I get going in earnest, maybe this queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach will disappear.

I'll be without a stout safety net for the first time in my life. Before I even sent in my application, my state university offered me a substantial scholarship so I knew that even if they found me unworthy of a bigger, more prestigious fellowship and the other schools rejected me, I was going to be able to go to college. When I was worrying over my Teach For America application, I was reasonably certain that the graduate education program at my university would be happy to have me, even though I did let self doubt get the better of me at times. However, I've watched a decent physics student set his sights too high and get rejected by every school he applied to, plus a couple of others get a long list of rejections and ultimately land somewhere thanks primarily to faculty members talking to friends in other departments in the hopes of securing a slot in an unexpected opening.

Plus, the competition has grown more fierce since the recession makes jobs in industry much harder to come by. The top physics student in this year's graduating class initially got rejected by a school my professors considered a good fit for me last year, back before I let my physics skills atrophy, and he's a much stronger candidate than I could have been. The school in question has gone to a points based system for evaluating candidates where they look mostly at grades and scores. Somehow I don't think they give points for accomplishments like helping a fourteen year old finally master adding fractions or writing grant proposals to get a bunch of impoverished high school students ACT prep materials. And they probably shouldn't: it doesn't demonstrate physics skills.

There's always going to be a thought lurking in the back of my mind that I'm not good enough. I'm not that brilliant; I'll never be Feynman, Maxwell, Bohr, or Newton. I get by by the skin of my teeth, with plenty of difficulty and with support from wonderful mentors. My chief virtue isn't in being innately gifted, it's in continuing to plod along even though I'm not. I still worry that someday soon I'll reach material that I simply won't be able to master, no matter how hard I try, that the math will throw a brick wall in my path and it will turn out that I'm not an unstoppable object after all.

Then there's the other problem with becoming a scientist: I dreamt of my kids last night. After this last year, they are my kids. I may not have done much good, but the problem of educational inequity is now my problem in a way it wasn't when I joined this crazy organization. Trust me, if you'd spent a year in one of these schools, you'd be mad as hell too. Spending another year in the classroom may help a few kids, and that's worth doing, but it doesn't begin to touch our country's deeper educational and cultural problems. I might do a little more to help if I were more like my friends, considering careers in educational administration, counseling, or non-profit administration, like my cousin's girlfriend the social worker, like my boyfriend's mother the attorney ad litem for kids in foster care.

Yet I'd rather study science. I don't think I'd be good at any of those noble professions. I like teaching, but liked teaching college students as well, and I miss the lab. I'll probably never cure a dreaded disease or solve our energy problems, but that's okay, that isn't why I want to do this.

I don't think I'm romanticizing the job of being a researcher. Doing science often isn't glorious. There aren't a ton of eureka moments. You spend a lot of time writing grant proposals that might not get funded, plotting eighteen billion graphs to make meaning of those strings of raw data, waiting for the repair guy to get the immunofluorescent microscope in working order, aligning the optics so your laser beam hits at precisely the right angle, or analyzing why your filters have exploded and spewed your painstakingly prepared sample all over the floor again. Often, though, you do get to investigate neat things, and even the question of why the gosh darned filters are exploding (or whatever the similar problem in your lab happens to be) is an interesting puzzle when looked at in the right light. Ultimately, I can't think of anything more exciting than getting paid to be curious.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

I hope I have a job.

My district has, at long last, hired a new high school principal and superintendent. I heard about the new principal immediately after the school board voted thanks to a text message from somebody actually at the meeting, and a cheer went up at the table of TFAs having dinner at a Mexican restaurant, mainly because they hired someone from outside the district. That's about all we know about the guy at this point, but given the current state of our administration, that alone is cause for a little renewed optimism.

Now if only they'd get around to hiring some teachers. For a while, I quit worrying because my official observation and evaluation went pretty well. My assistant principal had a lot of praise for how much he thinks I've improved over the course of the year. He offered a couple of constructive suggestions as well, reiterated his desire to be supportive, and seemed genuinely surprised when I asked whether he intended to recommend me for contract renewal. Funny that he wouldn't understand why I was concerned when he was one of the administrators who told the entire faculty that we needed to "get it together or find other professions" (not quite as bad as when the superintendent/acting principal threatened to fire everyone, but still). The second years assured us all that the previous year nobody had gotten new contracts until the very end of the school year.

The end of the school year has come and gone, and there still aren't any contracts. Older teachers have said that sometimes the school mails contracts out during the summer and that there was one year when they didn't actually get around to hiring anyone until a couple of weeks after the new school year started. Apparently, they expect everyone to show up whether we formally have jobs or not. Somehow I do not find this particularly reassuring.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Do you know the episode of the X Files with the poor guy who was in the wrong place during a secret government experiment and had to keep moving west?

Where the guy was willing to carjack Mulder to keep going, but met his untimely demise when they reached the coast and his head popped in a shower of blood before Scully could rupture his eardrum with an icepick to relieve the pressure? That's about how I feel right now.

My ear started hurting Thursday night. It wasn't so bad then, as much a sensation of pressure as actual pain, accompanied by a bit of hearing loss. Friday it continued to be a source of irritation, but it wasn't worth missing school. Saturday morning the pain was a bit worse, but I still hoped my body's defenses could handle it. I'd read that most ear infections resolve themselves on their own just as quickly without antibiotics, and, besides, I needed to hit the road and the only place I could have obtained treatment before heading out would have been the emergency room. I figured I could wait it out. I tried to dull the pain with ibuprofen and keep going.

Sunday night my ear hurt badly enough that I couldn't sleep and it was oozing pus. I try to avoid doctors and had only been once in the past five years for anything besides a routine checkup, but I reluctantly concluded that I needed to get medical attention. First thing Monday morning, I was dressed, fed, and ready to head to a walk in clinic and wait outside for it to open. Then my mom woke up and insisted on spending forever looking online to see if the clinic was in my insurance network (It wasn't, but with a $1,500 annual deductible that's almost irrelevant), trying to talk me into letting her call various doctors for an appointment, half of whom weren't in my network either, and ultimately driving me to the clinic.

24 hours, a $90 doctor visit and $30.88 worth of azithromyocin tablets and benzocaine ear drops, several doses of OTC analgesics, and countless warm compresses later and my ear still hurts about as much. As expected, I have a nice case of otis media, plus probably a bout of strep throat that the doctor didn't bother to test for since she was prescribing antibiotics anyway. All those pamphlets I read as a little kid waiting at the doctor's that promised that as I matured the angle of my Eustachian tubes would get better and I wouldn't have to deal with this anymore were lies, lies I tell you! I'm feeling a bit whiny and self pitying as I hope that the combination of antibiotics and my own white blood cells works its magic soon.

Friday, May 29, 2009

I'm done with my first year of teaching. Oh, and I've been spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave, with more big spending coming up in the next few months. Details to follow once I regain a bit of sanity.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A confession

I caved and used my debit card and am now $1.82 over budget for the week. I spent a few bucks more than I'd planned on groceries on Sunday, bought one fast food lunch (I know, I know, bad E.C. !), and then my parents came to visit so I needed more food for them. My budget would have withstood the stress if I hadn't needed batteries for my camera for graduation as well. My dad offered to buy the food I got for dinner when we went to the store together, but I couldn't allow that.

I'm still tweaking my weekly cash allowance. $100 was a very comfortable amount, but the past couple of weeks I've been trying to do $80 instead, which works reasonably well on the weeks when I don't try to go out and do anything that costs money but is fairly tight the rest of the time. Twenty bucks a week doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's a lot over the course of a year. Thoughts?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The end is near.

By this time next week, I'll be finished with my last day with my students. Friday will be teacher in-service, and then I'm officially done with my first year.

Now on to trying to relearn all of the physics I've forgotten so the Physics GRE doesn't kill me next fall.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I miss the Scirocco.

My odometer hit 122,222 the other day, a number of no particular significance other than that it looked neat. I paused for a moment to admire it and quietly will my car to reach 222,222 miles before I finally have to replace it. Each day, I remain somewhat astonished that I not only have a car that has never left me stranded by the side of the road, but have the funds to replace it when it does become unreliable. This seems to me to be a violation of the natural order of things.

Growing up, I got used to being stranded from time to time. Cars broke down. It was a fact of life, probably an even more annoying one for someone traveling with small children in those days before cellphones became ubiquitous. My favorite of those cars was the Scirocco.

My parents acquired it sometime before I started school. It was a hand me down from my aunt, who herself had received it from her sister, costing us nothing but the bus fare to travel halfway across the country to go get it. My father rigged a system of webbing to secure children's car seats to bus seats and off we went. I recall the bus terminals as bustling places full of people who seemed terribly interesting to a preschooler.

The Scirocco was a valuable addition to our stable, an improvement over the car my mother had previously used to schlep us around, a 1955 Chevy in which my ever prudent father had thoughtfully installed lap belts and a roll bar. My father, a mechanical engineer and car nut, found the Scirocco fun to drive. It served well for many years, but my mother gradually became more and more dissatisfied with it, even though by that point she rarely drove it.

Over the years, she gradually got better and better cars, first a giant brown Oldsmobile in which my brother and I once spent the night at a gas station in Little Rock on the homeward stretch of a family vacation. The water pump had failed, but my father had packed a replacement part because that was the only repair he could envision dealing with on the road that hadn't already been necessary in the preceding months. It took him most of the night, with my mother holding a flashlight and lending a hand. Sometime after that, she got a very nice Suburban that still runs well thanks to an engine transplant. (Not a repair my father handled himself.) That was the vehicle she was driving when she began nagging my father about his car in earnest.

Ok, so traveling was a little less fun after my father removed the radio and air conditioner in the course of a repair and never replaced them, but we could do without those luxuries. When the fan for the heater died, coats and mittens became imperative in winter. The front seats were padded with a granular black substance that eventually all leaked out the bottom of the seats, leaving the driver and passenger sitting on the metal seat frames. After the red upholstery wore through, my dad got brown furry seat covers. They eventually bleached blond in the sunlight and then themselves wore through. The windshield gaskets were bad, resulting in an inch or two of water in the back floorboards after each heavy rainfall. My father eventually rigged a switch to turn on the fuel pump when starting the car after the system that was supposed to do that went kaput. In its last years, the car idled rough, sometimes dying at stop signs, not always, just often enough to make things interesting.

My mother thought the Scirocco was an embarrassment. I disagreed vehemently. It had its flaws, as do all things in life, but I couldn't understand caring what other people thought as long as my dad liked it and it generally got us from point a to point b. I took a certain perverse pride in getting picked up from a junior high dance in a slightly rusty twenty year old Volkswagen that got washed perhaps once a year.

Eventually, my father did get a brand new car. By that point, my parents had paid the house off. They had enough breathing room to easily afford a nice, reliable little econobox for my father's commute. His Mazda was a great car until it met its untimely demise by the side of the interstate on an icy night last Thanksgiving weekend.

I can see now why they bought it, but at the time I was outraged. I felt like my father was caving to my mother, and I understood even less why they would finance a car when they could have paid cash without even having a significant impact on their savings. Taking the zero percent interest financing on top of the discount my father got for working for an OEM supplier for Mazda was mathematically a good deal, but my upbringing instilled in me a horror of consumer debt that at that point in my life would have rivaled that of the most devout Dave Ramsey acolyte. (Or perhaps I was just at a phase where I was inclined to be deeply pissed off by anything my parents did.) Now that I'm a wee bit more mature, I understand their decisions much better, but I'm still a little sad that they got rid of the Scirocco. I suspect that my father could still have it running today if he'd absolutely had to, especially in light of the spare engine he salvaged from a dead Rabbit and kept in the garage, just in case.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Great news: I'm not qualified for a job I don't want!

It turns out the folks manning the literacy lab this summer have to be certified English teachers. Maybe that isn't the greatest news on the financial front, but it'll do wonders for my sanity. It's going to create problems for our poor English department head since she's got to figure out staffing when her department is losing somewhere between 1/2 and 5/6 of its teachers. (Two TFA teachers and one non-trad licensee have done their two years and are heading out, and there's one elderly teacher who is still waffling about whether to retire this year and one teacher who is considering making her first year in the district her last.) Again, a sad situation, but ultimately not my problem.

I may be adding one more summer activity to my calendar, however. My department head suggested a week long summer program that sounds highly relevant to my classroom practice, offers a smidge of graduate credit, and would provide a few nifty tech toys to use when I go back to school in the fall. Best of all, they offer full funding for the course and a $650 stipend to everyone they accept. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I'm going to go spend my very last dime on a bean burrito and some cheese enchiladas.

I realized long ago that it's a wee bit dangerous to allow myself to realize I have money. When I notice I have actually socked away a semi-substantial sum, I'm more inclined to spend. It doesn't usually lead to a flood of wild extravagances, but a trickle of repeated little treats that put me over budget is just as bad in the long run.

Developing strategies to combat this has been vital to maintaining my savings momentum. During my senior year of college when almost all of my income for a semester came in a lump sum, a very strict budget kept me on track, but I found myself obsessing about the numbers a bit more than was healthy. Now I'm striving for a bit more flexibility.

One thing that helped has been keeping multiple bank accounts. Longer term savings get locked away in accounts I can admire from time to time when I transfer funds in but wouldn't dream of spending on day-to-day life unless I faced a dire emergency. Money goes in, but it doesn't go out, period. Keeping a "life happens fund" in a different savings account linked to my checking account for quick access and overdraft protection enables me to keep just a couple hundred dollars more than I plan to need in a month in my checking account itself. Thus, looking at my checking account balance usually makes me feel pretty nearly broke.

Still, spending creep happens. To combat my tendency to go just a little over budget every month, I'm trying a strategy I'd heard about for years but probably would never have tried if I hadn't seen how well it works for the boy: I'm going on a (nearly) cash only budget. Daily expenses that aren't bills or rent are to be paid for in cash. Each Sunday afternoon I get my allowance for the week, go do my grocery shopping, gas up my car, and then figure out how to live on what's left. If I know I have other big expenses coming up that week, I'm forced to plan ahead. It's easy to see where I stand by simply opening my wallet. My budget is low enough that if I do go over, it won't be a huge setback, but the thought of caving and going to the ATM a second time in one week makes me cringe.

This Sunday was an expensive one. A weekend day trip used quite a bit of gasoline, and I found myself running out of a lot of boring staples like pens, pencils, toilet paper, and laundry detergent. It was my week to buy the supplies for the science club lab, and I also decided to go wild with the grocery shopping this week in the hopes of alleviating my proclivity toward getting bored with everything in the house and deciding to grab fast food.

So I'm down to eight bucks and change, and I'm planning to blow all of it tomorrow night. I can afford it; I have 7/8 of a tank of gas, enough groceries that I could get through all of next week without shopping (but I probably won't), no weekend plans beyond a TFA event that'll include a very nice free dinner. It feels wildly extravagant to go into a restaurant planning to leave absolutely broke. It feels good.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Maybe I am a masochist after all.

Today the teacher next door asked me if I'd consider working this summer. She was informed today that she needs to round up teachers to do literacy remediation for four hours each morning throughout June. It'd be easy work since the remediation is computer-based; basically the job is to supervise everyone, help kids when they get stuck, and make sure people don't cheat by logging in as their friends. In all honesty, it sounds pretty boring.

I know in this economy I'm lucky to have a job, never mind having the chance to make $35 an hour for very easy part-time work, but I still don't want to do it. I'd take it in a heartbeat if such a position were available in my home town. I want to escape the Delta for a bit, catch up with my family and friends, lock myself in the library and study for hours on end, read, watch movies, go for long walks, get ahead on lesson planning, and basically enjoy having some time I can call my own. There will be a bit of professional development in there, but overall the summer should be a much more relaxing time if I don't take the job. A few weeks of freedom was going to be the reward for a year of hard work and frugality

Naturally, I told her I'd do it if she absolutely can't find anyone else to take the position.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I know it was my money all along...

but there's something kinda cool about logging into your bank account to deposit your latest paycheck and discovering you have an "extra" $1,258 floating around in there. I can see why people like getting their income tax refunds enough to make an interest-free loan to the government. (Not that I'm planning to do that again this year!)

My cell phone is dying a slow death.

I have a decidedly uncool mobile phone. I never wanted one at all, but I caved to my mother's demands and got a Tracfone before I went to New York for an internship the summer before my junior year of college. It died less than a month into my time there, and I was just fine without it. I went ahead and sent it off for a replacement when I got home, and that Motorola c139 has served me just fine ever since. It allows me to make and receive telephone calls. If I really want to, I can send a text. Attempts at setting up voicemail have been unsuccessful, but that's ok with me. The little phone is sturdy, too; it has been dropped down a flight of cement stairs with no ill effect.

It's been a reasonably frugal option, at least as a supplement to a landline, which is how I've always used it. Because I paid extra for a double minutes card a couple of years ago, I can get minutes for around ten cents a piece if I shop the sales. Typically once a year, I buy a batch of minutes, and I'm set. Budgeting the minutes themselves is easy enough since the reserve is displayed right on the phone screen. (Although, this year, I've been traveling more and been less good about keeping conversations short. I'm down to 63.2 minutes that are supposed to last me until July 31.)

Alas the battery is now showing its age: a phone that used to go well over a week on standby can now go a mere three days. Even more annoying, I can head to school in the morning with two of the three battery bars showing, and the phone is sometimes dead by the end of the day. I can charge it more often, but I know that this is the beginning of the end.

My mother actually bought me a new phone a few months ago, nice Motorola flip phone that she picked up on sale when she went to buy a Tracfone of her own. It's nice I'm sure, but it's still in its packaging. It's too fancy, with bluetooth, a camera, a built-in FM radio, the option of buying weather reports, and a ton of other feature that will add complexity but no real functionality for a user like me. Plus I read somewhere, perhaps Consumer Reports, that flip phone are more prone to breaking than my candybar-style brick of phone because they can snap at the hinge.

Activating the fancy new phone would probably be the most economical option since I already own the darn thing. Yet, I found myself pricing batteries for the c139. For mere $10, I could get a brand new OEM battery. At that price, I'm tempted to pick up a couple and try to keep this little phone going for several more years. It's totally illogical to throw money into maintenance of a such a cheap item that's pretty much designed to be disposable, but I've developed a bit of an emotional attachment to my phone and to being a person who uses an out-of-date phone that was super cheap when it was new, especially in classrooms where students can just look at its outline in my pocket as evidence that I deserve mockery. Am I letting conspicuous non-consumption trap me into spending more money?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Now my roommate is talking about buying a house! (Or, yes, I am still a judgmental jerk.)

I'm still puzzled by the way my roommate thinks about money. At some level, she seems to want to be responsible, but the decisions she makes are baffling to me.

A bit of background: My roommate is, overall, none too fond of her job teaching elementary school music. It doesn't help that she's planning to become an academic focusing on music theory, but her school views her as a glorified babysitter. However, she needs an income until she either pays of a sizable chuck of her considerable college debt or actually completes her masters thesis, orals, and defense. Her big plans to get the thesis written this year and complete her oral exams during spring break have fallen by the wayside. (Being a first year teacher will do that.) She's hoping to write her thesis this summer, but she's also seeking a summer job to alleviate the cash crunch her credit card debt, student loans, and spending habits have wrought so there will be some competition for her time.

After her second year with TFA, she's planning to move to Memphis and teach there while working on another masters, this one in music education. She says will make her more marketable once she has a Ph.D. Plus, honestly, her deepening relationship with a guy who is a grad student in Memphis gives her a lot of incentive to stick around.

Today she informed me that she's hoping the housing market will stay down somewhat because they're considering buying a house once she moves to Memphis. She believes it might be a better deal financially because she's heard that it's better to buy if you're planning to stay someplace at least two years (!) and their graduate school plans would keep them in the area for three. I tried, gently, to ask what would happen if prices continue to decline during those years. She said that she hasn't heard anyone suggesting that we're entering a situation anything like the Great Depression and she's fairly confident that won't be a problem.

At that point I gave up. It would be rude to ask how she plans to save for a down payment when her current debts seem to be keeping her in a paycheck to paycheck life. Maybe her boyfriend is a secret millionaire who just happens to prefer renting a room in someone else's house right now.Maybe this is the motivation she needs to get her plans going and her budget in order. Or maybe she's just living in the dream world of the past few years where you didn't actually need money or any reliable means of obtaining money in order to buy a house and the tightening mortgage markets will save her from herself.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"You're halfway to being married," he guffawed.

Note to my mother, who has just had a heart attack upon reading the title of this post: this does not in any way imply that I'm getting married. You'll see where I'm going with this in a minute. Relationships + money = weird.

When the boy and I started dating, he wanted to pay for everything. Naturally, this drove me crazy, especially because he'd been open enough that I not only knew that I made more money than he does, I knew exactly what percentage of his weekly discretionary budget (money allocated for groceries, household needs, gasoline, and miscellany as well as recreation) that first sushi lunch ate up. He was adamant about not going Dutch on dates so we squabbled quite a bit as we tried to work out a system that seemed fair. We're both stubborn people. We could quite possibly have spent several minutes at the end of each evening out for the rest of our lives bickering over who got to pick up the check.

Fortunately, his wonderful mother, of all people, proposed a solution. We now have an envelope for joint entertainment expenses and contribute equal amounts. I'm still not altogether sure why this is more acceptable to him, but it is, especially since he gets to be the keeper of the envelope. It's drama free. It's nice. It's also apparently hilarious.

A couple of weeks ago, we met up with a friend of the boy's for lunch. When it came time to pay, the boy took our share out of the envelope, and his friend was curious about why he carries his cash in a paper envelope. He found the explanation somewhat amusing. (See title.) I hardly think that joint custody of fifty dollars is the same thing as agreeing to merge our entire lives.

We haven't been slavish about using the envelope system. When the boy was unemployed, I worked hard to inveigle my way into paying for darn near everything, over his vociferous protests. This weekend at his parents', he asked to treat me to dinner. I agreed but figured we'd use the envelope for everything else. Then he forgot it in his duffel bag when we went gallivanting around town. I'm pretty sure he ended up paying for more than I did, but that's ok. Someday, I'll be the one to foot the bulk of the bills. We're gradually working out an ebb and flow with which were both comfortable, but I think that more diligent adherence to the envelope would do us good.

For now, we just throw some money in the envelope when our entertainment fund runs dry, but we've talked about the possibility of trying to decide on some fixed amount to contribute weekly or monthly this summer when we'll be around each other a lot more. From there, it's just a short hop to trying to work together on budgeting our joint savings, talking through whether we want to go out to dinner tonight or buy groceries to eat in and save up for a splurge a couple of weeks down the road. Perhaps someday there will be real joint finances, with shared goals and struggles, but for now, the envelope seems like an interesting dry run.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mark my words, I'm buying a GPS.

This will involve two of my least favorite things: admitting I have limitations and spending a largish sum of money. I recognize that there are glitches in mental wiring like dyslexia and discalulia that make skills like reading or math far more challenging, but I've spent years trying to tell myself that my total lack of directional sense was something I just needed to figure out how to fix. At this point, I'm willing to give up and admit defeat.

I was reading some Heinlein a few months ago, and the aspect of the fantasy I found most fantastic wasn't outside the realm of the normal: the protagonist had an unerring sense of direction. Forget interstellar teleportation, dragons to slay, and a beautiful sorceress eager to marry me and just as eager to let me go bed others, I want that! Alas, I'm still perpetually lost.

I don't think it's a lack of spacial skills, not exactly, anyway. I managed to test above average on the portion of the junior high aptitude test that required mentally folding diagrams into their corresponding three-dimensional objects and rotating those objects in my mind. I just don't have the ability to orient myself in space. That annoying gap in my reasoning that makes finding my way back to the correct road once I'm off of it almost excruciatingly difficult. This eventually leads to panic as wrong turn after wrong turn takes me farther and farther from any remotely recognizable landmark.

Over the years, I've managed to cope. On foot or bicycle, it isn't that bad. You can slow down enough to really look around, and if worst comes to worst, people getting their mail or walking their dogs are pretty friendly when lost pedestrians finally break down to beg for directions. When driving, however, it's pretty nasty.

My mother firmly believes that this, like so many problems in my life, will be solved once some magical nagging quota has been reached and I finally decide to do what she's been telling me to do all along, in this case pay attention. Paying attention and repetition do help. I reached the point where I was able to navigate my hometown and certain sections of my college city fairly well, largely because I'd devoted enough hours to wandering them on foot and trying to memorize enough to put together a mental map. Mapquest, Google maps, and the like do offer some benefit when I have to get somewhere new, but when I manage to screw up by taking a wrong turn, or when the direction is missing some crucial component, like that the road will split and I need to be in the left lane when it does, and by the time I realize this (if I do) nobody will let me over, I'm doomed.

I had one of those little compasses with a suction cup to stick to my windshield, but I accidentally left it in my mother's car when I returned it, and it was of limited use anyway. If I knew I needed to be on highway Y north, I could confirm for myself eighty seven times in the course of my journey that I had in fact turned the correct way when I'd gotten onto the highway, but once I managed to get myself lost, knowing which way north was was generally not all that beneficial since I had no idea which way I was supposed to be going. Road atlases are okay for determining which interstates intersect in which cities, but they are darn near useless to me when I'm actually in those cities, whizzing along at sixty miles per hour, and have just missed my exit.

All this was hammered home to me last night when, after two rather unpleasant days of school in a row, I decided a brief escape would be good for my sanity. I headed to the bustling metropolis of Southhaven, Mississippi with no real plan in mind other than to go be somewhere that wasn't here. I thought perhaps I'd see a movie since I've had a free pass in my wallet for months, but everything I wanted to see didn't take passes so I treated myself to dinner at Chick-fil-a and did a bit of shopping without actually buying anything. That was all lovely, but the getting turned around umpteen times wasn't. I ended up accidentally in Memphis twice. The trip home became even less fun after I took a seemingly logical turn and found myself on a bumpy, poorly maintained little road leading to a tiny town in Mississippi, then managed to get even more turned around in my attempt to get back to the highway and instead found myself on an otherwise empty road in the middle of the night, hurtling toward nothing, surrounded by only empty fields as far as the eye could see. I turned around at the first opportunity, made my way back to the tiny town where I'd gone astray, located a sign telling me what town I was in, briefly pondered calling my boyfriend and/or mother and waking them up in the hopes that they could use Google to help me find my way back to civilization, or at least the highway, but I ultimately made it home on my own and fell into bed, utterly drained from my little adventure.

So I'll read some reviews, compare prices, and try to get a good deal on a global positioning system, but at this point, I really don't care what it costs.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I've got a brand new credit card.

No, I'm not planning any wild spending sprees. USAA informed me that my data may have been compromised and sent me a new card. (It seems I'm not the only one dealing with this in recent weeks.) It has been a non-issue. Activating the new card took about a minute and a half. I immediately logged into my Neflix account to change the billing for my oh-so-extravagant one movie at a time plan to the new card number, and I spent a few more minutes on the phone with a nice lady from Doctors Without Borders to update the information for my monthly donation. Having so little of my life automated has its advantages.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A wedding season dilemma.

What does a relatively broke young schoolteacher get a middle aged cardiologist as a wedding gift? My dad's late sister's husband is remarrying, and I'm excited about going to the wedding at seeing my relatives, but I have little idea what to get my uncle and his new bride. This is only the second wedding where that I've had to get a gift for on my own rather than letting my parents handle it, and I've recently discovered that there are people who take wedding gifts very seriously indeed so I don't want to screw this up. I guess I'm just going to set a budget and pick something off the registry more or less at random. Ok, well, not quite at random: there's no way I'm paying $29.99 plus shipping for a leopard print bath rug.

Now I just have to set a budget. I don't know that I can follow the cover your plate "rule" since I honestly don't know what they're spending on the whole shebang. I'm also not sure why their decision to throw a lavish or modest affair should affect what sort of gift I give them; I wish them equally well either way. I'm thinking that I may actually spend less than when my friends from junior high/high school/college(/I hope for the rest of our lives) got married last spring. They were broke college students starting a life together who actually needed a lot of things. My uncle is a widower with a teenager and his bride to be is also a fully fledged adult with a kid of her own so I think I can assume they both already have can openers despite registering for a very shiny new one. Is it cheap or heartless of me to think like this? What do you consider a reasonable amount to spend on a wedding gift?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The new set it and forget it emergency fund.

I've found myself awash in liquidity these past couple of months after a c.d. matured and the series I Bonds I bought last April reached the one year mark and are now available for emergencies. After careful consideration, I decided to buy more bonds, putting $2,000 in last month and another $3,000 in last week, giving me a grand total of $8,050 in I bonds, plus accrued interest. A year from now when I'll be able to redeem bonds as necessary, that'll be a perfectly acceptable emergency fund.

I know rates are going to be lousy for a while, but I think I can live with 0% interest in the wake of serious deflation. Even though I got pretty spoiled by HSBC back before the economy tanked, I know that the point of an emergency fund is to keep reserves on hand, not to generate more income. I'm more concerned about inflation eating away my savings when we finally get out of the recession but interest rates don't catch up right away. I Bonds should combat that pretty effectively.

Somehow, there's a much bigger psychological barrier to going to a bank and physically signing over the piece of paper than to electronically transferring invisible money from savings to checking so I don't think I'll be tempted to cash in the bonds for non-emergencies. However, if I ever do need money in a pinch, I can redeem up to $1,000 worth of bonds at a time at a bank anywhere in the country and walk out with the cash, which is a darn sight quicker than waiting for money to move from one account to another by way of ACH transfer. It's also pretty nice to be able to make a decision once and forget about it for the next couple of decades instead of fretting over chasing rates.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's tax day, but I just don't feel like writing about money.

This is, or at least was, a personal finance blog. It's April 15th. This space should probably contain something tax related, maybe musings about why I waited until today to actually mail in my returns, a review of the free H&R Block TaxCut online program I used to double check my forms, commentary on how ridiculous it is that I'll be getting over $1,400 back between the federal and state returns (a consequence of starting my job in August but withholding like I'd started back in January), a list of ideas for constructive ways to use the refund money, or perhaps some historical perspective on the Sixteenth Amendment. However, I'm just not feeling it.

Instead, I really want to write about my kids. I want to write about the typically disaffected senior who was so into nervous system Jeopardy that he yelled, "F*** yeah!" at the top of his lungs after getting a particularly tricky question right and then looked absolutely mortified when he realized what he'd done. I want to write about the joys of mixing baking soda and vinegar, about the sixth period students who invited me to come to senior skip day with them, about the grumbling that the New York Times article I'd assigned was "like reading Shakespeare", about how those same grumbley students actually got a lot out of said article after I finally hit on a good way to absolutely force them to use active reading strategies, about the miscreant who decided to stuff burning paper under my classroom door today. That's my life right now. Not that money isn't important, but I'm not devoting nearly as much of my mental energy to the topic as I was a year ago.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

It's all been said.

I'm reaching recession overload. Everywhere I turn there are more stories about the causes, impact, and how to adapt. I'm getting utterly sick of the human interest features about how everyone is coping or not coping with the changes. Yet, a lot of my thoughts are along the same lines so I haven't been posting a lot.

I've discovered while home for Easter weekend that my parents are canceling Netflix and shopping at Aldi's. The boy keeps getting sent home early because there just isn't enough work to keep everyone busy. I've quit checking my Vanguard account. It's not a super fun time, but life goes on.

It's the more subtle effects that are keeping me up at night. The physics graduate program at my old university had an upsurge in applications this year as more people tried to wait out the recession and the competition for slots at top-tier programs became all the more fierce. One of the best physics students I know got rejected by his top choice despite being offered large scholarships to other programs. His university of choice dealt with budget cuts by reducing the number of graduate stipends they offer.

His second choice, Cornell University (with an R.P. Feynman award), is hardly a bad option for an aspiring physicist, but not such a great option for someone who also hopes to spend the rest of his life with my friend S. She got a major fellowship to attend graduate school in English at the school that rejected him, and they wound up with zero overlap in their acceptances. It was, to put it mildly, bloody depressing. Fortunately, yesterday at the eleventh hour the National Science Foundation offered him a graduate fellowship, and the top choice offered him a slot since he'll be bringing federal funding with him.

So all that worked out nicely, but it leaves me a bit concerned about my prospects next year. I'll never be the physicist my friend will be. I fancy that I'm reasonably bright and hardworking, but I wasn't the sort of student who could work through enough E&M on my own to take graduate-level general relativity as a sophomore. Throw in that I've done hardly any real physics this year, instead opting to stand back and watch my brains slowly turn to mush as I spend my days trying to teach teenagers how to add fractions so they have a prayer of learning the material I'm actually supposed to be teaching, and I don't feel so secure in my chances of getting in to a respected graduate program.

Yeah, it's nothing compared to the folks who're losing their savings, their jobs, their health insurance, and their homes. Yeah, it's mostly my own darn fault for going into TFA instead of directly into grad school back when the economic outlook was a touch rosier. Yeah, it really is entirely my fault that I didn't keep up with studying every day instead of letting myself get washed away by a sea of grief and then struggling to keep up with the demands of teaching. Like so many others, I'm nervous about the fallout from a variety of factors, some that were totally within my locus of control and others that are far outside it.