Archive for December, 2017

A Moving Meditation on Gratitude

I did not want to get out of bed on Monday morning. The clouds were thick and heavy with snow. The extra heater in my room had kicked on which meant the air was cold while I was perfectly snug under my four blankets and pile of pillows. It was Monday, which meant work was going to be nuts. It was Monday, which meant I needed to get rolling extra early to get to tai chi. Did I really want to go to tai chi? Was it worth it?

The clouds had started dropping their snowy burden by the time I hit the road. I was even going to be on time for once! When I got to the community center for class, there was chaos on the roof. From what I could see, they were putting on a new roof. In December. In Maine. In the snow.

The room was chilly as we were getting started, but the gentle movements kept us warmish. Among my classmates were an incredibly elegant woman, the woman I’d like to be at 90, and the woman I’m likely to be at 70. The group is cheerful and focused even as the room doesn’t warm up. The heater was broken, apparently. We all kept our sweaters and vests on and our rest breaks were shorter than usual.

I butted heads a bit with the instructor trying to determine whether the hips and shoulders move simultaneously or one leads and the other follows. She ended up telling me it was a beginner class and I really needed to ask that in a continuing- level class. Although she did suggest I learn a few more moves before I level up.

On the commute down to work, I found myself surprisingly grateful. I suspect those roofers make more than I do, at least I hope they do given their work conditions, but I have the skills/training/talent that if I end up with an outdoor job it will be by choice, not necessity. I was chilly in class, but I do have proper layers to wear and I know how to wear them making a cold building no reason to skip class. I’m grateful for all of those people who have trained me well enough in my physical pursuits that I can ask beyond-beginner questions in a new pursuit. I’m grateful I can touch my toes and square my hips over the correct foot. I’m grateful for the current instructor that takes it pretty well in stride when I’m being a pest.

I’m grateful that I have a warm bed and a backup heater. I’m also grateful that I know how to handle waking up in a cold room. Moving fast is key. I’m not sure I’m grateful for the job, but the paycheck makes reaching my goals more possible than not having a paycheck at this point in time.

I’m not always as aware of how good I have it as I maybe could be, but I was on Monday. It turned out, tai chi was totally worth it.


Regaining My Power: Financial Independence

Just to be clear, I’m not. Financially independent, that is. But becoming so is getting ever higher on my list of priorities.

I’m one of the 30 or 40% of Millenials living with their parents. I am one of the 19% of Americans with a negative net worth. I am one of the growing number of people that works full time but doesn’t make enough to cover my bills. Despite being employed for all but one year post-college, I was on the verge of homelessness before I moved into my parents’ attic. None of those years were at minimum wage, either.

My peers have been heard to say the following:

“I’m always going to be in debt, so why shouldn’t I go on that cruise?”

“You just don’t want me to have nice things (the occasional Starbucks) because I’m poor.”

“I wouldn’t buy a house even if I could afford one, they’re a financial trap.”

“I’m never going to be able to retire, so why shouldn’t I have fun now?”

You know what? This game sucks and I don’t want to play it anymore. The rules only apply to some of us and we’re the ones so exhausted by the merry-go-round of money in, money out, more money out, loan in, debt payments out that even if we can see how screwed up it is, we don’t have the energy to change it. Assuming we aren’t so afraid of losing our jobs that we wouldn’t dare make a peep.

Financial Independence means different things to different people. For some people it means being able to live it up and spend money like water. For others it means pursuing dreams the cubicle tried to kill. Getting there can happen lots of ways, too. All but zero expenses (freegans, anyone?) mean all but zero income needed. Spending money like water means you have to build/inherit a financial waterfall.

Right now my interest in financial independence is so that I can give a big middle finger to a system that only deigns to notice me to see how much they can convince me to spend and work to make a few people richer. People who are not me. I want to not fear losing my job when I say things like, “employees who are supposed to act like grown-ups should be paid like grown-ups.” If I get fired for it, I want it to be their loss, not mine. Over time I’m sure the focus will mature past profanity, but it’s not a bad place to start. Because it’s making me start.

So where am I right now? In the hole, like most people. Credit card and car loan debt equaling half my annual income. I’ve been tracking my income and expenses for a little over 18 months now, so I’m getting a grasp on where it’s all going. I have a job with overtime potential assuming I can balance it against not losing my mind, followed by the job. I’m not paying rent or interest on my loans thanks to generous parents. I have about $500 cash hidden away to give me a little feeling of control over life. Between actual savings and my 401(k) I have about $1400. Turns out I had more in the 401(k) than I thought!

Where do I need to end up? As a ballpark number, I need my monthly expenses times 300. The other way to get there is annual expenses times 25, but I tend to think in months. If I call my expenses $2,500, which would include rent money, that comes to about $750,000 in investments that allow for a 4% withdrawal without touching the principal. As interim goals, $30,000 in investments will give me $100 per month which would be enough to show up on my chart. $1,000 per month ($300,000) would let me pursue part-time work if I chose.

So how do I get there? After all, $30,000 is technically more than a year’s full-time pay at $14.00 per hour. As Grandpa is fond of saying, you can get rich slowly. It worked for him and for a lot of other people, too. I do pick up a lottery ticket when I think the universe really owes me, but so far the universe hasn’t agreed. In the meantime, this is where all of the tracking of expenses comes in. In the last few months what I’ve been spending on food has been steadily rising. Why? Because the “I deserve sushi instead of a home-packed lunch because work sucks” expenses were rising. The same thing was happening with my book expenses. After all, as an aspiring writer, of course I want the author to get paid. That only happens when you buy the book new. That, and the ones I wanted to get lost in were too hard to find in used bookstores. Now that I’ve identified those trends, I can ask myself if grocery store sushi will really make me feel better, or is it wishful thinking? Since I’ve already bought several books new by this author, wouldn’t it be ok to support a local business that will track down used copies of the rest for me?

This is going to be a long process. I figure I’ve got two years left on the outstanding loan balances before I can make serious headway on the investments, although I have started setting aside some money to invest. During this process I’m a fan of the “stop and consider” method of reducing your purchases rather than punitive thoughts. Some days sushi really will make me feel better. There are some authors I want to support more strongly than others. Telling myself I’m stupid and poor and need to get my crap together instead of being a needy wuss is just going to make me buy more books to drown those thoughts. The flip side of this is I need to work on making more money. Overtime, side hustles (come on, bees!), and job hunting are all on the table. The difference between what’s coming in and what I’m spending will determine how long I’m stuck in this lousy game. The bigger I can make that difference, the faster I’ll have the leverage to start changing the game.


The actual numbers are beside the point. What’s important is that my income (blue) is almost always higher than my outgo (black). My debt is literally off the chart, so it’s being tracked in the red numbers up top instead of dots. Because the blue dots are almost always above the black dots, those red numbers are slowly counting down. Before I reach the end of the current sheet, I’m hoping to need to track my savings in numbers instead of my debt.