Archive for April, 2018

Common Ground Fair 2017

It’s about time for me to see if I have enough time off available to go to the Common Ground Fair this fall. I dunno, I’ve got a lot of things going on this year. I’m not sure I’ll have the time. Why have I taken to going every year?

It’s kinda like the Ren Faire.

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And a gymkhana.

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With food.

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Lots of food.

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There are things to learn.

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Experiments to study.

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The people watching is epic.

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More food.

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Don’t give me the side-eye when you walk between my camera and horses, buddy.

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And critters.

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How many places will you really hear someone on their phone saying, “I’m watching oxen pull a sledge. Yes, oxen.”

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Guess it’s time to check the calendar!

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$30,000 Is Not Enough

I’ve been reading a blog about a woman who, along with her husband and five children, has become financially independent. Like many such bloggers, she publishes her annual spending, and it’s around $25-$30,000 per year. In the comments section of one annual update, a commenter said something along the lines of “This is why I think people who need to make more than $30,000 per year are being greedy.”

I need to explain why he is wrong.

Yes, there are people in this country that are being greedy with their income. There are people at many income levels that are making financial decisions we don’t agree with. However, living on $30,000 a year, or less, by choice is not the same thing as doing it out of necessity. It’s a different mindset and you make different choices because you’re presented with different options.

One can do the beans and rice diet, drive a hooptie, and live in a sketchy apartment by choice. It’s something that one can do for whatever one believes is an acceptable amount of time until one has the money to break free and live a life worth living as defined by the one living it. However, there are more than a few places in this country where $30,000 a year will only just cover beans, rice, a hooptie, and a sketchy apartment. Under those circumstances, one cannot save for that future life worth living. One can barely get by from week to week in the life they have, and if something goes wrong, it may all come crashing down.

Let’s talk about things going wrong. This blogger drives a hooptie these days by choice. She’s used to it, and can’t see any reason to spend the money on an upgrade. If the car breaks, though, she has money in the bank to fix it or replace it. She also has a husband who bought a car to restore for fun, so one can assume he’s got the skills to keep the hooptie away from the mechanic under most circumstances. I, on the other hand, lost my 12-year-old car (RIP, Io, you were one tough cookie) because when she died I didn’t have the skills to fix her and the repair bills past the one I was facing were only going to get worse. That left me with a choice. Do I purchase something I can get for cash, I don’t think I had more than $1,000 that I could get my hands on at the time, or do I get something a little nicer for a loan? A $1,000 car will probably require immediate repairs of some sort. New tires, if nothing else. But is a $1,000 car going to last long enough for an investment in tires to be worth it? A loan, even a favorable one, means I must have the cash income to cover that amount every month, no matter what, until the end of the loan. Neither is a great option. What I’m spending each month on loans and/or repairs, is money that I’m not saving toward the purchase of my next vehicle. My 2017 vehicle expenses which were spent mostly on my work commute including gas, tires, insurance, and $175 per month car loan totaled $6715.81, or 22.4% of a $30,000 income.

Speaking of cash every month, let’s talk housing. This blogger owns her house outright. If things really, really go sideways, all she has to come up with is money to cover the taxes to keep a roof over her head. For the brief period I owned a home outright, I still had to pay $500 a month to stay in the RV park. (RIP, Desert Rose, you were a good home, even without plumbing.) The average cost for for a one-bedroom apartment in the US is around $1,240 plus $150 in utilities. Assuming the $30,000 income is after-tax (ha!), rent is 49.6% of the income ($14,880 annually), plus 0.06% ($1,800 annually) in utilities. If you’re spending half of your income on keeping a roof over your head, the odds are you won’t be able to save enough to put a down payment on a home, let alone buy one outright.

Next up is health insurance. This blogger’s husband served in the military for a time, putting them on the military insurance. Not being military myself, I’m paying $39 per paycheck ($1,014 annually) plus $5,500 deductible. It would be more if I didn’t have a corporate job. Between the two, that’s 21.7% of a $30,000 income. This year I broke my leg. Next year could be a broken arm or a very serious bout of the flu, there’s no way to know.

After shelter, insurance, and a vehicle to get to work, we should move on to food. I’m not beans and ricing it. I like organics when I can find them, and grass-finished meat is better for me and the environment. On the other hand, I also don’t eat out all that often, and my vending machine misbehavior is listed under a different category. In 2017 I spent $3,477.31 on food, or 11.6% of a $30,000 income.

So far we have shelter (50.2%), transportation to work (22.4%), health insurance (21.7%), and food (11.6%). Without taking into account clothes, a cell phone, any form of entertainment or hobby, or debt repayment (excluding the vehicle loan), I’m already at 105.9% of a $30,000 income. That’s $30,000 after taxes, which means more than $15.00 per hour in your paycheck.

This commenter that’s calling a $30,000 income more than enough is probably surviving on $12.00 per hour or less. If he’s happy with the lifestyle he’s got on his income, I’m happy for him. I also wonder what part of the country he lives in, since $12.00 or $15.00 buys a different lifestyle in Allagash versus Portland.

I really like the blogger. I think she’s living a wonderful, rich life and she’s giving her children something few people can by being such a big part of their lives. However, calling her life and my life comparable because we’re spending about the same every year is wrong. I think she offers some wonderful suggestions on how to re-prioritize your energy and money to live more on less, and I think that’s a worthy goal no matter what your income. I have every intention of living a life that makes the world a better place, rather than a worse one. However, trying to do it on $30,000 per year or less with no savings, and a side helping of debt is a bit more of a challenge than can be handled by giving up my daily Starbucks. Particularly when I already don’t stop for coffee. I can’t afford to.

Rest in pieces, dream of living like a grown up. Rest in sad, lonely pieces when even the people who would genuinely benefit from a higher minimum wage fight to keep it down.