Time for the reckoning


I have been very fortunate to have secured a good paying government job before graduation.

So, happy ending, right?

Castle in the clouds

Well, not exactly. All of this schoolin’ has cost my family dearly. School comes with a great opportunity cost. I finished undergraduate in 2010 and could have looked for full time work at that time. The Dude had one more year of undergrad and could have continued working his full-time restaurant job while finishing up and looking for full time work.

Instead we moved across the state so I could go to grad school. My TAship paid for tuition and healthcare and gave a small stipend in exchange for 20 hours of work per week. Emphasis on small. In the first year I was paid around $13,000. The contract stipulated that I could not work more than 5 hours a week outside of my TAship. The Dude had trouble finding full time work in a small college town. All this made for a tight ride on the Palouse.

Wallet c-clamped shut

Even though school was paid for and the small stipend was given, I still took out the maximum amount of loans nearly each year I was in grad school. It helped us survive, although we were still low income.

The doctoral years

After 3 years of life on the Palouse, we moved to Vancouver, WA. I made slightly more money. With summer teaching, I made around $20,000 a year. Portland can be a hard place to find a job if you are not young, hip and/or connected. The Dude went back to school, so took on more debt while patchworking employment together. He had a few short-term restaurant jobs, some catering gigs, and a tutoring job. None of these added to a long term livable wage.

We have been in Vancouver since August 2013. It took 4 1/2 years before one of us got a full time permanent job. During that time we had to pay rent and utilities and buy groceries and our kids were in middle and high school. I think it is easier to be low income when kids are smaller. But if we kept denying things until we were right-sided, the kids would be gone before it happened. We definitely gave them a scaled back teenage lifestyle, and could not offer them much. But we did what we could, at a cost.


In the last two years of my program I lost funding. My very meager TA salary was nearly cut in half as an adjunct. With this shift, I did not sign up for credits nor did I take out any loans in 2016-17 and so we didn’t have that income cushion. I was able to supplement my income with an internship in the spring 2017, so that helped but we still had fewer dollars than before.

During this time, The Dude finished his accounting program and has still had trouble finding full time work. He has had a series of temp jobs, coupled with seasons of unemployment. To fill the gap we have turned to credit cards. While it would have been amazing if we could have pieced together side gigs to cover all our funding needs, the reality was that I was teaching and interning and commuting and The Dude was trying to hold the house together and dealing with car issues and we were raising teens AND I was writing my dissertation. Did not have the bandwidth to figure everything out, and so to the credit cards it was.

So the bottom line is this:

Although The Dude is still not working at full capacity, we are now making a middle class wage!! However, we still cannot get out of paycheck to almost paycheck. Part of the hold up is trying to get rightsized. We need more than one or two bigger paychecks to get the cushion. But we are going to keep struggling until we get our debt paid down.

So at this point, we have just over $25,000 in cc debt. My student loans are giant. I don’t even want to name them. My hope is that I can get into the public service loan forgiveness program before it disappears. My loans are the right kind of loans and I work in the right kind of place. So if it is still around and if I watch everything like a hawk, I will pay a percentage of my income (I think that is right, maybe it is a percentage of the loan) for the next 10 years and then will have the rest of the debt forgiven.

I hope to knock out the credit card debt in 2 years. It sucks because I have been promising the kids a breather from poverty when I finish, but now we won’t be out of debt before they have moved out.

Dachshund face

My plan:

Keep working at my job, which does have a pension program and is eligible for PSLF.

Get some side income going. I have moved my blog to WordPress with the notion of possibly monetizing at some point. In addition, I am thinking about tutoring Chinese students in English online in my spare time. I may try to get a gig or two at a community college. I have looked into different side gigs and passive income streams and haven’t found any that are a good fit.

The Dude is continuing to look for full time permanent work. He is also looking at picking up some restaurant shifts.

I signed up for YNAB(You Need a Budget) and I am determined to learn to use it. I also put all our debt into unbury.me to keep an eye on it and watch the debt shrink. We will continue to live as frugally as possible. Maybe now that I am not working on my dissertation, I will have time to prepare more food at home. We have joined a credit union that has a focus on consumer debt reduction and education. We are going to visit soon to see if they can help us consolidate our credit cards and get the rates lowered.

My goals:

Get credit card paid off
Stay on time with student loan payments and remaining in good graces for the PSLF
Give the kids the support they need
Build a savings account for emergencies
Get out of paycheck-to-paycheck living

Things I don’t care about:

Buying a house (I go back and forth on this, but if push comes to shove, I would rather travel)
New cars
New anything, really

Dachshund with tongue out

I am trying to put a happy face on this because I am really super frustrated. I have been waiting so long to start living again. I thought this was going to be my time, but instead I am trying to figure out what second or third job I am going to take to pay for the past 10 years of not-quite thriving.

Pep talks are welcome!