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Catching up with Current Events

August 21st, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Currently I am at my parents' place recuperating and availing myself of their premium cable television. In a way, I feel as if I am catching up on current events. So often my colleagues would discuss television shows and movies that I had no inkling of. Magazines are my only link to television. Yesterday, I watched a bit of the series "Girls" on HBO. I tuned in out of curiosity since its creator has received so many accolades from magazines on her courageousness of exposing her unconventional body and the realness of her show. After being visually assailed by one of the most graphic, unflattering scenes that I had ever witnessed on a television show, I want to voice my opinion that there is nothing courageous about a woman showing something that millions of women do without special lighting and positioning.

I was probably hallucinating on the painkillers, but I found myself oddly transfixed by "Rock of Ages." It was the eyeball bleaching I needed after watching "Girls." In this day of reality, it was such so pleasant to watch a movie with two idealistic, squeaky clean leads in a debauched world. Even the debauchery was cleaned up with Tom Cruise's character getting it on with a Rolling Stone reporter who was wearing stylized granny underwear under her miniskirt. Watching this cleaned up version of the 80's metal scene made me reflect on how people were less materialistic then than they are today. I think a huge factor in people worrying about money is the rising cost of living. Back then, interest rates on student loans were double digits, but people graduated with loans that were equivalent or less than a credit card today.

People worry so much about survival that they make their choices based on safety, like moving back home or remaining on their parents' health insurance. I'm not big on political debate but I think it is nuts that our society is stepping backwards to allot for people remaining reliant on their parents at a time that they should strike out on their own.

Anyway, watching these kids move to the Strip to take crappy jobs and pursue their dreams of making it big in the music industry made me misty eyed and nostalgic. Now it seems, the pursuit of dreams is something only kids from wealthy families are permitted to do. Kids from middle class to poor families need to major in something practical if they want to be employed. Only rich kids or those who attend Ivy League schools are allowed to major in Medieval Studies or Music. Only kids who have parents with deep pockets can move to NYC and take on a low paid or free magazine internship and build the creative career of their dreams, unsaddled by student loans, rent worries, and covered by their parents' health insurance.

In my way, I have tried to make my life similar to the life I should have led when I was in my 20's. Throughout my 20's and mid 30's, I always had my own place. I also had a job that provided health insurance and a 401(k). Now I stay with my boyfriend and pay the equivalent of early 90's rent to live in the heart of the West Village, in an apartment that has not been renovated since the early 90's. A 20 year old would think it the ideal situation. Unfortunately, no older person lives with the freedom that a 20 year lives with. Maybe it's a Zen workout for the mind, but the hardest thing in this situation has been letting go. My boyfriend is an older man. He doesn't have much debt, but he makes a moderate income in a city that demands a high income for basic needs. He also lives in an area of the city that is dotted with expensive restaurants and boutiques; a walk around his block forces him to acknowledge that he can't afford an $11.00 juice or $20 yoga classes. An environment in which one constantly sees what one cannot have breeds dissatisfaction. It is hard to maintain a positive disposition when you are constantly confronted with what you lack.

There are kids all over the West Village partaking in the expensive goodies. I used to be one of those kids years ago when I was in college and my parents were giving me spending money. I remind my man that the kids look happy because they are young and don't necessarily think about consequences. Many of them are just charging those dinners and drinks. A few of them may have rich parents or decent paying jobs, but most of them just charge the fancy clothes and outings. It's very important to keep appearances in perspective when you are NYC.

Watching the television has been reassuring. When you live in a bubble, it's difficult to see what your life really looks like. I can step back and see that my life mirrors television, and in many ways it is a lot better.

The Illusion of Having One's Act Together

August 20th, 2013 at 02:43 pm

Yesterday I was tooling around on LinkedIn when I saw an old article on the new way women curse. This article discussed a January Glamour magazine cover in which one of the featured titles was "12 Ways to Get Your Sh*t Together." The LinkedIn article was about the decreasing shock value of expletives. I was more interested in finding out what the article said. Unfortunately Glamour didn't put the content online, however from my Google search, I found many other websites concerning one getting one's "sh*t" together, including an actual website called http://getyourshittogether.org/ which provides guidance on life and death planning that most people neglect when they are healthy but can leave a huge mess for their descendants.

There were a number of other sites that discussed ways in which one can get his or her act together. It was very amusing and somewhat affirming that according to many of these sites, I actually have my act together as I am not on drugs, have a planner and a work bag (!).

As I reflected upon that, I realize that having one's act together is entirely perception. I know many people here may not feel that I have my act together because I buy lunch out. Yet when I chop my fruit in the morning and put it together my brought from home items of whole grain cereal and cottage cheese, many of my colleagues comment on how healthy my breakfast looks.

Also keeping with the "illusion" of having my act together is my planner. I don't have a formal budget but I spend the same on a weekly basis for transportation, food and gym. My expenses decrease when I am not working. In my planner I record all my outstanding debt, when my payments are due and my weekly take home pay. As I make my payments, I subtract the money accordingly from my available money and keep a running tally of what I have left to live on until the next paycheck. I also keep a running tally of my total outstanding debt as well. Since these are all in writing, I can see my progress or lack of progress. Some credit cards have increased while other have decreased. Overall I am $4,000 less in debt than I was the previous year.

In my case, the mere act of writing down my debts and looking at them makes them less scary and manageable. I've been a temp for over five years. Many of my colleagues have put their student loans in forbearance and have watched their loan balances swell. Mine are decreasing and it comforts me that I have been able to make payments on the student loans, and all my other bills, in spite of working as an independent contractor.

Hit the wall

August 18th, 2013 at 10:24 am

I've been thinking about money long before I've chosen to blog about my money issues. Working as a temp changes the way a person thinks about money. At least it did for me. Back in the day when I had a permanent job, I could count on a certain amount of compensation on an annual basis and was compensated for vacation and sick time. Even though my income is arguably steady, I've never thought of it as something that could be relied upon. It changes so much from project to project. However my fixed costs are such that they require steady compensation. It's difficult looking at a minimum of $1500 a month in expenses, including $900 for my student loan.

Recently I had surgery and I was fortunate that my project wrapped up two days before my scheduled surgery. I'm in recovery and the doctor recommended that I take 2 weeks off, but I can't see myself having no income for 2 weeks. Since I am in between projects, I have some time to recover, yet I am looking for work as well.

Many times I feel as if I "hit a wall." I start out with the best intentions that I will save money and not use my credit cards and then life gets in the way. The combination of unsteady income and high fixed expenses and life circumstances can derail the best of intentions. Sometimes the only thing a person can do is stay positive and ride it the lean times and try to make up for it when times are flush.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I have not put my student loans in forbearance or defaulted on my credit cards. I have been able to keep up with my expenses in spite of short times.

I do get frustrated at the thought of limitations. Worrying about small things like lunches, transportation or little indulgences is frustrating to me because I do make good money even though it disappears quickly.

Trying to stay positive for now. I just finished paying my monthly bills and I am happy that I have paid everything for August and the beginning of September.

Retirement Choices

July 24th, 2013 at 03:28 pm

Temporary employees lack the savings resources available to permanent employees such as 401(k) programs and company sponsored medical plans. This year, I was fortunate enough to have worked enough for an employer to participate in its 401(k) plan [no matching contribution]. Within a few weeks, I had painlessly contributed $2,000 in pretax earnings to the plan before the project ended. Now I am back to square one in establishing enough working hours to become eligible for an agency's 401(k) plan.

Watching that little bit of money accumulate had encouraged me to start contributing to a plan of my own. Many advisors insist that all credit card debt needs to be paid off before saving for retirement. My stance is that it could take years to pay off debt, yet there are only a finite number of years that someone has to save for retirement and money needs time to grow.

I view my debt as a long term situation and the best way for me to deal with it and take control of it is to learn how to live with and manage it. I feel more in control when I acknowledge my debt and continue living my life.

I decided to open an account with an online brokerage (E-Trade) and made small weekly post tax contributions to it. Choosing between a Roth IRA and a regular IRA was difficult and I decided to go with the Roth IRA. At this point in time, I am eligible to contribute to a Roth. I am optimistic that one day I will make enough money that I will not be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA, and I imagined my rich self would look at my poor self in consternation over the decision to forgo complete ownership of the proceeds of a Roth IRA for a tax deduction that would result in a $100-200 more return from the Federal government.

I chose an index fund that permitted an initial IRA investment of $250. This was a no load, no fee fund with a 0.19 expense ratio (SVSPX- SSGA S&P 500 Index). I felt that it would be better that I get my small contributions working for me as soon as possible. Most of the Vanguard and Fidelity funds require $3,000 initial investment or $1,500 initial IRA investment. Maybe some people here can advise whether it would have been better to wait longer to accumulate more money and invest in a Vanguard/Fidelity fund.

I still have credit card debt and student loans that I am very slowly chipping away at. Maybe I should have contributed to my credit cards/loans as opposed to retirement, however I feel a little more secure and happier when I look at my little account.It's a step towards a brighter future.

---Edited to add fund and online brokerage specifics--- Thanks Petunia


July 24th, 2013 at 01:18 pm

I am new to blogging and am still playing around with the format. I ran numerous searches online and was unable to find positive financial resources for temporary employees. There are many of us out there who have huge student loans and face a job market that offers very little in way of stability. I hope to provide and elicit support and suggestions from those in similar situations on how to save for retirement and deal with medical expenses without the support of a permanent employer.

There are many blogs that depict the horrors of document review and burdens of student loans. I prefer to take a positive view of my situation and try to better myself within the constraints of my circumstances. Complaining will not make life easier or lighten my load.

My law loans came out to a little over $127,000 when I graduated 7 years ago. They are currently at $101,000. Medical bills for my pets and myself, and periods of unemployment have swelled my credit cards to $22,000.

Last year I made a decision to give up my apartment and make a serious attempt to get my finances in order. My goal is to pay off my credit cards and to start putting money away for retirement. Eventually I would like to pay off the private portion of my student loans so I can have more options in my career. Document review is lucrative enough that it pays my bills however there is very little career growth.