November Check-In: Torqued Up But Grateful

Friends and Family Are Holding Our Beers

a pug puppy sitting up, wrapped in a blanket
a pug puppy sitting up, wrapped in a blanket
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

One advantage of posting my November update so late is that I can tell you how magical the end of November was, while also forecasting how financially arsed-up December is likely to be.

The holidays always feel complicated to me anyway. That said, we’ve largely enjoyed them so far. We’ve been baking and sending cards and frugally lighting our lives: My husband, in a bid to heal a wound he has carried for nearly 20 years, bought extension cords, lights, and a light-up hedgehog and llama from a certain stylish discount chain, all for $124, to decorate the outside of our home. Sometimes, you have to throw money at your heartache.

Sometimes, you have to throw money at your heartache.

And sometimes not: As I type this, a pot of vegetable soup from our neighbor Susan sits in our fridge, a buttery, delicious vegan recipe she knows I love. So whenever she makes it, she brings us half, to warm us, just because.

Blessings! Heartache! Guilt! Shame! Gratitude!

It was that kind of month.

What Kind of Month Did We Have?

November was a month when we spent a metric fuckton on a stray kitten we found on Thanksgiving eve (more on that in a minute).

It was a month when, one day, I opened a beautifully addressed envelope to find a note and a check from my cousins by marriage, two people who’d held me aloft once before, 20 years ago when their blood-cousin, my then-husband, was dying and our son was in diapers. Here they were again, presenting me with a check for our emergency savings, just because. (Their stated reason was equal parts admiration for the blog and concern for our well-being.)

November was a month when the threats to our Constitutional democracy continued apace — literally calls coming from inside the (White) House — and when our nation celebrated a holiday that does not reflect Thanksgiving for the 5 million Native Americans who must withstand its triggering symbolism once a year.

It was a month that caused us to confront the how and why of our occupation of this land; for us, the land is in Maryland. Through this interactive map, we discovered that our suburb and the nearby city and river were settled by the Nacotchtank people, who by the 18th century were so decimated by European-borne diseases and encroached on by settlers, that the remaining band had to relocate a few miles west, to blend in with the Piscataway people. Here is where the Piscataway-Conoy nation keeps house on the Internet.

It was a month that I confronted a knowledge I’ve had for some time: That if I blithely report that my net worth went up this month, without disclosing that I received a family gift, and without acknowledging that although that gift represents hard work it also represents privilege in my family network and privilege for me, then I’d be fooling myself and erasing the experiences of many of my readers and the people they descended from, people who worked hard themselves, most against their free will and in danger of their lives, and did not get the same chances my ancestors have had to keep the fruits of their labor so it could grow from generation to generation.

Truthfulness matters. Personal accountability matters.

So I received this gift, this month. It represents enormous love and grace — again, not for the first time, from these particular family members. It re-motivates me to spend and save wisely in the coming year, to spend what I can for charitable giving, and to be there for those particular beloved family members as well as other fellow humans, in case you need me someday.

Also Big News: Love Costs.

On Thanksgiving evening, a very tiny quadruped happened to need me to find and love her. For a change, I crossed the dark street and answered the call instead of walking away. About $500, two vet visits, and a pet store later, this beloved creature is hanging out in our guest room till the other cats can get used to her. Pics later in this post.

December preview: Our dog got pancreatitis. He’s better today, but pancreatitis is no joke, and even I was shocked at how the bottom of my life fell out from under me, emotionally, when he was so sick.

We’ve spent $1,300 or so on his care so far, but that’s not reflected in November. See above: the privilege to charge that expense. See also: CareCredit is our new best friend.

This is all on top of having lost our adored chonky weirdo cat Rambo earlier this year, the costs for which are still kicking around on our credit cards.

We’re definitely not getting out of debt anytime soon.

Let’s do the November numbers.

Wins This Month.

  • My cousins’ amazing gift for emergency savings fell in our laps. HOLY WOW. I’m not sure they will appreciate my public thanks, but, HEY YOU TWO, PUBLIC THANKS. ❤ ❤ ❤
Kristin Bell is kvelling.
  • I retired a no-interest credit offer on time for the first time in perhaps a decade, paying off my PayPal balance like a boss.
  • I restructured our credit card debt by using a balance transfer to send myself money, then send the identical amount back to the card to pay the higher-interest debt and incur the same debt at lower interest. I am not excited to be doing this again, and more than a little scared I will screw up. Fingers crossed.
  • I made extra money! A coupla fat digits from my ongoing contributions to Wealthtender! Check out my November post on the magic of the saving rate.
  • I met this individual:

Homer is about seven weeks old. Our other cats, on the rare occasions they see her in her carrier as we head to the front door, hiss and raise a fuss and generally let us know that This Is Not Okay. Our dog, Cobber, is taking it in stride. He likes cats.

Oh, and I discovered a thing I am still exploring: At least two credit services, Scratchpay and CareCredit, are geared specifically to veterinarian care (CareCredit can also be used for a variety of human health care costs that fall between the cracks on most insurance plans, like dental care for our luxury bones).

Both Scratchpay and CareCredit have plans I don’t fully understand yet, but in essence, they let you pay interest-free for certain amounts and periods of time, and then at credit card rates thereafter. So, for manageable amounts (let’s say, hypothetically, $427 from a 24-hour vet clinic on Thanksgiving) they seem like a great alternative. I’ll let you know more when I’ve tried them for a while.

The numbers.

Total debt: $495,905 compared with $496,788 in October and $498,014 at the end of September. Trending downward.

Credit card & consumer debt, including our car loan, is $13,758, compared with $13,364 in October and $11,867 in September. It’s not exactly encouraging but also not depressing to see that our credit debt is leveling out.*

  • I wrote this before the dog’s pancreatitis hit.

Net worth: $87,866. Geez louise, that’s a nice leap upward. It was only $82,244 in November, compared $81,692 in September, and $80,431 in August. Some of this is the family gift we discussed, some is reductions in our fixed debts, and some is investments rebounding. It’s helping me sleep nights.

Life and Budget Goals: Well, This Is Fine.

Short version: Our goal-meeting is a hot mess.

  1. Be more analog each day, and enjoy more hands-on pursuits like reading offline, playing cards and board games, journaling, and coloring. Really, guys, I’ve done better than I might have this year and this month, but not as good as I expected to.
  2. Get more of the 3 M’s: Music, Museums, and Movies: See #1
  3. Perfect my handwriting, using the Spencer method, essentially a form of meditation for me. Yeah, no.
  4. Read more women and trans writers of color, queer writers, many more voices. Slow but steady (it will take me all year, I’m sure) Close to fail. I’m still supposedly reading Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, and I got the third volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time only to return it just about half-read, because someone else was waiting for it and I felt bad. to come from the library ( I can’t afford to buy these yet, but maybe you can: affiliate links to IndieBound).
  5. Memorize two poems I have loved for years, which is way harder than you’d think. They are Jane Kenyon’s “Happiness” and Jane Hirshfield’s “Rebus.” Come on, not this, too?! FFS.
  6. Have a holiday fund that includes money to give to charity and to have a New Year’s Day party in 2020. Ugggggghhhhhhh. Well, we’re baking cookies and sending cards.
  7. Prepare a financial advice document for my son that is relevant to his needs and puts him on a smart path to not fuck up like his mama did. Great verbal advice, very little explained or in writing. My delay is getting embarrassing.
  8. Articulate and keep alive the ideas of one day dedicating time to teaching ESL, teaching in prisons, teaching to people who are caregivers, teaching to people without homes, studying herbal medicine, practicing mindfulness, and perhaps learning Reiki at last. A girl can think, can’t she? So I’m thinking.
  9. Have a garden plan and budget for spring 2020. LOL. Nope.
  10. Increase our saving rate to 10% by the end of the year (with a goal of 20% by the end of 2020). We’re at about 5%.
  11. Make sure that every single debt goes down each month, if only by a dollar. Our fixed debts do go down, considerably. Our credit cards, not so much.
  12. Get my credit card debt usage to 50% (it was 66% on January 1). I’m at 49%. So technically, I got this.
  13. In hard numbers, pay down a total of $12,000 in all debt; $6,000 in consumer debt. We took on three new fixed debts this year, so I will have to figure out how to account for debt reduction. Let’s just say I discovered a lot about what we can and cannot do in a year like this.
  14. Abolish two particularly annoying debts of $500 and $700 each. DONE. HALLELUJAH IT TOOK ME 11 MONTHS AND 14 OTHER GOALS DOWN THE LIST, BUT I DID IT.
  15. Save a total of $3,000 in emergency funds this year. This is where the gift from my family made such a difference. It allowed me to retire a margin loan from one of the banks I had funds in, essentially attaining this amount in that account for emergency funds that are remote enough that I can’t tap them too easily, yet liquid enough to be an option for true emergencies. Now my goal is to add to it. I’m thinking of using a Roth IRA to grow it faster without harming the principle. Thoughts?
  16. Get a raise at work. I am working on this but won’t report specific results here.
  17. Secure a roof and school loans. Done. On top of that, we got a HELOC.
  18. Incur no more credit card debt this summer. HAHA, NOPE.
  19. Initiate contributions to my company’s HSA plan by September. Missed this deadline on purpose; will reconsider by December.

The exact same paragraph I wrote last month will work again for this month, word for word:

I think my biggest victory this money is in the big picture: overall, we’ve gained net worth and slightly reduced our debt. I hate that we are back in credit card debt, large enough that it won’t be addressed in even six months. It’s an important reminder, I suppose, that bootstrapping alone won’t get any of us very far: we need systems and supports in place to either help us stretch our meager dollars, or help us find the means to earn more.

And for those who love me enough to support and believe in me, I can never repay your kindness.

Say, drop me a line and tell me how your plans are going. I’d love to hear your goals. Keep going — and don’t lose your nerve!

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I’m a 50-something bohemian with a mountain of debt and regrets. Can I dig out before it’s all over? I brake for poets.

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