Six Months of Austerity: The Big 3-0

I recently turned 30 and spent the last week of my twenties mourning the loss of any chance I had of turning up on anyone’s 30 under 30 list, refusing to plan another birthday party for myself (even if a double quinceañera is the best birthday idea ever), laying awake in my Aunt’s attic wondering, “Am I where I thought I’d be?” and intermittently crying at my desk. After a week of that empty stomach “I just cried” nausea, the pity party got old, and I decided to do three terrifying things, in increasing order of scariness. One for each decade of my life:

  1. I climbed a mountain.
  2. I got real on my student loan debt.
  3. I quit my job of five years to work at a beverage start-up.

Mountain.

I bought a $150 roundtrip ticket to Maine a few weeks before my birthday to spend the weekend with Casey, my best childhood friend and fellow Scorpio. The idea of planning my own birthday party, a task that always thrilled the autocrat in me, now made me feel nauseous. I needed to spend it far away from the city with someone who has known me forever. I needed to avoid a boozey bar celebration. I needed to be outside and to be quiet and to eat long breakfasts and talk about what being 10 was like.

Casey promised to plan everything and make sure I was well-fed, got plenty of fresh air, and a day hike. I tried to make her promise me that I would see a moose, but she couldn’t, and I didn’t. We drank amazing beer and ate donuts and watched Hocus Pocus and talked while driving through so many beautiful country roads (everything in Maine is really far from every other thing in Maine). The morning of the hike I was simultaneously excited and nervous. Casey is a pretty experienced hiker and general outdoorswoman, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to keep up, or worse, that I wouldn’t be able to finish. Oh, also, I’m terrified of heights. Like, driving up hills in San Francisco gives me serious anxiety and I laugh at the top of the Wonder Wheel to keep from crying. But I didn’t chicken out. We woke up and packed PB&J’s, met up with Casey’s favorite hiking buddies (Jill and her dog, Lucky). We climbed slowly and passed a waterfall, my city kid showing when I exclaimed, “It smells like a Christmas candle out here!” When we came to the clearing that was the summit, over-looking a huge valley and some Presidential Mountains, I cried. I cried because it was breathtakingly beautiful. I cried because I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this hike a year ago. I cried because I wasn’t at all where I thought I’d be, I was somewhere way different — on top of a damn mountain.

Debt.

The week before I left for my birthday trip I got the dreaded “your income-based repayment has been recalculated” e-mail from my student loan lender, and I didn’t open it for 48 hours. While I have been pretty proactive on tackling my credit card debt, I’ve kept my head pretty securely in the sand on my student loan debt. I’ve been paying the minimum payment in full for a solid six months now, but I think the sheer ENORMITY of the amount I owe kept me from really thinking about it—that was until they DOUBLED my monthly payment.

After my initial reaction (which was feeling like I was being crushed by a boulder) I actually thought, “Hey, in this moment I can actually afford this, and I’m going to be able to pay this down quicker than I thought!” Probably the most wrong I’ve ever been. (More wrong, even, than the time in middle school I started straightening ONLY my bangs.) I called my lender to get the low-down on just how much of this new $500 monthly payment would go towards principal. The answer? An eviscerating $50.

As it turns out, every morning that I open my eyes, my student loan accrues around $15 in interest. Every. Single. Day. Fuck if THAT didn’t light a fire under me! I am days away from signing the final paperwork to cut my interest rate in half, thanks to the generous co-signature of my father, who has rebuilt his credit to near-perfect after a bankruptcy declaration decades ago. My payment will still be about the same amount, but at least double the money will be going towards principal. Part of me wishes I could un-know what I know, but now that I know exactly what’s happening, I’ve been able to make smaller payments on top of what I’m obligated to, because I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t.

Job.

I’ve only ever had one grown-up job: I emailed the wonderful CPA that employed me during undergrad when I found out I was going back to school. I needed to work full-time while I went to school full-time, because I was worried about taking on more debt than I could handle. HAHAHA. I never thought in a million years my job there would turn into a career, but I was good at it, and I grew, and I helped grow the firm, and then five years passed. I wasn’t always happy. I spent 14 consecutive Sundays in the office last tax season. Sometimes I was a glorified personal assistant. I was in no way using my (very expensive) master’s degree. I felt detached and sad and worn out. It took me a year of learning how to take care of myself to realize that I wasn’t a martyr, and even if it made the lives of my coworkers and boss more difficult, I owed it to myself to start looking for something new.

I probably couldn’t have made the first step without the e-encouragement of Billfold pieces I read like this one. So I started interviewing. It felt exhilarating and also exhausting. I’m not a great liar, and I basically felt like I was being the worst sneak on the planet. But I talked to so many amazing people in the food and beverage industry who were impressed by my trajectory, and who cared about what I cared about, and who reiterated that there is a huge dearth of people with accountant and finance chops committed to good food.

And then the offer came in. They matched my salary and benefits, and offered me equity. My mind was BLOWN. Then they met all of my other demands, including one day a week working from home, and more dough. Mind further BLOWN. I asked for everything I needed and I got it. I felt like I was dreaming. You know what woke me from that dream? The realization that I would have to tell my boss, who has known me since I was 20, whose apartment I had lived in, who is like a second, workaholic mom to me, that I was leaving. There was a lot of shaking and voice cracking and crying, but I did it, and I did it without puking!

Here’s the thing I’ve realized this week, though, which feels really good to know as I go into this new endeavor: No matter how much I liked this job, or was good at it, or felt important, or loved and respected my boss, I wish I had worked less. I wish I hadn’t spent my commute with my face in my phone organizing and delegating emails. I wish I didn’t work 15 Sundays in a row last year (even though I LOVE grinding in an empty office to De La Soul). I wish I didn’t bring my laptop with me on vacation. I wish I had taken a week off between gigs. I wish I had given a little bit less of myself.

Here’s to the new thing, and making it through the above soliloquy without saying the term “work-life balance.”

Megan W. Moore is a lover of spreadsheets, dim sum, and dad jams. She excels at side projects, Diane Rehm impressions, and high kicking. She’s spending the next six months trying to get her financials shit together. She blogs about snacks, spending, and body positivity over at foodiecantfail.com

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