Hallelujah, I’m employed again! It took two months, but fate and effort have plucked me from the job market and into the rat race. But in the gap between jobs, I did some serious financial number crunching and for the first time I have the makings of an actual long-term financial plan in place.
The numbers ain’t pretty, but as someone who spent years wincing any time my thoughts wandered toward how I’d pay off my debts, I feel it’s so important for you to know this: You are so much more than your net income, and being strapped for cash does not damn you to an unfulfilled life. In fact, many of the happiest jobs are some of the lowest paid.
On a 15-year payback plan (an ambitious goal), my combined loan payments would total roughly $1,000 each month, or nearly 40 percent of my after-tax take-home pay. But since I’m living at home, I’m thinking I might apply that extra $600 or so I would have spent on rent, utilities, groceries and parking tickets to relieve some debt. That is, after I’ve replenished my emergency savings account and determined an appropriate amount to put toward retirement.
It’s true, debt strips away the luxury of being content with a small income. Like my own personal fiscal cliff, it isn’t enough for me to just cut spending and close budget loopholes — I have to add new revenue as well. Luckily, I’ve found some lucrative and enjoyable side jobs. But working to become free and clear isn’t a sprint. It’s more like a marathon in reverse, because the burden of monthly payments lightens with time.
I’ve got to be extremely disciplined on my monthly budget to make the most of my savings while living with the folks. (Mint.com has been really helpful with setting reasonable budget goals and adds accountability by tracking how I actually spend my money.) But having a plan makes it much easier to know what an impulse purchase will prevent me from achieving.
So does this little trick to help me curb the urge to buy: If I want to eat at a restaurant with friends, buy a latte or splurge on something that looks awesome online, I put the estimated cost in terms of hours I’d have to work to pay for it. Dinner and a movie, for example, costs about two hours of work for me, or 25 percent of a workday. That’s worth it for friends that I really want to see, food I really like and a movie that looks really good, but not for anything less than that. Because I work hard for my money, and I’m making sure it works just as hard for me.