In order to expedite the painful process of paying my law school loans, I decided it’d be a smart idea to keep a watchful eye on my income and expenses. After all, once you get past the rah-rah YouCanDoIt self-help talk, personal finance guides seem to boil down to (a) reduce your expenses; and (b) increase your income. Obviously, option (b) is much harder and more elusive but (a) is within everyone’s grasp.
The first step to reducing expenses is figuring out where the hell all my money is going. So, I went through my bank and credit card statements for February and got to the bottom of it. Here’s what I found:
|Life & Disability Insurance||$54.00|
I take the train to work every day, so that’s the transportation cost. Regarding Kindle Unlimited, I’ve since canceled this subscription. I have more than enough to read. The restaurant expense is an eye-popping $45. I would never spend this much, but a good friend unexpectedly came through town last month and insisted we meet at a restaurant. In general, I try to avoid restaurants like the plague since they’re money traps.
The gym expense is high. I’m a member of two gyms – one near home and one near work. The huge hours required of me at work recently has translated to a very sporadic attendance at the gym near work. I’m considering dropping the gym near work, which would save $45/month.
The beer expense: what can I say? I’ve got in the bad habit of wanting a couple beers when I get home from work to ease the tension and stress. After work, I’m often miserable and don’t get home until 10:30 or 11pm and beer helps take the edge off. I’m fully cognizant this isn’t a good habit and could lead down a very negative path, but it is what is it. I’m trying to make this blog about unvarnished honesty. Looking at the numbers now, $31.26 just seems like too much to spend on beer every month. That’s more than $375 a year! Granted, I enjoy it, but I don’t have the money to spare.
Even the entertainment cost of $12.99 just seems frivolous and childish. I think I bought a Kindle book for $4.99 and I also bought a couple episodes of Louis CK’s new show Horace and Pete (which was great, but I can’t justify the needless expense).
The work-related expense was some copying I had to do at the court. The court charges the unbelievable fee of $0.50 a page for the difficult service of photocopying. It’s a total racket, but the court in question has a monopoly, and hence pricing power, on copying case documents.
Uber and Lyft are premium services, which I would normally avoid, but I had a couple emergencies where I needed to dash off to court and it was either use those services or hail a cab, which would have been more time consuming and expensive. I will still aim to plan my schedule in such a manner that I won’t have to use these expensive services.
Obviously, student loans are the big, honking expense – 85.9% of my income. Yikes. My after-tax income in February was $3,911, so I only was able to save $184.35 after expenses.
Now that my 20s are behind me, I find myself contemplating issues that I seldom thought about before: retirement, savings, middle age, old age, etc. I look around and I see middle-aged and older adults seriously struggling with finances, with living situations, and just having trouble handling life. Becoming a well-adjusted, comfortable adult is not inevitable or even likely for most. Maybe it was my misplaced entitlement or young adult delusion, but I never considered that I would possibly be a middle-aged adult who would worry about food, housing, and relationships. I thought my strong academic performance would somehow protect me from the essential roughness and brutality of survival. But here I stand, foot firmly planted in my 30s, not an intimate relationship in sight, broke as broke can be, middling career accomplishments, don’t own a car, and living at home. Reality is a stark contrast to my early-20s vision of my future.
Perhaps all of this is just part of the process of finding your place in life. I’m not quite the genius my deluded teenage self thought I was. I’m not Elon Musk, Aaron Sorkin, or Thomas Edison. I am meant for the work-a-day life, to struggle, scrimp, and save, and not to ruminate on and solve the large and complex and not to create the remarkable or the beautiful. It could be that my struggles are part of coming to terms with being the grunt worker, the working Joe who you never read about in the news. Someone needs to figure out how many days you have (including weekends and federal holidays!) to file a cross claim. Someone needs to read the manual for the new legal practice management software.
My 30s have been nothing if not a coming to terms and a waking up to cold reality. Coming to terms with my faults and shortcomings. Coming to terms with my tendency to daydream, to have utterly misguided delusions of grandeur. Coming to terms with my struggles with concentration, with discipline, with motivation, with direction, with organization and planning, and just plain laziness. My gut screams at me when I have to scrutinize dull and turgid legal documents. I want to jump out of my office window when I receive discovery responses. A good friend told me recently that “you are where you’re supposed to be.” There’s a nugget of truth there. I am where I am – living with my folks in my early 30s, living with a tremendous amount of financial strain and scant professional success – because I have failed to fully confront, address, and rectify my shortcomings.
This has all been a bit of a tangent, but what are blogs for if they’re not for meandering tangents. This isn’t an annual shareholder’s report. This is a record of my journey back from the brink and back to solvency. Sadly, my story isn’t unique or all that shocking. My finances and life situation are pretty emblematic of a whole generation. From my perspective, student loans and poor career options are why Millennials aren’t getting married, buying homes or cars, or starting businesses at the same clip as previous generations. I also think debt and wage issues are the fundamental driving force behind the rise of populist political candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. People are barely scraping by and they see the head honchos at institutions that benefit from debt, taxes, and low wages – fat and happy federal government muckity mucks, Wall Street masters of the universe, sanctimonious and overpaid nonprofit and education professionals, C-level think tank and interest group pros, banking industry execs, and the like – just cleaning up and it makes them sick. The pitchforks are out and the populace wants someone to pay.
I don’t place the blame for my horrifying financial situation on anyone other than myself, but I can see how so many people are so enraged at current trends in our society. In any case, tangent over.