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Not Living on Ramen

I'm a somewhat geeky physics enthusiast hoping to be a not-so-broke grad student as I return to school after TFA.

Last Build Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 03:13:25 +0000


End of the semester craziness.

Wed, 27 Apr 2011 23:52:00 +0000

It's that time of year when homework, tests, and papers all hit at once. I've been a touch lackadaisical about school, relatively speaking at least, and now I'm feeling a bit stressed. It's somewhat irrational since I'm pretty sure these grades won't matter to anyone but me, ever. Even if I made a B in every class, it still wouldn't jeopardize my future. I'm into grad school and funded, and in my more rational moments I remind myself that one non-stellar semester won't cause those offers to be rescinded. Still, the prospect of doing poorly is preying on my mind.

It doesn't help that I never fully got into the swing of school this semester. First, there was the snow. We got a couple of big storms, and the Southern U.S. doesn't do well with snow. Even a couple of inches is enough to keep most people off the roads and snow plows are quite uncommon so when we had a few days in a row when it snowed pretty much continuously or when another storm dumped a foot and a half in one day, you can imagine the results. My university was closed amost as much as it was open for the first few weeks of the semester. After that came the grad school interviews/visits, which involved missing lots of classes and having almost no time on weekends to get things done for several weeks in a row. Throw in a bit of senioritis, and it hasn't been the most productive time of my life.(image)

Financial talks with my fiance are making me nervous.

Tue, 12 Apr 2011 21:34:00 +0000

I've been trying to take the advice of every financial guru of the past fifty years and start having some serious chats about money with my fiancé. In some ways, it feels a bit superfluous since we have a pretty good handle on where we both stand and fairly similar outlooks and goals. I knew the details of his monthly budget before we even started officially dating, and I did his taxes, helped him file his FAFSA, and walked him through setting up an online savings account last year. I think I've been similarly transparent about my finances.So there haven't been any big surprises. He doesn't have much in savings, extended unemployment stinks like that, but he's frugal, and thanks to his generous parents he'll finish school without any loans. He had a brief fling with building credit card debt in his early twenties, paid it off as quickly as possible once he came to his senses, and now he's just as debt averse as I am, perhaps more so. If anything, he's more conservative with his money than I am. He's come to gradually accept that it's probably ok for me to use a credit card and pay it off every month, but he prefers cash for everything. He's also very leery of the stock market and investment risk; I suspect that when we get married and combine finances, we'll need to structure our retirement savings so that accounts with his name on them contain the most stable parts of our joint portfolio.We're pretty much in line on our big goals as well. One to two children, a house that we pay off as quickly as possible, building savings, having pets, helping family if needed, we're checking the same metaphorical boxes on our priority lists. I was somewhat amused to learn that The Boy wants a literal house with white picket fence, although he did helpfully offer to build the fence himself once we get the house.So why am I feelings so stressed? If life goes according to plan, I'll probably be in school for the next six years, then a year or two of post-doc work, then if I'm both extremely lucky and extremely talented, maybe, just maybe, I might be able to find a tenure track position. Ideally, we'd like to be in a position to buy a house once we're settled more or less permanently. That gives us several years to save.However, how the heck do kids fit into this plan? A professor once advised me that the last year of grad school is generally a pretty good time to have a child if you are at the point where you are focused on writing up your research and not so active in running experiments, but I don't know whether I can make that work. The Boy is considering being a stay at home dad for a couple of years at some point, but that doesn't sound too feasible when I'll be making $20,000 a year after my fellowship eligibility runs out. A bit of googling revealed that daycare for an infant costs around $250 a week where I'll be living for graduate school, and The Boy, upon hearing this concluded that daycare is expensive and suggested we "get a very nice nanny" instead before he did the math and realized that $250/40 is less than the federal minimum wage.It's moments like these that I'm more than a little envious of men. On one of my grad school visits I met a male professor who has been at his university for twenty years, and his daughters are two and four. Women can't compartmentalize their lives like that, building decades long records of professional success before scaling back to start families, at least not in a field where you're thirty before you're even out of training and not with being a biological parent at least. (That's important to the Boy, far less so for me.) The "leaky pipeline" of women in science is making more and more sense. (And please don't get me started on the male grad student at another university who was part of a panel discussion and when asked about the family friendliness of the institution, helpfully opined that he has a four month old and it hasn't affected his ability to work twelve hour days six days a week in the slightest.)At the same university I met a female professor in her m[...]

Weekend Objectives

Sat, 09 Apr 2011 17:56:00 +0000

I need to gather my receipts and fill out the paperwork for reimbursement for my last couple of graduate school visits, do my taxes, and finish declining the offers from the graduate schools I won't be attending. I'm looking forward to that last one the least. Bureaucracy, forms, and money don't phase me, but trying to let people down politely is a task I don't relish.

It isn't difficult to decline the offers from some schools. My list of acceptances included a couple of safety schools that I was pretty sure I wouldn't attend if I got into stronger program even though they probably would have been fine back-ups and another school whose financial offer was, quite frankly, a joke; I didn't even fly out to visit these programs and thus had no compunction about simply checking the box on the form letter to let them know I was rejecting their offers of admission. With any luck, someone who really wants to go there and will be a great fit with each program is getting moved off a wait list. However, there are two other programs where I think I'll need to send more personal notes to faculty members in addition to using the form or website to let the program know.

There was one physics program where I loved everything except the biophysics faculty, especially after discovering how unhappy seeming the graduate students in the lab group that would have been my top choice were. The director of the graduate program was quite enthusiastic about me, however, offering me a fellowship, inquiring about other offers to try to match them, and asking what it would take to get me to come. I think the best course of action is to send an email to let him know how much I appreciate his offer and enjoyed the visit, but that I have concluded a lab at another university is a better fit.

However, there is another situation that I'm finding still more difficult. By the time I made my last visit, I'd narrowed my list of options down to two, including the school I was visiting at the time, and I didn't mind letting them know this when asked. One of the professors there did a great job of making me feel welcome and trying to recruit me. His work is interesting, and his lab group manages to be ridiculously productive while also being a tremendously supportive, happy place, and I really liked meeting with him and his students and post docs. The professor has also been following up by email a couple of times a week, offering more information about an aspect of the group's work I had questions about, sending links to some papers, and congratulating me on winning a fellowship from his university. There's nothing I dislike about his group. Indeed, if I'd had to flip a coin to decide between my top two choices, I think that would have been happy with either outcome, but there were a few things, like a clear to becoming involved in physics education research while pursuing biophysics research and a stronger k-12 outreach program that made one place feel like a slightly better fit. I'm just not quite sure how to say that or if I even should. Suggestions?(image)

I used to think $1,500 was a lot of money.

Fri, 08 Apr 2011 20:03:00 +0000

Based on my assumptions about taxes, health care, and rent, I should have at least $1,500 a month of my grad student stipend left for everything else. That's roughly 3/4 of my net pay when I was teaching, and I paid rent, albeit ridiculously cheap Delta rent, out of that and still socked plenty away. So it shouldn't be that hard to keep building my savings while I'm in school.After doing a very rough first pass at a budget for my stipend, I can see how easy it would be to fritter the money away instead. I put down what I thought were generous, but not outrageous, estimates for the major categories that came to mind. Note that the categories in my real budget will probably be a bit more finely subdivided; this is just a quick and dirty approximation, not an actual spending plan intended to keep me on track. It looks a bit like this.Cash expenses: $400. This would include food, personal expenses, entertainment, gas, and miscellany, basically any typical day to day expenses that aren't bills.Utilities, internet, phone, and Netflix: $200. I'm anticipating high winter heating bills, and I think I will want internet at home for Skyping The Boy, streaming Netflix movies when I want to passively unwind, and the convenience of not having to hike to a campus computer lab whenever I want to check my email or look something up online. Phone costs should be low as I'll either keep relying on my trusty Tracfone or take my future in-laws up on their offer joining their family plan for $10 a month. If I can find a good apartment with utilities included, this total should be significantly lower.Short term savings/seasonal: $75. This is for expenses that occur somewhat irregularly, such as gifts, an annual bus pass, good boots when winter hits, etc.Insurance: $100. I have no idea what insurance for a newer car will cost, and I'll need renters' insurance as well; is this a reasonable estimate? (I'll be paying for the car out of savings, so a car payment isn't a worry.)Charitable giving: $100. I'm planning to double my automatic donation to Doctors without Borders.Travel: $250. This assumes a plane ticket every two months. Things were decidedly less complicated when my long distance relationship with The Boy only involved travel by car.Wedding savings: $125. I'm assuming that I'll be paying for my wedding in three years and that it will be on a tight budget.That leaves $250 a month for long term savings. I'd be saving a mere $3,000 a year, just 10% of my gross income. That isn't enough to keep saving a reasonable amount for retirement, gradually replenish my car fund, and regularly add anything to my down payment fund. That just won't work. I need to save more than 10% of my income for retirement alone.Granted, I think some of my assumptions for fixed expenses were a bit high. I hope I won't end up spending $3,000 a year on educational expenses. I'm going to try to find an apartment toward the lower end of my price range and/or one that includes all utilities so I don't think I'll really end up spending $800 a month on housing and utilities.Still, I need to figure out where I should cut in these other categories. Cash expenses seem like a good place to start, and I'm reassessing how much of my current car fund I really want to spend right now. I wouldn't need to keep comprehensive and collision coverage on an older and cheaper car, especially if I had almost enough left over in my car fund for another entire car if worst came to worst. Other thoughts on what else I should change in this budget?[...]

A first pass at the grad school budget

Thu, 07 Apr 2011 06:19:00 +0000

I'm not sure whether I'm just impatient or have too much time on my hands now that I'm done studying for admissions tests, applying for fellowships, applying to graduate schools, agonizing over whether I'd get in anywhere, visiting schools, and evaluating my options and therefore need something new to obsess over, but I'm pretty eager to see how far my stipend will go. I've done some very rough estimates of what I'll have to work with. I'm trying to err on the side of rounding up expenses to build in some buffer.Starting stipend: $30,000Federal taxes: a quick look at this year's form 1040EZ suggests that I'll owe around $2683 each year unless there are major changes in the tax code. I'll guess $3,000 to be safe. FICA isn't an issue for fellowships.State taxes: A cursory look at this year's state income tax forms from the state in which I'll be living suggests that state income tax will be slightly less than $650.Stipend after estimated taxes: $26350Health Care: The university website reveals that graduate student health insurance premiums are about $300 a semester, so $900 annually. The mandatory health center fee is another $900 a year. I'm fairly healthy and not currently on any prescription medications, but I'll budget an extra $200 for incidental medical expenses that aren't covered by the university health center. A health crisis would probably mean spending far more than this and possibly dipping into my HSA, but this would more than cover the average of the past couple of years . (There's a chance that I'll just stay on my parents' insurance during my first year, but I haven't had time to check out what coverage would be like in a new area of the country yet.)Stipend after estimated taxes and health care:$24,350Educational expenses: This one is hard to estimate. Tuition should be fully covered, but I will be responsible for some portion of the fees, plus some textbooks and miscellany. I guess I'll estimate $3,000 for now and hope that's high.Stipend money left for living: $21,350Housing costs: Craigslist reveals numerous decent looking one bedroom apartments near campus in the $450-$550 range, some including various utilities, which fits well with what current students have told me. I guess I'll estimate $600 per month for now.Stipend money left for non-rent expenses: $18,950 or around $1,500 a monthNow things start to get squidgy. Some things are easy to guess, others not so much. A bit of googling reveals that an annual bus pass is $60. I know what Netflix and phone service cost, but I don't think I can even come up with a ballpark for utilities yet. Groceries are hard to estimate without visiting a store there. I'm very likely spending a chunk of savings to get a new, or at least newer, car soon so insurance costs will go up, but by how much? Airfare to see my fiancé for a weekend in September would cost $451 if I bought tickets today, but what will prices look like next year, and how often will we be flying back and forth? What does a movie ticket cost? How often would I want to take the train to Chicago for a Saturday away? The mind boggles.Still, it is looking like I should, with any luck and a bit of planning, be able to keep socking money away for the next three years. After that, I may be relatively broke on RA funding, or if The Boy is done with school and finds a teaching job as planned, we may be able to buckle down and get serious about saving for a house as well as retirement. Here's hoping![...]

A windfall

Wed, 06 Apr 2011 15:29:00 +0000

Yesterday the NSF announced the recipients of their Graduate Research Fellowships. I was trying hard not to get my hopes up, especially since my application was pretty much thrown together a couple of days before the deadline and my adviser didn't seem to think my research proposal was specific and innovative enough. He suggested I treat the process as a learning experience and try to make good use of the released comments from the reviewers to prepare a stronger application next year.

Last week I started working on budgets based on the $20,000 annual stipend my favorite graduate program offered me. Fortunately, that's for a program in a college town in the Midwest where you can get a decent apartment for $500 and buses will take you anywhere you want to go. All of the current students I've talked to said it is quite possible to have a comfortable life and either still save a bit or (the option I'd go for) pay for an expensive vice like occasionally seeing your fiance who lives 550 miles away in person. I was doing my best to gear my expectations to a lean but pleasant few years.

Nonetheless, as March came and went and an announcement from the NSF loomed ever closer, it was hard not to get sucked into visiting the NSF website a couple of times a day and checking my email a bit more frequently, hoping they'd would hurry up and put me out of my misery. I wanted to find out I hadn't gotten the award, mope for a bit, and move on with my life, and that's impossible to do when there's even a faint glimmer of hope that the moping won't be necessary.

Based on the email sent at 2:13 Tuesday morning no moping was necessary. One of my friends/Physics GRE study buddies found out I got the fellowship before I did, after he checked his email at 2:30 a.m., learned he was a fellow, and went to the NSF site to look at the list of who else had won. However, he decided against calling me and waking me up so I found out ten minutes before I had to head out the door to class.

I think I'm equal parts excited and terrified. It's very, very nice to get into a great graduate program and be offered such a nice fellowship, don't get me wrong, but it is definitely exacerbating a wicked case of impostor syndrome as this widens the gap between the high achiever my resume describes and the real me who often struggles with my condensed matter homework, bombed the Physics GRE despite months of study, and wonders if she'll survive graduate school.

On the plus side, I get to redo my budget based on an annual stipend of $30,000 and figure how to divvy up the money I'll be able to put in savings.(image)

Where I've been and where I'm going

Mon, 21 Mar 2011 23:07:00 +0000

I've been a student again for the past year. It has been a net positive, much as I miss my kids and my sense of being useful to someone. Financially, however, it has been something of a negative, with scholarships covering tuition and part of living expenses, but with savings covering the difference. You'd think that spending more than I bring in would help me refocus on frugality, but instead the inevitability of dipping into savings proved sufficiently dispiriting that it had the opposite effect. It still hasn't been a disaster by any means, but I could have done better.

I'm looking forward to having a real income again when I start a ph.d program in the fall. At this point, I think my list of schools is narrowed down to two*, one a physics program, one biophysics. Both are in Midwestern college towns where a graduate stipend would go pretty far, which is good since I must balance the need to once again begin setting money aside for long term savings after the year's hiatus; gas money and/or plane tickets to see the Boy, who is pretty adamant about seeing each other at least once a month during the three years before he'll be ready to move up with me; and saving for a wedding, unless I somehow convince said Boy to elope. (He remains convinced that you aren't actually married unless all of your friends have been drunk on cheap champagne.)

*Actually, as I started to write a paragraph comparing and contrasting the two options, I think I just came to a decision, but I'll save that for a future post.(image)

Hello world.

Sun, 20 Mar 2011 00:27:00 +0000

It's been a very long time since I last blogged and nearly as long since I last read the blogs I used to frequent, and I've reached the tipping point where desire to resume an activity that used to bring me pleasure outweighs the sense of embarrassment I feel about dropping off the face of the blogosphere. Plus, no one is reading this so the only one judging me for resuming blogging after a year long hiatus is me.(image)

A Friendly Reminder:

Tue, 10 Aug 2010 17:03:00 +0000

Please get your affairs in order.

My mom's younger brother died quite suddenly on July 30 at the age of 54. In addition to the not inconsiderable emotional stuff, the logistics and legal stuff are turning out to be quite challenging. There was a photocopy of a will, but we've yet to find an original. No one had any idea what bank he used until a statement arrived in the mail. We're still trying to get a handle on what he owes and where. Throw in a hefty helping of grief and the drama of my mom's somewhat argumentative family, and it's a mess.

I don't care if you only have $36 in your checking account and $5,000 in debt, make sure someone has the information. I don't have a will drawn up yet or the all-important living will and health care proxy, but it took less than half an hour to make a table of where all my assets are, the account numbers, and other pertinent information to give to my dad. It's simple and could make a challenging time a tiny bit easier.(image)

Getting Back to the Financial Oversharing

Sun, 16 May 2010 20:40:00 +0000

I've been overspending badly the past few months, a fact that is making me more and more nervous, especially since there are major life/income changes coming up. (Long story short: I'm returning to college in the fall to take classes, do unpaid work in a lab, and get ready for grad school. Long story long to be posted later.)

So here's the brief overview of where I stand. Keep in mind the categories were all assigned back when I was still planning to teach for a third year so things may shift if/when I end up dipping into savings next year.
  • Emergency fund (I Bonds, value takes into account penalty for cashing out early):$8,459
  • Checking account at old hometown bank: $500
  • House fund at old hometown bank (15 month c.d. with 2.27% apy that will mature in February): $9,000
  • Checking account at USAA: $600
  • Health Savings account: $1,000
  • Roth IRA (VBINX, already maxed out for 2010): $14,600
  • Car fund at FNBO Direct: $9,600
  • House fund at FNBO Direct: $600
I've also made mandatory contributions of about $4,000 to the state teacher retirement system that I'll probably withdraw since I can roll them into an IRA. (Since I don't anticipate teaching in the state's public schools again and strongly suspect that over the coming decades protecting the contributions of someone who only taught in the state for two years won't be a high priority, I assume this is the best idea, but I'm open to advice.)

Making this list served as a nice reminder that I haven't torpedoed my financial future yet. Next year may be another story, however.(image)

Hello world.

Sun, 16 May 2010 20:13:00 +0000

Is anybody still out there?

I never reached a point where I actively decided not to blog, it just happened, along with a newfound ability to sleep for sixteen hours a day, overwhelming anxiety, and some things I shouldn't write about because it would freak out my mother if she ever decides to see if I'm blogging again. I'm doing a lot better now, not magically all better, but able to function in my own life again.

There are meds involved. I'm still not sure how I feel about that. After decades of listening to my father discuss how we're all responsible for deciding to be optimistic and choosing to be happy, it was something of a revelation to discover that an SSRI made it possible to begin the work of shifting my mindsets. I'm not planning to tell my dad about the anti-depressant; I'm judgmental enough of myself for taking it. However, I do prefer not struggling to convince myself that it's a good idea to continue living, so for now I'll take the meds.

I promise the next post will go back to our regularly scheduled programming, where the only oversharing will be about finances.(image)

The day my job finally drove me to drink.

Fri, 18 Dec 2009 04:11:00 +0000

After the homecoming game, one of my former ninth grade physical science students was shot in the back of the head. He died in a hospital in Memphis a few days later. Recently, a sixteen-year-old from my town was charged with capital murder in an unrelated incident, and today I learned through the grapevine that it's another student from that same period. Oh, and last night there were four shootings. One of the victims was one of my seniors last year. I heard from his cousin that so far he's stable.

So, yeah, I had a bourbon and soda and am now ready to have a good long cry, get some sleep, and get up and grade tests.(image)


Wed, 16 Dec 2009 04:34:00 +0000

I've done no Christmas shopping. None. It doesn't help that I've been up to my eyeballs in student papers thanks to the finals grading crunch and the nearest shopping is an hour and a half away, but there's no excuse for not at least ordering the one thing I've already picked out online. I'm also wearing increasingly unflattering outfits as the supply of clean laundry dwindles (Fortunately, today's diversionary tactic of wearing lipstick to distract from my admittedly ugly slacks somewhat worked, and I got about one compliment for every three insults.), and dinners lately tend to consist of balanced and delicious meals like a bagel with cream cheese and some carrot sticks. I stink at life.(image)


Sat, 12 Dec 2009 14:42:00 +0000

I've been overspending since school started. It hasn't been the result of any buying binges; I'm still happiest in a pair of hand-me down jeans from my little brother, and my $10 Tracfone is probably currently out of juice in the bottom of the laundry hamper. This is actually bad news: it would be much easier to correct the problem if I could point to one area of my life where I'm messing up, chastise myself, and get back on course. Instead I'm experiencing the far more insidious lifestyle inflation.

I've gotten sloppy. I'm putting money into savings every month, yes, but I've been doing an incredibly slipshod job of tracking my spending lately. I'm falling into some bad habits like buying lunch at least two or three times a week, and I'm hanging out a lot more with the rather spendy crowd of TFAs. I'm getting whatever I feel like eating when I'm at the grocery store instead of trying to plan frugal meals, and I'm just generally less cost conscious.

There are a million justifications for why this is ok. I'm young, have a stressful job, and should go have some fun. Unlike many of my friends here who have tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, I have no debt. I haven't been missing my targets by that much; although, that is in large part due to a small windfall when I learned I was getting paid for attending a follow-up meeting for some professional development. I'm still saving, just not as much.

Truly, I haven't been doing that bad. For September through November, I met my savings goals even though it was a lot tighter than it should have been.This month it just isn't going to happen. Maybe, just maybe, I could make it work if I didn't buy anyone any Christmas gifts, but I'm not willing to do that. Still, it hasn't been a terrible semester, especially because I threw a bonus I got right before Thanksgiving into the house fund, bringing the total over $9,500. I completed my goal of getting my car fund up to $10,000 right on schedule, too.

All of which contributes to that dangerous sense that all of this spending is somehow ok. Some of it is, much of it isn't, and I need to sort out which is which. My unbudget system of paying myself first and then living on what was left and meticulously tracking spending worked well for quite a while, so I wouldn't call the experiment a failure, but it isn't a good fit with how I'm managing my money right now. I need more structures in place to track whether I'm meeting my goals and spending an appropriate amount on both the necessities of life and frivolity. I need more carefully thought through prioritization.

In other words, I need a budget. On January 1st, I'm starting fresh with a new budget for the new year. I'm looking forward to it, actually. I always took a certain geeky pleasure in entering all of my purchases in the free spreadsheet-based version of PearBudget. It's a lot easier to spend without guilt when you know you've budgeted for whatever it is, no matter how silly your want. Plus setting meaningful goals and then achieving them is very fun and fulfilling.(image)

November is the new October.

Sun, 06 Dec 2009 15:09:00 +0000

October is generally regarded as a lousy month to be a teacher. The novelty of the school year has definitely worn off by then, students start getting frustrated with the workload and then apathetic, and it is a long time until you or your students have any days off to look forward to. This year my October was pretty good, so good in fact, that it didn't even feel like October. Sure, there were bad days and frustrating students, but my classroom culture remained positive even though the hallways of the school certainly weren't.

Then November hit. Nothing really went wrong; I just got tired. There was a week where it felt like I was barely going through the motions. They were a lot of the right motions so kids mostly kept on learning, but it still wasn't a good feeling. Everyone I talked to agreed that it was just that point in the year and we'd all be better after resting up over Thanksgiving, enjoying a few days of seeing people who didn't think of us only as teachers, goofing off a bit, and ultimately returning to planning with renewed zest.

So I survived Tuesday, when I had the first really major discipline incident that took place in my room this year and had to discuss with the assistant principal whether I wanted them to pursue expelling the student. I'd initially planned on heading home that night, but after getting up a 3 a.m. to grade and then having that kind of day, I just wasn't up for a five hour drive at night. Instead I grabbed Mexican food with friends, ran into my TFA program director and her (boyfriend, partner, common-law husband? What's the best term for people who've been together since college and own a house together?), discussed whether the acts of wanton destruction in the hallways that day topped the previous year when the bathrooms were set afire (consensus: yes), laughed a lot and was reminded why I love my friends, and then passed out at home. Wednesday I packed up, made the drive, and then took the boy out for sushi. When I got home, there was no one there but the dogs so I headed to the bank to open a c.d. and take advantage of some nice rates.

My dad came out to meet me when I got back. That's often a harbinger of bad news, and Wednesday was no different. My grandfather had had a major hemorrhagic stroke and wasn't going to survive. He was unconscious and would remain so. The focus was on making sure he wasn't in pain.

He died late Thursday morning. It was, I think, a good death, mercifully quick after years of struggle, to slip away at ninety as your wife holds you and tells you how much she loves you and your daughters and granddaughter look on. I'm grateful for the hospital, the nurses especially, who always made time to talk with us, who scrambled to find cots for my grandmother and aunt, who showed compassion for my grandfather in his last hours. I'm grateful to the staff of the nursing home who made his last few years as pleasant as possible, who were never anything but completely warm and caring, especially the nurse's aid who adopted my grandparents as her own and was at the hospital the night before my grandfather died and at the funeral Monday.

So the next few days were a blur. We all knew this was coming eventually, but that didn't diminish the sadness. I was a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, a listener, a maker of tea, a mediator of disputes, quietly attempting to comfort my grandmother and keep my family from snapping, yelling at each other, and storming out as they are so prone to do.(image)

How much do spend on your job?

Tue, 17 Nov 2009 23:22:00 +0000

Last week I spent thirty dollars on lab supplies. I don't do that every week, but it isn't particularly unusual either. Then there's the big package of dry erase markers I bought on Halloween, the ink for my classroom printer since the monthly copy limit is so low, the pad of chart paper for my anatomy students' presentations, the tickets for my incentive system, the seemingly endless stream of pens that I hand out to kids who can't be bothered to bring them (I've given up lending them after my administration told me I wasn't allowed to request collateral; if I'm not getting the pens back anyway, I might as well be the nice teacher who is always happy to provide pen and paper when you forget .), more staples for the stapler so I can update the student work on my wall of fame, and so forth and so maddeningly on.I should probably just let it go and accept that this is what teachers do, but I'm feeling a wee bit frustrated today. The department meeting where I found out that we still don't have textbooks or half of the required lab supplies for the AP Bio course that started in August, the district cut everything the science department requested out of our budget for some federal money we're receiving, and the school board's decided to budget $0 for consumable supplies like dry erase markers, graph paper, staples, and tape for secondary classrooms for the year. Maybe the frustration stems partly from the fact all this is happening when the new superintendent and assistant superintendent each got a $50,000 SUV as part of their contracts.Don't get me wrong: I can afford the to buy basics for my classroom myself. I can and have done things like writing Donors Choose grant proposals to get somethings I couldn't otherwise afford. It isn't a huge burden. Still, I wonder how teaching compares to other careers.The boy had to have some of his own tools back when he was an apprentice electrician, but they certainly didn't expect him to provide his own wire and nails. My engineer dad has pretty much everything supplied for him, as does my pizzeria assistant manager mom. I don't know enough about the day to day of that many other careers.I can somewhat grudgingly admit there are a lot of pluses to my job as well. I didn't have to go $200,000 in debt to get the education to get this job. My commute is under ten minutes. Unless I happen to feel like wearing a suit, my usual uniform of slacks and a sweater works just fine. I have more freedom than others to pick my own schedule in the summers. Maybe our society has done the calculations and decided it balances out.Or maybe they think of teaching as noble work, something we should be glad to do for no compensation. After all, in addition to the satisfaction of helping shape the next generation, we get the joy of working with all of the wonderful little kiddos, a group that consists not only of the truly terrific teens(and there are many) for whom I stay after school to tutor, coach quiz bowl, and help with college applications, but also the kids who've just gotten out of juvy, jail, or a behavioral facility, who threw flaming toilet paper rolls and raw eggs at the algebra teacher last year, who'll walk down the hallway with their pants sagging, tell you, "Fuck you!" when you tell them to fix their uniforms, and then harrass you about the suspension they received when they see you in the grocery store, who hit one of my friends in the head with a rock today while he was trying to break up a fight. I'm doing my best to respect, believe in, win over, and educate all of the students, no matter how challenging, but, some days, I do not love my job.[...]

So I've been bad...

Mon, 16 Nov 2009 23:46:00 +0000

I haven't actually funded my Roth this year. The money is sitting in a savings account, waiting for me to figure out what to invest it in. Back in 2008 when I started saving for retirement, I spent a long time obsessing about what to invest in before finally settling on Vanguard Balanced Index (VBINX), which is about 60% total U.S. stock market and 40% total U.S. bond market. It wasn't a perfect choice; I could definitely use exposure to international markets, but I figured I should dive in with a not completely unreasonable choice and reassess later on.

I never quite got to the reassess part of the plan. Then the stock market tanked, and I got a lot more skittish about investing. I'd been telling myself that I believe in investing for the long term, buying and holding, and indexing, but I'm pretty risk adverse to begin with. (A 60% /40% portfolio isn't exactly what the blanket advice for people in their early twenties suggests, after all.) It was easiest to just quit thinking about it entirely. I have no idea how much I have in my Roth right now, and I'm going to keep telling myself it doesn't matter.

That doesn't really encourage thorough research into the options available. I really want to stick my head in the sand, throw $5,000 in a c.d. and be done with it, but that isn't a rational choice if I ever want to have enough to retire. What do you think, is sticking with VBINX for another year a reasonable default option, or should I try to find the time to do some more research?(image)

I'm still here.

Sun, 15 Nov 2009 23:03:00 +0000

Still teaching, still working on loving my kids even when they drive me crazy, still frequently frustrated with my administrators, still a million years behind on my grading, still spending too much (at least in my own eyes), still managing to sock away a good chunk of savings, still without electricity in my bedroom after multiple promises from the landlord to be over with an electrician "tomorrow", still loving my new roommate, still trying to figure out this whole adulthood thing.(image)

How to blow $99 in a weekend

Mon, 12 Oct 2009 22:59:00 +0000

Step 1: Decide to go see your boyfriend Friday night.He was working for his parents last week, and you go have dinner with them. Buy gas and chewing gum before heading off on the two hour drive. His parents are kind enough to take you to dinner at a very noisy pub so you barely talk. Two and a half hour later, he goes home and so do you.Step 2: Have a spending-free Saturday.Sleep late, make waffles for your roommate, read, and enjoy the day. Over waffles, decide to go see a movie with the roommate the next day.Step 3: Give the roommate money for gas.She's the most frequent driver in your group since she has the most fuel efficient and newest car. Get gas and pick up one of your friends on the way to the city a little over an hour away.Step 4: Have breakfast out.The waitress is excellent so leave a really nice tip.Step 5: Go to Target.Consider buying a $10 shirt that would be perfect for one of the theme days of spirit week, but decide against it because short sleeves aren't practical for fall. Do buy a friend a roll of dental floss. (Long story.)Step 6: Go to Old Navy.Find an equally good shirt with long sleeves in the men's department. Pay $15.Step 7: See a movie.The Invention of Lying is moderately funny, but $7.50 for a matinée is highway robbery.Step 8: Work for a while in a Starbucks.Everyone else feels compelled to get a drink since they're using the space, so go ahead and give into peer pressure and get a tall hot chocolate.Step 9: Buy unattractive costume jewelry.Spirit week and peer pressure combine.Step 10: Have dinner out.Choose one of the cheapest things on the menu. Do leave a decent tip because it isn't the waiter's fault you're broke.Step 11: Return home with $1 in your wallet.Be happy you have plenty of bread, peanut butter, jelly, oatmeal, apples, ravioli, and frozen vegetables to get you through until Friday.[...]

I once again resent my budget.

Wed, 07 Oct 2009 00:55:00 +0000

I have $7.91 to last me until Friday afternoon, a need for modeling clay for tomorrow's lab, and a bad case of the I wants. I knew that spending over the weekend meant a leaner week, but I'm feeling very grumbley about not getting to buy a school mascot hoodie now that the weather has turned cold and rainy, to go out to dinner on Thursday, to grab a few more groceries that aren't strictly necessary.

I can do this. I should do this. $100 a week should be plenty to cover groceries, household and personal items, gasoline, and fun if I just prioritize correctly. Self discipline is good. Houses are nice. Being able to send hypothetical future kids to college is important to me. Everything has an opportunity cost. Tell me to snap out of it and just be more careful next week.(image)

Life happens.

Tue, 06 Oct 2009 02:51:00 +0000

I haven't had electricity in my bedroom for about a week now. I think it was last Monday night when I flipped the light switch, heard a pop, and stood in a dark room. (The days of flu blur together a bit.) My clock was dead as well so it obviously wasn't the light bulb. The breaker is conveniently located directly above my bed so I tried flipping it, but it felt floppy and wouldn't stay in position. I tried unplugging my clock to ensure I wasn't overloading the circuit; still nothing.

This would have been a good time to call the landlord, except for the minor difficulty that the only thing I know about him is that his name is Larry. I talked to my roommate, and her old roommate used to have his number, but she lost it some months ago. My roommate does, however, know both his name and where he lives. She was expecting him to come by that weekend to collect October's rent since he always shows up within a couple of days of payday so we decided to just wait and tell him then. It was a bit of an inconvenience, yes, but I can get my work done in the living room and now have an excuse to wear this cool headlamp I bought a year ago and pretend I'm spelunking even as I type this post.

The weekend has come and gone with no sign of the landlord, and I'm a bit less charmed by my electricity-free quarters. It's time to either get serious about fixing the circuitry or buy a kersosene lantern. I'm about ready to take matters into my own hands. After talking to my favorite former apprentice electrician, I now know that the place to start is to replace the breaker and see if that fixes the problem. It sounds simple enough, and it'll probably be safe as long as I cut off power to the house, invest in a circuit tester to be doubly sure, and get my roommate to stand by with a broom handle. The prospect of moving on from fixing our toilet to doing our own electrical repairs is pretty exciting, actually.

There's just one teensy problem. A weekend visit to see that former electrician and his family has left me rather low on funds for the week. I have $8 cash plus $13something on a Wal-Mart card for groceries, gas, and school supplies. I suspect that won't get me a breaker, and I am loath to wait until I collect my Friday afternoon allowance to try to restore power to my room. I think it may be time to break into that $1,000 "life happens fund" sitting in savings. Based on the cost of bills for the past two months, I'll certainly be able to replenish whatever a breaker costs by the end of the month. It doesn't really matter whether I just take the money out of checking instead, but I'm more likely to take it seriously if I treat it as a debt to myself.(image)

I do not have swine flu. I do not have swine flu. I do not have swine flu.

Wed, 30 Sep 2009 01:37:00 +0000

I've been telling myself that since Sunday evening. So far it hasn't been helping. I haven't been to the doctor to confirm flu since the symptoms have been fairly mild, but I have been staying home from school to avoid infecting anyone. I figured that something that gives flu-like symptoms and a fever wouldn't be nice to spread around whether it is technically flu or not, plus I've been feeling the need to sleep twenty or so hours a day. At this point, I'm not so achy anymore, but I still want to sleep all the time.(image)

I guess this means I won't be getting my security deposit back after all.

Sun, 27 Sep 2009 17:16:00 +0000

As I mentioned, I moved at the start of this school year. My old roommate would really have preferred to live alone, but since she has such large student loan payments, keeping the $650 house herself would have been prohibitive. She felt that she needed a house with a fenced yard instead of an apartment for the sake of her dog, and she also didn't want to move because she owns a lot of furniture and it would have been a hassle to move all of it. She also made noises about not wanting to live with a first year teacher because they are "too much trouble to support emotionally", but none of the second years or alumni wanted to move in so she didn't have a lot of choice.It looked like she wasn't going to find anyone at all, but eventually "Guy" wound up in search of housing after a last minute switch of district and subject. He asked my new roommate about my old roommate, she said something vague along the lines of, "All of my interactions with her have been positive," he decided he could live with her crazy dog, and he moved in. I was a bit relieved he didn't ask me anything because, although I hadn't loved living with my old roommate, I didn't want to make it more difficult for her to find a new roommate.When he moved in, I offered to wait to get my $300 security deposit back until after he got his first paycheck since most first years are in fairly dire financial straights until then. Shortly thereafter, he started pondering moving out. He discussed this with everyone besides his roommate and began seeking other housing options.Most of his complaints sounded awfully familiar. My old roommate isn't mean or a bad person, but she can be difficult to live with. She takes over not only her room and the office, but the entire living room as well with her projects, spending almost every hour of every evening camped out on the couch working in front of a dvd. She expects others to follow her rules, not opening the blinds in the living room ever because someone might look in and see that she owns a stereo and a television, consuming seafood only on weekends she was out of town because she didn't like the smell, informing me when I was moving out that whoever was moving in would not be allowed to get cable, and if he or she did, it would have to run directly to that person's bedroom and not the living room. I always got the feeling that I was living in her house, at least in her mind. She tended to express frustration on the occasions that my weekend plans conflicted with her hope that I would once again watch her dog while she went out of town to visit her boyfriend. She didn't interact much, often treating a roommate as an annoyance to be endured for the sake of rent money. I think we might have been better friends if we hadn't tried to share living space.Guy found all this hard to come home to after long days of struggling at school, and yesterday he moved out. My old roommate is venting her frustrations in her facebook statuses about being unable to trust anyone's word and needing to look into small claims court. Guy wasn't on the lease, they had no written agreement, and he paid his share of rent and bills every month. Does anyone know if she has legal grounds to sue him?This cannot be a fun time for my old roommate, but I also understand why Guy decided to move out. I'm planning to stay as far from the drama as possible. I'm a little frustrated that I won't ever see my security deposit or any reimbursement for my half ownership of the w[...]

My cards are on house arrest.

Sun, 27 Sep 2009 11:31:00 +0000

My debit card and credit card are going to stay locked up unless I have a good reason to use them, such as going to the ATM for my weekly allowance or paying a bill online. I guess they will get to travel with me, but in an envelope with a note across the seal reminding me not to use them unless there is a real emergency.

Either I'll end up planning more purposefully and making better use of the cash in my wallet, running out of money and having to say no more often, or breaking into my lockbox to increase my allowance. Obviously, I'm hoping for outcome one. If that isn't what happens, I'll have to monitor and adjust.(image)

Please talk me out of my new bad habit.

Sat, 26 Sep 2009 10:28:00 +0000

My grand plans of living on the contents of my wallet until next Friday have already fallen by the wayside. Some of the spending was justifiable. I'm pretty sure getting a new flapper valve to fix our leaky toilet was ok even though we could have technically just kept turning the water to the tank off in between uses for a few more days. I'm also comfortable with purchasing a new bottle of bathroom cleaner so I can clean this weekend. It needs it, plus scrubbing bathrooms can be oddly therapeutic.

You'd think that budgeting this year would be easier because I moved to a new place where rent is $87.50 lower, but it isn't. My new roommate is terrific, and having a friend and fellow science teacher to come home to at the end of the day is doing wonders for my sanity, but living here isn't cheap. Some of the savings is being eaten up by the cost of cable television that my roommate already had, but spending large amounts of time with someone who seems to like going out and doing things with me is proving even more costly. Plus, now going out and spending money whether roommate is involved or not seems to be becoming a habit.

Wednesday, Roommate and I had quiz bowl coaches training in a town half an hour away, and afterward she suggested we take advantage of the rare opportunity to have Taco Bell for lunch. Taco Bell bean burritos have been a weakness of mine for several years so I agreed, and we had an enjoyable meal together before heading to the hardware store for our toilet part.

Next I decided to ignore the budget and go to the traditional gathering Thursday night gathering of TFA teachers at a little Mexican joint in our town. The food's mediocre, but the company is good. I'd be just as happy if we could start a bring your own peanut butter sandwich gathering in someone's living room, but I suspect it might be a hard sell.

Today I carpooled to the professional development session over two hours away. The junior high teacher drove to this one, and I'll do the next one. This cut gas costs and added sociability, but after spending the whole morning with her, I opted to continue hanging out over lunch. The sandwich I bought was tasty, but I wish I'd had the guts to just eat the Clif bar I'd packed, especially since we ended up eating on a bench on campus anyway.

My new social spending trend is likely to grow even worse this weekend. Most TFA folks are recent college grads who're trying to some extent to replicate a few aspects of their lives before they were teachers. Getting out of the house is a high priority for a lot of people. In the north delta, there's a fairly robust potluck culture that helps with that, but there isn't a potluck this weekend. My roommate and a couple of other friends are talking about heading to Tunica to go to the Paula Deen buffet at a casino today, and I said I might go even though I'm already over budget and my eating habits have been atrocious lately. Could someone please give me the speech about how succumbing to peer pressure is bad?(image)