State of The Bank: Or, er, my bank accounts

Money is just really scary, hard, and difficult. For most of my life, because of necessity, I’ve been really good with money, and made budgeting through college work no problem. But in this first year out of college, I’ve completely tanked financially and I feel a weird amount a shame about it. I don’t believe that money should be a taboo subject, and I think millennials being real about our situations is how change and healing happen. I have also realized that I need to be much more accountable about my spending. And who better to be accountable to than you, dear Internet? So I’m going to put it all completely out there here.

After taxes, I make $1,100/month. One of the jobs I work is hourly and I pick up shifts here and there, so some months, this past month included, that number is a little higher. The conservative bottom line though, is that $1,100 a month. And I’ve been paying down a $3,000 credit debt sum on that salary for the last three months. I also just straight up didn’t work for four months this year. During that time I went to Puerto Rico, traveled between Michigan and Oklahoma multiple times, and moved across the country. Before that I moved across the country the first time, bought a mattress and a desk, and had to buy a new laptop when mine broke. Since the move had drained me financially, all those expenses went straight onto credit cards. The whole time I was doing this, I kept thinking, “It’ll all work out. Somewhere down the line, I’ll balance it out.” But I didn’t, and now I just feel like I’m drowning. I’ve been paying down this debt, but then the next month something comes up and the number climbs back up again. I guess I’m less good at money than I thought?

I recently went to a local non-profit for an unrelated work thing and while I was there I asked the person who did financial counseling if I could come to some classes and he kept saying, “Oh, yeah, we’ll get you all the basic beginner information.” But I don’t need the bare essentials. I have a savings account, I understand how credit cards work. I need advice for how to make it work with very, very little wiggle room. On Gaby Dunn’s Bad With Money podcast (if you haven’t already listened, go do that now), she had a guest, Ashley C. Ford, who talked about this. (If you don’t follow her, go follow her now.) I’m paraphrasing, but in the episode “Don’t Let the Fear Steer,” Ford basically says, “there’s financial literacy and there’s financial stability. You can be good with money and still not have any.” And that’s where I feel like I am and that’s how I feel trapped. The fear is definitely steering me.

Even though I live for free and commute thirty-five minutes each way in order to do so. Even though I work two, unbelievably emotionally taxing jobs, six days a week for a total of fifty hour work weeks before any side hustling. Even though I virtually never socialize in public (I went to a bar two week ago for the first time in four months). Even though I try to pack my lunch every day. Even though I rarely but still occasionally buy nice things like Apple Watches because I deserve them. Even though I make all of these financially-motivated decisions, I still feel out of control of my finances.

What happened to the Karalyn that was really good with money? They were just supposed to go to college and graduate and land a stellar job--how did I go so wrong? Didn’t I try hard in school so I didn’t have to make $15K a year? Where’s my other $20,000 at? No one should be living at this level when everyone I know who does, works really fucking hard. And we still get told that we’re fiscally irresponsible, that doesn’t seem right? Rich people are just greedy and stocks are evil. I just need enough money to go buy a farm. You know, because once you buy the farm you’re good forever and money doesn’t exist anymore.

And that’s a lot of my thinking. But I'm starting to think...maybe I think about this wrong. On “Bad With Money,” Gaby also talks quite a bit about ‘poor’ narratives and ‘rich’ narratives, or the ways that lower-income and middle income+ folks are taught to conceptualize money. She examines how rich people are taught to invest and save, to always have a buffer. Which they can do, but only because most of the time that buffer is simply inherited and not earned. Whereas poor people, because money is never around for long, spend it while they have it. The first time I listened to her explanation, I was like, this is absolute bullshit. Truthfully, I still think most of it is bullshit. In my lived experience, poor people know a lot about money and live in the most fiscally savvy ways of anyone. Just because we can’t get our money into the stock market, doesn’t mean we don’t invest. Shoes, electronics, latest music, status-symbol clothing and other items are all investments in ourselves and lives we want to live.

Plus, how can poor people be blamed for not investing in ‘traditional’ ways when those ways are systematically closed from us--with things like account minimums and employers who keep you part-time who would never give you a 401k match plan. Within this framework, poor people are also often criticized negatively for pooling their means and sharing with one another. But I absolutely believe that people can operate collectively, outside of nuclear households, to make the system work for them. If you can grow tomatoes and share them with your neighbor who can get the kids to school because their Ford is working this month, you should do that. And if that means sometimes paying other people’s rent because you’re gonna be okay and someone will have you next time, then absolutely live that way and you shouldn’t be criticized for making do with what you have.

But this whole ‘poor narratives’ narrative does has me wondering, maybe I don’t know all that I think do. Is there financial literacy that I’ve just been entirely left out of? Sometimes it really does feel like I’m not in on the joke.

I have really big dreams about my financial future and success. I want a retirement fund by the time I’m 24. I want to have non-evil investments to small businesses that help them get a leg up and help me collect at a non-sharky interest rate. I want to do something with the CDs my grandpa gave me as a kid that are currently LOSING value as they mature because inflation outpaces them. I want to open an aggressive online savings account later this year. I wanted to be credit debt free by February of next year...which I’ve had to change to May...which I’ve had to change to probably early 2019.

And that last sentence is the crux of it: there’s a disconnect between how I envision my financial status, how I feel about my money, and the reality of the situation. I don’t even think I’m seeing the situation clearly. But I also don’t know how else I’m supposed to be looking at it.

I really believe in transparency, and this was a super helpful exercise that got me rethinking how I interact with money, so here’s what I made and spent last month:

November 1, 2017 - Dec. 1, 2017

AmeriCorps: $1,242 (lol. for real. at a job I put in 40+ hours at)Foster Home: $517 (worked back-to-back doubles over Thanksgiving for some double pay)
This blog!: $34 (after Patreon and PayPals cuts)
Total: $1,793

Car Insurance: $150
Car Payment: $200 ($50 over my minimum payment)
Coffee Shops: $45
Gas: $35
Rabbit Stuff: $55
Personal/Home Stuff: $25
Groceries: $209 (I really value food and this is part of a larger conversation)
Other Shopping: $355 (consisting of my new coat, some sweaters from VOA, Apple Watch, LUSH haul, and some succulents)
Total spending before credit payments: $1,074
Credit Card Payments: $733
Total spending after credit payments: $1,807
Total added to debt for month: $14, oops
Saved: $0

Okay so even just doing this I realized I don’t pay down my debt as much as I thought I did (and, oh yeah shit I even added to it by fifteen bucks). I didn’t realize this though because I actually paid $1,300 towards credit cards last month. Which felt like so much. But I was still going out and charging on them--to the tune of $650 dollars. So my dent was more like a dug hole, that I filled part-way back in, but still felt the labor of digging this whole time. This helped me see something that has got to change: even though the rewards perks are good, I can’t put any more money on my credit cards. Period. In fact, I’m not leaving the house with them and I’m hiding them when I shop online.

At the same time, I’m cutting myself some slack. September of this year was the first time I made money in four months and mid-October was the first time I started receiving a regular, consistent paycheck. When I was living in Boston earlier this year and the rent was too damn high, I was being American foolish and covering the gap with credit cards. So for the past 11 months, that total debt added each month has been a lot higher than $14. And I’ve still never soared above $3,500 total credit debt. Today that number sits at $2,600, with repayment in sight and feeling possible. So yeah, my finances suck and my shit stinks. But here are some things that I think are positive good steps I’m making to realign my financial dreams with my financial reality:

  • I live at home for free. No rent or utilities for me.

  • Just as of this week, I’ve transferred the rest of my credit debt to a 0% APR card. This means that I am officially paying no interest on my current debt and have 21 months of no interest to become credit debt free

  • I am in the process of putting my student loans into repayment that will cost me $0/month and still count towards my ten year repayment program

  • I have just restructured my budget so starting this month I am putting $200 towards credit debt and $100 towards savings. I will be able to see the bonafide dent in my debt without sacrificing so much that I end up doing a big splurge and backsliding. I know these numbers need to get bigger, but I’m starting somewhere.

  • Starting this month (December) I’m not taking my credit cards out anywhere with me. This way I won’t be adding to my balance while paying off in these massive sums, and still not actually paying down past debt. I let that get away from me for far too long because I enjoyed the temptation of accruing rewards with my credit companies. But suck it, rewards, I want easily understood payment tracking instead.

My bottom line is this: I’m learning. In my core I believe poor people deserve nice things (too), so I’m not going to deprive myself of all life’s luxuries. I also have to balance that with a growing understanding of how stable people make and keep money, which is an approach wholly new to me, but that I believe will get me closer to the life I want to live. Afterall, if I want to work full-time for the revolution, something’s got to be sitting around to pay my bills.

P.S. Does anyone know some really cool queer anti-capitalist financial advisors who would give me services in exchange for tarot readings?