Monday, April 25, 2011

I'm broke

I've been working nearly all my life. Through the first nine years of school, I was just a kid going to school. But when I got to high school and had the freedom to do so, I got a job every summer to get myself some spending cash. Naturally, I blew it all on a TV, pizza, DVDs, etc... When I got to college, my mother gave me a nearly full ride through. She paid my tuition bills, and I worked one full time and two part-time jobs to pay for my rent, bills and books, and later my food and utilities when I moved off campus.

After graduation, I had no real goals or ambitions. My depression was cleared and squared away, but I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. In the meantime, I worked a chain of pointless, minimum wage jobs to save up some scratch and hopefully move out of my parents' house. Because of this, I saved a few thousand dollars before a chance encounter with a good bud of mine showed me my life goal: to go abroad and enjoy life as a free man.

I followed him here, and when I first went abroad, I had about $3000 or $4000 to spend on an apartment and necessities while I looked for a job. But due to lingering self doubt, fish out of water syndrome, laziness and just general poor planning, when I improved myself and moved out of my bud's aunt's place, I had just $2500 and no idea of what to do.

As I mentioned, moving to the hostel at that point was the best time in my life. It was a time of companionship, adventure, exploration, experience and growth; those three weeks were the very best of my unmarried days, which in turn was the best time of my life.

But of course, with no job and limited savings, my money was dwindling fast. After hostel fees, food and other expenses, I finally found a job and an apartment with about $800 or so left in my pocket. It was hardly enough to cover the down payment of the apartment, much less the food and bills I needed to pay for. Luckily, my new boss came through for me and fronted me the money for the apartment, on the condition that it come out of my next paycheck. That month ended up passing quickly, and finally, after three months of being abroad and a month of working, I was finally in the black.

Being financially independent is a priceless feeling. To know that your work is going towards your house, your food, your toiletries, your fun and your life, and not just to college debts, gas, books and other nonsense is irreplaceable. Every paycheck I took to the bank, and every time I saw that account grow, I was filled with a sense of personal satisfaction. "I earned that," I would tell myself, "and it's mine to use."

My expenditures were fairly routine, as I was (and still am) a very frugal man. Of the $2200 a month I took home:

- $300 went to my apartment.
- $100 went to food.
- $100 went to bills.
- $100 went to taxes.
- $50 went to toiletries and cleaning supplies.

On average, I took home a whopping $1500 or so every month, to do with as I saw fit. My entertainment budget was usually pretty small, maybe a few hundred a month, so I just saved the rest of my cash in the bank. My plan was to save up $5000 in emergency funds, in case I needed to leave the country, I got evicted from my apartment, there was an international crisis I wanted to help with, I had a friend who needed support, etc... After that, I planned to donate $1000 a month to charity: $500 to the country where I was staying, and another $500 to the country in the world whose children needed money the most that month.

Unfortunately, I never even got to save up to my emergency funds goal before my wife got pregnant.

After that, my money began to dwindle bit by bit. We needed a bigger place to stay. We needed to pay hospital bills. We needed to buy baby clothes. She had college debts to pay off. Her mother was sick. Her sister was out of work. It was just one thing after another that piled on, until I was just barely breaking even. When we moved in together, we officially consolidated our earnings into one monthly pool, and this is how it has been spent:

2008-2010 - $3300 a month

- $700 went to my mother-in-law, because she babysat our son for about five hours a day, but doesn't otherwise work.
- $500 went to my son's college fund. The money I saved here during these two years of my marriage was almost completely taken away by my mother-in-law to pay off an old debt of hers.
- $300 went to the apartment.
- $300 went to food.
- $300 went to my wife's old college debts.
- $200 went to my wife's gas, snacks, clothes and other personal stuff.
- $200 went to bills.
- $100 went to my son's clothes.
- $100 went to my son's milk.
- $100 went to trips with my son.
- $100 went to taxes.
- $100 went to toiletries and cleaning supplies.
- $100 went to insurance payments.
- $100 went to my gas, cigarettes and snacks.
- $100 went to miscellaneous expenses, like doctor visits, extended family presents, immigration paperwork, government fees, household, furniture and computer repair, presents and so on.

2010-2012 - $2600 a month

- $700 went to my mother-in-law.
- $300 went to the apartment.
- $300 went to food.
- $300 went to my wife's gas, snacks, clothes and other personal stuff.
- $200 went to bills.
- $100 went to my son's clothes.
- $100 went to my son's milk.
- $100 went to trips with my son.
- $100 went to taxes.
- $100 went to toiletries and cleaning supplies.
- $100 went to insurance payments.
- $100 went to my gas, cigarettes and snacks.
- $100 went to miscellaneous expenses.

2012-now - $3500 a month

- $700 goes to my mother-in-law.
- $500 goes to my wife, and I don't know what she spends it on.
- $500 goes to my son's college fund.
- $300 goes to the apartment.
- $300 goes to food.
- $200 goes to bills.
- $200 goes to insurance payments.
- $100 goes to my son's clothes.
- $100 goes to trips with my son.
- $100 goes to taxes.
- $100 goes to toiletries and cleaning supplies.
- $100 goes to miscellaneous expenses.
- $300 gets secretly tucked away, because I highly doubt that I can get through the next fifteen years without my mother-in-law losing another car, my wife or son needing something really expensive, or some other person in my family bringing more debts and problems for to me to pay off or solve.

This is far different from what I used to make, but that's not only the only problem: a half a dozen financial crises have popped up since I got married (not a one precipitated by me), each of which put an enormous dent in my already paltry savings. Before I got married, even assuming that I gave $1000 a month to charity, I still had almost $20 a day to spend on myself and my fun. If I kept it all for myself, $50 a day would have been mine to spend.

Now, I get $3 a day, which has been completely spent on gas, snacks and/or cigarettes for the past several years. Just the thought that for every twenty days I work, one of those days' wages goes to me, while the others are completely dedicated to working off the debts that marriage has brought to my doorstep, is severely depressing. At this rate, assuming that my mother-in-law is still alive in the next twenty years and no further financial situations pop up, I'm going to continue working off the debts of marriage until I'm 45. As of the time I write this post, I'm not even 30 yet.

I try not to take more than my $3 a day. My wife and my monthly expenses come to just around what we make every month, which means that every dollar I take to buy a hot dog for dinner, gas to take me to work, or a pack of cigarettes to help me get through the day is a dollar I'm snaking from my kid's college fund. What's more, I could have saved (50 years of expected life x $1000 a month x 11 months in a year, with the last one to pay for a plane ticket to a new city) or $550,000 for charity as an unmarried man, but instead, I'll be lucky to raise $100,000.

I suppose I should feel proud that I'm single-handedly supporting a mother-in-law, sister-in-law, wife and kid. But it's a small comfort, really. Things could have been so much different.

6 comments:

  1. Are you living paycheck-to-paycheck? I hope you're saving and investing some money for the future, retirement plans?

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    Replies
    1. I'm ok now, much better than every year up to 2012 when I pimphanded every female member of my family, metaphorically of course, back to where they belonged. I am a third of the way through saving up my son's full ride college fund (which is also an emergency savings fund for the moment), and I have no desire to retire. When my son is off to college, I'm going to become ridiculously licensed to teach business English and move around the world doing that until the end.

      If I ever come to a point where I can't work because of failing physical health, I'd rather die than be a chairbound TV watcher or slowly losing my mind. So I will keep fit and healthy until I can literally take no more, then I'm outta here.

      But yes, I will have an emergency fund of some tens of thousands of dollars, especially after my son is in college and my mother-in-law passes so I no longer need to support her. Thanks for your concern, friend.

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    2. See Earl Nightingale - he had a lot of wisdom about life and living it well:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI5UCFrgpCo

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av_TQthN7SY

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woLWIzTaVXA

      There are many other of his talks on youtube. Also check out his books on Amazon. Seriously, his stuff can really change your life for the better. Be positive about life.

      Little kids should be hearing his wisdom in elementary school in my opinion.

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    3. Thanks; I understand the need to be positive with life, and I follow that idea very closely.

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  2. It sounds like you were in an awful situation. It sounds mildly related to my own...but in reverse. I am a woman who went abroad and married a guy from a traditional culture (Japan). In the one year we lived there, his mom took thousands and thousands of dollars from my husband to pay off her debts.
    That is one reason I took the drastic step of saying we needed to leave the country.

    On a side note, I don't know where you live, but Japan is also a society where the husband hands over all his money to his wife and she in turn gives him a pittance for a personal allowance. We live in the US and he handles all the money, but just for fun I asked him if we should start living the traditional Japanese way (giggles) and he basically said "hell no." lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, things were really bad back then. I still have a few years to save up for my son's college fund, but I've long since taken back control of my finances from my wife. I've cut her monthly payments, forced her to justify all her expenses and make her ask me every time she buys something. I used to give her the freedom to care for the house, but from this post, you can see that that was a bad idea.

      I hope things are getting better for you, too. I've heard how Asian countries can basically turn the foreign husband/bride into a workhorse to support the whole family; hope the in-laws don't follow you back to America to stay on the gravy train.

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