Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fear and Money

Since I received word about the passing of one of my heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I've bounced between denial, devastation, and fear.  I'm a woman that believes in having the right to choose my own path. I am a bisexual that believes I am beautiful just the way I am and that I have the right to be just like everyone else.  That's where the fear creeps in.  My mind likes to play tricks on me, whispering things like "There go your choices... one by one they'll be stripped away."  I chase away the thought, knowing that it doesn't lead to anywhere I want to be.  

This isn't the first time I've experienced fear recently.  I really didn't expect to be forced to teach inside of an actual classroom in the middle of a pandemic.  Frankly, if I really stop and think about it, I experience fear in that scenario as well.  Again, I chase the thought out of my mind.  Allowing myself to stay in a state of fear doesn't attract anything good into my life.  

How do I deal with fear?

Step 1:  Observe your own fear(s)

Rather than allowing my thoughts to keep bringing fear into my experience, it seems like I could put my mind to better use in evaluating the fear itself.  Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about being the ultimate observer of our own feelings as to temper their ability to run wild and cause us unnecessary problems. It feels as if you're outside of yourself, simply watching.  As I observe my own fear, I can't help but notice that the common denominator is the feeling that I will be somehow unsafe in my current environment.

Step 2: Identify any Common Denominators/Sources of Resistance

Upon observing my own feelings, and realizing that "feeling safe/unsafe in my environment" is the common theme and source of resistance that I'm experiencing, I consider, what is the path of least resistance?  In other words, what can I imagine doing that makes me feel better than that?  

Step 3: Consider Actions that Could Move Up the Emotional Scale

With regards to work, I could quit.  I could continue to report to the building and work with other activists to promote a return to remote learning until it's safe.  Lastly, I could apply for a remote accommodation.  Regarding my concerns about the future of the society in which I live, I could stay and fight, or I could move.  Honestly, all of those choices feel considerably better than wallowing in fear.  It also seems like I will bring more light into my life by focusing on the things I might want to choose, and the beautiful thing is that I do get to choose. I might not stay in the building where I work, and I might not continue to live where I always expected I would.

How can my financial plan help maximize my ability to make these choices?

We're just over two years away from being CoastFI, a monumental stop on the journey toward Financial Independence (Full FI).  In two and a half years, I will be vested (meaning I will have secured a pension), and we plan to have our rental property paid off.  These two things, plus the additional 401k, 457, and Roth IRA savings we have will be enough to modestly support us in our traditional retirement, and that assumes that we don't put any more money in retirement accounts (which is unlikely).  The paid off rental property generates enough income to replace almost 50% of my take-home pay.  This could allow me to work part-time if we stay here.  It could also be enough income to allow us entry into another country under a variation of a "pensioner visa" in a number of places.  Will we choose that path?  I don't know, but I do know that I feel powerful having the choice.

I am also in the process of launching a business that will allow us a lot of location freedom, making us at least in part "digital nomads" if we so choose.  A very conservative estimation of the first year of that business suggests that it could replace another 25% of my current take-home pay, with unlimited growth potential once, I am able to take it from "side business" to "primary focus."

Am I grappling with the fear of going back into a physical school building on Monday?  Absolutely.  I am going to focus on moving myself up the emotional scale by doing everything in my own power to advocate for myself, my colleagues, and my students not being in that situation.  Am I legitimately concerned about the direction my country could take? Yes.  The best case scenario is that it all turns out well (by my definition).  If it doesn't turn out well, it'll take a bit of time for those changes to take effect.  So, it is apparent to me that my immediate future plan doesn't really need to change.  We can just keep our eye on the ball.  

As for the distant future?  I always suspected that my partner and I would remain in New York City to retire, or potentially end up on the West Coast again.  While this fear has diminished a bit, it has taught me that we might want to open our minds to other locational possibilities, and in the meantime, continue to pave our own paths to the freedom we desire.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Experiencing Contrast and Coasting to Coast-FI

Everything happening with the reopening of schools has created some serious internal conflict in my life.  Let's be fair, it has created some serious conflict in the lives of many.  In Law of Attraction terms, this inner conflict is also known as resistance.  I am experiencing some resistance.  I have been contractually obligated to return to the building to teach in person.  I care very deeply about my students, colleagues, and administrators, but I also feel that returning to in-person instruction is unsafe.  This is the essence of my conflict, and I am realizing that it is a very important source of contrast in my life.

What is contrast?

In its simplest terms, it's internal conflict.  The term "contrast" is perhaps a bit more specific though because contrast is the distance between where I am, and where I would prefer to be.

Why is contrast important?

The most beautiful thing about contrast is that it highlights that which we truly want.  If everything always felt smooth, we wouldn't have reason to change direction or become inspired to take a new action.  When I look around, and see something that I am unhappy with or feel conflicted over, I understand that it is something that I need to look at further.  It might be indicating to me that there is something I want to do.

Where I am currently: I am obligated to perform my work in a way that doesn't feel good to me because, under this very specific circumstance (not pre-pandemic), it feels unsafe to me.

Where I want to be:  I want to have more freedom of choice.  Simple as that.  

What does this mean?

I would love to move my instruction to virtual space right now, rather than physical.  That might be a temporary desire on my part, but the point is that I would like to have a freedom that doesn't exist in the current circumstance.  Since there is such a distance between where I am currently, and where I would like to be, it begs the question:  How do I get to a place where I have that kind of freedom?

As I've explored this contrast, I've realized that I will probably learn more things about what I really want, and what it is showing me over the coming weeks.  As of right now, it keeps making me think about my finances and an article I read that was written by my friend, Jess of the Fioneers.  

In short, Jess was talking about the concept of Coast-FI, and how it is not only a stop along the journey toward full FI, but also fits in with the Slow-FI movement.  

Let's pause for a quick tutorial.  In case you don't recall, FI stands for "financial independence."  This is the point at which you are no longer required to earn money from working because you have enough income from passive sources to sustain yourself.  Slow-FI, refers to people that are pursuing FI, but also taking their time and using incremental gains in order to improve upon some aspects of their life along the way.  Once you've achieved Coast-FI, it means that you have secured enough money to fund a traditional retirement, and no longer need to be saving toward that goal. At that point, you only need to earn enough money to support your current needs.  

As I read her post and started playing with her groovy little Coast-FI calculator, I realized that we're only a bit over two years away from achieving Coast-FI.  The truth is that this information wasn't really news to me, but somehow the combination of the piece she'd written (and calculator) opened my mind into seeing it a different way.  I realized that as soon as I am confident that 70-year-old me is financially secure, I can stop splitting my focus between "retirement me" and "current me."  The realization that I was such a short period of time away from having my retirement locked in, made a wave of peace and inspiration wash over me.  It's that feeling that helps me to know that I am on the right track.  We don't really have to change our plan of action all that much to become Coast-FI in a couple of years.  Essentially, we can just coast our way there, and focus our attention on developing our lives in the way that we want them along the way.

There may be more to glean from the contrast I am currently experiencing, and it hasn't just suddenly disappeared, but I feel confident that it's directing me on my Slow-FI journey as we coast into Coast-FI.  

Monday, September 7, 2020

Fear of the Unknown

Summertime is one of the many perks of being at teacher.  For a glorious two months, we have no schedule except for the one we set for ourselves.  Most summers, my partner and I would take a family-oriented trip and one just for ourselves while doing our best to sneak in 1-2 camping trips.  This summer is different.  We're in the middle of a pandemic, and have no plans to be getting on an airplane!  In fact, I'm even avoiding public transportation.  That being said, tomorrow, I am supposed to be returning to work.

In New York City, the plan is to offer a hybrid model to any student whose parents request it.  This means that in most cases the student will attend classes in person roughly twice per week, and learn online at home the rest of the time. This doesn't alleviate parent's 5 days/week childcare need and requires me to report to work  Monday through Friday, week in and week out.  For many reasons, I don't feel safe.  I also don't feel that the city can finance the opening of the buildings due to the recent budget cuts.  Plus, without more federal funding flowing to the state, we'll be facing layoffs as well.  Now, this isn't a "state of the schools" blog post, so I am not going to get into the ins and outs of why I believe reopening at this time to be a catastrophe.  We'll save that for the newspapers.

The truth of the matter is that I really do expect us to be fully remote at some point, though I don't know how we'll get there since currently an agreement has been reached.  At one point the teacher's union was even threatening job actions if necessary to prevent unsafe school reopening.  This could have even involved a strike.  I have to admit that would have felt like a total bad-ass if I had participated in a teacher's strike!  All jokes aside, a strike is a very serious matter.  In New York, we have this crazy little thing called the "Taylor Law" which makes it illegal to strike.  The ramifications can be very severe.  Our Union President could have faced jail time, and we could have lost two days of pay for every one day labor is withheld.  There are other sticky bits involved with striking because of the Taylor Law, but the loss of pay alone places a lot of pressure on the teachers involved.  

A recent Federal Reserve survey suggests that roughly 40% of American adults cannot cover a $400 emergency. If there was a strike accompanied by the above indicated financial penalty, there could be real problems for some educators that were simply doing what they felt was right for the safety of their students, colleagues, and themselves.  Each individual must do what's right for themselves.  Fear for lack of money shouldn't be prohibitive, and yet it frequently is.  Fear is caused by resistance.  If we're experiencing resistance, we aren't in flow.  As a Law of Attraction girl, I fully believe in the flow of money.  I do feel that there is a certain amount of flow happening for me within this situation.  I feel relatively calm.  I feel as though the safety of my students, colleagues, and myself will be protected.  I will take action as it arises.  The money will be there for me.  My partner and I are both teachers, so if this strike had actually happened, we could both lose pay.  I felt complete peace about the financial aspects of this possibility.  We've been piling up money for a long time because that's the action we've been inspired to take for the last year or so.  In fact, we're saving the majority of my take-home pay. While it wouldn't be my first choice to use that income to offset a loss of income due to the Taylor Law, we were prepared to do just that.  I have peace about it.

While I find the process of saving money to be really, very exciting, I realize there are those that do not.  I would challenge you all to search yourselves to answer the question "What would make me feel at peace if there was potentially a disruption in my income stream?"  For me, this loss of income could be a potential teacher strike, for others, it is a COVID-related furlough or even layoff.   Having a pile of money saved has always served me well.  While I enter into the unknown, I will continue to save.  This isn't a sophisticated strategy.  It's really simple.  Right now my need is simple, and it makes me feel peaceful.  If you haven't started yet, now is the time. If you have already experienced a loss of income, search yourself.  What would make you feel more at peace financially? How can you pick up some income or reduce some expenses to get there?  There's no time like the present.   

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Purpose of Money: Part 1

On Sunday, December 8th, 2019, I found myself boarding an airplane unexpectedly.  I had just learned that my grandmother had experienced a sudden decline.  No one was saying it, but I could tell everyone feared that we were near the end.  Monday late in the afternoon, I arrived by her side... We lost her the next day.

Five years ago, I wouldn't have had the money for the airline ticket.

Today, I didn't even consider the price of an airline ticket.  It literally didn't matter.  I had the money.

Honestly, I was still stressed out about missing work.  I'm a teacher, and we were still in session for another two weeks.  Not being there for a week is very difficult, and stressful.  That being said, my school leadership had no hesitation.  They told me that family needed to come first and not to worry about it.  My co-teachers took over so instruction could continue as "normal" as possible.  I'm incredibly grateful for all of them.

In the world of personal finance, we spend a lot of time talking about the purpose of an emergency fund, why people need to save money, etc.  They're all valid, and all worth listening to and taking into consideration.  What I'm here to tell you is that the purpose of money is to literally be able to make yourself available when you know it's the end, to be able to drop everything and just go.  Responsibilities may still be falling upon you, but when you've got money, you've got options.  I was with my grandmother the day that she died.  I could afford the airline ticket; I could afford to feed myself; had I needed a hotel, that would've been fine.  Had I been met with resistance from my employer, I could have gone anyway without fear of the consequences, because my emergency fund is large enough to cover several months worth of our expenses (not to mention my partner is also working).

I talk about the Law of Attraction where finance is concerned; diving into how our emotions relate directly to our wealth.  While this was a difficult trip for me to make, I must tell you, I felt amazingly good about making it.  I felt peaceful about the financial aspects of the situation and incredibly grateful for my ability to purchase the airline ticket, feed myself, house myself if needed, and pay all of my bills when I returned.  How can you create for yourself a financial situation where you can feel this kind of peace?  There's a certain feeling of power knowing that you can take care of that which is unexpected, but completely necessary.

If you got "the call," like I did, what would you do?  Would you have the money to drop everything?  If the answer is "no," that can't feel good.  You need to make a plan right away.  My grandmother's decline felt really sudden.  I didn't exactly see it coming as quickly as it did.  Sometimes life gives us a 72-hour notice or less.  When it does, you need to be ready.  If you're not ready, skip a dinner out, dial down your cell phone plan, tighten up your budget.  It's so important that you create a savings account.  It could be a matter of life and death.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Adventures in Landloring: 120 Days into COVID-19

Today, I would like to discuss with you some adventures in landlording during COVID-19...  This subject seems important because of the desire many people have to get into rental real estate, and also the concerns that many are having with regards to eviction moratoriums, and the like...

The individuals that rent our property in Oregon have been relatively consistent pre-COVID.  They have only had one late payment, and keep the management updated about repair needs, which we greatly appreciate.  In March of 2020, they paid full rent.  When my management company learned about local shut-downs, they reached out to tenants to make arrangements, etc.  Unfortunately, despite an agreement to pay, they were not able to pay April's rent.  They were also not able to pay May's rent.  In June, they made a partial payment.  Finally, in July, we received a full rent payment again.

During this time, my mortgage payment was still due each month on the first.  So, what did I do?

I paid it.

That's it.  Nothing fancy; no magic wand.  I just paid it...and the truth of the matter is that I wasn't particularly stressed out about it.  Why?  Because we've chosen to live off one full-time income rather than two.  Since we're both working, we just paid it.  Of course, we would have preferred to save that money or invest it, but it was fine.

There are some really important takeaways when evaluating this situation:

  • Real Estate is not for the faint of heart.  Don't get into it before you're ready.  It can be an absolute blessing, but only if you have positioned yourself to weather any possible storms.
  • Budget to one income.  I know this can be difficult, but if you are a two-income household, and you can whittle down your expenses so that it can be covered by one income, a disaster such as this one isn't nearly as stressful.  If you are a one-income household, consider, what percentage of that money do you really need to use to meet your expenses?  Can you trim expenses so that you are capable of living on a smaller percentage of it?
  • The property needs it's own emergency savings account!  We didn't even need to dip into it, but we had it.  Our strategy is to allow the direct deposit from the rent to come into a savings account specifically set up for the rental property.  The mortgage can be automatically pulled from there, and the remainder used to build it's only emergency savings (for us it's about 6 months of the mortgage payment).  Once an appropriate amount is stacked up, use the funds in another way.

The Law of Attraction Perspective:

People that have been reading my work for a while know that I am a believer in the Law of Attraction.  When I consider the situation that came about with our rental property, I am very aware that my emotional state remained steady.  I didn't feel anxious or stressed out.  I never had any negative feelings about the renters.  I love our rental property.  That is not to say that there was no "contrast" within this situation.  I noticed that there was one thing that I didn't feel good about.  It was the mortgage loan itself.  I am very appreciative of this negative feeling where the mortgage loan is concerned. Though mild, the emotion provided me with the contrast needed to highlight what I really do want.  I want to let go of that loan.

For some time, we've been piling up cash so as to move out of our NYC rental into a condo/coop that we own.  That is still our intention; we both feel really good about the idea of moving.  But money is a bit like a chess game to me.  I am always thinking a few moves ahead.  Once my partner and I complete something, we are already aware of what we're going to do next.  Until just recently, I honestly didn't know what our next major move would be (we could go a couple of different directions).  I feel as though the contrast provided by this experience has lead me to an inspired action.  I definitely feel inspired to eliminate that mortgage.  So, after we move out of our rental, I suspect we'll focus our attention on letting go of that loan.  Even the phrase "letting go" of the loan feels very freeing to me.  

Sometimes, an unpleasant experience can highlight things that we need to let go of such as a loan or burden, other times, it might highlight something we would like to draw into our experience.  With all of the harsh experiences during the past few months, is there anything that you've become inspired to either release or draw into your experience?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lessons from Quarantine: Part 1

There's nothing like a pandemic to make you want to avoid the grocery store like the plague...Literally!  In the past 90 days of quarantine we've gone to the grocery store once, Target once, and the pharmacy twice.  When I say we're avoiding the grocery store, I mean it.  We stocked up on staples before the "stay at home" order went into effect.  We focused on frozen vegetables, canned food, dried beans, grains, flour, etc.  Furthermore, I've realized that I really dislike that store.  It's not where I do the bulk of my shopping anyway, but a convenient place for staples...  But this Coronavirus...  It has somehow managed to draw into focus my priorities.  If I don't like that place, why do I go there?  Because it's convenient?  But is it?  Is it really convenient?  It seems pretty inconvenient to go consistently to a place I dislike to give them my money.  It didn't use to be quite like that.  It crept up on us both...  We used to do more than 50% of our grocery shopping at the local farmer's market, often up to 75%, and just used the grocery store to fill in with things like coffee, toilet paper, tofu, tempeh, and the like.  As busyness set in, there were more quick trips to the neighborhood grocery store.  You might try to defend me by suggesting that we were probably saving money.  We weren't.  The grocery store in my neighborhood doesn't have great sales or stellar quality.  It's really pretty average, didn't save me money, and doesn't have the "world's best organics."  So, what gives?

Being forced into quarantine, we've all been forced to decide where we spend the effort going.  It's
because we're limited.  It's also because we know we're going to wait in lines that are completely insane only to find out that we can't even get what we really want anyway.  Plus we will have risked contaminating ourselves with an illness that is claiming more lives every day!  All that for a place I actually don't really like?  In my neighborhood, Inwood, there's a farmer's market every Saturday...even in the winter.  Come rain, shine, or pandemic, my farmer's market is there...And so am I.  I love it there.  I feel good about supporting local farmers just upstate of me.  I also feel really good about what I am putting into my body.  I feel good literally walking there and placing my body in that physical space.  This highlights a realization for me that I think I've been coming to in other areas of my life...  I really don't care to place my physical body into spaces that don't feel good.  How simple is that?  Why wasn't I able to conceive that in such a simple way before now?  Perhaps I wasn't ready for the idea.

Last week on Saturday, we went to the farmer's market where we could easily purchase produce, eggs, bread, meat, and cheese (for anyone that consumes those things).  We bought what we needed, and went home.  Later, I realized that I needed an ingredient and decided to walk down the street to a local shop that is a gourmet grocery, independently owned.  I supported them and visited a little shop that I really enjoy.  I avoided a place that I do not enjoy.  Simple.

When we emerge from this crazy, alternate universe we've been spewed into, there are some businesses that will not be there.  Some will literally never open the door again.  My neighborhood grocery store is pretty safe, I think.  The teeny, gourmet grocery in my neighborhood?  I doubt they're safe.  It would break my heart if they closed.  Likewise, if my local farmer's market shut down, I would be devastated.

Show me your money, I'll show you your values.

Sounds harsh, doesn't it?  Sometimes reality stinks.  If I really look at myself, I have to be honest that outwardly, it looks like I value a dimly light place with a tiny organics section and too much shelf space devoted to a brand I literally refuse to buy...  WHAT?!   Well, it seems pretty clear to me that I either need to make peace with becoming someone I don't really appreciate and adopting a new set of values that I also don't like, OR  put my money where my values are...

I choose the latter.

Our Quarantine: The First 90 Days

We're about 90 days into quarantine at the writing of this piece.

My partner and I just completed our school year, which was quite an adventure, though I have learned this about myself:  I like working at home. I have the discipline to be successful at it.  I also feel like just the act of losing the commute has given me custody of more of my time: the most precious commodity to me.  The time gained has allowed us to exercise more, sleep more, and eat better.  In fact, my partner has finally perfected a cookie recipe she's been working on, in addition to hand-rolled pasta: linguine, ravioli, etc.

This unplanned slow down has had several side effects in my life.

This first is lost income.When "in the building," teachers have the ability to earn extra money by running after school programs, clubs, coaching, directing, or scoring exams.  All of those things were cancelled when school went remote.  I lost hours at my seasonal side job due to lack of people coming in due to the pandemic.  We've also lost rental income.  We've both kept our regular paychecks, and I realize how lucky that makes us.  We're still able to save money, although at a diminished rate compared to what it was before.  Many people aren't as lucky as we've been.  I completely recognize that.  Sometimes I feel completely redundant, but the fact that our lives are budgeted more or less to one income means that we have a significant amount of wiggle room if something crazy like this happens.

I've also realized that paying the extra fee for grocery delivery is worth it.  Amazon finally gave us "permission to shop" at both Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods.  We pay a delivery fee plus tip for the service, but honestly, it's worth it.  We only order every two weeks or so for items we cannot find at our local farmer's market or our local tiny gourmet grocery.  I don't think we're paying any more or less than before, but we're being more deliberate.  While I realize we're contributing to the huge corporation that is Amazon, we're also focusing the bulk of our shopping on the farmer's market, and I value the higher quality I receive from Whole Foods versus my local chain grocery.  I also value organics and not needing to physically go to the store.  I used to physically go to two separate stores EVERY weekend plus the farmer's market run.  That's a lot of running around that I don't miss.  I think this is a habit that will remain in our lives.

I am lucky enough to do some acting every Spring in a play festival, which I truly love.  I was very nervous that it had been cancelled this year, but the directorial staff of the production company was brilliant enough to re-imagine it as a series of radio plays that would be published via podcast.  While the stipend for this work was modest, the creation of art itself brought tremendous joy to me.  This is tremendously different from how I felt with the loss of my side job.  After my seasonal side job came to an end, I realized that I was thrilled to have my time back, and that it was costing me way more hours that the money was worth.  I think that's something the Covid quarantine has done for me.  It has make me realize how much I value my time.  I find myself evaluating things in my life according to a very different currency.  How much of my time will this task take me?  Do I value the task enough to spend my time doing it?  During the past 90 days, I have spent really very little time doing things I simply don't like.  I have been back to the basics.  For me, those things are: healthy living, learning, art, and relationships.

I've been going on hikes every day.  We've always cooked at home, but we've been taking our time, and really enjoying the creation of home cooked meals.  I've had more virtual happy hours and phone calls with loved ones that I had before.  We're not in person, but connecting more deliberately.  I want to carry those habits forward.  Also, I need more art in my life, and I'm willing to evict a few things in order to make that happen.

Have you been finding yourself evaluating life through the lens of this currency called "time?"  What habits or changes are you likely to carry into your future as a result of your experience during Covid? What have you learned about what you value?