A good time to stay in school

Dad! I got into grad school! Wait. Dad?

“I sensed a great disturbance….” (sitting unsteadily)


“It was as if tens of thousands of dollars suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.”


Closing the book

I keep records. They’re not the vinyl kind. Those I might be able to sell on eBay. Oh, if only I had that Michael Jackson album I got as a gift when I was a kid. It would probably be in mint condition – possibly never touched by a needle.

No, these are the boring kind of records – not that Michael Jackson was a…

No, I just can’t do it. It’s just too easy. It’s a corn dog dipped in corn syrup with popcorn. (Maybe that’s a little too corny.)

… Thriller for me.

Ack! Someone stop me before I hurt someone.

Think filing cabinets and a slightly anal personality when it comes to documents. Nowadays I scan most incoming documents, but for some things I keep the paper. One example is our cars. We (I) keep sales contracts, transfers of title… all of the good stuff you get when you buy a car. Then we (I) add to it as we go. We (I) keep documents and records for maintenance and repairs, neatly organized by date.

No, that was not an excuse for Cheryl to laugh at me.

You better stop reading before I ratchet up the real excitement. If you’re pregnant or suffer from a heart condition, we strongly recommend you get off this post at your earliest convenience..

When we sell a car or trade it in, we close the book on it. We pull the paper on file, pack it up, and archive it (a box in the garage).

None of this is important to the post though. Consider it a test of your patience. Only those who prove themselves worthy will get the meat and potatoes of the post (which none of us eat regularly).

We’re cutting expenses. Long or short time readers know we’ve hit a bump in the budget the size of a small redwood. (You medium folks are out of luck. You really should consider committing one way or the other.)

To that end, we dumped one of our cars – the one we had to finance after our (paid off) Honda CR-V was totaled by an uninsured driver. We piddled away most of our own insurance money on trivial stuff like medical care. We didn’t (re: couldn’t) put anything down so we were making the highest possible payments.

Normally I’m a buyer. I like to get a car, drive it till it won’t drive no more, and only then get another. This way I figure I get the most bang for my long term buck. However, saving money in another three years does us little good if we go broke in less than one.

Plan A isn’t going so well. In fact, it isn’t going anywhere at all. Our modest home has been for sale almost a year. In that time we’ve had less than a dozen visits from potential buyers.

So it’s on to Plan B. If we were smart, we would have implemented Plan B concurrent with Plan A. Alas, I’m a poor planner. Plan B is to slash monthly expenses everywhere possible. So now we have a lease instead of a car loan. Now our house is off the market and we’re extending the mortgage payments out until we’re around 70. Now we’re cutting most of the fun out of our budget.

We’ve been closing the book on a number of things lately, besides our barely used car.

Fortunately, not all of the fun stuff in life has to fit in a budget.

– – –

On a related note, is there anyone out there in the market for a perfectly good kidney? It might have a few stray cancerous blood cells floating around, but otherwise it’s solid. Maintenance records are available upon request… lots of records, in fact.

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No, I should really know better.

When Cheryl and I moved here from Orlando we lived with her parents until we could find a place for ourselves. For almost as long as we’ve had a place of our own, Cheryl has been keeping an eye out for a place we could share with her parents.

Every time she’s proposed a place my answer was very simple.


I’ve never wavered. Every time I’ve lived with someone besides my immediate family, I’ve never quite felt comfortable. Even when I’ve paid a share of the rent, part of me felt like an intruder. Roommates in college was one thing. I knew it would end some day. It was temporary housing.

Multigenerational housing – with the in-laws – is an entirely different proposition. There’s no end. I could feel like a guest in my own home for the foreseeable future. Just the thought depresses me, and there are no immediate plans to do so.

Well, there are now. Nothing’s set in stone, but it’s more than a one way conversation now.

Financial circumstances have slowly deteriorated. (And yet we still talk about buying computers.) There have been no pay raises in five or more years. This year we’re looking at furloughs, a 3 percent pay cut, or both. My department is talking about the possibility of layoffs for the first time in forty years. In the past they’ve been good at reading the tea leaves, holding back on hiring so position cuts could be absorbed by vacancies. Not this year. Ever since JEB! was first elected ten years ago (more or less), we’ve been asked to find 10 percent of our budget to cut every year. This year they’ve asked us to find 15. We haven’t always seen the full extent of those cuts, once the dust has settled after legislative sessions, but it hasn’t been pleasant. It seems they’ve finally caught up. Mind you, even when I have seen a raise (I can’t remember when), it’s been the 1.5 percent variety. There were a couple exceptions: promotions, and that one year I was lucky enough to get one of a handful of performance raises (they’ve offered them twice in my almost fifteen years – to about 2 percent of our agency).

Don’t get me wrong. I know I shouldn’t complain about my job, especially not in this economy, but for other reasons as well. As it happens, I love my job. I knew exactly what I was getting when I took a government job. It has it’s benefits, both financial (health insurance), and social (relatively liberal leave policies). Plus, I work with great people… my second family.

It’s just that in the mean time expenses have exploded – especially the medical variety.

To top it off, Cheryl worries there will be a day I won’t be able to work anymore. I don’t share her worry, but I sympathize with it. We’re better off than many, with money in savings, the beginnings of a retirement account, and money put away for at least one of the kids to go to college (thanks to the Florida Pre-Paid Program). Yet it feels like we’re living life without a net, like we’re one setback from financial catastrophe.

In other words, we’re living the new American dream: stagnant or decreasing wages, ballooning expenses, and the constant threat of job loss always hanging over our heads.

You know what they say about never. This is why I’m starting to think multi-generational housing isn’t such a bad idea, consolidating and reducing our expenses to give my family more financial security – both for my immediate family and my in-laws. But it’s not any less depressing.

I’ve lived in our house, this house, as long as I’ve lived anywhere. It’s been a true home, in every sense of the word. It’s the only home my kids have known. It’s where I learned I could be handy if I really needed to be. It’s where I’ve spent days like today: a cool, quiet, cloudless day on the front porch listening to breezes blow through our giant oak, sipping at a cup of green tea as I write.

Now I wonder if we should give it up… if we have to give it up.

Then there are my dark thoughts, when I wonder if we would be here if I was more ambitious.

When Cheryl and I first started dating in college, there was often wonder in her eyes. There were times I’d help her with homework, even though I’d never taken the class, or a class like it, and she’d look at me as if I’d just made her textbook disappear. Though it was nothing more than an ability to read (her books), she thought I could do anything. It’s hard to describe what it meant to me at the time. It was a lifeline for the kid who thought he was capable of nothing. And yet, it still made me feel a bit uncomfortable, the weight of expectations feeling heavy on my shoulders.

My aim in life has always been simple: to be happy. I eschew the spotlight. I set a course for a relatively simple life a long time ago – a life not without hard work, just one not consumed by it. Now I wonder if this place we find ourselves in, thinking of leaving our home, the tears in my daughter’s eyes when the subject comes up, the image in my head of that last day when the house is empty and we look around as we close the door on a chapter in our lives… if it’s my fault.