the existential crisis prompted by filthy lucre

so, last week i talked jared into driving us to topeka to bask in the wonders of the baby industrial complex that is babies r’ us. but wouldn’t you know it? as soon as we pulled off the highway & into the city, the car started making this awful clunking noise & kind of shuddering every time it changed gears. i know next to nothing about cars & i figured we’d just driven over an especially egregious bump in the road, but jared knew better & suspected the worst of all possible car repairs: a bad transmission.

we tried to enjoy ourselves anyway, hoping that sitting unused in the parking lot for an hour or two would magically heal the car, but of course we both felt anxious, which made the babies r’ us experience even more horrible than it would have been on a good day. & trust me when i say that babies r’ us is a very depressing place. the topeka store has an especially distressing dollar store vibe to it. actual dollar stores can get away with being kind of plasticky & depressing because, hello, everything costs a dollar! but when i’m looking at stuff that costs hundreds & hundreds of dollars, i want a somewhat more luxurious environment. nothing says “aspirational consumer experience” quite like shopping for supplies for your first baby. so let’s see fewer pacifiers embossed with the words “future diva” & more silk-stuffed organic crib mattresses, please.

this all transpired last tuesday. on thursday, we finally got around to calling mechanics, & i was shocked when they all wanted us to make an appointment to bring our car in. & all available appointments were several days into the future. i’ve only had to take the car to the mechanic once, & they not only allowed me to bring in my car immediately, but they had it fixed & ready to roll within a couple of hours.

our appointment was for monday, & the mechanic finally called us late on tuesday with his diagnostic: bad transmission. he gave us the option of replacing a few broken parts & a fluid flush for around $1400, or a complete transmission replacement (with a used transmission) for $2200. bear in mind that we only spent $2800 on this car when we bought it. i know there’s probably some punk rocker reading this, feeling all smug because he gets around solely by bicycle, thinking the chickens are coming home to roost thanks to our yuppie asshole car-owning ways. when that punk rocker becomes an arthritic pregnant woman who lives three miles away from the closest grocery store in a town with very patchy public transportation that nonetheless is routinely 95-105 degrees for four months out of the year, maybe then we can talk about poor life choices, okay? we don’t use our car much, probably only about 2000 miles a year, but it’s helpful to have it for things like grocery shopping, going to the airport, visiting friends across town & not being beholden to other friends to give us rides, doctor appointments, etc.

luckily i have been hoarding money like a great depression survivor because i still have no idea how much all of my prenatal care & baby delivery is going to cost me out of pocket. the payment info i got my from my doctor said that an uncomplicated vaginal delivery costs $3000, & of course they will bill my insurance before they bill me, but that price doesn’t include any medications, anesthesia, hospital stay, IV fluids, prenatal care, sonograms, et al. & of course we will also have to buy a separate insurance program for the baby & hire a pediatrician, & i couldn’t even begin to guess how much that will cost. i doubt any of it will really plunge us into poverty (so long as the baby does not require the services of the NICU), but it’s going to require some shuffling around of budgetary priorities & i don’t know how bad the hit will be. the baby may also be eligible to collect social security as a child of a disabled parent, which would really help, but we still need to see a lawyer about all that stuff (another expense).

suffice to say that i have been a little bit freaked out about money lately.

i am reading this personal finance book that is supposedly, according to all the reviews i’ve read, really life-affirming & not scary, etc etc, but right now, just thinking about money even in the abstract sense is scary to me, & the book isn’t helping. it asks good questions, like, “what do you want your money to do for you? are you spending your money on what you truly value?” the author is trying to get readers to rethink the traditional wisdom that you should be spending like 45% of your income on housing & transportation costs, for example. maybe you value having a large/expensive home less than you value being able to travel, so maybe you can downsize into a less expensive home & use the difference to travel. it’s good advice, but housing & transportation (even accounting for occasional catastrophic emergency car repairs) is only costing me about 22% of my income. compared against the approximately 30% of my income that goes straight into a savings account for emergencies. i did try to use the book to figure out what i value & what i want my money to do for me. this is the boring shit i came up with:

i want to be able to pay all my bills without going into debt.
i want to be able to buy whatever i want at the grocery store.
i want to be able to go out to eat pretty much whenever i want without worrying too much.
i want to be able to buy a monthly pool pass.
i want to be able to pay all my baby-related medical bills without going into debt.
i want to be able to buy all the start-up stuff we need for the baby without going into debt.
i want to be able to do all of this without dipping too heavily (or at all) into my emergency savings.

this kind of makes me feel like a loser. i don’t have bigger dreams than this? i don’t want to, say, spend a week in paris before i’m 35? or have the funds to self-publish a book? or even buy a family membership to the kansas city zoo or something? my only “experiential” expenses (which experts say inspire more happiness that object expenses) are going out to eat (by which i mostly mean being able to order pizza like once a week) & going to the pool. i mean, the pool is awesome & pizza is delicious, but damn. life has beaten me down & the bar is now very low. i basically just want to be able to afford to put one foot in front of the other without leaning on my credit card. a worthy goal, to be sure, but also a very quotidian one.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jen says:

    I have a pretty similar list to yours, but I kind of think that might be normal for someone who lives on a really tight disability budget. Especially if you had to spend time being disabled and poor before you received a guaranteed income. Plus, there’s that whole review thing. It kind of makes me want to stash away as much as possible just in case. The other thing is that object and experiential expenses seem like they’d overlap. Like, my list is similar to yours because I’ve had the not so fun experience of not being able to buy whatever I want at the grocery store, of not being able to pay my rent and all that, and I never want to be in that place again. The experience of being able to do all that stuff now is pretty awesome to me.

    I really want to read that book actually. Do you mind sharing the title?

    I feel like it’s such a trite, unhelpful thing to say, but I do hope all the money stuff works out for you.

    1. ciara says:

      the book is called “all the money in the world”. it’s not bad at all, but it’s definitely geared toward people who work, which is to be expected, but still a little bit alienating. it also seems to be geared toward people that have historically been fairly financially comfortable & not gone through too many bouts of “oh my god, how am i gonna cover rent this month”. i mean, a lot of her tips are things like, “maybe you don’t need a 4000-square foot house. maybe you can get away with a smaller house & smaller housing bill & use the extra money for something more satisfying.” it’s kind of like…duh. & also, not everyone has the budget for a 4000-square foot house even if they stretch. but if you look at it from the perspective of trying to identify what you value & then spending toward that, instead of spending toward what you THINK you should value, you might be happier. & she points out over & over again that it’s kind of like a personal finance mantra that if you cut back on small expenditures like your morning latte, or a new pair of shoes every month, or whatever, you can put that money toward your emergency fund or a trip to paris or whatever. but she makes the good point that sometimes it’s more worthwhile to get the latte or the shoes because that’s what makes you happy, & also that engaging in small acts of self-discipline every single day is more difficult than engaging in one big act (like buying a smaller house or a less expensive car) that can save just as much. & she also writes about how it’s okay to value your time. like if you want to try to save some money by, say, sewing your own cloth diapers instead of buying new, that’s awesome, but your time is worth something too & if you value it at, say, $15 an hour & it takes you two hours to sew a cloth diaper, you’re actually spending more than you would if you just bought them new (that’s my example, not hers).

      just read the book! it really is pretty good. & on the disability tip: i totally sock money away in an emergency fund, but sometimes i wonder if that’s weird because it’s not like you retire from social security. i mean, you can always get kicked off disability…in which i case i don’t know that even an emergency fund of $6000 would get me too far in this economy with a 12-year gap in my work history & so many restrictions as to what i could actually do work-wise. there are also restrictions as to how much a person on disability can have in assets, including a savings account. i don’t like it.

  2. Jen says:

    Thanks for the title! I have no doubt I’ll find it helpful.

    I sock money away too, just in case, so no judgement here. But I definitely wish the asset allowance was more and it seems really shitty and unhelpful that it’s not.

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