Day 154 | $61,994 paid | $28,723 till freedom
Yesterday, I wrote about how the NMHD challenge will would most likely be completed in time if I get a decent bonus and don’t experience any disasters.
Well, shortly after writing that post, I got into my car, put the top up, and noticed a 2-3″ crack in the rear window.
Disaster experienced. I guess I didn’t knock on wood while I was writing that post.
The car is 13 years old and the top is original, so after spending so many summers under the strong Texas sun, the material of the vinyl top and the plastic window have weathered considerably, leading to the window’s current brittle and crack-susceptible condition.
By now, the old me would have scheduled an appointment at the Honda dealership for a brand new top installation, costing about $1,500 to $1,700. The current me? I got out some duct tape and put it over the crack.
I stepped away to admire my handiwork. My car looked completely trashy.
It’s bad enough that it already has this patch on the right side, but the duct tape? That was a new low.
I immediately went into panic-mode. What if people see me with my car in the parking lot at work? And what will friends and dates think? I care less about what people in general think of me–like if I’m driving down the highway and somebody sees duct tape on my car–but people who know me? Not cool.
I can’t have co-workers, friends, and dates thinking I’m poor and can’t afford to fix the top of my car.
So I Googled the costs and called my friend who had replaced the top on his S2000 a couple of years ago. All the data was saying $1,500 to $1,700 to replace the top.
I went back and forth in my mind–should I order a new top or not? I weighed the pros and cons, and I was leaning towards not doing it and thinking about temporary solutions. And then it struck me–why not just find black duct tape and stretch it across the entire window? So I did.
After I was done, I stepped back to admire my handiwork and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Ahhhhh, much better! Not perfect, but better. And $5.83 hurts a lot less than $1,500.
After I was done working on the convertible top, I pulled all the huge, angry weeds speckling my grassy lawn. When I was done, I had a fairly sizeable pile of weeds, and I wondered why there were so many weeds this January as compared to last January. Then I realized that it was because I hadn’t been able to afford the $20 or $30 to fertilize the lawn like I did last year. So there I was, pulling weeds, once again trying to maintain the appearance that everything was under control and that the coffers were full.
It’s funny how much I care about appearances. I don’t really have frequent conversations with my neighbors across the street–a middle-aged couple with two kids who tend to keep to themselves–but I’ve wondered what they think of the metamorphosis of my now nearly-empty garage and the addition of roommates. Do they think the single guy who bought the house across the street when he was 27 got in over his head financially, lost his job and/or can’t afford to keep up with the mortgage payments, so he’s selling off his stuff and getting roommates to help with the bills? Do they think I’ve hit rock-bottom? Do they feel sorry for me? In short, are they judging me?
I saw the father out in his driveway over the holidays, so I took the opportunity to walk over and apologize for my roommate’s car that she had left directly in front of their house for three weeks while she was away on vacation. Then I let it casually drop (as casually I could, anyway) the reason for the roommates and vehicle sales.
It’s weird, but it felt good to get it off my chest, to explain the situation, to no longer worry about feeling judged.
Deferred Expenses and Prioritization
On 9-21, I listed out some expenses that I was deferring in the name of early student loan paydown:
- Dress shoes for work
- Rear tires for car
- 8GB SD card for camera
- Motorcycle repair
- Decorative soap dispensers
- Speaker system for my computer
On that list, I purchased one item, the rear tires, and that was because of safety. I started wearing different shoes that I already owned to work, I use my phone as my camera, I sold the motorcycle, and I didn’t buy the dispensers or the speaker system.
The list has received some additions over the past four months:
- Eye exam & contact lenses — I’m stretching out the remainder of my contacts past their recommended two-week lives so that I don’t have to pay for an eye exam and new lenses until after NMHD
- Mole exam — I have some sketchy-looking moles, and even though I’ve had moles removed a few years ago that raised my then-dermatologist’s suspicions, I’ve decided to wait until after the debt is paid off to pay the specialist co-pay and get an exam
- Landscaping for my yard
- Convertible top
- New lenses for my sunglasses– UV coating is chipping off the current lenses
- Bathroom faucet handles — The faucet handle of one of the sinks in my bathroom cracked and now it just spins around the bolt instead of actually changing the temperature of the water. I don’t need two sinks and one of the handles works just fine, so I’m holding off on replacing the pair.
- Blinds for living room — I have three outdoor blinds for my living room windows, and the one in the middle is broken and sagging in the middle. It doesn’t look too trashy yet, so I’m deferring the expense.
- Doorknob for garage door – Something is sticking internally and the knob is tricky to operate. WD40 doesn’t help. I can still open the door, so for now, I’m deferring this expense
It’s funny: I’ll go way over my $50 entertainment budget and spend close to $200 to $400 when I’m out with friends, but I won’t drop a couple hundred for an eye exam and contact lenses, instead choosing to risk my vision . Likewise, I won’t spend $30 or $50 or whatever the co-pay is to make sure I don’t have skin cancer, and I won’t spend $30 to take care of the weeds that are trying to take over my yard. I’m wearing sunglasses without UV protection because I refuse to spend $100 to get new lenses, and I refuse to pay $20 for knock-offs. I get annoyed by the garage door several times a day, but I won’t spend $20 to replace it.
And yet, I’ll go out to the bars and blow $400 in a single month–even though I have a flask in my back pocket!
What does that say about me? Am I unable to make intelligent decisions about my priorities? Are my values messed up? Am I being overly risky with my health?
Some of the expenses I’m deferring are for minor annoyances and inconveniences, but other expenses are for some fairly meaningful things.
There are obvious links between the $400 entertainment spend and what I find entertaining as well as whom I choose for my friends. My three good friends in Austin are very similar to me in certain respects (and I didn’t consciously realize it until sitting down to write this post). We all work at the same place, we’re all within a pay grade of each other at work, we’re all single, and we all live alone in our own houses (well, I used to, anyway), and we all like to go out. When we go out, we spend money.
Now, what if my group of friends were different? What if my friends were broke and couldn’t afford to go to bars? Or what if they weren’t broke, but their version of fun didn’t include the bar scene, and was less expensive, like cook-outs, poker, game nights, or maybe MMORPG, for example?
Would I be downtown spending my hard-earned dough on food and drinks? Quite unlikely.
But here’s the thing: my version of fun is what it is. And my friends are who they are. I’m sorry I’m not sorry. I won’t apologize for either.
In order to fund this unapologetic attitude, I have make sacrifices elsewhere in my life. Time will tell if I have to pay a price eventually for not paying a price now.
(That being said, Luke’s bachelor party is in Vegas this month and I turned down the invitation, so there’s about $2k that I’ll be saving.)
Speaking of Entertainment Expenses
On 9-2, I listed my entertainment expenses for fiscal August that occurred pre-NMHD. They came in at $1440.
Sarah asked for an update on the entertainment expenses. In December, I spent $242 on entertainment. $125 was spent with a credit card and the charges are listed below; the balance was spent using cash, which I don’t track.
Granted, this is December and I didn’t show my $380 entertainment spend for January, but I still think I’ve come a long way. Pre-NMHD, I was spending $1,400 to $1,500/month in entertainment. I’ve averaged $284 from September through January. That’s an 80% decrease.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss certain aspects of that old life, but this one’s not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be.
My HBS Classmates and Student Loans
Sarah asked me what my HBS friends think of NMHD and what they’re doing about their loans, so I’ll try to cover that here.
As a general rule, I don’t talk money with my friends. I don’t like talking salaries, how much they made on the market today, what they paid for their car, etc. It makes me uncomfortable, I don’t really care that much, and a lot of people regard that kind of information as private, anyway. So face-to-face conversations with my grad school friends about loans are very limited.
We all graduated almost three years ago, so I have to assume that my friends who are making $250k+ in consulting and banking paid their loans off long ago. Those guys and gals are all happily off the hook.
I ran into an old friend from HBS the other day, and I told him about the challenge. He was shocked and exclaimed something to the effect of, “But you’re how old? 28? You gotta live it up! You gotta take advantage of these years.” I tried to explain that I’m still having a blast–definitely not traveling very much, but still having a blast. I don’t think he bought it.
One of my former classmates and current colleagues at work is taking steps to pay down his and his wife’s debt–she also graduated from Harvard. They have four kids and one on the way. The family values education (clearly), so while he admits that I’ve inspired him to pay his debt down early, they’re not able to dig as deep as a typical family might: they’re still sending their kids to a very high-end private school in South Austin, and they’re still springing for supplemental enrichment activities like piano lessons. Beyond that, I don’t think they spend a lot of money: decent-sized house but not huge; good neighborhood but not high-end; mid-tier used cars, etc.
It’s each to their own, really. If I had to guess, I’d say 40% of my old classmates have paid them off already, 40% are making regular payments and not really sweating it, and 20% are making an effort to get out of them early. But that’s just my guess–I have absolutely no clue.
Roommates: T minus 5
I don’t talk about my roommates in this blog very often because I’m not one for gossip and libel. The first one looks and feels bad and the second one can lead to a lawsuit, which would oppose the goals of this blog.
That said, I’m looking forward to living alone again. When the smells coming out of the kitchen are the smells of my food, when doors are not being slammed (for no apparent reason) so hard that walls shake, when I clean the kitchen top to bottom and it stays like that for longer than an hour, when run and empty the dishwasher when it’s full of my stuff, not somebody else’s, when I don’t have to tell somebody to take their rotting food out of the fridge because it stinks, and when I don’t roll through the front door to find the lock like this:
It was 3 AM this morning when I saw it like this, so I sent an email out to the roommates. One of them said they didn’t know what happened and the other one never replied. When I got back from a run later today, it was fixed:
Odd. How the heck does that even happen, anyway?
On the whole, the roommates are good roommates–things could be a lot, lot worse. I just think that my tolerance for living with strangers is low–as it probably is for most people.
Only five more months to go.
Landscaping Business Update
Michael and I spent an hour and a half a few Saturdays ago driving out and meeting with a potential client about his yard. Michael said he’d have the quote done by the end of the weekend. He bought the software and has become an expert at it, so he’s become the de facto quote guy. I hadn’t heard from him by Sunday night, so I checked in. He told me he had spent five hours on it and still had another five to go. I was blown away. 10 hours to give a quote? Was he serious? Ludicrous! I admired him for his dedication and work ethic, but that was way above and beyond!
Michael was convinced that if we provided a high-end quote complete with graphic renderings of the new yard, we could close the deal. I strongly disagreed, and I told him it would likely not come down to pretty pictures, but the cost, and that he was running the risk of wasting a lot of time. He was already too far along to change course, so he sunk another five hours into the quote, we reviewed the costs together, and then sent it over.
I followed up with the customer after a couple of days to confirm receipt of the quote, and he replied back that he had gotten it, but was still collecting quotes from other companies and would have a decision within a couple of days.
It’s been three weeks and we haven’t heard anything. We lost the bid, and Michael lost ten hours of his life.
It’s frustrating for me, and I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for Michael. I don’t think he’ll be making that mistake ever again.
All that being said, it is an extremely slow time of the year for our (seasonal) landscaping business. We’ve had two jobs so far, we’ve lost two bids, and we have three interested clients who are slowly moving towards the quote phase. Hopefully things pick up soon. If I keep spending $500 over my budget every month without incremental revenue to offset it, my timeline will be impacted.
I’ve considered picking up a second job for the weekends, but I don’t really want to give those up to work for somebody else, and I can’t think of anything entrepreneurial to do off the top of my head. I’m willing to work on the weekends to build my own business, but I’m not willing to work for somebody else for $10-$20/hour. Furthermore, my job is fairly stressful and my weekdays are packed with work and the gym, so I really value my weekends for relaxing and getting things done that I didn’t get to during the week.
It’s sort of like how I consistently blow my grocery and entertainment budgets–I know there are expense and revenue changes that I have to make, but I’m not really willing to make them because I feel like I’ve already changed so much about my life as it is.
I think that if the five-month outlook didn’t look so healthy–if it didn’t predict me paying off my loans by the end of May (month 9)–then I would feel behooved to make some structural changes in my life. But since things are looking fairly rosy, I’m just not motivated to dig deep and go the extra mile.