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The Weight of Fear

Saturday, April 20, 2013

So first things first- on day 3 of my personal exercise challenge, I played football. Since I have 2 broken fingers, I really only rushed (so figure, I sprinted 5 feet every play for half the game)....but since I'm sore, I think that means it counts as exercise. Unfortunately, I also rolled my ankle - nothing even to do with the game, just a random thing. So, I think I'll have to baby it for a few days to avoid a longer term problem. Fortunately, I feel like I have ways to work around it and still meet my objective of exercising every day.

I ordered a pizza tonight. Not a great move. As I've been sitting here, feeling a little lackluster, i realized that I'm weighed down by a lot of worry. I think if I let myself really let it in, I'd find it's actually terror.

I'm scared of losing my job. This is a real fear as half (more?) of my colleagues are doing the same thing I'm doing M-F.....not much. I come in, I check email, read the news, check out our intranet page for anything interesting, attend a briefing if there is one, and play lots and lots of solitaire. Yesterday I brought in my Netflix DVD and watched 2 hours of How I Met Your Mother.

In short, that means we're all still being paid, but we're not bringing in any money. With the sequester, nobody is expecting us to turn a corner anytime soon, either. So sooner or later, something's gotta give. Management keeps telling us not to worry without backing that up with any information. So, as much as I'd like to be optimistic, I feel like any day now, the hammer could fall.

There are some things you should know. The first is that, through a string of events too long to type out without full use of my hands, I was unemployed after graduating from grad school. It was a crushing experience. I learned what it means to have no safety net - if you think I could move in with my parents, or borrow of a few bucks to get by, that just isn't my situation. I am 100% on my own. As a result, I went into a vast amount of credit card debt, just to keep myself fed and meet my basic needs. I paid off a lot of that, and then when I was comfortable with my income and situation, decided it was time to move out of the caustic living situation I was in - that brought back some added debt, which I'm paying back aggressively.

Between credit cards and student loans, fully half of my take-home pay goes to servicing my debts. Subsequently, I have no savings. Zero.

So, you can see, unemployment wouldn't be a devastating set-back...it would pretty much be the end. I was starting to feel like I could handle whatever came at me when my ever-helpful father decided he should point out that even if I declared bankruptcy, it wouldn't free me of my student debt. I think that conversation is what tipped me over the edge into moist-eyed panic.

If things go sideways, I could be in a homeless shelter by Labor Day.

So it's time to get my ish together and think through what I can control.

1. Can I spend less? Yes. Not significantly less, but I can trim a little here and there. I can stop renting movies from Redbox (about $5/month) and cancel HuluPlus as I'd planned to anyway ($8/m). As soon as I'm fit enough to use running and swimming for all my cardio, I can quit my gym ($74). If I set a 2-drink max for any social outings, I could save some cash (I learned a really, really important lesson from my previous experience, though: giving up a social life in order to save money is not a good policy. I was so isolated and became depressed and unable to cope with my problems). And, I could save money on food by have a homemade only policy - making an exception for meals with friends, but still setting a $10 max. By avoiding delivery and the expense of convenience meals out, I'd probably save a decent amount of money - I'd guess about $120/month. Finally, of course, I can be alert and committed to finding sales and discounts on groceries and anything else I need. The cheapest shampoo is good enough. Best case, all of this combined might even save me as much as $300/month. That's great, but it's probably also not nearly enough to really matter. What will matter, however, is knowing I did everything I could while I had the chance.

2. I have things I could try to sell. When I moved, I sold $200 worth of books on Amazon. It's labor intensive, and the earnings hardly seem worth the work, but again - doing everything I can is the key. I sold most of what I had in the move, but there are still some things I could try to offload on craigslist or Amazon. Of course, if it comes down to it, I'll sell everything I own, so it might be helpful just to have a prioritized list with estimated prices (and costs if shipping is necessary) so that I have an idea how much cash I might be able to come up with and whether it's worth the cost of rent while I stay in my apartment to make the sales.

3. I could hoard cash rather than pay my credit cards. I'm not saying make no payments, but maybe just the minimums for a while. (I have balances on two cards) The best way to save money is to pay as much as I can so that I'm not paying so much interest. But, if things get really bad, cash is more fungible (credit cards can't pay rent) and it might be safer to keep the money in my checking account until things are more stable (dear Lord, I pray things get more stable!). This is a hard choice for me, because I'm desperate to pay off my cards and I really don't want to prolong my debt in the long-term because of near term threats. That said, if I'm homeless, it won't much matter anymore. So, maybe I should store up 3 months rent in cash and then go back to making the maximum payments on my cards.

I think that covers everything I can do financially. But there's plenty else running through my head.

4. If I get laid off, I might be escorted from the building and locked out of my account. So, I need to organize the files on my work computer and make sure I have copies of every record -work appraisals, emails, etc- of a client or supervisor praising my work. My performance evaluations and records regarding my promotion discussions would also be good to have. I'll keep samples of my work, but in many cases, those can't be shared. Finally, I'll want the contact information stored in my work account so that I can reach out for references or to search for job leads. I will do this this week to make sure I'm covered.

5. It's hard for me to think about interim employment. I have no idea where I'd start. I mean, do I stay in this ridiculously expensive city or try to move someplace where the cost of living is cheaper? The economic conditions that would cause me to lose my job are affecting my entire field -- I cannot reasonably expect to find a similar position elsewhere. It's not impossible, and I would look, but it's not likely. Basically, I see no way that I could find another job that would actually cover my expenses. So, I think my Day One play would have to be to get a job immediately with the first restaurant I can find. I'm a good server, and with the odd hours, I could still have plenty of time to look for other employment, try to sell my things, and consider my options. But from the day I start bringing in money, I'd be depleting my scant resources less. Once I went into forbearance on my loans and started making minimum payments on my credit cards, a decent restaurant gig might just get me enough for rent and food.

6. The other thing to look for would be any way to live for free. Craigslist often has caretaker positions that are live-in. Sometimes, people just have an extra room and are willing to let someone use it under the right circumstances. It would be heartbreaking to lose my independence, but it's better than a shelter! If I did lose my apartment, I'd also need to find someone who would allow me to store some personal things - nobody would buy, and I wouldn't want to part with things like photo albums, for example. I have two boxes of things I simply couldn't get rid of, but wouldn't need to live, and I'm fairly confident I could find a friend to shove them into a closet or corner of their basement for me.

7. I think I really need to get my driver's license. This is a tough call, because it will cost me money to take driving lessons, and I don't have any money to buy a car, but there are limits to where I can live and how that I just can't get around without a license. In the long term, if I keep my job and everything turns out swimmingly, I'll still be glad I got the license. If things go south, it may be the key to certain work or living opportunities.

8. This would be a great time to start a shotgun, willy nilly applicationapalooza. I find job hunting utterly deflating. It's so psychologically exhausting. Moreover, I really don't meet the criteria for any of the jobs that I'd rather have than my current job. But, it can't hurt to start applying to any and every federal job opening I can find online. The process is so doggon slow, it might just be the right seed ripens at a time down the road when I suddenly want to be a, um, GS-9 receptionist for the GSA. Plus, shooting out applications is a good way to get over the hump, so that "real" applications (meaning, for jobs I think I'd actually want to get) might be less trying. (Hmmm...perhaps I should experiment to see if my personal internet fob gets signal in my office; it'd be inadvisable to be on USAjobs all day on my work computer - they monitor usage - but if I could do it on the sly, it'd give me plenty to do with all that time I have with nothing to do at the office.)

9. I should send out friendly emails to anybody whose help I might need down the road. That former boss I haven't replied to since 2012...definitely need to ask him how his kids are doing. It will be less awkward, then, if I need to ask in July if he knows of any openings.

10. I need to complete my LinkedIn account. I have a login, but never went through the whole process. Now would be a good time to get on that.

11. I need to ensure I don't give my company a single reason to prefer to let me go over anybody else. So, no more enjoying the flexible work policy - I want my boss to see me there everyday from 9-5 like clockwork. I also need to speak with each and every manager in my division and ask if there is any work I can support. I have already contacted folks in other divisions, but I could continue brainstorming where else there might be opportunities for billable work. While I don't have billable work, I need to make maximal use of my time - mostly, this means completing as many online trainings as I can stand to click through. I think one per day is a good goal. Maybe I could think more creatively, too - like maybe I could put together a guide for new hires that would fill them in on the historical evolution of some of the key government programs we support.

12. I should look for something to write. I enjoy writing and I'm good at it, but usually writing projects are a luxury I can't practically pursue. If there' s an essay contest, I should go for it. If I can't find something like that, I should look for online publications or small periodicals that might welcome a submission. Even if it's not remotely related to what I work on, it could help.

13. I think I'm going to cancel my plans for Labor Day weekend and a trip to the temple in June. It kills me to skip such a precious teaching...but if I spent $300 on it and then came back and lost my job, I'd feel terrible. Pout. I think more broadly, that's become my new policy on any expenditure: I need to ask myself with everything I do, "If I lose my job tomorrow, would I regret using my money this way?" I'd love to buy some Rosetta Stone CDs and use all this time I have at work to study a language (perfect opportunity, right?), but they are pricey, and I just don't know if I could justify it to myself in a worst case scenario breakdown. Alas.

14. On the other hand, I can use the time to read some of the books I've never gotten around to, and then maybe sell them on Amazon. I have plenty of books I've been wanting to read but haven't found the time for - I may as well bring a small stack to the office to bide some hours.

15. Also, as unproductive as it may sound, if I can relax and watch NetFlix at the office, maybe I can use more of my time outside the office to be productive. Almost as important, maybe I could break out of the habit of spending my evenings on the couch.

16. I do need to buy clothes for work. I can't currently come up with 5 unique work-appropriate outfits, and that's a problem. But I can save money as my weight is fluctuating by buying dresses, which are more forgiving to changes in size than pants. i will plan to go to Marshall's next Friday or Saturday and see what I can find.

Well, that's everything I can think of. Please offer any additional thoughts you may have! Somehow, outlining everything I can do to protect myself eased my mind some. Tomorrow is a new day, and all I can do is try my best and maintain a hopeful outlook. Ah, yes, that brings me to

17. Pray.
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