I apologize for the quietness around here, but last week I got some bad news handed down to me that I’ve been busy trying to process, and I’ve been trying to figure out how best to address it on here. My finances and the required frugality have always been an issue I planned to talk about eventually – hell, my blog name even alludes to it. But the now drastically changed situation I’m going to be in has made the issue a lot more pressing, and the past week it’s been rather terrifying to even think about, never mind write a blog post about.
But enough time has passed since the news dropped, and I’ve gotten my anxiety under control, so here goes nothing. Sorry for the text-heavy post that follows.
If there’s one all consuming issue in my life, ultimately it’s finances. It’s the constant anxiety in the back of my mind. That nagging voice that’s always under everything. The constant calculations going on under the surface any time I have or want to buy anything… “When does the next paycheck come? How much is in my account right now? If I buy this, will I be able to pay the bills that are due next week?”
Why is this the case? Well to be frank about it, I’m poor. As an adjunct professor I make very very little money. I don’t want to get into specifics, but we’re talking well-under-the-poverty-line-qualify-for-food-stamps-as-a-family-of-one kind of poor. We adjuncts are employed on a semester-by-semester basis, and get paid a flat rate for each class we teach – and that rate is rather small to begin with. We get no benefits, and we are also limited in terms of how many classes we can teach – 3 per semester seems to be the standard. Doesn’t sound like much in terms of time commitment – nine hours of class a week. But then you add in the other countless hours spent on planning, grading, office hours, meetings with students, etc… I often end up working more than I would with a full-time 9-5 job for a fraction of what I would make in such a position. To make matters worse, in addition to getting no benefits, we have no job security – our classes can be cancelled at any time, due to under enrollment or really, any other reason. We can be fired in a heartbeat, and we don’t necessarily have to be provided with an explanation. It’s a very tenuous lifestyle. I’m not complaining – I knew what I was getting into and as I’ll explain, I’m massively lucky compared to other adjuncts out there – it’s just the reality of the situation.
Now, I have been very lucky the past few years – the institution I’ve taught at has given me the fullest load possible every semester, and my classes are always full to the institutional cap. In fact, every semester I have students fighting to get into my classes. I’ve never been in danger of having classes cancelled due to under enrollment. And I’m also lucky to be in an amazing department where I’m treated as one of the family – not just the temporary hired help. It’s a small department compared to what you see at monster state schools, but even so, we adjuncts have an office, and are treated as a real part of the department by everyone. It’s a wonderful work atmosphere and I’m really amazingly lucky to not be subject to a lot of the same horrors of instability and marginalization that adjuncts in other places are.
Because of this consistency, the fact that I have no family to support, and because I split an apartment with a friend, I’ve been able to cobble together a relatively comfortable life for myself. A life that is pretty uncommon for someone who adjuncts as their primary job. Between the classes, the two other steady but supplemental jobs I have, and the intermittent gigging I do on my various musical instruments, I’ve made it work and even have some extra spending money most of the time. I managed to pay my student loans down by half in the last four years (although in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t have much in loans to begin with compared to others) and fund a trip to Disney World with the help of my apartmentmate’s awesome travel deal finding skills. That anxiety under the surface has never been *that* bad. Is it there? Sure. Do I have to watch my spending and keep track of things? Absolutely. Do I sometimes have to not buy something in order to pay a bill the following week? Totally. But I’ve never had to deprive myself – that item I don’t buy is never something necessary. My financial situation has never gone critical mass.
Budget cuts. Every adjunct’s worst nightmare, because we’re always the first thing the administration mandates be cut. And I got hit. I didn’t get fired, but two of my classes were axed for next year. Now, two doesn’t sound like much, until you consider the fact that that’s 1/3 of my course load for the year. And because I’m contract basis, that’s 1/3 of my income from teaching – my main source of income. In total, the money lost amounts to about 1/5 of my total income. My total income that even before the cuts was absurdly low.
Now, I was given plenty of warning – again, a luxury adjuncts don’t usually have and just one more thing that reminds me how lucky I am to be at the institution I’m at. My department head came in and told me as soon as the news came down so that I’d have time to figure things out and prepare for the hit. I’m used to socking away money during the semester anyway – all of my jobs are school-year-only kinds of things. I don’t get paychecks in the summer. Never have. So preparing to survive those months is nothing new. But now that my income is going to be so massively diminished when I get back to being paid, I’m going to have to really tighten the belt – far more than I’m used to.
So here’s where the “Making Do” part of “Magpie Making Do” really starts to kick in. This will be the start of an intermittent series on how I am actively saving money and attempting to keep up with my new financial reality. Will I be able to stay in the black? I honestly don’t know. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to keep my head above water given the new situation – because ultimately eliminating one of my classes kills my income, but doesn’t really eliminate much work. All it means is I give my lecture 2 times a day instead of 3.
I honestly don’t know if I’m going to be able to make this work, and it’s a terrifying prospect. But I’m sure going to try, because at this point the only other option is to give it up. And that’s the very last thing I want to do.