Sunday, November 17, 2013

Use it up, wear it out

When I step down from administration in a couple of months, I'll be taking a pay cut. That wasn't the hardest part of contemplating the decision, strangely enough. But it's a somewhat unprecedented event in my career. I've actually been very lucky in the past five years; faculty at many institutions lost their jobs or had their pay slashed or benefits cut during the recession, and all that happened to me and my colleagues was no raises. (Which actually dated to years before the recession because of financial mismanagement, so we were used to it.) So facing a future with fewer dollars in the paycheck isn't something I really know how to do.

It's spooked me a little. There's no logical reason for this. We're just a few mortgage payments away from being completely debt-free, and we have plenty of resources to draw upon in case of need. But I'm used to having more than enough, and those resources aren't currently liquid.

So right now I'm holding off on some purchases that, to be frank, would be smarter to make today. Since before we renovated the kitchen, our decades-old washing machine has been steadily deteriorating. Currently the wash selector knob is held together with duct tape, and the push-pull functionality that stops the cycle no longer works. So when it buzzes for an unbalanced load, I can't pull to stop it and rearrange the clothes; I have to turn it past the spin cycle and rearrange while it's filling or draining or whatever, a disconcerting race against time until I can turn it all the way back around to spin. And after the kitchen was finished and we put the dryer back in the laundry room, it's never worked right; the air doesn't seem to blow on most cycles, and I have to put it on high heat to get any drying at all. It takes three or four cycles to get a load of clothes dry. Given that and given the age of the washer, I'm throwing money down the drain every time I use them. But the new washer and dryer I want are expensive, and there's that pay cut looming. I can't afford to keep using these, but it's scary to contemplate the hit on the checking account from a huge purchase, given how slowly that account is recovering from the renovation costs, and how much more slowly it will grow once the new year starts and my paychecks are smaller by almost twenty percent.

If that were all ... but it's not, of course. We know that our wonderful plasma TV is on its last legs. I've needed a new Macbook for some time. Each of those purchases, if we did them right, would be four figures. We could do them cheaper, of course, but I resist that solution. You'd be amazed at how much of my happiness is bound up in things that work right and do what they're supposed to, and how much of my joy is sapped, on a daily basis, by things that don't. If we're going to replace stuff, I want to invest in the good stuff, not the as-good-as-we-can-afford stuff.

So ironically, I keep on making do with stuff that barely works at all. The great, in this case, is the enemy of the good. My comfort level with spending a lot of money has never been high, but I could always talk myself into it when I knew from experience that my account balance would bounce back within a few months, and when I knew what I wanted. Now I have an additional mental barrier: the uncertainty of what it will feel like to have less money coming in. It's not an objectively significant problem, compared to people who have actual financial issues. It's just my personal problem, rooted in my personal emotional history with money. But there it is, nagging at me every time I walk back to the dryer, check to see if the clothes are still damp, and start another cycle.

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