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Attempting life balance in the face of debt and family crisis

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  • Attempting life balance in the face of debt and family crisis

    Please bear with me. The short version is that I'm so overloaded I don't even know who to ask for advice, so I'm crowdsourcing; see the end. Any constructive feedback whatsoever would be immensely appreciated.

    I'm your usual 25-year-old BA graduated directly into the recession: spent almost two years (intermittently) out of work after school, can't find a job in my field for the moment (I'm a polyglot), working for less than $10/hr fulltime in sales in an attempt to combat a $50k school debt, with a minimum payment of $660/mo. Until recently I had been paying this out of my life savings (I was always very frugal and had a lot saved up; I was sort of proud to never take an unemployment check, although I rather regret this now). When I can, I take occasional contract work in a handful of fields in addition to my day job. I live with family, meaning I don't have to pay for rent, utilities, or groceries (as long as all I want to eat is refined white carbs). As wonderful as it's been moving back with family (I say that with only some irony; I wish I could be happy here) I feel a desperate need to move out.

    I moved back in last year partially to care for my parents and grandparents. My parents are both ill with significant medical expenses. One of my grandparents is experiencing dementia. I love these people very much and I appreciate their financial support, but my parents have always been very financially irresponsible and one of them is deeply emotionally abusive to everyone, while the other has a spending habit that never kept up with income even when they were healthy. Of the two, only one works; the other refuses to seek work and is an addict. They have tremendous credit debt (I'm unsure of the numbers, but tens of thousands in the least). While I always appreciate the offers, I regularly have to decline or demur my parents' invitations to eat out or see movies, because none of us can afford it, which draws some resentment for my implication of the money subject. My grandparent with dementia expresses disapproval of nearly anything I say or do right down to the doneness of my toast, and while I know this is not their normal character, we used to be very close, and it still causes me great pain. Because I work during the hours when this grandparent is most themself I rarely ever have any positive interactions with them anymore and because we used to get along so well they will often guilt-trip me for having changed and picking fights all the time (unlike my usual character, I rarely speak with them if I can avoid it, unless I am particularly excited about something good and it overcomes my wariness/ good judgement. The only singular safe subject with this relative is my dating life because they like my significant other.)

    I spend very nearly all of my time either at work or in my bedroom. I do not often venture into the public spaces of the house because I am anxious of criticisms from my grandparent and fights with my nonworking and addicted parent.

    It is hopefully obvious why I seek financial and household independence. I miss the freedom to have friends over, to not stay in one room all the time whenever I'm at home, and to eat a healthy diet. While I occasionally will purchase groceries (greens, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, a little cheese) I rarely have unrestricted access to the kitchen because cooking "heats up the house too much." I also meet with some criticism for buying food when there is "plenty of good food at home" - which is true, in a sense, but it's almost entirely processed refined starches and sugars. I am the only person in my immediate family without a weight problem, so apparently my desire for "real food" is not unfounded, but I have to hide what I buy in my bedroom or face critique. On the kitchen issue, I regularly offer to cook at friends' houses (I am a good cook) but that isn't really enough to supplement my diet because I work a different schedule from most of my friends. I have thought about asking for a housekey from one and offering to leave half the batch, however. Buying any groceries is still expensive and not strictly "necessary."

    I recognize that on my minimal income I could move out, but I'd need very low rent and would face a very precarious financial situation, and could only pay the absolute barest minimum into my student loans with about $700 left over for absolutely everything. (I am currently shooting for a target of an additional $600/mo. toward the loan with the highest interest and will have it paid off by the end of the year at this rate. The remaining $100 is about half to groceries/ gas/ expenses and half to savings, although I'm going to have to start replacing clothing soon - nearly everything I own is from high school and has holes in it.)

    I do not want to be in debt when I am thirty. I want to have the choice to marry and maybe start a family. I do not want to live the life my parents did and do, squandering the opportunity for financial security in exchange for current luxuries, but I know I'd be furious if I stayed in this house another year, got hit by a bus, and never had a chance to live on my own as an adult again away from my family's problems. Someday I would like not to worry that my working parent is about to ask me for another loan to make ends meet, or find out that my nonworking addicted parent has stolen my credit card or bank statement again (it's a big help having e-statements nowadays.)

    Call it Catholic guilt but I also feel like this is sort of my comeuppance for having a spoiled childhood, even though I had no real say in the way my parents chose to raise their children. I've had more than my "fair" share of advantages in my young life and never had to go without a meal as a kid. But I'd like to keep that a mostly unbroken streak if I can. I'm not sure how much my fault it is that I'm in such huge student debt - I did choose my school (they offered tremendous scholarships), and I didn't work during my university studies because I was taught the most important thing was to make good grades and learn a lot, which I did. On the other hand, fault doesn't really matter, reality does. My guilt about my privileges probably shouldn't come into the question. And while I'd like to stay and continue to "be there" for my family - the grandparent with dementia is terrified of being left alone, my addict parent often needs "babysitting" in order to keep them away from car keys while under the influence, and both my parents benefit from a certain amount of able help around the house, with the computer, etc. - it's slowly driving me over the edge. Am I being too fearful of risking it all on $700/mo. income? I own my car but will have additional expenses in the form of health and car insurance next year and cannot be sure of getting a raise or a better-paid job before then even though I seem to be highly-regarded at work. I don't really know how much it costs my family to house and feed me, but it's surely much less than my own household would cost.

    For anyone who doesn't think I should try to make the move, or anyone with ideas at all, do you have any suggestions for making the current situation more livable, especially as pertains to things like frugally supplementing my diet, exercise in a small space (I use weights sometimes, but climate makes it very unpleasant to work out after my shift before I go home), socializing with peers on the cheap away from the house, and getting along in my family? I feel incredibly awkward asking this on the web but I've run through all my friends and they don't seem to have much to say. It would be really useful to have any feedback at all that doesn't come from the same people I'm trying hard not to emulate. Thanks very much to anyone who bothered to read this.

    To anybody else reading in a similar situation, I suppose we have to trust that things get better, that we're not alone, and that at least we have a certain scant amount of choice because we have what we do. It's very hard right now, but the one assured thing is that nothing is ever permanent, and there's some hope to be wrung from that idea.

  • #2
    Sounds like you need to search for jobs outside your field. Get a part time job on top of it and get out of that situation and go live your life. Reading that made me cringe. You are being mentally abused and shut out from the outside world. This is one of those times where money is not the most important thing. Get out of there, find work, and get yourself started on making a normal life. The money will take care of itself so long as you continue to live frugally and take care of your debt obligations.


    • #3
      I'm sorry for your situation- your pain, desperation, and loneliness are very poignant. Of course you need to do something, or it will only get worse. I'm sure you already know your best chance is to get a good job. You may have to relocate to do that. Do you have college friends in other parts of the country? You could try staying with one for a short time while you look for work. At the very least you need a break from the environment you're in. Even in your day to day life, find some other activities and places to be besides work and your bedroom, before you go nuts!

      I know you feel your family needs you, and feel guilty, etc. but you are a young adult, not a parent or caregiver. You are not going to "fix" a spender, a drunk, or someone with dementia. You have a right to start your own life, you worked hard and paid a lot of money for college.


      • #4
        Any reply at all is a huge relief and the first real input I've had in I don't know how long. THANK YOU. You're absolutely right about being isolated.

        I am working fulltime and have for some months, I'm not sure if that's clear, but it's just a sales job, for under $10/hr. I'm a very good salesperson but I don't make commission in my current spot so it's a very meager income. I've been doing a few types of contract work to supplement but finding part time work when I have an unstable shift schedule hasn't been easy. I'm almost always off by late evening, though, and have been thinking bartending might work if I could learn the basics and get used to the noise.


        • #5
          Originally posted by lookingup View Post
          Any reply at all is a huge relief and the first real input I've had in I don't know how long. THANK YOU. You're absolutely right about being isolated.

          I am working fulltime and have for some months, I'm not sure if that's clear, but it's just a sales job, for under $10/hr. I'm a very good salesperson but I don't make commission in my current spot so it's a very meager income. I've been doing a few types of contract work to supplement but finding part time work when I have an unstable shift schedule hasn't been easy. I'm almost always off by late evening, though, and have been thinking bartending might work if I could learn the basics and get used to the noise.
          Bartending can be a great way to earn extra money so long as you are prepard to deal with the bargoers. Stick to more upscale places like bars inside hotels or in clubs. A local bar with cheap drinks can lead to bar fights.


          • #6
            After reading your post, the word that stuck in my mind was "toxic." The money issue, if you want to call it that, is a very small piece of what is causing stress. Even if you made 3 times as much money, you'd still be unhappy due to the conditions at home.

            Once you move out, the jabs and mental abuse will lessen a lot. You'll still have an emotional connection because they're family, but at least you can start focusing on your own life in your own environment.


            • #7
              It's a very ugly situation in a lot of ways, some I haven't mentioned, and I did my best to escape it when I went to school - moved three hundred miles away, then to another location on the three-hundred mile perimeter when I graduated. But getting called back for a medical crisis when I did meant quitting the moderately better-paid, high-potential position I'd clawed my way into, and I've had very few options since due to eating through my savings to keep the debt at bay. I spent a year mostly playing caretaker and working odd jobs to mitigate the effect on my savings picture.

              The stress is almost entirely circumstantial, but I feel like I wouldn't be in this spot but for the money. I was elated to live away and always anxious to get back to being a free adult, rather than what amounts to the only (remaining) adult in the picture. My (four years junior) sibling, who did not conform to the expectation to get straight As and proceed-to-uni, do-not-pass-go, do-not-collect-job-experience, hung back after high school, took up classes at a community college and a succession of service jobs, and is now living quite well. One can probably guess how much I envy them, but I've encouraged them to stay away from family entanglements as much as possible because I am sincerely glad they're not in anything like my spot.

              Everyone's advice has been appreciated beyond expression. Hearing any second opinion is an immense comfort, not to mention it's wildly validating to hear something other than the narrative of the ungrateful child. Trying to tell anyone they're sinking their own ship (that you happen to share) and having them come back at you that you're overreacting/ melodramatic/ out of line - and THEN that you "don't care about your family" - is enough to give anybody a Cassandra complex and I know it, but when people tell you you're crazy for long enough it doesn't matter how stubborn you are - you harbor doubt. I really needed to hear what I already knew, as EEinNJ pointed out; I just needed to hear it from any mouth (or hand) not tainted by reflexive suspicion inculcated since childhood.

              Now just to find something I can transition with. I need more income, or at least more in my emergency fund, before I can reasonably budge. I've been trying to strike a balance between padding my emergency/ escape savings and cutting into the nastiest loan, and fortunately(?) the very loan I'm trying to uproot first is handled by a company who rather slyly defaults to applying my excess funds toward future payments, so I've actually let that slide for a couple months and let my "extra" cash land in the bank. I've been keeping the lines out for roommates also, and fortunately being in my hometown helps that significantly. I'll see about regimenting my current contract job down to two or three hours five nights a week and spending more of my "free" time seeking supplementary work.

              I'd still be glad to hear any other feedback of any stripe, and suggestions for the "meanwhile" can't hurt, either, especially as I know there are bound to be others who could use them. But I think I got at least a sense of orientation of just hearing my thoughts in other voices. A thousand thanks.


              • #8
                I echo others that my first thoughts were "toxic" regarding your home environment. Your parents and grandparents have been adults a hell longer than you have been, I would venture to guess at least twice as long as you, and it is not your job to make up for whatever are the holes in their souls. Even the bible does NOT command children to love their parents, simply honor them while parents are commanded NOT to provoke their children, which is what your parents are doing. Frankly, you owe them nothing.

                I second EEinNJ's suggestion about contacting college friends and see if you can make arrangements to stay with them and contribute to the household expenses. If that is not an option I still strongly advice to move out, it's not unusual on Craiglist for people to rent out their couches in the living room (and you basically get the living room), heck they offer to move out to the couch and rent you their bedroom! Debt is NOT a bad thing as long as you have the discipline to manage it, and it sounds like you do have that discipline. Don't be so debt phobic that it contributes to your isolation but use it as a tool to salvage yourself.

                Does your town have dog-obsessed people? Even in times of recession childless couples with dogs are still willing to spend money for dogwalkers to come in the middle of the day while they're at work and walk their dogs. When my friend was unemployed for 6 months she walked dogs to support herself and it was enough. Fee is about $18-$20 per dog walk.

                Good luck.


                • #9
                  Pet/house sitting. It could get you out of the house to a safe/quiet place, and can be done in mornings and evenings.

                  I have two cats; our geriatric cat who needed meds recently passed. When we traveled, we'd typically pay $20 per day for someone to come and feed them and administer the meds.

                  Without the meds, $10-15 per day was not unusual.

                  If you have nearby vets or petfood stores, post a flyer.

                  Good luck!


                  • #10
                    Just a suggestion

                    To help out with your finances you might want to consider tutoring, and being that your are a polyglot you can teach another language for a small fee.


                    • #11
                      For a minute, I thought you lived with my mother. I second the idea of another job. If you are in your room most of the time anyway, you may as well be at work.

                      Good luck. I empathize.


                      • #12
                        Another thought

                        It's been a month since you posted but I'll offer a bit of a different spin than others. I had a similar situation as you but not nearly as bad. As long as your life is not in danger, I think the key is to pay of debt and build up savings, even if you have to put up with a crummy lifestyle for a while.

                        Find something to do with your time and use the house as a place to sleep. Find other places to hang out and relax - library, cafe, friends, etc. where you won't spend money, public places - I used to spend time in a library music room, playing sports leagues, etc. You're young and have time. Until you're debt free or have the kind of job that can cover all the expenses and still allow you to pay off the debt, not having to pay rent (the biggest expense for most folks) is a big plus.


                        • #13
                          Just had a thought - since you imply that you are good with languages, have you thought about working for Club Med? You work a lot of hours but you live in a cool place, eat very well, have a place to sleep, enjoy camaraderie, meet interesting people from all over the place (some of which may lead you to a job), and can bank all the money you make.


                          • #14
                            Once again, thanks so much to everyone for just making it clear it wasn't just me, for their suggestions and their time.

                            Dontgopoor, your view was largely the same as mine. But I've been forced to admit it's not a "crummy lifestyle" - in my case - so much as emotional abuse. The attempt one family member made at causing a public scene to shame me reinforced that and has increased my anxiety that things could get physical after all. I wouldn't have thought it was appropriate for anyone else to go through, but I could tolerate it for myself because I felt like they needed help. Another large factor is that our public libraries have had very restricted hours (open four days a week and only in daylight) in recent years - when I got back to town it was the first safe haven I tried to look into. But I'm glad to see there was some variation in the voices and thanks especially for the Club Med suggestion.

                            The best news is I was able to get on track for a very good job and I'll be moving out soon. It's going to be expensive because my new job is in a pricy area, an hour from cheap rent. I'm well-aware I won't have a lot of money to work with between debt and rent but I'm doing the most I can to reduce my need to commute and cut into my car bills. As it is I'm very frugal by habit and the money will only get better when I'm not driving as much or paying into so many loans; as long as my move doesn't cost too much to accomplish (I have wonderful friends) I should still be on track to having at least one loan paid off by the end of the year and I can add that to my snowball.

                            Thanks again to the community for the support. It came at a time of crisis, when it was most needed, and I'll be writing some additional updates in case it gives anybody here a sense of having made a difference for someone who just needed the shove.


                            • #15
                              I suggest you seek accommodation in a share situation. these are always available in pricy communities since there are always folks in over their head. By renting an extra room, basement etc. they mitigate expenses, you get cheap rent with kitchen 'privileges.' If you don't see anything on grocery store bulletin boards or community newsletters, put your own WANTED adin Craig'sList or Kijjiji. It isn't forever, merely until you feel financially comfortable.