Why do I do the things I don’t want to do and I don’t do the things I want to do? Those paraphrased words of a wise man named Paul never applied to my life better than now. I have about a quarter of a manuscript sitting on my computer waiting for my attention. I have a completed family devotional manuscript waiting to be shopped around to publishers. I have prompts from my writing group and a dozen other potential writing projects. I think about writing a lot, but I do very little actual writing. If I manage a blog post or two a week, I consider myself to be in some semblance a writer, but it isn’t really the only thing I want to be doing. I want to lose 8 pounds before Christmas. But I curl up on the couch to eat brownies when I should be exercising.
What is it about human nature that makes us want to ignore the things that matter most? Is it the fear of making a mistake, the desire to avoid hard work (even if it’s hard work we enjoy), or the avoidance of decision making? I think that for me it is often all of the above. I desperately want to write but it is hard work. (At the moment I also have my toddler throwing things at the keyboard and adding her own keystrokes because I am typing instead of paying attention to her). I also know that my writing may never really be good enough. Being a perfectionist can be the curse of creativity. I spend more time complaining about my writing than writing. I can never decide when to write or what project to work on. It always seems easier to do something concrete like knit my daughter a much needed winter wardrobe item, do dishes or bake bread. These are all measurable tasks that have a clear ends in sight. I can write for an hour and feel like I have nothing to show for it. It may all come to nothing. Yet I claim to want to devote my life to this vocation. It takes me so long to screw up my courage to finally sit down and write that suddenly there is no time left. My daughter is awake from her nap, it’s time for bed, or I am interrupted by another load of finished laundry to be moved to the dryer. I’ve even procrastinated about ending this post and finally publishing it on my blog. Well, never mind, I’ll think about that tomorrow. (Do you see what I mean?)
My husband and I never carried much debt, or at least we thought so. We’ve always paid our credit cards on time and only made use of 0% financing offers when we actually had the money, and made self-imposed monthly payments. But slowly, student loan debt crept up on us. We saw investing in my husband’s education as the vehicle for improving our lives and potentially reaching our dreams. But, we didn’t fully count the cost. My husband now has two bachelor’s degrees, the second of which finally opened the door to the computer industry, which he had been trying to break into for years. Then he began to pursue a master’s degree. After three semester’s of very pricey tuition, he decided to take some indefinite time off and nearly 5 year’s worth of student loans came rushing back to haunt us. We had always planned that his proposed increased income after finishing his master’s degree would help to pay off the student loans. But right now there is no increased income. He hasn’t even had a cost of living increase at his current job. Not that I’m complaining. I recognize how lucky he is to even have a job when so many others don’t right now. But now all of our future plans on put on hold while we look at the impossible task of what to do about this debt. Just making minimum payments, assuming we could afford them, which we can’t, these student loans will eat up ridiculous amounts of interest over the course of 10 or 20 years in repayment. His education will end up costing us nearly twice as much. But where do we get the money? If I go back to work, that means paying for daycare for our daughter and any other future children. Assuming I could even find a job, after the investment required in daycare, disposable diapers and other working expenses, I don’t know if it would really be worth it. There are other potential sources of income, but those are all still far into the future, and far from guaranteed. I find myself looking for solutions that will provide some immediate satisfaction. It feels like no amount of frugal living and cost cutting will help us get ahead of our bills. Our car needed a new fuel pump to the tune of $400 dollars. Our emergency fund seems to get keeping hit time after time with no way to fill it back up again. So what is the solution? Do we invest in our own projects like our novels and my husband’s programming projects while keeping up with the minimum of our responsibilities? Or do we bite the bullet and get extra jobs that have some guaranteed return, albeit small ones? For right now, it seems that the first option is what we are moving towards. But the weight of our debt, though taken out with the best of intentions, is inhibiting our pursuit of our dreams for the future. Don’t underestimate the power of debts. They have the potential to hold you back for a long time.
This step can be boiled down to four steps.
-Install a programmable thermostat
-Install surge protectors
-Turn off your home computer
-Air seal your home
I have mentioned in a previous blog post that I really can’t stand CFLs. But I understand why people think that they can ultimately save you money. Our home actually has a programmable thermostat that we installed when we renovated our living room and dining room. That being said, we don’t actually use the oil heat the house comes with. In the winter we primarily heat our home with the non-vented gas fireplace we installed in the living room. We just have to remember to turn it down at night and when we go out. Generally speaking natural gas is cheaper than oil in our area. But we have a full oil tank. We consider it our energy insurance fund. If money ever gets really tight in the winter months we can always begin using our oil heat instead.
We already use surge protectors in our home, but we often forget to turn them off at night so I am trying to get in the habit of turning off our main surge protector in the living room. I wish our kitchen appliances were on a surge protector but having to turn our microwave off would mean resetting the clock every morning.
I have begun turning off my computer at night and I only turn it on when I know I’m going to use it. I had gotten into the bad habit of leaving in on all day and just letting it go into standby mode when I’m not using it. I’m not sure whether I’ll see a real difference on my electric bill but it can’t hurt to try.
The idea of air sealing a house seems like a wise one. Unfortunately I find it somewhat vague and a little overwhelming. I know that our house is older and that it probably isn’t the most energy efficient. We have newer windows but there isn’t much insulation in our walls. But adding insulation isn’t exactly an easy task unless you plan to tear out your walls. Our attic is unfinished, so adding insulation there would definitely be a plus, it’s just a matter of coming up with the money upfront. It is good to save money on our monthly bills, but since we don’t know how much it would actually save on our energy bills, it’s hard to justify the large upfront cost of a major insulation project.
There have also been a few energy savings ideas that my husband and I came up with. When our washing machine died we replaced it with a well-reviewed budget priced high-efficiency front loading washer. The price was only a little higher than buying an Energy Star rated top-loading washer. Our water bill dropped significantly. We even got a rebate from our electric company because we had chosen an Energy Star model. I’ve also begun line drying more of our clothes. I do still use the dryer to dry towels and underwear and anything else that gets overly stiff from line drying. I also noticed that if it’s mildly windy the clothes are as wrinkle free as they are out of the dryer. I don’t mind the heat as much as my husband, so I don’t turn the air conditioning on until a bit before he gets home from work. I try to do most of my baking on the same day of the week so that I don’t have the keep reheating the oven. Little energy saving tips that become regular habits will ultimately save you money.
Over this past week my basement was a casualty of the record level rain fall on the East Coast. We’ve never gotten more than a small puddle in my basement and usually only during spring thaw. But week had a good inch of water covering a larger portion of my basement than ever before. I dragged cardboard boxes and bags of joint compound out of 2 inch puddles. In the meantime, my unhappy daughter was shrieking from her play pen upstairs. I would have gladly traded places with her. My basement is just beginning to dry out and here comes the rain again. This may be a very long and rainy autumn.