29 July 2009

You call this a recovery?

Some interesting news floating around the Web lately---apparently the economy has started to grow again. Slowly, but it's growth, which means that technically speaking the recession is over. Trouble is, unemployment continues to rise, the value of labor continues to fall, and all this growth means is that the stock market is back over nine thousand (keep your Internet memes to yourself), my portfolio is no longer in free fall, and the sorts of people who measure their monetary worth in capital growth rather than wages deposited in bank accounts will begin again to grow rich. Much like the fallout from the 1991-92 recession (largely caused by defense contraction after the Cold War) and the 2001-02 recession (courtesy of the dot-com bust and 9/11), this fallout will be a case of the further concentration of wealth in the hands of two major classes. The very rich, who own the businesses and control the capital, will profit as they have since the nineteenth century; the highly educated professional classes, those who have skills that cannot be outsourced because nobody in the Third World has the training or the infrastructure to do it, will make out like bandits, especially if they diligently invest their money rather than spend it on mindless consumer baubles and keeping up with the Joneses.

The above may read like a bit of a socialist rant, as I point out the widening gap in income inequality, but the truth of the matter is that I don't think the poor have much of a base to complain from. Horatio Alger's been dead for over a hundred years, but his story is still very much alive. Work hard, live within your means, don't produce more children than you can afford to raise, instill in those kids an ethic of thrift and prudence, stick to your guns, invest your money wisely, and lo and behold it's still well within the realm of possibility that you could die rich, leaving your heirs in position (especially with an education) to elevate themselves to the moneyed classes and leaving you a pretty good legacy and an in to your religion's favored afterlife (or, if you're a complete atheist, at least letting you die in peace).

I know what some of you are thinking. "But there are so many obstacles in my way! You don't understand!" Don't I? I have a heart condition, real nasty one, probably gonna kill me someday. Spent some time in the hospital for it, even. Could've been bankrupted by it. Thankfully my wife had the good sense to talk me into making sure I had health insurance. Still cost me over a thousand bucks to pay all the deductibles and all the weasel costs the HMO wouldn't cover (for those wondering, I'm with the Blue Dog Democrats on health-care reform---no government "public option" but the system does need to be fixed.) After I coughed up the thousand, though, I'd only wiped out one month's household profit ("profit" defined as household income minus expenses, same as any business). How'd a guy with a combined household income under fifty grand (at its height, before my return to college in anticipation of greater returns later) manage to sock away that much every month? Easy. I don't own a television, I block ads on my Internet connection, therefore it's absolutely amazing how few things I think I need in order to have the basic "necessities" in life.

Next month the wife and I are moving into a much smaller apartment, a little one-bedroom about fifty yards distant from the large (too large) two-bedroom we're in now. Net monthly cost savings: $320 every single month. We're on one income and we're still going to manage to turn a profit, mostly because our monthly fixed expenses (rent, power, and Internet access) will amount to an average of about $725. We'll have the whole kit and caboodle just about paid off with one paycheck, leaving the other one to cover food, visits to the vet for the pets, and anything else under the sun you'd care to name. I've said this time and time again in other fora, but if I can figure this out, and I'm not that smart, anyone should be able to.

The real problem with how I live my life? If everybody did it, the economy would REALLY collapse! Imagine slashed consumer spending in today's America. So maybe I should be hoping that this blog never picks up any readers!

22 July 2009

The Fine Art of Conquering a Month

School starts back up on August 24. I've got my financial aid in order, my classes chosen and registered for, 15 credits just waiting for me to show up and roll, and...not a damn thing else to do for a month but play video games and sleep weird hours. Some things never change. In ten years I've gone from a 22-year-old college student with hardly a care in the world to...a 32-year-old college student with hardly a care in the world. Except now I can't power my life with Mountain Dew and cheap sex, I've got more hair on my chin and less on my head, and I'm in Reno rather than Boston. Also, if my GPA is anything to go by, I'm a better student (4.0 this time around, 3.82 from 1998-2000 at my old school.)

I should also point out that even though I'm relying on student loans and my wife's income to power me through the next three years, I am richer, live in a nicer place, and have a lot more prospects than I did when I lived alone in an absolute slum of an apartment building in a horrible neighborhood with no clue what I wanted to do with myself. If it weren't for the hair loss and the change of scenery, one could be forgiven for thinking I'd hopped in a time machine.

All I can say beyond this is "see you next Wednesday."

15 July 2009

I turn 32 tomorrow. Eight years left.

When I set about to become a "CPA by forty", I figured that's far enough off in the future that I could decently get away with taking my time about it while still focusing on my goal and making a point to do everything I need to do in order to achieve it. With tomorrow marking birthday number 32, I've got eight years before the big four-oh hits and I say I either succeeded or failed.

Happily, stage one of a journey that is to the brain and psyche what the Tour de France is to Lance Armstrong's legs has concluded with me in possession of the yellow jersey, metaphorically speaking. I pulled a 4.0 for nine credits in summer session while taking classes that are incidental to my actual goal. My first accounting class starts this fall and I'm not entirely sure I still know a debit from a credit from when I took Basic Bookkeeping in the summer of 1998. Eleven years have gone by since I've studied the subject that will, gods willing, become my career because I was a management major (a more ill-suited major to my personality I can't rightly fathom) my first time through school.

If the relative ease with which I was able to get through the first semester of this new effort is anything to go by, I'd say that a decade of age, experience, wisdom, and lost adolescence has done me some good. I'm still a year, maybe two, away from having to think about internships, career networking, and the like. I'm a full-time student first and foremost. I'm well aware that the single greatest potential obstacle to success, my introverted nature, is still looming like the wall on a military obstacle course, but for now I'm going to celebrate my birthday, offer a prayer to the gods for continued physical and mental health, and spend most of this summer playing way too many video games because there will be a point sooner than I realize where leisure will be as precious to me as water to someone stranded in the desert.

08 July 2009

Big cuts in spending ahead.

Interesting to see what living on one income and a bunch of student loans has done for the house's expectations of what constitutes an acceptable standard of living; right now we're paying almost $900 for a spacious two-bedroom apartment, which is really more than we need, but when our household income was close to fifty grand, we could afford to splurge a little.

Now that the household income's been cut in half by my going back to college (even if after I graduate I'll earn more in one year than I used to earn in three), we're looking at little one-bedroom places that could be best described as "cozy" and rent for as little as $550 (thanks largely to Reno's complete economic collapse---recessions aren't ALL bad...) If we play it right we'll have our monthly fixed expenses (rent, Internet, and power) down as low as $700, which means we can even turn a nice profit while I'm in school, making it easier down the road for me to pay what's looking like it's going to be about thirty grand in student loan debt down. Posting a $100+ profit rather than bleeding off $250 a month from our now-depleted savings will help tremendously.

01 July 2009

Idle time Re-Perspectived

Until August 24 I am effectively like a schoolkid on summer vacation. What's interesting about this is the sense of urgency (seriously) that it gives to what is otherwise an idle pastime, namely sitting around playing video games all day. I've galvanized myself behind actually doing something with my gaming time, which is interesting to say the least. That's not to say I don't have responsibilities (most of them concerned with making sure everything's in order for when I return to school) but rather than just being an out-of-work bum, I'm a gamer with the gods' gift of seven weeks of free time. I'm going to make some interesting use of it. (of course, since I'll have very little on my mind, I'm cutting the blogging back to weekly in the meantime. Tune in Wednesdays for my summertime thoughts.)