So far—all of two months into this new Bumhood adventure—I’m doing so well at staying on budget and living within my apparently reduced means that I’m thinking next fall I should teach two sections instead of three.
The community colleges pay $2,400 per class. Six times $2,400 comes to $14,400. Contrary to predictions, Social Security did not raise its earnings limitation this year: it remains at $14,160. While I certainly can afford to sacrifice half of $240 for the privilege of earning slightly more than a sub-poverty wage, I can’t afford the way they expunge it from your pocketbook. As soon as SS find out that you’re over the limit, they take away an entire month’s payment. From that they withhold the amount they think you owe them. But they don’t give the rest back until the following January. So, that’s $1,000 that goes away for months, maybe as long as a year.
My net on one section is $2016. True, it’s twice as much as a thousand bucks, but prorated over four months, it’s only $504 a month.
Meanwhile, I have over $16,000 residing in savings now. Because I started with a $14,500 cushion and so far have not spent anything like as much as I expected, the “cushion” keeps accruing feathers. Every month, another chicken’s worth of feathers gets stuffed in there. In addition, The Copyeditor’s Desk has $2,000 remaining to pay out in “dividends.”
When SDXB said you don’t need anything like as much as you think to live well in retirement, he wasn’t kidding. At the moment I’m coming nowhere near using all the money I budgeted to survive. That will change in the summer, when utility bills rise into the stratosphere, but by then enough will have accrued from the monthly underruns to cover those extra costs. It’s amazing. The guy is right: money happens!
Standing down off one section in the fall presents several sterling advantages:
1. Bureaucratic hassle avoidance. Not having to deal with Social Security over an earnings limit violation is worth a great deal. After the endless fights and negotiations with ASU’s HR department, the shape-shifting COBRA monsters, and now Medigap insurance predators, I have developed a bureaucrat flinch reflex.
2. Reduction of taxable income. Of course, it’s not enough to drop me into the lowest tax bracket. However, as it develops, Medicare, Medigap, and COBRA premiums are regarded as tax-deductible medical expenses, as are my long-term care premiums! Those will add up to at least $3600 this year. That’s 13 percent of an income cobbled together with Social Security and five sections. And that will make those costs deductible, even if I do earn a small wage from the S-corporation this year.
3. Brief reprieve from freshman comp. Since I’ll be teaching one section of magazine feature writing next fall, taking on just two sections will leave me with only one section of composition to have to struggle through. If I’m lucky and the section is 102 instead of 101, then I’ll have only three papers to have to grade for that course.
4. Hugely reduced course load. The feature-writing course is an eight-week online section. The chair has already agreed to make one of the comp courses he expects me to teach next fall an eight-week session, so that at any given time I’ll only be teaching two sections. If he stands by that, then I could end up with one composition course in the first half of the semester and the feature-writing course in the second half.
Hot dang! This would get the dratted comp class out of the way in eight weeks. The feature-writing course is online, and so for the rest of the semester I wouldn’t have to go to campus at all. At 19 miles per gallon, that represents a nice little saving in gasoline. And it sure represents a pretty saving in workload.
While I enjoy meeting with the young people and watching them bounce around, freshman comp is a discouraging class to teach. Especially in the community college, a good portion of the students struggle with serious learning problems and ESL issues. There’s very little you can do to help them. Really, in one semester there’s nothing you can do to make up for the shortcomings of 13 years of third-rate education, and there’s nothing you can do to change the way a dyslexic young adult’s brain is wired. You can’t teach them in 16 weeks what they didn’t learn in 13 years of K-12 training. It’s frustrating, and in many students’ cases, it’s just downright sad. So…any time I can get out of a section, I’ll be happy to do it.
Now, this scheme has some significant disadvantages, too.
1. Summer bills will deflate the cushion by about $1,200. This amount would be recovered by October if I’m reaching three sections. By the end of December, I would have plenty of cash to carry me over the winter break: barring a huge unexpected expense, around $4,800.
However, in reality that’s way more than I need to survive for a month of unemployment. With one fewer section to teach, I’ll still be back in the black by the end of October. The amount accrued to make it through winter break would than be about $3,300, more than enough to get by when utility bills are low.
2. Boredom factor. Teaching two sections will not give me enough to occupy my time. I’ll have to come up with new things to do.
That may not be a bad thing.
3. Boss annoyance factor. The departmental chair thinks he has me for three sections this fall. He won’t like having to hustle up someone else to teach a section of composition on short notice. Given the precariousness of my position, I hesitate to annoy this guy or bring myself to his attention in any negative way.
I really can’t make this decision until I get my tax forms. When ASU was jacking us around with furloughs, I changed the number of exemptions on my withholding, as to retain enough income to live on. I never changed them back. Then at the end of the year I changed the amount withheld for Arizona’s rip to the minimum amount, so as to avoid having any more money gouged out of RASL and my vacation pay than absolutely necessary. This means that instead of having a refund coming, I may have to pay taxes this year.
Tax Lawyer has the mountain of paper I shipped to her office. It’s an incredibly complicated mess. She said she expects to have the returns ready the middle of this week. So it will be several days before I know whether I’ll have to pony up a chunk of the cushion to the government. If a lot of that money goes away, obviously I can’t take a chance that there won’t be enough to support me through 2010.
The longer I delay telling the departmental chair that I won’t be teaching three sections in the fall, the larger the headache for him. Hence, the greater the Boss Annoyance Factor.
However, the community colleges are not the only places to find freelance teaching work. Because I’m experienced in developing online courses, the fact is I can teach for any college in the nation. With the extra time freed up by dumping that third section in the fall, I could hustle up some jobs in other states, which might pay better than the District does. In 2011 I’ll be allowed to earn as much as I can, and so it would be useful to find someplace that pays more than $2,400 per section. Someplace that’s not ASU: I could earn about $3,200 teaching there, but I really want to be done with ASU, now and forevermore.
Speaking of teaching…time’s a-wastin’. Gotta run!