Okay, so just now $7,390 is left of the $28,000 of layoff savings that I entered unemployment with 18 months ago. This little stash, which I found sitting in my various bank accounts as my fine former job wound to a close, has been supporting me, along with Social Security and the irregular pittance I earn as an adjunct professor of English, while I try to delay having to draw down my IRA and brokerage accounts.
It’s lasted longer than anyone thought it would, and with any luck at all, it’s about to last another year.
The other day I revisited my ultracomplicated cash flow scheme, largely because I need to find a way to extract more monthly spending money from this Pushmi-Pullyu. The truth is, I’m not giving myself enough to live on comfortably. It was tight when I started a year and a half ago, but the increases in food and fuel costs (not inflation, right?), along with a never-ending slew of unplanned expenses, lately have made it impossible to stay on budget. I’ve been allocating $800 for discretionary expenses (a total of $2050 a month for all expenses, discretionary and fixed), when the fact is I really need something more like $1,500, for a total of around $2,750.
Unless a miracle happens (for example, I land that one-year-only job or, more likely, win the lottery), not only am I never going to earn any more than the $19,200 I’m making this year, my earned income actually is going to drop $2,400, because of the recently announced tightening of the noose around the adjuncts’ necks.
That means, I guess, the allocation from this serendipitous little “survival fund” will have to be adjusted.
Also, I’d like to simplify my bookkeeping.
What I have been doing is when money comes in, I transfer some of it to the joint account from which M’hijito and I pay the mortgage on the submerged house, transfer some of it to a self-escrow account for paying insurance and tax bills, transfer some into a short-term emergency and diddle-it-away fund, keep some of it in my checking account, and transfer $1060 from the survival fund to make up the shortfall between income and outgo. This complex shuffle no longer suffices to cover expenses. Way complicated!
So, I’ve cooked up something slightly different. In some ways, it’s six of one, half-a-dozen of the other (or, could we say, robbing Peter to pay Paul?). But it’ll give me a little bit more money—raising the discretionary budget to about $1,100 most (but not all) months—and the process will be simpler. I can’t afford the amount I actually need, but even a little increase will help.
Instead of moving money from Survival Savings to checking in amounts that supplement Social Security and teaching pay, I’m going to go the other way around: move every penny of income—Social Security, teaching, bank heists, windfalls—from checking to Survival Savings. Then, once a month, I’ll pay myself $2,300. If any cash is left from the previous month’s budget, I’ll just “top up” the checking account to reach a base figure of $2,300.
This gives me a raise of about $250 a month, which I hope will cover the increase in routine expenses.
The problem with figuring out whether this will work and what it will do to the Survival Fund’s longevity is the extreme irregularity and unpredictability of adjunct income. From pay period to pay period, I rarely know what my check is going to hold. One week I can get $300, and two weeks later it’ll be $800 or $1,000, with no clear rhyme nor reason. HR seems not to know how to figure out what one will be paid, and not being an accountant, I can’t even make an educated guess. All I know is that during the summer when I most need extra money, my teaching pay drops into the basement, and during the month between fall and spring semesters I get nothing.
The only way to project the effectiveness of this scheme—and the length of time the Survival Fund will last—is to enter 2010-11 pay amounts into a spreadsheet showing how the new transfer scheme will work.
The upshot is surprisingly positive. Well…all things considered. Transfers into and out of Survival Savings look like this:
If my amazingly tedious calculations are correct, Survival Savings will run out in August 2012. At that time, I’ll have to cash in a whole life policy; the post-tax balance from that will probably stretch another year or 18 months. After that…well, let’s hope the stock market is doing OK, because at that point I’ll have to start drawing down investments.
During the winter break and the month or so of summer that I’ll have no income, I’ll have to drop my living-expenses budget back to its present level, $2,090. This will be difficult next summer, because utilities are so high during the heat and because, as we’ve observed for the second summer running, everything goes wrong when you can least afford it. However…that comes under the heading of tough nougies.
If all this comes to pass as estimated (a very big If, indeed), then I should be able to live adequately and pay my share of the mortgage without exhausting Survival Savings until a year from this August. Might even be able to stretch it out for another month or two, if I can keep expenses significantly under $2,300 for several of the cooler months. That’s not unreasonable; when nondiscretionary bills are at their lowest, I can have a surplus of $300 or $400. Four of those would keep that $7,390 grubstake going through September.
Obviously, I’m not thrilled at the precariousness of this system. On the other hand… I feel like it’s really not too bad. If in fact the insurance payout will last another 18 months or so, then I will have succeeded in pushing back the time I’ll have to draw down investments for four years after Canning Day.
Those investments have about recovered their former, pre-Crash glory. Assuming our esteemed leaders don’t bring on another market crash with their grandstanding shenanigans, a 4 or 5 percent drawdown plus Social Security (assuming, again, that it still exists in 2013 or so) should cover my expenses and pay the mortgage—without benefit of flakey part-time teaching income.