Coffee heat rising

The Summer of Murphy’s Law

Going into this summer, the longest period I’ve ever faced without enough income to make ends meet, a thought entered my little pea brain:

If anything can go wrong, this is the time it will go wrong. Expensively wrong.

It’s Funny’s Corollary to Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will always go wrong at the worst possible moment.

Now it can be reported: Murphy’s Law is a true law of Nature, and Funny’s Corollary is dead right. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a long series of expensive fiascos and missteps, all of them happening when there’s not enough cash flowing in to cover my ordinary expenses, much less unplanned-for costs.

Check it out:

Holy mackerel! Over $2000 in little surprises and extravagances! Income for a whole month was only $1,475. Unplanned expenses occurring over the three months of Penury Summer amounted to more than a month’s worth of summer income.

Granted, a few of these things—the clothing, the gas grill, the vacuum cleaner—were covered by savings. The palm tree trimming misery came out of cash flow. But all the rest of it: one nasty little surprise after another.

Entertainingly enough, the $1,475 monthly summer income in the absence of teaching is $565 less than normal, ordinary budgeted expenses.

Well, it’s a good thing I had a substantial emergency fund. Two funds, actually: $2,000± of ordinary diddle-it-away savings, plus the original $14,500 that I’d accrued by the time unemployment struck. The diddle-it-away savings accrue with a monthly contribution from cash flow, and it usually will cover modest wants and needs. The grill is not what I would describe as “modest,” but it did turn out to be a good buy.

So far I haven’t had to dip into the savings set aside for a real catastrophe. It’s close, though: At the moment I have $225 in the credit-card budget to last me until September 20 and $664 in cash to last till September 30. I don’t get paid until September 15, and I have no idea how much that paycheck will be. Those morons at Fidelity screwed up the August drawdown, so that’s $385 disappeared into the ether. If or when that will rematerialize, I don’t know.

To put the frosting on the cake, Wellcare, the privatized provider of Medicare Part B, has screwed up its billing and is demanding that I pay twice for this month’s premium, which I’ve already paid. Call to inquire and you get somebody with a Bangladeshi accent telling you their computer system is down so she has no idea what to say about it, and asking you to call back at 10:00 at night. Why the righties want to hand over all of Medicare to those sleazy insurance corporations beats me!

More huge bills are pending. The power bill this month is going to be astonishing: August’s heat and humidity had the AC unit pounding away almost nonstop, in spite of my setting the thermostat at 85 degrees during the daytime. Water bills are always high in the summer, although the unusually wet summer meant I didn’t have to add a lot of extra water to the regular drip watering schedule.

The college has not paid me the second part of the stipend owed for developing the online magazine writing course. This appears to have happened because no one has reported to the dean that I completed jumping through all the required hoops. Paradoxically, it’s a good thing.

Yes. Getting shorted on money earned is good. Why? Because Social Security is poised to shaft me big time. That stipend, if it’s ever paid in full, will put me $240 over the 2010 Social Security earnings limit of $14,160. As a result, Social Security will confiscate an entire month’s benefit check: $1,275. And make me come up with $111 out of pocket to pay for Medicare Part B. So the punishment for earning $240 “too much” is a fine of $1,275.

The fact is, if the school forgets to pay the rest of the stipend, I’ll be better off, even though I will have to take money out of the S-corporation to survive. If Social Security shorts me $1,275 this fall, then I’ll be forced to dip into my catastrophic emergency fund, just to buy groceries.

Things will be extremely tight this fall. Because I’m only teaching one class per eight-week session, total monthly income will be just $100 more than budgeted expenses…assuming I’m estimating my projected paychecks correctly, which is not a safe assumption. Expenses will start to go down in October when the weather cools a bit, but September’s utility bills will max out my $2,040 budget, and October’s will come close.

Sure do hope I can get a fistful of teaching assignments next spring, when at last I’ll be free of Social Security’s enforced poverty. I’ll need to teach three-and-three in both semesters and try to pick up at least one summer course. Or another stipend for developing an online course…

And I now have a plan for surviving next summer. This fall, with teaching income piddling in, I’ve had the state’s Fidelity plan cut my distribution to the minimum required to keep my RASL payments: that’s one buck, or 77 cents after tax. Down from $500. That will save $6,000 of the $11,000 I left in that account to cover me until the last RASL payment is disbursed in 2011. If I were to take $3,000 of that money out next summer, it would still preserve some capital but it would provide the equivalent of a monthly net from teaching three sections! And that would be plenty for me to live on.

If I can get one course next summer, it even would provide enough to take a vacation!!!!!

Wow. I haven’t been on a vacation in eight or ten years. That would be cool. Literally…you can be sure it’d be far away from this place!

5 thoughts on “The Summer of Murphy’s Law”

  1. So true that things always go wrong at the worst time. A few years back we hit a financial rough spot and everything fell apart. Dryer (couldn’t afford to fix or replace so hung clothes out for a couple of years), tires on cars, heaters in cars, can’t remember what else (blanked it out), but trust me – everything one right after another. We finally got ourselves caught up financially and were able to build up reserves for that sort of thing in the future…and…nothing much goes wrong now that we are prepared for it! Sure occasionally something minor here, something semi-major there but not all at once like that time.

    I hope everything pans out this semester the way you have it planned. Sometimes it’s like walking a tightrope, isn’t it?

  2. Yikes! Thanks goodness for the emergency fund! I went in for an oil change a couple of weeks ago and…$900 later my car is again in good shape!

    How is it that expenses always rise to outpace income? Hope the upcoming semester works out!

  3. No offense, but shouldn’t your adult son be paying for his own plumbing repairs? You don’t seem to have the means to be supporting another person in this way.

    • @ Porsha: We co-own the house and share responsibility for its maintenance. He is going to pay the cost of chopping up and hauling off the overturned tree, trimming the vast, summer-overstimulated carob tree, and general cleanup of the storm-tossed yard. The two jobs cost about the same.

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