This Capitalist Hellscape

There are days where I consider getting an extra job. I have full-time work with the opportunity for overtime, but there’s not always work to do there and sometimes you just hit the point where you’ve been bashing your head against something for so long you can’t really do any more. A second job would have to be something mindless, something maybe physically taxing but not mentally taxing, since my current day-job takes pretty much all the mental energy I’ve got. Unfortunately, that would mean losing pretty much all of my writing time and energy.

The reason I keep going back to this idea, even though it flies in the face of my desire to write and pursue my hobbies, is because I’m only barely financially stable. Like a lot of other folks my age, I graduated with student debt. Unlike most of them, due to a mixture of affluent parents, the need to move, the need to support myself, and zero financial assistance from said affluent parents, my student debt reached levels typically not seen outside of masters or doctoral degrees. Private colleges, amiright?

If I could do it all again, I’d go someplace cheaper. I’d still have made friends, I’d still have gotten the education I desire, I’d still have gotten away from my parents and older brother. Things would be different, sure, but different doesn’t always mean bad when I can specifically say the only reason I’ve not sunk further into debt is because I landed decent technology employment and have been able to get work outside my field of study that pays incredibly well. There’s no way, short of selling multiple bestsellers, that I could have made my payments on this debt doing anything related to my college education.

Because (even eight years into my career) a third of my post-tax monthly income goes to student loan payments and rent is now a full other third, I’ve been living pretty precariously. Especially in these covid times when my income shrank for most of a year (couldn’t do any overtime, which I’d been using to inflate my income since I got this job, not to mentioned being furloughed for about half the year, not all of it during the times when unemployment benefits were decent), I’ve lived closer and closer to the edge of disaster.

Disaster arrived in the form of medical problems that cost me way too much even after insurance, dental problems that also cost me way too much since they were only partially covered or not covered, and then car problems that needed money to resolve. All told, I’ve lost a couple months worth of pay to these unexpected expenses and it is only by carefully rationing out my money and delaying bills as long as I could that I’ve managed to avoid sliding further into debt. All of my wiggle room money, all my padding, all my emergency funds are gone. But, I’m still managing. I will continue to do so, but only just barely. I’ll be eating a bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, not spending any more on personal entertainment for a while, and maybe not taking some trips I had hoped to go on. It’ll suck, but I’ll be fine.

The part that is upsetting, the thing that really gets me steamed, is that this is what success looks like. By any non-financial metric, I have it made. Cushy job, work in a growing industry with room for advancement, time to pursue my hobbies, etc. But I am still one minor emergency away from falling deeper into debt. I’ve spent eight years working on paying off these loans and the predatory practice of private student loan lenders mean I’m not quite halfway done. I’d have paid down more, but I literally haven’t been able to afford paying any more than I have without removing every single ounce of joy from my life. And I’m what success looks coming out of my particular situation.

I’m just tired of living in a capitalist hellscape, of constant financial anxiety, of constantly needing to watch my bank balance so I can make sure I don’t overspend. It’s exhausting and I don’t know if I could take any more stress.

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