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Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
Last year, when my entire industry was waxing poetic about the benefits of remote work, my husband and I moved out of our major metropolitan area to be closer to his parents in a rural area of another state. Home prices in our city had risen so we could make considerable profit off our starter house but could no longer afford the next-step family home in the area. We were undergoing IVF, and we wanted to be closer to grandparents and be able to afford a bigger house for children. We put most of our profit from the sale of our last house into the downpayment of the new one, but with our jobs at the time we were still able to budget out a plan to have all our credit card debt paid off, another round of IVF scheduled (the first one failed), and still have funds to pay for certification coursework that would help me advance my career and obtain a new job by the end of 2022.
A month after we set that budget, my spouse was laid off. Everything went on hold until he obtained a new job, which is on-site in our new area and does not pay as well as his last one did. Once he was again employed we tried to revisit the budget to see what could be salvaged, but shortly after that, I was informed that my contract would not be renewed due to a workload reduction.
So now I’m job-hunting in 2023 and my industry is singing a different tune about remote work. At worst, companies are asking for on-site employment for work that I know from experience absolutely does not need to be done on-site. On average, they are now talking about hybrid work as the best of both worlds, which is fine except that I now live three hours from any of the offices they want me to attend three days a week. I am applying to the jobs that still offer remote but so is everyone else on the job market, it seems, and my lack of those certifications is I think contributing to the fact that I’m not getting much response on my applications. I am able to travel monthly, but that doesn’t seem to move the needle. Even if we wanted to move (which we don’t) we couldn’t unless my spouse obtains a different job. I am seriously debating trying long-distance with my spouse while I work elsewhere for a year, but the fact that I’m even having to consider that just makes me exhausted and angry. I’m not trying to answer emails from a beach in Fiji or work two full-time jobs at once or whatever horror story these companies seem to have bought into. I’m just trying to have a decent career and a family, and it seems like now I’m monumentally screwed on both fronts. Do you have any suggestions for me?
—Stuck In the Sticks
Dear Stuck In The Sticks,
Unfortunately, things haven’t been working out the way you had hoped. Unemployment rates are rising—it’s an awful situation to find yourself in. I don’t wish it upon anyone. You’re competing with people who have lost their jobs during recent layoffs (thousands of tech jobs have been cut this year alone) and those who want to find their own remote gig as well.
For now, I would hold off on considering a long-distance job for a year. It doesn’t make sense to add another set of living expenses to an already strained budget only to be able to skim a thousand here and there. If you’re considering taking on another set of costs, consider taking a pay cut (if you have to) while continuing your job search. It might level out to the same amount of money, and you can have dinner in person and not over FaceTime.
If you think not having a specific certification is part of what’s keeping you from securing a job, look to see if you can find an online program. And if money is the issue, remember that there are plenty of certifications you can now earn for free. Not only can you find free certifications through platforms like Google and LinkedIn, but you can also find free courses from universities like Harvard or Stanford. If you can’t find one that works, see if there is a way you can put a few hundred toward the certificate you need.
Next, find someone who can provide constructive feedback on your resume. Sometimes we need a fresh set of eyes that can point out things we miss, like additional experiences you may have forgotten to add. Other people can also point out if your resume is disorganized and suggest ways to fix it. While LinkedIn is a great way to find job openings, be sure to have remote job boards on your radar, too. Remote.co, We Work Remotely, FlexJobs, and Working Nomads are all job boards that focus on remote jobs.
Overall, set a deadline for reassessing your situation. Then, in the meantime, give yourself grace and patience. It’s hard out there for a lot of people in the current job market. Hopefully, you’ll have some luck soon.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
I just had an expensive reminder that my car is very old, but it’s running and work is close and hybrid so it’s fine for now. What should I factor in when deciding whether to finance part of replacing it vs take money from our household “everything we own will eventually be a problem” fund?
My personal savings bucket for car things (separate from any account with my spouse) is now a touch under $14,000 after paying my mechanic, so I could put about half down on what I’m looking for and my payments would be less than my current car savings budget. (I deposit $388/biweekly.) This would be my only debt besides my mortgage and the normal expenses I put on my credit card and pay off monthly. Same situation for my spouse.
My reasoning for not wanting to dip too much into the “it’s all doomed” account is partially that we just replaced several appliances not covered by our home warranty so it’s down a bit. We generally keep discretionary spending separate so I’d be paying that account back, but without interest. I’m mid-40s with an adult child who is mid-20s and self-sufficient. My spouse is mid-30s and we’re not having kids. Our pet is older than my car but we have a separate savings bucket for vet bills. Neither decision will break us. Am I forgetting anything that should be on my pros and cons list? Not noticing something that makes the answer obvious? My spouse says it’s up to me, which is annoying—I married an accountant! Where’s my free advice?
—Elder Car Care
Dear Elder Car Care,
Your free advice is coming right up! Deciding to buy a new car can be stressful, so I understand your hesitation. I reached out to Jack Wang, who is a wealth advisor at Innovative Advisory Group, for some tips.
“Since it’s unclear how much of the emergency fund will be used, you should consider all aspects of your finances when making a major purchase,” Wang said. So what factors should you consider when thinking about a new car? First, how much of your emergency fund you’d use (you still want to keep something in there) and your credit card interest rate (in case you have a major expense and your emergency fund isn’t sufficient to cover it).
You should also consider the stability of your job and income—especially when it comes down to the price point of a new car. “If their job and income are stable, then a higher proportion of debt could be manageable,” Wang said. “If your job is highly variable such as commission-based or not secure, then borrowing less could be better.” You’ll also need to consider the interest rate for a new car loan along with how this loan will affect your debt-to-income ratio should you need to finance an additional purchase soon. If you feel comfortable swinging it, the bottom line is to find a payment plan that works for you and doesn’t keep you up at night crunching numbers.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
After college, I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism/ADHD. I live with my parents to save money and teach at a local school. I’m not a good or great teacher, but I am not terrible at it either. I really like teaching (the schedule, rules, and expectations make sense) but I make a charter school teacher’s salary. My savings are okay, but it is not nearly as much as my parents think I have. I am constantly spending way more than I should. I live rent-free, and my parents are insistent I work this summer. I am terrified of getting a summer job: The new environment, people, noise, smells, etc. are all too much. I have been looking for remote jobs, but everything that I have found seems sketchy, and I am very easy to scam. I have also looked into tutoring, but putting myself out there is equally terrifying. I feel trapped—I’m capable of doing a specific job that only lasts nine months out of the year. I need to work, but every temporary gig that I found would push me to my absolute limit. I sought out the autism diagnosis in the first place because I was pushed beyond my breaking point at work and couldn’t function in my daily life (now I have a therapist and am doing better). I don’t want a summer waitressing job to put me back in that place, but I don’t see any other choice. What are my options?
—Too Autistic to Work, Too High-Functioning Not To
Dear High Functioning,
I can hear the frustration in your letter. I’m glad you sought the proper diagnosis and are figuring out what’s best for you. I tapped Victoria Smith, who has over 15 years of experience as an educator for individuals with intellectual disabilities at Arizona Centers for Comprehensive Education and Life Skills, for some insight into your situation.
“It sounds like you might be letting your new diagnosis hold you back from new opportunities,” Smith said. She suggests reaching out to your local state vocational rehabilitation center. Vocational Rehabilitation agencies are part of a program developed by the U.S. Department of Education to help those with disabilities keep, regain, or find employment.
Smith also suggests looking into teaching summer school. “It’s a school setting where you already seem to thrive and will have a routine you can easily follow,” Smith said. A routine close to the one you already follow nine months out of the year could help with your concerns about working with a new employer.
I also wouldn’t rule out taking summers off if you can get your money management under control. As a former educator, the summer break was usually what kept me sane while teaching junior high and being the after-school detention coordinator. So, work on finding a budgeting system that works for you so you’ll have enough money saved up for next summer. I Will Teach You To Be Rich, by Ramit Sethi, is a great book to start with. Sethi gives good tips on budgeting, investing, how to deal with emotions that come up around money, and more. If you’d prefer to watch his advice in action, he recently released a show on Netflix called How to Get Rich, where he helps people manage their money in real-time while utilizing the strategies he recommends in the book. Good luck!
I have a friend who makes jewelry to give others on holidays and birthdays. I love homemade gifts, and I understand the time and love that goes into making something. The problem is the quality is absolutely terrible.