Life Rebooted (hopeforyou) wrote in housedreamland,
Life Rebooted

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My past year at House Dreamland. Take 1: finances.

Cross-posted to hopeforyou.

mikz has recently started writing in livejournal again, including writing about what he's gotten out of his past year at House Dreamland, and more recently, realisations he's had about himself while he spends time camping in the desert.

I've been wanting to write about the same topics, but I find it difficult to know where to begin. The process is muddy and bogged down for me because it's been a hard year for me personally and I wish I could just stop processing it and just be for a while. And because I've been struggling with a mood disorder, whatever I write may be viewed through that filter -- or if it isn't, then I still run the risk of my words being interpreted by some through their imposition of that filter.

That said, I am still going make an attempt to write in this first cut what I think of the last year. It's not going to be the same picture that mikz paints. In part because I think that while he has had a number of the same hopes and dreams I've had, his expectations were less numerous than mine and his minimum desired outcome out of this experience less lofty than mine. I leave that for him to comment on; I make this assumption based on conversations we've had and his most recent entries.

The past year has been much harder than I ever imagined it would be. I've learned a lot, not just by living in this household but through a series of events that were totally unexpected and were nothing I could predict. I know that some people made dire predictions about how this household was or wasn't going to work out, and I walk a thin line of both agreeing and disagreeing with those at the moment (keeping in mind that there is a tendency for me to feel more negative these days).

But this is how it is. I have -- we have been -- trying something that few other people are doing, and there are limited guidebooks to light the path. User manuals are hard to come by for poly households, though mama_hogswatch certainly has plenty of guidance to provide. And even with the advice that's there, each household has its own reality to deal with that requires tailoring guidelines to suit it.

There is always much curiosity over what will happen here next, whether it be disastrous or uplifting. Either way, I'm just going to give it straight and try not to embellish or exaggerate, or paint a picture that doesn't mesh with my perspective on reality. I add here my disclaimer: This post is reflective of my experience and opinion only, and not necessarily representative of the household as a whole.

My first stop on the journey is my experience with finances, since mikz has been raising the issue a fair bit recently and others have been approaching me about it in real life.

A lot of detractors said that money would be the top thing that would tear the household apart, that my being the primary income earner would be too much stress on me; that whether people were working or not would lead to this or that given outcome.

Here is what I think in detail...

The financial angle

I never thought -- especially in the first couple of months -- that this was a serious problem. We had a reasonable scaled system in place based on percentage of income: Each person would pay their own expenses first and then pay 80% of their remaining income into the household pot. The remaining 20% was to be individual spending money or personal savings or what have you.

This would have worked well, in theory as well as practice, if three out of four of us were working at any time, or even two of us were working at any time provided the collective income were at a certain level.

In practice, things have not turned out quite the way I expected, even when I set most of my idealism aside.

In the normal course of a year, I didn't expect:

... to be in the ER three times and see doctors as frequently as I have. I doubt few people would, given my age and prior medical history. But as a result, a larger portion of my pre-80% income has been thrown at medication, copayments, and post-insurance expenses. I will be paying off thousands of dollars in medical expenses for some time.

... that the state had the wrong tax information from a previous year, and that too came as an unexpected hassle which I am still trying to straighten out.

... that mikz would be contributing less than he has been for as long as he has, given his work experience and skill set.

... that sinboy would be out of work for this time.

All of this came as a surprise, as did having rosefox contributing as much as she has to the household because originally, when we signed the lease, she was enroled as a student and would have been contributing less than she has been.

Now, this is life, and life is what happens while one makes other plans. Despite this, the rent has been paid each month, we haven't gone hungry, our car is insured, and utilities have been paid.

So on the household level, if one places maintaining the household as goal -- we have succeeded. On an individual level, each person has experienced highly variable financial situations.

Speaking for myself, despite earning the highest income in the house, my debt:income is higher than I am truly comfortable with. This isn't because other people have been remiss in earning enough, though if others in the household earned more it would definitely help in the present and future. Most -- but not all -- of my own financial angst is over the result of my decision earlier in life to get an Ivy League education.

Most of my debts are student loans, and in order to pay those off and newly-generated debts as I'd like to, the current financial situation here has to change. Because no matter how closely I track my own finances, that 80% after I pay my own expenses has shifted to whatever percent has to be paid to continue to meet basic expenses for the household. Essentially, in taking the advice of Debtors Anonymous: pay oneself first and meet one's basic needs first before giving back to the creditors.

If I were to keep more of my income for myself, it wouldn't improve my situation. Wouldn't, because then rent wouldn't get paid, utilities wouldn't get paid, etc. And those are mine, though they are also bills that belong to the rest of the house. So even if someone is unemployed and can't contribute, those bills still must get paid, much like still needing to turn a profit even if one's top salesman is on sick leave.

Nice analogy, but I'm not running a corporation here, nor have we been incorporated. I can't say that the household holds all debt in common, other than what we have accrued as debt for the house since the household began.

I have been willing to support the household, and more or less have to if I want to keep living here (which I would like to for another year, reasons to be noted elsewhere) and don't want to go through the legal weirdness of breaking this lease to relocate somewhere with lower rent (a whole other ball of wax, if you know anything about the anality of the landlord and the fine print of our lease).

Either way, I can't see myself supporting the household at this level indefinitely. There is no guarantee, for one thing, that I will be employed forever. I am contracted, and I've been making progress at work even when it's been difficult -- but like those who have university grants to do research, there is no 100% guarantee this will continue. I am under contract until Feb. 2005 unless I get an extension -- which so far is predicted because current projects I work on continue past that date. But even these currently don't last much later than Sept. 2005.

Making note of that, for a number of us it seems like there may be a natural transition point for this next June (2005) when the lease ends and another living arrangement may come into being. But in all frankness, I don't want to be primary support for the entire next year... because I do have these individual obligations that require my attention.

If I use mikz's statement as my own -- I need to look after myself -- then I am not doing myself justice here. Indirectly I am looking after myself to a degree perhaps, because I am part of the household, and I'm financially taking care of that. But I am not financially taking care of myself as much as I need to be. At a certain point it's no longer a case of want. And while putting the household ahead is okay for the short-term, it is not okay for another year, nor is it okay for the long-term.

There are certain financial goals I am not meeting by being in this situation. I don't view my debts and my credit record as something I can ignore. There are certain dreams which require those financial goals to be met that I cannot pursue, and that is where some of my anxiety begins. I can't, for example, save money to travel, let alone for having a child or moving overseas. These are unreachable goals right now.

So to sum it up: Is this "tearing the household apart"? Is this financial situation too much stress on me?

I'd have to say that the answers to those questions are "no, not in and of itself (I'll get to this later, noting that the phrase "tearing the household apart" is a loaded phrase that doesn't coincide with various definitions of reality) -- but out of a number of things this situation is not helpful to me as an individual" and "yes, but keep in mind that this is only one slice of my stress pie and it is cumulative. And note that my ability to cope with stress has decreased during the past year because of all the unexpected stuff that has affected me".

A lot of people I know have had to deal with similar problems as I have, albeit with a different household structure. The couple with children (and a mortgage to pay) with one partner who has been unemployed long-term has similar problems. The roommates who go to school and get their student aid cut for textbooks and school-related expenses have similar problems. There is nothing radically different about my situation with the exception of the relationship structure here and individual expectations.

As you will see from segments to come, it isn't a shift in financial handling that has elevated my stress so much as uncertainty about the future and my (in)ability to balance work with other aspects of my life.
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