Do we stick it out or jump ship?
July 23, 2012 6:17 PM   Subscribe

How do we get unstuck -- by sticking it out or uprooting completely?

My question is basically this: What are our next steps?

I apologize in advance if this gets long.

We are new newlyweds (3 months) living for "free" in a family member's vacant house. "Free" is in quotes because we pay about $1,800 in taxes each year on it, and all utilities (including at least $1,200 for oil). It is not in our name, we do not own it. It is old, things break frequently and we are responsible for them. We have replaced the washer, dryer, and stove. Fixed the a leaky toilet. Etc. The neighborhood has gotten pretty bad in the 18 months we've lived here. Parking is awful. It is a half-double property and we share walls with a friendly elderly woman who takes impeccable care of her property but has a coal stove and has set our CO2 detectors off once this past winter. She is broke and couldn't call a professional, so her ex-con son fixed the problem that caused the CO2 situation. He is not a professional. I could continue living here. Things don't bother me so much, but this place is depressing my husband big time and giving him major anxiety.

At this point you are thinking, well move already!

I'm not sure we can. We are in a combined $120,000 of student loan debt and have about $8,000 of credit card debt. We have $10,000 in savings, but our checking accounts are LOW. We do our best not to touch the savings, which mostly came from wedding gifts, because we would like to keep that as a down payment on a home someday .

I have a job at a not-so-stable place (A school that is behind on its bills big time. It has not come to this, but I would not be surprised if I get laid off or if it shuts down altogether) and I have a part-time job. I make about $40,000 a year between these two jobs. I have tried and tried and tried to find employment at a better school but teaching jobs in PA are tough to land these days.

My husband has three jobs, none of which are full-time. He is also a teacher looking for work. He substitute teaches and does behavioral health work on the side for two different agencies. He works about 50 hours each week and brings in about $25,000 a year, maybe. He has also tried and tried and tried to land a "real" teaching job, but again, like many others we know, has had no luck.

What do we do here?

Move to a different state where there are more opportunities? (Our families are both here in PA.)

Do we abandon our degrees which will continue to cost us $120,00 plus interest and just try to find work doing something else?

I doubt we'd get approved for a mortgage of any kind based on our current income/debt levels. (For the record, my credit is quite good despite the amount of debt I have. His is decent as well.) And besides, I'm not too anxious to take on more debt.

Rent? I can barely keep up with bills here and this is pretty cheap. (For the record, I have started paying at least $500 a month on our credit cards, which we've stopped using.) So lower payments there would free up cash for rent payments.

Spare me the debt lectures, I'm on a (self-constructed) plan to get us out of credit card debt in 18 months, if not sooner. The student loans are going to be there for a while, some will be forgiven in 5-10 years if I am able to stick it out as a special ed teacher and if he ever gets a real teaching job.

I am sorry for this sort of non-question. But essentially I am just looking for advice. Stick it out in this crappy house that is bringing my husband down until we get out of credit card debt and maybe the job situations will resolve themselves by then?

Or should we stop wasting time and just get on with it. Move? Explore other job fields?

Sorry, MeFi, for any typos or grammatical issues. I am just pouring my heart out here. Tough love is welcome but please be gentle.
posted by als129 to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
With that kind of debt, you are going to be paying on it for a long time. I don't say this to be depressing - I say this to make you think about exactly how long you're going to wait to live your lives. You're making almost $70,000 a year right now, you have $10,000 in the bank. You live in an old house in a crappy neighborhood in an area with poor job prospects. I get the appeal of a cheap place to live - which for less than $4000/year it certainly is - but imagine what you could be doing right now. You could be building a career in a place that you actually want to live - doing jobs you want to be doing. How many years are you willing to wait to do that? Just asking...
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is what I'd do.

Hunker down for the moment, unless you actively feel unsafe. (Though it sounds like you do -- carbon monoxide alarms going off is a pretty bad problem.)

Use your savings to pay down the credit card debt, at least. Yes, it's nice to be "saving for a house someday", but someday is a long way away. Especially if you wind up having bad credit in the meantime.

OK, so you're living semi-free, and you collectively make about $60K a year. Let's say you're spending $5K a year on taxes, utilities, and maintenance on the house. Or, hell, even $10K/year. If you spent half your income on debt, you could be out of student loan debt in under 10 years and still have $20K or so to live on aside from housing costs.

Aside from the sketchy neighborhood, it sounds like you guys are doing great! I'd continue to live in this hunkered down debt-paying situation until you actually get laid off, or until you guys are out of debt and the job situation improves. The good news is that A) teaching is something you can do anywhere, so there's nothing keeping you in a place with few prospects, and B) the economy isn't going to suck forever. Eventually someone, somewhere, is going to start hiring teachers again. And when that happens, you guys could be in really good shape.

What would it cost to have a modest apartment or teensy little rented house, if you decided the current place is too unsafe to stay? Would you still be able to get by?
posted by Sara C. at 6:31 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am not knowledgeable about this, but aren't there programs where teachers can commit to urban and/or out-of-the-way schools and obtain significant forgiveness of student debts? Given the amount of your debt, your apparently limited access to good teaching positions in your area and the dissatisfaction with your current situation that seems like a feasible next step. People I've known who used similar type programs, in teaching and medicine, reduced their debts, got great if hard won experience and were fortunate in also making contacts which lead them to long term career employment opportunities. Might be worth investigating.
posted by uncaken at 6:39 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, here is the thing, the house may be "free" but it's not free. With repairs you are looking at, what, $600 a month on average, until something horrible happens like the roof or plumbing or electrical or ..... So that's $600 a month you could be spending on housing somewhere else. Here's the dumb thing: you're not building equity on a house, but you're responsible for maintenance. That's like the worst of both worlds. And it's in a bad neighbourhood. But it's not just $600, because you're also dealing with the labour of upkeep. Lawn care. Picking up trash. Painting, whatever. Probably another couple hundred bucks worth even if nothing goes wrong at all. If you weren't taking care of that house that's time you could be working or relaxing. So I would say you're upwards of $900 a month in the hole on this "free housing". Now let's talk about depression. And how absolutely ruinous depression is for building a life and a career. What is a good attitude worth to you? To me, it's priceless, but what dollar value would you put on waking up in the morning and feeling good about your situation?


You need to find a better location, and either pay down some equity with a mortgage, or get a decent landlord who will take care of your housing situation so you two can focus on building your life. I suggest a small apartment in a better town with better job opportunities. Keep your savings for now, use it as an emergency fund or as moving expenses if you need it.

Think of the future, and take active steps towards making a better one by getting yourself out of this holding pattern and into a new life you can enjoy together.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:44 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm going to try to answer this from a few perspectives. First, I will say that I have been where you are in that I lived somewhere that I was miserable and I actually did leave the job, just to move to another place that I wanted to live. From that experience, I'm going to suggest some ideas as well as some thoughts on your current situation:

• You can live there for X months, but increase happiness, make a definite exit plan and date (i.e. we are moving exactly 6 months from now, or whatever date you feel comfortable with). I think that this alone may help your husband if he knows that he only has to do this for so many months and there is also something to aim for.The something to aim for will also include making more money to pay off the debt and looking for jobs, but more in a moment.

• I'm not criticizing, but if I calculate this correctly, is your partner working at minimum wage? If this is the case, then if you do go for the action plan "leave by date X", do consider having him apply for anything right now...the main criteria is that it makes $20 an hour or something significantly more than what he makes now. I doubt if he is hired next year that someone will say "but you did job X for a few months so we won't hire you." The idea is to make more money hourly and dump the job when you move (unless you make a lot more at the new job).

• I would recommend moving somewhere that offers not just a job, but ...either a place that you both want to live or that you have family support (as in could you stay with someone)? You may or may not want to do this.

• Finding teaching jobs. This worked for me several years ago; it is a placement agency and it made finding a job easy (as in picked the location and they flew to the interview) but YMMV. Just a warning: Do not accept any job unless you make what you are making now or more. Some private schools will pay your salary or more. Some will pay pennies (it is okay if someone wants to do that but your debt is huge). I also met someone once who got a teaching job by getting a list of private schools and he called every single school and mailed out letters to every single school. So pick a place that you want to live, with lots of positions, and be aggressive (and it isn't really being aggressive, you have a skill set, they have a need = symbiosis).

• CC debt: Just an idea, although I am assuming that this has run through your mind or you may not be in this position. What is the interest on the CC debt? What is the interest on your savings? If you have CC debt at 10% and a savings interest rate of 1%, it makes more sense to grab some of your savings and throw it at the debt...because it is like being in a sinking ship, it will get bigger even if you are making payments. You may say "But we will have no savings" ...but you don't since you already owe $ on that. Again, do the math, but consider paying more of it off. Then start building savings again.
posted by Wolfster at 6:48 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't use the savings to pay down the credit card debt. You want to keep that as an emergency fund, and paying the cards down gradually will help you build financial discipline.
posted by bq at 7:05 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hmmm. The usual rule of thumb is not to borrow more than you will make your first year out of school. I assume that the 120k is for both of you and that one or both of you has an M.Ed.- so you have about $60k each in debt with the highest credential in your field and you at least are working in your field. I don't think it's as bad as it could be? But you're right that it seems tough right now.

It sounds like maybe you are in a private or charter school? Are you a certified special education teacher? It's very honorable for you to want to work at a religious school or a private school serving special-ed students, but I'm worried that you can't truly afford to. In your shoes, I would be looking at the Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide List and applying to districts that might hire you both and being prepared to move, because my priorities would be a) get out debt and b) get tenure. But! I am very debt intolerant and my dad is a public school employee, so I have natural biases. Some people are more debt tolerant, which is fine. You just have to know your personality as far as that goes.

If you are more of a debt tolerant person, I would give yourself a move-out date- ie, in January 2013/August 2013, or whenever, we are moving out of this house. Then you spend the next six months/one year preparing for that by paying down your debt, getting together first and last, deciding where you want to move- do you want to stay in the area and stick with your current job, are you willing to extend your commute, are you going to move out of state or out of the area to pursue better jobs, etc.

Honestly, I would probably move. You're paying $150/month in taxes + $100 in heating oil, plus the cost of three new appliances already- if you paid $400 for each of the appliances, that's $650 per month over three months. I wouldn't be surprised if your fridge or hot water heater goes soon. Plus, you're doing the maintenance. Could you get a studio or a room in a nice shared house for $650/month? Plus, you have the $10k that you could use, say, $3k of for first/last/security.

I'm a little concerned that the 10k is earmarked for a house down payment someday. Are you adding to that fund? Are you able to stay disciplined with saving/budgeting? Do you guys find that there's "more week than money"? What went on to get the credit card to $8k? What made the "free" (not really free, actually kind of expensive and a pain in the butt) house attractive? Because you have cash flow issues? I guess what I'm saying is, it sounds like you are struggling maybe partially because your financial literacy is not as strong as you might want it to be. That's not a criticism; so, so so many people just starting out struggle with this! But if you can clear up some of those questions, we can recommend older threads that might help you, or you can tell us that you've got that squared away.

The other thing to consider is whether you can live on just your income and put your husband's income solely towards debt service and savings. Again, that's really if you are more of a debt intolerant couple, because it can certainly be really stressful.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:27 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Why don't you teach internationally in Asia or in Saudi Arabia? International teaching jobs often pay for your flights and housing or at least subsidize your housing greatly. You would be together and it would be a big adventure. Also, you might be able to make a dent in your loans.

When (if?) you come back, you can struggle to find local teaching jobs then.
posted by bquarters at 8:55 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Or, what Snarl Furillo mentioned wrt shortage areas. Definitely move to a place where you both can get full time jobs, whether it's overseas or in some remote or under-served (or both) area in the US. (I didn't look at the link, sorry). I am also debt-phobic and I really think two decently paying jobs- wherever you have to move to get them- are what you need right now. Line them up first, then hit the road. (or skies).
posted by bquarters at 8:58 PM on July 23, 2012

Note- I'm also a teacher and that's why I came to NYC originally- due to a teaching shortage. Prior to that I worked in Asia. Hmm. Not sure about happy ending yet but close to debt-free.
posted by bquarters at 9:00 PM on July 23, 2012

This is a different question if you guys are, say, K-8 gen-ed teachers, or if you're 9-12 science teachers, or if you're special ed teachers. (Also, is one of you eligible for administrative jobs? To what states do your credentials transfer?)

I mean, in my urban district, teachers make pretty good salaries after a few years in, and housing is super-cheap. (I'm in a smaller urban area; we have 14,000 students in the district.) If you're "endorsed" for math or science or special ed, there are jobs for the picking. If you're in social studies, though, it's a crapshoot; there are just so many applicants. If you can get in and survive four years of RIFs, you're tenured and golden.

It's also worth looking at whether districts you're subbing in tend to hire subs ... some districts like to bring in subs to full-time positions because they're known quantities; others just don't work that way.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:03 PM on July 23, 2012

Two things kind of stand out to me:

One is that your husband is being crazy underpaid; if you decide to stay local, he needs to set a deadline by which if he hasn't found work in his field he starts looking for other options. He has a degree or two, but is earning $10/hr? He's going to struggle to make his loan payments on that, never mind contribute to your long term plans.

Two is that you guys are bringing in about $65k right now, and struggling to live on that with almost-free rent. There's a basic budgeting issue to solve here that transcends the question of where do you live and what jobs do you do. There isn't enough information to answer it here, or even to figure out things like whether or not it would be smart to use your savings to get rid of the credit card debt or not.

I like the suggestions of looking at places with teacher shortages and internationally. Having both of you working full-time, with benefits, and with stability would ease your situation enormously, and it doesn't sound like that is going to magically happen if you stay where you are and keep doing what you are doing. I wouldn't worry about things like house buying and so on until you have the job situations sorted out; that's totally location-dependent, and some places you'll want to rent and others you'll want to buy.
posted by Forktine at 6:27 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Were I you, I'd head on over to the UAE with Teach Away. The employement is directly with Abu Dahbi, they give you a stipend for housing and you make CRAZY money.

You and your husband can both work (and both get the housing stipend) you can both bank money and pay down that debt of yours.

It's not permanant, it's a couple of years, more if you like, so the family issues shouldn't be that big of a deal.

You're young, go off, have an adventure.

I'm serious that I was thisclose to mailing the keys to the house back to the bank, packing up the kitties and heading out. I'm getting kind of old for that though.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:00 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Moving where the jobs are is the way to go here - not just because of the money but because it sounds like your husband will benefit greatly. Having a partner that finds the living conditions big time depressing and major anxiety causing does reflect on your relationship. You might not feel it 3 month in yet, but if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, odds are his unhappiness will be becoming a bigger issue in the relationship.

If you want to stay close to your family, you mention they are all in PA, plan to come back in a few years, but build a happy life & careers in the meantime somewhere else. By then even some of your loans might be forgiven, which will add to the improved situation when you start over in PA.

About the free house: can you rent it out? Maybe split the money with the home owner or make another arrangement?
posted by travelwithcats at 2:12 PM on July 24, 2012

« Older What should I wear for a job interview at...   |   Stop Looking at Me, Me! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.