(Sorry, I know this is a way crazy long information dump. If you – any of my family – wants, just give me a call, and I might be able to tell it shorter.) 🙂
I debated how to get this out, but for one thing I am better at writing this out than talking about it face to face or over the phone, and I debated a mass email or a locked blog post, but if it’s going to be talked about I might as well just put it out there (but I think only family reads this anyway). I was more inclined to just keep quiet about this until there was more definite information, but Diana told her family, and everyone getting together soon for cleaning means there’s a good chance everyone will know.
At the beginning of this year, as you all know, I left my programming job to teach and focus on my PhD classes. It has been extremely mixed. On the one hand, for the first time in over a decade, I actually enjoyed my job. It’s hard to quantify, but it was definitely a great thing. For one thing, I enjoy my time at Alma which is still a great college and campus, not to mention an abnormally high concentration of excellent students.
Plus I get to walk Ella to and from school, go to most of their conferences, parties, and some field trips, and get to help them all with their homework when they get home, and that has been absolutely wonderful. Spending every day home with Diana has also been great. Not only do we just love spending time together, but seeing her all day long rather than for a few hours in the evening has helped me better understand her Depression and ADD and the ups and downs even in a single day that I could never see before.
On the down side, the pay for a part time visiting/adjunct professor is not much. Obviously, there’s the whole “part time” thing. Secondly, even it was full time, it is cheap teaching labor. Nothing against where I teach, because this is an issue across the entire country. Cuts in education mean professors are paid less. Trying to keep tuition low so that more students can afford an education mean professors are paid less. Balanced budgets and people getting an education are important goals, so I can’t necessarily fault that. But how colleges and universities keep their costs down is with a massive increase in cheap part-time teaching, like me. An unfortunately high number of grad students are just assistants during their studies and then after they graduate suffer through years of low paying adjunct teaching before getting a permanent position. I was lucky enough to start this process while still in grad school and gain experience that will help me get something permanent after graduation.
Also, one of the major downsides of being an adjunct/visiting professor beyond the pay is no stability. You do not know semester by semester what your employment will be. Although they want me at Alma next year, they will unfortunately not need me next semester. So I am back to looking for a full time programming job, even though it might mean I won’t be able to teach next year.
In my case beyond teaching not paying much, a lot of planned extra income has not worked out. For this Fall, I did have a second job lined up as a teaching assistant (it would have been insane time-wise grading papers for 150 students, but we would had have more money), but due to a misunderstanding, that fell through. I also had worked on the department website as a student employee, but updating the old site was a nightmare, and overall it was hard finding the time, so they finally worked something out with the College to start from scratch.
The summer was particularly painful because how my teaching was structured, it not only directly impacted my financial aid (cutting out $5000 from what I would have had), but also due to different payroll schedules, I should have had to go 6 weeks without any pay. Oh, but the HR department messed up the paperwork, so it was actually closer to 8 weeks without pay while they sorted it all out.
As most of my family knows, it got REAL ugly for a bit there, especially during the summer. With help from family, plasma donation, and eBay, we managed to get everything caught up except our mortgage payments. (In fact, even with the tighter budget, we are on track to have all non-mortgage/education debt paid off in 6-16 months – and the education debt is no-interest while in school, extremely low interest afterwards, and hopefully no longer necessary after next semester.) Considering my current monthly pay for teaching is only $300 more than the mortgage payment, it’s easy to see how it is hard to manage that even with Diana working part-time and getting financial aid money. This summer I talked with some very helpful people at Greenpath debt solutions and found out what options there are and what we might face. Since then, like I said, we got everything under control except our mortgage (but had managed to start making a couple payments again).
Two weeks ago we received notice that the bank is starting the foreclosure process.
Before anyone panics, this is just the start of a very long process. At Greenpath they have worked with a lot of people going through this, and here in Michigan the process is basically:
1) They send the notice.
2) Then we have 14 days to request a meeting to explore modification options.
3) We request the meeting, and by state law, this puts a 90 day hold on the entire process. (Which we have done – so it’s on hold until at least mid-January)
4) We fill out lots of paperwork and meet to see if there are modification options (more on those in a moment)
5) If none of the options works out, then after the 90 days they can start the process again. This part is highly variable but works on the scale of months. According to Greenpath this is on average 6-8 months.
6) If it actually does come to losing the house (and as you will see there are a lot of options before that), once the house is officially not ours, we have 30 days to move out.
So, realistically, we are looking at a year long process which will hopefully be resolved long before that year is up.
So what are our options? Since home foreclosure has been such a massive problem, thankfully the federal government has stepped in and funded a lot of options that are available to us that wouldn’t have been there 5 years ago (thank you Obama!).
From the mortgage company side there is:
1) just getting the past due paid off – with next semester’s financial aid, a lot of eBay, and some luck, it might be possible
2) federal money to help restructure the mortgage so that the past due is moved to the end of the mortgage so that we have 26 years to pay it off rather than 25
3) federal money to help reduce the principle of the mortgage so that our monthly payments are lowered enough to pay
From the state of Michigan, again largely with federal funding (https://www.stepforwardmichigan.org/) there is:
4) paying off some or all of the past due amount so that we can start fresh
5) again reducing the principle so that the monthly payments are lowered
6) temporarily paying part of our monthly payments to make it affordable
With all of the above, going back to a full time, well-paying job rather than teaching will massively help with getting approved.
And, from the many lawyers who now helpfully mail us solicitations, there is:
7) Chapter 13 bankruptcy where our past due amount is restructured into monthly payments over the next 5 years (and not to be confused with Chapter 7 bankruptcy which is the nuclear option of wiping out all our debts but taking our “not so hot” credit rating and turning it into “credit rating? yeah, that’s funny”)
Those are the main options that will keep us in the house.
If we want to move (not our first choice, but more on that in a second), there is:
1) selling the house (and we are in a great neighborhood and made a fair number of improvements and are 5 years into our mortgage, so there’s a chance even with home values dropping a lot that we could sell it for what we owe)
2) short-selling the house with bank approval for less than we owe
3) letting it foreclose (certainly our option of last resort, but I know former co-workers who have gone through it, and as difficult as it was, they say it’s a fresh start and they are better off for it)
Like I said, moving out of the house is certainly not our first choice. However, even before all of this, we have been discussing moving. My current PhD program is very good in one area of my interest, but utterly lacking in the other. Like “we don’t even have anyone to teach that” level of lacking. And, of course, that is the area I am most interested in. So we have talked about transferring to another PhD program for the past year or two with varying levels of seriousness.
That is a very tough choice. We all really like East Lansing. It’s a wonderful city, and doesn’t have much in the way of sprawl, so it’s easy to get out into rural open fields and forests quickly. The schools are awesome. The kids have lots of friends here. I joke that other than 5th & 6th grade, the kids can walk to school from preschool to PhD.
Plus, if I did transfer, odds are it would be out of state. So that means seeing family less often, which sucks.
But as much as we dislike those aspects, Diana and I have often talked about moving out of state, even some before I considered going back to school. For one thing, from our visits to Jennifer out in Colorado, we love it out there. Samantha was quite displeased when we told her we had to postpone Diana’s annual trip out there this Fall (and it was Samantha’s turn to tag along again this year) because of money and Jennifer taking a long trip of her own.
Pile on that Colorado University would be a perfect fit for my interests, and it’s hard not to think there’s some writing on the wall. I have actually talked with the department over there, and looking at transfer options, I had considered that *IF* we were to do it, I would complete a Masters here, and then transfer out for Fall 2013. But it is looking like it would actually be better to transfer for Fall 2012 because they have a maximum that they transfer (and typically transfer even less than that), so at a point credit-wise it becomes wasted time staying here. (I want to be clear that is just a waste concerning school credits – every class is useful information even if it doesn’t directly count towards graduation.)
However, it is VERY competitive. On average, only about 6% of applicants out of 250ish are accepted. If I could get in then my chances of getting a good teaching position after graduation are, honestly, substantially higher for my main area of interest. Even if I stay here, I think my chances are good of getting some sort of teaching position (especially if I can focus on my studies more than I have), but honestly, unless I want to ditch my main area of interest and just focus on my secondary, I certainly won’t have as much pick, and then we will definitely have to move to wherever will hire me.
We have talked with the kids about this for months, and they are feeling about the same as us – it would be sad to move away from family and friends, but it would also be exciting and wonderful to broaden our horizons and live someplace new, especially if it as amazing as Boulder.
So we are far from any kind of decision. I am at least to the point where I will actually be applying to Colorado (which means taking the GRE again sometime in the next couple months while all of this is going on). It may be that I’m in the 94% not accepted and then there’s not much decision. But IF I am accepted, then we will face the tough decision. Applying opens up an option, but doesn’t commit us to anything.
Sorry, I know this is way crazy long, and would probably be better in person, but it is a lot and I’m not sure I could get it all out in one sitting anyway. My usual way is to maybe break it up like how I mentioned at the birthdays that I am applying around for a full time programming job for January.
So, it has obviously been a stressful, topsy-turvy year so far. As I said in the beginning, it’s been wonderful, but also every day I know that I’m putting my family through a lot to follow my own interests. The pressure of tight budgets and 7 months without health insurance has made Diana’s depression worse. (The lack of insurance is another major downside of part-time teaching, thankfully the kids are on state-funded insurance, and we are paying for private insurance now even though it hardly covers anything but it is there for any major catastrophe). Every time I tell the kids that we can’t afford something, I know it’s because of the choice I made.
I remind myself that if it works out, I will wind up with a better paying job with more advancement potential. With my past programming jobs, due to tough economic circumstances or state budget cuts the only raises I got beyond inflation were from being hired somewhere else which encourages me to keep jumping jobs every few years. Plus it’s a job that I actually enjoy, rather than one that I tolerate.
There are a lot of mixed feelings going on. Even if I don’t like full time programming, I am willing to do it to support my family. It’s melodramatic, but the episode of the Simpsons that still resonates with me is Homer remembering when he managed to quit his job at the nuclear power plant and work his dream job at a bowling alley. However, they became pregnant with Maggie, meaning they could no longer afford living on the lower income. So he had to beg Mr. Burns for his job back and we find out that Homer’s desk workstation faces a plaque Mr. Burns installed that says “Don’t forget: You’re here forever.” But Homer covered it with pictures of Maggie so it says “Do it for her.” I’m sure any parent that worked a job they hated can understand.
However, growing up, my parents would half-jokingly often tell us “Do as I say, not as I do.” I’m sure in many ways my parents made decisions to help support us rather than what they would have liked (not to mention the abhorrent story of a counselor telling my mom not go into science because women should just be teachers or nurses). For a while my dad even moved to another state for work. Thankfully I was young enough that only the memories of visiting him remain and not the memories of missing him. But how can I honestly tell the kids they can do anything they want when they grow up, but I am putting money and stability ahead of what I want. Another generation of “Do as I say, not as I do.”
I constantly try to be as good of a parent as they are for me, and many days even outright think “what would my parents do right now?” But I hope to be different from them in this case. It’s one thing to tell the kids what is possible, it’s entirely different to actually show them by example. So I can’t give up on school yet. Especially since, looking at the math, I won’t be done until my early 40’s. That leaves 20 something years for my career. Last week there was a lecture from one of the movers and shakers in the field I’m studying and he is almost 40 years into his career and still going strong. Obviously much can happen in that shorter amount of time, but I am starting this career very late, and it does take a lot of schooling to get into it. But looking at the math, it’s now or never. It’s not quite to the point of my age being counted too strongly against me in hiring for academics, but any longer and it will be. MSU is currently looking to make a major hire for their department, and one thing mentioned was that it’s hard to find a major person in the field who isn’t in their 50’s. And they would rather hire a younger no-name, than a big name that won’t stay long before retiring.
So it’s staying in school for now, but trying to get a full time job and juggle those two with actually still being part of my family. I’m afraid of how it will go since already I have trouble finding time to concentrate enough to read and write at the grad student level. But we will try to find a way to make it work.
If we can, things can be stable enough to clear up the mortgage situation and ease the stress on Diana (and me, as well, of course). I don’t know if we will stay here in East Lansing for years to come until the kids grow up and Diana and I grow old, or if we will move away next year or after I graduate or who knows. But hopefully we can get things stable enough so that we can decide rather than being forced into a choice.
I know this was a huge info dump, but once I open up about this, it all comes rambling out. I thought about breaking it up into smaller bits, but it’s also all connected and I’m not sure any piece can be fully understood without seeing the whole picture. Like I said, it’s easier to get this out in writing, but I am fine talking about it in person.