Friday, September 01, 2006

For love & money

My mind has been reeling around matters related to work and money lately... at least in part inspired by Mommygoth's post the other day. I'm not sure I can be coherent about this, but let me try.

These days, we are living paycheck to paycheck. I manage our joint checking account, and it's always interesting to watch the balance as we're getting to the end of the month and the next mortgage payment (if by "interesting" you mean "painful" and "agita-producing"). We don't have any credit card debt, but we do have ye olde mortgage -- at a good interest rate, and with only ~17 years left, thanks to a dumb-luck refinancing we did a couple years ago -- plus my good-sized student loans from grad school (just refinanced; due to be paid off in 10 years) and the similarly sized home equity loan we took out to redo the bathroom and buy the Prius last year (due to be paid off in nine years).

So right now D is on part-time paternity leave, but bringing home his whole paycheck. I am working three days a week and making just slightly less than he is. From January to May, when Ess was born, I was also freelancing the other two days a week, and managing to bring in a pretty decent amount of extra money. We were able to pay for the Puerto Rico trip in cash, buy some baby stuff and sock money away to cover my unpaid maternity leave. We were hoping to not depend on my freelance income in the long run, since the plan was that I would be home with Ess on what had been the freelancing days, and then gradually work my way back into freelancing.

And that's what's happening. But it's much harder than I imagined to get anything done with an infant around... especially one who only sleeps in 45-minute increments. So I've completed one small assignment and am in the midst of another one (for which, by the way, I have still not completed even one interview. Egads.). There is plenty more work out there, thanks to the editor who's subcontracting stuff to me, if only I can find the time and brainpower to work on it. The problem, I'm realizing, is that this work isn't anything I care much about -- it's decent stories for obscure publications that I will likely never show to anyone. So the freelancing isn't doing much to advance my career. And because I am simultaneously caring for Ess and working, the freelance assignments are seeping into the entire rest of my life -- evenings, weekends, my real job, etc.

Then, at work yesterday my editor brought up the idea of adding a day to my schedule each week. The magazine could certainly use me, and the extra day would bring me to 32 hours a week -- meaning I'd finally become eligible for everything from paid vacation and sick time to medical and dental benefits. It would also mean, of course, that Ess would have to go to daycare. She's headed there in January anyway, for two days a week, so this would mean she'd go for three. I would have a steady paycheck, and my work would be confined to normal business hours four days a week. I am pretty sure that the increase in my salary would more than cover the cost of daycare -- which, incidentally, we have no provision for in the current budget situation. And I could still pick up the occasional freelance piece if I wanted to.

So I think that's where we are headed. And I think it's the right decision. So why am I spilling all this virtual ink over it? (And sorry for the excrutiating detail, but part of this is just me thinking everything through in detail.)

I guess it comes down to the guilt I feel about the fact that I would, in some ways, rather work than spend the day with Ess. But I also think that if work is confined to work hours, rather than being potentially able to occur anytime, I will be a better mom to Ess during the time I do spend with her, rather than being preoccupied with finding sources and waiting for the phone to ring and stressing about how to conduct an interview with a baby in my lap. And I think a little less stress about financial affairs would create a more pleasant home environment, too.

There are still some big hurdles we have to get over -- not least of which is finding out what, exactly, my salary would be if I added that fourth day. Then there's the question of finding daycare. And then there are the financial hurdles still to be leapt, such as setting aside emergency cash -- we would have to go straight to the plastic for anything more serious than a good-sized car repaid, which makes me verrry nervous -- saving for Ess' education and very belatedly getting D's 401k going (I just discovered that the social service agency where he's been working for -- count 'em -- 10 years matches 401k contributions. So we have been giving up free money for all that time. Shoot me now.).

On the other hand, if I were to win the Powerball, that would be ok, too.

And, yes, I know I would have to buy a ticket in order for that to even be a remote possibility.