Saturday, May 17, 2014

Trying to make ends meet

Northwest Arkansas is a good place to be, though not without its struggles.
The disparity is obvious.

There are obvious advantages to living in the US generally, and Fayetteville, Arkansas, specifically. I've written some about these before. Clean air is a wonderful thing, as is safer food. Crossing the street in considerably less dangerous. The internet is open (i.e. no Great Firewall of China). Green space is abundant. Fayetteville bike trails are amazing; I can commute by bike without traffic concerns in 35 minutes. Considerably less time is spent driving in Fayetteville than in Texas, so my gas bills are way lower.

But in the US my family will barely scratch by. With government-backed medical coverage for the kids, we'll scratch by.

I've been running numbers through our budget. If we stop spending money from one account, Liao Sha and the kids may be able to go back to China for a month or so toward the end of the summer, but I'm not sure when another opportunity would arise. I think we can save $100 a month toward our next used car. I think we can afford to save $50 for each child each month. After that? Retirement funds? They don't exist.  Toys for the kids? Maybe I could take it out of their savings...

I never thought about problems like these in China. We lived in a developing country, but my job supported a modest, frugal living standard. I had health insurance through my employer, and medical care was (comparatively) cheap even without it; I don't recall ever using it. But in the US, even with employer-sponsored health insurance, we'll pay a not insignificant amount each month, not to mention the high deductible. Thankfully we're in good shape.

In China, we were able to purchase a home (a loan, at least) and make early payments. Money for a down payment on our own home here in the US? I don't know where it will come from, not without selling our home in China, which would feel akin to saying we don't plan to return, especially since the mortgage is being paid by renters. In China we were able to give and lend money to many people and causes, but we'll be hard-pressed to do much of that here.

Then again, I've heard someone say (paraphrased), "It's not giving unless it interrupts your lifestyle."

A pastor at a church we attended last week gave an example of a household with a $70,000 income, and then rhetorically asked what happens when they get a raise to $80,000? His answer: They think they should no live at their $80,000 level. Hearing this, I thought: "Am I among people who think that $70,000 or $80,000 is a normal salary?

I'll never see that much. Nowhere close to that much. Not without major occupational changes.

I didn't go into teaching for a high salary or high standard of living. I didn't go to China for a high salary or high standard of living. It's never really bothered me, and I don't really care about standard of living now. But I've also never before had to face the reality of being almost poor (lower lower middle class) with a family.

This a learning experience like I've never had before. The learning curve is steep, and the margin for error is small. I'm sure I'll learn a lot along the way. Let the good times roll!

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