How much we spend on debt and health

Currently, for my husband and I combined, we spend $1,200 each month on health costs and debt. For health costs, this includes prescriptions, doctor’s visits, and a minimum of tests. For debts, this includes credit card, student loan, non-loan overdue university bills, bank fees (many of which we wouldn’t get hit with or would be lower if we had more money), and back taxes (from when we didn’t manage to pay enough estimated self-employment tax during that period when Husband worked full weeks and unpaid overtime but was only a “consultant” – just so that his employer wouldn’t have to provide him with benefits). And the monthly costs may increase soon since we’ll no longer be able to defer payment on my school loans, probably to about $1,400.  We are 24 and 29.  I’ve read that people in my generation have higher levels of debt in their 20’s than most previous generations.

With regards to credit card debt, I think I definitely fell victim to some predatory lending, and now I’ve got a debt with a really high interest rate and high over limit and missed payment fees too. I think I should have known better than that, but it’s too late now to ruminate. Now that things have calmed down, I’m going to see if I can get the rate down or transfer the balance to a card with a lower rate.

And now, I arm you with knowledge from Co-op America’s Real Money about predatory lending:

Predatory lending: Predatory lending is a fast-growing practice in which financial institutions use high fees, exorbitant costs, and other unscrupulous lending practices to take advantage of targeted groups—often the elderly, students, and low-income people. In the case of credit cards, banks may market cards to these groups that “contain hidden transfer charges, exorbitant late fees, and exploding interest rates,” according to the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL).

It’s not just target groups that suffer from such practices. A Woodstock Institute report states that “the intricate web of penalties and fees implemented by the credit card industry may be one of the key factors for the high level of indebtedness among Americans. In January 2005, the average US household had seven credit cards and carried a balance of $14,000, the highest level of debt ever.”

I feel a little better knowing I have less than average credit card debt…

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The Science Behind Spore

I love to play computer games, and for years now I’ve been eagerly anticipating Spore, the next big game by Will Wright, the creator of The Sims. Recently, new videos about the game were released, including a great video on the science behind Spore. It includes evolutionary science beginning with single celled organisms and growing into creatures that you design; sociology as species grow from small tribal groups to large societies; and astronomy, planetary and space science as your beings explore the universe beyond their planet. I think it would be a great game to encourage kids to play to show how science can be fun!

Settling in to the summer

The last few weeks have seen an interesting hodgepodge of demands on my time, but I think I’ve managed to secure enough babysitting hours to stabilize the financial situation a little bit until we get our next cash influx, which should be a few weeks away now. Financially we’re in what Husband is calling a “famine cycle,” but I think I’ve succeeded in keeping it from getting as bad as it has been in the past. I pulled in all the cash from any savings account we had, enough to bring our bank account in the black again, and now I can put enough cash from babysitting into the account to keep from bank fees and bounced payments when some of our unavoidable bills are processed. This feels a little better, although it’s still really stressful as a significant portion of our bills are going unpaid, and thus our debt is just growing further.

I found a new occasional baby sitting gig, watching a 2 month old. I’m happy to be around a baby again, as the toddlers at my other gig are now 20 months and 3 1/4 yrs old. And so far, the baby seems to be a pretty easy baby, although I haven’t spent too much time with him yet. His parents are both musicians, and I’m going to be helping out while his momma gets some practice time in. So I get to listen to some great classical piano while I’m working, too! It’s pretty soothing. So far the baby and I seem to interact well – he likes my smile and my laugh.

So this is what my weekly schedule is shaping up to look like: 5-10 hours with the 2 month old, 10-15 hours with the toddlers, unknown number of hours in the lab (I’m a “part-time staff associate” for the summer), and 10-20 hours on the startup company. I’ve been taking time off from lab work the past few weeks to focus on helping to get the business pitch ready for our next attempts to secure funding, but I begin lab stuff again this week. We have some new summer undergrads who I will be meeting on Thursday and begin training on Friday. I’m looking forward to new potential mentees!

As for my mental and physical health, I’m struggling, but fighting hard. I’ve been a revolving door of various infections, viruses, and other stress-related sickness. I feel the pull of the bed, with the comfy covers and the promise of sleep and dreams, but I’m managing somewhat to get myself to do work. Last week I felt myself wanting to sleep an awful lot, but on Thursday I fought hard against the desire to stay in bed, and it was a good step. I went out and ran some errands in the neighborhood and then went to Starbucks and did some work there, and by the time I returned home I felt somewhat rejuvenated. When I get stressed out too much, I try to meditate and relax. When I feel like sleeping but know that I’ve had enough sleep, I try to get out and just do little things to get myself going. It’s these small skills that I’ve been cultivating to fight depression, and I’m definitely getting better at it. These struggles with depression and anxiety haven’t been easy, but I am definitely able to see progress in my ability to deal with everything and to fight my way out of the depressed state. I know that I’m dealing with everything that’s going on now in a much, much stronger way than I would have even two years ago, and for that I’m proud.

A scene from my marriage

I’m in the kitchen, mixing up some buttercream frosting (I have to admit, I was adding it to the gingerbread cookies Jenny sent, because I have such a sweet-tooth I thought “mmmmm more sugar!”). I’m trying to open the bottle of vanilla extract, which is stuck. I grasp the cap hard, and try to turn it, applying torque through my hands. What I end up doing is grating my hand against the ridges in the cap, which hurts. Finally, I give up, and go find Husband. Where is he?

“Husband, I need your help!” I call. I find him in the bathroom, struggling to get the plastic seal off of a new bottle of contact lens fluid. We look at each other, exchange an amused expression, and trade bottles.

Seconds later, we both have what we needed and couldn’t do ourselves.

Cat Wisdom Wednesday: Einstein on God

Last week, I read about a letter containing Einstein’s thoughts on religion that was auctioned for $400,000. I haven’t been able to find the full text of the letter, but this article seemed to provide a good amount of information about what was in it.

From all that I can read, I agree with Einstein’s more nuanced views on religion and God.

So the new Cat Wisdom will be a quotation from the letter itself:

The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.

Thanks to Jenny F. Scientist

I am currently soothing myself with some delicious lemon ginger tea that Jenny F. Scientist so kindly sent as part of a feel better package. It was incredibly sweet of her, and I am touched! I wanted to share you with her thoughtful gift.

IMG_1679A gift, with a nice handwritten note.

IMG_1680
Mmmm, fresh teas! And a delicious organic blueberry and walnut chocolate bar…must find a place to get more of those! (And of course, labeled with lab tape. ;-D)

Cookies

Homemade cookies! I love cookies!

Thanks Jenny! It really did help brighten up my weekend to come home on Saturday and find the package!

Check out these women in science posters

Check out this poster project site.  You can see thumbnails of the posters and even order some or all of the set for your office or school corridors, so that future students will have visual evidence that you care about and support women in science!

And if you happen to be in the NYC area, you can come and attend the opening celebration and panel for the “Women in Science Poster Project.”  I’m going to try to go!

What: Opening celebration and panel of an exhibition of the poster project.  The panelists will tell personal stories about becoming a scientist and visualizing science.

Where: Columbia Teacher’s College Offit Gallery in the Gottesman Libraries at Columbia University.

When: The opening starts at 6PM on Wednesday June 4th, with a panel discussion to follow at 7:15PM.