Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I spent ages 19-33 living in NYC and traveling all over the world as much as possible while in school and working in restaurants. I have now moved to a much smaller city (albeit still with insanely high rent prices), and continue to work in the restaurant industry, even though I am unhappy with it. My problem is: I have no savings.
I have spent all my money on international trips and moving, and am left with nothing. I live paycheck to paycheck, and now as a single 35-year-old, I’m terrified no one will love me because I have “nothing to offer” financially. I also have a low credit score. Traveling remains a huge part of my life and offers some of the only happiness I experience. I’m torn between using what little money I can put away on another trip, or putting it in savings and just allowing the misery of daily life with no breaks to take over.
Dear Broke Backpacker,
As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love someone else?” There will be a supportive partner who will enter your life, I promise. Instead of worrying about future relationships, however, you need to start focusing on yourself. To stop living paycheck to paycheck, you’ll need to increase your income, cut your expenses as much as you can, and establish an emergency fund.
You’ve mentioned you’re unhappy in your current position, so I’m wondering if you’ve thought about finding a new role in your industry where you have the potential to earn more. Hospitality offers plenty of career paths that don’t include working within a restaurant. Just a few ideas include being an event coordinator, becoming a sommelier, trying your hand at food styling, and opening your own catering business. You can also earn more by finding a part-time job, picking up a gig economy shift, freelancing, or creating items for others to buy.
The three main areas people tend to spend most are housing, transportation, and food. Start looking into what expenses you can cut there. Create a free budget online at Mint to help make your money stretch even further and prioritize saving money toward an emergency fund. Having that emergency fund can help you cover unexpected expenses that need to be addressed right away, such as a car repair or vet bill. And saving up will encourage you to stay on top of your financial progress instead of backtracking. For starters, work on saving $1,000, then increase the amount from there.
Catching up on your finances doesn’t mean you have to give up traveling; you’ll just have to do it differently. Consider exploring your state or one nearby—day trips are an easy way to do this. If you do want to save up for a bigger trip, set up an alert in Google Flights for when flight tickets to your destination drop in price. Another way to find cheap flights is to sign up for Going. Formerly known as Scott’s Cheap Flights, Going sends you a free email every day with discount flights you might not find anywhere else. You can also house sit internationally to cut back on room and board. It might take a while, but I think you’ll figure this out.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My spouse (Robin) and I met six years ago. About eight years ago when Robin was mid-20s and their credit score wasn’t as strong as it is now, their parent (Joey) co-signed on an auto loan for a brand new vehicle. Robin diligently made monthly payments and has since paid off the vehicle (and in the time since, they have come a long way in building their credit)! I also have a vehicle (which is 15-plus years old and used for local travel) but it isn’t in great shape, so Robin’s is our reliable, safe, fuel-efficient, primary car. Due to work schedules and other commitments, we currently need two cars.
Robin and I got married about a year ago and we’re still working through the logistics of combining households, though we have shared expenses since we moved in together four years ago. Earlier this year I read a tragically informative article, which has gotten me thinking about our assets a little differently.
Robin’s vehicle is still in both Robin’s and Joey’s names. On paper, I have no claim to it (but have certainly contributed to its upkeep and former loan payments) so if heaven forbid, something terrible were to happen to Robin, the vehicle would be Joey’s. I want to believe there would be no issue with Joey recognizing my day-to-day relationship with the car as the go-to household vehicle, but I know this is not a sure thing. Every year when I renew the car registration and see both Robin and Joey’s names on it, I think about this. Since reading the article, I have a heightened sense of concern.
My spouse is my best friend, the love of my life, and an outstanding partner, and I want to approach this as compassionately as possible. Could you please help me? What’s the best way to initiate the conversation with Robin? How can I best support Robin in bringing it up with Joey? (How should Robin bring this up with Joey?!) Presuming that Joey is supportive of being removed from the car’s ownership, how do we go about that (and adding my name to it, assuming that’s what we decide to do)? Is there anything else we should be considering?
—April Showers Bring May Car Registrations
Dear Car Registrations
It’s best to be prepared for the worst so it’s great that you are acting on this now. A car title is a document that provides legal ownership of the vehicle, which Robin and Joey are both on. To transfer the title over to you, Joey will need to release ownership by signing over the current title. After they have released ownership, you and Robin will need to go to the DMV so that they can then add you to the title as a current owner. Depending on the state where you currently reside, there may be additional documentation or steps needed to transfer the car title. Your state DMV website can provide you with the best information to get this done.
The best way to approach all of this with Robin? The same way you’ve laid out the situation to me here. Pick a time when you both have plenty of time to talk, and approach the topic in a gentle, but clear way. Perhaps you can even use the article you’ve shared as a jumping-off point to get you both thinking about the subject.
And since we’re already talking about transferring assets, it would be helpful to start looking at how you can file a will or trust with Robin, too. You both can easily start by looking into a resource like Trust & Will—an online platform that has experts that can walk you through the process. Or find a trusted lawyer (perhaps ask around for referrals from loved ones) and go from there.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
I feel completely stuck in my career. I’m nearing 30, and I have worked in government and nonprofits since college. I thought this would allow me to do important work that actually helped people. Instead, I find myself sending emails and making reports no one reads, and struggling in consistently difficult work environments. The problem is, whenever I talk about this with others, they tell me to “follow my dreams.”
I don’t have any career dreams. Even if I had all the money and time in the world (because I refuse to put myself into debt again to switch careers), I don’t know what I would do. I tell myself that it should just be a job that I’m lucky to have, and I should focus on making my personal life fulfilling. But feeling useless and aimless for eight hours a day is affecting all parts of my life, and even if I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing of value at the end of the day, I’m still tired and listless. Where can I go from here?
—Quarter Life Crisis
Dear Quarter Life Crisis,
Being unhappy at work does affect other aspects of your life. You’re right, work doesn’t need to be your main source of fulfillment or happiness but it can certainly take a toll on your mental and physical health. Not only can it cause anxiety and depression, but it can also trigger physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue as you describe. So while you may consider yourself lucky to have a job, at the end of the day, this one sounds like it’s not worth it.
If I were considering a career change, first I would take a few career surveys. Taking a survey will get you thinking about careers that match your values and interests. Truity, CareerOneStop, and O*NET are all ones you can take for free. Of course, there are a ton of more options out there, but I’d start here. If the results don’t seem up your alley, it will at least allow you to reflect on what career you could see yourself pursuing. Do some introspection: journal, research, and think about what you do want to get out of your job.
If you do need additional training to go down a new path, there are ways you can receive it either free or at a low cost to you. LinkedIn, Google, Coursera, and Alison all offer free classes and programs. Your local community college might offer courses at a reduced tuition rate compared to a university.
But remember changing career paths does not always mean you need additional training or a certificate. I spent 19 years in the non-profit sector with a dual degree in criminal justice and criminology. Now I write for Slate and just released my first book, Budgeting For Dummies. Your career isn’t linear, so don’t give up hope.
Dear Pay Dirt,
We are about to start applying for student loans for my daughter’s junior and senior years of college. I will be the co-signer, as that is most likely necessary. My credit score is close to 800. When we make an application, I think my credit score takes a hit. If that application is denied, and we have to apply somewhere else, I now have a credit score that is lower than before. I assume that makes it even harder to get a loan on the second attempt. Am I missing something here?
—Confused By Student Loans
Most federal loans do not require a hard inquiry (this is what makes your credit score go down) on your credit when applying. However, hard inquiries are required if you apply for a Direct PLUS loan (the only federal loan where a credit check is needed) or a private student loan, which will make your score go down a few points.
To do the least amount of damage, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if you can apply for federal loans first. If you don’t qualify, make a list of lenders you’re interested in and apply to the one you would like the most. TransUnion also recommends applying for student loans in a shorter amount of time, ideally within a two-week period if you need to seek out different lenders to lessen the hit to your credit score. Good luck!
A year and a half ago, my wife and I quit our jobs after saving to travel the world. It had been our dream since we met, but in the lead-up to travel, her biological clock went off. Six months into our travels, her brother got his girlfriend pregnant, and my wife suddenly realized she wanted children desperately. We bought a house with plenty of room to grow and resettled down. We got pregnant on our first try but lost the pregnancy at eight weeks. It was heartbreaking for us and especially hard on her. It took until that moment for me to realize that this isn’t what I want.