I’m a creature of habit. I like patterns. I like getting up at the same time every day, taking a shower every day, going to work every day, going to lunch at the same time every day, and coming home every day. Maybe “like” is not the right word. I need some semblance of structure in my life.
I have to admit, our first couple of furlough days were kind of fun. It’s not often that Susan and I are both off work without the kids. We ran some errands, ate some food, went to the movies, and generally speaking enjoyed the time off. Susan got caught up on her homework and I got caught up on my podcasts. It wasn’t until somewhere around the end of day two that the reality of the situation began to sink in. On either day two or day three (the days really are beginning to run together at this point) Susan put us in “lock down mode.” When we’re in lock down mode I don’t get to buy anything fun and Susan stocks up on groceries and we do a lot of eating at home. You know you’re in lock down mode when you spend $150 at Aldi’s. You also know you’re bored when you look forward to grocery shopping at Aldi’s. One of the few positive side effects of the furlough is that over the past two weeks I’ve lost about 10 pounds — not from a lack of food but from a lack of eating, if that makes sense.
Based on the political climate right now I assumed there would be a furlough, but I did not assume it would last this long. Financially we’ll be okay, but it’s still scary. And when I say we’ll be okay, I mean that we have already looked into borrowing against our thrift savings plan. The vast majority of our savings went into the down payment on this house that we bought the year before last. We’ve been doubling up on car payments and house payments, which is a good way to pay off loans early but not a good way to build up a lot of extra savings. As it stands we can miss one paycheck and still be fine. If we miss two paychecks, that’s when we start talking about things like selling golf carts or motorcycles or cars. Susan has been talking about having another garage sale. I can tell you that if we sold everything in our garage that doesn’t have a motor we could come up with 1/10th of our next house payment.
We have looked into alternative forms of income, the first of which is unemployment. There’s a lot of misinformation out there on this one — first we were told we didn’t qualify, then we were told we would. Once you file and everything goes through it looks like could potentially collect $375 a week. Also depending on the source we have heard that we might have to pay that money back if we receive back pay. I also checked into substitute teaching and it looks like you can make ~$65/day doing that, once you have passed a background check and have been certified, which could take a couple of weeks. I could probably hustle up a computer repair gig or a web development project but the minute we are called back to work I would have to drop it. Susan officially vetoed my plan to charge $20 to people to have dinner with me. I was looking forward to the money and the food.
I mentioned back pay — that is, the government reimbursing us for this time off. The House voted and approved back pay for furloughed employees but the Senate has refused to vote on the subject. Again with the rumors — we will get back pay, we won’t get back pay, we’ll get 50% of our salary… who knows what will end up happening. If I knew for sure that I was going to receive back pay I wouldn’t be as stressed as I am now. I don’t like the idea of getting paid for sitting at home, but I like the idea of missing car and house payments even less. There is an assumption that if and when back pay is approved, we will be called back to work even if we are not getting paid at that time. Everybody assumes that we will receive back pay for this furlough. I can tell you that I was furloughed last year (only for one day) ad I did not receive back pay for that day.
A big source of frustration comes from most people not understanding who is being affected by the furlough. The national news media assumes that only rich, fat cats in Washington D.C. have been sent home. Not true. Even our local newspaper is quick to point out the people at Tinker that have been furloughed but rarely mentions the close to 7,500 people from the FAA that were sent home. 7,500 is a small fraction of 800,000 that doesn’t mean much, unless you’re one of them. My favorite conversation as of late is when people say “well since these people are non-essential, get rid of ‘em!” As an IT employee, being non-essential is no surprise to me. People always tell me I”m non-essential… until something breaks. Then I become very essential, very quickly. My very small group of IT professionals receive dozens if not hundreds of requests each week from help desks, computer specialists, end users, managers, you name it, needing our non-essential services. Each morning I get a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach wondering what has broken since we left and what fires we will have to put out when we return. I am not in a position to divulge everything I am worried about, but suffice it to say that I am worried.
As the furlough continues to drag on the days are running together and dragging on. Last night I recorded two video podcasts, edited a third audio one, wrote some custom PHP code, worked on website, played some games… and looked up and discovered it was 3:45 A.M. The days have turned into minor trips outside the home to maintain our sanity with a light sprinkling to naps throughout the day. Earlier today at the thrift store I picked up a book on how to paint animals on rocks. I wish I were kidding.
That’s another thing. When I’m bored, I tend to shop. That’s a really bad habit to have when you don’t know when your next paycheck is coming. Yes we went to the thrift store today, and yes we had a couple of long island iced teas for lunch yesterday, but for the most part we’re hunkering down. There have been no McDonald’s breakfasts, no dinner buffets, no Star Wars treasure hunts on eBay… none of that. Lots of free activities right now, like reading and writing and possibly painting animals on rocks tomorrow.
Yes the furlough was fun the first couple of days and yes we are trying to make the best use of our time right now as we can. That being said, we just want to go back to work and earn our paychecks.