I Went To College For This?

Question:

Disclaimer: this is somewhat long, but I value your advice. If you could reply, I would be grateful. I sleep on the floor, on a futon mattress in a small room of a rented house in Orlando because I can’t afford a bed. This past year, I have maxed out my credit card ($2200.00), had my savings account closed, made several late bill payments, some which almost went to collections, and have had several over drafts from my banking account. I wish I could say I mismanaged my money, but frankly, I have no money to manage. I have no money on which to live.

I’ve had over $1,000 in car repairs this past year alone, when my car is only worth $500. I’ve had several moderate-severe medical problems left undressed because I do not have health insurance. For the brief period where I did have health insurance, I expended my savings account for trips to the dentist, optometrist, doctor, and therapist, each time paying $25-$35 co pays. I addressed the medical problems as much as possible until my money ran out.

I am disassociated from my family at only 23 and am supporting myself. I graduated from college in May 2005, magna cum laude, with 2 Bachelor of Arts Degrees and a minor. I have yet to have a job offer inclusive of medical benefits, 401k, with advancement opportunities making over $10/hr. I have sought government assistance, but because I was working 2 jobs paying just over minimum wage, I didn’t qualify for Food Stamps or Medicaid from my interpretation and understanding. Every time I have tried to do a search on government or community assistance, there are pieces left out on how to apply, qualifications, etc. If and when I do reach a human being on the phone, they usually say their services aren’t’ pertinent to my needs, or polices have changed etc. and then give me a different number to call. This is a redundant cycle with no clear conclusion. It is apparent if I worked one job part time I would be getting more government assistance than working hard and being honest.

In order to live, I have determined that my basic needs, including monthly bill payments can be met by earning a net income of $1203/month. This budget includes a meager budget of just $50/week groceries for a single person, gas to and from work, an independent health care plan, and all other necessary bill payments. Excluded from this budget are allowances for any form of social activities such as attending a movie, dining with friends, traveling costs to visit friends, purchases for any luxury items, a membership to a gym, medical tests that need done, medical co-pays, any repairs/maintenance for my car, oh yes, and money to actually place in a savings account. To meet this minimum, I would need a job making a minimum of $8.50/hr working 40hrs a week, assuming the job is secure and hours are regular. Also, I’ve thought about moving to an area with more of a job market, but cannot afford to leave here. I’m trapped.

Finding a job is a full-time job in itself. By definition, yes I could be working “a job,’ but from my experiences this year, minimum wage jobs offer no incentives to stay and many don’t allow schedule conflicts that may result from working a second job. They want full-availability for part-time work.

Two months ago, I landed a job working for a former lawyer who is presently self-employed as a sole proprietor doing career/law admissions counseling. I was considered an employee (the only employee), and received the highest pay thus far of $12/hr. However, health care was not provided. For this time I served as the sole office administrator/personal assistant.

During the interview my employer mentioned the wonderful advancement opportunities, possibly health care down the road, as her company was then merging with another company. While the merger never happened due to legal issues, I felt confident I finally had a secure job. However, today, I was terminated. When my boyfriend dropped me off at her house today ( she works from home) because my car was in the shop, she came running outside flailing her arms as I began to get out of the car. She told me she had re-thought the position, and effective immediately it would be going to part-time. She said she “knew I was looking for something full-time and didn’t know if I would still be interested.’ She gave me the day off to re-think the offer. I called her tonight to accept the part-time position, and she appeared shocked. She tried to convince me I wanted a full time position and this one wasn’t for me. I expressed that I still needed to make an income in the interim and would be willing to work the part-time hours. She then said, “Well, it would only be 1-2 hours a day’ and “was re-thinking if the position still needed to exist at all because much of the filing is now going to web-based applications.’ A long drawn out conversation occurred and I flat out asked her if I was considered employed or unemployed. She avoided the question. I nearly demanded an answer, as I’d need to file for unemployment ASAP. She finally deemed me as unemployed.

I know this is long, and will try to in-brief the rest of my concerns. Basically, I was never trained. The woman changed her mind on her ways of doing things on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis, but I withstood it all. I did everything asked to the best of my ability in the amount of time given to work. I even walked her dogs 2xs a day and ran several errands for her. The problems began when I started asking questions about the business accounting she had delegated me. Being that I had very minimal and basic instructions I poked around the IRS website to make sure I was doing this correctly. I had asked her several questions about the software program I was using and tax laws for her business, several of which she was unable to answer or told me to “look up.’ The person there before me left an “associate book’ of instructions, which proved somewhat helpful, but not completely. This occurred several times throughout the course of my time there, and although frustrated, I needed to pay my bills.

On the occasion I made a mistake, I was honest and pointed it to her immediately. The breaking point came when she asked her husband to fix a minor date error on invoices. She would not have noticed the error if I had not pointed it out in the first place, but I wanted to be honest. Her husband came into the room and dropped the *F bomb several times (at the computer) but was talking in a tone that demeaned my intelligence and competence. He is also a bigwig lawyer. Two days later the position had been cut and I lost my job. This woman does career counseling for a living and cut off my funds with no notice. She makes $240/hr and I’m assuming has no idea what it is like to work a minimum wage job, or even look for a job given my time around her. She has no idea there are people who struggle for years to make ends meat. She has no relational skills.

How can I start over? Where do I look and how can I land a job with a salary? I am hardworking, honest, punctual, and competent. I enjoy learning and given the opportunity with the right kind of company, I believe I could make a significant contribution. Help? Thanks in advance.

Signed,

A Serf


Answer:

DearĀ A Serf:

You certainly have had it rough. Have you ever considered looking inside yourself to see what talents you may have that will allow you to make money without ever having to answer again to a boss? I was once in a very similar position, decided to change careers at 40, get my law degree and then open my own practice. Yes, it was very scary, but I was determined to never be someone’s “wage slave” ever again.

It’s amazing what we have inside that we don’t even realize. I made tons more money than I ever did working for someone else (after all, you’re only making money for them.) What services could you offer, could you assist people who’d like to sell on Ebay–becoming an EBay “reseller” for a commission, offering secretarial services to attorneys from your own home and being paid an hourly rate? I have a paralegal friend who’s become wildly successful and in demand for these services. Another opened her own nail service and the same thing happened. Do you like cooking, or even cleaning to make money for yourself? Search inside yourself and determine what talents you may have and capitalize on them.

Desperate times take desperate measures, but you may find yourself becoming more fulfilled and happy and financially successful than you ever imagined. If it worked for me and my friends, I know it can work for you, too. Best of luck. Self-interest sometimes can be found in thinking about what you might do for others–even for profit.

Bonnie Jordan