Meanwhile in Our Neighborhood…

As I am writing this post, we have not yet had a confirmed case of COVID-19 in our town. That’s not to say that we have not had all the madness that is accompanying the virus. Schools are closed. Shelves are empty. Traffic is pretty light (except around the shopping centers). Doctor’s offices are rescheduling routine appointments and Walgreen’s keeps calling every other day wanting to switch my mom’s medications to 90-day refills (newsflash Walgreen’s…we already get 90-day refills). And as it usually happens in an emergency/disaster/unusual situation, people almost inadvertently do the opposite of what is recommended – like socialize in public places and hug one another.

You may know from past posts that I’m a magnet for over-sharers in public places. It’s as if I have a sign on me that says, “I’m an excellent listener. Please tell me your life story.” And usually, I don’t mind. It’s how I meet some interesting people and learn some really cool things. It’s how we first learned about our favorite hobby (letterboxing) and how we found the $5 all-you-can-eat salad bar at the diner across town. But, I can’t help but think…if this virus is spread primarily through social contact, why are so many folks talking to and touching each other in the grocery store, the breezeway, the gas station, and even the car wash?? I’ve held conversations with, reluctantly shook hands with, and been hugged by more people this week than on the day of my grandma’s funeral.

My sister says that I’m surely going to die now. But then again, she also fussed at me for not buying toilet paper so I’m not sure I believe her.

Personally, we pay very little attention to the media and rely instead on the facts – what we see for ourselves and what we learn directly from reputable sources (like the CDC and WHO). Sadly that’s not the case for everyone. The media can and does make a meal off of our fears and the sheer reporting of the madness is often what drives the madness itself. This virus (or pandemic, as it’s being called) has disrupted so much for so many (either real or imagined) that I wanted to take a moment to check in and let everyone know that our life has been pretty much normal (aside from the hugging) this week.

We got some good news. The seeds we planted last week are starting to sprout and my interview for the freelance editing position went well. I’m just waiting to hear back from the HR department regarding next steps.

We experienced frustration. We had to go to Walmart, Kroger, Food Lion, Save-a-Lot, and Dollar General to get my mom’s weekly groceries and supplies because of scenes like this:

We also had our share of sadness. Our housing survey took us into a neighborhood that had been almost completely destroyed by the recent tornado. A former co-worker’s husband committed suicide. And a local missing person story that we’ve been following for weeks did not have a happy ending.

We worked. On our housing surveys, our garden plans, and met with a contractor to fix a rotting column on my mom’s front porch.

And we had some fun. My mom took us out the dinner one night. We made a chicken-less pot pie using flour tortillas for the crust on another. We watched TV, read a book, and had a chance to stop by Sprouts to do our kind of bulk shopping – for nuts, seeds, grains, and dried beans.

In short, we got up every day and just went on about the business of living.

I’m not making light of the situation, nor are we burying our heads in the sand when it comes to what’s going on with COVID-19. We are concerned, mostly because we have an elderly family member and one with a congenital heart problem, but concern doesn’t mean we need to panic or buy into the need to panic. We’ve learned over the years that bad things happen every single day. We can’t control that but we can control what we focus our own attention on, and now, as always, we’re choosing to focus ours on just doing what we can to live our best life every day.

Reality Bites the Budget

I want to just take a moment to say thank you to everyone for your kind words and encouragement after last week’s post: The Last Rant You’ll Ever Read Here. It is so uplifting and inspiring to be part of such a great community! We love you all!! 

Well, we made it 162 days without having to dip into our savings to pay the bills. We made it through the holidays, 3 birthdays, a 3-week visit from my aunt, and a weekend getaway. We prepped for garden season, kept our pantry and our gas tank full, and continued to help others along the way. In a way, it feels a bit like a defeat, but I know it’s really not. Our savings was saved for that very purpose – to use for bills when freelancing wasn’t enough; so to go 5 months without touching it, I know that’s not such a bad thing.

When I left my job on September 20th, we had $4423.91 in checking and cash (excluding our savings). Over the past 5 months, we’ve earned $5,139.37 from a number of freelance gigs and side hustles, including our quarterly real estate survey gig.

Sources of Income

Out of that, we’ve paid 6 months of rent, utilities, insurance, and entertainment (which is basically just Netflix these days). The biggest portion of our expenses – rent. I know this is something we need to re-evaluate but I don’t know that that’s going to happen this year.

9/20/19 – 3/1/2020

The remaining $774.28, along with $755 in cash and gift cards we received at the end of 2019, has been what we’ve used for gas, groceries, and miscellaneous spending. That roughly equates to about $300/month.

On paper, everything looks good. I mean, it balances, at least. But in reality, it’s rough to live like this. And that’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say!

When we were experimenting with living on half of our income, I always knew that if push came to shove, we had the other half to fall back on. Now that we have to use all of our income and then some just to cover the bills and basic living expenses, it can be scary at times. Using part of our savings for bills – regardless of whether or not it was saved for that purpose – feels stressful, because I know that once that money is gone, it’s gone.

My mom’s advice – get a real job. I admit, the pressure does get to me and I do consider how much easier life would be if I took her advice. But I don’t want to be someone’s full-time employee again, just because life gets a little hard. So I’m exploring my options.

Last week, I talked about trying to secure one steady freelance gig to boost our income. In 2014, I used a website called Flexjobs to find a similar job. For 8 months, I worked as a freelance editor for a company in California that operates several coupon code sites (like It was a fun 20-hour a week gig that I could do from home (or anywhere). Here’s a picture of me working from my “mobile office” at a campground in Savannah, GA. I loved that gig and was sad to see it end, but thinking about it this week reminded me that where’s there’s one such job, there are sure to be others like it.


So I went back to Flexjobs. While I do recommend this site, I wasn’t able to find anything that I was looking for there this time. Instead, it was while scrolling through Facebook on our mini-vacation that I found my inspiration.

One of the side hustles that we’ve enjoyed over the past few years is mystery shopping. It doesn’t pay the bills (by any stretch of the imagination!) but it does give us a chance to try new restaurants, attractions, and services for free – and get paid to do it. If you’ve ever mystery shopped, you know that the reporting process can be quite extensive at times. The client paying for the shop may expect a lengthy and detailed narrative. While almost anyone can be a shopper, not everyone is a good writer, so mystery shopping companies employ what they call Quality Control Editors. These work-from-home jobs involve checking reports for errors and inconsistencies, correcting grammar, and generally tightening up the narrative to present to the client. This was the job I saw on Facebook. This is the type of job I’ve been applying for all week.

While not all of the positions are freelance, most are very flexible part-time jobs. You aren’t likely to find these jobs on Indeed or other job search engines, but a quick Google search of “mystery shop editor jobs” will show you all you need to know to apply for one. Today, I have an interview with the company that I first saw on Facebook. I have my fingers crossed that it will be a good fit.

I’ve lived the American Dream, with it’s ladder-climbing career path and over-the-top spending for things you never even thought about wanting, much less needing. I’ve also been broke, adding a hot dog to my nightly ramen to mix things up a bit while sorting through a stack of bills to see which one could and would get paid that week. I wouldn’t want to go back to either. Nor do I want to go back to where we were even last year – even though, looking back now, we had it kind of easy. But easy isn’t always good and challenges are what help us to grow as a person, and as a couple.

Our life is in a bit of a transition phase right now as we try to define the role that working for wages will play in it. As with any good experiment, we’re going to try a lot of things that don’t work before we do find the one thing (or combination of things) that does.  There’s a sweet spot out there where work and life really can balance, in the way that we want them to, and I’m hopeful that we can find that sweet spot here in the very near future.