Counting Costs (Plague, Day 37, April 9, 2020)

Yesterday was a heavy day.

Jonah’s landlord sent him threatening texts about April’s rent. Before this all happened, I was annoyed that we pay $680 per month for half a room in a house that should be condemned. Now that the place is empty and that everybody who lived in a dorm got a refund, I was fuming. I told Jonah not to pay him, until I talked with someone at the university.

The university lady told me that we had no choice. We had to pay the scumbag for April and May. Because he plans on charging the boys $1,000 for last summer’s water bill that resulted from a broken toilet, the boys would probably lose their security deposit, too. Jonah got stuck being the point person for bills, so he had to chase his roommates to Venmo him their share. He might not get that money from all of them. If his roommates don’t get down there and clean out their rooms, they’ll lose the security deposit for sure.

He and the other students at his college aren’t getting refunds for the thousands of college fees for crap like sports and events, all of which have been cancelled.

Some of the higher ed stimulus money should go directly to students.

I’m out about $1,500 for work done on freelance articles that will never run and air tickets for cancelled work events. I’m not pitching stories anymore, because there are only about three or four education angles right now and the full time writers have that covered. Besides, all the topics are depressing. Other journalists that I know are getting furloughed. Instead, I’m putting all my efforts into various entrepreneurial efforts.

Steve’s job is fine, thank god, but there won’t be a year-end bonus, which we use to cover extras like a vacation and home repairs. I haven’t had the heart to look at the 401K plan. There’s no refund on the commuter parking lot by the train station or the monthly train ticket.

I spent money on various online programs for Ian for this week-long school break, just because I needed to keep him busy. He’s starting to act more autistic lately without the routine and socially demanding school environment. We’re going to have to spend big time bucks on private therapists to help me get him back up to speed, once we’re allowed to see other people again.

We are saving money, too. With four people eating three meals a day at home for an entire month, that’s a serious savings. We’re not spending money on gas for the car, trips to museums or movie theaters, girls night’s out at the fancy restaurant, trips to the hair salon and barber. If things keep up, we’ll save more on fall’s college room and board, a summer without a vacation, car repairs, home repairs.

It’s hard to truly assess the financial impact of the pandemic on my family. Some costs can’t be calculated, like Ian’s increasing autism and Jonah’s slow realization that he’s going to be stuck with his parents for a very long time. Some days, the costs outweigh the benefits.

And yet, Steve still has a job. He’s not one of the 10 percent. We’re all healthy.

I went for a very long walk by myself today, which is slowly becoming part of our new normal. I needed that alone time to listen to my podcasts and to regroup.

17 thoughts on “Counting Costs (Plague, Day 37, April 9, 2020)

  1. This week must be angry landlord week. My daughter’s landlord also sent out a message about rent. I had already arranged to pay it automatically every month, so no worries from us. On the other hand, she had never gotten a subletter for the semester and she was supposed to be in Spain, so this would be a good thing except that she is living at her boyfriend’s apartment anyway.

    What’s also weird is that *I* am a landlord. When we moved to this house 7 years ago, we couldn’t sell the old one at anywhere near what we paid for it, so we rented it out to an older retired couple. I haven’t raised the rent once, and they do a lot of routine maintenance themselves and I pay for the bigger stuff (I just had the bathroom renovated; it really needed it). I’ve struggled over how to address the issue of rent. They are on a fixed income, but it’s a reliable one (Social Security and military pension). They haven’t asked for a break, but I wonder if I should offer. They pay $400 more than the mortgage on the house, so I have room to bargain. But they haven’t asked….


    1. This article brings up the ripple effects of cost on different people based on their circumstances and how we share the burden. We have tried to continue to pay our house cleaners — one we pay directly, so we know she’s getting the money. The others are through a service, and we have said we want to continue to pay in the hopes that their workers will get the money. But, if we are the only ones, that won’t be very much money, and we have no way of knowing how the service will allocate our payment, so it’s just a hope and, very potentially money that is not being allocated to those who need it. We’ve also helped a friend out, though, again, is it enough?

      I don’t spend based on our investments, so the investment effects are not directly affecting my anxiety levels except to the extent that they reflect long term changes in the economy. I expect some long term effects but I also believe in the recovery of humanity on the whole (though individual people will feel significant effects and that might require us to rethink safety in our economy).


    2. Wendy said, “They pay $400 more than the mortgage on the house, so I have room to bargain. But they haven’t asked….”

      You’re going to have substantial maintenance costs eventually. Also, you have property taxes.


      1. Property taxes and homeowners’ insurance are rolled into what I call the mortgage. We can usually handle $5000 or so in maintenance every few years. The bathroom reno cost just over $5K.


  2. And, that brings me to whether one should offer on rent if one is renting property — a reliable fixed income, and no request for a break? I guess I wouldn’t offer, though I might check in on the tenant, potentially more generally to see how they are doing. But then, I think landlords provide a necessary service and that one is allowed to charge more than costs.

    You could offer a tenant the money, but you could also donate it to a food bank, or to donate meals for health care workers, or to support someone else with need. You could also save it, in case they need it later, when they can’t pay the rent for a month or two or three.

    I think the people with the most need right now are the ones without a fixed income who have seen that variable income disappear.


    1. Some members of the extended family have rental properties, and at least one has self-financed the mortgage for tenants to become owners. I don’t think that any of my family members absolutely depend on that income for their own well-being, so I have lightly urged giving a break based on the tenants’ circumstances. The last thing that we want is an eviction or a foreclosure sale into a collapsing market.

      But then other landlords are just assholes by preference, disposition and profession.


      1. Doug said, “The last thing that we want is an eviction or a foreclosure sale into a collapsing market.”

        Evictions are halted in a lot of places.


  3. Private school contracts for tuition (K-12, I haven’t looked closely at others) often include, specifically, “pandemic” clauses that require you to pay tuition even if a school has to close for health reasons. I suspect those specific clauses were added because schools are among the first to feel the impact of pandemics. Better than “force majeure” (for the school) because that can invalidate a contract, but probably wouldn’t require you to pay if a service wasn’t provided.

    I’m sympathetic to vendors who want to hold to contracts because I think that’s a way of sharing the pain — say, if you are still paying food hall workers, who should have to take the hit? Or should the food hall workers suffer the consequences?

    I think Harvard and Yale and Princeton and Stanford should have to spend down their endowments (hey, my list just happens to include schools w >20 billion endowments). I think all the billionaires should be taking big cuts (and I keep hearing of more of them).


    1. bj said, “I think Harvard and Yale and Princeton and Stanford should have to spend down their endowments (hey, my list just happens to include schools w >20 billion endowments). I think all the billionaires should be taking big cuts (and I keep hearing of more of them).”

      Those endowments can’t possibly be worth quite as much right now, though…


      1. “Those endowments can’t possibly be worth quite as much right now, though…”

        If the fall of, say, Princeton’s endowment has mirrored the Dow, the university could still run on its 2019–20 budget for more than seven years even if neither the university nor the endowment earns a single penny of income in that period.


    1. I find the Drum analysis misleading — he counters Daco, who said “What this shock is doing is exacerbating preexisting inequality issues across the country” by turning away from the economy to the stimulus bill and comparing the effect only of the bill on two workers who both lost their jobs. The response ignores all the other effects of the crisis including the different likelihood of people loosing their jobs, the difference in health outcomes, . . . In favor of a narrow focus on the bill on two income levels.



    Michigan has banned yard services. This is really goofy, as it’s 100% possible to do yard work with social distancing. Our yard guy bills us by text after he does the lawn. Michigan has had a number of other missteps–like requiring Walmart to cordon off their seeds.

    I was reading a discussion today where somebody pointed out that essential/non-essential is not really how we should be thinking about shutdowns. We should be thinking safe/non-safe. My take on this is that if it’s safe/pretty safe, it should be allowed, but at the same time, some less safe activities have to be allowed just because they are essential/very important (case in point–the grocery store). There are also products (like gardening or athletic stuff) that improve quarantine quality of life and make people more able to cope with their living situation and manage isolation longer. A fair number of people are planning to garden as if their lives depended on it.

    I didn’t keep up with some of the previous discussion (so apologies if this is redundant), but mail order and online orders/curbside pickup aren’t accessible to everybody. There are a lot of grandmas out there who can whip up dozens of homemade masks if they get the materials–but are they up to dealing with an online ordering system? Likewise, if a long-haul trucker needs a new pair of pants or fresh underwear and socks, is online ordering or mail order going to work for him?

    Some ideas for freer but safer shopping (all of which are being done in different places):

    –reserve first hour for elderly/medically vulnerable
    –require face covering indoors in public spaces.
    –masks for cashiers
    –limit the number of shoppers in the store.

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