Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Just Your Average Joe?

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So, at the outset, here are today’s stats:

Total black: $513.94 ($500 of which is sitting in a separate checking account for an un-cashed check)
Total red: $227,392.05

Black change: -$8.51 change
Red change: unknown

My bank provides software that shows your net worth, based, of course, on the accounts you link to it.  So, going forward, I’m just going to use that number each day to represent my total debt load.  I must note, however, that that number does not include approximately $8,000 my mother is carrying on a credit card I borrowed.  Add that into the number above and you get closer to the approximately $235k quoted yesterday.  Another point: the total red includes the $40,000 I borrowed from my mother, but since it came from a line of credit taken on her home, the monthly fees and charges added won’t be reflected.  Getting an exact number would require my mother giving me the account numbers, then setting up online banking profiles, and syncing my bank with those other sites.  I’ll broach the subject with her, but for now, we’re just going to use the number provided by my bank’s net worth software.  And, at this rate, what’s a couple thou’ difference anyway, eh?

As for today’s blog.  Well . . . morning has clearly past.  Breakfast and then a telephone call with someone who wasn’t looking for me (odd serendipity, or just plain weird, given that the voice mail came through the day after initiating this blog.  I’ll post more on that  at a later date if it materializes into something.  But why average Joe?  Am I an average Joe?  I suppose a bit of the back-story is need here.

I’m originally from Scranton, PA area.  I guess I’d be the “Other Joe” from Scranton.  Straight blue collar roots.  Both grandmothers were first-generation born Americans.  Both grandfathers came from “the Old Country.”  I guess that made my parents 1/2 first-generation.  My maternal grandmother only finished the sixth grade.  Both parents completed high school.  My mom worked at a factory until retirement; my dad was a janitor until he got injured on the job and went on disability leave, then effectively retired.   They stayed married until my father passed in 2004 from cancer.  My sister and I are both adopted.  She’s four years older.  No other siblings (well, technically, I have some half-siblings somewhere out there through my birth mother, but they don’t really count, especially when I don’t even know their names).  My parents were typical, blue-collar parents.  We went to church once a week.  They almost never went on vacation.  Instead they usually spent their accrued vacation time just relaxing at home and catching up on chores.  When it came to schooling, they advised us to get good grades and go to college.  Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t really recall ever being encouraged to go to college.  They didn’t discourage it, that’s for sure.  But . . . I seem to recall that a B- might have been an OK grade for them.  As were not the gold-standard.  They just wanted us to get a good job.

So far, pretty average, eh?  But I just finished Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, so I’m now conscious of how we spin people’s life stories and can’t stop there.  Sliding a little further away from the “average” mean: both my sister and I went on to college and graduate school: her a BA in History and Spanish, then an MA in Spanish; me a BA in Comparative Literature, then a JD and an MA in Philosophy.  Even a bit further away now: we both lived in Europe for a number of years: her in Spain (study abroad, then just living abroad); me in Poland (in the Peace Corps), then Germany (study abroad), and the Netherlands (for work).  She now teaches Spanish at a private high school in Pennsylvania.  I am unemployed . . . er . . . laid-off.

So, why average?  In many ways the stories of my family and me are, I think, smack dab in the middle of the American experience.  I didn’t grow up rich; I didn’t grow up poor.  But I also didn’t grow up with any business savvy.  And growing up I watched my parents struggle with debt.  The debt load I’m carrying may be much higher than the “average American”–hell, probably higher than the average American household, but sadly it’s not that high for recent professional graduates like doctors or lawyers.

So in many respects, I am your Average Joe.  Blue-collar roots.  Raised in middle America.  Did better than my parents, who did better than their parents.  Pretty normal.  Or perhaps typical would be better?  But I chose average on purpose.  “Average Joe” is a phrase, and also a bit of an internal pun: Joseph is my first name.  Plus “Average Joe” highlights my blue-collar upbringing and contrasts it with white-collar “lawyer” in the blog’s title.   I’m between worlds in a sense, and in that sense can reach and relate to many more Americans with this blog.  But we can’t forget that average is relative, after all.  Mathematically-speaking, it depends on the set of numbers you start with.  Socially speaking, my story may be anything but average compared to a kid from the Bronx or a doctor in West Virginia.

But maybe the best reason for the word can be found in its root:  the word average comes from averay meaning a charge on goods shipped (dictionary.com).  And isn’t this blog all about getting rid of the cost of all those shipped goods: books, clothes, tuition, travel, and the charges added on.

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