Less Money More Problems
I was going through my inbox when I found an email that stood out to me. I didn’t flag it at the time and I can’t find it/too lazy to look for it now, so I can’t quote it verbatim. To paraphrase what was said,
“You always complain about being broke, but JET teachers make pretty good money for the work they do, don’t they? Why don’t you just suck it up and go back to English teaching, then you can quit whining about being poor.”
I do occasionally mention my money problems, and have even groveled to you all from time to time, so I figure a basic explanation is the least I can do.
I was a JET for 3 years, and yes, JET’s do get paid decently. Many people will say that JET’s are overpaid, and if you look at the work only, it’s very easy to think that. However, when taking into account everything; the fact that the foreign teacher has come halfway across the world to live in a culture radically different from their own, in a place that fundamentally doesn’t accept them, and that since most JET’s end up on rural postings, they will have a giant spotlight on their lives for the duration of their stay…well, I think the salary is appropriate.
At any rate, what little I’d managed to save during my time on JET, I had to use when I moved into my current apartment. Moving costs in Japan are very expensive, to say the least.
Since the JET salary is so good, for the JET who fails to go home and searches for employment in Japan, almost any entry-level job you take on will pay less than JET. While the other English teaching options do pay decently enough, the problem there is that there’s really no room for advancement. Not to mention that for those of us, like me, who don’t want to be teachers for the rest of our lives, continuing to work as a teacher really gives us no marketable skills for when we do want to pursue some other line of work.
I started my now former job in January 2007, about 6 months after my time on JET ended. For the first three months I was on something called a “Trial Period”, where my salary was hourly based and I was basically on part-time wages despite working full-time. The Trial Period is not at all uncommon, as many companies feature it. My wages during this time were less than half of what I made on JET. Factor in that I was now living with my wife (girlfriend at the time) in the heart of the city, and with that salary things were really very tight. The Trial Period only lasted 3 months, but the things I had to do to make ends meet would have a lasting influence past that 3 months.
When I renewed my contract in January of this year, I got a pay increase which helped. My take home pay was still not what it was on JET, and I probably could have gotten more teaching English, but at least it was getting closer. Besides, I was getting a lot of great job experience that would help me in the future, and at this time, I still actually liked my job. As you all know, in December I proposed to the girlfriend, and with the wedding date set for September I started to save up from this time.
Money-wise, things were okay for awhile. Saving up for the wedding meant I had little money for anything else, but as long as I kept things going at the current rate, I should have been able to save enough for the wedding in September. …Should have been.
In July, I was informed that my pay would be cut by $350 for the months of July, August, and September*. Why? Because I wasn’t working hard enough. Was I not working hard enough? Absolutely not! By this time, I was the “English Division Director” (cool title, but really I had little to no power); our English division got everything done in time, we were continually improving our error rate, and I personally adjusted the workload between myself and my two subordinates to make sure that neither of us were too overburdened. I’d been called out for “not working” back around March or April. I tried to argue my case, but my boss was convinced I wasn’t working and despite offering to show him proof otherwise, I could see he wasn’t going to change his mind. Rather than get into a “did so!/did not!” child’s argument, I just took the L and said I’d work harder. I’d thought that was going to be the end of it, but then in July here came the pay reduction thing. Also, at this time, a $150 chunk started to come out of my paycheck for local resident tax, so from July my paycheck became a whole $500 lighter.
Yes, impeccable timing. And yes, my boss did know that I had a wedding coming up in July I could already barely afford.
*Is the pay cut the reason I quit? It does factor in, but its not the only reason, not by a long shot.
Needless to say, losing $500 from my salary threw off my calculations for the wedding. Again, I’m having to pull strings to make things work, and what I’m doing now is going to have a negative effect on the very near future. To make matters worse, I might not actually even get my last (reduced still!) paycheck. About a week after I’d submitted my notice of resignation, the boss handed out some documents – a proof of identity and a written vow to the company or something like that. These were handed out to everyone – its not unusual for a company to ask this of new employees, but none of us had been asked to do it when we first started working and now suddenly we were being asked to hand these documents in. I assumed that, on my way out, I wouldn’t need to submit them, but before my last day my boss reminded me to hand them in, and threatened that I might not get my pay if I didn’t. For the proof of identity, two Japanese co-signers are needed. If you may remember way back when, I said that you will have an easier time getting a Japanese person to take a bullet for you than to co-sign for you. At any rate, I took the documents to my mother-in-law, who looked them over and said that if I handed it in, it would basically give the company the power to blame me for accidents and mishaps for the next 5 years. If I were working there, that’d be one thing, but as a former employee there was no need for me to turn it in. She refused to sign it. I went to workplace counseling and they also advised me that I did not need to submit these documents at all. So I haven’t, but then I got an email reminder from the company to turn these papers in, or else I won’t get paid. Aside from not having anyone to co-sign for me, I don’t want to give this company the power to hold me responsible for things for the next 5 years, so I won’t turn the documents in. I’ve been to the Labor Laws Bureau who told me that withholding my paycheck is illegal. I’ve passed that message along to my former company, but knowing my boss I’d bet my bottom dollar that he will withhold my paycheck anyway, which means that I will probably have to take this fight to the Labor Laws Bureau, again.
Even if I do get my (still reduced!) paycheck, most of it will probably go towards fixing what I’m having to do to pay for the wedding. And now I’m unemployed. Again, not the best timing in the world, but working that job was taking its toll on my physically and spiritually. Even if it paid in gold bullion, it wouldn’t have been worth the price I paid in my personal life.
So…there you have it. That’s why I’m poor. I wish I could say I blew all my cash on booze and high-class whores as I always joke about…but the simple truth is that I don’t get that much to begin with. Right now, my best plan for financial security is looking like Az’s Get Rich Scheme #17: produce a cute little mixed child, and then send him or her off to the entertainment business when old enough, and collect a 35% commission fee. If I get started on the baby making now, I can start seeing the profits in about 14 years or so. Hey, if it worked for Beyonce’s daddy…