Back From Vacation, Unexpected Surprises, and Moving Forward!

Wow! I’m finally back from Germany and settling back in. I would go into all the lovely, wonderful details of the vacation, but that isn’t the focus of this blog. The focus of this blog is to get the Hell out of debt! However, one lovely and wonderful detail was a very unexpected surprise that relates to that goal:

For 10 years, I had a bank account opened by my grandmother that was never touched by me nor my parents. She passed away, and somehow this account was overlooked. I went with my mother to the bank to figure out her finances and suddenly the associate turned to me and started discussing my account. I found out I had just over 1,000 euro (1,300 US) just sitting there. I took it out, didn’t spend a dime of it, and when I came back I exchanged it over.

I am most happy to report that I have cleared out my debt to my boyfriend and completely paid off one credit card!

This means my rough $10,000 amount is now down to $7,400! So much happy, so much excite, and it’d be easy to celebrate and go wild! But, that brings us to the next step: the future!

I’m still considering a second, part-time job. I also now am supplementing my income with Fiverr. I have a couple large and/or reoccurring orders through this, but it’s not realistically enough to say it’s a second job. I’m waiting to hear back from the MFA program at the university I work for to begin classes this Fall and, until I do, I can’t make any movement towards a second job (schooling > job). What I can continue to do is snowball my payments on my other debts, and this is what it looks like now:

Debt Amount as of August 11, 2014 Interest Minimum Snowball Total Payment Very Next Step
Paypal – BillMeLater 959.72 19.99% 35 60 95 Under 900
American Eagle – Credit Card 1602.23 48 95 143 Under 1600
Bank of America – Credit Card 4863.52 49 192 241 Under 4850
Total Current Debt 7425.47 132 347
Total Beginning Debt 10,000
Total Current Debt 7425.47
Percentage Debt Free 25.75%

Still working on my budget, as well. It’s a little haphazard because of the trip so, I will be working on that this week and updating here. But, essentially, the lessons learned:

Surprises are nice, but they also make it easy to lose focus. Use that forward momentum to remain charged and motivated to getting out of debt. Don’t lose sight of what’s important or your priorities.

Routines – Good or Bad?

I tend to exist in two pools of thought. One pool is filled with rigor, structure, and routine. The other pool isn’t really a pool at all. It’s a free flowing river that allows for exploration, creativity, and flexibility. The river usually wins and guides my day-to-day.

Most of the resources I draw from talk consistently about habits and routines. It’s very difficult to develop healthy budget and spending habits if you don’t implement a routine because we are, gasp, creatures of habit. However, I have to often sit down and ask myself:

Does my life even have room for routine?

This seems silly, but more importantly, it seems backwards. Typically, after you develop a routine is when you start asking what can fit into your life. I suppose my brain just isn’t hardwired that way and I can’t assume I’m the only one. The challenge is to develop a plan of sorts that allows a flexible schedule but also promotes the development of healthy habits.

Here’s a sneak peak into the upcoming month-ish for me and just how variable things can get:

  • July 25th – August 8th: Germany/Vacation
  • August 16th: Bristol Renaissance Faire
  • August 23rd: Wizard World Chicago
  • August 24th: Distant Worlds Chicago
  • September 12-16th: San Francisco/Vacation
  • September 20th: BYOB Painting Date

This list of events is not including time for:

  • visiting parents (a 3 hour car or train ride, in which I typically stay for a weekend)
  • seeing boyfriend (we average seeing each other 2-3 times/week, but don’t obligate each other to limit or meet that amount)
  • if all goes according to plan, I’ll be starting grad school on September 22nd part-time
  • Full-time job
  • Fiverr/Freelance jobs/(possible part-time job to help pay off debt?)
  • Blogging/Digital Scrapbook Project
  • Personal Writing/Art Projects
  • Time for, you guessed it, Jenn!*

This type of life I live doesn’t have room for a routine. If you have a similar situation, I don’t think the answer is in trying to make all of this smoosh into a routine: it’s simply too restrictive to people like us and no matter how carefully we plan, we’ll be setting ourselves up for failure. Instead, look at your obligations (because, yes, these are what they are). Is there anything you can remove, trim down, or give up (or, really, SHOULD give up)? For me, August 23rd Wizard World is the one thing I could/should give up for a few reasons.

Next, look at what healthy things you want to implement in their stead? I want to implement less spending and more Jenn-time. In getting rid of Wizard World, I’ve eliminated some spending (major spending, really. Conventions are never cheap, folks. You’re look at at least $120 for a day, and that’s without spending any money in the dealer room OR hotel. And can we talk about costume costs? Ugh. My hobbies are expensive). Now, how can I implement more Jenn-time in this hectic lifestyle?

I’ve been feeling a vibration lately. It’s one that is telling me to get off my ass and do the things I keep saying I will one day. This includes yoga and Buddhism. Developing a yoga practice may be too much obligation right now, but I could begin the study of being present and mindful through meditation. Because my evenings are SO vast and variable (I never really know where I’ll end up most nights), the one thing in my routine that is stable is that I wake up in the morning (so far, cough…). The people I surround myself by would be understanding and loving enough to not bother me for a half-hour in the morning after we wake up. But, should it be before I shower? After? Before I eat? After? So many questions that are only answered through trial and error!

TL;DR

You don’t have to give up your freedom and flexibility for a routine:

Step 1. What are your obligations?
Step 2. What can you/should you get rid of?
Step 3. What goes in their stead?
Step 4. Implement and experiment through trial and error until the groove feels right.

 

Does anyone else have any grounding habits they enforce upon themselves in their hectic schedules?

Mid-Month Update!

It’s been a couple days now and I think it’s time for a mid-month update!

Exciting (and not so exciting) things have been popping up all over the place and I’ve been a busy-bee while trying to stay within my budget. On one end, no, I haven’t managed to stay within my budget due to pop-up expenses. On the other end, I did start my Fiverr account and have gotten some good, honest work out of it. In fact, I’ve made enough so far to pay off one monthly bill! That’s HUGE! So, I guess this means I can call myself a freelancer now, too. I’m also learning where my weak points are when it comes to spending (impulse buys for things like video games…).

Fiverr, pop-up expenses, and applying to grad school.. All within 15 days! There may also be plans to start a Twitch.tv account and broadcast my gaming skills (or lack thereof) and I forgot to mention another exciting life event happening this month: I will be leaving for Germany on July 25th and coming back August 8th! Expect a lot of reflective posts during that time period and, of course, photos.

If there’s one thing July has taught me so far, it’s that I can’t sit still for long and I’m not comfortable being immobile. But, this opens opportunity for me to reflect on how much I really do value being still and if I can implement stillness into my life while gaining momentum. Worth thinking about, at the very least.

Aside from celebrating all the good that’s been happening lately, below is my mid-month budget update. As you can see, things are getting a little hectic, but hopefully we’ll see at the end of the month a budget that comes out in the black! Please note, July is a 3 pay-period month. In this way, I almost feel like I’m cheating my budget, but because of travel, I’m so thankful I get paid three times this month!

Projected Actual Notes
Income 1 939 1163.54 Sold lightning outfit, sold books, mom owed me $50
Income 2 908 989.19 With overtime. 80.19 difference
Fiverr 0 20
Total 1847 2152.73
Gas (Fuel) 80 46.81
Groceries 80 115.24
Home Supplies 35 44.82 Included travel items
Laundry 10 10
Pet Supplies 35 64.95
Therapy 100 75
Renter’s Insurance 25 23.24 Paid 6-27
Rent 795 818 Transferred 6-27 & 7-11
Student Loans 50 50 Paid 6-30
Bank of America 49 49 Paid 6-27
Bill Me Later 35 35 Paid 6-27
American Eagle 48 48 Paid 7-11
Util: Gas 70 49.88 Scheduled 7-14
Util: Internet 50 49.9 Paid 7-11
Util: Electric 50 11.78 Scheduled 7-14
Capital One 25 75 Paid 6-27
Auto Insurance 80 79.52 Paid 7-11
Fun 40 40 CASH from previous check mailed from mom – not taken out of check
POP-UP Expense: License Plate Stickers 102 0
POP-UP Expense: College Transcripts 10 10
POP-UP Expense: Ebay Fees 8.7 8.7
POP-UP Expense: Kickstarter 5 5
POP-UP Expense: WildStar 15 14.99 Impulse buy
POP-UP Expense: Parking 1.5 1.5
POP-UP Expense: Demo’s Birthday 10.91 10.91
POP-UP Expense: Lunch at work 5.75 5.75
POP-UP Expense: Grad School Application 75 75
POP-UP Expense: Earbuds with mic 22.92 22.92
Total 1913.78 1840.91
Difference -66.78 311.82
**$300.00 ontop of whatever is leftover goes towards germany

Gift vs Passion

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Let’s be clear, your gift is the thing you do the best with the least amount of effort. Your passion is the activity you have a strong desire for or the thing that gives you the most energy. Just because you are passionate about something, it doesn’t mean that it’s your God-given gift. In other words, it doesn’t mean you’re even good at it.

 -Patrice Washington
Credit: http://realmoneyanswers.com/is-your-passion-enough/

 

It’s about time I take my definition of freedom and really pinpoint what it actually looks like in quantifiable terms. The above graphic I found while browsing LinkedIn one day and, unfortunately, do not have a credit for it. But, remember when I posted about unexpected help/resources and how I was hopeful to incorporate them into my life? Realmoneyanswers.com gave me the above quote to consider. On a personal note, we can replace “God-given” with “X-given” for the sake of my own journey. Combining these two resources, I think I have enough to get started!

That Which You Love (or are curious about)

  • Myself
  • Words/Writing
  • Language/Universal Language
  • Travel

That Which You Are Good At

  • Communication
  • Service/Serving Others
  • Writing

What Which You Can Be Paid For

  • Writing
  • Teaching
  • Service (customer or other support)

That Which The World Needs

  • Communication
  • Teachers
  • Peace/Understanding/Respect

I suppose now would also be a good time to insert that I have decided to continue to work at my current position at a top research institution and MBA school in the USA while taking advantage of my employee tuition-assistance benefit and pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (assuming, of course, I’ll be accepted into the program). This path will take much longer than if I were to quit my job and go to school full-time, but it honors a couple parts within myself:

  1. Safety/Security (financial): quitting my job to go back to school for an MFA does not make me feel very safe/secure, especially financially, as I would be taking on a very large amount of student loan debt.
  2. Establishing myself within a community: I have, for the better part of the last 7 or so years, never fully invested in the places I have lived (and there have been plenty). I am constantly looking for that place that feels like “home” and while Chicago may not fully meet that criteria, it is a great city with amazing opportunities and a vast and colorful writing community. Establishing myself here as a writer/contributor/member is a smart decision.

But, you may ask (everyone does, believe me), how useful is an MFA career-wise? It’s as useful as you want to make it. Referring to the above list of what I love, am good at, can be paid for, and what the world needs… Using an MFA to get certification in ESL/EFL or TESL/TEFL (teaching English as a second or foreign language) wouldn’t be too far off from my purpose. I could be paid to to serve/teach (or even teach globally through services like Peace Corps, meeting the demands of my love for travel) a common language (even though I don’t necessarily think English is the best language to be universal, it is one of the easiest to learn) and be part of the conversation about what we, as a society, miss out on due to language barriers (and we are missing out on a lot; not only do language barriers contribute to war and rage and anger, but also other things like coming up with effective solutions to save our planet while we are still living on it isn’t going to happen unless we can all understand each other). Maybe I’m a dreamer, but that seems like a mighty purpose worth dedicating myself to.

Still, the voice in my head imagines you all questioning the MFA and why it is necessary to this step. Well, I need to appease the writer within me, don’t I? And I do need a background in teaching/teaching practicum to apply for ESL/EFL/TESL/TESFL certification. Two birds, one stone.
TL;DR
To fulfill my definition of freedom, I’m going back to school for my MFA to appease the writer in me and to get my certification to teach English as a second/foreign language.

Unwanted Help – Dealing with Parents

It’s confession time: I’ve lied about my situation to someone. That someone is my mom.

Making excuses or explaining why really does matter. But, a story about how to deal with unwanted help (especially from people like our parents who are so vehemently protective and loving that all they want to do is dig us out of the holes we have dug ourselves into) does matter.

In a conversation about going to graduate school (something my mother does not support), she wanted to know how much debt I had. I didn’t want to lie and tell her I had 0 debt, and I didn’t want to lie and tell her the full amount (partially because I didn’t know the full amount at the time and partially because she would have a stroke at the number). I told her I had $4,000 worth of credit card debt.

Immediately, she is demanding, not asking, that she gives me the money to pay it off. I’m kindly refusing, stating that this is my battle and it is my problem; that I love her and understand why she wants to help, but I don’t need that sort of help from her right now; that she should trust that if I need help, I would come to you. And she is getting angry, very angry, at my refusal to accept her help.

Now, how easy would it be to just say, “Ok, I’ll take the 4 grand!”? Very damn easy. Painfully easy. Too easy. It also opens the door for chastising and negativity in the future when/if I do go to graduate school: “After I dug you out of debt, you’re going to accumulate more!?” and I refuse to put both of us in a situation where she is saying that sentence to me.

A month later, she is still not dropping it. She’s is on Facebook, messaging me about interests rates and numbers and “doing the math”; about how she isn’t mad at me, but mad at the numbers. I spend an hour on Facebook messenger kindly and lovingly declining her offer for help and she will not drop it. Eventually, I had to set a boundary:

Jenn: I love you. I love that you want, so desperately and passionately to help me. It’s part of why everyone loves you, but we can not continue to have this conversation. If I need help, you are the first person I will go to, but I do not need help in this right now. If you continue to talk about it, I will have to stop talking until you talk about something else.

This was the first time I had ever set a mature boundary with either of my parents. And, I had to follow through as she did not let up. It was a small achievement and a good lesson, although heartbreaking.

LESSON LEARNED:

You’re an adult. It is completely in your right and realm to establish boundaries that are loving, honest, and that protect yourself, regardless of who that boundary is established with.

A Rough Sketch

So, I had a few ideas on how to accumulate $10,000 in a year to pay off my consumer debt. 4 to be exact, but they need some fleshing out. Some REAL (or real enough numbers) tagged to them. So, I developed a rough sketch as follows. It didn’t need to be perfect down to the decimal, but it needed to be something to give me an idea

WORK
I have a merit raise, based on performance review, and a possible title promotion (read: more hourly income) to take effect by September. While this may only bump me from $17.20/hour to somewhere closer to $19.00/hour (I’m personally hoping for $20.00), every extra bit helps. I have also been approved to work a full 40 hours/week, instead of the allotted 37.5 hours/week associated with my job description. This is an extra 2.5 hours of time and a half (currently $25.80).

Roughly considering taxes (estimated math, not exact), this gets me an extra $150-$180 per month or $1800-$2160 per year.

SELL
I have two pieces of jewelry to sell: an old engagement ring (estimating value at $450 without appraisal) and an old promise ring (estimating value at $100 without appraisal). Other odds and ends (books, DVDs, electronics, clothes) should total to another $150-$200.

This gives me a rough extra $700-$750 (which would pay off a single credit card)!

SIDE JOB
I have editing/writing/proof reading/design skills that I can market for extra, supplemental income from home. More on this later in this post.

TRANSPORTATION/CAR
1.3 miles from my front door is a FREE shuttle that travels to and from work, dropping me off right infront of my building. There is no excuse to not take it. My city also has a very workable public transit system. There is no excuse to not take it.

The entire idea (and a scary one at that) is to eliminate the need of a car for 2 reasons.

1. Save Financially (duh):
Right now, I spend anywhere from $50-$100 per month in gas and $70-$80 per month on insurance. My city sticker to park on the street costs $100 per year and renewing your license plate stickers costs $101 per year. Oil changes range from $40-$50 every 3 months. I do not have a car payment as the car was a gift at graduation.

At best, I spend $2,000 per year on my car. That isn’t including any repairs, maintenance, tires, or extra road trips, parking, or the inevitable city-living parking tickets (“Wait, does that sign mean 12 noon or 12 midnight?”).

2. Be mindful of your carbon footprint and seek intentional, alternative transportation:
I can take the bus/train/carpool/or ask to borrow someone’s car.

The next natural question that popped into my head was:

What does successful independence from a personal car look like? What would I have to do to prove I could be independent of a vehicle in my current situation.

I decided to define it as:

  • Travel to/from work for free 90% of the time.
    There are roughly 250 working days per year, with consideration of holidays. 90% of that is 225 days of free commuting with 25 days of admitting the use of a personal car (weather, emergencies, etc…).
  • Trips to see my family or personal travel do not need to include using a personal vehicle. I can train home, or I can rent for personal travel.

But then I came to an impasse. What about emergencies? What if there was a family emergency I needed to go home for and I couldn’t rely on Amtrak or I didn’t have the funds to rent a car? This lead me to ask myself, “Do I keep a car for emergencies only?” I allowed myself to sideline this question for now and focus on immediate action: taking free and public transit. I also researched and KBB quoted my car at $7,200 selling independently.

XXXX

OK! That is a lot of numbers and planning! Including the option to sell my car, I’m resting at a nice $11,700 potential. That’s $1,700 over my goal! WHOA!

But… We’re not done yet. What if I don’t sell my car? Or, what if I keep it for emergencies only? At best, then, I’d be saving $600 per year on gas and that brings my total potential down to $3,100 and that simply isn’t good enough.

How much could I potentially earn with a supplemental income? I’m still missing $6,900 towards my goal. I would need to make an extra $575 per month to make up that difference. This is a red flag, but not necessarily impossible with proper planning and implementation.

Giving myself permission to consider selling my car IF I prove to myself, based on the above measurable goals, that I can be successfully independent of a car? A scary, but firm, “Yes!”

Giving myself permission to seek ways to make an extra $575 per month? An even scarier and quieter, “Yes.”