Tag Archives: minimum wage

On Being Really Busy

24 Aug

On Monday, I wrote about being busy, and how I wanted to learn how to let myself relax and let some things go.  Having worked five part-time jobs for over a year, this is easier said than done.  However, I think I have taken a huge step in the right direction.

You see, it is a crazy world in which we live.  People do things that we don’t always understand.  They make poor choices (like watching Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo) or they waste their money (like buying knock-off Nutella.  Trust me on this people- stick to the original).  Sometimes they even do very strange things, like offering to hire a 25-year-old blogger to a full-time position that perfectly fits with her masters’ degree.

I mean, really?  Who does this kind of stuff?

Oh wait.  As it turns out, I know someone who does that last thing.  (I know someone who does the first two things as well, but this blog isn’t about me…. wait…)

That’s right.  Someone in a position of authority has extended to me the offer of full-time employment, complete with benefits (yay health insurance!) and a salary that doesn’t have to come from five combined sources!  It also uses my Master’s Degree, which honestly is something I was beginning to think would never happen.  The best part is, this is the same company for which I currently work 35 hours a week.  My job title changes, and my pay structure, but the work itself will largely be an extension of what I currently do, which I enjoy.

As of yesterday, I have accepted this offer.  Starting September 10th, I will be employed full-time.

Yep, that’s about right.

Now, what that means for my other four part-time jobs is a bit unclear.  I’ll still keep three of my part-time jobs for sure- one as a weekly babysitter, one as the Children’s Ministry Director at my church, and one as a freelance writer/ producer of web series (provided we can ever launch said web series).  None of these pay particularly well (and one doesn’t pay at all…), but they are jobs that I can easily do with a full-time job.  Most importantly, they are things that I truly enjoy.

What is most uncertain is my retail sales job.  This is a job that, while insanely frustrating at time, is one that I do enjoy.  It’s also the best paying of my remaining jobs.  What I am hoping is that I can keep this job for a little while longer and just reduce my hours to weekends and maybe one closing shift here and there as needed.

What I expect will happen, however, is that the store will hire or promote someone into my position to cover the hours I can’t work and there won’t be any hours left for me.  I haven’t talked to my manager yet, so I don’t know which way the hammer is going to fall, but I have coworkers who would love more hours and they deserve to have them.  I may very well have to say good-bye to this job, and that terrifies me.

You see, my full-time contract includes a six-month probationary period and as soon as I saw that paragraph, my anxiety-captive mind started racing.   What if I hate this job?  What if they decide they hate me?  What if I can’t do the work?  What if the company gets taken over by Skynet and my position isn’t needed after six months?  I mean, these are legitimate concerns.  I have contingency plans for just about everything, but there is no plan for downsizing due to hostile sentient computer takeover.

We regret to inform you that your services are no longer needed. Please stand by for…… TERMINATION.

But I think the thing that scares me the most is the idea that I won’t be so busy.  I’ve been so busy for so long that I don’t think I know how to not be busy.  I don’t know any reply other than “let me check my schedule and get back to you.”  I don’t know how to make plans more than a week in advance because my schedule has never been steady before.  I don’t know how to prepare for a day that doesn’t have at least four calendar notes.  Essentially, I am Scott in the video below.

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It’s so true.  It’s so sad, but it’s so true.

So there are a lot of things still up in the air right now.  All I know for sure is that come September 10th, things are going to be different.  With luck, they’ll be good different.  In any case, I’m off to develop my Skynet contingency plan.  I’ll see you all on Monday.

Benchmark

2 Jul cookies logo

Today is the six-month anniversary of the blog, which means I’m now at the halfway point in this year-long quest to pay off my undergraduate student loans.

The thing is, it doesn’t feel like halfway.  Partially it feels like I’ve been at this for far longer, and partially it feels like it’s been much shorter.  It all depends on the day (or what shiny object that I can’t afford is in front of me at the moment).

Today is one of the days when it feels much shorter.  That’s probably because I’ve been doing some math, and I haven’t quite made it to the halfway-gone point in my loans.  I’m $487 off my ideal balance of $5,765, or half of the $11,530 balance I started with.

In any case, a midpoint is a cause for both looking back and looking forward.  So, let’s do some review and some forecasting.  The first section is a lot of number stuff.  The second section is a lot of non-number stuff.  Feel free to skip one or the other, depending on your personal opinions on number stuff.

By The Numbers:

  • LOAN
    • Starting balance: $11,530.12.
    • Amount paid, by month
      • January: $250
      • February: $961
      • March: $948
      • April: $1,296
      • May: $1,329
      • June: $1,334
      • Total: $6,118
    • Interest paid, by month
      • January: $307.41 (partially accrued from previous months)
      • February: $110.03 (partially accrued from previous months)
      • March: $42.83
      • April: $46.83
      • May: $48.64
      • June: $28.84
      • Total: $584.58
    • Principal paid, total: $5,533.42
    • Current loan balance: $6,249.03
  • BLOG
    • 26 weeks
    • 56 posts (including this one)
    • 431 followers
    • 6,704 total views
      • 1,230 views on busiest day (posted: Discarded)
      • Average 37 views/day
      • 258 views/week
      • 1,117 views/month
    • 0 Blog Awards or Freshly Pressed mentions, but some of the best and most supportive comments that I’ve ever seen.  The best of these sit in a document on my desktop, just for rereading when times get tough.

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By The Non-Numbers:

It hasn’t always been a easy road this year.  There have been times when I’ve been worried about future employment, stressed out over current employment, freaking out over late paychecks, ranting against the economy, angry with myself, frustrated with internet trolls, beleaguered by writer’s block, paralyzed by fear, consumed by anxiety, physically sick to the point I could not stand, bereft without a computer, slapped with unexpected expenses, and left wondering just for what it’s all been worth.

But there have been good times, too.  I’m learning how to let go of anxiety, plan for contingencies, but live in the moment, make a change in my world view, enjoy social situations more, know when to engage and when to disengage, find inspiration in odd places, be brave, heal, adapt, grow, express my dreams, and how to do all of that while keeping the parts of me that I like.

I know that there may be harder times ahead.  That’s just the nature of part-time employment and variable income (and life with OCD).  I’m still searching for that elusive full-time job, but even that would come with huge life changes.  I’m a big fan of routine, and unpredictability and change scares me.  I’ve come to realize that most people feel that way, however, and the best way around the fear is to talk about it and find support with others.  This blog has helped me do that, and I hope that it continues to be that way over the next six months.

It turns out this blog has been worth $6,118, and a lifetime of self-realization crammed into six months.

Thanks for being here this far.  Let’s see what the rest of the year holds.  It should be interesting.

Contingency Plans

25 Jun

I might be one of the most OCD people you’ll meet.  You won’t see it on the outside.  My office looks like a tornado just blew through it at any given moment.  In fact, I’m writing this from my similarly-decorated bedroom, since my home office currently smells strongly of wood stain (hey, thanks, younger-brother-home-from-college. One word: ventilation).

So no, you may not see the OCD on the surface.  But once you take a peek at my alphabetized and cross-referenced DVD collection, my perfectly alphabetized and lined-up book collection, or how I follow the same steps every morning to get breakfast and start work, you’ll start to see the crazy.  If you know me in real life, perhaps you’ve even seen my attention wander during a conversation.  I’m not ignoring you- there’s just a really interesting sign behind you and I have to mentally rearrange the words and letters so it’s right.  Just give me a sec.  I’m still listening, I swear.

So yes, there’s a certain level of oddity about me.  I’ve come to accept that, and even embrace it at times.  For example, I am prepared for every contingency.  You name it, I’ve got a plan.  I can even prove it.

Contingencies For Which I Have A Viable Plan

Unemployment: No big deal.  I’ve got a diversified portfolio in the job market (I can’t claim credit for that gem of a description.  That comes from one of my church’s elders.  It’s my new favorite phrase.  You may be seeing it a lot).  Working five part-time jobs means I can lose a few and still have money coming in.  Status: prepared.

Financial Emergency: I’m set for two full months of expenses if I’m rendered totally unable to work, four months of expenses if I’m only able to work half my usual hours, and six months of expenses if I stop paying on my student loans (which I can do without penalty until 2015.  That’s an unexpected bonus of paying off loans early).  Emergency Funds are your friend, people.  You should seriously have one.  Status: prepared.

Medical Emergency:  If it’s someone else’s emergency, I’m trained in CPR, first aid, and basic water rescue techniques.  I’ve been working with kids for over a decade, including a stint at a skating rink, so I’ve pretty much seen it all: broken bones, allergic reactions, the odd impalement or two, even a few gnarly head wounds.  If someone else is bleeding, I’ve got it covered.  Now, if it’s my medical emergency, I’ve got health insurance and an emergency fund.  Both kept me from going completely broke after a car accident in 2010, and both kept me from losing a lot of money when I was sick a few months ago.  I’m also pretty cool with the sight of my own blood.  I’ve seen it enough, to which my co-workers can probably attest. (Related- sorry about that, co-workers).  Status: prepared.

Sugar Emergency: My blood sugar can go up and down faster than a Six Flags roller coaster (the really fast kind, not the kiddie coasters, just to be clear).  When it’s down, I’m not always a pleasant person.  As such, I’ve developed a contingency plan: Operation SUGAR (Sweets Under Guise As Required, which kind of makes sense if you don’t think about grammar or syntax too much).  There is a candy store within 100 feet of one of my jobs.  For the others, both offices have hidden candy reserves.  No, I won’t tell you where they are.  Yes, I will probably share.  Status: prepared.

Snuggle Emergency: No, I haven’t been gnawed on by a zombie.  I mean a real snuggle- the kind that doesn’t involve any brain-chewing.  Sometimes, you just need a snuggle.  For those times, I have this:

codename: floppykitty

Status: prepared.

Zombie Emergency: Speaking of zombies, you’ll be relieved to hear that I have a plan for this contingency too.  First, track down my roommate’s two brothers, codenames: Mountain Man and Thanatos (There’s not really any significance behind Thanatos- I just think it’s an awesome code name).  Second, stay behind Mountain Man and Thanatos at all times.  End plan.  Seriously- those two are like every History Channel & Discovery Channel reality show combined.  If the zombies are coming for you, come find me and the boys.  Oh, and bring candy.  Status: prepared beyond belief.

Undead Emergency:  I’ve been watching a lot of training films on this topic, and I believe I’ve developed a fool-proof vampire repellent for each species.  For the brooding Brad Pitt type, you throw a starving yet adorable orphan in their path.  They will become so focused on saving the poor child that you’ll be able to make your escape.  The same principal works for the glittery type, as long as you substitute a brooding teenage girl for the orphan.  As for the maniacal Tom Cruise type, well, you’re pretty much out of luck on that one.  There’s no escape from the maniacal Tom Cruise type of vampire.  Status: prepared, except in the case of Tom Cruise.

Like I said, I have a plan for everything.  Except for Tom Cruise.  But to that I do have to ask: can anyone really have a good contingency plan for Tom Cruise?

Think on that til Thursday, folks.

Letting Go

18 Jun

A strange thing has happened to me.  I realized late last night (or extremely early this morning, to be perfectly correct) that for once in my life, I’m not worried about the future of my employment.

The funny thing is, this is probably a time when I should be most worried about the future of my employment.  I’ve got one job with a contract set to expire soon with no definite word on what will happen next, another job where I’m always just one “I forgot to close the safe last night” mistake away from fired, a third that is also time-limited because the kids insist on continuing to grow up, and a fourth that pays almost literally nothing but brings me a lot of happiness.

Basically, I’ve got one job out of five that promises a steady paycheck indefinitely as long as I don’t majorly screw anything up.  Yet I’m not worried.  And no, I’m not on medication, nor should I be.  (Odd how that mental health pendulum swings both ways, isn’t it?)

I wish I could tell you that I had this great epiphany, or that I got a great piece of advice, or I won the lottery, but honestly, I don’t know what changed.  It just finally clicked that maybe it’s not such a big deal after all, and that I’d be a lot better off not worrying about how things will turn out.

I do have an emergency fund in place that will cover two full months’ of expenses if I were to lose all sources of income at once.  It used to have enough to cover three months, but this year has had some unexpected financial situations (human illnesses, pet illnesses, computer illnesses, I-can’t-properly-balance-my-checkbook illnesses, etc).  It will last longer if I only lose one job, and am able to pick up some of the slack with more hours at another job.  It’s a valuable safety net, and I think that it has a lot to do with my new-found piece of mind.

Note- If you don’t have an emergency fund in place, you really need to get on that.  I’ve had one for three years, and have only needed to live off it once.  I emptied the account out just trying to pay all the unexpected bills over three months following a car accident, but simply knowing that the money was there during that time far exceeded the actual balance of the account.  I’m still trying to rebuild the account up to the recommended full six months of expenses, but that’s going to take a while.  For now, it’s enough to know that I wouldn’t drown in bills immediately.

I don’t have any idea what my employment status will be come the beginning of July.  I’m hoping that it all stays the same, but I may have five jobs, I may have three, or I may even have none.  For right now though, worrying about their life expectancies only makes it harder to focus on the tasks at hand.  If I spend too much time worrying, my performance will slip, and then my concern over losing a job will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So I’m focusing on the tasks at hand right now, not the ones in the future.  I’ve got quite a bit of data to organize today, a couple of kids to remember to pick up from summer camp tomorrow, two freelance articles to write by the end of the week, four lessons to plan by the end of the month, and a script or two to edit at some point in the near future.

I’ve also got to find inspiration for Thursday’s Penny Story blog.

Oh, and I have to remember to pack.  I’m going to New Orleans this week.  Hello Vacation Fund?  I’d like to make a withdrawal please.  Gumbo, bookstores and the French Quarter await!

Counter-Pressure

11 Jun Not sure if the message here is "be ridiculously happy in everything you do," or "take joy in smacking others around," but in any case- I want to be the ball on the far right.

Not sure if the message here is “be ridiculously happy in everything you do,” or “take joy in smacking others around,” but in any case- I want to be the ball on the far right.

I’m a big fan of Newton’s Third Law of Motion.  It’s the one that states that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.  Newton used it to describe motion and kinetic transfer, but I think he may have missed the broader applications of his law.  Sometimes I feel like it should be called Newton’s Third Law of Life, and I think anyone who has ever felt the universe pushing back on them can agree with that statement.

This month, I finally hit my ideal monthly student loan payment of $1,334.  I was so happy, you guys.  It took me six months and a lot of recalculations to do it, but I had finally hit my goal.  It was the largest single payment I’ve ever made on my loans, and I’m telling you- it felt awesome to click YES on that “are you sure this is the right amount?” prompt the loan website flashes before allowing me to submit a payment.

Two days after that payment posted to my bank account, my computer crashed hard.  I talked about this on Friday, as I tried to write a coherent blog post via my phone.  (It turns out, that’s really hard to do.)  When I finally got my computer back, the total was $85 and a grim warning that my hard drive might be in the beginning stages of systematic failure.

*sigh*

It was all right, though.  I have an external hard drive and I back everything up regularly anyway.  I have an emergency fund, and it had $85 in it to cover the repair.  I am out the  roughly $210 paycheck from Thursday and Friday, but I’ll figure out how that affects the budget next month when the check comes in.

What is not all right is that the next day, another unexpected financial cost came up.  I twisted my knee at work while helping a customer search the bottom rack of Wii games for a copy of Mario Power Tennis (and no, the irony of a knee injury while searching for a tennis game is not lost on me.  Neither are the Skyrim-related jokes, such as “I used to be a video game sales person, but then I took a Wii game to the knee.”  Ha.   Ha.   Ha.)

It’s two days later now, and my knee is still a painful mass of useless flesh.  It’s not swollen, but it hurts every time I move it, hurts even more every time I move it in any direction except for straight ahead, and my ankle and foot are in a constant pins-and-needles state.  This makes me think I’ve got a pinched nerve in my knee.

That kind of injury isn’t cheap, people.  I’ve got an appointment with a orthopedist tomorrow, which means specialist rates, and I’m not entirely sure this doc is in my insurance network.  (There’s so much wrong with the US health insurance system, but that’s another post.)  Besides the cost of the doctor, I’m not sure what it will mean for my ability to work.  Two of my jobs allow me to sit at a desk or on a couch, but the other three require a fair amount of physical activity.  I’m already down $210, which is just shy of 10% of my monthly budget.  Missing more days of work means losing a bigger cut.

But there is good news.  As a Newton’s Cradle (i.e.- the thing in the picture above) will demonstrate, the equal action-reaction concept swings both ways (pun totally intended, by the way.)  Just as the universe seems to be pushing against me right now, I can push back.  I’ve got two freelance writing tasks on my plate right now, and I have the rest of the week to try to make up some hours at the consulting job.  Since I’m plainly not going frolicking through the flowers anytime soon, I should have plenty of time to spend typing away at the keyboard in the next few days.

Provided my hard drive doesn’t fail again.

Please, hard drive, don’t fail me now.

The Value Of A Day*

8 Jun

My computer died yesterday (you may have noticed there was no post yesterday.  The two things are not unrelated).

Here’s what happens when my computer breaks down:

1) I stare at it blankly.

2) I cross my fingers/ wish I was a wizard and that yelling “reparo” would actually work.

3) I press and hold the power button.

4) I wait anxiously for the restart, praying it works.

At this point, one of two things happens.

5a) Everything works fine, and I feverishly back-up the hard drive before the computer breaks again.

or

5b) I slump in my chair, defeated once again by a machine.

5b happened this time.

I hate it when 5b happens.

Monday through Friday, from 10 am to 5 pm, I work as a data consultant.  This means I pull data off one website, download more data from another website, and combine all of it into a single document.  It sounds straightforward, but when you’re dealing with two websites and a lot of people with their hands on the data, a lot can go wrong pretty fast.  Overall, it’s interesting work, if sometimes a bit tedious.  The biggest benefit is that I can work from home (ie- pajama pants and fuzzy slippers are totally acceptable).

It’s also an hourly position. As in, I get paid for the hours I work. As in, I don’t get paid for the hours I don’t work.

My computer is dead.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

It’s 1 pm on Friday, and I still haven’t heard from the computer repair shop.  It looks like I’ll be missing another day of work.  I thought I would take the time to explain why missing a day or two of work can be so bad for me.

There’s the obvious financial factor: I miss out on the money.  This is my best-paying job with the most hours, so it makes up the majority of my income.  That means that when I miss hours here, it’s a much bigger impact on my income than at any other job.

Then there’s the work-flow factor.  I’ve been compiling these reports for a year now and I know the process very well- which parts are tricky, which words need to be changed, how to address a website that is being weird, where to find missing data, etc.  When I can’t work, the reports either have to wait, or they get compiled by someone who may not know all the little tricks and solutions.  It slows down the process, and it’s unfair to my coworkers to have to pick up my work on top of their own duties.

But mostly there’s the useless factor.  I spend a lot of time on my computer.  As in, at least 8 hours a day.  I work, I write, I creep through Facebook and Twitter, I read, I watch, I play, I organize, I plan, you get the idea.  When the computer goes down, it not only takes my ability to work the consulting job, it takes my ability to work two other paying jobs, my freelance writing tasks, and my main source of entertainment.  (It also throws off my carefully constructed daily routine, but you all have heard enough about my OCD).

I went to bed last night feeling like the day was wasted.  I didn’t work, and I didn’t do anything I enjoyed.  After dropping my computer off at the repair shop yesterday, I came home and tried to take advantage of the unexpected vacation.  I finished the last few chapters of three books (I don’t usually read multiple books at the same time, but this time the library due dates caught up to me), I returned those books to the library, and I got a new book.  While I love to read, doing so in the middle of the day just felt wrong, and I couldn’t relax into the stories I was reading.  I kept waiting for the repair shop to call, telling me that I could have my computer back.  The call never came, and I never found a new rhythm to the day.  Frustrated, I gave up on the attempt and went to bed early.

So today I’m going to find a way to enjoy this unintentional time off.  I’m going to play a video game, or chase the dog around with my Sphero robotic ball, or teach the rabbit a new trick, or even start reading that new book.  Maybe I’ll go crazy and paint my toenails.  Maybe I’ll go really crazy and paint the dog’s toenails.  Who knows?  Maybe the computer repair shop will call and I’ll get my computer back.

Until then, let me know some ways that you enjoy unexpected time off?  Do you read?  Catch up on a favorite show?  Torment a beloved pet?  Or does it, like me, just totally throw off the rhythm of the day and leave you feeling slightly resentful towards the universe?  Leave me a comment and let me know.  I’ll talk to you all on Monday (provided I have a working computer by then).

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*posted via smartphone after an extremely frustrating hour and a half.

The Worst Things to Say To Someone In Debt, Part II

17 May

Since I started this blog back in January, I’ve gotten a lot of penny advice about my student loan debt.  (Actually, I got a lot of it before I started this blog, but I didn’t bother to write it down.)  Penny advice, for the uninitiated, is any piece of advice that is obvious, unhelpful, or just downright rude.  It comes from people trying to offer their two cents, but what actually comes out of their mouths isn’t worth half of that.

In March, I wrote a post called The Top 10 Worst Things to Say to Someone in Debt.  A lot of people liked it.  Some of them wondered if it was all true (sadly, yes).  Others wondered if it made people stop saying things like that to me (sadly, no).  Still others wondered if I’d ever considered carrying a taser to silence the stupid people (Ok, there may have only been one person wondering that, but part of me felt like they may have been on to something).

The good news is that since people are still offering me terrible advice, I’m still writing it down to share with you.  You’re welcome.  So sit back and enjoy, or sit back and cringe inwardly like I do.  Either one works.

The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Debt, Part II

5. Why don’t you sell some of this stuff?  This is a hold-over from Part I.  It’s still on the list because it is still so commonly asked.  The short answer is, keep your hands off my books.  More diplomatically, I have sold (or tried to sell) the things I don’t use.  The problem is, no one wants to buy CDs from the 90s, and even fewer people want to buy a sibling.  The things that I still own are things that have a higher value to me than their prices.  They are books that I can get lost in over and over, movies that can still cast their spell, CDs with autographs and memories attached, and siblings that for whatever reason just don’t sell.  I’ve got a dozen or so DVDs listed on half.com right now, but the point remains the same.  If I buy something, I plan to use it until it breaks.  I’m not interested in its resale value.

4. Have you tried clipping coupons?  The short answer: yes.  Yes I have.  Coupons are very nice, when I can find them for the products that I use.  I have food allergies, and it’s rare to find sales or discounts on gluten-free foods.  Also, I have an extremely picky rabbit who has demonstrated several times that she would rather be hungry than eat any other type of food than her normal brand.  Naturally, that is the brand that never goes on sale.  So yes, I do hunt for deals and I do take advantage of sales, but I won’t sacrifice my health (or my pet’s health) in order to save 30 cents.

3. What do you want to do with your degree/ what are your goals?  This one isn’t actually unhelpful, but it still bugs me.  Mainly, I want to get out of debt.  Beyond that, I have no idea what I want to do.  Ok, that’s not true.  I do know what I want to do, it’s just hard to admit to it because it has little to nothing to do with my Master’s degree.  I want to write, I want to create things, and I want to be able to use my imagination every day.  When you say things like that to people, they smile politely and say, “Well, that’s nice.  But what do you want to do for a job?”  Convincing people that what I just said IS what I want to do for a job takes a lot of effort, and I usually just cave to the social pressure and say that I’m still trying to figure that out.  Lack of direction seems to be a more acceptable answer than the desire to work in creativity.  Go figure.

2. Isn’t there a better job out there?  Oh, I do love this one, especially when it’s said to me while I’m at work.  Actually, that’s really the only time I do hear this line.  I’m not sure why people feel the need to ask me if I’m looking for other employment when I’m obviously already employed somewhere, but I do wish they’d stop asking me that in front of my boss.  It makes for an awkward conversation later on.  While I’d love a full-time job, the simple answer is that there just aren’t many of those to be had, and even fewer of those in my field of study (or my field of choice).  Besides, I like my jobs.  They let me be silly, nerdy, and/or stay in my pajamas all day.  So no, there really aren’t better jobs out there.

1. Why don’t you go back to school?  The simple answer is because that’s how I got into this mess in the first place.  While being in school does defer my loans, I’m pretty sure that the loan companies would eventually catch on if I just went from degree program to degree program.  And before the inevitable follow-up can be asked, no, there actually aren’t grants out there that I can apply for.  I’m a middle-class white girl with a Master’s degree.  No one wants to give me money so I can go earn another degree.  Those grants are for first-time college attendees and single moms and those with more variety in their genetic backgrounds.  My Scottish/Irish self just does not qualify.  Believe me, I’ve checked.

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So there you have it.  Five more unhelpful things that people say to me regarding my student loan debt.  The good news is that for every bad thing someone has said to me, there are at least a dozen good things that I’ve heard.  Also, I checked my student loan balance this morning, and it’s $7,533.  That’s exactly $4,000 lower than my starting balance of $11,533.  4K paid off in five months- not quite where I had hoped to be, but much further than I would be without the blog.  I’ve found a lot of support through this blog in just five months, and I could not have gotten this far in my quest without each and every one of you.  Thank you.

And look- a pretty graph!  (You all know you wanted to see it.  I know exactly how many of you clicked on the picture of my budget last week.  73).

The colors are nice, but that blue line needs to get its act together pronto.

Inching Closer

14 May Translation: not all those who wander are lost.

Translation: not all those who wander are lost.

This quote has been buzzing around my brain for the last few weeks.  It’s a fairly well-known quote, and it originates from the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien, specifically from a poem known as Strider’s Riddle.  (Yes, I know the quote is in Elvish.  I provided you a translation.  I’m a nerd.  You should have realized that by now.)  I like this line because it reminds me that even though the path ahead of me is not always clear, as long as I’m moving forward, I’m still making progress.  It’s a hopeful line, and if I were to ever get a tattoo, this would probably be it.  On my ankle, to remind me to keep taking that next step, even if the path is dark.  (If my mom is reading this, there are no immediate plans for a tattoo, as my understanding is that they are still done with needles.)

The interesting part is that this is actually the second line of the poem.  The first line reads, “all that is gold does not glitter.”  That’s a powerful line when you think about it.  The converse of the line, “all that glitters is not gold,” is a popular saying that cautions us to not be fooled by false value.  It’s a good lesson, especially in today’s economy.

But Tolkien chose to say the line backwards- “all that is gold does not glitter.”   Suddenly, rather than telling us to not overestimate something’s worth because of its shininess, Tolkien is cautioning us to not underestimate the value of something plain-looking.  To me, that’s an altogether more important lesson in today’s economy.

We (by which I really mean I) can easily get caught up in the glitter of things.  We want the newest iPad, the nicest car, the clearest television, and the most fashionable clothes.  But unless there’s something more to the want, those things can’t bring happiness.  A brand-new computer may come with an impressive logo, but if it was purchased just so everyone else in the coffeehouse would envy it, it’s not going to make you happy.  It may glitter, but it’s not gold.

On the other hand, if you have a dream to write the next great American novel, a plain but functional laptop can be just what you need (and can afford, if you’re a writer).  The other coffeehouse patrons won’t be impressed by it, but you’ll be doing what makes you happy.  It may not glitter, but it’s still gold.

This is the point I’m trying to hold on to- that the purpose of something matters far more than its appearance.  My car might be 5 years old and have a few scratches, but its purpose is to get me (and my passengers) to and from places safely.  My computer might not have the best graphics card for playing video games, but its purpose is to let me express myself (and earn money.  Self-expression comes after 5 pm).  

I do have nice things: I have a nice TV, a nice cell phone (in a nice protective case, because I tend to drop it.  A lot), more books than I can count, and every few months a nice new pair of shoes.  I appreciate all of these things because 1) I saved and purchased them all myself, and 2) they all have a deeper purpose than just being nice things.  They help keep me connected, learning, and/or properly clothed.

So starting today, I’m going to look for the deeper purposes of things before I decide on their value.  In terms of my financial goal this year, that means taking a closer look at the things I spend money on to be sure they’re worth it.  I’ve talked about it before, but my anxiety disorder makes it hard for me to enjoy social activities.  I’m working on it though, and I’ve found two regular events that do make me happy- bowling with coworkers, and art club.  I’m pretty terrible at both, but so far no one has asked me to leave because I’m dragging down the average skill level.  I also went to an outdoor play (Shakespeare’s The Tempest with a steampunk theme) on Saturday night with some friends, and it was a lot of fun.  I’m not looking to become a social butterfly, but not internally wincing every time I have to spend time among people in the real world is a good start.

I’m also going to try to remember to keep moving forward.  Financially, that means not dwelling on the months when I haven’t hit my ideal student loan payment (which so far has been every month).  Last month I fell $16 short of my ideal payment of $1334.  This month, I’m going to be $5 short.  Sometimes every dollar left feels like a million, and every inch like a mile, but I’m still moving forward.  Inch by inch, that mountain of debt is shrinking.

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What quote(s) inspire you to keep trying to live better?  Are they messages of hope, or love, or fearlessness, or something else?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

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And because I know you were all dying to see the first line written in Elvish script:

“All that is gold does not glitter.” An excellent tool to keep in mind when evaluating people. The converse is useful when evaluating sparkly vampires.

Why You Can’t Pay For Me

4 May

I’ve been blessed to have a lot of friends in my life who are willing to pay for things for me.  They’ll cover the cost of a round of bowling, they’ll buy me a smoothie at a coffee shop (that’s not being cheap- I’m allergic to caffeine), some of them will even buy me a ticket to the aquarium (but only if I’m sick and they need me to drive them).  They do these things because we’re friends, and they know that I’ve done/ will do the same things for them.  It’s a give-and-take, and I love that about my friends.

It also drives me up the freakin’ wall.

I don’t like people paying for things for me.  It’s not out of a sense of a “oh-you-shouldn’t-have” politeness, or feeling like I then “owe” someone something, (since I don’t keep track of dollar amounts to make sure it all comes out fair and no one is going to argue that I’m a proper Southern belle).  Instead, it’s more that I feel robbed when someone pays for me.

Let me explain this a bit better.

I work hard for my money.  As in, spending seven days a week, on my feet, sometimes at multiple jobs in a day, work hard for my money.  I’m proud of my paychecks, even when they’re smaller than I would like, because I know that I have earned them.  I have helped someone find a video game, cared for a child, pulled multiple sources of data into a single report, or created something new.  I have dealt with nice people, with worried people, with angry people, and with outright mean people.  I have sweated, cried, and bled over each job. (Literally on all three, actually. But that’s another story).  Each time I get to type a paycheck amount into a line on my budget and see that balance rise, I feel proud of myself.

I also work hard for my budget.  I know, down to the last dollar, where my money is going each month.  I don’t miss bill payment due dates, I don’t overdraft my account, and I’m getting better about not stealing money from other budget line items (using gas money to buy a DVD is totally fine when said DVD is from the gas station convenience store… right?).  Being a good steward of my money is important to me, and on the rare occasions that I succeed, I get to feel proud of myself again.

I do set aside money each month to pay for fun things, like bowling and smoothies, but when that’s gone, it’s gone.  If I want something else, I pick up a few extra babysitting jobs to afford it.  When I am able to purchase something that I’ve worked to earn, whether it’s a new book, new phone, new clothes, or even a vacation, it’s a victory.  I get to feel proud of myself for  third time.  I’ve worked and been patient, and now I get to reap the rewards.

This is me every time Maureen Johnson publishes a new book, Tim Burton makes a new movie, or the Backstreet Boys release a new CD. It’s sad, but true.

So when I tell you that I can’t afford to go to the movies because I’ve spent the entertainment part of my budget this month, and you reply with an offer to pay for my ticket, I know that you are trying to be nice because we’re friends.  You are also implying that my company is worth the roughly $55 cost of a movie ticket these days.  Both of these are cool, and I want you to know that I appreciate them both.  Sometimes I will even take you up on these sorts of offers.

But you’re also taking away my chance to feel proud of myself, and I kind of resent that.  I hate feeling like I haven’t earned something, whether it’s a trip to the movies or a grade on a test.  It bothers me, and the feeling will hang around the back of my mind for ages (OCD- the gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving and giving and giving and…).  Keep in mind that if I turn down your offer, it’s likely more for my own sanity than it is anything else.  And feel free to ask again next week or month.  Chances are, I’ll have saved some money and will be able to go.

(Oh, and while we’re on the subject, “oh, it’s just $8.  You can afford that” is not an acceptable response either.  I just said that I can’t afford it.  I’m (probably) not trying to duck your company, and even if I was, implying that you know how much money is in my pocket better than I do is not the way to get me to agree.  Just wanted to throw that out there.)

I get weird looks all the time about my budget.  My peers think it’s insane that I already have such a strict money policy, people older than me think I’m too young to be worrying about such things, and people younger than me get a scared look in their eyes- like they’re worried they may end up like me.  I don’t know if it makes me independent, crazy, frugal, stingy, sensible, cheap, or just plain weird, but I like my budget.  I can’t always control what happens to me, but I can control what I do with what I get.

And the end of the day (and the month), I’m proud of myself.  While I may not have everything that I want, I know that I have earned the things that I have, and I’d rather have that any day. (Unless we’re talking about a giant ball pit.  You can totally buy one of those for me.  I will not object at all.)

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So how about you?  What do you take pride in?  What makes you feel all warm and fuzzy at the end of the day?  Leave a comment and let me know.

On Obama’s Student Loan Reform

25 Apr

President Obama said something awesome yesterday.  No, I’m not talking about his slow jamming the news on Jimmy Fallon last night, although if you haven’t seen it, click that link and watch.  Whether you like Obama or not- that is a funny video.

I am referring to the fact that President Obama, while speaking to university students yesterday, said “…check this out, all right, I’m the President of the United States—[I] only finished paying off [my] student loans about eight years ago.”

Let’s pause for a moment and do some quick math.

President Obama graduated with his J.D. in 1991 (thanks, Wikipedia).  That’s twenty-one years ago.  He says that he finished paying off his loans eight years ago.  That means our President, who spent 7 years as a State Senator and 3 as a US Senator (and I think we can all agree those are not minimum-wage type jobs), took THIRTEEN YEARS to pay off his student loans.

Thirteen years, people.  That’s a long time to be stuck owing someone money, especially when that someone is a faceless company with an army of lawyers and form letters at their disposal.

Anyway, after I heard President Obama’s speech, I wanted to know how much his student loans had totaled.  As that’s not a sum that Google easily spits out, I did some quick research and came up with some numbers of my own.

  • President Obama spent two years at Harvard Law School.  At roughly $14,500 per semester in 1990, President Obama would have paid $58,000 in tuition.  Add in standard university fees, and President Obama’s Law degree from Harvard in 1991 likely cost about the same as my Public Health degree from Emory in 2011- $60,000.
  • Before that, President Obama spent four years at Columbia University.  In the 1980s, the average yearly tuition at a four-year private school was just over $8,100 (thanks again, Wikipedia).  Since we’re talking about Columbia here, let’s bump that up to an even $9,000 per year.  That’s $36,000 over four years.
  • If President Obama only used loans to pay his tuition and fees at both schools, he would have graduated with a debt total close to $100,000.  Stretched out over 13 years and assuming an average fixed interest rate of 9% (this number comes from here) equals a monthly payment of about $1,089, or a grand total of $169,884.

You know what?  I’m starting to see why President Obama has spent so much time talking about student loan reform.  I’ve only spent two years paying on my student loans, and I talk about them and the need for reform all the time too. (The difference here is that only a few hundred people listen to me.  The similarity is that Congress doesn’t listen to me either.)

The big issue right now is the student loan interest program.  If it expires in July, the average student will pay $1,000 more on their loans in pure interest.  For those who are struggling just to make the minimum payment each month, this could put them dangerously close to defaulting on their loans.  President Obama is urging Congress to not let this program expire.  This is one of those times when even through my congressman can be an elitist … (well, it rhymes with stick), I’m still going to pick up the phone and send an email asking him to vote to extend the program.

Perhaps you could do the same? (Call your congressperson, I mean.  Don’t call mine unless you have to- he’s not a very nice person.)

If you want to know more about the issue, here are some links:

While you all read and discuss, or do whatever it is you do on the internet, I’m going to set a new goal for myself: pay off my student loans faster than the President.

Two years down, eleven to go.

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