I’m in the Pursuit of Happiness

I’m in the Pursuit of Happiness

Have you ever put off things when you’ve really wanted to do them? How many times have you said, “Oh, maybe next year”? How often have you wished for the financial freedom to live out your dreams?

I can tell you that my answers to those questions are probably not surprising. They may even coincide with yours. If I had a dollar for everything I wish I could’ve done in life, I probably would have had enough money to have done them. I’m not even talking big trips or vacations, but small excursions that someone else may take for granted. One example: Each year I see a list of concerts coming to Pittsburgh, PA and I list out all the ones that I’d love to go to. I check ticket prices, I check sales dates, and I mark my calendar. And do you know how many I go to? I’d say, on average, 1-2 per year. (And that is only because last year and this year I’ve gone to more than usual.)

Here’s another for you. I often get too lazy to see my friends. I rationalize to myself that it will cost too much in gas, plus then we meet somewhere to eat, plus a drink or two, and before you know if I’m crashed on my couch pants-less eating Cheetos and Twizzlers for dinner having canceled on my friends yet again.

Does that ever happen to you?

I hope so, because if I’m the only one that does this, that’s pretty embarrassing. Well, me and Ron White

In any case, I’m going to operate under the assumption that I’m not alone since I know plenty of procrastinators and putter-offers. You don’t have to admit it here, or even to others, but for the sake of your own mental health you must at least admit it to yourself.

We all have different ways of doing this. Some people fill their schedules to the point of bursting until they have a mental breakdown. Others feign being busy so as to rest, watch TV, or Netflix and chill (alone). Still others just ignore problems until they no longer can, which in my opinion is the worst approach to take.

I’ve been guilty of each of these at different times, but at least I know it now. I know that when I put off doing my dishes for the third straight day to watch reruns of “Law & Order” that I’m not being productive. I know that when I wake up earlier than usual and waste that time on Facebook rather than getting ready or taking out the trash that I’m not making good use of my time.

So why do we do this? Why do we procrastinate? I’m guilty of it, obviously, and in many more ways than I mentioned above. But why do we do it?

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One theory I have is that we always assume that we’ll improve our circumstances by next week, next month, or next year. Much like our oft-forgotten and ill-begotten New Year’s Resolutions, we assume we can change our lives without making much effort. I see all the infomercials and ads for “quicker-faster-better” results. Burn fat now! Get rich quick! 22-Day Fix! But does any of this really last?

No, is the short answer.

We have to want to change our lives and ourselves before we actually embark on this journey.

First, we have to WANT to change. Now I don’t mean:

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Or:

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I mean you actually have to define what you want in real terms. It’s too easy to ignore a goal when you have no accountability for it. But if you take the time to lay out a plan, it will seem like you’ve wasted time by giving it up. Rather than joining a gym alone, get yourself a work-out buddy. Instead of promising to read more on weekends, join (or form) a book club. Instead of wishing you were outside, go outside.

The great thing is that we all have our own goals. We all have the right to pursue our dreams the way we want. But in this TV-watching, movie-streaming, Facebook-stalking “modern” world, we have to hold ourselves and each other accountable.

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So now let’s focus on the JOURNEY.

We need to accept that the best things in life are worth working and fighting for. Is it more rewarding to work hard to buy your mother a birthday present or to steal it? Would you rather earn your diploma or cheat your way through school? Is it better to read the entire book or just the CliffsNotes? (On second thought, don’t answer that last question. I’m afraid of your choice…)

When I started college, I assumed I’d graduate in four years like any “normal” student. After all, I was always smart and I did well in school. That didn’t happen for me. After giving up for five years, I went back and reached my dreams. I finished that journey.

And I started a new one. After four years of being in a so-so relationship, I made the very difficult decision to break up and learn what it meant to me an adult in the world. It’s been tough and it’s been wonderful. It’s necessarily had its ups and downs. It’s been a learning experience and I hope it never ceases to be. I have found pieces of me that I never knew existed. I’m still trying to regain pieces of me that I thought were lost forever.

This journey that I’ve embarked on this year has taken many twists and turns and it’s only been a few months. I’ve changed my mind, made decisions over and over again, and changed my mind some more. I’ve angered people, pitied people, been angry, and been pitied. I’ve taken some hits and I’m sure I’ve dished some out. I’ve made some good deals and I’m sure I’ve made some bad ones.

I just know that I am no longer willing to exchange the life I want and the life I lead for the life I could maybe-possibly-someday have. I’m no longer willing to suffer today in hopes that tomorrow is better. This life is a journey, and I’m going to enjoy it until the end.

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The Millennial generation: Entitled or just different?

The Millennial generation: Entitled or just different?

You can hardly peruse Facebook or news sites these days without finding some commentary on Millennials. Some articles insinuate that Gen-Y is entitled and lazy, while others delve a little deeper to look into the challenges many in this generation face.

I recently read an article about how Millennials spend their money titled “Pets, debts and e-cigarettes: how millennials spend their paychecks”. Now I wouldn’t consider myself part of this so-called Me Me Me Generation but according to Wikipedia’s age range I am smack in the middle of it. (Okay, so maybe being born in 1986 puts me about 1/4 of the way in, but I look younger than I am… Right? Right?!?) In case you don’t have time to read the article, here is an overview:

  • A non-scientific case study of six Millennials ranging in age from 23 to 29 was completed to see how they spend their money and how much they earn.
  • Salaries ranged from $0 (one young lady was unemployed) to $130,000 annually, with a median income range of $30,000-$33,000 a year.
  • Each person spent their money in different ways, but both income and spending were self-reported. Their expenses were then broken down into the top five categories.
  • The highest reported expenses were typically rent, food, and student loans, closely followed by things like medications, daycare, and car payments.
  • Of their top expense categories only one person listed hair appointments, one listed cigarettes, two listed gym memberships, and one listed travel.

The question I’m left with after reading this article is:

If we’re spending money on the same things as other generations, why are we being labeled as entitled?

Now let me jump to my own life; if I were to be included in that article, what would my “Top 5” look like?

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Now let’s see how my income stacks up:

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Assuming everyone in the article works an average of 40 hours per week, the average hourly rate would be $21.31. In comparison mine is $20.24. With my second job and working about 65 hours per week, my income per hour drops to $19.55.

It looks like I am right in line with others in my generation. I know there are a few in the higher echelon and many more making less than I am, but for ease let’s just go with the numbers we have here. With the average monthly rent payment of $790 and a mean net income of $2,770.83 per month (if we are all in the 25% tax bracket), this means that Millennials, on average, are spending about 28.5% of their income on rent. Completing the same calculation for student loans, Millennials spend an additional  24% on college debt each month.

When other generations describe Millennials as being lazy or extravagant spenders I get a little riled up. In fact, one of the issues my own parents have when it comes to my spending is that they “don’t know where all my money goes”. Even when I break everything down, showing them my budget, they don’t believe me. It seems like a lot of people from Generation X are wearing the same blinders. After all, they paid rent (or a mortgage) and made much less money than we’re making now. So why can’t we save like they did?

There are a myriad of possible answers to this question, not the least of which is inflation, but I’m not going to get into that right now. What I’d like to focus on is student debt. This 2013 article featured in The Huffington Post goes over some of the numbers haunting Millennials. The most relevant point to me is that the average student loan debt of Millennials graduating with a 4-year degree is around $26,600. The article points out:

This can be contrasted to 1993, when less than half of students graduated with debt, and those who did had an average of $9,350 in loans. Maybe we are just bad with our money?

This writer echoes what I’ve heard so many Baby Boomers say: “You’re just bad with your money.” I think all Millennials everywhere throw our hands up and retort right back with me: “Fuck off.” Because it’s not just the fact that we have student loans. It’s the inflation of the cost of a college education that’s really killing us.

I started college in 2004; the tuition there at that time was about $34,000. The tuition at that same school today, 12 years after I started, is just under $55,000. The same education now costs 62% than it did when I started college.

You read that correctly – 62% percent.

In comparison, let’s look at U.S. inflation over the same period of time:

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Calculated by http://www.usinflationcalculator.com

 

I’ll just come right out and say it. $42,700 is nowhere near $55,000, and 25.5% is nowhere near 61%.

So the added burden of student loan payments, is it any wonder why Millennials can’t save for a mortgage, pay for a new car with hard-earned cash, or deposit more into their 401k each month?

I think this is part of the reason people my age (or younger) get excited when they hear me talk about buying a Tiny House. They struggle with the same financial burdens that I do. Even if they can’t see themselves living in a Tiny House, it inspires them to think outside the box in terms of living situations and expenses. The people that balk at this idea are primarily members of older generations who do not understand the weight that is student loan debt.

We can’t buy huge houses then pay them off in 10 years (like you did) because we’re paying the amount of your mortgage in student loan debt every month.

I can’t keep banging my head against the wall to conform to what one group of people thinks of as “normal”. My circumstances are different than yours were at my age. My priorities, therefore, must be different.

It’s time for our parents and grandparents to look at us in a new light. It’s time for Generation X to give Generation Y a little break. It’s time for us to look at our futures differently. Because we are different. And like you taught us Mom and Dad,  different just ain’t so bad.

Let us become the swans you always said we could be.

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It was all going well until…

It was all going well until…

..there were some major setbacks this weekend.

Most importantly, my builder had some unexpected things come up and he was not able to deliver my THOW shell on Sunday. We are rescheduled for this coming weekend, on Easter Sunday to be exact. And that turned out to be all well and good considering what happened Saturday night…

As most of you know I have been working two jobs since November to try to save for my Tiny House. As some of you know, I have been working 70-80 hours/week to save as much as possible before the THOW arrives. As a few of you know, 80 hours/week is my cut-off for losing my mind. I need at least one day off a week to rest and recoup.

There was no resting or recouping this Sunday. Only anger, a sense of betrayal, and the ensuing depression.

My car was broken into at some point Saturday night. All of my tips from Friday were stolen. The money was hidden in my car as I was going to deposit it that night after work. I checked it between 4:00-5:00PM when there was a slight lull in my shift.

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When I came out after midnight (after having been there since 9:30AM), I went in my car to change my shirt and have one post-shift drink. That’s when I noticed the glass in the back of my car. Nothing else was stolen even though my purse was in my car. All of my debit cards, credit cards, and keys were still there. The only thing missing was my cash.

We called the police and they say they’re going to pull the camera footage from neighboring businesses. They say they’re going to look for this guy. They say with any luck they’ll find something in the footage. They say, they say, they say. I’ve had my car broken into before. I know how this works. I’m out the money the thief stole as well as the money to fix the broken window. The person won’t get caught and, since I think it someone I work with at the restaurant, I have to either quit or feel uncomfortable for the rest of my time there.

Now I usually work Monday thru Friday (8:00-4:30) at my day job. I then work Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights and all day Saturday. I have one bank account where my main job’s paycheck is deposited and another just for my tips and other income. This helps me to keep things straight and not spend what I’m making at either job.

As of Thursday when I updated my budget, I only needed about $65 to hit my income goal for the restaurant this month. Then I made $315 on Friday night, which is a very large amount of money for 7 hours or so of work. One of my regulars gave me a very generous tip for which I was beyond grateful, and all because he sees me working hard and wants to help me achieve my goals. He tells me this every time he sees me. It is encouraging.

Not only has this thief robbed me, but he has robbed others of their good intentions toward me and my life. He has robbed me of my sense of security and made me more than a little vexed with my car. He’s robbed me of the $315 in hard-earned tips and the $300+ it will cost to fix the window he broke.

For the record, if you ever have to break into your SUV, the vent window is the most expensive window to break. This isn’t a picture of my car but another one similar to it, and I’ve circled the vent window in red:

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Even though it is the smallest window, it is permanent and considered part of the door, so it must be sealed differently. For my SUV with the privacy tint, I got quotes ranging from $305-$499 for this window alone. Never break this window if you can avoid it.

Now I’ve said before that I don’t want to ask anyone for money for my Tiny House project because I am fully capable of doing this alone. I can work hard for this and wear my body out every week until I have everything paid for. I can do whatever it takes. But this was such a blow, both mentally and financially.

For this reason, I’ve decided for the first time to ask for a little bit of help. I have to write two very big checks in the next week (one for the down payment on my land the other for the remaining balance for my THOW shell) and this $600+ swing is coming at exactly the wrong time. If you can, please considering sending just a few dollars to help me recoup this loss. It would be more appreciated than you know.

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Go to: http://www.gofundme.com/rachelsbrokenjeep to help me recoup my THOW money. Anything is appreciated!

Here is my GoFundMe link. Click here: Bum Thief Broke My Jeep Window fund or go to: https://www.gofundme.com/rachelsbrokenjeep. PLEASE share it as well. I am not asking for more than I lost in this fiasco. Thank you all for your continued love and support.

 

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An extra special thank you to those who have already helped me deal with all of this over the past weekend. Thank you to those who drank with me afterward to numb myself, let me crash with you, taped my window up like surgeons, and continued to text me to make sure I was okay. You are wonderful friends and you know who you are. I won’t embarrass you by calling you out by name, but I owe you more than you know. Thank you.

Do not go gentle into that good night…

Do not go gentle into that good night…

Good afternoon Tiny House enthusiasts! I know I promised I’d post about my research regarding insulation and other super fun things (like drywall), but first I need to put some things down that have been bothering me…

I was asked this weekend who I am writing this blog for. While I am hopeful that my audience will find this to be both amusing and (eventually) informative, I am primarily writing this for myself. I want to be able to remember the decisions I’m making now and why I made them. I want to be able to look back and show things I accomplished and things that deflated me. For this reason, some of my posts will be less about decisions I’m making and more about how I’m feeling or why I’m confused.

Truth be told, I’ve been having a hard time at both of my jobs lately…

The restaurant I work at started (and kept on) messing up my schedule. I was working Monday night, Friday night, and sometimes Saturday and/or Sunday. I’m not even available to work Sundays or Mondays. It was stressing me out quite a bit and for quite a few reasons. First, with the amount of time I’m spending working I need a full day off each Sunday. Having to find someone to come in on what is actually my only day off was stressful, primarily because no one would ever want to work the shift. Second, I have been at this restaurant since the day it opened. I was one of the first three people hired and I didn’t understand why I was being singled out to work on a day I wasn’t available. So I sat down with them, had the conversation, and have been given my preferred schedule. I now work Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, as well as all day Saturday. My knees are killing me but I’ve already made an extra $1600 this month. (And it’s only halfway through the month!)

Now on to my full-time job. (I find it hard to call just one of my jobs “full-time” now since I’m basically working full-time at both jobs, but I digress.) Things are feeling increasingly stifled to me. I work for a private company, but a large one. We recently moved to a new location and the vibe around the office is becoming more and more corporate. There is a lot more micro-managing and a lot less creativity. There is also an awful lot of inter-office pettiness that stresses me out daily and negatively affects my mood. I’m annoyed or upset more often than not these days and it takes all my energy just to get up in the mornings.

I know part of this is my depression but knowing why you feel a certain way doesn’t change that you do feel that way. My new medication takes the edge off the depression like ibuprofen may dull joint pain, but it doesn’t take it away.

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I worry about what will happen when this Tiny House push is over. I know I’ve outlined all of the reasons I’m embarking on this journey, but what happens when it’s all done? I have always been good at pushing through and working toward a goal. What happens when I attain that goal?

Time for a story.

When I started college I was 17 and very smart. I earned several scholarships for writing and academics. I was excited for all that college would bring. I enrolled in interesting classes like one about Marxism and another called “Your Karma Ran Over My Dogma”. It was exhilarating to open my mind up to topics I’d never really heard of, yet alone dared to study. Coming from a close-minded Catholic education, this was really a treat for my mind.

And then it all crashed, and crashed quickly. My depression quickly spun out of control and by my sophomore year I was failing classes. I had to transfer to a larger and less prestigious school, but I did so well there (while living at home with my parents, mind you) that I was convinced I was cured. I even managed to convince my parents of that. I returned to my fancy (see: expensive) college, and promptly ended up back on academic probation. I quit college just one year shy of graduating.

Why am I telling you this sad story? To tell you this better one:

Fast forward five years. I’d never gone back to school and I’d moved around Western PA a lot. I was fed up with my job after two-and-a-half years and ready to move on. When they said they’d pay me unemployment if I quit, I quit that very day. I decided a few weeks later that I’d return to school. And I decided to return to my school. Sure, I could have gone somewhere closer or cheaper or less distinguished, but I wanted to prove to my 17-year-old self that I could do it. I filled out the paperwork, I got my loans, and I returned to class.

My first time around, I’d planned to graduate with both a Psychology and an English degree. Each Professor who knew me way back when told me to take it easy and choose one major and allow the other to become my minor. I didn’t listen. I couldn’t do that. Instead, I took 22 credits during the fall and 23 in the spring. I re-enrolled in classes I had failed or gotten a ‘D’ in, just to pull up my cumulative GPA. When I returned to school, my GPA was a measly 2.3. My goal was to graduate with a 3.0.

After just one year and enough classes to fill at least three semesters, I graduated with both degrees. I made the Dean’s List each semester and my GPA was a 3.0. (Well, it’s technically a 2.97 but we all round up, right? Math, right!?)

So again, why am I telling you this? Because I need to remind anyone who is listening that you can do whatever you put your mind to. And I need to remind myself that I can do it. Despite any craziness at my jobs or with my family or the battle against my inner self, I will not succumb. And neither should you.

It shouldn’t matter who is with you or against you, as long as you are with and for yourself. So long as you keep your own hope alive, you can do anything.

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     – Dylan Thomas

My First Step – Finances

My First Step – Finances

Good evening!

I thought I should take a step back tonight and start at the beginning of my Tiny House journey. Way back to the very beginning, back before I knew what a Tiny House was and before I had this dream. Yes folks, it’s that time. It’s time to talk about money.

So I’ll admit I used to be bad with my finances. One doctor even tried to diagnose me as bipolar because I spent too much money shopping. (Okay, okay – in my defense I was 19 then and had attended a private Catholic school my entire life. I’d always worn uniforms! At 18 or 19 I finally got into clothes and started buying a lot of them. Sue me.) But it went much farther than clothes. I inevitably had student loans (and no degree to show for it), got into super fun credit card debt, and spent tons of money I didn’t have. I even had a car repossessed. I eventually had to move back home with Mom and Dad for a year to get myself back together.

I moved back out of my parents’ house for the final time about 5-6 years ago. I moved in with my (then) boyfriend into a townhouse we could (sort of) afford and started (what I thought would be) the rest of our lives together. I never thought money would be an issue since we were both equally bad with it.

Wrong. So wrong!

Fast forward 3 years: I’d gone back to school and finally received 2 degrees. I was accomplishing goals, was excited for the future, and my credit had risen about 100 points. He… hadn’t done those things. Suffice it to say things ended.

That was almost 3 years ago now. I was left with a $695 per month rent payment for a 3-bedroom house with 2 cats. My gas bill in the winter months often exceeded $300 per month. I had to find roommates… I had to use [shiver] craigslist. (I actually met someone who has become a very good friend this way, but I had to put up with 3 VERY bad roommates to find her.)

While I was straddled with bills (and more bills, and then some more bills) I had to find ways to cut costs. I want to give anyone who reads this my very own “Idiot’s Guide to Eventually Sorting Out What Money You Sort Of Have”. Catchy, eh? So here are my first nuggets of advice:

  • Cut whatever bills you can in whatever ways you can.
    • I couldn’t cancel my Dish subscription, so I called to haggle. Before I called my bill was around $85/month for TV only. With a few phone calls to customer service and a promise not to break my contract for the final year, I got my bill down to $19.10/month. (I get fewer channels but I kept my DVR!)
    • Another idea is to combine your cell phone bill with friends or family members. This saved me about $30/month.
  • Take advantage of special offers through work or online.
    • I get a 20% discount on my cell phone service through my job, but they don’t tell you that when you hire you. You have to ask. Always ask.
    • I use a website called The Penny Hoarder to find ways to save on groceries, dining out, and even credit cards!
  • Save money on things you already do.
    • Do you clip coupons? Subscribing to the paper is often cheaper than paying $2.00 on Sundays.
    • Do you like to eat out? Search for discounts before you go, then decide where to eat. Base these decisions on financial goals, not your growling tummy.
    • Do you like to go on special dates with that special someone? Check out Groupon or LivingSocial for ideas and cheaper ways to go out.
  • Consider getting a second job. Even if it’s one day a week, maybe that keeps you from spending loads on a Friday night and puts $50 in your pocket.
  • For the love of everything Tiny, keep a budget!!!

I’d like to share with you a sample of my budget sheet. I’ve left in some examples for you to see even though I’ve deleted most of the figures. It only takes around 2 minutes each morning to update my budget sheet and check registers. Please note that you can easily adapt this to Microsoft Excel, but I simply like the tediousness of updating it in Microsoft Word; it reminds me how much I hate spending money!

Using this budget sheet or some modified version has helped me pay off credit card debt, get through Christmas in one piece, and save for my Tiny. Hopefully it may help some of you as well!

Budget Worksheet Template