One Week 2020 Resolution Check-In

Welcome to 2020! Welcome to a new year of Enough, but better!

For the first post of the new year (and new decade, woo!) I wanted to touch base with the resolutions I discussed in my last post of 2019. Have I been successful in sticking with these resolutions? 

Resolution #1: Each week, I will create at least one creative/non-personal finance post for Enough, but better in addition to any personal finance posts I make. 

On track, if you count this post.

As I explained in my previous post, one of my goals for the new year is rewiring Enough, but better to further align with its intended purpose–a navel-gazing and, perhaps, narcissistic exploration into my own personal self, interests, and values (although using that kind of language is not in line with goals of self-love, ha ha). Part of that rewiring includes writing one post per week for Enough, but better than is not related to personal finance. 

This blog wasn’t intended to be a personal finance blog. Personal finance and FIRE/FIOR is definitely a huge interest of mine, but it’s not what I want to focus all my time and energy on. And, frankly, I think it makes me obsess too much over money to the detriment of creating a life that I find fulfilling and enjoyable in the moment.

Does this mean I’m giving myself carte blanche to go crazy with spending money on art supplies and exotic vacations? No, no it doesn’t. But does this mean I am allowing myself to actually get supplies to paint if I fucking want to, because it brings me joy? Yes.

Channeling some Bob Ross energy.

Besides, what’s the point of retiring early if you don’t know what to do with all your free time? 

Resolution #2: I will get off the internet by 7:30 pm every night. 

On track.

I anticipated this being one of the harder resolutions to stick to–and I was right.

Especially since it’s winter and the days remain dark and cold (and yes, even though I live in California, I am constantly cold), I’ve made a habit of coming home, crawling under the many covers of my bed, and binging YouTube videos until I grow too hungry to ignore my stomach. Then I cook and sit my sorry self right back on the couch. No more, I say!

I just can’t anymore.

So far, the hardest night to stick to this resolution was last Friday, when I came home from the gym. On work days when I go to the gym, I usually don’t get home until around 6:45 pm or 7:00 pm. Since I currently live alone, I like to watch shows or YouTube videos while I cook and eat. On Friday, I had barely finished eating at 7:30 pm. Without this resolution, I would have sat and watched for another half hour or so before getting on with my evening. 

Gym nights are going to be tough.

HOWEVER…

…I’ve been really pleased with what I’ve been able to accomplish by forcing myself to abide by this rule. By essentially giving myself an extra two hours or so each evening, I’ve been able to spend more time setting myself up for success in the morning. I pick out my outfit for the next day (which leads to me looking a little more put together at work, also a goal for this year, ha ha). I get my gym bag together so everything is ready for me to grab when I walk out the door in the morning, which means I actually have my headphones when I want them (hooray!). 

It also gives me time to plan my meals for the next day (which helps with Resolution #4, as you’ll see below). I’ve been making overnight oats for work mornings, so all I have to do is grab breakfast from the fridge, and that breakfast is actually healthy and well-balanced. I also have time to prepare a healthy lunch, which means more vegetables and delicious prepared meals instead of a hunk of cheese and crackers or whatever weird finger-foods I have lying about my house. 

It also gives me more time to read. I just started re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time in about ten years, and I’m already finished with the first book. (If you needed more proof about how big of a nerd I am, here you go.) I also might have gone a little crazy at the half price book store and bought three books about Buddhism over the weekend, so it’s good that I have more reading time now (cultivating that sense of peace, y’all).

Overall, although this resolution can be difficult to meet (and it is very tempting to watch just one more youtube video), I’m super happy with how it’s providing me with time to optimize the rest of my life.

Resolution #3: I will be active every day.

On track.

As I expected, this resolution is the easiest by far. I was already pretty active in my everyday life before making this resolution; this was just to ensure that I didn’t have any off days. Getting 7500 steps on days that I don’t go to the gym or lift at home can be a little challenging sometimes, depending on my schedule–for instance, on Saturday I ended up just walking in circles around my apartment for twenty minutes to make sure I got my final steps in (if I walk to work, this isn’t a big problem, but I don’t work on Saturdays).

She makes it look so fucking easy. Also, please enjoy the A+ gif quality.

Yesterday, however, was pretty easy–I had a health appointment in the morning and ended up at the hospital earlier than anticipated. I strolled around the perimeter about four times before going in for my apartment, and then I walked to work and back home. Overall, I netted about 11,900 steps without much effort on my part (other than lifting up my feet, that is). 

Resolution #4: I will track my macros at least six days a week and aim to meet my protein goal at least three days a week. 

Mostly on track. 

I love spreadsheets. That should be fairly evident, considering that my hobbies include personal finance and I currently track every grocery item I buy, the date, the price, the store it came from, and whether or not it was on sale. I make budget spreadsheets for fun, for the enjoyment of people at large. Tracking my macros is just another way for me to express my love of spreadsheets (otherwise known as my deep-seated need for control in an uncontrollable world). 

However, focusing on six days a week instead of every day leaves me with the flexibility to have a meal out or eat weird and/or complicated things without feeling like I’m failing at meeting my goal. 

For example, on Saturday I met my best friend for brunch at a place in Berkeley (The Butcher’s Son, a vegan deli and bakery). I had their Fried Chicken Bagelwich, which (WAS DELICIOUS AND) included house-made “fried chicken”, “bacon”, and “cream cheese.” What were the macros for this sandwich? I’m sure someone in the universe knows, but I sure as hell don’t. Could I estimate something similar? Maybe. Would I rather do something else with my time? Yes, 100%. 

If I had a strict track-everything-everyday resolution, I would be miserable, because I would feel stressed out whenever I went out to eat or found my way into a free lunch situation at work. However, by giving myself a day off every week, I can still achieve my goal and track my macros without getting discouraged by complicated meals or turning down invitations for free food (I just love free food). 

The reason I’m only “mostly on track” with this goal is the protein. Part 2 of this resolution is to meet my protein goal three times a week. Calculating my macros to align with my athletic goals has given me a protein goal of 99 grams a day.

I’m a vegetarian who can’t eat eggs or more than a quarter of a cup of beans or tofu (obligatory shout-out to my IBS!), so protein has always been a challenge for me. I didn’t realize how little protein I was actually getting until I started counting my macros. 

Previously, I was averaging around only 40 to 50 grams of protein in a day. This is fine for the average bear, but since I’m working harder at achieving my fitness goals (bouldering V6 indoors* consistently by the end of the year and maybe breaking into V7?), I need more to maximize my performance. Also, I’m incredibly vain, and I would love to have some muscles. 

#spongebobgains

Because of the aforementioned dietary limitations, I’ve been supplementing my meals with pea protein powder. This gives me an extra 30 grams of protein spread throughout my day, which really helps in meeting my goals. 

If I can meet my protein goal today (the last day of the week), I will have met it three times for the week. Huzzah! 

Overall

Overall, I’m doing pretty good. However, it’s only been a week, so it’s a bit early to be clapping myself on the back too much. Some studies suggest that 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February. Let’s check back in then to see how the resolutions are progressing (and if I’ve still managed to break my late night internet addiction, ha ha).

How are your resolutions going? Feel free to share your struggles or successes in the comments!


*Feel free to make fun of me for having indoor climbing goals, but I hate to be cold, so there, ha ha.

My New Year’s Resolutions (and how I’m going to achieve them)

In last week’s post I talked about how to create your New Year’s resolutions in accordance with your goals. Part of this involved creating resolutions that speak to your ‘Whys’–as in, what’s the point of anything? Why are you here? What makes you feel that life has meaning?

My Three Themes

In this week’s post, I’d like to explore three of my ‘Whys’ for the new year. These themes will help guide the resolutions I make to live the best 2020 I can. At the end of the post, I’ll share the resolutions I’ve made for the year and how I intend to keep them. 

Theme #1: Recalibrating Enough, but better

The morphing of Enough, but better from an artistic project of self-exploration to a personal finance blog occurred with my six-part series The Thing About Money. The purpose of that series was for me to explore my complicated relationship with money and how past experiences have affected my view about money and comfort with my personal finances in the present. However, one consequence of that series was getting more involved in the personal finance blog-o-sphere and twitter. I think that surrounding myself with content and creators that focused exclusively on personal finance warped my vision for what this blog was supposed to be.

Me too, Tina.

I don’t want to write exclusively about personal finance. Frankly, I think I obsess over it to an  unhealthy amount, and kind of in opposition of what the original goal of this blog was supposed to be–an exploration of the self and a quest to convince myself that I do, in fact, have intrinsic value. However, while there are some ‘normal’ personal finance bloggers out there, the space is overwhelmingly taken up with people making significantly more money than me (hello, engineers and finance people!). As such, it has become just another arena where I compare myself to others and find myself lacking. 

I realize this still stems from the original problem of a lack of self-worth and has nothing to do with personal finance bloggers, but still.

Personal finance is definitely still an interest of mine, and I still intend to post about it (and probably on a fairly regular basis), but I need to expend more energy on pursuing projects and topics that have more value to me personally (art, literature, fitness, etc.).

Besides, what’s the point in retiring early if I don’t have any hobbies anymore? Which leads us to the next goal…

Theme #2: Creating More than I Consume

Y’all, I spend a lot of time on the dang internet. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially since I live in a cold apartment with no insulation and it gets dark at like 4:30 pm now. 

I find myself coming home, sitting down with a mug of tea at my computer with a blanket thrown across my lap, telling myself that I’ll just watch one YouTube video and then I’ll do… something. Clean. Paint. Start a new embroidery project. And then four hours and the entire catalog of Michelle Khare videos later, I realize I’ve wasted my whole evening and I still have to cook dinner, make my lunch, do the dishes, and take a shower before bed.

The same thing happens in the morning. My alarm goes off, I struggle my way into the kitchen to put on water for coffee, and then I creep back into bed and pull up twitter. Or instagram. Or reddit. Or some other way to waste time and clog up my brain before work. And then, when I get to work, I have to pull up twitter again, as if I would have missed something essential in the hour it took me to get dressed and walk to work. 

All this focus on others and what they are creating and putting into the world is making me forget that I, too, have things to say and projects that should be made.

In August, I completed my first project from Learning to Love You More. In that post, I spoke about my love of art, how I miss making it, and how I thought using the assignments from Learning to Love You More could help me rediscover my creative self. I completed Assignment #51: Describe what to do with your body when you die. And then what did I do after that?

Not a damn thing. 

And that’s something I’m not proud of. It’s just so much easier to go online and view images of other fiber artists whose work I love, to read tweets from people funnier than me, and to watch videos of people doing things I imagine myself doing. 

But what the hell’s the point of living if you’re only doing it vicariously? 

I’m getting up there, too. I know 32 is still young in the grand scheme of things, but I’m starting to feel old. I’m tired. My knees hurt all the time. I simply don’t want to do some of the things I wanted to do when I was younger anymore, because everything sounds so exhausting

That’s why I need to change my attitude and habits now, before it gets too late. I’ve spoken before about my health issues and the desire to achieve FIRE so I can slow down and have more time to live. But I need to start slowing down and living now, as well. 

Theme #3: Focusing on Health, Fitness, and Strength Training 

Previously on this blog, I mentioned that one of the reasons I am pursuing FIRE/FIOR is because of my health. This year, I was diagnosed with IBS. The fun thing about an IBS diagnosis is that it’s essentially the doctor saying “Yes, you’re right, there is something wrong with your digestion, but we have no idea what it is.” This has started a really fun exploration of food sensitivities–right now I’m up to not being able to eat eggs, onions, and more than a very small serving of soy, almonds, lentils, and beans (so, not ideal for a vegetarian).

The struggle is very real.

I also don’t have a great relationship with my body (I know, I know–a woman with body issues? How unique!). I’m in my thirties, and my metabolism has started slowing down. I feel more tired than I used to, and I don’t want to. I want to be strong and active, and there are still physical things I want to do–climb V7, complete some really long trail hikes, and maybe even run a marathon. However, I’m not going to be able to do those things (or at least not very easily) without an increased amount of attention to my health and fitness. 

I’ve started tracking my macros and taking my vitamins again, and I have noticed a difference–last Saturday was one of the strongest gym days I’ve had in a long time. However, I want to ensure that I continue to feel this way.

Creating Achievable Resolutions from These Three Themes

As explored last week, resolutions mean nothing if you don’t have a plan about how you’re going to enact them. I took my three themes for the year and created the following resolutions. These take the form of SMART goals (mostly) and, for the most part, quantify my intended results: 

Resolution #1: Each week, I will create at least one creative/non-personal finance post for Enough, but better in addition to any personal finance posts I make. 

As I mentioned in theme #1, I want to get back into my more creative and thoughtful pursuits. By resolving to make one post each week that is not related to personal finance, I am (a) encouraging myself to create more paintings, miniatures, embroidery projects, etc. and (b) increasing the amount of writing I am doing each week. I’d love to get into freelancing eventually, and improving the quality and amount of my writing will help me get there. 

Resolution #2: I will get off the internet by 7:30 pm every night. 

This is a really important resolution for me, as I expressed above. I spend way too much time on the internet, including on twitter as soon as I wake up and on YouTube before bed. I like to watch videos while I cook and eat dinner, so the 7:30 pm time will allow me to continue to do that, even on afternoons I go to the gym. This might not seem like a big deal, but quitting the internet at 7:30 pm will give me about two and a half extra hours each night. That time can be fueled to writing more, making more art, or even just reading a dang book. I also like having time in the evening to make my lunch and pick out my clothes for the following day, but unfortunately sometimes I goof around too much to get those things done. With my 7:30 pm quitting time, I’ll be able to complete those tasks and set myself up for a better tomorrow.  

Resolution #3: I will be active every day.

Every day, no exceptions. However, what I do to be active can differ depending on the day. If I go to the gym? BOOM, active day. If I don’t feel like going to the gym, but do some sets of weights or planks and push-ups at home? ANOTHER ACTIVE DAY. What if my muscles are buckling under the heavy weight of so many gains and I can’t possibly lift another thing? Then 7000 steps counts! 

These penguins know what’s up.

This resolution comes with no exceptions. On a business trip? Well, it’s either take a walk around the airport or try to stay at a hotel with a gym. Not feeling well? Some gentle yoga or stretching can count for those days–anything that gets me out of bed. 

To be honest, I’m not too worried about meeting this resolution. On days I don’t go to the gym and I don’t have to work late, I usually walk, It’s about 25 minutes or a little over 3000 steps each way. So, if I walk to work that day, it’s basically already enough to be an active day. It’s less of a stretch goal, and more of a make-sure-I’m-not-too-lazy goal. 

Why not 10,000? The 10,000 steps-per-day was actually popularized during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as part of a marketing campaign for a pedometer. Some studies have shown that the benefits of walking max out after 7500 steps (although this study centered on older women, and I’m about 40 years shy of that category). I’m also not trying to lose weight, so I can walk a little less than someone with a weight loss goal would want to. 

Resolution #4: I will track my macros at least six days a week and aim to meet my protein goal at least three days a week. 

This resolution is more of a continuation of my current habits. For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to track my macros to see if that makes a difference in how I feel at work and at the gym. What I first discovered from tracking my macros is that I was way under the amount of protein I need, especially if my goal is to gain more muscle. I also haven’t been eating enough calories–on days I go climbing, I should aim to eat around 2100 calories. However, I’ve been averaging around 1700 per day. That’s fine for normal days, but when I’m doing a lot of exercise, I need to be fueling my body better.

After I adjusted my diet and started taking my multivitamins again, my climbing performance improved dramatically. I have more stamina now and feel better on the wall. 

How funny, it’s almost like diet and energy levels are related! WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?!

Meeting my protein goal is going to be the hardest part of this resolution. As a vegetarian with all the food intolerances mentioned above, I’ve had to find different ways to force in more protein, including two protein shakes a day and eating my body weight in yogurt. Probiotics, woo!

Isn’t this…. Excessive? 

Some would say that four resolutions is overkill, and that I’m setting myself up for failure. I say that I THRIVE ON STRESSFUL STRUCTURE. 

In actuality, this is probably excessive. However, these are all goals that I think will greatly improve my life and well-being, and some are just continuations of behaviors I’ve already started in the last month. 

Next year I can work on being less Type A, ha ha ha.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? What’s your plan for achieving them? Or have you achieved self-actualization already (and if so, will you tell us how)?

Making Resolutions that Mean Something to You

It’s nearly the end of the year, and this one’s a doozy. The 2010s are coming to an end, and a new decade is dawning. It’s a fresh start; an opportunity to make better, improved versions of ourselves. 

But can we actually achieve these shiny new dreams, these visions of self-actualization that we see in our mind? Absolutely! However, there are a few things we should keep in mind when we’re making our resolutions. 

First, I’d like to reflect on one of my resolutions from last year that was a big fat failure.

A Failed Resolution

One of my resolutions for 2019 was to study more German.

My partner speaks German. Quite well, actually. He’s over in Germany this very instant working, volunteering with a refugee organization, and finishing his second Master’s degree (yes, I’m bragging about him). He’s told me before that it would be great if I spoke German too, so we could tell each other secrets when we’re out and about. 

Additionally, we have several mutual friends who are Austrian, and it would be great if I could also converse with their friends and family whenever we visit. The last time I went to visit these friends in Vienna, one of them had to read the menu out at the restaurant to me to make sure I ordered something vegetarian. At the time, I felt like a little kid depending on their dad to help them navigate the adult world. It wasn’t a great look.

I’m flying out to Munich soon (two days after this post goes up, actually), and I told myself that this time I was going to study and work hard and be able to order my own food like a ‘big kid,’ etc. etc. And guess what?

I still don’t speak German. 

What happened? Well, I studied a bit. But nothing ever seemed to stick.

Frankly, learning languages has never been my forte. It took me an entire summer of four-hour-long classes to scrape together a ‘C’ in French so I could meet the language requirement for getting my ‘BA.’ My high school French teacher mostly told us stories of him being in Vietnam and how one of his daughters was great and the other daughter was a huge disaster. I passed that class with the help of google translate. 

The sentiments of my entire high school French class.

To me, languages in my brain are like water flowing through a sieve. Most of it just goes right on through. Occasionally one word or phrase will inexplicably attach itself to my brain–die katze! der schnee!–but the rest of it just leaves as soon as it arrives*. 

Look at me. I have excuses upon excuses. But what’s the truth? 

The truth is I just don’t care. 

I don’t care about speaking German. Other than my partner and a handful of friends, I don’t know anyone who speaks German. The only type of German I encounter in my work is Middle German, which isn’t what is used now (Modern German). This will be the second time I travel to a German speaking country, and the first time I will be there for more than five days. 

Would speaking German be helpful? Yes. 

Will I be perfectly fine without it? Also yes. 

It takes a huge amount of effort and energy to make a language stick, and frankly, I don’t think the payoff is enough with this particular goal. I’d still like to take a class or something at some point, but the motivation to self-study just isn’t there.

This resolution was bound to fail because I didn’t have a ‘Why.’ 

Finding a ‘Why’

What’s important to you? What type of life do you envision yourself leading?

I’d say the main problem is we haven’t invested enough time thinking about why our resolutions are important to us.

If you didn’t have to worry about financially support yourself, what is the ideal life that you would want to live? 

The answers to these questions can help you figure out your ‘why.’ Those of us in the FIRE/FIOR community may have already thought about this a lot. It’s the reason so many of us are trying to get out of debt and stash money away to become financially independent–we desire a life that aligns with our deepest goals, desires, and beliefs. 

I encourage you to take a long look at your life and pinpoint hobbies or goals that will more closely align your life with the one your heart wishes you could life. 

There are a lot of articles out there that claim early retirement causes early death. However, this seems to be associated with these individuals increasing the amount of time they spend sedentary and decreasing the number of social interactions they have. So, it’s not retirement that kills them, it’s a dearth of hobbies or friends. They don’t have activities or relationships that have significant meaning to them.

What gives you meaning? What makes life worth living? What’s something you always wanted to do? When you find the answers to these questions, you can start forming the basis of your resolutions. 

Supporting Your ‘Why’ with a Plan

Piggy over at Bitches Get Riches wrote a great post two years ago about how she has achieved her resolution every year for the past few years. Her secret? She makes her resolutions SMART goals. For those of you unfamiliar with SMART goals (a staple of corporate and nonprofit growth), these are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. 

If I were to re-imagine my resolution of learning German as a SMART goal, it might look something like this:

“By December 2019, I will have learned 100 German vocabulary words and 20 useful phrases.” 

“Study German” or “Learn German” or “Speak German” don’t really mean anything to me. How can I see progress or stay motivated if I don’t have any concrete indicators? By making a number, I give myself an easy concrete goal to hit. “Speak German” is difficult. Learning languages takes a long time, and making a goal of “Speak German” feels to me like Sisyphus rolling that damn rock up that hill. The task never ends. I will never achieve the goal.

I’ve a very numbers-motivated person. I have about fifteen spreadsheets between my personal finance and fitness hobbies alone, if that gives you any idea of how obsessive I can be with numeric goals. By quantifying my goal, it becomes achievable. 

Quantifying works for me, but may not work for you. Are you more of a visual person? Create a tumblr or pinterest board to help curate images that inspire you to reach your goal. Make a chart or coloring sheet that you can fill in as you accomplish your goals–for example, there are all kinds of free debt-repayment coloring charts online. Print one out and stick it on your fridge to help motivate you to reach your goal. 

Moving Forward

Next week I’ll delve into my personal ‘whys’ and the goals I created that use those ‘whys’ as their framework. 

What are your resolutions for the new year? What are your ‘whys’, and what steps do you plan on taking to achieve them? Please feel free to leave a comment and let us know!

*The only exception to this was Korean. When I lived in South Korea, I picked up enough to get around, go to the dentist, speak with my students, etc. But I lived there for three and a half years, so the exposure rate was pretty damn high, and in my first year and a half only a handful of my coworkers spoke English, so it was basically a do-or-die situation.

The Thing About Money, Part 6: Reflection, or, So now what?

(This is the sixth and final post in a six-post series titled The Thing About Money. Click to read The Thing About Money, Part I.)

The last few weeks have been an exploration of my attitudes toward money (Part I), how they were formed (Part 2), the debt issues I am currently facing (Part 3), my fear of being forced to eat cat food in my old age (Part 4), and how tracking my daily spending helped control my money anxiety (Part 5). So what have I learned about myself over the past few weeks?

  • Wanting money makes me feel like a phoney because…
  • I view money as an evil that just makes people emotional/feel bad because…
  • I grew up in a household where money caused people to be upset.
  • I am afraid that my student debt will never be paid off and…
  • I will be poor in retirement because I don’t have enough saved up but…
  • Tracking all of my spending and income kind of makes me feel better, because the situation is not as dire as it seems.

Whew. 

Those are my truths. So where do we go from here? 

Is life really all about the Benjamins???? Image from pexels.com.

I recently stumbled across the FIRE movement, which, if any of you are into personal finance blogs, you will know as standing for Financial Independence, Retire Early. The idea behind the FIRE movement is that you save as much as possible until you have 25 to 40 times your annual salary worth of assets, and then you can RE — retire early — make your grand exit from the world of your nine-to-five, if you so choose. There are several variations of FIRE — fatFIRE, for instance, is for people who want to retire but still live a life of comparable luxury; leanFIRE is for those looking to retire at a lower income; baristaFI is for those who will supplement their income with a part-time job (usually the plan is to “work part-time in a coffee shop,” hence the name) after retiring from a career; etc. 

What particularly interests me is FIOR–Financial Independence, Optional Retirement. This mindset involves saving enough money so that if you wanted to step away from working, you could; but that doesn’t mean you have to. Some people have a weird vision of FIRE–if you do any type of work at all (blogging, building things, selling art, etc.), you haven’t actually ‘retired,’ and you’re somehow lying about your life experience by claiming about being retired (*insert extreme eye roll here*). To me, being ‘retired’ just means that you aren’t chained to a desk/warehouse/counter and unable to make any life-changing decisions because you fear dying in the street of starvation. 

I would like to FIOR, and I can certainly tell you I wouldn’t just put my feet up, sit on some imaginary porch with a glass of lemonade, and watch the world go by*. What I want from FIOR is the freedom to do whatever the hell I want, whenever the hell I want, and it just so happens that what I want to do involves things like volunteering at causes I care about,  enjoying and preserving nature, working on my art and writing, and spending time with people I love. 

What FIRE, FIOR, and all those other acronyms buy is time. Time to not only make the world a better place by serving others, but also by serving ourselves. For instance, I recently went to a volunteer information session about working at a local adoption center for my region’s humane society. I’ve submitted the application and am waiting to hear back on whether or not I’ll get an interview** for a three-hour-a-week shift. In the past, I’ve volunteered at museums and historic cemeteries–all worthy causes that I care about. If I pursue FIOR, I’ll have more time to dedicate to these causes without having to worry about whether or not I can feed myself. 

I would also have time to increase my relationship with nature and move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. I’ve mentioned previously on this blog about how the earth is dying; I’d like to do my part to prevent that. I love hiking, camping, and rock climbing; I love just being in nature and letting its awe and beauty wash over me. I love breathing and drinking without dying. These things–trees, fresh air, the ocean, birds–are worth conserving. FIOR would give me time (and money, depending on how I budget) to help lessen my own impact on the earth (i.e. growing my own food or having time to go to local farmers’ markets, as opposed to going to a grocery store which has had produce shipped in from elsewhere, wasting fossil fuels; stop purchasing/consuming clothes whose only value is to make myself look ‘presentable’ at a job, etc.) and volunteer for causes that help the earth.  

I would be able to pursue my own artistic interests, many of which I have had to stifle due to a lack of resources–both time and money. This may seem like a selfish reason; however, I’m a firm believer in self-care, especially when it results in the self having a more positive and kinder outlook. If you haven’t discovered already, I can get pretty, uh, wound up, which results in what I view as some not-as-kind-as-I-could-be behavior. Right now, after work, I feel so drained that when I come home, I just end up cooking dinner and watching netflix or youtube until it’s time to pass out and start the next day afresh, repeating the same cycle until the weekend. I feel that I have projects bubbling away inside me, but I don’t have the emotional energy to do anything with them (oh, the joys of working in a service-centered profession…).

And finally, I would have more time to spend with my family. I have a small family–my partner, and my mom and her husband***. Not working would let me spend more time hanging out with and supporting these people whom I love. I would have the freedom to move across the country to wherever my partner wanted to work without worrying about the geographic constraints of my own career; I could visit my mom when she goes to her doctors’ appointments. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life using work as the reason I can’t visit (I can’t get the time off, I can’t afford it, etc.). I know that time is going to run out before I know it, and I want to spend that time with my family. 

There are still some hard truths to swallow. For instance, I struggle with the issue of wanting more money when I know that it causes so many problems in the world. This is what I like to refer to as ‘crust-punk syndrome’–I claim that I want to live ‘outside the system’ of work/general economics, but if I’m investing in ‘evil corporations,’ I am still just as dependent on the system as before, but in a different way. Doesn’t this just make me a hypocrite? Is it better to be a hypocrite that can support herself than a hypocrite who relies on the support of others? Is the only effective way to change the system to work from within–for example, investing in ethical companies whenever possible and not spending my consumer dollars on fast fashion and gas guzzlers? Does taking the money I make off of them and using it for good cancel out how it was created in the first place? 

What this all boils down to is the existential dread of living an inauthentic life. I work anywhere from eight to ten hours a day in a traditional job that, while providing essential services to those we work with, also perpetuates a highly inefficient work culture. There’s a lack of innovation and challenging of the status quo in ways that could radically alter how we disseminate our services. Additionally, without being too specific, I am working for an institution that doesn’t reflect my personal values. There are ‘values’ that this organization claims to have, but there are a lot of different viewpoints and incidents that have happened in this climate that I don’t feel reflect my own ideas of what is ‘right’ or ‘just’ (although, to be fair, it’s certainly nothing like, say, an oil company or hedge fund). This, combined with the negative health effects of working a job that is heavily cubical-based, makes me desirous of a bit more freedom, including the opportunity to be able to work part-time in this field****. 

I still have a lot of unanswered questions. Perhaps it’s just my family-ingrained Catholic guilt speaking up; perhaps it’s a fear of being exposed as some sort of fraud. I don’t know, and I don’t know if I ever will know. But what I do know is that money would give me the time and resources to work on projects I care about and would give me the option of not working those that I don’t

So I guess the budget’s worth it. 

* But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and if that’s your dream, more power to you. I just know I would go bonkers with restlessness. 

** This particular organization gets a high level of volunteer interest, so the application process is pretty… intense. 

*** I have a brother and grandparents and aunts and uncles and a biological father and an ex-stepdad as well, but with all of those people, things are… complicated, and I haven’t spoken to any of them in years.

**** I actually quite like the job itself and the field I am working in; it’s just the incessant bureaucracy that really grinds my gears. 

——-
Thank you for reading this series, titled The Thing About Money. What’s your deal with money? Are you working towards FIRE? Do you feel that you are trapped in the capitalist machine with no real options about how to lead an authentic life? Are you just trying to free yourself from the grip of THE MAN? Or are you able to emotionally distance yourself from money? Feel free to tell me in the comments.

Medical Emergencies and FI

(Warning: this has some bathroom TMI, so if you’re not down to hear about nausea or other stomach and health issues, maybe you should skip this one.) 

For the past week or so, I’ve felt a strange pressure in my lower left abdomen. Not quite a pain, not quite an injury, it’s more of a tenderness that is causing an awareness of that area. I brushed it off when it started; I’ve been doing more ab exercises at the gym recently and assumed that maybe it was a strained muscle. 

What the hell is going on???? Image from pexels.com.

That all changed early Tuesday morning. 

I still felt the tenderness, but it didn’t seem any different when I went to bed. However, I woke up around 2:30 in the morning and ran to the bathroom. I sank to the floor in front of the toilet, seat up, trying to breathe deeply to control the nausea that had hit me like a wave. But the breathing just seemed to push the uneasiness elsewhere, and I transitioned to sitting on the toilet, to see if whatever ailed me would come out that way. I was covered in a cold, clammy sweat. It got even worse when I started to feel light headed. I stood up and walked over to the mirror. My vision was going in and out, and black spots were appearing in front of my eyes. I couldn’t see straight.

Something was terribly wrong. 

This is it, I thought. One of my greatest fears was coming true: I was going to die alone on the floor of my apartment, with no one to find me until I didn’t show up for work for the rest of the week, in my very oldest and most ragged pair of underpants

Even just thinking about it now makes my heart beat faster, and I feel a little sick. (Yay, anxiety!)

I sat back down on the floor and tried to get my breathing and pulse under control. The intense nausea I felt when I woke up subsided a bit. I found my phone and dialed the 24/7 nurse line for my insurance and was quickly connected with an advice nurse. 

How long had I been exhibiting symptoms? Did I still feel like I needed to vomit? Did I still feel dizzy and lightheaded? Was I bleeding from any orifice? Did my eyes have a yellow tinge? Was I experiencing any sharp, stabbing pains? 

Since I didn’t have any sharp pains, wasn’t shooting blood out from anywhere, and was starting to feel better, the nurse on the phone assured me that I probably wasn’t going to die in the night. She did, however, schedule me for an appointment with my GP for later that day, since I had been having those weird abdominal feelings for a few days. Slightly reassured, I hung up the phone. At first I intended to camp out on the floor of the bathroom just in case, but no matter how many pillows and cushions I gathered around me, the hard floor and side of the tub still made my ass go numb and my spine feel sore. So, I trudged back to bed, and tried to go back to sleep sitting up, legs stretched out straight in front of me, trying to position myself so zero pressure was exerted on my guts. 

After a restless rest of the night, I went to the hospital, where my GP listened to me describe my symptoms again and then felt around in my guts to see if she could figure out what was wrong. Hernia? Nope. Enlarged spleen? Nope, that seemed normal too. From this external exam, she concluded that none of my internal organs seemed enlarged or out of place. I left her office with the reassurance that my organs did not appear to be in imminent danger of exploding inside of me. However, we did schedule a pelvic ultrasound to see if there might be something like an ovarian cyst hanging out and causing trouble. 

I still don’t know exactly what happened that night. There’s been another huge heatwave where I live, and I don’t have air conditioning, so it’s possible that I was experiencing symptoms of extreme dehydration. However, the symptoms I exhibited were also symptoms of shock–but from what? 

So what the hell does this have to do with financial independence? 

Financial independence buys time–but it also buys freedom. The freedom to live where we want to with the people we love. The freedom to slow down and take care of ourselves if we need it. 

Financial independence would mean that, after I had received my external exam from my GP, I could have stayed at the hospital and gotten my ultrasound on the same day without having to fret about returning to work. Instead, it is scheduled for Monday–and I have been spending the last three days wondering if there is something inside of me. 

My partner is currently finishing his master’s degree in Germany. If I was financially independent, I could stay for a while over there with him. Financial independence would mean being able to stay with the person I love, as opposed to living alone. It would mean having someone be able to drive me to the hospital in the middle of the night if I desperately needed it. It would mean not dying on my floor alone because I have some fucked up idea that I am taking an ambulance away from someone who truly needs it. It would mean having someone there to reassure me that all would be okay–and what I can’t seem to communicate through this post is how terribly alone I felt in that moment

Financial independence would also give me the freedom to enjoy the things I like most in life–my family, my partner, spending time in the outdoors, cooking, creating–without having to spend half of my waking life at a job where I don’t even know if I have a meaningful impact. A job where everyone comes in for a certain amount of time each day, regardless of what actually does or does not need to be done. 

Reading this back, the Tuesday morning episode doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. People experience medical issues all the time (my bowels and I are no exception). But in that moment, when I couldn’t even see my face in the mirror, all I felt was a primordial panic. This can’t be it. 

This can’t be it. 

And that’s why I am pursuing FI–so that at the moment when the earth decides to shuck me off of its surface and send me spinning into the great unknown, I will know that I have led a fulfilling life.
And I won’t be left thinking this can’t be it.

The Thing About Money, Part 4: Retirement, or, I don’t want to be old and poor

(This is the fourth post in a six-post series titled The Thing About Money. Click to read The Thing About Money, Part I.)

As mentioned in Part 3 of this series, one of the things that scares me about my current debt load/financial situation in general is not having enough money to retire on. 

This worry isn’t without warrant. According to this 2018 survey, 42% of Americans have “less than $10,000 saved” for retirement. 42%. So, pretty much half of us (assuming this excludes children–Why haven’t you opened an IRA yet, little Timmy?). This is especially true of millennials; 57% of us have less than $10,000 saved (GUESS WHO HAS TWO THUMBS AND IS IN THE CLUB? THIS GIRL!!!!). 14% don’t have any retirement savings at all.

Nothing. Zero. Nada. 

This is a problem.

As per the National Council on Aging, “over 25 million Americans aged 60+ are economically insecure—living at or below 250% of the federal poverty level.” A full third of senior households don’t have any money left over by the end of the month, and some have to go into debt just to meet their basic living expenses. And even if they get social security, on average, women get $4500 less a year because they paid less into the system (and this number is even worse for women of color). Many elderly people are working well into their seventies, but eventually, there comes a time when their bodies just can’t do it anymore. 

There’s a big joke about having to eat cat food into one’s retirement, but it seems like there are people who are actually out there doing it. Frankly, I don’t want to be one of those people. 

You bet your ass I will push Mittens right out of line to get to that Fancy Feast. Photo from pexels.com.

This is a multigenerational issue. In a previously-mentioned episode of Bad with Money with Gaby Dunn, Gaby talks to her parents about their retirement plans. Her mom laughs and says “You’re my retirement plan.” She includes something along the lines of how they’ve invested so much in Gaby and pretty much that they expect her to help support her parents in their retirement. This is an incredible amount of stress to place on one’s child. And some parents live longer than we expect, which means we could be taking care of them after our own retirement*. 

Luckily, I don’t have to worry about my mom. She’s about to retire from the military, so she has a guaranteed paycheck and affordable medical care for the rest of her life. The knowledge that she’ll be taken care of takes a great weight off of me; she’s too proud to ever ask for help, but I would have given it to her, had she needed it. But she doesn’t. And I’m super grateful, because now I have the freedom to only worry about myself.

Unfortunately, the reverse of this situation is the reality for people as well. Many parents of adult children are having to delay or are not adequately saving for retirement because their children still need support, either with general expenses or, often, student loans. It’s completely understandable why someone would want to help their children, especially if they’re struggling; however, this seems like a good time to remind everyone of what they tell you on planes–put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. 

I don’t want this to be my future, for myself or my mother. 

Like my mother, I am also too proud to ask for help if I need it, unless I’m in an incredibly desperate situation. There was one–exactly one–situation when I had to call my step-dad for emergency support, and it still ranks as one of the most shameful moments of my life. After I graduated college, I was trying to support myself on the only job I could get at the time–minimum wage at a local bagel shop. Parking was notoriously hard in my neighborhood, so I often played roulette with spaces in random apartment buildings. One morning I walked to my car to find it booted. The cost to remove the boot? $200. 

I did not have $200.

So I cried. I called the number on the boot and cried on the phone with the company, cried when some random man showed up to take the boot off, cried when he ran my almost-maxed-out credit card, and cried on my way to work, wondering how I was going to pay rent the next week. After work, I did the unthinkable–

I called my step-dad and asked for help. 

And cried some more. And he, sweet man–full of remorse from years of alcoholism and still feeling like he needed to buy my love to make up for it–he transferred some money into my high school savings account so I could write a rent check without it bouncing and get a few groceries for the week. I felt like shit. I felt like the smallest, most pathetic, most useless human on the face of the earth. I felt manipulative for calling him, because I knew he would help me, because I was too embarrassed to talk to my own mother. 

I am still embarrassed when I think of this story. 

However, I tell this story to remind myself of why saving is so important. I don’t ever want to rely on anyone else again for my support. Additionally, I have no children to care for me and currently no intention to have any, nor, if I do, would I expect them to care for me. That’s not their job. As such, I need to make efforts now to ensure that my finances are ok later. 

I currently have a tiny bit of money stashed away for retirement. As in, like, less than $5000. Additionally, I worked overseas for a full three and a half years, so that’s three and a half years I didn’t pay into social security. I’m in my thirties, and even though retirement seems like it’s a long way away, I don’t think I’m going to make it into old age gracefully if I don’t drastically change things now. 

However, there is a part of me that wonders if it’s even worth the effort. Should I worry about “the market” when climate change is going to cause “Human Civilization to crumble” by the time 2050 rolls around (aka when I’m 63)? Should I instead be stockpiling clean water, bullets, and sunscreen? (I talked about this a bit in my first post, so I’m stopping my existential ramble… now.)

Assuming we are still alive in 2050 and not slaves to our computers or in a war against an army of machines, I will need some retirement savings. 

It’s not easy. Since starting my new job, I’ve budgeted a pretty good chunk–about $500/month–to go into an IRA. Even with the rest of my expenses and my student loan payments, I should be able to keep this up at least through June. But then I might get kicked out of my employer-owned housing, and that $500/month might have to be added to my rent just so I can find a place to live (three cheers for the south bay). 

I recently cancelled my cell phone insurance and photoshop monthly plan, in an effort to save some more money. I tell myself that if I keep playing with my spreadsheets and adjusting my numbers by five dollars here, ten dollars there, I will somehow feel like I am not going to end up old and destitute, only to have my body tossed in a pauper’s field with the gravel barely covering my bones, where on windy days the dirt blows away and you can see my skull (Oh Milat—why did you stare at the mayor?)

But this is why I need to start now. As the oft-quoted Einstein supposedly said, compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. I have about thirty years to get this powerful force to work for, and not against, me. So, next week, let’s take a good hard look at my budget. 

* This may be behind a paywall. I’ll work on posting more sources that are open access, but your local library may have a subscription through which you can access this article.

The Thing About Money, Part 2: Foundations, or, I grew up learning money was bad

(This is the second post in a six post series titled The Thing About Money. Click to read The Thing About Money Part I.)

When I was very young, my family was poor. Looking through baby pictures one time, I saw that we were in what appeared to be an apartment with two large beds in one room. When I asked my mom where we were living, she said it was a hotel. At one point, my parents were so poor that they couldn’t afford a security deposit on an apartment. But then dad joined the military (or maybe he was already in the military? Things in the early days are vague, and frankly, I’m not interested in discussing them too much). I remember one house that must have been military–it was in a townhouse, and we must have just moved, because I remember a room full of boxes that my brother and I played in.  

But then my mom and dad divorced, and we were poor again. Single mother with two kids living in a trailer in nowhere rural Maryland poor. I didn’t notice–my mom did a lot of things with my brother and I that were free (taking us to the park, the library, etc.) so we were always busy and happy. Every year or so the pajama fairy would visit while we were at the babysitter’s and put a new-to-us pair of pajamas on our beds. When it was just us, it was a non-issue. 

Ye olde change jar. Image from pexels.com.

But then I started school.

Things were better–my stepdad was in the military and mom was working full-time–but money worries were still a theme in my family. When we went back-to-school shopping, my brother and I looked longingly at the trapper keepers and dinosaur-shaped erasers, but always came home with the basics (although if we asked nicely, we got to pick two novelty folders–mine were usually Lisa Frank or Marvin the Martian. My brother opted for Hot Wheels or Taz.). Classmates would bring capri suns and fancy lunchables with build-your-own pizzas to lunch, and I would have my flip-top plastic bag with peanut butter and jelly. New clothes came from the Goodwill. We were clothed, fed, and taken care of–my parents did what they could for us. But I couldn’t help noticing the things the other kids had, and I knew that I couldn’t have them, even if I asked. Eventually, I didn’t want to ask anymore. 

In fifth grade, my school started an orchestra class, and I had to rent a viola to join. My parents bought me the wrong kind of shoulder rest but I was embarrassed to say we had to go back and buy a new one. I thought it would be too much money (which is silly, as renting the viola probably cost a lot more than a shoulder pad, but I was nine, so didn’t think about that). The other shoulder rest was a pad that made it easier to play. It was hard to play with mine, so I didn’t practice. I didn’t practice, so I didn’t want my parents to sign my practice log. I didn’t get my practice log signed, so I was in danger of failing class. Finally, my teacher called my parents, and I got the pad I needed all along. If I had just mentioned it to my parents at the beginning of the year, things would have been fine (and I would have been a lot better at playing the viola). But it cost money, so I didn’t want to ask. 

We had a yard sale one time so mom could raise money to go see a dentist for a problem with her teeth. It was summer, and it was hot. We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac on the edges of town that didn’t get any thru-traffic. If you came to our street, it’s because you had a reason. We put ads in the paper, put up fliers, and got a few visitors, but I remember seeming like we had a whole lot leftover at the end of the day. I took it upon myself to count our earnings, and when I saw mom later, I told her how much we had made that day: about $73 dollars. She immediately burst into tears. I was horrified. 

Over and over again, the lessons I learned were that money was a problem that led to heartbreak and shame. 

This has very much shaped my adult life and my current attitudes about money. Money was something we always needed and never had enough of. Money was the reason we couldn’t get our air conditioner fixed and had to use painter’s plastic to section off the living room to trap what little cold air we could get out of a borrowed window unit. Money was why we snuck cookies into the movie theater instead of getting the brightly colored and highly coveted boxes of candy, and why we saw the movies at the theater across town after they’d been out for a few months. 

Now that I am an adult, I know that I am lucky we had air conditioning at all, or that we could go to the cheap movies–we always had something to eat and somewhere to sleep. But it was hard to go over to the freshly-built McMansions of friends, play with their vast collections of brand-new barbies, and not feel different. Less. Even the food they ate was different. My best friend in elementary and middle school, S, wasn’t rich, but she wasn’t poor either. Her parents always had nutritious, organic groceries. When I stayed over for dinner, I was almost always presented with some sort of mysterious organic vegetable and lentil soup that her mom had made from scratch. Although I am old enough now to know that is a far cry from filet mignon, it was also a very far cry from the hot dogs with store brand mac-and-cheese or dehydrated potatoes and canned corn we ate at my house. 

This continued into my teens and adulthood. My first serious boyfriend, T, was rich. He probably wouldn’t say that–after all, his dad was a transmission mechanic, a thoroughly blue-collar job, but they lived in a house that was bigger than two of mine put together and that had an in-ground swimming pool. And it had stairs (if you grew up in a trailer park or a shitty ranch house like I did, you know what it means to covet stairs). He dressed nice; his mom bought him clothes from places like Abercrombie and Aeropostale–coastal Carolina preppy, and they didn’t have those stores in our town, you had to drive an hour to the big mall in Wilmington to shop there (which, to me, was basically the other side of the world). 

Meanwhile, I would come over with my purple hair and wearing my Goodwill skirts or, when I finally got a minimum wage job slinging popcorn at the movie theater, my highly-clearanced hot topic cargo pants, and I could see the thoughts behind that woman’s face plain as day: trash. My youngest son has brought home trash. 

I still feel like people look at me and see white trash. 

Once again, I am reminded of a quote from 30 Rock:

“You’ve come a long way, haven’t you, Kenneth Ellen, with your cheap loafers and your page jacket? But you’ll always be a pig farmer’s son, boy, cause I smell fried baloney all over you.”

Poor is a stink that I feel I can never wash out. I feel like people smell it when they see the holes in my sweaters and my Payless (RIP) shoes. They smell it when I mispronounce big words I only ever read in books and never heard spoken aloud, or when I talk about not being able to afford to go home for both Christmas and Thanksgiving.

And I smell it, too. Even now, after getting my master’s and landing a new job that I like, after starting an IRA and a savings account and trying to learn about investing, I still smell it. 

This is my background with money. I am obsessed with it and scared of it but want more just the same, but I never seem to trust it, nor do I believe I will ever really have it. Money is a thing that other people have, and the lessons I’ve learned about money is that there’s never enough, and people know and look down on you because of that. 

In one of my favorite podcasts, Bad with Money with Gaby Dunn, Gaby Dunn talks to her parents about their attitudes toward money and spending as she was growing up. For example, Gaby’s mother is a lawyer, but she often takes favors from clients who can’t afford her services. When Gaby questions this practice, her mother explains her actions by saying that she worked a lot for children and felt like those children needed her help. And she also counters with–”Do you feel you were deprived of anything?

I feel like my mom would say the same to me. I was fed, clothed, housed, and safe. So is it fair to blame her for anything, if that’s what I’m even doing? Do I feel deprived? Should I just get over it, whatever it is? 

I’ve been trying to think of a snazzy way to wrap-up this post–you know, some sort of snappy final statement that sums up everything I have to say in a pithy one-liner. Drop the mic, etc. etc. etc. But I don’t think I have anything, so I guess I just hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into my weird anxiety-riddled background with money. What are your weird money thoughts? Feel free to explore in the comments.