the ugly side of the money mustache: a personal financial analysis, part II

Welcome to Part II of my personal financial analysis, Mr. Money Mustache style. For Part I, please read here!

This time, we look at the sad truth of being an unabashed consumer in my young twenties, as well as the scary reality of being a post-college student in today’s often over-priced advanced educational system.

Debt

Dear Mr. Money Moustache, I am in a State of Emergency. As a young adult, I received less-than-stellar advice on credit cards. Meaning I opened one, and as a young adult, I didn’t quite realize the implications of swiping that card on a regular basis. I’ve closed three credit cards, leaving only my SkyMiles card open, to which I charge certain purchases & immediately pay off (I moved across country and I miss my mom – SkyMiles are helpful). Regardless, I am having trouble making a dent in my debt. In the entire last year, I’ve only paid off a little under $3,000 of my total debt – a measly 5.4% of my total.

Student Loans

At the moment, I spend around $90 a month on student loans. This small amount will in no way pay off the $25k in debt I personally accumulated in a reasonable time frame – and when that is done, I also hope to address the student loan debt my parents accumulated for me.

The challenge I face at the moment is that even if I put all my extra money towards my Student Loans, I am currently capitalizing more interest than I am paying off, causing my loan debt to increase. Part of this is because part of my resources are paying off debt elsewhere, and I will be able to do much more good when I’ve addressed those issues – but right now, it feels like I’m falling into an abyss of doom.

Credit Card Debt

Like I said, I realize that I am in a state of emergency. Last year, I closed two credit cards by absorbing that debt into a small personal loan at a low interest rate.

As such, I am working hard to eliminate what miscellaneous debt I currently own, totaling about $3,500 – down from about $5,000 a year ago. I am trying to eliminate this debt first so that I can focus on Student Loans.

The Clown Car

All right, Mr. Money Moustache: I believe you. Getting rid of my car would be financially beneficial. Granted, it is currently out of the realm of possibility for me, at least in the near future: due to the dangerous nature of roads in the small, windy mountain town in which I live, owning a car was actually listed as a job requirement.

However, even though I plan to move to a bike-friendly city by the end of the year (and I am a huge fan of biking and walking to reduce living costs), I am not ready to give up my car. I like my car – love her, in fact. Her name is Gabby, she gets $37 miles to the gallon, and she’s almost as reliable as my mother.

Still, I could probably be more intelligent about this investment. Gabby costs a hefty $360 a month, plus gas and miscellaneous upkeep expenses. The debt repayment alone amounts to $4,320 a year.

However, I’m not sure how what my best option is – if I sell Gabby now, I would sell her at a loss and still owe money. As such, I don’t think it’s fiscally intelligent to make the switch right now? Though I’m always open to learning more! If I invest in a used car, that’s a significant chunk of cash I could save, even assuming the increase gas costs and the fact that I would still have a (significantly smaller) car payment. I could easily pay off the car more quickly and soon be investing that money in my student loans.

Right now, I’m not sure I’m ready to sell Gabby and scale back. But it’s an option I am (reluctantly) considering.

***

I feel like I’m drowning in debt. I realize if I could eliminate it from my life, I would be more than comfortable, with somewhere around an extra $500 a month going into my savings account, amounting to $6,000 a year. Considering my current lifestyle, I could save for four years and have a full year’s expenses in the bank – and that’s assuming my pay stays the same and I keep spending at my current rate, both of which I am actively working to change.

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the constant struggle: a personal financial analysis, part one

I am currently sitting in Starbucks, reading Mr. Money Mustache and feeling guilty of my avid and unabated consumerist habits. If you haven’t seen MMM before, go ahead and take a minute to explore – it will change how you look at your spending habits.

I’ve been reading MMM for about six months now, and while I intellectually agree with much of what he writes, I have found trouble implementing the practices myself. Logically, I understand that I am the source of this financial trouble, and that it is within my power to fix. However, it’s difficult to determine how much my financial circumstance is a result of my youth and the jobs I have held – to be improved by garnering better employment as I gain experience – versus admitting how much I am trying to justify my poor spending and financial habits.

I am working on an in-depth personal analysis of my finances, trying to look at everything how MMM might. This is going to be a bit uncomfortable, but so many good things require a bit of discomfort to achieve something better. This will be a three-part series, starting with my income.

Current Base Income

I am partly hesitant to believe the Mustachian lifestyle will help, because I have a hard time believing I could find any realistic success on my current income. However, looking objectively at the situation, I see that the Money Mustache family lives off $25k a year, which just so happens to be what I’ve earned each the last two years – and there are three of them, and only one of me.

Moreover, any savings is good savings. While I can’t put 50% of a $40k job away to achieve early retirement in the short period of time that MMM advertises, I am currently putting away 15-20% of my earnings each month. If I could eliminate my debt (see the next post), the savings would increase. Every dollar I save is a dollar closer to financial independence.

Supplemental Income

I am looking at ways to supplement my income. I recently opened an Etsy Store, and while I doubt it will have much success in the near future, I’m working on additional things to sell so that I can make some extra cash. I’m not sure how to make my store more visible, so any and all suggestions are welcome. Feel free to “like” my Etsy Store and items so that they become more visible in searches!

I also start teaching dance lessons next month in a local studio for $5 a person. With any luck, I will be teaching private lessons soon, which can be quite lucrative (about $40/hr). There is also talk of having a workshop dedicated to Leading, Following, and Connection, as a few people have commented on my ability to follow, regardless of never having learned more than the basics of dances such as Waltz or Rumba.

Solution: Looking to Improve Future Income

I am currently investing a very reasonable $180 in a course in GIS, a booming field in which I’m quite interested. This is not the last course I’ll need to invest in, but I am optimistic that the experience and networking opportunities provided will yield a high return on the investment in my personal education. I know that if I can improve my resume, I can get the GIS and Spatial Analysis job I want.

However, I’m worried the benefits of this course will not come soon enough. I hope to move to the Bay Area at the end of the summer, which will come with increased base cost of living, starting with rent prices (the most I’ve ever paid for rent is $500, including utilities). If I’m not working in GIS, it means I’ll probably be finding temporary employment. Instead of working two jobs and somewhere around 60 hours a week, I’ll need to make a minimum of $15 an hour, and preferably at least $19 so that paying off debt and increasing my savings is possible.

I’ve hesitantly signed up with a free temp placement agency in hopes of finding new jobs more easily possible, and I’m open to any recommendations from those who have had success (or terrible failure!) with temp agencies.

***

Next time, in an effort for personal financial openness and analysis (and eventual improvement): an examination of my personal debt.

the reluctant feminist

I have never really been a feminist, and I don’t think I ever will be one as it is commonly defined. I believe in women’s rights: I am pro-choice, I believe in equality in the workforce, and I think rape is a real thing. But I do not loudly fight for these rights, as I prefer a peaceful life for myself. All the other feminists probably scoff at me, and I don’t blame them. I do not educate myself on the challenges women face in life, and I choose not to get angry at potential injustices that even I face on a daily basis.

It could be that I just have a bad perception of feminism. I see so many feminists loudly rail against perceived injustices,* which I don’t see as a big issue. For example, I don’t think it’s a big deal in swing dance when teachers use the terms “guys” and “girls” for leads and follows. In fact, I absolutely love leading, and I often take a class as a female lead – but I have no need for the teachers to change how they speak. When they say, “Guys, rock step on your left foot,” I know they’re including me, and that’s fine.

I don’t want to be a loud, abrasive, ball-breaking feminist. I don’t want to have to fight for my rights in the working world. I don’t want to fight over wage inequality, because in reality, we all make more than we need anyway. I don’t want to have to become ruthless, argumentative, or easily offended for my gender to get forward in the working world. In all honesty, I would love being a part-time housewife.** But I do understand why other women get angry. And this week, I have been tempted to change my ways and begin railing against the injustices of sexist discrimination in the workplace.

I’ll keep the story short. An male acquaintance of mine has terrible work ethic, is too lazy to network, and refuses to job hunt as long as he is able to scrape along and pay his bills; however, he has been handed two – not one, but two – jobs without any effort. He did not network, he did not apply for the jobs, and he did not even have to interview. He is now paid more working part time for twenty hours a week than I make working full time.

On the other hand, I have been struggling as a temp while actively job hunting for two years, both in low-skill jobs at a basic wage, and in moderately-well-paying, entry-level jobs for which I am actually qualified through my major in college. Even my goal in graduate school is to advance my degree to a place where I am more than qualified for the environmental science jobs to which I will apply, so that I will actually get the job and not be poor all my life. Only recently have I had a modicum of success, but only for a seasonal position (which is actually convenient, but that’s not the point), and only through some incredible family networking. My job search has been the opposite of his, and the only moderately satisfying explanation I can find is sexism.

I’m honestly happy for my acquaintance, who is excited about the new job he is working. But I am upset that I have had such a difficult time finding work, while he has been handed two jobs. His work ethic includes a lot of Facebook and TV on Hulu, and I honestly think that his terrible work ethic is looked over at least in part due to his gender. At the same time, he has been handed jobs with no effort on his part – and again, the only thing I can see is gender. It is true that I probably don’t know the whole situation – but it stands that gender has likely played a role in both his and my job hunt.

Here’s the bottom line: believing that men have such an advantage in the work place makes me upset. I don’t want to depend in a sexist explanation, because it takes away my personal culpability and capability in my job search, and I believe both of those facets are important for success, both inside and outside the working world.

In the realm of culpability, I know that sometimes, I slack off – I go through phases where I don’t submit as many applications, and I haven’t tried to advance my environmental resume since I graduated. I avoid serious networking because I am an introvert, and it makes me uncomfortable. In those areas, I could improve, and blaming a lack of personal competency on men’s advantage through gender is avoiding the acknowledgement of my own very real flaws.

As for capability, blaming workplace inequalities on discrimination against women takes away my ability to rise above those inequalities by the simple reality of hard work, extreme competency, and good work relationships. I am qualified, and I generally believe I can get the job if I try hard enough (where legitimate networking will always give someone else the leg up, regardless of qualifications). But to assume that a man will get the position before me nine times out of ten is to give up my dreams of getting the job before submitting my application. This becomes a defeatist, self-fulfilling prophecy which I can forever blame on men, despite a lack of faith that I can even be equal in the eyes of my interviewer.

Strangely, the most upsetting part of this story is the reaction I received when I idiotically posted my feelings on Facebook. I posted a brief and vague feminist status expressing my frustration, along the lines of “I have never believed in being a raging feminist against perceived injustices, but today I am considering changing my mind.” The reactions I received ranged from those who were angrier than I felt to those who were dismissive of the possible discrimination I have seen in my personal job hunt. I was shocked: both reactions were so extreme that I felt uncomfortable expressing my moderate feminist feelings. I was told that I was either underreacting or overreacting, and that’s absurd – I feel how I feel, and that should be the end of the discussion.

So here’s the conclusion: I don’t think that sexism in the workplace is okay. But I do have faith that this person will one day get his ass handed to him when he has a boss that sees straight, and that will be a good day for the rest of the world. I also have to believe that I will one day succeed in the working world, no matter my age, gender, or beliefs – because I don’t want to live in a world where working hard and being awesome isn’t enough. I might be naive, but I am only a reluctant feminist.

***

*“Perceived injustices”: I believe that many loud feminists rail against acts which can potentially be explained as coincidence or misinterpretation – or even a poor choice of words in the heat of the moment. I do not believe that all men are out to get us, and I believe that constantly acting like they are will only serve to hurt us in the long run.

**Part-time because I believe in productivity, and I would find a way to contribute, no matter what. Anyways, a housewife has one of the most difficult jobs in the world, and I’d be awesome at it. My mom was a part-time housewife, and my brother and I have always appreciated the love and effort and support she put into our lives.

the monster which eats my self-motivation

I have a challenge. It’s called “Self-Motivation.”

Recently, I have been dealing with a moderate amount of stress. My day-to-day existence is great – but there’s constantly a scary monster lurking behind me, whispering: “FUTURE? WHAT FUTURE DO YOU HAVE?” This stress eats my self-motivation for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks.

For example, you may have heard that I’ve applied to Grad School. If you’re paying attention, you’ll also remember that I won’t find out any results until March – and considering I really only applied to three schools, there is a good chance all those results will be negative. My reasoning for only choosing three schools is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, I know I really, really like those programs. On the other, they could all say no – and that’s the headspace I often inhabit.

Part of my challenge with motivation is that I lose focus of what I have accomplished in the light of all these stressful things which are looming over my head. So, a short list:

  • I have a blog dedicated to lindy hop, and it’s holding its own. You should check it out!
  • I can do 28 consecutive push-ups, which is over halfway to being able to do 50 consecutive push-ups, which is my personal base goal for the Hundred Push-up Challenge. Everything after that is icing in the cake.
  • I saved about $100 since January 1st since eliminating snacks from vending machines (and gas stations, small boutiques, and wherever else you generally buy overpriced snacks). Also known as, I’m a badass.
  • I have learned three new hair styles (a classy bun, a twisted and messy chignon, and an alternative braid) and one new hair technique (for French twists!) this February. No, I have not really posted them for everyone to see – but I know I’ve done it, and they’re awesome.
  • I cooked a brand new meal with the help of an awesome person. It was delicious, and I got to share it with some close friends.
  • I have been working on leading, and I had a Really Exciting Moment where I daydreamed a new move in the shower – and it worked in real life, too.

Things I need to buckle down on:

  • Reading. I have written down every book I’ve read since I was 11, and this is the first time I haven’t written a book down for the entire month of January. I cannot express my sadness at this fact.
  • Exercising. I still can’t run, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do push-ups, pull-ups, squats, crunches, and everything in-between.
  • I need to make more money. Not want; need.

I know that all I need to do is say “Suck it up,” buckle down, and take care of all these things which I want to accomplish. They are things I want, so what’s the issue? So, what I need is a new motivational tool. And it would really help if this motivational tool encouraged me to do push-ups.

some thoughts on being in a “dance funk”

Over the course of AVS, I have been experiencing a moderate amount of “dance funk” – but instead of riding the waves and suffering through the lows, I’ve been trying to find the triggers which cause me to be frustrated, unhappy, or upset when dancing. While I don’t think I’ve found the solution, I have identified a few of the problems moments.

Some examples of situations which stress me out:

  • During competitions, especially in the spotlight.
  • Dancing with amazing dancers – especially to particularly fast music with people I do not know well or have not danced with before (if you’re not good at reading between the lines: this generally refers to dancing with instructors)
  • Performing a choreography.
  • Struggling with certain technical concepts as a follow (there are a few right now).
  • What I feel is unjust praise for my dancing (usually after comps).

However, I’ve also noticed that certain similar situations are no challenge, and are often extremely enjoyable:

  • Silly competitions, like the Jill and Jill in which I danced with the lovely Emma.
  • Jam circles. Especially the absurd ones, like the impromptu jam circle in which everyone danced on one foot, and I swiveled like a flamingo. Think about it.
  • Dancing with amazing dancers who are friends, no matter how fast the music.
  • Performing the Tranky Doo (even if everyone is watching me ‘cause they don’t know it).
  • Leading and solo movement.

I think the theme here is a certain amount of pressure I am putting on my own dancing to “be awesome.” I am aware that a large portion of this is in my own head. Now, if I only got upset after competitions, I would smack myself upside the head and tell my stupid ego to suck it up, because I am well aware I have a long way to go before I am ever the amazing dancer I want to be. Being unsuccessful in comps is a good reality check, and I love the feedback I’ve gotten from the comps at AVS.

No – far more concerning is the stress I have felt when receiving praise for my dancing. I am not sure what about this praise should make me so upset, as it should be a positive experience. Regardless, every time I receive a “Great job!” or “I love watching you dance!” after an experience in which I feel I could have done better, I feel an overwhelming and terrifying weight sitting on my chest. I often have to find a curtain behind which to hide, or corner in which to sit alone for a few minutes.

The good news is that I do not hate dancing; in fact, quite the opposite. I have immensely enjoyed taking classes as a lead this week, and the solo jazz class with Mikey absolutely blew my mind. And any situation in which the pressure is low is incredible – especially dancing with friends or doing absurd things.

As a result of these realizations, I am going to take a short break from dancing, starting after Hot Jam tomorrow (gotta tell Michelle I won’t be around for a bit to teach lessons & all). I am going to step back and remind myself that there is no pressure to be amazing – the goal is to have fun, and I can only do myself a disservice if I get stressed about “being awesome.” This is something I tell each and every beginner I teach, yet it is advice which I am struggling very hard to take myself.

When I come back, I’m going to focus on the aspects of dancing which I truly enjoy. I think that enjoying being a follow and enjoying the aspect of putting work into my following will follow naturally when I’m ready.

dance depression

I am struggling to enjoy dancing right now. In the last two weeks, I have actually avoided dancing, which I have absolutely never done before. In fact, dancing is usually what I turn to when I need to pick my spirits up – it has never dragged my spirits down before.

I understand that many dancers go through periods where dancing is significantly less enjoyable than it has been in the past. What is troublesome is how sudden the transition was. It’s not like I lost interest over the course of six months or a year. At ILHC in August, I was so excited and pumped about dancing that I could barely wait for the next thing; but by Jubilee Jazz Revival, approximately three weeks later, I was so depressed about dancing that I could barely convince myself to even attend the Sunday afternoon dance.

A few people have asked what’s wrong, but I have stoutly avoided addressing my sudden change of attitude. Part of this is that I vehemently want to avoid certain conversations with overly-enthused dancers who can’t see the other side (often beginners and intermediates):

  • The Person who Associates Skill with Happiness: “But you’re so good!  How could you not like it?” (Well, first off, I’m not that good; second off, my ability to swing out has little to do with my enjoyment of the action.)
  • The Perky “I’ll Always Love Dancing” Dancer: “How could you not like dancing? It’s so fun and enjoyable and amazing! I will never stop liking dancing.” (Yeah, good luck with that. In fact, that was me about a month ago. What I’ve realized is that for some people, dance is not their thing; and while it is my thing as far as I can tell, that doesn’t mean I love it right now.)
  • The Person Who Places Blame Elsewhere: “It’s probably just that you’re stressed with work / life / whatever. Just get out there and dance – you’ll feel so much better!” (Actually, this is relatively valid, with some recent non-dance-related events. Regardless, I think the issue is a bit more deeply rooted.)

And more importantly, I want to avoid telling all my friends and peers in the dance world, because I’m afraid they won’t understand. Or, they will understand, but they’ll write it off as a non-issue. Or even, I’m afraid of being judged – of being seen as unhappy with dancing for the wrong reasons, if that’s even possible.

I didn’t say my fears were logical – but logic does not change how I feel.

And if I’m honest to my fears, I also don’t want to talk about this because I don’t really understand where my change in attitude is coming from. Dancing has always cheered me up, even in the worst attitudes…so what do I do when dancing is what’s getting me down? The unsettling lack of understanding is causing even further distress, and thus I’ve avoided thinking about it as long as I could.

But I think this all needs to change. I need to analyze what about dancing is causing distress. I know that this depression will not end in me forgoing dancing – I love the community and the activity itself far too much. However, I want to know the source of my frustration so that I can properly nip it in the bud and enjoy swinging out again. Like, now – because honestly, it’s AVS, and there are too many awesome people here to not enjoy dancing.

competing in solo jazz: i only have myself to blame

They make me sick to my stomach. I get in front, and my mind goes ”           .” While this is fresh on my mind, I want to share how I feel — not because I want the encouragement or techniques on how to get past the “deer in the headlights” effect, but because the more I understand how I feel, the more I will be able to combat that feeling in the future.

The setting: I am at the Jubilee Jazz Revival, and it’s been great; One Leg Up was playing, and I absolutely loved every song in their set. As such, I was having a great time, despite some wardrobe challenges and shoe issues.

I love solo dancing to good music, but comps are another thing. A little bit of goading, though, and I agreed to compete — if only for giggles and shits. Realistically, this is a small event, and it’s just for fun…but it still makes me nervous, and I wasn’t particularly confident or interested in competing. I planned a couple of easy entrances, thought up some of my favorite moves from the Tranky Doo, and I was done. Easy, right?

For the all-skate, I felt okay: I did some mostly-clean, moderately creative solo work. But when that first spot light came on, I completely forgot what I was doing. Tranky What? What’s Charleston? Am I supposed to look at the audience? WHY ARE YOU ALL LOOKING AT ME? MY SHOES ARE SO INTERESTING…

The worst part is that I knew the song. It’s by the New Orleans Racket Makers, and it’s actually one of my favorite songs to solo dance to. It’s a good, moderate tempo, with some great musicality and fun hits. But it wasn’t until the third spotlight that I was able to calm down enough to remember how the song went and dance with the music — and finally, that spotlight went mostly okay! But that was all I had, and the song was over, and I had no chance to sit in my groove and really enjoy the dancing.

I think the most frustrating part is how many people came up to me afterwards to tell me what a great job I’d done. Granted, most of those people were beginning and beginning-intermediate dancers who are just impressed that a few people had the balls to stand in the middle and pretend to know what they’re doing. Regardless, I knew I didn’t do a great job. The only remarkable thing I did, in fact, was actually get up there and try…but I wasn’t prepared, and I don’t feel like I gave it my all.

And there, folks, I think we have the bottom line: I didn’t give it my all. I half-ass competed because I was nervous and I know solo jazz isn’t my thing (yet), and so before the dancing even started, I gave myself a mental “pass” if I didn’t do well. I gave up before the competition started. And so to have so many people tell me how great a job I did is…well, it makes me embarrassed for myself. Maybe if I’d been in the right mind set, or if I’d planned on competing and I’d choreographed a couple of phrases — maybe then I would have been more confident and I would have put more into it. But I wasn’t feeling it, and I was nervous, and so I backed out of throwing myself into it. So much for that plan I’d made, right?

Now that I think about it, I don’t even think it’s that I drew a blank in those first few counts of my first spot light: instead, it’s almost like I didn’t even care to write something. I knew I wasn’t going to place, and so I didn’t even try. And that, my friends, is absolutely the worst thing you can do to yourself, whether dancing, competing, job hunting, working, or existing in day-to-day life.

So, for all future comps, I resolve to not compete if I don’t think I can give it my all. And if I agree to compete, no matter my reservations? Well, then I will make a social contract with myself: to always smile, look at the audience, and (at the very least) do my best.