Work and Money, Money and Work

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was [redact redact redact]. No, literally, I put it on my (online) list that way because I wasn’t in a place I felt I could really get into how much I hated my job and how desperate I was to find something else.

But, new job secured, old job no longer giving me regular nightmares, I feel like I can finally delve into it a bit:

I mentioned the other day that for the last six months I have been in a job I absolutely loathed, it was horrible in every way and turned me into someone I hardly recognized. I knew about 2 weeks in that I would need to find something else, part of me hoped to be able to stick it out for a year for resume purposes, but part of me wondered if I’d be able to last another week without inflicting serious harm on myself or others.

Here’s some real talk, with all the kind of uncomfortable transparency about work and money: I work in higher education access; no one who works in education is paid well, that isn’t a secret. It’s also a pretty tight-knit industry, everyone knows everyone and what you’re doing and with whom. This is both a really great thing (collective impact for better success from partnerships across the industry!) and a huge issue (burn a partner bridge, and you’re black-listed forever). As I was looking around for new jobs I got pretty down-hearted, my experience and education levels would land me a nice, cushy job making $25k-$30k less than I what I was making working for the state (which, by the way, is NOT a high paying job to start with). And to get the same pay, I’d need a Ph.D. For me, that is, like, 7 or 8 more years of school. The jobs in my particular industry are kind of a racket, to be honest.

So, what does this have to do with resolutions? Well, I had resolved to increase my savings significantly in 2017, and also–the redacted resolution–to find a new job that a) paid me more and b) was better for my soul. I knew that in my industry, both of those would be a trick, and to get them at the same time seemed like the work for magical fairy unicorn dust or something.

But, a friend told me that you’ve got to put your wishes out to the Universe, so I wrote them down in full in my Resolutions notebook, and hinted at them a bit here. I have thought about almost nothing else for two or three months, to be honest. Find new job. Make more money. Save more money. Find new job. Rinse and repeat.

I honestly thought I’d really need to stay at the loathsome position until August, do my year of incarceration time and then be able to move forward with something else, most likely in the private sector and not related to education, (see above: jobs available, salary limits). I looked around constantly, applied to a few jobs here and there, but the position for which I was ultimately hired wasn’t actually posted anywhere. I heard a rumor that this non-profit was looking for someone to do something….and I took a shot and emailed their Executive Director my resume. I had a request for an interview less than 12 hours later. And within a week I had an actual job offer. It was all so…so very, very fast.

Also? My new boss used to work for Miranda Priestly/my old boss…she knows what I was up against, and she insisted on complete transparency on her management style, the company’s strengths and weaknesses, and everything else. I had HOURS of conversations with other people in the company, from the HR lady (informative) to the receptionist (more informative) to my boss’s boss. I asked direct questions, and I feel like I received pretty honest answers. They were not canned answers, or scripted, or really entirely 100% glowing. They all had struggles with one thing or another, and all told me that they were instructed to be completely honest with me on anything I asked. And, boy, did I ASK. I asked ALL THE HARD QUESTIONS, and spent some serious time with a Pro and Con column. I don’t want to be at this job for six months. I don’t want to be there for 18 months. I feel like I’ve done quite a bit of research on my new boss, both within the organization where she works, and with other industry contacts. I honestly can see myself here until I leave Arizona, and that…oh my goodness, people, that is such an amazing proposition. The pay and the potential to move up and increase my responsibilities and my salary are all there (and the pay is higher than what I’ve been making to start with, double win). The red tape of government bureaucracy and political job codes is gone.

I am 100% there will be issues and frustrations with this new position, as with ANY position. BUT, for me the biggest and most attractive difference is that my new supervisor manages people in the way I work best. Give me an end goal and a couple of stepping stone markers to hit, and let me have at it. I don’t need to schedule twice-a-week check-in meetings, I don’t need you to proof read my emails, or micromanage my day. I need you to answer your email and have a long-term plan, and I will execute my part of that plan. When I’m stuck, I’ll ask for help. But otherwise, I’m pretty capable and I’ve done this* successfully for years.

*Creating and implementing sustainable college readiness programs in high schools that specifically target low-income and under-served students, providing planning and support for students and families to be academically and financially ready for postsecondary education options.

This? I got this.


Financial Detox: January Wrap Up and Report

I really like taking the month of January to reassess my spending patterns and remind myself of what I need vs what I want.  I think this will probably become an annual tradition, and I am a-okay with that. Ok, so what I promised to do: spend money only on bills, groceries, and gas. No browsing Amazon, Etsy, or Target; no unnecessary beauty purchases (nail polish, fun eyeliner, etc); no breakfast burritos on Fridays (sob!); bulk up my savings account.

Last January when I tried this I had just moved to Arizona, which is a terrible time to banish any house spending. I kind of failed. This time, however, I did really really well! I didn’t buy any new books, I used the library and Overdrive; I didn’t spend money to go do things, I went to the gym, rode my (darling!) bike, and worked on some projects at home that I already had all the supplies for. Except for one “forgot my lunch” situation, I didn’t eat out this month either. Prior to deciding I was going to go on a financial freeze this month I had made plans for two events that would necessitate spending a few dollars, I am thrilled to announce that I spent less than I’d set aside cash for, and the total for both things was only $30 anyway, which seems extra super reasonable anyway.

Can we talk a little bit about what I did spend money on? Besides the aforementioned activities? In the 10 days since the Cheeto in Chief took office I have donated to a number of organizations, and I have ZERO guilt about that. I’ve set up monthly donations, given one-time chunks of cash, and tried to do what I can to counteract the heinous activity coming from the White House with as many dollars and cents as I can spare. Luckily, this particular month, I had more to spare than usual. Silver linings, folks.

I think I’ll do another detox this spring to help keep me in check. The thing that surprised me the most this time around was how…not hard it was. I mean, inconvenient at times, sure. But it wasn’t nearly the struggle as it has been in previous iterations. Which is a GOOD THING! That means that my day-to-day and month-to-month spending habits and patterns are becoming more in-line with my needs instead of my wants. Hooray! Adulting!


Financial Detox: January Spending Freeze

Last January I decided to go on a spending freeze, not realizing that the first month you move into a new house is a TERRIBLE time for a spending freeze. Terrible. I big fat failed it. So, I’m trying it again. My rules are that I can buy groceries and gasoline and pay all my bills, of course, but that there is no “fun” spending, no unnecessary spending, no “I’m bored and This Thing will make me un-bored!” spending, nothing. I’m still finalizing my 2017 Resolutions, but I know this will help kick-start at least two of them, one about eating healthier (and bringing those healthy things to work for lunch), and one about saving more dollars now that I’m officially debt free.

I have two events in January that will necessitate spending a little money, and my work-around is that I have already set aside the dollars for that in cash. But, for the rest of the month, my focus will be on using what I have, tucking away all the little extra dollars into a savings account, and finding ways to entertain myself that don’t cost money. The gym (ahem, resolutions), some hiking, painting, and riding my bike will be figuring in heavily, especially while the Arizona weather is so nice. I won’t be popping over to Target to “see what they have” or ignoring my healthy lunch in the fridge in favor of something else in the cafe at my office building. Mr. Blue Eyes and I are saving up for something really fabulous this spring, and hopefully that will help me keep my eye on the ball. Christmas just happened, I got spoiled a little with some lovely gifts (a shiny new bike! new books! a wonderful tote bag for work!) and I would like to enjoy those thoroughly.

How do you budget and save money? Have you ever done a financial freeze? Want to join me?



Money, money, money

You guys!

It’s official.

I am personally completely debt free.

No more credit cards.

No more student loans.

No more payments towards whatever-the-hell-that-huge-mistake-was-from-2009.

Nada. I officially have zero debt in my name.

The recession hit me particularly hard in 2008 (long sob story for another day and another post) (or maybe just let sleeping dogs lie) and it has taken years to get myself out of that hole. YEARS!! A few weeks ago the last payment went through and…and I hardly know what to do with myself! I mean, logic says I should take myself on an month-long international adventures, obviously. But boring adult responsibility and long-term planning says I should just keep living how I have been and start socking away dollars for a rainy day, or retirement, or whatever.

“How did you do it, Harriet!?”

Well…the long, hard, painfully slow way. Buy too many things on credit, hit a financial crisis (looking at you, Recession), don’t stop buying things, then get completely buried in payments you can no longer afford, so pretend the payments don’t exist. That’s how you get into the mess; getting out is harder. But finally you have to admit your problems about 37 different ways to people to whom you never planned on detailing your financial woes. Then you set up a payment plan, and you stick to it. It’s easier if you have payments automatically deducted from your paycheck so you don’t risk making a late payment or skipping it, so you truly learn how to live on less. Considerably less. Maybe you’re the kind of person who always had good financial sense and you can remember to make each payment on its due date…I used to be like that, but when I started digging myself out of this mess I didn’t trust myself not to fall into my other habits. So, direct from paychecks it was. For years.

I got my first no-payment-deduction paycheck last week, and my eyes nearly boggled out of my head. I mean, technically I knew how big my paychecks were supposed to be, but seeing it all at once in my bank account? Uh, it was kind of surreal. And awesome. And, again, made me want to go buy a plane ticket to somewhere far, far away. Just because I could. See? For now it’s probably best that I keep those dollars in a savings account until I can come up with a more responsible way of spending them.

BUT! I am debt free. I AM DEBT FREE!

Nope, it still hasn’t sunk in yet.


Financial Detox: August Wrap Up and Report

At the beginning of August I set out to go an entire month without any additional spending, hoping to reset my spending habits and kick start a financial detox. Now, I tried this in January as well with pretty mixed results (free tip: don’t try this kind of budget experiment two weeks after moving into a new house), I was hoping for a better grade this time around. I still bought groceries, including lots of fresh produce, and I still bought gas for my car and paid my bills, I wanted to reduce frivolous impulse buys and curb unnecessary, spontaneous spending. Here’s the somewhat ambitious plan I committed to:

For the month of August I will not buy new, unnecessary incidentals. I won’t buy any house things, no matter how perfect that side stool or storage bin would be for that one little spot. It will wait. I won’t buy nail polish, heaven knows I have more than I could use in half my lifetime. I won’t buy any books and I won’t do any online shopping. No clothes, no shoes, no office supplies, nothing.

Ok, so, how did I do? Well, overall, I think pretty well.

I started a new job mid-August and that necessitated some very minor office supply purchases, specifically, a little desk fan because my new office just does not have very good air circulation and I was battling major claustrophobia without the relief of a little cross-breeze (turns out, circulating air is essential for my sanity). Even with the major transition from working from home to working in an office, I still did not take myself out to lunch; I brought lunch every day my first two weeks…and that was sometimes a lot more difficult task than I really wanted to think about at 7:00 in the morning trying to get out the door. HOWEVER! I did it.

I did not buy any books, I actually have been utilizing the library more in the last month than I have in, probably, the rest of my life combined. Now, most of that utilization has been for audiobooks which I listen to on my commute, but I feel it very important to point out that before this little financial detox I was *buying* audiobooks via iTunes, not borrowing them for free from the library or using (and LOVING!) Overdrive. Definitely a big step in the right direction for me.

I didn’t buy clothes or shoes or new running socks or nail polish or replace slightly dried up makeup or used up perfume or anything! In the spirit of full disclosure, I did buy a tiny silver mountain-y necklace….and I know I should feel some sense of, I don’t know, remorse? guilt? failing student-itis? because a delicate mountain silhouette to hang around my neck was NOT part of my financial detox plan; but I’ve worn it every day since it arrived and it reminds me so much of the mountains that hold my heart. Saying goodbye to my Salt Lake-based job and that direct and consistent link to my Utah roots necessitated a mountain charm to wear next to my heart. Zero regrets. Zero apologies.

Also, in the spirit of full disclosure…I bought a rug. A big one. One that I have been looking at and lusting after for months and months and months. Now, pay attention because this is very important: it was suddenly on sale for 90% off. NINETY PERCENT OFF! It’s huge, a 9 x 11 footer, and made of 100% wool, and NINETY PERCENT OFF!! They were practically GIVING it away! I had the money for a rug set aside for months, waiting to find one in the right price range that I loved, this one was a perfect pattern/color/size, but I’d only ever seen it 30% off, and I couldn’t afford it at that price. But, at NINETY PERCENT OFF! I pounced on that thing and plunked down my debit card (ok, my Paypal password) before even thinking that “oh, hey, no giant rugs this month! Hope it’s still on sale in 3.5 weeks!” (It’s not; it’s sold out completely.) I couldn’t NOT buy that rug. It is huge and soft and covers up so much of the not-my-favorite beige-y tile in the dining room. And, again, NINETY PERCENT OFF!!! With free shipping! Yes, that rug was practically free. And practically free is mostly in-line with a month of no spending…right? Right. Ahem.

Ok, so let’s recap: one tiny office fan (aqua! so cute!); one sentimental-but-inexpensive necklace; one practically free rug. I’d give myself a solid A- grade, all things considered.

Want to know something else that made this whole financial detox particularly difficult and the timing especially poignant? When I switched jobs I got paid out for all my unused vacation time from my Utah company…and it was a significant payout, I had more than two full weeks of unused vacation time accrued. Having all those extra dollars sitting in my bank account, mocking me and daring me to go on a little shopping spree…it was rough, yo. To be completely honest, had I not been in this self-imposed financial detox I absolutely would have splurged on a few fun things for myself. Or maybe more than a few fun things. Instead, I forced myself to hold off on any purchases and see this financial detox thing through, and I transferred those dollars in my savings account. I do have a few little things that I will most likely buy in the next week, things I’d been “saving” for the end of this detox (running socks, and I really want to replace my empty perfume bottle), but it’s a lot less of a list than what I would have spent had I not forced myself to hold off. And that little experience, all by itself, has been a really great lesson for me, a way to identify my “natural” spending habits vs what I’d like them to be. If I can wait two weeks I will either a) no longer be interested in x, y, or z item; or b) be absolutely positive that it will be a necessary and welcome addition to my life.

Have you ever done a month of no spending? How did it go? If you were to try it, what kind of rules or parameters would you set? Do you like your current budgeting style? Do you stick to it? Do you know where all your money goes, down to the pennies? Or is it all vaguely loosey-goosey?

Harriet sig