Monday, July 30, 2012

Take Extra Vitamins & Go To Bed Early!

Time to add to my saga of the difficult boss. My supervisor told me last week that I need to check with her before I ever call my doctor or dentist. She said that she needs to provide me with a list of suggested dates and times that work for her before I call to schedule any appointments. She mentioned that she has changed her own dental appointment fifteen times because of work commitments. I jokingly said "I guess nobody in this office can ever get sick" and she advised me to start taking extra vitamins and going to bed as early as possible.

Does she not see the type of environment she is creating? One where the employees health and well being comes second to work? If that is her personal choice, to sacrifice her own health, that is fine. But she cannot make that choice about my health, and my well being. It's outrageous. Not to mention how difficult it can often be to schedule a medical appointment to begin with! Many offices only perform certain procedures on certain days. My doctors schedules will not always (if ever) coincide perfectly with my supervisors! And if I need medical attention I plan on calling my doctor or dentist immediately. I have to make myself a priority, I don't give an expletive if it inconveniences my office! It's not like we are working in a life or death field where one day off here and there is fatal. We work at a college, everything will be okay.

This latest development is discouraging as I am trying to get pregnant. I do not plan on telling my boss about a pregnancy until I absolutely have to. Therefore, if I need to go see my doctor, I wouldn't want to tell her the reason behind my appointment. And I'm sure pregnancy comes with many appointments. I hope my husband and I did conceive this month, but I also dread dealing with it in my current workplace, especially if I have the misfortune of a difficult pregnancy or even just sickness in early pregnancy.

I wish the powers that be at my institution could see what it is like to work under this supervisor. I feel stuck in a bad situation that only has the potential to get worse as the fall semester quickly approaches.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pondering a Master's

For several years now I have been casually considering continuing my education by getting a master's degree. I think a few fears have held me back from really pursuing graduate school. The first big fear is that I am not smart enough, or just wouldn't be able to handle it! The second is financial, I always told myself I would pay off my first degree before starting a second.

I also think when I finally finished my bachelor's degree I just needed a break! I was not a traditional undergrad student wrapping  up my education in a neat four years straight out of high school. I had many bumps in the road, including leaving college at one point and thinking I may never finish my education. I did go back in my mid-twenties, after transferring to a new school, and added a sizable commute to my experience (3 hours in the car every day). After all of that I deserved a rest!

Now that I am working in higher education, the thought of a master's degree is ever-present. I google institutions within a drivable distance often and am always seeking out online or distance programs as well.

One of my issues is that my interests are a little scattered. I have looked into a master's in communications, because my bachelor's is in communications. I have also looked at various degrees in writing and editing (I have seen them called several different things) because they are lifelong interests of mine. Along the lines of my love for writing is a MA in English, something I hadn't considered until very recently. MA in English programs seem to vary widely as well. I am not so much interested in literature, as I am in writing in general, learning to edit, and teaching others to write. Public relations, marketing, publishing, professional writing, and corporate communications programs have all sparked my interest to some extent.

Education is also something I consider as a field of study, as well as counseling. Education and counseling are not because I exclusively want to be a teacher or a counselor. I have had a few experiences in my life (including teaching dance for five years) where I have worked with young girls (elementary and middle school ages). Either of those degrees may help me pursue that interest in the future. I also see a degree in counseling come up in job postings quite often.

My undergraduate degree, which I enjoyed thoroughly, was through my university's "visual and communication arts" department. It included study of writing, art, photography, film, graphic design, web design, and visual communication theory. However, I initially began my undergraduate study at a different university as a mass communication major which was more journalism and media focused. I took classes such as media law and ethics, sports writing, and public relations writing, and worked or interned in television, radio and at several newspapers. I enjoyed my time in mass communication, but not as much as the more visual and creative communications program that I graduated from. I know that I need to narrow my focus and really think hard about my future.

I envy the women I know who finished a master's degree before starting a family, or in some cases before even getting married. I have a husband and two stepchildren to think about, not to mention the fact that we are trying to add to our family. I also have a full-time job, which I need to keep, and I carry the health insurance benefits for my family as well. I don't have the luxury of being able to commit my life 100% to the pursuit of a graduate degree. I know it is possible, and I know people do it all the time, I just need to figure out how to make it work for my own personal situation. I am lucky in that I have a husband who will support me in my pursuits.

I have seen programs that are 100% online, programs that are only on weekends, some that are two days a week. Others are more traditional, a full load of classes, during the day mostly, taken in person on campus. The latter probably won't work for me, unless I found the right degree program and my husband and I moved to live close to the university of choice.

All of the choices are overwhelming, and I haven't even begun to consider how I would fund graduate school. I do think a master's degree could improve my job outlook in the future. And that is what is really important, aside from the fact that I love learning, I want to better myself and ultimately better my family's life.

Who should I talk to to figure this out? Admissions at individual schools can only answer questions about their particular programs, and that's not what I'm looking for at this stage. I need help figuring out the right questions to ask in order to decide if a master's is for me, and if so, which direction I should go in.

Any advice? I'd also love to hear from women who balanced grad school with working full time or moms who started or finished grad school while growing their families.


Extra Credit - If you know of any great programs in my areas of interest in the Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, or Washington, D.C. area that I should look into, please let me know!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

4 Months In ...

Is higher education the right field for me? I'm four months into my new job now and I'm still not sure I can answer that question. For one, I haven't been through an entire academic year yet. Some jobs might be easy to read after four months, but I truly won't understand mine until I have been through a full academic year from start to finish. I have only seen half of a spring semester and part of summer so far.

I did complete my first major task successfully - working with student leaders during four summer orientation sessions. I was clueless and unprepared when given the assignment, but now that it is over I can proudly say I did it well. Next year, if I am still in this role, will be a breeze. My stress level has lowered a little now that that particular project is behind me, but I am still a little anxious about the upcoming fall semester (more unknowns and new tasks).

Most days I think this is not the job for me. I don't know if it's the position, the field, the university, or my supervisor, or some combination that make me doubt this job. Would I be happier doing a different job in a different department? Would I love this role under a new supervisor? Am I meant for this work, but just not meshing with the culture of this particular university? Or is higher education just not my thing?

I'm not going anywhere anytime soon because of the stress of job searching, needing insurance and a paycheck, and wanting to start a family soon. I also don't want to leave after a few months and be viewed as a 'job hopper' in the future. In the meantime I will be constantly evaluating my job and what I want to do with my life.

I also can't think about work without thinking about family. I want a career that offers flexibility and family friendliness. Work is not my life. I don't think it ever will be. Work is what I need to do to live my life. I want a job that provides excellent benefits such as insurance and plenty of vacation and sick days. I want a salary that can support my family and the lifestyle we want to lead. I want room to grow, move up, and earn more so I can continue to better the lives of myself and my family.

How do you evaluate whether a job or career field is the right fit for you?


Monday, July 9, 2012

Eating for Conceiving

After being on hold for a few months due to my job change, my husband and I will start trying to get pregnant again this month. I still go back and forth often about feeling "ready" to parent. When I am feeling ready, I want to hurry things along! That leads to a lot of googling and research on how to increase my chances of getting pregnant quickly.

One of the best sources on this subject that I have come across is the Nurses' Health Study (discussed in this babyzone article). This article, and others, have lead me to the decision to replace low and non-fat dairy items in my diet with full fat dairy. Previously, I was eating a lot of reduced fat dairy every day - yogurt, string cheese, milk, etc. The Nurses' Health Study showed that women who ate low fat or no fat dairy products had more difficulty conceiving, while those who enjoyed at least one serving of full fat dairy had less difficulty conceiving.

I found it very difficult to find full fat dairy at my grocery store (aside from cheese)! Eventually I found Dannon's Pure yogurt. The texture and taste is different from the low fat yogurt I've been enjoying for years. And with a higher calorie count, I need to keep an eye on what else I eat throughout the day. I also purchased regular string cheese and full fat block cheese. We still have fat free milk in the house, but I only use that for cereal, so I'll just try to indulge less.

Full fat dairy aside, what else am I trying?

*Taking prenatal vitamins & B6
*Eating as many fruits and veggies as possible, as well as whole grains, nuts and beans (I'm a vegetarian)
*Drinking lot's of water
*Exercising regularly (hopefully daily)
*Reducing my caffeine intake - I'm a coffee lover and recently switched to 1/2 caff. I want to keep it to 2 cups or less daily
*Limiting or eliminating alcohol? I already drink very little. However, there is a debate in our home now, because my husband believes the occasional glass of wine helps to de-stress me.

After all is said and done, I will never know if any specific change to my diet lead to a pregnancy. My husband, who is often very wise, doesn't believe low-fat dairy kept us from conceiving during previous attempts. His theory? It just wasn't the right time yet.

Do you eat or avoid certain foods in hopes of getting pregnant?


Sunday, July 8, 2012

No Loan & July Goals

The loan is a no go.

I had applied for a loan, with the intention of paying off debt. Unfortunately I do not qualify for a loan. I applied alone because I have a better credit score than my husband, as well as less debt. However, I learned this past week that my income is just too low. To get a loan I would need a co-signer. Since my husband can't co-sign that would mean asking family for help - not really an option for us. We really want to take care of our financial obligations on our own, without involving family. I can ask for less money (we wanted a $9,000 loan) but the banker I spoke with made the good point that unless the amount of the loan truly wipes out ALL of the debt and gives us a clean slate, it's probably not worthwhile.

I am completely new to the world of loans and had no idea what my chances truly were. I learned from the process. For instance, I had the bank explain to me in simple terms why I was denied. Basically they look at a ratio of income vs. obligations. Long story short my income is too low. My obligations include rent (the full amount - $850) because my name is on our rental lease, and my student loan payments. Banks want your obligations to be 40% or less of your income. In my case, I was over 65%. Too big of a risk for the bank. I also don't own anything (car, home, etc.) so there is nothing to make the bank feel secure in loaning money to me.

It is disappointing to be denied, only because we thought the loan was a great idea for paying off our debt. But we must move forward.

Here are my goals for July:

*Figure out how to afford paying for the children to fly across the country, visit with us for as long as possible, and fly them back (in August). Try to enjoy the visit and not suffer too much financially due to it. Hopefully we will not have to drain our limited savings to accomplish this.

*As part of the above goal my husband will work with a travel agent.

*Call the state of California and get on a payment plan for tax debt.

*Continue tracking spending daily.

*Continue being conscious of spending on food.

*Sneak at least $5 into savings. A small amount, but better than nothing.

*Search the apartment and find something to sell to make extra money.

*Work on a budget to start using in August and beyond.

We will get through these tight financial times. By making good choices and staying positive we will get to a better place!


Sunday, July 1, 2012

An untruth.

I have unfortunately been dealing with what I have been describing as a hostile environment at work. I have only been in my new job for just under four months and I have already been reduced to tears at my desk (not a proud moment, wish I was a little tougher).

I recently took the courageous route and brought the topic up to my boss's boss. I felt this was risky, but necessary.

The worst part of this conversation with my boss's boss was a comment about a former co-worker of mine. I only had one other co-worker in my office, who left for a new job in May. Boss's boss told me this person disliked working with me and found me "condescending." Hearing this was hurtful, but also confusing. I have racked my brain all weekend, going over my relationship with this co-worker and replaying all of our interactions. Something felt very wrong to me. I couldn't think of a time or an incident where this accusation could have been true. Especially since I felt like this co-worker and I became friends while working together! We joked a lot, shared parts of our personal lives, chatted online, texted, because Facebook friends. We went to a conference together with one other person and had a blast. We only vented to each other a lot about our difficult boss.We have talked several times since she left our office and it has always been very positve and friendly.

This evening I finally worked up the courage to text my former co-worker and ask her to be brutually honest about working with me. I made it clear that if I did treat her poorly at all, that I really wanted to know about it so I could sincerely apologize. Her response was "Never. Not even close." When I explained the situation to her she was shocked and surprised. She described the comments as a "bizarre lie." She made it very clear to me (as I already knew from our many, many conversations in person while we worked together) that our supervisor and the way she treated us was 80% of the reason she began looking for other jobs.

I feel better and worse at the same time. I am under the impression that my supervisor is lying about me, to protect herself. It is a terrible feeling and nothing I have ever dealt with. I am most angry at the fact that I doubted myself. I let this singular untrue comment get under my skin and I wondered for too long if there was any truth inside it. I am not a condescending, difficult to work with person, far from it. I am the bubbly, smiley, kind co-worker.

I have a meeting scheduled with both my supervisor and her boss on Monday afternoon. We are supposed to work through our issues and discuss how we can do a better job of communicating with each other. I am not looking forward to it at all. I feel ganged up on and lied to. I don't feel secure in my job, even though I know I am a hard worker, who is intelligent, creative, dedicated and enthusiastic.

I have never been in a situation like this. Even if the meeting tomorrow goes pretty well and communication improves, I don't know how long I will be able to work in this department under these individuals. I can't trust people who tell hurtful lies about me.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Nice timing universe!

After feeling proud and hopeful yesterday about our current debt payoff plan I made the mistake of checking the mail. Two envelopes from the California State Tax Board. And my heart sinks.

The state tax debt I have previously discussed is for Virginia, so this is an additional debt to add to our list. We knew California would need to be dealt with eventually, but hoped it would be on our own time. You cannot hide from the government and the debt is owed. My husband will need to contact them and work out a payment plan. Hopefully the monthly payment amount won't be too high so we can still reach some other goals.

Add $4,333.67 to our total. I thought we would be 100% done with our debt in less than three years, probably not anymore. Trying my hardest not to let this make me feel defeated. The timing was almost laughable. I was literally on the phone with my husband discussing our plans for the loan and how excited we will be to be debt free soon when I put my hands on the mail.

Real funny universe! I don't appreciate your timing at all.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

2 Weeks Later

As promised, here is a two week update to “if you don’t have any money …”
Two weeks is a short period of time, sure, but I’m still proud of myself and my husband for staying very focused on our financial goals so far. We should hear from our bank today to find out if we were approved for a loan. The loan will be used to pay off our tax debts and some of my student loans. We see this as an opportunity to pay off our most stressful debts quicker and will work hard to pay back the bank as early as possible. The loan will be in my name because I have better credit. I have never applied for a loan before and it’s a little intimidating, although I do feel pretty confident that we will be approved.
As a part of the loan application process my credit score was checked and is currently sitting pretty at 731. According to the letter I received this is better than 58% of US consumers! The loan application also forced us to get all of our numbers together in terms of our debts. As of June 26, 2012 we have $14,207.46 in debt. Very scary to see it as one large sum. Here’s the breakdown:
$7,003.95 is IRS debt
$5,901.82 is Student Loans
$950.00 is State tax debt
& $351.69 is Credit Card debt
The number seems high, but when you started doing calculations, it won’t actually take us too long to pay off. We have been averaging about $507 in debt payments monthly - $181 to student loans, $150 to state taxes, $137 to the IRS, and $40 to the credit card. By buckling down (as discussed in "...square one" and “The Plan”) we can make higher payments than that. $507 per month gets us out of debt in more than two years, but less than three. I am very hopeful that we can be strict with our spending and really knock this debt out quickly. I dream of buying a car with cash, saving for a house, having a big fat emergency fund, and traveling to Europe!
Our savings account did creep up slightly since I originally posted. It’s now $285.43. Still small and not much of a security blanket. Progress may continue to be slow here as our budget is tightened.
The major reason for our very tight budget for July is trying to afford plane tickets for the children to come visit us in August, and then the costs of having them with us as well (food, entertainment, time off work). We have to be very tough on ourselves (little to no spending outside of necessities) because plane tickets are not cheap in the summertime (or ever). After we afford this visit, I hope we learn to be more spending conscious throughout the entire year, as these visits will always be happening and preparing in advance would greatly reduce our stress.
I have been faithfully tracking my spending, which is always helpful. I plan on keeping that up long term. It will come in very handy when we sit down to create a budget again. Speaking a budget, I have gone back to a limit on grocery spending. The amount is generous, we just need to learn to eat what we buy and to not buy new food just out of boredom. When I have a spending limit I use my cell phone’s calculator to add things up as I put them in my shopping cart and almost always end up under budget. I’m still not quite to the point of meal planning and cooking nice meals yet, but I’d like to get there eventually.
I have held myself accountable and I’m proud. I shared my goals and fears with my husband and my online debt support group. But the work is not done … I must keep working hard at this, the payoff will be worth the sacrifice.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Plan

Here is our plan to get into a better place financially.

My husband recently re-crunched our numbers (bills vs. income) and discovered we should end up with approximately $900 at the end of each month. What does this mean? It means we have been acting like complete idiots lately and we have wasted an unknown amount of money.

The plan is to pay our bills, and stay within budget for areas like groceries. By the end of each month we should have the surplus money to play with. This amount will be divided up between savings and various other funds (allowance, entertainment, a clothes fund, etc.). Because of our recent bad behavior, we will not have the full amount at the end of July, however if we keep focused and working hard we should have it by the end of August. Essentially we are a bit behind at the moment and July will be a very tight month. No more eating out, limited grocery spending, no entertainment (during summer movie blockbuster season? torture!), no extra purchases at all outside of rent, bills and food.

I worry about endurance. With any plan in the past we have done well for short spurts of time. Keeping our energy up for the long term is our challenge. Hopefully if we start to see our savings grow and debt dwindle we will feel inspired to keep going. If we can make this plan work and actually stick to a budget for once, the payoff (pun intended!) will be great!

I started yesterday by setting a spending limit when I went to the grocery store. I make our grocery list with items numbered by priority and calculate the total as I shop using the calculator on my cell phone. Shopping takes a little longer this way, but it is very worthwhile. I was $40 under budget and we have tons of food!

Another great reason to buckle down and follow this plan - we are turning in a loan application to our bank tomorrow. The purpose of the loan is to pay off our tax debt. We will then re-pay the local bank. We need to stick to our plan so that we can pay off this loan on time or early and be debt free!


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Back to square one

It's time to buckle down.

My husband checked our bank account online this morning and was surprised to see we didn't have a lot of extra money beyond his just received paycheck. This does not come as a surprise to me as I have been checking the account daily and tracking our spending for a little over a week now.

I have learned in the short time we have been married and financially merged, that nothing works if we are not on the same page. I can't get far with debt payoff and limited spending if my husband is in a splurging state of mind. Facing our checking account balance may have been an unfortunate way to start his day, but for me it is a relief. I am happy that we are both now aware of our situation. We can discuss how we got here together and make a plan to move forward.

We have been living a lifestyle that we can't afford. We can't say "it's only $15, it's not a big deal" every time we're not in the mood to cook dinner and opt to grab a sandwich somewhere instead. Those $5, $10, $15, and $20 purchases have all majorly added up over the last several months. My husband has felt like we haven't been spending much money (with the exception of eating out too often), but with a little thinking I can rattle off a pretty significant list of places our money has gone. Books, dvd's, going to the movies, eating out, a bridal shower gift, a graduation gift, greeting cards, haircuts, clothes, a day at the shooting range, joining a gym, accessories for our new cell phones, and lot's of unneccessary treats at the grocery store. My husband described it well - he's had a wall up between himself and reality. I do not have that same wall, but I am guilty of letting the behavior continue on too long.

We will sit down together this evening to discuss this further and come up with a plan. One of the major problems we are facing is that we have a large purchase to make before summer is over (plane tickets so the kids can visit) but have spent any money that could have been used for that purpose.

I have a few ideas in mind that should help us.

*We need to go back to grocery shopping only once a week, using some kind of meal plan to make the most of the food we buy, and sticking to a set budget limit for groceries.

*I need to continue tracking our spending and checking our bank balances regularly - and sharing this information with my husband. We should be discussing money and our goals weekly.

*Leaving money sitting in our checking account just doesn't work, if it's there it will get spent on something. If we have big things to save for, we need to either transfer money into a safer savings account, or set cash aside in an envelope.

*We desperately need to get back to a budget, but my husband might not be ready for that just yet.

*This is a little more difficult, but we need to find a way to break the cycle of stress/emotional eating and to stop using food as a reward or treat. This is bad for our wallets and our waistlines.

So here we are again, back at square one it seems. Not enough money in the bank, not able to lead the lifestyle we want. It's time to face up to all of our faults and do better.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Envy & Inadequacy

Last night, I hosted a book club meeting at my apartment. Only two lovely ladies were able to attend out of the eight total members in our group, but it was still a very nice evening.  Being a part of the book club is relatively new to me (I was invited to join by a co-worker at my former job) and I’ve missed a few meetings myself due to being overwhelmed by my new job.
Leading up to hosting I felt negatively several times about our apartment. First, I felt bad for living in an apartment at all, since many of the book club women live in houses. Then I feel bad about our old, broken couch, the dirty carpet, our lack of a real bed, my embarrassing old furniture some of which I have had since I was a teenager, the bare white walls with no framed artwork or photographs. I feel inadequate, and nervous about being judged. It’s a terrible feeling because I don’t usually view our home through that set of eyes. On a normal day, I love our home. It’s comfortable, it’s us, it’s peaceful.  It’s a safe place for my husband and I both to come home to every day – it’s our sanctuary. We don’t have people over very often (mostly because we live in an apartment, and have limited space and seating) so opening our home up like this was in a way an invasion of privacy and made me feel vulnerable.
When my guests arrived they were very complimentary of the apartment and I felt more at ease. But as the conversations strayed from the book and towards personal life I began feeling poorly again. Both women travel regularly to Italy. Both have vacations planned this summer – two weeks at beautiful beaches in North Carolina and a trip across the country to California. Both women live in real houses and spend their weekends decorating and working on home improvements. When I mentioned wishing we lived in a house one of my guests, whom I had just met for the first time, said in an almost singsong voice “now is the time to buy!” I can hear the sentence ringing in my ears. Now may very well be a great time to buy a house, but not for someone without any money.
I envy their trips, their travels, their shopping sprees at Home Depot, their backyards, their family beach houses, their spare bedrooms that are used as workout rooms and crafting spaces. That lifestyle feels so unattainable sometimes.  I often wonder where I went wrong. Was it a series of poor decisions on my part the led me to not have these things I covet? Is it because I didn’t choose the right school or major, and took too long to finish my education? Career choices? Lack of drive? Spending and savings decisions? I'm not sure either of these women are dealing with debt or child support. Is it too late to achieve things like owning a home, being able to afford a summer vacation every year, occasionally traveling the world?
All in all, I enjoyed playing hostess for a few hours and it was very nice being social and having some girl time. On a positive note - our cat, who is extremely friendly, vocal, and lovey, was the star of the night and both of my guests fell in love with him.
The comparison game is a terrible one to play. Sometimes I just feel so behind ...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mark the calendar.

I cried at work yesterday. In front of my boss. Because of my boss.


I'm struggling with how to handle the situation. I believe there is very poor communication and that my supervisor can be hostile at times. Often we get along very well, she is complimentary of my work and I learn from her. But there are times (unpredictably so) when I get berated, treated like a child, talked to in hostile and condescending ways. I dread going to work and I've been in this position for less than four months.

I could confront my boss. I could go up a level and talk to my boss's boss. I could talk to HR. I don't have a lot of confidence in any of these options. A lateral move would be great, but there aren't any openings at the moment.

I woke up this morning with a sore jaw (likely from grinding my teeth all night due to stress), so I will take that as a sign I should do something.


Friday, June 15, 2012

If you don't have any money ...

... don't watch My First Place, Househunters, or really ANY SHOW on HGTV. It's completely disheartening. Especially the episode that features an annoying 24 year old who can't decide how to best spend his $300,000 budget. Ugh. It's probably more enjoyable if you're not 30 years old with less than $300 in savings. :(

Time for some new financial goals, and some accountability.

1. Pay off debt. We have several types of debt.
a. Student Loans - All mine, and I've been paying them off faithfully and aggressively. Just recently made it under the $6000 mark! Still will take almost three full years to pay off at the current rate of progress, which feels like forever.
b. Credit Card - The only card my husband and I currently have. Intentionally obtained in his name, to help build his credit score. Sitting at just under $400 (with only a $500 credit limit), but paying the minimum of $15 most months. Interest rate is 17.9%! We were also charged a $15 late payment fee last month.
c. State Tax Debt - I do not have the exact number, but we recently managed to get under $1000! Yay! This feels manageable. We are on a payment plan of $150 per month. Should be paid off in approximately 6 months, or less if we are aggressive!
d. Federal Tax Debt - This is the worst and the scariest. I do not have the most recent number (all tax debt is under my husband's name). We should be under 5 or 6 thousand dollars. However, the IRS does not issue paper statements to us, and does not allow online payments. We receive stress-inducing certified mail from them fairly often. They change the amount owed often as well and it's difficult to keep track of where we stand. A nightmare, essentially (see goal #2).

2. Explore bank loan as a debt payoff option. 
We want to talk to a real live person at our local bank to discuss loan options. The idea is to take out a loan so that we can pay off our debt (especially tax debt) in one fell swoop. Remove the stress of multiple payments and our fear of the IRS, and only have to deal with paying back our local bank. Interest rates would hopefully be lower as well, but we will have to check with the bank to know for sure.
I want to assign the "talk to the bank" task to my husband.

3. Build savings. At this very second in time we have ... (drumroll please) ... $253.43. That's it. Unacceptable in my opinion. I have no sense of security, and no feeling of preparation for life's inevitable emergencies. Things like buying a home, having a child, taking a (belated) honeymoon, or buying a new car all feel impossible. I want contributing to our savings to happen regularly, and to increase over time.

4. Tracking spending. I did this religiously and obsessively in the past! But then we used my new job as an excuse to stop tracking, stop thinking, and abandon our budget (is that harsh?). We now know exactly what my paychecks are each month, so that can't be an excuse any longer. Not surprisingly, tracking keeps me on track. I'd like to track for 90 days straight to get a good picture of where we are and where our money is going (hint - Chipotle, Ledo's Pizza, Subway).

5. Reconsider a budget. My husband and I do not think about or handle money the same way, but we do our best to communicate and compromise. I'd like to revisit having a budget. I think buckling down for a few months can help us reach some goals sooner, and a budget is a great way to do this.

6. Be honest about my fears. I promise myself I will share with my husband my fears about starting a family with little to no emergency money in the bank.

Now for the accountability piece! I will share these goals. With my husband, and with my debt support board. And I will write about them again - not a year from now this time, but soon! I will mark my calendar and update again in two weeks.

Wish me luck!


Thursday, June 14, 2012

... And then we moved to Texas?

A potential move is up for discussion. This is not the first time my husband and I have had this talk. We have contemplated the move to the West Coast to be closer to my stepchildren. We have dreamed about a move to North Carolina to be midway between my parents and my in-laws. Now Texas is on the table. We are discussing the possibility because a relocation via my husband's job could become available in the near future.

I'm a change-hater and a big move like this would be life-changing. Moving away from my family and the place I have called home for almost twenty years now would be very difficult. I'm purposely not thinking about that part right now. But we see the positives as well. Being geographically closer to my husband's kids, being in a bigger city with more job opportunities and more entertainment options, the exciting adventure of starting a new life in a new place together.

The potential cities on the list actually sound amazing. Beautiful weather, great schools, many colleges and universities I could work for, solid job market, affordable housing, low cost of living, lot's of fun stuff to do (festivals, live music, sports), and great health care. Wouldn't all of those benefits outweigh some of the risks? My favorite place to play when thinking about moving is Find Your Spot. If you've never been to the site before, check it out. You take a quiz and the best places for you to live are recommended.

I like to tell myself that I would be brave and would handle a big move well. I think about all the proactive things I could do to establish myself in a new area. Joining Meetup groups, connecting with my board friends to see who lives in the area, signing up to volunteer for Girls Inc. and Girls on the Run, joining a gym, taking yoga classes, etc. It would be sad, and it would be scary, but it could be an amazing experience as well.

My husband and I tend to be pretty lazy people, so a move that is facilitated by one of our jobs might be the only way we ever do it. To move in this way we would already have one person's career taken care of (one job search instead of two) and the company would also pay for our relocation (less stress figuring out how to afford packing, traveling, deposits on a new place to live, etc.). We would also automatically know a few people - his co-workers and their families (many of whom would also be experiencing a relocation). If we were left to figure everything out on our own - where to move, where to live, saving up to pay for it all, when to go, how to meet new people ... we would never make it happen.

I do have my usual worries. My career of course. My husband would be employed, but there would be no guarantee as to when and where I would find work. I worry about the setback it would cause in my career development, to leave my current job so soon, to have a gap in my employment history, and so on. I worry about money - a big move to a completely new state without major savings in the bank? Sounds terrifying to me! I need that sense of security savings would bring, and we may not have time for that. And then there is starting a family ... if we begin trying again soon I could be pregnant or have an infant when we move. Being away from loved ones would be very difficult during that time.

In order to really wrap my head around the idea and see how I truly feel I need to know the timeline. When would a move really happen? Are we talking months or years? How much advance notice would we have? Will I have several months to adjust to the idea, say my goodbyes and plan for a new life? I don't have any of this information yet, but I've encouraged my husband to get the details.

If you have stories to share of a big move, I'd love to hear them.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Structure vs. Spontaneity

Today at work I was told I am very "structured." I'm viewed as a perfectionist who needs things to be exactly so in order to function. I have difficulty adjusting when things don't go the way I wanted them to, or the way I think they should. I'm also viewed as very organized, and as a planner and preparer.

This structured, strict, immovable person is so far removed from the picture of myself that I hold inside. I see me as a messy, nervous, sweaty, disheveled, disorganized, clumsy, rushed, well-meaning, overwhelmed, slightly lacking in confidence, faking it 'til she makes it, desperately trying to catch up girl. I like this mess of a girl and I'm rooting for her - so I'm surprised when others see a complete different girl in her place.

When did this "structured" behavior begin? Is it a good thing or a bad thing to be this way? Have I always been this way? And do I really need to know when or where it started ... or is that just another example of me trying to be perfect, precise, and in control? Is my need to (over) analyze this comment part of the problem?

I'm being gentle with myself and trying not to take the comment personally. I know there are plenty of benefits to my personality and working style. There are a lot of areas where I excel and where I am an asset. In the same conversation today my supervisor also told me I was "in my element" at our big event last week. I do know I still need to find my way though, and be open to constructive criticism. I do have high expectations and can be set in my ways at times.

So what is the solution here? How can I improve?
Yoga ... meditation ... medication ... therapy ... wine? I think write often about my need to relax or 'let go.' Even in my personal life I think I need to be more spontaneous. My day shouldn't be ruined if plans change. Life should be a crazy, unpredictable, beautiful adventure that can't be planned for, right?
There's nothing wrong with a little structure and planning, but am I keeping myself from living life to the fullest?


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Exhaustion & Expectations

Yesterday I survived one of my first big challenges at work. We had a huge event on campus (orientation for new students – the first of four this summer) and I was at work all day beginning at 6:30 AM. My feet, legs, knees, even hips, were so sore from running around non-stop! By the end of the day I was limping. I’m still a little sore today and will confess to having taken two naps so far in my recovery attempt.
Overall the event went really well. Orientation is a great example of how much I have learned in an extremely short period of time at my new job. I’m gaining experience with many valuable skills that I didn’t use in my previous job such as completing payroll, supervising employees, placing orders for supplies and custom products, and public speaking. My role in orientation involved creating an application and advertising for a student volunteer position. I then interviewed, selected, and trained my team of students, and supervised them on the day of the event.  
I’m proud of my team, and look forward to the next three sessions. I had been told more than once that I can’t hold my student volunteers to high expectations because they are not being paid. I disagree and I’m glad I held my ground.  I did set some standards for my group to meet. For the most part they met or exceeded my expectations. The dress code is a great example – I outlined a detailed list of expectations (no shorts above the knee, no hats, etc.) and explained the reasons why I believed it was important for to look their best. Every single student showed up dressed according to code and looking great. I also expected my volunteers to arrive on campus pretty early (7 AM) and again they did not disappoint. I believe you can set the bar high. I will continue to do so, and I think the position that these student volunteers fulfill will become more respected, coveted, prestigious, and efficient because of it.
Now I think it’s time for more ibuprofen and my third nap …

Sunday, June 3, 2012

More Motherhood Musings ...

I have a few more worries to unload…
Money. Simple as that. The financial burden of bringing a child into the world (and I want more than one). I worry because we don’t have savings in the bank, and we have debt (tax, student loans, and a little credit). My husband and I do not lead a frivolous life, and we’ve really grown in our consciousness when it comes to spending. We always make things work, and financially our life is improving, albeit slowly. But still … getting pregnant without the security of a nice chunk of savings is a little scary. I worry about the big stuff (medical bills for a difficult delivery or a sick baby) and the little stuff (wanting to be able to buy whatever cute thing I see in Target!). Of course, the sage advice in this area is that if you want until you can afford to have a baby, you will never have one.
I’ve already explored the idea of motherhood while stuck in a less than ideal job, but there are a few other things that just occurred to me. Conferences, and traveling – my job involves a little of both. Being on the road and away from my husband isn’t idea for trying to conceive or while pregnant. I dread the thought. And what about graduate school? Continuing my education is something I’ve been thinking about casually for years. Will I be able to do that as a parent? While pregnant? I especially want to continue my education if it means a better career, and better future for my family. My husband’s career could also be a factor. He is doing so well at his job right now, but has mentioned more than once that he may not stay with this company forever. I better adjust to the idea of both of us changing jobs throughout the years, while balancing parenthood and marriage as well.
Where we live is also in question. Will we always stay in Virginia? I don’t know. It’s difficult to think about moving away from my family. It’s also difficult having my husband’s family and children so far away (and in different directions). We dream often of finding a place to live that is solely about “us” and not related at all to where everyone else lives. Geography aside, we’re also just outgrowing our current apartment that we have lived in for over two years now. Settling into a house to raise a family would be so beautiful, but just isn’t possible right now (scroll back up to the money paragraph if you need to).
If we are going to try to conceive I would like to work on my health and fitness. The stress of my new job has led me back to two old friends – mass quantities of caffeine, and stress eating! I need to manage my stress in healthier ways so I can have a healthy pregnancy and be a good role model to my children. I want to be a healthy, happy mom. I have this voice in my mind that is telling me I can’t mother until I am perfect. I need to be perfectly healthy, in a perfect job, in a perfect house, with a perfect savings account. The epitome of health, wealth, and balance for my future children. The perfection pressure exhausts and overwhelms me.
I obviously have trouble wrapping my mind around more than one thing at a time. I need to focus on my health, or focus on my job performance.  Focus on getting pregnant, or focus on finances.
Every day so many people do develop their careers and start families at the same time – often while also moving across the country, spending time on hobbies, and having a fun social life. It is possible. It must be possible.

On Work & Motherhood

Am I Ready?

My husband and I want to have children together. There are already two in the picture, from a previous marriage, but we still want to have children that are “ours.” Becoming a mother is very important to me, and so is having a child with my husband. I always imagined being a mother, more so than I ever imagined getting married or having a particular career. I just knew it was something I would eventually do. Mother. Mother to many children – I once went through a phase where I told people I wanted TEN! In high school I also dreamed of having four boys (including having their names picked out) – pretty sure I was having trouble getting along with girls at that point in my life.
I have struggled a lot over recent years with the “Am I ready?” question. Most of the time I feel that I am not ‘grown up’ enough to be a parent. When I shared this with a potentially wise young dad he told me that I won’t ever feel grown up until the moment I do become a parent. He might be right. I may need to let go of the urge to feel 100% ready before moving forward.
My current struggles in regards to becoming a parent though, are all career-related. I worry about the timing of parenthood and where I am in my search for a career. I worry about getting pregnant while in a job that I’m unhappy with. Being stuck in a bad job is one thing, stuck while also pregnant, or with an infant? That has to be much worse. I worry about the negative effects of going out on maternity leave while I’m still so new to my job (if we started trying now, I will be exactly at the one year mark in my new position). Will I fall behind, right at the very point I started knowing what I was doing? I’m in higher education now, and maternity leave could interrupt my first full academic year – so I’ll never be able to judge if the field is really right for me. I worry about being judged by my supervisor and her supervisor, about how I’d be inconveniencing them somehow. And I worry about job stress preventing me from enjoying such a beautiful time in mine and my husband’s life.
Leaving my current job also feels like a non-option if I want to get pregnant in the near future. I have to work. Financially, we both have to be working at this point in our lives, so I need to be in a job long enough to qualify for the maximum maternity leave. If I leave my job for another, the clock resets. We can’t push things off forever while I shop for the elusive perfect job.
I feel sad about leaving my old job while I have these career vs. motherhood thoughts. The job was not fulfilling or high paying, but it was good in many other ways.  It was an incredibly family-friendly environment full of baby-loving people. Co-workers babysit each others children, celebrate milestones together, and having a kid in the office due to an unforeseen emergency was no big deal. Leaving work to go to multiple doctors appointments would have been simple. People would have been sympathetic and helpful if I was sick. I also was far past the minimum time to qualify for maternity leave and had great sick and vacation time saved up as well. I shouldn’t dwell on it too much, it’s not my place anymore.
Has anyone else felt this scared or conflicted?
I think I know deep down that all of this is just fear talking. Everything will work out as it should. I can’t let one job control my life choices. I work to live, I don’t live to work. Family is the most important thing - my husband, our future children.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

This update is for you - Part II

It’s a good thing I didn’t promise to write often, seeing how I went almost a year without updating this blog. I still feel a little ruffled by life at times, but post-wedding and sitting pretty at thirty I do believe I have more days of calm. ”Confused, flustered and maybe a little bit crazy” can probably more often be applied to my personality than to my everyday life. Ruffled will stick as a title. I still love the word, and I hope the concept is genuine.
 The search for friends still continues. I have made attempts to be more social, including joining a book club and accepting lunch invitations from a nice new co-worker. My husband still has a few true friends, although we may not see them often. A tight knit crew of pals sounds like a dream we’re missing out on, but I won’t complain about our quiet, comfortable life. This life is good. My heart will stay open to new people and new opportunities, but that same heart is currently very content.
As you already know, my current gig is no longer current. I could finish up with the ‘likes’ half of that blog post (and still might) but I know that what I write now will be skewed by nostalgia for my old co-workers and the safety of a familiar routine.  I do plan to look at all of the jobs I have had over the years as a way of discovering more about what type of career suits my lifestyle best and will make me truly happy.
I can offer a positive update to the Paralyzed post. I escaped the repetitive trap of insanity and changed! I did get a second job – as a caregiver for elderly people on weekends and evenings – for about 8 months. It was difficult sometimes, but it did help a little financially. Working two jobs also spurred me on in my search for one better full time job.
I also actively pursued the volunteering idea. I signed up with my local chapter of Girls on the Run (an amazing group in my opinion) and went through training to be an Assistant Coach. Unfortunately, when I accepted my new job, I had to bow out of the position because of time conflicts. I believe I would have been very fulfilled by volunteering for Girls on the Run and hope I can find a way to make it work in the future. I am particularly drawn to causes that involve helping girls in the elementary and middle school age range. I will keep searching for other ways to volunteer and make a difference. I’m sure it is good for the soul.
I can say I’m no longer paralyzed, but I can’t say I’m stress-free. I am stressed more often than not. One of my missions for my thirtieth year should be learning to relax, let go, and live in the moment. Wish me luck …

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This update is for you - Part I

Let's begin at the beginning. My "About Me" is no longer quite true. I'm still E, but now I'm newly 30. I still live in Virginia and don't see a move in the near future. I do still love the color grey. I'm still underemployed, perhaps just a little less so. And my hours are now 9 to 5. September 2011 has come and gone. After a beautiful wedding, I'm now a wife to one and stepmom to two. Wife is beautiful, wonderful ,meant to be. Step mom is more complex, but has it’s own moments of beauty.

What else is new in this ruffled life? I haven’t realized my hopes, but there’s no reason I can’t keep trying. There’s no time limit on hope. I still have no limits for this blog, it will be what it will be. Hopefully it (and I) will be more active!
My 29th year ended, without much fanfare.  I was too busy changing jobs! Leaving my old job (after giving only 8 days notice) felt sudden, hurried, and raw, even though it was something I daydreamed about for over a year! I was finally brave about pursuing a new career and followed through on job search plans. I left the comfort of my old office “family” two weeks shy of my big day. Grand 30th birthday plans weren’t really made, although my husband makes every birthday special for me. Life has been a little crazy since then, adjusting to my new role. I will be the first to admit, and I know I already have once on this blog, that I do not handle stress or change very well!
My 29th year has passed, but I can still continue on in the spirit that started this journey. I may be 30 now, but I’m still growing and changing. I’m still learning to be gentle with myself, to relax and to ride out life's ebbs and flows.
Am I still the only one?  I’d still love to sip wine or coffee with anyone even just a little like me. Virtual drinks count.  Kindred spirit – I’m always searching for you.
Aha! Major changes on the Financial Goals page! My, how marriage changes things. Compromise is the key here. It’s no longer “my money.” We are a team and I’m no longer the number one decision maker in control, and boy do I love being in control. A few of these original goals can definitely be stricken from this list. First, I am financially independent from my parents. It’s grown-up time. I cut myself off, simple as that. I am eternally grateful for the years of help and support offered by my parents, always will be. For now, I stand on my own two feet, and lean on my husband when needed. Second, I changed my job and increased my income (just a little). We still have debt, progress is slow there. Our emergency fund is not where I would like it to be. We are no where near ready or able to buy a new car. Lastly, I’m not actively reading up on money, but I do feel I am constantly learning more in this area.
To be continued ...


This update is for me.

Hello world. I've resurfaced. Time for an update?
Since almost a year has passed by with no blogging, a lot has changed. A lot I'm sure has stayed the same too. I resisted the urge to read over all my old posts and came straight here to the fresh blank page. Writing has been on my mind for a few days (I know it's good for me), so I finally sat down to do it.
Without looking over everything I previously wrote on Ruffled Life, I can update a few areas of my life. I'm officially a wife and a stepmom now - newlywed for 259 sweet days now (but who's counting?).
I have also changed jobs. After 2 years and 3 months, I am no longer a receptionist. I'm almost to the 3 month mark in my new job. To keep a long story short, I now work for a University. My current role has more responsibility than my former job, I'm still overwhelmed at the newness of it all, I'm undecided on whether higher education is the correct career field for me, and I miss my old co-workers dearly.
Short & sweet - that's all for now!