Thursday, March 3, 2016

Why I Spent Everything and Saved Nothing for the Last Three Years

Did I ever tell you I paid off my student loans last year? Well, I did, and it feels amazing.

Before I get into the details I want to take this moment to acknowledge how fortunate I have been in so many ways to achieve this personal milestone. I would not have been able to pay off my loans had I not been employed full-time and had the opportunity to live with my parents. Hands down, these were two of the largest contributing factors to achieving this goal. That, and the privileges afforded to me because I am white. I am also fortunate that my parent's house is within driving distance of plenty of job opportunities, to get along with my parents as well as I do, and to be free of physical impairments and health issues that would otherwise prevent me from having "extra" income after bills.

Here Are The Numbers:

$36,198.21 - What I owed the day I started to pay. Aka, the total of my student loans after 5 years of college + 6 months of interest accrued after graduation. This is tuition only, and does not include living expenses, which my parents covered because they are very, very generous people. Shout out to Ed and Lori.

30 - the number of months it took me to pay off my student loans (2 years, 6 months)

$39,387.74 - total amount I paid on my loans (principal + interest)

$48,443.27* - the amount I would have paid on my loans had I paid the minimum for 10 years

$9,055.53 - the amount I saved, in interest, by paying ahead on my loans

*my projected interest rate was a number I calculated using a student loan amortization spreadsheet that I downloaded in 2012. At that time I plugged in my total debt and the terms of my loan to find out how much interest my loans would accrue over the 10 year payback period.

Why I Chose to Spend Everything:

In 2012 I made some financial decisions based entirely on the fear of my debt. I had just graduated, and for the 6 months prior, I had spent every paycheck like Richie Rich at FAO Schwarz. Then I got a letter in the mail saying I owed almost 4 times what I paid for my car. First I panicked. Then when that didn't help the situation, I made a spreadsheet. The decision I made at the time was to start throwing everything I had directly into my loans.

For the next few months I paid as much, and as often as I could. Eventually I set up a bi-monthly auto-pay of over half of each paycheck. I was reading tons of shit (good and bad) online about paying down debt, and investing. I was giving out a lot of unsolicited advice to my friends. I was all kinds of savings-crazy.

In 2013 I had mostly evened-out on the student loan hysteria, but I was still feeling the weight of the debt. I thought a lot about where my money should be going. Do I really need to keep paying this aggressively on my loans? Maybe? Is it stupid not to be saving up an emergency fund? Probably. Don't I "deserve" to spend my tax return on something awesome? No. So I kept on paying, and paying, and reading articles, and questioning my choices, and paying.

Why I Chose to Save Nothing:

By 2014 I was still fretting over my lack of savings, but I rationalized that I was taking a calculated risk. I knew that if anything unexpected happened to me, my job, or my car, I would have no money saved up for substantial medical bills, car repairs, or any time unemployed. I knew this, but I still chose to save nothing, and kept paying. Full disclosure, the entire reason I was able to be so "reckless" was because I was banking on being able to lean on my parents in case of an emergency. I would have intended to pay them back of course, but the fear of being on the street or having nobody to turn to was not a reality for me. Not everyone is so fortunate.

The good news is I had no emergencies. So of course, I feel the risk was worth it. I know that in an alternate universe I could have really f*cked myself here, financially speaking.

Things I Did Right:

1) I cashed out an under performing small cap growth fund (whatever that is) and used it to make a payment. Thanks Grandma Delphine, your money went to a good cause.

2) I funneled every penny from my tax returns straight back into my loans.

3) I did a lot of extra things to make money during this time. One of the most fruitful strategies was opening an Etsy store, and selling the shit out of laser cut wood items and screen printed burlap sacks. No kidding. Here are some custom ornaments I made for my friend Kira:

Things I Did Wrong:

1) I opened a Nordstrom credit card. Nothing good can come from a Nordstrom credit card.

2) I assumed getting out of debt would make me feel better about money. Yes, I feel better about debt, but now I need to hurry up on that emergency savings before my luck runs out!

3) A few times I caught myself passing judgement on others who did not have the same "ethics" as me. The important thing I learned here is that not everyone has the same goals as me. Not everyone has the same financial setup as I did, and not everyone looks at paying down their debt as more important than enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Bottom Line:

I've never wanted something so badly and worked so hard to get it for so long. I'd like to say that my college degree (ironically, the piece of paper that got us here) was something I wanted very badly, but it wasn't the same as this. I'd also like to say I worked "so hard for so long" to get a degree, but that's not true either. I would say I more worked "pretty hard, intermittently" to get a degree. I am more proud of paying off this mountain of debt than I was the day I graduated from college. That's saying something.

Now that I'm out of debt, I can worry about more important things: like my investment portfolio and baking cakes.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lazy Hobbyist Learns to Layer

Most mornings I have a routine. I wake up and before I'm able to get out of bed I check two things on my phone. I check my sleep monitor to see if my sleep quality matches the way I feel, and I check my email. One morning last week when checking my email I read this blog post by Gracey, a tall blogger from Pittsburgh, whose blog I subscribe to via email. Her blog is called Fashion for Giants. I like Gracey's blog because she doesn't take herself too seriously and manages to turn out posts that consistently feel like notes from a friend. One morning last week I was casually scrolling through until she mentioned her chambray shirt.

"Hmm, haven't worn my chambray shirt in a while," I thought. "She made it really cute pairing it with a cardigan. ... I own a cardigan, AND I have a patterned skirt sort of like that. I should wear this exact outfit today. I should wear this exact outfit today and then TELL HER I wore this exact outfit today."

Instant blog post.

A few things fell together perfectly the morning I put on this outfit: 

1) I was reading Gracey's post at the exact moment in the day where I would be thinking "I need to get dressed."

2) I was in a good enough mood to put on more than leggings and a giant, shapeless shirt a tunic.

3) I had already intended to do my hair today, so that worked out for the photo shoot. This was less of the usual slob kind of day - I had not taken a styling tool to my hair in at least three months.

The photos above are Gracey in her outfit for the day (left), and me copying her outfit (right). I think I did an alright job. This is probably the best I have looked at work since I canceled my Gwynnie Bee membership. RIP.

Thanks Gracey!

Monday, October 5, 2015

My Most Shameful Secret

drawing  by Allie at http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/
I have a confession to make.

I hate to exercise.

My most shameful secret in life?

I have a degree in Exercise Science, and I hate to exercise.

It's not even a secret that I hate exercise. I have written 7 posts in the last year on how much I hate exercise, or how much I struggle with exercising consistently. 1234567.

And it's not even a secret that I have a degree in Exercise Science.
So I'm sure people have put two and two together, but it's so EMBARRASSING and SHAMEFUL to admit the anomaly.

I admitted it to my hair stylist, Jen F., at Halo Salon and Spa in Wexford back in March.
I was frustrated with not being able to lose weight. I told her that I know the best way to lose weight and maintain it is to build muscle, but I was so intimidated by the weight floor at most gyms. I confessed to her that my degree in Exercise Science just made my fear even worse. It was hard to admit that I had the education and no idea how to apply it to myself. In addition to my degree, I am a Certified Exercise Physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine, and I'M AFRAID OF THE FREAKING GYM.

Her reaction was one of surprise and compassion. She told me that I was "one of the most self assured young women [she'd] ever met" and that she was surprised to find I was afraid of this thing - this silly, silly thing. I've known her for 12 years, so I took what she had to say to heart. She told me I have to go for it. She told me how lifting and doing Crossfit had changed her life. She gave me a name of a woman who could help me, and told me to make a training appointment with her to get over my fear.

Then I did nothing.

I did nothing for three months until I saw that my friend Becky had signed up for a Crossfit Foundations class at Crossfit North Park in Allison Park. Becky was my 5k training buddy, then my marathon relay training buddy, then my marathon training buddy. If I was going to make anything happen with Crossfit, it was going to happen with Becky.

I signed up.

Then I went on the Bachelorette Weekend Trip to Naples.

Then I went to the Crossfit Foundations class.


drawing by Allie at http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My Boyfriend Lives in Raleigh Now

Two weeks ago my boyfriend moved to the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. You remember Rob, right? We went to Cleveland in May and on a Birthday Brewery Tour in December. 

After a few weeks of freaking out over the logistics of a long distance relationship, I calmed down things calmed down. We found him an apartment the last weekend in August, and then moved his stuff into the apartment the first weekend in September. The next weekend he moved, and two weeks later I visited him at his new apartment. That was this weekend. Should I draw up a timeline?

Friday night we stayed in and had wine and cheese. Saturday it was rainy all day, but we went to Durham anyway to explore the American Tobacco Campus. The following photos are from Durham, aka the Bull City.

Our first stop was the Burts Bees Headquarters where we looked at some bees. After about 15 minutes of searching I gave up looking for the queen.

There is a stream running through the campus. It starts out small at the northern end of campus, where Rob is in the photo above, and it ends up as a giant waterfall outside of the Art Institute at the south end of campus.

Throughout the campus there are multiple points of interest. The photo above shows a life-size chess game. The lower photo is a fountain made from row of beer taps.

This sign is at the southern entrance to the campus.

The Durham Bulls Stadium is across the street.

This is a photo of us in the stadium.

This bull hangs out on Main Street in Durham.

Here are some closeups of the bees.

So far, being apart doesn't really feel any different than when he lived 45 minutes away. Weekends will probably be the hardest, but we're already planned out for the rest of the year with flights to NC and trips home to Pittsburgh. Next time I see him will be on Liz and Josh's wedding weekend, which is 23 days away. 23 days doesn't feel that long... yet.

Let the countdown begin!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ok I Just Have To Tell You About This Watch

**This is not an advertisement. I have no affiliation with Withings or anyone important, for that matter.**

About a week ago I came across this baby on the internet. I don't remember when or where or how, but it was love at first sight. In all my years of searching I've never come across a fitness watch this attractive, period. Plus it's loaded with functionality, plus it's waterproof, plus it DOESN'T HAVE TO BE CHARGED.

Did you get that? No charging. I'm smitten. By the way, it's called the Activite Pop and it's by Withings.

Normally when I want to buy something over $100, especially in a market as saturated as fitness wearables, I'm going to do a lot of research to make sure it's the best there is. In this case, I didn't have to. 

Here's why:

Somewhere between one and two years ago I decided I wanted a fitness watch. I did a TON of research on all the options back then, and at the time what I was looking for was the most in-depth and accurate data. Data data data. Eventually I decided on the Basis watch. I think the Fitbit Force came in a close second, but it had been recalled. I didn't care about the recall, I ain't afraid of no skin rashes, but it had been pulled from the shelves of every store. I could not get my hands on one. I digress.

I wore the Basis watch for a week or so and was not impressed with it's look and need to be charged all the time, so I returned it to Best Buy. They have a great return policy, btw. The point of the story is even after a ton of research, I still ended up with something I wasn't happy with.

Then a few months ago I tried the Apple Watch. I wanted to tell you all about it in another post, but it was turning out to be a BORING POST, and I don't just publish anything, ya know?

These are all the photos I took of the Apple Watch when I was wearing it. On the left is the main screen and the two right photos are from Instagram. It was aiight.

So why is the Withings watch so special? WELL did I tell you that you don't have to charge it? It runs on a battery that lasts about 8 months - more if you don't use the silent vibrating alarm it offers. That was like the number one selling point for me because when I tried both the Basis and the Apple Watch, there was always a question of when to charge. Overnight maybe, but the sleep monitoring was a feature I was really into, so night time wasn't ideal. In both test drive scenarios I usually charged the watch while at work standing at my desk. Being physically attached to my workstation long enough to charge up was annoying. But you know what? Being conscious of the battery life of my wearable was really annoying in general.

I am also in love with the Withings watch because it just freaking looks good. Did you see how heinously ugly the first Basis watch was? The Apple Watch was beautiful, but the good-looking one, pictured above, was way out of my price range. Plus I wouldn't be able to bring myself to wear the handsome Apple Watch at the gym. I'd destroy it for sure. The Activite Pop watch is nice enough to be worn to a wedding (really, I wore it to a wedding on Friday) but casual enough to be worn at the gym (did that too). Don't ask me how they managed that. I think it has to do a lot with the coloring. The creme, almost dusty-rose-like color is just so chique, but the watch has a simple face and the band is rubber, so voila, there's your casual element. You can also change the bands to purple, blue or orange. I chose to wear a color band daily to keep the creme one looking fresh for nice occasions. The accessories pack cost me about $30.

Lastly, the watch is waterproof. This makes for a TRUE set-it-and-forget-it type of data collection. You buy the watch. You put it on. You sleep in it. You shower with it on. And it's up to you whether you check the accompanying app daily, weekly, or hourly.

So how much did this watch cost me? It retails at $149.00 but I got it when it was on price match at Best buy for $129.00. I bought it with a gift card so if you consider the fuelperks you could argue I got it for $113.52.

I've been wearing the watch for about a week an a half so far, and I'm still super into it. Once I get some more data we can look at some trends! Riveting. I know.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I've Read Seven Books In Seven Weeks

Happy Birthday to the Hobbyist! 
It's been one year since my first post, and I'd like to say 
"thanks for reading" with this photo of a card.
Get this cute greeting card from 9thletterpress.com <--not an AD

So, speaking of reading, I LOVE to read but I don't do it as often as I'd like, because books are so expensive on my Kindle.

"Why don't you borrow books from the library?" my girl Anna asked me one day. "They're free."

She had a point...

In college the campus library was my home. It was a magical place where I could hole-up all day and eat two whole meals (brunch and dinner), 6 hours apart while studying, and also taking breaks to play the sims for way too long. 

I'm out of college now (3 freaking years!!) and the closest library is further than I like. Somehow while lamenting about how expensive books are on Amazon.com, the conversation Anna and I were having turned, and I realized that I could PROBABLY borrow books from the library to read on my kindle. Omg, why hadn't I thought of that before? What a NOVEL idea. 

See what I did there?

So in early August I paid the $65 in late fees I had been putting off since 2013, got my library card renewed (free), and started borrowing books to read on my kindle. These days I don't even bother to put them on my kindle anymore, because there's this thing called OneDrive, and it's awesome. I read on OneDrive from the browser on my phone, or on a desktop computer on my lunch break. My Mom reads her borrowed library books in OneDrive on her iPad's browser. It's just easier to teach people because it's less steps to borrow and return ebooks. Plus OneDrive automatically saves your pages when you exit. How convenient for us lazies, amiright?

So really, anyone* can borrow books from the library, without actually stepping foot in the library if they have two things:
  • a library card (you do have to actually go into the library to get one, I believe)
  • internet access
I'll tell you how to borrow books at the bottom of this post after I brag about all the awesome books I've enjoyed, and what I'm planning to read next. I am definitely open to suggestions. What books do you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

Books I've read since August:

 Death Masks: The Dresden Files Series, Book 5 - Jim Butcher
 Blood Rites: The Dresden Files Series, Book 6 - Jim Butcher
 Gathering Blue: The Giver Quartet, Book 2 - Lois Lowry
 Messenger: The Giver Quartet, Book 3 - Lois Lowry
 Bossypants - Tina Fey
 Landline - Rainbow Rowell
 Without You There Is No Us - Suki Kim

Books I started to read but stopped because I learned I don't like to read books after I've seen the movie or show:

 A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Series, Book 1
 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: The HGTTG Series, Book 1

Books that are in my library waiting for me to read them:

 Yes, Please - Amy Poehler (I have 15 days to read this)
 Son: The Giver Quartet, Book 4 - Lois Lowry (19 days to read)
 Salt Sugar Fat - Michael Moss (20 days to read)
 Orange is the New Black - Piper Kerman 
                    (20 days, but maybe I won't want to read it since I've seen the show)

These are all the holds I'm waiting on to become available so I can borrow them:

 Dead Beat: The Dresden Files Series, Book 7 - Jim Butcher (I'm next in line for this one)
 Attachments - Rainbow Rowell (1 person ahead of me)
 Why Not Me? - Mindy Kaling (118 people ahead of me bc Mindy is incredible)
 Let's Pretend This Never Happened - Jenny Lawson (5 people ahead of us, Jimmy)
 Hungry - H. A. Swain (4 people ahead of me)
 Carry On - Rainbow Rowell (38 people ahead of me - I'm not sure if this book is out yet)
 Fan Girl - Rainbow Rowell (3 people ahead of me)

So this is how to borrow a library ebook:
  • find a library that offers ebooksOneDrive's library finder is a really good place to start. Remember, OneDrive is how you can borrow library books without owning a Kindle, a Nook, a tablet, or a smartphone, but you can still use it even if you do. It's more inclusive though. If you do have one of those devices and want to read on it, you can still use OneDrive's website to find libraries that offer ebooks. Do it.
  • obtain a library card at a library that offers ebooks - go into the library and ask for a library card. You will likely need a driver's license or some other proof that you live in the area that the library services.  While you're there it might be a good idea to confirm that library's ebook lending process because they can vary. I am currently borrowing books from the Allegheny County Library Association in Pennsylvania. They service all of Allegheny County. There are many libraries in the network, but they share to offer a larger volume of books to everyone. I'll bet most libraries are like this. Click here if you want to read about how the libraries in Allegheny County are related and how they work together. It's actually kind of interesting.
***If libraries in your area don't offer ebooks, a neighboring county or library network that offers ebooks may allow you to obtain a non-resident library card for an annual fee. It might be worth the drive. My library card is good for three years. Don't give up!***
  • log on to your library's ebook borrowing websiteI borrow my ebooks from pittsburgh.libraryreserve.com, but some libraries might have their ebook borrowing portal right on their main site. After you've searched, found a book that wasn't already checked out, and borrowed that book, you can click the button that says "read" and this button will likely take you to OneDrive, or a comparable service that I'm not aware of.
  • You can stop at the last step, but if you want to put the ebooks on your kindle - choose the "download as kindle book" or similar choice on your library's ebook site. This will take you to amazon.com where you will be promted to log in. Next click "get library book" and choose the device you want to send the book to (one of your many, luxurious kindles, or the kindle apps on your twelve smart devices). From here you will now manage books downloaded on amazon.com under "your account", "manage your content and devices" in the top right menu. I love my kindle but this option kind of sucks because now you have to manage your amazon content and the library's web site too. It's really not that hard. If I was going to be traveling I would absolutely put in the extra step to add the books to my kindle, but on a daily basis I just use OneDrive.

Too Long Didn't Read: find a library that offers ebooks using this site and use their web site or call them to find out how to borrow ebooks

Thanks again for reading the blog this year. Keep it up. And don't forget to recommend books you've enjoyed in the comments!!