Hurt Me, Hurt Me!

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Well, the first of the international student housing checks has rolled in and that has fulfilled the little $1000 emergency fund and allowed me to press onward to summer money savings.

To that end, I’m saving ’til it hurts.

And boy, does it hurt!

What I do is first calculate my bills for that pay period.  I calculate my expenses I know I have to incur after that (for example, birthday presents or car repair).  Then I look at what is left over and I transfer money to the point where it makes me feel uncomfortable into savings.  I know that many people preach pay yourself first, and I sort of do that, too.  I have retirement money direct deposited into my account rather than relying on myself to do it.  But as a single mama, my expenses often vary, so for savings, I do have to look at second rather than first.  So I look at the amount remaining and pinch out of it until I squeal.  And you know what?  It’s working.  I leave myself a pittance for coffee and lunch out, things I cannot seem to do without. But I have to make those dollahs stretch like a yoga beginner!

I realized that if I didn’t feel pinched, I probably wasn’t saving enough.  And so I took a good, hard look at just how much I was saving and whether I could afford to do more.

The obvious upshot of this is, duh, I save more money.

But the unintended upshot of this plan is that it makes my situation feel very real to me.  I effectively make myself live as though I’m broke (or rather, very close to broke) for the whole pay period after the first couple of days post-paycheck.

Now, I’m not broke.  Most of my disposable money went into my online savings account.  But it takes several days for that money to transfer back into my checking account.  So, effectively, I am without funds to just randomly blow on sushi.  It creates in me the mentality that I am broke, and so I act as though I am.  I don’t use the credit card and I make any pennies I do have really stretch.  It just puts me in a whole ‘nother frame of mind.  I pay more attention to where the money goes, because it’s a royal pain to get more of it.  I might have Burger King for lunch, but I’m ordering from the dollar menu instead of the already frugal Junior Whopper meal.

And because I have to actively log on and move money, I don’t do so unless I absolutely have to.  And sushi, apparently, is not a “have to.”  Sad that I have to play psychological warfare with myself.  But hey, whatever gets you to save that dollah, right??

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Working in the Trenches Pays Off (Or At Least A Little More…)

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I’m apparently in feast-or-famine mode when it comes to blogging.  I’ll have ideas for half a dozen posts and then just stare at the site for a couple of weeks.  Anyhoo…

It can be hard to do smaller jobs that seem “beneath” us.  But sometimes when we are in debt or (and?) trying to build up a professional reputation, we get in our own way if we don’t make these small and tedious efforts.

I try to impress this on my students.  They are annoyingly optimistic millennials, so they assume they’ll graduate college and walk into a job automatically making about $75,000.  The reality is often much lower.  I try to tell them one of the biggest mistakes they can make is being “too good” for that get-your-foot-in-the-door job.  Sometimes we are victims of an unfortunate series of events that keep us broke and in debt; but in many cases, hard work does pay off for those willing to put in what it takes to get there.

As a small example, back in the summer I started taking on some copywork to make ends meet.  It wasn’t a lot of money.  My first job was actually probably a negative wage, given how badly I screwed it up and the time it took to redo it.  But once I figured out how the work best got done, my writing-time-to-compensation value started to rise.  After all, if someone gives you, say, $7 for 400 words and it takes you an hour to bang them out — yuck.  But if you can do it effectively in 30  minutes, your wage is essentially $14/hour.  It’s a matter of getting fast at it.  This work paid a few bills for me, bought a few groceries and a few treats.  It was not reliable income and it still isn’t.  But it was something I could do when I had time off anyway.  I can sit on my ass for nothing, or I can sit on my ass for 30 minutes and make a little cash.

I took jobs that did not pay well and that were not very interesting.  I wrote about industrial sunscreen and window tinting in Arizona or personal injury lawyers for bicycling accidents in California or even bed bug exterminators in Missouri.  I wrote articles about a prominent diet product.  I did these things because I wanted to establish a work ethic with my copywriting bosses.  And it worked.

I just found out that one of this firm’s big clients wants me as their exclusive copywriter for their ‘net content.  This is especially fortunate since other boring and lesser paid work has all but dried up over the past six weeks.  In exchange, this client will pay me nearly 90% more than what I normally make to bang out a blog post or article.  It’s not yet money with which you can plan your Bermuda retirement.  And it probably will never be.  But it’s definitely money you can stick in the bank and watch it grow 90% faster than your previous wage!

Sometimes money just happens and you get an unexpected windfall.  Many times, though, money happens because you make it happen through diligence and elbow grease.

Budget Glamorous Gardening Strategies

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One of the things I enjoy doing so much is playing around with flowers and vegetables in my wonderful little yard.  I actually own 1 1/2 city lots to go along with my delightful little home.  But I have champagne wishes and caviar dreams when it comes to landscaping –and a budget glamorous reality.  I’m also kind of a doofus when it comes to growing things.  I have no natural skill at it and I don’t know a ficus from a freakus.  Still, I enjoy it, and I try to find ways to do it that won’t break the bank.

My ultimate dream is to have edible landscaping, a decent little herb and vegetable patch, a butterfly and rose garden, and next to no mowing required.  Maybe even a few chicky-wickens in the backyard.  I’d like to have flowers I can pick and put in the house.  This all takes a while to establish, especially with a limited budget and even more limited skills.

The biggest cost, I find, is the cost of plants.  Ye Gods, but they can be expensive!  And because I have limited patience, I want everything Right. Now. so I can get it going and growing.  It’s so easy to walk into a plant section of a store and walk out having spent a hundred dollars or more on just a few gorgeous flowers or flowering shrubs.  I have even less success but just as much fun with gardening, though I love planning one, planting one and worrying over one.  Most of my plants don’t actually produce anything, though, for reasons why I have no idea.  So pretty much dollar for dollar my vegetable gardening is a waste.  I also have an urban deer problem that the city is trying desperately to control.  So many times I’ll plant things, beautiful, wonderful things, and the deer will graze them down to stalks, and I’m out that money too.  Plus it makes me mad at nature.  Grr.

As I think about my landscaping wish list for this Spring, I’m going to take advantage of some powerful lessons learned over the couple of years I’ve been a homeowner here.

I have lots of savings goals, as you are by now painfully aware of, so I don’t really have the budget to fence in the property or spend loads of money on plants.  So this coming planting season, I’m going to practice patience and wait out the home improvement stores until they decide they can’t water many of their plants and tuck them all away in the back on a rack that’s marked down to between $1 – $5.  I had no idea how common that practice was until this previous growing season.  Apparently big home improvement stores receive plants at certain times of the year whether they’re really ready for them or not.  Oftentimes they just won’t have room for the old plants, or the time to water them all and keep them going, so they’ll discount them deeply and move them to a sale rack.  I found lots of plants this past Spring in just this way and I spent a fraction of what I would have if I’d purchased now.  I positively felt like I was stealing!  The downside is, you have to wait and don’t have the immediate gratification of having something now while everyone else gardens away.  You also need to develop an eye for what you can save and what you can’t.  I look for green stems.  If the flowers just need deadheaded or the foliage is turning brown, but the stalk seems good, I can usually bring that back to life.   If I can do it,  you can do it.  My plants actually have rebloomed several times over the growing season and they’re still going now!

I’m only going to buy perennials with a splash of annuals thrown in.  I don’t have the budget to spend money on flowers that last a season and never grow back.  I’m trying to build a giant garden that incorporates all sorts of plants for both shady and sunny land and just gets bigger and lusher each year.  Annuals don’t do that for me.  They’re more of a space filler for empty sections of garden.  The problem for me is that annuals are often the brightest colored plants in the store.  I want them.  😦  But, I’m only going to get the cheap/reduced plants that have a chance of establishing themselves and coming back every year.  Then I’ll wait and get the cheap annuals for a few color splashes.  As my garden gets bigger and healthier (as does my budget), then I’ll buy more splashy annuals.  Otherwise, they don’t get me nearer to my goals.

Over the years I’ve had two flower box beds put in at the front of the house running basically the length of the house.  It cost me some lumber, some stain and bags and bags of dirt from Lowe’s, but it was worth it.  Overall, I’d say the project cost me about $75 per flower bed, given that the labor was free.  But it has made the curbside appeal of my house shoot up tremendously.  Everything looks so wonderful when it’s in bloom, and most things come back bigger and healthier year after year.  It makes me very happy to pull up and see the things in my flowerboxes and I hope that ten years hence, it’ll be huge and lush and awesomeness.  So I’m going to figure out simple home improvement projects that I can barter with someone to do that will enhance the property and enable me to garden more thoughtfully.  This past summer I also bought some cheap landscaping timber, stained them, drilled holes through them and shoved rebar into them — instant flower beds in the bottom part of the yard.  Very cute, very sturdy.  Load it up with some good dirt, and you’re ready to plant whatever cheap, discounted flowers come your way!

Don’t forget about swapping plants with other people who are dividing things like irises, daylillies or other sorts of plants.  No idea how to be a better veggie grower, though.  That one still eludes me, as does the solution to my deer problem.

What are your glamorous gardening tips?

Savings Priorities Revisited

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OK, after I had a whirly-gig malfunction about just how much there was to save and whatnot, I at least sat down and prioritized what has to happen and when.  I have an online savings account that I’m shoving the money into for now, simply because I can’t determine that there is a better choice at this point.  I have a debit card for that account where I can get to some of it quickly if I need to.  Otherwise, it takes several days to transfer to my normal checking account, which is good because I have to think and plan for transfers for the other items anyway.  I need some yield signs when it comes to my relationship with money.  Anyhoo…

Emergency funds come first.  My emergencies average under $1000, so that’s all I’m going to save and call “emergency” before I move on to saving for other things.  This scares me.  But that’s the way it is.  I have a 3 year contract at my current job, so saving my emergency, out of work expenses makes no sense at this point, in light of other impending money issues.  I’m only about $200 away from this goal now.  Woot.

Summer funding.  In a way, this is another emergency fund, if we consider that having no guaranteed work in the summer is a form of emergency, which it certainly is for me!  Sometimes I get grants to develop courses, sometimes I cobble together copywriting, one-off jobs, temporary international student housing, etc. to make it through.  But whether I’m fully covered or completely money-naked, I need $7500, give or take, to get through the summer.  Where it comes from doesn’t matter.  I think that by the summer time, I can have emergency money and summer money saved up with the combination of things I’m doing to bring money in, cut costs and save it.  So I’m going to save that amount by the summer time.  If I end up with no outside or additional summer funding, I’ll be covered, though I’ll certainly look for temporary work.  If I don’t need a penny of it, awesome — I’ll just save it for next summer and/or put it toward the next goal, which is….

Fixing the roof.  It’s not in bad shape now, but I figure it’s a cheaper fix to go ahead and reshingle it now that it would be to wait and wait until it is a true emergency and a costlier job.   It’ll take a couple thousand dollars, I think.  The bigger thing I realized is that perhaps the house needs its own little fund.  After all, I have to do things like stain the deck and powerwash it periodically.  I have to periodically replace appliances.  I suppose one could look at a regular emergency fund as covering those sorts of things.  But if you’re a homeowner, there is always something.  So maybe this category should stay here beyond the summer and I can slowly develop funds to plan for maintenance issues.

New-to-me car.  I’ll continue to maintain the car I have to the point where it just doesn’t make sense to hang onto it any longer.  At that point, I’ll take whatever money I have set aside for a car and my best negotiating friend, lol, and that’ll be the car I get.  Whether it’s a beater or a nice upgrade, what I have in the account is what I’ll get.  I’m going to cap this money at about $12,000, but again, what I save is what I use.  If no big emergency happens and I keep  making other money happen, I can probably get another car if I had to by two to three years from now.  This is on top of resaving summer money each year.

Divorce Debt.  Blech.  It is what it is, but it’s the last deadline.  The truth is, I can probably do some combo of cash and home equity loan and get it solved.  I want to pay it in full, but again, it is what it is.  $30,000 is a lot of cheddar.  But, if I get a good deal on a car (if I have to get one at all), if I keep finding summer supplement money so I’m not always using up extra money saved, and if I continue bringing other money in, saving tax returns and cutting costs, I *might* be able to pull it off all in cash.  Just maybe! Boy that would make me proud!

De-stressed?  Yes, some!  It was helpful to at least get things organized in my head, if nothing else.  Reminding myself that I had a three year contract made me feel a little more secure.  Realizing that I probably won’t need *all* of that $7500 saved each year to live on in the summer helped me realize I could throw that money onto other things or just hang onto it for next summer.  Realizing I have a few friends who are very talented in negotiating car purchases and might could even help me fix up a used car, if it came to that, helped me calm down about that big financial x-factor.  Realizing that I would once again drive a beater car for a few more years and resave car money, that I don’t *have* to have an upgraded car, just a car that runs and is safe, helped me realize that even if I haven’t completely saved the full amount I’d like to have at my discretion, my problem will still be solved.  Also, the silver lining of the divorce debt is that once it’s gone, that’s the biggest financial hurdle I have.  I have plans to pay off my student loan as well as my mortgage after that, and those things are going to be exciting and nothing will be in the way of getting that done.  If I can plow through all these current money issues in four years, what couldn’t I do with four more?

I *think* I can get summer money, emergency fund and roof money by the start of June.  That’s exciting.  It makes me feel more in control of what’s happening to me.  Knowledge is power.  Things here will be tight while the boy is in high school and these impending money things are happening.  But knowing things are tight and having a plan as to what comes first is much better than being stunned by the realities of it at every turn.  I do feel better.

All or Nothing? A Compromise

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I find myself getting locked into unholy combat with the dilemma over saving money or saving time.  As I read many of my favorite PF blogs, they seem to struggle with the same issue from time to time.  I tend to drive myself nuts with it, and it is because of my all or nothing outlook toward saving in some category or other.  This ultimately stresses me out, doesn’t work or save money.  Sometimes, as I just discovered, a compromise is just as good.  At least for people like me.

I don’t have a lot of wiggle room in my budget, but even a glamorous little shoestring budget like mine has SOME places it can be, nay MUST be, cut back.

Case in point:  parking fees.   Parking costs vary for me, but they average around $135 a month.  Just to park in the garage for work five times a week.  I’ve often come down very hard on myself for not riding the bus to and from work.  Not only would it save gas, but with my I.D. it’s FREE to me.  That’s right, f-r-e-e-e-e-e.  So every week that I chose not to take the bus, I’d get busy being mean to myself over it.  I’m not that bad with a budget; but I’m not nearly as frugal as some people on the internet seem to be.  I don’t wear all black clothing and then dye it when it starts to fade just so I have a few extra bucks.  I don’t brown bag constantly or eat rice and beans constantly.  So sometimes I feel like I have no right to bitch about saving money or needing it.  After all, I’m not doing EVERYTHING I possibly could to save a dime.

The trouble is, will power is a finite resource.  You do not have an endless supply of it to draw down on whenever you want.  This is why so many people’s New Year’s resolutions don’t even make it to the end of the month.  If you pick one thing, you’re drawing down on that supply.  Pick three more things, and you won’t find you have the energy for everything.  You have less to work with, so less determination can be spared to get the job done.  I’m a single mama, I work full time and I have a house to run and a teenage boy to understand and guide.  Oh, and savings goals.  Nothing ever gets done 100% perfectly all the time.  Most times it’s a compromise:  80% work efficiency, housework has dropped to 40% lol, teenager took 115% this week…etc.  And so my compromise might be an extra cup of coffee at work or a sandwich out for lunch.  I just can’t do it all.

Further, I don’t *want* to do it all.  I get tired or demoralized sometimes and I need a pick-me-up.  Or it’s just too much effort.  This is not a big city, so the bus routes are on fixed times.  They don’t go everywhere I need, and it costs me an extra hour minimum to take the bus to and from my house, just in waiting on it, routes taken, etc.  If I have an extra errand to run, switching buses to get it done sometimes means I’d wait quite a while to get back home.  So, I just took the car and bitched about the cost to park in the garage.  Then, I had a minor brainwave.  If the parking garage offered student passes, maybe they offered us working stiffs a pass as well.  Turns out, they sure do!

So, $45 a month later, I’m the proud owner of a new parking pass.  Am I saving $135 a month?  No.  But I am saving $90 a month.  And my time is not constricted by the available bus services.  Sure, I still want that extra $45.  But that is apparently the value of my driving time per month.  There is also the added sweetness of just waving a card in front of a scanner instead of digging for change and misplacing garage tickets, which I like quite a bit.

I can settle for that.  Now I just have to remember to move that same amount of money straight to savings instead of spending it on something stupid!

Disoriented Savings Strategy

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Gah.

Where I have had a few lean months over the summer, I’m looking at a bit of a credit card bill again in addition to having depleted my emergency savings substantially.  On the plus side, I’ve figured out three new ways to bring money into the house, even if it is sometimes at a trickle.  I find that my savings goals are absolutely overwhelming me.  There is simply too much to save up for and now I’m confused as to my priorities.  Halp!

Money needs:

Emergency fund.  Goes without saying why you need one.  While I’m so aggravated to have bled mine down, boy am I glad that I had one to bleed down!  It did its job.  But now I need to put it back.  I’m just always so confused on what constitutes a good amount of money for me.  Personal finance gurus all have a different number.  Dave Ramsey advocates $1000 while you’re digging out of debt.  People like Suze Orman say 6 – 8 months of emergency money.  That is nearly a year’s pay for me, as I work on a 9 month contract.  No idea what to do here.  My emergencies in general have been under $1000.  Should I consider that my lean emergency fund operating margins and once that is hit move on to the next money goal?  I have about $650 left in the fund.  Is this a number one priority?  I don’t know anymore.  My job contract is good for the next three years, but even that is no ironclad guarantee.  That’s as good as it gets in academia, though, for a non tenure-track person.

Summer money.  This is a critical thing for me to accumulate every year.  I only get paid for 9 months.  I have to live 12 months.  I need around $7500 to cover the amount of time I’m off work, as my operating budget is around $2500 a month, give or take.  I’m not sure if this is a #1 priority or further down the list, but it’s something I have to deal with every year.  Last summer, I was able to get some supplemental work with the college developing a course.  But between that and some copywork, I still had to hit the credit card and dig into the emergency fund a few times.  This is the main reason why it’s bled down to where it is now.  It just wasn’t enough.  I’m sure some of this is budgeting skills and money management related, but I also cannot always guarantee I can find 3 months of supplemental work every year to help me pay my mortgage.  Some years I might need more or less than $7500, but I know that’s what it takes to see me through to my next fall paycheck.

Random crap that keeps nickle and diming me to death.  This is eating me up alive.  It’s some school supplies here, a medical bill there.  I have no way to predict these things, and any extra cash I might be able to save dies a death by a thousand nicklings.  I don’t even know how to track this problem appropriately.  I feel like I’m fighting a thousand tiny foes and don’t know where to turn first!  Do I need a “mad money” fund or a “miscellany” fund or something??

New-to-me car.  This is the big x-factor in my future.  My trusty little 1998 car goes to the shop about four times a year.  She never needs anything huge, but she always costs me a couple hundred in random repairs.  I don’t think I’m going to stay this lucky for the next four years.  She has an oil problem and is basically blowing oil out of the exhaust.  I’d still rather pay a few bucks in oil every two weeks than a new car payment.  But the writing is on the wall — her final days are here.  I don’t want to be surprised with the need for a down payment and now a new bill to pay every month.  I’d like to prepare for this in some way.  I have no idea how much money to divert per month, etc.  I just know I’d like to pay cash.

Credit card balance.  Not very high, only a few hundred dollars.  But I end up having more month than money, it seems, so I’m dipping into the credit card more than what I want.  I do have a slight threshold for a credit card balance, mainly because I cannot seem to avoid it.  My rate is 7.5%.  I understand that a continuing balance is costing me money.  I’m just freaked out as to whether it’s better for my situation to have $200 in the bank cash on hand, or throw it on the credit card bill and have no cash on hand and have to use the credit card.  Ugh.  I’m feeling very demented chicken and egg on this one.

Roof.  When I bought my house 2 1/2 years ago, the inspector said I’d need new shingles within about 3 years.  That time is upon us.  I have the labor organized for it, I think, but I’m still looking at materials costs.  This will be around $1500 – 2000 I think.  The roof doesn’t leak, so I might could push it another year, but I feel like doing so potentially opens you up to bigger problems.  Ugh.  Not sure.

Divorce debt coming due in 4 years.  My biggest outflow is that in four years, my divorce settlement debt comes due.  I bought out my ex-husband’s down payment into the house.  So, $30,000 is what he has coming to him.  I *might* have enough equity in my home to cover that amount.  But probably not.  I will need to come up with the money somehow.  I’m trying to avoid a HELOC loan.  I’d like to pay for this in cash.  There is a very good possibility that I’ll have to pay at least some of it in cash and take the rest out in equity on the house.

Total Needed:  ~ no idea.  lol.  I was going to put around $55,000, but I realized that is hard to determine.  How much do I want to spend on a car?  How much emergency should I have?  That could push that figure to $70,000 in the next 4 years.  That makes me want to pass out.

Things that Compound or Help the Problem?

The money coming in is erratic.  My regular money, my paycheck, is usually mostly spoken for.  I can most times eke out about $200 a month to throw into savings.  But I only get paid for about 9 months of work.  Even if I faithfully saved that money, it’s a far cry from what I need to live on in the summer time.  Hence why I went looking for other income streams.  I took in an international exchange student, and I get about $2200 a semester for that.  It’s not guaranteed, however.  I go one semester at a time.  I cannot bank on this regularly, though it has been regular so far.  Additionally, I’d like to NOT do that over the summer, for example, and have some alone time.  But it pays my mortgage.  So I think I have to resign myself to doing this as long as I can and count myself lucky that I get on well with people and this opportunity is available to me.  If I did it year round, I could make $6600 on it.  My copywork is very erratic.  Some weeks I’ll make a couple hundred dollars.  Other weeks there will be no work.  I used to use it for my fun money.  Now I think I’m going to have to shove it all into savings regardless.  I also finally filed for child support, something I should’ve done a long time ago.  I don’t know what that will amount to, and that’s still an ongoing process.

Strange thinking about payments vs. paying in cash.  I really, really don’t want or need more payments.  I don’t want a HELOC or a car loan.  I’d like to figure out how to start paying for things in cash.  Maybe I need to get over this and just take the damn payment.  I can figure out how to come up with a payment.  I have a harder time figuring out how to come up with savings.  But this is a big skill I’d like to develop over the next few years.  Seems worth figuring out instead of taking the “easier” (and costlier) payment.

Not sure how to save the money for all these things.  I’m not sure if I add it all up and say I’m trying to save $X for everything.  I’m not sure if I rank order them and check the box each time I hit a new target.  The problem is, some of these are recurring costs.  I’ll always need $7500 for the summer — so even if I save it, it’s gone and needs replenished every year, while a car would be a one time purchase (and then hopefully it lasts as long as my old gal has so far!).  The divorce debt is also a one time gig.  Not sure how to even think about or process these things.

Hard to save.  I suppose I could try to save the summer money by living on reduced pay and saving what it would take to cover the summer.  Living on 12 months with 9 months of pay, basically.  But that means saving $350 a pay — I can barely seem to manage $200 a month.  I can try for a while, I guess.  Even if I am not 100% successful, it would be more saved than what I normally did.  This, of course, works only if there is no emergency (like car repair).  And with my first paycheck for the fall coming this Friday, I already have car repair scheduled.  Sigh.  I have, as someone else put it to me, “very thin operating margins.”  It doesn’t take much to shove me in the red.  If I hadn’t developed other income streams, erratic though they might be, I would be able to save very little.

Motivation.  I’m overwhelmed, not galvanized to do something about it.  On the one hand, I’m very proud of my little home, with its comforts and cheap mortgage.  I’m proud that I’m supporting my teenage son and myself on what money is coming in, and that our lives are comfortable — not fancy by any means, but comfortable.  But most times I feel like I’m treading water and that is the only victory I get.  I fear that I am one push away from a disaster — a skipped mortgage payment, a big, new bill that I can’t figure out how to pay, or taking on another part time job and being exhausted to make ends meet.  Granted, having divorce debt is a very temporary problem.  Getting a car is a temporary problem.  So it could be that this is just one of those tight, hard times that one has to live through.  But that is depressing as hell, and I need energy to meet such big goals.  I feel like I’m barely treading water and surviving, not thriving.  😦

A Life Well Lived…

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When I was Teenage Budget Glamorish (for I have always been budget and in various stages of glamorosity), I started developing my own ideas of that age-old concept known as “the good life.”  Really, I’ve turned over this notion in my little noggin since I was Little Budget Glamorous.  When I was five, I decided the best life possible would have to be lived as a spy.  As a spy, I would have apartments in Paris and in New York, and both would be full of truly fantastic clothes.  I would travel everywhere doing whatever spies did and it would be awesome.  Then I turned six.

My teenage self modified this concept to include having lots of ca$h, lots of travel, serious job prestige and still a closet full of awesome clothes.  That self settled on a stockbroker as the ideal vehicle to such ends.  Then I went to college and took some finance classes…

College Budget Glamorous by then was a young single mother.  Her version of the good life included financial security (whatever that was), a strong future for the kidlet, and “living the life of the mind.”  Then this version of the self graduated and tried to do just that.

It was frustrating.

For one thing, the stress of being a starving artist with a kidlet sort of takes away from the lofty amounts of time I figured I spend Thinking Deep Thoughts while being creative and fulfilled.  Whatever that was about.  I had all these notions of how to live ethically and with value other than moneydollars.  I pondered the breakdown of community and why we were all so isolated.  I wanted to do something meaningful.  I knew that I had to work to live and I wanted a certain measure of “stuff.”  But my Parisian apartment vision had been replaced by something tidy that I could call my own (though I went through various stages of wanting to build a “dream home” as well).

Now, I realize that my idea of the good life really should be more properly defined as “a life well lived.”  It’s not so much about the stuff, but about the activity that stuff stood for.  My tiny self wanted a Parisian apartment because I thought the view would be beautiful and somehow the inside would be delightful to come home to.  I have achieved the same effect with my tiny little mid-1950s house here in Appalachia.  I put some time and effort into making it that place that promotes creativity, supports the life I want as well as the life I have to lead, and generally speaking is just as dang glamorous as the apartment in my head (tho far more budget and still not completely finished).

Travel is the one consistent theme I’ve kept from little girl to now.  The only thing that has changed is my idea of what I can afford.  I may have gone to Mexico City instead of Paris, but for all purposes, the effect on my worldview was the same.  Each place offers its own take on life and how one lives it.  Just getting out of the country was good enough, even if it’s on a shoestring to the developing world.  It’s a valuable part of my life experience and one I hope to continue to do.

Ultimately, it’s just about figuring out what all that “stuff” was supposed to mean.  I don’t really want the floor to ceiling cavernous library with the leather chairs for reading.  I want intellectual curiosity, escape and fantasy that books can offer.  A Kindle will do.  Or the used book store or the library.  I didn’t really want a chef.  I wanted access to neat foods.  (So I learned to cook, and what I can’t cook, the occasional sushi binge fixes!)  I didn’t really want high end dinner parties (OK, maybe once).  I want the feeling of eating with friends and talking about interesting things.  I can do that with potluck and it feels great.  I don’t really want all the acreage and the massive gardens I used to want.  I want to make my little vegetable and cottage garden on my own soil and visit other public parks and gardens instead.  It’s the same thing without all the upkeep.

I’m still working on the closet.  I cannot get past the clothes.  For me, they’re forms of art.  I’m just too budget limited to get what I truly want.  So perhaps in that way I’m very materialistic!

How do you define a life well lived?