The Kinky Green


On Sacrifices and Liberation

Once I set my mind to the task, Project: Debt Rolldown became my reality.

Money came in, and it went right back out to its various destinations. I scheduled bill payments on payday and watched the numbers on my momentarily fat(ish) bank account dwindle before my eyes in a matter of minutes. What was left, I lived on. No credit card splurges. No dipping into savings for non-emergencies. No exceptions.

Of course, the tallies in my handy spreadsheet (have I mentioned I love a spreadsheet?) were somewhat heartening, if slowly so.

The emergency savings account was gaining monthly, just as it always had (thanks to auto-deductions). Notably, though, for the first time, it was retaining its balance for more than a month or two at a time. No more reverse transfers to cover airline tickets or those tight few days at the end of a pay period.

The credit card balances weren’t showing much of a difference initially, but in the event of… well, an emergency, the emergency savings would keep me from undoing the progress I was making.

I was feeling accomplished in the financial realm. But the day-to-day reality of living within my means didn’t take long to start wearing on me.

Being a Southern gal by birth, learning to politely decline invitations with some version of “thanks, but no thanks” was hard enough for me. But being someone who is already prone to put things somewhat bluntly and living in the land of Facebook-fueled TMI and boundary-less peer pressure, I found myself feeling obliged to explain my reasons for begging out of this dinner and saying I’d have to skip that concert.

Frankly, that just made everyone uncomfortable.

I mean, in the age of buy now, pay never, who wants to hear about one of their friends living on a budget and paying off debt? It’s a total downer, right?

It’s just pizza and a few beers… What’s $20 in the grand scheme of things… Or $40… I’ll get you this time, and you can pay me back… You know (hinthint), I just opened another credit card the other day… What’s one more bit of plastic in the wallet… If things get tough, you can always file… 

Okay, so maybe I didn’t actually hear all of that. But very closely related sentiments were directed my way.

So while I had some friends who were supportive, I had to start putting my foot down with others. I had to stand firm with my vague but polite “no thank you” when the invitations and my budget weren’t aligned.

Let me tell you something… that shit got old. Quick.

There I was, a gainfully employed professional in my late 20s, and I was sitting at home alone because catching a movie with the girls wasn’t in my budget?  Bollocks.

The trusty internets led me to blogs and books and articles galore detailing how to “find” money in my budget. Sure, I got a few useful tips, but what I really learned was that I had already become a tightwad in my actual budgeted expenditures.

No cable. No internet. No home phone. Super low utilities due to my willingness to bundle up and jog in place in winter and strip down and deal with the ‘glisten’ of summer. No real affinity for fancy coffee shop brews.  No car payment. Close to nothing spent on gas. I already cooked most of my meals at home and brought my leftovers to work for lunch. No monthly entertainment subscriptions. The most I typically paid for a book or DVD were whatever late fees I accrued at my local library.

Pulling pennies out of thin air didn’t seem likely to happen, but a few weeks into Rolldown I knew I needed money for beer and bourbon and general badassery.  So I got another job.

A couple of days a week, I put on a T-shirt and some khaki pants, smile at strangers, and make sure they have enough sweet tea in their cups and ketchup for their fries. In return, I walk away with money in my pocket that allows me to get beer and bourbon, join my friends for nights out and weekends away, and buy myself pretty new dresses and cute new shoes. All without disrupting the Rolldown.

It’s a win-win!

I soon learned that revealing this bit of information has a surprising effect on quite a lot of people.

Me: Blah-ti-blah-ti-blah. I have a part-time job.
People Who Surprise Me: Oh… I’m sorry. 

Apparently, working two jobs is a big indication to the folks around you that something in your life has gone terribly, terribly wrong. (And, apparently, some folks’ mothers didn’t teach them to save their pity toward you for polite discussion over a dinner table at which you are not present.)

What these people who surprise me failed to see is that a second job has been my liberation. Yes, it takes up a bit more of my time. And, yes, sometimes it’s tiring. Sure, I could have chosen to sacrifice my fun times and pretty things for my budget, or vice versa. But I didn’t. I chose to keep my D-Day set in stone and to have some fun while doing it.

For me, a second job was what I needed to make all the pieces fall into place.

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Excess Baggage

"Do I worry too much?" by Sam Brown of Explodingdog.com

A little over a year ago, I decided I needed to drop some of the burdensome weight I’d been lugging around with me unnecessarily for too many years.  Excess baggage accumulated via unhealthy habits that began well before college but were fostered and allowed to blossom there, aided by pizza giveaways and the lure of decadent things not meant for one with a tight belt. After college, the bad habits continued to grow in number and scope.

The truth is, the load was keeping me up at night. I couldn’t seem to avoid the endless headlines and water cooler talk about the folks around me who shared my problems. Or had it worse. It made me so uncomfortable I had to skip going places and doing things I otherwise would have loved. I watched as my friends enjoyed delights that I knew, deep down, weren’t for me. And when I did join them, my temporary pleasure was well-surpassed by the guilt and worry brought on my splurges.

When I sat down and took a cold, hard look at the reality of my situation, I knew I had to make some changes. I couldn’t keep behaving like a teenager. Yo-yoing between a firm resolve to abide by strict mandates in my daily life and the overwhelming appetite to get what I wanted when I wanted it, regardless of the lingering consequences. I knew if I didn’t make some changes, there would surely be a reckoning far worse than the relatively light stress I’d been handling so far.

I’d made up my mind.

The debt had to go.

With the economy in the shitter, my then-company doing layoffs at the drop of any old hat, and jobs as scarce as a virgin in a whorehouse, I was in no position to be carrying around credit card debt. And credit card debt I’d accumulated for what, exactly? Cheap wine and expensive beer? Shiny shoes and dull dates (with guys who insisted on going dutch)? Pretty things for my walls and shelves? Gifts I couldn’t afford and dinners out I didn’t need? Clothes, clothes, and more clothes?

The cold reality was the tawdry trinkets and throw-away imports of yesterday weren’t going to keep me warm and secure in the face of  potential financial ruin. And, with no savings in the bank, all my lines of credit nearly maxed out, and no real guarantee of a future paycheck, that’s exactly the tightrope I felt like I was walking, day in and day out.

I knew getting off the tightrope wouldn’t be an easy feat all by my lonesome. I’d need some help. So I consulted some friends who were making dents in their deficit then headed to my local library to check out the works of a couple of folks known for helping the everyday masses handle their money: Dave Ramsey & Suze Orman.

Fortunately, my research revealed that my circumstances weren’t entirely dire.

If nothing changed for the worse in my employment scenario and I could forestall any small financial disasters until I got an emergency fund together, I was confident I could pay off my debt in the 22 months between the start of Project: Debt Rolldown and my 30th in January 2012.

I’ve learned I’m not one for making progress in ethereal realms. (Still meaning to get around to that meditating business…) But concrete goals with measurable outcomes and well-planned, manageable steps to achieving them? Completely attainable. Particularly when there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The original plan:

  1. Build emergency fund of $1,000 in 4 months.
  2. Continue monthly savings to build $2,000 by January 2012.
  3. Meanwhile, pay off credit cards in order from smallest balance to largest.
  4. Turn 30 debt-free! (And take an awesome trip with my besties.)

Project: Debt Rolldown is well underway, and – I’m happy to report – on target. But the journey thus far might be worth a bit more detail.

Sweet Potato Brownie Bites

Posted in The Environmental,The Occupational by Joy on May 16, 2011
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Sweet Potato Brownie Bites

Lately I’ve been battling my sweet tooth. This largely means I awake every day with a fresh resolve to conquer the urge to shove whatever sugary morsels are within arm’s reach into my mouth with abandon. With few exceptions, by nightfall I’ve generally had to admit my defeat.

It seems the allure of those chocolate chip cookies, or lemon wedges, or chocolate mint chips, or orange slices, or toffees, or ice cream sandwiches, or peanut butter cups, or, yanno, whatever delectable treat crosses my path is too much to resist something like 87.5% of the time (+/- a 12.5% margin of error).

So maybe it’s time to reevaluate my battle. Generally speaking, I’m ok with allowing myself a bit of indulgence. I eat well most of the time and am active enough to feel justified in a having a little treat now and then. The problems arise when those ‘little treats’ come in the form of highly-processed, unmeasured morsels. Then I’m dealing with the issue of both quantity and quality.

So yesterday, when I found a link to an article about hiding your veggies in your desserts, it hit me that I should probably stop fighting myself and admit that sweets are part of my life. At least, though, I can try to make my indulgences fall somewhat in line with the rest of my eating habits.

Enter: Sweet Potato Brownie Bites

(Recipe below as I prepared it. See link above for original.)

Servings: 24
Weight Watchers PointsPlus: 2 per Brownie Bite

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup sweet-potato puree (or one medium sweet potato, boiled skin on, and pureed)
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

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Directions:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two mini-cupcake tins; set aside.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Remove pan from heat, and stir in cocoa. Let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in sugar and sweet-potato puree, then egg.

Add vanilla to cocoa mixture. Then add flour mixture to cocoa mixture and stir until no traces of flour remain. Spoon into prepared pans; smooth the top. Bake until surface of brownies looks barely dry and an inserted knife comes out with a few moist crumbs, about 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature before serving.

Life Edits: Take 1

Posted in The Occupational,The Spiritual by Joy on May 9, 2011
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Coming home Friday night, approximately 14 hours after I passed through the front door in the opposite direction, I was all but dead on my feet. Sometime after collapsing on my bed in a near-gelatinous heap, I focused enough to realize I sat staring, unthinking, at the space approximately 2 feet in front of my face.

Do something productive, the eternal motivator within urged.
Only if it doesn’t require physical or mental dexterity, the work-weary majority of my mind countered.
The shoes, the annoying little know-it-all threw back.

Sigh. The shoes.

Have I mentioned I’m moving again? Such an enormous change is going to be quite the shock to the system at the end of July. (I mean, it’s only move number 15 in the last 11 years.)

Back to the shoes. Moving always gives me good reason to get around to that otherwise neglected “spring cleaning” type business. I’ve decided to try to be preemptive with the scaling down this time around, in part because I’m getting antsy about the move but can’t do any serious apartment shopping yet as it’s too early to know availability. And in part because I don’t particularly care to lug the stuff I’m not going to keep to yet another location before lugging it somewhere else to get rid of it.

And an easy place to start is with the shoes. I spent a few minutes going through my closet and pulling anything ill-fitting, particularly worn, dusty with disuse, or unlikely to be worn again. I came out with 20.5 pairs

Shoes for donation.

Bye bye, shoes

of shoes for donation or the dump.

Twenty point five. Sheesh.

(That .5 is really pissing me off at the moment. I wore that shoe – and its mate! – on Tuesday. What the hell happened to the other one in the interim??)

When all was said and done, I took a quick count of my remaining shoes. The tally? 44.

Forty-four!?!

So, on Tuesday, I had 65 pairs of shoes???

I think it’s safe to say I have a problem. Particularly because I’m planning to reward myself for this edit with permission to buy some sandals for the summer.

Lost

Posted in The Emotional,The Intellectual,The Occupational by Joy on September 17, 2010

I’ve lost my voice. And I hate it.

I don’t know how it happened, but I’ve actually started to feel intimidated when it comes time to sit down and write anything these days. Business documents, training materials, cover letters, and the like used to seem to flow from my fingertips with the greatest of ease, almost as if by magic. And now I sit petrified in front of blank open documents, avoiding the work in any way I can.

Admittedly, loathing my current position might have something to do with the lack of enthusiasm for professional writing. But it’s not just that. You can forget about my writing anything for pleasure. For months I’ve been noting ideas for this blog, for instance. Writing a paragraph here or there and abandoning it because I just haven’t had the heart to follow through.

The truth is, I miss writing. It’s always been part of my personal identity, and I don’t want to lose that.

A friend linked to this article today, and it inspired me to get off my lazy non-writing butt and break the dry spell by writing something. Anything.

So while this post is nothing particularly profound, it’s a first step. And that’s how journeys always begin, isn’t it?

Oh, How the Mighty Fall

Posted in The Occupational,The Social by Joy on June 6, 2009
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Last night, I was sipping wine at The Capitol. Shaking hands with former Senators clad in seersucker in the opulent LBJ Room.

Today, I find myself locked in the handicapped stall of our office bathroom, wearing nothing but a wife beater and a pair of Birks, frantically trying to dry my clothes without so much help as a hand dryer before my first meeting of the afternoon.

As I reflect on my predicament, I can’t help but chuckle to myself. Only me.

You see, it happened like this. After ignoring my rumbling tummy and forestalling the noontime meal as long as I felt possible, I was ready to consume my somewhat healthy lunch in a rapid fashion. Although it typically served my purposes well, eating at my desk held no appeal for me on this brilliant day. The rainclouds that had held clear skies at bay all week had finally dispersed, and I thought taking lunch on our underused balcony would be just the ticket to cheering up my otherwise gloomy day.

I stepped outside and selected my seat carefully, choosing one with optimal people-watching potential and just the right amount of sun exposure. Someone had thoughtfully tilted all the chairs around the tables upward, I noted, effectively keeping those pesky puddles from collecting in the seats during yesterday’s rain showers.

As I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and the hum and buzz of the streets below, I quickly snarfed up my single-serving soup and low-cal popcorn. I was ready to head back inside, had already made it to the door, when I remembered I’d bought myself a treat. I took the dark chocolate Raisinettes from my pocket and decided to settle into one of the oversized plastic arm chairs for a few moments of sheer indulgence mid work day.

I saw that the chair was dirty at the back of the seat, but I carefully perched on the edge and slowly lowered  my upper back toward the back of the chair, hoping to avoid sullying my light khaki skirt with an accumulation of outdoor grit and grime. No sooner had I leaned far enough to touch my back to the chair did I notice a cold sensation on my lower back.

Wet!

I shot back up immediately, but it was too late. The damage had been done. The back of my shirt and skirt were dripping wet. Just like that.

That collection of grit and grime I’d noticed had effectively tricked my eye into missing the puddle of water covering it, and I found myself in a dilemma. While I didn’t have a mirror handy, I was pretty sure my once light khaki skirt had morphed into that of the translucent variety.

This development posed major problems. The way back into the office from the balcony is through the lunch room. While I’m typically nothing akin to a prude, the thought of walking through a sea of my coworkers with my cute little undies fairly exposed held very little appeal.

After a good 10 minutes of pacing and fretting on the balcony, I remembered a side door and made my way in via an empty conference room. Checking to make sure the hall was clear, I dashed across to the ladies’ room and beelined for the large stall at the far end.

My watch told me I had 45 minutes before my next meeting, and the lack of hand dryers told me I’d have to employ some good old fashioned ingenuity if I was going to be able to show up for it.

And that is why I could be found locked in the handicapped stall of our office bathroom, wearing nothing but a wife beater and a pair of Birks, frantically waving my skirt through the air in a post-lunch attempt to dry my clothes and keep the office mortification at bay.

On Fresh Starts

Posted in The Intellectual,The Occupational,The Social by Joy on June 1, 2009
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I find myself here, in this particular bit of cyberspace, after having run, tail-tucked, from one of the several other venues I’ve made my online home and subsequently abandoned over the years. I hope that was the last time I feel the need to duck out the back door for this reason or that.

This time, I want to do it right.

Not Even a Modicum of Decorum

Posted in The Occupational,The Social by Joy on June 19, 2007
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I’ve noticed myself getting a bit more prudish of late. In case you’re wondering, this is wholly new territory for me.

Maybe it’s that I feel my twenties slipping away and I’m trying to develop a modicum of decorum before I hit the big three-oh. Or maybe it’s that I’ve had my lower unmentionables exposed to dense rush hour traffic by a sudden gust of wind one too many times for comfort.

Whatever the catalyst, I’ve found I have a sudden propensity for donning the dreaded slip beneath my skirts and dresses. So, this morning, when I opted for a happy little pink flowered skirt, I also dug out my light-colored slip.

Unfortunately, it was a tad too long. I’ll just pull it up a little higher, I decided. My shirt covers it, so it should be fine.

But it wasn’t fine. Before I even made it to the office, the slip was bunched up in the back and had shoved my bothersome shirt out of its pushy way, exposing unflattering slip above my happy little pink flowered skirt.

I can’t have this all day. The skirt has a lining; I’ll just take it off when I get inside. Once again armed with a plan, I smoothed and tucked my wayward slip and made my way to my cubicle.

No one was in the office when I arrived. Why go all the way to the bathroom? That persuasive little voice in my head tempted. Just pull the slip down here before anyone gets in and stash it.

Considering I’m wearing four-inch heels, avoiding unnecessary steps seemed like a sound and reasonable idea at the time.

Until, that is, I gently tugged the slip down. The smooth, silky fabric glided off my waist, slipped over my thighs, and slid down my legs before fluttering to the floor around my feet. Unfortunately, so did my happy little pink flowered skirt.

So it’s not even 9 a.m. and I’m standing in my cubicle in my freakin’ underwear.

(Did I mention that this decorum business is pretty foreign to me?)