Life Happens: How do I know when it’s time for a new career?

The turn into 2021 suggested a cosmic shift for me. I recall feeling that big things were going to happen this year, the largest of which would be the saddest – the passing of my mother. We had no way of knowing in January that it was going to happen (and it happened 11 days ago), but I had this nagging sense that things were going to change and change they did – relatively rapidly.

The months leading up to her final days, I began to question a lot of things. I pulled back from people to conserve my energy, choosing to engage less frequently. I considered the strength and purpose of relationships, if these relationships were a benefit to me or just a way to fill time. I examined my career and was (and am) trying to determine if what I am doing is what I want to be doing. I am thinking about the stress of it and pairing my grief with that of my clients ~ asking: Am I going to be able to assist them properly while managing my own thoughts and feelings? Asking next: And do I want to?

There are all sorts of articles online about this very topic, but I think that figuring out when to know when it’s your time to go is personal – no amount of Google searches is going to make your decision easier. I sometimes look to others for feedback when I should be trusting myself. Nobody else knows me as well as I do and the best decision I can make for myself would, naturally, be very different than someone else’s decision for me. We are a product of our own perceptions and experiences; as much as we can try to put ourselves in their proverbial shoes, we are limited.

Instead of relying on others to aide me in determining if I am meant to continue being an estate and trust administration paralegal, I am going to carry on with my quiet consideration. I am going to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings to ensure that whatever decision I make is not rash or emotional. My heart may be broken but that does not mean I have truly lost heart in my work. I could be having a completely normal emotional reaction to my mother’s passing and attaching it to the nature of what my area of law is – all things post-death. In plain words: I may not necessarily be having these feelings if I worked in another area or law or was in a different career path entirely.

I am very blessed in that I do not suffer from a lot of the typical work-place issues that others do. I do not work in a toxic environment; I have experienced no bullying, no regular, super-unrealistic expectations. There’s always something new to learn and my bosses have always been very flexible and understanding of me and my family’s needs. I am treated extremely well and I feel appreciated. My workload is too much for one person, but no one is pressuring me to work overtime nor treating me as if I could be or should be doing more. People that find themselves depressed due to work, whether it is the work itself or your co-workers and managers, the answer is easy: Go. Prioritize yourself and move forward. I hope you kick ASS at whatever it is you choose to do! Nobody deserves a beat down from their job every day.

So, I will sit with myself on this.

So, can a Budget Planner REALLY help me? [Final thoughts]

I have come to the end of my budgeting experiment. See my prior posts HERE, HERE, HERE

I learned quite a bit about myself by using that little Walmart budget planner. Forcing myself to write out everything I spent held me accountable to my goals of minimizing my purchases, condensing purchases when necessary, prioritizing my savings, and how I struggle to stay loyal to my goals. It began a transformation of how I view spending.

The easiest way to explain how I fall short in fulfilling my goals is that I made it through June 12th before I stopped adding to the book. If you saw my last post, you will see I had a lot happen all at once. When experiencing disruptions, I have difficulty with staying strong in my path. In this case, while I did not record my purchases in the book, I did not go buck-wild with my spending. I indulged in some delicious food with my friend Leah – but my entire mindset shifted. Before thoughtlessly purchasing anything, I thought to myself, “will this improve my life?”. If not, I didn’t follow through with it. If it was “yes”, I gave myself permission to make the purchase and enjoy it, guilt-free!

I have made several purchases recently that fit into the “life improvement” category. Between a new laundry line system for the backyard and a gigantic wooden indoor laundry drying rack, I also purchased a vanity chair to replace the hard metal folding chair (the new chair has not arrived yet), and this LED desktop vanity mirror:

If you can’t tell, I am super pleased with this!

There are 3 other members in my household and to have the ability to get ready in a space separate from a bathroom is extremely helpful. This mirror also takes up less space than what I had been using – a tripod phone ring light and a precariously balanced, large oval-shaped wooden mirror.

But you’re probably wondering about the bottom line – did I add to my savings account? Did I cringe at my credit card bill? As for the latter, no. I was pleasantly surprised and paid it off with a single paycheck. Typically, I have to split the payment between my bi-weekly paychecks. As for the former question – I added an extra $600 into my savings account. So, while I cannot give you a breakdown of precise numbers, the end result is that my credit card bill was significantly less and the extra money that I would have normally otherwise spent into my savings account. I’d call that a win!

I am coming out of this challenge with a healthier mindset of money, spending, and what it means to me. Healthier in that I am mindfully purchasing items instead of letting my emotional state influence me. These items have a daily impact on my life and are not things that lose its newness after one wear. I am focusing more on quality items I can use repeatedly instead of choosing the cheapest route – I want to “buy it once” and once only.

While I will never be done learning about myself and looking for ways to improve, I am done with writing down each and every expenditure – at least for now! I am feeling optimistic and confident in all that I have learned during this budgeting experiment.

_______________________________

Disclaimer/Note: I do not get paid for any links added to my posts. So while I posted a link to the chair and mirror I purchased, I do not receive any monetary benefit for linking these items. 🙂 In a world full of influencers, I just want to be honest about that.

But seriously: Can I get by without an emergency fund?

A dramatization of stress

If you have been following my more recent posts, they relate to budgeting, money-management, and learning more about my personal relationship with money.

The importance of an emergency fund is no joke. However, according to Next Advisor, 40% of Americans do not even have the funds to cover a $400 emergency, and 70% of the people in my age group continue to live paycheck to paycheck – more than any other generation, says Business Insider.

I fall into this category…so, are you ready to hear all about my June?

June has been a doozy. The giant tree in our backyard has been a problem since we moved here in 2018 and during one of our more recent windstorms, a large branch fell and damaged a part of our neighbors’ fence. Ironically, we had been on a waiting list since early spring and the tree was removed Wednesday, exactly 2 weeks since the branch fell.

Just prior to the branch incident, we were not sure if we could afford to have it removed because we were faced with exorbitant summer childcare costs that were roughly equal to the quote for the tree removal. But after the storm, we knew it just had to be done somehow, despite the projected childcare fees. We’d make it work, we would just have to be extra careful with our funds from here on out.

I have been working with the neighbors related to insurance claims and options. Because the deductible for their homeowner’s insurance is about $1,000 less than mine, they will claim their insurance if the quote for the repairs exceeds that and I will reimburse them for their deductible. If it is less, I will pay for the repairs out of pocket.

Two days later, my wife unexpectedly lost her job. Guess what? We were not prepared; we do not have 3-6 months of income in our savings accounts to rely on. Just over $5,000 went to the tree removal because if that tree had eventually decided to fall, it would have damaged a lot more or even hurt people.

We are not the only people in this shitty boat. Take my plan for what it is, dismiss it entirely, or use it as ideas or advice…but with a giant grain of salt because we are only in the beginning of what could potentially be a crisis. The thing is – I am an eternal optimist and financial troubles I have had in the past have always been resolved with a good attitude, creativity, and elbow grease. There was a time where I was uncertain about my ability to feed myself and suddenly, circumstances shifted and I was able to buy groceries and feel very blessed. I still remember that day and how it felt, pushing my shopping cart into Price Chopper like I was the beneficiary of a miracle.

Note: we have a small amount of money saved, but certainly not enough to get by without making changes.

Our plan:

  • As my wife is not working, that saves us nearly $5,000 in childcare costs. She gets to spend the bulk of summer being with them, making up for lost time, and decompressing from a super stressful and thankless job. Prior to her termination, she had purchased season passes for her and the kids to the Great Escape and pool passes to our local JCC. These can be enjoyed all summer long, with packed lunches. We also have kayaks, the Mohawk River right down the road, bicycles, and the Hudson Mohawk Bike Trail. We can have an amazing summer on the cheap by enjoying what we have.

  • Removal of excess memberships/subscriptions. Goodbye, Peloton and much of our TV subscriptions.

  • Better meal planning. What’s on sale? What can we buy in bulk and freeze for later? What’s fresh right now at the farmer’s markets? What can we roll from one meal into another? What’s in our pantry now that we can get creative with?

  • Focus on our garden. Soon we will have green beans, tomatoes, salad greens, kale, cucumbers, peppers, berries and other goodies to eat. For the ability to have this during what will be a challenging time, we are very blessed.

  • Continuation of decluttering efforts. What can we sell that we aren’t using and don’t truly need? While this doesn’t bring in a lot of money, I currently do have the equivalent of two week’s worth of grocery money sitting in my Mercari account from online sales. (Here’s a link to my Mercari listings and a link to my website where I sell handmade home decor.)

  • Being mindful of energy costs. Hanging more laundry, keeping the A/C at a reasonable level, paying attention to lights. Keeping curtains nearly closed when the days are sunny and hot to keep the air inside cooler.

While overall watching our personal spending, especially impulsive buys during times of stress – this is what we have so far and it is subject to additions and revisions as time goes on. We are determined to have a nice summer and rethink how we live and spend. I’ll keep you all posted as we navigate this weird and unknown time.

But for now? I’m signing off and headed to the pool with the family – the best place to be on a stifling hot day.

Relationships in my 30’s: How is it I’m finding myself but losing others?

Later this year, I turn 38 – my 20th year high school reunion, if we were to have one. While I feel as if I know less and less about life the older I get…I do know that since nearing my mid-30’s, I am cautious about meeting new people.

I like that word – “cautious”, My wife used it to describe me and it’s far gentler than the word I’d use, which is “standoffish”. I have a hard time moving past the acquaintance phase of relationship-building because, deep down, I fear rejection, mockery, and disloyalty. I have known a lot of it.

That’s one of the things about making friends as an adult – I’ve had the time to become jaded by failed relationships. I no longer throw my feelings and energy toward potential new friends unless, of course, I have had a couple of cocktails. I’m not alone – Alex Williams wrote for the New York Times, “…[y]ou have been through your share of wearying or failed relationships. You have come to grips with the responsibilities of juggling work, family and existing friends, so you become more wary about making yourself emotionally available to new people.” [Check out the article in full HERE.]

Besides that, there’s significantly less room for things that don’t serve me or bring me joy. I decline invitations to activities and social gatherings that I’m uninterested in; I know myself better and treat my time like the precious commodity it is.

Lastly, I am drawn to people who are inspiring, determined, positive, and creative. I feed off of that ~ it inspires me to keep working on myself. I have little patience for those who [unhappily] allow their lives to become stagnant. It’s caused me to drift away from people. I want to keep learning and growing. Sometimes people get stuck, repeating the same misery endlessly. I’m over it*. As my mother used to say, “The Complaint Department’s closed.”

____________________________

*Those who know me in person know that what I am about to write goes without saying. But you, as my reader, likely haven’t met me. Not everyone can get out of their own way and move past obstacles in their life. I have, and always will, support and encourage people to seek help from professionals for these issues. I don’t have a lack of patience for those who always keep trying – it’s the type of people who have the tools and choose the route of self-pity that I cannot tolerate. No thanks. Take those bad vibes elsewhere.

Is Financial Freedom an achievable goal for the average person?

If the title piqued your interest and you were hoping I would have all the secrets…that may very well be in someone else’s blog! I don’t believe the answer is the true point. Instead, I think the point lies in what I get to learn about myself during the journey. In the short span of two months, I have definitely not learned all there is to know, but I am enjoying picking up the crumbs.

[See my former posts HERE and HERE]

In April, I noticed that I make a lot of small purchases. Whether it’s a quick grab from Cumberland Farms during lunch or a small, but necessary item from Amazon – all of those little transactions caused me to exceed the limit in my little Walmart Budget Planner.

May proved to be a much more organized month, transaction-wise. I added another regularly-used item to my Amazon scheduled purchases and only visited Cumbies once. However, there was another wrinkle in that…paying April’s credit card bill [in full] escaped my mind.

Unfortunately I noticed this moments before beginning this post and am trying to keep my disappointment in myself from clouding my writing. I was looking forward to comparing my savings in April with my savings in May, but without going back and examining the statements, re-calculating my wife’s transactions versus mine, and crediting payments made to both, I don’t have a clear way of telling you – hey, I did better or worse by $XXX this month! I don’t wish to make the time to do this today as I have other tasks planned. I’d rather just move on and not dwell on an entirely human oversight. My educated estimation is that I spent more this credit card cycle than last…but not by much and not entirely due to frivolities. There was the fee for income tax preparation, I had gifts to purchase, and I bought my parents’ meals during visits with them. I also spend $235.82 on new clothing for myself, which ties into how this exercise motivated me in May.

Documenting my spending last month provided a new and different motivation for me – similar to the first month inspiring me to organize my accounts and passwords. May’s exercise kicked my butt into accomplishing a lot of decluttering. I did not just declutter my closet, I cleared out household items, recyclable items/craft supplies, and gifts. However, in relation to my clothing, I went through my closet with an honest eye and made quite a few donations. This is why I purchased the new items for myself – so much of what I had was uncomfortable and wasn’t bringing me joy. I removed these and replaced them with items that fit my current lifestyle and make me feel beautiful while wearing them.

For June, I am going to have to start using my calendar book again, as it is not like me to miss a payment for any bill. I am not going to go crazy with scheduling each and every task like I had been before detoxing from it – but clearly I may need some assistance with keeping track of the days and certain things that require attention. That’s goal #1 – getting back to using my book and this feels like the most important goal for now!

Goal #2 – less fast food. I made 3 fast food stops in May. I plan on limiting to one, at most, because while fast food tastes great at the moment, I always feel like garbage after. Just like my decision with donating clothing that did not make me feel good – I want to make decisions about my health that make me feel good.

Am I on the way to this dreamland of financial freedom? I couldn’t say, but I can say that I feel that I am on the road to self-improvement and there is nothing wrong with that!

April Review: What did I learn? What can I improve in May?

I have been looking forward to writing this post because I felt very good about April. Was it perfect? No. Have I learned everything I hoped to? Also no. Did I feel like I did my best? Yes.

Before I delve into the details of my April budget tracking, I would like to admit I only tracked until April 23rd. I had two reasons for this; neither really excused it. The first reason was that the final week in April proved to be emotionally difficult for me. The second was not emotional – it was practical: I ran out of room on my monthly log sheet.

The fact that I ran out of room 3 weeks in tells me that I make a lot of purchases. There are 51 lines to fill in and 30 days in April. From this, I’ve learned that I should try and consolidate my purchases to create less record keeping. This means not reflex-clicking “BUY NOW” on Amazon for even the smallest of purchases or allowing stress to direct me to junk food for instant gratification. (Stress eating being a whole different topic.)

Tracking my spending in April also made me think twice about what I spent my money on. Knowing I was committed to adding my purchases to the book held me accountable. My last credit card cycle was a lot lighter – approximately $500 less than the month before. I was also able to put some extra money into my savings account instead of having to draw from it to pay the bill.

In May I will continue this learning experience, with a more watchful eye on how many small purchases I make and also how stress affects my decision-making. It was gratifying to be able to consciously transfer money into my savings, above and beyond what is automatically deposited by my paycheck. I’d like to keep that good feeling rolling!

Mid-Month Check in: Can a Budget Tracker Really Get me on…Track?

It’s April 15th – I am halfway through my first month of tracking my expenses using a budgeting journal. The purpose of this exercise is to examine how I am spending my money to see if I can curb my impulses and bolster my savings.

So far, I have noticed two things about my habits:

  1. I purchase quite a bit of personal care items, such as energy/collagen powder, lotions, hair care, etc; and
  2. Knowing that I have to write down my purchases in the journal has made me stop before clicking “BUY NOW”. Similar to using a food tracking journal or app – the decisions I make are there in black and white for me to see and I do not want to exhibit poor self-control.

#2 is huge for me because it is so easy to give into temptation on Amazon, especially since early 2020 when our world as we know it changed. I’m not the only one – if we look at Amazon’s first and second quarter sales from 2019 compared to 2020, the increase is obvious. While many of us began relying on online services for our necessities, speaking for myself, I have engaged in plenty of “comfort shopping*”. Holding myself accountable has eliminated my mindless purchases.

As for #1, by tracking personal item purchases, I will be able to see if it would benefit me to take advantage of the “Subscribe and Save” option to receive items I regularly use at a discounted rate. Currently I have three subscriptions from Amazon – dog food, laundry detergent sheets, and face cream – all at a 5% discount. What I like about this is that it has removed the need to remember to order when these supplies run low and I can set/adjust the delivery dates as needed. For example, I get a new bag of dog food every 3 weeks, the detergent sheets every 6, and the face cream every 3 months. There is no reason why I shouldn’t consider this for my leave-in conditioner and energy/collagen powder.

This exercise also motivated me to get in shape in another way – compiling all of my account usernames and passwords in one place**, making sure these accounts are linked up to my current e-mail addresses, saving photos from old Google drives, and deleting old Gmail accounts. I suppose you could say that once I began tracking my spending, I realized that I wanted to get control over these tasks, too.

*”Comfort Shopping” is a real thing! So real, in fact, Today.com just published an article about how to stop engaging in this behavior! Talk about great timing!

**While it is not recommended that one puts their usernames and passwords all in one place, I have opted to do so in a hand-written format. As my homepage states, I am an estate and trust administration paralegal. In too many instances a deceased person’s spouse or child cannot access their loved one’s information after their passing to determine what may need to be taken care of. I chose to do this for my wife in case something were to happen to me.

I am optimistic about this exercise because, already, I feel as if I have stepped on to a better path. I am looking forward to the end of April for the full result.

Can a Budget Tracker really get me on…track?

With nearly 2/3 of Americans living paycheck to paycheck (myself included), when I saw this budget planner, I knew I could not leave Walmart without it.

…and therein lies a big problem for me that the pandemic has amplified – I’ve been indulging as opposed to dedicated. I treat myself generously with my “wants” without much thought of my future “needs”.

Time passes quickly. I blinked and here I am, 20 years post-high school graduation. Entering my 38th year has me realizing that retirement is not as far off as it once seemed and I am nowhere near prepared. If I had not cashed out my retirement account to purchase a home in 2013 I would be closer to being on track with my peers.

According to Ally, I should have somewhere around twice my income saved. More directly, my Edward Jones financial advisor informed me I would run out of money a few short years into retirement if I kept my projected path of contributions.

For someone with a limited education, I make a nice income. I am above the average for those in my age group. While I do not have children of my own, I have stepchildren that live with me and my wife. I contribute to what they eat and the utilities they use but I am not a major part of their other financial needs. Accordingly, I have zero reason to be living paycheck to paycheck and scrounging to pay the credit card bill off every month so we can reap the benefits of its generous points as opposed to being a victim to its crippling APR.

This planner feels very Pinteresty and hokey, but the idea of using a money-management app on my phone does not interest me at this time. I do not need another reason to be a slave to an electronic device. So, I am cautiously hopeful that this $2 budget planner will force me to take a good look at where my money is being spent. I am going to be diligent in the next 30 days to see if I can learn something about my habits. It starts today and hopefully by April 30th I will have an answer to this question.

Social Media Influencers ~ Insipid or Inspiring?

An influencer is someone who has:

  • the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.
  • a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.

It is important to note that these individuals are not merely marketing tools, but rather social relationship assets with which brands can collaborate to achieve their marketing objectives.

(Definition from Influencer Marketing Hub)

Back in 2015/2017, before I recall anyone using the word “influencer”, I worked at a fitness studio and much of my life was showcased on social media. The franchise I worked with encouraged us to post well and post often to cultivate what they referred to as the “know, like, and trust” factor. If people knew, liked, and trusted us, we could sell them anything.

That’s what social media influencers do – sell. Whether it is products or the idea of a lifestyle, the intent is to sell you on something.

Companies have gotten smarter over the years, realizing that people do not enjoy a sales pitch. It’s easy to scroll by ads but pause on people we may feel a similarity to. That is where social media influencers come into play – they bridge a gap between companies and consumers. If I have two young children and XXInstaJaneXX, who also has two children, swears that brand of laundry detergent basically washes, dries, and folds clothes for her…well, why wouldn’t I give it a go?

So, those are the product influencers. There are also “lifestyle influencers”. They are the ones who seem to always be on a lavish vacation or calmly sipping a latte in a quaint café. I am not entirely sure what they are selling, but the bottom line is that influencers are meant to influence us – whether it is to purchase a product or to desire a certain lifestyle.

What is she selling?

There are entire subreddits dedicated to bashing certain social media influencers. But here’s the thing – well, things:

(1) Be honest – who wouldn’t want the ability to be their weirdo self online while making money? Imagine having a loyal following that would allow you to make a positive impact on the world on a large scale. Imagine being able to work exactly when and where you want to, without a ‘boss’, per se.

(2) As long as we have a good sense of who we are and what we want, it is easy to scroll by content we don’t need without any emotional reaction. As in, every ripped post-workout photo wouldn’t make us feel insecure. Every travel post wouldn’t make us feel ferociously jealous that our current view may be an old postcard tacked up to the side of our cubicle. So, I don’t buy into the argument that influencers can cause self-esteem issues ~ we are responsible for ourselves.

(3) If we find amusement in an influencer or find that they inspire us to be better, more organized, more conscious of habits we would be better served without, that all sounds good. It is over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people remark that they have laughed significantly less lately. I follow one Instagram influencer because she posts about light topics and shares TikTok videos of her singing into the sprayer on her kitchen sink. It’s silly and I like it. She also posts links to products she likes and makes a commission off of the sale. Cool ~ but I am not being forced to buy anything.

We have the power to largely choose who and what we are influenced by. We cannot blame social media for whatever inadequacies we may be feeling at the moment or for our large credit card bill. What does it say about us if we mock or judge people for finding an alternative way to pay their bills in a hectic, stressful world?

Personal Reflection: doing less and the meaning of life.

I would like to start this piece by thanking my followers and my readers. I have not been dedicated to updating this blog regularly due to other tasks requiring my attention; yet you’re still here! Thank you for your support.

I have been slowing down, acknowledging that my energy is finite. Around Thanksgiving, I wrote about how my reliance on a calendar book was increasing my anxiety. I was feeling stifled and frequently overwhelmed; as if my life had no flexibility. Currently, I am sitting on my couch with my two dogs with nothing on my to-do list. Daring to peek into what February 2021 will bring, I am realizing I have successfully broken my toxic creating-a-to-do list habit.

While I believe in the helpfulness of a to-do list during times of extreme stress and busy-ness, I don’t feel I always need one for home and work. This has caused a big halt in my productivity, but who needs to be productive all the time? Just because that is the way I have always been doesn’t mean it is the way I always have to be. It’s a beautiful thing in life – we can choose who we want to be and work on making a change.

While doing nothing and cruising Reddit recently, I found a Twitter post from a user named @ambernoelle. It states, “…I don’t think your life has to have a purpose, or you a grand ambition; I think it’s okay to just wander through life finding interesting things until you die.” This feels like a simple, beautiful notion.

There are certain things that we need to do in life and there is a lot of pressure to achieve and succeed. The pressure is spoken and unspoken, self-inflicted and inflicted by others. Our long-ago ancestors worried about shelter, food, procreation. Life has gotten a lot more complicated over the past few hundred years. Your average adult worries about those things plus a plethora of other matters such as fitting in, job promotions, appearing successful, networking, ensuring proper nutrition and healthy exercise habits because of sedentary jobs requiring long-hours, our physical appearance, debt, furthering our education to increase our marketability, if we are doing what we were meant to do…I could rattle off more but I have more ‘nothing’ to do once I finish this post and I am excited to get back to that. You get the picture. Our lives are fraught with pressure and worry.

What if @ambernoelle is right? What if she has figured out the meaning of life and it isn’t all as complicated as we imagined? We are here for a limited amount of time and what we do with our time does play a part in defining who we are, but it is important to be defined at all? When we go, we go. Memories of us may live within others, perhaps shared over a few glasses of wine accompanied by laughter or tears, but ultimately it the satisfaction over our lives comes from ourselves. Plainly said: I stopped caring if other people feel my life was lived properly, had meaning, purpose, or if I achieved my highest potential. We should be looking into our own lives to determine that. We need to be happy with ourselves.