Budgeting 101 with Sarah

This week’s guest blog is brought to you by my good friend and fellow blogger Sarah Styf (you can check out her blog here):

I grew up in a lower middle class household  with a father who is a church worker (and believe me, the average church worker doesn’t make much money) and a mother who stayed at home until all four of us girls were in school. That means I didn’t grow up with much. I watched friends get Cabbage Patch Dolls and little pink boomboxes and Barbies galore and I had to be happy with my two Barbies and the Barbie pool I received from my young and childless (at the time) aunt and uncle. What little money I did get in the form of an allowance I hoarded like a mini-Scrooge, and from middle school on, any and every job I worked slowly contributed to a growing savings account that rarely, if ever, saw a withdrawal. A natural saver, the first time I ever allowed myself a spending spree was the fall semester of my junior year of college. After months of saving every penny from my job serving tables at a local upscale restaurant (or at least upscale for southwest Michigan), I spent it all traveling around western Europe while attending classes in London. But besides that one semester, I continued to save, only spending what I had and only when necessary, all while watching my boyfriend, and then fiance, spending slightly more than he was making.

And so in our early 20’s a spender married a saver and lived happily ever after. Kind of. It is fair to say that the spender and saver are still happily married in-spite of the money mistakes that we made all through our 20’s. Some of those mistakes we made together, some of those we made separately, but both are having a lasting impact in our late 30’s.

Unfortunately, when I got married and graduated from college, those saver habits started to change. At my core I was a saver, so every unnecessary penny spent hurt, but I found that buying things could also be fun. Once I had a full time job and some disposable income, I found myself buying things that I didn’t really need. This was especially true of items that I felt I had been robbed of owning all through my childhood. One of those things were collectors items, particularly collector’s edition Barbie dolls, most of which I still own.

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These Barbies have won a display position in the guest room.

To this day I still don’t know a good way to display them and several of them are hiding in a closet in our guest room.

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These Barbies have been relegated to the closet.

Immediately after we got married I had an apartment to furnish, so I would buy fun decorative items on sale to cover for all the hand-me-down furniture. I needed a new teaching wardrobe so I would buy various clothing items that I really liked, as long as they were on sale. Sales became my friends and I learned the hard way that habitually shopping sales can actually lead to more spending than saving. Over the last fifteen years post-college graduation I don’t know how many unused or barely used items I have donated or sold at garage sales. Now I don’t buy something unless I know exactly how I am going to use it or where it is going to go in our house. While I’m not ready to get rid of all of our books and movies and other items, I am slowly learning that less is more, a lesson that slapped us in the face a year and a half ago when we lived for six weeks in our 30 foot camper. I am also trying to do a better job of spending my hard earned money on a few quality items over many junky items. I relearned that particular difficult lesson this past year when I decided that I needed a much better camera that I could use in my yearbook adviser work. My husband had tried to encourage me to do just that two years ago when I bought our last camera. At the time I was too cheap to buy the SLR camera I desperately wanted so I just bought a nice standard digital camera. So instead of a single purchase two years ago I ended up spending much more money overall, eventually buying the camera I really wanted.

Another 20’s financial failure was dining out, way too much. While dining out (or dining in if you’re the take-out type) can also destroy one’s waistline (as it did for us), it also did a number on our budget. But dining out was so easy. For the first three years we were married my husband was working in Michigan, I was working in Illinois, and we were living in Indiana. By the time both of us got home from work we were too exhausted to cook. And that’s ignoring the fact that when we were first married, my cooking skills were embarrassing, to say the least. I once screwed up a box meal. You know, one of those “just add water and mix” meals. When we moved to Indianapolis and we were both living and working in the same city, the situation improved some. We both starting learning how to cook more and I found that I sometimes enjoyed it. But I was also teaching English and directing the high school theatre program at the same time. There were times during the school year when Chinese take-out and wings nights at Buffalo Wild Wings was just way easier. When we moved one more time and I was only working part time, we discovered that it was financially essential to eat at home. In the last seven years since that move we have learned that cooking at home is way more affordable, tastes significantly better (seriously, the only thing we haven’t been able to “perfect” has been certain pasta sauces), and is way healthier. During those rare weeks when we don’t cook much at home, my husband and I both feel gross and more often than not, we regret our decisions. If I could go back and do my early 20’s over again, I would force myself to learn how to cook something better than Hamburger Helper.

While eating at home more would have helped our checkbook, we also should have been smarter about where that home was located. This is probably the one area of our finances on which my husband and I still disagree. We spent the first year and a half of marriage living in apartments and then decided, before we were 25, that we were ready for home ownership. At the ripe old age of 24, we bought our first house. Now we both loved our first house. It was a nice starter home, it was fun to paint and decorate, and it allowed us to get our first puppy, but in terms of our finances, we had no idea what we were doing. We bought a house with more property than I think we intended and ended up spending significantly more on property taxes than originally thought. Or maybe we were just ignoring the extra property taxes because we had stars in our eyes. I had fun decorating but didn’t really consider how much money I was spending trying to emulate the interior designers on TLC (before HGTV became the place all things home design). And we stupidly fell for a buyers club pitch thinking that we would be buying so many things for our new house that the club would help us save significant amounts of money, only to discover that it was over $1000 that we would never see again. My husband wouldn’t change a thing about THAT home purchase, but if I could do it over again, I would have found a house to rent before buying, at least to give us a home-ownership test run. A complete rundown of our other home ownership issues can be found here. Let’s just say our experience has been a mixed bag.

But all of the above mistakes could have been avoided if we had just learned how to budget when we were in our early 20’s. For the first twelve years of our marriage we never knew how much we were spending, living on faith that we wouldn’t bounce a check between deposits. Our debt increased, our spending never decreased, and it was a constant potential for conflict in our marriage. We took a finance class three years ago and while we are far from perfect and still have a lot to work through, we finally learned the why and how of budgeting.

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Now I regularly use the website You Need a Budget (which has free plans for students) for all my budgeting needs and we are constantly working on a plan for becoming debt free. It isn’t easy, but I wish we had started doing it before we got married. It would have eliminated many a fight and helped us learn the above lessons much sooner. Not only that, but our retirement savings (which are OK but not great) would be significantly better.

No one ever REALLY wants to talk about money, especially when they are young and don’t have much of it, but I would count my lack of financial literacy one of the greatest regrets of my 20’s. Do a better job of spending and planning in your 20’s and then you’ll be able to really enjoy your 30’s and beyond. Trust me. It will be worth it.

Interested in writing a guest blog for The Newbie Nesters? Contact me at thenewbienesters@gmail.com!

Adulting As I Go…

There are some mornings when I wake up and feel I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to put on pants or which side is the front of my favorite shirt. Oftentimes, that’s what being an adult is all about. I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing, but hey – I’m moving forward. I take every day as an adventure, and sometimes I just have to figure it out as I go.

My goal with this blog is to alter that feeling. If the point of the internet today is to develop community, why not create a space where we can all feel a little less overwhelmed and uncertain on this path toward growing up? That is exactly what “The Newbie Nesters” is all about.

Below is a dump list of lessons I’ve learned over the past 10 years of my life, from my first months as a college freshman to now. As I continue to develop and shift this blog toward a communal platform, I’d love to interact with you, my readers, a little more. So we’re going to try something new this week. In the comment section at the bottom of this blog, please tell me which, of the “adulting” topics listed below, you’d like to hear more about. And hey, if any of you have experiences you’d like to share in response to my lessons, let’s talk. Maybe there’s an opportunity for a guest blog post in the making!

Here’s the list:

  • Follow your dreams, but get the bills paid.
  • Always take the time to gut-check the balance of your life. If one thing is eating away at the rest of your investments, it just might not be worth it.
  • Homemade food is the best love language, hands down.
  • You’re never too old to ask your parents for help.
  • In fact, the most successful people are never afraid to ask for help with anything.
  • Sometimes it’s good to unplug.
  • Post-its and to-do lists are good for you.
  • You’re not a failure if you pay someone to do your taxes.
  • Send snail mail to people you love.
  • Furry children can save your life.
  • Always be on the look-out for your personal favorite hole-in-the-wall. It will be worth the search.
  • Budgeting is not evil. It is necessary and relieves stress at the end of the day.
  • Self-love comes in many forms and doesn’t have to break the bank.
  • Find a hobby that can offer you small joys without consuming you.
  • Square footage is far less important than attitude when it comes to making a home.
  • It’s normal to feel tired, but we all still need to wake up at some point.
  • The language of thankfulness is crucial to a full life.
  • Travel is the best investment you can make.
  • Your bucket list doesn’t have to be impossible.
  • The moment you are too old to be a student is the moment you stop fully living.
  • Social media should be for pictures of food, cats, and babies – not for passive-aggressive ranting.
  • You are not alone. It is crucial you don’t forget that.

I’m excited to see where this goes! Let me know what you’re thinking 🙂

 

A Different Kind of Post

I know this is a little different from other blogs I’ve written here. But as I work on some big changes for this site, and in the context of life and adulting, I thought this would still work as a good post for this week.

I wrote this piece during one of my hour-long commutes on the CTA to work one morning. Hopefully you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

Inner City Travelogue

While on my way to work this morning,

Riding a train that slips between this world and my old one,

I looked down to find the memory of Iowa tattooed on a person’s wrist

Not the whole state to be exact,

But rather the symbol of its location,

The block letter word that reminded this person of home

 

And so I thought back to last weekend

When I met a man with a map of St. Paul, Minnesota, on his forearm,

Of weeks-old Michigan mittens branded along a shoulder and upper thigh

Months ago there was a girl with Chicago’s flag wrapped around her ankle,

Four six-pointed stars guiding her with every step of her feet

 

I suppose we are all walking maps like these people

With travel logs that we carry along our heartstrings

Of where we are

Where we wish to be

Where we’ve left pieces of our souls along the way

Politics and 2017

I think we’ve all had enough of rants this year – and it’s only February.

So consider this an encouraging “how to” guide in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.

I know many of us are scared and angry and uncertain as we slowly step into 2017. But no matter what side we’ve all ended up on, I hope we can still remember how to treat each other as humans.

And that doesn’t mean calling out shame on people for expressing their opinions.

It doesn’t mean using words like “conservative” and “liberal” as if they are swears.

It doesn’t mean assuming the worst of people because they use words like “Muslim” or “Christian” or (dare I say it) “Caucasian” to describe themselves.

It DOES mean we should all remember how to log into social media without an agenda – unless that agenda is sharing the latest photo of your cat.

It DOES mean admitting that even Canada has a divided political system, and nothing was ever solved by running away from problems.

It DOES mean that sometimes the world makes sense, and those are the most important moments to remember where you stashed the chocolate.

2017 does not need to mean blocking people left and right or losing track of how to have a civil conversation as soon as someone says “Trump.” Just as it has for every year of life up to this point, all it has to mean is a new opportunity to love and challenge others to do the same every day.

We can do this together – promise.

 

YouTube Binging 101

My best friend started me down this rabbit hole, and now I can’t stop. Why isn’t there an “Enter at own risk” sign on the YouTube homepage?

It began with a topic.The hobby of makeup and beauty products was knocking at our door, but we weren’t sure what we needed to buy to get off the ground. Thanks to YouTube, we got to watch someone else demo the experience before weput any money down! And this is how together we started binging on beauty vloggers, DIY crafters, and professional bakers. There has been more than one afternoon that I’ve sat in front of my computer screen with a pen and paper, taking notes for my next shopping trip to try something new (of course while also sending messages back and forth with you to hear your thoughts).

What I love most about the YouTube community is the constant positivity. No matter how these people’s days are going, no matter what some stupid viewer said in the comments section yesterday about their hair, quality YouTubers choose to share messages of kindness and goodness in everything they produce. And that is what I want to share with you today. I got into YouTube when I was down and out and going through a rather rough patch in my life. My best friend and I would watch our favorite YouTubers together, and it gave us just one more thing to giggle over and chat about. But more than anything, my favorite vloggers shared with me a daily uplifting, thought-provoking experience that kept my brain engaged and helped me bring focus back to my hectic life.

So where should you start in your YouTube vlogger experience? To answer that, I’ll have to take you through the journey of how I got started down this path this past summer.

It started with Zoella, a British beauty vlogger who harbors a love for all things Disney and enjoys spending time in the kitchen and taking her pug Nala for long walks around her hometown of Brighton, England. Her channel has given me some great beauty tips and some really great recipes for me to try in my future, but it is her honest, open battle with crippling anxiety, her open support of friends in time of need, and her love of what she does that keeps me watching. Zoe Sugg is a human, and she doesn’t try to hide that in her work.

From there, I moved on to Pointless Blog Vlogs. This one is a time commitment, but it can be so much fun. Alfie Deyes, the YouTuber behind this channel, is Zoella’s boyfriend, which is how I first discovered him. Because he has devoted himself to the act of daily vlogging, his videos function more as a life diary sometimes. Viewers travel with him all over the world on vacations, try new foods as he visits new restaurants and samples new candy, cheer for Alfie as he tries out new self-set challenges, and smile a little wider every day as he expresses his love for his and Zoe’s two-year-old dog Nala.

Maybe it’s because I’m an anglophile at heart, but from there I wandered into the world of Dan is Not on Fire and Amazing Phil. These two vloggers are roommates who live in London, and who have been together making videos since the days of MySpace. Each takes his own spin on turning everyday events into comedic sketches, from unabashed Tumblr addictions, to existential crises, to writing fanfiction about themselves. They also have a BBC radio show—who knew?

Jeffree Star can completely be blamed on my best friend. Known originally for his punk rock sound with artists like Hollywood Undead, he started his YouTube channel to show off his skills as a self-taught makeup artist and to feature his self-named beauty product line. You can’t help but adore him for his love of facial highlighters and his neon pink hair, but I think I love him most for the way his face lights up when he sees anything Louis Vuitton.

You might recognize at least one of the Vlog Brothers for their work outside of YouTube. John Green is known around the world for his young adult dramas like The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, but did you also know that he and his brother made YouTube videos together? Originating from a year-long dare to talk to each other only through online videos, these two Indiana natives have proudly developed a community for nerd fighters, crash course videos about classic literature and all things educational, and conversations about international current events. If you don’t want to feel like your brain is melting while you’re binging on YouTube, you’ll be in good hands with John and Hank Green.

And there we have it. To dive into the deep end of YouTube can be scary and overwhelming, but you constantly remind me of three important things through all of our viewing together:

  • First, YouTube is not going away, so starting in the shallow end is very okay.
  • Second, you are not alone through any of your viewing; that’s the blessing and the curse of the internet.
  • Third, you just might like what you find if you’re willing to give it a chance.

 

The Importance of Sizing the Ladies

Women have all had to wear bras through our adult life. And even though they’re stupid and sweaty and can cause all sorts of pain, I never knew that wearing the right bra size could be so life-changing. Seriously, after getting my first ever bra sizing, I am wearing a properly fitted bra for the first time in maybe 10 years.  And not only do I feel more comfortable with my whole upper body, but did you know that at least 65% of women are wearing the wrong bra size?

So then I started looking into this topic some more, and I am floored at some of the facts that no one tells you about why it’s so important to wear a properly sized bra. For example:

Posture – We don’t have to go too far into the fact that a properly fitted bra makes your overall shape look less like a sack of potatoes. But women who don’t wear properly fitted bras regularly experience back pain and are more prone to slouching than those women who do.

Pain –  Too often, the pain isn’t limited to your spine. You could also be experiencing breast and skin irritation all because your not wearing the right bra size. Unexplained stomach pain and headaches can also sometimes be traced back to an ill-fitted bra.

Lymph Node Health –  Lymph nodes are a crucial element of your immune system, and lymphatic vessels run through a woman’s breasts. If you’re wearing the wrong bra size, you could be squishing your lymph valves and therefore preventing them from working properly.

What can we do about this? Make sure you are getting fitted regularly. Any drastic change in weight or lifestyle (having a baby or picking up running, for example) should lead to another bra sizing as soon as possible. And don’t break the bank doing it! Thanks to the internet, you can figure out your size in the comfort of your own home. Or you can go to a store that will do it for free like Victoria’s Secret. Remember you should try on a new bra for looks, comfort, and fit under clothing.

No matter what, don’t be like me. I didn’t even know the discomfort I was brushing aside until I took the time to get fitted. And now I’m never looking back.

 

Making Real Resolutions

I’ve never been a big one for New Years resolutions. Too often I’ve heard friends swear that big life changes are coming their way starting in January, and this usually leads to giant leaps in diet, gym membership, and even clothing. For me, I believe a little more in small steps, individual habits that could lead to a healthier and happier me. And to help me toward that end, today I’m going to share my top personal challenges for 2017.

Exercise – This could mean meeting my FitBit step goal for the day, taking some time for a DoYouYoga workout, or maybe just making sure I’m moving during evening TV time. It doesn’t need to take up my whole day, but I wholly believe in Elle Woods’ words from Legally Blonde:

reese-witherspoon

 

Journal –  I am firm believer in the value of processing through words. So whether this be personal journal entries or keeping up my bullet journal every day, I want to make sure to commit to this time for me every day. (By the way, did you know these were the top bullet journal spreads in 2016?)

Submit writing – This is a no-brainer. I’m going to school to work on my writing, so I should probably work on getting my writing published, right? That’s why I’ve subscribed to Submittable’s weekly newsletter about possible publishing opportunities, and I’m committing to sending out a piece of my writing at least once a month.

Reading –  I already love to read, but too often books end up on the back burner when I get home. So I’m committing to less Netflix binging and more time with my nose in a good book in 2017. I plan to read at least two books a month (which I know is probably too low), or maybe I should commit to being like this guy.

Baking – This is my personal hobby that keeps me sane. There is something about flour and sugar and butter that just makes sense when the rest of the world doesn’t. Plus, then I get to save the world with cookies, like this awesome lady:

stranger than fiction

 

What are your personal goals going to be in 2017? I hope at least one of them involves something you really love!

 

Adulting in Winter

I think the hardest part of adulting for me was the transition from snow days and lazy winter mornings to scraping off ice and trudging through the cold. It’s not as easy to love snowflakes when boots are more of a necessity than a fashion statement. But with all of that in mind, I still think there is some beauty to be found in grownup winter days – as long as you know how to survive it.

Here are some of the things I have learned to love most about cold weather months:

Coffee mug walks: You are never too old to drink hot cocoa, and that’s especially true when the cup is keeping your hands warm. I love this sneaky trick of packing my morning tea or coffee in a mug that I can hold on my commute to work. And I always make sure to pour my morning beverage when it’s too hot for me to drink. That way, it can serve two purposes: warming up my hands and then cooling down my tea before I’m ready to drink it!

Layering weather: I’d always rather be a little too cold than too hot, because then I can always put on another layer. As an adult, you have to consider function over form, so you can’t always go with the cute option if it’s not warm enough. But with that in mind, I love boots with a good lining and fleece-lined leggings and scarves and sweaters and big puffy coats. It is my personal goal whenever I walk outside in the winter to feel like a human marshmallow, and I’d like to say I usually achieve it.

Mittens vs gloves: We all were probably forced by our moms to wear mittens when we were younger, and as an adult, I want to believe that gloves are the more adult option. But I have now discovered the beauty of layering gloves underneath a pair of mittens. That way, you can always pull off the mitten if you need to text or grip something with your fingers. And you get the added mitten layer to help you feel like your hand isn’t about to fall off from frostbite.

Indoor Fun: I usually love spending as much time outdoors as possible, but during the winter months, I love the opportunity to curl up and stay inside. This doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Start a Netflix binging challenge with a friend. Listen to podcasts while you try out a new craft. Set up an indoor obstacle course for your pet/roommate/friends, and whoever finishes first gets a prize. I know I’ll be stir-crazy by February, but for now, I am brimming with ideas on how to stay inside while the weather outside is frightful.

Don’t forget–we are all meant to look and feel like marshmallows for the next few months!

 

Survival Guide to Chicago

I honestly don’t know how some people make it in this city. Between the weather extremes to the dive-bombing pigeons to the constant ENERGY that seems to be pumping through everyone’s veins (or maybe that’s just Starbucks)…I feel dizzy in the rush most days. But I do have to say I’ve learned a few tricks since moving to Chicago. So here we go:

ALICIA’S SURVIVAL GUIDE TO CHICAGO

  1. Get a good pair of walking shoes: I have proudly been the queen of the high heel, but when I average five miles of walking a day, heels just aren’t going to cut it. So you have two options. Option #1 involves leaving room in your purse for the cute shoes while you wear the practical shoes to the office and anywhere you go outside of the office during the day. Option #2 involves finding the right balance of cute and comfort in shoes you can wear throughout the day. I vacillate between both, but if you like my second idea, I can highly recommend two brands: Chaco’s for the summer, Bob’s for the fall. Both can be pricey, but that’s why DSW exists, right? And when it comes to winter in Chicago? Boots and good socks – you’ll need both. I promise, you’ll thank me later.
  2. The built-in microphone: If you’re not up for spending $60 or more on some sort of Bluetooth device to pair with your phone, why not spend $20 on a good pair of headphones with a microphone built in? This has allowed me to make important phone calls to and from work on the train, or even catch up with an old friend during my hour-long commute home every day. I really enjoy the Skullcandy brand, but you can find a good variety for this kind of product in any well-stocked electronics section.
  3. Take the Dora plunge: I know I talked up book-sized bags in another post, but I want to emphasize that an actual backpack can hold so much more than your latest read. On a daily basis, my big kid backpack carries a raincoat, lunchbox, external battery for my phone, cute impractical shoes for the office, my journal, sunglasses…and that’s just the beginning of the list. I’ve had really good results with the Timbuk2 brand, but if you don’t like that look, just make sure you read the customer reviews. Ideally, you want something that’s high in water resistance and comfortable for carrying long distances.
  4. Invest in a Fitbit: I want to tell you why I really value my Fitbit Alta. Since moving to Chicago, my energy levels are more often empty than full. The incentive of my Fitbit throwing me a little party on my wrist once I hit my step count keeps me going some days. It encourages me to leave my desk during lunch and wander, or even to take regular stretch breaks to fill up my water bottle and say hi to a coworker. My Fitbit allows me to keep track of my friends’ steps throughout the week, and there’s always a small competition to see who ends up on the leaderboard at the end of the day. You don’t have to agree with me, but I love my lil Fitbit. Also, I am not a watch wearer (too bulky), so I love the Alta’s small size.
  5. Ventra is your new BFF: Sorry Courtney, but you’ve been replaced. For $100 a month, your Ventra pass will allow you unlimited access to all the buses, trains, and subways throughout Chicago. So when your feet get tired from being on the move (and you don’t want to lose that perfect parking spot right by your apartment), let the drivers of public transportation deal with the stress of Chicago traffic. That way, you can just enjoy the ride, AND you won’t have to pay for downtown parking.

As much as I feel a little overwhelmed every day, I honestly can’t wait to show off my new city to family and friends when they come to visit. Here’s hoping you can make it to Chicago yourself sometime soon!