Back To School Anxiety: The Financial Side

Ok, so every year (even though I’ve long graduated, but still live near campus) I check out my old university’s Welcome Week. I volunteered with it for a few years, and know how much free food and stuff gets tossed out because no one takes it. So, I make it my mission to take stuff every year, to help decrease surplus waste.

And every fucking year they’re giving away copies of the same book: The Debt-Free Graduate. Yes, I know that they say every year is the new ~revised~ version with all the new tax and RESP law stuff in there, but 99% of the book is still the same. I have owned 7 copies of this book over the years. There is on my bookshelf, and the other 6 have gone to GoodWill. I figure it’s doing more good there than on a free table on a university campus.

The DEbt Free Graduate

Why?

Because a bunch of the tips have to do with stuff you have to do BEFORE you start school. RESPs, applying for scholarships in high school, getting summer jobs all through out high school and college/university, applying for loans and bursaries as a high school student. Seriously, they should give this out freshman year orientation of high school so that kids can start preparing themselves. Everything else in the book is just common sense tips that you can find online. And again, most of this shit would be most useful to you before you start classes for your first year of higher education.

Now, there are hundreds of sites out there saying the have fantastic advice on how to save money on life while you’re a student. I’d say a good 75% of these articles in some way, shape, or form mention Ikea as a decorating option. Now, I went to my local Goodwill today (it was my day off, so I thought I’d treat myself to some $2 books and $4 slippers), and they have a shit-tonne of old sturdy wooden desks there. The most expensive one I saw there was $35, plus $15 for delivery if you didn’t have a friend with a truck to grab it for you. Even still, $50 for a super solid desk is really not bad for someone who will spend a good 60% of their life at their desk for the next 4-6 years. And that’s on the pricey side of what I’ve seen! The desk I use now came with the room I rent. At my old apartment, I got a desk off the side of the road when some students were moving out and just discarding furniture. That being said, a lot of these “money saving” articles for students think that something like this is a good deal. For those of you who don’t want to click on random links, that a desk for students at the super bargain price of more than $400!!!

Ok, so I know that for a lot of us, $400 seems like nothing once those student loans roll in. But a $400 desk to save money? Even with that fresh cash in your bank, you don’t need to be throwing down big bucks for the basics. Like I said, paying $50 for the purchase and delivery of some old-school super sturdy wooden desk build back when people wanted their shit to last 500 years is a bargain for me. I’ve also used desks pulled off the side of the road when I didn’t have that $50 to spare.

So if you haven’t been saving for college or university since you started high school, don’t have a metric shit-tonne of scholarships to help you out, have very little or no don’t have RESP or any sort of educational savings from your family to help you, what the hell are you going to do. I mean, if you’re “lucky enough” to qualify for student loans, then you have those to fall back on. Or do you?

Basically, here’s a bunch of shit to remember when you’re trying to navigate financially in your post-high school education.

#1: They’re loans. It’s not free money.

PowerBall Winnings Student Loan Debt

I have seen student loan money blown on the craziest shit. I had a friend who needed a new mattress, and instead of getting something basic to last her through her degree (since she would be moving back home probably once she graduated while she looked for a job), she spent $1700 on a damn good mattress. Her rent was late at the end of the semester while she shoveled driveways to make up for the $300 she was short.

I once went to a fraternity cocktail party at a bar the beginning of winter semester. Three guys each had bar tabs in excess of $800, with two of them using their student loans to pay them off. Most of their tab was buying shots and rounds for their friends all night.

Another friend bought a car. Nothing fancy. Hell, not even something reliable. The tailpipe had to be rig-welded together with soda cans because she couldn’t afford repairs. Bought it in her first year, the damn thing barely made it half-way through the second year.

We all do stupid shit with our student loans. Hell, I know there are a bunch of things I spent way too much on over the years that I’m still trying to pay off now (flannel shirts, cheap boots, booze, and pizza are the big ones here). Loans are meant to be spent on tuition (which in my province, is automatically taken out by the school before you receive your loan), your rent, your books, food, and little important things like your phone bill. They’re not throwing a tonne of cash at you to go on a shopping spree, buying beds and cars and booze. You are getting the bare basics plus a little bit to live with.

And this money is NOT free.

If my friend had taken his $800 he spent on booze and just put it in savings, that’s an $800 payment he could’ve made on his student loan. Believe me, every tiny bit counts when it comes to your student loan repayment so that $800 could’ve covered interest for close to a year depending on how long he went to school.

The $1700 my friend spent on one mattress she had to abandon when she left the city after her degree is worth more than 6 months worth of her current student loan payments. Imagine not buying something extravagant, and being more than 6 months ahead of your friends in being debt free.

In the end, this is all being paid back. And having a ridiculous amount of student debt is a major stressor on most people. Ever wonder what triggers my insomnia-inducing anxiety more often than not? It’s debt, with the vast majority of it coming from student loans.

If you want to spend big bucks on something for yourself, mow some lawns or shovel driveways. Get a babysitting gig or something. Earn the extra coin to pay for it, or else it’s just being added to the debt that will be hanging over your head for years to come.

This is NOT your money to go out and spend! Yes, it’s in your account. But it’s a loan. A LOAN! Someone is lending you that money to use, and then pay back later WITH INTEREST!!! It is NOT free money like so many of us (myself included) spent it as.

#2: Why the hell are you buying your textbooks already?

Textbook Meme

Iknow you want to get a jump on things. It’s not easy keeping up with readings and assignments and getting a head start is better than nothing. Your professor sends out the syllabus a week or two in advance, so you can do this.

But do you really need to buy all the textbooks?

From what I’ve heard from friends from all over both Canada and the USA, most profs put a copy or two of their current textbooks in the library. Want to start reading early? Go check out a damn book! I found there is always a damn good chance that the prof with either only uses one of the 7 books they assigned, or only sporadically make you read from the main text. You have your syllabus in front of you. Why not go the library a week ahead of time, take out that textbook, read and make all your notes, and be done with it? It sure as hell beats spending $150+ on a damn book you’ll need a handful of times in a semester.

If you absolutely must have your textbooks, for the love of all things sacred, follow the advice of pretty much every “how to save money as a student” article out there: buy them used. At my old university, students could sell back certain textbooks at a greatly reduced rate, to be resold as used books to new students. I mean, I paid $100 for a book I used three times, and the used book store wanted to buy it for $20. Mind you, they were reselling it for $50.

If you need a textbook, check out used textbook websites. Just type in your college or university named followed by “used” on Facebook, and you’ll find pages for used books, furniture, clothes, everything. Pick up books for less than half price. If you have old books, get a bit of money back for them. If only one prof uses that book, and you took very careful notes and highlights, you could possibly get into a bidding war (had it happen a few times one year) to get your very coveted used text.

Don’t want a bunch of used books cluttering up your shelves? Think about renting them. There are a bunch of websites that will let you rent books from them. You can’t mark them up with highlighters, but you can take notes from them, read them all you want, and then return them at the end of the semester so they’re not cluttering up your bookshelves (or taking up room boxed up in your meager storage space, like mine are). Hell, your own school may even have a rental program set up for books!

#3: Know yourself when buying school supplies

 

*quick note: my school supplies have NEVER been as pretty, coordinated, or themed as the ones I see on Pinterest.

I don’t know why, but I can’t start the semester with old notebooks. Doesn’t matter if I’m taking notes in them or not. Hell, I probably have more than two dozen half used notebooks in my room right now, I could never use them for school. I always needed a fresh notebook to start the class off with, with a nice pen to write with.

So right there I know that I can go to any dollar store and buy notebooks. I’m not overly particular about them, just as long as they have paper in them. Some people are a bit pickier than that. They need the notebooks that are divided into different subjects, with pocket dividers and removable bookmarks. Others use binders, anything from a plain three-ring to one of those giant monstrosities I have for my old writing, full of pockets and accordion files and little zippered compartments.

I know that I can cheap out on notebooks at the dollar store, but I need good pens. Some people are fine with cheap pencils but need the organization and flexibility of one of those fancy huge binders.  You need to figure out what is most important to you when it comes to your note-taking, your organization, and your budget. To this day, I still buy my notebooks at dollar stores. I save every free pen I can find (**tip: free pens are usually really good quality, and last quite a while. Stock up on them anytime you can. Check campus tables, welcome week events, anything with a table and pamphlets really.), and grab a two-pack of nice pens every few months from the drug store. But even though I can get one for free on campus (they’re always over-stocked, so I take what they would throw out), or get one cheap at the dollar store, every Christmas I treat myself to a new day planner from the calendar stand at the mall. It’s $30+ (nowhere near as expensive as the Kate Spade ones some of my friends get, or the leather one my dad always swore by), it has stickers (I’m big on stickers for colour-coding), and has things like to-do lists and shopping lists at the back. I know that this is essential for me, whereas a notebook with compartments and pockets isn’t.

Basically, know what you need. Don’t go out buying the Kate Spade planner if the free one from campus works for you. Don’t buy a $14 pen if you lose pens constantly.

#4: Get your ass to the financial aid office NOW

Financial Aid Jar.jpg

I don’t care if you’re paying with loans, or scholarships, or your parents are paying your way. Go to the financial aid office, see what they offer. I know at my school, they had a wall of scholarships you could apply for. Going to their website brought up even more. I found out that just by receiving student loans, I qualified for Work Study (120 hours a year at an on-campus job at $12 an hour), plus I was eligible for more than half a dozen bursaries. Some of these bursaries weren’t awarded until part-way through the semester when my tuition was already paid up. That meant the financial aid office would just cut me a cheque for whatever I had gotten, and send me on my way.

There were a few semesters where I got an $800+ cheque more than halfway through the semester. Now, I know I should’ve taken at least half of that and applied to towards debt, but I was a stupid student and probably treated myself to sushi once or twice, went out for a girls night a few more times than usual, and bought more books before saving the rest for a rainy day.

It’s not just your financial aid office that can help you, either. Just go and Google things like “Scholarships + [your major]” and see what comes up. Sign up for scholarship websites. They have you fill out huge profiles and questionnaires, leading you to so many things you may not have realized could get you money. Then, Google “Scholarships + [that thing]” and see what comes up. I’ve had scholarships come up because I have family members who have worked for certain companies, or have been part of certain organizations. I had one come up because I did a lot of charity work with a Greek organization, without being a member of any Greek organization. I’ve had LGBTQ+, harmonica players, writers, cat owners, sufferers of anxiety and depression, and mature student scholarships pop up.

After that, look for contests. Your school’s financial aid might be able to help with that. I entered contests through my bank (they totally bastardized a story I wrote, which made me lose horribly because I was too ashamed to attach my name to it to promote it), writing contests, a stop smoking challenge, and two read-a-thons for money. You would not believe what some people will give you money for when you’re a student!

#5: Use what you fucking paid for!

I am the first to admit that I was the absolute worst for this, and I totally regret it right now. As a student, you pay student fees, which pays for a shit-tonne of things for you. As a student, I had prescription coverage, dental coverage, optical coverage, a free gym membership, access to academic counseling, access to psychological counseling, and a bunch of free stuff through student organizations through my major. I took advantage of almost none of this.

As a working somewhat grown-up right now, what do I miss most about school? The dental plan (my first wisdom tooth started coming in a little over a year ago, and needs to be monitored, which can get pricey in the long run). The optical plan (I can afford an eye exam during the busy season at work. It’s the glasses and contacts, which I desperately need in order to see, that I can’t afford. Even using websites like Clearly Contacts, which is so much more affordable than getting my glasses through my eye doctor, is way too expensive at this time due to my prescription).

Do you have any idea how expensive this stuff is once you’re out of school? My glasses are like $800 a pair! I can spend a good $250 easy on contact lenses, and that’s with me stretching it out until my eyes hurt! My mouth is in pain randomly because of my wisdom tooth, so I spend a ridiculous amount on bubble gum (the only gum that seems to relieve the pressure) as sort of a band-aid for the time being. Really, I should just get my eyes and teeth checked. But I have no insurance at all. Neither do a whole tonne of my friends at the moment. The worst part is, I didn’t use up all my benefits the last year I was qualified for them. I could’ve gotten my teeth cleaned, get x-rays done, saw what my wisdom teeth were o and made a plan. If I had gotten my eyes checked, I would know what fucking prescription to get for myself, and been pretty ok right now.

Have a meal plan?Make sure you use up as much of that damn things as possible! I never lived in campus residence, so I didn’t get a meal plan while I was in school. My brother was in school the same time as me and worked in residence, so he HAD to get a meal plan. There were so many students who, at the end of the year, had a bunch of money left to spend on their plan and just left. Have some money left over the last few weeks of school and know you won’t spend it? I saw some students buy meals for others who didn’t have a plan, for cash of course. My brother went to the school variety store at the end of the school year. They had a clearance on stuff they couldn’t keep for the summer months (mainly junk food and ramen), and he stocked up. You should’ve seen the look on my grandma’s face when he walked in the door with a whole CASE of Snickers for her, that he paid like $5 for. He’d stock up with whatever money he had left, and that way he’d save money over the summer by not buying this crap. Ramen is cheap enough, 3 for $1 at the dollar store. I saw people buying a case of 24 for $3 at the end of the year. What student living on their own doesn’t need cheap ramen?

Check out your school’s websites, see what your student fees buy you. If you get a free transit pass, use the fuck out of it. Explore your town, even if you grew up there. Learn where each and every bus route goes, in case you ever need to know. Check out exactly what your health plan gets you, and use it up as much as possible. Go to all the workshops, presentations, talks, extra classes, and hit the gym from time to time at least. Get the absolute most out of what you’re paying for tuition, to help unfuck your future.

 

Well, this is it for now, Sunshine. I’ve got a tonne more back to school advice coming up. My computer is just acting all laggy and crazy riught now, and it’s a real fucking pisser to try and type anymore.

Utilities Included……. To A Point

I would like to know on what planet the phrase “utilities included” means “the landlord will pay the utilities for you, and your friends, and their friends, and all your families……..”. Somehow, I keep getting these roommates who see “utilities included” as some sort of invitation for a free-for-all at our place, where everyone and anyone can do their laundry or crank the AC for free.

Now, out of all the places I’ve lived with roommates (both randoms and friends), I have had the landlord come talk to me about utility usage at every single place I’ve been in. And I’ve lived in a lot of places around here. Out of all of those places, there was only ONE that was a BS complaint. At my old apartment, the windows were drafts and leaked when it rained or snowed, there was no AC, and you could feel the heat leaking out the windows from outside. But it was my nightlight in the hallway that was using up too much power and making the energy bill go nuts.

At every single other place, the landlord had totally legitimate reasons to be pissed, and my roommates and I were completely in the wrong with what was going on in our place.

Every. Single. Other. Place.

Now, just so everyone out there is on the same page, no landlord is legally obliged to include your utilities (water, electricity, gas) in your monthly rent payment. Even if you sign a lease with them that says that utilities are included in your payment, there are legal ways for them to get out of that. Like…… say you totally take advantage of the fact that you don’t have to pay out of pocket for utilities and start using ALL THE POWER POSSIBLE!!!! There are safeguards out there for landlords to protect them from situations like this, so they don’t wind up with $700 electricity bills for a 2 bedroom house that brings in $850 a month in rent.  Depending on the local laws in your area, landlords may be to change your lease (lower your rent but make you put utilities in your own name), evict you, or increase your rent to make up for their losses.

So how do you know if you’re abusing your “utilities included” agreement? Here’s what some of my roommates did:

  1. My first place in University was a house near campus with a bunch of friends and cats and ferrets. I don’t think that place ever had real, natural air flowing through it unless I opened up my bedroom window or sat up in the attic window. There was always either AC or heat blasting. And I’m not talking, “Well, it 100 degrees in the shade,  better turn on the AC to cool the place down” like a responsible person does. No, my roommate would CRANK that AC anytime she wanted. I can remember coming home from the beach on a 90-degree day. She plopped herself down on the couch to cool off after setting the AC to 50 FREAKING DEGREES!!!! And she would do this all the freaking time!  I’m surprised we didn’t burn out the AC at some point. I only lasted 2 years there, while a few of them lasted 4 in that house. By the time they moved out, the landlord was begging them to try and conserve energy, even just a little bit.
  2. I have had multiple roommates try this one, but the worst was at my last place before where I am living now. We had in-house laundry facilities. Logically, this was so the people who paid rent to live in that house could do their own laundry there. One roommate (the one who threw away all my veggies so he could fill the shared fridge with meat) decided that the laundry room was open to ANYONE. His friends would come over and do a few loads. He’d have a small party in his room and everyone would bring laundry to throw in while they drink. He would do a load of three shirts and a sock if he felt like it. I can remember waiting for days to do laundry because he’d monopolize the washer and dryer for days on end. At one point, he and two friends slept in shifts for three days so they could do laundry 24/7.  Do you have any idea how much energy laundry takes?
  3. Right now, I live with grown-ass adults who have no idea how to adult. I AM THE ADULT HERE! If I didn’t lay down the law around here (or have the landlord email everyone with new rules to follow, giving me authority over certain things), they’d just do what they want when they want. Landlord messaged me to say the energy bill was almost $90 higher than it should have been a few months ago. Now, we have ‘peak hour billing’ here, which means the energy costs vary throughout the day. It’s always been a rule here that no one does laundry before 7 pm unless it’s a weekend or holiday. Same goes for running the dishwasher (which we never use anyway). We also have to be careful with the AC.  These grown-ass adults didn’t care though. They’d do laundry all day, crank the AC so upstairs was nice and cold, and the basement was freezing. Then they’d run space heaters in the basement. Instead of using the kitchen to cook, they got spare mini-fridges and hot plates and microwaves and cooked in their rooms. I once came home a little after 1 pm to find the dishwasher running for 2 plates, 2 cups, and a frying pan.

In every single instance here, the landlord had to contact us and say, “look, either you be a little more responsible with your energy use, or I’m going to have to take the ‘utilities included’ clause out of your rental agreement”. So in a alot of these cases, it’s one person ruining things for an entire house full of people. Do you really want to be that one person who pisses off a bunch of people and causes them severe financial harm, especially when they know exactly where you live?

 

Groceries: What The Hell Do You Even Need?

We’re in the process of re-teaching a co-worker how to shop for groceries after years of bringing fast food to work every day. So I thought this would be a good time to make up a grocery list for myself. I do this semi-regularly. It’s not like I shop entirely from a list, or have one of those pre-printed lists on the fridge that lets me check things off as we run out of them. And I’ll never be one of those people who always seems to have the well-stocked pantry, with all the ingredients for a three course meal ready at the drop of a hat. Truth be told, I’m trying to chose between semi-stale granola and toast made from bread the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend’s parents bought for us to go with my coffee this morning. I don’t think I could handle the responsibility of having one of those Insta-worthy pantries.

Still, I like to have a nicely stocked cupboard and fridge. There are some things I just need to keep in stock, like milk for coffee, or bread and cheese slices for emergency sandwiches. For some reason the other night, though, while making a grocery list so I don’t forget cat food and bacon, I thought “Gee, I wonder if there’s other things I should be stocking, to really up my cooking game”. So, off to the Googles!

A quick search for “Grocery List Essentials” pulled up article  after  article  of   pre-made  grocery  lists.  There was everything from slide shows of sleek-looking produce, clean eating walkthroughs, and  how to live on an extremely tight budget while still enjoying pancakes and pineapple. While the lists were a great ready (although sometimes overwhelming and huge), and each one was unique, they all had one thing in common: they were full of crap I don’t want or need.

Neither AAB or I are big on fruit. I keep some bananas and berries in the freezer for smoothies on Sunday morning, and he buys the occasional apples for his lunch. So why would we need to stock apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, and pomegranates in our kitchen? All that’s going to do turn into some mighty expensive compost. Things like yogurt and feta cheese would just go bad in the fridge, since we hardly ever use either one. And there is no way in hell I would EVER keep avocados  stocked in my kitchen. As the video says, those things can kill a damn horse!

You’re probably think, “Well shit Sunshine, how the hell will I know how to stock my damn kitchen if all these lists are full of crap I don’t even need?”

Well, sit your ass down and look at what you actually like to eat. Then, imagine eating it. Sounds crazy, right? Hear me out though: I love eggs. I love spinach. I love grains and carbs of all kinds. And I love salads. Before I make a grocery list, I have to figure out which of these things I need, and what I can do with them. One of my favourite things to pack for a quick lunch at work is quinoa, boiled spinach, and a poached egg. So if I know I’ll be getting shifts with lunch breaks this week, I’ll make sure I have those three things on my list. I never eat that at home, though, so I won’t keep all that in stock as much if I’m on evenings and nights. Also when I’m on nights and evenings, I need simple things to make for dinner since AAB doesn’t cook a whole hell of a lot. So, I’ll throw a few frozen pizzas and some crock pot friendly foods on my list.

Another great way to make a kick-ass grocery list is to look at recipes and store flyers. I like to look through Flipp on my phone and see what proteins are on sale at the two grocery stores near my work. Then, I’ll look up a few quick recipes for those: one in the oven, one crockpot, and one more complicated one for nights I’m not working. Then I’ll go through the recipes and make my list based on that, with a few changes. Depending on what is on sale, I’ll substitute a few ingredients here and there (why shell out for organic kale to sautee when you can get a bag of spinach on sale for $1?). This is great because now I have meals planned out in my head, and can shop for other things accordingly. Making spicy chicken on Monday night? Grab some peppers and onions, bust out the tortillas, and the leftovers become fajitas on Tuesday. Want to get that bag of discount spinach but only have it down in one recipe for the week? Boil or sautee some a bunch to add to omelettes, throw in with a bit of pasta, or eat as a side dish with breakfasts and lunches. Bunches of tomatoes are on sale, and you want them for pizza one night, but hate them in your salad? Make some salsa, bruschetta, or pico de gallo to snack on for the week with the leftovers.

So Sunshine, don’t think that you need to follow some sort of pre-made list to stock your kitchen right. I don’t care of Oprah or Gwyneth or Dr. Oz makes the damn list: if it doesn’t work with you, your tastes, and your lifestyle, then don’t bother with it. That’s not to say you can’t take inspiration from them. Check out the spice section of their lists, see if there’s anything there you could use but constantly overlook when shopping. Use things like lists as suggestions, not as can-never-stray-from-guides. You do you Sunshine, whether it’s in the kitchen or the boardroom. Stay golden!

Why My Credit Sucks, But Not Totally

Ok so when I talk about my credit, I don’t even include the student loans I have. Thanks to laws and bills here, I don’t have to pay back anything until I make over $25,000 a year.  Sadly, I make well under that, even in gross pay right now. This also means I’m safe from huge payments, and can chip away at my loans slowly for now. this is a big plus for me right now.

A huge negative is my credit cards. You see, while I was looking for work, I still needed to live. I managed to work enough odd jobs and get enough benefits to cover my rent. But things like food, clothes for interviews (all second-hand stuff, mind you), and transportation (busses for the most part) still needed to be taken care of. Then, after I found work, I found out that my hours drop DRASTICALLY in the new year (from 40 hours a week plus Sunday overtime, to zero hours scheduled for two weeks straight). If I scrimp and save my paychecks, I can pay my rent and credit card minimums. But there’s no money left for food (unless I get called in for shifts, which look pretty likely this year!). In the past, I took a temp job at the University, but the last few months there hasn’t been anything available for me.

So, I put things on credit. It’s not like I’m out buying Gucci handbags and Fendi wallets. I’m buying on sale Mr. Noodle and some “priced to sell TODAY” veggies to throw in with them. I’m buying “Buy tonight, cook tomorrow” meats at a huge discount. Basically, I’m buying bargain groceries. This stuff adds up over time though. And there’s always a little something else you need to get. New interview pants because yours ripped or you lost some weight (from not being able to afford food). A bottle of the cheapest wine you can find to give to a friend for her birthday. A package of bus tickets you try to stretch as long as possible.  And this just adds up even more.

So, I’ve dug myself a pretty sizeable hole. Between 4 credit card and a line of credit, I’m looking at hitting the $30,000 mark this year if I don’t do something about it.

My biggest problem is the interest. I’ve read all the books, I’ve watched the shows (Gail Vaz-Oxlade you are my Queen!!!), I know that interest is a what kills you in the end. I really had no idea how bad it was until recently.

On my largest credit card balance, I owe a minimum of around $250 a month. Of that, $240 is just the interest accrued that month. That means I’m only paying off $10 of my debt each month!

So, I spoke to a financial advisor. At my job, I’m only classified as part-time, which is not a good thing when you’re looking to borrow money. Actually, that is the kiss of death for most people. But in my case, she is hopeful that we can at least get a large chunk of my debt consolidated into one payment with a lower interest rate. Why?

1. I MAKE PAYMENTS ON-TIME

The last time I was late on a payment was 8 years ago. Even then, I notified my bank that there was a problem with my paycheck and my credit card payment would be a week late. I’ve only ever missed one phone bill payment, which I paid in full the moment I I realized it and talked to my phone company about as soon as I could (my mother was in the hospital, the doctor told her she was going to die, and I was more than a little pre-occupied at the time). My point? I made my payments! And the rare time I didn’t make them on time? I made sure to apologize, explain myself, and beg for mercy. A lender doesn’t HAVE to keep lending you money. Legally (and laws vary depending on state/province, so be sure to know yours) you can miss or be late on X amount of payments before you suffer any true consequences.

I make sure to have my payments in on-time each and every month. And the credit companies take note of that.

2. I PAY MORE THAN THE MINIMUM

No, I’m not paying my balance in full, like all the experts tell me to. But if my payment is $50 for the month, I’m throwing down at least $75-$100 on there. Not only does that free up more credit if I need it later in the month, but it also shows commitment. My lending companies know that I want to pay things off, and I’m not going to just sit around doing the bare minimum to do it.

When I spoke to a financial advisor this week, on thing she emphasised was that I was paying a good $100 more a month than the minimum on my largest debt, in an effort to make it go away. This is a huge factor in determining what I CAN pay and what I WILL pay if my debts are consolidated, which affects the amount they are willing to lend me to do this.

3. I STOPPED SPENDING WHEN I DIDN’T NEED TO

Coming up closer to Christmas, my online spending increases (hello Amazon deals, you saved me TONNES for Christmas). BUT, what I spend on other credit cards decreases (I have on card dedicated to online purchases). I didn’t touch two of my cards for a month and a half! And this is huge for your credit score!

To bump up your credit score, on thing you need to do is show that you don’t need to spend your available credit. I tried to do my in-person spending (clothes, shoes, things someone needs to try on or physically test before they buy) in the warmer months. Then, when I know I’ll be spending money online in the colder months, I put away the cards in my wallet. Now, if I don’t have the cash, I don’t buy it. Yes, it sucks. Big time. I went hungry more than a few times, had to live on ramen noodles again at times. But giving those cards a break shows that I’m not dependant on them. This is huge when it comes to determining your credit score.

Basically Sunshine, I’ve messed up my finances pretty damn bad. Once, when I was really drunk, I ordered 60 pairs of false eyelashes from China. Thankfully that only set me back like $20, but that’s the kind of stupid thing we all do from time to time. I’ve tried to show, especially in the last few years, that while I’ve been entirely stupid with my credit, I get it. I need to pay it back, I want to pay it back, and I’ve put some effort into paying back.

As I said, I have multiple cards. Sometimes, just paying off one card (while keeping up payments on the others) is enough to put a huge boost in your credit score. And your credit score determines a lot. Right now, my score is low enough that i can get a mortgage, but at a horrible rate. My goal is to bring that up to a decent rate by the end of the year, and be looking to buy a home just after next Christmas.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of things you can do to help your credit score, but it’s a start. Talk to a financial advisor if you’re in a bind. Trust me, Sunshine, it helps.

The Goal Setting Challenge

Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend has quite a bit of debt. Not as much as me (thanks Student Loans!!), but still quite a bit. When he moved in with me the beginning of the month, we agreed that I would handle all of the finances. Because you know, Criminology majors are known for their fancial prowress??

Considering how much debt I have (but how much effort I’ve put into making all my bill payments and paying some things off in the last few years), this is pretty much like the extremely near sighted leading the blind.  So, I’ve started to do what any responsible failed grown up would do: I’m marathoning Princess and anything else Gail Vaz Oxlade has put out on TV. I’ve got my little pad of paper here, taking notes on things she recommends to help people realize how much debt they’re in, and how they can get out of it.

A lot of it is simple: make a budget, get your credit report, have a resume. I’m good at these things. I’ve been working on a budget with AAB, and am pulling out old resume templates to show him the info I need to put a resume together for him. I even found where we can get our credit reports and scores, and am working on that for both of us.

The one challenge that always  stumps me, though, is the Goal Setting Challenge. The challenge itself is quite simple. Gail has the girls look at their life, and what they are doing to earn money. Quite a few of them have started and dropped out of a few different college programs, some are working the bare minimum amount of hours they can, and others just have absolutely no direction in their lives. So Gail has them sit down and look at what they want for a career, and how to set goals to achieve this. Some of them get to try out a career, others get a kick in the butt to go out and get a new job, and a few have gone on to get the requirements needed to advance in their current jobs.

That is where I get completely lost.

You see, since my goals and dreams fell apart years ago (THAT’S a long story for another day!) I’ve had one hell of a time trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life. That’s pretty much step one of setting a goal for this challenge: knowing what the hell your goal is!

I’ve been putting myself out there with resumes, but as time goes by since graduation it seems like I’m getting fewer and fewer responses. I have no clue what it is I want to do with my life if I could have a dream job. And even if I could figure that out, I have no clue how I could afford to go out and get qualified for anything. The career I’m in at the moment has absolutely no way for me to work harder towards advancement, because about 95% of all upward mobility is based on seniority (and I’m near the bottom of the bunch for that).

So what the hell do I do?

This is something I’ve been looking at for myself a lot lately, Sunshine. Basically, I’m a Lost Girl. As fun as that title makes it sound, it’s not all rooster crows and Bangarang here. I’m looking at having no career, no direction, and no purpose in life. It’s damn scary!

So, you’ll see a bit more from me about this whole goal setting thing while I try ot figure out how to make it work for me. And maybe soon, I’ll tell you about that whole “I had a career in mind and worked towards it, only for it to completely fall out from under me, leaving me kinda dangling here wondering what the hell I’m going to do with my life” story.

Maybe.

A Quick Word

I’m sitting here, waiting for my hair dye to do its think, checking Pinterest on my phone. While looking up pins on budgeting, organizing, and getting out of debt, I found a common theme to a good 80% of pins, and it is really starting to piss me off.

Now, let me start by saying that these people who write these articles and make these pins really do mean well. They’re passing on things what really worked well for them, and hoping they’ll work for the rest of us.

That being said, holy tap dancing squirrel turds, these posts are hurting my brain!

“If you want to save money every month, just cut back on your cable bill! Why  pay all that extra for premium packages, when you can just spend a bit more for a good Internet package and stream everything!”

(Well, I already do that. If my current place didn’t have basic cable included in the price, I wouldn’t have it. Haven’t had cable for myself in years.)

“Who needs fancy take-out coffee every day when  you can buy a Keurig! You can make your own coffee and drink it at home instead of spending $5 on a cup of coffee at a coffee shop every afternoon!”

(First off, who the hell is spending at least $25 on coffee each week and wondering why they have no money? I’ve been brewing my own damn coffee for years. Having coffee from a coffee shop is something for first dates and the odd especially crazy day at work. And even then, $5? Hell no! My medium one milk two sweetener is $1.50 at most!”)

“Do you really need a newer vehicle? There are plenty of good, reliable used cars out there! Why not trade yours in, and sink that extra money into your loans?”

(Probably because I can’t afford a used car, let alone a new one to trade in for a used one. I walk, and when I can afford it, I take the bus.  I know that car payments, insurance, gas, and maintenance are expensive, so I don’t have any of those!)

“Set a plan and go big! Sure $100 a month towards your debt seems like a great idea. But what about $1,000? Or $2,000? Or even $5,000? Sounds crazy, but going all in like this is the only way to tackle bigger debts sometimes!”

(Some months, I don’t even make $1,000. How the hell am I going to make $900, but pay $2,000 on one debt? And if I was making enough money that I had an extra $5,000 to throw down on my student loans, I don’t think that loan would be as huge of a problem to me as it is now!)

Are you seeing the trend I’m seeing here?

All of these articles that I’m finding online about paying down your debts seem to think that we are all actually making enough money to do it their way!

Now, I’ll be straight up and honest with all ya’ll. I did 5 years of university, going full year instead of just two semesters, all with student loans. Then when I got out of school, I had a hell of a time finding a job. I lived off my credit cards for a while. Now that I have a job, it doesn’t pay enough to pay all of my bills AND leave me money for things like groceries and bus fair. So I still find myself putting things like groceries and cat food on a credit card. I have so much debt that it feels like I will never get out of it.

That being said, I’ve already made most of the changes these articles are talking about, much like many of you out there have too. We don’t go out buying new cars, and expensive cable packages, and designer clothes. The whole reason we’re reading these articles is to figure out how to do more than we already are doing. We’re already scrimping and saving and living on the bare minimum. We want to know what else to do.

These articles make it all seem so easy too. They have titles like “How I Paid of $60,000 in Debt in A Year” or “I Paid Off $27,000 in 6 Months”. I don’t even make that much in a year, and you’re telling me how easy it is to pay out that much extra in a matter of months?

In the end, I still keep reading these damn articles. If you read them close enough, reading between all of the crap you’re probably already doing, you can still find random little nuggets of hope that you too can work off your debts. Like me, though, you just need to keep in mind that not every suggestion will work for everyone. I couldn’t move back in with my parents, no matter how many times they offer that as a solution to my rent problems, because I’m a 34 year old stubborn woman who just wants to be able to afford her own place. While my current situation is less than ideal, it is still more independent and “grown up” than moving back in to my old bedroom at their house. For someone who lives in an area with horrible internet provider options, or no cable hookups, a satellite may  be your only option for at-home entertainment. And video game systems, while a pretty big expense for we broke-as-hell folk, the hours upon hours upon hours of entertainment some video games and Netflix can provide may be worth the expense.

What I’m trying to say, Sunshine, is you know what I’ve said before: you know what works best for you. While I need my crappy little room in a student rental and a big collection of booze and cheap wine to get me through this crazy little thing we call life and adulthood, your needs may be different. Just be sure your needs are within your means, and you can do this. No buying $40 bottles of wine when you can only afford a $5 bottle; no buying designer threads when you’re on a Goodwill budget. You figure out your best path to a debt-free life, and you work it the best you can.

And whatever you do, NEVER compare yourself to the people who paid off $60,000 in a year. Unless you have that much disposable income to throw down on your debt already, you are in a much different boat than them. And just because their boat is bigger DOESN’T mean they’re better off. Remember: it was the people in those little life boats that survived the sinking of the Titanic, not the people who were still on that massive ship. The size of your ship doesn’t prove your worth.

So keep your heads up, Sunshine! We can all get through this together!

Living With Someone: When Good Things Go Bad

Well I’ve been absent from my blog for quite a few weeks. Like I said before, I’ve been going through a lot of stuff. One of those things I’m dealing with has been a very strange break-up.

Now, he and I had been dating for a little over 3 1/2 years, and living together for a little over 2 years. Neither one of us is in any sort of financial position to move out of this house (his parents own the house, and it is a REALLY nice house with a really great price for rent and utilities). We both really like this house. He is an Army Reservist and goes to college, and I’m working (VERY) part-time in customer service, so it’s not like either one of us can afford our own apartment at this time. Plus, part of the reason we broke up is so that we can still live together and be friends, without wanting to kill each other.  So we’re trying to make this “not together but still living together” thing work.

Holy crap, is it harder than I thought it would be!

When I moved in with him (he’s the house manager, but his parents have said they’d rather have him move out than me, which makes things a little weird with that), we seriously thought this was going to wind up either a “forever” thing, or at least a “very very many years together” type thing. Neither one of us thought that a little over two years from then, we’d be splitting up. But that’s just what happened. Thankfully (I guess?), towards the end things started to go south. We each had our own bedroom this whole time, and we started sleeping in our own rooms again. We stopped doing things like cuddling on the couch, and having date night together. And we fought, seemingly all the time.

One day, a week before Christmas, we decided mutually that we needed to break up. It was the day that we were going to exchange our Christmas gifts, too, before he left for the holidays to see his family. I went to work that night, and he picked me up afterwards. We had texted a bit while I was working, making sure we were both ok with this break-up. That night, we exchanged gifts (I got him a new sherpa hoodie and the promise of new craft beers from work in the new year; he got me the book 10,000 Drinks and a machete), made our break-up Facebook-official, and set up our new Tinder accounts. To all outward appearances, we were handling this extremely well.

Well let me tell you, this is nowhere near as easy we have been making it seem!

Ok, so we don’t fight like we used to. But there were some things we were fighting about as a couple that directly related to our living situation (cleaning, roommate drama, his tendency to just let his to-do list get bigger and bigger while nothing gets done around here, my tendency to start just doing the things on his list until I get made and scream at him for not doing them months ago, etc….). None of these things have changed for us since we’ve broken up, but how we have to deal with them has. We used to fight, threaten to end our relationship, and then make-up. We can’t exactly do that now. This is forcing us to really look at things that need to get done around here, and who is actually doing them.

We also have to start dealing with the issue of dating. Now, we haven’t been broken up long, but the last year of our relationship was pretty crappy.  A lot of people thought we would’ve broken up long before we did, and a few thought we had already broken up. So we thought the idea of us seeing other people would be pretty damn easy for us to deal with.

Turns out, not so much.

I took it hard when he started texting with girls from Tinder, even though I have this weird flirtation-type-thing going on with a customer at my work. We have no idea how we handle the issue of bringing dates home with us, and try to make jokes about double dating. We’re also still attracted to each other at times, it seems, and are fighting that too. That last part hasn’t been a big issue between us yet, but it is making us question our behaviour together. We’re both cuddly people, and cuddle with friends. Can we cuddle together, or would that be weird? Can we still confide in each other? What about looking for dating advice? How the hell far can we take this friendship with each other?

Truthfully, it’s pretty damn hard living together like this.  I’m working on my resume as we speak, and will be starting a massive resume blast first thing Monday morning. I need to find a second job, and get out of this house. It’s just too damn weird for me.

All this weirdness is killing my creativity, too. Before he came home after the holidays, I was trying to get back into some more creative endeavours: I bought yarn to learn how to arm knit; started using my adult colour postcard book; started mapping out this blog for the year with ideas and themes; I even caught myself doodling in notebooks and writing down story ideas again. But as soon as he came home, that all just seemed to die.

So, I’ll be trying to get back into this blog again soon. Hopefully, I can write away the weird feelings I’m getting right now.