I’m sure one question that is always in the forefront of someone’s mind is, “How the hell can you afford all of this?” This question is a bit loaded. I don’t want to under simplify it by saying, “I save” or by being dismissive. Talking about finances is always a sensitive issue. I’ve long struggled with portraying what my life is and what it actually is, and I’ve been a firm proponent of stressing that. I think social media has completely distorted reality where many people define or depict their lives based on a carefully curated persona. Hopefully this post will offer more information about myself and how I’m able to afford… life. :)
This is long, so grab a warm fluffy blanket, a cup of tea, and a warm pet to snuggle with!
I grew up as a first-generation American in my family. Simply put, we did not have very much money growing up. Both of my parents both worked so hard to get to where they are today. I’m extremely proud of my mother who worked as a shop girl at Macy’s, eventually earned her MBA, and began climbing the brutal corporate ladder. After my father passed away when I was in high school, with the help of family, she did her best raising 3 kids. We all turned out pretty okay. :)
Getting to where I am now was not easy, though. After I finished uni, I was unemployed and virtually unable to get any job. I even applied to Target and Marshalls, but nada. I eventually was hired at an airline (one of the worst industries EVER) where I worked briefly in HR and was then moved to an office position. My starting salary paid me about $27k. In addition to being saddled with student loan at a staggering 8% interest rate, life was was hard. I mean, reaaaaaaally hard. (Hindsight being 20/20 and all, I personally would never advocate going to a private university and getting a liberal arts degree ever; the ROI has been dismal.) Further exacerbating my financial situation was my terrible relationship with a troubled, abusive man where I would be guilt-tripped into buying him alcohol and cigarettes even though I was putting groceries on credit. For awhile, I was the only one paying rent, too.
This nightmare continued for a year before he moved back home, and we subsequently broke up. The debt I racked up while living with him just stressed me out and broke me. I went back home to live with my family and was able to finish paying off all of my debts. Two years, I left the airline industry and went to work in retail as an assistant manager for a company I adored. Even though, I was commuting 100 miles a day and making about $34K, I really loved my job! Unfortunately, my manager was a tyrant and laid me off by setting me up on multiple occasions. One of my offenses was, “Not being chatty during inventory.” I was there for only a year but was completely devastated. I was unemployed for about 5 months until I got the opportunity at my current company in IT assisting our users while working renewal contracts. My starting salary increased to approximately $40k, and I was now able to contribute to a 401(k) and move out on my own! I also adopted my best friend – my cat. ;)
I worked that job for a good 3 years but looked for other opportunities. While I had received 2% pay increases over the year (inflation is about 2% annually), I was being grossly underpaid and significantly less than my peers, especially since I completely turned around our business processes and service department for our Asia-Pacific department and received a lot of positive feedback. I wanted a career, and being kept in an entry-level position with no career plan for a promotion was a deal breaker. I landed 4 interviews and was rejected by all. Suffice it to say, rejection hurts. This, however, wasn’t going to stop me from reaching my short-term goals…
I wanted to buy a house. I live in an area that was well-known for a relatively low cost of living where real estate was mostly affordable (although this did change dramatically in 2013). I had consulted my finances, and although money was tight, if I was super strict on saving, I could swing a minimum downpayment even if I paid PMI. My mom wanted me to own a house, and she gave me a personal loan that would bump my downpayment to 20%, thereby avoiding PMI. I won’t go into much detail about this since this would make this post even longer, but I decided to purchase in a relatively unknown neighborhood that was still rough around the edges but was a mile away from an extremely desirable part of town. I was confident that the shortage of inventory would have developers and buyers seeking nearby neighborhoods to renovate and/or redevelop. I am happy to report that I was right. ;)
In order to help out with my new housing expenses (and I wanted some nicer new furniture), I ended up applying for a second job in high-end retail. I was paid $12/hour but no commission. I worked there on my days off (my company has 9/80) and on all weekends except for 2. This was tough, but I met a lot of wonderful and interesting customers at the store and was able to supplement my primary income with some spare cash that I could use to buy thrifted/estate sale/Craigslist furniture.
About 1.5 years ago, I applied for the job I currently have as an energy analyst. I earned a nice pay increase, which put me near the median of the US middle class. I love my team and have a wonderful manager who values me. I left my 2nd job, the one in retail, after 6 months to pursue a volunteer opportunity.
So here’s where I am now! A good chunk of my funds go into insurance for the car/house, high property taxes (oh, the cost of being right…), repaying my mother, and my mortgage. I also increased my contributions to my 401(k) to 12% because I worry a lot about not having enough to retire. It really can be un-fun to be a responsible adult.
I’m pretty happy with where I am in life right now, and honestly, a large part of that can be contributed to financial management. (I want to specify that I do NOT – for one second – believe that hard work guarantees success. The myth of the self-made man from hard work is probably one of the biggest lies the US has ever perpetuated. Opportunity is another key component that oftentimes gets ignored. But I digress.) A budget is so important, and even though it can be intimidating to really sit down and look at your numbers, it puts things into perspective. It also allows you to plan for the future in many ways: whether it be a new “fun” purchase, a downpayment on a car/house, or to fund a vacation. I personally use Mint.com since it’s free, but there are other free/paid programs. In addition to using Mint, I check my financial statements and balance my books 2x a month.
I also want to mention that I do not carry credit card debt. Credit card interest rates are outrageous, and it’s a very good way to wipe out any accumulated wealth. If I can’t afford to pay for something, I don’t buy it, or I wait until I can. I love nice things just as much as the next person, but nice things won’t pay my bills, put food on the table, or provide for emergencies.
As for expenses, I do my best to keep them low. Although some people would find some of the things I do to be completely ridiculous, I don’t feel or think that my life is any less comfortable! For instance…
1. I rarely go out. I also do not drink. I can usually be found at the YMCA. Yay, being healthy.
2. I use a burner phone that cost me $80. My phone plan is $35/mo + tax.
3. I don’t have a TV, and thus, don’t pay for cable.
4. My monthly budget for eating out + groceries (a mix of organics, conventional, farmer’s market, and more humane/ethical meat) is roughly $200. Compared to my friends/colleagues, this is on the very low side, but this may be high for some people.
5. I rarely buy expensive clothes and always look for good deals at thrift stores or Marshalls/TJ Maxx/Ross/JC Penney’s/Uniqlo. I think I still look great! ;)
6. My water bill is about $19/monthly. My gas bill is about $40/mo in the winter (guess who piles on the flannel/fleece, socks, slippers, and hat??), $20/mo all other months. My power bill is about $50-80/mo in the summer in Texas and about $25/mo all other months.
7. I drive a 5 year old Honda Civic that is ol’ reliable. I now live close to work and try not to drive very often. I gas up approximately 2x a month.
8. I always, and I mean always maximize my money. Shopping smart makes a huge difference when it comes to a budget.
This post essentially summarizes the past 10 years of my life. Everything that’s happened did not happen overnight. I started first by purchasing socks and hosiery from Sock Dreams and Leg Avenue – which was what I could afford in the beginning. It clearly snowballed from there. ;) The purpose of this novella is to offer some insight that would hopefully be relatable. It’s one of the main reasons why I started this little lingerie journal. Like most people, I get up in the morning and go to work. After work, I usually run errands or go to the gym. Then I come home, eat dinner, and go to bed. Repeat.
I was hesitant to publish this post, but I received feedback on Twitter that indicated some interest. I know this post was long, but I wanted to given an accurate picture. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to leave a comment, and I will get back to you! I hope to have more reviews within the upcoming week. ;)