One Month Into Post-Grad: Debt, Adulting, and Hotels (+ Books!)

It’s been a while! I have to admit, when the end of June and the 4th of July went by and I still hadn’t updated here, I became more frantic in trying to figure out what to write. Spoiler Alert: Living at home and trying desperately not to spend any of your savings is a very boring existence. Relaxing? Mostly. Blog worthy? Not really.

With less than three weeks now before I head off to job training, I plan to start ramping up my packing, cooking skills, and figuring out the mess that is living in a hotel for a month during training.

This week, I decided not to dive into one particular topic, but to touch upon a range of Adult Stuffs that I have been reading up on and listening to these past few weeks, featuring student loan debt woes, budgeting, hotel worries, and some awesome books I’ve been reading.

1. First off, the worst: The horrors of student loan debt.

At the recommendation of a Bitches Get Riches post, I listened to the two-part student loan debt series on the podcast Death, Sex, and Money by Anna Sale. I am a podcast junky, so I was in love at first listen, but I recommend it to anyone else out there trying to navigate their oversized debt. Give a listen to others stories and know that you are among A LOT of Americans in the same situation. Especially us millennials.

Personally, I have been debating two methods of student debt reduction, known as the “snowball” or “avalanche” method. The snowball method is a method of debt reduction that tackles the smaller sized debts first. This has the benefits of giving the debtor a feel-good, accomplished feeling earlier and can help motivate you to work to eliminate debts faster. The avalanche method, in contrast, goes after the biggest and meanest of the debts, which means the debts with the highest interest rates. A more in-depth examination of the two is found here. The first method makes me feel all fuzzy inside at the idea of less debt-juggling and quicker achievements. Who doesn’t like the happy endorphins of getting something done? But I will likely swing toward the latter if possible, because the bitter side of me feels that high interest rates are a creation of the devil.

Now, lucky for me, I am still within the six-month grace period after college and will have begun my job by the time I have to start making minimum payments. I do plan on beginning with just my minimums, but once I have a handle on my finances, I want to get a bit more aggressive with my evil loans.

2. While we’re on the topic of money, let’s talk budgeting.

I did it! Sort of. I’ve started to try and track my money. To start off, I did a trial with a fancy electronic system online, which was great but also cost monies I don’t have. After my free trial ended, I kissed the fancy software goodbye, at least until it’s more feasible for me, and decided to turn to the handy-dandy spreadsheet. Luckily, I am definitely not alone on this: I found a useful spreadsheet on Half Banked, a financial blog by Desirae Odjick, to start me off.

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Screenshot of the Half Banked spreadsheet.

While Desirae’s spreadsheet is limited, allowing for tracking expenses and simple budgeting, it is a great base for me. See, earlier I said I’m tracking my money, not budgeting it, for a reason. Budgeting implies a solid inflow and outflow of money. Right now, without an income and living a lifestyle of mooching off my mom (thanks mom!), I have a limited amount of both of those. To flip that, once I start job training in August and start apartment searching in my new city, I will be spending way more money and actually making a real income. All I can do at this point, unfortunately, is try to create a budgeting system to use once that insanity begins.

3. Speaking of job training — I’m going to be living in two hotels. For a month.

I have two separate training programs in August: The first is a classroom style training to give new recruits information about how the non-profit works and provide us with skills training. The second involves actually working in another city on a mini-campaign to put our skills into practice.

I should mention that neither of these cities will (probably) be the city I finally call home for two years. Meaning, I will be living in two different hotels for a total period of a month.

[Cue panic over how this poor college grad with minimal resources is going to eat without draining my entire bank account.]

Facing the distinct possibility that I might have a refrigerator and microwave to my name throughout the month of August, I started to panic-slash-prepare for this inevitability. Putting on my best “earnest former student journalist” persona, I contacted the woman in charge of housing coordination and asked if my room would have a refrigerator and microwave. Luckily, I got a response only a few minutes later that I would have a mini-fridge in my room and have access to a common microwave. Phew, one worry down.

Thus, I have started to brainstorm food to eat on the cheap (I do not have enough shame to exclude PB&Js from the list) and already discovered the closest grocery store to my hotel. Eating out will probably be a strategic game of finding the cheapest places and making sure to always have leftovers to bring home with me. While the whole thing feels a bit like being thrown back into a dorm room, I can’t say it’s all bad. After all, I’ll be starting my working life looking out at Lake Michigan from the Chicago downtown coastline. Not too shabby.

4. Okay, now that ugly, adult stuff is out of the way: Books I’m reading and loving.

Books I’ve been reading recently.

Oh, summer. I will miss you so dearly very soon, in part because all this free time allows me to lay around and read books with zero demands that I write an analytical paper about them.

I admit that I will probably never truly give up my young adult fantasy/sci-fi loves. I’m sure at some point I’ll grow into important, adult fiction that one talks about with cool adult friends, but for now I enjoyed the heck of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, a fantasy novel with dual narrators and a fast-moving plot. It features Middle Eastern mythology and has fantastic world-building that I am excited to read more about in the sequel. However, the sequel is currently still in hardback, so I’m lusting after it from afar. I have a small book tower to get through before I can justify that purchase just yet.

Next up, and more related to this blog, is the audiobook Adulting: How to become a grown-up in 468 easy(ish) steps. I’m caught between wishing I had bought a physical copy so it would be easier to go back to Kelly Williams Brown’s tips on the fly, and enjoying the snarky, witty narration by Anjili Pal. I am about halfway through this book and I enjoy the way in which it balances between providing advice that makes me think “I should know that” or “yay, I already do this” with the loving and firm message of “Look, it’s all good because you know this now, got it? Now don’t forget it.” It is definitely a fun listen meant just for someone like me, who has limited on-my-own experience and has an almost obsessive love with tips and life hacks.

This final book has my nerd self excited: The Invention of Russia: From Gorbachev’s Freedom to Putin’s War by Russian-born journalist Arkady Ostrovsky. I’m not sure if I have mentioned it prior on this blog, but I have a freshly-minted International Relations degree with an unofficial regional emphasis on Russia and its periphery. Because I am a weird overachiever, I wrote a 80 page senior thesis on Russian state media influence in Latvia. You’d think I’d kind of be over the topic by now, after a literal year of my life obsessing over Russian ethnic minorities and state media, but apparently not. While this book assumes some base knowledge on the happenings in Russia in the last century, it so far seems pretty approachable. The book focuses on how the Russian media has played a key role in crafting Russian identity since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The reverence for the written word and discussion of free speech and the power of the press alone should make it interesting to those outside the wonky political junkies.

That’s all I have for today! I hope to be back with more regular posts, but between a pair of end of summer vacations and a surprise surgery — nothing too terrible, just unpleasant — my life will be speeding up again. Woo?



Of Jobs, Hangers and Mashed Potatoes

Not a weekly post, but little moments of me figuring out my life and enjoying the quiet before work begins.

Speaking of work, I learned where I will spend my training in August! Two weeks in Chicago – very excited to kick off my job in a city I’ve always wanted to spend more time in. I still don’t know exactly where I’ll end up for my two-year campaign organizer position. I’ll have to bring out my patience on this.

Also, I created a new clothes hanger system today, probably because I have too much time on my hands. Grey is dresses and formal wear, white is light clothing, green is 19402521_10211203588898353_1342896780_oheavier clothes, and blue is winter weather clothes. I’m using the rationale that it will make packing away white clothes during my move easier, but the reality is that I love organizing way too much.

And finally, I successfully failed at making mashed potatoes today. The result: Sad, over-watered potato soup. However, I did eat these amazing Italian breaded pork chops.

10/10, very tasty. Do not recommend my mashed potatoes.

Happy Tuesday! Be back with a weekly post soon.

Preparing to Leave Home

When my parents introduced me to my new home in sixth grade, I rushed up the stairs to pick out my room. I settled on the room in the southeast corner, with beautiful painted wood floors and the view of the dawning sky from my floor-to-ceiling windows.

I will miss many things when I move out in two months, but I think I will miss my windows the most. Now, sitting on the floor among my scattered belongings, it feels odd to prepare myself not to come back.

Sure, I’ll visit, but the drawers and closet will be stripped of my belongings. My memorabilia might still be here, but they will be stored away in boxes until I find them a more permanent home. So as I begin the long process of tackling my own move out, here are my tips for others:

  1. So many memories. You might laugh at what you find or feel the urge to throw every cute picture online with a #throwbackthursday or #flashbackfriday hashtag. Maybe you’ll feel bittersweet and sad. Whatever feelings arise, accept that this is going to be kind of emotional.
  2. TAKE BREAKS. Seriously. Don’t nod your head and then ignore this advice and go on a marathon cleaning session. You will wear yourself out way before all your belongings are dealt with. Plus, remember the emotional part of this? You need some time to back away for your mental sake too. Personally, I like the “Unfuck Your Habitat” method of 20 minutes of work/10 minutes of rest, though I do shave down the latter to 5 minutes at times.
  3. Figure out how you are going to sort and categorize your belongings. I’ve boxed up different periods of my life: Middle school and younger, high school, college. I’ve made the decision that my beloved papasan chair is coming with me and my old dresser is hitting the curb. Box with purpose, not because you don’t know what else to do with it. If you are keeping something for vague, maybe-I’ll-need-it-someday purposes, chuck it. Either donate it or sell it but do not put in your moving boxes.
  4. Let things go. Believe me, I am a sentimentalist, but I am limiting myself to one or two boxes to certain periods of my life. I’m going to sell a lot of my old books to which I am not emotionally attached. But know what things you are unwilling to budge on: For example, I have a lot of books from college that I will keep despite it being profitable to sell them. I feel I can still learn and reflect on what I read in these books, and so they will stay.
  5. Accept the burden of your belongings. I know that my mom is thinking about selling her house in the next couple of years. Partially for this reason, I am taking the time now to make a complete move. No “Hey mom, can you just hold on to all these things I may or may not care about forever?” I know that I don’t know where I will be in the next couple of years and I also know that I don’t want anyone else to decide what happens to my belongings. For this reason, I am making sure that everything I leave at home is clearly labeled so that in due time I can take them into my possession. If your items must leave home but you don’t have space for it with you, consider a storage unit. And if your belongings are moving to a storage unit or garage, box appropriately with heavy-duty boxes so the contents don’t sustain any damage.
  6. Give yourself time. If you are a procrastinator like myself, it is really easy to keep telling yourself that you will work on moving out another day. With that mentality, you will suddenly have no days left and will wish you could recoup all that time to give your belongings the consideration they deserve. Instead, if cleaning and moving are stressful for you, incorporate fun elements to your cleaning. This could mean watching a favorite TV show or listening to podcasts or music while cleaning. Another piece of advice is to break up your clean out over time so that you can delineate solid achievements and made the burden seem less daunting.

Happy moving, and let me know your tips too!

Navigating the Post-College Limbo

No one warns you about how young you feel upon graduating college. Immediately after putting on that cap and gown, I fielded questions left and right about what I’m up to now and do I feel different and how I’m a real adult now, but–

Benefits of graduating: Sitting under a tree with no homework to complete.

For the most part, I’ve come out a week after graduation feeling very, very young. Age 21, college graduate; it sounded old until it didn’t anymore. I leaned on my mom’s shoulder yesterday and caught myself wondering if that’s something I am supposed to do anymore. Should I straighten up and act like other adults? The phrase “grow up, but don’t grow old” doesn’t have any real meaning to me. I’ve barely started the first one, let alone had time to ponder the second.

I am luckier than many of my fellow recent college grads. I have a job. Maybe not a totally “real” job, as some mumbling baby boomer might say, but it is a salaried position that has a hard end point of two years. It scared me less than the other possibility, where they wanted to me to commit to the career track. I liked the position, felt like I could do it well and be comfortable working there for a good long time. But then I went back to the feeling that I am too young. Twenty-one feels too soon to settle in when only a year ago I was planning my trip abroad to conduct student research. That wanderlust, that love of learning and talking to new people around the world hasn’t left me.

The woman at the career center, a few weeks before my graduation, said to me that our priorities change when we find new employment. I know, I thought at the time, that’s what worries me.

I have two months before my job begins: Two months to live at home in limbo between college student and independent adult. Each day I have to renegotiate boundaries and figure out how I can prepare for my next step. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far.

  1. Going home after graduation feels like a regular summer vacation between school years. I keep having to pinch myself and say “Hey you, you’re a college graduate.” One would think the constant questions of where I am off to next would trigger that feeling more naturally, but I have quickly figured out how to autopilot through that conversation as fast as possible.
  2. Financial boundaries are beginning to get murky. My parents have helped me tremendously through my time in college. My mom and dad have both provided me homes on breaks. My dad paid for my car and continues to pay out my car loans while I’m practically penniless. And I will likely continue to take advantage of my mother’s health insurance until someone kicks me off it. But there are little things now, building on the bigger understandings that my housing, my groceries, my whole life will soon rely on my financial decisions in a state or two away from home.
  3. I feel in my gut that I made the right decision to take the two-year job that I did. Already, I know that I feel comfortable back home, taken care of by my mother and harassed gently by my sister. My room looks the same, my cork board with my study abroad memories tacked up on the wall, my old and new books, and a cozy chair to curl up in. My diploma sits inelegantly on top of a side table, mixed in with my old life. The job I took is far from perfect. It will entail long hours and endless work, and I don’t know exactly where I will be sent yet. But I knew if I came out of graduation without a job, it would be easy to settle in and forget about my dreams.
  4. I like hard deadlines. They propel me forward, force an uncomfortable reality to take hold, and shove me out the door. Come August, I will have to leave whether I want to or not. I have to make the decision about what stays here and what goes with me when I leave home. I have to study for the GRE, because Lord knows I won’t have time to think about grad school once I begin work. And, knowing me, I’ll be madly preparing for what is to come.

Like the cliches go, one chapter must end before the other begins. Through this blog, I hope to tackle important challenges ahead with tips, tricks, and screw ups. Each week, I will take on one issue on my mind, whether that be budgeting woes, apartment prep, cooking solo, and more.

See you next week,