Lessons I've Learned As A Young Professional, Part 1

For my first job, I was a cashier at Goodwill. I worked there full-time during the summer after high school and then continued part-time throughout the school year.

After that, I worked as a cashier at the University Book Store at my school, I tutored student athletes, I became a sales associate Coach, and then worked as a Resident Advisor, Freshman Interest Group leader, in admin, as copywriting intern… The list goes on. At one point, I even sold cupcakes at sports arenas which was both delicious and fun.

Eventually, I graduated. I’ve been in full-time professional roles for the past five years now. Much like many folks, my professional path is a bit untraditional and varied—and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My five years in the workforce have taught me A LOT about myself, the world, working with others, and working in general.

The lessons I’ve learned are not unique, but there’s power in sharing them, and here’s why: nobody told me any of this. I am the first person in my immediate family to have a “professionalized” role (eg, sat in an office with a “professional” title, answered e-mails, climbed the ladder, fight organizational politics, etc.). For people like me, there’s a lot to learn about the coded language and environment of the professional world so in sharing these lessons with the world, I hope it’ll reach other young professionals who may find a few nuggets of wisdom in this blog post.

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Ask a lot of questions, even the stupid ones.

Here’s a secret: Nobody actually knows what’s going on.

We’re all learning as we go.

There’s a chance that someone out there has the same question as you do and chances are, your question isn’t as stupid as you think it is. We assume many of the people around us have more knowledge than we do when, in reality, they just have a different set of knowledge just as we, as individuals, also have our own unique sets of knowledge. When we don’t speak up and ask our burning questions, information gets siloed in our own heads, we make assumptions, and we breed more misinformation. Will people think less of you for asking a potentially inane question? Probably not. The people who will are probably not people you are going to support your growth as a professional anyways, so you can keep them at arm’s length. Their attitude isn’t your problem. So go out into the world and be curious!

Time is your only resource; manage it well.

Okay, folks, I’m not asking you to be perfect here because we all know I am far from it. I’m just asking you to try really hard. Some people are really, really good at managing their time and there’s SO much we can learn from them—but here are my two cents, coming from someone who has had a lot of practice in trying to stay organize and sane. I’ve had a lot of jobs where I’ve had to juggle multiple competing priorities in fast-paced settings and if I didn’t stay organized, managed my time and deadlines, I’d be sunk.

The secret? First and foremost, know thyself. Let’s be real, I know when and with which tasks I’m going to procrastinate so I build in time in my schedule as a buffer for that. I know how long it is going to take me to write an e-mail, draft a report, take those calls… I set my deadlines knowing all of this because, through many years of schooling and work, I’ve learned to work around all of the mental hurdles my brain throws at me. And I build in time for all of this, including the buffers. The key here is being self-aware enough to your time work for you, and that takes years. There’s no one “right” way, only the ways that work for you!

Communication is a strategy

Here’s what I mean by this: we manage all of our relationships through the way we communicate with other people. We use communication, therefore, as a strategy to manage our relationships. And I don’t mean this in a weird Game-of-Thrones-who-is-going-to-stab-who Machiavellian way. I mean that the words we say to other people matter, and we can use our words for good as much as we can use them to hurt people.

The obvious example here is e-mail. Who else is guilty of the passive aggressive, “Per my last e-mail…” line or the vaguely disappointed “Regards”? Have you been on the receiving end of these messages and felt oddly… attacked?

Words matter. Learn to use your words with purpose so that others can understand your point clearly. Whether you’re writing e-mails or negotiating a point in person, you should know clearly: What kind of relationship do I have with this person, and how can they help me (and vice versa!)? What do I want out of this conversation? What does the other person want out of this conversation? How do we both get what we want, if possible?

And then, keep in the back of your mind: How am I feeling in this situation, and how is that being conveyed in this conversation? Is this what I want to convey through my tone and my words? If not, what do I need to revise? What is the tone I’m going for?

If you’re in a particularly tense mood, I advise stepping away from your e-mail after you’ve written it and rereading it later. My last people of advice here is to not assume anything. Per my first piece of advice, always ask.

Dear POC: there are just some people who will refuse to understand you. And I’m sorry.

This topic itself can be its own blog post, but I needed to acknowledge it because it’s real for many of us. There will be people at your workplace who will simply refuse to understand you and your live experiences. It is not your job to fight them or inform them; you will find out quickly who these people are. I know, for me, that I am always wanting to fight the “good fight,” but I also know that it’s exhausting as hell. That emotional labor is not for me, or for you, to perform. If you are facing a difficult situation at work because your workplace doesn’t understand you, please reach out to someone who will understand, whether that’s me, another colleague, your supervisor, HR, or a family member. You deserve to be seen and respected.

Again, these lessons only capture a little bit of what I’ve learned in my own professional experiences and they may be different than your own, but in sharing them, I hope someone can relate, learn, and carry these nuggets of wisdom into their own lives. These are tough lessons to learn, and they really only come from living through them.

Did any of this resonate with you? What would you add as advice to a young professional? I would love to hear your thoughts!

This Year So Far: Growing Pains

I started this year off with lofty goals: $1800 total income in Q1 from freelancing; quitting my day job by 2020; traveling to two new places; organizing and/or attending a writing retreat; starting a podcast; paying off $12,000 of consumer debt by the end of the year; start and finish a novel. My word of the year was “flourish.”

sunflower

Status update: things are going.  

Growing hurts. Stepping up and stepping out hurts. It’s deeply uncomfortable, even for me, someone who generally welcomes and embraces change. 

Some types of change are destabilizing.  

Maybe I’m being overdramatic, but that’s what I’m feeling like right now. If my word of the year is “flourish,” I feel the most appropriate word for what I’m going through right now is “uprooted,” with all of my stuff dangling out in the air with the world to see. It feels incredibly awkward, and that’s coming from someone who is used to being pretty awkward on a daily basis.

About a year ago, I got married and the day I got married definitely makes it somewhere amidst the top 10 best days of my life. Swiftly afterwards, I changed jobs: I moved out of higher education where I was in a high-touch, student-facing role into a job that is heavily administrative with significantly less face-to-face contact with people. I began to take up jobs as a freelance editor and content writer; with my experience in higher education, I began offering career and life coaching to a few folks.  

I’m now about eight months into a brand new chapter of my life that stared last August and while I feel like I’m kicking ass in some arenas of my life, I feel like I’m sinking in others. Here’s what’s going on.

I work more now in total hours than I ever did in my last job. Thankfully, my day job is usually strictly only eight a.m. to five p.m., but since I’ve been building my freelancing career, I’m also regularly putting in three to four hours after work to get editing and writing work done. I blew through my Q1 goal—in May, I’m approach about $4000 in income from freelancing—but boy am I tired. Now, more than I have in the past eight months, I’m craving real, deep rest. A few days off, disconnected from a laptop and cell phone, sounds like heaven right now. 

My current job isn’t the right fit for me, and here’s why: I’m behind a computer, sending e-mails and handling logistics almost 80% of my time at work. The limited people contact I get is through a phone or e-mail, and even that contact is transactional. Don’t get me wrong: I am deftly efficient as an administrative professional, but I crave that front-line client service contact again. I miss building relationships with people over time, and I miss seeing/feeling my impact on the world—even if it’s just one person at a time. I’m learning that routine grinds me down like no other, and that I’m definitely not a “behind the scenes” kind of person, so I’ve been spending the last few weeks reevaluating what real, meaningful work feels like and looks like for me. I’m amidst evaluating one or two really exciting opportunities, but the not-knowing is what is the most destabilizing for me. A part of me just wonders if I just need to get used to the not-knowing. I’m slowly trying to shift myself away from anxiety towards the unknown to harnessing the excitement of exploring what’s out there.

And because I hate the whole sanitized social media everything-is-peachy: I’ve been rejected by two different jobs, but that’s okay; I’ve been consistently working on paid content writing gigs since the beginning of the year. I’m actually not sure if I would really enjoy content writing as a full-time deal, but it’s been an interesting experience nonetheless—and it’s cool to get paid for writing! I am definitely thinking I need to redirect my energy towards fiction writing. I barely passed my midterm for this current course in my copyediting certification because my brain doesn’t understand hand-marking hard copies yet (this is reinforcing my imposter syndrome lately because it makes me think I’m a bad copyeditor—I’m not, I have real proof that I’m actually pretty okay at it, but it still really fucking stinks).

 

Some other fun, fast updates: I’m killing it with my credit score and paying down my debt! I’m almost entirely done with credit card debt, and then I’ll be paying down my student loan and personal debt from Thomas’ and my wedding. I have over $4000 in my savings account, which is more than I’ve ever had before. I have an idea for my podcast, and I’m currently researching how to bring it to life. Thomas and I are celebrating our first anniversary in about two weeks. I passed the first course of my copyediting certification.

Here's how I’m working on all of this:

  • Building boundaries – I need to speak up about what I need and to talk about my feelings honestly without feeling bad about the way I think others will react to it; the people who love me will understand. I can scrub away the things from my digital and personal life that make me feel less-than great.

  • ·My time for play and rest is sacred – I will openly admit that I really fucking suck at resting, but I really and truly need it, and lord KNOWS I need more play in my life. I need to block out and defend time in my weekly schedule to write and read for fun, to play video games, and to just fucking chill.

  • Spend more time reflecting – I know that whatever my next step will be, it will be crucial, and I’m not settling for “good enough.” I want to work and move through my life with intention, and that means getting very clear on what I want, what I believe, and what I am here on this earth to do. I am ready to embrace my Calling big time, but in order to do that, I need to stop, slow down, and listen.

I know I’m not the only one feeling the aches of growing pains. All of us are going through it. What are you working through right now? What kind of transitions are you facing, and how are you working through them? What do you need to clarify in your life right now? I would love to hear from you.

 

you’re going to need more than garlic: battling emotional vampires

I don’t think this is a controversial opinion, but it may come as a new idea to some people: I believe that people should be personally responsible for the thoughts, the words, and the energy (feelings) they put into the world. I will get back to this in a minute. Let’s talk about emotional vampires.

Emotional intelligence: how to not be an asshole

Emotional intelligence wasn’t an emergent concept (at least in my awareness) until I was in late high school or early college, and boy, when I realized where I was lacking, I needed to put in the work to make sure I really was emotionally intelligent. Why? Because I don’t like being an asshole, and because I realized that I was being emotionally drained by people who would’ve sucked every ounce of life out of me if I didn’t stop them (I also just like knowing I try my best to be a good person). The distinct competencies related to emotional intelligence (or EQ) include “the ability to monitor your emotions as well as the emotion of others, to distinguish and label emotions correctly, and to use emotional thinking to guide your thinking and behavior and influence of others”.

Back to emotional vampires: have you been in a relationship where every conversation or interaction with a person felt like they were slowly draining your emotional battery? This can look like disproportionately one-sided conversations, one person always playing the “therapist,” or, what I call, an emotional dumping ground. Maybe you didn’t ask for it, but all of sudden, after talking to this person, you’re sitting there, saddled with the emotional baggage you didn’t ask for.

Is this you?

YOU. NEED. BOUNDARIES. If you don’t have boundaries, then the world is going to suck the life out of you—and we don’t want that. We want you to shine bright and be the best version of you whenever you can be. You deserve a happy, emotionally healthy, balanced life just as much as the next person!

The first thing you can do to protect your boundaries is notice. In your everyday conversations, notice what drains your energy. This can feel different for everybody, but for me, I can physically feel the change in my body; I physically begin to feel tired, like I’d just finished a nonstop, twelve-hour workday. This is an important step because so much of our social interactions just happen and some of us don’t realize we’re drained until the conversation ends.

The second part is the hard part: we have to talk to these people in our lives to shift these patterns in our relationships. Once we get settled into a certain pattern in our relationships, those patterns are extremely difficult to break unless we decide to engage in the necessary conversations to change them. And that’s hard because people generally don’t like conflict and because we never know how people are going to react when we tell them their behavior is unhelpful or unwanted.

Here’s one helpful place to start: Use “I-statements” to convey your feelings and their impact. Most people aren’t aware of how their behaviors may affecting you, so start first by stating your intent, what they’re doing, and then identifying the impact they are having on you.

For example, “Our friendship means a lot to me and I want to find a way for us to make it work without me feeling emotionally exhausted all the time. When you spend hours talking about your bad days without asking me how I feel, or asking me if it’s okay, it exhausts me. I want to be there for you, but I also need to take care of myself.”

There are a number of ways that this conversation can go, but be open to how others react; oftentimes, the people who react badly may not be the best people for you anyways. If you’re trying to protect your boundaries, and they’re not willing to respect that, that may be a red flag for the future of your relationship.

How to not be one of them

It’s completely possible that you haven’t always been the most conscientious yourself--and that’s okay, as long as you’re willingness to learn and change. I think we all have work to do to make sure we’re being careful about managing our emotions. It’s something we can practice just like we can practice marathon running or swinging a golf club. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few things to think about:

  • Who’s doing all the talk, and what energy are you bringing into this conversation? In your conversation with your friends and loved ones, who is doing all of the talking? Who is doing the “emotional work,” that is, the work of being the helper and being the “container” for others’ emotional decompression? Who doesn’t seem to engage or talk as much, and why? Equally important, take stock of how often you’re the one doing the talking, what you are talking about, and how the emotion behind your words can then impact your listener. You are responsible for your energy. If you think you may need to confide something heavy in a friend, it’s totally okay (and encouraged!) to ask for permission first! I have a few friends who are particularly good listeners, but I always preempt my venting sessions by asking, “Do you have the time and energy to listen to me vent about this?” I also try to clarify my intention when I talk, so they know whether I’m seeking advice or just need someone to listen and validate me. This is what I’m talking about when I talk about taking personal responsibility for my feelings: I understand the energy I’m putting out in the world, putting on others, and I actively monitor what I’m saying to make sure I find the right place for it to land so it doesn’t drain a wrong or unexpecting person.

  • Are you really listening? Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, everybody needs someone to understand and listen to them. Mentally track what’s going through your head as you’re listening to your friends talk. Are you preparing a witty response to lighten the mood? Are you trying to remember what you ate for lunch or thinking about the next time you need to go to the gym? In order to fully listen, you need to be present with the people who are confiding in you. You need to really understand the words they are saying and the feelings they are conveying to you, and that takes a lot of emotional and mental energy. This isn’t a good time to wonder about what’s for dinner--and this skill, active listening, takes practice. I’d know--it was something I had to actively work on throughout college when I realized I was actually a really shitty listener.

  • How do you respond? You’ve listened to what your friend has to say--and now you’re going to respond. It’s perfectly natural to feel uncomfortable with difficult or negative emotions. You may reflexively want to combat your friend’s feelings with humor and, in some relationships, that might be okay, but most people want their feelings heard and understood (which is differently than wanted them fixed, ahem). If you’re constantly deflecting other’s feelings instead of putting in the work to sit with them through it (like they do for you!) and validating what they’re feeling so they feel heard, you may be putting off the responsibility of reciprocating emotional support for your friends due to your own discomfort. And that not only feels really shitty, but it can also damage your relationships.


Recognizing someone’s detrimental emotional impact on you doesn’t mean it’s the end of your relationship. As you stand up for yourself to protect your emotional wellbeing, some people may respond poorly-- and that’s never a reflection of you or your worth. You can choose to work through the conflict--which is healthy--to revisit it another time, or simply to disengage, and all of those are perfectly acceptable options, but you deserve to be treated kindly. It may not be a sexy or “mainstream idea,” but relationships of ANY KIND involve work from everybody involved, and I feel like that work can be productive if navigated appropriately. In the end, your boundaries are there to protect you and putting yourself first is going to be unbelievably beneficial for you and everybody around you.  

Money Date #8 (2/5/2019) - Short month = two quick paydays!!

Hello, beautiful people! It’s been two whole weeks so I’ve updated my blog about my money. Truth be told, these past two weeks have felt really overwhelming for a number of reason, but this week, I’m feeling so much better after re-aligning my schedule and shift a few things around. I’m determined to get back on track by the end of this week. I know t’s only Tuesday right now, but I’m feeling so much better already! Like, really good.

Week of 1/22 - 1/29

Income - Total: $285.13 (before taxes)

  • Business income: $285.13

Expenses - Total: $320.45

  • Hello Fresh: $53.95 (Three meals, delivered to my door— a partial success! I only made 2 out of three meals because… well… I mildly procrastinated… But the two meals I did make were tasty! I didn’t renew my subscription, though.)

  • Utilities: $74.93

  • Pet food and treats: $46.00

  • Groceries: $33.93 (I tried to make my own stir fry, with mixed success…)

  • Food: $70.32

  • Coffee: $41.32 (Alas, my Christmas/birthday Starbucks gift cards have all been used and I resorted to going out for coffee again…)

Week of 1/30 - 2/5 - Total: $251.40

Income - Total: $2000.00

  • FTE Semi-Monthly Paycheck: $2000.00

Monthly Expenses - Total: $1626.00

  • Rent: $743.00

  • Cell Phone: $70.00

  • Debt payments: $813.00

Lifestyle Expenses - Total: $148.92

  • Coffee: $47.45

  • Groceries: $19.50

  • Food: $81.97

Money Date #7 (1/21/2019) - Celebrating small wins!

Hello again, curious readers! If you’ve stuck with me so far, I thank you, and I hope you continue to stay along with the ride as I'm cruising towards a debt-free 2019!

Let’s start by celebrating, shall we?

#WINNING

I paid off TWO of my credit cards this past week, and it felt SO good! I’m so proud to have taken this huge step towards vanquishing my debt. I also had two no-spend days this past week. Having set a $80 “fun budget” for myself, I stuck to it—until the weekend... I’m pretty sure I also made dinner four out of five of the weekdays this past week, so yay!

I tried Hello Fresh for the first week. I received my first shipment of groceries on Saturday and last night, my husband and I made enchiladas. They turned out great! Today, I made a really yummy creamy mushroom pasta, and I have plenty of leftovers so I’ll be ready for lunch tomorrow too! With a referral code from my friend Thien-Kim, I paid less than $15 for three meals—an absolute STEAL.

Income

  • Regular FTE paycheck: $2000

  • Freelance revenue: $50

Mistakes Were Made

  • I accidentally forgot to return two Redbox DVD rentals for like five days, and that racked up about $25 of fees that could have been avoided if I’d just returned them on time… :(

Expenses

Business Expenses

  • Business strategy coaching: $484.00

  • Logo design: $100.00

Personal Expenses

  • Payment towards debt:

    • $2112.00 (WHOOOOoooooo!! YASSSS!)

  • Food (Restaurants, going out for lunch, etc.): $159.32

    • I think the weekend really got me here. I also forgot to meal prep last weekend and relied on getting food at restaurants for lunch and breakfast a few times. This part of my budget definitely spun out of control on the weekend!

    • Total for the month: $352.77

    • How I feel about this: A little disappointed in myself. :| BUT I am grateful that I was able to enjoy delicious food! I don’t regret any of those experiences, but may need to find ways to replace eating out with eating in while still dining on delicious foods. :)

  • Coffee: $21.01

    • Whooooo! I’m still riding out my Christmas/birthday Starbucks gift cards. I’ve been saving so much money in this category because of them!

    • Total for the month: $54.84

    • How I feel about this: WHOOOOoooo! This is an excellent balance for me.

  • Gas: $76.26

    • A little higher than usual, but no biggie.

  • “Fun” miscellaneous stuff: $91.20

    • This includes a $16 textbook I had to buy for my Copyediting certification, but most of it included planners, pens, and notebooks… Another oops. I don’t foresee this repeating in the future because I’m stocked up now!

  • Groceries: $173.77

    • Again, a little higher than usual, and I think it may be because I didn’t factor in that Thomas paid me 1/2 of most of this balance so it’s really closer to $85 or so rather than $173, but I wasn’t careful enough to “count” that this time around. Womp womp.

    • Total this month so far: $315.12

  • Other - Entertainment: $34.64

    • Lesson learned: RedBox isn’t a good option for me unless I KNOW I will have time to watch the movie AND return it the next day. I also bought one book this week.

Action Steps For The Week Ahead

  • I am reducing my usual $80 fun budget to only $30 because I definitely overspent last week!

  • There are only 4 work days this week, so I’m hoping to bring lunch and make dinner everyday.

  • I have $41.19 left on my Starbucks card, which I definitely think that will carry me through the rest of the week.

  • I have to file my business taxes before the end of January. UGH. I’ve been dragging my feet on this task but it will need to get done ASAP.

Money Date #6 (I didn't do too bad this week!)

Hello again, readers!

It is the beginning of a new year. What better time to resolve for better financial health than now?! One of my big goals for 2019 is to pay off all of my debt which, in my last blog, I disclosed is close to $9K right now. Totally doable!

Categorically, I don’t think I did too badly this week ESPECIALLY considering that we just wrapped up the “celebration” season, AKA Christmas and New Years and my birthday.

But first: let’s celebrate!

Income

I GOT PAAAAAID WHOOOOOO! This isn’t anything unexpected, but I just love getting paid so I like to celebrate it.

Full-time job: $2000.00 (I get paid twice a month.)

Freelancing: $429.08 (With more to come this month!! Whoooooo!)

Misc. Income: $75 (House sitting and cat sitting! Yay!)

Expenses

“Four Wall” costs - Total: $764.00

  • Rent: $734

  • Pet insurance: $30

Debt payments - $172.74

  • Credit payments made: $59.74 (I haven’t made any large payments yet, but I plan to!)

  • Personal loan: $113

Business expenses - About $80.00

I’m trying to make pretty flatlays for IG, so I went on a tiny adventure earlier this week to gather supplies.

  • Flatlay supplies: $80.09 (Plus a little bit of money from Home Depot that I Venmo’ed to Thomas, minus a little bit of money because I also bought some snacks while I was shopping… :) I can write these off at the end of the year but, admittedly, I have no idea where that Target receipt went…)

Personal development - $540

  • Tuition for UCSD Extension - Copyediting Certification: $495.00 (Whooooo!! I start on 1/14.)

  • Yes & Yes - Bank Boost: $45.00

Other “lifestyle” expenses: $272.67

  • Groceries & household expenses: $167 (This includes renewing our Costco membership for the year… and Thomas bought me a new flashlight.)

  • Coffee: $10.31 (CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?! I turned my housesitting/cat sitting money to a Starbucks gift card and I cut down my coffee cost to $10 this week through this income!!)

  • Food: $95.36

What did I tell you?! Not bad, huh? :)

Did you make any money-related resolutions for this year?

Money Date #5, 12/28/2018 (Twistmas Slump: total December expenses, January budget)

Since my last money date, I’ve taken a week or so off work for the holidays, which I’ve enjoyed immensely. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with family, friends, and, most importantly, myself. I find the time alone rejuvenating and I so love the freedom to get along my day the way I want to, however I want to, whenever I want to. To be completely honest, I’ve been rubbish around my budget since taking time off. Time off means I do whatever I want, and whatever I want = coffee. And food. And books. Those are just the things that make me happy—and it’s okay. What I may need to do, then, is to adjust my budget for January to make sure I’ve given myself enough money to be happy while making sure I redistribute money from areas that aren’t bringing me joy. From there, making more intentional choices are other areas to reduce spending AND finding other ways to bring in additional income will help “even things out,” so to speak.

Money is supposed to be spent on what makes us happy. We all just need to be conscientious around what makes us happy in the moment AND what makes us happy in the long run (eg, being debt free).

You’re about to get some cold, hard, real numbers again, this time totaling aaaall of my December expenses. If you’re reading these numbers and you’re freaking out/making judgments on my behalf, this may be a great moment for you to pause and ask yourself: Why are these feelings coming up for me? What does these thoughts tell me about my own personal thoughts/philosophies around money?

Also, remember: I made conscious decision that got me here, and I’m making conscious decisions to get myself out. I know exactly where I’m at and your support rather than your judgment is much more helpful.

Also: Debt is not bad.

If you’re on your own personal finance journey and you’d like some support, reach out for judgment free listening and story sharing.

Overview

  • I have $2200 in my Savings account.

  • I have $9,881.26 in debt, and I hoping to pay off this debt by June 2019. That means putting about $1900 towards my debt each month without putting any further debt on any of my credit cards (note: this amount may fluctuate a little bit due to interest charges). Also, this is the first time in three months I’ve been under $10K in debt, so YAY.

  • My credit score is above 770. I am financially healthy, AND I am finding more ways to manage my money habits better because I want to be financially independent and own a house with a big ass backyard for my dog someday.

  • My business did not break even this year—which is to be expected in the first year. I’m still pretty proud of where I’ve gotten! Plenty of room to grow in 2019.

Upcoming Expenses

  • I need to pay my first tuition statement for my UCSD copyediting certification in January (about $495, plus books).

  • There is an upcoming car maintenance expense Thomas and I will need to pay for.

  • I am going to pay someone to do my taxes for me so I can write off my business-related expenses.

December Income

  • Full time job: $4000.00

  • Income from business: $450.00 (I am expecting an addition $400 or so in January, that I “made” in December, but haven’t yet been paid out by my employers.)

December Expenses

Some of these numbers are approximate because I haven’t been as good about tracking my expenses on a daily basis as I probably could be. Nonetheless, this is still a good picture of where I’m at. Also, December is an anomaly because of Christmas presents.

  • Mandatory “four walls” monthly expenses (mostly rent, utilities, internet, cell phone, and pet insurance)

    • Budgeted: $1445.50

    • Actual: $1570 (Projected; forgot to track utilities)

      • Note: This category fluctuates very little month to month. I overspent a tiny bit in groceries this month.

  • “Lifestyle expenses” (yoga, eating out at restaurants, coffee, Christmas spending, etc.—anything that’s optional)

    • Budgeted: $1234.00, including a Christmas budget

    • Actual: $2045.52

      • Netflix: $11

      • Spotify: $10

      • Coffee: $193.69

      • Yoga membership: $99

      • Business strategy coaching: $484

      • Eating out at restaurants/ordering take out: $464.38

      • Christmas spending: $423.01

      • Birthday: $54

      • Misc.: $306 (Renewed PSN membership, Lyft fees, wrapping paper, Redbox, clothes, UCSD enrollment fee)

  • Credit card debt and other loan payments: $1563.00

Reflections

So my month spending totaled to a little over $5000, yet I still managed to make progress on paying off my debt which means I am putting less on my credit cards (when I have to) than I paid off. Plus, I had some “rollover” money from last month AND I’m bringing in additional income from my business. What that means is, all in all in, this month was “good”—not great—but good enough, which I’ll take as a victory. :)

I’m seeing the patterns in my spending habits and there are certainly areas I need to adjust. I know which areas of my budget are bringing me joy and which areas I can cut back to make sure that every penny is spent more carefully on those things while I am still working on achieving my goal of being debt-free. Obviously, I freaking love coffee and I love eating food. I feel joy when I am able to indulge these habits and I could be better about being intentional about when I choose to indulge. I was actually pretty good on limiting spending on my clothing this month (stayed under $100!), which is a really positive step for me.

Knowing all of this now, here’s how I plan to adjust my budget for January:

January Budget

  • Expected income from full-time job: $4000

  • Goal for income from business: $1000

  • Monthly “four wall” living expenses: $1415.50 (This accounts for the cost of 3 therapy sessions.)

  • Lifestyle expenses:

    • Netflix: $11

    • Spotify: $10

    • Coffee: $180

    • Yoga: $99

    • Business strategy coaching: $484

    • Food/restaurants/yummy in my tummy: $250

    • UCSD tuition: $495

  • Payment towards debt: $1438.00

  • Additional expenses to consider: car maintenance and paying someone to do my taxes.

What areas of your financial health are you proud of this month? Which areas do you hope to improve in?

What I’ve Been Up To Lately (The less inspirational version of 2018)

This year was a rollercoaster, but not the crazy twisty kind where you scream at the top of it and your stomach drops while you’re both excited and terrified of falling to your death. It was more like Thunder Mountain at Disneyland: an interesting, pleasant ride with its own kinds of gradual rises, dips, and twists (it even gets a little dark at one point!), but nothing that would send you sideways or vomiting into your ride partner’s lap.

The not-sexy part of my year: burnout, exhaustion, and chronically feeling unanchored from purpose. I was productive—I was getting shit done—but I was spinning my wheels, waking up tired, going to work tired, and then collapsing into bed, still tired. I started noticing some of the symptoms of my overwhelm: I couldn’t focus on the smallest tasks at times, I lacked motivation, and I sometimes even lost my appetite (if you know how much I love to eat, you know this is HUGE). My therapist told me I needed a vacation. This phase was difficult to trudge through, and I knew something needed to change.  

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Something unusual about me: I am terrific at instigating and managing changing.

 It took more months, but I eventually found the change I needed.

Job searching can take months. I was changing industries—I wanted out of higher education—and that made the situation harder because I hardly had any contacts outside of the field I’ve been in for four years, but I made it happen. I spent hours almost every night scouring LinkedIn, tweaking my resume, writing cover letters, and reaching out to people for informational interviews. 

Amidst all of that, some pretty cool stuff happened.

In no particular order: I traveled to San Francisco and attended the 2018 Game Developers Conference for work. I traveled to New Orleans, where I gave my first talk ever at a professional conference. I got married and had the best wedding ever. I planned commencement, which over 1000 people attended. I got a new job (hello windows, natural lighting, and standing desk!) and got a massive raise. I applied for and received my business license. I have made over $1000 as a freelancer since opening my business to the public. I’ve edited three books, and I’ve signed two new contracts as a freelance editor since then. I am slowly, but surely, getting a hold on my finances and paying off debt from my wedding, from my student loans, and from moving—oh, yeah. I moved into and now rent a lovely house! I’ve consistently practiced yoga for two months now. My credit score is really fucking fantastic. I love my husband and my puppy. I’ve enrolled in a copyediting certification program at USCD starting in January.

Here’s the less inspirational stuff: I spend at least one to two hours a day, and a few hours on the weekends, working on projects related to my work outside of my full-time job. I lose sleep every week, sometimes only getting five hours or sleep, because I have deadlines to meet that I’ve put on myself. I’ve failed. A lot. I’ve put out offers that returned zero clients, and I’ve submitted over 50 proposals that never got back to me. I need to file my business taxes in January, and I have no idea where to start (though I WILL find out how, eventually). I am still in debt totaling a little over $10K. I’ve invested a significant amount of money and time into propping up my business. I am coming to terms with my own occasional feelings of envy towards other’s lives and capabilities; I’ve struggled with overcoming writer’s block for over half a year now and I am learning that, often, my own brain is my own worst enemy.  

And… all of that is fine and dandy. Really. There is room to grow, for which I am thankful, and I don’t regret any of it; I’ve chosen most of these circumstances because I prefer them over the other options. This year could have been a lot worse. The world isn’t a happy place right now, but I’m blessed to be living my life the way I am. I am grateful everyday for what I have. Like most people—if not, all people—behind my chipper and upbeat Instagram and Facebook posts, I, too, face messiness and frustration and doubt and anxiety and I, too, sometimes turn up to the sky and let out a loud, unpleasant expletive. A string of them, even, and often. The work isn’t always sexy and smooth and easy and shiny and cool, but it’s doing the work that matters—and I stay transparent and real about it because that’s what I believe is helpful for others. Lord knows I’ve fallen into my own shame spirals because other’s seemingly perfect Instagram and Facebook lives.

I’d love to know if anything I wrote connected with you; and, of course, feel free to share with me if anything salient came up for you while you were reading this blog post.

 What were some of your difficult moments this year, and what did you learn from them? What memories from this year do you cherish the most? How have you grown this year?

money date #4, 12/19/2018 (celebrating and hustling)

All in all, it hasn’t been a terrible week. I celebrated my birthday with some really lovely family members, ate delicious food, and relaxed; and it was great! Plus, I’m expecting to bring in a big chunk of revenue from my business this week, and at the beginning of January. Everything balances out at the end!

I thought I’d try something different this week and breakdown some of my expenses in detail!

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Eating out: $105.47

  • Bi Bim Bap: 14.10

  • Snacks: $1.70

  • Take-out (Shwarma): $18.00

  • Chinese food: $11.09

  • Celebratory birthday cupcakes: $6.99

  • Birthday cake and pastries: $12.07

  • Boba: $12.06

  • Thai food: $12.59

  • Poke: $13.87

Coffee: $34.23 (I got two Starbucks gift cards for my birthday, so that helped immensely!)

Target: $67 (Groceries and misc. items)

Credit card payments: $783.84

Business strategy coaching: $484.00

Other expenses: $98 (UCSD enrollment fee for the copyediting program I’ll be starting in January!)

Additional income: $410 (Two editing jobs, one content writing job, one coaching call)

money date #3, 12/10/2018 (eating and christmas shopping and broken budgets, oh my)

This past week was a little rough! I made a couple of mistakes mostly due to me being lazy: I didn’t meal prep, so I turned to eating out for lunch; and then I racked up some Lyft fees because I didn’t bother trying to figure out the bus schedule on a Friday night when I was seeing a friend for dinner. Ugh. Luckily, I’m picking up some work this month that will hopefully offset some of the areas where I went over my budget. I’m ready for lunch this week though, thanks to Trader Joe’s!

Also, gonna flex for a second: my credit score went up a whooping 15 points, putting me squarely back into the “awesome” bracket.

Expenses

Lyft rides: $50.00
Poor decision making; was too lazy to figure out the bus system at night. Ouch.

Christmas shopping: $419.52
I spoke too soon on Facebook; I have two more presents to buy and I’m going to be over budget by about $75, which isn’t terrible compared to past years, BUT the silver lining here is that I budgeted for it at all this year whereas I didn’t in past years.

Coffee: $63.88
This amount is a little higher than usual because I looped in spending on food eaten with coffee—thus, food purchased within the same transaction as coffee—into this category. This is higher than usual. Oops!

Eating Out / Take Out: $122.25
Broke my budget already and we aren’t even halfway through the month. :( I either need to adjust this budget to be higher (while reducing spending in other categories) or curb my spending in this category… Sigh. Easier said than done.

Pet Supplies: $20
Still within budget.

Birthday Budget: $54.00
Still within budget.

Groceries: $74
Still within budget.

Other: I took out $500 from my savings account to pay for my next six months of car insurance. I’m not seeing my therapist at all this month, so I have $70 back that I had expected to spend.

Income

Editing: $140

Career coaching: $60

Areas of Improvement

  • I have enough groceries to eat both dinner and lunch at home for the rest of the week, and I’ll need to in order to reign in my eating out/take out budget.

  • I need to make due with black coffee from work or through my Keurig for the rest of the month or pray that my friends and family shower me with Starbucks gift cards… Hint hint.

Looking Ahead

  • Thomas and I will likely need to invest some money in car maintenance soon. The “Check Engine” light came on in our Subaru last week. :(

  • I also need to budget for my first installment of my tuition for my Copyediting Certification starting in January. Exciting, but a little nerve wracking!

  • However, I will be getting a large payout for my contract editing gig with one company in January and I’m predicting about $300 from that gig (before fees and taxes… argh).

money date #2, 12/2/2018

Hi folks! Just a quick update for my first couple of days of December / last few days of November.

Expenses

  • Rent: $734

  • Cell Phone: $100 (Went over my data plan and had to pay a extra $30.)

  • Groceries: $49 (Note: this was half the cost of my total; I split groceries 50/50 with Thomas.)

  • Gas: $23.48

  • Coffee: $23.58

  • Yoga (monthly membership): $99

  • Christmas shopping (budget: $400): $23

  • Eating out: $90.24 (This is abnormally high for one week! I need to keep the costs of eating out low for the rest of the month…)

  • Business branding assistance: $45

  • Unexpected costs: PS+ annual subscription renewal ($66)

Total expenses: $1208

Income

  • One-time career coaching: $60

  • Upwork contract: $20 (Not paid out.)

Total income: $60

This week:

  • I am bringing lunch to work at least 4 out of 5 days of the week.

  • I am not going to spend any additional money on Starbucks during the week.

  • I am making and eating dinner at home at least 4 out of 5 days of the week.

  • I will continue focusing on gratitude for what I have.

  • I will continue looking for short-term gigs on Upwork; I am continuing to edit chapters for a studio I am working with, but it is a bi-monthly payout so I’m expecting a bigger paycheck in January.

  • I need to revisit and follow up with some potential clients for editing and coaching.

money date #1, 11/25/2018 (in which I spent a lot of money)

Happy Sunday, friends!

I was first introduced to the idea of a “money date” when I participated in my first group coaching session with my now-friend and current business strategy coach Kayley. I launched my business in October when I was participating in this program. Being in community with other folks who were running their own businesses or hoping to start their own businesses inspired me to go public with my “side hustle.”

Money dates are weekly “dates” you set between you and your money. It’s supposed to be an opportunity not only to gain clarity around your finances, but also to give gratitude to your money and debt and what it all gave to you. Oftentimes, debt bears a really negative, heavy connotation for many of us and for good reason. My mother and father were deeply in debt; my mother went bankrupt because of her and my fathers’ poor financial planning and lack of access to financial knowledge (and because my dad had a little bit of a gambling habit). I, myself, feel a lot of guilt and shame around debt. However, in reframing these negative feelings, I try to be gentle with myself and I “thank” my money for what it’s already provided me: clothing, food, shelter, and a lot of great experiences.

This past week was really hard for me. I was looking over my credit card debt. I made a pact with myself that I’d tackle my credit card debt once and for all. I’d pay them down aggressively as possible so I could be financially free by 2019…

Nope.

I took one look at my budgeting spreadsheet (shout out to my friend Aviva for helping me set it up! I love a good spreadsheet.) and I’ve barely made a dent. Or at least it felt that way. Sure, my debt is lower than it was a few months ago when I’d started my foray into financial health but, for some reason, I thought the whole “snowball method” was going to work… a little faster. You can ask my hubby; I felt crushed earlier this week. I felt defeated, like none of this herculean effort I was putting into budgeting was making any difference at all!

I put on my big girl pants today to get down to the root of the issue. I wanted to know exactly where all my money was going so I could curb those expenses for December. I made November a “no shopping” month and yes, you’ll see soon that I made a few mistakes during moments of weaknesses, BUT I resolved to spend a couple of hours today pulling up all of my financial statements and looking over them in detail. I categorized every single expense into my spreadsheet, something I should have done proactively instead of retroactively.

I’m listing my expenses and debt below and here’s why I’m laying all of these details bare: we do not talk about money, debt, or financial literacy enough. Many of us are not raised with knowledge about revolving credit, credit scores, budgeting, or anything like that. My parents, who barely speak or read English, certainly didn’t teach me any of this stuff; they barely understood it themselves. I hope that by including these details and hashing out my thought process, people who read this blog will gain their own sense of resolve and clarity and control over their own finances. If by the end of this blog, you still have questions, please feel free to comment or e-mail me. I’m more than happy to talk to you about any of it.

After taxes and cost of health insurance, I make $4000.00 a month. My annual salary is $57,000 before taxes. I get a free bus pass from work. I pay $734.00 for rent, a third of the total rent of my house, which I share with my husband and one roommate. I currently have $2700 in my savings account; I do not have any money in any retirement or investment accounts, but my work does offer retirement benefits after six months of employment. I’m hoping to start one of these accounts in March.

Here is a breakdown of my monthly expenses, with some details:

Rent - $734.00
Water, sewage, electricity, gas, internet, trash: About $120, fluctuates a little bit
Cell phone - $70
Groceries - $400.00 (I actually only spent $256.51, way less than I budgeted for this month so I’ll lower this for next month.)
Pet Supplies - $60
Gas - $80
Therapy - $105 (I forgot to budget for this expense this month… oops.)
Pet insurance - $30

Lifestyle expenses

Audible subscription - $8.24
Netflix - $11
Spotify - $10
Coffee - $150 (As I usually do, I overspent in this category and landed at about $177. Next month, I’m hoping to cut this in half by drinking the black coffee they gave us for free at work…)
Yoga - $99
Eating out at restaurants - $200.00 (As predicted, I overspent in this category and landed at $347.60.)
Clothing - $0 (Over spent at $388. This was supposed to be ZERO this month and I spent $100 or so on unnecessary clothing, but the BULK of the costs came from needing a warm winter jacket, which I bought and do not regret. I just did not predict this cost when budgeting for November. I will be able to pay for the bulk of this cost out of my monthly salary by the end of the month.)
Misc - $0 (I DID NOT predict the cost in this category because I literally forgot I preordered a new Nintendo Switch, AND I impulse purchased a few other things, like books and a new planner. Definitely overspent in this category at $640. None of these costs will rollover—I paid for all of them out of my own pocket.)
Coaching - $484.00

Sources of Income

  • Sold my old cell phone: $275

  • Business income: $372.80

Victories (the few):

  • I managed to charge 80% of my expenses during the month of November to my debit card!

  • Up until today, I’ve earned $372.80 total from my business this month, which is a PR for me.

Areas of Improvement for Next Month

  • I need to more closely track every. Single. Expense. And I need to do so proactively. Doing so will give me a better idea of my flow of money.

  • Next month, I will cut my spending on coffee in half by drinking as much free coffee as I can at work.

  • I can definitely stick to a $200 budget for eating out at restaurants in December.

  • In December, I need to set and stick to a budget for gifts to friends and family. I am setting myself a $400 budget for EVERYONE.

  • My “trigger” for shopping is boredom and stress. In order to tackle the prior, I can make a list of fun things I can do for free and/or low cost, like spending time with a friend over coffee, playing board games at home, playing the video games I already own, and reading. For the latter, I will lean on my support network to vent about my stress, tell them when I’m tempted to go shopping so they can stop me (please), and journal and practice meditating.

  • I do NOT predict any kind of “miscellaneous” expenses in December so I’m challenging myself to collapse my miscellaneous shopping to $0. I am giving myself a $100 birthday budget, too. :)

  • I am reducing my clothing budget to $0 and I’m STICKING. TO. IT.

  • I am hoping to make another $300 from my business before the end of the month. I actually signed a few new contracts this month and I’m hoping they’ll be fruitful. For one contract, I have to hit a “quota,” and that quota will likely yield $300 or so by itself before taxes so my PR should actually be $600 for my income from my side hustle. :)

  • Things I have plenty of and do not need to buy in December: clothes, books, notebooks, video games, and planners.

  • I will pay my dues to my credit card before anything else when I get paid.

  • Next month, I have budgeted $1305.66 to paying off my loans and my credit card debt. I will use whatever money I earn from my side hustle to pay off my debt, too.

In order to get to where I want to be with my budget and credit card debt, I am going to be extra vigilant with what charges go onto my debit card.

Nothing goes onto my credit card except for major unexpected costs. If I want to buy anything that I did not budget for, I will stop myself, take a deep breath, put it back, and ask a friend (hi, Sarah) or two (hello, Thomas) to talk me out of it or to find alternative ways to fill that “need.”

I do admit that I need to not put myself in places (like malls) where temptation is around every corner, so I’ll avoid those places as much as possible in December unless I’m shopping for someone else.

I know my triggers are stress and boredom, so I’ll be extra conscientious about these feelings when they arise. I’ll redirect my impulses to other more productive coping mechanisms for them and I’ll ask my support network to help me if I need the extra reassurance.

I have some HUGE money goals for 2019, one of which is to be debt free. I hope that if anything I wrote resonates with you, you’ll reach out so that we can support each other. I am totally open to discussing anything I wrote about, so I hope you’ll let me know if any of it connects with you; it would mean the world to me if this blog post helps even one person out there.

I’ll pop in again this time, next week, with another money date update. Stay tuned!

lazy girl's guide to "cooking" your own meals, part 1

I have no idea how to cook. I was never taught to cook—not because my mother never offered to teach me, but purely because I had no interest in learning how to cook. It’s an intimidating activity—it’s literally chemistry—and wasting food (if things didn’t go right as they don’t often) makes me sad, so I forgo the whole thing altogether whenever possible.

Plus, I love eating out at restaurants. I love the whole experience: going out with my hubby, trying something new, how tasty the food I didn’t cook is.

However, I do still have a huge chunk of credit card debt AND student loan to pay off so eating out for lunch and/or for dinner more than once a week is not optimal on my current, modest salary… so, eventually, I did have to learn how to cook a few things so that my credit score wouldn’t hate me.

If you know me at all, then you know how lazy (and ignorant…) I am when it comes to cooking. I refuse to make anything with more than a ten or fifteen minutes of prep. Chop, dice, cube? It’s all the same to me: cut materials into smaller bits. If I can throw it into my crock pot or Instant Pot, even better! The fewer ingredients, the better.

I wanted to share a few tips and tricks that have gotten me through even the worst of my hangry episodes. When I fail to prepare ahead of time, I do often cave and go get fast food, so no judgment from me if you splurge on the occasional Big Mac.

Helpful tools to have: A crock pot and/or an Instant Pot. A medium sized pot to boil stuff. A frying pan. A baking sheet to roast stuff. A set of NICE knives (ESSENTIAL!!! Do not waste time struggling with crappy knives. Do not. It’s so annoying).

Common cooking stuff you might need: Olive oil. Butter. A bunch of spices. Rice. Pasta. Chicken.

Level 1: I really don’t feel like cooking

Cool, so you don’t feel like cooking. Do what my husband does: stock up on a bagels, cereal, milk, peanut butter, and other things you want to put on your bagel. Cream cheese, bacon, eggs. Buy yourself some fruit you love eating, plus a few energy bars. Personally, I really love Uncrustables (yes, I am secretly a twelve-year old). If you want to be a little fancy, as I sometimes do, you can grab some pre-packaged cheese cubes, nuts (like pistachios or almonds!), hummus, pita chips, a bag of salad, and smoked salmon. If you need a little more substance, you can go for Minute Rice (my Chinese ancestors are rolling in their graves right now). I personally love Minute Rice: no cooking, super fast, tastes just fine, fills me up. Basically, make yourself one of those bougie Starbucks protein boxes. For me, if I eat enough of a combination of any of the above, I will at least stop being hungry for a few hours until I can find my next round of snacks.

If you’re really dying for a little more substance, grab something from the frozen aisle and garnish it with something more wholesome, like nuts (or an Uncrustable, if you’re me :)).

Level 2: I have a little bit of time to cook and I’m not completely incompetent

If you can set aside about two hours on a Sunday night to cook, you can practically get away with not eating out for at least a whole work week! What you need to do to be successful here is lower your expectations and tell yourself that you won’t die if you eat the same meal two or three times a week, maybe even during the same day. That’s the part that gets me, personally, but I’ve found ways around it. Find three or four simple recipes you love to eat. If you’re not sure where to even begin, start with a staple like rice or pasta and just start adding stuff to it! Chicken tends to be the easiest meat to cook. You can season it, throw it on a pan or in the oven, and ka-bam. Cooked protein. Here are some recipes even I can throw together:

  • Chicken taco bowl (hat tip to my BFF Sarah for this one)

  • Spaghetti

  • A large salad with chicken, plus ingredients of your choice (I like mixing caesar with mustard, and then adding pieces of sausage, onions, sunflower seeds, and green peppers)

  • Pasta with alfredo sauce, chicken, and broccoli (can be found in frozen food section, just microwave it)

  • Bake a frozen pizza

  • Grilled cheese w/canned soup

  • Roasted vegetables, potatoes, chicken; season to your liking (salt, pepper, olive oil, rosemary, etc.)

  • Cheesy pasta with broccoli

  • Pot roast in the crock pot (there are tons of recipes for this on Pinterest)

  • Sheet pan chicken fajitas (another recipe from Sarah)

If all else fails, just do what I do and go to Costco, buy some of their precooked or prepared meals, and eat those for three days. I love their lasagna and their stuffed bell peppers!

I do still cave into buying food or ordering take-out. I’m a creature of convenience and I just love eating certain foods that I can’t even fathom cooking in my own kitchen. What I’ve found most effective in saving money with food is making sure I’m prepared ahead of time. It’s easier for me to evade my own impulses when I can open my refrigerator or cupboards and see something quick and easy to prepare and eat. My last resort “emergency” dinner is ramen and the last time I did that (like last week), I deeply regretted my decision. Just this week, I tried to avoid the temptation of eating out by stocking up on combinations of food that I like to eat and that are easy to make: grilled cheese, canned soups, salmon, bagels, eggs. The bottom line is this: one or two hours of prep a week can save you SO much money. Even learning to cook one or two recipes once a month or so has made world of difference for me.

Got a super duper easy recipe you LOVE? Please share away!