Budget

I think I’ve settled on “My 20-something To-Do List” as my A to Z theme this year. I’ll chronicle tasks/dreams/goals that I aspire to complete during my 20s (I’m halfway to 30, so I’ve still got time to achieve all of them). It’s a sufficiently broad enough topic to include many things, and it will also serve the purpose of getting many areas of my life back on track: one of which will be blogging regularly! 

Today’s topic is Budgeting.

I’m 25 years old, unmarried, and I just bought my first house – making me house poor. (Not really, because I wouldn’t have purchased a home that I couldn’t afford on my own, but it sometimes feels that way.)

I have pretty lofty financial goals of owning several investment properties, retiring by the time I’m 30 (ha!), traveling extensively, and becoming debt-free.

You’d think I would keep a fairly strict budget, no? Alas, I do not. There was about a 1-year period during which I wired up an Excel spreadsheet with formulas to track my income (twice-monthly paychecks) and expenses (student loan payment) each month, but that was as deep as my tracking went. No line items for groceries, credit card bills, rent, gas, etc, etc. My intention was to figure out how much money I’d have in savings at the end of the year, and obviously, my calculations were a bit off.

I’ve flirted with the idea of using a Google Doc budget template (I’ve found several nice, simple-ish, free ones), but for some reason I just won’t take the time to sit down and actually fill it out. I think I’m a little bit afraid of seeing all my monthly expenses laid out in one place, rather than as different bills that come in the mail at different times throughout the month.

I would love to be more on top of my finances, and to live up to that John Maxwell quote made famous by Dave Ramsey:

“A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”

Creating a monthly budget that I’ll actually reference and rely on is something I need to do sooner than later.

For those of you who keep a budget, how do you do it? Do you find that it helps? Do you use Excel? Google Docs? Old-fashioned pen and paper? 

Reunion Road Trip: Budget Breakdown

Since I still don’t have internet in my new home and haven’t been able to transfer my pictures onto my computer, I’ll start off my vacation recap posts with a budget breakdown. P and I (mostly me, truthfully) are budget-conscious travelers. I hadn’t crunched the numbers on this trip yet, so I wanted a chance to do so.

I [presumptuously] invited us on this trip several months ago, when I found out that our friend Lauren, who’s been working in Hong Kong for the past year, would be home at her parents’ house in Cape May for a few months this summer. Luckily, Lauren said we were welcome to come stay! Three other girls from P’s master’s program also wanted to join in, so it became a reunion!

Once we settled on a date range that worked for the group, the details got more fleshed out. Since Lauren’s family was gracious enough to allow the group of us to stay in their house, we knew that lodging would be free. (Cha-ching!) However, as we got closer to the actual event, Lauren let P know that on Friday night, her house would be full, so he and I would have to shell out for a hotel room. (Womp, womp.)

I thought it would be no problem until I started searching for hotels with availability on July 19–the height of this beach town’s summer season. The cheapest rooms I could find were in the $250/night range! Not happening. P courteously volunteered to pay for the room (which he managed to find at a cheaper rate, thanks to a local suggestion from Lauren), if I would pay for aquarium tickets, because, surprise!, he also wanted us to go to the Baltimore Aquarium! (My relentless reminders about my desire to visit the Georgia Aquarium must have gotten to him.) There was also an alumni gathering in Washington D.C. at a Nationals game on Saturday night that P wanted to add. I had never been to a baseball game, so we threw that into the mix!

So with a basic itinerary in mind, we set out on our reunion road trip. Here’s how we did budget-wise*…

Day 1 (7/17, Charlottesville to Baltimore to Towson):

  • lunch at Chick-fil-A: [$10 gift card] + $3.74 more
  • National Aquarium tickets (2 x $34.95): $69.90
  • Parking at the National Aquarium: $24.00
  • Dinner + lodging at P’s aunt and uncle’s house: FREE
  • TOTAL: $97.64

Day 2 (7/18, Towson to Cape May):

  • Delaware Bay Bridge toll: $8
  • NJ turnpike toll: $4
  • one additional toll: $2
  • stop for gas (in New Jersey where they pump it for you!): $24
  • lunch at The Lobster House: $10.65
  • 1/4 lb. of fudge: $4.38
  • Christmas present for Dad: $19.25
  • dinner + drinks at [??]: P paid
  • lodging at Lauren’s house: FREE
  • TOTAL: $72.28

Day 3 (7/19, Cape May):

  • a few hours on the beach: FREE
  • poolside cookout at Lauren’s house: FREE
  • dinner at McGlades on the Pier: $34
  • one night stay at the Cape Harbor Motor Inn: $184.68
  • TOTAL: $218.68

Day 4 (7/20 Cape May to D.C. to Haymarket):

  • breakfast at Avalon Coffee Co.: $19.16
  • sightseeing stroll around town: FREE
  • new battery for my car (!!!): $126.26
  • Delaware Bay Bridge toll: $8
  • NJ turnpike toll: $4
  • gas at a rest stop in Delaware: $33.66
  • lunch at a rest stop in Delaware: P paid
  • Baltimore-ish area toll: $2
  • Metro tickets: (2 x $9): $18
  • Nationals tickets (2 x $28): $56
  • Bottle of water at the Nats game: $4.50
  • Dippin’ Dots at the Nats game: $5.50
  • 12:30am dinner at McDonalds: $10.96
  • Lodging at P’s friend’s new townhouse: FREE
  • TOTAL: $228.04

Day 5 (7/21, Haymarket to Charlottesville):

  • brunch at Mimi’s Cafe: $30
  • TOTAL: $30

TRIP TOTAL: $706.64

Trip Total after subtracting my new car battery: $580.38

*NOTE: Although for the most part we alternate paying for things, these totals reflect the fact that P and I paid for many of our meals in cape May separately (so these are my numbers). There were also a few additional discretional purchases (alcohol and snacks, mostly) that aren’t reflected here, because they weren’t my purchases!

Overall, I’d say we did a pretty good job for a 5 day, 4 night trip!

And I’ll really try to get some photos transferred tonight, because I’ve got lots of good stuff to share!

Does anyone have any go-to vacation budget tips? Any expert ways to save money? I really think that having free lodging and a car that gets good gas mileage helped keep our costs down!

Purchasing My First Home: The Offer

When we left off, I had decided (after 3 months) that my heart was set on the foreclosure. Another timeline seems to be the best way to capture everything that happened after that.

Monday, June 24: First thing Monday morning, I called my Realtor and told her that the foreclosure was the one, and I wanted to make an offer. She told me that she wasn’t home at the moment, and that she’d call me back once she got home to get things started. By about 4pm, when I still hadn’t heard anything from her, I called her back. She was a little snappy with me, saying “I’m still out with this client! I’ll call you when I get home,” so I went back to work (I was put off by the sass, because she hadn’t mentioned that she was with a client the first time we talked). At this point, I was just afraid someone else would make an offer, since the house had been on the market since April!

Tuesday, June 25: My Realtor started the long and arduous process of actually writing up my offer. She recommended that we go in at $10,000 below the list price, and see how the bank would counter. I had initially thought I’d go for about $5,000 below the list price (knowing that when you’re working with a bank-owned property you don’t have a lot of wiggle room), but I was willing to take her professional advice.

Fannie Mae properties (I’ve now learned) come with their own particular contracts, which are long and complicated, and can only be submitted electronically through an online portal. On Tuesday night, I called to check in with my Realtor on the status of my offer, and she told me that she had just gotten off the phone with a technical support person, because the portal for submitting the contract had crashed her computer three times. She told me that she was going to “make supper, and then get back to working on it.” I was annoyed, but still hopeful and excited.

Thursday, June 27: After lots of technical difficulties, my Realtor finally mastered the online system, and I finally got a copy of my contract to review before we submitted my offer. A Virginia real estate contract is 9 pages long, plus a 2-page home inspection addendum. There’s also a 2-page Virginia Residential Property Disclosure Act. On top of that, the Fannie Mae contract was 13 pages of dense legal language, plus 2 more pages of addendum. I reviewed it with my dad, who commented that it was basically a list of 1,000 ways that the bank could wriggle out of the process if they needed to. There were lots of pieces of the contract that I didn’t understand, so I covered it with sticky notes to mark my questions to review with my Realtor the next day.

Friday, June 28: I called my Realtor with my list of questions, and she did a good job of answering most of them. I was excited and felt good about making my offer. My realtor called the listing agent (who happens to be a friend of hers–Charlottesville is a small enough town), who told her that we shouldn’t make our offer quite yet, because she had just heard from the bank, and thought they were likely about to lower their price. Since they had lowered the price by $10,000 after about 30 days on the market and after the first offer had fallen through, she thought it would probably come down by another $10,000 since another 30 days had passed, but she didn’t know quite when it would happen.

[A note: The listing agent told us that it was likely that if I made my $10,000-below-list-price offer before the bank dropped their price, they would counter back at full price, because they don’t want to lose any more money. So by waiting for the price to drop to make my offer, the maximum amount they could counter at would be lower. Make sense?]

I decided to hold off on making my offer until the price had dropped, because more money in my pocket is a good thing! The listing agent assured us that she would call us the second the price went down. (I hope this wasn’t a violation of any sort of Realtor code of ethics or anything, but I think it’s an important enough part of the story that I wanted to include it. I hope no one who matters enough ever reads this and penalizes the listing agent!)

Saturday, June 29: P and I headed to Blacksburg to watch my college roommate get married. Aren’t we cute?

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Sunday, June 30: I told my Realtor that I’d decided that I’d wait until the following Monday for the price to drop, and if it hadn’t yet, I’d make an offer at the current price.

Monday, July 1-Thursday, July 4: I called my Realtor a few times a day, anxious to know whether she’d heard anything from the listing agent. No news, but the listing agent assured us that the price was going to be lowered. Fannie Mae is just slow to move, I guess.

Friday, July 5: The price came down by $9,100, and I met my Realtor at her office at lunchtime to sign all the papers, give her an earnest money check for 1% of the total purchase price, and let the waiting begin. I was annoyed when I noticed that she hadn’t actually changed any of the paperwork from when we had initially written up the offer–it still had our original offer price! She fed a version of the same logic back to me that the listing agent had offered: since the price had been dropped, the bank was likely to counter at their full list price no matter what. I silently complied, although I really thought that this was just a sign of laziness on her part. Since we didn’t get the offer in until Friday afternoon, I knew I’d be waiting until at least Monday to hear anything back from the bank, and I headed into the weekend excited.

Saturday, July 6: My dad, my sister, P, and I went tubing on the Pamunkey River–an annual tradition hosted by one of my dad’s friends on his family farm. We had a good time on a beautiful day, although I got a serious sunburn that still hasn’t healed (8 days later).

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Monday, July 8: I didn’t hear anything all day Monday, so Monday night I called my Realtor. She said that she had just gotten off the phone with the listing agent, and that the bank had countered to our offer. They countered with a price $500 higher, and agreed to the closing costs we had asked for. I delightfully said yes! (At this point during a normal home-buying process, I would have been “under contract.” But I learned that with Fannie Mae, there’s another step: they have to approve my acceptance of their counter-offer, and they can take as much time as they want, in hopes that another offer will come along, and they can pit the buyers against each other in a bidding war. I hoped very much that this wouldn’t happen. I just wanted it to be over with!)

Tuesday, July 9: I didn’t hear anything from my Realtor all day, but I had several phone calls with my mortgage originator about the details of my financing. She told me at one point that she had read over the contract, and thought there were things in it that weren’t “in my best interest,” and that I should ask my Realtor about. (In her opinion, these were things that my Realtor should have noticed and asked about, or tried to change.)

Every hour of every day during the week of July 8-12, I vacillated between feeling ecstatic and horribly frustrated. Every time I called my Realtor with questions, she made me feel belittled and like a nusiance. Talking to my lender–the person who would be helping me give away my precious life’s savings–was ironically more calming to me, because she always took the time to answer my questions, no matter how stupid, and to walk me through all the scenarios and loan options.

Wednesday, July 10: My Realtor called at 9:30pm to say that we had a ratified contract, and she emailed me a copy. I was out at dinner for Restaurant Week (with 3 ladies from the Virginia Bloggers!), and I missed the call. I got the email when I got home. I was under contract!

Earlier that afternoon, my Realtor had gotten a copy of the inspection report from the first offer on the house, and sent it to me, so I could decide whether to use it or to pay to have my own done. I didn’t have time to look at it that day.

Thursday, July 11: I woke up, got ready for work, and sat down to scan the inspection report. I opened the email attachment, and it was 75 pages long. As I started reading, my heart sank. We had been told all along that the house “needs a new roof,” which is why the first potential buyer had walked away. I had estimated that a new roof would run me about $5-8,000, which, with a $19,100 price cut on the house (which put it almost $20,000 below assessment), I could easily afford.

But each page of the inspection report brought something new to be fixed. Three bad windows that were likely rotten through the walls. A new sliding door and all the trim. Two new skylights. Replacing some siding and trim work. A new front door. Settled and unsafe cracked concrete on the front walk. Two destructive trees on the property that were rubbing against the roof. Mold under the basement stairs. Leaky kitchen and master bathroom sinks. A toilet tank that wouldn’t fill. A 13-year old air conditioning unit. And the real cherry on top: photos of the roof from inside the attic where the inspector had highlighted the sunlight coming through the cracks. Contrary to what we’d assumed all along, it wasn’t just that this house needed the shingles replaced: even the plywood underlayment and the joists in the attic would need to be replaced. I should also mention that the first inspection was done on April 30, and it has rained nearly every day for the past month. It’s rained something like 12 inches in the last month. And every time it rains, water pours into the attic of my house. I wanted to cry. But instead, I headed to work.

That night, again, I went over it all with my dad. He told me that the biggest issues were the roof work and the mold under the stairs. Everything else could be dealt with. He calmed me down and helped me figure out how to go about starting to get some estimates and setting up inspections.

But then he asked me how much the house was assessed for. When we started to do the math, we realized that the costs of the repairs required just to make the house liveable (as in, nothing cosmetic) would be closer to $20,000 than the $5-8,000 we had originally estimated. And I don’t have an extra $20,000 just laying around. I was already feeling uneasy about my monthly mortgage payments because interest rates have gone from the 3% range to the 5% range in the past 4 weeks, but on top of everything else, my dream of buying my first house had actually taken a turn toward a nightmare. The fuzzy feelings I associated with the house were fading fast.

Friday, July 12: I tried to maintain a positive outlook. I headed to work prepared to make some phone calls to get some actual estimates on getting the required structural work done, knowing that I’d have to live in the house for a while and save up the money I’d need to do any cosmetic work. But I couldn’t bring myself to make a single call. I knew that I’d crossed a threshold, and the house wasn’t my dream anymore. It had turned into a money pit, and I wanted to get out.

Saturday, July 13 (yesterday): I was nervous about how my Realtor would react, so I met with my dad and my grandma (remember, I’ve only been using this Realtor because she’s a friend of my grandma’s) to talk everything through one last time. My grandma, a former Realtor herself, was outraged when she heard about the extent of the damage reported in the inspection. According to her, all of that should have been disclosed in the listing, according to Virginia law. She told me that I needed to call my Realtor and tell her I wanted out of the contract right away. I was afraid that my Realtor would be mad, because she tends to get moody, and there have been tiffs between her and my grandma over my family’s real estate dealings in the past. But my grandma assured me that in this case, if her friend were to get upset with me, it wasn’t a friendship worth having. (I realize how silly all this sounds as I write it, but it’s just another of the many dramas that have been involved in this process. For example: my dad sold his house in early 2012, and my Realtor didn’t speak to my grandma for months because my dad ended up using a different agent to list his house. My dad recently bought a new house that was for sale by owner, after having my Realtor show him a few houses, and my Realtor was mad about that, too.)

I had been dreading making this phone call for over 24 hours, and when I did, she didn’t even answer. I had to leave a voice mail and in 60 seconds, try to explain that I just couldn’t afford the extent of work that has to be done to the house, thank her for all her time, and tell her that I’m still optimistic about continuing my search. She called me back several hours later and all she said was “I’m out of town today. I’ll send you a release of contract form tomorrow.” She didn’t ask me any questions or tell me that it was okay.

July 14 (that’s today): My Realtor sent me a Release of Contract form to sign electronically. I filled it out and sent it back to her (I hope–I have no idea how to use the system I had to log in to), and I haven’t heard anything since.

Right this moment: I’m hoping that my Realtor will get my form to the bank tomorrow, if she hasn’t already. I’m dreading having to call her to follow up about it, because I’m afraid of more belittling and complaining. I’m also dreading having to call my mortgage lender to tell her that I backed out. I just feel like a failure, although I know that contracts fall through quite often, and that the math all says that this wasn’t meant to be.

After all this, I’m feeling defeated. I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster for about three weeks now, and I know I’ll have to board it again when another house comes along. At the same time, there hasn’t been a single house that’s given me “that feeling” since this one did, all the way back in April. I’m still checking the MLS every day, and there just isn’t anything wonderful in my price range. Plus, mortgage rates have hit a new high.

I’m a little worried about what will happen next. I’m afraid to call my Realtor and tell her that I want to see another house, as I’m afraid she’ll say something snarky about having to take me. I’m afraid I won’t find another house I liked as much as this one. I’m afraid my life’s savings aren’t enough money in this market! I’m just weary of the whole process now, I guess.

I don’t know what the next installment of this series will be, or when I’ll be writing it. I have some photos of the house, but I don’t know if it’s even right to post them now. Does anyone have any opinions or advice? I’d love to hear it!

Purchasing My First Home: The Search

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been in the habit of stalking the Charlottesville MLS for years now. I’ve been dreaming of buying a house since forever, my mom and grandma both used to be Realtors, and I’ve been watching HGTV since before it was trendy to do so (so like, the early 2000s?). Looking at houses is one of my favorite pastimes.

I don’t know whether anyone will be interested in this “Purchasing My First Home” series besides me, but I want to capture as much of it as I can, for posterity, if nothing else.

A timeline seems like a good structure for this particular post.

May 2010: I graduated from Virginia Tech. (Where I began reading design blogs and followed the Blacksburg real estate market somewhat loosely. There were a few times during college where I toyed with the idea of buying an apartment there as an investment property, with help from my dad or grandma. Thankfully, this didn’t happen. It’d be a nightmare to manage a student rental from 2.5 hours away.)

May 2011: I graduated from UVA. (Where I was reading several design blogs daily and keeping a close eye on the Charlottesville real estate market.)

July 2011: I started my first grown-up job.

Early Spring – Early Summer, 2012: I found a condo in an area I was somewhat familiar with (due to a friend living there), which was listed for noticeably less than condos in that development tended to be. I got in touch with my now-Realtor, who is a friend of my grandma. I went through the mortgage prequalification process, and started to learn about how much house I could truly afford (I was surprised to find that it was more than I thought). I learned about things like interest rates, how hard it is to get financing for most condos (there are only about 6 developments in Charlottesville for which you can get a traditional loan), PMI (that’s private mortgage insurance, which you have to pay if you put less than 20% down on a home purchase), and the actual dollar amounts involved in closing on a home. I ended up never actually going to see the condo, since I found out that no one would finance a loan in that development!

Late Summer – Early Fall, 2012: With an eye on the MLS daily, I went to see a handful of properties, but never saw anything that I loved. I don’t think I ever looked at any single-family homes (wait: there was one that had been nearly completely gutted and that would have needed a TON of work), and the townhouses I saw usually came with seriously high monthly HOA fees. That reality scared me a little, and I decided I wanted to give my down payment a chance to grow a bit.

November 2012: My then-company laid off 25% of its employees (me not included), and, though I had been applying and interviewing for other jobs for several months at that point, I seriously ramped up my efforts. I started at my current job the Monday after Thanksgiving. I worried that this would affect my ability to qualify for a loan, as most lenders like to see a steady job history, and are hesitant to give loans to what my dad calls “job-hoppers.” (I’ve since learned that they look for continuity in job history, so, thankfully, since I’ve retained the same job title, I’m good to go.) I carried on stalking the MLS daily.

This is where my dates get a little blurry, because I’ve realized that I didn’t always put house viewings on my calendar. (I wish I had!)

January 24, 2013: There was a snow storm this day, but I was determined to see a townhouse that had just come on the market. It had had significant improvements done, and was in perfect, move-in condition. It was also quite a bit over my comfortable spending limit. I would have loved to live there, but in the end, I’m glad I didn’t put in an offer. In hindsight, it was the stereotypical “best house in the neighborhood,” so there wouldn’t have been room for much value increase. I should also mention here that at this point in my search, interest rates were L-O-W. Like, close to 3%. That, at least, would have been on my side. 

[I think I probably saw one or two other properties in the next few months, also in the same general area of town as the previous townhouse. This is the point in my search where I think I zeroed in on exactly where I wanted to live, and I did a good job of sticking with that from here on out.]

April 18: During my lunch break this day, I met my Realtor to see a foreclosure in the area I liked (hint: this would become “the one;” I just didn’t know it yet), and a much newer townhouse in a newer development on the opposite side of town. I liked the foreclosure. I hated the new construction, even though it was bigger, newer, and more modern. This is where I realized I didn’t want an open-concept, new-construction home. I’m still surprised by the realizations I’ve had throughout the process.

April 21: I continued to think about the foreclosure for several days, and on the following Sunday, I took my dad back to look at it. I wanted his impartial judgement, which I thought would see past the lust that had started to grow in my eyes. He liked it, too. (YES!!!) However, my Realtor tried her darndest to steer me away from it, as she’d never dealt with a Fannie Mae-owned property before. (I mentioned that she’s a friend of my grandma’s, which, I’ve learned, means that she’s a bit old school. I’ll leave it at that.)

sometime soon after that: The foreclosure went under contract. WOMP, WOMP. I had waited too long, and someone else had snatched it up.

May 20: I saw a stinky, old, gross townhouse in an established development that I’d still really like to live in. But the place was built in the ’70s, and hadn’t been touched since. (Many other units there have been renovated and are very nice. I also really love the location.) It probably wasn’t as gross as it is now in my memory, but I think at this point I had become attached to the foreclosure, and was determined to see only bad things. This house would have needed a lot of work, and I just didn’t feel the connection with it that would have been required to nurse it back to health. I left and never looked back. (Also, the HOA fees at this place are like $215 a month, which is insane!)

[Now’s when I should mention that sometime between mid-May and June 22, I had learned that the offer on the foreclosure had fallen through, because the inspection revealed that it would need an entire new roof. The purchaser countered to Fannie Mae for a lower price (or perhaps for them to do the work?), and Fannie Mae said “aw, hell no!” So it came back on the market, with a $10,000 lower price, thanks to the results of the home inspection.]

June 22: I went to see an older townhouse way across town (actually, in the same general vicinity as the condo from Summer 2012). I really liked the layout and thought it was in pretty decent shape considering its age. It would have been immediately livable, although somewhat dated in the kitchen and bathrooms. But I questioned the neighborhood: the rest of the units attached to this one seemed well-maintained, but the row of units next door were definitely sketchy. One had “PRIVATE PROPERTY” signs (yes, two–one upstairs, one downstairs) hanging in the windows, while another had tons of crap piled up in the tiny front yard. Plus, there was a paint contractor’s van parked in the cul-de-sac, on which the license plate tags had expired over a year ago. I took those all to be bad signs, and decided to drive by to scope out the ‘hood at various times during the weekend.

June 24: I thought about this townhouse all weekend, and every time, I was comparing it in my head to the foreclosure. June 24 was a Monday. That morning, I called my Realtor and told her that I didn’t want to make an offer on the house we had just seen, but rather, the foreclosure that we hadn’t seen since April. Then the real process began.

If you just guessed that the next part of this series will be entitled “Purchasing My First Home: The Offer,” you’d be correct. This is where it starts to get really good. Stick around! 

Malfunctioning Wardrobe

This has only been a 4-day week, and it’s been wonderfully short and sweet.

BUT: Every morning this week, I’ve spent a solid 5 minutes just standing in front of my closet and staring hopelessly at its contents. It’s finally gotten [too] warm, and my spring/summer wardrobe isn’t quite up to snuff. (I tried on at least 3 different outfits this morning and yesterday.) I’ve worn basically all of my work-appropriate dresses and skirt/shirt combos in the past four days.

I’ve never been willing to spend much money on clothes. I have a rule that I don’t pay more than $20 for any article of clothing. (I occasionally make an exception for dresses or shoes.) I’d guess that 75% of my clothes are from TJ Maxx and Marshalls. I buy most of my jeans from Old Navy, a few times a year, when they have their $15 jean sale. Most of my shoes are from Target or Payless. I shop the online sales sections at Target and Forever 21. Maybe once a year, I’ll make a trip to Short Pump in Richmond to visit H&M. As you can see, my selection is not very diverse.

I need some advice!

I have two weddings to attend in June, and I need dresses that are semi-formal and yet versatile enough that I can continue to wear them to work and on other occasions.

I’m also seriously lacking in the summertime/work-appropriate shirt department. And dresses. I always love cute and practical multi-purpose dresses.

And shoes. I need new shoes.

To any females in the 20-30 range: where do you buy your clothes? I need new sources for cute things on a budget. Help a sister out!

Life Lessons

Day 23 of the Blog Every Day in May Challenge is “Things you’ve learned that school won’t teach you.”

BlogEverday

Whew. This is a great topic. I’ve learned more about life since college than I probably did while I was in college.

On personal development…

After I finished undergrad, I had about one month before I started grad school. I went straight into a master’s program in Higher Education. I was only 21 years old, and I started studying college student development. I was still essentially a college student myself. I spent a year learning theories on adolescent development and reading about the effect of college on students. Some of it was interesting in theory, and some of it was interesting because I was still experiencing it in practice. Somehow, reading that it’s now the norm for young adults to have no idea what they want to do with their lives made it okay that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Want to take a gap year? Fine. Change your career 10+ times before retirement? Totally normal. No one ever told me those things. It was nice to know that there are researchers out there who have scientifically proven that my generation (and those who have come after me) are more resistant to growing up than any generation that’s come before. It’s not just me. It’s everyone.

On relationships…

I was also in a relationship from the summer after my sophomore year of college until the spring semester of my grad school year. It lasted 2 years and 9 months, which is a heck of a lot longer than it should have. The emotional wreckage that ensued was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. After that breakup, I learned more about myself through the process of putting myself back together than I think I’ve ever learned. I learned what it takes to make me happy. I learned never to compromise my own happiness for someone else’s. I learned to love someone new. I learned that I could bounce back from anything. That’s a powerful lesson.

On finances…

When I finished my Master’s program, I had about $29,000 in student loan debt to repay. I entered my repayment period in November 2011, and I decided that I wanted to double up on my minimum monthly payment, and have my loans paid off entirely in 5 years. I’ve been paying twice what’s required every month since then, and I’ve got it nearly halfway paid off. It’s nice to log in to my account every month and see how far ahead I am on payments. This month, my reminder states “Your next payment is due May 21, 2015.” Financial responsibility is something my dad has always instilled in me, and I’ve learned to (and been fortunate to be able to) get way ahead on tackling my debt.

I remember reading on Devon’s blog that “Rich people tell their money where to go. Broke people wonder where it went.” (That’s probably a Dave Ramsey quote.) It stuck with me. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be “rich” to be in control of your finances. It’s just a matter of living within your means. “Rich” means something different to everyone. I’m still struggling to figure out exactly what the magic number is for me, but I’ve certainly learned that it’s not quite as big as I once imagined.

On happiness…

This one is huge. The pursuit of happiness is an ongoing adventure in my life. I’ve written a lot recently about struggling with professional and personal decisions. I think I’ve also mentioned that a lot of clarity has come with the epiphany that I don’t have to and will most definitely not be in my current position for much longer. I’ve learned that it’s important for me to separate my work life from my personal life, and to put a lot of care into my life outside of work.

I like to read. I like to travel. I like to drink wine. I like to spend time with P. I like to run. I love animals. I like adventures. I like interior design. I’ve come to really enjoy blogging. For a long time, I didn’t know many of these things, and I certainly didn’t make the effort to pursue them. Lately, I’ve been very specifically focused in on ways to enhance my happiness. And I can tell you: it’s well worth it.

In closing…

Probably my all-time favorite quote:

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.”

-George Sheehan

I don’t even remember anymore when I first came across this quote, but I’ve had it displaying on the top of my daily to-do list ever since. It’s never faded in meaning or power for me. When it comes down to it, it’s me and no one else who decides who I’m meant to be, and only me who can get me there. I just have to have the courage, determination, and will to do it. And in the past few years since leaving school, I’ve built up each of those things in droves.

Struggling

Day 20 of the Blog Every Day in May Challenge is “Get real. Share something you’re struggling with right now.”

BlogEverday

In February, I wrote about a change I was planning to make. I’ve written before about purchasing my first home. I’ve written about my LDR with P. More recently, I wrote about what I’d do at this moment if money were no object.

Basically, what it boils down to is this: I’m at a crossroads. I have been for quite some time. The facts are these:

1) I’m unhappy with the career path I’ve wound up on.

2) I want to buy a house. (Either to live in with a roommate supplementing my mortgage payment, or to rent out completely for a profit while I go somewhere else and use that revenue to supplement my income.)

3) Although we’ve nearly mastered the delicate art of the long-distance relationship, I would much prefer living in the same place as P once more.

4) In February, I resolved not to stay at my job beyond May. I had since forgotten about that resolution, and have recently re-resolved to leave my job by August.

5) I want to pursue a career in interior design or something similar. (I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly stated that before, but if I can’t say it here, where can I say it?)

6) I’ve now got a full year’s salary in savings.

With all those things in mind at all times, it’s been hard to make any real decisions lately. (Hence the aforementioned crossroads, and the long time I’ve been standing in the middle of it.) Oh, and:

7) I recently applied to a Master’s program in English at Longwood, with the thinking that their full-time graduate assistantship + the location (same place as P) + a 2-year break from the workforce might = a chance for a nice change and a resetting of my professional compass. I should find out whether I’ve been accepted in a few weeks.

Again, with all these things churning around in my brain all the time, it’s been pretty hard to make any decisions or to feel any degree of settlement or stability lately. I’ve found some solace in knowing that, one way or another, I’ll be leaving my job to pursue something else by August.

But I’m still having a hard time settling in to any mindset. I want to buy a house. If I decide to stay in Charlottesville, I’ll have to go the roommate route, because I’ll also want to quit my job and take on something part-time (therefore with no benefits…and I turn 26 and have to get off my dad’s insurance next September…), while trying to pursue something to do with interior design on the side. If I decide to leave Charlottesville (either to go back to school, to travel, or to do something else entirely), I’ll rent my whole house out. But then I won’t get to enjoy the benefits of owning and decorating a house!

Then there’s the issue of “I don’t think I want to stay in Charlottesville,” on which I vacillate weekly.

Too many issues, too little time…

(And, for the record, I was leaning one way when I started writing this post. Now I’m leaning entirely in the other.)

(Oh, and: I met with my realtor to view another house during my lunch break today. I hated it!)

Am I crazy?