Am I The Only One Who Doesn’t Feel The Crushing Weight Of Student Loan Debt?

Personal finance is a little bit like physical fitness. You can hire a personal trainer, a dietician, and say you’re going to workout five days a week, but if you aren’t fully committed to following through with a health plan, it will get you nowhere. As a young adult in the US, we often feel slighted that most of us aren’t educated on personal finance issues in high school before we’re thrown to the wolves of the real world. We are just expected to know how to file our own taxes, know how credit cards work, and how to navigate through financing college degrees all on our own.

Trial and error is the name of the game because we feel shamed in asking personal money questions. My financial journey really began in college with student loans. To be quite honest, by the time I graduated, I had only a very general idea of how much I owed because while in school I chose not to think about it. I tried not to anyway. I didn’t even know who I was supposed to be paying this money to. I found out I had to pay two different entities, which is common if you end up having multiple loans. Once I realized I had no idea how my student loans worked, I dove into learning all I could about personal finance. And I encourage everyone else to learn everything about their current financial health because nothing gets resolved by burying your head in the sand.

It’s not that hard in theory, but it does take discipline. Here’s the steps I’ve taken so far to ensure I’m a financially stable, fully-functioning adult.

If you have debt, know EVERYTHING about each debt. Figure out the interest rate, how much interest accumulates daily/ monthly, and what percentage of your monthly payment goes to interest versus the principle. I have student loans and a car loan. I overpay on all my student loans. However, I prioritize my two highest interest loans, so I overpay the most on those. As of right now, I’m looking at paying off my loans four months ahead of the original estimated date. I keep monthly track of how much I paid each loan and how much there is left to go. There’s many ways that people advocate to pay off debt (debt avalanche, debt snowball, etc), just find which method works best for you, and do it.

Look at your income and how much you bring in each month. Know how much money you bring in each month and figure out how much you can afford to spend each month. Some people track every expense. Personally, I find this dragging, and I’m never able to keep up with it. So I’ve adopted a simpler method of not spending more than I can afford to. Live below your means so you can…

Save, save, save. This is so hard for me to write about because I know that there are people out there living paycheck to paycheck. And that’s why many people climb into the hole of credit card debt in the first place. Therefore, we need to educate people on how credit cards work and how to get them to work for you not against you. But saving is the beginning to eventually growing wealth. It will get you into the habit of setting money aside to eventually invest. Some personal financial “experts” say that you shouldn’t even think about saving before paying off your debts. In my opinion, and what works for me, I want the stability of having money set aside to pay cash for an emergency and not have to swipe a credit card to be able to “afford” a crisis.

Get Life Insurance. This was a hard one for me. Homeowners and auto insurance are obviously necessary, and you must have them. Life insurance is different. It’s a choice. But is it really? I’m at the point in my life where I just made a large joint “purchase”- a mortgage. And it’s scary to think about the fact that life happens. I want to make sure that my husband could still afford the house should I pass away unexpectedly. So, I’ll happily pay $20 a month just in case, at least while we’re still paying off the house.

 

I’m not a financial guru. I don’t claim to know everything, and I’m still learning. Take what I say with a grain of salt because this has just been my experience, and we all have our own unique financial journey. Better yet: read, learn, listen. Figure out what works for you, and do it.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

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Phot Credit: https://pixabay.com/p-598261/?no_redirect
In light of Sunday night’s events, I feel the need to write and get all of my thoughts out to make sense of what happened. It seems as though every year we go through the same old song and dance that highlights that what we’re doing now is broken, it doesn’t work. Last year, we saw Pulse Nightclub brutally attacked. The year before, San Bernardino was targeted. And Sunday, Las Vegas was the center of the most devastating shooting in US history. How is our leadership okay with this? How can we, as citizens, be okay with a gunman marching into an elementary school and taking the lives of 20 innocent children? How does “more people with more access to guns” help in this situation? How many times do we have to have this conversation, and how many more people have to die before we do something about it?

I’m not at all advocating for taking guns away (my household has two) , but I do think there should be more steps in place to prevent people who shouldn’t have access to guns from getting them. It’s harder for a woman to get an abortion than it is for someone to get a gun in this country: there’s a 24 hour waiting period, they must be made aware of adoption alternatives, as well as have only 400 clinics within the US to get it done. Of course, abortions aren’t a right written into the Constitution, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison, but it’s the best one I’ve got.

We need to open the dialogue and have this discussion. Advocates of less gun control, what are your thoughts? I am in no way excluding anyone from this conversation. Please, tell me what you think the right solution is because no matter the side of the issue you stand on, we can all agree there is a problem. Now, how do we solve it?

To the victims of this senseless tragedy and their families: my heart goes out to every single one of you. To anyone who has lost someone, we are here with love and support. I understand that hearing those words are the last thing you want to have to hear, I know nothing will quiet quell the ache in your heart, just know we hurt for you.

And to the legislature and leadership of this country: help us. Do something so we can stop being reactive in these situations. Let’s do something proactive. Please. Anything. Just a conversation will do for now.

 

Life Update: We’re Building Our New Home!

Avery and I have been looking at building a house for over a year now. But we moved to Florida so it wasn’t the right time. Before we made any kind of decision, we wanted to look at as many home builders and home sites as we could so we would have a good idea of what we were looking for and what we wanted to spend. We made lots of visits to model homes and spoke to many salespeople. It took us over a year to really nail down what we were looking for/compromise on a floor plan (He wanted a two story with way more space than I thought was necessary since we don’t have kids/ don’t plan to have kids for a while).

Here’s some things I’ve learned since starting this whole process:

  1. Where I had previously believed that Avery and I are opposites on many design aspects, our core design concepts are not so different. We both like to keep things simple and clean. So this was a good starting point for most of our choices. We didn’t want to go extravagant with any of our design decisions. Keeping hardware and colors simple was an easy decision with us.
  2. Everything seems to fall into place once you make the decisions most important to you. We decided to spend money to upgrade the kitchen options. We went with dark colored maple cabinets and beautiful quartz countertops. And then from there, the rest of our decisions were based off the color combo of the countertop and cabinet colors and what we thought complimented those choices.
  3. There’s a lot of paying the waiting game. We didn’t have our first design appointment until almost two months after we signed the papers and put down the earnest money to save our lot. In this time, we were in contact with the loan company and heard back once or twice from our salesman as he checked in with us. Since our design appointments though, we have seen the city go out and set up temporary electrical and our salesman has said that they should start working on the foundation this week. So, things are finally moving. And the waiting isn’t getting any easier.
  4. It adds up. Fast. I can see how some people can get caught up in adding every option possible. That’s why Avery and I focused on the big-ticket items that we wanted to roll into our mortgage and left other things to upgrade in the future. We didn’t bother with any of the add-ons that we could easily change in the future like door knobs, light fixtures, faucets, or doors.

The process of building has been great so far. I absolutely can’t wait until they’re finished. We still have months to go, but I have a feeling it’s going to fly by and move in day will be here before we know it. Then I will have the pleasure of shopping for furniture and home decor…

Dear Roxy,

For those of you who have not lost a pet, it’s harder than you can imagine. I didn’t think it would hurt as much as it does. In the couple of days since, I’ve been mostly okay and then I’ll suddenly think about her and start crying. It really is like losing a member of your family because she was family. She was always there. And now, she’s not.

I wish I had more time to say goodbye. From the time I found out to the time when she put down was only an hour. Afterwards, I asked Roland, my brother, if she had been medicated when I got there. He said no, she was just that sick. Becasue of that, I’m glad she can rest in peace now, but it still aches.

If I could talk to her just one more time…

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Dear Roxy,

If there’s one positive thing that comes from this whole experience, I hope you are finally feeling better and free of pain. We knew you were sick, but we thought you were finally going to be getting better. You leaving was so sudden, we were all blind-sided. That’s what hurt the most, we were given hope and the next day you were gone.

Sitting in that room, while you took your last breath, was awful. I’m very grateful that you were surrounded by all of us, but that was one of the hardest, most emotional things I’ve ever had to endure. If I’m being completely honest, watching you go was a little traumatizing. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that again.

I will never have another dog quite like you. You were definitely the dog version of myself. We both liked naps more than could be normal. And we both liked to snack more than we should. Maybe we were too alike and that’s why you never felt inclined to listen to me when I told you to do sit or lay down. We’re both too sassy for our own good. You were definitely more human than dog sometimes.

Many days filled with tears are ahead for all of us. It’s hard to even think about you not being at the house when I bring Stella over. I didn’t want to tell mom, but she definitely looked for you when we visited yesterday. She walked around the kitchen and living room and sniffed your bed. She’ll definitely miss you, not sure you would return the sentiment.

May you spend the rest of eternity sitting on a recliner with an abundance of snacks being fed to you at your beck and call. Take a nap for me. I’ll be seeing you again.

I love you,

Marissa

The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer

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Image courtesy of: Toys for Tots, www.toysfortots.org

Growing up, I always had the best Christmases. I never wondered if there would be presents under the Christmas tree. I realize,  as an adult, how extremely lucky and blessed I was to not know that feeling as a child. And because of this, I could look forward to Christmas morning.

For the past few years, I have chosen to donate toys to Toys for Tots. Toys for Tots is a non-profit organization run by the US Marine Corps as a way to provide hope to underprivileged children through gift-giving. They provide toys and gifts to children ages 0-12. I believe it is one of the best, large non-profits out there. According to Charity Watch, 80% of its funds go to its programs versus overhead costs.

Every year, I look forward to going out and buying toys. My mom is the one who began donating to this charity and inspired me to do the same. I usually try and buy toys that I either played with or would have liked to have as a kid. I spend months leading up to the time when I can actually go out and buy toys getting excited to shop for those kids who wish for an amazing Christmas. I get so much joy walking up and down the aisles, I feel like a kid again. I love the feeling of knowing that the Toys for Tots kids will at least have one toy to open on Christmas day.

If you are like me and had a privileged childhood, please think about donating a toy this year. Or if you were once a kid that could have benefitted from this non-profit, consider being responsible for the light in a child that was once you, and donate a toy if you’re now able. Even one toy can change a child’s Christmas. (With Black Friday approaching, now would be the perfect time to buy. Also, Target is having 30% off all toys this Saturday, November 19th, so check it out!) Look for a drop site to donate here. Or click here to give monetarily. We could all stand to spread a little Christmas cheer.

I’m getting a little old and a little out of touch on what’s popular, so if you have a young one, give me some ideas on what to buy this year by commenting below.

 

Why Laughter is the Best Medicine For Relationships

Laughter requires the movement of muscles, meaning your heart rate increases, and more oxygen enters our tissues. Laugh more, and you can exercise less because laughter burns calories.1 The release of endorphins that is caused by increased blood flow lowers stress levels. 2

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Avery is probably one of the funniest people I have ever met. I tell him multiple times a day that he’s not. Gotta keep his ego in check, ya know? He likes to make up his own lyrics to songs that are absolutely ridiculous. And he’s not afraid to be undeniably weird in front of me. I love that he’s able to be so comfortable with me. I think it definitely took some time for us to be completely relaxed in front of one another. It was nothing like “we were completely comfortable with each other right away” crap you hear all the time. While that may be the case for some couples, I would say a majority of us have some reservations when getting to know someone new.

LAUGHTER MAKES IT EASIER TO TALK TO ONE ANOTHER
Communication is so much easier when it’s not serious all the time with every single conversation. That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place to be completely serious, but most of the time, it’s way easier to talk to someone when you know you can be playful, yourself, and laugh at one another. Communicating your feelings with someone who has the power to hurt you emotionally is daunting. But knowing you can laugh and connect with them makes it easier when you have something serious to relay to them.

LEARN TO LAUGH AT YOURSELF
For the longest time, I was so uncomfortable laughing at myself. I have this self-conscious need to be flawless, or to appear so to others. I don’t like to fail, so it was hard to laugh at myself and my mistakes. With Avery, I wasn’t afraid to show him that I wasn’t perfect all the time. And he taught me that it was okay to laugh at myself every once in a while. And when you’re able to laugh at yourself, it doesn’t matter what others say about you. This is one of the best things that has come out of my relationship with Avery, and I thank God every day that he was able to show me how amazing it is that I’m not perfect.

CONNECTS US
What’s so funny about Avery and I is that we are very much the “opposites attract” couple. He is very outwardly personable, while I am an introvert through and through. He makes friends easily and I much happier not being put in situations of meeting new people. He likes to have a plan and stick with it. To me, having a plan is nice but things don’t always happen the way we want them to, and I am perfectly fine with that.
The one thing that brings us together as a couple is laughter. Anyone who doesn’t like to joke around with his or her significant other needs to find a new partner. Laughing is universal, and it allows us to connect with each other.

So laugh a little more, stress a little less, and know everything will be okay.

  1. http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter
  2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456

Living Life Compassionately

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When was the last time you did something selfless? When did you last see the opportunity to do something amazing for someone other than yourself? For someone you did not know? Did you take it? There are countless ways we can support the lives of others and make their lives better. By bringing others up, doesn’t mean we bring ourselves down. We can all rise together.

The other day, Avery called me a bleeding heart. The definition of a bleeding heart is “a person considered to be dangerously softhearted”. (I won’t get into the reasons why he called me a bleeding heart because I don’t want this post to be about what specific things I’ve done in the past but rather what we can all do moving forward.) I don’t view myself like this whatsoever. I think about all the times that I could have done more to help whether the recipient would have been another adult, a child, an animal. When I see people out in the hot, Texas sun selling water to raise money for some cause or event, I want to buy it all. I have this constant, nagging need to help. In my mind, why should I have this nice car, sitting in air conditioning, with the ability to go down to the store and not worry about having more than enough money to buy myself food when I know others are doing their very best and are still struggling?

I’m privileged. I may not feel privileged every second of every day because we all have our own problems and bumps in the road, but when I sit down to really think about my life and how I’ve been brought up, I am very grateful for the life I have been born into. I didn’t ask to be born healthy. I didn’t ask to be born into a family that never had to struggle to put enough food on the table everyday. I didn’t ask to be born with the opportunity to go to college. But others who aren’t born healthy or who don’t have a promised meal everyday or who never had the opportunity to go to college, they also didn’t ask to be born with these problems.

No one asks for the life they’ve been given. This is the perspective we need to use when learning that we all have something to give. Whether it’s time or money or gratitude, we can all stand to show a little more humility in the life we have been handed. And we can all stand to show a little more kindness and understanding to one another. This world has more enough evil; we need to fight it with the love in our hearts.

(photo credit: Aaron Alexander, https://www.flickr.com/photos/asalexander/3190479939)

September 11 Thoughts

When us Americans (and probably abroad as well) talk about 9/11, our thoughts immediately jump to the Twin Towers. We forget about the attack on the pentagon and Flight 93 headed for the White House but was brought down in a field by passengers. I think it’s important for us to fully understand what happened on 9/11 and why in order to honor everyone whose lives were taken on this terribly tragic day.

I’ve watched so many documentaries and movies that depict what this day was like for these people. We all know the aftermath: increased security in airports and government buildings, a cry for the executions of many innocent American Muslims, the destruction and vandalization of mosques on American soil, and most notable, the War on Terror.

I don’t remember what I was doing on September 11, 2001. I know I was in the second grade. I can infer I was in school. I doubt I was allowed to watch the news coverage at the time. Or I did and didn’t really comprehend the enormity of what happened. Looking back, I’m slightly grateful I was allowed to remain innocent to the evils that happened on 9/11 even for only a little bit longer.

Avery and I were able to visit the memorial for all of those who lost their lives on that day at the site of the towers at Ground Zero. Standing there in the exact spot where thousands of people lost their lives was incredibly heartbreaking and humbling.

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Where were you on 9/11? What were you doing?

Working Out for the Unenthused

I ran for the first time last night in about four months. I didn’t run far, and I didn’t run fast. By the end, I felt like I was having an asthma attack. I’m writing this full of embarrassment. For over a year, I have been going through phases of running and then going weeks and months of not running and then deciding I want to start once more. I’m hoping one of these running phases never ends. So far, I have been unsuccessful.

I’ve never been gung-ho about exercising. At times, I’ve tried to convince myself that I am. It works for a while and then I decide I would rather gorge myself with ice cream and skip the gym, and do it again the next day, and the next day. And then soon, I find I haven’t been to the gym or exercised in months.

Back to the run I had last night, I went with Avery, who is far more physically adept than I. His long legs can easily run twice as fast as mine. So by the end of our run, he was breathing easy while I was huffing and puffing without the ability to speak for a couple minutes.

I know I’m capable of getting back in the game. I was once running up to three miles a day a few times a week. But I fell off the wagon because life happened, and I got busy. But I shouldn’t ever be too busy to be healthy. Diabetes and obesity and high blood pressure can be prevented in many cases with exercise and diet. (The diet thing is going to take some work.)

It’s all mental. Obviously telling myself that I’m enthusiastic about exercise and fitness doesn’t work because I know that’s a lie. I need to try something else like, “Exercise or you will lose ten years off your life span”. Or “Exercise now and you can live easier when you’re elderly.” And maybe one day I will grow to love fitness. For now, I will huff and puff my way back into daily exercise.

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Social Anxiety: Number One Reason Why My Dog Is My Best Friend

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I am shy. And I have social anxiety in certain situations. Even writing this post, knowing that others are going to read my words, makes me anxious. But it’s precisely why I’m doing it. I’ve always been more soft-spoken and for a long time, I thought I would always be that way. Of course just because I’m naturally more introverted and soft-spoken, doesn’t mean I’m destined to stay like this forever. And staying shy will not do anything for the anxiety I feel.

My anxiety stems from the fact that I feel every interaction I have with most people is that they are judging me. So I figure the less social interaction I have with people, the less they can judge me. That’s my logic. The problem with this is that I will always be saddled with anxiety because I cannot escape social interactions if I want to be a normal, functioning human in our society.

I also want to say that my social anxiety isn’t all consuming or off-the-charts bad. And I don’t feel it in all social situations. Talking to strangers is when it’s at its worst. Even group settings, in which I don’t know a lot of people, can set it off. It’s simply something I would like to grow out of. My social anxiety manifests by verbal withdrawal and loss of thought process. I also sometimes feel my heart rate increase, which of course only makes me feel only more anxious.

I’m writing this post because it’s something I want to move beyond. I don’t want to feel anxiety because I think people are judging me. One, I should not care if strangers are judging me. Two, I’ve had people tell me that they thought I was conceited or uptight because of my silence and shyness. So people are making judgments regardless of the fact that I don’t talk so obviously my tactic isn’t working so well. Three, I hate the feeling of anxiety. And finally, I just want to be able to make friends as easily as other people seem to. This is my first step towards living with my social anxiety in a healthier way. Wish me luck.