Relearning the Joy of Being Thrifty

So far, 2013 has treated us well. After working a year for Delphi, I’m starting a rewarding career at Oxford University. Lewis is transferring his work in another section at Jaguar, and overall, we’re looking at planning our future together.

2010-2012 were not great, financially and mentally. After graduating, I found myself unemployed with immediate student loan debt. I was able to work as a contractor keeping my various bills paid, but it just wasn’t enough to live on my own. Unfortunately around this time as well, a lot of friends were into lavish entertainment; this was their preferred adult lifestyle, which I completely understood. But this didn’t make it easy for me on a day-to-day basis. I got to choose between a) staying at home feeling sorry for myself, or b) spend a bit of money to have a social life with some great people. Some good friends knew of my situation and always offered to pay (because they are bad ass nice sweethearts). But for the most part, this was out-of-pocket expense I just didn’t have.

That landed me in a bit of hot water. ūüėõ

Fast forward to present day and I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve slowly regained my footing, I’m making the ascent out of the slippery self-created mud pit. This nagging beast of burden has been a constant thorn in my side and I’m sick of it. It’s time to SLAY THE DREADED THREE-HEADED MONSTER.

I’ve put myself on a timescale to have almost all debt wiped out three to five years, depending on my future career with Oxford progresses. While that makes my heart smile knowing I FINALLY have a plan, that’s still a LOOOOONG time. Life gets in the way. Events will happen. How do I learn to balance life without going deep into my shell and not reappearing in a few years?

Surprisingly, it just took some soul-searching. I had to prioritize choices and goals. I’ve acquainted myself to a college lifestyle. I’ve decided to cut my spending and look at: charity shops, reuse/recycle shops and travel deals.

Charity Shops

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I found this at 70% off, for only £3.50.

In Britain, there are some fantastic charity shops absolutely everywhere. Charities like: Oxfam, Red Cross, Sue Ryder, British Heart Foundation, animal welfare. Shopping here BEFORE going into a high street shop has saved me lots of ¬£¬£¬£, plus, proceeds go to a great cause. It’s definitely been a win-win. I’ve been lucky to find some gorgeous second-hand¬†cardigans for work, books, scarves, brand new IKEA plates/dishes and things I’ve needed for our place.

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Reuse empty coffee tins for planters.

REUSE/RECYCLE

The town “tip” (recycle garbage, for my American readers) has a fantastic Sue Ryder charity shop next door. I love, love finding hidden treasures! One of the coolest things I’ve found was an A4 sized 100-year-old large postcard, depicting the old mill in Warwick. Grand total, ¬£3. I’ve also found glass bottles (for my plants), cookware and wooden plant stools for under ¬£5 a piece.

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Picked up this jade plant (money tree) for FREE on freecycle.

I’ve also grown to love Freecycle.org! The people I’ve met are incredibly sweet and down-to-earth. I’ve been able to nab some free mason jars and scored an absolutely gorgeous jade plant (money tree). I almost got a king sized futon and brand new IKEA kitchen island, but sadly, someone just picked it up as I enquired. It’s all about timing with freecycle!

Traveling Smarter

Unless we’re traveling with a group of people, Lewis and I have decided against hotel room travel for just him and I. Instead, we’re going to network more with people we know globally and use travel websites, like couchsurfing.com, Livingsocial¬†and Groupon. If we can’t find a deal, then we’re not traveling there. Hotel rooms cost a fortune,¬†that’s money we can pocket instead.

For all its positives it MIGHT be¬†frustrating once you’ve become thrifty. It’s so much easier going to the store to purchase things you need instead of hunting for the best deal. This is why the majority of my shopping is now also done online with vouchers, and/or free shipping.

But it’s also rewarding. I know in a few years my debt will be slashed by 50% and I’ll have a sizable amount in savings for my rainy day and emergency funds.

What thrifty tips do you have? Have you found that being thrifty is really more enjoyable? What sort of amazing deals have you found?

A few more pictures! Here are a couple of pictures of things I’ve gotten for a few quid recently:

Wooden jewelry box for £2.

Cookware for only £3.

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Motorcycle Trip Down Memory Lane

May 1997. Stockton, California. 

“You have to put the strap through the loop underneath.”

He lifted my chin and moved my hands from the helmet. “See? Just loop it once. Twice. Done.”

“It’s not my fault. I can’t see it in front of me, okay?” I felt pathetic.

He grinned and tugged, the silence deafening as the world muffled. He knocked the top of my head as if checking a gourd.

“You ready?” He towered over me. How tall was he anyway, six foot five? What a giant.

“Yeah. Ready as I’ll ever be.” ¬†I said. “How good are you at riding these?” I could barely hear the sound of my voice.

He jumped on the motorcycle and started it, revving the engine a few times. “REALLY good!” he yelled. “Now get on, stop procrastinating! It’ll be an experience.”

I awkwardly climbed on behind him, shifting my body weight back away from him. It feels weird being in his personal space.  My helmet knocked the back of his and we laughed.

“Okay, I’m going to give you some pointers!” He yelled over the engine. “When I move, you move! When we turn lean with me, don’t lean the other way or straight up. Just go for the ride. Hang on to ME, not the side handles! It’ll be fine, I PROMISE! Ready?”

I nodded. Then realized he couldn’t see my response.

“YES!” I sounded braver than I felt.

He backed down the driveway then took off down the road. I gripped his waist and closed my eyes.

ohshit.ohshit.ohshit.ohshit. we’re gonna fall. this is it…shit.shit.shit.

As we approached the first turn he curved gracefully and I leaned with his body,  as he instructed, and we hugged the turn perfectly. He downshifted at the stop sign and paused to give me a thumbs up.

“THAT WASN”T SO BAD!” I yelled, not sure if he heard me.

Before I knew it, we lurched from the stop sign, as I tightened my grip. As we left my neighborhood he sped up with traffic. There was nothing between myself and the road, just the man in front of me. Delta Sierra Middle School whizzed by. Grapevine Comics and Cards, my first high school job, all familiar places I’ve walked to a million times, were left behind in the dust.

Weaving easily past cars on Pacific, he turned on March Lane and the road opened. We flew by familiar restaurants, coffee shops. The sun felt hot on my shoulders and my back sweaty under the heavy jacket.

We stopped at a light and he gestured towards I-5. I gave his arm a bit of a squeeze in understanding.

We were about to get on the freeway. I was trusting him with my life.

Signaling, he merged. We sped up incredibly quick and I gripped tighter. The wind howled and the engine hummed, drowning out everything. I’ve never felt so¬†exhilarated¬†and petrified in my life. It felt amazing.

We’re flying! WE’RE FLYING!!

Suddenly, the engine sputtered and he signaled to turn off. We drove into a 76 gas station and he turned off the motorcycle.

I hopped off, almost falling onto my butt. My legs were shaking.

“OH MY GOD! THAT WAS ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!! MY LEGS ARE JELLY!!!”

He raised his visor. “Stop yelling! I can hear you fine!” he said, getting off the bike, removing his helmet.

“Oh. I didn’t even realize! I can’t hear myself. Look! Look at my hands!!!” I raised it to show off.

He nodded and smiled, as he filled the tank. “Yep, that’s the¬†adrenaline. I knew you’d like it.”

“So what the hell happened on the freeway?” I said, scratching my forehead. “Why did the bike sputter like that?”

“Oh. Yeah sorry. I forgot I was almost out of gas. I switched to the reserve tank …”

“Wait what. We almost ran out gas on the freeway. WHAT THE HELL MAN?!” I fumed.

“Yes, yes I know. Sorry. It completely slipped my mind.” He laughed and waved me off. “C’mon we’re fine, don’t look at me like that. Are you going to be pissed the whole time now?”

I sighed. “No. I’m just surprised. Hell, I’m ready to go again!”

“Good.” he said, replacing the gas nozzle. “Get on, let’s go.”

He hopped back on the freeway going back the way we just came, but exiting far on Eight Mile, in the deeper countryside. We headed towards Bear Creek High School as the sun dipped lower in the sky.

The sky reminded me of rainbow sherbet. Orange, yellow, pink … pink and blue. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked. We sped down the countryside, as the engine purred. No traffic just the deep country dotted with new homes. The air felt crisp, the sweet smell of countryside as anyone from Stockton would recognize. It smelled like home.¬†He leaned back enjoying the drive, decreasing his speed. He squeezed my arm and I patted his hand.

Perfect.

After returning home, I dismounted and removed my helmet, a huge grin plastered on my face. He removed his with a look of apprehension.

“Well?” He said.

“Well yourself.” I replied. “That was absolutely amazing and you know it.”

“Told ya. I knew you’d love it. Your hair is sticking up everywhere by the way….”

I laughed. “I don’t care. It was worth it.” I handed him the helmet.

“Thanks Steve.” I said. “I won’t forget it.”

He nodded. “See you tomorrow, Kassie.”

He put on his helmet on and drove away. I watched until he was out of sight before going in.

Perfect.

Country-road

 

In remembrance of Stephen M.

Rest in Peace. 1980-2012. 

My One Day Experience with Coding

Coding is fucking hard. 

Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Personally, I would look over¬†‘said individual’ and wonder if their next words might be, “In addition, I have great deals on purses in the back of this van over here…”

So, imagine my surprise when this start-up company, Makers Academy, decided to offer a free one day course to give a sample of what coding FEELS like.

First let me clear something up. When I say coding I’m not talking about medical coding, as a few of my friendly comically suggested. I mean software development coding. Ruby on Rails, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Heroku. Website development.

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Myth No. 1: I know nothing, can I learn?

What I love about Makers Academy is their honesty. Right away we’re told the exact opposite of what we’ve learned in school from the beginning.

“You’re going to fail. You’re going to fail a lot. Only after you fail do you learn.” – Jedi Master aka Makers Academy Instructor

Sound discouraging? At first yes, and this was a huge eye-opener. We’re always expected to exceed, excel in everything. Society looks down upon failure. How many lectures have I received in a work environment if something didn’t work out exactly? Failure is indeed an option. It is the ONLY option.¬†Why? Because making mistakes is part of the learning process. It’s all so simplistic and yet complicated at the same time. ¬†It’s all about asking loads of questions, questions and more questions. Then testing, testing and more testing.

I’m an English major working in brand and communications. Guess what, I wasn’t the only brand person in the one day course. Nor the only FEMALE (ladies, take note). That said a lot in my opinion! Creative minds, analytical minds work across a broad spectrum of different fields not limited to only computer science. It boils down to a) personality b) analytical abilities and c) motivation. Men and women are both on an even playing field with coding.

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Myth No. 2: Is Learning is a Waste of Time?

No, being a Kardashian is a waste of time. Learning to code is AMAZING. Aside from learning the language of computers, you’re able to actually create useful things in the world. I can’t express how many times I’ve said, “Gee, wouldn’t it great if I could just make this app to do X and help with Y” or, at work, “If I could create this web program/database/SharePoint centre for our global teams it would make life SO MUCH EASIER.” Instead of hiring someone to do it, we can do it ourselves.

Coding provides skills for DOERS who want to create. 

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Myth No. 3: Coding is solitary work

I pictured techie geeks in their solitary corners, plugged in, typing away at macs for hours with hardly any social interaction. And yes, there are times where this is¬†necessary in trying to finish projects. But coding actually works BETTER in pairs. That is, two people coding together on one computer. I really like this concept. Not only does it provide human/computer/human interaction, but promotes that age-old expression “two heads are better than one.” It’s absolutely true. While we worked on coding our own websites there were certain CSS things I remember reading previously and other things my partner remembered, which I completely forgot. Together, as a team, it just WORKED.

Not to mention, there was crazy good energy with everyone in the team environment. I dig that.

Myth No. 4: Coding takes years to learn

Makers Academy, again, floored me with their honesty. “After 10 weeks you will NOT be a pro, but you’ll be a proficient entry-level software coder.” Going back to my “Coding is fucking hard” statement, this does take time to develop. You’re learning a language, computer language. Did I leave the one day course feeling more confused than ever? Absolutely. But you know what, I enjoyed every freaking minute of it. The day went so quickly, I was eager to learn more.

Lastly, Myth No. 5: There will be no jobs for entry-level coders

Not only is coding in extremely high demand but it’s only going to keep increasing each year.

Here’s a video:¬†

My Take Away From the One Day Course

I had an extremely positive experience with Makers Academy. I found the staff and CEO very friendly and approachable. They are a start up I’ll be watching closely in 2013. Ideally, I’d love to sign up for their 10 week course given the opportunity. Their initial tuition is a bit steep though, which is probably turning a lot of people off.

It’s full-time, which makes sense, but it’s difficult to manage if people are already working full-time, or have monthly expenses.

I’m leaving the door open and seeing what happens. It would be a fantastic opportunity.

Disclaimer: All thoughts and opinions are my own. I was not paid nor asked to blog/post anything about Makers Academy. 

Conversations at Work: Break Room Faux Pas

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Are you eating again!? Wow, whenever I see you you’re always eating. You sure do like to eat don’t you? No no! I’m not saying you’re fat!! Sorry!! Oh man… haha I don’t really leave my office all that much, so, I guess I only see you around lunch time.

It’s sunny, but it’s still cold out. We shouldn’t complain. I was in Poland last week and WOW that was cold. We have it really good here. Haha, it’s not California though is it?

Wow, that food smells really good actually. …can I have some?

Conversations at Work: Trainer Has Second Thoughts, Or Not?

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I’ve been here since December. December! I haven’t been trained. I came from the dealership up the road, yeah, that one. It’s a mad house! There’s never enough hours in the day to get anything done. I feel like a lunatic half the time. How can it be so¬†disorganized? I’m not use to it. It’s crazy!

I need to learn how to do this, before I can do that, but I’m expected to train on this today. How can I train when I’m still learning? It’s crazy!

Nice having the weekends off though. I haven’t had a weekend off in years. Isn’t that crazy?

Hmmm. Yeah, it’s not that bad really. Maybe it’s just a different pace. It’s crazy.

Star Trek is almost here, folks…

Light Years

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

Will the Mars rover Curiosity catch a glimpse of a manned spaceship in this decade? That could be even more exciting than the gray powder it found by drilling.

A nonprofit organization called the Inspiration Mars Foundation is hosting a press conference next week in which plans for a trip to Mars and back will be revealed. The proposed launch date is January 2018, and the venture is called ‚ÄúMission for America.‚ÄĚ

The press release doesn‚Äôt explicitly state that the mission is manned, but it does say that the organization ‚Äúis committed to accelerating America‚Äôs human exploration of space as a critical catalyst for future growth, national prosperity, new knowledge and global leadership.‚ÄĚ

The leader of this effort is millionaire Dennis Tito, who’s no stranger to space travel. He spent $20 million to jaunt up to the International Space Station in 2001, making him the first…

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It still haunts my dreams, precious…

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December 10th, 2010. The day I cut the umbilical cord.

Nine months prior, I had a thought. Wouldn’t it be fun to just …

Later, an idea was conceived. Which grew into a lengthy three page outline, and blossomed into a beautiful white-and-black 88-page thesis.

After nine months I gave birth to ¬†“Mythic Archetypes: Welsh Mythologies in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.¬†It wasn’t perfect, a few things bothered me.¬†There was room for expansion in certain areas, but it was time to let go after I finished!

It’s mine. My own. My precious.

Choosing a topic was a risk. It wasn’t the most popular subject to write about. Why would you want to write about THAT? While other graduate students were debating taking the comprehensive examination or¬†reworking their critical theories about Joyce or F. Scott¬†Fitzgerald, I chose to follow my passion. High fantasy. How could I¬†merge Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings¬†with some Welsh mythological research. What could I do different that hasn’t already been discussed ad nauseam? Could I defend my thesis? Was this even WORTH exploring??

We grow to love our creations. And hate them. I’ll never forget throwing books/papers on the ground tearfully screaming: “I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I’LL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH!”

Then a few hours later I’d pick up my papers, rework a few paragraphs, and feel the delicious surge of accomplishment. A seductive thrill raced up and down my spine.

My precious.

All agony is forgotten once you hold your newly created idea. That initial conception you thought oh so many times! The seed has long since sprouted branches and grown into a friggen tree! But now, that tree bears fruit and you can pluck that fruit and share it with people.

My labor of love.

Certain things didn’t completely sit well in the end. A few researched points I’ve discussed which could be reworked and tweaked. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your creation is living after all, it has GROWN and evolved. But nitpicking little details can consume you.

So, I let it go. On December 10th 2010. Plus a few extra years.

Now, I’m going back. I’d like to rework some kinks I’ve been wanting to finish.

I’ve wondered about getting chapters published, or re-working the entire thing for a broader reading audience.¬†Am I good enough for it, precious?

I find it strangely comforting going back after a few years and reworking chapters. I’d still like to finish writing my half-finished novel.

But for now I’m visiting with an old friend, whom I love.

My precious…

My Personal Truth Living with Student Loans

Today, I’m writing on a subject I live with every day: student loan debt.

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Living with Student Loans Debt

See, I had no loans as an¬†undergraduate. I turned down college at UCB and UCSD to attend San Diego State University. Why? Because at 21 years old I didn’t want loan debt in my early 20s. My parents helped pay my tuition and I earned an income working part-time for Syrrx, a bio tech company in La Jolla.

While at times I do regret not participating more as an undergraduate in student events, having work experience made life so much easier! Syrrx provided free breakfast, lunch and/or dinner and my earnings went towards living expenses. I had fun working, too! Because of my work experience I found a job in Sacramento after only two weeks of graduating at San Diego State.

Now, fast forward four years to graduate school.

I could not afford graduate school unless I had student loans. I lived within my means, with a bit of credit card debt. I put a healthy chunk of money into my savings for global education. But, I could not afford the ever-increasing tuition.

The Good

Student loans let me to live abroad. I’ve always dreamt of having a global education. Without student loans, I would have remained at my job at UC Davis Medical Center only dreaming of something more. Student loans let me walk through 12th century castles in Wales, drive cross-country with friends to Scotland, listen to British professors explain Irish poets, or meet a certain someone whom I live with now. Student loans made the world an accessible and smaller place. But more than that, I finally had time to research and write to my heart’s content! Student loans made me believe I could pursue all my dreams in only a few years.

I never would have grown out of apathy if it weren’t for student loans. They gave me the chance to kick ass.

The Bad

But, the world after graduating instead kicked my ass. Everything changed within a few years. Before it took two weeks to find work, now I wouldn’t even hear rejections. For every 15 CVs I sent out I would maybe receive a few rejections and, maybe, receive a phone interview. I did receive positive feedback from recruiters. People liked me and liked my experiences. But I didn’t have that extra OOMPH to land a job. I was competing against better caliber people with higher degrees and more professional experience. When I finally did get hired from a few companies they were contract only, providing barely enough money to get by. I did have a good job working as a Research Assistant in Sacramento, but I was laid off after three months. So, what the hell?!

Meanwhile, my student loan interest accrued. The little I did pay back only went towards interest, hardly ANY to the principle. The majority of the money went to living expenses.

I began to worry about my future and question my past decisions. What the hell did I do to myself?!

The Straight Up Ugly

When I finally confronted my student loan debt it was a staggering $50,000.¬†That’s a very jagged pill to swallow. Hell, just looking at that number sends shock waves throughout my body. That’s like paying for three or four cars. Only I couldn’t sell this debt away, this was my monster creation.

I deal with that everyday.

Aside from student loan repayment misery there’s the extra added emotional turmoil. I do not LIKE having any debt. I want to get married, have kids, buy a house. I’m plagued with having too much debt. I have every intention of paying it back but let’s not forget, the cost of living increases each year. Student loan interest, if not fixed, can¬†fluctuate. That’s a shit load of¬†uncertainty.

Whilst I am chipping away at my debt as best I can, each month I change tactics at how to confront it. Some days I feel it best to put everything I have towards paying it off (and live on ramen) another part of me is saying don’t kill yourself! Pay it down modestly. This is not debt that will go away any time soon, is it worth living like shit? Meanwhile, I’m not getting any younger. This is my internal struggle.

Did I learn anything? Yes, you bet. 

My advice to people considering student loans: know exactly what you are getting into. If I could talk to past Kassie, who was bouncing around with no plan, I’d tell her to get her shit together and focus on helping others. Take enough for a few loans, forget the rest. Focus on marketing skills like pursuing science, web coding, ANYTHING contributing to the world. Securing¬†marketable job skills NOW. Not having a clear focus is what landed me in hot water to begin with.

It’s great I realised where my passion lies, but now I have an extra special weight with student loans. I need to plan three months ahead before making decisions. Like poor Frodo, it’s a burden that I alone must bear. No one else will pay this back I need to do it. Also, thankfully, having awesome family and friends helps¬†alleviate¬†some of that heavy burden when I get too hard on myself.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. This is a shift in thought people need to realise. Let’s mentor our young students! Really, truly think about what debt you’re going to inherit when finished.

Only then we’ll start tackling the root of the problem.