How I’m (Working on) Spending Less

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The other day I had a conversation with a friend about job benefits and how terrifying it was to pick a benefits package – it was one of the first adult decisions I had to make that seemed permanent. Right after that conversation, I wrote a check for my rent, looked up LSAT prep classes online, and cooked myself a nutritionally balanced (ish) meal. I was adulting. It is terrifying.

One of the perks of adulting is recognizing that money should probably be saved more frequently than it is spent. I’ve tried the whole budgeting thing before and had varying levels of success, but this time it is real. Thankfully, I have no student loans – shout out to mom and dad for that one. But in a possibly stupid move, I’m considering law school.

The goal is to save as much money now while I’m fully employed so that law school is less of a burden (fingers crossed for a nice scholarship). However, spending money is just so much easier than saving it. If you’re like me and pretending to adult or you want to save up for that trip to Bali next year (take me with you!), I’ve taken some (very basic) steps to save money.

First up was a nice little closet clear out. Maybe you’ve heard of the capsule wardrobe craze or the minimalism movement, but the core idea is to limit how much clothing is hanging on your rail at any point in time. I regularly go through my closet and pull out things that don’t fit or that aren’t my style or that I wanted to fix but never got around to. The move from my parent’s house to my apartment meant a big clear out – my donation pile was embarrassing large, but there’s a satisfaction to going through and clearing all those maybes out of the way. (Feel free to try the Marie Kondo Konmari method or just to do it willy nilly – whatever works best for you!) Despite having fewer items of clothing, I could see every single piece and know they fit – I didn’t have an “I have nothing to wear” excuse anymore.

Next up, all winter pieces were tucked away for the summer and all summer pieces were pulled out and hung nicely. The mentality is that only that which is useful right now is visible. I tucked all my winter clothes in a gym bag I never use and will rotate out my summer clothes when my apartment switches from A/C to heat. An added perk of this organizational update is that when I pull out the clothes from the next season, it’ll be like adding new clothes to my wardrobe – all those sweaters that have been tucked away will be a new surprise. Switching to summer, I didn’t really feel the need to buy twelve new summer dresses because my old favorites came out of storage and I was reminded how much I loved them in past hot weather rather than remembering them as the things that blocked my access to my sweater.

Continuing the clear out theme, I went over to my emails. My mom jokes that she doesn’t need an alarm because every morning she gets an email from Joanne’s Fabrics that wakes her up. If you’re like me, you get a thousand emails a day from every website you’ve ever ordered online from. Well now’s the time to clear them out – unsubscribing from all those stores you might be tempted by means one less temptation to spend money on things you don’t really need. If you really need a plain white work shirt, you can always go shopping specifically for that. Once I unsubscribed from a bunch of those email lists, the temptations to shop every week were gone. Maybe you’re not a quilter and don’t get those Joanne’s emails, but everyone is on a listserve they don’t need to be on – since typing this I’ve received an email from Keds, Potbelly, H&M, and IcelandAir. The temptation to buy myself a new pair of shoes and a new outfit, grab a sandwich and head for the airport is strong. I’ll be unsubscribing shortly.

Next step was to head to my wallet. I’m trying to transition away from using a credit card for every little purchase and focus on using cash and/or a debit card. There’s limitations to how much cash I have on hand at any given moment, which my spending lower. (I also really don’t like handing over cash and receiving change for some reason – it sparks some serious anxiety.) Using a debit card is slightly less successful in this because I do not want an overdrawn charge (again :/). But both keep me in line better than a credit card. Even though I work diligently to make sure I don’t overspend on my credit card, the temptation to pay now and worry later is there. I am trying to build credit, but I’m trying to transition to only using it for emergencies and to pay a biweekly metro card reload.

Speaking of my metro card – one of my job benefits is a travel reimbursement program that means I don’t get charged tax for my daily travel-related purchases (I think that’s the deal – I could be getting swindled right now. One of the perks of an “adulting” decision.) Each paycheck has a fee withdrawn and I then pay for my Metro card reload and can get reimbursed for that payment. It would be easy to pretend that that reimbursement was new money, but it’s not – I’ve already paid for it in my check. So that reimbursement money has been going straight to my savings account. I try not to look at it and just pretend the money is long gone. Reimbursements and tax returns and checks from Grandma are all going straight to savings, where they can build a slightly higher interest and be saved for a rainy day (a.k.a. the start of law school). I calculate money based on that direct deposit, rather than on the money I’m being reimbursed.

(Quick shout out to direct deposit for saving me from a biweekly trip to the bank).

Every other money-saving step I’ve taken has been relatively small. Like a proper adult, I use my mother’s washing machine (thanks mom!). I try to metro as much as possible rather than taking Ubers or paying for parking. I try to avoid eating out (despite Chipotle being my one true love). In a strange bit of health conciousness, I’ve been trying to work out multiple times a week and thanks to YouTube, there’s a thousand free 15-minute, 30-minute, 45-minute workouts online, rather than paying for classes or a gym membership. I’ve adopted a more European approach to the grocery shop, where I buy for a day or two rather than a week – I make less waste when my fruit doesn’t inevitably go bad, and it’s easier to pop in and out without extra purchases than it would be if I was doing an aisle by aisle shop.

Basically, there’s a thousand ways for me to save money and I’m trying them all. So here’s to hoping we all find scholarships and cheap travel deals.

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Five Favorite Things: Apps for Travel

Five Favorites, Travel

As a millennial, I am required to be glued to my phone at all times; it is the first thing I reach for in the morning and the last thing I check before I sleep each night. So it’s only fair that I use it frequently throughout my travels. In keeping with my five favorite things lists, this one’s dedicated to my five favorite apps (specifically for travel, but also just in general).

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Pinterest

One of my favorite apps for planning a trip is the Pinterest App. I usually use Pinterest on my computer up until the trip starts then switch over to the app once I’m on the move. Pinterest is really nice for planning quick day trips, figuring out nice photo ops, or plotting the next stop. It helps to have a specific board created for the trip that will allow you to keep everything neatly in one spot rather than twenty tabs open on your web browser. You can then use the inspo you grab from Pinterest on your favorite mapping tool.

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Google Maps

I love my Google Maps app. I use it daily to check Metro times or to figure out what offices are in the building I’m passing. I hid the Apple Maps as it just wasn’t cutting it. One of my top tips for Google Maps is starring or marking every stop you want to hit on your trip. Once everything is marked you can see what’s clustered together or spread out. And if an adventure ends earlier than expected you can pop into one of your second tier activities. Another tip: download the map for that city so you can use the app off Wifi. Everyone loves a good map app.

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CityMapper

Another great map app is CityMapper. While Google Maps is good for walking directions and general orientation, I find it doesn’t always have the best transit recommendations. Insert CityMapper. CityMapper, while only available in a few cities, has the best recommendations for public transportation. And you can measure how far you’ve traveled by foot, bike, train, bus, you name it. It’s just another good one to have in your pocket.

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Instagram

I know I’ve talked about Instagram and travel before, but it’s actually a pretty good app for recommendations. Whether you’re inspired by a friend’s trip or want to see life through the eyes of a local in insert city here, it’s a good app to show you what’s out there to be seen. There’s a few different ways to use Instagram: you can follow your friends or your favorite celebrities or any of the thousands of travel inspiration accounts to see where you might be interested in going.

file7Another tip is to use the app’s search function to see either hashtags of your destination or to use the actual location tags. You can find music festivals or national celebrations or parades using their hashtags, especially now that every event has an official hashtag. Using the location tag gives you an insight to where something is, how people take photos, or even what the dress code is for the place you’re heading. (I recommend that any nervous about how people dress at their study abroad location check the hashtags and location for their university or town to see what people wear to class.) It’s a really versatile app and makes connecting with your friends so much easier both on your trip and when you return.

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Been

I’m not gonna lie, one of my favorite things is adding a new country to my list. I’m at 29 countries as of writing and always plotting how to add more. But somethings I struggle to remember where I’ve stopped before. Thankfully there’s a super simple app for that. It’s called Been and it creates a map of the countries you’ve visited (as well as the states visited in the US for those of us trying to hit all 50). It’s really easy to use, doesn’t require WiFi, and it’s fun to see what ‘percentage’ of Europe you’ve hit after your trip. Plus you can take a screenshot and send it to your friends to compare your journeys.

There’s a thousand apps out there (probably more) which you might find useful or a total waste of space – it’s up to you. Other favorites are Duolingo for learning basic phrases, Splitwise for splitting costs between friends, Facebook Messenger for messaging family and video calling on WiFi to both computers and phones, WhatsApp for texting, YouTube and Netflix for entertainment, 1010! for a quick and mindless game, and of course, the Camera app for snapping your memories.

One last tip: make sure you download as many apps before you leave the U.S. (or your home country) as some apps aren’t available to download or set up outside your country of origin.

 

Roadtrippin’ 101

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Whether you’re headed for the beach or a music festival, someone somewhere deemed summer the perfect opportunity for road trips. Immortalized in films and tv shows as a freeing experience, there’s few things as painful as being shoved in a car with a friend and all of your worldly belongings, hoping traffic isn’t this bad for the rest of your 12-hour journey. Despite my distaste for the realities of road trips, I figured I’d share how I’ve managed to survive them thus far.

Plan accordingly. Factor in bathroom breaks and rush hours into your drive time. If you’re gonna hit a major city at exactly 5 p.m., maybe a bathroom break before the mayhem is appropriate. Or maybe you’re visiting a friend on the first weekend of summer vacation – maybe avoid those roads that head straight to the beach. I also have a rule that if you’re making multiple stops, you never want to drive more than three or four hours a day in a row. Sure, that final day may have to be a horrible six-hour drive, but if you can avoid three days in a row of seven hours in the car, you should.

Dress appropriately. Sure it may be chilly at home, but cars heat up. People are hot and sweaty, and it’s pretty gross when you hop out of the car at Grandma’s house to give her a sweaty hug. Short sleeves and layers are your friend. If you run cold, grab a blanket. Wear shoes that aren’t too smelly and are comfortable. Comfort is important because if you’re anything like me, you will inevitably end up snoozing at one point and it ain’t fun to nap in your tightest jeans. I also recommend socks, even if you’re in sandals, but my toes are always cold so I might be biased.

Snackage is key. Hungry people require more stops on the road, so be prepared. A salty snack and a sugary snack will cover basic cravings. I’d avoid chocolate in case of meltage, anything particularly stinky, and anything too messy like Baked Cheetos or powdered donuts. This isn’t to say you should bring a full twelve-course meal. Instead, these snacks should cover you between gas and dinner stops. Hydration is also important. A bottle of water for each person will cover basic needs. I avoid coffee or anything that’ll spill and leave my car smelling of bad milk, but up to you on that one. I would also leave the straws at home; not for environmental reasons necessarily – just because I drink five times faster with a straw and then have to pee five times more frequently.

Pack an activity bag. My mom instilled the power of an activity bag in me since I was a wee thing. Bring along technology and technology free entertainment. Kids might enjoy a toy or a coloring book, while adults might like a Sudoku puzzle or that magazine you’ve been meaning to read. Knitting needles or a crochet hook for those crafty folks will keep your hands busy. Grab a notebook for keeping track of every state license plate you spot or to do a quick game of hangman in the backseat. Boredom can kill a road trip in thirty minutes, trust me.

Music is crucial. I’ve probably said it before but I don’t trust technology. I’d rather go old school with a few prime CDs than rely on my phone. Plus I’d rather save the charge for directions and finding the closest Dunkin Donuts for my random cravings. I recommend having everyone in the car contribute a CD or two that they enjoy (if people still own CDs like my family) and avoid CDs of contention (in my family, the Beatles and Grateful Dead stay out of road trip playlists). I’m a big fan of Stadium Arcadium by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Sam’s Town from The Killers. Other good ones are Hozier‘s first album, Signs of Light by The Head and the Heart, Lord Huron’s Strange Trails, and anything by Elbow or Passenger. Or make your own mix CDs – really lean into the throwback. Anything you enjoy and can sing along to or jam along to.

The Email That Started It All

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This is the email that started it all. I was a quarter of the way through a two-week adventure and wanted to convince my parents that I was, in fact, alive. It was written on a bus on a phone. (It should be noted that despite telling them I would be sending them pictures, I hit send and then realized I had attached a total of zero photos.)
This is the email that started it all. After sending this quick note, I decided to start writing what I was thinking about my travels and my adventures to an audience wider than my parents and whoever they might choose to forward my email to. It was not the first time I wrote them an email summarizing my travels, but it was the time that convinced me to be a proper millennial and start a blog.
This is the email that started it all and this time I remembered to add the photos:
Good afternoon !
We’re heading off to Ljubljana now from Venice and I figured I would use the bus ride to send y’all some pictures.
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I could have taken photos if every crevice of that place. It’s such an interesting architectural marvel. The alley ways were so light but then they would open up to a massive courtyard. There is something so lovely about northern Italian courtyards with the houses all looking down on them. We only had a day and a half so we didn’t spend it standing in lines for the Doges Palace or St Marks Basilica. We wandered about and, Mom, you would have died at the gorgeous random churches we would find. They were stunning and massive and had their own flair and style. The city fills up during the day in such an overwhelming way (and it’s not even peak season) but we loved wandering around at night and getting lost in the alleys and canals. We got off the main island to go see Murano, which is where the glass blowers all work. Some of the artwork was stunning, some not so much.
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Due to the canals and the steps and the winding roads, bikes are not common, but Venice does have a bike share program, worry not, John. [edit: my father rides bikes regularly. this note was for him.]
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I’d love to go back and just get lost for days but unfortunately it’s time to move on to cheaper cities. We’re heading to Slovenia now. We’ll stay the night in Ljubljana before going to Bled. We’ve been lucky with weather but after cold, dreary London, anything is good weather.
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Love you and I’m sure I’ll update you in a few days!
Ciao, ciao!

Sustainability

Five Favorites, Travel

Now maybe this is just me being selfish, but my argument for more environmentally sustainable practices is that I still haven’t seen all of the world and I’d like to have a chance before I die. Every few months, an article will come across my computer via Twitter or Facebook telling me about another stunning place that’s been destroyed by cruise ships or horrible tourists. And I refuse to apologize for the fact that I get pissed off for two reasons: 1) who in the heck do you think you are to destroy a habitat/endangered species/UNESCO site/opportunity just to get a selfie? and 2) I haven’t been there yet and I don’t want my chance to see [insert city/beach/historic site/animal here] ruined by some tour bus’s inability to be respectful.

Inspired by this Conde Nast article, I have drafted my five ways to not screw over my chances of seeing the world:

one. pack smart. I’m a big fan of the less is more approach to packing. But packing smarter is also important. Bring along a reusable water bottle or a tote bag for carrying your goodies. Heck bring four reusable bags: one can carry your muddy shoes, another can carry your snacks, and the last two can separate your dirty clothes from your souvenirs.

two. go somewhere new. Sure, we all want to visit Venice or see Machu Picchu before we die, but there’s also so many undiscovered places worth a trip. Challenge yourself to go somewhere you haven’t seen all over Instagram.

three. travel smart. Airplanes are pretty dang bad for the environment. Driving isn’t the greatest. Public transportation is your friend. Get your FitBit steps in to see those little alleyways and hidden gems. Avoid cruise ships and big tour buses that dump a ton of tourists at once in places that just can’t handle that chaos. Do as my father suggests and ride a bike. The journey should be just as environmentally friendly as the destination.

four. respect the land. Travelling takes you somewhere that is not yours. Respect it. Girl Scouts are taught to leave their campsites better than they find them; why can’t you employ this one on your trip? Pick up trash while you’re hiking. Stay on designated paths. Leave nature in nature. It’s pretty simple.

five. respect the people. Just as much as travel takes you somewhere that is not yours, it takes you somewhere that is someone else’s. Respect indigenous people and their customs. Trampling over religious sites or pushing out locals for your vacation is not sustainable and its just rude. Buy locally. Eat locally. Talk to the locals.

I will now step off my soapbox and continue my Google Maps adventures. Heck, maybe I’ll plot my next trip. Got any tips?

A Yearly Tradition

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It was recently my 24th birthday (I do accept gifts in the form of job offers and free flights across the Atlantic…) and I remembered a conversation I had with a group of friends a few years ago on my birthday.

We were drinking margaritas and eating endless chips and salsa on a sunny spring day in Indianapolis when one of my good friends asked me to name five goals for my next year of life. I came up with goals relatively easy then: graduate in just a few weeks, move to a different country, travel to a few more countries, read some books, etc. (If we’re honest, the next day another friend asked what my goals were and we could blame the margs or the stress of exams or what have you, but we honestly couldn’t come up with what five goals I had named the day before… start each year with a fresh start?)

So I went through the year trying to hit these goals. I graduated, moved to London, started a Master’s degree, traveled the country and Europe. Who knows if I managed to meet my five goals? But by my birthday celebrations in Montenegro, I was ready to challenge myself to another set of goals.Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 3.17.06 PM

I made the rookie mistake both years of not writing my goals down. So this year I am rectifying that by leaving my five goals here for all to see.

Goal #1: Get a Job

Goal #2: Run a Mile

Goal #3: Take the LSAT

Goal #4: Visit Friends Living in New Cities

Goal #5: Repierce Lost Piercings

Here’s to hoping I have better luck remembering these in a year’s time than my past attempts.

Working From Home

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As a currently fun-employed 20-something, I’ve found myself sitting at home scrolling through the endless job offerings on LinkedIn, hoping for a diamond in the rough posting that will perfectly fit my qualifications. While I continue that, I wanted to share my realizations about working (or simply being) at home all day. These tips (for lack of a better word) can apply to the unemployed, the self-employed, the telecommuting, or the retired.

Get Dressed

It’s such a simple step that makes such a difference. If I spend the morning in my pajamas lazing in bed, nothing gets done. Even if it isn’t until 11 a.m., get out of bed and get dressed – nothing fancy, just something new.

Distance Yourself

Speaking of bed, get away from it. Distance yourself from distractions in your apartment/house/dorm. If you can, get out of bed and sit at a table or even on your couch. Other distractions I’ve found include the kitchen, my phone, any televisions, and messy places. Anything that could give you a task or a temptation other than work has to be left in the other room. If you’re really motivated, head to a coffee shop or a library nearby.

Leave the House

Distancing myself from my apartment can mean distancing myself from the stress or anxiety that comes with applying for jobs. Waiting for an email? Take a walk. Can’t think of the right words for your resume? Run an errand. Partly, new environments spark new thoughts, but it’s also nice to leave every once in a while. Folks working at offices get to leave the stress at the office; you should distance yourself from that every once in a while. (Maybe the “stress” of retirement is not exactly applicable in this conversation, but being cooped up isn’t good for any of us.)

Give Yourself Days Off

Just like you should depart from your home every few days for your sanity, taking a break is important too. I find that due to social interactions, my weekends often become my days off, but it can be any day of the week. It also can be just when you finish what you’re working on. Though it helps to get out of bed and put on real clothes every day, it’s also nice to take a day to sit in your pajamas and watch Netflix. You’ll come back refreshed.

Be Social

I mentioned social interactions – you should be having them. As an introvert, I can happily spend days in a row by myself, but it’s nice to talk to someone every once in a while. Call your mom. Text your pals. Go grab a drink with your fellow unemployed millennial. They might spark an idea or give you a hint towards a job opening or make sitting at home alone sound like a dream.

Make a To-Do List

Maybe this is just me, but I have to have everything written down or it doesn’t get done. I make daily, weekly, monthly to-do lists. Everything from laundry day to apply to a job to vacuuming to my super busy (non-existent) social calendar gets written down. It feels really nice to cross things off the list and means you won’t walk away forgetting to hit send on that email.

Finish One Task a Day

I’m stealing this one from my grandma – give yourself one task a day to complete… and then complete it. I make a goal of applying to two jobs a day or finishing my laundry. If I’m super motivated more things get crossed off the to-do list, but if I’m not feeling it, I can cross one thing off and the day isn’t wasted. For low motivation days, I focus on something simple like clearing all my emails into “important” and “clothes websites that I don’t have money for” or taking out the trash or decorating a corner of the apartment.

Have a Creative Outlet

For a while, my roommate would come home from work to find I had hung something new or moved something to a different corner of the apartment. It’s slowed down for now, but having a creative outlet gave me all sorts of stress relief. My mother quilts, I’ve taken up crafting or cross-stitching, others knit or paint or draw (or if I’m being generous here, write blog posts about riding their bike….). Creative pursuits (even poorly executed ones) are worth a small portion of your time.

Pay Attention to Your Productivity

Everyone works differently. Some people are night owls, others prefer the morning. Some people need to get everything done at once, others have to spread the task out. Some people require breaks between tasks, others need rewards for a full day’s work. Whatever your style is, follow it. And ignore all those Facebook articles about how the smartest people are most productive at 6 a.m. or whatever. You’re most productive when you’re most productive – pay attention to you.

Take a Shower

Last tip: take a shower. Showers are a nice refresh from the day before or the last job application. Also, you might not realize it, but you could smell. Just saying…