State of The Bank: Or, er, my bank accounts

Money is just really scary, hard, and difficult. For most of my life, because of necessity, I’ve been really good with money, and made budgeting through college work no problem. But in this first year out of college, I’ve completely tanked financially and I feel a weird amount a shame about it. I don’t believe that money should be a taboo subject, and I think millennials being real about our situations is how change and healing happen. I have also realized that I need to be much more accountable about my spending. And who better to be accountable to than you, dear Internet? So I’m going to put it all completely out there here.

After taxes, I make $1,100/month. One of the jobs I work is hourly and I pick up shifts here and there, so some months, this past month included, that number is a little higher. The conservative bottom line though, is that $1,100 a month. And I’ve been paying down a $3,000 credit debt sum on that salary for the last three months. I also just straight up didn’t work for four months this year. During that time I went to Puerto Rico, traveled between Michigan and Oklahoma multiple times, and moved across the country. Before that I moved across the country the first time, bought a mattress and a desk, and had to buy a new laptop when mine broke. Since the move had drained me financially, all those expenses went straight onto credit cards. The whole time I was doing this, I kept thinking, “It’ll all work out. Somewhere down the line, I’ll balance it out.” But I didn’t, and now I just feel like I’m drowning. I’ve been paying down this debt, but then the next month something comes up and the number climbs back up again. I guess I’m less good at money than I thought?

I recently went to a local non-profit for an unrelated work thing and while I was there I asked the person who did financial counseling if I could come to some classes and he kept saying, “Oh, yeah, we’ll get you all the basic beginner information.” But I don’t need the bare essentials. I have a savings account, I understand how credit cards work. I need advice for how to make it work with very, very little wiggle room. On Gaby Dunn’s Bad With Money podcast (if you haven’t already listened, go do that now), she had a guest, Ashley C. Ford, who talked about this. (If you don’t follow her, go follow her now.) I’m paraphrasing, but in the episode “Don’t Let the Fear Steer,” Ford basically says, “there’s financial literacy and there’s financial stability. You can be good with money and still not have any.” And that’s where I feel like I am and that’s how I feel trapped. The fear is definitely steering me.

Even though I live for free and commute thirty-five minutes each way in order to do so. Even though I work two, unbelievably emotionally taxing jobs, six days a week for a total of fifty hour work weeks before any side hustling. Even though I virtually never socialize in public (I went to a bar two week ago for the first time in four months). Even though I try to pack my lunch every day. Even though I rarely but still occasionally buy nice things like Apple Watches because I deserve them. Even though I make all of these financially-motivated decisions, I still feel out of control of my finances.

What happened to the Karalyn that was really good with money? They were just supposed to go to college and graduate and land a stellar job--how did I go so wrong? Didn’t I try hard in school so I didn’t have to make $15K a year? Where’s my other $20,000 at? No one should be living at this level when everyone I know who does, works really fucking hard. And we still get told that we’re fiscally irresponsible, that doesn’t seem right? Rich people are just greedy and stocks are evil. I just need enough money to go buy a farm. You know, because once you buy the farm you’re good forever and money doesn’t exist anymore.

And that’s a lot of my thinking. But I'm starting to think...maybe I think about this wrong. On “Bad With Money,” Gaby also talks quite a bit about ‘poor’ narratives and ‘rich’ narratives, or the ways that lower-income and middle income+ folks are taught to conceptualize money. She examines how rich people are taught to invest and save, to always have a buffer. Which they can do, but only because most of the time that buffer is simply inherited and not earned. Whereas poor people, because money is never around for long, spend it while they have it. The first time I listened to her explanation, I was like, this is absolute bullshit. Truthfully, I still think most of it is bullshit. In my lived experience, poor people know a lot about money and live in the most fiscally savvy ways of anyone. Just because we can’t get our money into the stock market, doesn’t mean we don’t invest. Shoes, electronics, latest music, status-symbol clothing and other items are all investments in ourselves and lives we want to live.

Plus, how can poor people be blamed for not investing in ‘traditional’ ways when those ways are systematically closed from us--with things like account minimums and employers who keep you part-time who would never give you a 401k match plan. Within this framework, poor people are also often criticized negatively for pooling their means and sharing with one another. But I absolutely believe that people can operate collectively, outside of nuclear households, to make the system work for them. If you can grow tomatoes and share them with your neighbor who can get the kids to school because their Ford is working this month, you should do that. And if that means sometimes paying other people’s rent because you’re gonna be okay and someone will have you next time, then absolutely live that way and you shouldn’t be criticized for making do with what you have.

But this whole ‘poor narratives’ narrative does has me wondering, maybe I don’t know all that I think do. Is there financial literacy that I’ve just been entirely left out of? Sometimes it really does feel like I’m not in on the joke.

I have really big dreams about my financial future and success. I want a retirement fund by the time I’m 24. I want to have non-evil investments to small businesses that help them get a leg up and help me collect at a non-sharky interest rate. I want to do something with the CDs my grandpa gave me as a kid that are currently LOSING value as they mature because inflation outpaces them. I want to open an aggressive online savings account later this year. I wanted to be credit debt free by February of next year...which I’ve had to change to May...which I’ve had to change to probably early 2019.

And that last sentence is the crux of it: there’s a disconnect between how I envision my financial status, how I feel about my money, and the reality of the situation. I don’t even think I’m seeing the situation clearly. But I also don’t know how else I’m supposed to be looking at it.

I really believe in transparency, and this was a super helpful exercise that got me rethinking how I interact with money, so here’s what I made and spent last month:

November 1, 2017 - Dec. 1, 2017

Income:
AmeriCorps: $1,242 (lol. for real. at a job I put in 40+ hours at)Foster Home: $517 (worked back-to-back doubles over Thanksgiving for some double pay)
This blog!: $34 (after Patreon and PayPals cuts)
Total: $1,793

Spending:
Car Insurance: $150
Car Payment: $200 ($50 over my minimum payment)
Coffee Shops: $45
Gas: $35
Rabbit Stuff: $55
Personal/Home Stuff: $25
Groceries: $209 (I really value food and this is part of a larger conversation)
Other Shopping: $355 (consisting of my new coat, some sweaters from VOA, Apple Watch, LUSH haul, and some succulents)
Total spending before credit payments: $1,074
Credit Card Payments: $733
Total spending after credit payments: $1,807
Total added to debt for month: $14, oops
Saved: $0
:(

Okay so even just doing this I realized I don’t pay down my debt as much as I thought I did (and, oh yeah shit I even added to it by fifteen bucks). I didn’t realize this though because I actually paid $1,300 towards credit cards last month. Which felt like so much. But I was still going out and charging on them--to the tune of $650 dollars. So my dent was more like a dug hole, that I filled part-way back in, but still felt the labor of digging this whole time. This helped me see something that has got to change: even though the rewards perks are good, I can’t put any more money on my credit cards. Period. In fact, I’m not leaving the house with them and I’m hiding them when I shop online.

At the same time, I’m cutting myself some slack. September of this year was the first time I made money in four months and mid-October was the first time I started receiving a regular, consistent paycheck. When I was living in Boston earlier this year and the rent was too damn high, I was being American foolish and covering the gap with credit cards. So for the past 11 months, that total debt added each month has been a lot higher than $14. And I’ve still never soared above $3,500 total credit debt. Today that number sits at $2,600, with repayment in sight and feeling possible. So yeah, my finances suck and my shit stinks. But here are some things that I think are positive good steps I’m making to realign my financial dreams with my financial reality:

  • I live at home for free. No rent or utilities for me.

  • Just as of this week, I’ve transferred the rest of my credit debt to a 0% APR card. This means that I am officially paying no interest on my current debt and have 21 months of no interest to become credit debt free

  • I am in the process of putting my student loans into repayment that will cost me $0/month and still count towards my ten year repayment program

  • I have just restructured my budget so starting this month I am putting $200 towards credit debt and $100 towards savings. I will be able to see the bonafide dent in my debt without sacrificing so much that I end up doing a big splurge and backsliding. I know these numbers need to get bigger, but I’m starting somewhere.

  • Starting this month (December) I’m not taking my credit cards out anywhere with me. This way I won’t be adding to my balance while paying off in these massive sums, and still not actually paying down past debt. I let that get away from me for far too long because I enjoyed the temptation of accruing rewards with my credit companies. But suck it, rewards, I want easily understood payment tracking instead.

My bottom line is this: I’m learning. In my core I believe poor people deserve nice things (too), so I’m not going to deprive myself of all life’s luxuries. I also have to balance that with a growing understanding of how stable people make and keep money, which is an approach wholly new to me, but that I believe will get me closer to the life I want to live. Afterall, if I want to work full-time for the revolution, something’s got to be sitting around to pay my bills.

P.S. Does anyone know some really cool queer anti-capitalist financial advisors who would give me services in exchange for tarot readings?

Autumnal Actions: Taking Care of Self + Others

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Fall is always a time to get cozy, comfy-down, settle-in, and snooze a lot. For me, these are all ways to take time to myself, to nurture myself. This quiet settling in is how I return to a semblance of being, reconfiguring how I move in this world and the direction I'm heading. Even as the cold tears my skin, my self-care rituals in these sunless days comfort my bones and still much of my jitters. Caring for myself means multiple things: yes to having long luxurious baths, yes to lighting candles and reading beloved books, yes to Netflix binges and all those things are detailed here. But taking care of myself, especially as the world gets dark and dreary and my mental health teeters ever-more towards the edge, taking care of myself means other things too: setting phone alarm reminders so I pay my bills on time, actually saying no to things for once, carving out time to cook food even though its painful on low-spoon days and I don't feel the benefits until even lower-spoon days when the food is ready for me. It's all a balancing act, which is maybe why I try to learn it as much as possible in Fall--the leaves change, the ground turns, the sun disappears and light flips us all on our heads, but she balances it so brilliantly. 

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So I've been taking notes by walking in this beautiful place--how blessed am I that this is my front yard and also I live rent free? That's a tale for another day, but in the meantime, checkout that Sun. Being here has allowed me to feel connected and steady, like I'm finding home for the first time in a long time. The unseasonably warm temperature means that I can do laps around the lake near dusk and still not freeze. 

I've been spending time with my rabbit who is the absolute love of my life--Andrea Tegan Gertrude. She named after Andrea Gibson, Tegan Quinn, and Gertrude Stein aka Queer Icons. She loves mustard greens and raspberries and chewing everything she's not supposed to. We've been through a lot together and I love her to the moon and back. 

I also binge-watched Netflix's Mindhunter and if you haven't yet you should. (I mean, there are no shoulds in life, but you should.) I️ love Criminal Minds and it was wicked to see historicized BAU at its origins! (TW: overt sexism and brutality against women, murder, sociopathy.)

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I've taken care of myself by getting a little Lush haul after the bills were paid for the month. Above features all my buys (from left to right): Sparkly Pumpkin bubble bar, Razzle Dazzle luxury bath oil, Ectoplasm bath jelly, Secret Arts jelly bomb, Cheer Up Buttercup bath bomb, Shoot For the Stars bath bomb, Snow Fairy jelly bomb, Rose Jam naked shower gel, Monsters' Ball bath bomb, Melting Moments luxury bath oil, Twilight shower gel,  The Big Sleep jelly bomb. 

I've also been cooking when I can, even when it means pushing my limits. I've joined a CSA and therefore have had to learn what to do with celeriac and rutabaga. While I cook I listen to Gaby Dunn's Bad With Money or Aaron Mahnke's Lore and while not in the least bit similar, they both give me a good-down-under spooky sensation. 

  A week of produce from my CSA. I get it through work, so incidentally, I also grew some of this food. 

 A week of produce from my CSA. I get it through work, so incidentally, I also grew some of this food. 

In my dwindling other time, I've been reading WTNV's new novel, It Devours, and Rupi Kaur's Milk + Honey, at last. Getting lost in their worlds by filling my brain with their words and then having long conversations  with friends that make me want to write more postcards.  

And one more little thing I've done for myself (that's actually pretty big): put they/them pronouns in my e-mail signature and casually asked my coworkers to use them. I spoke up about my pronouns at a conference where I was terrified of everyone, and another non-binary attendee came and gave me a pronouns pin, which I've been wearing, and it feels so so good. Gender is exhausting, and there's definitely been some negative lashback to these baby steps, but being real about myself with others feels fine for a change. 

Lastly, I take care of myself by attempting to take care of others in the ways that they ask to be taken care of. As I head into the 'holiday season' (whatever that means for a disenfranchised estranged individual like myself) I'm trying to put my money and my labor where my heart is at by: 

  • Finding reputable orgs doing groundwork in Puerto Rico and donating to them. (Suggestions heavily welcome.)
  • Making more room in my schedule to go volunteer at local orgs. The reality is that I cannot currently give a ton of money to revolutionary and healing work, but I can give my brains and my hands. 
  • Making sure that trans women of color have housing, food, and their needs met by giving directly to them

So that's where I'm at for now. I appreciate everyone's patience and support while I juggle life and this love project of mine. Please comment with how you're taking care of yourself as the seasons change and what, if anything, holiday giving means to you. <3 

Black Friday 2017

I️ have never in my life participated in Black Friday—but this year I’m giving it a shot! I’ll be working Thanksgiving night and get off at 10:30 pm, so I figure I’ll stop on my way home. I don't want to go out-of-the-gates-wild, so I'm going to keep it at a place or two. I’m going to bring baked goods and thank you cards to give them to people working in the stores that I interact with, and thank them generously. Also, I might chicken out and actually just do it all online.
Here’s what I’m excited about:

Winter Coat:
I️ actually already bought this one from JC Penny during their “pre-Black Friday” sale whatever that is.
I️ desperately need a new winter jacket and as much as I would love a Patagonia or Columbia, the bank account said no. This is a nice dupe, hopefully similarly warm but if not I️ have sweaters, and doesn’t have a fur hood which is great because I️ think they’re ugly. It's the a.n.a. midweight stretch puffer jacket.  Original cost was $200, I️ bought it for $80. Plus free shipping.

Savings so far: $120

Apple Watch from Target:
I️ really really need a watch—when I’m on the farm my hands are constantly wet and I don’t have the time to take out my phone every few minutes. I️ thought getting something digital, plus a few bells and whistles, would be nice. It's tempting to go for the Series 3 but I'm going to optimize savings and get the Series 1. 

Originally: $250, on sale for $180

Savings so far: $190

Board Games Galore: 
Also from Target, they're doing Buy 2, Get 1 free on all board games and this is what I am most ecstatic about. I am a board games fanatic, I actually used to play them by myself as a child and would make up my own rules. Does anyone remember Careers? Because I move all the time I haven't got any board games but I've decided now's the time to start the collection. So I'm going for it with Pandemic, Settlers of Catan, and the Resistance. And fill a bookshelf, and in turn, my heart with joy.  

Total savings: $210

+ that's the gameplan. Now I just need to wait 24 hours to execute. I hope you all get what you need to get, interact in ways that bring positivity to chaos, stay blessed, and fuck the capitalist system that has people get things they deserve on a single day because it's the only time it's feasible for many. <3

Something Wicked This Way Writes

Why, hello old friend. This post is a ‘life update’ and is probably going to read like a diary entry. So I have a new job, and my coworker reads my blog now, which is weird because it forces me to think about readership and not this blog existing as my screams into the void. I actually have two new jobs, this full-time AmeriCorps service year position and a part-time position at a foster home. I was working third shift, but it was making my already sick-self EVEN sicker and so today, in a fit of anxiety, I managed to talk to my supervisor’s supervisor and change to a day-time substitute. I feel mostly good about this shift and I’ll still work for this organization that I believe in, but it’ll give me more time (hopefully) to be able to better take care of myself and give more attention to this blog. It’s just that I hate disappointing people.

Meanwhile, I’m actually using my liberal arts Environmental Studies degree in my full-time job. I’m serving as the Gardening Educator at a non-profit in my hometown and that has felt mostly good too. The non-profit is a non-profit, so it’s not radical at all, but they are cognizant of alternative revenue streams to grants and they have one of the better food pantries I’ve been to. It’s scale and mission is pretty similar to the non-profit I worked at in college so that feels familiar and nice. There are new and challenging aspects as well, so professionally, even though the pay is shit, this position has been a nice balance of things so far. My hope is that I will get a year of legitimate hands-on farming experience in order to be all the more prepared for the revolution and the dream farm.

But between the two jobs and how sick I’ve been, all my side passion projects have been so neglected. The whole point of moving back to my hometown was to save money, study for the LSAT, and have time for the beloved side hustle but I haven’t been excelling at those three things. That said, one of my current goals is to stop being so dang hard on myself. So, I’ll say this:

1.       I am slowly but surely paying off the credit card debt I shamefully accumulated living in Boston. This should afford me—haha punny—more wiggle room in terms of agency and ability moving forward in life path choices.

2.       My LSAT score has gone up ten points in practice testing and I still have a full month left to study.

3.       I’m writing this and my love for Environmental Femme hasn’t diminished at all—in fact, my plotting is only ever on the increase. So I’ll settle that as a good sign.

Another thing I need to do is stop judging my success by others’ assessments of me. I rely so heavily on external praise—on number of views, likes, Patrons, and such. And that data has value, to be sure, but it can’t be everything I think of myself. I need a better crafted internal dialogue of my strengths and growth areas. As it stands now, I critique myself to a pulp and then look to outside places for affirmation. But I want to make and intentional move to being my greatest judge AND my greatest cheerleader. Now is clearly the time to invest in a bunch of millennial self-help books.

Baby Shower on a Budget

My cousin is having a baby and I hosted our family baby shower! It was my first ~real~ non-college hosting situation and it felt like a Big Femme Deal to me so here’s what happened:

We went with Saturday brunch for scheduling reasons. My cousin is having an AMAB (child and naturally my whole family is “so excited for a boy” and that seeped into people’s theme opinions. As a trans nonbinary person who really thinks gender should just die already, I was SO uncomfortable with all the blue things suggested for this shin-dig. The baby’s nursery is Peter Rabbit from Beatrix Potter’s children’s book series, so the baby shower was Peter Rabbit themed too. This was manageable for me. Those “Daddy's____” onesies are not.

Thankfully the parents-to-be requested a mixed-gender baby shower so everyone in the family was there and I didn’t have to navigate being a nb femme at a ‘traditional women’s shower.’ That said, gendered dynamics in Midwestern families, mine included, can be really severe and hosting was a disaster gendered experience in and of itself. But this post is about cute decorations and pulling off a party, so let’s get on with it!

I made a Pinterest and that helped with coordination. I could keep track of ideas I liked, games I wanted to play, and see what had worked well for other people. What’s most important when planning an event is making sure you can bring the theme together—from vision to execution. And my Pinterest board kept me accountable to that goal.

My budget wasn’t very big, in fact it was next to nothing, so I knew I couldn’t have specialized everything. Instead I went with the theme of Peter Rabbit and brought some broad concepts together, highlighting them in cute in personalize ways, in order to pull it off: a Mr. McGregor’s Garden chalk board, watering cans filled with flowers from the garden, nice floral china eatery, and radish cake pops. Sure, I would have wanted to do more given more money, but the shower was absolutely lovely and everyone had a great time. It is possible, ya’ll.

Invitations:

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My brother works at a print shop so I was lucky to be able to have him make these gorgeous invites for free. They were guests’ first introduction to the party and I felt set the tone nicely. Image: Photo of one of the Peter Rabbit invitations, personal information blacked out. 

Games:

For games I used supplies I already had or printed out sheets that I devised. And the games were the best part! We played: Name the Nursery Rhyme, the Price is Right, and The Tray Game. I went for classic and classy, no fake-poopy diapers, and it was enjoyable all around. I intentionally chose games that are actively facilitated by the host with little side discussion because that is the dialogue flow that my family needs. But think about how you want conversations and food to go during your game time and choose your games appropriately. There’s so many to choose from, you will find some that work for your group dynamics.

Decorations:

Here is where having a tight budget and little time synched me and I would have loved to have more of both, but I still cobbled together a few things. Tricks that helped me immensely included:

· Decorating with things you already own—see the aforementioned watering can, garden flowers, and wooden baskets.

· Turning gifts into decorations. This is the diaper cake idea! My aunt did an incredible twist on this baby shower classic and made a diaper vegetable basket with presents wrapped up as eggplant, potatoes, radishes, tomatoes, and cabbage. It was incredible. 

· Lastly, Etsy. Etsy has so much to offer when it comes to printables and they can be extremely affordable. I especially loved the banner, cupcake toppers, and Beatrix Potter wall prints (all pinned on my board).

Images: Top is of the chalkboard welcome sign greeting guests on the presents table. It reads, "Mr. McGreggor's Garden (no rabbits allowed!) Middle: A display of the gifts table prominently featuring the diaper vegetable basket with all its wrapped produce gifts and a stuffed Peter on top. Bottom: A display of the brunch dessert layout with the Radish Cake Pops and doughnuts from our favorite bakery. 

Food:

My mother was in charge of the menu and did most of the food but I contributed with radish-shaped cake pops so I’ll include that recipe:

Radish Cake Pops—

Since our theme was Peter Rabbit a lot of our motifs related to the garden and I thought these radish cake pops would make the perfect dessert contribution. I got the idea from this pin, but instead of making carrots and bunnies too I just went with the simple radish. Again, simplicity means fewer supplies which means softer on the budget!

I swear every time I embark on making cake pops I think what fun it will be and then halfway through I remember what a nightmare it is. I never have enough candy melt and then I end up desperately rolling crumbling cake pops in the remnants trying to get a full coat but still having cake pieces peak through. So take it from this sad pro and buy more candy melt than you think you could possibly need. Also, get a drying rack for the cake pops. That uniform perfectly-coated pattern for every pop is so worth it!

Those complaints aside, the process of making cake pops is very straightforward:

· Buy your favorite box cake and bake it!

· Let cool for 10 minutes out of the oven, then take a fork and scramble that sucker like an egg.

· Dump your cake into a large mixing bowl, add half a can of frosting of your choice and combine until your cake bits can hold together.

·Put wax paper out on a baking sheet (I even use the same pan I made the cake in for less washing).

· Roll your cake bits into balls—I go for just smaller than a golf ball. Too large and they won’t stay on the stick, too small and they just won’t be worth the bite.

· Melt one batch of candy melts and dip the tips of the cake pop sticks into the melts. When dry, stick the cake pop sticks into the center of your cake balls.

· Pop your tray of sticked cake balls into the fridge for 10 – 30 minutes.

· Take pops out of the fridge, dip them into your melt mixture, ensuring your melts stay deep enough to coat the entire cake pop. Add and melt more candy melt as necessary.

· Put your dipped cake pops onto the drying rack for smooth results. Cheat: if you can’t get a rack, trying using the holes in your colander.

· Voila! Decorate with sprinkles, edible glitter, fondant, frozen chocolate, or whatever your heart desires! I made little radish ‘leaves’ with baker’s chocolate that I piped onto wax paper and then froze.

I trust you to try these out, finesse your technique, and become a cake pop master. Just get enough candy melts and a drying rack and you are well on your hassle-free way.

Images: Beginning and End stages of cake pop assembly!

 And that about covered the party—we had simple decorations around the Beatrix Potter theme, delicious food and even better doughnuts and cake pops for dessert, and my family had a lovely time. The vegetable garden diaper basket was a huge hit and my games were popular even though I was disappointed with how few nursery rhymes were known. I feel my first grown, domestic femme resisting patriarchy but still serving hostess excellence event went well and I look forward to sharing more with you all!