monthly updates

One Hundred Fifty-Seven Dollars

So, January was a strange month for me for many reasons, not the least of which is that I have been unemployed and living off my emergency fund. Before I finished my PhD last month, I had been accustomed to getting up early, commuting in to work, working from 8 or 9 in the morning until 5 or 6 in the evening, and collecting a paycheck each week. And contrary to what is sometimes assumed about student lifestyles, I did not have time off during summers or between semesters, nor (with relatively few exceptions) did I take vacations or personal days or even sick days. So after five and a half years of that ongoing daily schedule, its sudden disappearance has felt profoundly odd.

Another weird, or at least surprising, thing about this past month is the fact that I’m not overly anxious about being jobless. I can’t live off savings forever, but somehow I feel like something will eventually come together.

I do have some news that I’m excited about (two pieces of news, actually), but first let’s see how I did with some of the intentions I set for this unstructured month of January (the original list can be found here)…

  • Apply for full-time jobs. Yep, I have definitely been applying for jobs. More updates on that soon, I hope.
  • Send out at least two freelance writing pitches this month. At this point, when I say “freelance writing” I basically just mean anything written by me that appears somewhere other than on my own blog, whether paid or unpaid. I procrastinated a bit on this but did finally get it together to submit two articles on January 31st. It will be interesting to see if anyone wants to publish them. I also submitted one of my earlier blog posts for possible syndication.
  • Tie up the remaining loose ends in my lab. Pretty much done. I submitted my dissertation manuscript to the library (which, by the way, cost me $115 in “processing fees”) and finished revising one of the chapters for publication. This does not count as freelancing, by the way.
  • Fully assess my student loan repayment situation. Done. I will share this as soon as I have a job and a repayment plan in place.
  • Spend less than $300 this month on food. Oh my gosh, I finally did it!! I spent $266.08 on food in January! And I still bought fruits and vegetables AND went out to eat a few times. Amazing. In case you’re curious, I always break down my food spending each month into four categories:

Just-me Groceries: $201.42
Just-me Restaurants/Takeout: $2.12
Social Groceries (i.e., food involved in cooking with friends): $25.39
Social Restaurants/Takeout: $37.15

  • Participate in at least two paid research studies. I’m happy to say I participated in five, earning a total of $354.00, plus I sold some textbooks on Amazon and clothing at Buffalo Exchange for $100.87. That’s a grand total of $454.87 in random income for January—hooray!
  • Finish the Python course on Codecademy. I realized that brushing up my R skills might actually be more helpful than learning Python, at least in terms of some of the jobs I’m applying for, so I did that instead, using Codeschool and Data Camp.
  • Work on an idea that I have for a new website. Well, I’ve been thinking about this in my head a bunch, but haven’t done much actual focused work on it, so that’s still on the to-do list.
  • Go for a run every day. Hahahahahahaha, oh gosh, it’s so funny to me that I thought I was actually going to do that. However, I did make it to a lot of yoga and barre classes.

Okay, so here are the two pieces of news:

1. I made a student loan payment of $157.25. This may not sound like a big deal (or a big payment), but, fun fact, it’s the largest student loan payment I’ve ever made, and also the first one I’ve made since 2010. Realistically, this $157.25 did not make even a teeny dent in my loans, and it will soon be swallowed up by interest (it was just the minimum payment for the one loan where I’ve already used up the grace period, and while I would have loved to pay back more, I decided to wait until I have a real income again). But you know what? It still felt good.

I’ve noticed that one cool side effect of blogging about personal finance, and reading other people’s blogs, is that I am now able to check my loan numbers without fear. Checking numbers used to terrify me, so I basically didn’t do it. Ever. But now, when I log in to my account and check the numbers, I am not having a freak-out session. I am just checking the numbers. They are just numbers. Once I know what the numbers are, then I can calmly decide how much I am or am not going to freak out.

See the tiny sprout?
See the tiny sprout on the right side?

2. GUESS WHAT!? My new avocado pit is hatching! If you don’t know the back story on this, check out August (one of my favorite posts that I’ve written, even though it had almost nothing to do with money).

[Addendum: just when I was about to publish this post, I realized that I had accidentally missed another minimum payment on another loan, for $189.19, because the provider didn’t email me a notification about the due date. Whoops! I have way too many loans. Need to consolidate/refinance ASAP.]

How was your January? Know of any companies in Boston that are looking for an awesome employee? Want to help me name my new avocado pit? Want to give me feedback/suggestions on my new blog layout? Talk to me!

55 Comments on “One Hundred Fifty-Seven Dollars

  1. Awesome new layout Sarah! And even awesome-r progress on all of your goals, I’m so excited for you! I love the way you broke down your food spending, I think I need to look at mine a little bit more closely this month using those categories.

    PS. What’s this new website project you have in your head? CURIOUS MINDS WANT TO KNOW!

    1. Thanks, Des! Yeah, breaking down my food spending into those four categories tends to reveal a lot, at least for me.
      As for the website, it would sort of be about writing, like a site to encourage writers. I’m not 100% sure that the world needs another site like that, since there are so many already, so I need to figure out if I could make it creatively different enough. We’ll see! It would be fun to have a new project. 🙂

  2. Congrats on your January accomplishments! $157 is a great start to tackling your student loans. Every penny counts! I follow a zero based budget so every penny is allocated to something. Last month that lead to me making a $0.78 extra payment on a student loan! It seemed ridiculous but I’m confident these tiny extra payments will add up to a significant dent in my debt over time.

    1. Thanks, Michelle! 🙂 I agree, every penny does count — I too am on a zero-based budget. And I LOVE that you made a $0.78 extra payment. That does not sound ridiculous at all. All dents are good dents! 🙂

  3. Congratulations on your PhD! It’s always weird to be doing a routine for a long time and then suddenly stopping. Hopefully you’ll have a new routine soon in the form of a job? Sending you good thoughts on your job search! I’m really terrible with food spending too, and it’s pretty much ALL at home cooking. I feel like a pig! lol!

    1. Thanks, Tonya! Yes, hopefully I’ll have a job pretty soon.
      And yes, oh my gosh, I also feel like I must eat a LOT to spend so much on food. And honestly I am a big snacker, so that probably has something to do with it. Ah well. At least we’re both mainly cooking at home instead of going out!

  4. Congratulations on graduating! That’s such an accomplishment! I remember the feeling when I finished grad school, it was like being on top of the world. Enjoy it 🙂

    Sending happy thoughts your way as you job hunt!

    1. Thanks so much! 🙂 It is definitely nice to be done and to take a bit of a break. Five years is a looong time. 🙂

  5. Learning and taking action. Despite how small these steps may seem right now, they will add up to great things over time! I just started tracking my income, expenses, and net worth in 2016. It’s intimidating to actual document this stuff, but I’m excited to see how I can improve in the future.

    1. That’s awesome, Andrew! I started tracking my spending at the beginning of 2015, and I feel like I got so many super important insights from doing it. I bet you’ll discover a lot too. And I agree, it can be intimidating, but in my experience it gets easier and easier the more you look at it.

  6. I love your social groceries category, have I mentioned that? Anyway, congrats on what sounds like a pretty great January. It takes time to adjust to the post-PhD world. You’ve been pretty productive, actually.

    On the late minimum payment, you may have already done this, but call them up, explain they didn’t notify you in time, and ask to have any late fees removed. Good luck!

    1. Yeah, social groceries is key for me in understanding where all the money went. I should have mentioned that it also includes buying a bottle of wine or whatever as a gift to bring to a dinner party.
      Oh gosh, yeah, I should call the loan people. It didn’t seem like there was a late fee, but it was really hard to tell. One of my providers (the other one) has a super user-friendly interface, but this one is really hard to navigate.

  7. Funny statement about your running goal 🙂 Just out of curiosity, which paid studies does one safely sign up for? I hope you didn’t have to eat or drink anything, or test a new medicine…

    1. Ah, good question. There are a lot of easy, non-invasive studies where you just have to answer surveys or do computerized tasks involving words and shapes and sounds, stuff like that. Or fMRI studies, where you do a computerized task while in the scanner (those usually pay more). A few years ago I did participate in a clinical trial for a vaccine, which I realize not everyone is up for, but I felt like it was a good cause and it paid a fair amount of money. So, there’s definitely a variety. 🙂

    1. Ah, good question! It’s actually kind of complicated because there are a few different avenues I could pursue, and all of them are interesting to me. It would be cool to do something involving data analysis since that’s a lot of what I worked on during my PhD. But as I mentioned in my previous post, I also have a separate clinical degree, and I’m interested in doing clinical work as well. So, we’ll see! 🙂

  8. Congrats on both the biggest student loan payment as well as the PhD! I never would’ve even thought to plant an avocado pit for a tree, so I’m certainly going to go check out that original story. As for a name idea, I love to name after TV characters. The dog curled up next to me on the couch is Mosby for Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother.

    1. Thanks, Erin! Avocados are very cool houseplants to grow (even though they don’t seem to produce actual avocados). I definitely recommend them if you’re into plants.
      Ooh, TV characters…that’s a good idea. I’m into Downton Abbey right now, which could inspire some amusing names for a plant…Lord Grantham, perhaps? 🙂

  9. This is all great but what I am really most excited about is your avocado pit hatching! Yay!! Your August post was also one of my favorites and I hope this pit produces as awesome of a tree. And who knows maybe this one will produce avocados 😉

    1. Thanks, Melissa, I’m excited too!! I’m feeling a tad impatient because these things grow so slowly, but hopefully it will have some little leaves soon. I’m actually thinking of starting a backup in case anything happens to this one…they can sometimes die for no apparent reason when they’re just starting out. But yes, actual avocados would be very cool! 🙂

  10. Our January was about not sinking deeper in expenses than we were bringing in. Yay home repairs and medical expenses. Grumble grumble.

    But we’ll break even more or less (I get paid in about a week), so we’ll just have to see exactly where things land.

    I need to get my ass back into exercising. My mom was here, so I let workouts slide a bit, then inertia… So now I’m inching my way back in after about 10 days of indolence. Wonderful, wonderful indolence.

    Congrats on making your first payment. The first step is significant, even if the amount isn’t (or doesn’t feel like it, anyway).

    1. Thanks! It does actually feel significant somehow. Even though I still owe approximately four gazillion dollars. :/

      Oh gosh, don’t beat yourself up about failing to exercise when you have family visiting. That is terribly difficult to pull off. (Plus, like you say, it’s always fun to take a lazy break from the regular exercise routine.)

      Hope you break at least a little above even for January! 🙂

  11. Looks like you did pretty great on all of your goals Sarah (minus the running 🙂 ). The job market can be tough, but it’s all about plugging away! I’m sure you’ll find something soon enough!

    Congrats on your first loan payment! I know checking the numbers can be scary at first, but it’ll be great for you to see the number go down over time.

    1. Thanks, Vic! Yeah, I can’t believe how much my attitude and feelings towards checking the numbers have changed in the past year. Now I’m almost excited to check them, lol! 🙂

  12. Is it weird that I read/sang the title of this post just like the “500 25 thousand 600 minutes” line from the ‘Seasons of Love’ song in Rent? Maybe every-time you make a payment you can sing it that way and it’ll have a calming effect! Okay, sometimes I think way too much in song form haha. 🙂

    Your progress is amazing, and YAY to your avocado pit sprouting! Maybe you can start with naming him/her “Spro-cado!” (the sprouting avocado). Kind of like stacatto! (Why am I still making these musical references?!) I also really like how you break down your food spending categories and would like to try doing that as well. It would definitely give a more cohesive picture of how I am spending in that category (always the most tough to drill down)!

    1. Haha, that’s hilarious, I am now going to make all student loan payments to the tune of that Rent song. Lol.

      Yeah, I definitely like to break down my food expenses like that. It helps me differentiate between being frugal with my own groceries (which I want to do) and skimping on food purchases for others (which I don’t want to do).

      I like Sprocado; I’ll add it to the list of possibilities. I realized I shouldn’t actually name him until he’s a little more established, like with leaves and a real stalk. These things can still be a little fragile at this stage, and I don’t want to get too attached…

  13. It sounds like you’re doing a great job keeping on task and in control of your list! I am in the exact same boat with my student loans. I have been making just above the minimum payments and although $12 a month goes towards interest, I am still feeling like any progress is good progress. Because my student loans are much smaller than the average – I am waiting until after my wedding to complete payments. I think I’d prefer to focus on a happier goal for the time being 😉

    Keep your head up! You’ll land the best job ever, I just know it.

    1. Thanks, Alyssa! I think prioritizing your wedding over your loans sounds totally logical. And I agree — any progress is good progress. Thanks for the encouragement on the job front. I hope I’ll have more news to report on that soon!

  14. Well done on the tasks for January! And the beginning of paying off your student loans! It must be so crazy to have a complete and total change in routine after 5 years…

    I am so impressed with your ability to grow a tree from an avocado pit. I have an avocado in my fridge right now… and I was thinking of eating it for lunch today… I think I will save the pit and attempt to grow a tree. That would be sooo cool! Wish me luck!

    1. Good luck!! Two things I would say by way of advice are:
      1. Be patient. These pits can take FOREVER to start hatching. I think I had August suspended in the jar of water for nearly three months. This new one was maybe more like 5-6 weeks, but still it felt like a long time.
      2. Be really careful about topping up the water in the jar, as it can dry out easily, and as soon as the root gets dry, it’s all over.
      Oh, and be sure to follow the directions (you can google them, or there’s a link in my “August” post).
      Yay avocados!!!! 🙂

  15. You’ve definitely got a lot on your plate right now. The end of one era, and the start of a new one. Best of luck with your new writing ventures. I’m sure they will materialize! As did the avocado 🙂

  16. Ooo love the avocado news! Tried to do this with the kids a few months ago with the same setup and nothing happened. I will have to read from a scientist how to do it! And also congrats on making the first payment! They seem to get easier and larger over time, and much less scary.

    1. Thanks! 🙂 And yes, avocados can be frustrating at the beginning. I have definitely tried to start one or two that have ended up being duds. But if you’re interested in trying again, I definitely recommend it. You could maybe start two or three at the same time, and probably at least one would eventually hatch. My main pieces of advice are to use organic pits and be patient.

  17. Hooray for making your first loan payment!! And for checking off lots of other items off your list! And of course for hatching your new avocado tree. 🙂 It’s so awesome to know that you’re nice and calm about both the job search and your student loan debt. It would be incredibly easy to have a freaked out mindset, so kudos for not adding unnecessary stress to your life at this time of transition. I have total faith that you’re going to find something great!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I can’t figure out why I’m not more stressed out. Maybe because I know that if nothing else I could always temp or work at a coffee shop while I looked for something else. But whatever the reason, I’ll take it! I tend far too much towards anxiety in my response to most things, so this is a welcome change. 🙂

  18. Any amount of headway on debt is headway! I’m impressed. And it sounds like January was a settling month- figuring out how to navigate your new life, while also trying to set yourself up in another new life (full time job). You’re already ahead of the game by being this organized and proactive about things!

    1. Thanks, Kara! Yes, I’m definitely in the mindset that *any* amount of debt repayment is a reason to celebrate! January was definitely a settling month for me (as is February), which I think was good for sleep and relaxation purposes — both of which are important to catch up on once in a while! 🙂

  19. I love update posts! This was a fun one 🙂

    Any amount you can make on debt payments is good! Throw whatever you can at it and you’ll chip away at it soon enough. Btw – I also tried to grow an avocado plant once from a pit. I didn’t get any fruit (figured as much) but it was cool to watch it grow every day.

    Keep us posted on the pitches!

    1. Thanks, Christine! I’m excited to keep chipping away, and also excited about freelance possibilities. 🙂
      Yeah, avocado trees don’t seem to ever produce any fruit when grown as houseplants. I’m not sure what the issue is (lack of fertilization?). But they’re still great plants!

    1. Thanks so much, Jen! I actually just got a job this past week and am starting soon. I’m excited to jump right into the loan repayments!

  20. Loving reading your posts. It sounds like you are really moving ahead in your financial life and learning what it means to be on your own. When you first start paying on that debt, ti can be a little overwhelming. It’ll get better though! And good luck finding a job!

    Cassie |

    1. Thanks, Cassie! The update is that I did find a job and am starting next week, so that will obviously help a lot. I also have made a few more payments on the loans, which feels good. A little at a time! 🙂

  21. My mom named her avocado Brad, as in Brad (avocado ) Pit. 🙂 He moved with her to Florida and summered in Pennsylvania, and has grown big in the Florida sunshine again this winter. 🙂
    Best of luck on the job hunt!

    1. Oh my gosh, that is an AMAZING name for an avocado pit! I love it.
      Thanks for the good wishes — I actually started a new job this week, which I’m really excited about! 🙂

  22. Hey Sarah!

    I saw your post over on another site which says you are an SLP? I am as well, and have been working for almost 2 years now (wow time flies). What specifically did you research for your PHD, and what avenue job wise did you take? I am super interested in personal finance, and although have a domain I haven’t started writing my blog yet BLAH, but I digress. I am considering going back to school either to receive a PhD or a clinical doctorate. I’m guessing part of the reason why it was 6 years is because you were completing both graduate school and the PhD at the same time? That’s pretty cool! I did a 5 year masters and it was a lot, so I definitely needed some time off from school! Would love to pick your brain a bit!

    Thanks! And congrats on the job!

    1. Hey Emily 🙂 Thanks for visiting! I haven’t been posting a lot of specifics about my current job or PhD topic here on the blog, but if you’d like to email me directly at theyachtless [at] gmail [dot] com, I’d be more than happy to chat!

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