Oh The Budgets You'll Make

Congratulations! Today is the day.

You've made your first budget! You're determined to save!

Your dollars have jobs. Your priorities are set.

You're paying ahead. Your goals are all met.

Your money is aging. Your debts are effacing.

And YOU are the one who'll decide which dream you're chasing...

...next.

the trials and tribulations of being out on your own

It happens to the best of us

Finances were something that were simply not discussed in my house growing up. Not only were they not brought up or taught, they were specifically taboo. At the curious age of twelve, I asked my mother what her income was and she acted like I asked for her social security number. As you can imagine, this lead to a not so great relationship with my credit union as I grew older. They knew me by name in college because I was calling so often begging for them to reverse a charge and promising that someone was on their way to deposit money.

My fiancé, on the other hand, was raised with a full understanding of finances. Her mother is a very passionate accountant who considers playing with her stocks a good time. My fiancé's relationship with money was extremely healthy (before she met me) and she managed to finish college with very little debt. But even with all of this knowledge and good credit history, we managed to find ourselves in a bit of a financial pickle.

This pickle started forming in that good ol' first year out on our own in our first apartment in a new city with no jobs. We had saved up a nest egg to fund our move knowing that we didn't have jobs and would need some time to find them. And we were really okay for quite a while; our bills were all being paid on time and we had enough to buy groceries and other necessities.

And then we got retail jobs...with discounts.

Little by little

We were still able to pay all of our bills, but our credit cards just seemed to grow and grow. We were constantly being surprised by the balance because we didn't make any large purchases that would rack up our debt, we just weren't being honest about our true expenses. We were putting aside enough money for all of our bills but then pretending that we could just spend the rest of our paychecks on whatever we wanted, forgetting that we had to spend a certain amount on groceries, laundry, transportation, and my obsession with bubble tea. We would also try to balance our spending by going through slightly stressful spending freezes where we would go a month at a time without spending money on anything outside of essentials. Without a budget to balance us, the following month we usually made up for our lack of spending and didn't really gain any ground.

Our careers eventually shifted, my fiancé got a salaried job as a social worker and then a promotion, and I, too, received a couple of promotions before we decided that we were finally making enough money to take the plunge and move closer to her job. This meant just about doubling our rent, which thankfully coincided with me receiving one more promotion that would make us enough money to get by and not be rent poor. We were afloat and paying down our debt, but we just never felt like we could save a single penny and were going to be stuck paying exorbitant rent forever because we would never be able to afford a house....or a wedding.

Enter: YNAB

We stumbled across a mention of YNAB in a Finance Facebook group that my fiancé was scrolling through one day. Everyone seemed really passionate about it and there was a free trial so we figured we had nothing to lose.

Game changer

I will admit, giving every dollar a job was a bit depressing at first because it seemed like everything was spent. But as we started planning out our priorities and deciding where we would spend every dollar we started to see that we were spending the majority of our money without even realizing it. There is a sweet satisfaction in being able to use your money for next month's bills instead of the previous month's. We are no longer worried that we won't be able to afford another $700 vet bill because our bunny can't figure out whether or not it has ovaries (longest story ever). And with almost a year of YNAB under our belt we met our biggest goal and bought a house. It's a 5 year investment fixer upper, but it's a house and it's ours...and it costs less than our overpriced apartment. We are still working on the wedding.

We can't imagine a life without YNAB now. Financial stress has melted away and we sleep easy at night knowing that we have every little expense planned out and a nice cushion to fall on should we need to. We can now focus on our house projects and finding all of the free things to do in our new town—you know, because that kitchen remodel isn't going to budget for itself.

You Say Tomato, I Say I'm Alive

I really wanted to start this with, “This is the day I died,” but obviously since I am sitting here typing it you can probably deduce that I, in fact, did not die…unless you are a fan of a certain British Sci-Fi show and think I am in an alternate universe. So I will go with the slightly less dramatic beginning of: this is the day I almost could have died but didn’t…part three (I’ve almost died a lot). All ninety pounds and fourteen years of me decided to jump on the ‘we love nature’ bandwagon and go on a white water rafting school trip with my dad and older brother. What could possibly go wrong?

Day 2: Also known as ‘Holy schnikeys, I survived day one! This could possibly be the best trip ever!’ I mean, I had just white water rafted down the Dead River in Maine and I still had all of my limbs. I was pretty pumped. So, day 2, the day we tackled the Penobscot…or shall I say tried to tackle it. My seat on the raft was in the back right corner right next to the river guide thanks to my dad threatening his life in the event that anything should happen to me. With my feet jammed under the seat in front of me and a life vest the size of Texas strapped on top of my wet suit, I was ready to rumble…until I saw an upcoming waterfall. A WATERFALL. Upon my third “AHHHH,” the guide assured me that this was completely normal and not as daunting as it seemed. Oh okay, Mr. River Man, if you say so.

My muscles clenched with anticipated rigor mortise as my seat suddenly felt a bit too warm for northeastern waters. The rage of the river crashed against every inch of our insignificant raft. This is it, I thought. This is what my life surmounts to: death by stupid river guide who thinks waterfalls are no big deal. And then before I even had time to plead with death for a second chance, it was over.

We had gently slid down the vertical cascade of water until it all went black. Literally. The rubber boat folded in half like a twig in a hurricane sucking me from safety into the dark trenches of spiraling water. I’m not being dramatic here. I don’t know if you know this, but water is the opposite of air and you cannot breath it, which is vital to living. But here I was swirling around with no idea which way was up, never mind where-the-bad-word the raft has floated off to, when I saw a bright blue blob jet in front of me. Immediately, I thought some large angry fish was circling me—because, you know, that is totally realistic—until my mind clicked. Blue! The guide was wearing blue! Do you know how difficult it is to maneuver ninety pathetic pounds in any direction that is not one with the river? After flailing my limbs in what I hoped to be an upward direction I finally broke the water’s surface and grabbed a gasp of air before the current punched me in the face reminding me who was boss. I couldn’t find the blue among the white foam pulling me further down the river.

I was exhausted, on the verge of giving up and letting my mind wander off down memory lane while it still had the chance, when I heard it. A muffled excuse for my name drifted over the temper tantrum of twisted currents. A surge of blinding power that I assure you did not exist until that very moment—known as adrenaline, you can google it—plunged me against the fighting rapids to the raft that was pathetically shoved up against a rock wall. I didn’t even know I had reached it until I was suddenly yanked out of the water by the top of my life vest. The rest of our crew was sprawled out like a catch of fish on a dock gasping for air. If fish gasped for air. You get the point. I sank into my dad’s arms and started laughing uncontrollably. This of course confused the poor old man who just almost lost his daughter. What was so funny, you may ask? Life. Life is funny. I just almost died and I didn’t care because it was fun. The rest of the day went a bit like this: splish, splash, person over board, person rescued, group smashed up against a wall and stuck, more splashing, rinse and repeat.

I went up against nature and I won. Yes, I am considering not dying a win. I felt her raw, unforgiving force as it shoved me under angry rapids and reminded me of my mortality. She earned my utmost respect that day. My relationship with nature has evolved since those impressionable adventures, but my appreciation for her power has never wavered.

Wear 'Em Proud

“Don’t scratch your skin, Danielle. It will leave scars and then you’ll never be able to be a model.”

My mother used to chant this at me every time she saw me giving into the temptation of an eczema induced itch. At that point, I didn’t really understand the concept of a scar so I just did as I was told because who doesn’t dream of someday being a model? And then I got one…and I liked it. I was proud. I now had a story to tell. My scars became boons that I carried on for all the world to see like a scrapbook of my adventures carved across my skin in code that only I understood.

A tiny brown streak on the cap of my left knee

This has been a fixture on my knee for as long as I can remember. I must have been no more than three when the trusty, plastic three wheeler betrayed me. The memory is like a faded picture in my mind now; the corners missing and the date smudged off the back. The glow of summer resonating in the background as I tried to maneuver my brother’s bright blue pedal powered three-wheeler over the shallow excuse for a ditch that separated the driveway from the lawn. My tiny legs stretched as far as they could reach with each wind around the pedal until my toes were all that were touching, probably barefoot. A slip of the toe. A turn of the wheel. A shift of weight. My left leg caught the brunt of the fall under the heap of faulty plastic. My knee looked like a piece of pizza whose cheese had slid off leaving the gooey dough and sauce exposed. Twentyish years later all that remains is a half inch whisper of a memory stained on my skin.

A faded wisp of an indent on the right side of my upper lip

The memory of this scar is still as sharp in my mind as the bite that caused it. The dog’s name is lost to me now, but his short white fur covered in deceptively adorable black spots flashes in my mind every time another dog of his overgrown stature walks by me; his brown eyes that blinked from playful friend to threatening enemy before I could back away; his teeth that no longer resembled a gangly smile as they lunged for my face. He was easily three times the size of the four year old me, but I managed to tumble and escape high enough up the basement stairs to cry for my mother through the tears and the blood. She came running to my wail and scooped me up in her arms for safety. The dog was quietly sitting in the corner like nothing had even happened. The bright blood spurting out of my face was wiped off exposing a nip on my lip and a couple punctures above my nose nestled in my freckles.

A minuscule white puff of skin between the knuckles of my right middle finger

When you’re eleven, playing a game called “bloody knuckles” is really more of a challenge than a threat. My best friend, Mo, and I were sprawled out on the well-warn wooden floors under the archway between her living room and dining room, a quarter spinning between us determining our fate. We took turns reaching out to touch it, knowing the last one to do so before it took its final static plunge of doom got to shoot it across the slick wood floor at the loser’s knuckles. Each round took a matter of seconds, but the spin of the quarter slowed with every staggered breath. The silent echo that followed the weight of the quarter laying flat against the floor snapped time back into reality. With a grin that was beyond necessary, Mo snatched up the quarter and prepared to sling it across the shiny surface of the floor directly at my knuckles as I pressed my fist against the ground. We had played this game several times and it had yet to live up to its name…until now. The quarter’s velocity wedged it between my knuckle and the floor with a chilling thunk as it cracked against my bone removing several layers of skin that are now a reminder of how much fun stupidity can be.

An inch-long flat pink bubble above my right kneecap

The sweet, salty air gusting off the Aegean Sea that crashed and jeered behind me teased my senses as I worked on my beach sculpture for my study abroad art class. The high July sun roasted the pale stones beneath my sandaled feet making them hot to the touch. The wind whipped my hair in every direction but brought no comforting, cool air to relieve my scorching skin. Though we were technically in class, we were allowed to take fifteen minute breaks here and there to cool off, and I couldn’t resist any longer.

Getting in and out of the water was an endeavor in itself but once you got out past the big slippery rocks that lined the shore the abundance of sea salt cradled you to the surface so that you couldn’t drown if you wanted to. A few students followed my example and joined me in the crashing comfort of the sea, but I was off in my own little world bobbing between the waves taking in every second of Greece that I could. Thoughts were fluttering in and out of my head, tangoing with each other, lulling me from conscious reality as I absorbed the sun’s gentle rays through the protection of the salty water.

I saw the tower of a wave coming. I felt the water sweep from beneath me as the tide was ripped out like a rug from under my feet. But my mind was still off in Narnia when my knee met with the surface of a boulder embedded in the ocean floor and all the water that was between me and the rock a second ago was now tumbling down on my head. A mouthful of seawater later, I was shot back up to the surface and floating along like nothing had just happened. I knew I had hit my knee but I couldn’t see the extent of my injury through the glimmer of the water’s surface. I figured the salt water would be good for my wound…until I remembered that I was in an ocean…where sharks live. After explaining my sudden panic to my classmate, Allison, I flailed all my limbs in the direction of the shore just in case a ninja shark had already picked up my scent and was on my tail.

Bumbling out of the rocky shallows I slapped my white sandal off my foot before the blood pouring down my leg could stain it. Allison had followed me out and was now searching for our professor for some sort of first aid or bandages so I could at least stop the bleeding. After I had been waiting long enough for the blood to cover the outlining surface of the rock I was standing on, Allison finally came back with a few good-sized band-aids to patch me up, our professor in tow to assess the damage. My professor made me toss my bloody rock into the bushes despite my begging to use it in my next sculpture, and I was put back to work. I think I ended up spending 15 euro on band-aids to keep it covered for the rest of the trip. Stitches probably would have been a better route, but I was pretty sure my insurance didn't cover a visit to a Greek island hospital. Ten months later and that scar is my favorite boon. I will never forget that trip, or that sea, or my professor’s face when she couldn’t understand why I was laughing at blood spurting out of my knee.

Life is full of bumps and bruises, but if we spend our time trying to avoid them for fear they will last instead of letting the ride take us through some rough patches that are worth the story, we may never actually experience life. My scars are a part of me; they are a link to the past and something to live for in the future where I will hopefully gain more stories to tell the kids someday. Skin is one of the strangest organs, but from experience I have learned one solid fact about it: it heals.

The Heart's Reply to the Shepherd

(A response to Christopher Marlowe's 'The Passionate Shepard to his love')

Despite all things thou hath offered,

Mine own heart doth not grow softer.

Speak now of thy heart's desires,

Where’s thy lust of feverish fires?

What then when the sheep are gone

And birds no longer bring forth song?

Thine own words are all I need

Upon my ears by whispers heed.

What then when thy roses wilt?

Wrinkles of time possess and jilt.

Promises barren with intent,

Lacking all thy loves consent.

What then when the night draws near?

Deep in my soul there is fear

Begging for a simple embrace;

A gentle understanding face.

What then when the world is quiet?

Alone but for intentions riot

Slowly building beneath composure,

Passions torrent is taking over.

If thou wish to be my love

Speak from within and not above.

But do so now before it’s late

For I shall not be one to wait.

You can take the girl out of Vermont...

The wind twirls a pile of leaves

Reminding her of simpler times.

The brick buildings around her

Fog into the mountains of her memories,

A land with softer ground

And kinder faces.

She waits for the bus

As the wind chills her bones,

But not in the sweet way

The morning used to greet her.

It bounces from tall building to tall building

Gaining aimless speed

Until it billows by without a hello.

A single leaf clings to her foot

As if it wants her to save it

From the endless wanderers on these hard streets.

She smiles at it

as if to say, "me too."

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