2014 Goals

2014. A year I've already found wildly unpleasant (thank you field exams). But life presses on. And without some focus, I'm pretty sure I'd just descend into madness, so here goes nothing.

1. Pass Field Exams. Dear Jesus let this happen...
     (Stretch Goal): Get a "high pass" on field exams. AKA knock that shit out of the park.
2. Finish a dissertation proposal.
     (Stretch Goal): Finish dissertation proposal AND one complete chapter of the dissertation. 
3. Present at a national or international conference. Should be simple enough, as I've already been accepted to a national conference.
     (Stretch Goal): Present at +2 national or international conferences.
4. Get an article "under consideration." This is a step up from last year's goal of just getting an article out the door. While this doesn't necessarily mean it will be published, it means it's not shit. 
     (Stretch Goal): Get published. Like, legit acceptance. 

1. Get total household debt <$70,000. Between the remainder of my loans and the BF's, this amounts to approximately $9,000 of principle on our combined debt load. 
     (Stretch Goal): Total household debt <$68,500. 
2. Find summer funding. This could be another contract gig, a summer course, or some random PT job. Whatever it is, I need to make some extra income while I'm not getting paid for school.
     (Stretch Goal): Make $3,000+ through summer work. 
3. Save $2,500 for different short- and long-term savings goals. (An upcoming vacation, a future wedding, new furniture, a puppy fund, etc.)
     (Stretch Goal): Save $3,000 for savings goals. 
4. Sell unused books on half.com or Amazon. My one non-minimalist tendency is books, but we have stuff even I don't/won't read. If not for the extra income, then for the space and simplicity.
     (Stretch Goal): Sell/donate 1/10th of our current book collection. 

1. Take a vacation. Aside from a 36 hour stay on a lake during which I came down with a migraine, the BF and I have never taken a "real vacation" together--and we've been together for five years. Our plan is to go somewhere warm and sunny after my exams. 
2. Drink 72 ounces of water (three fills of my re-usable water bottle) every day. 
3. Find some form of activity that I can commit to. Yoga. Walking. A reasonably-priced belly-dancing class (OK, that one is unlikely). Something to keep me from the sedentary lifestyle I've acquired in the past six months.
4. Work on being a better friend. I'm always working on being a better partner, but I'd like to cultivate my non-romantic relationships this year as well.


2013: A Year In Review

1. Finish coursework making no less than an A- in each course. CHECK
2. Complete my reading for Field Exams. FAIL
3. Present a conference paper at another regional (or, better yet, national) conference.CHECK
4. Submit one paper for publication. CHECK
5. Maintain an updated resume and CV. CHECK

1. Stay in budget on dining out. FAIL 
2. Pay off $3,000 on interest-bearing student loan. CHECK

1. Continue refining and adhering to my schedule (this will be really important when I'm reading for field exams). PASS
2. Try three new recipes a month. PASS
3. See a non-school friend 2x/month. PASS
4. Call a long-distance friend 1x/month. FAIL
6. Continue my goal of being a better partner. PASS

There you have it. In terms of the reading, apparently everyone gets behind on their schedule, so I'm just frustrated with myself personally rather than freaking out (OK, well I'm freaking out too, but everyone freaks out at exams). We were OK on dining out until the holidays hit--going home and visiting friends always puts a dent in our budget.

This year-end review feels kind of anti-climatic, honestly. This year has brought a lot of changes (BF's job, new apartment, new phase in my academic career, etc.) so I already feel miles away from where we were in January. After a nice sit-down with the BF, I'll try to post 2014 goals.

PS - Exams have made me crazy-MIA. Hoping to get back to regular updates in 2014 (consider that a goal...)


Why Can't Things Just Be OK?

Just when I think my life is under control... I can't put on pants. 

Not like a metaphysical "Oh, I'm so down" or "Oh, I'm so lazy" or even "Oh, look at me reading for exams in my apartment, pants-less!"

No, seriously. I CANNOT put on pants.

I own five pairs of jeans, all in the same size. Some are looser than others, because they're different brands, but for the past five years or so, I've been a solid size 10. 

Until today. Until I went to put on a pair of jeans.

I finally got the jeans up, sucked in as much as I could to button and zip. Then I breathed. And everything tumbled over. And I just sat down on my bed, in shock. How did this happen? 

I know how it happened, honestly. My life is sedentary: I read, I write, I take public transit to work where I sit and write and answer phones. I don't belong to a gym, I rarely ever do yoga anymore, and since the BF and I are trying to stay in and eat in more, I'm not even walking to restaurants or pubs. 

I'm going to a beach in March and I'm in my best friend's wedding in May. The last thing I want is to hate my body while I'm supposed to be relaxing, or be ashamed of how I look in my friend's wedding photos. I don't want to be embarrassed or self-conscious when the BF puts his hands on my waist or when I get reading in the morning before he leaves for work. I want to be confident in how I look, and frankly, being at this size I'm just not. 

Here's the thing: I don't think I look unhealthy. But I know this is not my standard weight, and I know that means something has changed--my metabolism, my lifestyle, a combination. And I feel unhealthy (although I wonder if that feeling isn't coming from my too-small pants and the emotional effect that has on me). So I don't think it's one of those love-your-body-the-way-it-is situations. I think it's one of those wake-the-fuck-up situations. And I don't want to be some unrealistic size two, but getting to a nice 8-10 would be really nice. 

I don't want to make promises I can't keep by claiming I'm going to start training for a marathon or something, but honestly--something has to change. 


Money-Saving Melancholia?

So, aside from really reigning in our spending, the BF and I have reached a plateau

As a full-time graduate student with a part-time side gig (and some contract work that is STILL finishing up, although to the tune of 1-2 hours/week), I'm pretty maxed out on my earning potential. Sometimes I look at job boards and get sad when I see that there are jobs I'm qualified for that pay $50,000/year or more, but I just try to remember that when I get to call myself "Dr. GraduateLiving," it will all be worth it. 

The BF just got a raise (3%, so basically inflation) and is still trucking along at his job, contributing 18% pre-tax to his 403(b) and bringing home more bacon than me. He could potentially pick up a side-gig, but the work he's done in the past requires a car and, unlike me, he does not feel useless when he has free time. Also, if he picked up a side-gig I'm not sure laundry would ever get done. 

We've automated our bills, negotiated the best rates (although I'll be revisiting our Internet expenses come 2014), and established aggressive-but-feasible savings and debt repayment amounts. All that said, for the foreseeable future we have maxed out our income. With the exception of dining out (which is an ongoing process/struggle), we have reigned in our spending as much as reasonably possible. So now is the part where we just sit back and ride, but it doesn't feel like enough.

That's a silly statement, because between retirement contributions, savings, debt payment, and general frugalness, we're averaging a $3,000-$4,000 net worth increase each month we both get paid (it's lower in the summer, since I'm on a nine-month contract with school). But given our level of debt (again, the BF has LOTS), that negative net worth line just isn't rising fast enough for me. 

That's the function of desire, right? Desires are never achievable, because once you achieve your goal you desire something else. Often this is associated with "stuff," but I think net worth increases are a material gain that can also fall under this category. As soon as our savings/debt repayment rate is 40% I want to shoot for 50%. Not a bad goal, but also perhaps unrealistic given our income level and the COL in our city. 

For me, it's just hard to be stagnant--I feel like once I get stagnant, I allow myself to drop off the wagon, so to speak. Stagnation means I'm not working hard enough on reaching my goals. 

I'm just a little bummed there's not more I can do to work on achieving our goals. I'm not a very patient person in that respect, and coming to terms with the limitations of our current financial situation is somewhat frustrating for me.


The World Series Cost Me Money, and I Never Even Went to a Game!

I'm a huge STL Cardinals fan. Huge. I can reasonably talk about a balk, the infield fly rule, the many reasons I hate bunting, and the cost-benefit ratio of most players on the team. I'm not into sabermetrics, but I can generally define WAR and look beyond the basic stats (ERA, RBI, BA, etc.) to the more nuanced elements of a player (i.e. pitchers who have high ERAs but are likely to throw grounders good for double plays vs. pitchers with low ERAs but who are more likely to give up HRs). 

ANYWAY... that is to say that with the Cards in the World Series and me not paying for cable EVER, getting my baseball fix has been... well... expensive. 

For at least one playoff game each series (Pirates, Dodgers, Red Sox), the BF and I have gone to a local pub in the area, sucked it up and ordered food and drinks for the duration of the game. We give our waitress a heads-up that we're there explicitly for the game, try to ration out our drinks and food accordingly to keep the costs at bay. 

However, we live in a fairly high cost-of-living area, so a burger that is not from McDonalds will run you $11 at any basic local place. A decent beer (AKA not a Miller Light) will also run from $4-$6. We usually order an appetizer because, hey, we're going to be there for 4+ hours and will probably want a snack, and also don't want to screw over the wait staff by taking up a table (we've never been at a place so crowded we needed to move, though). 

Anyway, all this to say that our dining out budget for the month was blown out of the water--and not in a good way. We had three nights out for these games (one night included my sister, whose tab we picked up) that cost us $200. That makes me sick to even write, actually. 

I would propose another no-eating-out month in November, but we're heading home for Thanksgiving and I know that we will likely eat out 2-3 times (I have a date scheduled with my best friend to work on planning her wedding over tacos and margaritas, and the BF and I have a friend who recently opened a high-end beer joint that we have yet to visit). Perhaps I can put a stricter limit on this--$100?--that will allow us some wiggle room for the holidays but also force us to hunker down and eat some rice and beans while we're at our home. 

And the worst part is the World Series isn't even over! I won't be able to check out the game Wednesday, since I spend those evenings at the NPO, but if it goes to Game 7 there is a high likelihood that the BF and I will head to a neighborhood bar to either celebrate or cry into our overpriced beverages...