Category Archives: Money Stories

Darcy’s Money Stories – After marriage, but before kids

Here goes another round of Money Stories, this time about my life between getting married and starting a family:


  • Kevin and I are coming up on our 12 year anniversary this August. So much has changed, yet so much has stayed the same. We still seem to have more or less the same financial goals, and thankfully we have reached many along the way.
  • Our honeymoon was very much a budget trip. We had really wanted to take a train trip to Glacier National Park, but when we were in the process of budgeting (i.e. seeing how expensive it was) we went out to dinner with a work associate of Kevin’s. She graciously offer for us to stay at her rustic little house on Lopez Island in the San Juans. We practically jumped for joy at the offer, and spent a lovely week completely unplugged. It was located on Mud Bay with sweet view and deck as big as the tiny house, where we slept in a loft (not unlike our Camp Cabins!) We made most of meals, and walked down the road to pick up fresh eggs. We ate out mostly at brew pubs, as we still do. We rented bikes, did some sea kayaking and did a day trip over to San Juan. Free rent aside, it reinforced our belief that vacationing doesn’t have to be an expensive affair, but it is important to getaway and unplug.
  • In our conversations leading to marriage, we decided to combine our finances. We both knew that there might be times when we each wanted our autonomy back, but we also felt that it was important to form a true partnership. After two years of living together, the process was pretty seamless and we kept pretty much the same financial arrangements (Kevin was paying more of the rent since he had the higher income, I was paying all of my student loans and some of the utilities, shared food/dining, etc.)
  • Returning to Ashland we were already starting to itch to move. Ashland is a lovely tourist town, but not a place for young professionals. I had certainly hit the meager ceiling of my non-profit position. I started researching graduate school. I applied for Tufts in Boston and Bard in upstate New York, while mentally making plans to move the next summer. Eventually I was accepted to both schools, but before I had a chance to make up my mind the tuition bill came. I can’t remember how much it was then, but it was more than I could stomach to lend (it’s $46k per year for tuition now). Plus, I was legitimately worried that Kevin was going to have to leave his full-time job, and we’d have move ourselves across the country not knowing how long he’d need to search for work. Knowing how quickly Miel had racked up credit card debt while between jobs, I was very intimidated by the idea of taking such a financial risk for the sake of higher education.
  • In the process of deciding we went back up to Portland for an engagement party. Being back in Portland reminded us of how much we missed Portland, and got me dreaming of returning. I started to research graduate school options and realized that I could attend Antioch University Seattle from Portland (traveling up for four days of each month). The tuition was slightly less expensive, but the real deciding factor was knowing (planning/hoping!) that we could buy our first starter home before I finished grad school, instead of being faced with another cross country move after just two years. The graduate program, a Master’s in Environment & Community at their Center for Creative Change, was truly a much better match for me.
  • In the end we still ended up deciding to take a cross country road trip, but just for the fun of it. As newlyweds planning to start a family after I finished graduate school, we figured that it would be our last chance where we would both have more than 2-3 weeks of vacation together (between jobs!). So, we packed up everything and moved our belongings to Portland before heading out on the road.
  • Backing up a moment, I was really getting burnout on earning $15 an hour at my environmental non-profit job. So, after a misunderstanding with my manager, I gave my notice. I was planning to just take a couple months off before moving. Yet, serendipity stepped in when I happened to join an anti-war march down main street Ashland (Yes, there many of these during the Bush II wars to help us liberals feel connected and little less powerless). So, I started chatting with the woman who I was walking next to through the little march. It turned out that she was a faculty member at the local community college, and the head of their diversity program. She happened to really need someone to help organize an annual conference, and by the next week I was on payroll as faculty on a contract basis. It was simply easier and quicker for her to hire me as faculty, and it was my first job being paid $25 an hour. It was a great gig…I loved everyone I worked with and felt truly confident about my skills and the service I was providing. I was no longer learning, but knowing. I felt very professional and very valuable.
  • Then we packed up everything and headed on our cross country road trip. We backtracked along the Lewis & Clark trail, visiting a ton of national parks along the way. We spent two weeks traveling East, then two weeks on the East Coast and then two weeks back again. It was a wonderful trip in so many ways (minus one burnt afternoon driving across Ohio and Eastern PA). I remember while we were visiting Kevin’s family that they had lots of questions about our camping set up (we even demoed our backpacking stove for them!). We also tracked virtually every penny on the road, and we averaged less than $50 a day for food, gas and lodging. His family could barely believe it.
  • Returning back to Portland felt great, minus the fact that neither of us had a job. We were planning to live with Miel until we found a place, figuring that it would take a few weeks. It turned out that as soon as we got into town we met up to head out to dinner. On our walk there, just a block and a half away from her apartment, we found a beautiful apartment…the second story of a little dutch colonial between Chapman Park and the Stepping Stone diner (where we enjoyed many breakfasts). We moved in the day before our first wedding anniversary, and it was nice to settle into a new home.
  • However, being between jobs was stressful. Kevin really was set on landing a great job, not just a lateral move, but it took patience. He got tons of interviews, but in the end it took a few months. We still had a savings/safety net, but as the holidays drew near, he was almost in panic mode. He even applied for a temporary job as a delivery truck driver. This was first time that he/we ever stressed about money together. Of course I felt pretty responsible, since I was the one who really pushed the move to return to Portland for graduate school (and felt it necessary that we take our cross country adventure, even if it did leave us with barely enough of a safety net). But I still felt it critical to keep the faith for him and us, and looking back now I can see that that’s become our pattern: he feels scarcity, while I do my best to keep the faith.
  • I had also landed a part-time job just before Kevin, but it was just enough to supplement my expenses through graduate school (similar to my Ashland non-profit wages). I was doing meaningful work, organizing and marketing inspiring environmental lectures, but I wasn’t all that financially sustainable. I was earning enough to pay for my college loan repayment, my phone and basic expenses. I felt like a poor student waiting for my professional life to really begin, and as I was ready to bust out of the non-profit poverty cycle.
  • Once we were just starting to get into a groove with our new life back in Portland. I ended up tearing my ACL (the second run on a lifetime ski pass for Mt Bachelor!) (I had torn it in high school…so I knew the pain/routine all too well, thankfully this time the recovery was much faster). I felt very fortunate to have health insurance. Growing up my Mom’s insurance was so good that it covered me until we got married. But between jobs we didn’t have any insurance for a few months. Kevin had just landed his new job, and I had just gotten coverage again just a week before I blew out my knee. Again, I felt very lucky to have good health insurance.
  • Unfortunately, karma wasn’t in our favor that winter, and the same week of my accident we were given two weeks notice that we needed to move out because our landlord’s son wanted to move in. They gave us a week extension, but I was still packing boxes on pain meds. This turn of events did inspire us (piss us off!) to resolve that we would save every penny for a deposit on our first home. Kevin did the math and calculated that we could afford to buy after another six months of renting. So, we moved, but didn’t truly settle in, knowing that we were ready to move as soon as we could manage it.
  • Even though I don’t remember particularly sacrificing, somehow we saved up enough for a downpayment by the next summer. We ended up closing on our first home days before our second wedding anniversary. Yippeeeeee! In case you haven’t added it up, our first home was our fifth place in four years! It felt awesome to finally put down roots.
  • We finally had a place of our own to invest our love and energy (even if it would mean unexpected repairs and plenty of obligation). The market in Portland was really hot at the time, and the median sale price was $195k. We bought for exactly that price, and the place had just been completely flipped and needed very little work. The yard/garden was in sore need though, and that’s where we put most of our sweat equity.
  • Our first home was a 1920s cottage with lots of charm and light. It’s was pretty small, but perfect for a couple. Plus, it was across the street from the Arbor Lodge Park, and the neighborhood was pretty up-and-coming in a working class family sort of way. It felt like our envisioned life was coming to life.
  • I was still busy with graduate school and pinching my meager non-profit paychecks, and had one more year to go before I would be able to restart my professional career.
  • Somewhere along the way I started feeling less confident with money. At times when I was younger, I remember feeling really frustrated about being told that I was like my father with money; i.e. irresponsible, frivolous and eager to spend. While there was some truth to it, I am passionate in the way I use my resources, I also felt/feel like it was a story about the past and an unhelpful label. It somehow condoned my bad financial habits.
  • Plus, by this time, Miel was starting to earn some serious bank in D.C., while I still struggling to save much. I didn’t have a retirement fund to speak of, and Miel had already socked away a good sized nest egg. I’ve tried not to compare us in this way, since after all D.C. is not comparable to Portland for earning potential, but it’s hard not to when you see your identical twin reaching her full potential. The only consolation was/is that she’s always been so generous and so emotionally supportive and kind.
  • As for Kevin, he’s also been very supportive and wants to see me succeed. Yet there is an undertone of male chauvinism. Partly because he’s seven years older than me, he’s always been forthright in admitting that he thinks he should be earning more than me and that it would be a big bruise on his ego if (when!) I ever earn more than him. We’ve had friendly and not-so-friendly debates about gender equality, and we’ve agreed to disagree (although he doesn’t believe that he should earn more than an female counterpart or superior, but there’s something in him that believes he should earn more than me).
  • One of my big life/career goals that I set my freshman year in college was that I wanted to earn my Master’s before starting a family. I knew I wanted to learn more than college had to offer and advance my career as much as possible, but I also felt like it would be too challenging to do this with kids.
  • But with my thesis coming along and graduation on the horizon, I started thinking about starting a family. We were back visiting Kevin’s family for the holidays (the same place he had proposed to me), and I went to bed on Christmas Eve knowing that I was ready for a family. Low and behold, the weekend I wrote my thesis I got pregnant, and announced that I was pregnant at graduation. A very effective way of ending one chapter and beginning a very new one…    


I can hardly believe how the stories keep coming…thanks for your patience and interest. I can only hope that you’re getting something out of my reflections and perhaps dredging up your own stories to forgive and release.


Peace,

 

Darcy
 

Miel’s Money Stories – The Bachlorette Years

We have come to the final section of our Money Stories series, though readers are bound to hear more of our stories unfold as they follow this blog.  Money is one of those illusive things that isn’t static, means something different to everyone, has considerably different value depending on both where and who you are, and there is always a story that goes behind it.  Whether or not we realize it.  Taking this time to look at our money stories, even after eight years as a finance blogger, has been illuminating for me.

I can definitely see a significant evolution with my money stories in my adulthood.  We’ll divvy these out into BJ and AJ (before James and after James), since whether your finances are mingled or separate having a significant other or spouse makes a significant difference.

The early years, aka BJ:

  • After college I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana, West Africa for just over two years.  I in lived the quintessential Peace Corps village, with no running water or electricity and scorpions and termites infestations.  My housing was donated by my village, but do to rapid fluctuation of the local currency, my living allowance was just under $3/day or $85 a month.  Volunteers in Ghana in the 70s were making $175/month in current currency, so clearly we’d seen a dramatic decrease in pay over time.  While there was very little available on the local market to buy, it still took diligence to stick within such a small budget. I recall several older volunteers could afford to splurge with money they had in the bank, but I also felt proud that I could live on so little, like a badge of honor or travel war story that is hard to top.  I recall my best friend spending $100 a month on parking in downtown Portland and finding it crazy that I could live on less than that.
  • I left Peace Corps gainfully employed as a co-leader on a semester study abroad trip to Australia, one that I had done as an undergrad.  I had the smokin’ hot deal of all expenses paid (hotel, transport, per diem, and an allowance during two break periods) as well as $1000 a month.  I was making bank!  And I was living the dream.  The exchange rate was also phenomenally in my favor, so I felt like I was living the high life.  At the end of the day, with the Peace Corps return stipend of around $3k, I returned stateside with what felt like a healthy bank account.  Most of my friends didn’t have that much to show a couple of years after graduation.
  • I bought my best friend’s car that her father had bought her when she got her license.  I was a Civic gal and it was a perfect fit and the best car I’ve ever owned (which has only been three thus far).  It felt great to be able to afford a nice looking and reliable car, and pay for it upfront as well.
  • After spending a month in England, with my boyfriend at the time, I opted not to work for the summer since my twin sis Darcy was getting married late that summer.  I did end up working a few temp jobs while living at my parent’s place, since I couldn’t resist some extra cash and something to do with my time.  I was offered a job at every place I worked, but had dreams that were bigger than that
  • The Monday after my sis’ wedding I started working at the Tiller Fires camp, where a forest fire had struck the prior month.  I was very aptly positioned in their Demobilization Unit, essentially scheduling travel and departure plans for a camp of 2,000 fire fighters, about 200 of which left every day.  I worked 16 hours a day for 14 day on and 2 days off.  I stayed 8 miles away at my folk’s place and enjoyed their jacuzzi as my only reprieve aside from what sleep I did get.  The hours were brutal but I couldn’t have been happier.  I also socked away a nice chunk of change to get me started in Portland.
  • I arrived in Portland at the New Year’s Eve and had found a great little one bedroom apartment in the trendy NW 23rd area of PDX (before NE was on the map).  I paid $675/month, which was pretty top market for the time, but I knew that I wanted to be in a place that would set myself up for the success that I envisioned.  How can you get what you want out of life if you don’t live in the best place? 
  • I started pounding the pavement for a job right away.  I was adamant that I would get my first real job for a minimum of $30k/year.  My friends were making in the low 20s at the time and thought I was crazy to expect this in Portland at the time (this was during the internet bubble bursting).  I ended up getting a job in two months flat, with a starting salary of $33k with an 6 month review that took it up to $35k
  • I did my best managing finances during the year I was in Portland, definitely learning how to budget in the real world.  I even started my first 401(k), but I didn’t save a safety net that would be much needed in the fall when I would lose my job. This is definitely both a money story and a lesson, in that I feel more secure having a back up plan to prevent issues.
  • During my year in Portland I also sold Mary Kay products, something I’d gotten into through my Aunt.  In the end I don’t know whether I came out ahead or behind in terms of finances, but I do believe that the business lessons I learned were priceless; professionalism, sales techniques, marketing, business management, etc.
  • By the end of the year, as I was getting ready to move to Washington, DC, I had racked up $13k in credit card debt.  Without a paycheck I was suddenly forced to put basic living expenses on my credit card and it added up quickly.  I knew this wasn’t how I wanted to live and was very quick to correct this behavior.  I was embarrassed to have the debt, but also knew that I could overcome it.

You’ll see in my final post about money stories how I paid off my credit card debt in less than a year and managed to surpass the $1M net worth mark in less than ten year.  Despite my relative financial success thus far, this doesn’t negate the power of money stories.

Miel

~*~*~*~*~*~ Sustainable Family Finances Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth.

Darcy’s Money Stories: Before becoming a Cronin

As I begin to write this next round of stories, I have a feeling that it will be the most complicated as far as emotions go. It’s not so much in the past, but still feels like part of my relationship with money. Hoping it will be a chance to forgive and learn, and that Hubby won’t get upset for me being completely honest.

It’s also complicated in the fact that there are so many daily stories around money. Money is part of our everyday conversations, and an integral aspect of our relationship and life partnership.

  • After dating for barely six months, Kevin and I were ready to move in together. This was obviously a big step, but we felt ready for it and by that time we were spending time almost every day together, and were ready to try out this thing called being adults (Kevin was seven years older than me and worried for some time that I wasn’t ready to settle down yet). During that courting time we were obviously getting to know everything we could about each other.
  • Before Kevin even hit on me (asking me if I gave dance lessons after seeing me swing dance with another guy!), he had talked with every friend we had in common to find out more about me. He had also looked me up in the directory and found that I came from a tiny place called Days Creek, and he then struggled to find it on a map, which is more of a bend in the road than a town. It was obvious that I grew up in BFE, but he was still intrigued enough to want to take a chance.
  • In our early conversations about money, it was obvious that we had grown up in two very different worlds. Kevin grew up the youngest of five in an upper middle class Catholic family. His Dad traveled across the country regularly to court doctors as a high level pharmaceutical rep, and had recently retired. They were snowbirds and went to their second home on Marco Island in Florida each winter. They enjoyed tending to a beautiful Bucks County countryside estate before downsizing. His parents were members of the Doylestown Country Club and had a long standing gourmet group that rotated dinner parties. His mother volunteered as a docent at the Michener Art Musuem (still does), played tennis with her girlfriends on a regular basis, was active in a antiquing club called Questers, and generally had made herself an active and lovely lifestyle. They traveled regularly, and growing up Kevin had never camped. The closest he had been to roughing it was on a fishing trip to Canada staying in cabins. Naturally, he grew up not needing to worry about money, although I think his parents did their best not to spoil their kids (his siblings are all very kind and generous). He was picky about things though (still is!!), wanting only the popular designer clothes and somehow turning down an offer to go to Ireland to meet distant family in high school (I couldn’t imagine doing such a thing!). Meanwhile his parents owned a “hobby farm” where his Dad was very strict about making the kids (especially the boys) do projects like painting and pruning on the weekends. So, despite being catered to, Kevin also felt like he worked hard growing up, and still had a relentless work ethic.
  • Essentially Kevin forgave me for growing up poor. He fell in love with me in spite of my meager upbringing, knowing that I was determined to be successful in life. In turn, despite being frustrated by his finicky standards, I forgave him for growing up never having to worry about money. Our common ground was and is our values, and that we both wanted to create a life together where we could live in sustainable abundance.  
  • After becoming Kevin’s “Sugar Mama” during my senior year, we were ready to move in together after my graduation.
  • Serendipitously, we both landed jobs in Portland within a week of each other (moving in together hinged on us both getting jobs in PDX…again, I was in awe that I had managed to land a full-time job as an environmental activist…my dream job at the time!). 
  • I was making $24k, plus full benefits and retirement after six months. While it was a pretty typical entry level salary at the time, it was actually more than any of my parents were earning. It felt strange and awkward to earn more than them, even though they were very proud of me. It felt like my college loans would be justified, which I started paying six months after graduation.
  • After graduation I headed to Down-to-Earth to buy some kitchen and household goods. I wanted everything to be as sustainable and as durable as possible. The shopping tab was maybe a third more than if I had bought everything at Target, but I wanted to invest in our future
  • I also picked up quite a few things at a yard sale, and we still use several of the items.
  • We moved into Ladd’s Addition place in SE, which was a converted three bay garage with one bay as the bedroom/bath, and two bays as the kitchen/living space…it was cozy, but located between Ladd Circle and one of the four rose gardens. In the process we thought we had lost the place to another tenet, but it turned out that they had bad credit…another reminder of how important your credit is.
  • Soon enough it was time to buy our first vacuum cleaner. Up until that point I had been very intentional about keeping our purchases separate. I didn’t want to end up breaking up and having the complication of joint ownership. But Hubby really wanted to have it be our first purchase together, so I agreed…little did I know that he actually loves vacuuming…a good purchase indeed!
  • During our first year of living together we were diligent about tracking our expenses. We had a notebook where we wrote down every bill and grocery tab, and at the end of the month we calculated who had paid more and evened the score. It felt very fair and equitable.
  • We also alternated who picked up the bill when dining out. Whoever was paying got to pick the restaurant, for the most part. (We also alternated nights for making dinner, and whoever didn’t make dinner washed up…this only changed once we moved to Ashland and soon-to-be Hubby needed to commute longer and I was working fewer hours).
  • Overall, our first year of living together was about as harmonious as it gets. We both had decent jobs, our expenses were pretty low and we put fair systems in place.
  • Just as Kevin was finishing up his Master’s in Planning, he was offered a job as the planning manager in Talent, where he had served the year before we met in an AmeriCorps program (RARE). This offer put us at our first turning point, and for a brief moment we weren’t sure if we would need to live apart (or break up) because of our jobs. Thankfully, telecommuting was just beginning, and I was working for a national NGO. So, I managed to convince them that I could do my work from Ashland…so with very little time, we packed up and moved south. But not before having an important conversation…I insisted that if we were moving for his career that our next move would be for my career, likely to return to graduate school.
  • We were also both saving up for a trip to Europe, since one of my criteria for marriage was that we travel abroad together (After I had fallen in love in Denmark, but felt the need to break up even though he wanted to get married, I decided that I needed to set my own criteria before I fell in love again: 1) We needed to live together for at least a year 2) We needed to travel abroad together 3) I needed to be at least 25). Thankfully, we both managed to save up enough and meet up in London to travel to Wales and Ireland for two weeks (I had been in Bonn, Germany for a U.N. conference on climate change, and then continued on to visit Miel in Ghana in Peace Corps).
  • After an amazing six week adventure I returned to Ashland, where we had found a newly built apartment located directly across from a quiet beautiful little park just south of the university. Once again, it felt like we were building our dream life…which at the time included a great deal of hiking, learning to play Frisbee, playing volleyball and reading for leisure.
  • The good news was that Kevin was suddenly earning quite a bit more money, since his previous planning consulting position was more on an entry level position and this was the real deal, even if it was for a small community.
  • Then, barely two weeks after returning from my six week trip, 9/11 happened. As everyone, I remember it vividly and we were all in shock in the days and weeks following. It’s economic ripple effects hit me harder than I expected. As the stock market crashed, virtually all foundations gave word to the non-profit world that only the bare bones projects would be funded. Since my project’s funding was up for renewal (combined with the fact that with Bush in office, it had become very apparent that he would oppose any climate policy on his watch), I was told by mid September that I would be laid off by the end of September with no severance.
  • This was all pretty surreal. I had just moved to a very small town with a limited job market outside of the tourist business. Thankfully Kevin’s new salary could support us, but I was very professional motivated and too young to be a not yet married housewife. 
  • In my not-even-mid-life crisis, I joined a rafting trip on the Rogue to consider my options. I remember feeling like I needed to draw on my faith that I could define what I wanted, rather than feel sorry for myself. When I returned I found out that one of the few non-profits in town needed a conference coordinator for their annual Forest Activist Conference. It was full time position, but only for four months. I think the starting pay was maybe $17/hr.
  • I worked my butt off to coordinate the conference, but I was feeling pretty poor and I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do once it was over. I had only one pair of dress shoes that were around four or five years old and truly falling apart. I was sooo very grateful when Kevin bought me a shiny new pair of Danskos just before the conference began. (Another money memory was that one of the keynote speakers was being a real prima dona and putting his stress onto me for something I had no control over…I remember chewing him out “Do you realize that you are earning more in one day than I’ve earned for four months of organizing this whole conference?! I will bend over backward for you, but I will not let you walk all over me.” I was so proud of myself for standing up to him).
  • I ended up coordinating the conference three years in a row, and after the first conference season, they managed to find enough money to keep me as a community project coordinator half time the rest of the year. It was barely enough to get by, even with Kevin paying the rent. 
  • I took a job as a hostess two nights a week at Standing Stone Brewery. I really didn’t earn much, but I did get a nice dinner and it felt like I wasn’t entirely mooching off Kevin. I also started making more of the meals on the weekdays.
  • One of the things I loved about living in a small town was knowing the business owners. At the bank the tellers knew my name, even after just my first visit. There was sweet young woman my age named Rose, and I loved when she greeted me by name. But it was also embarrassing that my balance was perpetually low. I remember overdrawing a couple of times, and my Mom bailed me out with a $100, saying that she hoped I could keep it as a cushion, which I tried my best to do.
  • We spent the holidays with Kevin’s family back East, where he proposed to me. The engagement ring was his great grandmother, Mimi’s, and was an elegantly simple platinum ring with a lovely diamond from the 1920s. I had always been afraid of wearing a gaudy ring, and the ring felt both substantial and understated. 
  • Two words, simple and elegant, continued to resonate in mind as the “theme” of our wedding celebration, and naturally as sustainable as possible. We budgeted well, knowing that we would need to share in the expenses with my parents. We got very creative and called upon my Umpqua Tribe to create a wedding that was truly a group effort. It was actually quite incredible our friends and family came together to throw us a beautiful celebration. At our 10 year anniversary I wrote a post that described how it took a village to throw a wedding! 
  • It’s likely selective amnesia, but I literally can’t even remember a single fight we had about money prior to getting married, although I know we had minor money squabbles. They were very likely about the same issues we occasionally argue about now: too much clutter/stuff, prioritizing home repairs, budgeting for vacation, and generally trying to manage our finances to best of our ability (and forgiving each other’s minor transgressions).
  • Despite coming from two very different perspectives, we had come into alignment with each others’ hopes and dreams. We both knew that I wanted to go to graduate school before having kids. We both wanted kids. We both wanted to travel, but were happy spending more time in campgrounds than hotels. We both had the dream of owning a small beach house. We both wanted to retire as early as possible in order to enjoy an active retirement. We both wanted to help our kids thrive, and give them an awesome start to life. We both dreamed of being able to give back to our community.
OK, that sums up our courtship period. Once again I feel very blessed to have found a life partner who shares the same sustainable values and is willing to work toward success, but still enjoy life along the way.
What money stories came before your marriage?
 
Darcy

Money Stories: Round 3b – Miel’s College Money Stories

We have certainly realized through the process of reviewing our individual and collective money stories, how many there are and what an impact they have.  We’ve already shared some of our initial money stories in Round 1 and Round 2, as well as Darcy’s stories in Round 3a, and now we have Round 3b for my own stories from college.

College Money Stories

  • My money lessons in college started very quickly.  I had spent the summer working at Crater Lake Lodge and didn’t have access to my mail while I was there (before the days of email).  I went off to Lewis & Clark College and started out my semester like most typical freshman. About a week after classes started I realized that there was actually a huge gap between what I was eligible for in loans and grants and what I owed.  I think it was around $10k.  I knew right away that this wasn’t an option.  I started to consider back up plans, did I go to a community college, find a job until I could enroll somewhere, etc.  Just after this news I got a call for an interview for the job I really wanted at College Outdoors, organizing and leading outdoor trips for fellow students.  I told the nice guy that I really appreciated the offer, but that it turned out that I didn’t have enough money to continue with school and would have to drop out.  The next thing I know, I have a call from Student Financial Aid Services.  My would be boss had been so inspired by my application (where I told him all about growing up on a commune and camping from the early days) that he called them to find out if there was something they could do to help someone like me stay at LC.  I was grateful but didn’t want to get my hopes up too much.  The first question they asked as if anything in my family’s financial situation had changed in the last year.  In fact my dad had fallen from a ladder while fixing the roof after our house had caught on fire and he hadn’t worked for the rest of the year.  This change, as well as whatever else they were able to came up with, meant that there was a $3,000 gap.  My maternal grandmother said she could help with a one time payment, but that I’d have to figure it out after that.  It was my ticket to ride, and I took it and ran.  
  • I promptly got two jobs, one at College Outdoors and the other taking pictures of kids at the mall, working about 35 hours a week, plus a commute to one of the jobs, and saved enough to pay for the next semester.  My grades suffered, but I learned how to manage the multiple jobs and got into a groove of working for a semester to pay for the next semester.
  • With the hours I worked I didn’t have much of a social life to speak of.  I had three roommates at the time (including one from Croatia – while the war was happening there- and the other from Germany). None of them worked and all got an allowance from their parents.  Occasionally they would complain that I had more money than them (which I had worked for and wasn’t at liberty to spend).
  • Later in college, after my grandparents had sold their piece of farm land, while they continued to live with a great depression mentality.  We would years later inherit what would in part become the Olivia Beach Camp Cabins (which will be a whole other story). I asked my paternal grandmother for help with my tuition.  Her response was that if I didn’t have money to pay for school then I should quit
  • My first year of doing my taxes I did a miscalculation, because I didn’t think it was feasible to get that much money back, and was delighted to find a hefty tax return when I got back from a trip to Europe (where I was looking forward to coming back with not much left).  It would turn out that I made more in that summer than I would for some time, since I has been working 60 hours a week at Crater Lake Lodge.
  • In my sophomore year of college I did a semester in Australia, and with the exchange rate as it was, it was a very frugal trip.  I definitely recall only the occasional beer to save money and count my pennies.  At the end of the semester I squeezed my pennies enough to go on a once in a lifetime ten day outback trip with a professor of ours.  It cost $1000 for 10 days ($1k of our pooled funds was spent on gas alone for the 5,000 kilometer trip through the outback).  It was worth every penny and I’m certain I didn’t miss out on anything else that I had to sacrifice for it.  I returned back from that trip with zero money and started saving back up for the next semester.
  • In my junior year of college I did a semester in Ecuador and recall having a $20 bill typically last a week or two.  I would stand in line at the cambios behind traditionally dressed peasant women who would lift up their skirts to reveal rolls of cash and I would diligently cash my $20 each week.  I felt equally good for both of us, happy to be living off of my $20 a week and happy for them to have money coming from their families.
  • At the end of my semester in Ecuador I traveled with a dear friend up to Colombia and then down through Peru and Bolivia.  We did the trip by land and logged 187 hours by bus, including five overnighters in the three week period.  We spent just under $200 for the three week trip.  We stayed in the cheapest places we could find, typically under $3.  I recall arriving tired into La Paz and searching for probably two hours to find a place we could afford.  We found a place with these amazingly comfortable looking beds, but the price was $20/night, so we had to move on.  Looking back part of me wishes I could splurge on myself back then, but back then I was equally proud to have stuck to our tight budget
  • After the semester in Ecuador I returned to Fiji for the summer.  I had fallen madly in love with a hot Fijian guy the summer before and traveled around the world to get my tropical fix.  The romance was short lived but the life lessons have stuck with me.  It was 1998 and I bought my first purchase on the internet, nervously hitting buy on a ticket to Fiji with most of the money I had at that time (I think around $800).  I left to Fiji with $300 in my pocket, for three months.  When I arrived in Fiji we went to purchase food to bring to the outer island of Waya Lailai.  Being my frugal self, I thought I would buy a bit and be on my way.  In the end I spent $100, on a huge bag of sugar, flour, tea, tinned milk, and other staples.  I was a bit nervous to spend that much of my money right off the bat, but figured it would last me through the summer.  In the end the good were pretty much used island style and within a week we were out of almost everything.  Darcy came to visit and we spent another $50 on a huge village party for our 21st Birthday, complete with luau style pig roast and incredible fish.  It was worth it.  When several weeks later the chief called a taboo on fishing, pickings were pretty slim.  We ate nothing but plain boiled kasava (a tasteless tuber) for 11 days straight.  It was my first time really being out there on my own, literally in the middle of the South Pacific, and my safety net was slim.  I managed to make it through, even if a few pounds lighter.
  • By my senior year it felt like I had mastered my finances.   I managed to get in as a Resident Assistant in the dorms, which in comparison to paying out of pocket for living expenses was a huge boon.  I recall being challenged with how expensive things were, not feeling like I could buy a magazine when I could have lived on that for a day.  Fellow students complained about dorm food and I couldn’t help but feel that they were spoiled and didn’t have a clue about how the rest of the world lived.  Needless to say I was pretty happy to have signed up for the Peace Corps and was headed off in the fall to live in Ghana for the next two years.  
  • I felt like I was doing pretty well financially and considered going back to Finland for a long overdue (and ironically still overdue) trip back to visit my host families and friends.  I penciled out the post graduation trip and was about ready to buy the ticket, but decided in the end to save my money.  A friend had planned to join me as well.  When I decided not to go, she decided she would go to Spain for a month instead.  Her parents were fine with her going to Finland with me, but weren’t too excited about her traveling alone to Spain (where she had been before in high school).  In the end they offered to pay my plane ticket and hotels, and I would pay for my living expenses, if I joined her in going to Spain.  This was of course an offer that I couldn’t say no to.  It was my first whiff of traveling on the dime of someone else, and I was hooked.   
  • I was initially going to do an internship in Washington, DC, since as an International Affairs major I always picked myself there (here).  I was all set to do it, but when I penciled out how much it would cost me to do the internship for the summer, I realized I was actually much better off heading back to Oregon and enjoying a summer not working for the first time in my life.  I enjoyed time with family and it was definitely worth it.
During my college years the main things that stand out for me is:

  1. You have to support yourself in this world
  2. Saving money can get you places in the world
  3. Working hard will get you where you want to be

I imagine exploring my current money stories will be most interesting of all, but it does help to reflect on what experiences have influenced my financial perspective.

Cheers,

Miel

~*~*~*~*~*~ Sustainable Family Finances The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Money Stories: Round 3a Darcy’s College Money Stories

First, I have to say that it is taking a commitment to both dredge up and draft all our money stories. There are way more than I ever realize, and reflecting on them I can see how they shaped my money habits and attitudes. We shared our childhood money memories in Round 1 and our coming of age stories in Round 2. Now it’s time to grow up and dig deep into the stories I’ve created in adulthood. 

All together, the stories are loooong, and we don’t expect you to real them all, but that’s not the point. The Lucky Bitch’s process of clearing money blocks is all about getting it all off your chest and then forgiving, especially yourself.

I started off by just writing the stories, and then went back and reflected about how these stories impact my life now.

Here goes Money Stories: Round 3a:

  • As mentioned already, Miel and I were more than ready to move away from the beautiful countryside of Southern Oregon. I was ready to use my graduation cash responsibly, but have some fun doing it.
  • Following in Miel’s footsteps, I was accepted as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, and packed my bags for a school year in Denmark. Having graduated with honors and holding a ticket to Copenhagen made me feel like I had won the lottery.
  • During my first year abroad, I have several money stories:
    • I vividly remember depositing my traveler’s checks to set up my Den Danske Bank account. The small local branch was on the main street of the small village where I was living, and I could check the balance or get out cash on my way to/from the train station (I went to school in Kalundborg on the west side of the main island, less than a two hour train ride from Copenhagen).
    • Out of necessity I was pretty frugal with my money, but I was also very aware that the experiences could only happen once. So, I made a point of spending on concert tickets instead of clothes, and keenly budgeting my bar tab.
    • The Danes live very comfortably, but not extravagantly. Everything is beautiful and artful, but also very simple. I loved how hyggeligt (cozy) my host family’s homes felt, and now I try to emulate that sense of meaning and personal aesthetic into my our home. Even when I become rich, I know my home will still look very much the same as it does now.
    • My first host family lived the most modestly of my three families, and I was intrigued by the fact that they had a weekly cleaning service. I had never known anyone who had a “maid.” As a working Mom I see the value of paying for a cleaning service, and even though we’ve cut it out of our budget as I start my business, I’m eager to be able to afford this luxury again.
    • I was fascinated by Denmark’s socialized system of government, where literally everyone has a real safety net. I now volunteer through Rotary to deliver Meals on Wheels for home bound elders and prepare/serve homeless men meals at the Bud Clark Commons. I would vote for more taxes if it helped create a safety net that is absent in American society.
    • Danes know how to travel well, and they made it priority. It helps to be given at least five weeks of vacation annually, but it’s also a matter of cultural attitude. Instead of pushing “kids” to apply to college, most parents encourage them to work for a year or so and then travel until the money runs up. Then go to college (which you earn through good grades not a savings fund). My effort to save both money and time off for a few years in order to return to Denmark with my family shows how much I prioritize travel (If it had been up to Hubby, we would have gone camping and remodeled the bathroom instead).
    • I remember when I returned a year later that one of my families had bought a new car. I naturally asked them what was wrong with the old car and they couldn’t understand my question. We thought for a moment that it was a language issue, and then realized that it was cultural one. Where I was raised you would only ever buy a new car if something was wrong with the old one (not to mention that almost no one I knew had ever bought a new car, and anyone who did was deemed foolish for having paid too much). We’ve bought two brand cars, both through Costco’s car sales program deal that was so good at the time that it simply didn’t pencil out to buy a slightly used car instead. But I do remember feeling like I would be judged for buying new.
  • Before returning to the States, I went through the college application process. I had already researched and applied to schools during my senior year, so it was a matter of going through the process again. I was both passionate about pursuing a degree environmental science and to get as from home as possible (I applied to schools in Alaska, Southern California, Florida, and Maine). This time around Miel was already going to a private college, Lewis & Clark (which she’ll talk about in her stories). After a lot of soul searching, I decided that I really wanted to go to College of the Atlantic in Maine. The school was very small and prestigious, admitting less than a hundred students. I had been accepted, and was excited about living and learning in such a beautiful place. Yet, when I called my Mom to share the news she flatly refused, since Miel’s private school tuition had proven to be far too expensive (she’ll share the details). My Mom basically told me that I had no choice but to go to a state college, and since Oregon State University was the only school with an Environmental Science program, this was my default. I was pissed and utterly crushed. It felt like I was being robbed of my potential because my family couldn’t afford college and I couldn’t trust that even student loans would get me a degree. So, I dutifully enrolled at Oregon State for my freshman year, even though it was my last choice. (I had also given up a “full ride” scholarship for a year’s tuition at Umpqua Community College, but I couldn’t bear to live with my parents and drive 45 minutes each way for college). Of all the money stories, this is probably the biggest one to forgive. While I’ve tried not to be resentful of Miel for going to her top choice private college, it was really my parents and grandparents who I felt had let me down by not being willing/able to support my studies.
  • My Freshman year of college had a few money memories:
    • I remember watching a required video before signing the paperwork to take on student loans. While I took on the most debt for graduate school, I finished my education with $66k in college debt, plus interest.
    • Living in the dorm felt like highway robbery, especially the expensive cafeteria. So, when after just a few weeks of living there I was told by a soon-to-be Danish boyfriend that some Fulbright Scholars needed a fourth roommate, I quickly did the math and realized that I could save some real cash (enough to return to Denmark that June). I lived in a converted single car garage with ugly wood paneling, but I had more space and privacy. Plus, I enjoyed living with graduate students from Portugal, Columbia, and Canada.
    • This was my first year of buying groceries and cooking for myself. I rode my bike everywhere and didn’t own a car, so I typically went shopping with my roommates at some cheap grocery store on Sundays. I had never eaten prepackaged foods and was intrigued when my roommates bought Rice-a-roni. I discovered perogies from my Canadian friend. I learned how to eat on a budget and only ate out a couple times a week…as we do as a family now.
    • I had two part-time jobs my freshman year, I worked as a volleyball ref for the co-ed games at night and I worked as a tutor and learning center coordinator for an ESL program. Neither job earned me much money (They were subsidized through the financial aide system so the employer paid just a third of my wage, and the feds matched the rest). I took my responsibilities seriously and always showed up early and put in my full effort. I also felt proud that I managed to find jobs that actually put my skills to use and help me learn more on the job. It felt very satisfying to work through college. Sometimes I felt like I was trying to alleviate the guilt I felt about taking out college loans and was proving that I could get and hold a job. 
    • My freshman year was successful in many ways, but I felt awkward socially. OSU has a big Greek system, and I was/am the farthest from a sorority girl. I did my best to fit it (even ditched my tie-dyes and purple combat boots), but I was still a fish out of water. I was also desperately homesick for Denmark, and still dreamed in Danish. So, when I saw a poster in the library that said I could study in Copenhagen, I was overjoyed. It turned out that it meant that I would have to transfer to the University of Oregon, but I was more than game (especially since they had just started an Environmental Studies program).
    • As I thought about the option of moving to Eugene, I couldn’t help but think about the idea of living with my Father, Wally. I had actually never lived with him, but when we were starting high school he and his partner bought a small trailer to park outside his place so that we could have some private space when visiting. The trailer was tiny and had gotten run down though, so when my Mom found out that a friend was selling a travel trailer that she had lived in during her divorce, I was intrigued by the idea of saving rent money, especially since my year in Copenhagen was going to cost me much more.
  • I moved to Eugene for the remainder of college, enjoying another year in Denmark between. During my time in Eugene I didn’t own a car and road my bike everywhere. I remember people asking me how I could afford to go to Europe each summer and I showed them the math that if they either had once less pint at the pub or didn’t own a car that they could easily afford it. 
  • I remember having this conversation with my Father, Wally, who died with a passport application on his desk. Even on his meager income, he could have still traveled cheaply to Europe if he could have only believed it was possible and then had some discipline to save enough. Alas, he didn’t.
  • Speaking of Wally, I think my biggest money hang up comes from being told that I was “Just like Wally” by my mother. I was the spender, Miel was the saver. I earned what I felt I needed, but I wasn’t overly ambitious about money. After our babysitting gig ended, Miel was the first one to get a summer job. Then when I was preparing to head on exchange, she stockpiled a summer’s worth of cash from working long hours up at Crater Lake. Meanwhile, I got enough odd jobs to get by. I felt labeled even though in truth there was never any real basis for comparison, with either Wally or Miel. I am ready to be my own person and not compare myself to others, for better or worse.
  • Overall I feel like I did a pretty good job at managing my money through college…to support my travel bug. I saved enough in my freshman year to return Denmark for three weeks, then saved enough my sophomore year to travel to Fiji for three weeks (to meet Miel who had fallen madly in love with a hot Fijian on her way back from Australia and fantasized about him for a whole year before returning. I was equally glad that the courtship ended and that I experienced paradise). Then I promptly returned to Denmark for a full school year (so in total, I was in Denmark for six summers in row…not a bad run!) Between trips I remember visiting with our Grandmother, who was by then was a millionaire in net worth, but she had never traveled outside the country. She always wanted to travel to Europe, and we talked about going on a bus tour while I was living there. I remember feeling awkward as I gushed about all the amazing experiences I was having, feeling guilty and wondering what she thought of me. To my surprise, she said “I’ve learned one thing from you…I should have traveled when I was young enough!” By then she was in her mid-80s and not confident enough to leave her comforts of home.
  • And, yes, I realize now that I could have taken out fewer student loans, but I felt like taking out the standard amount and then saving/managing it well allowed me to really experience my college years, plus I really lived for travel in those years.
  • When I returned for my senior year of college, I was excited to return to my job at the UO Outdoor Program. I had met virtually all my friends there, and my identity was wrapped up in my work there (plus I had been promised the coveted position of Environmental Coordinator). It turned out that there was a glitch with my financial aide, and I wasn’t eligible for a work/study job (where the employer only needs to pay a third of your wage). So, for a moment I thought I was out of job. Yet, in my first year at the OP I had worked my ass off as a fundraiser and brought in lots of loot and funds to the program. Even though they could have hired three students for the same price as paying me, they decided to offer me the position anyway. I realized then that you create your own value and you need to show what you’re worth.
  • As college came close to an end, I started to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. I had decided during my freshman year that I wanted to go to graduate school, and set a goal of completing my Master’s before I had kids. I saw that my roommates were smart, but not necessarily any smarter than me, and that all it really took was commitment and a willingness to continue to learn. So, I researched schools, and decided to approach my Grandpa Ellis about helping pay tuition. I knew that he was in a position to afford it, if he chose to help. I remember coming up with a whole script/pitch and putting my whole heart on the line sharing my biggest dreams and desire to make the world a better place. But instead of getting out his checkbook, my Grandpa simply laughed and told me all the reasons why I didn’t need a college education to be successful. It was pretty darn crushing, and I decided to postpone graduate school until I had a few year’s of work experience. 
  • On the other hand, my Grandmother had always told us that we needed to get an education so in case we were to divorce (which is on the rise!) we’d be able to support our family. She felt badly that Grandpa had denied my request, yet, she obviously wasn’t the one who controlled the purse strings.
  • I’m not one to give up on my dreams, and once I decided to postpone further education, I set my sites on landing a job. I remember going to California to visit family for Christmas break, and they all asked me derisively “What are you going to do with an Environmental Studies/International Studies degree?” I bravely told them that I was going to find a non-profit job fighting climate change in Portland. They practically laughed, but by a week after graduation I had landed a job doing just that (after interviewing for two jobs in Seattle and two in Portland). It showed me that crazy dreams can come true, but that you need to know what you want and be bold enough to ask for it. On top of landing the job, I was really proud that I negotiated the same salary as the woman who had left the job who had earned her Master’s already (I argued that since it was already budgeted, there was no reason to pay me less for the same job).
  • I met “Hubby” just before Thanksgiving during my last year of college. Like everyone, our money stories began just after we met. I soon learned that he came from an upper middle class family, but was pretty broke himself. I remember treating him to a really nice Italian dinner for his 30th birthday. He couldn’t afford the $200 for a week long camping trip to Utah for spring break, which included gas and food. I didn’t want to go by myself, and would have felt bad to leave him in rainy Eugene (back then the NW rain got to him). After that he started calling me his Sugar Mama. 
  • I continued to happily bicycle everywhere through college, but in my last year I was offered my older sister’s car for free, so I decided to accept it. I only ended up driving it every few weeks, and after having to replace the muffler, I decided to give it up when I moved to Portland. Plus, Kevin had a car we could share. 

Wow, these money stories really do add up…next we’ll share Miel’s college and early adult stories…then we’ll return to my stories of money and marriage.

What did you experience and learn about money during college?
How did they shape your current money story?

Darcy

~*~*~*~*~*~ 
Sustainable Family Finances 
Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth