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.


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

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