Apr 04

Good things come to people who work hard

i-cant-keep-calm-i-passed-my-examsEveryone has heard that old saying, “good things come to those who wait.” I’d like to add my own twist to the saying. My saying would be “good things come to those who work hard?”

Sometimes waiting makes sense, and there’s certainly value in, “putting in your dues” and waiting for the right opportunity to come along, but there’s also a time and place for being stubborn, digging in your heels and working hard.

Basically, for the last 6 years I’ve been busting my butt to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). To become an LCSW in New York state you have to complete a masters in social work program (2 years), take the LMSW exam (and pass), then be supervised in diagnosis, psychotherapy and treatment planning by a licensed clinical social worker for 3 years.

I’ve written a few posts about my first (hairy!) years working in the social services arena. My first post-masters job was working the 3-11pm shift at a homeless shelter for women diagnosed with mental illnesses. I hated the hours, but I worked hard and got promoted into a supervisory role. After 3 years working the night shift, I transferred to a 9-5 job at a supportive housing residence so I could take some of the clinical coursework I was missing.

Because I didn’t have the required 12 credits to fulfill the clinical component of the LCSW application I had to go back to school last Spring/Fall. It was a huge pain in the butt because I was working full-time, training a new employee and managing a new team.

Every night when I dragged myself to and from class I was exhausted. Most of the students in my classes were full-time students and had never worked a full-time job before. They were intrigued by my stories and experiences (which was fun) but also frustrating when they forgot that I couldn’t just leave work mid-day to work on a group project.

Poor Eric was booted from the bedroom on the weekends because I needed a quiet place to study. I wasn’t home evenings to cook or exercise (which I hated). It wasn’t always easy, but I knew I had to get good grades, pass my classes and take my test. The same way I became super focused on paying off my debt, I became laser focused on obtaining my LCSW.

So last month I finally submitted all of my application materials and was approved to sit for the exam.

This Tuesday, I took the LCSW exam. I was so nervous when I clicked the “submit” button on the computerized test I closed my eyes and shook for a minute. For 6 years I’ve been waiting to take that exam and add LCSW to my name. So when the screen said “pass” and all my hard work finally paid off I was so excited I thought I was going to cry. Not only does this new credential mean a significant pay increase, it also means I’ll have many more career options if and when I decide to leave my current position.

So maybe it’s a little cliche, but I truly believe that good things come to people who work hard and believe that they can make their own dreams come true!

Tell me about your goals, wishes, plans for the future! What are you working on, or towards?

Image: The Keep Calm O-matic

Apr 02

STOP doing these 5 things to save money & your health

healthI’ve always thought of health and wealth as sort of going hand-in-hand. It takes discipline and self-control to eat right and exercise. Just like It takes discipline to make a budget and save for retirement. Here are 5 ways you can save money (and maybe improve your health in the process).

1. Stop smoking.

Camel Joe called me. He told me you’re wasting your money on cigarettes! Seriously, though, everyone knows smoking is bad for your health, but it’s also bad for your wealth. A pack of Marlboros will set you back $14.50 in New York. If you’re a “pack a day” smoker that’s approximately $435 a month and $5,292.50 a year! You may as well roll up $20 bills and smoke them (pun intended).

2. Stop drinking.

Yeah I’m pointing the finger right back at me. I’m not a big drinker by any means, but alcohol is definitely a “luxury” in my book. Those $5.99 Chevy’s happy hour margaritas might be a steal of a deal, but not if you can’t afford them. We all know that one quick drink after work can easily turn into 3 or 4, and $23.96 worth of sugar and Tequila isn’t a great deal when I’m trying to save money.

3. Stop eating out.

We all know that eating out is much more expensive then staying in, but we I keep dining out anyway. If found if I plan my meals in advance and purchase all the ingredients I need, I’m much less likely to order takeout. Even when you get a decent deal, eating out is expensive. And if you happen to find a cheap deal, it’s probably not healthy. A whole chicken ($6-7) can feed me the whole week. $7 doesn’t even buy me lunch in Manhattan for one day.

4. Stop paying for convenience foods.

Convenience food is costly and loaded in chemicals. A big bag of carrots is less than $2.00 at my local grocery store. A big bag of chips is $4.00 or more. Cut calories and cost by reaching for healthier convenience foods. My latest obsession is kale chips. I coat kale in olive oil then sprinkle with salt and spices and bake in the oven. It’s super delicious, nutritious and cheap to make. I buy kale at TJ’s (Trader Joe’s) for $2.99 a bag. By comparison, the local health food store sells kale chips for $7.99 per container (and it’s small).

5. Stop paying for a gym membership.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying you shouldn’t exercise. Gym memberships are highly overrated in my opinion. Buy a good pair of running shoes and some workout pants and you’re ready to go. Unless you’re a body builder or training for a special event, basic fitness can happen at home for a fraction of the cost of the gym. Find a friend/motivation partner to keep you motivated or borrow some fitness DVDs from the library. I use the nike app when I jog to keep track of my miles run and calories burnt (it’s free to download!).

Mar 28

Sometimes You’re the Windshield, Sometimes You’re the Bug

windshieldWhether you’ve heard the song or not you’re probably familiar with the reference. Last Wednesday was my “bug” day if you know what I mean. I swear almost nothing went right. Here’s what the day looked like so you can feel my misery a little bit, if you’d rather not just skip to the end of the post:

  • I wake up in the morning and I have a horrible head cold. I’m so congested I can barely breathe and my lips are stuck together (gross)
  • I get on the bus and there are almost no seats. I have to sit at the front in the seats that face other passengers. They watch me blow my nose and sneeze (double gross).
  • There appears to be some sort of accident that delays the bus before the tunnel for over 40 minutes.
  • I roll into work an hour late.
  • My social worker texts me that he has to talk to me about something “important”.
  • Said social worker then comes by my office to let me know that he’s resigning. I just hired him 6 months ago and he’s finally trained and “up to speed” (FML).
  • I inform my supervisor that I’m going to need to take off some time to attend my uncle Steve’s celebration of life service and “Oh yeah my social worker resigned”.
  • I have a meeting with a client who screams (at no one in particular) for about 40 minutes.
  • Bus ride home is uneventful (except for the fact the passenger who decided to sit with me and basically sat on my lap-really? WTH! scoot over jerk).
  • I arrive home and rush to the bathroom. After I go, I realize that I took the TP roll into the bedroom because we were out of tissues and I needed to blow my nose.

There’s no real point to this post except for me to vent a little bit. I guess sometimes I read blogs and it feels like everyone’s life is cheerful and happy all the time. I just want my readers to know that even though my life is wonderful 95% of the time, 5% of the time it totally stinks. I try to keep things positive (nobody wants to read “my life is stinks” posts all the time because that’s a downer), but sometimes I have a bear of a day and it’s almost so terrible I have to laugh at myself.  Bottom line, life sucks sometimes. But that’s life and things do get better. In light of the recent unexpected passing of my uncle, I realize that everyday is precious, even if it’s a bad day. So I’m thankful for what’s dropped on my plate, even if today I happen to be the “bug”.

Are you the windshield or the bug today? Have any fun weekend plans?


Mar 26

But I Was Budgeting So Well…

budgetDo you ever look through your bank or credit card statements and think, “Hmm how did that happen? I was budgeting so well!” Since I became debt-free I’ve been pretty relaxed with my budgeting (OK, truth be told I haven’t really made a budget at all this year). Basically, since I got that $30,000 student loan “money” off my back, I haven’t been as worried about my spending.

This year, I even “allowed” myself to plan a vacation for the first time since I became debt-free. It was a once in a lifetime trip with my grandparents that I’ll never forget. I did manage to stay within my planned budget, but it still was a chunk of change.

This month I was looking through my bank statements when I realized it’s almost the end of the month and I’m completely broke! Alright, that’s a bit of an big exaggeration. I do have enough money leftover to pay my bills, but I don’t have any money left to save.

On average I try to throw $500-$1000 into my savings account each month (that’s just my savings as Eric and I aren’t married and don’t share finances yet). This month I won’t even have $500 to save, which is pretty unusual for me. So where did all of my money go?

Holy cow, March was an expensive month!:

  • $294.00 went to the State of New York for my clinical licensure fee
  • $260.00 was spent to take my clinical license exam (I don’t actually take it until next month)
  • $334.00 was spent to travel home to Maine this weekend for my Uncle’s celebration of life ceremony
  • $360.00 went to radiology for a CT scan I had in January (don’t get me started on health insurance in this country)
  • $400.00 (or so) was spent on groceries, toiletries, pet food etc.

What’s different about my spending this month, is the unusually large amount of “extra” expenses. Some I anticipated (like my licensing fees), while others (traveling home) were completely unexpected. The good news is that everything will be paid for out of my salary and I won’t have to touch my savings like I did in January (remember when my furnace burned up? That was a BAD month!). The bad news is I won’t be saving anything this month.

I’m sure some people (probably people who aren’t reading this blog) don’t think that’s a big deal. But for me (a self-proclaimed perfectionist who happens to be a little neurotic) it’s pretty frustrating. That being said, I know that “shit happens” and you can’t always plan for life (although I’d like to). So I’m letting this month slide and trying not to beat myself up.

We all have budgeting ups and downs and some months are more spendy then others. So, with the new month only a few days away, I’m ready for a fresh start. Bring on the April showers and May flowers.

How was your spending this month? How do you deal with budgeting disappointments?

Image: Simon Cunningham

Mar 24

Stretch Your Entertainment Budget with Daily Deal Sites

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 10.35.31 AMDo you use the daily deal sites to snag good entertainment deals? I do! I love to use the deal sites to stretch our entertainment budget. From dining out and massages, to tasting tours and theater tickets, there are a bunch great deals if you’re dying to get out of the house, but want to stick to your budget.

I started browsing the daily deal sites shortly after I paid off my monster student loan debt. I wanted to go out to eat and indulge in little beauty treatments, but couldn’t bear the idea of spending my newly “found” money on the things I’d “cut out” of my budget for so long. I was obsessed with saving my money and didn’t want to splurge on anything that wasn’t a necessity. When I found the deal sites I was super excited because I could try out some of the local restaurants and salons without spending full price and feeling “guilty” (self-imposed guilt is the worst, and I’m so good a guilting myself).

But with good things in life, moderation is key. Living in a major city, there’s always a deal that appeals to me. So I’ve had to learn to be judicious with my deal purchases. Here are a few tips about staying within your budget when buying from the deals sites that I’ve learned the “hard way”– if you know what I mean-wink.

Avoiding the “Dangers” of the deal sites:

1. Buy with your budget in mind

I have to admit when I first found AmazonLocal, Groupon and Living Social I was so obsessed with the idea of “saving” I went a little overboard and spent more than I’d planned. The only way you can stretch your entertainment budget (and get more value for your money) is if you actually stick to your budget. A $50 voucher to a local restaurant for “only” $25 might seem like a good deal, but not if the average meal costs $100 per person and you’re trying to stay within a $50 dining out budget.

2. Pay Attention to the restrictions

There are sometimes restrictions on the days you can use the voucher, the items you can purchase and the number of vouchers you can buy. Sometimes substitutions are allowed, but a lot of the time they are not. Keep in mind, if you live in a big city, some locations of a particular chain store or restaurant might not be participating. My local Coldstone Creamery has a sign right on their front door that states they do no participate in any of the daily deal sites-bummer!

3. Make sure you buy in the right city

Sometimes I get so excited when I see a deal on one of the coupon blogs I rush to buy the voucher without paying attention to the city the voucher is good for (Dumb! I know!). This actually happened to me just a few months ago. I saw a great deal for a voucher at the Body Shop. I excitedly snagged 2 vouchers before I realized I’d bought them from the Living social Orlando site, oops.

4. Read the fine print

When I first “found” the deal sites, I bought a bunch of vouchers for local restaurants and services and only used about half of them before they expired. These days you keep at least the “paid value” of the voucher, but when I first started using Groupon many of the deals expired completely on a certain date (it said so in the very fine print at the bottom of the voucher). If you didn’t use the voucher by that date you lost your money (not very frugal!).

5. Think before you buy

Do you really need the item or service you’re buying? It’s easy to get excited about buying something when there are “only 500 left” or there are only 30 minutes left to buy (they do that on purpose of course). Carefully consider if you really need the item you’re purchasing before you click “buy”. Don’t let the group buying mentality suck you in.

Daily Deal Sites I Love:

Tip: Did you know you can use ebates to buy Living Social and Groupon vouches (to get a percentage of your purchase price back!)? Currently ebates is offering 4.6% cash back on Groupon purchases and 6% cash backon Living Social vouchers.

What are your favorite deal sites? How do you use them to stay on budget?

**Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, if you sign up or buy from one of them, thank you!

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