In Self Reflections and Refinements

My Debt Story

People of my generation are graduating college with piles of debt from their education. Is it worth it? Is it hurting us? Is it harming our economy? These are questions I ponder a lot.  In the world of personal finance, most of us have debt stories. This one's mine. 

I went to community college right out of high school for two years. At that time, the tuition and book costs were reasonable enough that my parents were able to pay cash each semester to pay for those school years. All the while I knew I'd be going to a more expensive university someday. 

Once I knew it would be Michigan State University I got to work figuring out how it would be paid for. Since my parents made enough money, I wasn't necessarily that academically or athletically talented, and I had no unique struggles in my background, no scholarships or grants were in my future. My parents had loans themselves to finance a chunk of my education.

Just at the same time I began taking on debt my dream to join the Peace Corps was born. Most of that time I wasn't sure if I could actually live that dream, due to my mounting debt. How can I go and live as a volunteer and still fulfill financial obligations after graduation? Then, a chance encounter with a waitress in Jackson appeased my fears. As luck would have it, her best friend had joined Peace Corps and she assured me that student loan debt could could be deferred during Peace Corps service. Once I learned this, my dream continued to blossom. 

That's just what happened. My loans were frozen with no interest accumulating for the entirety of my 26-month Peace Corps service. Once my service was complete, my first payment came due the very next month. At first, I had minimum payments of about $400 per month with a couple different loans. I didn't earn super high wages for a few years after Peace Corps so minimums were about all I could handle. Plus, I had living expenses of an independent, single woman. One who still liked to travel and have adventures.

Six years later, and about $35,000 paid, here I am now. DEBT FREE! 

Here's how I did it: 

I had one loan from a local community trust with a 2% interest rate. It had a five year term and I paid it off in four years. My second loan was a federal subsided loan with an interest rate of 6.5%. I plugged along on that one, but after about three years of payments I hadn't made a very substantial dent. My minimum payments were doing little more than feeding the interest.

When I got my job as Executive Director of Fitness Council of Jackson and I was making the highest salary of my life, I wanted to get much more aggressive with my loan payments.  I had a conversation with my dad that year where I expressed disdain at the fact that too much of my hard earned money would be going to interest instead of helping me get dug out. Then we made a decision that helped me get to where I am today. My dad made the incredible offer of paying off my loan in full and allowing me to pay him back with low interest. Since fall of 2014, my federal loan has been held with the Bank of Dad, at the reasonable interest rate of 2%. Then, we both felt better about the fact that my payments would whittle down the principle much faster.  We both can agree that our country has a huge problem with out of control interest rates and he didn't want to see me subject to suffering because of it. It shouldn't cost so much to finance an education.

Whenever I earned extra money, I threw it at my loans. Any side hustles, tax returns, or unexpected gifts went to dwindling those balances.

In summary:

Put extra money that you can live without toward your balances. Consolidate if you can. Pay down small loans and roll the amount you were paying on larger ones. Pay down ones with large interest rates. Find out if there is anyone in your life with the ability to pay off your balance and allow you to pay them at a reasonable interest rate. Live your life, do what makes you happy, don't stay home all the time, and live your dreams.

There are a couple of extremes with debt repayment. One being that a person does absolutely NOTHING for a period of time and spends every last dollar on loan repayment. Another being that a person pays minimum payments for decades, basically only feeding interest and never sees themselves out of debt. Myself, I went middle of the road. I knew I wanted to experience places and things, so I've been doing that. But, I also wanted to be a responsible adult and get out of debt as quickly as possible. I got to see the world, live my dreams, and reach my financial goals. 

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In Year of 30-day challenges

Thirty Day Challenges

Starting at the beginning of the coming year I'd like to begin a journey of a year of 30 day challenges. I felt inspired by the documentary, No Impact Man, a person who committed to living a zero impact life on the environment for one year. Not wanting to go that extreme, I'd like to go through a range of things over the coming year and give them up for 30 days. I hope that after the end of each 30 day period, I will have a different relationship with these things and have a changed outlook on them. Here are many of the ideas I have come up with.

  • No using disposable, one-time-use items
  • Wear no makeup
  • Buy nothing new
  • No lying
  • No electricity
  • No cell phone
  • No home Internet
  • Drink only water
  • No added sugar

You see my list is not up to 12. This is a work in progress and if other thoughts come to me over the course of this year, I'll add them to my list. Some of the items on my list may not end up being reasonable, so they might not all come to fruition. I developed this list when really thinking about all the things I would like to try living without. Because, when you think about it, many of the items were things that humans did live without at one time or another. Otherwise, the specific challenges I want to try are to teach me something about life and living. 

Weekly, I'll update you on my progress on giving up each of these things. Look for a vlog or two on each subject as well.

For my first, in January, it's giving up disposable, one-time-use products. I've been excited about this for a while and have been doing small things to start this challenge. Stay tuned for my first post about a disposable free life. 

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In Self Reflections and Refinements

Rude Meets Rude for an Unhappy World

The other day I was stressed for no real reason at all. Since I was stressed, I was feeling very irritable. I only have days like this once in a while and I just liken it to waking up on the wrong side of the bed. 

I went to Polly's Country Market to return some bottles and cans for the deposit money. The machine told me that it wouldn't take many of the ones I had, because the store did not carry that brand. I figured I could try taking them inside to see if there was anything the cashier could do for me.

Apparently she wasn't having the best day either. She reiterated what the machine said and told me I would have to take them back to where I bought them. Now it's difficult to convey tone while typing, but she didn't greet me with the friendliest of spirits. No smile, no apology, just the facts. 

Since I was particularly on edge I decided that since she was rude to me, she deserved to be rude to as well. This only meant that I walked away with out saying thank you and never cracked a smile, but  for me that's rude. The malice was there in my heart. The intent was to not give her any respect.

Since this is not a normal sentiment I take and I wasn't proud of the negativity I felt. Typically I will just let things like that roll of my back. But I got to thinking; 

What about people who walk around like this all the time?  

Later that afternoon I had to stop in the Comcast store to ask a question about my Internet service. Still stuck in my head in my own bad mood, I didn't expect great things about about my encounter.  The receptionist took my name and informed me I'd have to wait. Still not ready to be nice I walked off and found a place to camp out. After about 10 minutes, the receptionist came up to me at my seat and started a conversation. In that moment I made a quick choice to notice and appreciate her kindness. I made a conscious effort to let that wall I'd put up, break down. 

To sum up my point, I know that some people walk around with malice in their heart and stress on their mind, all the time. I am not one of those people. I got a firsthand look about how living with that perspective can effect others and in turn, effect you. They always say "kill them with kindness" and now I believe that more than ever. If my mood was effected so easily by two different womens' attitudes, you never know how many other moods can be effected that way. 

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Dispatches From a Fire Truck

Just as I promised both my readers and myself, I returned to the city of Jackson Fire Station to have a ride along experience. 

I entered the building at about 5 p.m. just as the shift workers were starting to discuss dinner. It became known to me that the issue of the night was going to be how to remove the lid, which was severely stuck, from the the pot of bean soup. As the two guys, whom are firefighters I might remind, realized they couldn't free the lid from the pot, they decided they would be treating themselves to Klavon's Pizza. 

Unlike my first experience at this fire station, these guys weren't so talkative and friendly. Ultimately I was hanging out with the crew, hoping a call might come in, until I had to leave at 7 p.m. The captain briefed me on what I would do if a call was to come in and I just waited. They said they had had one call that day, but inevitably when riders along come in there are no calls. Well that was not one such night. 

At about 5:45 the first call came in. Bells went off and a female voice from the 911 dispatch center was piped through the intercom system telling us to go to a nearby elderly home. Two firefighters and I hopped on the latter truck and headed that way. As the truck pulled out of the station, the siren went on, and the speed increased, I could not wipe the smile off my face. Aside from my love of roller coasters, I don't consider myself an Adeline junkie...but this was WAY cool! 

The call was quick and before I knew it, we were pulling back in, only to hear another call. I switched trucks and headed out to a street near mine for a possible overdose case. If you were unaware, fire personnel goes along with ambulance whenever they are called. All the calls I had anything to do with were medical. 

The second call was rather interesting. A young woman, high on something was hysterical and refusing to get out of her parked vehicle. Police, fire, and paramedics were on scene to help her. As she refused to get out of the car herself, the men forceably removed her and as she fought, six grown men had to strap her to a gurney for her ride to the hospital. 

When we returned and the men began eating their Klavon's Pizza, a third call came in! This time toa nearby apartment complex with someone choking. This was another quick in and out call. I noted to the men is was obvious they don't seem to hang around the scene too long. Each call I went on lasted no longer that 15-25 minutes. They made the point that the department is so understaffed that they have to quickly get off the scene and be ready to receive the next call. With 5,000 calls a year, they are busy. 

I didn't see any fires or bad injuries, which is more or less how I wanted it. I got to ride on the truck three times and found it tough to stop the smile reflex on my face. I felt like I was holding on for dear life. The truck didn't provide the coziest, comfiest ride I've ever had but there was something about the power of the truck, made me feel powerful too. I also got to wear a headset! As I learned, the siren is very loud and those headsets they are wearing allow the firefighters to talk with one another over the sounds. 

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In Youth Development

Girl? Boy? Scouts

I very rarely write anything about current events. However, this one has got me full of things to say.  It recently came out that the Boy Scouts of America would be accepting girls into their program in 2018. I want to preface this piece by saying I support the Boy Scouts as an incredible organization for the development of boys and young men. I respect the role they play in the lives of young people and effect if has on the lives of young men. I'm just not happy with this choice, and here's why.

Initial reactions: 
  • This is an organization that banned openly gay leaders and scouts from serving until 2015.
  • An organization that prohibited atheist or agnostic individuals from serving until 2014. 
  • We have an organization for girls. It's called Girl Scouts. 
  • By 2019, the organization will allow girls to achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts, the Eagle Scout Award. Again, Girl Scouts has a parallel distinction called the Gold Award. 
The organization that, until recently, had many reasons to exclude people, makes a 180 degree turn and decides to include everyone. 

A history lesson:
In 1908 England, Sir Robert Baden-Powell started an organization for boys aged 11-18. In 1911, Juliette Gordon Lowe, a wealthy widow from Savannah, Georgia met Baden-Powell and learned about this organization. Knowing it didn't admit girls and that there was no organization of its kind admitting girls in the USA, she quickly got home and decided to start her own organization founded, led, and participated in by girls and women. A cornerstone of Girl Scouts, from now since it's inception is that it is 100% girl led. 

Girls vs. Boys:
I believe, that for most youth, adolescents is a time of awkwardness, embarrassment, and shame. One of the greatest things about these two organizations is that it allows youth to develop during these stages in the comfort of their own gender. I know that when I was a young girl, who was poor at sports, I wouldn't feel comfortable throwing a ball in front of a boy. I wouldn't have been able to do my best, because I would have been too preoccupied with not making a fool of myself. Meanwhile, boys at this age like to show off. For some, it's when they start testing the waters of their masculine nature. Scouting should not be the place for young boys and girls to get in the way of each others' growth. 

Personally, this just feels like a slap in the face to women. It feels like a huge discredit to Girl Scouts founder, Juliette Gordon Lowe. We work hard to have something of our own and men need to come in and take it. 

Scouting in general has seen a decline over the years. Having worked for Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan in Jackson, I know first hand how hard we have to work to find leadership, get girls, and keep them in the program. Scouting can be a big commitment, but the rewards are worth it. And with all the extra curricular activities available to youth these days, scouting has suffered. 

Again, I do love what Boy Scouts does for boys. I respect their organization and the people in it. Through years of working with Girl Scouts I have come to know they are the premiere organization for girl and female empowerment. Here girls can grow and develop in a safe space where they can learn who they are and what they are good at. Women couldn't vote for way too long, we couldn't attend universities, couldn't work in many business positions, and couldn't serve in certain areas of the military. Also we couldn't seem to get into the Oval Office. Men in charge, just let us have this one. Stay in your lane.

I believe this decision comes less from a place of wanting to be inclusive, but rather from a business one. Boy Scouts enrollment is down, they have been clouded in different controversies over the years, and they decided to make the most politically correct move. News came out on International Day of the Girl. It may have been picked to show celebration and  welcome on a day that was ours. But I see it as a day of theft on a day that was ours. Don't steal our girls for financial or political gain. Don't try and wipe out the progress that we've made for ourselves. And most of all, don't take our cookies.

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