Friday, June 23

Liked and Lonely

How many likes did you get on your last Instagram post? What about on your new Facebook profile picture? Do you remember how many people commented on your last post? We're a very "liked" society. If we're not careful, we can get caught up in basing our worth and value in the likes  by others (and often thee others are strangers or people we barely know). How is it then, that we can be "liked" by so many  people yet still feel lonely? How come we fill our Facebook event calendar with "interested" stars but when it comes to actually going out you can't find anyone to go with you? Or what about when you're having a rough day and need someone to talk to, can you call the last person who liked your post? Probably not because we're liked and lonely.

I admit it: I have placed a lot of my self-worth and value in whether or not people like me. Do the popular girls in high school invite me to their parties? Does that University want to accept me into their school? Will the super cute guy down the hall notice me? Will the company I interview with hire me? I have always been wrapped up in one way or another if people "like" me. I wanted to be liked so badly and even when I was affirmed and 'liked' by others, I still felt horribly alone.

I had some great friends in high school but still struggled with self esteem and worth. In college I was involved in clubs and sports and even a sorority but still struggled with confidence and depression. I thought that once I graduated and started my 'real' life it would be better, I would be happy and have wonderful friends and wouldn't face the throngs of loneliness. Well let me tell you, as a woman in her late 20s, I still feel liked and lonely. This isn't  something I'm going through alone, and do you want to know why...because I see women all around  me struggling with this epidemic in silence too.

The epidemic
Look around you; sit in an airport or Starbucks without your cellphone or laptop in your hand. I dare you for thirty minutes to not be plugged into something and just observe. Our technology is our defense mechanism, our walls. If we appear busy, no one will notice that we're ______ [fill in the blank with the thing you're dealing with, the emotions you're feeling, the issue you're avoiding]. I bet I know how you'll feel as well: UNCOMFORTABLE. Being vulnerable is so uncomfortable and awkward and that is exactly why after about ten minutes of sitting unplugged you'll start itching for the safety net of scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. It's uncomfortable to be without your safety shield; the one that can deflect a situation and allows you to shut yourself off to the world. It's uncomfortable--- but so is being lonely ladies!

I am going to have an honest moment here: I am miserably lonely. If you look at my IG profile you wouldn't guess it but that's because it's a P-R-O-F-I-L-E! It's my highlight reel not reality. (Another newsflash, probably 99.9% of my pictures are edited #ILoveThatValenciaFilter). My career allows me the incredible opportunity to travel the country for a living and it's an amazing adventure but it can be quite the lonely affair. I fly by myself, I travel by myself, I eat by myself, I adventure by myself. There are times where I love the solitude and don't cross me because I'm one tough-butt-independent-woman-solo-traveler but still it gets lonely out there. 

I long for real friendships and relationships but it's been really hard to cultivate these meaningful relationships. Anyone else out there feel the same? I have hundreds of virtual "friends" but months ago when I was having an incredibly difficult day, I scrolled through my contact list and literally felt like I couldn't call one single friend in that list. How can that be?! I was devastated. In a moment where I needed someone the most, I had no one to call on. I was completely friendless in a "friend"-filled world. I realized that there was this epidemic around me and I was involved in it as well. I've become so numb to the virtual world of friendship that I realized I wasn't sure how to cultivate real friendships around me.

The cure
I don't know a cure, so if you're looking for a 3-step prescription plan you unfortunately won't find one here. Unfortunately, I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I started volunteering at a charity, a got involved in an association at work, I joined a new church, I joined a Bible study, I've put my phone away at the coffee shop and yet I'm still sitting here liked and lonely. I know that these enriching friendships are out there because I see other women in them. I know that God places people in our lives for specific seasons and reasons. I also know that Satan's main goal is to keep us isolated and lonely. If Satan can keep us separated and feeling alone, we won't be able to flourish and live out God's plan for our lives. 

I wonder though, if there was a way for us women to come together to connect and really form relationships how the world would change? This isn't just a disease that affects the Millennial generation or those women who are using social media- it knows no age or socioeconomic or race limitation [and  on that same thought, I'm sure men go through these same things but I'm just speaking from a female perspective]. Women in their 70s who have lost their husband and suddenly feeling very alone in the world are feeling the same thing as those of us in our late 20s, 40s and 50s. What if these women banded together and took a stand against Satan's attempts to isolate and devour us in depression? What if we created a Sisterhood of women who decide enough is enough, we are done being LIKED AND LONELY and are ready to be LOVED AND LIVING? I think it'd be a life changer for all of us living in loneliness in a liked-age.

Sunday, June 18

One Year Debt Plan: How I Paid off $24,000 in One Year

Tackling debt is no easy matter. It's also a bit of a daunting matter. About a year ago I decided I didn't want to be a slave to debt the rest of my life; I wanted to live in financial freedom but wasn't quite sure where to begin. I am by no means a financial expert or super experienced in the intricate details of finances but I do know what God says about being a good steward. Two verses that really encouraged me to start this journey were:

Luke 14:13-14 | "No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money"

1 Timothy 6:10 | "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs

God has called us to be good stewards of our gifts and resources. I wanted to be faithful with the finances God has given to me. I wanted to live a life in which I could give where God has called me to and not be stressed out about paying the bills. So I decided to take some steps towards setting myself up for a life of financial freedom. Here are some of the tools and tips I used to help pay off about $24,000 of debt in one year.

1. Moved home
The biggest blessing in my journey has been moving home. My parents were amazing to let me come home and live without paying rent for a few years to help me get on my feet. Now, I know that either that isn't an option for everyone and/or it sounds miserable, but it has been the biggest blessing in saving money. Rent can be incredibly expensive, so being able to move home and save that rent money has been instrumental. 

2. Weekly debt payment
At my company we get paid every week so every Friday morning I sat down and budgeted and paid my bills. I was incredibly aggressive on the payments of my debt (car loan, credit cards and student loans). By paying every week, I was able to cut down on some of the Interest as opposed to doing my previous monthly payments. Even if you get paid once a month, calculate how much interest you would save if you pay once a week smaller increments versus one large payment a month. 

I loosely followed Dave Ramsey's 'snowball theory' on paying off debt. His idea is to attack the smallest debt firsts. Once that debt is paid off, roll that amount you're paying and any extra into the next smallest debt. So lets say you're putting $50 towards your $500 credit card debt a week. Once you're finished paying off that $500, take that $50 you've been paying and start paying your next smallest debt. Is there an additional amount you can add to that payment? Can you spare $55 or $70 maybe? His idea is that you keep rolling your amount towards the next smallest debt. 

I pre-planned in an Excel worksheet what I would pay each week ahead of time so I had an idea of what I would be paying and the projected date of pay off. I found that this was helpful to visualize an end-date and help me strive towards making those payments.

PS: Dave Ramsey is an amazing resource and wrote "Financial Freedom". Check out his website for his classes, curriculum and texts.

3. Live off $100 a week
Speaking of Dave Ramsey, I loosely followed his idea of the envelope system. To learn more about the envelope system, read here. My adaption to his method was instead of budgeting $30 for gas and $70 for groceries and putting it in an envelope, I just lumped it all into one envelope. For the past year I've loosely lived on $100 a week in cash. It sounds strict, and that's because it was. That $100 was cash in my wallet that I allowed myself to use during the week for anything other than my bills.  It included: gas money, going out to eat, Target runs for necessities, gifts or just other spending money. It takes a lot of discipline to live off $100 a week, there are times when I had to say no to going out to eat with friends or stopping into TJ Maxx because I knew I only had a few dollars left. Any extra cash I would carry over to the next week for "extra" money.

Now there were times I would have to use my debit card online for things, but I would just budget that into the following week's budget. If I had to pay $30 for something on Amazon, the next week I would only take $70 out of the ATM. It was a give-and-take.

4.  Cash is KING 
Like I said before, I lived on cash. 95% of the time I used cash for things. I would take $100 of cash out of the ATM on Friday and that would be my 'extra' money for the rest of the week. By using cash I was able to physically see how much I was spending and how much I had left for the week. When you're using a card it's easy to swipe mindlessly; but cash makes you really stop and think if it's worth it. 

I did keep one credit card on hand for emergency purposes. Over the year there were definite times I had to use it because a purchase was over $100 or close to my limit for the week. I just made a point to pay off the card within that week or the next. Again, it just takes discipline to be diligent to not use plastic all the time when we live in such plastic society 

5. Keep the change.
Some people claim they hate to carry cash because they hate the change. What I did was get a large mason jar and every day I'd dump any change I collected into that mason jar. All that change adds up, so don't let it go to waste! I saved up all my changed and cash it in towards the holiday season, viola- a few hundred extra bucks for holiday shopping!

6. Reward Programs
I signed up for basically any and all rewards programs. Bing (the search engine) has a rewards program where you earn points with every search you do, and with those points you can turn them into gift cards. This is how I get my Starbucks fix! After earning 2,000 points (usually takes me about 2-3 weeks) I get a free $5 gift certificate which means a free latte for moi! 

I also signed up for the rewards programs and/or email notifications for all the shops I go to frequently. They send out discounts, coupons and freebie codes frequently so I'm able to still go to Anthropologie occasionally and purchase a cute top but I just do it when I get the 20% email. 

7. Plan for special occasions
You know when birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries are coming--- put them in your calendar and plan ahead! You know your best friend's birthday is going to come around every March, so plan ahead! Buy her card when you have a coupon to Hallmark and a birthday gift a few weeks before. Spread the spending out over a few weeks so you're not cramming it all into one week.

Again,I am by no means a financial expert but these are some of the tricks and tips I implemented into my life that really made a difference. It's been a learning curve, trying to save and pay off debt in such an aggressive manner. Lord willing, I will be 100% debt free in the next year. I want to be able to use my talents and gifts for the Lord and not have to worry about the financial aspects. As one of my favorites, Lara Casey, always says... little by little, progress adds up. So start today! Start small. It's okay to grow slow as Lara says. I pray that this helps you take a small step towards your own financial freedom path. Comment below with any questions you may have and I'll try to point you in the best direction!