Sunday, May 27, 2012

What’s Important, Discussing Goals and Finances

I’ve been trying to organize my finances a lot more recently. Yes I’ve been trying for years, but I’ve really ramped things up a bit lately. But I’m guessing very few of you actually know that is a piece of what I’m up to.

And it seems to be a downhill battle. My outgoing spending exceeds my income. I don’t have a month-by-month break down; nor would I publish it if I did. I will discuss some of the key players in my financial minefield below.

But the fact of the matter is I’ve been dipping into my savings fairly regularly for the past five years without fully making it back to ‘pay myself back.’ When including airfare, education and health expenses, I’m just not bringing in enough (Yes, like a lot of people in America and around the world, I know). In effect this means I’m not really financially independent, which if you’ve known me long enough and well enough is something I’ve been striving to accomplish for a long time and is very, very important to me.

Or maybe you didn’t. A lot of people don’t understand that I hold this goal in such high regard and that I’m highly offended when people ask me to compromise this goal. In fact I am more committed to this goal than getting married. (Gasp, Horror!) So when the suggestion comes up that I should throw this goal out the window so that I might attend someone’s wedding, but it’s really not financially aligned with my plans, I’m rather childishly pissy about it. And I’m really not sorry for that. Yes, I care, you have no idea how torn up inside I feel, but that doesn’t mean I’m putting my financial wellbeing or my goals in the trash. A marriage is about more than the day the wedding ceremony takes places, and I’d rather be able to support that throughout than go broke to be there one day. Not to mention, I think this is good planning and thought processing should I ever decide to take a life partner – going into debt is not the point of a wedding! I would like to add that it is not the individuals getting married pushing this issue; but this is why I’m motivated to write a post on finances.

A lot of people don’t understand my framing of life planning in terms of career goals, financial independence goals and freedom from ‘owing someone.’ But if you look closely enough, you need go no further than looking to my father and grandmother, the financial gurus of the family. I can no longer call on them directly for guidance, but I’m trying my hardest (which is ever more complicated as an American expat) to learn from them and the resources around me to actually live within my means and save for a future of my design (notice I said MY design, not anyone else’s design, though inspired by family role models, ah the irony). Granted, this means I come across as thinking and acting like my father, which is it’s own barrel of monkeys.

I need to be careful too; not to fall into the trap of framing everything in dollars, cents, baht and satang (and other currencies). So that said; it’s up to me to decide what’s important to ME and what expenses I’m willing to incur and why.

To give a better picture of my reasoning, let’s discuss what’s important to me in financial and life planning, especially over last year, 2011:

Jenny’s Goal: Find employment at an International School, teaching art, so that:
1) I’m on an International School calendar and I’m better able to coordinate with dates in the US for my vacation time.
2) I’m teaching what I studied to teach, what I want to teach
3) I can be home for Christmas in 2012; and should be able to save to pay myself back for this ticket by the time I step on the plane.
Plan has been in the making: 1.5 years.
Shared: With very few people because I was afraid I couldn’t do it, etc.
Level of Importance to me: 10 out of 10
Paid self back: No, plan to do so by December
Achieved: Obtained Employment in this category, proper working visa, and plane ticket to be home for Christmas purchased on credit.

Jenny’s Goal: Maintain Indiana teaching credential (or find another state/country who’s teacher’s license is actually stable, unlike my home state or my country of residence)
1) Enroll in, succeed in and pay for 6 graduate credit hours to upgrade to a five year teaching license (while teaching in Thailand and dealing with an epic flood – full disclosure, this chapter was not accomplished without anti-anxiety pills, I’m not Wonder Woman).
2) I can renew my license without moving home; which would kind of defeat the point of moving abroad to get experience and adventure.
3) Next Steps: Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and Teacher’s Council of Thailand – possibility of getting Thai teacher’s license to retain legal teaching status. Work Permit.
4) Dealing with 5-year license complications and the new Education Reforms in Indiana that are currently on the table, right now in June 2012. Begin 90 hours of Professional Growth Plan Work. Figure out what I need to keep in a teacher’s growth journal to accomplish this. Hope legislature does NOT get amended to exclude teachers working out of state from being able to renew; plan to write to state representatives on the matter before the bill’s vote.
Plan (Part 1 and 2) took: 9 months of planning, coursework and paperwork
Part 3: will be ongoing over the next three months at least
Part 4: To Be Determined, but gathering PGP hours already. Choosing another place to obtain credentials from is a much, much farther out goal.
Level of importance to me: 9 out of 10
Paid self back (monetarily): No

Fast Forward 2012:
Jenny’s Goal: Enjoy my summer vacation while living a little closer to within my means. If Goal: International School was not obtained, I would need to be teaching during these months which are ‘break’ in the US school calendar, and would not have had the time off any way. Since Goal: International School was obtained, I’m in the hole from visa run, moving, and only getting one week’s worth of salary for the month of April. So I now have ‘break’ however I’m close to ‘broke.’ Haha puns! But I’ve known this aspect of the plan for months. I knew it as I got a pit in my stomach a year ago when I was told the wedding date. I knew. And I knew the unspoken expectations that have now reared their ugly heads.
Plan has been in the making: Also 1.5 years
Shared with: The Individual who’s wedding I’m missing soon after the date was set, very few others, why start the fight early?
Level of Importance to me: 10 out of 10
Level of conflict I feel regarding where I am this summer: 10 out of 10

Jenny’s Goal: Support causes and lifestyle changes that are important to me.
1) Donate small amounts of money to causes important to me, including charity work in Thailand, Kiva lending, Kickstarter projects that resonate with me, The American Brain Tumor Association, etc.
2) Spend some money on healthy foods, relaxing at the beach and other things that are beneficial to my health, mind, body and sanity so that not all of my energy and money is poured into plane tickets at the expense of my happiness.
3) Continue to work on my financial planning so that I am living within my means, and actually getting back to a place where I’m saving instead of financially bleeding out. This takes a lot of work, patience and calculated plotting of money matters.

There has been a lot of confusion as to what on Earth Jenny is doing over there in Thailand, any way. Living in huts (or so people think) and peeing without toilet paper, teaching hooligans and Party Rocking like it’s 1959 (except we have iPads, or at least many of my students do) aside, I’m not just taking a Gap Year and forgoing thoughts of the future. Far from it.

I really don’t believe I need to justify my actions and decisions, but as it’s bothering me this much and people can’t seem to quit asking, there is a brief glimpse into the inner workings of Jenny’s brain. I hope that gives a clearer picture of the life goals I was working on in 2011 and am continuing on in 2012; and woah man, that’s a heck of a lot to have achieved, ya know? Certainly nothing to scoff at. So I’m not going to pull a Carrie Bradshaw and proclaim you should buy me $300 shoes to celebrate my singledom (I mean, demanding things like this is kind of the antithesis of my financial independence argument too, but any way) and successes therein; but dude, she had a point. There is more in life to be celebrated than matrimony and child-bearing, we’re not trying to bring it down, us disgruntled single ladies, but we’re just tired of being lost in the shuffle of unspoken expectation as if that’s the be-all end-all and we must sacrifice to make it happen on other people’s terms at the expense of our own goals. And I think pretty much every single lady the world over would agree with that.

My goal? My goal is to be in charge of my money. A lot of people can’t say that, and a lot of people are unhappy for it whether married, single or otherwise. Why don’t we work on lifting each other up; including through healthy financial choices all around; instead of continuing to buy into the myth of excess because it’s expected. I’m not deserting people, I’m trying to set up the scaffolding for a future where I can make the decisions to be places and see people and do so without incurring consumer debt; because otherwise there’s no way I can sustain what I want to do. Just because I’m not at the wedding ceremony doesn’t mean I’m not out here cheering on the marriage. And I only gave you a look at last year and the next few months, I have big dreams. Much bigger dreams than what I’ve shared.

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