Paying for entrance into the Middle Class Lifestyle

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As I was working hard on my Chemistry homework (and silently cursing at how stupid Pearson programs charge an arm and a leg for books, computer applications and other crap), I realized that a combination of political, economic and circumstances beyond my control have created these road blocks to financial stability.

As in, I am currently working hard (academically) and paying for entrance into a possible well-paying job in a field that may or may not be automated (I hope computers will not learn to program themselves).  This is how it feels like to “pay your dues” so to speak. Which is asinine because the most knowledgeable people can become unemployable because of lack of communication skills and a good network.

This is why I am going to also start working on the latter.

I have signed up for 3 professional student organizations in my field of study, which would lead to more networking career fairs I can attend to than the usual one that Walmart attends. The more people I can talk to, the better the chances that I can land a job somewhere, far away from the South. Worst case scenario, the time and energy spent would yield nothing and I would be stuck here.

I hated doing this, but I had to:

My schedule is SO FULL of time-consuming classes that I had to turn down a job interview because I wouldn’t be able to fill the hours they needed me for. If they had weekend hours I would have accepted the job in a heartbeat.  If I were studying 12 hours or less, I would have accepted the job. My cost of opportunity was $1,015 for the semester.  But if I took the job, that would leave me less time to study (and no time for math tutoring)  and would end up failing the semester.  In that scenario, I would be out $6,000+ and land myself into Academic Probation, meaning loosing my scholarships and the ability to continue to attend school loan-free.  And the “loan-free” part is important.If at some point during the long academic journey manage to enroll for 12 hours or less, I will look into finding employment somehow (internships).

The non-stripping alternatives….

If I didn’t suck at working in manual labor, I wouldn’t go back to college. I would excel and become a union member somehow.  I wanted to donate plasma this semester for some money, but I couldn’t spare 2 hours during the day to pass out from lack of blood proteins (this was from previous attempts). First time I donated plasma, I was so weary that when I got home, I  ate 6 eggs (horrible cravings!) and passed out for the rest of the afternoon. I donated plasma 2 more times and had to quit because I couldn’t get my body to get used to it. So that option is out :/

Patience is a virtue that only saints possess. But I am not a saint…

I’ve kept in constant touch with the financial aid office on campus. They must hate me by now, but I don’t care. If the roles were reversed, they would send collections after me. Such irony that the university is quick to offer me a loan to pay for school, yet it drags its feet when it comes to dispersing loan-free money.  So is the college life.

Back to School Edition of a Mel Brooks Film

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This month has been a bit nerve wrecking (so to speak). Apart from Cutie’s health scare, I have been super-nervous about the Fall Semester.  I am referring to the financial aspect of affording school without taking out loans.  Yes I did get a few scholarships but so far only a small amount of it has gone through, putting me in the whole for the rest of the $6,000 I owe for the semester. The anxious me becomes the pro-active me, and makes a lot of phone calls and sends emails to the university and the scholarship department. That is my current battle. My hope is to break even or not be in the hole too damn much. I already spent close to $300 in books (in spite of searching high and low for used copies and purchasing them during the sales-tax free weekend).

And then there is Plan B….

No, not the drug (although I used it once and I felt like a cow full of hormones :( ). It is the where I am going to go after I graduate from university (for the second time!). I worked on my degree plan and estimated that I would finish in 8 1/2 semesters or 2 1/2 years, give or take. Cutie is getting impatient about living in the South but I can’t rush this kind of thing.  The logical place would be anywhere where I can find work but it seems that pre requisite is not enough anymore.  I need to look towards a place where to “lay down roots” so to speak. A place where the weather isn’t too hot and does not hate women (cutting funding on Planned Parenthood is a big no-no on my book).  I have started doing research in several states using sites like numbeo.com, looking for reasonable cost of living, towns or cities where DINKS can live and enjoy a good gaming community, etc. I have narrowed it down to 3 states and I hope that the next time we move, it would be the last time.

You have to be good to yourself. Always!

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You have to be good to yourself. Always.

After recovering from traveling for family events, I will keep this phrase in mind whenever I have to book another trip. This is something that rings true especially when you have to travel.
It’s hard to be good to yourself while traveling when you are on a budget. Or short on cash. But traveling is going to be expensive (money-wise or comfort-wise):
-Excessive cheapening out on lodging can increase your exposure to bed bugs, noise and unclean places. I have stayed in hostels, shacks, tents, etc during my travels and honestly I will always prefer to stay at a hotel with a good track record for a good night’s sleep. BTW I will never stay at an America’s Best Value Inn AGAIN. Especially in Kentucky.
The Flying -vs-Driving Debate: While flying has become obnoxious and irritating, driving through long distances (8 hours or more) can be just as draining. I’ve found that if the drive is more than 4 hours long, it merits some overnight stay either at the destination place or mid-way to the destination place. At least with flying you can opt out of driving far afterwards.
-Food: It’s hard to eat healthy while traveling. If you want to save money, invest in a plug-in cooler that will keep your food either hot or cold and prepare some simple meals like sandwiches and snacks. Traveling with a few homemade meals will not only save money, but help avoid the dreaded food-poisoning (and a ruined trip!). If you can’t prepare meals, scout out the nearby restaurants along the route or destination point for some healthy choices.
-ALWAYS BRING WET-WIPES/DISINFECTING WIPES! I can’t stress this enough. You will encounter enough contaminated surfaces to catch at least ONE COLD/FLU if not careful. Excessive hand washing is encouraged while traveling.
-BRING YOUR OWN LINENS AND TOWELS. Better safe than sorry. Check for the bed size of the place you are planning on staying in and either bring your own clean linens and towels. Seriously, don’t even bother using the provided comforters: most only get washed once a year. While on the subject…
Bring a flashlight and check the mattress for signs of bedbugs! If you find them, change rooms immediately! I don’t care how paranoid this may look but after roughing it throughout the years (worst was while staying in an old dorm for bible camp with roaches falling from the ceiling), I have become more careful on avoiding as many bug-infested places as possible.
If you can’t be good to yourself while traveling, then don’t travel at all. Unless you are traveling for an emergency, don’t expect to be 100% fully-rested/nourished after cutting one too many corners on lodging/food and transportation mode. I learned this the hard way and which was why I haven’t written in while (thanks food poisoning!)

A new level of gambling

I will state this now because I have seen too many idiots do this for fun: I do NOT gamble (cards, slot machines, casino games, etc).

Yet what I have been doing for the past year has been so far, a gamble.

Months of silence were caused by a long semester of intense studying in American Government, Modern Greek and Math. The most pain in the ass one was Math, trying to test into another Math class. I worked my butt off, but those online tests are just AWFUL. I managed to test out of one class, but could not test out of the other class. So I had to take summer school. Six months of Math into one month was brutal. My days consisted of 8 hours of studying, doing homework and testing.  The hard work paid off (for now).  I’d thought after all of that Math I should have come up with a formula (or two) on how to estimate whether this expensive gamble will pay off. (I haven’t :( )

I agree education is a good investment but frankly when you tally up the expenses (tuition, books, food, etc), you do get the feeling that the process itself is a gamble:

<Silent Sobbing>

A few caveats:

-I didn’t factor in a meal plan because I live off campus, until I had a good look at my schedule and realized that I wouldn’t leave campus until 8PM. And there are microwaves around campus but absolutely no refrigerators available for student use to store leftovers for lunch and dinner time. :(

-I spend about $40 a month on gasoline, give or take depending on how much I have to drive to campus. If the weather is nice enough (no snow or rain) I would ride my bike on the 6 mile trek to campus to save some money. Another peeve: the $36.14 Transit Fee for a bus system that does not run pass 5PM and would add 2 hours to my campus commute because everyone who isn’t a student also gets to ride in it. And there are no stops within walking distance.

-I’ve managed to get two scholarships to cover tuition and fees (excluding parking permits) and the meal plan but did not qualify for the book scholarship, which means I have to pay for books and if I am lucky to get a good parking spot, I would have shell out another $624 for the student parking permit at the closest parking deck on campus. At least this permit will last for two semesters. The reason I am considering upgrading my student parking permit is because the regular low-cost lots need to be cleared out on Tuesdays because of basketball games. The parking Nazis have handed out parking fines like candy because sporting events are more important than academics.

-Did not include housing because I live off campus and since the rental company did not raise our rent, we just renewed our lease. I have considered moving closer to campus until I realized that a) the noise level would not let Cutie and I sleep and b) the rent spikes are increasing at an alarming rate in that area. I dodged a bullet by not being a first-year freshman under the age of 21, which would have forced me to shell out nearly $9,000 for a dorm room on campus per semester.

If I were still working it would have taken me 2 1/2 months to earn enough to cover the above expenses (excluding housing, groceries, utility bills, etc). By the time I have saved enough, the yearly events would have popped up (holidays and birthdays, anniversaries, etc) and would have been too dead broke to even afford car maintenance. Time wise, I would not have enough time to spend with Cutie, run errands or sleep if I were working full-time and studying full time. The only way I can manage to work and study is if I am lucky enough to land a part-time job on campus or near campus that would not conflict with my studying schedule. I am still waiting from a few places I applied to.

Yes this is a new level of gambling. Because I have NO CLUE on whether once I graduate I will land a full-time job before or after graduation. Or, if I do, I would be able to recoup most of the uncovered expenses for the education from the best university in the state (not a diploma mill!). Or not get a job because of other factors, such as a decrease in demand and age discrimination, among other things. If I am not able to find full-time work after this, I am just calling it quits. I understand that in order to compete in a demanding field, education is important but I cannot afford to do it continuously for the rest of my working years. I have considered opening a business or doing contract work, but I do not have the ideas to meet an unmet demand and I am not able to travel extensively because of my family life. It would take A LOT OF MONEY for me to work super-long hours because the time I loose with my family is time I won’t get back. I really hope, with time and hard work, that this will all pay off.

The Dirty Truths about Losing Weight

Weight-Loss involves a lot of Math and Discipline. Notice that these two factors are what most Americans lack/fear. And with this in mind, think of all of the celebrity endorsements of equipment that will more likely gather dust in your house or of those milk-shakes/prepared meals that will make you spend more money on than actual groceries! Keep in mind that they are getting paid to lose the weight (with huge amounts of money!) whereas all you have is well…none of that. But it can be done on the cheap as long as you can keep in mind how much work it really takes.

The First Part of Discipline: Math and A lot of Digging!

There is no way around it. After loosing 5 lbs so far (no..not in water weight!) I found out why the Dieting Industry is filled with pills, juices, powers, canned foods, prepared meals and support groups. The cheapest way to loose weight lies in your own damn kitchen, but it involves using A LOT OF MATH:

Food Scale: shows how much you can really put on your plate before eating it.
Food Scale: shows how much you can really put on your plate before eating it.

If you are lucky enough to use the FitBit basic free program, you can enter all kinds of common brand-name foods and ingredients you can find in your local supermarket or even at a fast food place. And depending on your weight loss goals, your jaw will drop as you find out how much one “serving” of your favorite food is versus how much you think you can eat. Hence, the use of a food scale that easily converts to ounces, grams, and milliliters will have you cutting your burgers into quarters or tacos in halves before eating any of them.  In short, eating out is a pain when restaurants can’t be honest about how much food they serve you or not willing to post their nutritional value. Which is why eating out became sporadic and almost none-existent to us. The hardest part (when away from home) is resisting temptation. This is especially true when you are focused on mentally-draining tasks and you can’t really gauge accurately between wanting to snack or needing to eat due to real hunger. :( So you have to resort to more home cooked meals instead of buying those prepared frozen meals that have more sodium than a bottle of soy sauce.

Reminds me of airplane food while being stuck in an 8-hour flight.
Reminds me of airplane food while being stuck in an 8-hour flight.

Home cooked meals are your best aid to healthier eating and weight loss, but once again, it involves A LOT OF MATH and DISCIPLINE!  Hell, my cooking has changed from healthy, flavor-heavy cooking to healthy/portion controlled cooking to minimize caloric intake:

Food Science in a nut shell :(
Food Science in a nut shell :(

It is still daunting for me because I can’t be as liberal with oils or other flavor enhancers unless they have ZERO calories (like spices and vinegar). And once a home cooked meal is made, it has to weighted to know exactly how much of a serving really is, calorie-wise.  Writing down every single ingredient of the meal also helps with this tedious process. I call it tedious because after a long-exhausting day, you just want to give into instinct and grab a bowl-full or a plate-full of food, damned the consequences.

The Second Part of Discipline: A Condescending Pedometer

My pedometer, which counts steps, shows how many calories I burn based on age and weight, also likes to remind me when I need to be more active:

Discretion is key to show you how lazy you really are..
Discretion is key to show you how lazy you really are..

If I am standing or sitting too long, the display screen will show the above image within the 2-3 hour period. If more time passes, it will show the image of a dead spider or what looks like a digital turd/rock/bean/whatever it really is.  It changes to a happy face after 2 hours in the gym or long-walk on the nearby trail. But the little thing is only happy for about 15 minutes until it goes back to its condescending nature.

The Third Part: Avoid suffering alone!

Since weight loss is mentally and physically taxing, it takes a lot of will power and determination to stay on track and not to cheat (or cheat too much!). This is why paid support groups/weight-loss programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers make a lot of money while offering people help/encouragement/reminders to avoid temptation and re-program one’s eating habits. If you have ever tried dieting alone, one thing that always happens is trying to eat a tiny salad while the person sitting next to you eats a plate full of Chicken Alfredo. The feelings of resentment/temptation can urge you to quit! This is why I am lucky to have Cutie on board with this: if you or your partner wants/needs to loose weight, the only way to succeed is to do so as a team. He helps me with the cooking while I help him stay more active because this journey is hard as hell, which brings to another discovery…

On your least active days, you WILL go hungry else you will go over your caloric consumption.

On days when I hit the gym, then go walking 3-4 miles with Cutie, I can indulge on either more than one serving of dinner or a freaking desert (our favorite has become ice cream sandwiches because they are satisfying and low-caloric). Reason being is that your body works like a furnace: the more it works, the more fuel it needs. If that furnace is not working that hard, that left-over fuel will just sit there, insulating you or be stored for reserves. So in order for Cutie and I not to feel famished, we walk as often as daylight is present, damned the weather.  With that being said, you will notice the difference in the weirdest of ways:

When a man looses weight: “Hey my belt is getting looser!”

When a woman looses weight: “Oh crap my boobs just got smaller. Other parts of body are still the same.” :(

Fourth Part: Being realistic

Vanity is not my reason to refrain myself from living towards a healthier lifestyle. It’s being more genetically cursed than anything else. Fear, perhaps is the biggest factor, although illness cannot truly be prevented. Maybe the goal is to have the odds in my favor. But, so what? When you are surrounded by loved ones who are getting closer to death what can you do? Or when you know you will need to be physically able to take care of loved ones when that time comes. Will you be able to handle it well or will you drop dead from a heart attack when life throws an unexpected surprise at you? I want to be able, as anyone should, to respond to a fight/flight response and survive what life throws at me. Because you never really know…

The D&D Approach to Career Planning

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I can’t sleep. I have been surfing the web, doing research on how to become a computer programmer (and working conditions as a female programmer). The results are not promising: story after story of sexism, double-standards and proliferate abuse of the H1 Visa programs soured my mood. I had to prepare for my Career Development Appointment due this Friday and all I can come up with are reasons why I want to major in Computer Science:

– I like working with computers instead of in my old field. (And maybe less contact with large quantities of people?)

-I was tired of my old career getting ridiculously automated to the point of layoffs and did not want to continue.

-There is potential to work as an individual contractor as a programmer if I could not find full-time employment after graduating.

Not exactly a well-thought out game plan. I looked at my degree plan from my academic advisor and saw that if I were a character in a game, I would be at level 0. Not even at level 1 (Calculus is not under my belt yet). Then the idea hit me: I could make a D&D style character sheet out based on what I want to major.

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It sounds crazy and ridiculous, but upon further inspection of my old D&D character sheets, the parallels between a student and a starting character are very similar:

-You have a back story, starting your journey with  little to no possessions and your current location is a super-somewhat safe central location. You end up in a party no bigger than 6 and there is no guarantee all of you will finish your campaign.

This sounds a lot like going to the student food court for orientation the first time as a freshman.

-You start with traits that are the bare minimum in order to be the fighting class you want to be. If you didn’t have those traits (Intelligence, Dexterity, Strength) you had to switch classes. Some of those traits can be linked to your past and race.

This is very similar to having X amount of scores on entrance exams, AP Class grades just to get into the program of your choice. And if you were from a wealthy family or were lucky enough to get scholarships, you could probably afford to do a double major! From my standpoint, my chances are better if all I had to do was roll dice and add or subtract traits I didn’t need.

-Before you choose a class, you look in the Player’s Handbook at all of classes before making a choice (Fighter, Wizard, Bard, etc). Each level details what abilities you can gain as you progress in the game.

I honestly wish it were this easy to see what I would/could be 10-20 years from now following a chosen career path. Why can’t it be this way? Maybe it can be done from an academic perspective but I am not a traditional student (experienced in a full-time work environment, not a first-time college graduate).

I guess that is where the similarities end. You really can’t predict at which level you will those new skills you will need once you graduate. The best bet would be joining a professional organization that offers Credit Education Equivalencies in order to stay current with “trends”. But even that becomes murky: from past experience, after spending hundreds of dollars on classes and certifications-none were viewed as credible enough to get hired somewhere  or to help get promoted.

So I am back to square one. But at least with this method, I can organize my goals better and not waste anyone’s time at that office. (I hope!)

I want to become this! How do I become THIS?!!
I want to become this! How do I become THIS?!!

Middle Fingers and Hard Work

After returning from an unpleasant visit to my relatives, I vowed not to make another visit to them until further notice. The visit, back in December, was O.K. until the differences between Cutie and #dumbfuck (my brother’s boyfriend) clashed over Cutie’s idea of wanting to make a salad for my brother’s New Year Party.

(Sarcasm) A threat to tradition, according to #dumbfuck.
A threat to tradition, according to #dumbfuck.

Traditional Caribbean Christmas food is so greasy, fried and lack of veggies that it makes European/Western dishes look like NutriSystem Food items. Of course, such an innocent thing as a salad should not have forced Cutie and I to an unexpected exodus from my brother’s house. But it did and so we vowed that once we returned to the U.S. we would a) never visit them again and b) detox and exercise as much as possible. Enter the Fit Bit Zip (the Tamagouchi for Adults):

It's happy only when you are walking or exercising.
It’s happy only when you are walking or exercising.

It’s a digital pedometer that sticks its tongue at you if you are sitting at your desk for too long or not walking. If you sleep for ten hours, it shows the image of a dead spider. Or it occasionally shows an image of a heart. But it also records how many calories you burn (by syncing it to your laptop or mobile device), and allows you to keep track of what you eat based on ingredients or brand-name food items when eating out. This thing is a dietitian/nag that is discreet enough to be worn everywhere. Oh and it tells the time :P.

Cutie and I set individual goals on our little FitBits based on the post-holiday damage and became more picky eaters and more active. We measured everything we made/cooked and walked a lot. When I wasn’t biking to campus (a good 12-mile round-trip) I would go to the gym before my first class. Since Cutie and I were lucky to live close to the extensive walking/bike trail, it helped us go on long walks we needed for the day (10,000 step minimum). The purchase of a treadmill was halted due us unable to find an affordable one from a store that would deliver it to our place (yay for trails!).

Downside to a restricted diet/exercise program: you are hungry a lot. But unlike juicing, your muscles won’t hurt after exercising  from the lack of protein. I felt like I was in starvation mode more of the time, fighting my body’s urges to eat more. It was more like arguing with a child that keeps asking “why?” to every answer you give him/her. I found some relief in drinking a lot of tea (Organic Jasmine and Green Tea) while Cutie drank gallons of regular Organic Green Tea like a fish.  We hope that if our weight loss plans are successful, we can switch our FitBit Dashboard goals to “maintain the damn weight” mode.

Counteracting High Anxiety

I am enjoying my visits to campus every week: free math tutoring, clean bathrooms, clean water to drink, healthy food variety, nice professors (so far), career counseling, unrestricted access to gyms and computers. No wonder the university charges so damn much: if you stay on campus all day, even while working on your homework or studying, it is 10x less stressful than an 8 hour day at work. Those rumors about universities in the U.S. becoming adult day cares are becoming true. If anything, it motivates me more to work harder to get a good GPA in my classes and make the best out of all it has to offer as much as possible. Especially the career counseling. Before I graduated from my old alma mater, the career counseling center was a sad joke and job fairs were far few in between.  As an alumni, I am never sending money to that place or recommend anyone to go there.