I have so much to write about and so much to say, but I don't have enough time to put these thoughts and words down. With any luck, though, I'll be out of here--this town--soon enough to write about the series of events I have had to be party to.
In light of my impecunious status as of the end of the spring semester, I've decided that it would be best to start sharing some of my "tips" for survival. These will not only be hilarious insights into my life, but also clear lessons to learn from should you ever end up being broke.
That being said, there are a few clarifications to make.
First off, all of these tips will assume that the individual in question has at least $500 (or a relatively similar amount if you live in a low- or high-cost of living area) to live on for almost three whole months. Secondly, that said individual knows how to budget the limited amount of funds, especially when he or she does not have a job. Next, that said individual has access to local resources such as parents, friends, and public spaces (e.g. your local library, your office [if you have a job and if you have one!]) for a variety of reasons to be explicated later. Finally, that said individual has a great sense of humor and manages to wake up everyday (whether in the morning or late afternoon!) knowing that he or she will, in fact, be alright.
With that settled, I introduce Strapped Summer Survival Tip#1
OFFSETTING YOUR ENERGY BILLS
In the absence of a job and any sort of accountability to anyone else, it is likely that you are home most of the time. While this may, in fact, be enjoyable after a strenuous semester, it is also potentially expensive. Whether you are playing video games, watching television or movies, cooling off with the air conditioner, or reading a good book at night, chances are your energy bills will be on the rise. While most bills are lest expensive per rate during the summer, it is still likely that your bills will be more expensive in terms of energy usage (per unit) during these months. Therefore, I recommend the following:
- Unplug any electronics not in use or unnecessary devices. Not using the cellphone charger? Unplug it. Leaving the TV and DVD player plugged in when you aren't home? Unplug them or buy a phantom powerstrip to cut the power when they are not in use. According to Diana McLaren of bankrate.com, these electronic devices (specifically TVs) can "cost your almost $80 in wasted electricity." While that cost is an annual average, it figures out to about $20 over three months. And while that $20 may not seem like a lot, it will buy you three to four small bags of rice or two big bags of rice (enough to survive three months on). Plus, unplugging unused and unnecessary devices contributes to increased conservation of natural resources. You can be a hippie AND be cheap, who knew!
- Replace your light bulbs with energy efficient ones. This works best if you already replaced your light bulbs when you had money! Energy Star certified light bulbs "use about 75% less energy than standard lighting, produce 75 percent less heat, and lasts up to 10 times longer." Again, the costs are minimal in a three month period, but it is likely you'll save around $20 to $60 by making the switch.
- Use your resources! That is, use your family, friends or public spaces. When it comes to family and friends, don't be a pest and demand or request to use their resources for your gain. Rather, use them as they allow you to. Chances are your family and friends will allow you to plug you laptop in, surf the Internet, and hang out at their place. Therefore, don't overstep your welcome.
Given the limited amount of offsetting you'll get out of your family and friends, it is best to use public spaces. Public libraries, the opiate for the public and the poor, allow you to not only find a quiet place to work, but typically allow you to plug a laptop or cellphone into an electrical socket for free. This way you can get work done and not have to worry about the cost of energy! As an added bonus, you'll likely be in a cool location where you don't have to worry about adjusting the AC for the right temperature.
If you think you can afford it, you can cruise to your local coffeeshop and use their internet (if it is free), but you'll probably have to pay for a cup of joe and suffer through the local noises.
- Get outside! When everything else fails, make sure to spend more time outside. If the weather is nice and you know of a few places where you can sit and read or enjoy yourself, then go there. Staying at home only increases the chances that you'll use energy when you do not need to. In fact, it is likely that you'll use more energy because you will try and find things to do if you are at home all day.
Of course, it is evident that these little insights will not make you rich nor save you massive amounts of money. However, in all frugality, they will save you some money that you can easily use elsewhere. In fact, the money you save on electricity in two months can be used to pay for the electricity of the third month if you manage it appropriately. Or you can use the money for something lavish, like a pizza. Either way, you'll feel better knowing that you have a little extra cash through conservation and the cost of someone else. It is a bit selfish, but, then again, I didn't say the tips would be virtuously moral!
These days run together with little interruption and slight aberrations. Not much changes and I find myself doing much of the same work day after day. Fortunately I have been able to mix things up a little lately, but there nothing too terribly novel to report except, perhaps:
- I recently started watching Torchwood. For those of you who don't know, it is a sci-fi/fantasy series from the BBC. It's sort of like The X-Files meets Roswell (when it was good [i.e. only during Season 1]). So far I have finished the first two discs and I can't wait to see the rest of the series.
- I downloaded Song Summoner: The Unsung Heroes for the iPod nano. It was a well-reasoned impulse buy that I can, fortunately, afford (it was only $5). Since it was designed by Square-Enix, it naturally follows that it is a strategy-RPG similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, except it uses your music to make troops. It's highly addicting! In fact, the first night I had it, I played the game for six hours straight! I have since, of course, recomposed myself and restricted my playtime to a few hours a day.
- Half.com officially sucks! While I have sold about 40-50 items in the last two months, I have only received feedback from half of them. Moreover, half.com's new policy regarding feedback for buyers is completely biased. Instead of allowing the seller to have any sort of recourse or compensation, the new policy does not allow sellers to give negative or neutral feedback to buyers. Yet buyers are allowed to give whatever feedback they want and both neutral and negative feedback lower the seller's rating! It follows the maxim that "the customer is always right," when the customer may, in fact, be particularly persnickety and a complete douche bag. As you may have guessed by now, I got a neutral rating from a seller. Apparently the book didn't arrive fast enough, even though it arrived on time. Instead of talking to me, though, the buyer gave me a neutral rating which lowered my perfect score down to a 97%! What is worse is that I had already given him positive feedback, so I couldn't do anything about the situation. Well, given the new policy, it is not like I could do anything anyway. I could've abstained from leaving feedback, but that doesn't do anything.
- It is likely that I'll be headed out to South Dakota at the end of the month. It isn't a vacation, though. Rather, I'll be helping my family out for a few days. It will be nice to see my family again and, I suppose, hit the road. The travel time does not bode well, but I will manage.
- Today marks the one month mark (or close to it, anyway) until I get my loan money! Internet, you know how big a deal this is for me! Of course, I am still getting by considerably well, but I am looking forward to the arrival of funds. I have already drafted a list of the things I need to do with my money (including paying back a few people!), so I'll be set to jet once I am financially sound. Hopefully I receive the full amount I have requested for this year, otherwise there could be problems down the line. And, in re-reading that, I realize I sound like a loan-leech, but, honestly, what else can you call the majority of college students these days? Indebted dorks? Impecunious indolent individuals? Educated bums?
Until then, I am counting down the days, line by line, because, as Destiny's Child said so, erm, "eloquently": "I'm a survivor. I'm gonna make it. I will survive. Keep on survivin'."
"Everybody knows it sucks to grow up, and everybody does...Let me tell you what, the years go on and we're still fighting it. We're still fighting it." — Ben Folds, Still Fighting It
So far I've survived one week after my hasty voluntary termination of my "cold call" job that clearly was not for me. I know it isn't much, but it means a lot to me, especially when you factor in the severe lack of money I have in my bank account at the moment.
In so many ways, this week has been a true testament to my survival because I have abstained from spending money on anything remotely frivolous. That includes lavish items such as pizzas and coffeeshop pastries and lattes (which, you know, Internet, is a big deal for me!). It has not only taught me to be fiscally responsible through budgeting, but also through cost-benefit analysis (yes, I just said CBA!). I've found that I have reduced the amount of money I am spending on things I do not need (anything new or shiny) while devoting more money to things I do need (like rice, lots and lots of rice!). Plus, I have learned that I can get by on less when I need to (I mean, thousands of generations of rice-based dieters can't be wrong, right?1).
If anything, though, this last week has helped me realize, more than ever, that I am more of an adult than I have ever been before. That my seem strange at first glance, especially in light of my jocular nature towards this situation, but it is increasingly apparent to me.
You see, Internet, this last year has truly kicked me around. I came back from a summer where I thought I had grown up, but soon learned that I had more growing up to do. In fact, the first semester of graduate school disabused any thoughts I had of truly being a confident self-motivated and inspired adult, let alone a Master's student. And yet, I survived.
However, as I inchoately transitioned into the next semester, I found that I still wasn't where I thought I was. Sure, I had gained some experience, but I had not learned the lessons I needed to learn from the mistakes I had made before. In fact, I repeated many of the same mistakes, only to find myself in a rut of my own construction. I felt empty, alone, and increasingly apathetic. I continually contemplated why I was in graduate school and I could not figure out why life generally sucked. I even thought I was depressed for a while, but realized that I was just being hard on myself for my shortcomings. So, I struggled though both the assignments and mental setbacks, all the while eagerly awaiting this summer.
Somehow I had gotten it into my head that this summer would be the panacea for all the ills I struggled with and endured during the year. I imagined that I would take a carefree vacation that would clear my head of all my worries and prepare me for the rest of the summer. I assumed I would land a job within weeks of my return from said vacation and that I would be able to easily continue my studies at a leisurely pace that would actually allow me to enjoy the process. In short, I believed that the Fates would somehow spin me a new thread that wove away from personal responsibility and difficulty into relaxation and ease.
To be sure, it was sophomoric, simplistic, and a tad bit selfish. To think that everything would just fall into place without much effort on my part! And yet, it is exactly what a broken, yet hopeful person would assume and hope for—a break, a pause, a let up from all the letdowns.
It is what I assumed.
However, in light of the shocking disappearance of last month (June seriously flew by), my lack of steady income (lets face it, half.com doesn't shell out the big bucks for old books, DVDs, CDs, and video games), and my dwindling funds (because of all those pizzas, pastries, and lattes), I have come to realize that the "beatdown" of this year has actually been the culmination of the growing pains of adulthood—the realization that I must become responsible for all aspects of my life. No longer can I leave this life up to faith, fate, chance or good hope. No longer can I naively assume that there is a fail-safe for everything. No longer can I rely on "easy outs," life lines or a resurrection of the spirit.
Instead, I am finally realizing that I am becoming an adult. I am joining the ranks of the thousands upon thousands who have been fighting to get by. I am fighting for myself amongst others. I am fighting an uphill battle for my stability, happiness, and security. Most importantly, I am becoming more of myself through my struggles—my losses and gains.
Indeed, I am figuring out the game before I am lost to it. The terrain is uncertain, but I refuse to simply jump from one point to another. I refuse to move forward on blind hope. I refuse to let it all go on the assumptions that "I'll have it down later" or that "I'll feel better in due time." I refuse to back down from my dreams. Most importantly, I refuse to surrender my potential to the unknown because it is too easy to fall back on doubt and uncertainty and the possibility of "what could have been."
From here on out I am going to suck it up and give it my all. I am going to survive, persevere, and fight with all I have through thick and thin until I get "there"— until I am—or until I can no longer fight2!
1: It also worked for all those contestants on Survivor too!
2: Or whenever the rice runs out, whichever comes first.