Lessons Were Learned

We asked our contributors to take a look back at their year in $$$. Jordan Wyn, Shannon Palus, and Bowen Close learned some things in 2012.

Feeling rich is relative. Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad. When I quit my job to become a full-time MBA student in Tokyo, I suddenly felt really, really poor. On the worldwide spectrum of wealth I’m not even remotely really, really poor, but going from Any Income to No Income still had that effect on me. Then, I got a scholarship, and suddenly I felt so rich. My monthly stipend was about one fourth of what I made working — at a nonprofit, fresh out of college — and only decreased the amount I was in the red each month. But I’d gone from No Income to Any Income, so thus the sense of massive wealth.

Only now I think, as I start my job search, that my very conditional sense of richness and poorness is going to mess me up. If an itty bitty stipend makes me feel rich, my prospective employers don’t have to offer me much to make me feel as if I’m getting all the money in the world. But no! I just dropped significant change moving here, paying for school, staying fed and sheltered while attending said school. Eyes on the prize.

The trick, it seems, will be to always feel poor, when it comes to spending money, and to know that I deserve to be fabulously rich, when it comes to asking for it. — Jordan Wyn

I fell into the job of organizing finances/expense reports at my research assistant-type job over the summer. “Fell into” because I raised my hand to do it, not realizing how big of a job it was to collect receipts and fill out forms and take them downstairs to the accounting folks and be reimbursed.

Organizations in general can be clusterfucks of red-tape, I knew that that was theoretically true, but it takes on new levels of meaning and truth when you are in the thick of it and getting emails such as this one: “Shannon, we need more documentation about this $1.95 that you put down for ‘milk.’” Later I spent two terrifying hours thinking that I had lost a folder of receipts totaling over $4,000 that I was personally responsible for. Lessons learned: Be more organized. (This is one of the constant refrains of life though, isn’t it?) Be careful about volunteering to do stuff. Things usually work out. (Envelope of receipts = found) And: People who handle paperwork nonsense full-time are champions. — Shannon Palus

2012 was the year I first learned how to live on a very specific day-to-day budget, specifically how to travel on a day-to-day budget. When my husband and I were working full-time, our budgeting was just sort of a month-by-month natural balance and adjustment sort of thing. If we’d been spending a little too much, we’d start cooking cheaper stuff, going out less, not buying clothes for a while, etc.

But now we’re travelling fulltime, that’s much harder to do. Now we have a specific amount to spend each day, and if we don’t stick to it every day we’ll be screwed a few months from now. Every day before dinner we add up how much we spent that day, to the cent, and that’s how much we have to spend to eat that night. It’s sobering to know that basic necessities — things like drinking water, toothpaste, or, let’s say, replacement underwear because the sketchy Chilean housemate stole much of what I had off the laundry line — have to come out of the same money we’d otherwise be spending on food, lodging, entertainment, site-seeing, and any souvenirs we want to buy. Sometimes we’ve accidentally found ourselves hungry in a ritzier neighborhood and have walked for what seems like forever to find a place to eat that fits in our budget for that day. Usually taxis and other necessary transportation cost more than we’d been told they would, and that comes out of our daily budget too. Every day we have to make choices about what to spend money on, and how that will affect what we can do, where we can stay, and what we can eat that day. Some places will definitely be cheaper than others and we have different daily budgets for different countries, but calibrating that is definitely harder than we thought.

I’m definitely not complaining, because I know a lot of people around the world live on a really limited daily budget — but it’s a totally different way of thinking about money, for me, and has totally opened my eyes to how I spend money on a daily basis. — Bowen Close

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