Betting on Love, Leveling Up and Leaving Atlanta (Part VIII)

by Amanda Tomas

The last time I wrote, I was attempting to conjure March into the best month yet, hoping that Adam and I would be “a loving, positive, optimistic, hard-working two-monk team,” which was basically the opposite of what March turned into. We fought and argued frequently. Both of us felt a little panicked and stressed about our current situation and the future. We wound up spending more than we planned to and were in no way monk-like. But we didn’t lose control. We worked on things even though it was hard. We argued and made up, calmed each other’s fears, talked through our worries, and spent money on things that were good for our health — mentally and physically. March was rough in places, but we wrangled ourselves back together and fought for good things.

In March we spent more but we also got out and did more and it felt good. Our grocery expenses were $686.74, which was significantly over budget. Other big expenses included a month’s worth of yoga classes for me ($70), a membership to a weekend kickball league ($60), a used bicycle and new tires for Adam ($150), concert tickets for April ($70), and a few drinks and dinners out ($150). Our schedules usually conflict (he works retail hours, I work 9-to-5) but on one deliciously warm and sunshiny day in the middle of March, we both miraculously had the day off. Freezing temperatures snapped back within 48 hours, but in the interim Adam and I were able to spend the day together like we do in the middle of the summer: We woke up late, cooked up some brunch (~$5 worth of groceries for toast with jam, ham and onion omelettes, coffee), drove with the windows down, breezes flowing, chow chow panting away happily to the park for an hour or two (~$3 gas?), on to Videodrome to rent a few flicks ($12), a quick stop by the King of Pops cart for some popsicles ($5), then back home again to watch movies, catch up with each other, relax and unwind (priceless).

These extra expenses took us over budget but we still managed to put aside $500 for savings. Additionally I received a card in the mail from my uncle with a belated graduation gift inside: a check for $500. It was unexpected and much appreciated and I deposited it straight into our savings account the very next day. That brings our total savings to $4,500 now. That money could sustain us for about four months if we stretched it, if we really had to. We could also spend it on a summer traveling if we wanted. That security-freedom choice combo is a really great feeling. This is why I wish I was richer, because having money frees up options you wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’ve also decided to start paying attention to my retirement plan. Right now I have a 401(k) with around $1,000 in it and a Roth IRA with $1,600. I will keep squirreling away money into these accounts as I get older. I’ve been thinking about automatic payments or deductions from each paycheck so I don’t have to think about it.

Before writing this, I read back through all my monthly check-ins so far, which proved to be interesting. I feel like so much has changed! When I first began writing this column I was completely lost at sea. I thought I knew what I was doing but we spent all our money every month and I changed my mind three times a day about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life (cue drama) and I insisted that Adam and my friends take each half-baked idea seriously (“no, but what if…?!”) which was exhausting and pointless for both of us. I still occasionally get back on that crazy train but now I recognize it for the damaging mental state that it is and can put a stop to it in relatively short order.

Some things are still the same. I still feel a strong driving urge to do, go, see, etc. I know it’s good to put that fire-in-my-guts relentless struggle on the back burner once in a while for the sake of my (and Adam’s) health and well-being but giving it up completely and embracing inner peace and serenity would probably feel like death (she opines dramatically). When I get somewhere in my life that I feel good about — a challenging and interesting job, a cozy little home, the ability to travel and adventure often, doing something that matters — I will happily burrow in with great relish and contentment. I possess zero of those things right now. I unapologetically kill any occasional urges to give up and burrow in where I’m at. That said, I do realize that allowing myself to chill out and have fun and enjoy things here in Atlanta is good and healthy and makes me more successful and productive anyway.

In some of my check-ins I talked about attempting to start a business to bring in extra cash, and I guess I can file that under half-baked/incomplete ideas with the rest of them. I’m not going forward with it so I’m free to share the idea in case anyone wants to take it: It was to start a calligraphy business on the side! I even made a website, named the business Sweetgum Calligraphy, and worked up a few not-that-great samples of scripts. My enthusiasm for the project dropped off quickly as usual and I probably won’t pick it up again. I still think it’s a good idea, because established calligraphers seem to be able to charge good rates for work that’s quick to do. It requires a lot of skill (more than I have) to be good, but calligraphy is a skill you can acquire at a low cost. The job can be done from anywhere so long as you have a mailbox. Business might take a while to pick up, but as a side job it seems ideal, so someone should please use this idea, and may your profits multiply!

I mentioned in January that I wanted to cut out buying clothes for a month. It’s been two months now and neither of us has bought any new clothes, so we more than met this goal. This wasn’t a huge struggle for us, because I don’t like shopping that much and neither does Adam. I think working at the mall for a few years in college cured me of any affection for spending time in the place. I get pangs of desire when I open the daily emails from my favorite stores but I’m usually too lazy to get in the car and schlep through traffic just so I can spend money. Though, I do want to/need to go shopping soon.

My efforts to cut down on my former grocery expenses by meal planning and cooking a lot more at home have been my most successful to date. I went from spending $1,000 per month (insanity) down to ~$600 per month, which is still high for two people and a dog but I feel it’s reasonable for our needs and budget. If anyone wants to keep abreast of that process for whatever reason, I write weekly reviews and meal plans in this meal planning google group that a Billfold commenter started a few months ago, which I enjoy thoroughly even though I sort of doubt anyone else does.

These days Adam and I are still sending out applications and are waiting to hear back. I will be sending out a steady deluge of applications for English teaching jobs in other countries, as well as jobs I might be interested in here at home. I’m aiming for NYC or D.C. in regards to jobs in the U.S., but would only move to those cities with a job lined up ahead of time. My slowly forming plan at this point is to teach abroad for a year while Adam applies to master’s programs here and abroad. We will then move to wherever he’s been accepted, and life will continue from there. During his program or after he graduates I’ll start on my master’s. Adam is thinking about an MFA English/creative writing program, or writing workshop and I’m thinking about economics, international affairs, political science, or something along those lines. I support Adam’s dreams and he supports mine. I want us both to succeed.

Previously: See Amanda’s “Betting on Love” series here.

Amanda Tomas isn’t going to see her sister in Europe after all because of financial responsibility and contingency planning (cry cry cry).

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