Monday, July 8, 2013

June Results + What I Realized In San Francisco

Downtown Cityscape San Francisco
Photo Credit
With the arrival of more pleasant weather, I decided to conduct a couple of budget experiments. The first was to stop using my clothes dryer. I decided that for the entire summer (and as long into autumn as possible) I would hang all of my clothes outside and use nature's drying power for free! I've heard that the dryer is one of the biggest energy-sucks when it comes to appliances, and I wanted to compare my June 2013 energy bill to June 2012, 2011, and so on.

My June energy bill was the lowest I've had since moving into this house three years ago. It was $31 lower than last year's bill at this time. I took into consideration that last summer was incredibly hot, so it was likely I also used my central air conditioning last year in June (I have not used it yet this summer). My June bill from two years ago was still over $20 higher than this year's June bill. Moral of the story: use the dryer as seldom as possible!

The second experiment was to "eat my pantry" for as long as possible. With few exceptions, I've been only eating the contents of my pantry, fridge and freezer, along with my weekly CSA that started in mid-June. I pro-rated the amount my CSA costs per week and factored that into my monthly grocery budget. Normally I set aside $200 per month for groceries, but by choosing to creatively use what I had on hand (and also reduced food waste in the process!), I came in well under my budget at $115.

I went over on my flex spending by $80 this month, likely due to my travels to San Francisco. Thankfully, my savings in other areas allowed me to come in under budget overall. I feel like the trip was very much worth it, because I gained so much more than I spent.

Part of this was due to the generosity of my hostess, a very dear friend who paid for cab rides and treated me to dinner multiple times. Her roommate was also very hospitable by letting me use her bus pass and spare house key so I could come and go as I pleased. I met several of her friends, all of whom are amazing people. Spending time with this group taught me many things I immediately set to apply to my own life when I returned.

At dinner the first night, a group of us ladies went to a lovely restaurant and ordered drinks. My friend took control of the menu, ordering three appetizers and several entrees for all of us to share. We also got a couple of desserts. When the check came, she put her card in without even looking at the bill (which was likely more than my entire flex spending budget for a month!), covering the tab for all four of us. I was so grateful for her generosity, and immediately wished I could return the favor. Sadly, no matter how carefully I have managed my spending, my expenses and my salary are still too close in number to make that kind of gesture a reality.

The other ladies had all worked together at one point, and the topic of discussion eventually turned to jobs. It was fascinating to hear these women talk about their work as an enjoyable place, as a fulfilling environment, as a group of great people who were friends as well as colleagues. I've felt so discouraged in my job over the past year, struggling to meet with my boss since last July but with no success. My co-workers aren't friendly with each other outside of the office; there are no group lunches or happy hour cocktails on Friday nights. Everyone goes home to their families. In nearly six years at this job, I have not advanced in rank, salary, or in work friendships.

I mentioned my uninspiring job situation to these ladies, and immediately they told me I was overqualified and should seek another opportunity. They graciously offered to give references or use their networks to build connections for me. Would I be willing to move out there? I laughed and said I wasn't opposed to relocation at some point, but I owned a home back in Milwaukee. Their jaws dropped. "You OWN a HOME?!" they gaped in unison. They couldn't believe it! Of course, houses in San Francisco cost over half a million dollars, easily. The Midwest is much more affordable on that front. Still, it just made the glaring differences in our financial situations all the more apparent. These girls were younger than me and likely making six figures, living in the most expensive city in the United States, and enjoying a healthy social life.

I didn't feel envy for these girls; I felt admiration for them. None of them got to where they are by spinning in a circle and pointing to a spot on a map. These ladies all made choices to move here, to seek careers here, to work hard and earn their standings in their fields. There's no reason I am incapable of doing the same. I do know that I can't get to that place if I keep doing the same things over and over, so something has to change.

How can I restore a social life where going out for an occasional cocktail with girlfriends no longer feels like a critical hit to my bank account? The obvious answer for that would be to cut spending, but I've already been doing that for two years. I've made no large gains; instead, I've managed to stay in one place and avoid the "D" word: debt.

What else can I do? How can I feel fulfilled in my career? How can I surround myself with a great team of colleagues who also double as friends? The easier-said-than-done answer is: find a new job.

So that's what I'm going to do. Time to create my version of San Francisco.