MoneyMate >>> TravelMate?

Hey, personal finance readers. I used to love what I call “micro” finance blogging, but I’ve suddenly gotten very nervous about having my money info out there for the world to see and possibly use against me. Bear in mind that I’ve had an IRS audit pending for the past 7 months or so, and an absentee CPA making it difficult – so difficult that I now have a docket number in tax court and a list of sliding scale tax attorneys. Ugh, my grandfather was one of those back in his day, and he was a crotchety geezer. But I digress.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I’ve been battling a “brain cloud” of severe clinical depression, which became quite debilitating in September. I’m still not out of the woods, but it’s no longer completely paralyzing. There are some costly ramifications from those months of being a complete wreck and unable to deal with the IRS audit (up to $10K in taxes and fines), a lab bill from September that got sent to collections before I was capable of attempting negotiation (they want QUADRUPLE what they accept from Blue Cross for the same stuff), and loss of income from being in no state to work some days.

Blog Re-Focus

GlobeTrotting1In November, I went to South Africa for three weeks and…it saved me. Yes, bungee jumping off a 700-foot bridge got me out of my head so successfully that I got some clarity and peace that had been lacking for years.

The only thing that has, without fail, made me happy to do or even think about is, unsurprisingly, TRAVEL.

This doesn’t mean I’m not still doing a little Rite Aid couponing or shoving money into my Roth IRA or savings accounts – I am. I’ve been financially responsible all my life and that won’t change. But from now on, I’m going to write about spending/saving for what makes me happy. So there will be a lot of travel focus – where I’m going, why I want to go there, how I’ll live, different things I do to make it affordable, that sort of thing. I hope you all don’t run for the hills.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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Success by Accident

I’m actually a planner by nature – not a Type A level planner, but still a very practical, troubleshooting type (and I’m SICK TO THE BACK TEETH of people telling me that my troubleshooting = negativity). But Chris Guillebeau’s blog post today about starting a small business while working a full-time job made me realize how all of my successes as an adult came by accident. I did things in a weird, unconventional way that just worked out.

Some of you know I fight the natural tendencies of a single, overweight, not terribly young New Yorker to become jaded and neurotic. Sometimes it’s a very conscious battle, and I’ve done things like give up my home of 7 years and move cross-country and chill-out (sweat-out?) for a month in Tanzania just to shake things the hell up. I guess you could say that at the core of it is this belief:

Life Is More Interesting When You Say YES

I’m not afraid of the unfamiliar. Just because I don’t know anyone who has ever done something first – emigrated not once but three times, started a per-min phone business, resolved a fat chunk of depression through hypnosis, etc – doesn’t stop me from doing it. If an idea seems a little odd, I go straight to “what’s the worst that could happen, and how will I feel if that’s the case?”… and then I say yes if it’s tolerable. Sometimes I lose, but those are short term and make great conversation fodder while the wins go on for ages and create further opportunities.

I won’t even tell you the odd path that got me into bodywork because it really wasn’t smart (get your mind out of the gutter – in was unsafe, not shady), but somehow it has gotten me all the way to certification in a very unique and bizarrely effective method that will soon be my primary income. I think. Honestly, a lot of damage was done when I got kicked out of class and told to try again after $2000 of private remedial instruction, and my neck gets all stiff just thinking about my training. See? That’s what I get for planning, lol.

A Family of Nay-Sayers

I don’t know where I got this “character flaw” from. Why flaw? Because I come from a family where everyone automatically says no to anything new and unfamiliar, which is pretty much everything I’ve ever succeeded at. Of course their minds have started opening up when they see how many of my “crazy ideas” work out. I was a difficult teenager but not in the classic way – I was quiet, studious, babysat excessively to save for college, not at all social (bullied in 7th-8th grade), never wore make-up/drank/dated. But I wanted things that made no sense to them, so my parents weren’t quite sure what to do with me. They got stuck with an oddball, though I’ve made up for it with great presents funded by my successes. Heh.

What I’m Saying YES To Now

I just took an unusual apartment situation that brings looks of fear and anxiety to others – except Manhattanites, who pat me on the back for getting such a bargain. I pay 25% below market for a 1BR/1.5BA furnished duplex (in NYC, that means an apartment with an upstairs and downstairs) because the owner uses the other bedroom (it’s really a 2BR, but we have no access to each other’s room) one weekend a month and some holidays with his family – during those visits, I am not here at all, there is no overlapping. I sacrificed personal style for the ease of not moving my furniture around for a short time, and before that sounds like no big deal to you, I HATE FUTONS. It works very well for my current situation and I save a disproportionate amount of money!

I’m also saying Yes to truly developing the per-minute sideline into something pretty spectacular so that, if I do decide to pursue the career I just invested 17 months and over $20,000 in training for, I’ll have a sizable passive stream of income and a maximum return on the reduced amount of time I’ll be devoting to it.

What I doubt I’ll say Yes to is… doing my own IRS audit (suggested by a non-tax CPA friend – the insanity!). They hit me with that nugget of joy & happiness a few weeks ago and I see my delightful CPA (whom I’d kinda fired 9 months ago) on Wednesday to discuss. And my envelopes of receipts from the years they’re auditing are missing. Either I gave them to him to scan and keep electronically, or they’re hiding in a box somewhere I haven’t discovered from my many moves in the past 18 months. Neither of those looks good.

Business Plan, Step 1: My Health

A few days ago, I moved back from Colorado, the healthiest state in the US – but not for me. The stress of suppressing  forcing myself to fit into an unnecessary mold for 2 months took one helluva toll – daily migraines, back acne, weight gain, daily hiccup attacks, upper back pain, poor judgment, inability to stay asleep, and in the final stretch, heart palpitations. It was scary how I could feel myself deteriorate on a weekly basis. I spent over 5 months not knowing if there was an agenda to block my completion of the course, and in the end all I had was pure stubbornness to keep me going. This has left me in the worst physical condition of my life just as I’m supposed to be kicking off a career in alternative health.

Priority #1: Get healthy!

I can’t ‘sell’ health if I’m huffing and puffing while working on someone. I just can’t, it would be blatantly hypocritical. So my #1 priority for the next few months is to get below my “critical weight” (when my joints don’t hurt), which is about 20 lbs away, and build some core strength to make my future work easier on my body. I will still be chubby, but I’ll be stronger, more vital and a lot less self-conscious once my body is more manageable. As for the other aspects of my damaged health, I got nerve & fascial work from one of the top practitioners in the country 3x in 2 weeks, received acupuncture weekly for 5 weeks, and graduated. Everything but my weight is either gone or back to pre-Boulder levels.

But what about those expensive new skills??

To keep my new $19,000 skillset from withering away and to build some confidence in my actual skill level before I hang out my shingle, I’ll be taking two friends and maybe one family member through the 10-series – you know, people I can huff-and-puff over while I get back into fighting form. I’ll see some former massage clients, but I won’t be seeking out new massage business.

Sub-Priority: Find a new home

My bigger problem is where to live. I make great money at what was originally my side hustle, more than most of my classmates will make as structural integrators. But I can do that anywhere with high-speed internet, I don’t need to be in a $3K+ apartment in Manhattan. So the big question is, where do I live for the next few months that will support my health goal? I’m no doubt better off avoiding the nightmare that is the NYC real estate market in high season (May-Oct) because I’m a non-standard (read: self-employed work-from-home) tenant. Bearing in mind that I need privacy and quiet for both of my professions, I’ve come up with the following possible solutions:

  • Sublet in NYC – Upside: No moving furniture! Downside: Apparently very few places are legit AND not a dump, or cost more than they’re worth.
  • Apartment Share – Find someone with an apartment who lives there a few nights a week, so you never overlap.  Upside: Furnished; short-term commitment. Downside: It would never feel like home; seeing 4 massage clients a week might be problematic; where do I spend the other 2 nights.
  • Apartment on Wall Street – Upside: Possible clientele on my doorstep; 20% cheaper than midtown. Downside: The neighborhood is dead on weekends and after 4:30pm, it’s not convenient to the rest of the city; would need to deal with furniture moving, which I hate.
  • North Jersey – Upside: commutable to NYC in 15 mins ; no need for a car. Downside: a 1BR apartment is still $1500/month; no friends or old massage clients will visit. And it’s JERSEY.
  • Join a phone co-worker in London – Upside: short-term is fine, she knows what I do for a living, England is cooler in summer. Downside: Will it really further my goal to get healthy – to be in the country where I first developed a weight problem? And I’m not sure if the offer is real.
  • Live with Mom for a while – in a house that reeks of damp and old cigarettes? Where any route I pick to walk will be sidewalk-less for at least half the trip? Where my mother treats me like I’m a disorganized 14yo? Hrrmmm.

How are you going to “get healthy”?

WALK WALK WALK for the first 1-2 months – it’s truly all I need at this low level. Look for my #pfworkout tweets if you follow my Twitter feed! Then we’ll see where things are at come July and I might join a gym or add yoga for my crumbling core. As for diet, I’m going to focus on nutrient-dense foods and see if that keeps me from reaching for the empty calories; if not, I can do something else. My Starbucks addiction would involve a 700-calorie walk to get a 300-calorie drink…we’ll have to see how that turns out. So far, it’s a bit painful – not enough shade, and crossing the local highway feels like playing Frogger (I know, my 80s are showing).

So wish me luck – I’ve been back for a week and it’s been weird not having my own home or a scale or a whole bunch of other things I’m used to having control over.

2011 in Review: Too much uncertainty

I definitely lead an unconventional life and have a higher tolerance for change than most (especially given how long-in-the-tooth I am now), but it has definitely been a rough year. I’ve recently picked up on reading Chris Gillebeau’s blog, which does a great job of making me think constructively while also reminding me of how travel has always fed my soul. Anyway, he does a very in-depth annual review at the end of each year, and the first step is listing what went right and what went wrong. Know what really stands out? That I have another category with about as many things in it: the “Jury is Still Out” column. It’s not that I’m leaving room for a silver lining to appear – I just truly don’t know if these things are good or bad yet. So…here it goes.

What went RIGHT in 2011

– I enacted my plan to become a Ro1fer, completing 2 of the 3 units with greater openness and progress than anticipated.
– Found my own niche and secret to success at my phone job, including a stream of passive income.
– Underwent some intensive hypnotherapy to deal with some pretty old stuff and despite my skepticism, it has helped phenomenally. And I found a way to pay for it without it costing anything out of my pocket!
– My support network in times of stress has expanded.
– I have lost and kept off 20 lbs (probably more like 15 with the holidays…sigh).
– I made 2 new friends, which pretty much doubles my total. And it turns out my friendship means more to a few of them than I realized.

What went WRONG in 2011

– Got expelled from the third and final part of my Ro1f training. I’m allowed to try again, but I’m very worried about a hidden agenda and lack of student support. I am prepared to hire a civil rights lawyer if I am blocked from taking the March course.
– I had to deal with bedbugs and a lazy-cheap extermination plan that took 8 weeks to work. It overlapped with the second part of my training course, and I had to keep that stress entirely to myself.
– My best friend since 1988 cut me out of her life two days after I got expelled. She did this once before, a few months after my father died. I don’t think she realized how hard it was for me to be friends again two years later. The likelihood of being friends again is negligible.
– I may weigh less than I did a year ago but I do not have a good grip on this aspect of my health.

The Jury Is Still Out

– I left NYC in April. I think it was right at the time, but now I feel like I’m being kept away. I hate this place and love it at the same time, and as long as I’m living in this country, this is where I come closest to ‘belonging’…in a city full of sharks and misfits. My two visits since moving away have been eye-opening. Damn, why does it have to be the highest-rent locale on the planet??
– I have a roommate who is very optimistic and calm, but whose life is rather full of drama. On the one hand there’s her psycho ex-to-be who got her fired from her job and repossessed her car. On the other, there’s her utter lack of depression or even a tendency to wallow.
– Last week I *think* I had an offer of a semi-relationship – the first such offer from an unattached man in a decade. I don’t know what to make of his motives, but if it’s a real offer and still available in May (which was certainly his indicated timeframe), I’m going to take it.
– I shortened my trip to Africa from 7 weeks to 4 and coughed up $350 for the ticket change to make the March course at the institute happen. Of course, I could get excluded from that by the powertripping teacher and I’m not due back until 6 days before the course starts. I can see it now…me on the Serengeti borrowing my brother’s satellite phone to hire a free speech lawyer.
– I ditched my health insurance.

Help me turn Expulsion Lemons into Life Lemonade?

Some of you already know I got expelled from my course at the R0lf Institute – but if I jump through a lot of hoops and humbly grovel, I will be allowed to complete my course. I refuse to get into it here because I have no expectation of privacy and things have a way of coming back to bite you in the assets.

My African Dilemma

Of course I didn’t get the boot until AFTER I bought my ticket to Nairobi for 7 weeks in East Africa for Jan-Feb 2012 (another post on that will follow – but I’ll be helping out here for 4 weeks). In order to fulfill the requirements I need to mentor for 12 consecutive weeks. I can’t even manage 12 split weeks before the March course. So now I’m looking at June and this means being stuck in Boulder until August. First – to put it kindly, Boulder doesn’t resonate with me. I have little in common with the people here. Second – summer and early fall are the most competitive months to find an apartment and being self-employed, I don’t need that handicap. It will translate to more hits on my credit report (never good) and up to $10K in additional security.

Possible Silver Lining

I’m really trying to swallow this bitter pill and it’s just not going down without a fight. I’m trying to find something positive about this situation but I keep coming up empty-handed. So I need to create a silver lining and came up with this: I could go away for 10 weeks after the next course ends on August 3 (assuming they truly do intend to allow me back). That’s long enough to live somewhere for awhile. I could end up back in Africa but…

Should it be Italy?

I have a BA in Italian and I haven’t been to Italy in 12 years. My language skills are appallingly basic for a degree-holder. Maybe…maybe I could find a small furnished apartment for a couple of months and bring my awesome Vonage unit so I can work as normal. I could have some fun developing “habits” – coffee, riding a bike everywhere, gelato (hence the need for a bike!), weekend excursions, maybe entice friends and co-workers to visit, take a class of some sort.

Any Exotic Ideas?

But…I’ve been there before. Five times for a total of 13 weeks (I’m no Chris Guillebeau, but hey- I’m no slouch in the World Traveller stakes!). So maybe I need a corner of the earth to explore, one that offers a lot to keep me interested for 10 weeks and also has reliable high-speed internet. I have both American and British passports. So – got any ideas? I’m dead serious about this.

Never thought I’d miss NYC this much

I’d like to describe my historical attitude towards where I live as “transient stability”. I like to live somewhere and build little habits specific to that location and find my place within that place. But I never think of any one place as forever.

I was looking forward to living in Boulder for 6-12 months – I really was. I thought maybe so much exposure to the hippie/alternative stuff would entice me to try new things…but instead I see a lot of flakey people with too much money or financial irresponsibility – kind of hard to tell the difference around here. I can’t seem to conjure up any respect for their lifestyle/beliefs and therefore will not be enticed to beat a drum on a hilltop during the full moon or participate in an ecstatic dance event or even pursue Hakomi (body-centered psychotherapy) because it hinges on forming a “loving bond” with your therapist (creepy!). I look at my classmates and teachers and wonder, what the hell am I doing here? My god – I handled the culture shock of living in Japan way better than I’m handling this!

I need Manhattan. I can meet the pulsing energy of the city head-on and 5 minutes later be the relaxed, attuned manual therapist my fellow city-dwellers seek. I need to be around people who don’t take themselves so seriously – and despite what you see on TV, that’s most New Yorkers. I hate holding back my sarcasm and snarkiness and self-deprecation because I’m “putting negative energy into the universe”. Well damnit – just wave some smoldering sage twigs at me like you do at all the other imperfect moments in your life and call it even.

So I will be taking on hideous rent again – about $3000 for a large 1BR or small/”flex” 2BR. Even if a landlord insists on 3 months’ deposit because I’m self-employed, I have that in the bank in addition to my $10K cushion. I’ve got my phone job up to a steady $4K/month gross even though I’m in school 36 hours a week, so I’ll be able to make my bare-bones expenses without a single Rolfing client. I will crank up the marketing machine a month before I return and continue to see a handful of massage clients that haven’t been able to find a suitable replacement for me. And I can pull all of this off even with 2 months in Africa earning very little from the phone job – I won’t be earning nothing though thanks to Skype and royalties.

All I need at this point is for the institute to let me take the course that starts 11 days after my current one ends instead of making me wait until March. Please. I want to get back to my life!

Back in NYC – but not for long

“We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance” ~ Harrison Ford

During my 6 weeks of “beginner rolfing” training, it came up more than once that things inside me are very sticky – my colon sticks to my psoas muscle, my pericardial sac to the lining of my chest cavity, a neck nerve to a brain membrane, all of my lumbar vertebrae to each other…the list goes on. It would appear that my body is freakishly in sync with my spirit – I’m STUCK. Have I tried to “unstick”? Of course I have – more than once and in more than one way. But things haven’t improved. [Warning: Possible overshare coming – skip to next paragraph if you’re not comfortable with that.] I am still alone and afraid of personal connections, I am still overweight, I am still taking Rx happy pills, and I’m still a semi-hermit. I am also still a massage therapist and still in New York City. Well how about changing three of those things completely and seeing if the others fall into place?

So I’m giving up the apartment that has been my home for 7+ years (they were raising me $75/month anyway). I’m walking away from my gasping massage practice. I am moving to Boulder in about 5 weeks and will remain there until I complete my certification – I’m guessing December. And I’m starting a rather bizarre diet plan in 10 days.

Now for the financial nitty-gritty behind all of this…

My Home Trade-down: I have a place in mind that’s available to move in next month on the 23rd. I’m trading my $2200/month (new rent that I refuse to pay) including utilities studio apartment for an $830/month + utils one-bedroom. I’m getting my current place inspected next week so that they can tell me what they think I’m responsible for and give me a chance to defend or fix without having it hit my deposit. Oh that’s right – new deposit is $300 and I’m hoping to get back my full $2125 security on this place.

The Move:  I’ll by flying either Frontier Classic or Southwest in order to get 2 x 50-lb bags checked free. I have gift cards for both from my non-massage job. One of my classmates has offered to come in with her pick-up truck and drive around getting furniture for free or cheap off Craigslist – ideal – because I am not bringing my things. My friend-sublettor is moving back into his place and doesn’t have a stick of furniture, so he’s more than happy to use or store whatever I want to keep for my return (bed, couch, trunk, massage table). The apartment complex I’ve got my eye on has offered me $200 off my first month’s rent if I sign on the dotted line by March 25. The plan is to furnish the place on that budget…yeah it might suck but it’s only 8 months. And I’m moving in at the same time the colleges break for summer…could work for a few of the things I need. Probably not a bed though…eww.

Income:  I won’t be hanging out my shingle for massage work. I will stick to my other job which should be just fine. I anticipate grossing $3K a month while needing $1700 for “bare bones” costs. I’m budgeting $300/month for self-care, which leaves me with $1000 to put towards tuition and that burdensome whole life policy. And if my half-plan comes off I’ll be working in Manhattan again in a year, earning the market rate (nearly double what I charge for massage now) and inching towards a healthy 6-figure income.

Tuition:  my last post mentioned having $9K out of $18K saved. Well I’ve paid up the $4K for the first part and it turns out I had $2K more set aside in my savings account than I thought, and I’ve added to it. So I’ve got 2/3 of the remaining $14K  tuition saved – and I’m getting that security deposit back to add to the pot. As much as I’d like to keep it set aside for my return, it’s a timing thing. I need it when I need it and I’ll earn & replace.

Couponing & Shopping:  I will be living around the corner from a Rite Aid – yay! And there’s a Safeway supermarket across the street from Rite Aid, which I believe is a good one for couponing.

Transportation:  I’m within walking distance of everything I need except the school, but I’m located right on the bus line. I hope my sister meant it when she said she’d lend me a bike – could use the exercise and Boulder is very cycle-friendly.

Possible Glitch:  This would actually be desirable. If I get bumped from the waiting list and onto the course that starts in a few weeks, I’ll be paying for my Manhattan apartment for 2 weeks without using it. Ouch. And flight prices could be as high as $450 for a one-way ticket – but Greyhound is feasible ($120), and after being subjected to sanctioned sexual battery by the TSA last week (thanks for the cameltoe-inducing enthusiasm, bitch – and no I’m NOT exaggerating), 44 hours on a bus with very strange people doesn’t sound awful.

And so it begins…the second half of my life. I have no idea if what I’m doing is right or wrong for me, but if it’s a mistake I’m the only one who will suffer – and pretty minimally at that. What’s the worst that can happen – I don’t like Boulder and quit the course? So I’m out a few bucks and a few months of my life. I’ve made much bigger mistakes (divorced from a crossdresser, remember?). This would be so much easier if it was a more dramatic change – I’m oddly wired to do that well (Japan, Scotland).