finances

My strange anniversary

One year ago, on June 20, 2013, my best friend Mel asked me to go to dinner. I was living in her spare bedroom, and she and her husband were taking care of me while I tried to find a job that paid better.

We went to a small Thai restaurant. She sat across from me, a worried look in her eyes, and finally, when I wouldn’t broach the subject, she let out a heavy sigh.

“Mandy, what are you doing?”

That was the night my best friend, in all her love, forced me to face my anxiety. My depression, which I was trying to ignore. My absolute question mark in terms of what to do with my life.

My heart was too heavy for my chest, and my face and eyes went blank because the surge of emotion overwhelmed my entire being. I felt that way for weeks. Months. I’d returned to the States from Taiwan in late August 2012, and as of June 2013, I was in a dark, anxiety-ridden place.

A week after Mel and I had dinner, on June 28, 2013, at 9:00am, I was in Nancy’s office. I sat on her couch and talked over my allotted hour. She didn’t quiet me until 10:30. I had a “perceived lostness” and needed to find my “anchor point”. On a half-sheet of paper titled “Transitional States” was a list of four tips to support oneself during a transitional time. I underlined “nebulous lack of clarity”.

On Tuesday, I have my monthly appointment with Nancy. She and I used to meet once every other week, but now I check in every five weeks or so. Every once and a while I consider stopping therapy, but I’m still going. Just last month she had to remind me that my life in Dallas is a transitional time. She’s helpful, my therapist.

Things turned around slowly, but surely, over the past year. They’re still on the upswing. I was even up for a job at Tesla Motors this past month, though I got cut before the final interview. That’s a crazy story for another post, though.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to volunteer with Mercy Ships. Maybe I’ll make tons of money and finally be able to pay Mel and Mikey $8,000 in back rent. We’ll see. If this year goes anything like the past year, June 22, 2015 is going to be even better than today.

thank goodness

Mapquest

I collect maps dot WordPress dot com. Mandy travels. That’s this blog!

I haven’t written in months. Currently I’m not collecting maps, and I’m not traveling, save for the driving I do around Texas.

Scary spinning wind!

North Texas. I’m currently living under all that red. That night was a special occasion: it was the first time I’ve ever heard a tornado siren. Outwardly I kept my cool. Inwardly, I was cowardly.

It’s kind of been nine months of a pity party, if I’m being completely honest. I don’t know what to do with myself, with my career, with the next several decades I have left.

Dog friendly, not horse friendly

Texas. It’s hard to see, but that sign has a person riding a horse with a red circle-slash over it. That means No riding horses in this park. Yeehaw!

Then, one day last week, while perusing my feed on Facebook, I came across a blog with a not-for-the-fainthearted-or-children title, full of self-help without the floofy sugarcoated baby talk. She cusses. It makes me laugh.

Monday the 13th, she posted “Fill In The Blank: I’m Not a ‘Real’ ____”, and I laughed, nodded along, and got back to work. In the back of my mind, though, it sat, and I thought about it. I read it again later. I found myself wondering what my Real ____ was.

Bigness

Texas. 15,000 people can fit in this building. It’s not a community college or a sporting arena: it’s a church. Welcome to the South, where churches are larger than most towns.

Yesterday I was late to work and in a slight panic because I couldn’t find my ring. Thin, gold, unremarkable… but I bought it, and it has sentimental meaning behind it; it’s my ring. I bought it. I wear it when I want to feel like I’m in control – I can take care of myself. It’s my Me ring.

thank goodness

The room was set to be vacuumed fifteen minutes after I found it. Can you see it?

I was explaining to my coworker the significance of the ring, and I figured it out… I think. I figured out my Real ____. I’m not the Real Me. Kind of. I’m not the me I want to be. Nicole Antoinette (ALLB’s author) asks this: ““What are the top three things that I believe make someone a real ____?”

bam! take that, bag!

I read self-help blogs and, instead of seeing an expensive therapist, I go punch things.

What are my three things?

  1. The Real Me is an athlete. She regularly participates in endurance events and grins when she feels the muscles in her arms from doing perfect-form chest-to-deck pushups.
  2. The Real Me has a full passport. My current one expires January 1, 2015. I need to hit up a bunch of little countries all in a row or something.
  3. The Real Me doesn’t live paycheck to paycheck. She has a savings account, and she saves! She has money for a rainy day! She has money to hit up a bunch of little countries and fill her passport!

None of these are surprises, I know. The title of this post could be “Mandy says stuff I already know”, or “Duh”. But this is my new map: my map to me. It’ll have to do until I get back to the passport business and blog about Mandy traveling and collecting road maps, instead of psychological maps.

beep beep

You know who probably doesn’t need a map? This limo’s driver. He parks at the end of my friends’ street. I wonder what his life is like.

I’m working hard on the athletic thing. I go to boxing/therapy twice a week and try to get a jog or two in the other days. I have a 10K on June 9th –

– but wait, Mandy! I thought you were signed up for a half marathon! Well… I am. Yeah. But I’m “downgrading” to a 10K. If you’re going to judge, I’ll meet you out there June 9th and you can jog next to me and tell me all about your feelings. –

– and I want to get back into triathlons.

I have more athletic shoes than heels

Post run. I’m wearing toe socks. The saleslady told me they would make me run faster. Lies. Or maybe she just said they were comfortable. I dunno.

Later this year, after my sister gets married, I’ll hopefully be taking a trip with a friend of mine. The wanderlust monster has me in its clutches. And as far as the financial stability goes… well. Buy me dinner and I’ll tell you all about it.

those things are disgusting

My dream is to put all this space to good use. An athlete would have a bike or a canoe in here. Sweaty boxing wraps and my workout bag don’t really fill it up.

In the meantime, I’m happy. Great friends have taken me in give me a bed and a place to shower. I love being within walking distance* of my sister; especially after my grandfather’s passing, my priorities have changed, and my family and close friends are more important than ever.

It’s an interesting time, and I’m struggling with being impatient. I want to know how everything’s going to turn out. Until I know, I have my map. Mandy travels – to realness and emotional stability! Huzzah!

 

*6.5 miles. Walking distance for an athlete.

Just out of reach

I’ve been in bed since 10:20pm. Between then and now I wrote a cover letter and applied for a job, then tried sleeping. It refuses to happen. According to Gmail, where I received a confirmation email from the company after I submitted my application, I finished at 11:34pm.

Seeing how it’s 1:04am now, that means I tried to sleep for an hour and a half, to no avail. I’m sleepy, my eyes warm with the urge to stay closed, but I toss and turn. Left side, right side; on my stomach with my legs in marathon-runner position; arms under the pillows, on top of, hanging off the edge of the bed.

It doesn’t come. I blame myself. Earlier, I ate and drank what I knew would keep me awake so I could work on some applications. When I decided to quit after just one, I thought I could handle the caffeine searing through my system, and I lay down, in a state I would describe as “extremely tired”.

And then my mind started its gymnastics, leaping over thoughts and tumbling through every idea.

Me: “I’m tired. Calm down.”
Brain: “THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. What was that noise? Feelings! Overthinking.”
Body: “I’m cold. This position is uncomfortable.”
Me: “Quit staring out the window. Fall asleep, please.”
Body: “I’m hot.”

This is the idiocy I’m facing right now. It’s 1:13am. Nine minutes, and all I’ve typed is absolute nonsense.

Under normal circumstances, I’d be dreading tomorrow because it would start in less than five hours, as I would be crawling into the shower and getting ready for work. In Unemploymentville, there’s a different dread. It’s the dread of waking up and having no purpose. I’ll wake up, carry my phone and laptop downstairs and, after checking various sites, face down the job applications for the day.

People who haven’t ever visited Unemploymentville are a little in the dark about what it’s actually like here. Imagine showing up for a class every day, putting forth a ton of effort, and failing the class. You spend hours on assignments, but you fail. After a while, it’s all you can do to keep going; it all feels like a waste of effort.

I’m applying to jobs for which I’m fully qualified. I study company sites and make sure they know why I want to work there. I include facts and figures and references. If I want a good job, I need to put in the effort in my application. There are 36 unique cover letters on my computer, and those don’t include several more letters written online, instead of in Word.

Trust me: I’m trying.

Being unemployed doesn’t mean I’m lazy. It doesn’t mean I’m weak, underqualified, undereducated, or unworthy. It doesn’t mean I’m not trying hard enough. I get the feeling sometimes that people who have never been unemployed think it’s a matter of not wanting it enough. I hope they never have to go through what I’m going through. It would be nice if they could “get it”, though.

I’ll be fine. It’ll happen. I took a risk in moving back to the States without a job, and I don’t regret it. That said, it’s been scarier moving back than it was to move abroad. I’m home-of-my-ownless, gratefully filling guest rooms at friends’ houses for weeks at a time. My savings from Taiwan are slowly draining.

This “time off” isn’t relaxing or fun. I’m not able to focus on myself or do much beyond think about how I’m going to make it past this month, then through November.

Unemployment is lonely. It’s rejection after rejection and hours of time alone working on job applications. First, I was the weirdo because I lived in Taiwan for two years, so my thought processes are a little different now. Now, I’m an even bigger weirdo because I’m also unemployed. Very few people understand one or the other. Fewer still understand both. It’s ostracizing.

It’s being awake at 1:35am, knowing that the only item on the docket after I finally do fall asleep, then wake up late tomorrow morning, is job applications.

1:41am.

Still wide awake. Maybe I’ll write another cover letter now.

Yanking on my bootstraps

I spent hours working on that job application. I crafted my cover letter, registered for the company’s website, answered all the questions on said website, tried to think of exactly the right thing to say. This job, this job I really wanted. I’d be perfect for it. I’d be a rockstar at it.

Within a week, an email in my inbox: “We appreciate your interest in joining the XXX team. After careful consideration, we have decided to concentrate our attention on other candidates who we believe best meet the current needs of our organization.”

…okay. At least I know, right?

But… all those hours and all that stress of thinking of just the right word and how to phrase what I thought. All the times I re-edited my cover letter so it would read a little more persuasively, a little more coherently, and reiterated the qualifications from the job posting, but not in the same words…

This was my second time to apply to this organization – a very small, very niche company. I won’t apply a third time. Two strikes and I’m out. It’s a little embarrassing to be rejected more than once.

You’re supposed to treat every job application like it’s gold. Write a cover letter, format your resume just for that company, sign up for their website, spend precious time clicking the appropriate responses and hoping desperately you’re not going to be lost in the hundreds of other applicants.

You spend all this time, all this effort and energy and stress and then

nothing.

Most of the time, you don’t get a response. 2% of the time you hear back that they’re “concentrating their attention on other candidates”.

I don’t blame the companies. I understand. There are a lot of applicants. I don’t envy the people who have to sort through all those trite cover letters and resumes full of adjectives and random verbs people never use in real life.

As a job searcher, though, it’s horrible. First you have to find a job description that sounds good, for a company you wouldn’t mind working for, in a city that doesn’t sound soul-numbingly boring, for pay that will hopefully put you above the poverty line. Then you have to spend some time preparing your application, making sure it’s just right. At least half an hour of work, up to a few hours, all so that it can be dumped in the Trash folder of some stressed, overworked HR person’s email client.

I’m an average applicant on paper. I’ll knock your socks off in a job, but my resume doesn’t have well-known companies on it, or fancy titles, a top-tier university or awards or ten acronyms after my last name. It has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but that’s as riveting as boiling water. What sets me apart? The fact that you’ll like working with me. The fact that I’m gregarious and personable and sarcastic and true to my word and organized to the T. But can you put that on paper? Yeah, if you want to sound like a personal ad. “Non-proveables” on resumes are generally frowned upon, but a very large part of the draw of having me work for your company is based upon my “non-proveables”.

Then, THEN, you get the email telling you you’ve landed an interview. What if you’re offered this job… but yesterday you applied for your DREAM JOB. What if you accept this job, and then DREAM JOB wants you to interview.

You’re screwed.

In this economy, everyone is screwed. The company is screwed. It receives too many applications, making it impossible to effectively sort through and find THE CANDIDATE. Those they reject more than once give up, even though they may eventually be a perfect fit. Too late. The person sifting through the applications is screwed. I would never want to work in HR.

To all the people in HR, I’m sorry. You’re just as screwed as the applicants because not only do you have to deal with all the resumes, cover letters, interviews, emails, phone calls, and whathaveyou, you get to deal with the rejection letters. You have to handle people blaming you for not getting hired. It’s not your fault, but you’re the scapegoat.

I’m sorry.

From the applicant’s perspective, when it comes to these rejection letters, let’s be brutally honest: they’re grenades in your inbox ready to detonate into a million shards of failure all over your day. They dig into your psyche a la Temple of Doom and wrench your self-confidence out of your chest. When a company doesn’t respond at all, you can almost think to yourself, Maybe they didn’t get it. Maybe they never saw my resume. It’s not that I wasn’t good enough; there was a glitch in the system or something. Then it lands, with a deafening, gutting thud, into your inbox. “We appreciate your interest, but…”

It makes me go back to my resume and angrily demand what it did wrong. It makes me reread my cover letter and realize that, even though it sounded honest and professional yesterday, it sounds like a total sycophantic blowhard today.

It continues with no end in sight. Saturday, after receiving another rejection email, I spent the weekend feeling sorry for myself and despondent. I’ve been in this game long enough to feel like the fat kid in dodgeball – I get knocked down, a lot. My ego is bruised, and my confidence slips a little more with each rejection.

Then, yesterday, I had a come to Jesus chat with myself; I think Coach may have been in on it, too, but he didn’t sign in. It’s time to change tack. Maybe I’m not supposed to play dodgeball; maybe I’m more a rugby type of girl.

So now it’s time to throw a few more bullets onto my resume and write some cover letters: I have lots of HR inboxes to tackle.

Taiwan basics: Money

When I decided to move to Taiwan, I spammed Gretchen, my future Hsinchu roommate, with questions. She graciously answered all 50 of my long, in-depth, blabbermouth, doesn’t-know-how-to-be-succint, worried emails. I may not be much of a talker sometimes, but I’ll write your face off.

Quite a few people have contacted me, now that I’ve been here more than a few hours, about my move abroad, and they have the same questions I did. The biggest concern? Finances.

So I’ve decided to make a terrifically boring, long, couldn’t-be-succint-if-I-tried post about money.

This post is going to be like an adult movie – you’re going to see everything. Real numbers, real finances. And you’re going to get bored halfway through, fast forward to see if there are any good parts, then quit paying attention.

That’s an important place, probably in Taipei.

Taiwan New Dollar vs. US Dollar

Taiwan New Dollar, aka New Taiwan Dollar, NTD, NT, NT$, or 元

Taiwan is a cash-based society and utilizes full-dollar amounts – no cents or decimal places. It has four coins that dwarf coins in the US: 1nt, 5nt, 10nt, 50nt. There are 100nt, 500nt and 1,000nt bills that look like Easter threw up.

I guess you can’t really have primary-colored money. Not even Monopoly does that.

As of 2:30pm on 8 December 2011:
1nt        =   $0.033          $1     =   30.15nt
10nt      =   $0.33            $10   =   301.53nt
100nt    =   $3.30            $100 =   3,015.35nt
1,000nt =   $33.15

The 50nt coin. Imagine carrying 11 of these in your wallet, which I’ve done. It’s like lifting weights when you try to get your wallet out of your purse.

Financial Health

September 2010

Bank of America checking balance: $5,561.25 (thank you, cashed-in retirement funds)
Bank of America savings balance: $210.11

Student loan balance: $17,598.79
Citi credit card balance: $2,877.30
Second Citi credit card balance: $0
Bank of America credit card balance: $9,705.60
Wachovia car payment balance: $6,476.22

Total credit card debt: $12,582.90

December 2011

Bank of America checking balance: $221.75
Bank of America savings balance: $4.82

Balances pre-December payments
Student loan: $15,651,21
Citi credit card: $3,123.61 (month-long trip home in July, all on this card)
Second Citi credit card: closed
Bank of America credit card: $6,837.54
Wachovia car payment: sold

Total credit card debt: $9,961.15

That picture’s from 2005. The bank guy tricked me into taking my ID picture at 8:30am after a long week. It expires soon, thankfully. Below, my Alien Resident Certificate (ARC). It’s twice as thick as my Texas license.

But Mandy, if your finances in Taiwan are so great, why do your checking and savings account balances look so sad? I bought: 2 scooters (the first died a very ungraceful death), a heavy-duty winter coat, a visa to China, a flight to China, a week-long vacation in China, a month-long vacation in California/Texas/Vancouver, two trips to Hong Kong. And TUAPA owns my heart. Chew on that, Judgmental Judy.

My money and I play hide and seek every month. I think it cheats, though, because when I call olly-olly-oxen-free at the end of the month, it stays gone.

Finances:

Austin:
Income: $2,197.82 (my annual salary was $37,500)
Rent: $650 (29.57% of income)
Car payment: $306.50 (13.94%)
Bills and other debits: HELLO, DEBT

Hsinchu:
teaching and tutoring:
Jan 2011: 60,112nt  ($1,992.87)
Feb 2011: 31,000nt  ($1,027.73) (due to Chinese New Year. No work = no pay)
Mar 2011: 28,312nt  ($938.62) (thanks again, CNY)
Apr 2011: 46,912nt   ($1,555.26) (lost one tutoring job, teaching hours reduced)
May 2011: 36,912nt  ($1,223.73) (looking for full-time job)

working 9-4 at telecom company, 4:30-6 tutoring:
Dec 2011 total income: 69,742nt  ($2,312.13)

Taxes were taken out of my teaching income, which significantly reduced my pay. No taxes are taken out of my current paycheck; I’ll have to file and pay next year, likely around 8,000nt ($265.22).

Rent: Sept 2010 – Aug 2011: 8,000nt  ($265.22)
Sept 2011 – Nov 2011: 3,500nt  ($116.03)
Dec 2011: 5,000nt  ($165.76)

Current rent is 7.17% of my income.

WHO IS THAT GORGEOUS MODEL ON YOUR ARC?!? This is my worst ID picture ever.

Wire Transfers and Paying Bills

I list my mom as a co-conspirator on my Bank of America accounts, and she has a debit card to access my checking account. She has full access to my account, and all my Bank of America (checking, savings, and one credit card) and Citi (now just one credit card) statements go to my parents’ house.

I generally send money home on the 6th of every month. The 5th is payday, unless life is rotten and the 5th falls on a Sunday, and then the 6th is payday. The next day I take a wad of cash to E. Sun Bank, which Gretchen found. E. Sun Bank charges a flat rate of 300nt ($9.94) for wire transfers. To compare, I have an account with Taiwan Cooperative Bank and they wanted to charge me 800nt ($26.52). Way to fail, TCB.

That’s right, my debit card has three baseballs and fancy reflective decorations on it. I’m a winner, obviously.

Tangent: Non-teaching companies here have direct deposit only, not paychecks, and each company contracts with a bank or two for its employees. If I switched jobs here and the new company contracted with a different bank, I’d have to switch banks. Teaching jobs pay cash. You’ll never handle a Taiwanese check as a foreigner.

There are machines at the bank that print your register. You don’t have to do the math or remember how much that deposit was. It’s glorious. Note that the dates are listed with year 100 – Taiwan uses the worldwide date of 2011, but internally uses its own country date of 100.

I walk into E. Sun Bank with a wad of cash. I take in my ARC (residency card) and fill out a form with wire transfer information from BoA, which I get when I log into my account online.

The first time I wired money home, I’d hoarded over 96,000nt over the course of three months, so if anything was filled out incorrectly and I didn’t get the money, I’d be minus $3,000 and plus one heart attack. It was nervewracking.

After filling out the form the first time, though, I just take my copy back with me every time so we can copy the information and check the appropriate boxes. When Peggy, my favorite teller, helps me, I don’t even have to fill out a new form – I slide her the form/ARC/money, she works her bank magic, then has me sign a new form confirming the transfer. Easy.

The bottom red stamp is Peggy’s chop – her Chinese name carved into a small block of wood, which she uses to stamp official documents. I have a chop for my Chinese name and one for my English name, but I rarely use them.

The money I sent 7 December (yesterday) at 12:30pm showed up online when I checked my Bank of America account 7 December (yesterday) at 10:30pm. I paid my two credit card bills and my student loan bills online and voila – done.

Transfer details:

Amount wired: 32,000nt  ($1,040.90)
E. Sun Bank fees: 300nt  ($9.94)
Bank of America incoming wire fees: none, but I have a $12 monthly maintenance fee

My smallest wire to-date is $360.27. That was a rough month.

So there you have it.

That should cover more than you ever wanted to know. If I missed something, don’t be shy – just ask. I’m more financially stable here than I ever have been, and much of that is because I ONLY use cash. If payday is next Tuesday and I only have 500nt in my wallet, then I’d better only spend 500nt. There is no alternative. It’s a good life lesson.