Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Budgeting Life After College

Being out of college and in the 'working world' can be a scary thing.  You're on your own, or almost on your own, and you're at that point where you need to balance the things you want versus the things you really need.  Chances are that you didn't get that dream job you always wanted and the salary of your first post-graduate job may not be enough to make ends meet.  So how do you survive life after college?  Welcome to my world and trust me when I say a budget will be your new best friend.  So sorry to all of you out there that find this boring, but never underestimate the power of an independent woman, or man, with a budget!
Your budget is something personal based on your own individual saving goals.  This is not about me making a generic budget for you but me helping you create a budget that makes sense for your needs and goals.  I hope it helps you start the process of budgeting, prioritizing your finances, and get you on the road to finding what works for you.  Woohoo, budgets are so exciting! *sarcasm*

Getting Started:

One of the biggest things you have to think about about before you plan a budget is what are your biggest/most important expenses?  I decided to save money by living at home, and as my mom cannot afford to help with my loan payments she kindly offered to pay my car insurance and cell phone bill to help me save money making my major expenses: gas, student loans, visiting my boyfriend, and plans to move to Spain.  Now being that chronic worrier that I am, I worked two jobs my senior year of college anticipating my expenses this year and saved enough to pay for all my gas and student loan payments for this year...but what about next year?  And the years after?

What Are Your Goals?

After graduation I had to be a 'boring' adult-ish person and create a budget.  There are tons of different budget templates you can find all over the internet but it can be overwhelming to find the one that is a perfect fit for you.   First, you have to know your goals and what it is that you really want.  Obviously gas and student loan payments are a necessity that will have to be paid at one point or another.  But travel is also as important to me, just as is making long distance work with my boyfriend.
To stretch my salary to cover these things I knew I would have to curb my spending and make sacrifices.  I allow myself around $50-$60 a month on spending and have to make constant choices on when to splurge or save; I rarely go out and spend money on food or drinks, I can count on one hand the amount of times I go shopping in a year, and if I need a trim I ask my dad.  Sometimes it stinks when I have to say no to friends and it has definitely changed some of my friendships with people who may not understand I don't have the money to spare.  But you just have to stick with the plan, right?  It will all be worth it in the end, right?  Excuse me while I sit and pull out my hair...

How Much Are Your Expenses?

It all depends on what you have in mind for that 'end' based on your goals and major expenses.  My ultimate goal is to move to Spain with one of the programs I applied for and teach English.  In the long run it would allow me to be closer with my boyfriend, have a more consistent job, and put me closer to the places I want to travel.  This forces me to look into the future, I'm working to save for next year so that during next year I can save for the year after that.  While my budget looks forward at where I want to be the next couple of years, it is by no means 'long term.'  Most of my 'savings' are being saved for use over the next year or two, not for things like a house one day or retirement.  If you're like me and don't have long term saving goals yet, you still have to at least glance into your future to plan your budget.  Maybe you don't want to travel, but you want a new car or to live on your own?  Estimate those costs and plan accordingly on how much you will need to save to make that happen.
As for my future and hopeful move to Spain: you can get paid pretty well with the programs but have to pay for rent, utilities, food, cell phone, transportation, travel expenses, necessities, etc.  And some of these programs have a history of not being paid on time, so I would need to make sure that if I am accepted that I have money saved to pay my expenses in Spain and my loan payments.  Past participants have recommended bringing enough money for the first three months of expenses, and since I hope to be in Madrid that's roughly $4000 (rent, safety deposit, utilities, food, transportation, and spending) + the flight there (one-way roughly around $450).  That's quite a good chunk of money I'm saving up for, not to mention the around $2500 a year for my student loan payments.  (Yikes!)

How Much Do You Make?

Now that you know your major expenses and what goals you have to work towards/save for, the next step is knowing how much money you make and if it will be enough.  If you have a yearly salary, lucky you, then you can estimate the amount you make per month, remembering to anticipate the taxes and such that will be taken out.  Unfortunately, many of us recent graduates aren't always lucky enough to have a job that pays a yearly salary.  I am one of those grads that makes an hourly wage and it certainly does not help figuring out how much I make each month especially with hours changing monthly and substitute teaching being so inconsistent.

Again as a chronic worrier, I over planned and initially set up my budget for the entire year by underestimating the amount I take home per month to keep me from having any nasty surprises. The plus to this is I never overspend and it's a killer surprise every month when I see I actually made a few hundred more dollars than I originally planned.  Winning!  Now to work out how much I make for each specific month I keep track of all of the hours I work at my different jobs (the joys of an hourly wage) to more accurately estimate the amount I take home.  Once I have the anticipated hours I work for the month I calculate my gross income and then subtract the amount that will be taken out by taxes and any other fees (I know this by looking over past paychecks and determining the percentage that is taken out for everything).  And voilà, you can anticipate how much you will make!

[Now remember to include in your budget some leeway for emergency funds.  You never know if you have to go to the doctors, or your car breaks down, or you get abducted by aliens.  Surprises happen all the time and the best thing to do is have some extra money saved to dig you out of an unexpected hole.]

Is It Enough?!

Ah the moment of truth for any budget.  Will you have enough to afford your hopes and dreams?  Or will you become that disillusioned and bitter adult years from now thinking, if only I did this...  Just kidding though.  That doesn't have to be you!  What's the worst case scenario, you don't have enough to do all you want right now and you have to put something on hold?  You are never without options: re-prioritize your expenses, look into your goals, or get another job if you can.  As I said before, you may have to sacrifice things to curb your spending but if it's for something you really, truly want then it will be worth it.  Remember to stay positive and know that most new graduates struggle with finances for a while, keep your head up and keep doing what you do until you love what you do.
I have people ask me how do I make it work for me?  How do you travel so much?  How do you afford it?  Well, I work my a** off.  I have three jobs, work at least six days a week, and am already looking for jobs I can take during the summer when school is out and I can't sub or run the after-school program.  I make it work because I want it so badly.  Sometimes it looks bleak but you just have to hold onto your dreams, even when someone tells you to grow up.

Concluding Budget Tips

  1. Know your biggest expenses
  2. Have saving goals and plans
  3. Prioritize your spending and prepare to have to make some sacrifices
  4. Think about the future/estimate costs
  5. Know how much money you make and have to work with
  6. Have an emergency fund, no matter how small

How is life after college treating you?  Any great budget tips you live by?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What to Do in Southern Rhode Island

 I've been talking a lot about Spain lately while waiting for placements this year, but sometimes I forget how much I really do love where I'm from.  Even if most people have no clue where it is...
Growing up I quickly realized while traveling around the United States that most people have no idea where Rhode Island is!  It was always the same two questions:  Isn't that part of New York?  Is it really an island?  ...ummm...NO!!  (Don't you people even know the thirteen original colonies!!!  We were the first
 to declare independence from England!!!)  Other than noticing the failure of geography being taught in schools, I never really thought too much about where I live until I transferred colleges back to RI.  People would always ask me what to do in Rhode Island, there was "nothing to do here", wahh.  No offense right?  I especially heard this from students who grew up in cities and weren't used to the awesomeness that is rural RI.  We may not have a booming metropolis area but there is still plenty to do, you just have to know what to look for!

First some random facts about beautiful Rhode Island:

  • We call drinking fountains 'bubblers', 'bubblahs' if you're really a Rhode Islander
  • Our nickname used to be Little Rhody
  • We are the second most densely populated state (not including US territories)
  • We were founded by Roger Williams after he was banned from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for being too 'extreme' (aka believing in AND practicing freedom of speech and religion.)
  • Our official state drink is coffee milk, and if you ask most people, Del's lemonade too
  • We have a lot of famous firsts: Slater Mill, the oldest Fourth of July Parade, the first all-marble dome, the first synagogue in America, etc.  (Google us, we're pretty awesome)
  • Quahog is not a real city in RI, I repeat, not a real city.  Thanks a lot Family Guy.  

There's WAY more to RI than just Providence!

1. Beaches/Outdoor Recreation-It's not called the Ocean State for nothing!  Most of Rhode Island's border is coastline, roughly about 40 miles!  And southern Rhode Island has the majority of RI's beaches.  There are the main town beaches like: Narragansett, South Kingstown/Matunuck, Charlestown and there are also the state beaches: Charlestown Breachway, East Matunuck, Misquamicut, Scarborough, etc.  During summer there is nothing I love more than spending my entire day at the beach with my friends.  On top of these beautiful beaches, southern RI is known for its abundance of outdoor recreation.  There are multiple bike trails, golf courses, state parks perfect for hiking, nature observatories, camping sites, plenty of ponds and rivers to kayak and canoe in (My personal favorite!), and even a ski area.
Spring and Summer
Fall and Winter

2. Historical Sites/Museums-As such an 'old' state (by United States standards) there are a lot of historic sites and museums to visit in southern Rhode Island.  Some cool sites/monuments around the area are: the Hannah Robinson Rock/Tower, the Narragansett Towers, the Mercy Brown grave site, the Great Swamp (where one of the battles during King Philip's War was waged), and the Flying Horse Carousel in Westerly (the oldest of it's kind still operating).  There are way too many to list all of them so you'll just have to trust me on how awesome Rhode Island is.  To be a true New England state one also cannot forget the lighthouses spread along the coast; Point Judith being one of the most well known in the mainland.  But if you're tired of scattered sites and lighthouses then there are also multiple museums just dying to be visited like the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace (You know, the famous portraitist who only painted the most iconic image of George Washington that is on the $1 big deal or anything...).

3. Eat and Drink-[*Disclaimer* Let me state before continuing that this is by no means a promotion of any restaurants in particular, just some of my personal favorites in the area.  And to be fair I am most familiar with the Wakefield and Narragansett area of southern RI.]  This is probably my favorite thing about southern RI because I love food.  Like really, REALLY love food (and drinks aren't half bad either I guess...).  Being a 'college area' there are a lot of affordable options like local wing nights which I may or may not frequent on a regular basis...  In the summertime in Narragansett, Iggy's and Aunt Carrie's are the places to be for some RI seafood and 'chowdah'; not to mention Iggy's famous doughboy!  I think the Mews Tavern
is the place for beer, with two bars and 69 beers on tap that change depending on the season!  Crazy Burger offers delicious burgers, smoothies, vegan options, and entrees that are both unique and delicious.  If you're looking for some fancier dining you should trying Spain's Restaurant and Turtle Soup, both in Narragansett as well.  And what true Rhode Islander doesn't love Allie's Doughnuts or Del's lemonade!  And if you want more than just some wonderful meals, you should also look into the local breweries and vineyards in southern RI.  Now excuse me while I take a lunch break, I'm getting hungry just writing this!

4. Aquidneck Island-Newport is one part of Aquidneck Island--comprised of Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth--though it is probably the most well known.  Newport was one
The Breakers
of the first areas of Rhode Island that was settled and was also once the summer home of wealthy million/billionaires like the Vanderbilts and Astors and is still famous for their mansions (or as they liked to called these houses, their summer 'cottages').  For those who would prefer taking in the exterior of the mansions and the natural beauty of Newport, then the Cliff Walk is perfect for you!  It's a 3.5 mile trail that runs behind most of the major mansions, including the Breakers, Marble House, and Rosecliff.  Newport is home to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Fort Adams, and the oldest synagogue in North America; and during the summer months the famous Newport Jazz, Folk, and International Film Festivals are held.  Also like the rest of southern RI it's known for its beautiful beaches and lighthouses, like Rose Island Light.  The downtown waterfront area of Newport is full of great bars, restaurants, and boutique shops; it's a great place to explore.  If you want to
View from Cliff Walk
Newport Storm Brewery
try some local drinks visit the Newport Storm Coastal Extreme Brewery and Distillery or some of the many vineyards throughout Newport County, like the Newport Vineyards in Middletown or Sakonnet Vineyards in Little Compton.  And if you want something really extreme try Skydive Newport in Middletown, from personal experience it was one of the coolest things I've ever done!
Vines at Sakonnet

5. Block Island-Block Island has a special place in my heart, even though I have only
On the ferry into BI
been able to visit once.  Why you ask?  Well my own family is from Block Island.  I even have some relatives still on the island!  While I do not know the island very well, I know that there is plenty to do.  Especially if you are a nature and history lover--lucky for me right?  It is most popular during summer because yes, it is a real island, and you need to take the ferry to get to it.  BI is most known for its combination of beaches, cycling, and hiking.  It is
Southeast Lighthouse
common to rent mopeds or bicycles to get around the island, as it is also very common to hike the many trails throughout the island.  Block Island has two historic lighthouses: the Southeast Light and the North Light (both of which I have had family living and working in at one point, wicked!).   The North Light is a bit more challenging to get to because it is at the more isolated northern tip of the island and the Southeast Light is popular because it not only has a museum open during the summer, but is near the Mohegan Bluffs.  These bluffs have become eroded over the years and have infamously forced the lighthouse to be moved back 360 feet from its original position!  And if you want to grab something to eat or drink, or to shop, the downtown area near the main harbor is full of cute stores and delicious pubs/restaurants.
Mohegan Bluffs

And there you have it, my personal opinions on what to do in southern Rhode Island.

Is there something about where you're from that you love?

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Top Five Things I Miss About Spain

To anyone that knows me it is no surprise that I love, and miss, Spain.  After visiting it a couple times in the past few years I have come to think of it as a home away from home.  It has such a rich history, such beautiful and diverse landscapes, and food I could just die for.

A lot of people who are not familiar with Spain only know about the recent financial crisis they are experiencing.  There is much, much more to Spain than its current problems so before I give you my favorite things let me entertain my dual degree in history and bore you with some very brief historical facts of my adoptive country (I promise it's brief):
  • Spain has been populated even before the conquering of the Romans, with separate tribes throughout the Peninsula.
    • Spanish Logo, Joan Miró source
  • Most of Spain was conquered by the Muslims starting in the early 700s; only very northern regions like Cantabria and Asturias were for the most part untouched.  If you look at the above map you'll see just how much land was taken!
  • The country of Spain only formed into a unified country in the 1400s with the marriage of los Reyes Católicos, Fernando and Isabel (the patrons of Columbus on his voyage to the Americas)
  • A lasting democracy in Spain has only been in place since the 1970s, it's still very new.
Not too painful I if you don't believe me about the wonders of España here are the top five things I miss the most:

1. The People-One thing I hear a lot from some people who have traveled or lived in Spain is
(Photo cred. to one of my friends)
 that they found people in Spain cold and unwelcoming.  My experience has really been the opposite of this, this may be because of having a Spanish boyfriend, but out of all the things I miss about Spain these guys are numero uno.  The first day I met them they greeted me at the airport with a Spongebob balloon (I'm really a five year old child), a banner they had hand-drawn pictures representing Spain and the USA, and a car full of balloons.  Now almost three years later I couldn't ask for better friends.  Not to mention that my boyfriend's family has been equally kind and welcoming.

Yes, Spain is not known for its 'service industry.'  Store staff will not follow you around and your waiter/waitress may not come to your table every five minutes.  I don't think of this as a reflection on the people, but a different lifestyle.  Most Spanish people have had their friends forever and it takes time for them to warm up.  I have found most Spaniards to be very friendly and it wasn't uncommon that I'd be out at a bar when someone would realize I was American and want to know all about me.  All and all, when you go to Spain try to get to know the Spanish people.  Even if they seem "cold" at first try to talk to them, they may end up being lifelong friends.  And there's no better way to perfect your Spanish than with some native speakers!

Lunch break with my buddy, is it obvious I love him?
2. The Lifestyle-Ah the Spanish lifestyle.  Here most people may think of siestas, vacations, etc.  But most Spaniards work very hard; they just take the time to enjoy life!  [Yes, there is a large lunch break in the middle of the day when everything is closed down but it is a time for families to get together and eat the most important meal of the day with one another, not to have a 'siesta' (though sometimes with all that food in your stomach its hard not to fall asleep!)]  They are just so much more relaxed in Spain: not rushing everywhere, not worrying about everything.  They're so relaxed that sometimes 'Spanish time' drives me crazy; the word "soon" to me means about 15/20 minutes while to my boyfriend it could mean hours!  It can be hard for those from other cultures, like my busy self, to adjust but I personally think that Spain has it right.  They work to live, not live to work.  I mean, really, what's the point if you're not enjoying life?

My guide to happiness, source
3. The Food-It may not be known as a world cuisine (yet) but I adore the vast majority of Spanish food.  Each region has a different and unique type of special dish.  My boyfriend is from the north so seafood is a staple of their diet, I have grudgingly come to actually appreciate some of it, but some of their other regional foods are: Cocido (Montañes or Lebaniego), sobaos, quesada, and cheese.  Let me state this before I continue.  I LOVE CHEESE, all caps on purpose.  If I could eat one food everyday for the rest of my life it would be cheese.  And the northern regions of Spain have DELICIOUS cheeses; my favorite is picón (a type of blue cheese).

Most Americans know paella and gazpacho but these are usually best in the region they come from, and no.  Spanish food is not usually spicy or very similar to Mexican/Latin foods.  Some of the most typical foods I have seen throughout different areas of Spain are: fish/seafood, meats (pork and beef), variations of vegetables, jamón (cured ham), tortilla española (Spanish omelette that is potato based), chorizo (often spicy Spanish sausage), olives/olive oil, and patatas bravas (potatoes with a spicy sauce).
Patatas Bravas, source
The fish and seafood is growing on me, steaks in Spain are the best I've ever had, and I LOVE jamón, tortilla, and patatas bravas only a little bit less than cheese.  For me most places I've been to serve jamón and tortilla that I like but I am weirdly particular about my patatas bravas.  In Santander there is a restaurant called La Rana Verde that serves my absolute favorite because they have super spicy variations.  I am obsessed!  And you would think all of this is enough for me to justly love Spanish food, what other reasons could there be?  Well I also LOVE the way the food is served, known as tapas.  Tapas are like mini appetizers, or bar food.  These are typically eaten as a snack or dinner at bars (for those unfamiliar with Spanish cuisine, they have a large lunch around 2:00/3:00pm and a very light dinner around 10:00pm).  Not only are they delicious, but they are cheap and delicious with a caña or glass of wine.  Wine being the other wondrous part of Spanish cuisine, a decent bottle of wine for 3€?! Yes please!

Five days in Italy? Sounds Good.
4. The Location-When I say that I miss the location of Spain, I mean the proximity it has to so many wonderful places to travel!  As part of Europe you can travel quite cheaply between countries; either with low cost airlines like Ryanair or getting a Euro-rail pass (cheap depending on location and other factors).  Whenever I'm visiting Spain I always try to travel somewhere else; either another part of Spain or another country.  Why you ask?  Well, why not?!
A week in Paris? Why not!
Flying anywhere in the USA is at least a couple hundred.  It just makes sense to travel in Europe while you're actually there instead of making a separate trip another time (especially since flights to/from Europe are at least $630 round-trip.)  Not to mention that Europe is a gateway to even more travel options with its proximity to Africa and Asia (at least from living on the East Coast of the USA...)  Also, as one of the 26 countries that are part of the Schengen Agreement in Europe there is no need for visas when crossing from one of these countries into another.  The biggest thing I miss about Spain's location is that feeling of being right in the center of a historical wonderland.  Every place I go I'm overwhelmed by the thought that I'm stepping foot into a building, country, monument, etc. that I studied for x number of years.  What's not to love about history coming to life and realizing those history classes really do mean something!
I'll take that 20€ flight round trip to Madrid...

"Green Spain," Cantabria
"Green Spain," Cantabria
5. The Landscape-It was difficult to choose just my top five things I miss about Spain, but the landscape is definitely one of them.  I love the diversity you see traveling around Spain!  Now before I go on, I must state that I have sadly not been to the south of Spain yet (I usually visit in the summer and don't want to die from the heat); the farthest south I have been has been Toledo, which is more or less in the middle.  That being said, the areas of Spain I have not traveled do look beautiful from the pictures I have seen and very different from the Spain I know.  I am most familiar with what is known as "Green Spain," the northern coastal strip of Spain from Galicia to the northern half of Basque Country.  It's called this because it's stuck between the coast and the Picos de Europa mountain range making it very mild and wet.  It's incredibly lush and green with rolling hills and BEAUTIFUL beaches; I am in love with this part of Spain (despite the rain, if you visit in the summer I promise there's less).
I also love the region of Spain around Madrid; it's much drier than the north but it is no less beautiful.  This area in the center of Spain is generally much hotter than the north in the summer, but much colder in the winter (at least in the central regions like Madrid.)  If you've only been to one part of Spain you're missing out (just like me with the south!!) on getting to know the diversity that makes the landscape of Spain gorgeous and unforgettable!

Do you have any favorite thing about Spain?  Or another country you love?

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Path to Spain: UCETAM

The UCETAM auxiliares application is now open from March 4th-March 15th!  My warning though is that I will not be posting anything specific in this post because in the e-mail they send out with the application there is a legal notice of confidentiality. I will give some general information here and if you are interested in the program look at the website and contact the program coordinator and she will e-mail you the application; her name is listed on the website.


First off I do not know much about how auxiliares are in the program; their experiences, issues, opinions.  Thus far I have not been able to find a blog of an auxiliar from UCETAM.  From looking over the website and application it seems that this program is for those with a knowledge of Spanish and an interest/background in teaching.  There is a lot of focus on previous experiences teaching and/or working with children.

The application itself is pretty straightforward; the application packet they e-mail to you, your resume, and a letter of recommendation submitted by the Recommender via e-mail.  You have until midnight (Spanish time, CET, on the 15th) to submit the application.  This is all I will say about the application as not to breach the confidentiality agreement in the e-mail, contact the program coordinator for more information.

The rest of the information in this post is all found at the UCETAM website, which I have linked further down in this post.

According to the UCETAM website the program runs from September to June and like Auxiliares de Conversación, you can only do it for two years.  All placements are in the Madrid community and you work either 17 hours or 25 hours.  All auxiliares receive health insurance, free lunches at the school, and paid school holidays.  If selected for an interview you will be notified.  Those living outside of Madrid will have their interview conducted via skype.  Program decisions will be made during March to late May and the candidates will be notified by e-mail.  There is no information on pay so I would e-mail the coordinator if this is a concern for you.

Applicants must:

  • Have a Bachelor´s degree in ANY subject before the start of the program
  • Be a native English speaker
  • Be eligible to apply for a passport and a student visa in their country
  • There is no an age limit.

It is recommended that program applicants have:
  • A degree in education or bilingual education
  • Prior classroom teaching experience in Spain and/or other countries
  • Knowledge of the Spanish language

Overall, this seems like a great program for those who know Spanish and want to teach.  I'm seriously considering this program but don't know if my Spanish is good enough as you seem to be really involved in the classroom teaching.  I would love to apply and get in but I think it may be better to apply after doing another program for a few years of to get some experience teaching abroad and a higher level of Spanish.  If you have a decent level of Spanish and really do want to teach/be a teacher I would look into this program.  It's geared towards teachers way more than any of the other programs I have found.  It seems more reliable than Auxiliares and that they help you with visas and getting settled into Spanish life like BEDA.  Suerte!

From what I've been hearing in the different groups, they plan to mainly accept people who are already in Spain because the visa process is easier.

This link leads to a forum that does discuss UCETAM a little: BEDA vs Ministry Program vs Other Program