Live and Learn

Deciding to join AmeriCorps this year has got to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Granted, I will fully attribute this journey to God’s work in my life, but I will say with full conviction that these last two months have been two of the most wonderfully fulfilling months of my adult life. For the first time, what I am learning is entirely self-initiated, and there is freedom to explore a multitude of avenues with it.

One of the most precious gifts in this time has been the ability to reexamine my relationship with money and material goods. As you may or may not know, my stipend for AmeriCorps is $1100 a month, pre-tax. I know many people complain about their salary levels, how they simply don’t have enough money to pay for the things that they think are “enough” for a good life, and I’m pretty sure that living on ~$1000/month (plus food stamps) seems pretty near impossible. During college, I definitely spent more than that every month, even when I didn’t have to pay for my own insurance. I have some money still left in the bank, so I won’t panic if I do spend more than I make in one month, but I know I need to start developing good financial habits–saving, budgeting, and giving generously to those in need–that I want to develop and maintain over the course of my life. I’m reexamining the things that I think I need, the way I spend my money, and thinking about the changes that I would like to make in order to live within the means of this stipend. The first couple of months of moving to a new place require extra expenses, but now that I’m settled in, I’m going to track my spending, and try my hardest to allocate it in a predetermined manner. I’m starting to develop long-term goals of what I’d like to do, and with the exception of accepting my parents generous offer to  pay for my plane ticket home for Christmas, I’m on my own.

You may ask how it’s been going, living on this stipend. Fortunately, I don’t have debt to pay off, something that I think is virtually unheard of in this era. After rent, though, transportation related expenses are the greatest. Now I’m finally paying for both my own gas and insurance, and as of August, I officially own my car. Meh. Cars cost a lot of money. In California, they’re a necessity, but I’m seeing here that may not be the case so much. It is a necessity for my job, working out in a rural community, but were my work not so far away, and were the rain not quite as bad, I might try to get away without depending on it quite so much. My roommate and I got rid of the TV in our living room about a month ago. While I will still watch shows on hulu and documentaries on netflix, my viewership of electronic media has declined. I haven’t seen a movie in theater since…June? Aside from purchasing rain boots, I have not bought any clothing/accessories since I arrived here. I am resolving to learn how to sew, and make my own clothes for a while, since what I have is sufficient already, and it’s difficult for me to find clothes that fit in stores as it is. If I make them for myself, I don’t think that would be such a problem. I am resolving to give to charity more, a resolution that will be reflected in purchases later this afternoon for Operation Christmas Child, whose donation operation seems earlier and earlier every year. I also think I want to start lending on Kiva.org. I want to be a part of changing lives and making dreams come true, both in my immediate surroundings and around the world. I don’t think I’ve gone out to eat since my trip to Canada six weeks ago, but I’ve been enjoying potlucks and home cooking all the while.

Between books, magazines, blogs, and articles, I’ve read about so many different ways to live frugally and happily, and I am amazed at things that I simply had not thought of before that make a lot of sense. I was shocked by the idea that vinegar and baking soda can solve most household cleaning needs. This hasn’t changed what I’ve purchased, but then again, I haven’t purchased many home cleaning products lately, as my roommate was well stocked when I moved in. I’ve started driving on back roads at 50 mph to work instead of 75 mph on the freeway. I have condensed my loads of laundry so that I’ve hovering about 8 loads a month. I’m using a space heater instead of a thermostat, and I’m using the library instead of buying new books. I did not open a new gym membership, but have resolved to using the DVDs that I have and maybe even starting to run…though we’ll see about that. I don’t exactly love running in the rain. I’ve downsized somewhat, and I realized that almost every piece of information, including recipes and how-to guides, as as easily available online as they are in books. I’m in love with pinterest for all the ideas that just keep on coming, and I’ve amassed a slightly larger than necessary supply of craft & sewing supplies that are currently hiding in an armoire in our living room.

I’m looking forward to my first visitor in two weeks, and we’ll see what this friend from high school makes of my new life up here. I’m living inspired, fulfilled, and energized. I hope that I’m inspiring other people in the process, but either way, I’m just thankful to be blessed with the opportunity to live and learn during this period of my life.

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