Way back in 2011* I departed from my mom’s house in Delaware on my Great American Road Trip. The plan was to drive West, visiting friends and family, then head South and back across the Southern US which I haven’t experienced much of. The plan was if I ran out of money or my car died, I would find a job and make things work. Then I found myself back in the PNW, breathing the fresh air, seeing the mountains and visiting my brother and his wife and realized I wanted to be back in the area. I applied for jobs but at the time, there weren’t many. I managed to land a job at a young architecture firm in Salem Oregon, they had a great office culture because it was small (and I have always preferred to work for small firms) and after 3 weeks of waiting, they finally offered me a position. I didn’t even ask about how much I would be making because I was just so happy to get a job in architecture at a time when there were more applicants than positions thanks to The Recession. A couple days after I got the job I finally got a call back from Michael’s (after 2 weeks of waiting I decided I just needed any job and applied to Michael’s Arts & Crafts where I had worked in high school). When they called I told the guy I got a job in my field and he was super excited for me!
So I moved to Salem! I rented a little 600 SF house near the train tracks. I marveled that for what I paid for a room in a flat in NYC I was able to rent a small house with a garage and small yard. I joined Meetup groups and started online dating. I made friends, got a boyfriend, got into my job. I was constantly learning in my job. I hadn’t done this kind of work before, I got to work on the floor plans, which I enjoy untangling, and because we were such a small firm I really got to dip my fingers into many aspects of the business. The boyfriend and I moved into a bigger apartment, then another one when my childhood dream of having a dog finally seemed like it could happen. After living in the new place a year with the puppy, I found a little house for sale and bought it and the boyfriend and puppy (now 1) and I all moved in. I tend to get blinders on when I want a thing so the house met a lot of my desires but I didn’t do as thorough a due diligence as I should have before buying. I decided I wanted it and that was it. Unfortunately I wasn’t really in a good financial position to buy a house. Yes I had a good job, a dog, a boyfriend, a tight knit group of friends… but I had no emergency fund. Somehow I got a grant or something that helped me buy my house for very little money down (I think it cost me like $700 out of pocket to buy the thing), and then a bank decided they could lend me~ $145,000 and I was good for it. I never missed a payment, and was able to do a few upgrades to make it feel like mine (ie. paint and lights) but every time something went wrong with the house, I had to turn to my mom for help. Really reminds a girl that she is but a girl, not a woman with a plan, making it on her own, fiscally responsible. Since buying the house, I have felt house poor. It’s a strange feeling, I’ve never been poor, just broke, I’ve never not had a job unless I didn’t want one, but I have been terrible about saving money. My whole life. One of the things my dad said to me a lot was that whatever money I had was “burning a hole in my pocket”. As soon as I got money, I wanted to spend it! I’ve had large windfalls such as gifts or big tax refunds and spent it all. I do have some money in retirement, but that doesn’t matter when the waterline breaks or the electrical in the house fails and I only have about $1,000 in the bank. What emergency is big enough for me to spend my baby emergency fund (a la Dave Ramsey)? Can I move money around, float the credit card, get one with zero interest and pay it off before they collect?
I have been doing a lot of personal finance reading in the past 4+ years of “owning” my house, but nothing really stuck until I started using You Need A Budget (YNAB). My new boyfriend and I took a little road trip to Coeur d’Alene, ID and listened to a podcast interview with the creator of YNAB. I had tried YNAB way back when I lived in NY and was trying to get the hang of budgeting but sometimes I just have to be in the right mind set for things to sink in (kind of like how my freshman year roommate played Modest Mouse for me and I was like “ugh what is this?!” and years later when it was on the radio I was like “ooo, this is nice”). This time, last August, 8 months ago, I was ready for the information! I ordered his book to really understand the logic behind it (I’m the kind of person who wants to know why I should do something, not just that I should do something) and I Hoovered the book and immediately jumped into using YNAB. It has been a Game. Changer. I feel more on top of my finances, I can see more clearly that choosing to spend money on X means there is less money for Y and it’s all about priorities.
That said, I still don’t have an emergency fund. I still don’t feel ready for the shit to hit the fan. And it will, it always does eventually, but being prepared makes the fan smaller… or the shit pile smaller… or something, I’m not sure where that metaphor is going… Also, my job that I was learning so much in, started to plateau. I was the project manager for a large project, but I dreaded work everyday, I felt the weight of a ball and chain dragging behind me. For the last 2 years I waxed longingly about alternative paths I could take, but I loved my co-workers and really liked my bosses, they felt like older brothers. I wanted to do something else but change is scary. I started perusing job postings but there wasn’t anything in Salem. Everything would have been in Portland and I had a dog and a house and an old car. I didn’t want to have to commute, I didn’t want to have to buy another car to handle the drive… but I wanted to do something more design oriented. So I resigned myself to needed to scratch my creative itch at home and trudging through the project management days.
I decided I would design tiny houses and build physical models of them in my free time. I cleared off my ridiculously large fireplace mantle and gathered cardboard so I could build a model of terrain to place the tiny houses on. I kept trying to convince myself this would work. The last 2-3 years in Salem I felt the call of the road but I had a good job! I had a house! I had a dog! This is just what you do, you plant roots and make it work. I kept telling myself “What if I just decide to be happy here in Salem?” But I could never fully convince myself.
One day, perusing the job boards I stumbled on a Tiny House Designer job posting! I quickly sent it to my inner circle, freaking out that I had to apply for it, my dream job! It’s what I wanted to do in my free time and instead I could get paid to do it! I applied and again, it took weeks for them to get back to me. In that time, my shell of the security of staying in my first house, in the city I stumbled into, started to fall away and I got excited about making change in my life again. It’s so easy to put the nose to the grind stone and focus at the 1 foot distance, but just thinking about this job opportunity got me to pull back and start thinking at 10,000 feet. What did I want the rest of my life to be like? What did I want people to say about me at my funeral? What would I regret on my death bed?
By the time I was offered the job, which turned out to be freelance, and they later offered me a full time position, I took it, there was grease in my gears. Change was less scary, there was so much more to life and I could live it any way I wanted to. Just because the traditional path was to get a job at a company and work there until you retire doesn’t mean it has to be my path. I have done big changes before and it’s always scary but it pushes me out of my comfort zone, I meet more people and learn more about myself.
All these changes, including buying a new car (one of my biggest fears of adulthood, only to be rear ended a month later and have it totaled. Always get Gap insurance if you have a loan!), have me excited about having a more unique future. So as I write this I am about to head to my Salem house for the last time to paint and remove the last few pieces of my stuff so I can put it on the market. Buying a house was a great experience, it’s something I dreamed about back when I lived in NYC and wanted the freedom to make my space my own. But now I know after living in NYC and rentals for 10 years that taking care of a house is not something I enjoy doing at this time, I have other things I want to spend my time on.
The puppy (now 6) and boyfriend (who is also eager for a life filled with more adventure) and I have been making plans to do an extended road trip around the country, planning to see all 50 states (*flying to Hawaii though, sans puppy). Since August it’s been at the forefront of our minds, making plans, designing a van conversion layout, making lists of places to go, researching the logistics of health insurance and getting mail on the road, and it’s so exciting. Today, going to paint the house is a final step in a big project not just of selling the house, but of changing my life and being the author of my own adventure and choosing to make my life what I want it to be.
I grew to love Salem and I am sad to leave it but at the same time I am incredibly excited for what’s next! I can always come back to Salem if it feels like the right fit for me. I made some amazing friendships and met an awesome supportive and caring partner to move onto the next chapter with. I’m grateful for the opportunity and mentorship I received at my previous job. Looking around at my bosses and the community in Salem though, the wants I have in life are different. Salem is a great place if you want to start a family but that has never been a goal for me. I look forward to exploring the country and world, making new friends and getting out of my comfort zone.
I don’t know what the future holds but I know I can handle it and with my newfound appreciation for budgeting and true understanding of the freedom that comes from budgeting (I now consistently have enough in the bank to not stress about the upcoming bills, though not enough for the next month).
Back in October 2011 I stopped my road trip and put down roots in Salem - February of this year, 2019, I moved up to Tualatin closer to my new job and in May of 2020 plan to depart on a year long adventure around the country, picking up where I left off on the Great American Road Trip. Roots hold me close and wings set me free*.
*The inspiration for my first tattoo back in 2007, here’s the artist’s sketch, a bird with roots for feet, on my right shoulder.
*edit, I initially wrote 2009, but that’s the first time I left NYC, I returned and left again in 2011!