Category Archives: Saving Money

What is a Human Right?

Freshman year in all my classes there was The Marine.  Old for a freshman and a fellow  International Affairs major, he was always on time and often wore his mil backpack.  Manifesting himself as the booming faceless voice from the back of the class, the professors always seemed overly eager to both hear and honor him.

One of his biggest stands which professors bent over backwards to not disagree with was that electricity is a human right.  His experience in the Middle East had made this overwhelmingly obvious to him, but he had a hard time pointing to the piece of international human rights legislation that backed him up.  Personally, I think he was getting more at the need for light and perhaps the ability to cook in a safe and effective way, neither of which has to necessarily involve electricity.  (I would now argue that electricity is necessary in order to honor several clearly-defined rights, such as to food security and bodily security i.e. protection from rape and other forms of bodily harm that befall women who collect wood at night.)

Now that I’m spending so much time with micro-credit, I’m  starting to understand how their services can be human rights, especially when we’re discussing a certified bank like Grameen.  People without access to insurance, credit and savings a become vulnerable to all manner of incredibly harmful and undignified situations.

These can include, but are not limited to:

  • begging
  • prostitution/human trafficking
  • food insecurity
  • losing access to their children

Someone without the ability to borrow money, something we do all the time in the US, would have an extremely difficult time raising their station.  Someone who does not have secure savings cannot plan for the future, is subject to robbery for the cash they most likely store in their home.  Sometimes, human rights is not just about the theory but about pragmatic on the ground approaches like selling water instead of giving it away in order to make it sustainable and accessibly.  In this instance, I think our modern world and insistence on capitalism makes access to credit and savings (in one fashion or another) necessary in order to live a dignified, secure life.

Following the Dog Out of the Window

I am not one of those it’s-for-the-best feel good types.  I’m with Josh Ritter when he says, “if the best is for the best then the best is unkind.”  I am not generally described as fatalist or optimistic.

Yet, here I am.

It was for the best.

I wanted to go to Honduras in November, because I needed SPACE and warmth and travel and there were some enticing prices.  But it wasn’t as good of a deal as I had hoped, so I stayed home.  But I got my space anyway in December, and I got a chance to save some money for the next opportunity coming down the pike.

I investigated Alternative Spring Break, which was exciting because there was an opportunity in Honduras with a do-gooder focus and a longer time-line.  But then I looked at the cost, authority on the trip, and simply lost enthusiasm for the project.  For some reason I felt like I needed validation on this decision, like I needed permission to not spend my time and money on ASB.

Then I got the most fantasy-fulfilling opportunity of all: I was invited to apply for an all-expenses paid fellowship in Saudi Arabia.  This would allow me to visit a country that is normally off-limits to Americans, do it in a non-scary and not-too-long way, get to travel for free, be back in the Middle East, and get to continue some of my research.  I know, I know, how many American feminist 22 year olds fantasize about wearing an abaya and niqab for two weeks in a Gulf country in which they cannot drive?  But seriously, it sounded amazing.  When I didn’t hear back within the allotted time, I had an awful sinking feeling.  Then I found out about the winners on facebook.  Now I was really mad, because I hadn’t even been notified.  I emailed again to see what happened, and apparently my application was never received, even though I sent it to and from the exact same addresses I used to figure out what happened.  That was just so crushing–to find out I had never even been considered.  I’m really not so sure what the upside is on this one.  I can still apply next year, if it runs.  But it was incredibly hard to read the blogs of all my friends in the Arab League program who were over there together.

See what I mean about not being upbeat?

And then I got an email about a trip to Haiti.  So okay, it didn’t turn out to be Haiti in the end.  But it meant exploring more of the Caribbean, and taking more classes in social enterprise, which is a damn good thing since it’s what I want to do with my big-girl life.  It also lead to getting cozy with 40 new(ish) people, more time spent translating, and a great field research opportunity.  Now I’m looking at a whole different sector of jobs, I had a much higher impact than originally intended, and my costs went down significantly.

So I’d say I made out alright.

Choosing a New Place

When I first heard about the Benin trip, and how it had a one-week France component, I was a little bummed.  I had already been to france, I already had that stamp.  But I think a lot changed when I was in Cuba. As the trip got closer, I thought of paris as a comfort, as a home in so many ways.  As a breath of fresh air, the way a weekend at my parents’ house can be. 

Now, when I think of bangladesh, I don’t think oh! Now I can say I’ve been to asia.  I don’t think about all the great proximate countries and how to cram them in as cheap as possible.  I think about how hard it will be to experience my first truly blind foreign language experience.  I think about how ill probably be alone, and what will I do for housing.  I think about how they treat women, and wonder whether harassment is prevalent. 

When I think about the Dominican Republic, I think of the comforts of Spanish and familiar food.  I think of the proximity to Cuba and Haiti.  I think about how going there three times in a six month period will be such an asset.  Of course, I also hope there will be enough food, and that I wont get sick of spending so much time there.

I think a lot, too, about the choices I don’t make.  Latin america isn’t supposed to be my focus area.  Shouldn’t I be in Africa or the Middle East?  Shouldn’t, as a friend suggested, I be running back to Cairo?

This is where it gets dicey and where I get all Bell Jar.  Each place I choose is a million I don’t.   And of course, money is always a factor, and my career, and the strength of what I intend to do in this new place. 

How do you pick where you live, go on vacation or work?  For me, a co-op abroad will be all of those things, in its own way.

How I Pay For It

  1. Financial Aid.
    Because I travel through my University, all of my financial aid applies as normal.  I’m getting regular credits, so the travel part is really an extra.
  2. Scholarships.
    NU gave me enough money that it would cost me about the same to go there as to UMass (without full scholarship tuition.)  I’ve also been looking into the additional, overlooked scholarships both at NU and elsewhere, and I’ve been coming up with some serious dough.  A thousand here and there doesn’t sound like much, but for me $1,000 is round-trip airfare to Costa Rica and at least two weeks of accommodations and food.  If your travel is for legitimate, educational purposes, you can find a lot of people/institutions willing to fund it.
  3. Loans.
    Luckily, my loans are all some sort of less-scary student loan.  But I will have debt when I graduate, so that will limit my options a bit.  While I know I can live on $100 a week in some random place, I still need to make enough to pay off my loans.
  4. My parents. 
    Because my travel is educational and embedded in my college costs, and my parents are helping me pay for college, they’re also helping pay the cost of travel.  As an aside, I honestly have no idea how much they are or are not helping, which is part of why there’s no dollar-for-dollar breakdown.
  5. I go to cheap places.
    I love the developing world for oh so many reasons, but that one I always jokingly tell people is that it’s cheap.  A three-course lunch with a beer for $1?  Isn’t Cuba sounding nice?  You can also make some places cheaper by staying in hostels, going to the local market and being careful about when you splurge.  I definitely had a couple amazing expensive nights in Egypt, but in the end they cost like 50 bucks each for a pretty five-star evening.  In downtown Boston, 50 bucks won’t get you very far.  In some places, thats the cover and a couple of drinks.
  6. I work and save.
    NU has the coop program, which means I alternate six months of work for six months of class.  I have made it a priority to only take paying jobs, which is sometimes rather difficult in my major.  But this is a necessity for me, and I’ve still been able to have interesting, fulfilling work in my field, though some people (usually those who do not get the paying jobs) claim that is impossible.  I also work during the semesters when I’m in class.  Most importantly, I’m frugal.  I didn’t pick up my paychecks for my current job until 3-4 months in.  I only spend money on the weekends.  My downfalls? Concerts, clothing, and you guessed it: travel.
  7. Northeastern is Awesome About Travel.
    A lot of the programs I do have been great bargains.  I recently calculated that I spent $11,000 less than I would have if I had been on NU’s campus the whole time.  In Cuba, we paid a stud abroad fee on top of tuition (under $4,000) but that included flights, 2 meals a day, 4 side-trips, museums and the Cuban license.  If I had been at NU, a meal plan and on-campus housing would have been significantly more, with much less pizzaz.  For Egypt and Benin, I paid regular summer tuition (remember, NU students go to school year-round!) and in exchange got the credits, airfare, occasional meals, cultural activities and lodging.  In Egypt there were even more extras, like swanky hotels with floating swimming pools and all-you-can-eat buffets.  Again, housing and a meal plan of some sort would have cost me much more, and even if I just bought my own groceries and cooked it would have cost more than what I spent in Egypt, which was less than $100/week on top of tuition.  And that $100/week is not just food–it was booze, gifts, camel rides, and Nile cruises.

The moral of the story is that even if you ignore the value of the extras attached to my travels, I still saved money.  Make sure you investigate all of your school’s opportunities for travel and additional money.  Look at Fullbrights if you’re graduated, or free travel based on your profession, like the Boston Public School Teacher opportunity.

Travel is like anything else: if you want it bad enough, you will make it happen.  And it was certainly easier for me than it would be to buy a car or something.  Travel isn’t for the wealthy–it just depends on length of stay (longer is better), area of the world (developing and non-resort is better) and your priorities.  If it isn’t a priority for your savings, it will always be too expensive.

Action: a Guest Post by Kandace of One Red Wall

Hey all, so this is my first ever participation in a blag swap.  Kandace from One Red Wall is posting here, and I’ll be posting over at her site.  And can I say that she’s been a perfect doll, even with me being the worst swap partner ever?  Check out her site to read some great posts on taking charge of your life, and making your own happiness.

As I’m sure Delia here has already mentioned, we’re taking part in the 20sb Blog Swap. Meaning Delia was kind enough to let me guest post here on her lovely blog and she’ll be over on One Red Wall today. So don’t forget to head over and check out what she has to say. Now since I ramble on enough in my post, I will refrain from rambling in the intro.

The theme this time is Action. Specifically, something I’ve been putting off a long time that I need to do next year.

GAWD there are so many things. Getting back in shape, getting back to school, paying old debts, making Friends instead of acting all Lone Wolf, all important things. But the first thing that came to mind when I read that?

I need to start saving money to go Bungee Jumping.

I had decided I’d go in 2010 and I just didn’t do enough to make it happen. I put it off to the end of the year when my sister could go with us and the company we planned on using Canceled the whole event. Really, I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford it even if they didn’t since I hadn’t bothered to Save for it. It was like I was sabotaging myself. So I failed. And I’m not doing that again. I Am Going in 2011. I Have to.

I know it sounds … crazy, but I know it’ll change my life. Although I know several people who’d be surprised to find out, the truth is that I am a big Chicken. I just fake it. I don’t even love Roller Coasters. Yet every time I’m around a roller coaster I go get on the Biggest Scariest one there First thing. I will have a mini-freak out in my head all the way up the first hill and as I start the first drop. But then we start the next climb.

That’s when I get over the fear. That’s when I start to love it. As long as I take the biggest and scariest first, I’ll love all of the ones that follow it. No gradual buildup for me. It’s all or nothing. I do that with more than just roller coasters, but I won’t bore you with 100 examples.

I know that when it’s time to go on that jump, I’ll want to go first. And I’ll hate it. All the way down I’ll probably hold myself pretty stiff and cuss at myself about Why the Fuck did I want to DIE?? And then I’ll bounce. And that’s what I want. I know that after the Bounce I’ll love it. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll want to go again. I Know me. I really do love doing risky thrilling things, I just let my doubts and my fear get in the way too often.

And that’s how I know that bungee jumping will change my life. It’s Crazy for someone who doesn’t like roller coasters or that Drop ride thing to Yearn to go bungee jumping, but I do. Almost Everyone I’ve talked to about it thinks I’m Crazy and half of Them say it’s too dangerous for me to do since I have kids. Well guess what? I’m more likely to get broadsided while driving my car than die in a bungee jumping accident. And when I conquer that, I know I’ll look at other things differently. Maybe that sounds like a lot to put on a bungee jump, but I know it will change how I look at things. Hell, every new thrilling thing does, so why wouldn’t bungee jumping do it too?

Technically, it would be easier for me to go skydiving, since there is a skydiving place Right at the edge of town and you can go any day the weather is nice. Maybe I’ll do that next. But for now, I’m going to go on the Other side of town and go bungee jumping (did I mention they have a great bridge to jump off of within minutes from my house?). And if they cancel again, I’ll just have to bungee jump somewhere further from home. But I Will do it in 2011.

After I go bungee jumping I still have to continue saving. I have a European or Australian vacation to plan for 2012. I’ve lived in Europe, but I was never able to go Experience it without Parents or School Agendas or something that made my destination and length of stay Not of my choosing. This time, I want to go and Live Life and just take it all in. I’d love to go solo, but I’m a nice wife, so I’ll let Husband go on my vacation too if he wants to. He’s pretty well traveled and Tired of it so he may choose to stay home.

Of all the thing I know I need to do in 2011, and all the things I know I Will do in 2011… Going bungee jumping and starting the 2012 vacation fund are what I am going to do For Me. I am an older sister, a mom, and a wife, so I have been putting others in front of me for my whole life.

I have bought so many kids toys, and Husband toys… It’s about time I took some action and saved money that is only to be used for something for me.


Shameless Plug

So I love Groupon.  I tell people about it, I email them when something comes up that they love, I give them as gifts and share them with friends.  And now Groupon wants me and a bunch of other college kids to help them promote!

So if you haven’t tried Groupon, here’s the skinny: They have great coupons and discounts and things every day, and if enough people sign up to buy one, the sale happens.  If it doesn’t happen, they don’t bill you.  You get a good deal, the business gets publicity and Groupon gets a cut.  A blog basically IS shameless self-promotion, but I like to be up front about my motives and such, especially since this has a monetary benefit for me.  Normally, the only benefit I get from your participation in this blog is better writing skills and the warm-fuzzies inside, so this is kind of exciting and different.

The downside: there are some reports that Groupon isn’t super-fair to businesses, but at least in all the ones I’ve read they admitted they should have made different terms or simply not dealt with Groupon, and none accused Groupon of going against their word/contract.

The most common downside: buying a Groupon and then forgetting to use it.  This is why I find it’s best to buy them (and then spend them) with friends, so you won’t all forget.  Or to just carry them around with you.

Here’s my referral link, if you’re interested.  Full disclosure: normally, a person gets $10 in GrouponBucks if they refer a friend who buys a Groupon.  Because of this special promotion, (now till Dec 7) I will get $20 in GrouponBucks.  So if you were going to join/buy Groupons anyway, I would appreciate it if you’d use the referral link.

-End shameless self promotion-