Calculating Your Way Through Life

Pre-Alegebra, Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, Pre-College Math, Intermediate Algebra, Math for Liberal Arts, College Algebra, Finite Math, College Calculus, Elementary Probability and Statistics, Introduction to Linear Algebra, Analytic Geometry, Discrete Math, Math Content, Essential Geometry, Abstract Algebra, and the list goes on. Every high school and college is determined to cram as much math down our throats as possible before releasing us into the real world. As an English aficionado, I rebelled against the system as much as I could, by putting off algebra until 9th grade, squeaking out of high school without having to touch real calculus, CLEPing out of College Algebra, and selecting a major that only requires two math classes. I didn’t care how much my mother, teachers, and professors assured me that I was good at math or how many A’s were slapped on my Algebra exams. Three credit hours and a CLEP test later, I was gonna be done with math for the rest of my life… Or so I thought.

I graduated from pre-nursing here at DBU, and I had 8 months of freedom in the real world, until I would begin my two year adventure of nursing school. I decided to plan ahead and be productive, as my professors taught during their mere sixteen weeks with me each of my four semesters at DBU. I had heard from multiple sources that working during nursing school was nearly impossible, so saving up enough money with this eight months gifted to me should probably be a priority during my time of nothingness.

So, Responsible Michelle got a job; well, she got another job, technically, because she already had her marvelous job at the DBU Writing Center. She got a job as a medical scribe. But because she had two occupations, she started living like she had disposable income. She ate out with her friends several times a week, bought Starbucks whenever she wanted, frequented Sonic for her favorite Mini Reese’s Sonic Blast with M&Ms, bought Ed Sheeran tickets for her sister’s birthday, and otherwise lived like a queen, even taking her parents out to eat a couple of times. Then, one day, she decided to check on how her savings were going for nursing school, only to find they really had not grown at all. In fact, they were smaller than they had been when she graduated from DBU. Responsible Michelle learned that she was not responsible at all. Responsible Michelle then realized all of those math and finance classes she took in high school and college were not lying when they tried to teach her that if she spends more than she makes, she will not be able to save any money. Emphasis on tried.

Even as “Responsible Michelle,” she still needed a game plan. She didn’t work 40+ hours a week to enter nursing school in the same financial situation that she had when she had graduated from DBU. I needed (drum roll please)… a budget. (Insert face palm and crying emoji here.)

There were two ways I could do this. Thankfully, I had actually been paying attention in math class when budgeting was explained. I knew I could write down on paper all the needs, wants, and expenses I expected each month and assign appropriate percentages of predicted paychecks to each item on the list. However, I had a goal. I couldn’t just will-nilly buy every Starbucks, Sonic, and Ed Sheeran wanted. I had to save enough money to survive a whole semester just in these few months, no matter how much that Grande White Mocha with Peppermint was calling my name.

Seven hundred and fifty dollars per month is what I needed to save! With four of the eight months left I had to try to be responsible, the savings would total an additional $3000 dollars that could be added to the bank account. Problem: this would only leave, give or take, $250 dollars a month. (I see those raised eyebrows. I chose these jobs for the experience, not the money. If you can find a medical job that pays more than $8 an hour but does not require any certifications or medical training, let me know.) I had recently acquired a car, thanks to my parents’ moving overseas, but that now meant that I needed money for gas, oil, repairs, and insurance (none of which are cheap, when you often drive 45 minutes to get to work, believe me), in addition to all the other expenses I already had each month.

I grimaced as I opened the calculator on my phone. Why, oh why, had it come down to this? Enough complaining; I needed to get it done. So I got down to business. I added up the hours I would work in each paycheck, which differed every day because I rarely worked the same hours each week. I then remembered it was not as simple as taking that number and multiplying it by the number of dollars I made for each of those hours. Oh, no, the government had to take its chunk out of that hard-earned money first. Since I was paid hourly, I used an online website to do that part of the calculation for me. I did this for both paychecks for the month. Too much math to recount later, I had the amount of money I would earn that month.

Somewhere along this journey, I found the Dave Ramsey app EveryDollar (which I highly recommend, btw). I inputted my income information for September into this app, and I then started the process of subtracting out the things I knew would be charged to my account that month (sigh). There was a bunch of math required surrounding my car, from having to calculate the mileage of my car to calculating the number of miles I drove to and from work every day. Then I had to add in the periodic oil changes, insurance payments, and unexpected maintenance. The monthly payments for my child sponsorship and Spotify membership, and the yearly payments for Amazon Prime were also subtracted from this amount. I had so much math to do, but I did it all!

I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I had spent hours doing all of these initial calculations, but it was done. That first month, I could not go out to eat, buy another Starbucks, or really do anything that I wanted to do. But the next month, I was able to do a little more, and, the next, even more. I started catching up. Budgeting seemed horrible to me at first, like a grumpy parent that wouldn’t let me do anything. But I no longer second guessed my buying choices, and my heart didn’t sink when I had an unexpected expense. A plan was in place, and I put what I wanted and needed into that plan. My life was a little less stressful, as I knew I would now have plenty of extra money for nursing school, while still having enough for gas and groceries. I knew at the very beginning of the month how much money I needed to make when arranging babysitting jobs or extra shifts. My life had the structure it needed to make it easier now and more rewarding by achieving future goals.

Goodbye, oh beautiful Pumpkin Spice Latte with those crunchy orange sprinkles and frothy whipped cream. Goodbye, my sweet, savory PeiWei Original with Chicken and noodles, my love. My dear Ed, while I adore your perfect skill and sessions of thinking out loud together, there is a higher calling for those numbers in my savings account. I am on to better things, to higher things, things that, sadly, outweigh my love for all of you. My bank account requires more of me, a better me, and a version of me that understands what is really a priority in this life. I need to again become and further aspire to be Responsible Michelle.

Written by Michelle

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