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surviving with limited resources

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I submitted this essay just now for my online english composition class. A class i tried to get out of during registration despite being a prereq, but have come to enjoy. Hopefully, i get the A that i want hehehe. (i’ve never been this grade conscious!)

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The Problem That I Have Solved
Some people are given the chance to move to the US because of a career opportunity. We were one of those people. But unlike most, we weren’t welcomed with high-paying jobs, modern-looking apartments, travel perks, or any of those incentives that usually come when you land on a work visa for a first-world country. My husband was given the chance to pursue graduate level studies on full scholarship under one of the most prominent professors in his field. A different route than most Filipinos take when moving to the US, nevertheless it was a chance to pursue the American dream – so we took it. The experience has proven to be most difficult, yet most satisfying. One problem I can think of that I was able to overcome during our first few years in the US was how we survived with limited resources.
According to www. city-data.com, the average household income in Virginia for 2008 was around $5,000 a month and the median contract rent for most apartments was $791. However, the graduate student salary provided by most universities assumes a typical student’s expenses. In Virginia, this is roughly $1,200 a month with a take-home pay of about $1,000. This salary was never derived as means to support the expenses for a married couple; much more, a couple that also needs to save a significant amount of it for their future. To spend all the month’s salary was not wise in our situation because scholarships for foreign graduate students are as volatile as can be. Being able to save was as important as allocation for expenses because the savings would serve as a cushion, especially if we would have to cut short our US stay and come home without a graduate degree and a job to support us.
This was our biggest problem then. However, it was mainly mine for the simple fact that my husband was too busy with course and research work to deal with it. I was in charge of our family’s finances and failing to be able to get a grip of it would create irreparable repercussions. This would have been solved immediately if I were able to get a job to augment his salary. However, finding one while requiring a non-immigrant worker’s visa was not easy to come by.
Through helpful Internet sites, books, and from precious advises of fellow foreign students who have dealt with the same limitation for years, I was able to come up with methods on how to carefully manage the meager resources we had. These methods basically followed these simple principles: (1) Allocate monthly savings before monthly budget; (2) strict monitoring of every dollar, (3) get it free. If you can’t – find the cheapest alternative to everything; (3) deliberate before buying; and lastly (4) be creative and resourceful.
I used a simple excel file to monitor our finances. Every dollar spent was religiously recorded to this file, all receipts were kept, and bank balances counter-checked to make sure everything was accounted for. Savings was fixed at $250 a month, no excuses. This was kept in a separate account to ensure that we would not be able to spend it unknowingly. To save on rent, we did what most foreign-students do; we shared apartments. We rented a two-bedroom apartment in a high-rise, less than a mile away from campus and shared it with a nice Chinese couple. Included in the monthly rent of $500 was electric, water, gas, cable, and Internet access. This brought us to a balance of $250 for variable expenses – food, entertainment, and gasoline when we eventually saved enough to buy a car. We are both foodies, so scrimping on food was not a welcomed idea. However, I love cooking so this became a good challenge to me. I made almost everything from scratch (pancake, waffles, bread, pasta sauce, pizza, desserts, etc) since pre-made items are the more expensive option. I never bought meat that is not on sale, so I figured out the best days to visit the grocery when meats would be at a discounted price. I don’t bulk buy since we couldn’t afford it, instead I carefully planned each meal to the last detail, buying only enough for each or making use of the same ingredient in different meals. Also for the most part of our graduate student life we didn’t own a car, so I walked to the nearby stores and carried the items in backpacks (free workout!), which also meant I couldn’t carry a lot. Being Asians, rice is our staple food that, fortunately, is dirt-cheap compared to other forms of starches. We also learned to love chicken and pasta dishes, the most-affordable meals you could prepare. Since produce is a bit expensive and we eat a lot of them, we created a mini-garden in our 9th floor balcony and planted cilantro, cherry tomatoes, basil, and other small plants. For toiletries and other house supplies, I got them from the local dollar stores. Entertainment was usually provided by the university and is often free of charge – movies on the weekends, cultural conventions and meet-ups, or cheap tickets for ballet, plays, and musicals by the local theater group. I even volunteered at the IMAX-theater to get free entrance when we watch an IMAX movie. But most of the time we simply explored historic Richmond on foot, with a packed lunch and our camera. Almost all our furniture were acquired in time through donations from foreign student friends that would graduate and were passing on the items they, too, have received from students before them. All other things that we needed: clothes, shoes, kitchen equipments were either bought on sale from the cheapest discount store or scavenged from the local thrift shops that we have learned to love. My mom, who lives at Las Vegas, offered to shoulder a cell phone family plan for the three of us that we could stay in touch. We didn’t carry health insurance so we did our best to stay healthy. When we find ourselves sick and in need of a doctor, we would go to the free clinics in Richmond, which luckily, were staffed with the best doctors volunteering from VCU, a high-ranking US hospital. If we needed to get anywhere that is not within walking distance from campus, we relied on the kind hearts of our good friends or the tedious but reliable public transport on weekdays. We paid everything using our student credit card to qualify for cash rebates, but we paid the balance in full every month so that we don’t acquire any finance charges.
It may not sound as difficult on paper, but it was in real life. By learning to be frugal and being on top of our finances, we were able to stay together while learning what may be one of the most important lesson of our adult life. We could have had easily bought in to the prevailing consumerism here in America when we moved, if we weren’t forced to solve our problems by being frugal. True, we weren’t able to experience the American way of life more during those first years because of our strict budget. We never dined out or traveled as much as we wanted to or were able to buy the things we desired but not needed. However, being able to find enjoyment without the need to consume, in a way, made us less materialistic and more appreciative of the simple things that life offered.
In the end I guess our gamble paid off and I don’t think I would change anything if given the chance to do so. Despite following our strict budget, we still managed to acquire several big-ticket electronic items and a car, as well as travel to New York, D.C., and Las Vegas. Through frugal living, we were able to save 30% my husband’s salary as a graduate student, around $8,0000, which meant we survived on roughly $700 a month for two and a half years! I am very proud of this achievement and I am happy to report that we barely changed our frugal ways, despite my husband’s current sizable compensation. At the rate of saving and investing that we are in and if all our plans will be realized, it is possible that we could retire after only ten years of hard work! Hopefully, that will be our future.
Sources: http://www.city-data.com/county/Richmond_city-VA.html

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Categories: others

roger ebert is right

January 17, 2010 2 comments

i was reading Ebert’s review of “It’s Complicated” to see if he thinks it’s as crappy as i thought it was when something he wrote caught my attention. he said that women keep secrets by sharing it with her closest girlfriends, as depicted in the aforementioned movie. how true that is – that something doesn’t seem real – until you’ve told your closest friend about it.

what’s the fun of keeping secrets when you can’t tell anyone? but i don’t think it’s the “fun” part that’s bugging me. it’s the fact that i don’t have anyone to tell my secrets to. pathetic, i know – but not any less accurate.

there are a lot of things i miss about my past lives, having really good girlfriends is one of them. every woman needs one, more than needing a male partner- come to think of it. i need one, but where to look?

i have been, consciously – looking. i have tried to fit a few candidates during the recent years, but none seemed right. i guess it’s knowing how the “perfect one” feels like is a disadvantage during desperate times. but i’ve never been really good at fooling myself so there’s no point in starting now.

anyway, that’s that – roger ebert is right, as usual. plus we both thought “it’s complicated” was crappy. how i long to see a meryl streep movie that i’d love – hopefully someday, i’ll catch one.

Categories: films and reviews, others

my 2009 films

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve always loved films, but earlier this year I had this feeling of dread watching films released in the US which are either a formulaic romantic comedy or a blockbuster action adventure. I actually consider myself a big romantic comedy fan, but the quality of those hollywood has been producing lately would either force me to stop midway due to irritation or sleep through it when I watch them late at night. So being the addict that I am, I had to find other sources and thanks to the multitude of online streaming and my subscription to netflix (online movie streaming and dvd rental) I have found great films to watch.

It’s actually a bit shameful that it was only this year that I’ve discovered the wealth of absolutely wonderful films you could find in the world of foreign-language cinema. Well, it’s not that I was completely unaware – I have seen several Kurosawa films (Seven Samurai, Dreams) and some asian wonders (Not One Less, Blue Kite), still I was amazed with how GOOD most of them are. Another expansion of my movie-loving repertoire is watching the must-sees of classic American films. These I was able to discover due to the number of free dvd’s anybody can borrow from the local library, most of which, are American classics.

Listed below are the films I have uncovered during 2009. These films were not necessarily released during 2009, but as long as I saw them that year, then they can be in the list. How can I remember all when I see way too much? Well, they’re that good. Hopefully I can make a review of each soon, but for now I’m posting videos I can find at youtube that would help describe how great each of them are. Limitation: Filipino films are not included in the list for foreign-language cinema for the simple reason that I don’t have a reliable way to watch them. However, one big surprise for me was seeing Ishmael Bernal’s BROKEN MARRIAGE which is probably the best filipino movie I’ve seen. I am trying to find a way to watch all of Bernal’s film without buying them (being the cheapie that I am), hopefully I’ll find a way. If not, then amazon I give in.

TOP 10 FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILMS (filipino films not included)

1. Talk to Her

2. Live Flesh

3. Pan’s Labyrinth

4. Let The Right One In

5. Volver

6. Amelie

7. En La Cama

8. Delicatessen

9. Breathless

10. Persepolis

i just have to include this: Ponyo On the Cliff By the Sea

TOP 10 CLASSIC AMERICAN FILMS

1. It’s a Wonderful Life – I think I saw this during 2008, either way, it’s still #1! 🙂

2. The Philadelphia Story

3. It Happened One Night

4. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

5. My Fair Lady

6. Roman Holiday

7. His Girl Friday

8. Citizen Kane

9.  Manhattan – released much later than the other films in the list, but i’m sorry, had to include it..

10. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

There were a few US films that I was surprisingly delighted. I’m not sure if I can make ten though there are still a lot that I haven’t seen which I would list down too (hehehe). I’ll only post the videos of those which weren’t blockbuster hits.

1. Synecdoche, New York

2. Up
3. Star Trek
4. The Dark Knight
5. Away We Go
6. (500) Days Of Summer
7. The Hangover
8. Julie and Julia – just because I can’t make 10

As you can see, no horror flicks for me. I’m just not a fan.  I get scared way too easily to enjoy a decent horror movie.

Must see for 2010!

Inglorious Basterds
Avatar
It’s Complicated
Up In The Air
Brothers
The Blind Side
Precious
Nine
Capitalism: A Love Story
Yes Man
The Men Who Stare at Goats
Me AnD Orson Welles
The White Ribbon
A Serious Man
Broken Embraces – the latest Almodovar film!

Categories: films and reviews, others

for 2010

January 2, 2010 Leave a comment

i always make resolutions for the new year. whether i keep them or not – i lost count already. most are probably dropped off in a few months but i still believe it helps, somehow. or at least they help you remember the things you hoped for when hope was at its peak for the year. so here’s for 2010:

1. my new mom code: IGGI first.

this doesn’t mean i’ll give in to all her wishes and wants, just that in everything that I’ll do, I would always consider what would be best for her before anything else (well of course God is first, but you get what I mean…). example: read Dr. Seuss books to Iggi and go to sleep by 8pm rather than watching the long-awaited season premiere of LOST’s final season at 9 or prioritize studying that will help me find a job soon to help w/ family’s finances, drawing and coloring flowers with faces later.

2. be a better wife to my husband.

be more giving, forgiving, and caring i guess. not that i’m not already, but when it comes to him, there should always be room for more. less frustration over things i could never control and just be the better wife God wants me to be – period.

3. finish all of Paul’s epistles

i have read some, if not most – but probably not in the way that i’m supposed to. i’d like to study them, try to be an expert of sorts when it comes to Paul’s writing. i haven’t read the whole bible but promising to do so would be futile effort, realistically speaking. so i’ll start with what’s close to my heart, and that is Paul.

4. read more CS Lewis books and finish off Fr. Green’s books.

5. forgive those who have hurt me in the past, simply because it is in the PAST. i know they love me, and the people you love the most hurts you the most. so just stop being angry.

6. 130 lbs by sep! ok, now this is the most unrealistic of these plans but hey, every resolution needs one right?

7.  call mommy more. i talk to her almost everyday, but still – you can always do more for the people you love.

8. less watching movies and tv that’s not worth the time to watch, esp those that i’ve seen already. no more unnecessary FB time and posting. basically, i need to spend time wisely esp now that i’ll be studying while doing all the things that i used to do.

9. achieve target net worth of 85k by end of 2010.

we were able to reach our target for 2009 while buying a lot of things since we just moved to manassas. hopefully we won’t find any excuses not to achieve 2010’s.

10. we should be regularly attending a church service by end of 2010.  

HAPPY NEW 2010!

Categories: others