Author: Tassoula (Page 1 of 13)

Is it time to consider debt consolidation?

The pandemic hit many of us hard. Emotionally, physically—and in some cases most severely—financially. With comparisons to The Great Depression as noted in this Investopedia article, it has been a year.

I, for one, lived an admittedly comfortable life and seldom worried about money until I found myself out of work for over a year during this most catastrophic time. After my severance pay ran out, I relied on unemployment benefits and the odd freelance assignment while I depleted my savings and racked up debt on my credit cards. It was unnerving and I’m incredibly grateful I made it through, never losing my home or my car.

Now, I’m back on my feet in a job that I love, doing fulfilling work and attempting to climb out of the monetary mess I couldn’t help but get myself into, but I’m wondering about the fastest path to resolution.

I recently began researching debt consolidation. What I learned is that there are many ways to go about tackling debt:

• You can pay down your highest APR credit card first, to eliminate the biggest potential debt from growing any further.

You can transfer credit card balances to a low-interest card … provided you’re sure you can pay it off before the rate spikes after an introductory period.

You can eliminate all ‘extras’ including some amenities like cable that many, like me, consider necessity).

• You can negotiate lower APR percentages with your creditors (apparently sometimes all you have to do is ask).

But the main way many choose to overcome this burden in one fell swoop is to take out a Debt Consolidation Loan. The thought process behind this is to combine all that you owe into one convenient (potentially lower) monthly payment with a reduced interest rate that allows you to pay the entire sum down more rapidly. Seems like a no-brainer … or maybe not?

Some may understandably not want to go through the loan approval process or worry about the risk of missing a loan payment, which can impact one’s overall credit score. A lower monthly payment, which frees up more cash for spending, may also psychologically make you breathe a little easier about new purchases, which isn’t necessarily a good way to squash bad habits (if your debt is a result of any extravagant or unnecessary spending).

However, if you did maintain a good credit score during the tumultuous economic pandemic roller coaster and your debts are medical in nature or were honestly incurred due to simply staying afloat, debt consolidation may actually be a good solution.

It is estimated that it can take nearly 30 years to get out of $10,000 of credit card debt, so expediting the pay-down process in one way or another is definitely a plus. With more research and deep dives into all of the debt reduction options available to me, I’m sure I’ll find a solution that’s both feasible and reasonable.

Anything to take the sting out of the situation and realize there’s a light at the end of the tunnel …

How to Explore More This Summer

Whistler BC
Photo by Coby Degroot/Pixabay

The world is coming back to life just in time to make the most of what summer has to offer. One of my favorite pastimes is adding to my ever-evolving “bucket list” of places to explore. My criteria for the list includes the following:

  • The destination has to be somewhere I’ve never visited previously.
  • There has to be something in nature to do at said destination (even if that’s not the main purpose for visiting).
  • The destination must include the availability of an activity that I’ve never done before (i.e., when I went to Fairbanks, Alaska, I went dog mushing).
  • There must be at least one type of cuisine at the destination that I have never sampled before.

Neighbors to the North

Living so near to Canada, pre-pandemic I visited the country every few months to see art exhibits at Vancouver galleries, stock up on my favorite tea (only sold there) and explore new places around British Columbia. 

One area that’s quite popular with my friends who love to ski, is Whistler. Seeing their Instagram photos of beautiful snowy vistas has always made me want to go, but the more I research it, the more I think I’d actually like to experience it first in the summertime. 

So, does it qualify as a Bucket List destination?

It is somewhere I’ve never visited previously, so that’s one requirement met. But what about the other variables?

Recreational Opportunities in Nature

Of course, as I mentioned above, skiing is the no. 1 activity in the region, but as I did my homework, I realized there are several things I would enjoy in the great outdoors there:

I hike regularly at home, so a great trek in the Canadian countryside sounds ideal. I’d especially like this jaunt.

I was delighted to see that like Seattle, they have their own Green Lake.

If I really want to be part of the snow, I could also take a glacier tour.

A Unique Adventure

An activity that I’ve never done, but would love to do is zip lining and that appears to be an option readily available in Whistler:

I love the eco vibe of this group.

Admittedly, this also looks exhilarating.

A Taste of Whistler

Something I’ve heard a lot about are Whistler Jeggs—a savory pancake that I think I would definitely enjoy, if they’re all presented as extravagantly as this.

So yeah … every Bucket List requirement is met. But what about the vibe?

Real Estate Reality

A great way to tell if an area is thriving is by browsing homes and values in nearby areas. Looking at the beautiful properties here, it appears Whistler is going strong. Check out the real estate for sale in Whistler.

When the border is open—hopefully next month or the month after—I may have to make Whistler, BC, one of my first excursions

Renting vs. Buying … The Inequality Real Estate Issues Sparked by Covid

As I continue to research whether it makes more sense to rent or buy in the current landscape, I find more and more evidence that the pandemic adversely affected rent prices for those not in affluent areas and also possibly drove up housing prices in the process. As if it isn’t already hard enough to catch a break in this economic climate …

For example, in King County where I live in the Seattle area, the median income is approximately $103k — and rents actually decreased (though I can sadly say, mine personally did not). Compare that to Pierce County, which is further south, where the median income is around $79k. They saw a 21% average rent increase, which leads me to believe something is clearly wrong with our system. The more rural and suburban areas seem to be getting punished for their hardships.

Historically the fluctuation in rents has not been directly correlated to the geographies aligned with specific income levels. More often it appears the trends follow the economy of the area (i.e. when Amazon thrived in Seattle and several wealthy tech professionals moved in, everything skyrocketed).

Now, seeing headlines about the local housing market being “on steroids,” I can’t help but think this is an awful time for a first-time buyer who doesn’t have $800k readily available to consider even looking for a property. There is also an urgency to lock in the rates us renters currently have, if possible, because increases are on the horizon for just about everyone despite trending down in my county during the outbreak of the virus.

In a bigger picture sense, I think the markets are upside down in many locations because the coronavirus changed the way so many people work. Some who had never telecommuted before became masters of their home offices and realized how productive they were when not confronted with constant interruptions or on-site office distractions. Now, they don’t want to go back. Alternatively, companies realized how much money they could save from office space and commuter reimbursements and how much less damage they could do to the environment for allowing their teams to go remote. If anything positive came out of the disaster of a year that 2020 was, it was these revelations.

I made the switch to telecommuting in a hybrid way back in 2016, then took on a new role at a startup to work exclusively from home the following year. Every job I’ve had since, including the one I have (and love) now has been 100% remote with only occasional travel (which I also love) required. The beauty of it is that if I want to pick up and go to another city, or even another country, I truly could. I already juggle multiple time zones, so really life wouldn’t change much.

Those with families are finding they may prefer their children and pets having a yard to play in vs. a busy city street, or are simply tired of the fast pace of life near where they work. They’ve discovered that they now have the freedom to choose where to live without risking job loss—and so they’re selling (at a great price) and perhaps even upsizing (at an even better price) in a less populated city or state.

I’ll be curious to see in five years what the trends look like once everyone is settled. Hopefully our collective mental health will improve, the environment will get cleaner, the system will right its wrongs with regard to inequality … and the housing prices will come back down for those of us who hope to someday own vs. rent.

To Buy or Not to Buy: Is Now the Right Time?

Since I arrived in Seattle in the summer of 1999, I’ve contemplated whether or not to continue life as a renter or take a big leap in life to purchase property. When my career was just getting off the ground, there was no way I could afford anything in the neighborhood I was renting in at the time (a suburb just north of the city), but as my salary grew, I began to consider home ownership more seriously. In the summer of 2019, I thought I may be in a financially stable enough place to begin looking … and then we all know what happened: The pandemic arrived. Now, I just have to research, calculate and breathe to make a determination either way.

Pros and Cons

Every time I prepare for a big life decision, I make a list of the pros and cons of whatever outcome I expect from said decision. Considering a home purchase, my list looks something like this:

Pros

  • It’s a potential wealth-builder.
  • Paying a mortgage on time regularly could boost my credit score.
  • I could paint the walls whatever color I want (this is something I’ve desired since I moved out of my parents’ house at age 17).
  • It would feel good to put down some permanent roots.
  • I wouldn’t need to ask someone’s permission to install a satellite dish or knock out a wall to increase the size of a room.
  • I would feel like an adult (finally, in my 40s).

Cons

  • The upfront cost is significant.
  • If something breaks or needs replacing, that’s on me.
  • Property taxes are high in my area.
  • If I marry or remote work is no longer an option in my career, I can’t just “pick up and move.”
  • Covid-19 has increased the prices of homes.

My Financial Reality

Though I survived a spell of unemployment and ultimately re-shaped my career for the better during the pandemic, like many Americans, I’m still nervous about what the future may hold. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected and learn to adapt to whatever the world may throw our way. Though there are places like Freddie Mac that have increased the flexibility for buying during these trying times, I still have to consider the impacts to my life if I begin taking on a big mortgage payment and also prepare for unknown costs like repairs if they should arise.

Solving the Equation

As someone who excels in language, I’m unfortunately not great at math of any sort. Thankfully, there’s a helpful website that specializes in mortgage calculators that doesn’t require any number gymnastics to get the answers I need about buying a home for the first time. 

I used the Mortgage Qualification Calculator to help determine what salary I need to make to realistically afford the type of home that I’d want to buy and preserve the quality of life that I have as a renter. There I can take an amount from one of the listings I’m interested in and plug it in along with my current debts and budget details to have an accurate scope of what I’m truly capable of owning.

The Outlook

So what have I decided to do? Unfortunately there are still too many unknowns for me to make a final decision. Like one of those classic Magic 8-balls, my reply will be to “Ask Again Later …”

Return to Reality

I wasn’t allowed to do much as a teenager. I couldn’t date boys or go on overnight trips in groups where boys would be present—I wasn’t even allowed to cut my own hair (which made me all-the-more alluring to said forbidden boys).

I grew up in an ultra-strict household, ruled by my abusive, alcoholic Greek immigrant father who had irrational views on child-rearing in 1990s America. Never mind that my mother (the sweetest, kindest woman you could ever know) was American and had been raised in a household with few rules, yet turned out as prim and proper as one could hope. Never mind that I was an honors’ student who had skipped a grade, never got into trouble and possessed an IQ that qualified me for Mensa membership. Never mind all of that. I was pretty, so therefore would certainly ‘sin’ if given the chance.

Around age 16, as a junior in high school, I began considering colleges for a future escape. Learning that I was investigating schools close to home in Oregon, my older sister gave me perhaps the best advice I’ve ever been given: “Go as far away to college as you possibly can—something not within driving distance. Get away from him.” And as the Universe so often does, once that seed was planted, it began conspiring to make it happen.

Soon I was writing for a regional student newspaper, working in the newsroom of the city’s daily paper, The Oregonian, and solidifying my plans to pursue a career in journalism. One of the “perks” of this new role was the opportunity to represent the West Coast at a journalism workshop that summer in Washington, DC, where I’d live in a dormitory at George Washington University with fellow teenage journalists from around the country and work on a national student newspaper.

In the months leading up to that trip, I took solace in one of the few things I had total freedom to do: Choose to watch whatever I wanted to on television.

I chose The Real World on MTV, which ran on an almost continuous loop from May to August that year. It was the perfect coming-of-age show for me, as I could identify in some way with each of the cast members, all of whom were just a few years older than me.

I was a dancer like Julie—captain of the dance team at school and enrolled in private lessons for my true love, ballet.

I was a writer like Kevin—captivated by poetry and journalism alike, he was discussing the things that mattered and doing so in an eloquent way that I aspired to emulate.

I was musical like Heather, Andre and Becky—blessed with perfect pitch and years of playing the flute, I was always singing or performing in some capacity or another.

I was a model like Eric—my first jobs were fashion shows for my local Nordstrom store, which evolved into additional work as I got older and more comfortable in my own skin.

I was an artist like Norman—though not professionally, I offered my best attempt at watercolors for anyone who would observe.

The original Real World was nothing like the trashy shows we associate with reality television today. It was an unvarnished look at seven young artists trying to make their way in New York City, living with a group of people completely different from them, yet also so alike in many ways. It was most profoundly a metaphor for life: We are all constantly navigating the world with people very different from us, but yet, whether we see it or not, people who are very much the same.

I wanted so badly to have an experience like theirs—and in a way, I did. The journalism workshop made me take my first solo flight (which began a compulsive travel habit that only paused for the pandemic) and delivered me to a group of soon-to-be close friends from the Midwest and East Coast who were of different faiths, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.

The workshop itself was life-changing—the first conversation about the still-recent Rodney King trial and resulting rebellion led to very uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations amongst the students; my time with a mentor from the Hearst Newspapers taught me interview skills I still use today. And it nudged me to take my sister’s advice, moving a year later to Columbia, Missouri to attend Mizzou for their award-winning journalism program.

But I could never shake the emotional attachment I had to the seven people I watched repeatedly in my youth, at a time when I needed them most, which is why when they returned this year for The Real World: Homecoming, I literally cried. I’d thought about them all over the years, catching various reunions they filmed and Googling them every-so-often to see where there lives landed, but this was different. They were moving back in, to the same loft in New York City, with the same people.

I had apprehension, as I didn’t want the sanctity of the original to be compromised, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case at all. This new production captured all of the magic of the original by showing us how the individuals had evolved (or in one case, regressed) and most importantly vibrated with the love they all still feel for one another and their shared experience.

After a year of almost complete solitude (my only visitor being my 80-year-old mother), curling up to watch these six sacred episodes felt like more than a guilty pleasure binge. It felt like a reminder to reflect on how far I’ve come from that damaged, naive young girl from the rough side of Portland and give thanks for the continued learnings about race, spirituality and love that our present world brings.

Georgia, It’s a Matter of Life and Earth

Though there are several vital policies dividing voters in the Georgia senate race, the one that reaches far beyond the residents of that state is the fight against climate change.

As someone who votes clear across the country, I beg those eligible to vote in Georgia to please consider our natural world when you complete your ballot.

There are clear differences in the stances of each candidate. Here’s a snapshot in case the voter pamphlets aren’t thorough on the often-overlooked topic:

David Perdue has an abysmal voting record when it comes to the environment. One only has to look at his Conservation Scorecard to see where he stands on the climate crisis.

Jon Osoff, Perdue’s opponent, in contrast is fighting for an aggressive investment in clean energy.

In the other race …

Kelly Loeffler is one of the strongest supporters of President Trump’s anti-environmental policies, most likely because she personally profits from them.

Rev. Raphael Warnock, Loeffler’s opponent, has perhaps the best record of fighting for Mother Earth, from supporting efforts to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord to bringing leaders together to take action on the environment, the list is long.

Georgia voters, we need you now more than ever. Please cast your votes for Jon Osoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock. Our lives literally depend on it.

If you live outside of Georgia and would still like to help, make a donation here.

R.I.P. to My Favorite Tree

I moved to the Seattle area in the summer of 1999 for my first marketing job as a writer for Nordstrom. I knew no one in the city when I got here and like any new space, I enjoyed learning about my surroundings and discovering hidden treasures for the first few years after arrival.

In those early days I lived in a woodsy apartment complex in the Northern suburb of Shoreline. A nature trail literally ran through the property, and just down the street was a city park and recreation center where I took various dance and fitness classes. I walked to nearly everything I did: to the bus stop to go to work; to the movie theater that was nearby; to the grocery store that existed back then.

My dentist was only two blocks from my front door and I loved walking over to his office because each time I did, I passed my favorite tree. The first time I noticed it was in the fall, on a blustery, rainy day. It was a burst of red and yellow swaying in the mist as I hurried down the hill. On my way back, the rain had let up so I took a better look from across the street and marveled at how many hues it had, while the trees near it were one solid color (still green or completely red). I vowed to come back and snap a photo when the weather was better. And I did—every year thereafter.

I moved into a house away from this neighborhood just over a decade later, but made a ritual of returning annually, usually the week prior to Halloween, to capture this beautiful tree during its most gorgeous autumn peak.

It became a place of solace too. The photo above was taken in October of 2006, when I was still enduring the pain of the worst breakup I ever had. I remember walking up and down the hill, going across the street, taking as many shots as I could of this natural wonder so i could remain in the peace of its space. Just standing there so vibrant, it was a comfort.

In 2015, as seen here, I lingered because I was contemplating the upcoming holidays without my Dad (he passed earlier that year). I walked back and forth, thinking about the reliability of this tree to be here for me in ways even family couldn’t.

Last year, my stroll around the tree was a therapy session, as my position had been eliminated at work and I was promising myself I wouldn’t take another soul-sucking corporate job; I would find something with purpose if it killed me. As I scrambled to cram all of my medical appointments in before my health insurance expired at the end of the month, I also got a flu shot that day . But I wish I’d spent more time with “my” tree before I did.

Today I woke up in a bad way, only a few hours after laying down to pings on my phone. After two cups of coffee and completing the task that those pings were about, I decided to set out for some fresh air to shake off my bad vibe.

I went first to walk the (outdoor) Scarecrow Festival in Edmonds, which was a welcome sight, and then to pick up some groceries. Because it was so sunny outside, and I still wasn’t emotionally feeling 100%, I decided to detour to visit my favorite tree and snap the annual photo.

I nearly crashed my car.

I pulled over across the street, where I normally leave my vehicle each year, but when I got out, I had to look twice at what street I was on … because there was no tree!

I got a lump in my throat, my heart began pounding and tears welled up in my eyes.

It was gone. And there were new, different types of trees along the fence that weren’t there last year, but my tree—the tree that has been my constant comfort for over 20 years, heard my cries and prayers and joy—was no longer.

I walked back to my car in disbelief, audibly cursed the wrath of 2020 and burst into tears.

I hope it wasn’t sick. I hope it didn’t suffer. I hope whoever did this had a damned good reason for doing so.

I collected myself and took one last look at the hollow space before driving home, thinking to myself something I’ve honestly been thinking a while … “There’s nothing keeping me here anymore.”

Time Traveling in the Time of Covid

For the most part, I think I’ve handled the pandemic well.

Unemployment, isolation, lack of health insurance … I could’ve gone mad from the stark contrast of the vibrant life I was leading less than a year ago in comparison to today’s seemingly never-ending roller coaster, but I’ve (thankfully) endured with a positive outlook.

I retreated into nature when able, threw myself into volunteering and focused on my own spirituality and wellness. I stopped eating junk; reduced my meat consumption to just-on-weekends and returned to a natural sleeping cycle thanks to no ‘9 to 5’ commitments. I also resumed working on my pop culture memoir, sent more handwritten letters and postcards to love ones and renewed many wonderful friendships.

I don’t take those silver linings for granted, but I also won’t pretend that part of me isn’t grieving the life I once had. I’m a traveler. Since my first plane ride as a baby, the sky has been my second home. I need to see new places; I need to return to sacred spaces; I crave changes of scenery the way many crave ice cream. I told a friend recently I miss the smell of jet fuel. I was being honest.

I always had jobs that allowed me to travel and allowed me enough leisure time for vacations to … also travel. I’ve had ‘elite’ status on at least one airline every consecutive year for over a decade.

I built trips around holidays and rock ‘n’ roll concerts and film festivals. I made a second home at a beloved boutique hotel in another state where I used to write and hang out with my second set of dear friends at least once a month. I went to cities and countries just to see specific art exhibits or natural wonders.

Now, as I sit in my Seattle house for the 7th month of quarantine, although many restrictions have been lifted, there is still no place for me to go. So late at night, when insomnia gets the best of me and I’ve exhausted my Netflix queue and read chapters of the most recent book until the words run together, sometimes I search online for concerts I attended in person back when that was normal. I try to remember who I went with, what time of year it was, where we ate before the show, how it felt when the band played the song I most wanted to hear, etc.

The most recent I got lost in is the show above—it was Outside Lands in San Francisco, August of 2008. I was there with my friend Marylinn and we made a weekend of it, touring a Frida Kahlo exhibit, attending church at the Glide and eating a lot of delicious food. Radiohead were the band went for, but we also saw Beck, Tom Petty and a few others. We spoke about it recently on a Zoom call and remembered different details about the trip (playing non-stop U2 on a pub jukebox; waiting in line for a special breakfast place; me having to wear the shirt she bought at the show over my own because I didn’t plan for the cool evening).

It’s a different kind of therapy, but one that’s bringing back a lot of great memories and reaffirming why I never felt bad about living in the moment. These shows are like little time capsules and I’m enjoying building a catalog of links to re-live these memories at will.

I’m so grateful for my past adventures and those I shared them with over the years.

24 Hours of Reality: Countdown to the Future Happens This Weekend

This Saturday, as a recent graduate of the Climate Reality Project Leadership Program, I’ll deliver my first presentation to a private group for the 24 Hours of Reality: Countdown to the Future event.

The Climate Reality Project in partnership with TED are hosting two incredible days of (mostly virtual) presentations and discussions “exploring the future we want and how we get there.”

So, why am I doing this?

Because I care. Because much of what I learned in our intensive training this summer was very frightening. Because if I don’t do something, I’m part of the problem.

Here are some of the statistics that motivate me to take action:

  • 110 million tons of manmade global warming pollution is spewed into our atmosphere every 24 hours … by us.
  • Carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere faster than at any time in the last 66 million years.
  • 93% of the extra heat trapped by manmade global warming pollution goes into the ocean.

It’s all very disturbing, but also, for the most part, preventable. There are solutions and there is hope.

And we must listen, respond—and cling—to that for the sake of all of our futures.

If you’d like to join a public presentation in your area this Saturday or Sunday, click here.

A Moment for Mother Earth

While Covid-19 devastates the human population worldwide, its consequences lessen the impact of the climate crisis.

Italy, France and Spain are on lockdown, the U.S. has closed schools nationwide, Canada has sealed its borders. With nearly 8,000 deaths and over 198,000 infected across the globe, there is a collective sadness permeating our reality. It may seem difficult to find a silver lining in such trying times, but there is one: The benefits to the environment that this pandemic ripple effect provides.

Less Transportation Pollution

Major tech companies have implemented mandatory telecommuting for their employees, which removes thousands of commuters from the rush hour equation. In addition, multiple airline carriers will be forced to reduce flight schedules in the coming months (which will hopefully also end ‘ghost’ flights). Both of these actions result in a vast reduction of pollution and conservation of fuel. Furthermore, if companies that haven’t previously permitted telecommuting see productivity remain consistent, it may encourage them to adapt the policy long-term.

Waste Reduction

The news reels after major sporting events and music festivals almost always show massive amounts of garbage generated by audiences, the majority of which ends up in landfills. With the cancellation of large gatherings and conferences that bring thousands of people together, large volumes of waste won’t be generated. This reduces the release of methane and the greenhouse effect that would result from it.

Plant-based vs. Meat Consumption

Another way the coronavirus impact reduces methane production is through our altered pattern of food consumption. As officials are advising everyone to stock up on non-perishable items, it’s pasta, rice and beans that are flying off store shelves instead of meat and dairy products. Furthermore, restaurants are closing or remaining open only for carry-out meals, which causes them to order less food for preparation, including meats.

Recovery of Natural Areas

With quarantines in place and non-essential travel nearly eliminated, many resorts, parks, beaches and other natural spaces that would usually see a lot of activity from humans are getting a break. This means an organic rehabilitation not unlike (yet not as regimented) as what the government of Boracay, Philippines did a few years back to restore their damaged environment.

Healthy Actions for Ourselves and Mother Earth

So, what’s the best way we as individuals can both protect ourselves from the outbreak and be good stewards of the environment along the way? 

  • Stay informed with frequent updates from the World Health Organization.
  • Wash your hands often (and properly), with guidelines from the CDC.
  • Find light in healthy distractions.
  • Respect grocery store limits so your less vulnerable neighbors won’t be short of any necessary supplies or food.
  • Continue to recycle, remember to care for your plants and flowers, and avoid single-use plastics. Basically, do all of the things you would normally do to foster a healthy environment.

Above all else, remember to breathe, practice social distancing and limit the amount of disaster news you consume each day.

We’re all in this together.

« Older posts

© 2021 Tassoula

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑