Author Topic: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero  (Read 4914 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« on: March 06, 2016, 12:58:39 AM »
Hello there!

So, here's my story: After graduating from high school I wanted to get a job and go to community college part time. My middle class parents said absolutely not, so I ended up going to state university for two and a half years (I earned about 80 credits/half a bachelors degree), after which point I moved back home due to massive depression and feelings of purposelessness. At first I was still depressed, but I started recovering quickly and picking up hours at my summer job. They were really glad to have someone with the most flexible schedule ever, and the pay was good, but the hours were crazy unpredictable and the environment was stressful ($12/hour, 8.5-9.5 hour days, sometimes just one or none a week, but often 2-3 days and I got 2-4 weeks of full time work a couple times). About 5 months ago I found another job, that pays a little less but has steady, reliable hours and is a 1 hour walk/10 min bus ride from my mom's house ($11/hour, 25-30 hours/week split over 5-6 days, mostly half day shifts). The new job is retail/printing work, the summer job was legal copy/print work.

Since then I've been putting about $1000/month into savings, with an initial goal of $10,000 for an emergency fund, plus $3,000 to cover my move out expenses. Currently, I have $5000 in savings, about $200 in checking, $2500 in a Roth IRA (this was a Christmas present from my grandmother), and about $3500 in "oh shit" money. I know it's a bit old fashioned/paranoid, but I don't count the "oh shit" money as savings or even as part of my emergency fund, because its purpose is to be a second safety net in case the emergency fund fails. Feel free to explain why this is a terrible idea, but know that it probably won't change my behaviour, as it's something I've been doing my whole life.

I have tentatively secured a roommate, and will be moving out in either August or September, at which point my expenses will jump from ~$100/month to at least $600, probably more like $700. (I don't have the option to live rent free any longer than that, as my parent's rent is being raised and they will also be moving around that time.) I'm not happy about this, but it's the reality of the housing situation in my city, and being close to my family and having a supportive work environment is important enough to my mental health that I don't want to move elsewhere. I'm hopeful that I'll still be able to put away $3-500 a month, but I'm not sure how realistic that is.

My expenses will be something like:
Rent: hopefully $400?
Utilities: $100?
Phone: paid by parents
Bus pass: $100/month, paid by parents
Food: $100
Misc: $100

TL;DR: For the first time in my life I have a reliable paycheck, which is approximately 13K/year. I have some college credits, but no degree and no desire to go back to traditional classes. I have no debt. IRS filing status: single, no dependents. As far as I know I get almost all of my taxes money back because I make so little. I live in Oregon. Savings are currently at $10,500 all told, with $2500 of that in a Roth IRA. None of it is invested, I don't even know where to start on that. I'll reach my emergency fund goal after another 5 months/$5,000. No real idea of where to go after that financially.

I would appreciate feedback on what I've done so far, plus advice on: How to invest IRA money? How to invest/what to do with other long term savings- I am literally a baby when it comes to this, I've tried to figure it out with google and FI blogs, but I need someone to put it into small words, or point me to articles that do so. Also: creative advice on how to save money in a city where rent is sky-rocketing, recipes for eating healthy on a budget, possible ways to turn 80 university credits into a degree with minimal additional cost/class time. Also, anything else you would do if you had no debt and your whole working life ahead of you.

Thanks sincerely and please let me know if I left anything out!


Edited to add (sorry this post is now so long):
Thank you, I'm very happy to be here! I left out a lot of the emotional/personal stuff because I didn't want to have a monster-length post and wasn't sure how relevant it was.

I get pretty strong situational depression. The jury seems to be out on whether this qualifies as a mood disorder or not, but it's very real to me. Basically, it means that there is a hard limit as to how long I can tolerate certain conditions, and experience the normal symptoms of depression like apathy and despair with increasing severity while the conditions are in place, but that fixing my enviorment produces a semi-immediate improvement. The purposelessness I mentioned was my way of describing what it's like after I hit my limit and before I can fix my circumstances.

So far the two main causes of this have been exposure to the American educational system, and living alone and far away from my support group. The latter is pretty easy to fix, and was really only a problem because it caught me off guard the first time.The former has been a significant barrier in my life. I *think* I'm a pretty intelligent person, and I have a strong drive to learn new things, a good work ethic, and a desire to contribute to society. However, I absolutely cannot stand the kind of manufactured, highly formalized, and isolating sort of academic work this is absolutely required in universities. This is partially due to some unfortunate experiences in my formative years, (I was an anxious, quiet, child who learned quickly and tested well, but got horrible grades. My schools handled this very poorly.) but mostly due to my learning style. I need a lot of interaction with my teachers or at least with other students who understand the material, and I am very oriented towards practical applications, the history and origins of said applications, and the practical reasons and realities that drive decisions. I like talking, reading, watching and then imitating patterns, and doing things with my hands. I pretty much can't write essays unless they're done in class, my anxiety just won't let me, however I can explain/debate/converse on the essay topic well enough to prove I know the material (this is how I convinced many of my teachers to let me pass their classes in high school). As far as I know I don't qualify for any sort of accommodations at the college level because my issues aren't the kind that I can get diagnosed for. And I'm not sure I want to waste any more of my life in classes that are either too easy or too abstract and don't teach any practical skills. I especially don't want to go into debt to do so.

As you surmised, my father paid for my tuition and living expenses while I was in college. This was contingent upon my doing things his way: going to a "good" school, getting the "right" type of degree, taking a full course load, not getting a job except during the summer, and letting him monitor all my activities. The problem was that all of these are things that either contributed to my depression or ran directly counter to my goals in life. I've never had a good relationship with him (my parents divorced when I was little, and for good reasons), and the strain of me trying to get him to help me in a way that wasn't terrible for me caused us to fall out completely. There is no chance that he will fund any future endeavours of mine. (And honestly I wouldn't want him to.) My mother is a wonderful supportive person who is the only reason I've managed to recover so well from dropping out, but she doesn't have the financial resources to do anything more for me, (my father controls all the savings accounts set up by my parents for me and my siblings) and I refuse to let her go into debt on my behalf (although she's offered).

In my two and a half years I studied chemistry (wanted to do material science but that wasn't available), and computer science, with a bit of art and history on the side.

If I were to go back to school I would want to learn something specialized and useful that I wouldn't be able to learn as well by just trying it on my own or finding a job where it was part of my training. Obviously it would also be good to get a piece of paper that says I'm smart and qualified to do things, so certificates in various things are also on my list of possibilities. My main passion is making useful things- think industrial design and building- and the list of things I've considered going back to get a degree in include: business, drafting, carpentry, metalworking, applied ceramics, and building maintenance/electricity/plumbing. I love the idea of an apprenticeship, which is basically a full ride scholarship with a large work-study component, but I'm concerned by the amount of driving that is involved in most (currently I have neither licence nor car). I'll admit I've had a bit of a defeatist attitude when it come to scholarships, in the past my thinking was that my GPA wasn't good enough for the academic ones, my situation not unusual enough for the non-traditional ones, and my family too wealthy for the need based ones. If I were to go back later, at least two of these would be solved, so that's good.

Future Goals and Work Ideas
I would love to get into making jewellery, pottery, or small scale objects in wood, paper, or leather as a side hustle, but I don't see those becoming my main gig. My eventual goal is to open a private library- patrons subscribe, pay dues, and in exchange get a set of services personally tailored to their needs and devoid of the battered, grimy feeling sometimes associated with public libraries. (Don't get me wrong, I love public libraries, but I'm NOT getting a master's degree in order to work in one, and I'd like to have the opportunity to so this thing in an unusual way.) I see this as a goal that's at least 10-15 years out, and something that I would continue to do after retirement.

My current plan is to keep the job I have for at least two years- the hours are super flexible, and I plan to take advantage of that in order to take on secondary jobs/internships that will teach me things I want to know. I think this might be a better fit than school, and is much less of a risk. Currently, I'm starting an internship at a tech recycling nonprofit where I will learn how to build computers, and get a free computer and recommendation letter out of it. After that the plan is to do a work trade for membership at a maker space, and hopefully pick up some skills or make friends that can teach me more about wood or ceramics, at worst pay reduced prices for classes on those things, and maybe be able to use the facilities to make something I can sell? If not, at least I'll have really cool christmas presents to give.

After that I'm not certain, I'd like to get another paying job, but don't know what exactly. Maybe something in the food industry that could lead to either free meals or learning to cook? I'm not opposed to a job that just pays the bills, but it seems suboptimal. I've also thought about being a receptionist, dishwasher, traffic flagger, legal assistant/filing clerk, or being an assistant to a real estate agent or business owner (I'm very helpful, and have some familiarity with law). The last three would probably require a car, and that would be a huge extra cost I don't have to deal with right now, so maybe not worth it.

Basically, I want my work to be either making things, fixing things, being outside, exercise that won't wreck my body in a few years, helping people, or a combination thereof. For well paid work or work that provided medical/retirement benefits, I would be willing to give up most of these, as long as there was still a positive work environment and I had the potential to keep learning new things and the potential for advancement.

I would LOVE feedback on whether these seem like good ideas, and especially on any way my plan for implementing them could be improved. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details and I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried something similar.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2016, 07:36:12 PM by rawrshark »


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2016, 10:28:40 AM »
Welcome to the forum! It's great that you're taking this life/money thing seriously, and I think you picked an awesome community from which to solicit advise.

To get it rolling, sorry to hear about your past depression / lose of purpose, but it sounds like that is fully behind you, now? As you consider what you want to do with your life, think of the specific circumstances and actions you took that CAUSED the depression and separately the specific actions you took that EASED the depression. This will likely be a better indicator of how you should be living your life than the opinions of random super intelligent and interested internet posters.

Next, since you have half a degree with no debt, I'm asumming you had parental/grandparental support or massive grants/scholarships for school? Any opportunity for that to return should you want to go back to school? Also, what were you studying before you dropped out returned home?

I'll leave the rest for other posters, but to answer your question at the end:

I would spend the very large amount of free time afforded me by only working 25-30 hours a week (and the security of having an entire year of living expenses saved) by really trying to figure out what gives my life purpose (i.e. solving problems, creative arts, charity work, youth, religion, family care-taking, etc.) Then I would freaking get after it with bat-outta-hell intensity and balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm knowing there is actually nothing stopping me from achieving my goals except my own doubts and fears.


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2016, 05:59:47 PM »
First of all, major kudos to you. I'm figuring you to be about 21 years old, and you've already saved over $10,000. That's awesome and gives you a lot of options that most young people don't have.

First of all, what kind of work would you like to do? If you don't have a strong opinion on that, what kind of environment do you want to work in? My first goal would be to land a full-time job. Living on your own is tough if you're only work part-time. The second priority would be to figure out what you want to do long-term whether that's find an employer that offers some room for advancement, learn a trade, join Americorps or maybe even return to finish your bachelors. Figuring out what to do with your life is tough, and most of us never feel that we have everything planned out. The most important thing is to keep moving forward.


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #3 on: March 06, 2016, 10:41:11 PM »
Have you ever been screened for ADHD? What you're describing sounds very similar to my high school and college experience (I also dropped out of college my junior year!), and I was just diagnosed with ADHD last year at age 33. Not sure if you're female (I am), but ADHD manifests differently in girls, so many girls are never screened for it. Being diagnosed with ADHD (and then treated for it) was like finding a missing puzzle piece.  It explained SO MUCH about my life. And depression and anxiety both occur in a VERY high frequency in women with ADHD.  (I've got those too!)

There's a pervasive anti-mental illness slant on the MMM forums, particularly towards treating mental illness with medication. Some posters get super boot strappy, but mental illness is real (as you very well know) and it should be treated like any other illness or disease. I'm FUCKING DONE with the stigma around mental illness and medication, AKA DRUGZZZZ. Medication has truly changed my life. I spent 30+ miserable years with untreated anxiety/depression (minus a few months here and there when it got so bad I couldn't function, so I took SSRIs for a few months until I felt better and promptly stopped them) and even more years with untreated ADHD.

I fought the medication HARD due to the stigma against mental illness that I internalized, despite knowing that I felt markedly better on anti-depressants. I even stopped taking anti-depressants for 6+ months or so (but continued in therapy), only to end up super depressed and anxious again. On meds I am very much my usual self (no personality loss or deadening of emotions), but I feel so much better, my relationships are better, EVERYTHING is better. Like how the normals feel!

This may all be old news to you because you're already in treatment, and if so, good for you, and apologies for the rant! But if you aren't already being treated for the anxiety and depression, I would highly recommend you seek treatment. You can get low/no cost therapy and/or medication management at universities, community health centers, even a primary care doctor.  Once those are treated, I bet planning for your future will be much, much easier.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #4 on: March 06, 2016, 11:40:04 PM »

I haven't been here that long so I haven't noticed a bias one way or another, but it makes sense, given the relatively privileged status of people who are even able to conceive of/plan for something like FI. I hope you don't let it get you down, and kudos for speaking up with a more pro-dealing-with-the-source-of-the-problem viewpoint. I'm really glad to hear that you've found meds that work so well for you, and that you were able to overcome your internalized stigma.

I've never been screened for ADHD, but I have been in counselling and would like to go back if I can. I haven't really tried to find mental healthcare (or any healthcare, really) since I dropped out. (Technically I am still insured, but it's through my father and because he's done the high deductible/HSA thing, I'd have to send the bill to him and hope he pays it. Soon I'll be transferring to Medicaid, but for family reasons it's best if I wait it out for a while.) It's been very discouraging how many "free" options are only available to students. I suppose I could fake still being enrolled easily enough, but it wouldn't sit right with me. From the way you worded your post, it sounds like maybe you have experience with low cost/free services that don't require student status? Could you share any more information about that?

ETA: Yes, I am female. After doing some reading on ADD in women, I don't think I have the symptoms described. I'm afraid that in all the ways that doctors care about I am "normal"... privately I suspect that I have a the tiniest sliver of something on the autism spectrum, but again, not in a way that I am likely to receive help for. I would take it if it was available, but since it's not I'm committed to building the activities that keep me healthy into my life, ie eating healthy, being outside, socializing and acting happy, confiding in people I trust, exercising, sleeping regularly and long enough, and doing work that I find meaningful. Hope that doesn't sound too bootstrappy :)
« Last Edit: March 07, 2016, 12:13:50 AM by rawrshark »


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2016, 04:53:42 AM »
I think it's great that you're building in healthy lifestyle habits and routines! For people who "fly under the radar" or don't qualify for services (and even for people who do receive services) bibliotherapy is often recommended to help people learn more about their mental disorder and take steps to manage it.

If you think you might be on the spectrum, there are some great government funded, evidence based resources out there. For example, is one that comes immediately to mind.

There are also a slew of good books out there to teach people on the spectrum how to deal with life. Even if you don't actually have a diagnosis, you may find the strategies to be helpful. For example, Google turned up the following, along with a long list of other books, which may be available at your local library or via inter-library loan:

Living Well on the Spectrum: How to Use Your Strengths to Meet the Challenges of Asperger Syndrome/High-Functioning Autism

Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety: A Guide to Successful Stress Management

Asperger Syndrome and Employment: What People With Asperger Syndrome Really Really Want

Asperger Syndrome Employment Workbook: An Employment Workbook for Adults with Asperger Syndrome

Developing Talents: Careers for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism

I don't really have any financial advice, but I'm thinking this may help you sort out what you want to do, find meaningful work, and possibly increase income, which in turn potentially leads to increased savings and help you on your journey.


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2016, 08:01:59 AM »
It really seems like an apprenticeship would be a good path for you. LINK:

My husband worked for the carpenter's union for a couple years and I work in the utility world - both are filled with tradespeople who don't need traditional college degrees. There are so many apprenticeship options that lead to stable, well-paying jobs. You get paid while apprenticing, your education and training is highly hands-on, and you are funneled into a journeyman position through the apprenticeship. Even in rural LCOL areas, journeyman carpenters, plumbers, and electricians/lineworkers make over $40k here in the Midwest.

I see you talked about fearing you would need a car for an apprenticeship. Are you opposed to obtaining a license and beater vehicle ($2000ish) with liability-only insurance coverage? If you have the money saved for a vehicle and wait to pull the trigger until you have an apprenticeship lined up, then you would see an income bump right when you actually need to buy the vehicle and set-up insurance. Or you could discover that the training facility is already on your bus line.

That would be my first stop on future planning. Otherwise, serious props on your savings abilities and also for getting help and figuring out what you need to do for your mental health. That's a daily decision you're making to be healthy and look for happiness and it's awesome that you're making that a priority.



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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2016, 08:23:56 AM »
I'm one of those posters who is always talking about cognitive behavioral therapy and the book Feeling good, the new mood therapy. I hope I don't come off as being anti medicine. For me, the process of finding a therapist for counseling and finding a psychiatrist is so completely overwhelming I couldn't handle it. Anyways, I think that getting treatment is number 1. There is also facial expressions tests online for diagnosing ASD.


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #8 on: March 07, 2016, 11:40:23 AM »
Thanks for not being annoyed with my rant!  :)  I'm actually lucky enough to have had insurance for most of my adult life, but there are several low cost options in most areas. Additionally, many therapists offer a sliding scale based on income.  This is probably a good place to start for ideas: When I searched for "low cost counseling" I got back a lot of local recommendations.

To be clear I am a big fan of talk therapy/cognitive behavioral therapy. (mezarI actually really like the Feeling Good book and I'm a big fan of CBT-my post was really directed to many of the posts I've seen here slamming medication.)  For some people therapy alone isn't enough (I'm in that category, obviously), and that's where the medication comes in.


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2016, 12:34:17 PM »
Okay now let me offer a response to your actual original question! I followed a somewhat similar path to yours in that I dropped out of college my junior year and worked full time. (I actually worked 2-3 jobs total, 1 full time and 1-2 part time.)

I was a manager full time at a clothing store and then switched jobs to work at a locally owned boutique where I was the manager and the buyer. I did that for about 5 years learned a ton-I could have easily opened my own store or worked as a buyer for a larger company, but I decided I didn't want to pursue either of those options.  I ended up going back to school to finish my psychology degree, which opened up many more job opportunities for me. I ended up working in research, and that led me to my current position at a university. 

My recommendation would be to find a job and/or internship/apprenticeship at a smaller business or company. (It sounds like you're already pursuing this.)  You're more likely to learn about multiple areas at smaller places. Having experience in many areas will make you more attractive when you do move on.

And I wouldn't completely discount the possibility of going back to school in the future. I didn't think I would go back, but when I realized I didn't want to work in fashion long term I decided to. I was able to go to school full time and work full time (due to my solid work history at the store I was at and the flexible hours).


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2016, 12:47:01 PM »
Hey, as someone who has had issues with anxiety and depression and is a Materials Scientist, I figured I ought to chime in.

Depression/anxiety - I see you have already done CBT and thats great.  I would also look into exercise as therapy (walking/running to get heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day, outside is preferable) and meditation/mindfulness.  I have dysthymia with a side of generalized anxiety disorder.  I have used medication (prozac) at times when the depression got the best of me, and it is very helpful in terms of getting me the motivation I need to push through.  I personally never had huge issues with school except for middle school when I used to have anxiety attacks.  By high school I got a handle on it enough to be able to do pretty well.  I always felt comfortable in the structure of school and it's certain rules.  It is real life and it's uncertainty that I have more trouble with....

Your issues with school remind me a lot of my son who is on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum.  He just butts heads with teachers all. the. time.  He is smart, the classroom is anxiety-provoking for him for sure.  He can do math very well but has trouble with writing essays and other aspects of the educational system. I am really wondering if there is some type of alternative college or educational system that might be a better fit for you.  Or have you considered a trade, maybe something mechanical in nature, something very concrete?  I just say this because your goals are going to be a lot easier if you can earn above $13K a year. 


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Re: Case Study/Life Advice: Starting from Zero
« Reply #11 on: March 07, 2016, 11:57:55 PM »
Thank you all for the responses! You guys are great :)