Saving for Travel – September Edition

I meant to create a Saving for Travel post in August…then I realized that August was almost over so I may as well get a head start on September.

(Um, where did summer go? I am in denial that it’s already September.)

Below is an update of what I did in August as well as what I plan to do in September as far as saving and spending go.

August Recap

August was the first full month I had to save after making the decision to spend next year traveling. It’s still a little (lot) nerve-wracking to look at my bank account and then realize how soon I’m leaving to travel so I knew I had to step-up my game in August (and even more so in September!).

Luckily, August was also the first month I began receiving paychecks from my new job and my hours finally straightened out. Unfortunately, hours at my other job were unsteady which was frustrating at best. However, I arranged my bank accounts so that I have 2 paychecks depositing directly into my travel savings account and the other into my general checking. This means that I don’t see nor do I ever touch two of my paychecks – they may have been small paychecks this month but I know that, at the very least, some money will be deposited every two weeks.

I also began the process of selling my stuff by having a garage sale – I made over $400 in 3 days, which I thought was impressive considering most of my stuff was priced under $10. After the sale I took several bags of clothing to a local consignment shop that splits profits 50/50 – I have no idea how much I’ll end up making but it’s nice to have some money collecting in the background now and potentially continue as I travel.

I also started going through my book collection and sold a few boxes to Powell’s – it wasn’t a lot but it was more than I’d get for having the books on my shelf.

September Goals – Saving

With only 4 months left until my trip I have absolutely no choice (nor do I particularly want one) than to save every penny possible.

In addition to continuing with the things mentioned above, I plan on implementing a few new things to make sure I’m saving every penny.

1.) Set up my pay check to deposit everything over a certain amount into my travel account. As I mentioned above, 2 of my 3 paychecks deposit directly into my travel account. However, the biggest one does not. Though this is used mostly for necessary expenses like gas and insurance I know myself well enough to know that see money = spend money. Now is not the time to buy things I “need” so I intend on figuring out exactly how much I need each week, allowing that much to deposit into my general account, and then having everything else go straight into my travel account. Once it’s there I won’t touch it – the thought of watching that number go down is horrifying.

2.) Ditch the debit, switch to cash. As mentioned above, see money = spend money. But let’s be real – dropping $1 or $2 on silly things is much easier when you’re using a debit/credit card. I constantly find myself making minor purchases on my debit card that I wouldn’t consider if I only had, say, a $20 bill. So I’ll be leaving enough money to for my bills that autopay in my bank account, purchasing gas cards ahead of time, and switching everything else to cash.

Bonus – I’ll actually have change to put in my change jar!

3.) Keep selling my stuff! I got rid of a ton of stuff in August but I still have a ton more to go. This month I will be focusing on selling my books on Ebay.

4.) Add more side work. I was able to pick up two on-going freelance assignments last month. Neither pay a large amount but it’s money straight into my travel fund. This month I’m hoping to add at least one more.

5.) Expand my Lilla Rose business. I am a Lilla Rose consultant and I want to expand my business to help fund the trip. This means advertising, spreading the word, and hosting parties. Even just one or two parties will easily pay for a month of expenses in Nicaragua.

September Spending Goals

I know, I know – I just told you all the ways I’m not going to spend this month. But, well, I like shopping and since there’s only 4 months until my trip, I figured it might be time to start buying some things.

My birthday is this month so, in honor of that, I’ll be making my first big purchases for my trip. Right now that looks like – a backpack, hiking shoes, and sandals, though maybe not all at once. My plan for my birthday is to head to REI and try out some backpacks and shoes – hopefully I find the perfect for me!

Other September Goals

September is really going to be about saving, saving, saving. But, there are a few other things I want to prioritize as well – my health being #1. I’m working insane hours and I’m sure that’s why I keep getting sick. So the goal is to bring the focus back to my health, even if it means shifting my schedule a bit.

Beyond that, my only other goal is to stay on top of everything and stay motivated in everything I do.

What are your goals for September?

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5 Things I Want to Do in Central America

As I plan more of my trip and read posts from others who have traveled throughout the region my list of “must do’s” is growing – much faster than my wallet. The entire region is full of Fun Exciting Things – though this can probably be partially contributed to the fact this is my first major trip.

I know that I won’t be able to visit every region of every country or visit every single place I want – my main focus is volunteering and I will certainly be traveling on a shoestring budget. I absolutely plan on taking advantage of my surroundings and splurging on certain things – isn’t that what this trip is about?

Though my trip is still several months away I have already created a list of Things I Must See/Do. Here are five of those things:

1.) Take Spanish classes. The first question I’m asked when talking about my trip, usually following “don’t drink the water!”, is “Do you speak Spanish?”. When I shake my head and admit that no, I don’t speak Spanish, I get the “Are you crazy??!” look. How do I expect to travel through an entire region when I don’t speak the language?

They have a point – while I’m not completely starting from scratch my very limited Spanish knowledge will not get me far. I remember the very basics but I can certainly write it much better than I can speak it and to listen to someone else talk and comprehend? HA. Forget it!

I am working on improving my Spanish now (more on that later!) but I know my pronunciation will significantly improve when I have no choice but to talk and listen. I’ve been saying I’m going to learn Spanish for years now and it’s finally become a non-negotiable.

If I’m going to travel the region then I’m going to speak the language! This is why one of my first goals is to spend some time at a Spanish language school doing some Spanish immersion prior to the start of my volunteer placement.

2.) Ride a horse along the Caribbean. Guys, I have a confession. I have never, ever in my country girl life ridden a horse. I was the girl with the room full of every type of horse decoration, poster, and model possible but I’ve never actually had the opportunity to ride. It’s kind of pathetic, to be honest.

Like everyone else I have this romanticized idea of riding a horse along the Caribbean (or any beach, I won’t be too picky!) and I figure this trip will be my only chance for a while.

Not sure when or where this will happen but I was inspired by Alex’s experience riding in Puerto Viejo so that may very well be an option.

Mixco Viejo, Guatemala

Mixco Viejo, Guatemala

3.) Ruins, Ruins, and More Ruins. Perhaps the thing I’m most excited about on this trip is the opportunity to visit so many ruins. I am completely fascinated by the history and culture behind these things. It just completely amazes me to put into perspective the work and technology it took to create such massive empires that are at least still partially standing today and compare it to what we have now.

Beyond just visiting the ruins I want to take the time to learn more about the history of the Mayans and the ruins. I want to make this a cultural learning experience – not just me standing on some rocks taking selfies.

I’ve visited Mixco Viejo on my previous trips to Guatemala so I’m looking forward to visiting Tikal and Copan as well as other ruins on this trip.

4.) Volcanoes! (Or singular volcano?) Volcanoes seem to be another plentiful throughout the region. While I have seen a volcano or two from a distance (hey, Lake Atitlan!), I really want to see one up close, hopefully hiking to the top.

Why? I really have no idea – it’s just something I’ve developed an extreme desire to do. Which volcano? I also have no idea. Suggestions are appreciated!

The only volcano I've ever seen

The only volcano I’ve ever seen

5.) Spend at least one day/night in each country. My journey will be taking me from Costa Rica to Mexico so traveling through almost every country is a given. However, I want to make a point of spending a little time everywhere. While I don’t intend to spend as much time in each country as I will be spending in Nicaragua and Guatemala I am setting a goal to spend at least one day/night in every country in Central America, excluding Panama as I’ve already been there. Ideally I’d like to spend a few days everywhere but I don’t want to plan too much so we’ll start with one day/night everywhere.

Have you done any of these things? Any advice? I’d love tips or suggestions as to what ruins, volcanoes, or cities to visit!

 

 

 

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So This One Time I Bought a Plane Ticket….[Part Two]

Now that my heart beat has returned to normal, let me tell you the story behind the plane ticket.

About two weeks ago, I decided enough was enough. I was absolutely 100% sick of running my mouth about travel, making plans I half knew I wouldn’t be able to keep even as I made them, and standing still in the rest of my life as I continued to use “well, I plan on traveling so…” as an excuse to avoid adding any serious commitments to my life.

It was time to do something, anything. Go somewhere.

I pulled out my shiny new Hogwarts journal, grabbed a pen, and sat down to make some lists. I started a page for each of my options – teaching in Ghana, volunteering in Guatemala, au pair in Spain, AmeriCorp 2015 – and started by listing the who/when/where/what and broke down the costs (flight, visas, vaccinations, living expenses). But, let’s be real – all of those numbers just don’t do it for me.

So I started making a pro’s and con’s list, guided mostly by my heart – what did I truly WANT to do?

Financially speaking, AmeriCorp and Guatemala were my two best options. My heart has been calling me to Guatemala for years now but there was still something off with my plan to go for 3 months…

I realized that if I wanted to do this, if I was going to travel, then I was going to TRAVEL.

Without a deadline.

With Guatemala shouting my name and a love for Latin American culture, the decision to head straight to Central America was simple. I started looking at plane tickets and quickly realized that Mexico and Costa Rica, though not the cheapest countries to travel through, were the cheapest to fly into. (Yes, I know Mexico is not technically Central America.)

My next step, then, was to begin researching volunteer opportunities. I do not want to travel to sight-see and say “oh, I was there!” but rather to immerse myself in new cultures and I can think of no better way to do so than to volunteer. I intend to travel slowly and spend an extended amount of time (3 months minimum) at each volunteer placement because I believe that’s the most ethical way to volunteer (and it keeps costs down).

Using Grassroots Volunteering, I quickly stumbled upon a few organizations I felt fit in with my goals and intentions. The first was in Nicaragua and after doing some research to confirm it was a legitimate, worthwhile organization, my plans began to fall into place – I could fly in San Jose, spend a few days in Costa Rica, and take the bus over to Granada to spend a few months volunteering before making my way up to Mexico, stopping in several other countries (including Guatemala!) to volunteer along the way.

The plan was basic but it was enough of a plan (and, it seems, the right plan) for me to take action.

Two days later, I ran home from work, jumped on the computer, and booked a plane ticket.

Pittsburgh to San Jose, January 7.

Though I didn’t realize it then, January 7 is also the one year anniversary of my move to Pittsburgh. It looks like everything is finally coming full circle.

 

 

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So This One Time I Bought a Plane Ticket…

Exactly one week ago tonight I made the biggest decision of my life.

After 3 years of running my mouth about going here or there, I bought a plane ticket.

One way.

To Costa Rica.

January 7th.

Yup.

Cue an overwhelming and conflicting “OH MY GOD I DID IT” and “…what the hell did I just do?”

So yeah. Plane ticket. Costa Rica. Less than 6 months.

Holy shit.

(To be continued…)

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5 Months in a New City – A Pittsburgh Update

It seems unbelievable but it has officially been a little over 5 months since I took a leap and moved to Pittsburgh. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that it has been that long but at times I forget it has only been 5 months – this has become my home and it just feels like I’ve been here forever.

When I moved here, I wasn’t sure what to expect – I had no idea if this would ever become “home”. The first few weeks were awkward – getting used to my living situation, dealing with having no money, and looking for jobs. But then, before I realized it was happening, this became home.

I am currently working 2 jobs that I absolutely love. I truly enjoy the people that I work with and it’s wonderful to be around people who aren’t under the age of 4. I laugh a lot. I get to spend a lot of time writing and I’m working on some projects that I am so, so excited about.

It’s a huge change from where I was in January (or December or November or October) and it’s nice. Really, really nice to be able to say I’m happy and mean it. It’s been a while.

Pittsburgh is a great city but, well, I haven’t gotten a chance to see much of it. Though I am now only 30 minutes from a beautiful city, I rarely make it into the city.

When I moved here, I had all these great ideas that I would find “my” places – favorite coffee shop, favorite restaurant, favorite store, favorite place to go just to get away – and the truth is, if I was trying hard enough, I’m sure I would be able to discover these places.

I may not have found “my places” but I am slowly turning into a Pittsburgher…I find myself paying slight attention to the Pens and Pirates – or, at the very least, I am no longer shocked when I walk into Giant Eagle on a game day and find myself in an ocean of sports gear – and today I found myself saying “pop” instead of “soda”. GetGo has become my gas station of choice and I’ve finally figured out what a gumband is. It’s a slow process but this country girl just may become a Pittsburgh girl – though I will never, under any circumstance, become convinced that “yinz” is a word. It’s y’all, people!

It’s been a weird experience, calling somewhere new home, but I love it here. I am excited to travel this fall but I am no longer running – I am living, here, in the present, and loving (almost) every second.

 

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Saving for Travel – April Spending Freeze

I am terrible at saving money. Really, really terrible. I put money into savings yet somehow it always manages to find its way back into my checking as the balance dips close to zero.

Needless to say, that is a bad habit and, with all of this travel coming up, it’s a habit that can’t continue. I can’t get by throwing a few bucks into savings here and there – if I’m going to Guatemala, saving for travel needs to be my #1 priority.

I’m working on increasing my income which will play a major role in all of the saving I need to do but the truth is, I spend a lot of money on a lot of stupid shit and I usually don’t even realize it. I always think I’m doing great and not spending money but A.) I always find a reason I need to “reward” myself and B.) I’m an impulse shopper. I don’t buy anything expensive but all the $5 and $10 purchases add up by the end of the week.

My goal is to buy my plane ticket by end beginning of May so to aid in that, I am imposing an April Spending Freeze to save money for travel.

In April, I will make no unnecessary purchases.

I’ve broken this down into several categories.

1.) Eating Out. In April, I will not eat out at all. It doesn’t matter how hungry or bored I am – I am only eating at home, even if it means eating Ramen. (Also, minus the Ramen, this is better for my health too!)

2.) Groceries. I probably spend more money on food than any 19 year old should. Obviously I need food and I’m certainly not starving myself this month. However, I am cutting back – I’m going to make it a point to be conscious of what I am purchasing, ditch the expensive snacks, and find recipes that call for fewer or cheaper ingredients.

3.) Clothes/Beauty Items. Summer is coming. My clothes are falling apart. I reallllly want to look good this summer. But, April is not the month for this to happen. I need to remind myself that no matter how cute everything in the store is, it’s not realistic for me to purchase a big new wardrobe anyway because in a few months I will be living out of a backpack and all those cute outfits won’t do me much good. Neither will expensive make-up or whatever else I “need”. The exception to this is hair dye as my hair is two different colors and I look like a zebra right now.

4.) Everything else. There will always be something I can justify buying. I need this for my business or this to help with this project or blahblahblah. Yes, a lot of things can make my life easier. But my focus is on work and saving for travel right now – even though these things can improve another factor of my life, they can wait.

Of course, there are some things I need to spend money on – gas for my car is my biggest expense, along with food (as mentioned above) and my car insurance. There are also a few random things that I do need to purchase and I’ve written them down – once they are purchased, that’s it. My money is officially for my car, food, and travel.

I’m actually pretty exciting about this – it’ll be a good test of my self-control and also force me to prove exactly how much travel means to me as I’m passing up Starbucks for the 5th time this week. I can only imagine how it’s going to feel when I purchase my plane ticket!

How do you save for travel? Have you ever done a spending freeze for any reason before?

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The Return to Guatemala – Take Two

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know about the exciting news I’ve been jumping around about.  If you haven’t, well….I’m going back to Guatemala!

Yes. Finally, after 2 years, I am returning to the country that stole my heart, that has had a piece of my heart every day since I first stepped off the plane 3 years ago.  Guatemala is my “home”, the place I am in love with more than anywhere else and the thought of returning makes my heart race.

Honestly, this trip was unexpected. I’ve been dreaming of returning since I left and though I’ve made multiple plans to return, something always came up. I briefly considered fitting in a trip this summer but with all of my fall plans (!!! details soon!), it just didn’t seem realistic to fit it in.

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But, a few weeks ago, I went out to dinner with one of my high school trip leaders who mentioned she was heading back to Guatemala this summer, along with the other teacher who was leading a church group. Before I knew it a rash “I want to go too!” turned into real plans.

In July, I’ll be heading to Guatemala for 3 weeks. This is made even more exciting because A.) That’s far longer than I’ve ever spent in the country and B.) even though I will be meeting up with the others in Joyabaj, I’ll be on my own for most of the trip, essentially making this my first solo international trip.

I haven’t completely figured out my itinerary for the trip – right now I’m thinking I will be spending a week in Xela visiting my Guatemalan sister and taking intensive Spanish classes and then head back to Joyabaj to visit my Guatemalan family and friends. After that…well, I think I might be a “real” backpacker and leave that up in the air for a while. There are so many choices…the towns surrounding Lake Atitlan, a trip to Tikal, Flores, Antigua, Panajachel…

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Regardless of where I end up, it will be fantastic to finally explore the country. Going by myself and not on a school trip is going to provide a completely different experience, one where I won’t have to worry about restrictions set by teachers or follow a schedule based on what everyone else wants to do. That’s a bit scary – in all reality, this will be my first “big” trip solo and though it’s a bit nervewracking, I’m excited to be able to prove to myself that I can be independent and do the things I love.

It was only yesterday that I realized how close July is – 4 short months and I’ll finally be home!

 

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New Year = New City

Remember how I decided my goal for this year was to be independent?

Well, just 9 days into the new year, I made my first Big Girl decision.

I packed up my car and moved to Pittsburgh.

This is my first time living with anyone other than my parents or grandparents, the first time I haven’t lived in the middle of nowhere, the first time I am completely responsible for myself.

And, quite honestly, this was probably the best decision I ever made.

The majority of my friends live in the general Pittsburgh area. I’m currently living with one. My two best friends are no longer 4 hours away – it will take me only an hour to go see them. The rest of my friends are at college but when they are home, I will no longer need to plan a big roadtrip to go see them. It will only be a short trip up the road.

More importantly, there are things to do here. More jobs available than ever possible back home. I don’t have to drive an hour to get to Walmart or the mall, it’s not going to take ten minutes to get to civilization. If I want to go spend the day in the city, I can do so easily. I’ve always wanted to live in the city and though Pittsburgh was never my dream city, it’s a great place to start.

I’ve been considering the move to Pittsburgh for quite some time, mostly because I wanted to get away and this was the most feasible place to move, but it was never really an option. I had ten thousand excuses as to why I needed to stay in my hometown.

It took everything that my hometown worth staying in falling apart to make me get the hell out of there. Within a week, I lost my two best friends there. Best friend break-ups are the worst and I was completely devastated. I took a week off from work and ran – to Pittsburgh, of course.

The perfect view of the city from Mt. Washington

The perfect view of the city from Mt. Washington

Before I left, I was talking to my boss and she said “Sky, why don’t you just move there? You’re 19, have few responsibilities, and you’re miserable here. If I were you, I’d be running the hell out of here.”

“Well, I want to but -” Suddenly every excuse I’d been using for the past year was no longer valid. There really was nothing holding me back. I called up a friend, asked if she knew anyone interested in renting a room, and bam, I had a place to stay.

It was less than a month between that decision and the day I moved. It was a little crazy, Once I made the decision, I knew it was the right one. There was nothing holding me back. I was ready.

I always said when I moved back to my hometown that I wasn’t going to stay. The plan had been to spend three months there working and then move to California. Yet, somehow, it took nearly two years for me to leave. I don’t regret the extra time I spent there – it was time that I needed to learn and grow and, for the first time ever, I had people around me that truly cared. But I’m a wanderer, I’m not supposed to stay anywhere forever and it was simply time for me to see what I am capable of doing on my own.

The move went flawlessly and though the first few days were a bit awkward, I adjusted quickly. I lined up two jobs within a week, both paying over minimum wage, and I can’t be more thankful for that. I am surrounded by people who love me, just as I was back home, and I honestly feel like it’s a healthy change for my relationships back home.

I’ve yet to make it into the city, thanks to all the snow, but I am excited to explore and get lost as soon as I possibly can. I’m getting involved in things that were not possible back home, meeting new people, and, overall, making significant changes in my life.

And, honestly?

It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

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Here’s to Independence

2013 was one hell of a year. It managed to hold some of my favorite memories and the absolute worst days of my life. I hate to lump an entire year under one label but well, I wasn’t too upset to ring in the new year.

I know that everyone says this but I am really, truly ready to make some changes in my life this year and all of those changes start with me. I have no resolutions but instead set goals and intentions in a bunch of categories that I’ll be sharing later.

I’ve also seen lots of people, including my favorite life coaches, setting a “word” for the year. I’ve never done this before but as I’m not setting resolutions and I so ready to make some changes, I thought it would be a good thing to do.

One of my favorite nights of 2013

One of my favorite nights of 2013

The word I chose to guide me in 2014 is Independent.

Independent. That’s something I haven’t been in a while. It used to be my favorite thing about myself. I worked to earn everything I had, worked even harder to be able to have all the experiences that shaped who I am. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, I completely lost my independence and sunk into a mode where I relied on others for nearly everything. And, let’s be honest – that’s a pretty easy habit to keep. When you’re coming up with excuses to not be your best self, blaming others become pretty easy.

 Not anymore.

This girl loved her independence

This girl loved her independence

I am declaring 2014 the year that I regain my independence, the year I start doing things for myself and begin to see what all I can do. I am taking control and full responsibility for everything that happens (or doesn’t happen) in my life. No one else is going to make me sink or swim. No one ever truly had that power, even when I was willingly handing it over.

I used to have big dreams and goals and you know what? I used to achieve them. I worked my ass off and I did the things I wanted to, got myself where I wanted to be. I ran a fundraiser that raised thousands for libraries, I worked 2 full-time jobs to save up for travel, I spent my nights writing anything and everything, just to get experience, I took 16 classes my senior year to be able to graduate an entire year early. I was proud of myself and my accomplishments.

And now? Not so much.

I want to be that girl again. I don’t know when I lost that love for independence, that pure passion for life, but it’s time to get that back. There are far too many things I want to do to let life pass by idly.

I am taking control again.

Do you set a word for each year? If, share yours below! I’d also love to hear about any resolutions you made.

 

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A Year from Now, I Want to Be Proud

I constantly feel like I’m moving nowhere fast, like none of the decisions I’m making are producing results and that results in a whole lot of unmotivation which then leads to me doing a whole lot of nothing. But the thing is, just because what I do today isn’t changing my life tomorrow doesn’t  mean that it won’t in the long run. And by the long run, I mean a year.

I was talking with a friend the other day about how much has changed in the past year. This time last year, I had just returned from California, where I had experienced homesickness for the first time in my life. I still had plans of going on grand adventures and heading to college. My best friend and I weren’t nearly as close as we were now, my other friend and I were barely on each other’s radar, I was talking to my parents, I was being a productive member of society, and I was doing things that affect my life now.

dreams

I compare life last year to life right now and, well, to say it’s extremely different would be a severe understatement.

That realization brought me to another decision – one year from today, I want to be proud. Proud of the things I’ve accomplished and done, proud of the person I’ve become.

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You know how that’s not going to happen?

By sitting around, complaining how nothing is working, and doing nothing.

That’s my problem – I want results RIGHT NOW. I don’t want to wait a year for my businesses to pick up popularity, I don’t want to learn Spanish the hard way, I don’t want to put the effort into learning something new because none of that is going to get me anything right this second. I will still suck at all of those things and I want to be perfect, I want to be good. RIGHT NOW.

Obviously, that’s a problem. The things I’m doing today – writing blog posts, building a new website, doing squats and push-ups, spending an hour a day learning Spanish – might not drastically change my life today, I might not even notice a difference tomorrow.

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But one year from now, if I keep all of those things up, the difference of what could be is huge. I could be making a profit with my business, I could have a decent following on my blog, I could be a little more in shape, I could be almost fluent in Spanish.

It’s often said that we overestimate what we can do in a day but underestimate what can be done in a year and I highly agree with that statement.

I’m going to work on nothing thinking of things in such a short-term mindset and considering the benefits that I could be seeing a year because in a year, I am going to be proud. I have the potential to make huge changes in my life and the only way to do it is one step at a time.

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