2019 About me

Why I decided to get back into volunteering

I’ve been spending much of Dec 2019 plotting and charting and plotting some more. The end of year is a natural time for reflection. For a planner like me, I want to plot out all possible next steps and decision trees.

On my mind for 2020, as it has been for the last two to three years, are: housing, career, and relationships with family and friends.


For housing, I vacillate between my apartment (easy, default); moving in with my aunt in Maryland (cheapest); my family’s not so subtle suggestions that I move to Florida to be nearby for Aunty MERJ (most emotionally demanding); buying a home (less predictable); or moving to the Midwest (geo-arbitrage).  There are none that really meet both my emotional and financial needs.

One day, I’m really sure I can just move to Maryland and suck it up and get to FIRE. The next day, a house makes sense financially. Mostly, I just want to get my all-in housing costs to be under $650 without a roommate. Because I haven’t found that, the available options offer different varieties of compromise. Thus the vacillating- which compromise will have the least negative effect. That I don’t know. Emotions are so hard to predict.


I keep thinking if I tweak this response and answer this interview question better or publish something or write something or join an organization or respond quickly, I’ll be able to secure the next position. The world says don’t give up, and my latest mind was telling me to keep trying..but only for the next three months.

When I’m at work, I want to do everything to leave (and never come back). When it’s the weekend, I am more easily able to convince myself to stick it out until FIRE.  In this particular moment, I just want to see my three pending applications to completion.  Or I could just focus on putting my head down and grinding it out.  Then I think- I don’t see myself becoming a whole new person in the next 3 months. Although the thought of sending out new job applications was giving me something to look forward to and focus on for the first part of 2020. It was a project, and I was getting excited to see it to completion. But with the housing picture getting clearer, focusing on the job hunt seems less appealing. Its outcome is still unpredictable.


My friend recently took custody of her cousin’s baby. As my friend tells it, my friend wanted a baby, a baby needed a home, so my friend didn’t hesitate when she got the call.  My friend is now in the process of adopting the baby. That makes sense at a cursory glance. It made me think about my cousins overseas who I could adopt so they could have a chance at a better life in America.

At one point, I always believed I would take care of a child who needed a home.  I guess I had a different picture of need. I thought I would feel more compelled, I suppose.  Am I too laser focused on FIRE to see the need? Are my FI plans too rigid?

And then there’s the pressure I feel from extended relatives to re-arrange my life to take care of Aunty MERJ. People do this; this is a thing that people do. My roommate’s mom moved from North Carolina to Maryland with my roommate’s young sister when my roommate had her baby.  My roommate’s mom provides childcare and emotional support for my roommate while my roommate works.

I tell myself if Aunty MERJ had a home I could easily move into, it would eliminate one hurdle. But would I still move to Tampa or would I find another reason not to? Ultimately for me, Aunty MERJ has a lot of needs and when she knows I”m nearby, she tends to be less independent. She gets a lot of help from her apartment community and an aide that comes by the house. But everyone is so concerned with her being alone. To me, if I moved to Florida, she would still be alone.

Oh and there’s the trouble of relatives, near and far, asking for money.


So to redirect my angst about housing and career, to combat some of these social pressures and subsequent feelings of guilt, I decided to get involved more with volunteer work. It’s one task I can choose and see to completion; it’s an outcome I can control (at least the non-emotional bits).

Volunteer work will give me something to do with some of my weekends instead of applying for jobs. Volunteer work might help me see other parts of my community and make it less undesirable to stay. Volunteer work might help ameliorate some of the feelings that I should be doing something more to help other people.

My last degree program required some volunteer work, so finding organizations to volunteer with was the easy part.

So how much of myself do I give? 

I know tithe is a line item in my budget, but it appears there more as a suggestion of what to do with left over money.  Not because I’m stingy, but because I know I’d give what my family asked for.  In 2018, I gave away about $5,700 and in 2019, I’ve given about $3,500.  I don’t know how to limit it. But today, I found a way.

The Bible says 10%. But do I do 10% of Gross? Net? My Fire Budget?  From my 2020 Proposed Budget, I would have $137/mon left over for unbudgeted expenses, so I started there. It amounts to about $1600/year which is not 10% of anything. My plan was to just make up the rest in the time I spend visiting and coordinating care for Aunty MERJ.

How much is 10% of my time?

I went back to dollars and cents. After much deliberation of how to valuate my hourly rate, I went with $40/hr. I took into consideration: my hourly rate ($40+/hr), how much I make doing nothing ($0), how much I could command on a part-time job ($18/hr), emotional labour, corresponding doctor’s visits ($40 co-pay) from the aftermath of a visit with family/friends, and the value of a weekday vs value of a weekend day.  All that landed me at about $40/hr.

Then I looked at my anticipated gross salary in 2020 which is 100k x 10% = 10,000 / 40 = 250 hours.
Then I looked at my 2020 Working Budget which is 26k (haven’t reached it yet, FYI).. so 26k x 10% = 2600/ 40 = 65 hours.

So to manage guilt over how much I plan to contribute financially and of my time, I decided to target a volunteer hour service range between 65 hours and 250 hours. I’m counting travel time and time spent in Florida with Aunty MERJ; time it takes to coordinate care; completing tasks related to my aunt’s care; any other family obligations; and my other community service hours.

I also plan to take my $1,644 targeted tithe amount into consideration when family requests that require my money are concerned, for example attending graduations and weddings or sending money overseas.

Tentatively, my aim is to send $600 overseas in Jun and another $600 in Dec. That leaves about $444 for 1 or 2 trips to visit Aunty MERJ  or to attend any other family obligations.

For me, having a plan gives me a foothold to anchor my decision tree. Otherwise I’m not sure if I’m giving enough or too much.  Having a plan prevents indecision from freezing me in place. And if along the way, I find I need to reassess, I at least have somewhere from which to start.

And even though my tithe line item in 2018 and 2019 was more of a suggestion, it has helped guide this decision.  Being able to see the impact on my finances helps inform future decisions.  That’s why I like budgeting and spreadsheets; they make finances measurable and traceable. Reading other people’s stories of having to/ getting to help their family helps as well. For me I just need tools I can use to help guide decision-making.


Aunty MERJ wants to go to a cousin’s wedding in May 2020 in Michigan. I already said no, I’m not doing it! Because I was already fearing the emotional toll and having to be responsible for coordinating her travel and well-being while she’s there. I was already picturing pawning the task off on her siblings knowing they wouldn’t help. But now I know I have these “volunteer” hours available and budget to work with.  This now becomes manageable.

It’s the same task. It’s the same amount of time, effort and emotional labour, but now I know I have a bank of resources from which to withdraw.  That’s how plans help me.

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