Voices of MainStreet: Eleni Geldis


A Life Lesson Learned Outside the Classroom

Sept. 9, 2011

It was a “Late Day” at my central Ohio high school when I first heard of the attacks on the Twin Towers.  Despite the years passing and my absolutely atrocious long-term memory, I still have some incredibly vivid, image-laden recollections of that day, even 10 years later.  The only reason I heard anything on the radio about it was due to my being late for the Late Day, typical for me at 16. They came on reporting that a plane had crashed into the first tower, and it really seemed like it was an accident.  It was almost inconsequential; the news story of the day, to be sure, but nothing local and with very little personal impact.  Even when the second plane hit in chemistry class, it didn’t quite register – two plans hit buildings right next to each other? What are the chances? Someone had to point it out to me within minutes for me to fully comprehend.  Perhaps it was the shock – but maybe also some subconscious part of my mind didn’t want to accept it.  My world was being turned upside down, and I didn’t want any part of it.

I was incredibly fortunate – all the way in Ohio, I didn’t know anyone yet who worked in that area where the attacks occurred.  We tried so hard to get TVs on in our classroom, and we all dropped our lab duties to focus on what was happening.  When the bell rang to send us to second period, we slowly made our way to our next class (mine was math) and stopped to find friends and assess the situation.  We slowly obeyed when the second bell rang for our next class.  In each room TVs were on and we all huddled around them, trying to wrap our minds around what was happening.

I remember from that day something that I will never forgive to some degree in my mind.  In my math class, my teacher wouldn’t turn the TV on.  Students were crying, talking, unable to focus (obviously), and my teacher wouldn’t let us watch the events.  She wanted us to “focus on our work.”  Focus on our work?  Our world was being slowly torn apart, piece by piece like the debris falling from the towers, and we were supposed to be learning Trigonometry? Really?? We actually had students get up and leave my class, ones who had personal reasons, such as family, friends and loved ones in the city at the time, and march down to the principal’s office to make a plea to watch the events and call their parents.  Fortunately, my next class was history, so we had the TVs on full volume, watching, mesmerized, trying to soak it all in through the shock and horror.  Through it all, I was stoic.  Shocked, but I didn’t cry.  I didn’t really know what I felt yet, or what to feel, to some degree.

At lunch, we were allowed to call our parents to take us home.  I called my mom, just wanting to get home.  I remember it hit me like a ton of bricks as soon as I saw my mom and got in the car – I was no longer safe.  My beautiful, free, safe and happy country I lived in was no longer safe.  People could murder innocents en masse for no apparent reason, and it was a pivotal moment in my life.  This intense sense of security and safety was shattered.  I had no idea how safe I had felt until I no longer felt it.  It all hit me so fast that I literally laid across the seat in the minivan and just sobbed uncontrollably.  My poor mother sat in the driver’s seat, helpless to comfort me, as we drove the short distance home.  I think in many ways it was a test for her – how do you address something like this with a child who has always thought the best of people?  Who would never imagine people could be so evil?  Who couldn’t comprehend what we had done to make ourselves and our country the object of such pure hatred?  It was a realization in my life that I could never really recover from.  I spent my life learning about the holocaust, slavery, human rights abuses around the world, and somehow it had never felt personal.  This was personal.

I will always think the best of people. I can’t help it to some degree.  I do, and will always, no matter what, believe that people are inherently good.  I refuse to let go of that mindset and let myself constantly be suspicious of motives and personal agendas.  It’s no way to live.  But something changed that day.  Evil touched home. Some changes were even good – as a country we found a unity, a common ground, with our fellow Americans that didn’t exist in the same way as it did after the attacks.  The problem is that the unity we felt with our fellow Americans somehow also isolated many people and made us suspicious of our fellow Americans who were Muslim, Middle Eastern, or otherwise “foreign.” Xenophobia blossomed in a new, re-ignited way.  There were “revenge killings” of people who were targeted just for their religious beliefs.  The crazy thing is, that was just as shocking to me as the events in the first place.  How could we do that?  React like that?  Turn into those terrorists that we alternately loathed and feared?  Things have changed since the immediate aftermath of those events, but there is still a little seed inside many of us.  A suspicion of those who differ from us, who may have some distant, possible motive to do us harm.  We live to some degree in a still-volatile environment, where things could change any day now and something could happen again and set us on a different course.

We’re still a little lost from time to time, but one thing is for sure – no matter what happens, how devastating things can be, we are all blessed to have an intangible connection to each other that is there indefinitely.  There is something so intensely raw and human about that connection, which serves to remind us of the sanctity of life and exactly how amazing it is to wake up in the morning and just live, no matter how we do it.

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

Integrity Matters

June 17, 2011

As much as the political "scandals” drive me insane sometimes – so much hype and excitement over such silly issues in many cases – they do somewhat influence my likelihood to vote for someone in an election. 

Now, I honestly don’t care what politicians do in their private lives, as long as it doesn’t affect the way they do their job and serve the public. However, when politicians are found to have cheated on their wives or husbands, it does make me wonder whether or not they have integrity. Cheating is often chronic and not just a situational occurrence. So if someone cheats in his or her marriage, how does the public know that there isn’t another way that the person is cheating in his or her job? 

Being a politician in America is a tough gig. The public eye is trained on them at pretty much every moment. And family, friends and everyone else around them are affected by all that scrutiny. That doesn’t mean that it’s right; it’s just a fact. In recognition of that fact, politicians have a duty to their families to ensure they understand the impact public office will have on their lives. I think it’s critical to get buy-in from them in order to live a peaceful life and have a successful career. From time to time, someone might slip up and do something stupid, but we as a public need to remember that we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. We tend to forget that when scandals like Weiner's or Schwarzenegger's erupt, and then we tend to overestimate the true gravity of the situation. Yes, these men made mistakes in their personal lives that are now public knowledge. But is it really any of our business? And now that we know, do we have to completely turn our backs on them?

I personally feel very strongly about cheating. I think it’s wrong because it’s deceitful. If I have committed myself to one person and that’s the agreement we have in our relationship, I will stick to it or I will end the relationship. I’ll never involve myself with someone who is in a monogamous relationship, because it’s just as bad in my mind to knowingly participate in deceiving someone as it is to be the one perpetrating the deception. But these are all my personal opinions and thoughts on the topic. I think it’s wrong, but that doesn’t mean it’s my business what everyone else believes to be wrong or right.  The real issue when it comes down to it is not that we care about the fact that someone cheated – in the end, it’s the fact that it begs this question: If a politician cheats in his or her marriage, what kind of integrity can he or she have when in office? 

If we question someone’s integrity, can he or she effectively run a public office? It’s a personal decision on whether we choose to believe in that integrity.

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

The Danger Is Offline, Not Online

June 10, 2011

I've been fortunate enough since the beginning of the internet shopping craze (or, really, my personal internet shopping craze) to have not had any major security issues. That being said, I use the secure shopping options where available, and I try to maintain strong security passwords when I shop on a site that stores any personal information for me. I'm sure there's more I can do to protect myself from theft and identity fraud, but so far this method has been working very well for me.

Ironically, for as much shopping as I do online, I have only experienced people stealing my credit card information in person. Last summer, someone somehow picked up my credit card number (not even the card itself) and used it to buy less than $20 worth of stuff at some random place. I noticed immediately (it was my debit card) and called to cancel the card and have the charge refunded without issue. The same thing happened to my two friends who were with me, with the same resolution. We still don't know how it happened, but bets are on a card machine that had been tampered with, or an employee at a restaurant we had eaten at that weekend.

If you pay close attention to the site that you shop on, ensure they have secured systems for when you enter your personal info, and avoid sites that have a shady look to them (inconsistent information, poor graphics, questionable selection of products) chances are that you've done really all you can to project yourself - short of not shopping online at all. Unfortunately, sometimes online is the only way to go for certain product, especially for people in relatively rural areas with little shopping options around them.

Identity theft is the scarier thought - someone can learn everything about you by sifting through your trash if you're not shredding documents. My biggest security measure I've been taking recently is paying attention to the information sent over my phone's internet browser. I try to avoid entering personal information on my phone because of the recent chatter regarding phones being hacked and personal information stolen. I do think that the manufacturers and service providers can do a better job of informing consumers of the risks they take when storing personal information on their phones. It may scare customers a bit, as it should, but that way they are fully disclosing the risks the customer may take by using his or her phone to disseminate private or confidential information. It covers them as much as it protects the consumer. To date, from what I've seen, I'd say they're doing at best a poor job of alerting customers of the risks. Without the news coverage on it recently, most customers are likely unaware of the risk they are taking by doing things such as banking on their phones.

I don't think my habits will change anytime soon, but mostly because I rely a lot on instinct when it comes to how I shop online and protect my identity from theft. There's a lot of good, free information out there on protecting oneself from issues like theft via credit card and identity theft, which is one of the perks of living in the age of the internet.

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

High Entertainment Standards

May 27, 2011

Recently I was talking about going to the movies with a friend of mine, and I realized that I really never go to the theater unless it's for a movie that I think might eventually become a favorite. For example - when “Black Swan” came out, I saw it twice. I'm pretty sure that was actually the last movie I saw in the theater. A little crazy since it came out last year, but I just rarely go anymore.

That being said, I will go to midnight showings of the “Twilight Saga” and “Harry Potter” movies, mostly out of tradition. I am, as you can imagine, very excited for the final Harry Potter film. It's really a strange thought to me that the final movie is coming out because I remember thinking how it will be soooo long until the series would be completed, and now it's here! The first film came out in 2001, so this is the 10 year mark, which boggles my mind. Was it really that long ago that I was going to the first midnight showing?

Some other movies look pretty good this summer, so I may venture out and see a few.  Here are my picks for the summer:

Bridesmaids. OK, I know it's already out. But I haven't seen it yet and everyone I know who has raves about it. Kristen Wiig always impresses me, and she has received a lot of great reviews for this movie.

Submarine. Who wouldn't be excited about a funny movie where the main character's goal is to lose his v-card before his next birthday? Oh, and Richard Ayoade, the director, is the man behind the British TV show "The IT Crowd", which is a new favorite of mine.

Horrible Bosses. We've all had them, and it never fails to entertain. I think the main draw for me is Jason Bateman and Charlie Day in the same comedy - "Arrested Development" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" are hands-down my favorite TV shows, ever.

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

Inner Peace

May 20, 2011

Stress was always something I associated with and assumed was normal for my career. I work in a fast-paced industry, where there is constant change and things can switch directions in a heartbeat. Especially early on in my career I wanted to be constantly on top of my game, because it's great to stand out early on and then maintain upward mobility at a company. However, this constant pressure to perform can cause some serious stress, and required me to find an outlet.

I've never dealt well with stress. In college I was very active and took on a full course load as well as being active in campus organizations. When I graduated and went to work it was also a busy time. I was in my training program for work and there was an unspoken pressure to stand out and be noted as the trainee that everyone wanted to hire for a full-time position. Luckily, I had a group of people my age to go through that year with, and the camaraderie helped ease the stress.

When I began my full-time position after training, however, things changed: There was constant pressure to perform and stand out, and the stress got the best of me after my boss ripped me apart (or so it felt) in my review. I was terrified of failing and really began to lose any threads of stress management skills that I had at the time.

It was about that time that I began to do yoga.

Aside from being an ancient practice tied closely to meditation and so on, yoga is something you either connect to or you don’t. That being said – I found an intense and profound connection to the practice of yoga. I was blessed when I lived in Pittsburgh to meet a couple who run a yoga studio (multiple locations by now) and after my first class, I was hooked. The type they offered was perfect for me in so many ways: physically intensive, mentally challenging, and emotionally cleansing. It forced me to push myself to limits both mental and physical that I had never realized existed, and through this became an addictively healing ritual in my weekly routine.  I found peace through the practice and life began to gradually become less stressful.

Unfortunately, multiple times injury pulled me away from my practice. I have to note that it was injury outside of my practice that caused me to be pulled away – I never once hurt myself doing yoga. The last time I returned to class, and that home away from home that I had created, about halfway through the practice I was crying. Not because of the pain or intensity of the class, but happy tears, because I was so grateful to be back and able to reconnect with something in which I find solace. I’m not much of a crier, so that speaks to how strongly I feel about the power of yoga to heal and change lives, my own just one of many out there touched by this practice.

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

Internships Cleared the Way to a Job

May 13, 2011

I was a lucky one when it came to finding my first out-of-college job. Since high school I had done multiple internships, and the last one ended up being the prelude of sorts to my first full-time gig. They tell you often in business school to get as many internships as possible, and it has turned out to be a fantastic piece of advice, for myself as well as many (if not most) of my friends. Now, I was lucky in that my internship the summer of my junior year was with a company that was looking to hire their interns full time, so the internship was an audition of sorts. Some of the interns were offered jobs and some weren't, but it worked out well in the end for everyone.

Now that I look back after having been asked from time to time about my post-college job search, I realize that I was spared a lot of anxiety and stress that many of my friends went through: job fairs, interviews, rejections. Part of me thinks I may have needed to look more than I did, which was minimal, but I had really found what I was sure I wanted to do, so it seemed silly at the time.  Looking back now on the way the job market changed that year, I can't imagine what my career would look like now. The years following 2007 had a rough job market to say the least.  I was lucky enough to have had a job offer a few months into my junior year, let alone in a field that I love and am passionate about.

Adjusting to working the 8-to-5 schedule was pretty easy since I had the same schedule for my previous internships, but when that fall rolled around that first year, it was definitely strange not to be back on campus and starting syllabus week one more time. Even though I was active on campus and usually pretty busy, there just wasn't ever as much free time as it seemed I'd had in school. I missed my organizations and all of the activities and projects that came with those memberships. I missed my friends who moved to take jobs in other cities. It was great to have a paycheck, but I definitely realized the trade-offs that I made for having a full-time job.

If there's anything I can look back and say I should have done in that post-college job search, I would probably have interviewed with more companies, or at least done more interviews.  When it came time to apply for promotions or moves a couple of years after beginning work, I realized that I hadn't truly interviewed for anything since the fall of junior year in college.  It took some practice for me to feel comfortable with it again.  There isn't enough I can say about the benefits of keeping up the interview skills - for better or worse, you'll never know when you'll have your next interview.

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

Money Lessons from Yiayia & Mom
April 29, 2011

Of all the money lessons my mom taught me as a child (and as an adult, for that matter) I think the most memorable and important has to be this: Anything that you want or need, you can get a deal on it.

My mom is an impressive bargain shopper. It's funny now because a lot of my girlfriends don't like shopping with me at thrift stores or off-price outlets because I will spend that full hour (or two) digging through the junk in order to strike gold. I don't have a lot of patience in general, but the quality somehow magically manifests itself when I'm at TJ Maxx or Forever 21. It's really quite impressive.

One of my favorite childhood tasks was to dump my father's change out and sort and count it. Now it may not be a true money lesson, but it certainly taught me the value of money, and really a lot about math. I was fortunate enough to have a dad who worked at a bank as a mortgage lender while growing up, and although she was in IT when I was a child, my mom is now finishing up going back to school to become a CPA. I'm blessed with two parents who were able to teach me an incredible amount about managing my money and making smart decisions with it. I won't pretend that I did everything they told me to (what kid does?), but I am well-armed with the tools to be financially secure.

In addition to thanking my mom for teaching me how to get good deals, I have to give a shout out to the ultimate deal hunter, my grandmother, a.k.a. Lady Yiayia to my sister's friends in Ithaca, N.Y., and just good ole Yiayia to us. Yiayia clips coupons like nobody's business, and when it comes to money lessons, Yiayia's the OG, or the Original ... Grandma. The point is she knows more about getting a good deal than anyone else I know, so I have to give credit to her, too. Besides, she’s the one who trained Mom!

Here’s to the ladies in my life who’ve taught me the thrill of the bargain hunt – Happy Mother’s Day!

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

A Commuter 90% of the Time
April 21, 2011

One of the biggest benefits of living in Chicago for me is the ability to rely on public transportation 90% of the time.

When I moved here, I looked for an apartment in areas that were close to the L line that goes out to my new office. My goal was to be able to eschew my car and rely on public transit, and so far it's been amazing.

In Pittsburgh, a former roommate lived and worked downtown so she didn't have a car, but even then it was a struggle for her when she needed to go somewhere further from the bus stop. I don't really hear of or see anyone here having the same issues as she did since the transit system is so extensive.

The main reason I decided to use public transit versus driving was really more based on traffic, but as gas prices began to rise, I did start canceling some upcoming road trips. The rising cost, especially in the city, would definitely affect my commute if I drove to work.

Many co-workers of mine live pretty far from our office, which offers a good amount of people to carpool with. I have no doubt that this is becoming more popular with the cost of gas going up once again. I had to fill up my tank the other day and I felt a bit robbed by having to pay $4.49/gallon. I can’t imagine what it’s like for my co-workers who drive over 45 miles each way daily; it has to be astronomical. 

Another benefit of utilizing Chicago public transit is a program at work called “Commuter Benefits.” I am able to purchase my monthly unlimited transit card through my benefits, and it comes out of my paycheck each month from my pre-tax earnings. This saves me money and it’s incredibly convenient.

I have to give my two thumbs up to the company for providing this to us, because it’s an endorsement of the green initiatives that are becoming increasingly popular. Plus, they recognize the timing issues that become involved in this sort of commute and make accommodations for associates who rely on the transit being on time, though it may not always arrive and leave at the same time each day. It’s always good to know that the company is truly standing behind something it endorses!

The best benefit of my commute has to be the fact that I'm writing this right now on said commute …

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

Clean Closet, Clean Life

April 15, 2011

Spring cleaning has always been a bit of a foreign concept for me (just cleaning in general, really). This year though, I did more than I ever have, in preparation for my move to Chicago.

I've moved within Pittsburgh pretty much every year that I was there, amounting to about seven times in total. I would basically wait until it was down to the wire and then throw everything in boxes, plastic crates, etc. and move it to the next place. Not exactly the best method, but it generally worked for me despite the sometimes poor execution.

This time, though, the more stuff I had, the more it was going to cost me to move it. Just imagine, if you will, the motivation it finally provided me with to do some intense cleaning!

I began with the clothes. For some background, you have to understand my childhood aspirations to become a fashion designer (rock star would have been good as well). Neither really panned out since I can't draw or sing, but both of those involve a strong love of clothing. As you can probably imagine, I own a ton of it. Worst of all is my extensive wardrobe of workout clothes: running shirts and shorts, yoga apparel, hoodies. I had to sift through everything and just get rid of the stuff I never wear (and never will wear, despite my high hopes to lose 20 lbs. and pull them off again someday).

I made a decent dent this way, but my biggest victory came with work clothes.

For years, I had to wear either business casual or business professional to work. It's great for accumulating suits and nice dress clothes, but I bought a lot of clothing that I would never, ever, under any circumstances, wear on the weekends. I also had way too many pairs of pants that I really never wore, because they didn't fit or they looked too old for me or they didn't match hardly anything in my closet. My justification for having them was as backup - in case, somehow, I would lose/destroy/misplace every good pair of work pants I owned, and somehow those were the only options left. I'm not saying it's logical or sound reasoning. It just happened to be what I used for years to justify owning those stupid pants.

Thanks to the cleaning, my move went smoothly.  My roommates were still amazed by the amount of stuff I own, but I keep reminding them how much I used to have.

Luckily, I learned something from this spring cleaning wardrobe purge: It feels really good to shed the extras in life. I might even keep this trend up, because it felt absolutely fantastic. When your living space is cluttered with junk you don't need, it can tell you that you’ve got some excess junk in your life as well. Sometimes all it takes is a major purge of those extras in your life to make you reevaluate what's truly important to you - what you need versus what you should learn to live without.

- Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

It’s All Stealing

April 8, 2011

I've come across a lot of tricks over the years that people will use to save a buck. Personally, I don't think there's any difference in denting something or pulling off a button and something like switching price tags on an item to pay less for it. To me, it’s all stealing.

Now I'm probably biased - I've worked in retail since I was 16. I have seen how theft and "tricks" to cheat a store out of inventory actually affect not only the company's performance, but also the lives of the store employees and managers. In pretty much every retailer that I know of, the store manager is measured in part on the metric of theft and inventory integrity, known in the retail world as "shrink".

Another metric they're measured on? Profit. It might sound evil to some people that these are the metrics retailers are measured on, but it's the way any business operates. So ultimately, when everyone is finding a way to cheat the store, the only people who are really feeling the effects directly are the ones working in the store. If the store isn't performing, the manager is forced to make payroll cuts, and he or she will potentially be fired. It's just crazy that people are ok with that to save, in some cases, a dime.

Now, I like getting a deal as much, if not more than, anyone else out there. But if you're really a bargain shopper in the truest sense, the whole thrill of it is in the hunt! It's coming across the perfect pair of shoes that were marked down two seasons ago that have been in the back room that just got cleaned out. Or it's the sale on your favorite frozen pizza that you stock up on since you know you're going to want it in the future. All of the bargain sites out there now are a result of the turn towards frugality - Groupon, Livingsocial, Gilt, ideeli, etc, etc.

The moral of the story? If it involves some sort of cheat, it's probably immoral.

-Eleni is a young professional who recently relocated from Pittsburgh to Chicago. Her blog will be up shortly, focusing on exploring a new city and adapting to a change in scenery.

A Pivotal Time
April 1, 2011

I think it's unique what people my age are experiencing in our country right now. We have seen conflicts overseas, but so often we are detached from what is actually going on in our foreign wars.

During WWII, the country was incredibly unified and backed the war almost unanimously, from what I understand about that time. Citizens funded the war by making sacrifices across the board to free up resources for the war effort. But fast forward twenty years to when the conflict in Vietnam expanded into what became known as the Vietnam War, and you had a completely different situation. The U.S. was polarized on its support, or lack thereof, for the war in Vietnam, and this looks a lot more like our situation with Libya today.

Now, we live in a time where we're in three military conflicts overseas, and I think because of the wide range of public sentiment regarding any U.S. involvement in overseas conflicts we are certainly not as unified as we were at the time of WWII. That war deeply affected the approach the U.S. took when it came to involvement in foreign conflict - in order to avoid full-blown military attacks on our home soil, we had to at least be relatively involved in the conflicts occurring around the world, as well as be mindful of how they would affect us. For example, just because a war doesn’t directly threaten the lives of our people doesn’t mean it wouldn't affect us indirectly, perhaps even escalating into what could be a direct attack on the U.S. 

Since the war in Iraq and all of the conflict regarding our involvement there, I think we as U.S. residents, citizens and inhabitants are very wary of getting involved in any conflicts. We’ve seen the economic effects (more than $700 billion spent in Iraq alone), as well as the devastating loss of life across troops and civilians. That’s not including Afghanistan, which has its own costs as well. 

Because our government is borrowing and financing this money, the costs are expounded. A 2007 Congressional Budget Office report estimated that for the U.S., the total cost of the war in Iraq by 2017 will be $2.7 trillion. So at a time when we’re cutting our funding and struggling to balance our domestic budget, it’s hard to imagine becoming involved in more conflicts that will continue to drain our resources. 

Any one of us can imagine the hesitation to become more involved in Libya for fear of that turning into another Iraq or Afghanistan, but given the circumstances, I’m not overly concerned that it’s heading that direction. Ultimately, the decision to intervene in Libya is not driven at all by the U.S. – our allies have been pushing for it, too.

Maybe with this involvement at least we approached it knowing so much more about the potential consequences, and the outcome will be peace in Libya. We can always hope …

— Eleni is a young professional living in the city of bridges for going on eight years now. She is launching a blog about her adventures in training for a half marathon, cooking, exploring her city and general self-discovery.

My Smartphone Is Worth the Money

March 25, 2011

I remember the days back in the early 2000's when I had one friend with a cellphone while we were in high school. Now I know kids who can do more on their parents’ iPhones at the age of 6 than my father can at 66. The cellphone revolution reminds me of how quickly computers and the Internet became must-haves versus luxury items.

Personally, I have a Droid phone, which is pretty fantastic. I went through a brief, torrid love affair with a Blackberry before I got my Droid in February, but there's just no going back for me. The speed of this phone is mind-boggling. I think once you start using a smartphone it's pretty tough to go back - it definitely spoils you.

With the recent announcement of the merger between AT&T and T-mobile, though, the cost of owning a smartphone is bound to go up. Only a game-changing strategy by one of the competitors to lower rates would prevent costs from rising, and I think it's a possibility if they're going to play it smart.

Looking at it from a purely economic standpoint, more competition is better for the consumer, and less is worse. By combining forces, however, the companies could gain market share by becoming more price competitive. I don't think it would be viable for the long term, but it could work well in the consumer's favor for the short term.

Hint hint, Verizon...

— Eleni is a young professional living in the city of bridges for going on eight years now. She is launching a blog about her adventures in training for a half marathon, cooking, exploring her city and general self-discovery.

Time and Money: Charities Need Both

March 18, 2011

Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to give to charity is through monetary donations, depending, of course, on the nature of the charity.  Food pantries, for example, can usually purchase more food en masse with donations than we can give to them with a few canned goods here and there. Now, not all charities fit under that same umbrella.

When it comes to disaster relief in charities such as those who are and will be working in Japan to help the country recover from the recent events, monetary donations are by far the best way to help – especially if you’re like me, and have no disaster relief skills to donate.

I like to donate money, time, or goods to charities such as food pantries because of the immediate impact that they have on the community. They help those in need of the most basic thing I can think of, food, on which to survive.

It’s amazing how many people in the U.S. go hungry from a lack of money to buy food. Often, what you can buy for very cheap is not nourishing enough to sustain a healthy life. I think when we eat a full meal three times a day, we often take for granted that we have access to and money to purchase those meals. Sometimes it’s very hard to imagine having to skip a meal (or two) simply because I cannot afford it, but many Americans go through that on a persistent basis, which is pretty scary considering how much is available to us nationally.

In addition to the charities that support basic needs like food and shelter, it can be overwhelming to sort through all of the other different charities out there… which is a wonderful problem to have!

Over the years I have always been attracted to the women’s shelters in the cities I’ve lived in.  They often have clothing drives and really focus on developing women to be independent and to free themselves from a cycle of persistent abuse – I find the cause to be so much more powerful than many others.  Not that any aren’t.

— Eleni is a young professional living in the city of bridges for going on eight years now. She is launching a blog about her adventures in training for a half marathon, cooking, exploring her city and general self-discovery.

I File Last-Minute to Save Money

March 11, 2011

After receiving significant refunds in the past when I’ve done my taxes, I decided to claim fewer exemptions last year so that I could have the money in-pocket throughout the year and potentially owe or receive less than a couple hundred dollars when I file.  It makes more sense for me instead of relying on the refund at the end of the year. I save a little extra money in my savings account specifically for paying anything I owe, which seems to be working pretty well so far. I do try to get everything at least prepared (I e-file) as soon as I get my W-2s and 1099s, but I usually don’t file until right before the deadline, just because that way I’ve got the money I owe the Internal Revenue Service in my account earning interest for longer.

I’ve been lucky that so far in my tax-paying life I haven’t had too many complicated forms to fill out, so e-filing is pretty simple and easy (and quick!).  Eventually, I will have to do some more complicated forms, so I may rely on more advanced software or a person to help me out. Hopefully around the time that I need to use someone for help, my mom will be a CPA (go Mom!). She’s been going to school to get her certification, and I can’t pretend that I don’t see tremendous potential in using her as a resource!

I think the worst part of my tax adventures are focused more around local taxes than federal or state.  Usually, my state is straightforward, and the federal is probably the easiest because of all of the tools I have available to use in filing them.  The local taxes however, are where it gets tricky.  For example, in 2010, I lived in one municipality for a couple of months before I moved to Pittsburgh proper.

Then, in August, I moved out of Pittsburgh proper to another part of town. For Municipality 1, they do not allow taxes to be taken directly out of my paycheck for whatever reason, and I have to pay them the taxes for the two months that I lived there. The city of Pittsburgh, on the other hand, requires employers to take taxes out of my check. Municipality 2 allows my employer to take taxes out, so I should be OK there. The main issue, really, is that I have to file a return with three different local agencies! I knew I would unfortunately have to deal with it, but it doesn’t make it any less painful.  That, more than anything, is what I’m dreading about my taxes this year.

— Eleni is a young professional living in the city of bridges for going on eight years now. She is launching a blog about her adventures in training for a half marathon, cooking, exploring her city and general self-discovery.

Lure of the Open Road

Mar. 4, 2011

As much as I would love to use spring break as an excuse to take a vacation, the constraints of limited vacation time as well as money both tend to stop me from planning one at this time of year.

Now that I'm approaching my late 20s, many weddings are popping up on my calendar, and so many require travel and hotel stays it's become not only a vacation time consideration, but also something I need to consider from a financial standpoint.

That being said, I do at least try to take some smaller, long-weekend trips, either by car or plane, to destinations that are not too far away and can be reasonably reached over a long weekend. There seems to have been a resurgence of car travel over the past few years for vacation travel, and I have definitely gone that direction as well.

There is something to be said for the value of the road trip. It tends to be cheaper than flying and the hidden value is really in the time spent with your fellow road-tripper.

In fact, when it comes to vacations that I've taken over the past few years, long weekend road trips have made up pretty much every one. It's a nice way to shorten the week minus the hassle of flying and usually just as much relaxation.

In my opinion, nothing beats a few days on the beach with a couple of good books, sunglasses, and some good friends to keep me company. What else could you want?

— Eleni is a young professional living in the city of bridges for going on eight years now. She is launching a blog about her adventures in training for a half marathon, cooking, exploring her city and general self-discovery.

Nothing Comes Free
Feb. 24, 2011

It's tough sometimes to be a constituent in the US. The government manages so much that we often take it for granted and forget about it when we don't need it.

Personally, I feel that I rely less on federal spending and more on my local government. I don't have kids in school or utilize a ton of our local services, but the services like snow removal (fresh in my mind) are incredibly important to me.

That being said, the federal government funds services that are necessary, such as social and economic assistance for those in need, which does not affect me personally, but it does affect family members and friends who rely on that assistance to go about their day-to-day lives.

Budget cuts are clearly necessary for the federal government: It's clear we cannot continue spending what we're spending and still maintain a healthy government. I think you will be hard-pressed, though, to find consensus on what is necessary and what is not, simply because we rely as individuals on the government to varying degrees. A single mother trying to go back to school needs much more than I do, but I can't justify saying that she shouldn't be able to get assistance.

In my opinion, the necessities for federal spending are federal assistance to state and local governments, education funds and necessary social assistance programs.

The last thing I want to see is money taken away from the arts, but perhaps that's our opportunity to step up and take action by donating money, time and other resources to the organizations that impact us. Obviously not everyone can, but certainly there are people who can afford it.

Maybe this is our call to look to ourselves more to begin to take on more charitable causes - I know I will be making more of an effort.

— Eleni is a young professional living in the city of bridges for going on eight years now. She is launching a blog about her adventures in training for a half marathon, cooking, exploring her city and general self-discovery.

Buying Local Softens Inflation's Sting

Feb. 18, 2011

Despite the rising cost of goods in the U.S., especially the price of gas going back up from being relatively low this past year, the bounce back from the Great Recession has definitely made many of us more frugal in our spending.  I’ve noticed in myself (and many around me) the desire to watch more closely my spending.  Trust me, though, this is a long path, and I still have yet to be in the same ballpark as my mother. I’m pretty sure she could make a career out of bargain hunting. I’m no budget guru, but I have begun to set limits for myself and become more frugal.

The price of fuel seems to always be going up, and consequently the cost of food should rise. Gotta get the food to the stores somehow, right? One solution I’ve found to this issue is a major one, and it seems to represent a national trend.  By purchasing produce and some dairy locally, I’ve begun to save money on the cost of fresh fruits and veggies, and I’m supporting my local economy.  The move towards local food buying has increased at an exponential rate here in Pittsburgh, and I doubt it will slow down any time soon.  I even find myself wanting to plant my own little vegetable and herb garden, and I don’t think I’ve planted a seed since kindergarten.  Here in Pittsburgh, we are incredibly lucky in the local foods realm – there are so many small, independent farms in the general area.

For the goods I can’t find at the farmer’s markets, such as rice, grains and even beans, I rely heavily on grocery stores that offer bulk food options.  I hit up the bulk bins and stock up on the goods like rice and oatmeal that I eat on a regular basis.  It helps bring my grocery bill down significantly.  I also peruse the weekly specials for local stores – there are usually ones that are worth the trip to the store.  Frozen foods specials are key – they can keep for a long time, and I’m always opening to the freezer to see what I’ve got to make a great meal.

One of the offerings here in Pittsburgh at multiple stores is a shopping rewards program, in which I earn fuel discounts based on my spending at the grocery store. It’s a bonus to incent me to shop at that store, and fuel savings are definitely important to me.

In trying to be more frugal with my spending, I have learned more about my personal priorities.  The key to spending less money and remain happy, is, for me, to explore what sacrifices I am willing to make versus what I’m not.  At the end of the day, when I have more money in my savings and I’m still happy and enjoying myself, the small sacrifices are insignificant.

— Eleni is a young professional living in the city of bridges for going on eight years now. She is launching a blog about her adventures in training for a half marathon, cooking, exploring her city and general self-discovery.

A Holiday That Should Be Skipped

Feb. 4, 2011

Everyone certainly has his/her own opinion in regard to the merits of Valentine’s Day. What really surprised me, though, is that in mentioning it to multiple friends and co-workers, so many of them felt very passionately about it … in a negative sense!

Now, I always thought I was the Grinch who stole Valentine’s Day. I’ve always been a hater. Could be because I have always been single on that day, but I just don’t think it’s worth all of the hoopla. Yes, it is a commercial holiday. It’s an excuse to expect (or in many cases, demand) an elaborate gift. In my mind, it’s the little things throughout an average week that a Significant Other does for you that are the truly romantic gestures – surprising you with a great dinner when you’ve had a terrible week, for example. When it comes to showing your appreciation for him or her, and celebrating your romance, I think it belongs with your anniversary (however you may define it). Why must there be so much pressure on Feb. 14?

Instead of focusing solely on your S.O. this V-Day, follow the example from one of my best guy friends: Every year, he sends his close female friends a funny card. I think we single ladies appreciate it even more – poking fun at the day, but reminding us that we’re thought of and appreciated, albeit in a platonic way. I am sending my best friend a cute card I picked up a little while ago when I saw it and thought of her.

On the front is a picture of a martini glass with a heart-topped swizzle stick, with the phrase “Happy Valentini Day.” Appropriate, really, since we will likely celebrate in different cities, with a nice, strong martini.

— Eleni is a young professional living in the city of bridges for going on eight years now. She is launching a blog about her adventures in training for a half marathon, cooking, exploring her city and general self-discovery.

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