Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What to do with the house?

This is part of a series responding to Christine at Almost Fearless' series 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. 

Day 8

I guess I kind of touched on this in my last post, but this part of the series was about how to sell your house in a downturn.

The original post was written in 2009. I bought my condo in 2008, and the only thing the housing market has done since then is drop like a rock. While the idea of offloading my condo and never having to deal with it again is appealing, if I sold my condo right now I would end up taking out a loan for the difference between the mortgage and the selling price. There are two other units in my condo complex for sale, and their asking prices are far lower than my mortgage.

So that means I am going to have to become a landlord.

I kind of already am, as I rent out the two spare room in my condo to students. I have learned from experience that there is a big difference between graduate students and undergraduate seniors. I have also learned that I am definitely going to be hiring a property management company and requiring co-signers when appropriate.

One thing Christine mentions in the homework section is this:
3. If you need to reach out for financial help, do it now.

I have considered refinancing in order to make it more likely that renting out the condo will pay for all of the associated expenses of keeping it. Since I have not had the mortgage for a long time, interest rates are low, and my income has increased since I took out the loan, it seems like a good idea.

But I still hesitate. If I had enough cash to pay down a point I would do it in a heartbeat, but I won't have that for a few months, and even if I did there's the question of whether I should be putting that amount towards going to Japan or not. PMI insurance rates doubled about a year ago - I may not see any real savings without paying down a point.

I'm going to have to do some research on refinancing before I put the house up for rent. I should probably start seriously looking at it in mid-2012, after I have enough saved to seriously consider paying down points or not.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Budgeting for Living in Abroad - When you still have a mortgage.

This is part of a series responding to Christine at Almost Fearless' series 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. 

This part of the series didn't work as well for me as other parts did. I am planning on staying put in one country for a year or two, instead of country hopping for however long I can afford it. The article was definitely aimed more for a country hopper or RTW trip. It's good information if that's what you're planning on doing. (One day this will be me!)

But that's not the plan for my initial trip. I've decided, for a list of reasons I have talked about before, that even though it's the most expensive trip, I want to return to Japan first.

And that is expensive.

And I haven't made it any easier on myself.

I won't sell my horse. Even horse people might think it's dumb, but I would rather board him at a facility I trust rather than to let him go to an owner who may sell him off to who knows where. You hear horror stories of people's horses going to slaughter, even when they have a buyback agreement. I'm basically going to give him to someone I trust, with a big fat savings account available for his expenses. I plan on having 16k in a savings account for Avalon when I go. Not easy.

Additionally, all that money to move to a new apartment in Japan is going to have to come from somewhere. I want to have an account with 8k in it for move in costs. Hopefully I won't spend all of that finding and furnishing an apartment, and what is left over will be designated for rent.

Then there's the mortgage. I would LOVE to sell, even if I just break even. But some other people in my complex are trying to sell, and it looks like I am at least 30k underwater. At least when buying I made the good decision of insisting it be within walking distance to campus. Which means I will be able to rent it out for enough to pay the mortgage and insurance, and pay a property manager. It's possible I won't make enough from renting to pay the entire property tax bill, but property taxes in South Carolina are very low. I will have to make some repairs before I leave (mostly painting) and I want a few month's worth of the mortgage in a dedicated account, just to be safe. I would like 8k total in that account, but I could probably get away with 6k.

My boyfriend will be working while we are in Japan. Getting a job teaching English is actually pretty easy to get, and they pay around $2900 US dollars a month for those jobs, entry level. It doesn't go as far in Japan because of housing costs, but I'm familiar enough with the rental market that I can find us something far below the average $1100 a month most gaijin pay. If you don't speak Japanese, this is very hard to do. I hope to pay around $700 a month in rent in Japan, and from looking at rental agency websites, this shouldn't be impossible. We should be able to live off of his income easily.

Which means that I need to have $32,000 saved up before we go. We can probably make do with a little less, but I'm using that as a goal amount.

It's actually not impossible. See in the past three months I have been paying off as much consumer debt as I can. In 3 months I have paid of $3000 in credit card bills and personal loans. Once I have paid off all of my debt (late this month I should be done!) then I plan to roll all of the money I used to be using for debt into savings.

Even if I have unexpected expenses (car trouble, dental costs) I should be able to save that amount up in 3 years.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Finding an Apartment in Tokyo, Japan

Yes, this is the outside view of a Japanese apartment building.

This is part of a series responding to Christine at Almost Fearless' series 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. 

Day 6

Finding a place to live for my first trip (Japan) doesn't intimidate me much. As an aside, the more and more I complete Christine's series the more absolutely convinced I become that I'm going to go on more than one long trip. The details of paying for it, however, are still up in the air.

I have lived in Japan before. I was a student, and I lived in the dorm recommended by my school. I know now that I could have found cheaper accommodations closer to my school, but it takes some legwork and research. If you don't speak Japanese it can be difficult to find the information you need.

Luckily, I now speak a little more Japanese than I used to.

Long term housing in Japan can be overwhelming at first. Tokyo rents are expensive. A typical lease in Japan is 2 years, and to renew a lease you have to pay a renewal fee of 1/2 to 2 months rent.

General Options
Gaijin Houses:
Sometimes people call these by the more PC term Guest Houses. This is basically a roommate or dorm suite style situation - most Gaijin houses have 4 to 6 bedrooms and a shared bathroom and living area. Agencies rent out these accommodations by the room, and keep in mind that there's not any sort of roommate screening or matching in most cases. The living situation can be the best thing ever or a nightmare based on who the other renters are. The whole apartment is usually furnished. These can be a very inexpensive option.

You can find dorms in Japan that are not just for students - they basically operate like a long term stay hostel. You share both your bedroom and your living area with roommates, and the number of beds per room depends on the agency running the dorm. Sometimes you get private bedrooms in dorms. The type of dorm style depends on who they cater to.

Student dorms have a cafeteria you can buy a meal plan to. Dorms are not run by or tied to a specific school like they are in the United States. A dorm is run by a separate company, which may have a contract with your school so that they can be recommended by the school to its students. The dorm will most likely have students from multiple schools, and is usually single sex with curfews (and inevitably the girl's dorm has a earlier curfew than the guy's dorm). The dorms that cater to students are sometimes more expensive than renting your own studio apartment, so make sure to compare costs, especially of they have a business relationship with your school. Once again, your roommates can make or break your stay.

Company dorms are actually much the same as student dorms, though usually run or owned by the company that employs the people staying there. You sometimes share a bedroom, and the kitchen and bathroom are shared. They don't usually have cafeterias. Additionally, these dorms also commonly have curfews, though most leave a separate door unlocked so the residents can come and go as they please. Most foreigners employed by a Japanese company that runs a dorm will be given their own room. These are almost always cheaper than an apartment, as they whole point is to subsidize a company's workers' living expenses.

Some rental agencies run general dorms, where anyone can stay so long as they pay the rent. How many people in a bedroom depends on the dorm, and most have a few options. They are similar in set up to a company dorm, but they are usually more expensive than the company dorms. As the student dorm prices vary, they can be either cheaper or more expensive than student dorms.

Apartments in Japan are the same as apartments in western countries: private space including bed area, bathroom, and kitchen area. But if you search for apartments on a Japanese realty website you will notice that there seems to be some kind of weird code as to what kind of space is being rented. Japanese apartments are divided into the following categories:

  • 1ROOM - A one room area, like a western studio, where the kitchen are and sleeping area are in the same room, but the bathroom is in a separate room. The shower and toilet are in the same room, which is considered less desirable by the Japanese.
  • 1K - This stands for 1 bedroom + kitchen. Here the bedroom area is separate from the kitchen area, and the toilet and shower are separate. There is not usually enough room in the kitchen for a table, it could be described as a galley kitchen - just room to cook.
  • 1DK - This stands for 1 bedroom + kitchen/dining area. These style apartments have a separate toilet and shower, as well as a separated kitchen and bedroom area. The difference here is that there is enough room in the kitchen for a table.
  • 1LDK - This stands for 1 bedroom + living/kitchen/dining area. The only difference between this style of apartment and 1DK style apartments is that the kitchen area is a living room area as well. There should be enough room for a table (or maybe there is a bar/countertop that can serve as a table) as well as a space for a coffee table or TV area. 
The numbers before the letters stand for how many bedrooms are in the apartment, so for instance a 2LDK would mean that there is everything described above in the 1LDK description, plus a separate bedroom. If you are still confused there's a beautiful chart posted by a Japanese real estate agency association here.

Because I will be moving with my boyfriend and cats, an apartment is really our only option. 

Costs to Rent an Apartment
The Japanese don't move much. There's a reason for that.

Security Deposit:
In order to rent an apartment you need to pay a huge security deposit of 2 months rent. You can get your money back if there's no damage to the unit after you move, but be aware that Japanese property managers and landlords act much like property managers and landlords everywhere, which means that if there's damage they're not going to bargain shop for the cheapest repair, and they may inflate their costs a little. If you have damaged your apartment in any way, it may be cheaper to hire someone to repair it before you move than let the landlord decide how much the damage should cost you. Oh, and if you want to bring your pet you need to pay an extra months rent towards the deposit.

Advance Rent:
You are usually required to pay the first two months rent in advance, on top of the security deposit. I have heard this is because there is a high percentage of people in Japan who sign the paperwork on an apartment and then never move in, but I have no idea how true this statement is. 

Key Money:
This is where you get to see the ghosts of Japan's past return to haunt you. Key money, or reikin (礼金), was basically bribe money. After World War II there were very few properties left standing, so people gave gifts to the landlord in order to get housing. Despite the fact that housing is no longer scarce, everyone in Japan still pays key money. In case you couldn't guess, this about is also 2 months rent. 

There are ways around paying the key money, but it often involves paying high rent (sometimes higher than rent + the key money would have been) or catching a promotional sale by the property manager. If you are going to move to Japan, budget for paying this, as the chances of avoiding this fee is not in your favor.

Guarantor Fees:
In order for anyone to rent an apartment in Japan, they must have a guarantor or hoshonin (保証人). This is in effect a cosigner on your lease - if you do not meet your obligations the landlord can turn to the guarantor for the money you owe them. Because this is such a big deal, most Japanese will only sign on as a guarantor for family members. 

Here is the problem for foreigners moving to Japan - the guarantor must be Japanese. I may be wrong, but I don't believe there is a legal requirement for the guarantor to be a Japanese person, just a Japanese resident to that the legal system will have the ability to extort have jurisdiction over them should you not pay your rent. If someone is not ethnically Japanese, even if they are Japanese residents who have been in the country for 25 years or have married a citizen, Japanese property managers will not let them be a guarantor. 

Japanese people see foreigners as unreliable, and every time I hear about an English teacher skipping the country leaving unpaid debts behind I think that they have just made is harder for honest foreigners to live in Japan. Yes, it's a stereotype, and stereotyping is bad. But stop reinforcing stereotypes, people!    

So what is a poor foreigner to do? Pay out the nose, of course. There are guarantor companies in Japan, called hoshonin-gaisha (保証人会社), which are basically insurance companies that will sign on as your guarantor in exchange for one month's rent per year you need them to act as guarantor. Expect to pay both years up front. This would be an additional 2 months rent to your move in costs.

Agency Fees:
In order to find an apartment in Japan you usually need to find a real estate agent. Renting in Japan is competitive, and even Japanese people use rental agencies to find an apartment that suits their needs and budget. Almost all apartments in Japan are advertised through an agency, so often you pay the fee even if you didn't hire an agency to look for apartments for you. 

Of course, finding a good agent if you are a foreigner can be hit or miss. Many Japanese agencies won't serve foreigners, sometimes out of fear that they will be unable to explain key parts of the lease to someone who does not speak Japanese. Other times it's racism or prejudice. Some agencies will search for an apartment the same way they would search for a Japanese person's apartment - which is bad since many landlords will not rent to foreigners, for the same reasons.

Agencies aimed towards foreigners usually have a certain clientele in mind, and they seem to price rents a little higher than a similar quality apartment listed on a Japanese rental agency's website. Some are companies that own their own network of buildings, and will only show you the open rooms in their network, and others are more traditional agencies that just happen to cater to foreigners.

The best place to find an agent would be to ask on an expat message board like gaijinpot.com or  eslcafe.com. If you plan on teaching English in Japan I highly recommend elscafe.com for general questions. 

So what are my total costs to rent an apartment in Japan? 9 months rent, give or take, just to rent the room. Of that, only 3 months worth can be refunded. Pretty pricey.  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Goodbye Pete

Pete left yesterday. *Sniff*

I thought I would be much more sad about it. I am sad, but I think the fact that I am at peace with it just shows that I made the right decision.

I already have a horse to spend time and energy on, and to be honest he's been getting a little bit of a short shift with Pete to take care of. My riding has improved so much in the past year. I have been unable to save enough for a replacement trailer after the Great Trailering Accident of 2010 (aka I Hate Alabama), which happened over a year ago. The extra $300 a month could make a big dent towards that replacement trailer. The sooner I get a trailer the sooner I can get off the farm and attend clinics and competitions.

I'm still sad, though.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Hooves. And Farriers.

I have had a rough time finding a good farrier in South Carolina. Or maybe its just that I have had some serious issues in the past two years.

In 2010, probably around March or so, the farrier I was using did not return my calls when Avalon ripped off his shoe and a chunk of his foot. Avalon was dead lame, and he needed a shoe put on in order to give him some relief - he always went lame when he lost a shoe. We've got granite chunks in the pasture that pop up like weeds after every rain.

After a few days of no return call no show I found another farrier. I'm not going to name names here - let's just call him Barefoot Guy. I call him Barefoot Guy because he was very into the natural shoeing trend that's going around. And you know what? In many places, for many horses, you can go without shoes and it's better for them. That did not end up being the case for Avalon.

When he came he took one look at Avalon's feet and said that he had some heel problems. He was right. A few years ago I had to switch farriers when one collapsed Avalon's heel (the same heel) through fitting the horse to the shoe instead of the other way around. He was lame for 3 months off of that. As a side note, total South Carolina farrier count so far is 4 with Barefoot Guy being the 4th. So Barefoot Guy put shoes on all 4 of Avalon's feet for a couple of months, then said that his back feet probably didn't need them. I was concerned about it, but I gave it a try, and you know what, it worked. Avalon is still barefoot in back, in fact.

We continue to put shoes on the front, until Barefoot Guy tells me that he cannot fix the problems we are having with Avalon's heel by putting shoes on. He tells me that he's just in a holding pattern, and shoes are preventing Avalon from getting the kind of growth he needs to grow out that collapsed heel. I decide to give it a shot, since it worked well in back, and we pull his shoes in August of 2010.

Avalon goes dead lame, but Barefoot Guy says this is normal, and horses generally need a couple of months for their feet to toughen up enough to prevent bruising, and once they do they get healthy feet. He tells me it's temporary, and about two months later (right before he's due for a trim) Avalon seems to be getting sounder.

It doesn't last. Avalon gets sounder when his feet are long, and lame after a trim. The Barefoot Guy keeps telling me it's temporary, but my horse is lame. I call the vet out in November, because Barefoot Guy has me half convinced that the problem isn't bruising now, but that heel problem we are trying to correct. We nerve block parts of Avalon's feet to see where the pain is coming from - and it is definitely his sole.

I ask Barefoot Guy in December to put shoes back on Avalon's feet. My horse has been lame for nearly 6 months with him continually telling me that his feet will toughen up any day now, but my gut is telling me 6 months is too long for this to be a temporary issue. I want my horse back. Barefoot guy refuses to put shoes on him, saying that it will undue all the work he's put into Avalon's feet and that eventually Avalon will be permanently lame if he has shoes put back on, ever.

I find a new farrier in January. Farrier Number 5.

Farrier Number 5 is my current farrier, but I am now so paranoid about crappy farriers I have serious concerns about Avalon's feet. Next month (aka when I have money), I am going to get a vet to come take xrays of his feet and make sure they are balanced. Avalon is sound. But the way his feet look, I don't think he will be for long.

I took these pictures on July 3rd, which was a couple of days before Farrier 5 was supposed to come out and trim him. These pictures really concerned me.

This is his funky foot. The one I have had past heel issues (twice!) with, and the one that looks different than the other 3. I don't think it's a true club foot, but it's definitely low compared to the rest of his feet. I do NOT like the way his heel looks. It looks completely underrun/collapsed to me.

I always doubt myself with hoof issues because I'm not a farrier and I'm not a vet, and what do I know. That self doubt is why I let Avalon be barefoot and lame for 6 months - my farrier convinced me that he knew better than I.

This is the other foot. Far more upright, heel looks maybe a little but underrun, but really not like the other foot. Toe is too long, I think, but he's due for trim.

This is a front view. I am 90% sure that the "dishing" you see, or the flares, are a bad thing. My understanding is that this shows that the white line is separating from the rest of the hoof, because the feet are out of balance or too long.

I really think I was directly behind the foot when I took this photo. Shouldn't his leg be straight, not kind of bent inward? Are the two sides of his heel growing at different speeds or lengths or is the farrier just not balancing him right?

His funky foot is even worse. I know his heel is collapsed here, and I am worried that this picture shoes a prolapsing frog.

The pictures I took after the trim show significant improvement. But...I cannot just trust the farrier. Too many bad experiences. I want xrays and vet consult, because my gut is telling me that if I don't get this done right then I'm going to have a lame horse again.

Maybe the vet will tell me I just wasted $500.00. But I'm pretty sure he's not going to say that.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Do I really need that second horse?

I have decided to give Pete back to his owner. She asked how things were going last week, and told my trainer that in August she would only have one horse on her property, and she would take Pete back if I was ok with it so he could be a pasture buddy.

I had to make this decision with my head.

I like Pete. He can get bratty under saddle, but he's not vicious. He's not trying to get me off, he's just expressing his displeasure at being worked in the heat or having too much time off. And on the ground he is the sweetest horse ever. He's super affectionate, and will come up to say hi in the pasture, even if you're all the way across the pasture from where he's eating his hay. He comes to the gate when you come out to the fence. If he could be trusted at the canter he would be the perfect Pony Club horse for a little girl.

I like him a lot.

But I don't have a trailer. I'm trying to save up for a trip to Japan in the next couple of years. And I have a perfectly sound horse to ride that's mine.

Spending $300 a month because I like a horse doesn't make too much sense at this point.

Pete taught me a lot. I am more confident in my leg, and I have a much faster reaction time to misbehavior or bad situations than I did before I started riding him. I know how to do a shoulder-in now, and I use my outside rein like I am supposed to. I have the confidence to loop the inside rein and trust that the horse will stay on the bit. Stuff that would have thrown me for a mental loop a year ago doesn't phase me today.

It was worth having him, especially while Avalon was lame. But I think I have learned the important things I could get out of riding him. My trainer thinks so, too. Horses will always continue to teach you, but I think in this case it's time for me to start concentrating on my own horse again.

I think I would have come to a different conclusion if I had a trailer. Showing Pete would have been something that could have really helped me gain confidence in the show ring. It's funny, I don't 100% trust Pete at the canter, but I doubt he would get as worked up as Avalon does going off the property. Going to a show where you can concentrate on your riding  and your own nerves instead of your horse's nerves would be a great thing for me to experience - but I need a trailer to do that. And the Great Trailering Accident of 2010 (also known as the I Hate Alabama incident) took care of that.

I need to save up for a trailer. I'm doing a good job of knocking my debts out one by one, but I haven't made much progress towards the trailer as a result. $300 a month can make a big difference.

And Pete's owner loves him as much as I do. It's time to give him back.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can you bring your pet to Japan?

This is part of a series responding to Christine at Almost Fearless' series 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. 

This post was about deciding whether or not to bring your pets with you when you go abroad. 

Many people think this is just plain crazy, but all it really takes is some extra planning. Of course, when you say that it's not a big deal to bring you pet abroad and all you have to do is plan ahead, you are assuming the type of pet owner you are addressing is a responsible one. Pet owners who think finding a new apartment in the same city that allows pets is too difficult, and then dump their pets, are probably not going to be the type of pet owners willing to put in the extra effort to bring their pet overseas. 

I am clearly not a fair weather pet owner, since I plan on bringing two of my cats (and possibly my ferret) to Japan with me. Bringing all five cats would pretty much be impossible, so the three who are most likely to adapt well to a new living situation are going on vacation with my family members. One may stay permanently, I think she may be happier in a one cat household, and my brother loves her. Avalon is staying with my old trainer - he knows her and the horses there, and she loves him like he is hers.

I plan on spending a few weeks at my parents' house before we go, which will give the cats who are staying time to adjust. To be honest, one is a little bit touched, so she may not notice the people are different, but the other cat is pretty smart but shy so I want to give her some time to adjust. I also plan on leaving my horse in the same city, and giving away or selling my truck. Might as well do it all in the same place to make things less complicated. I know some of our furniture is going to have to be sold and some will go into storage, and I really want to keep my dining room table, so I don't know which city that stuff will be in. The house will be rented out, so it may make sense to just have a storage place here. I don't plan on living in South Carolina again, though. Maybe I should bring the stuff I don't get rid of down to my parents' city.

Since my boyfriend and I are both planning on going, we would simply have one cat in a carrier as part of our non-checked baggage. I would prefer to transport the cats in cabin because one of them is pretty insecure, and I simply don't trust not having them in sight for such a long haul flight. There would be at least one changeover for us, and I can't risk them getting lost or overheated/too cold. Too many animals die on airlines because the staff is so overburdened, I would rather have them in the cabin ad therefore my responsibility. There is usually a fee for this, and only some airlines allow it, but there are three airlines I know of that allow pets in the cabin and fly to Tokyo. Even better, most of these airlines allow them in business class, and I have enough frequent flyer miles to pay for those tickets. 

Japan has a 12 hour or less quarantine period if you have all the correct paperwork and vaccinations done, and most of the people I have tracked down who have done this said they were allowed to leave with their pets after 2 or 3 hours. Narita airport is about 35 miles from Tokyo, and we plan on using public transportation. JR trains allow crated pets under 10kg as luggage, and since taxi drivers are so competitive in Tokyo, if we wanted to take a taxi it would probably not take more than a couple tries to find one who could take us. The train is very inexpensive, though.

Apartments in Japan that allow pets are rumored to be impossible to find - but I think the only people who think that are people who haven't looked for it. There are plenty of pet-friendly apartments in Japan, and they just require a pet deposit like apartments in the US. They don't appear to be priced any differently than non-pet friendly apartments, either.

However, there are almost no hotels that allow pets, so I may make a trip to Japan alone about a month before we move to find an apartment and set up the house. Since renting an apartment in Tokyo is a time consuming process in general (and there is almost always a wait for move in) this seems like something I would have done with or without the cats. It would be nice to have a place to go straight from the airport that already has a litter box and food (for cats and humans), as well as beds for the people. The flight takes a lot out of you, and I would rather have a permanent place to head to, instead of having to hustle and find a rental while jetlagged. Luckily, my frequent flyer balance makes this affordable for us.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Long Term Travel and Significant Others

This is part of a series responding to Christine at Almost Fearless' series 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. 

Day 4

I have lived with my long term boyfriend for the last 6 years.

We have done the long distance relationship thing (8 months while I was in Japan) and while that could probably work out for me again for a long period of time, he had a much rougher time.

If it only works for half of a couple - then it doesn't work.

Luckily, he is 100% on board with going to Japan while I finish my language training. He is so on board he is in the process of getting his TESL certification, which will help him find a job teaching English while we are there. That goes a long way towards making this affordable.

Great news, right? Yes! But...

But he is not fond of the idea of going to China later on, nor does he think a nomadic round the world trip is feasible for us. I decided on going to Japan first, for many reasons, but perhaps subconsciously I also knew that I would get the support of my significant other if I aimed for Japan first.

I kind of hope that my boyfriend will experience living in another country and fall in love with it, like I did. He hasn't traveled outside of the US much (that he was old enough to remember). He is also inherently more nervous about change than I am. I'm not trying to be manipulative, I just honestly believe that once he gets his feet wet, he'll decide it isn't such a bad idea.

But for now, we have a plan. A plan he is comfortable with, and I am excited about. For right now, this is working. I don't really know what's going to happen in the future. There may be a time when I have to choose between my relationship and my passions. I hope that time never comes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can a lawyer go digital?

This is part of a series responding to Christine at Almost Fearless' series 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. 

Day 3

The third post in the series is all about turning your job digital. Unfortunately, I don't think what I do can be turned into a location independent job - I have to show up for hearings. Even if I decided to not be the one to show up to the hearings (which would jeopardize my usefulness to my boss) what I do on the computer, while technically possible to do anywhere, would require a major operational change in how my boss does his work. Since he plans on retiring in the next five years or so, this does not seem like something he is willing to do.

Additionally, a large component of small law firm work is customer service. If you're drafting someone's will, or handling the estate of their deceased relative, people want to talk to you in person. Maybe this preference will change when my generation starts getting older, but the demographic who is in need of those services right now tend to be old fashioned and want a face to face meeting.

There do seem to be some legal tasks in big law which allow for location independent work. Actually, there is plenty of big law document review work that could be done remotely, but every document review project I have heard of requires you to go into an office to do so. BUT! Document reviewers fluent in other languages and legal translators seem to have more bargaining power - almost every legal translation of foreign language document review project I have seen is via telecommuting.

That is something I could do. That is something I would like to do. But that is something I need additional training for before I can do. My Japanese isn't good enough right now - and I am not capable of getting to a fluency level without immersion training.

While that idea doesn't get me to Japan any faster, it does give me a possible income for after. That's pretty significant.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pete and Bratitude

That is not terribly unlike what Pete has looked like for the past 3 days. Of course, there would be both a dressage saddle and me on top of him. I would probably look like I have no idea what just happened. Because I kind of don't.

Pete has never been super good in upward transitions to the canter. I have him because he threw too many people. But I did eventually do enough work to where I had a horse I could get reasonably calm upward transitions on.

Until I gave him two and a half weeks off because the only saddle I have that fit him broke.

I now have something like the picture. For half the length of the arena. Every single time I ask for an upward transition to the canter.

I will not be going to that show my trainer mentioned in two weeks.

I will, however, be busting my butt riding that horse every day until I can get something decent out of him.

I really wish I had someone to video his freakouts.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Travel Diet? I hate the word diet.

This is part of a series responding to Christine at Almost Fearless' series 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. 

This post talks about something called a Travel Diet. And in case you hadn't figured it out by my underwhelming weight loss progress, I kinda hate diets. And suck at them. Trust me, the hating and the sucking at it are directly related.

But apparently Christine just wanted to scare me, because she sums up a Travel Diet like this:
Don’t buy anything, unless it’s worth the travel time it costs.
That idea? That I can work with. I know people say that dieting and personal finance are related, but I for one must have very limited willpower reserves. I can save money better than I can diet, and I can stick to a riding schedule better than I can do either of those. I think this just means that I am better at guilting myself into doing the right thing when there's an animal depending on me. Personal finance ties indirectly into that - the more money I have saved the better off my animals will be if they get sick or injured.

But back to the Travel Diet idea.  The homework for this post is pretty simple, and by necessity I have already started doing most of it.

1. I very rarely make big purchases, and most of my shopping is consumables - I try to avoid "Stuff" using the Simple Dollar philosophy. The big purchases I make are almost always related to my horses, or are a necessary expense (like the new-for-me truck I am going to need in a few years).

2. I routinely try to delay buying something I want, to see if I really don't need it, or if I really want it. Sometimes this is a bad thing (ex: my current work wardrobe), but sometimes this is a good think (I have not yet bought the new Laurell K. Hamillton book in hopes of finding a cheaper used copy).

3. I do not usually do workarounds, unless you count buying something used instead of new as a workaround.  I think that probably counts.

4. The back pack test - don't buy it unless it would be something you would use on the road - seems like a pretty good one for household purchases. I don't think it applies to consumables, but for Stuff, it is definitely appropriate.

It's actually a little sad, but most of these techniques I have already been using because my salary is so low. I'm making probably 15k less than someone who graduated from my law school 2 or 3 years before I did. Kids, don't go to law school.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Redesigning My Life

This is part of a series responding to Christine at Almost Fearless' series 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign Your Life and Travel the World. 

Day 1

I don't have a date set to leave.

I haven't even really decided where I want to go first.

I want to go back to Japan and get my fluency certificate by passing the highest level of the JLPT. I want to take a round the world trip, travelling slowly and doing odd jobs along the way. I want to go to China and become fluent in Mandarin. Each of those are big long term trips that would take at least a year. I suspect that passing the JLPT would take me between a year and a half and two years to accomplish, and I may be overly optimistic in thinking that I would be able to achieve a high functioning level of Mandarin in a similar or slightly shorter time frame.

If I want to set a date I have to pick a project. Going to China would probably be about half as expensive as the other two, but I really feel a strong pull to finish my Japanese education. I liked the school I went to before, and I know their intense program will help me achieve my goal in a shorter period of time than some other schools I have looked into. The tuition prices aren't bad, either. I suppose influencing my preference for going back to Japan first is the fact that socializing with the other students really helped to improve my language skills when I was there the first time around. I imagine it's going to take some time for me to save up enough money to go, which means that I will be right on the upper edge of the student body's age range when I go. I'd rather go at a time when I would be invited to socialize, which means I would improve faster.

I want to go back to Japan first.

So what's stopping me?
1. My mortgage.
2. My horses.
3. My cats (and ferret).
4. My outstanding debt.
5. My lack of money.

None of these make going to Japan impossible.

I can rent out my house, probably for enough to break even.

My old trainer in Louisiana has reasonable board rates and loves my horse - she would care for Avalon while I was gone. Pete could be returned to my vet.

My parents have had two of their pets die of age related issues in the last three years, they would probably take a cat (or two). I know my brother would take one. And so long as we have the paperwork done, we can bring the other two, and maybe the ferret. I have heard some conflicting information on whether ferrets are allowed in so I have to check with the consulate. I'm sure my roommate would take her if we can't bring her. Actually, I probably have to worry about my roommate ferretnapping her when she moves out.

My debt is something I have been working on since the beginning of 2011, and I have made some great progress. If I continue to pay it down at this rate I should be debt free (not counting student loans and mortgage) by 2012.

The last one - lack of money - is going to be the hardest to fix. Even if a get a raise fairly regularly, chances are it will not be a big jump. I need to find a way to earn extra money outside of my 9 to 5 job.

I want to travel around the world

I have had this intense need to see the world.

Most people, to my knowledge, talk about seeing the world after they retire. Most people have a certain eight point life plan set out for them:

1. Go to school.
2. Get a good job.
3. Get married.
4. Buy a house.
5. Have kids.
6. Get those kids out of the house and happy in their own lives.
7. Retire.
8. Live the life they've always wanted.

My father is part of the baby boomer generation. I think his life has for the most part followed the eight point list, though he hasn't retired yet, and who knows if the lifestyle he is going to have during retirement is the one he's always wanted. My father has mentioned to me that he felt like he spent a lot of time and energy working in order to acquire stuff, and in turn working to acquire bigger homes to hold all that stuff.

I don't want that life.

I actually don't think that that kind of life is possible for me, even if I did want it. I will probably never earn the kind of money my father is earning right now. The news is filled with stories about how people who graduated during the recession, like I did, may need decades to recoup their losses in income, if they ever do. Real income has not risen with inflation, and many costs, like housing and medical care, have vastly outpaced inflation, much less wage increases. Working hard through college is supposed to get you a good job, and working hard at that job is supposed to get you a comfortable income to raise a family on and later on retirement. It doesn't work like that anymore. You can't really trust your employer to promote you, or even to keep your current job. People don't get pensions anymore.

The eight point plan isn't going to work for me. It's a good thing I'm not particularly interested in it.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post: Travel.

It's one of the main things I want to do. But I have a lot of things in my life that are directly opposed to a vagabond life. I have pets, I have a mortgage, I have student loans. I don't have a high income.

But I think those obstacles aren't the end of the road.

I found a blog, written by someone who is living the kind of life I want. It's called AlmostFearless. She has a series called 30 Ways in 30 Days to Redesign your Life and Travel the World. I'm going to work through the series here, and see what I can do to change my life to make it conform with my hopes for the future.

My saddle is back!

My saddle is back with brand new billets! Pete is back to work, and I'm positive he's gonna kick my ass for giving him so much time off.

I have a really tough time riding on a regular schedule for five days a week. I can ride three days a week regularly, but when I hit five it seems like I always have an excuse or a time shortage. And, honestly, if I want to improve enough to compete, I need to be riding five days a week.

So I'm setting a new goal.

I will ride 5 times a week for the next two weeks. I won't ride both horses every day, but I will ride at least one horse five times a week. After I accomplish that, I'm going to set a new goal. I plan on snowballing little changes into one huge change - with my end goal being to ride both horses five times a week.

Friday, June 3, 2011


I have been without my dressage saddle for almost two weeks. And it is driving me crazy!

My instructor uses my saddle for one lesson a week with one of her amateur riders. It fits the horse, and it fits the girl, and it is the only saddle in the barn which meets those two requirements. During a lesson two weeks ago the girl fell off, and somehow the billets on my saddle were ripped. I'm not really sure what happened, but I imagine the girl hung onto the saddle as she was falling and ended up using her entire bodyweight to do this. I really can't figure out any other way they would have broken, as the billets were in pretty good shape. My instructor offered to pay for the repairs and brought it down to a show she was judging in Aiken where there was a repair shop. She's kindly offered to let me use her extra saddle while mine is being repaired.

But I have discovered that I have a bratty princess mode when it comes to saddles. I used her saddle for exactly one ride. It have a steep downward slope towards the pommel, and that, paired with my more than sufficiently padded ass, means that I have to lean WAY back in order to put my back at the correct angle. And that hurts my lower back. It hurts enough that I had trouble getting out of bed the next morning because I was having twinges and soreness. Soreness I can handle, but back twinges are another matter.

And I can't help but think this is my fault. I have always had a weak lower back, and ever since puberty I have had ridiculous boobs. There was pain, but as I have gotten heavier my lower back pain has become less of an minor inconvenience and more of a major problem. I am simply heavy enough that it is affecting my quality of life.

And I have not done anything to fix that in the past month or so.

I need help finding motivation. I get up, go to work, go ride, and by the time I get home I am starving and want to eat, not run. If I am not starving I want to sit around and do nothing. I have to figure something else out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Personal Finance and Personal Priorities

I'm going to talk about something a little different today. I had a wonderful lesson, nailed that shoulder-in on Pete, but this last week I finally got put on salary at my job, and so I have been spending a lot (too much?) of time on recalibrating my finances.

It's not a sexy subject. It's not very fun. But it is the single best tool at my disposal to influence my future.

No, seriously. It's more important than my career, or even my law degree.

If I find the perfect job in Seattle, and am lucky enough to actually get an offer, my personal finances can wreck that dream. Moving costs money, and in this market selling my home would take time. Right now, I could not afford to rent a place in another state or city and pay my mortgage at the same time. Would I be able to accept that dream job?

I would like to return to Japan and finish earning my fluency certificate. Right now, I have debts that I would have to pay at the same time as paying for living expenses in Tokyo. I already have plenty of student loan debt, and while I can do an in-school deferment while I am in Japan, I do not want to add too much to that while I am going to school there. If I were accepted into the program, could I afford to go?

I place a high priority on both travel and taking care of my horses. This means that, unless I am willing to sell them (I'm not), I would have to support my horses and myself as I wander about the globe, join the peace corps, or pursue language immersion. Can I afford to do both?

The current answer to all three of these questions is Not Yet. The only way that not yet doesn't turn into not ever is if I get my spending under control, work towards earning more, and save a significant portion of my income. 

Unsexy. But so was studying for the bar. So was busting my ass mucking stalls every day during college so I could afford to keep Avalon at a boarding stable where he would receive quality care. So was spending hours a day memorizing kanji before and after class.

All those things paid off eventually. So will this.

I need to remind myself constantly that my daily decisions (especially whether to eat out or not) affect my long term goals. This is really true for everything in life: weight loss, riding, learning languages. I feel like I struggle with this far more often than I would like. I feel like a failure more often than I feel like I'm on the right track.

There's a blog called The Simple Dollar. The author is someone I greatly admire, and his philosophy towards money and priorities in life is something I really see the wisdom in. His priority is his children. That's not going to be my priority, but I do see how aligning personal finances with personal priorities leads to happier, more meaningful lives.

The trick is making it happen day after day.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Well, Duh.

I rode with a friend of mine yesterday and asked her to take a look at my attempts at a shoulder-in with Pete. She'd seen me do them during lessons so I was hoping she'd be able to tell me what's so different that's making it not work.

She told me I should try it at the trot.

If you can headdesk in a saddle, I did it.

Oh, and at the trot? It worked beautifully.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Riding Update

I have a lesson scheduled for Monday - and I NEED it. I never seem to get very far when I'm on my own. For instance, this week I was trying to get good shoulder ins from my two horses, who are completely capable of doing this, and who's toplines need some more muscle (especially Avalon) for my peace of mind. Shoulder ins help build up those muscles.

I think I started out really good. Get decent on the bit trotwork going, spend some time shortening and lengthening the trot, do some leg yields on a small circle to the rail, get some good lengthened trotwork on the diagonal and some nice collection coming around the corner out of it. All of that worked well for me, on both horses. Then I start the shoulder in.


I get something a little more like a shoulder in from Avalon, but there's something off about his hind end. I don't know what it is, and I have no one on the ground to tell me why he feels weird. His shoulder is mostly in the right place, and his head and neck are probably a little too bent to the inside. Not quite there.

Pete, on the other hand, thinks I'm a blinking idiot and just walks on the rail with his head and neck bent way too far towards the inside. As soon as I get his shoulder off the rail, he swings it back into line with his hind end. I cannot for the life of me get it right, not even for a split second.

Pete's definitely the horse I'm taking my lesson on.

Outside of my complete failure to practice a new skill and simultaneously limber and build muscle on my horses, things went OK. Avalon is still giving me this dainty miniature trot he's been giving me since he came off my attempted barefoot disaster, but I can usually get him to give me his big swinging trot after the canterwork, and sometimes just after some good trotwork. It's something that's worrying me, but he hasn't taken a lame step since I put shoes back on him, so I think it's just that it hurt for so long he got into the habit of trotting defensively. Or maybe I'm just taking more contact because I rode Pete for so long, and Avalon hasn't quite figured out that it's ok to trot big with that much contact. This is what I get for trying to ride him backwards for so many years, now I have to work to get him to move forward.

I made a really awesome discovery on Pete. He tends to have hissy fits (stick his head in the air and crophops a bit before settling down) when you ask for an upward transition to a canter. My trainer has been telling be to overbend him towards the inside when I ask, to reduce that, which works, but didn't eliminate it entirely. Turns out, if you loop the inside rein while you're asking (but keep contact on your outside) during the upward transition and take only minimum contact in the canter, he's chill. This is not a one side thing, so I don't think it's a pain response, I think I just rely too heavily in my inside rein and Pete is just not a fan. I can live with that. When he's not trying to get me off, Pete's canter is almost as nice as Avalon's.

We all know who the favorite child is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Just a quick thought...

Yesterday I got the nicest upward transition to a canter I had ever had on Pete. The only problem is that I didn't ask for it. I wanted more energy in his trot.

Now if I can just figure out how to repeat it....

I promise to update sometime in the next couple of days. Lots of work stuff went down this week, so I'm a bit behind on posting here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I passed!

Well, I passed the bar. I cannot express how relieved I am that I don't have to take that test again. I actually had something to celebrate at that party last Saturday.

I managed to mess up my back Sunday trying to do a workout video. It actually had been twinging since my lesson the Sunday before, and I was pretty silly and thought it was good to go. My lesson really drove home to me how weak my core is, especially my lower back. I decided I needed to do some exercises to improve my strength in that area...but I clearly overdid it the first try. I haven't ridden or worked out since I hurt my back on Sunday, and I know I need another day to let my back heal up. So that means I have two horses who will not have been ridden for three days, and I have a canoeing adventure scheduled for Saturday. I'm going to go into my Sunday lesson with only two rides for the week under my belt. Not ideal. But I think if I rode this afternoon I might reinjure myself, to that's the way it's going to have to be. Maybe I can sneak in a ride late Saturday.

My last lesson can be quickly summed up as this: I can do a shoulder in on Avalon, but it's harder for him towards the right. By the time we were working on the right I had exhausted my core strength, and as a result he was running out at the shoulder. An improvement on my seat and core at the time could have fixed that. We actually did it later that week, but I started trying far earlier during the ride, so I had the stamina for it.

This is the first time I have ever had problems during a lesson where I clearly had the skills but did not have the strength to do it.

This is a really great additional motivator to continue trying to lose weight and get fit. I just need to try to do it more carefully!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Radio Silence

I'm not posting much right now because I am trying to stay very busy. The bar results come out on Friday, and to say I am nervous is an understatement. I am freaking out. I'm throwing a party this weekend, if I pass it's a celebration. If I fail it's something to obsess over other than the fact that I have to re-enter hell. It's also an excuse to clean my house that doesn't make me examine the fact that the cleaner my house is the more wrecked my mental state.

I had an OK lesson on Sunday, but I'm not really going to post about it because everything is negative to me right now. I'll post a better recap next week, when I'm no longer in a doom and gloom headspace. I did some good stuff, but all I can think of right now is what I failed at.

The plan for the rest of the week is pretty simple: Work, ride, clean, workout, sleep. Repeat.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Not as bad as I thought...

I weighed myself this morning. 185.6 pounds. I was expecting to have gained back almost all I lost, so that measly .6 lb doesn't bother me at all. I had a great lesson, and I successfully staved off a sugar craving with some fruit.

We took pictures today during the lesson.

I got some pretty decent leg yields.

Taking pictures helps you realize some things. I think my leg is slightly too far forward, and I am absolutely not sitting up as straight as I need to be.

Despite all of my little nitpicking on my riding, I must be doing something right - Avalon looks great!

I also start to lean forward during cavaletti.

This is Pete. Like I said, he's a bit chunky right now. I should have taken a front on picture, his gut is wider than his shoulders and hips right now.

And I saw a bunny!

Nothing like photographic proof of how large your butt is to make you want to work harder at losing weight.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Pot, meet Kettle...

                                                          Source: Michelle Meiklejohn

I'm posting about how Pete's blown up like a balloon, but let's be honest here - I'm definitely fat, too.

I gained a lot of weight in law school. Forty pounds in three years, most of it in the first two. I've been out of law school for almost a year, and I gained another 5 pounds while studying for the bar. I clearly do not deal with stress well. I am incredibly unhappy about it, and last night my dad called me and gave me a little speech about paying attention to my health. My mother is having lots of health problems because of her weight. She's been morbidly obese for as long as I can remember. My dad is normally pretty content to leave those kinds of comments to me alone, it really embarrasses him to talk about it. And the fact that I looked so bad the last time I came home that he mentioned it despite how uncomfortable it made him? It makes me feel like crap.

I managed to lose five pounds right after the bar during March, but I slacked off during the first week and a half of April. I got on the treadmill today, which I hadn't done in almost two weeks. I really need some form of accountability, so I'm going to start posting my stats, even if no one reads them. They're pretty painful to look at.

Progress so far:
3/11 - 190
3/13 - 188.6
3/16 - 188
3/19 - 187.4
3/22 - 186.8
3/25 - 186.2
3/30 - 185

And I haven't weighed in since March 30th. I'm afraid to. Which probably tells you how good I feel about my diet and workouts for the last ten days.

I would like to get back to my high school/Japan weight. I weighed 145 in high school, gained the freshman 15 (though in my case it was 20), and then lost it all again when I went to Japan my junior year of college.  I maintained 145 until I got into law school. So 145 is my goal weight, even though it's on the higher end of normal for my height according to the BMI scale.

I keep asking myself how I got here. I am deeply ashamed of how I have "let myself go". During law school I got into the habit of eating out too often, because I never felt like I had the time to cook. I also spent all of my time behind a desk, except for the few times a week I rode. I do live with my boyfriend, but his eating habits are actually worse than mine, and got even worse when he was unemployed for two years. He finally got a job a little over six months ago, and I don't really see his eating improving. Unfortunately, he's not very interested in changing anything just yet (I don't think he's gained as much as quickly as I have), so I can't count on too much support from him.

I've tried to get motivated to lose the weight I've gained before, but I always fizzled out or had to deal with some impending crisis or deadline or test which sidetracked me. I keep telling myself this time is going to be different. It's going to have to be, I seriously need to fix this.

Here goes.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Getting there...

Well Pete has decided that I'm no longer screwing up when I'm supposed to be leg yielding, which is good. I haven't had any hissy fits related to the right rein for a while, though he's still throwing his random "I don't wanna!" pops in there. I'm actually ok with that, since its not something I'm causing, and therefore not a pain reaction.

Pete is, however, FAT. We've got more grass in the pastures right now than we've had for a long time with South Carolina's drought/flood cycle, and boy is he taking advantage. He's a porker. This is normally not good, but Pete has bad hocks, which means all that extra weight can cause him some real problems. I've cut his grain and hay down by half, and I've been riding him almost every day it isn't raining. He hasn't lost anything, but then again it doesn't look like he's gained either. I've started to do intervals on him, hopefully that will help. Maybe I'll drop some pounds, too.

Avalon has been kind of avoiding me in the bit, not quite getting as deep as he needs to. He's also been popping his head up and trying to run through my half-halts. Yesterday I had him long and low in the bit (Finally!) and I while he's still popping his head up and resisting during some half-halts at the trot, he's not running through me at the walk or canter. It's not perfect, but it's getting there.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Travel Jobs?

I don't even know how old I was when I decided that I wanted to see the world. I just know it's something I want to make a big part of my life. I've been lucky enough to visit parts of Western Europe, the Caribbean, North America, and Japan.

I don't just want to see a place, though. The package tours where you stay a day or two in one city then move to the next, hitting the major tourist spots, definitely appeal to me. But that's not my ideal. I want immersion experiences. I want to learn the language, learn how to cook the local foods, learn how people generally live, and get to know the culture.

I had not figured out how to accomplish this. I could country hop, but the chances of finding a new job every few years in a new place (with a new language!) seems impossible. Even if I could accomplish that, I do not believe I would be able to simultaneously do things like save for a house or retirement, since visa and language issues would probably mean I would have to change professions often, and have to go back to entry level salary every couple of years. The logistics involved are a nightmare, especially since I am a pet person.

So I found the best possible compromise. The Department of State sends its employees overseas for two year long tours at it's embassies. Employees retain the same retirement accounts, get financial and logistical assistance during moves, and basically do good by their country as they seem to be an incredibly selfless and skilled group. Employees are usually required to learn the language of their assigned posts, and are provided for while they devote themselves to learning a new language (hard stuff!). Employees live in their assigned country for two years before moving on to their next post, which means that they get two years to immerse themselves in a new culture for each assignment.

Now there are some negatives that come with the lifestyle. I imagine trying to raise children under those circumstances would be difficult. The inherent logistical difficulties of owning a "home base" home may very well be financially impossible. I also imagine that you can't really have "nice" things (like furniture) for fear it will be lost, damaged, or stolen during moves. Not to mention almost always being far away from your friends and family. I have also heard that sometimes the embassy employees become a little insular, and don't really experience the culture of their host families because they stay in de facto American compounds.

But I think I want to do this. It's a chance to make real contributions internationally, and meanwhile you get all the benefits of travelling to new places. The job is hard, and State employees make many personal sacrifices, but I think it's worth it.

Law School

One of the reasons I feel like I am trying to dig my life out of a hole is because I just finished law school less than a year ago. I actually really regret this decision, but not because I don't think it is a worthy profession. I just think I overpaid for law school, despite having a scholarship which cut my tuition costs in half.

I think a lot of people my age feel like they overpaid for a degree, whether it was undergrad or a grad degree. Unless you are lucky enough to have parents who saved for you or get a full ride scholarship, chances are you graduated with some student loan debt. We've all heard the statistics - that college tuition is rising faster than inflation, according to some sources by as much as 10x the rate of inflation. But the problem is people feel like they have to have a degree in order to get a good job, and the government makes it easy to take out loans, so people will pay just about anything. I do not know anyone who managed to beat that assumption and get a good job without a degree, but I guess that also depends on my definition of a "good job".

Law school was really difficult for me. I have never been so stressed in my entire life (not counting studying for the bar, which was WORSE). If you go to law school you are generally graded on a forced curve, meaning there is only a small percentage of people allowed to get an A in the class. Everyone else must get a B or below. It's hard to fail (short of not going to class and not doing the reading), but my cumulative GPA suffered, possibly permanently disqualifying me from a scholarship for a Master's program I would like to attend one day. In addition to the forced curve, you are generally only given one test, your final exam, and that is your grade for the course. This is a pretty old school system, and it means that if you have an off day, you're stuck with that grade for the entire semester's worth of work. Some law schools are getting away from this and giving mid-terms, which I think is a great idea.

I am simply not cut out for blindly studying for one big test. I need some sort of feedback, so I can adjust how I am studying and correct any mistakes I have made. Additionally, you have to make sure you stay on schedule on your own, there's no pop quiz to check that you are up to date on your reading. Law school is not built for anyone who needs feedback on a regular basis. You can do it on your own, but you need your professor's help, and whether or not they are interested in helping you gauge your progress is a really iffy thing. These people have other duties in addition to teaching.

I guess all you have here is me complaining about how I graduated with a poor (for my standards) GPA and large amounts of student loan debt. There were positives. I did graduate with a job, which is more than many people can say. And to be honest, I wish I had worked harder while I was there, because maybe if I had some of my complaints would have been lessened. It's too late for me, though. If you are interested in getting into politics in your home state law school is probably the best "in" you can find, since legislators always need interns, but just don't expect to be paid for a while.

I tell my friends who are thinking about applying to law school one thing: Go only if you get a scholarship that pays the majority of your tuition. I don't care how smart you are, law school is not the same as undergrad and past success does not guarantee future results. Don't bet on a cushy job after you graduate, only the top 1% of law students in the country get those jobs, so plan on getting 40k a year starting out. If those numbers add up for you, then do it. Don't bet on being the exception to the rule.

I would also advise anyone applying for law school to not attend a third tier school, unless they offer you a completely full ride scholarship. Not unless you want to get ripped off. The reputation of your school matters much more when job hunting in the legal field than it does for undergrad.

Some people do great in law school and feel like they got wonderful things out of it. I did not, nor did the majority of my friends. Just be cautious if this is something you are considering.