I'm not sure about you, but one of my first winters outside of the dorm was practically tragic. When you're on your own for the first time (I mean not living in the dorm and paying your own utilities) everything is sort of trial and error.
You begin to appreciate your mom and pop's ability to budget, pay bills and afford holidays gifts while you took thirty-minute showers or left your bedroom light on during the day. Then, multiply that by each of your siblings. Kudos mom and dad!
The cost of living and the stress adds up, and all of us that learned to pay our own car insurance agree that even leaving the porch light on when you're away for the weekend or thinking about buying gifts for everyone gives us a little bit of anxiety.
If you have never been through a winter on your own, here are some survival tips coming to you from a person who made a few mistakes but learned quickly from them.
1. You CAN turn on the heat without your gas bill burning a hole through your pocket.
I don't know what my roommates and I were thinking, but we opted out of turning on the heat during the winter to save money. I suppose that the AC running and the electric bill during the summer had something to do with it. Our house was a whopping 56 degrees. It also didn't help that we rented a house with poor insulation. We wore multiple layers, covered up in multiple blankets and bought space heaters, but regardless, I learned the hard way with one too many sniffles that year.
In truth, that space heater hurt our electric bill far more than turning on the heat.
That next winter, I discovered something bananas. Most gas companies have this thing called "Budget Billing" so that you can pay the same amount every month. The most I've ever paid for my gas bill is $38 in total, and when you separate that amongst you and your roommates… the heavens open and extra funds allow you to buy that burrito you've been craving.
2. Sometimes there's snow, and sometimes there's snot.
By the time you hit your junior year of college, you realize that eastern New Mexico winters can be crazy. So crazy that if you are from the north, you are kind of shocked that they canceled school because of a small coat of snow, which melts promptly by noon. One year snow is nonexistent, and then the next, a blizzard takes you by surprise. Now you have to show these southerners the importance of four-wheel drive, stocking up on canned goods and makeshift sledding.
You also realize your body built up an immunity to the yearly sickness spread across campus. Your first flu in college might as well have killed you before finals did, but what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. You made it out alive without your mom's talent to heat up soup at the perfect temperature. The next year, you somehow manage to escape the bugs and flu, but that may be in part to your ability to reason and schedule a flu shot like an adult.
Many programs around Portales and Clovis will offer free flu shots during the fall, so keep your ear to the ground next time. Get your flu shot before the possible (and impossible) snow coming your way.
3. Even the Grinch realized that being alone was no way to spend Christmas.
The children are coming… and so are the engagements.
While you spend time on your own this winter, you will notice something intriguing happen on Facebook. Everyone announces an engagement or a baby during the break. If you're cynical about these announcements, maybe it is because you wanted so badly to be there and share in their happiness. Or some other reason, but nonetheless, you're still at home alone, being the Grinch.
You miss your family and friends. We get that you had to stay home to watch over the house when your roommates went skiing. However, what you don't realize is that you need to get out the house and come to the Whobilation. The community of Portales and ENMU always has something going on during the holidays.
Check out the online calendars and nearby Facebook events, even if you show up alone. If you spend your time in the house all day, then chances are you are missing out on something. New friendships, experiences and laughter are literally outside your door. Your heart still has three sizes to grow into before the New Year so don't delay it any further.
4. Soups and stews keep a belly full.
One quick tip to surviving winter in Portales (or New Mexico in general) is to brush up on your soup and stew making abilities. As a college student in New Mexico, if you haven't learned to cook with green chile, then you haven't learned to cook at all.
I realized that a freezer full of red and green chile is a lifesaver during the winter because food gets expensive during the holidays. So many parties, potlucks and celebrations going on. The easiest and cheapest thing to celebrate winter with is to invest in pork, beef and potatoes… and whatever other spices and ingredients you like. Or maybe you're like me who keeps all the stews and soups to myself. Green chile stew makes your house smell cozy. Plus, it warms you up and fills you up.
If I were you, a pot of stew is the right thing to do.
5. Creative gifting naturally occurs.
If you're worried about affording presents for the first time on your own, then you, my friend, are officially an adult. That first Christmas in college was all about coming home to receive a large care package from grandma and grandpa just so you could survive spring semester. Now you have a collegiate income coming in, but there's only so much you can budget for.
On a collegiate income, you become very creative in the art of gift giving. I felt terrible that I didn't get my parents anything for the first few years because I used all my savings to make it home for Christmas. The following year I had enough savings to head home and get each family member's mediocre gift, but I soon realized I didn't have enough moola for even mediocre.
The natural thing to do was to evolve and break out my first-grade crafting skills entwined with some skills I learned in my "Graphic Design I" class.
I hunted down cheap picture frames around town and I designed personalized gifts to hang in each of my family member's homes. I designed picture frames in Photoshop with some sentimental facts I acquired from Facebook like the last name of each family, everyone's first name and the dates each family was established (a.k.a. the wedding dates) and wedding colors.
All in all, everyone loved their original gifts, and my budget was in no way compromised.