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A College Degree & an Uncertain Career Path

May 13, 2011

When I graduated college I was still only 21. I didn’t embark on a road trip. I didn’t back pack through Europe either. I took a job in June at a regional insurance company. I got the gig by a career fair held that spring at my university. I had no idea what an underwriter was or what I would be doing. Needless to say I was very disappointed. The first days were very uneasy. I was the youngest person in the office by about 25 years. I didn’t have anyone to talk to or relate to about my experience.  All of my co-workers thought I was very young, and I was really young.

I took the position because I really did not know what I wanted to do post college. I thought the pay was fabulous and I jumped on board. I went shopping and bought myself a professional wardrobe only to find out that everyone would be in khakis and wrinkled shirts in their cubes. I wore all of my goods anyway. I felt that I needed to be excited for something in the morning.

For the first couple of months I was in training, which consisted of reading books. I really didn’t have any interactions with any customers or co-workers for that matter. The woman assigned to be my mentor was my one saving grace. She was classy, smart and fun. I did learn things from her that I wouldn’t take back.

The one good experience was going up to Boston for a month and meeting all of the other trainees in the country. I related to them much more and I had a good time. Although I was apathetic to insurance and everything I was learning, it was good for my spirit at the time. My roommate was from Georgia. She was fun and hated insurance too. So we instantly bonded.

I was not very happy with this job. It didn’t help that all of my co-workers were telling me to run as far as I could from insurance. I wish I listened to them that September. It took me another seven years until I decided to go back to school and make a career change.

I graduated Rutgers in 2003. At the time the economy was just recovering from the economic downturn after Sept. 11. I don’t think it was the best time for a new graduate, but it certainly wasn’t the worse. The graduates now are in much more trouble than I was. I feel bad for them because they are going to have to take whatever they could get. I took the highest paying job I could get, not knowing that money wasn’t everything. These grads are really going to have to take anything, even a really low paying job that they aren’t even interested in. I wouldn’t want to be in their position but I would love to be in my position eight years ago knowing what I know now.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Safe Travels
May 6, 2011

While I'm thrilled that Osama Bin Laden is dead, I don't think I'll be much safer because of it. I fear the backlash of his followers.

I don't think another large-scale attack like 9/11 is imminent, but still I fear things like subway bombers and other random, violent attacks. Actually I'm more afraid to travel now because of this.

My travel plans never really changed after 9/11. I was in college when it happened and I was never afraid to go on to a plane. A few months after the tragedy, I was on a plane, which may seem naive, but I really think our national security is good when it comes to protecting us in the air. All the changes at the airport since 9/11 have been totally worth the minor inconveniences they may have caused for travelers. I really feel safer knowing that everyone is searched before they board a U.S. plane.

Oddly enough, the night President Obama announced Osama Bin Laden was dead I was away from Seattle, in Myrtle Beach. That weekend I was going to get on a plane the next morning and Obama warned Americans to be vigilant while traveling. Some of the people I was traveling with were a bit stressed about boarding the plane, but I really didn’t think twice about it. I think the airports are a top priority for national security.

I don’t travel into New York City for work, but all my friends who commute into the city have said that there are a lot more police officers on the subways and the Path. I think that is reassuring, but I also feel that if someone wants to commit a crime on the subway or Path it would be hard to stop him or her. I think this is because these criminals are willing to die for the cause. I am vigilant though while going into the city, and sometimes I might even get a little paranoid if someone looks at me the wrong way on the train.

Depsite everything, I'm happy the families of the 9/11 victims got to hear about Bin Laden's death. There could never be true justice for them, but I really do believe this had to help.

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I would hate to see us get attacked out of retaliation. I fear it somewhat, but not when I fly.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

The Wars Don't Hit Home

April 1, 2011

I don’t believe that the everyday civilian is affected by the three wars the U.S. is now involved in. The only thing I could possibly attribute to the most recent conflict are the gas prices. The people that are feeling the direct effects of these wars are the soldiers and their families. The majority of the sacrifice is carried by our bravest. Whether or not I agree with these conflicts is besides the point when speaking about the the burden they create for the military families.

I never thought we should have gone into Iraq, and the majority of sane Americans would agree with me. Especially since many feel that Bush lied regarding the weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, these soldiers really did die in vain. I can’t name one gain we received from these sacrifices. I put all the blame on Bush and his administration. Afghanistan is where Bin Laden is, so I guess I could see the ideology behind this one.  The problem is we haven’t captured him yet and I don’t think we will. (I’m sorry I can’t really be optimistic about anything regarding war.)

As for Libya, I think we were right to step in for humanitarian purposes. We do have a moral responsibility as democratic country to step in when we are informed that innocent people are being slaughtered. So yes I agree with this current conflict. I think Obama was right to send troops there. The funny part is Bush would have done the same thing but if you listen to Fox you wouldn’t think so.

There is no support or backlash in my community over Libya. Unfortunately, people in my town care more about US Weekly and Britney Spears than they do about current affairs. Actually, this speaks for a majority of my generation. It is really ironic that we are the first to use computers and the Internet, but also the first really not to give a crap about anything but ourselves. People think I’m crazy or weird when I talk about politics. This is because they want to talk about American Idol. I think you can do both but when the latter takes up most of the dinner conversation it is impossible kids to learn about their country.  No one is really paying attention to these wars because they don’t care or they are too busy keeping afloat in this dire economy. I know one thing: These aren’t the wars of our grandparents. They are not going to dig us out of a recession or anything like that. That was a different time. All of the factories that produced the weapons back then are now overseas.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Not Big on Technology Without Purpose

March 25, 2011

I had my first cellphone when I was a junior in high school. My mom bought it for me so that it would be easier for us to get in touch with each other when she had to pick me up from my part-time job or afterschool activities. I was on the “family“ plan then, so I wasn’t really allowed to make any phone calls to friends on it. The phone was strictly for constructive uses or for an emergency.

I now am a Verizon subscriber and have been for 10 years. I don’t really think much about cellphones. I’ve never paid anything more than $50 for one. I’ve always been happy with the free phone that comes every two years with the standard contract. I’m not big on technology without purpose. I don’t see why I need the internet on my tiny phone or why I should ever need to be able to play an iTune via my cellphone. So needless to say I don’t feel I ever have to get the latest and greatest of phones.

I don’t own a smartphone. When I finally do own one it will be because the “smart” phone will be the freebie that Verizon doles out.
The fact that AT&T will buy T-mobile is alarming to me. I hope the cellphone market doesn’t dry out completely. The fewer companies there are, the higher the price will be for everyone. I think if the cellphone market came down to one or two companies, thry would be able to push up the prices to whatever they want because Americans will pay.

Most Americans under the age of 60 feel that the cellphone is a necessary evil. Not only do they have one, they purchased a phone for all of their family members. The cellphone gives parents and loved ones a sense of “security”. I agree that it does in some ways. I would want my child to have one in case of an emergency. I like having mine in the car in case something happens. In essence, I feel lost without one and I feel everyone else does too. I really hope that new players come into the market as AT&T closes out the T-mobile market. I feel this is the only way that cell phones will remain affordable for lower- and middle-class American families.

Another gripe I have with my service provider is the mistakes they make on the bills. Every month I am on the phone with a Verizon rep (as nice as they are it is very frustrating). A common mistake is them charging me for internet service, which is turned off on my phone.
Cellphone companies need to clean up this mess because it is a huge waste of time for them and the customers. While technology has gotten better, service has gotten worse. I feel when companies get taken over or merge together services go downhill, at least temporarily.

Good luck to all you AT&T and T-mobile subscribers!

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Uncle Sam Cashes In
March 11, 2011

I don’t really mind tax season because I usually receive a refund from Uncle Sam. My father does my taxes in January and I usually have my money by March. He’s an accountant and gets my taxes done as soon as he can.

This year I am getting a pretty good check back because of the student credit I received. I’m kind of looking forward to it and will probably use that money for a new vehicle this summer.

I don’t dread April 15th because I have the peace of mind that my taxes are done and in the mail. I’m lucky in a sense because my dad guides me with my finances. He advises me on how to claim myself, and on anything financial related for that matter. He has a lot of corporate and individual clients, so he knows his stuff. I know a little bit about tax code from him but I probably couldn’t do my own taxes. I know, that’s pretty sad. Maybe I’ll try to learn next year (probably not).

I really don’t get upset at the government “taking my money” because that's the way our country operates. But I do get frustrated at the fact that all the roads in my town are atrocious and filled with pot holes and cracks. I often think to myself, What is my money going toward here? Still, there are some really good things my taxes go to like education and reputable organizations like Planned Parenthood.

I get why most people get so disgruntled during tax season, but I am adverse to hearing the rich complain. The fact that they owe money generally means that they did very well. They want to keep all of their earnings but no one does, so they need to get over it. My parents always owe, and they are by no means rich, just upper middle class. They never get upset at the fact that they owe because they are grateful they have the money to pay.

There have been a few times I got mad at Uncle Sam for “taking my money." Those times were when I received a bonus at work and got only half of it in my pay check. When I was twenty four I didn’t know that the bonuses were taxed as gifts and I was so disappointed that my six thousand dollars came out to thirty five hundred just like that. I still think that tax is a little crazy.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Leaving My Troubles Behind

March 4, 2011

I love Spring Break. I used to go all of the time in college and then a few years post college with my younger cousin. It’s a great time to take a vacation because it sets us northerners up for the Spring Weather. When you board the plane it’s cold, but then you get off and the tropical air and sun are like magic. This year it will be especially magical to all spring breakers given the horrible winter we have just endured.

I am in grad school full time and I plan on taking advantage of Spring Break this year. I’m going to the Dominican Republic with my boyfriend and I can’t wait. The beaches are white sand and the temperature is 85 degrees. In my mind it can’t get much better than that. We plan on windsurfing, snorkeling and just relaxing on the beach.  I just love the hot sun beating on me, in spite the risks of skin cancer. Hopefully when we come back spring will set in up here. The only downfall to going away in March is that when you come back sometimes you come back to bitter cold and that could be mildly depressing. I fancy the Caribbean and March and April are a great time to be there. The weather can’t be beat!

Even though I am unemployed we are still taking this trip, but we are doing it economically. We chose to go for five days instead of seven because it made a big difference in price. We are staying at an all inclusive so we already know what we will be spending. All inclusive are great because you don’t have to budget for your meals and drinks, which sometimes could cost you another $1,500 if you aren’t careful with your choices. Our hotel is four stars and got pretty good reviews, so I’m expecting a nice place for the price we paid. I did some research on the Internet to try to find the best bargains possible for our price point and there really weren’t that many significant price changes across the typical vacation websites. I have to say that booking a trip on a or Expedia site does save you money when compared to booking the flight and hotel alone. The only way this wouldn’t make sense was if you had air miles you could use to defray the cost of the trip.

I’m looking forward to Spring Break not only because of the climate but because it will give a chance to relax and clear my head. It really is a much needed break this year with everything going on.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

America's Budget Is Still a Hot Topic
Feb. 24, 2011

The federal budget has always been a hot topic among Democrats and Republicans, but the debate isn't really about what's being cut, but who's being cut.

I’m a firm believer that relieving the budget shouldn't fall on the working poor's shoulders. So I'm glad Obama is making cuts to wealthy farmers who make more than $500,000 a year, and that he's increasing the money spent on programs to provide some aid to the poor.

I also like that Obama's increasing spending on education, although one issue I have with this is that there is little control on how the funds will be spent. Our education system is clearly falling apart, but I don’t know how I would go about funding it. Sadly, I don’t think Congress has a clue, either.

The reason we are in this mess is partly because of the Bush tax cuts that were recently extended by Obama. Who's paying for that? The working poor.

Entitlements are another hot topic, too. The Republicans are chastising Obama about his inconclusive plans for Social Security and Medicaid. I agree there has to be a fix, but lowering the payments of Medicaid users while letting the rich get richer is just immoral. It also hits close to home because I have two elderly grandparents living on a fixed budget and Medicaid is how they get by. Without it, they would be in a nursing home. I also feel they shouldn’t be punished by cuts in entitlements. They were both hard workers, put in their time and helped pay for Social Security.

On the state government level, I find it frustrating that Right Wing governors wants to kill unions and do away with collective bargaining. The reason we have fair labor practices in this country is because of unions. Yeah, it's real sad all the Wall Street fat cats went down in their million dollar parachutes. Meanwhile, the government worries about a former teacher collecting a pension of $45,000. That's ludicrous!

Another hot topic is spending more on nutrition programs. I feel this is a great move because a majority of hospilitazation costs come from diseases caused by an unhealthy lifestyle. But again, the Right Wingers say that the government is taking away our freedom. No, you can still eat cheetos Sarah Palin, but your six year old will be told that Cheetos are unhealthy so she can make her own choice.

Kids need to be educated about living a healthy lifestyle. It's good for them physically and emotionally, and there is an epidemic of twelve year olds getting diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. How much do you think that costs taxpayers?

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

The Dollar's Power Keeps Shrinking

Feb. 18, 2011

During the past 30 years this country has had a history of distributing most of the wealth to the top 1% of the country. I’m about to be 30 years old in August and was a baby when Reagan came into office. I was a child of the '80s but little did I know that this would be the beginning of the demise of the middle class. At the same time the bull was set free, the working poor was becoming part of our vernacular. The dollar was never that valuable to me because by the time I knew what a dollar was it wasn’t much at all. I remember my mother taking my friend and me to Toys 'R' US when I was seven and she said you could get something for a dollar. I remember picking up everything in the aisles and her saying “No, sorry honey, that’s more than a dollar.” I knew that I needed at least $5 to buy anything substantial.

Even though a dollar could never buy me much other than a stick of gum and a pack of lifesavers it has gotten substantially worse through my year on this earth. In the eighth grade I was able to go into the Gap or to Macy’s and buy a top with the $20 my parents gave me. As I graduated high school I needed $40 to purchase the same type of shirt. It’s amazing how things inflated in just a few short years. Movie tickets used to be $5 when I was 12, and now they are $11. I think that’s a little much. I purchased a Diet Coke at the theater the other night and I was shocked when the cashier said $4. My mother said she used to be able to buy lunch with a nickel. That seems unreal to me and I guess when I tell my child I was able to go to the movies for $11 he or she will be surprised as well.

The worst inflation that I have experienced personally thus far is gas prices. When I was 19 years old and my parents bought me my first car, a Honda Accord, they inserted a $20 bill in the glove compartment. That same $20 filled my tank and also bought chips and Snapple ice teas for my friend and I. I am 29 and today I filled my Nissan Altima, a similar sized sedan compared to the accord. Guess how much it cost? Well it cost me $52. I think that type of increase is unmanageable it a period of just 10 years. The minimum wage hasn’t increase much since I was 19 but gas prices have increased more than 100% in the same amount of time. It is crazy that a teenager needs $50 to fill their tank and they are making $7.25 an hour at their job at Hollister. I was making $5.05 in 2001 and it cost me $18 to fill my tank. Something just isn’t right about that.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

'The Fighter' Wins It

Feb. 11, 2011

I love the Oscars for so many reasons. I love the glitz and the glam of the red carpet as much as I love hearing the winners announced.

This is Hollywood’s special night and the stars usually don’t disappoint when it comes to wardrobe, hair, and makeup. Although I have not seen some of the contenders for best picture this year, I do have a favorite. I really loved The Fighter. I thought the acting was incredible and I just adored Melissa Leo. I really hope she brings home the Oscar for her role. Christian Bale was amazing and believable as a has been crack addict and I found Mark Wahlberg’s performance to be very good as well. The way the dysfunctional family was portrayed was right on and very relatable to many American families.

I really don’t get why Black Swan has been nominated for best picture.  I found the story silly and strange.  I love Natalie Portman and her acting was great as always, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone going to see that movie. The dancing was beautiful but the plot was not my thing. Inception was a pretty good movie too but I don’t think it should win Best Picture.

I feel that the Oscar nominees have become more mainstream but because they now have 10 nominees for Best Picture it’s a mixed bag. There are some movies that most Americans did not go see like The King’s Speech and some that everyone has seen, like Inception. I really would like to see The Social Network before the big night, because I have heard wonderful things about it. I really didn’t have a desire to see a story about Mark Zuckerberg's alleged back-stabbing of his college roommate but since all the hype it’s a must on my list.

The Academy usually picks a top-notch film for Best Picture. I’ve been watching some of the Best Pictures from years past and I have to say the films were very deserving. My father recommended that I watch The Deer Hunter. I did and I thought it deserved Best Picture. The movie had great, believable acting and more importantly made me think for days about the story and climate it took place in. Another great winner for Best Picture that I recently watched was Ordinary People. The characters and story were very real and raw, and that is what makes a good film into a great one.

I don’t really have an Oscar ritual. I usually watch with my mom every year. The show it self could be quite tedious and long if you actually sat in front of the television for the four hours. I usually tune in for the red carpet and the bigger awards like best actress/actor, best supporting actress/actor, and of course Best Picture. I really have my heart on the Fighter and I hope I am not disappointed!

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Lower Your Expectations
Feb. 4, 2011

I definitely think Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, but it doesn’t have to be.

You can celebrate without having to spend a substantial amount of money on gifts or food. As cliché as this sounds, a gift from the heart is always a sweet thing. Sometimes couples need February 14th to remember to do just that for each other.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with the flowers, the candies, or going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day, but I do think it is easy to caught up on the retail side of the holiday. There is nothing wrong with a box of Russell Stove candies, but I know many people who would turn their noses up at that because they were expecting Godiva!

I really truly feel that it is the thought that counts.

One Valentine’s Day I received a single rose and I thought that was very sincere and also economical. Who needs a dozen at a price jacked up so high that it isn’t worth it!

This year I am in a relationship so I have to say I am kind of looking forward to it. I have experienced many Valentine’s Days alone and that isn’t that much fun. Even though it isn’t a big deal, all the hype from retailers and restaurants can make you feel inadequate if you don’t have a significant other.

One year, I did Valentine’s day with a couple my single girlfriends and we had a wonderful time. We got facials, then later on we got dressed up and went out to dinner. We celebrated the love with had for each other as friends.

I have gotten some pretty weird Valentine’s Day gifts in the past. I think one of the worst experiences was being taken to a local diner in town when I was in high school because my date didn’t know enough to make reservations and that was the only place available.

I’ve had boyfriends give me really pretty lingerie, but I felt that was a gift for him, too!

One year I got a really pretty necklace along with a homemade card, which was probably my favorite V day gift by far. 

I don’t know what I’ll get this year but I’m sure I will like it just fine. See, I think in order to enjoy Feb. 14th you can’t have high expectations. You just have to go with it and remember that it really is just one stupid day on the calendar. It could be a forgettable day, but it also could be memorable.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

The Predatory Loan I Almost Fell For

Jan. 28, 2011

The only time I went to the bank for a loan was in 2007, right before the Great Recession. At the time I was going to purchase a small 600-sq. foot condo in Hoboken, N.J. I was 26 and was making an above average salary for my age but not nearly enough to cover the amount that the bank was willing to lend me ($400,000).

The loan officer basically convinced me that with my down payment and the historically low interest rates that the offer was a no brainer. I only had a corporate job for four years and was going to purchase this home alone and they didn’t even ask for the loan to be cosigned! This is why the country got into the mess it got into in 2008.

My parents advised me that I could not afford this piece of property and thankfully I listened to them. Unfortunately not a lot of people had advisors that led them in the right direction financially. At the time, I felt that the bank was totally on my side. In fact when I received a notice confirming the amount that would be loaned to me in writing, I felt a feeling of accomplishment.

Of course, this was all bogus because given the collapse of the economy if I went through with the deal I would have been forced to sell in 2010 or the same bank would have foreclosed on my condo. I really feel that the liberal bank loans really did a huge disservice to many American families, especially the ones who took out mortgages with adjustable interest rates.

In a way I do blame the banks for offering people loans that they could never afford in the first place. Of course there is some blame to lay on the buyers as well because they knew how much they were making at the time and unless they were on a guaranteed pay scale they couldn’t predict what they would be making when their rates would be adjusted.

I don’t feel that it was fair that all of the big banks were bailed out and the same corporate executives that were responsible for their failures made out like bandits in the end. They still got bonuses and buyouts and took their golden parachutes and went on with their lives. The middle class–or shall I say the working poor–were the ones who paid. They lost their jobs and their homes in the financial crisis.

I also feel that financial reform was necessary and that even more reform should be on the table. The one good thing that banks do provide is a guaranteed return on your cash via a certificate of deposit. Right now the rates are too low to make it worthwhile to tie up your money for one or two years, but I have made good earnings on my money when the banks were offering 5%-6% on CDs.

I feel that you can’t go wrong with this method because you know that you will be making money on your money and you can sleep at night knowing that your financial future is not totally dependent on the stock market.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Something to Cheer For

Jan. 21, 2011

I adore the Super Bowl.

It's the only good thing that happens in the frigid Northeast in January.

And it’s an excuse to hang with friends, break the New Year’s diet resolution, and party.

My first Super Bowl memory was when I was in the seventh grade in 1994 and it was the Cowboys versus the Bills. I really didn’t know much about football back then as I was the epitome of the girly girl growing up. I heard other classmates talking about parties and what they were going to do, so I decided to have my own little Super Bowl party in my parents’ basement.

I rooted for the Cowboys of course because the Star logo was cool. And though I don't really remember the game, I do recall the good time I had and all the pictures I took fifteen years later. They still bring a smile to my face.

Every year I do something different for the Super Bowl, but usually we watch it a friend’s house or a local bar. Being a Giants Fan, my most recent good memory of the big game was three years ago when they won. That was an awesome time, not only because it was a really close game but because I was surrounded with friends who have also been Giants Fans since birth. I don’t know how you could be an American and not participate in the festivities, even it if it is just to watch the commercials and the half time show.

The other great thing about the Super Bowl: All the really good food I let myself eat! From the spinach dip to pizza bagels, game food can not be beat. I love drinking beer and munching on wings. Most people here make a big deal out of the Super Bowl; in Jersey, it's practically another American holiday. The bars are packed and the party is raging.
This year could be exciting if the Jets make it. I’m really not a Jets fan but I would like to see them win for many reasons, one being that they haven’t in years and also the guy I am dating works for them. For the die-hard Jets fans to finally get a win would shed a little light on this treacherous winter so far. So this Super Bowl, look for me in a bar with my friends in Hoboken--hopefully rooting for the Jets.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.
Looks Matter
Jan. 14, 2011

I drive a Nissan Altima, not because it's my dream car or anything, but because it's cheap to lease ($229 a month, to be exact.) It is also relatively safe.

My dream car would be an Audi or a BMW 5 series, because they are small, fast and have really good safety ratings.

I’m not a huge car person or anything, but I do like a nice a ride. The most expensive car I ever had was an Acura TSX and that was a splurge. I had just received a really good year end bonus and decided to treat myself. The Acura was great; I loved how sensitive the wheel was as well as its acceleration. I loved driving on roads like Route 22 and Route 1 because I no longer had to wait forever to merge onto the highway from a full stop, the car was so fast. I loved the little details, the leather seats, the seat warmers and the six disc changer. Something about the car made me feely sexy and free.

It wasn’t anything special, but to me it was. I come from a long line of Honda and Toyota drivers so stepping up to the Acura was a big deal for me.

Most of my neighbors drive the gas-sucking SUVs because they have children and I guess it is easier for seating. I do love how an SUV rides because you have a better view of traffic and you are literally above all of the other vehicles on the roads besides trucks and buses. I would probably feel a lot safer driving a SUV in the snow and other inclement weather, too. Also if I were to get into an accident, the SUV would provide a greater shield to protect me.

I do agree with saving the environment, but have you ever seen those so-called “smart” cars? They are basically a death sentence if any other vehicle on the road were to hit you. Until everyone starts driving the Priuses of the world, I probably won’t buy one. There are too many SUVs and bigger sedans on the road for me to feel safe in a tiny car. It would be great to save money on gas and put less toxins into the environment at the same time, but I’m just not there yet.

If I ever have a baby, I’d probably buy a Toyota Four Runner or something similar just so I feel that he or she is protected to the best of my ability. I know driving a bigger car doesn’t ensure survival in an accident, but it helps. I pretty much choose a vehicle based on how safe it is, how it looks and whether it is affordable to me or not. I wouldn’t really have any interest in going to a car show unless I hit the lottery and could actually purchase some of high end cars!

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Luddite and Proud of it

Jan. 7, 2010

Technology and I aren’t friends. We don’t get along. In the fourth grade when I was in Mrs. Pona’s computer class not only did I not have any interest in the matter, I decided that I just wouldn’t pay attention to anything having to do with a pc at all. Of course I did myself a major disservice because, being part of the generation that was raised on instant messaging and AOL, I was a little behind the eight ball with anything new age.

I never learned how to graph a circle on the computer in the sixth grade or fax something until I actually entered the work force and was expected to. I like doing things the way I learned how to do them; it took me years to actually use the cell phone my mom gave me when I went away to college. It was 2000 and I was still relying on the answering machine in my dorm room to communicate with the ‘rents. I was only forced to use the cell phone when all of my friends used it as their only way to communicate with me. I never really learned Excel or Powerpoint in computer applications class in college because my best friend “helped” me with all of my assignments. I do regret not learning these things, because technology frustrates me to no end these days.

I think I am the only one I know who does not have a smartphone. I still operate on a regular cell phone because if I can talk and text then the phone is good enough for me. The problem will come in a few years when smart phones are the only ones on the market and I will be forced to learn how to use the technology.

The point is that I don’t really care about what the latest and greatest gadgets are because I can live my life just fine without them … for now. I’ve never used Skype either, nor do I ever really want to.

I admit though that now I cannot live without a cell phone or my EZ-pass. If I leave my house without my cell phone I don’t know what to do with myself. The EZ-pass just makes my life easier in general because I don’t have to wait in line at the tolls.

The one thing out there that I am a little curious about is the iPad, but I don’t think I’ll ever buy one. I would like to use someone else’s to see what all the hype is about. Another thing that bothers me about technology is all the versions of the same item. I mean how many iPods can Apple come out with? I have had the same one for five years and I don’t see any point in getting the latest and greatest until mine breaks. I’m a music fan and a runner so I do use the iPod but I was still using my Discman when MP3s were out for a few years.

I really don’t like change. So obviously, I’m not a big fan of technology.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Winter: My Least Favorite Season

Dec. 31, 2010

I’m not a big fan of old man winter. In fact, I truly despise it. I think too much in the winter, I get sad in the winter, I cry more in the winter, I loathe the winter.

It all starts for me when the ball drops on New Year's Eve, then we take down our tree and put away the decorations a couple days after. Besides a few more weeks of football (if your team is in the playoffs, fat chance for Giants fans this year...) there is really nothing to look forward to until maybe St. Patrick’s Day, or when I was in college, Spring Break.

I don’t like cold, I hate shoveling snow and I hate driving in it even more. I think I suffer from some sort of seasonal depression. The lack of sunlight is not good for me. I get high from the sun and lackluster from the cold, wet winter weather. I am a runner and in the winter I can’t really run outside especially when there is snow and ice on the ground. I do try to stay fit and avoid the winter weight gain by going to the gym daily and becoming a slave to both the treadmill and elliptical machines. I’m not crafty, so I don’t knit nor do art work. The one thing I try to do every winter is go ice skating in either Central Park or Bryant Park. That’s the only winter sport I really partake in. I tried skiing once and that proved to be a disaster.

The one thing that the winter is good for is catching up with family and friends. The need to be inside gives way to this because it is easy to get everyone together at one place. No one is golfing, or vacationing, or down the shore; they are cold and bored. I really don’t like to brave the cold and do outdoor activities but staying in the house every once in a while is OK.

I hang out with my cousins and play a game of Trivial Pursuit or poker to pass the time. I like to watch movies and cuddle up on the couch with the heat on high too. There are also some really good after holiday sales at the mall, so shopping becomes a default winter hobby. In my early 20s I used to plan a vacation in March to have something to look forward to. I traveled with one of my cousins and we enjoyed some glorious tropical destinations like Cancun and the Bahamas. If I wasn’t unemployed at the moment I would be planning a vacay to the Caribbean as I type. Unfortunately this year, I can’t do that, but I really wish I could!

I spend a lot of my time in the winter looking at spring fashion online or in magazines. I wish I wouldn’t wish my life away like that, but it is now a habit that I really can’t break. I embrace the fall, spring and summer, and I never will give winter that honor.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

It's time to live in the moment

Dec. 27, 2010

New Year’s is a time to reflect on the year’s past events, and for me it is usually all about regrets. This year I am going to try to appreciate the good moments rather than the bad.

I guess my New Year’s resolution is to appreciate my life and try really hard to live in the moment. Instead of dwelling on the fact that I went on about 25 dates this year with a few failed very short-term relationships in between, I am going to be happy about all the experience it has given me.

I’m going to think about how I learned about what I like and what I don’t. I’m going to try to enjoy the moment while I’m out to dinner chomping down on a highly caloric meal, not think about all the calories I have to burn off at the gym the next day. I’m going to appreciate myself for who I am, not for who I’m trying to become.

We all just rush around in this country thinking about the long term and miss out on living everyday life. I’ve realized that I anticipate the next best thing all of the time and miss out on the fun I should be having.

If I were to make a New Year’s resolution for my community, it would be for us to have a little more patience. As cliche as it sounds, I feel we are a very impatient society here in America. We want instant gratification — we expect it. Drive down a road of my city and you can see impatience displayed every moment.

There aren’t a lot of driveways and parking lots in Bayonne. You have to parallel park most of the time. The streets are narrow and the cars are jam-packed. When you see a spot, to park you have to stop the traffic behind you. This creates chaos. Everyone starts honking and yelling at the person parking. It’s really disgraceful that we cannot give a minute of our time for someone to park. It’s insane, because anyone who lives here knows that this is a necessary evil.

Similarly, if someone is crossing the street slowly, we should just wait and let them go. The pedestrian has the right of way, and it is much easier and a lot less stressful than getting agitated over it.

We have to sit back and not sweat the small stuff this year. There are so many big problems we’re dealing with: Crime is up, the economy is staggering and jobs are scarce. But if we all show a little kindness toward each other, 2011 will be brighter.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Home for the Holidays

Dec. 17, 2010

My entire extended family resides in Jersey so I really don’t travel via plane during the holiday season. I guess that makes me pretty lucky. I had a boyfriend once who lived in the Midwest, and dropping him off at the airport to go see his parents was a trip and a half. Newark Airport is about six miles from my home, and it took me an hour to get back to my house that evening because of all the airport chaos. I can’t even imagine how overwhelming air travel will be this year with the new search procedures. But even though it may be a nuisance, if I was traveling this season it would make me feel safer.

Christmas Eve is traditionally spent at my parents’ house every year, so I never have to go anywhere that night, which is nice. My cousins, aunts, and uncles travel from West Jersey to see us every year. They hit traffic from time to time, but they’re not traveling far—30 miles tops. Because we’re lucky enough not to have to travel at all, the festivities go on until about one o’clock in the morning. My mom and I head to town for midnight mass every year, but that’s the extent of it.

Christmas day is spent at my aunt’s house, which is about 25 miles away from me. It’s not a far drive at all, but there can be some annoying traffic. I don’t ever wish for a white Christmas because that would just create disorder on the already jammed packed roads of Jersey. If it snows an inch, the roads are at a standstill, and a half hour drive can turn into three hours.

One year while I was at a holiday party for work, a snow storm was brewing outside. No one knew it had happened, but when the party ended at 11 p.m., we went outside to find our cars covered with snow. Panic set in—not because we were afraid to drive, but because we knew how long it would take to get home!

I certainly don’t envy the people who travel far for the holidays because I think it puts a damper on a special occasion.

Airport travel is cumbersome enough on a regular day—never mind December 23rd! I can’t imagine doing it, and I hope I’ll never have to.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Fighting for something they don’t even need

Dec. 13, 2010

I was only 19 years old when the Bush tax cuts were first implemented in 2001 and at the time I was a college kid who was much more interested in drinking and partying than politics. I voted for Gore because I thought it was cool to be a democrat but I really had no idea what I was voting on. Since then I grew to have a deeper interest in national politics, especially since the 2008 election.

I am dissatisfied with the current “compromise” Obama made with the right on extending these tax cuts for all Americans, even the super rich, in exchange for unemployment extensions.  Obama campaigned on doing away with these cuts for the richest and now he is forced to extend them. The billionaires can well afford to pay 39% in taxes because they were doing it during the Clinton years and the economy was prospering.

I really don’t believe in supply-side economics. I feel that the rich will continue to make money and stimulate the economy even if they have to give another 4% back to Uncle Sam. I don’t think the tax cuts made the rich go out and say that they will give away more of their money to charity or create more jobs. The tax cuts help the middle class because 4%-5% of someone’s income who is making $50,000 makes a difference in whether or not they can afford to put food on the table. The 5% for the wealthy only really affects their bank account.

The republicans are now on a nonstop mission to keep the cuts for their wealthy constituents at any costs. They say they are fiscally conservative but these tax cuts are putting America in the red just as much as the unemployment extensions are. But somehow it’s okay because the wealthy will feel more comfortable buying another Mercedes this year?

The middle class in America is dwindling as we speak. Congress needs to help the middle class and to do that the rich might just have to pay a little more on their earnings. Is that thought so crazy? The middle class is the epitome of the American Dream and if we don’t something to save it, it will be lost forever. And let’s be honest, social mobility isn’t’ as it easy as we think it is in America. Extending these tax cuts to the wealthy will just widen the gap between the rich and the poor.

Something has to give, and in this dire economy that we are now in, the middle class is not in the position to give it. If you make more than $250,000 year you can afford a tax increase that was already in existence for most of your life. And if you can’t, well you are living way beyond your means and shame on you.

Obama needs to help the middle class and fast. The young vote got him into office and he didn’t make the economy a priority when he had both the senate and the house on his side. Now it is an uphill battle, and that is unfortunate. The first battle wound is extending the tax cuts to the rich, what will be next?

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Cyber Monday: My New Holiday Tradition

Dec. 3, 2010

I didn’t do any shopping on Black Friday, but I did make some purchases on Cyber Monday.

Of course, most of those cyber purchases were for yours truly. Some of the online retailers had irresistible deals. I ordered five pairs of shoes from Aldo and wound up only paying one hundred dollars for all of them. Also, Gap and Sephora also had some really amazing deals that I couldn’t pass up. I loved that most of the sites waived shipping fees, because that's a huge savings in and of itself. Truth be told, I really didn’t order any gifts for anyone online this year. Although the funds are lacking this year because I am unemployed, I'll still be spending a bit on Christmas gifts this year.

I’m trying to cut back on the usual holiday expenses by budgeting myself. Usually, I get a new Christmas outfit, a glittery top or a cool pair of shimmery pants, but not this year. I’m a poor grad student with barely any disposable income. I’ll be repeating some outfits from years past this holiday season. I’m also not exchanging with any of my friends this year because of my financial situation.

I will spend some cash on family members, however. But even those purchases I'm going to cut back. Instead of spending one to two hundred dollars on my mom, dad, and sister it will be more like seventy five dollars a person this year. The only gifts that I won’t skimp on this year are those for the little ones on my list and the Secret Santa exchange I do with my cousins every year. 

As for small business, although I would like to contribute to small businesses when shopping, I probably won’t because the chain stores have the best deals. They have coupons and pretty fair exchange policies. The stores on Main Street don’t usually have many coupons and they have to charge a little more than the department stores because they are selling the items in small qualities. The mom and pop stores usually won’t take anything back unless it was damaged before use. That’s my gripe with those types of stores these days. They should try to be a little more competitive to lure in new customers. It’s also a lot less risky to surprise someone with a gift from the mall because I know that as long as the gift receipt is taped to the box they could exchange it at full value.

I’m going to go ice skating and walk around the city this year. You could go skating in New York City for free at some rinks and window shopping is always a bargain! Instead of going to the bakery for the holidays I am going to get into the season by baking my own Christmas goodies this year. Another way I will try to save is by going to discount stores like Marshall’s and TJ Max for some of my gifts.  I’m actually thinking about sending Christmas cards this year because I am not working full time at the moment, and I finally have the time to sit down and write thoughtful notes to my friends and family.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

Nostalgia Is Key to Decorating

Nov. 29, 2010

I’m not that big on the actual outside decorations during Christmas time, but I love putting up the Christmas tree. Our family doesn’t put the tree up until a week before and I like it that way. For the record, I spent the day after Thanksgiving in bed watching the 90210 marathon on Soap Net!

Decorating the Christmas tree is very nostalgic for me.  Carrying up the boxes of ornaments from the basement puts a smile on my face. It is a true walk down memory lane. There are a lot of oldies but goodies in the boxes. My favorites are the do-it-yourself ornaments made by my sister and I in grade school and the Looney Tunes ones that remind me of a much lighter time in my life.

I also happen to adore a picture frame ornament that holds a picture of my sister, little cousin, and me in 1987. I also love all the sports inspired ornaments that we put up on the tree, especially my Boston Red Sox one. There are always some new ornaments to put up from various vacation spots that we bought during the year or some that we received at weddings and parties as favors. Every year I buy something new for the tree during the week between Christmas and New Years because they sell for next to nothing. When the tree is all up it really is a true labor of love and I love looking at it. It makes me sad when it comes down on New Year's Day.

My neighbors all have different decorating traditions, but most of them partake in the cheer. One family puts up white lights every year and nothing else. Another just a white candle in every window, which I think is very classic. We put up a wreath and some lights, nothing too fancy. Putting them up often yields disastrous results. One light is always out and they never look even.  I love driving through the neighborhood to look at all of the fantastic Christmas lights. When I was younger my dad used to take me driving at night to see all of the Christmas lights that people put up, and I loved it.

We don’t put the lights on until about 8 p.m. and shut them off before bed time due to the cost of electricity, but some of the neighbors keep them burning all night long. I like when our block and town is decorated because it puts me in the Christmas mood. Unfortunately this year due to the economy a lot of small towns, including mine, have cut their holiday budget because they simply can’t afford it. I do like the fact that anonymous donators are coming forth and offering to make up the funds. That is very "tis the season."

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

The Most Frantic Time of the Year

Nov. 22, 2010

I really don’t like Black Friday.

The traffic gets worse, especially in Jersey, where you're always five minutes away from a mall. And while the city is pretty, the gridlock is unbearable. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holly and jolly, but the commercialism takes away from the season's charm.

For most Americans, Black Friday is the start of a national shopping frenzy.  For me, it means my safe haven is taken away. You see, I have a special relationship with the mall, and I indulge in retail therapy a little too much. It started around the fourth grade when I would beg my mom to take me shopping for new shirts and dresses. So today, when I am sad or feel overwhelmed, nothing calms me down more than a stroll through the mall.

The mall is the one place where it is okay to be by myself. Walking through Bloomies and looking at all the pretty clothes followed by a mocha light frappucino from Starbucks can turn a bad day into an okay one for me. Really, there's nothing like getting a free makeover at the Mac counter.

But Black Friday takes my outlet away. For six weeks the mall becomes a chaotic state of bargain hunters who are tired and cranky because they worked all week and are now spending their hard earned money and all their free time in a mall. The vibe just isn’t the same so I tend to shop less frequently after Black Friday.

As for good deals, there are some. There are some pretty amazing buys on big ticket electronic items. And Black Friday does yield some pretty sweet discounts on clothes. But for me it’s not worth the stress of finding a parking space with half of New Jersey at seven o’clock in the morning.

I do admire the troopers standing on the lines at six in the morning, especially the ones doing it so Santa brings what their little one wants. If I ever have kids, I will probably be one of those people standing on line at Walmart so I can get the latest and greatest video game for a fraction of price.

I will definitely do some online shopping on Cyber Monday for family and friends, and maybe a little for myself. There are some good deals on clothes, books, and music on the net, and many of the online retailers nix the shipping costs, so it’s totally worth it! This requires little effort, plus I get to anticipate the arrival of packages from the FedEx truck. It's the little things that excite me.

In closing, I wish everyone venturing out on Black Friday the best of luck. And seriously, try not to get involved in a mob scene. You really can get trampled to death, as we are well aware of thanks to that Wal-Mart incident not too long ago. As for me, I'll be sleeping off a Thanksgiving hangover, or most likely at the movies.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.

The 'Have-To' and 'Can-Do' Recession Spirit

Nov. 15, 2010

The Great Recession has affected most of my friends and neighbors in a negative way. I too am a victim of the times. (I lost my job in June.)

For me the recession has mostly been a positive thing because I get to start over in terms of my career. I’m currently attending grad school and couldn’t be happier. Being a single 29-year-old woman with not a whole lot of responsibilities, the transition hasn’t really been a struggle. Things have changed for me but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Although I am temporarily forced to move back home with the rents and the days of buying $78 shirts at Anthropologie are over, I get a do-over and in the end it will work out for me.

Not only did my former company lay off my entire department, they gave us the “luxury” of knowing a year in advance. And for me, it truly was a luxury. I used that time to apply to grad school and to read some of the classics in my cubicle that I should have read in high school.

The mass layoff affected most of my middle-aged coworkers in a different way. They were forced to apply to positions that really weren’t ideal because they had mortgages to pay and kids to send to college. Some were lucky and got out quickly, but some had to stay in the depressing land of cubicle hell. The psychological affects were detrimental to everyone’s mental health. Even on someone like me who had a definite plan.

I don’t think anyone can really imagine the awful feeling you experience when your work is cleaning up loose ends for a billion-dollar company that is ultimately going to hand you a pink slip in the end. You feel that you're wasting your life. There is no point in doing well, but you can’t underperform because they dangle a severance package in front of you, and you just have to suck it up.

Anxiety levels have elevated among most people I know because of this recession. My parents' generation who wanted to retire can’t because their stock portfolio has shrunk to half the size, so they are forced to work well into their 60s. Some of my neighbors want to sell their homes, but they can’t because the real estate market has been horrendous for what seems like years now.

I know many college grads that can’t even get an entry-level job because there are none. They are still living with their parents and working at Starbucks, because they offer health insurance! As for my friends that are still employed, most of them are pretty miserable in their jobs, but they know they are basically stuck there until this economy picks up. That thought is just depressing to me. I was an economics major in college and I come from the school of thought that all things are cyclical; I just hope this cycle speeds up in a major way so Americans can get on with their lives.

Dana Marie Skrocki is a single Jersey girl in transition. After graduating from Rutgers in 2003, she pursued a job in the insurance industry and was laid off in June. She's now pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling full time.