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Like the responsible adult I am, I file my taxes each year.

This year, after writing a story on the importance of filing early, I thought I would do just that: file early.

So after work one night, I got myself a glass of water with lemon, pulled my hair back, sat down with my collection of tax paperwork and opened up my laptop. I always feel good about doing my taxes since I can do them myself and have access to free filing thanks to my alum status with AmeriCorps (That’s right. I do things. I’m a good person).

This time I was even excited to do my taxes. I’m going to be in a wedding back in New Jersey in April and figured that I would pay my way via my income tax refund, which was sure to be enough.

Not so.

Instead of the hundreds of dollars I had hoped for in a refund, I’d been awarded a pittance. I checked and double-checked. The online service I used assured me that it had also checked, double- and triple-checked.

Disappointment washed over me.

“It isn’t fair,” I thought. “This isn’t right.”

Where did all that money go?

The question made me ponder my paycheck in its entirety. Is this money toward the 401(k) necessary? What about these medical costs? Are they worth it? Do I even have enough to cover the high-deductible and co-pay if I get sick?

No, no, no and no.

Despite my frugal lifestyle I don’t have enough money. I need more so I can be in my friend’s wedding. I need more so I can experience all that California has to offer. I need more so that I don’t feel bad about the occasional Taco Bell or Starbucks pit stop. I need more.

But, in reality, I am doing OK. OK enough at least.

I have a place to live and sleep, food to eat, and a car to drive. I know it could be worse because I’ve had it worse. I was just planning on doing a little better by age 27.

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It’s not that I’m not grateful. It’s that I’m realizing that – between rent, car payments, school loan payments and my cell phone – I’ll be living paycheck to paycheck for a while.

And for now that’s OK. I’m rich in other ways.

I love what I do and not everyone can say that. Each day I’m encountered with something new. I get to not only meet new people all the time, but get to know them. They open up to me and let me into their lives if only for an hour. Thanks to my career in journalism, I’ve flown in a helicopter, rode on a Jet Ski, met Lt. Dan from “Forrest Gump” (actor Gary Sinise), photographed numerous concerts and eaten a lot of top-notch barbecue.

My personal life, although sometimes hectic, is full of friendship, love and support. I have more high-quality, close friends than most people I know. I’ve had the honor of being a maid-of-honor and a witness in two weddings and look forward to my next role as a bridesmaid, despite the cost.

Finally, when I go home to my little studio, it’s quiet, it’s clean and Cosmo is waiting for me at the door. We eat, we play, and we snuggle. When the little furball is wrapped in my arms or nestled into the crevice between my head and shoulder, I know we’re living the good life.

It’s all this, not money, that makes me feel truly “#blessed.”

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Maria Sestito is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. Jersey Girl runs every other Sunday. Follow her on Twitter at @RiaSestito or email her at


Maria Sestito is the former Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She now writes for the Register as a freelancer.