Monday, December 23, 2019

I’m a Homeowner!!

Truly, a sentence I didn’t think I’d write.

December 2003, I was moving into a 1-bedroom apartment, where I would sleep on a futon in the living room, starting life over as a single mom with two girls not quite 3 and 6. We furnished the place using hand-me-downs from colleagues and friends, or pulled out from my parents' attic, having been stored there since I left Los Angeles before I'd had either daughter. We were the recipients of my department's Adopt-a-Family program that year (albeit unofficially).

I hadn't graduated college yet. I didn't know where the next decade would take me or the girls. I sometimes doubted my ability to ever feel whole again.

And here I am, a college graduate with a paralegal's certificate. I've been promoted up to a manager title, working for one of the most quintessential household names. Trustee of my own estate plan. And holder of my own deed. And future.

My daughters are finding their own way. I still don't understand when parents grieve their children growing up because I'm finding so much joy in this part. I love watching them grow up and become adults that care about the world and the people in it. I'm so proud of the young women they're becoming.

Sylvia loves her job because she sees it as bringing joy to children. Obviously, there's more to it than that, but she understands the joy as the motivation behind everything she does, so she strives to do it as well as she possibly can. Honestly, what more could a mother want?

Riley loves her job because she helps children. She enjoys school because she loves learning more about the world and figuring out how she can do her part. She delights in making people happy. Her smile always has and always will light up my world.

And now, as I joked to Riley earlier, if I die, I'm leaving you an asset!

I feel prepared for the responsibility now, and grateful that it's a townhouse so there's still an HOA to call for the roof! I have worked so hard at getting my financial life together that even though I've just taken on a whole heap of debt, I know I can manage it. I have visions for the future, but not so clear that there's not room for nice surprises!

I feel proud and empowered and grateful and lucky and pure joy! Today has become a new holiday for me. And I've opened the bottle of wine to celebrate!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Attempting to Achieve More Gender Balance by Tipping the Scales

I was inspired by Erin Gibson's book Feminasty to start paying more attention to my purchasing power.

It's so easy to feel helpless these days. I can't afford the big-ticket dinners to schmooze with people running for office. While I do donate to some non-profits and causes, I'm not enthusiastic enough to get involved beyond that. I don't see any benefit to arguing with people online about issues. I have been feeling pretty helpless.

But in her chapter on cosmetics, Gibson reminded me what really counts - and what I've always said: follow the money. I may not have a lot of money, and I may not buy as many cosmetics as my daughter, but I can choose which companies get my money.

I have chosen Ecco Bella as my cosmetics provider. They're affordable enough and not only have a female CEO, but their company has not yet been purchased by one of the larger companies that have bought many of the female-led brands.

I was using Grove Collaborative for many of my eco-friendly products (including the bamboo straws that I have in my purse at all times), but when I saw that not only their CEO is male, their entire Board is male, I made the switch to Mightynest. While the CEO is male, the co-founder is female (they're a couple), their COO is female, and one female Board member. Better than Grove!

I found billie to provide my razors. They're the same price as that other shave club (which, BTW, just got purchased by Gillette, and also is run by males), and is run by a female. I found Goddess Garden for sunscreen and SmartyPits for natural (aluminum free) deodorant, both female-led companies. After Newish closed its doors, I found A Curated Thrift, a secondhand clothing subscription service, which is led by a woman.

Even before I started this quest, I'd switched from Betterment to ElleVest, an online investing platform made by and for women. (At the time I made the switch, Betterment did not have a single female on its Board.)

The most frustrating part of this journey is how unbelievably hard it is to find out who runs or owns these companies. I would really love for someone to run a website where I can just type in the item I want to buy, and refine results to those companies that are either run by women, or have at least 50% female Board members. (Just to be clear, when I say "woman" or "female," I would also include transgender women.) 

In my search for that optimum search, I have found Purse Power, Women Owned, and the Feminist Directory. Those have helped, but not always. I was about to give up on new shoes when I thought of Etsy, and found shoes handmade by a couple (still not ideal, but at least independent and half-owned by a woman).

Of course, this isn't everything I buy, and I still buy products from the big brands, but I will continue to search for viable alternatives as much as possible. It is true that sometimes these products are more expensive than what I could find in national retailers, but most of the time, the price tag isn't that much higher. If it is a lot higher, I keep searching!

I know that my dollars aren't enough to change things, but they are my dollars, and I get to decide who gets them. I've long requested female doctors/health care providers. Now I'm just extending the list as much as I can.

We've pretty much been half the population always, and in the past century, we have made a lot of progress towards true equality. But not nearly enough. Not NEARLY enough! And in the past few decades, the progress has stalled. I do believe that as long as we are vastly outnumbered in government and business, these gender gaps will stay relatively the same. The only way to change things is for women to be in powerful positions. The only way to get them there is to demand it.

We have seen glimpses of this working already. More corporations are at least trying to placate us on International Women's Day. They are becoming more aware that we make the majority of decisions on consumer spending. But as long as we keep giving them our money without any female representation on their Board or in the C-suite positions, we can't be too surprised that they don't make any real effort to change things. It doesn't look broken to them!

When I have canceled subscriptions or deleted my account, I tell them that it's because they don't have enough female representation. Imagine if even 10% of women did this! Imagine if profit margins fell and those former customers told them that's why we were leaving. Even if they thought it was just to look good, just having more women in those meetings would make a difference.

I am also so encouraged by the generations behind me. I see that my daughters and their friends will not accept inequality in the workplace. I have learned from them that things I thought were just the cost of being a woman are not (and should never have been) acceptable. I have seen the conversation change in my adult life.

Even as awful as things are right now, there is some progress that cannot be stopped. Part of that progress is that we no longer need a man's permission before we take out our wallet. So let's take full advantage of that.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Kakeibo: Another Way to Think About Budgeting

I enjoyed learning about KonMari (the Japanese decluttering method by Marie Kondo), so I was intrigued when I read about Kakeibo, a Japanese method of budgeting. It sounds a lot like the Magic Little Notebook method I first used before YNAB (which probably stemmed from the Kakeibo method, but I just didn't know it). 

In the Kakeibo article, there was reference to a study finding that students who take handwritten notes retain the information better than those who use laptops or other electronic means. 

I think that's why I took to YNAB so well - I was already in the habit of tracking my expenses, and the app just made it easier to do so. 

This Kakeibo method uses questions that are similar to the YNAB Rules:

Kakeibo: How much money do you have available?
YNAB Rule One: Give every dollar a job. 

In both cases, you only deal with the money you actually have today. 

Kakeibo: How much money do you want to save?
YNAB Rule Two: Embrace your true expenses.

In both cases, you are looking at what you will need in the future. 

Kakeibo: How much are you spending?
YNAB Rule Three: Roll with the punches.

In both cases, you are looking at what's actually happening to your money in the present. 

Kakeibo: How can you improve?
YNAB Rule Four: Age your money.

In both cases, you are looking at how you can improve your financial situation. 

It's also interesting that both methods use four steps. 

So if you have tried YNAB, but found that you weren't actually using the app, maybe it's time to take a step back and put pen to paper. 

If you have tried Kakeibo, but found the handwriting too tedious, maybe it's time to give YNAB a whirl (use this link for a free month). 

Of course, there are other ways to do this without using either Kakeibo or YNAB. The important thing is to continue to try to spend less than you make, and grow your savings. When it comes down to it, that's really the point. 


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Balancing Affordable Shopping

I hate shopping for clothes. I don't want to pay full price at retail stores in malls (plus, I hate malls), and while I have found some good options at Goodwill or the like, it usually takes too long to find something in my size that I actually want. I tried StitchFix a few years ago, but that's not exactly affordable, either.

A couple of months ago, I came across ItsNewish. This combines the "personal shopper" experience that companies like StitchFix offer, with two important distinctions.

One: As you might guess from the name, these are gently used clothes. Don't worry, they're washed and arrive in good condition. I've even had a few items come with tags. Not only does this help with value, but let's face it: there's already too much waste in the world. Buying something used is good for the environment!

Two: It's a flat price. You either pay $40 for 2 items per month, or $60 for 4 items per month. I love that I know exactly how much it will cost each month. (Okay, it's actually $39.95 or $59.95.)

They also have a free exchange policy.  You have to go to the site and fill out a form about why you're returning it, but this also helps them understand any issues and they'll do better next time! Just note that you won't receive your exchange item until the next month's shipment.

I was thrilled with the first pair of dress pants they sent. They have usable front pockets! And they fit really well, which can be difficult for me since I'm 5'3". I've also gotten a few blouses that are just the right side of different than what I would've chosen for myself, but still feel like me, only better.

You can also request items that you see on their site, but that's too much like shopping for me. I have, however, let them know if I'm looking for something in particular, and they've come through. 

If you use my referral code: NEWISHAM9899, you will get 25% off, and I'll get a referral fee. But I started recommending them to my friends and family even before they offered the referral program.

(I also tried ThredUp's "Goody Box," but I wasn't thrilled. Out of 15 items, I only kept 2, and the box is friggin' huge and a PITA to ship back.)

Call me high maintenance, but I want affordable clothes that I like and fit me without having to go anywhere. Thanks to ItsNewish, I'm getting exactly what I want!

(Don't forget to use my referral code: NEWISHAM9899)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Why I Hate Walt Whitman and other parenting lessons I've learned

As Sylvia nears her 21st birthday and Riley starts college next month, I'm about to enter the next era of parenting. It will no longer be my responsibility to get them to school or feed them dinner anymore. Of course, being a mother never stops, but it certainly changes.

This feels like a good time to assess and to share what I have learned in these years. One of the earliest is why I hate Walt Whitman.

He (and others) depicted motherhood for us. Let's just start with the wrongness of that sentiment, shall we? One of the many "pale males" telling us what good motherhood looks like. We are to cradle our babies in a rocking chair, soothing, nurturing, with all the patience in the world.

Sure, I have memories that I will treasure forever of holding these girls in my arms. I also have memories of feeling like a failure because giving birth didn't automatically gift me with patience, or stop me from caring about my own life, career, wants, needs. Yet the messages that are instilled in us through portraits, poetry and commercials is one of that forever patient nurturer, with no thoughts or feelings of our own.

If you're a new mom, let me just tell you, it is okay to think about yourself. It is okay to want someone else to hold the child from time to time. It is okay to care for yourself.

Not only is it okay, it's good mothering.

Let's think long-term, shall we? What do we want for our children? Do we want them to be dependent upon us for the rest of their lives? Or do we want them to become independent, caring, productive individuals? Do we want them to pursue their dreams, or do we want them to always put someone else's needs before their own?

A child can't possibly learn to think for themselves, care for themselves and others, and explore all that the world has to offer if their mother (or father or other primary caregiver) never models that behavior for them.

As always, it's all about balance, of course. As a parent, you do have to make sure they're fed, bathed, housed, and yes, loved. But don't buy into the Walt Whitman model. Caring for yourself, and even caring for others besides your child, is the only way a child will learn how to be a whole human being.

Another harsh lesson: you will not be able to shield your child from being hurt, and unless you hurt them yourself, it will not be your fault.

I was watching a TV show where a woman was crying about her failure to protect her child. Now, of course, I also feel it when my child has been hurt. It sucks. It's never what we want. But our job in those moments is to help our child manage and get through their pain. If you believe that you're a failure because your child was hurt, you're not only delusional, you're welcoming self-hatred for no good reason. And when you practice self-hatred, guess what? You're also modeling self-hatred to your child. Stuff happens. To everybody.  We are not shaped by the hurt or failure, we are shaped by how we respond to it.

I also learned how to separate myself from their problems. I learned this from a book on sibling rivalry: what's their problem, what's my problem, and what's our problem? When it's their problem, I learned how to just become a sounding board. Maybe offer up some ideas, but still make it clear that it's up to them to find the solution. My problems meant I owned up to them. I could discuss it with them, make it a "teachable" moment, but they knew I was making the decision on how to move forward. Our problems were opportunities to collaborate and compromise. Of course, these didn't always result in win-win(-win) situations, but once we know how to move forward, if someone was feeling slighted, then that moved into "their problem" territory and my job was not to fix it, but to help them deal with their disappointment.

I became a better mother (and person) when I stopped giving a crap of what other people thought of my parenting. I had to do what worked for me and for us. I got better at it when I stopped reading parenting articles (like this one ;) and when I just went with what felt right. That doesn't mean I didn't continue to make mistakes. Of course, I did. But I took responsibility for them, explained why I made the decisions I did and then just kept going.

Listen, my kids aren't perfect and neither am I. Again, it's a one-way street to disappointment and failure if anyone thinks otherwise. But I do feel comfortable in my skin. And I do like my children. Not all the time, but enough to make the statement. We have lots of laughs together and I'm so excited for and proud of both of them. When something happens to either of them or me, we tell each other first. We are honest with each other, we fight with each other, and we fiercely love each other.

I tell our story not to brag or boast or tell another family how to live their lives, but to hopefully, bring some comfort and strength to any mother (or father or other primary caregiver) that doesn't think she fits the "mold" of motherhood. Smash the mold, find your voice, and you and your kids will be all right.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

When Paying Full Price Is a Better Value

Jean Chatzky has said that she resolved to only pay full price for items. As Tevye would say, "sounds crazy, no?" But the real question is, do we really value the items when we buy them on sale?

Now, of course, if you already have something on your grocery list, and they're selling it at half off, great! But if you're only buying something because you got a coupon or it's on the Sale page of a website, it's worth asking, would I buy this if I could only get it at the pre-discount price?

I have been donating or discarding some items in my closet or elsewhere that I don't value as much because I paid so little. Off-hand, I can remember a sweater I bought at Goodwill that ended up back at Goodwill because I never wore it. There are definitely some books in my Kindle library that I bought for .99 that I've never read. So I know what it's like to see something and think, oh what the hell for that price! But take a look at your own closet, library or whatever and ask yourself if you value the actual item, or merely the discount.

Some factors to consider before buying: if you buy a tangible item, will you follow the "one in-one out" rule and get rid of something else (i.e., donate a pair of shoes for every pair that you buy)? If you're budgeting via categories, do you have enough in that category to cover the cost, or will you have to steal from another category to pay for it? If it's an experience, are you willing to pay full price if they don't honor your Groupon?

Of course, when you know you need or want to buy something, shopping around for the best price is prudent. But that's not the same as clicking on a link simply because it's offering you a discount, or adding something to your virtual or literal cart because it's marked down.

Value is not just about the cost of something. The true value is how much you use it/wear it/enjoy the experience.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Knowing What's for Dinner

It's astonishingly easy to find yourself running around like the proverbial chicken. Trying to keep up with work, kids, social life, personal goals, etc. can be daunting with a mere 24 hours in a day. But taking a breath, spending a little time to organize these activities can dramatically reduce this feeling...and probably your spending, too.

I was surprised to learn from my daughter that we're the only family she knows at school that has a meal plan. They're all improvising on a daily basis. That sounds exhausting to me! And if last-minute meals means trips through the drive-thru or eating out at a restaurant, the lack of routine is costing you money, too.  I know we lived like that too way back when, but it seems so foreign to me now.  I thrive on our routines, and Riley does, too.

Taking a few minutes every week to plan your weekly meal plan and your grocery shopping an will not only help your budget, but your stress level.

My friend makes fun of me for my routines. I have a day where I go grocery shopping, a laundry day, a fast food night, and meals planned at least a week in advance.

I use Pepperplate for my meal planning (for free). I import all my recipes in there, then use the planner to pick the day for each meal. They also have a shopping page where I can select all the ingredients I will need to add to my shopping list.

I don't use their shopping list at the grocery store. There, I use ValueTracker, which costs 99 cents, but it was the only one I could find where it let me also track the unit prices for everything. I have a pretty good estimate even before shopping of what my total bill will be and if it's looking too high, I can change my meal plan before I go to the store to make sure it fits my budget.

We shop at Aldi. I was thrilled when they started to open in Southern California! It was my favorite store in Rochester, NY because the prices are so much less than any other store. The closest to us is still about 20 minutes away, but completely worth it. I'm getting pretty good at choosing meals where we can exclusively shop at Aldi, but every so often, we will need to go to another store to complete our list. Still worth it.

I plan slow cooker or Instant Pot meals for Mondays and Thursdays. Riley cooks on Tuesdays. I choose more labor-intensive meals for the weekends. We grocery shop on Fridays and Wednesday night is our fast food night. 

My favorite site for recipes is Budget Bytes, which now has an app and a book. I started to enjoy cooking with Budget Bytes. My second favorite is Supercook because you can search recipes by what ingredients you currently have.

Riley knows she has to choose her recipe to cook by Thursday so I can include it on the list for Friday shopping and make whatever changes need to be made to accommodate. I don't put any restrictions on what she can cook (other than it can't be dessert!) to help her have an appreciation for appreciation I didn't gain until I was at least 35!

After the groceries are put away, I update YNAB so I can see where I am for the monthly budget, and ValueTracker with the most current prices.

On Sundays, I make my lunches for the next work week. I usually also put them in to-go containers as soon as it's ready so I don't really have to think about it in the morning.

After I do the dishes each night, I check Pepperplate to see if anything needs to be defrosted for the following night's dinner.

All told, it took me longer to write this post than it takes to do everything I wrote here, except for the actual grocery shopping. (Riley bags everything for us at Aldi - which she enjoyed more with the Fiat's smaller trunk because it was a harder game of Tetris then.)

Since implementing all of these routines, the last being switching to Aldi when they opened, we have not gone over budget with our grocery shopping. And we've also been known to buy a few things not on the list! I also try really hard not to stop by a store in between our weekly shopping trips. A few times, we've not had much choice, but usually, even if we've forgotten something or a dinner doesn't turn out right, we can improvise with what we have at home.

If you haven't yet tried meal planning, start with planning at least 2 days in advance what you'll be eating. Then 3, and then a week. Starting small may help it feel less daunting.

Eventually, I'm gonna guess that not having a plan will feel more stressful!