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!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Available Free with Kindle Unlimited!

So proud to announce that my book is now free on Kindle Unlimited!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Financial Update: I bought a car!

My lease was coming to a close, so I decided to take some of the experts' advice and buy - but I do have a car payment, and I'm totally fine with that.

I bought a car that I love, love, love. A Toyota Prius Prime:

So pretty!
The Prime model has a more advanced electric battery that lasts longer and is utilized more often than in the standard Prius. The battery lasts for my daily commute, and then automatically switches to gas, but also recharges the battery using kinetic energy while in gas mode. I wanted a hybrid this time because I didn't want to be limited by battery life. Given that the Camry is still going strong, I also was happy to buy Toyota.

I got an awesome interest rate from my credit union and it got even better when they gave me a discount for agreeing to auto-pay. It's a 5-year loan, but I want to pay it off in 3 or 4.

Of course, most experts state that you shouldn't buy new - that it loses value as soon as you drive it off the lot and you should only buy as much car as you can afford in cash. I considered all that, but in the end, I wanted a new car because I wanted to not worry about maintenance or repairs for at least a few years. I'm not that concerned with the value loss since I don't plan to sell it - like ever. I also wanted this new car, and the market is not yet flooded with used Prius Primes. And my financial situation is what it is. I'm not about to spend my emergency savings on a car, and I can afford the car payment. I also have a lifestyle which just wouldn't work without a reliable car.

So my point here is to consider all the personal finance expertise out there, and use what you can and discard what you can' least for now.

My long term auto plan is to pay this off as quickly as possible, and then start saving for the next car while I drive this one into the ground. I expect this car to last at least 10 years. I do hope that the next car purchase I make will be entirely in cash, and that I'll be just as happy with that purchase as I am with this one.

But for now, I'm really happy with my shiny, new car!!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lin, Hamilton, NY!

This makes me so happy! Lin-Manuel Miranda talked to Morgan Stanley about personal finance!!
Not only that, Seth Stewart (from the original Broadway casts of both In The Heights and Hamilton) did an interview for MarketWatch about money, too!!

I love Lin's answer about why this topic is so important. He covers almost everything on what that freedom can mean for almost anyone:

Why is building a financial foundation critical for pursuing your passions?
To educate yourself about personal finance is to empower yourself with the resources and tools needed to help you achieve your goals: whether it be owning your own home, starting a business, making a living off of your passions, providing for a family, having a healthy relationship with money, or paying it forward.

I like that Seth's first answer focuses on balance; he skimps in some areas to splurge in others:

MarketWatch: What are you a cheapskate about? What do you splurge on?
Seth Stewart: I’m a cheapskate on my rent because I’m an actor. I splurge on food and vacations. I am living further out in Queens [New York] so that if I don’t have a job for a year, I’m not stressed about my rent. Every actor’s had a dry season because of what we do. Our work is never guaranteed. I’m saving my money. But I make sure I go out and eat all the time. I love really expensive meals. I feel like that’s what life’s about: Good food and good conversation.
I love that artists are talking about money in this way. Back in my day [she croaks], money was still a fairly taboo topic with those in my little arts community. Some nights after shows, we spent way too much in fancy restaurants (but hey, I got to shake Bernadette Peters' hand once). I never minded working for free in theatre, but I did mind that I paid for that by working 11 pm - 7 am, proofreading at a law firm. We would sigh and curse money, but we never had fruitful conversations on how to manage money.

I also think it negatively impacted my ability to support myself in the field. I was too desperate for jobs to get them. I wanted them for the wrong reasons. Then, my life took some weird turns and I put that dream behind me.

Of course, there's no way of knowing what could've been, but I am hoping my girls will have more friends like Lin and Seth than I did. I'm doing what I can, but the more people talk about this, the better chance they all have of succeeding.

We're very good at talking about hard work, but not so good about talking about how to really make those hard-earned dollars work for us. The concepts are not so complex, but it's still difficult to practice them until they become a natural part of daily life.

Part of that difficulty stems from the discomfort that arises from telling friends "no" to get-togethers or walking into an audition or job interview, feeling desperate instead of confident.

I have found that it gets much easier to say "no" with practice. I remember one time, really agonizing about how to say that I couldn't contribute as much as others were to a particular gift. It was through text and after a few starts, I finally ended up just saying, "that's not in my budget. I can contribute $x." I got a quick reply that that was no problem, no one made me feel guilty or questioned it and it was done. Now, I only really think twice about it if it's something I really want to do and if so, I look for other areas in my budget where I can skimp or sacrifice to make it happen. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. Just going through the process of looking helps me decide how important it really is to me.

A year ago, I wasn't even thinking of going to New York. Vacations were not a high priority for me. But in June, I got an email from Hamilton, offering me tickets for early 2017. I clicked on the link, thinking this will be for nothing. The tickets will be $900 and I'll close the window, delete the email and move on. Except that when I clicked the link, there were tickets in the mezzanine for $200. Well, that's downright doable, I thought!

I called my friend Nancy. Within minutes, we decided to go for it. We picked a day in March 2017, and we bought 4 tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway!  From that moment on, my vacation budget become a huge priority!

We got back from that trip just a couple of weeks ago, and I'm still smiling! Everything went beautifully, and I even stayed under budget! I wasn't even really trying; we went to a couple of fancy restaurants, but we also ate pizza for $1. When it was too cold or we were running late, we took Lyfts, but we bought a week pass for the subway and got around mostly that way. I bought souvenirs, but didn't buy a couple that I just thought were way too overpriced.  I didn't ever feel like I was sacrificing, but I didn't feel like I was wasting money, either. We thoroughly enjoyed it!

And now I'm back to real life, back to saving money for a car - and a few droplets in the Vacation category, too.

Okay, I have strayed very far from the original intent of this post. Bottom lines:

  1. Encourage financial conversations with friends. Real conversations, not just moaning about money, but "let's brainstorm on how we improve our financial lives now." And bonus: if you and your friends are all committed to saving money, you may find new ways to have fun together that don't involve spending it!
  2. Remain open for new opportunities. Obviously, our trip to NY wasn't what everyone would consider an "opportunity," but it was for me. It was like a dream come true that I didn't even know I was having until it became a reality. And it reminded me that I really love NY and want to go there more often that once a decade!