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.