Tag Archives: career

Dreams of a 401(k)

Oh 401(k), when I think about you, I touch myself.

Employers matching contributions? That’s a truly beautiful concept, and one I’ve never been able to take advantage of.

At the moment, my freelance career prohibits me from obtaining full benefits at one company. That’s how I chose to live my life, so I have to deal with the fact that my Roth IRA has lost significant amounts of money this year, while if I had been able to contribute to an employee-match 401(k) I might have at least broke even amidst this recession mess. However, I just have to go it alone. That’s my choice.

But that wasn’t always the case. My first full time job at a magazine showed me how even full-time gigs at companies don’t always equate to earning the luxury of a 401(k). That company was a bit, how-do-you-say, confused in terms of organization. We had a meeting about getting 401(k)’s where the financial companies came in and presented our options, then they came in another day and we met with the reps and signed the paperwork. Of course, since the company was not making any money, our 401(k) was not going to include a match at all. So ultimately the only benefit was that it would encourage employees to start saving (but tax-wise, most of us would probably be better off with a Roth anyway).

Next up on my job history resume, I obtained another full-time gig at a startup where I was to get stock options instead of a 401(k). I never actually earned any of those stock options because I left the company after three months. I was fired. I was bored with the topics I was writing about. And I couldn’t keep up with the pace. It was for the best.

I worry a bit about my retirement. I know it’s many years off, but I won’t have the security that my dad has. He retired early so my family is living on a tight budget now, but in a few years he’ll have access to his pension and he and my mother can live off that. What will I have to live off of in 2058? Or whenever it is I end up retiring?

Thus far I put $4000 into my Roth IRA (started in 2007). It’s down to $3600. I know… I know that investing is a long term thing. Still, I can’t help but be concerned about what my future holds. Maybe the smartest thing to do would be to get a stable full-time job at a public company or government agency. But I’m trying to balance my happiness and my future. It’s hard to find that balance. I’m worried I’m leaning too far towards happiness right now.

The Lawsuit and Rich Parents (aka, why I have $26k in my bank account at 24)

Many of you might wonder how on earth I have managed to save over $25k at 24… and to be honest, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit the truth. While I’d love to tell you all stories of how I worked my ass off through college, got an extremely well paying job the second I graduated and continued to watch my salary climb as the years passed, the reality is none of that is true.

Here’s what really happened:

I was born into an upper middle class family. My mother stayed at home. My dad was an actuary who made a strong six-figure salary. While my mother and I kept spending his hard-earned money, he still managed to save quite a bit. Additionally, his company had a pension plan and all of those old fangled tricks to keep people working at one company for their entire lives. And it worked… my dad, after dropping out of his graduate program in Physics at Cornell, ended up spending his entire life working for this one company and climbing the corporate ladder. He never seemed happy, as he certainly did not like my mother, and having to commute one hour each way into the city everyday couldn’t have helped.

But as he worked hard, I continued to reap the benefits. He saved up more than enough money to send me to a relatively expensive private institution for four years. Somehow he also managed to pay for my frequent shopping sprees to discount clothing stores. I was spoiled in an upper middle class sort of way. It’s not like I went out and bought Prada or even Coach. Designers always meant little to me, but nonetheless I had a major talent for spending heaps of cash.

If all of that were the entirety of my story, I would have graduated without debt, and with about $9k in savings thanks to dad’s “apartment for daughter after she graduates” fund. That would have been plenty more than I deserved.

But here’s the secret to my minor fortune:

In 6th grade, I broke my arm at my birthday party. I’m not quite sure whose fault that was, although my parents, our lawyer, and the judge all seemed to agree that the company running the party was at fault for negligence. As an 11-year-old, all I really wanted was an apology from the folks running my birthday party… after all, I had to leave three minutes into the festivities while the rest of my friends stayed and got to enjoy games and cake. Well, my “apology” came in the form of $15,000. Although $5000 was taken out in lawyer fees, by the time I could access the funds at 18, my bank account had grown to about that original sum.

So if you were wondering how on earth I have so much money – that’s how.

I do feel guilty about it, as I have many friends who had to take out loans to get through college and who will be paying for their education for years to come.

I’ve had the luxury to move across the country, to rent a $1050 a month apartment, and to mess up at a few jobs and figure out my career through trial and error. I’m lucky. I’m very, very lucky.

It’s hard to compare myself to others my age. I don’t know a great deal about people’s personal finances, but I have friends across the spectrum of class (ranging from “upper lower” class to “upper middle” class.)

My boyfriend’s situation is somewhat different, yet he also has money in savings and graduated with no loans. His mother has never moved out of her parents house. She’s worked consistently throughout her life, and has saved most of her income. While I was a spoiled little brat as a kid, my boyfriend never experienced the finer things in life… even though his family had the money to show him such things if they wanted to spend it. But instead, his mother believed in buying clothing from the thrift store. Last Christmas I was shocked that she got me a gift (it is the thought that counts) but I just found it interesting to see that the “gift” was a red wool coat that she had bought from a thrift store a while back, knowing that at some point she’d give it away as a gift.

I don’t judge her for this at all, I’m just fascinated by the different financial mindsets of people in America. I wonder how much of it is based on culture and religion, and how much is unique to each family and person. Even I believe that the best part of making more money is being able to share that money… at least with the person you love and your close friends.

There’s plenty more I can write about all of this, but I need to get some more work done this evening before heading off to bed. Please leave comments about this topic, as I’m interested in hearing about your families and how that influenced the way you spend and save today.

Edited to add: My parents no longer send me money. I’m on my own. If I was in debt or something awful happens, I know they’d be there to help as much as possible. But now I’m earning money and paying all of my bills, including rent.

Question of the Day — From BankerGirl’s Blog

“If your boss told you that you’d just won two years paid vacation, what would you do with the time?”From the blog of BankerGirl.

Oh gosh! Two years paid vacation would certainly be a luxury. A lot would depend on what I’d be getting paid during those two years. Assuming it would be a full-time salary of $50k, I’d probably work another job (hopefully making the same amount) during that time and invest the first $50k more aggressively, probably focusing on trying to buy a house or a condo.

What would you do?

Found My Dream Job… But Why Must it Require 60 Hours Per Week?

My contract gig is going very well. In fact, it’s going better than expected. In the past two months, my 30-hour-a-week gig has already expanded from that of “writer” to that of marketing assistant and community manager. In a meeting with my boss yesterday, we briefly discussed the possibility of my staying on past the end of my contract in mid-Feb, and he seemed to want me to stick around. Great. Here’s the catch — to be considered “full time” I’d have to work about 60 hours per week.

Yes, that’s how life is out here in Silicon Valley. 60 hours a week is the norm for a full-time salaried position. Maybe I don’t need to be “full time.” I can be “part time” at 40 hours per week. Basically that just means that I’d be sans benefits and I’d get paid a bit less. And I might end up working 60 hours per week, but I won’t be required to do so.

I’m not sure that’s the end of the world. I’d rather have flexibility compared to having to be a slave (albeit a paid one) to a job (albeit a job I really like.) I want to have a life outside of work… even if that life is working other freelance gigs… I like the diversity of freelancing, so I think I’ll stick with that. Or maybe I should actually find myself a job that’s salaried at 40 hours per week.

But I tried that and I was miserable. I’ve been so happy lately, and it’s all because of my flexible schedule. I’m making a bit less money, but in time I can fix that. I’m marketing myself and getting new freelance writing gigs. An article here, a marketing newsletter there, and pretty soon I’m making $50k a year, all with time to keep enjoying my “hobby” of directing theater in the evenings and on weekends. I just don’t sleep.

I just wonder if I need to suck it up and take on a 60 hour per week job in order to advance in my career. I know that’s the norm here, and it seems like I’ve got one of those generation Y sense’s of self entitlement if I don’t just agree to that kind of life. But I’m worried if I do that I’ll quickly slip back into depression. And that I don’t want at all.

Lacking Charisma: Social Anxiety and Work

I’m bad at small talk and, despite my desire to be well-liked, I lack adequate amounts of charm and grace. Looking back on my job positions over the past five years, I see a disheartening trend: my failures are more or less due to my desire to limit human interaction as much as possible in any given period of time.

Silicon Valley is all about the small talk. The inside jokes, the laughter. I probably seem like I’m stuck up because I don’t know how to just chat. Either I feel like I’m talking too much, or I feel like I’m boring the person I’m talking to with questions.

I feel like I do well on my job interviews. I seem personable enough. Then it comes to the actual ‘work’ part of a job… and I just want to work and be done with it. Well, that’s not entirely true, I love collaboration… working in small teams… when my ideas seem to be worth something and I can help contribute to a final product. That’s when I like talking to other people. But otherwise… I just crawl back into my shell.

It really, really sucks. I just want to be that girl that’s always smiling who everyone likes. Maybe I’d annoy some people because I’m just so perky, but when they figured out that the perk was genuine they’d have to like me, at least a little bit, right?

But instead I have trouble making eye contact and forming sentences that seem to resemble phrases that might generate some sort of interest.

I don’t know if there is something ‘wrong’ with me or if I’ve turned myself into this anti-social monster. Sometimes I wonder if I have some kind of autism. I’ve never been good at socializing. When I was a kid, I’d only want to talk to adults, and that wasn’t because I liked talking to adults more, it’s just they’d forgive me for being awkward in exchange for accepting that I hadn’t reached puberty.

How much of growing up ‘the cootie girl’ influences ones ability to succeed down the road? There are so many voices in my head telling me that I’m a failure, and it’s hard to shove them all out and achieve some sort of clarity.

At my job, I go into the office, I basically run to my desk, and then I work all day, and then I go home. I’m too afraid to even say goodbye to people. I just appear and disappear. That’s no good for making employers want to keep you on as a worker. And don’t even get me started about why I should have never attempted to pursue a career in journalism with social anxiety…

Do you all think that charisma and charm are traits I can take on, or should I just try really hard to learn some super-specific geeky skill that pretty much requires me to be a recluse?

The Unfortunate Quest to be Anything Other than Average

Blaming Attention Deficit Disorder is easy, but the fact of the matter is that I have a serious problem with my inability to complete projects. Of course, I’m working hard to combat this problem and I’ve been doing a good job of it at my current contract gig.

But, even though I think I’m working hard, I still feel like my employer views me negatively. Maybe that’s my problem — as I always convince myself that people dislike me until proven otherwise. There are a few other projects on my plate that I’m behind on, or that are basically gone for good because, well, I took on more than I can chew. I don’t really know enough about interactive design yet to build multimedia sites, yet I tried once and it didn’t work. I’d like to take some classes in these things so it won’t take me hours browsing through tutorials to make a relatively simple site that has more than just graphics and text, but unfortunately, I don’t have time or the money to do that right now.

With my writing work… I feel like such a fake. I don’t think I’m a good writer. I think I’m a much better designer, without the technical skills to profit from my somewhat decent talent in that area. Meanwhile, writing is easy… to fake. Anyone can pretend to be a writer. But what matters is the content.

Maybe I just lost my love for writing. Once I wanted to be a journalist. But now all I do is dream about a day when I can design for a living. I feel like I get color and line and composition. What I don’t get is the composition of paragraphs or sentences.

I’m just tired of being a F&#& up. How did I get so far this fast and yet at every turn I run straight into a wall of my own creation? I’m over and done with it. I want to be successful, but my motivation levels… my non-temporary motivation levels… dwindle faster than George Bush’s ratings since going to war with Iraq.

Am I the only person who practices somewhat subconscious self sabotage? I’m so afraid of proving to myself that I’m actually a failure that all I can do is fail before I have the chance to do it unintentionally.

I need to stop feeling like I need to do something GREAT in order to succeed. I know it’s the little things that are meaningful, yet I don’t believe it. I want to be famous, or brilliant, or… anything other than average.

Hello December

I can’t believe it’s already almost 2008. Seriously, wasn’t New Years for 2007 just yesterday? It’s kind of scary how fast life starts going by once school isn’t around to make everything go sooooo slowly. I want to figure out a way to slow life down. Now that I’m 24 (oh yea, I turned 24 a week ago, happy birthday to me) I need to somehow figure out how to make each day count just a bit more.

Thank goodness my job situation is starting to piece together into a picture I like. Freelancing with steady contract work is obviously the ideal situation for me.

Right now I have three steady gigs, plus some random projects thrown in. My logic is that each extra project I take on is more money I can save, while my steady work is generally for bills and such. Any extra money from my ‘steady’ work goes into savings, either my IRA or some other savings account that I need to set up.

My jobs:

Writing for a Company — 30 hours per week, 3 months, $3300 a month
Assisting at another Company — 5-10 hours per week, $25 per hour
Steady work from uncle’s marketing business — $400 a month retainer

So, I imagine that should turn out to something like $3900 a month. Take taxes out, it’s down to maybe $2800? Then take out $1050 for rent, $200 for bills – phone, internet, TV, gym membership) and $200 for health insurance and potential medical bills. That leaves me with, um, about $1300 for food, entertainment, gas, etc. If I’m lucky, that’ll be enough to save some money too.

What I want to save for…

$3000: Laser Hair Removal.
$1000: Digital SLR camera + lense and accessories
$100,000: Grad School

Time to start saving!

It’s Been a While, Time for an Update

I was just interviewed for an article about personal finance sites, and the brief early-morning chat reminded me that I haven’t updated this blog in a while. I’d like to start writing regularly again, it’s just tough to keep up with my blogs and my life. I don’t know how some personal finance bloggers find the time to write, like, three posts a day.

That said, I know I left you all with that wonderful long health insurance rant cliffhanger. Cue the cheesy suspense music please… “Duhn, duhn, duhn”….

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. I still don’t have health insurance. The good news is that’s mostly because I’m lazy and less because I’ve been denied. Well, I haven’t been denied because I haven’t applied yet. I’ve been speaking with a health insurance agent who seems to think my best option is to lie on my applications, although he won’t go on record as advising that. Meanwhile he’s also helped me put together a quote for Pacific Healthcare where I don’t have to lie, and that seems pretty reasonable (something like $140 a month for catastrophic insurance).

COBRA turns out to be a whopping $405 a month, so unless it turns out I actually get denied from every other option, it’s looking like COBRA, an aptly named snake, is a type of insurance one ought to stay away from even though it’s enticing from afar.

Money matters are looking up. I’m actually getting more work than I know what to do with right now. And old colleague who is the editor of a journalism-y startup just asked me to work a few hours for her a week helping with admin stuff, doing site maintenance and at some point writing some short and fun features for the site. I have a feeling she’s going to try to encourage me to get back into writing longer-format features and news stories at some point, but I’m not sure that’s the direction I want to head in. I’m kind of happy with the freedom (and better pay) that comes with controlling my career as a freelance writer out in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, my journalism expertise is in technology writing, and if I’m going to work for any startup in the area, it’s too conflict-of-interesty to try to swing a career half-time in journalism and half-time in writing marketing copy for these sites. This gig for my old colleague is kosher because it’s covering a specific area of technology that I will not be doing writing work for. So, that seems alright.

My biggest concern at the moment is the upcoming tax season. I just hope I get my W2 and 109 forms my way early so I can start figuring out how many zillions of dollars I owe, or don’t owe. I honestly have no idea what taxes will look like this year, and it scares me a bit. See, from Jan-June of 07 I was making “35k a year” and having taxes taken out of that. Then From June 15-Nov 15, I was making “50k a year” and taxes were swiped from my bi-monthly checks. That’s good. But after that, my tax situation turns into a bit of a mess. I’ve done a bunch of freelancing here and there. Some of it was for $50, some for $600, some for $1000. Obviously I’ll report all of the larger gigs, and try my best to remember the tally of my smaller gigs. Smart me, I haven’t been keeping track of my checks as I cashed them at the bank because I just assumed I’d have access to the scan of them later. I could have sworn at one point I saw these scans on my BankofAmerica.com account. No such luck. Apparently they charge some fee to pull up the scans of old checks. I don’t really want to find out how much that fee is. I guess I’ll just wait for my tax mail to come, and take it from there. And hopefully, at least for this year, it will turn out that my average pay was so low (due to periods of unemployment, without being on unemployment) that I’ll somehow break even on the whole tax situation. If not, there’s a chance I could owe a lot.

This is also the first year I’m going to see what having some cash in a mutual fund does to my taxes. Apparently I have to pay tax on my dividends. But right now it looks like my mutual fund, despite being ‘in the bank’ for over seven months, has returned to its original buying price. So I’m not sure how that all works out come tax time. Can someone explain this to me?

the nightmare that is figuring out taxes and health insurance as a freelancer

the absolutely marvelous news is that i just landed a steady, well-paid, 30 hrs/week contract gig for the next three months.

the bad news it that now i have to figure out how on earth to get myself decent health insurance… and how to sort out my income and expenses for tax season.

contract work is great because of the flexibility, but all the additional “work” I have to do to be self-employed is rather terrifying.

first off — health insurance: i already know i will be denied if i tell the truth on my health insurance applications, because i took lexapro ONE MONTH for “major depression.” On the Tonik health insurance application, you get to click off your pre-existing medical conditions. Guess what category major depression falls into? “Bipolar disorder/Major Depression/Schizophrenia”

Um. I went to a psychiatrist for about two months, took meds for one month, and i kind of feel better now.

My psychiatrist kind of warned me about the potential health insurance issues, but she wasn’t very clear about it. She just said that she doesn’t like working with health insurance — because it takes her forever to get paid. And then when she was considering diagnosing me with bipolar, she asked me if it would be ok to note that on my diagnosis form, since most clients don’t want that on there, as it could hurt their chances of getting health insurance later on.

First off, I was rather ignorant at the time, thinking that health insurance existed to help you get better (wrong) and that it would be cheaper for me to use my $15 co-pay visits with a ‘major depression’ diagnosis as opposed to 50% pay for ADD or anxiety or anything else that I probably actually have (I doubt I have major depression. It’s probably recurring, but I go through phases in my life. Life is hard and sometimes i’m sad and sometimes I need someone to talk to, but I don’t think this is a life-long condition). Anyway…

So I got my $15 visits, which was nice for the two months I say my psychiatrist and my therapist. And now? Well, chances are I won’t be able to get health insurance. Because apparently whatever it is I have is just as bad as SCHIZOPHRENIA in the eyes of my potential insurers.

I spoke with a health insurance agent who, off the record, basically suggested that i take the risk and lie on my application, because that would be the only way i could get decent insurance. but, of course, then i could basically screw myself over by doing that, since health insurance companies could find out that i lied and make me pay for EVERYTHING since when i signed up for their insurance. that’s a scary thought.

Or – do I just be honest and watch as my applications get denied? I haven’t got my forms for Cobra yet, but I’m sure that will be ridiculously expensive. I had really good health insurance (Blue Shield PPO) through my employer with a $250 deductible, and now I’m looking at whatever I can get with a $1500-$5000 deductible and poor benefits. And to get that I might still have to lie.

But I should have health insurance. I realize it’s stupid to be living without health insurance. I just am not sure what kind to get. Basically I need the doctor to prescribe me Yasmin birth control pills each month (and hopefully for them not to cost me a fortune) — I need “Yasmin” specifically for hormonal imbalances and such, but unfortunately getting cheaper pills through something like planned parenthood will not let me get that brand.

Besides health insurance, there’s the issue of taxes. Gosh, I’m so behind of keeping tabs on what I’ve made in contract work this year. I know, bad me. I just set up a google docs spreadsheet to start taking detailed notes from hereonout, but I’m not 100% sure what I’ve made thus far this year. In any case, I know that taxes are going to take a HUGE CHUNK out of my income, which is fine, they did that before, but it’s just really hard to determine how much taxes will be when I don’t even know how much work I will have each month.

At least now I have a stable three month gig where I will be making $3300 a month, assuming they like me and want to keep me for the entirety of the contracted position. After that, either I get to stay on board, or it’s back to the drawing board. We’ll see. Meanwhile, my goal is to pick up one or two freelance web design projects per month, where I’d make anywhere from $500-$1000 per project (although I’m starting out with really cheap rates of like $200 per project.)

Anyway… for the next three months, my ‘income’ before taxes, minus any additional web design projects, should be $3700, which includes the contract gig and another ongoing contract project where I make $400 a month writing a few articles for my uncle’s marketing firm. $3700 a month is definitely not a bad wage, but after taxes, and health insurance, I’m not sure how much that actually is. It’d be something like $2700 a month or something? So after rent, that’s $1650 a month. Phone bill, gym membership and cable tv/internet are like, $200, so then I have $1450 left. Ok, not bad. Health insurance, assuming I go for a decent kind, will be like $300 a month. So that’s maybe $1150 left for food, entertainment and such.

Ok, I guess that’s not awful. But I just am scared about not understanding taxes and all the complicated stuff that goes into expensing things and such. Meanwhile, I just read that self-employed individuals pay a lot more in taxes because usually the company pays for like half of the taxes, but when you work for yourself you are your own company.

So. I guess I have a lot of figuring out to do. In the meantime, I have to wrap up three projects I’m working on. I’m writing some company for a startup (basically, I’m writing all the copy that will go on their site), then I have to finish this one website for a client, and then I’ve got to wrap up the basic design for a project I’m doing in a ‘trade’ deal with a personal trainer. 5 hours of web design for 4 hours of personal training. It’s not a bad deal, considering she charges $78 an hour and I charge $50. Anyway, I can tell she’s getting antsy to see the page (I already had three training sessions this week, but I told her I’d show her something this weekend.) Well, I’ve got to finish that. I’m trying my darndest to figure out Flash because A) she seems to really like pages with Flash in them and B) I need at least one site for my portfolio that incorporates Flash, so I can show clients that I can atleast put some basic animation on their pages.

Anyway.

Life is going pretty good, minus all of this confusion. My birthday is coming up next week. I’m turning 24. Happy, uh, confused birthday to me.

unemployment and depression

they say if you pursue your passion, money will come to you. i still don’t know what my passion is. i can’t figure out one job that i’d be happy doing 40-50 hours per week. i’ve tried public relations, admin, arts marketing and journalism, and ultimately i got bored with every single position.

you know what? some days i wonder what it would be like to be a photographer. i love taking pictures. but so many people are good at photography. pursuing a career in writing just feels safer. all businesses need copy. sure, most businesses need photography as well, but i just don’t believe in myself enough to pursue that career.

i just feel like spending my life writing will help me get by. maybe. if i can hold a job long enough to save some money, instead of failing every four months to a year.

i guess i’m writing at the moment because it’s one of my down days. i’m feeling rather hopeless about my future and question why i bother trying. i know that i’ve accomplished quite a bit for my age, but really, the accomplishments i have made all feel rather pointless and don’t bring me any sense of pride. if i was working as a photographer, or a graphic designer, i think i’d be somewhat happy.

i’m just too scared to take out loans and figure out how to get from where i am now to a new career. and emotionally, i feel like i have no where to turn. i love my boyfriend more than i can express, but he isn’t a very expressive person when it comes to empathy, and if i’m sad i just make him sad, so it’s not even worth telling him anymore. my parents are no help, they don’t really care about how i’m doing, as long as i have a roof over my head. but as for my emotional well being, i guess sometimes i feel like no one really cares. perhaps that’s just my depression speaking, but it’s just frustrating to feel that the only person i can really talk to about my problems is my therapist. I guess what i’m saying is I feel rather empty because the few friends i have all seem so happy. they might be working as hair stylists, or editors, but they’re all so content with their lives. i’m not content at all with where i’m at now. i feel like such a waste. i want so much more for my life. but sometimes i think i’m just the dumb kid who snuck through the system. maybe i should have ended up working as a hair stylist or something. not a writer. not a designer. maybe i should work at starbucks. or safeway. i mean, i’m losing faith in myself and my abilities. i want to be brilliant but i’m not even close. i want to help people, but i feel like i can’t even help my family, so how could I help anyone else? i really hate money, even though i love buying things. i hate that i’m such a capitalist.