Tag Archives: life

10 Financial Commandments for Your 20s, Part 2

This is part 2 of a series inspired by Give Me Back My Five Bucks, based on a Kiplinger article of the 10 commandments for finances in your 20s… I’m grading myself on each one of the commandments. Read Part 1 here.

6. Establish credit. In order to qualify for the best interest rates on a credit card, auto loan or mortgage, you need to start building a solid credit history. In fact, a good history can also save you a bundle on your auto insurance or help you land an apartment or a job (see Why Your Credit Score Matters). Building a good credit history in your twenties will ensure it’s ready when you need to use it. If you didn’t have a credit card in college, one way of getting credit now is to apply for a secured card: You make a deposit — usually $300 to $500 — in a savings account as collateral, and you can get the money back after one year of using the card responsibly. You can also start building a credit history through www.prbc.com, an alternative credit bureau that gathers data on regular payments for rent, cable and other recurring expenses. (See Rent Your Way to Good Credit to learn more.)

Score C. I’ve never made a big purchase on a credit card and paid it off slowly, so my credit score is not as great as it could be. That said, I’m totally opposed to how you need to carry a balance in order to build credit. I do have a credit card (ok I have a lot of credit cards) but I don’t have a lot of recurring expenses. Continue reading

Happy Mother’s Day — a Long Distance Family Relationship

2,797. That’s the number of miles between where I currently live and where my parents live. 6. That’s the number of hours it takes to fly from coast to coast to visit, not counting the 2+ hours on either end to get to and from the airport. $350. That’s the average cost of a RT ticket between each destination, on a non-holiday travel schedule.

On holidays, my family, including my parents, sister, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents tend to gather together and spend the day talking and enjoying each others company. Even though I didn’t have a very close relationship with my family, I cherished the time spent together, the conversations had, and laughter shared between my relatives.

Then, 10 years ago I moved away from home. First, for college, I moved 814 miles away from home, and then, when I graduated, moved even further away.

In that time, my parents, cousins, grandparents, have all aged. I see them at most two or three times per year. Three years ago my father was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer and told he had two years to live. My grandfather, over the last ten years, has lost his sharpness due to Parkinson’s disease. I can barely recognize my mother, as she looks more and more like a “grandmother” every time I see her. My cousins have gone from elementary students to taller than me, and I missed everything in between. My sister is now a junior in college — I left home when she was seven.

10 years ago, I wanted nothing more than to run away from my childhood, to start a new life for myself, to prove that I could make it on my own. Had I stayed in New Jersey I might have maintained a more consistent relationship with my family, but I never would have grown up. I needed to get away. But looking back, I do feel a bit of regret. Of missing the time with my family.

On the other hand, seeing my family less frequently makes those times shared more valuable and appreciated. My parents drive me absolutely crazy, with their fighting and complaining about everything, so living at or very near home would probably be a poor decision. Still, I’m contemplating a move back east, maybe not in the very near future, but in the coming years — I still have more good friends in New Jersey and on the east coast than I do in California, and whenever I envision having a family (ie kids) I see myself raising them back on the east coast. California, as much as I love it, will never feel like “home” to me. That’s not a terrible thing — home can be boring, California, for what it’s worth, still makes me feel like I live on constant vacation, as the weather is always relatively nice, and the landscape is beautiful. But I miss my family and friends. And I think I’m getting more and more ready to go back.

Yesterday, my boyfriend asked me if I’d ever want to live on the east coast. He rarely discusses the future — he hates to think long term beyond next week — so it was a conversation I was not prepared for. I didn’t have an answer then, really. Yes? No? Could I leave California — a place that, just by being outside here, makes me happy — to go back to a place that is depressing for half of the year during those dark, cold winters? Maybe. Maybe I have to, at some point. Maybe California has given me the opportunities I needed to kick start my career, and perhaps my experience here will open doors for me in New York. Who knows. I just think that as I approach 30, and as I approach my 5th anniversary with my boyfriend, and likely marriage and settling down in the next few years, deep down I feel like that has to be in New Jersey or New York. I can’t imagine raising my children away from my family. I want them to grow up with that. But I’m not sure I’m ready to make the move just yet.

But one thing I’ve learned lately is that money doesn’t make me happy, relationships make me happy. It’s extremely hard for me to make friends, and I generally have trouble relating to people (esp people outside of the tri-state area) — my family will always be my family, but if I never see them, I’m throwing out the most priceless item in my life’s possession. The more pictures I see on Facebook of family gatherings, the more smiles of my family posing for a large group photo and I’m not there, the more I realize it’s time to rethink the whole “I don’t need family” thing. I mean, right now no one is dead, thank goodness, but I can’t imagine the guilt I’d feel if one day I get a call that anyone in my family has passed… or is in the hospital with only hours to live, and I missed the opportunity to see them, and to be there when they were healthy, and when they were ill. I think in that sense I need to move back, the question just is when.

Should I Have Children?

During my therapy session today, it occurred to me that this question alone is one that, of all the questions and confusions on life I have, is the one that freaks me out the most. I’m not going to have kids tomorrow or the next day, but at 26 I have to face reality that if I am going to have children (I’d like at least 2, at most 3) I should have kids within approximately the next 10 years. That’s a lot of time and not much time at all.

10 years ago, I was 16.5. I was a junior in high school, trying to figure out where to go to college, taking the PSATs, and really just starting on my journey of adulthood. It kind of feels like a long time ago. Will 30 or 35 feel that long from now? I hear time speeds up the older you get.
My therapist and I briefly discussed today whether or not I want kids. To be honest, I don’t know. She said that people don’t have to have children, and you have to really have a physical urge to have kids and a desire to appreciate the joy they’ll bring (along with all the sacrifice and stress.) Do I have that urge? Will I ever?
Surely, my life without children might feel a bit meaningless. It already feels meaningless. But it’s not good to put that much responsibility on my yet-to-be-conceived offspring — “bring my life meaning or else.” I can’t really see myself being a mother. Then again, there are plenty of other people in this world who should not be mothers who are, so why should I be so hard on myself? (Ie — see WhytheFuckDoYouHaveaKid.com) I’m not THAT bad, right?

I mean, I have my shit together. Sort of. I have $50k in savings/retirement, a job (that isn’t stable, but I at least have a career that can lead to more jobs), I’m probably doing a lot better than many people my age who already have children. Why do I feel like I need a million dollars in the bank before I can procreate?
Some days, I think reading all these personal finance blogs and listening to Ray Lucia and tracking my Net Worth hurts me a bit. It just makes me freak out about money. It’s important to be responsible with money, to save a certain percentage of your income, etc, etc, but I’m paralyzed by my fear of never having enough. This whole “should I have kids” question goes beyond just having the finances to afford them (heck, am I really the type of person who can be responsible for infants or deal when my teenagers talk back to me?) but the money is a big part of it.
The days I dream of grad school, I have to remind myself how much debt I’ll be in at 30, versus the non grad school route where I can possibly reach a networth of $100k or more by 30. If I end up having kids and wanting to stay home with them, why even bother with grad school?
Meanwhile, my boyfriend has barely any savings, no Roth IRA, no retirement accounts, and is planning to go to grad school — at least for his masters, probably for his PhD. So we’ll likely have his debts to deal with. Why bother adding mine? We can’t do that if we want to have children. I really need to have kids in my early 30s… I will have to go through in vitro and all that fun due to my PCOS, and having children will probably cost $20k+ a pop. I’m not just making these money concerns up.
What do you think? Do you have children? When did you have your kids? How much did you have in net worth when you had children? Do you think it’s silly for me to be this concerned about money before having kids?

Buying Happiness in a Consumption Economy

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Capitalism and its relationship to the definition of happiness in modern society. Last night I watched this video…

… which describes why our materials economy is not sustainable and how it is awful for everyone involved (except the big corporations making lots of money.) Nothing really shocking in the video if you know how the consumption economy works, but it’s just sad how capitalism is pretty much based upon making you feel like shit so you have to buy stuff you don’t need and then making the stuff you don’t need seem like shit compared to the latest cool thing so you want to buy that and so on, with all your once cool stuff becoming waste polluting the planet (not to mention the whole awful part about cheap labor and destroying third world countries.) That leads me to wonder, if stuff is ruining the planet, and likely our ability to be happy, then is it possible to be happy with money in our lives?

I jokingly asked my boyfriend today if he thinks I’d be happy if I just gave away all my money. That’s a stupid idea, as I’d eventually starve and wouldn’t have a place to live. I don’t actually give any money to charity yet and I’m not sure at what point I’ll feel comfortable doing so. If I save $20k next year, I should be able to afford to donate some funds to charity. But I just feel like all that money should be put in my grad school account, or in my making babies in vitro account, or in my house down payment fund, or car replacement fund. Having money is a necessity, unless you’re that blogger who lives in canyon and eats out of trash cans and seems to be thrilled with his life, and I’m not sure how to let go of any of it.

Still, I don’t see myself ever being happy in a stuff economy. I don’t always buy the newest and most expensive gadgets and clothes, but I tend to shop for trends when the prices come down a bit, and I’ll snap up the hottest gadget when I feel the cost is what it’s worth (ie, my recent iPhone purchase), but I just don’t know when I’ll feel like I make enough to have enough to feel “good” in this society.

When I went to undergrad, I was so idealistic. I wanted to learn everything. I wasn’t the best at learning because I couldn’t decide what to learn and could never focus on one thing. When I figured out I need to find something to do to make money I became depressed. Now that I’m looking towards grad school, I have to find something that can sustain me for the rest of my life and also take in a decent income. I constantly think about having to support a family one day, knowing I could do it on a small income, but dreaming of a “large” six-figure income to support my mildly frugal stuff-based lifestyle.

The problem is, capitalism is inherently teaching us that our happiness should come from having more than the next person. Whether that’s having a shiny new car, a cool pair of Ugg boots, or even just the ability to go out to dinner once a week when they can’t (even if we’re going into debt because of it) that is how we value ourselves in our society. Yet does it really make us happy? If there were some utopian society where everyone was equal, would we be able to obtain happiness without comparing ourselves to others from a financial standpoint? Or is that impossible… after all, we are genetically designed to compete so our offspring obtain the best life. Is that what our happiness is about?

My boyfriend is a simple guy. He’s be happy living in a small hut with some good books and nothing but forest around him, and a visitor maybe once or twice a month. Me… I’m a different animal. I almost feel like I need stuff. I need the rush of shopping, it makes me feel safe. Without god in my life there’s only shopping to fill that void. I don’t go to temple or church, I go to the mall. I say thanks by purchasing the best fitting outfits I try on. I fill my religious void with lots of stuff. And then I fill my room with it and my clutter makes me miserable. It’s a vicious cycle. And it has to end now.

Still, what replaces my stuff religion when it’s gone? The only replacement are experiences… and those can be free or expensive and worth the same. It is our experiences that we remember, not our material goods. Even then, though, experiences can be pricey (they don’t have to be) and do they even really make us happy? A blog I was reading the other day discussed how travel is a waste of money and that experiences are pretty much just as invaluable as stuff and they come and go. But if nothing has value (other than maybe our love ones, who we have no control over in terms of life or death as accidents happen) it becomes almost necessary for us to have stuff in our lives. Stuff keeps us sane. It puts meaning on something that really isn’t worth anything, even if it cost a lot. Take away stuff and what do our lives mean?

I wish I could spend my life studying how the relationship of a people with material goods and experiences effect the happiness of a society and culture. Is American culture just so awful and warped that it’s hard to see past life’s true value and how to obtain happiness, or is this a worldwide epidemic? A human epidemic?

Plenty more thoughts on this topic to come… feel free to post a comment answering some or all of my questions… I’m curious what you all think…

26 Aspirations and Goals for 2010

I like Affecting Change in Me’s idea to come up with the # of goals for the coming year based on your age. She’s turning 30 so she has 30 goals.


Here are my 26 goals for 2010…

I’ll check in each month to update how I’m doing on each goal.

1. Save 20% of my income for retirement

2. Save 10% of my income for other upcoming expenses

3. Increase my net worth to $60,000

4. Study (a lot) for graduate school tests

5. Take the GMAT (and poss retake the GRE)

6. Apply to grad school(s) in fall 2010

7. Stop drinking alcohol (except on my birthday)

8. Go to the gym 3 times a week

9. Earn $10k in freelance income ($833 / month)

10. Eat 1300 calories per day

11. Drink 8 glasses of water per day

12. Come up with sweet, non expensive things to do to make my boyfriend happy and do them

13. Go to 1 networking event per month and get up the courage to talk to people (which is going to be really hard since I’m giving up alcohol)

14. Keep my room organized (easier said than done, hello ADD)

15. Write max 20 posts per month for blogging gig ($500 / month)

16. Start a saving fund for basic expenses for the second half of next year when I’ll likely be out of a job.

17. Write hand written letters to the people in my life who I’ve lost contact with (sans Facebook status updates). I don’t really like many people, but it saddens me that I’ve lost contact with the few people in this world who I really admire and consider friends.

18. Take an antidepressant for a year and see if it actually helps my mood swings over time.

19. Go to group therapy when possible and give what it takes to get the most out of it possible.

20. Make an effort to spend one day a month with each of my few friends.

21. Invite my roommates to do something fun outside the house and try to build my relationship with them (I am really bad at socializing with my roommates, I like them but when I come home I usually just want to hide in my room. They are so close to each other it’s sometimes awkward for me to be there.)

22. Read at least 4 fiction books and 4 personal finance / economics books and 4 books on interaction design

23. Start saving for a car replacement

24. Put my all into work, even though sometimes I don’t know how to. Be positive at work and supportive of the chaotic environment that is life at a startup. Try to bring a smile to the table always.

25. Work on being a better listener and communicator. Learn from career counselor how to do that.

26. Try to take one day at a time and be happy for all I have and all the opportunities that are to come.

The Fear of Losing it All

What would you be doing right now if you had nothing to fear? I read this question on a blog the other day (eeks, can’t remember which) but it made me think just how much my life would change if I could ignore fear.

That is, the fear of having nothing. I’m not even sure what that means anymore. There’s definitely a fine line between having enough to get by from now until death, and excess income for ongoing splurges. Also, on the other end, there’s a fine line between comfort and poverty.

I’m not anywhere near poverty now. In fact, I’ve done surprisingly well for myself this year, despite overspending time and again. Between my increase in salary and my fairly stable freelance income, it looks like I’m on track to bring in about $75k this year (pre tax). That’s quite a lot for a single gal. Granted, I live somewhere that the cost of living is high, but I survived on $25k a year before and it scares the crap out of me that suddenly $75k seems like not enough to get by on when I feel like I need to put so much income into investments in order to afford life in the future.

But if I wasn’t afraid at all… of being poor… what would I do? I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now. I’d like to start my own business. Lately I’ve been fantasizing about opening a store. Not that I have any retail experience, I just love the idea of being in charge of a business and being able to call the shots.

Every year that goes by I think, man, I really need to go to grad school. But then I add up the numbers and it just doesn’t seem worth it. Maybe if I was making $25k still a graduate education would help me make $70k+, but I’m already there without it. I might be limiting my income in the future, but who knows. Would getting an MBA really increase my overall life income when I just don’t see myself as a person willing to work 80+ hours per week?

I don’t need to be rich, but I enjoy being in the upper middle class. I do like to spend money on things I need and things I don’t need. Can I get over that? Probably. But if it makes me happy… or at least, content… why should I?

This month I’m spending SO MUCH on health costs. Well, between my dental costs and mental health therapy and eyecare, my budget is largely going to healthcare. I guess that’s a “good” place to be spending my money. I went to a psychiatrist that charged $280 for the initial 1 hour consultation. She prescribed me an anti-depressant, which I’ve yet to fill. I also have spent $150 for group therapy (3 weeks this month, $50 a session.) I also spend $330 on something like a years’ supply of contacts.

I haven’t finalized any laser hair removal plans yet, but I found a medspa that has a pass for about $4300 where you can get unlimited laser hair removal. The catch is there is a $20 copay each time you go and each session can only be 90 minutes long, but still, that sounds like it would be so very worth it for my hairy self. I’m leaning towards doing the 12 months financing through care credit, paying about $330 per month over the coming year. That won’t be a problem as long as I keep my current job. And I already have that amount in savings if I need to pay it off and I lose my job, it would just kind of suck to spend my savings on it if the income stops coming in.

The good thing is that I’m building my side freelance writing business. I’ve decided in order to feel comfortable I need to obtain multiple streams of freelance income. Ideally, each of them should be able to cover my rent ($630) or a large portion of it. I figure, if I lose my full-time job, I want to already have income streams set up to cover rent and other basic costs. I can cut out all other spending and investing if needed. My goal is to take home $1,000 in freelance income per month. I’m more or less around $500 right now, but I have a new occasional gig that pays well and seems to be working out, for the time being, at least.

All of this has me terribly frightened about stopping everything and going to grad school. And knowing that my poor GRE scores and academic background will keep me from attending a top school, I wonder if grad school is worth it. I’m considering a state school, but even then I’d have to stop working full time for two years. Maybe there’s a way to balance freelance income and graduate study at a state school where I won’t go into that much debt during my studies. But I don’t want to go to a grad school just because it’s affordable. I’m not sure that’s the wrong way to look at it, but it seems like people choose graduate programs for reasons beyond cost, as that’s what student loans and a lifetime of student debt is for, right?

Hmm. I wish I grew up in a family of risk takers. I’d feel a little more confident in knowing what next step to take, or trusting my gut. My father’s whole job was dedicated to mitigating risk. Even as my younger sister is scheduled to visit and spend a week with me, when I talk to my dad on the phone he seems sincerely concerned that I’m somehow going to have us both killed… even though she’s 19 and I’m in my 20s and we both haven’t died yet. Neither of my parents ever trusted me to make smart decisions, and neither of them knew how to make smart decisions… so I don’t know how to decide, well, anything. And without deciding, I’m slogging along, having a few good days but more bad than good, earning my $75k and preparing for a day when I’ll be back to $25k. That’s how it looks like my life will go. I can’t even think about what will happen when/if I have kids and have a family to support.

How Much Would I Have Without My Wealthy Family? — Inspired by MEG @ The World of Wealth

Being a personal finance blogger, I’m often embarrassed of the financial background I come from. I’ve been reading a lot of MEG’s blog Wealth is Good lately, and she seems to have the same problem, if it is a problem.

MEG recently “came out of the finance closet” and wrote how she’s getting a financial gift each year from her grandparents, as part of their estate planning process. It’s causing quite a stir in the PF blogosphere. In a recent post, she is trying to figure out how much her net worth would be without any help from her family. It’s one of those things that’s pretty impossible to figure out. But for both of us, our net work would be much less (likely negative) at this point in our lives if our parents hadn’t helped along the way.

Looking back on my life, I really have no idea where my net worth would be without my parents. Maybe I’d be poor and depressed. Maybe I’d be in law school after working my ass off in undergrad. I probably wouldn’t be living on my own and making $60k at a job I love.

My parents paid for so much of my life. My spending on things I didn’t need (clothes, other junk) was high, but I never really bought anything material I really wanted with their money. Just a lot of crap. I went to public school, so that was free, but my parents paid a lot for outside classes and camp. In high school, every summer I went to a different college for courses. All of that helped me get into college, which ultimately helped me get the job I have now.

While not from the bank accounts of my mom and dad, my $15k that I started with out of college was directly a result of their work. That is, when I broke my arm in 6th grade and they sued the gym, the lawyer and my parents won me $15,000. I wasn’t able to touch it until I was 18, and when I was able to touch it I was afraid to invest it. I just put it in a CD and let it sit. (Probably a good idea given the current state of the stock market.)

If I didn’t come from money, I may have worked harder in school, gotten myself a scholarship to a better school than the one I went to, majored in something that would have gotten myselef a stable job right when I graduated, lived frugally, stayed at home to pay off debt, etc. Or, as MEG puts it, I could have been so overwhelmed by everything and just dug myself further into a hole with credit card debt. It’s hard to say.

The one thing we can’t control is where we come from. It’s easy to spend any amount of money if you aren’t careful. I didn’t start thinking about saving money until I found An English Major’s Money blog two years ago. I always thought saving was something I could figure out later. Then, the personal finance blog community let me know that’s the worst idea ever. So I started saving.

And the rest is her(everycentcounts)story.

Getting Back on Track – goal: from $12k to $30k savings in 1 year

In this past year, despite being conscious of my poor spending habits, I managed to whack my net worth down from $26k at its highest to about $12k, where it is currently, give or take a few k.

Most of the damage was done on my trip to Israel, when I basically threw most of my financial wisdom out the window. The biggest problem, it seemed, was that because the trip was pretty much “free” (even for the week after the free trip, I stayed with my family all over Israel for “free”) it was easy to spend money for gifts and little items for myself here and there. Well, it all added up. Meanwhile, I was paying $1050 in rent for the month for my empty studio apartment back in Cali, and I wasn’t making any money either while I was on vacation. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure that out.

The good news is that as long as I stick to a tight budget this year, I should be well on the way to healing my ailing savings account.

While I need to just accept the fact that anything in my net worth involving the stock market is being kicked in the groin repeatedly right now, I can do quite a bit to get myself out of this financial rut and figurative debt.

According to my calculations, I’m about -$9000 in the “red” (not literally) in my cash accounts. My non-liquid savings accounts are at $21k, which includes those suffering in the stock market, so in reality my overall “net worth” is somewhere at $12k. I’m also getting another paycheck in a few weeks, though some of that will go to rent.

For the sake of my mental health, I’m going to use this entry to re-draft my budget, so that I have a very clear plan on how I can save $17,000 in one year. That’s really just about $1500 a month, right? I think that’s… well, that might be do-able.

————–
Fixed Spending: $994.32

$635.12 – Rent (includes water & garbage)
$60.00 – TV / Internet / PGE (estimate)
$97.64 – car insurance
$146.78 – health insurance
$54.78 – cell phone
—————————————
$994.32

OTHER: $900

$400.00 – Food
$100.00 – drugstore / vitamins / cleaning supplies
$300.00 – gas
$100.00 – entertainment
—————————————–
$900

$1600 – $1900 – approx “necessary” spending (+/-)

Income:

$4800 + $400 / month before taxes
$5200…

about $2600 after taxes

So… saving $1000 a month, if I never ever go to the doctor, or buy clothes, or eat out… is possible. Right?

I’m also looking into seeing if I could get a cheaper health insurance plan since it’s not really doing me any good and it’s just for emergencies. I had to pay $65 to go see a doctor just to get antibiotics for my last UTI anyway, so why does it matter how high my deductible is?

Anyway, saving $1500 a month looks somewhat unlikely. However, I am overestimating my tax payments since they won’t really be exactly 50% of my income. They’ll be close to that, maybe 45% when all is said and done after self employment tax, but at the least, I figure if I’m saving 50% that will give me some extra dough at the end of the tax year to close out my Roth IRA for 2008.

Ugh, I feel like I’m making a lot of money, but it’s no where near enough. I wonder if I should look for another, better paying job. But I LOVE my job. I make $57k a year, though not really, since that’s on contract and no benefits or time off is included. So I figure I prob make about $50k a year in comparison to my past jobs. I just have no idea what I should be making. I charge some clients $50 an hour for work, but that’s all on smaller projects, I can’t justify asking for that sort of raise at my current gig, nor do I feel the work I do there warrants $50 an hour. There just isn’t enough work for me to do there in terms of work that I know how to do – writing. I do a lot of other things, but a lot of those tasks are literally shared with an intern.

Futz, I’d like to be making $65k a year w/ benefits. I have no idea if that’s a ridiculous amount to hope for with my experience and given that I live in the Bay Area. I’m also kind of frustrated with the fact that 40 hours per week at my company does not = full time. Granted, I work my 40 hours a week at random hours of the day and night, and they aren’t picky about it – but still, I just dislike that 40 hours a week no longer equals full time. To be full time at my company, I have to work 60 hours a week. But really, what would I do for 60 hours a week? I don’t even know how many hours I’m actually working… but I’m sure it’s more than 40. I need to start keeping track of where my hours are going. I just feel like… if I worked for an advertising or interactive marketing agency, I’d know where my hours were going, because they’d be spent writing, and I’d have something to show for all those hours. At my current job, it seems like I have little to show for the work I do. I’m so used to being a journalist, where every day you’re worth is in your clips. Here, it’s ideas, it’s finding bugs on the site, it’s doing a lot of little things that are kind of sort of in my job description… and I worry that I’m not doing enough, and I worry I’m doing too much, and I wonder how I can move up in the company when there’s really nowhere to move up to…