Charity Spotlight: Loads of Love – helping kids have clean clothes for school


Charity Navigator

After I saw a commercial during the Falcons-Saints game for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, I wanted to see who else was going to lose to J.J. Watt this year. Well, there’s a Redskin nominated and he’s doing something really awesome in this area:

Last winter, Nick Sundberg approached the Redskins Charitable Foundation with an idea for a new program to help increase school attendance rates in low-income areas and give equal opportunities to all children. His solution was washers and dryers. It started after Nick and his wife Flor heard about a laundry program that installed washers and dryers in schools after finding that thousands of children missed school each year because they did not have access to clean clothes. Nick decided he wanted to help launch a similar program in the D.C. Metro Area. In partnership with the Redskins Charitable Foundation, Nick will launch the Loads of Love (LOL) laundry program in three Prince George’s County public schools and two youth shelters in Washington this fall. The program will provide schools with a high percentage of homeless students with the supplies and equipment needed to create an in-school laundry center. Nick financially supported the launch of the LOL program with a $25,000 donation. He will also support the project through My Cause, My Cleats. Thanks to Nick’s donation, each site will receive all materials needed to implement the program with their specific population, including the washer and dryer units, laundry bags, soap and dryer sheets and a stipend to keep the program running. On November 6, Nick and Flor will cut the ribbon on the LOL laundry center at Magnolia Elementary School.

 

I Would Do Anything for Love, but I Won’t Do That (for Money)

I did something I thought I’d never do – which is brave Bath and Body Works during the holidays. The place is crazy. But they were having  a(n equally) crazy candle sale and I will admit to being basic enough that I got quite excited.

After buying three candles, my mother realized that I had gotten a $10 off $30 coupon that I could use that day. She suggested, because I had spent $27 on candles already, that I return the candles and repurchase them and something else to use the coupon. Thus I would get all three candles plus something else, for less than what I had paid for just the three candles.

My first thought was that I didn’t want to do that because it seemed like a hassle. Additionally, it just seemed unethical. I wouldn’t have received the coupon if I hadn’t made the first purchase. That was not how the coupon was intended to be used. If it were, they would have given the coupon before the purchase.

Some people would say, Bath and Body Works is a big corporation and makes a ton of money, so it’s not the same as cheating a smaller company. But my ethics have nothing to do with who I’m dealing with and everything to do with how I conduct myself. If I treat nice people well and “bad” people poorly, that’s not so much a system of ethics so much as the path of least resistance. I don’t want to violate my own code of ethics for $10 or any amount of money.

I saw a personal finance blogger mention cheating a “bad” company by intentionally buying things to qualify for free shipping that he planned to return immediately. It’s not necessarily immoral, but the blogger had specifically justified his actions because the company was bad, and not because he thought his actions were ethical. It makes me wonder, who else will he try to cheat? Where are the boundaries to what he will do to save money? If he’s going to cheat for a small amount of money, what would he do with a large amount of money?

Personal finance is about money but it’s more than that. It’s about what you will do, how you will live, who you will become, in relation to how you treat your money. You become a certain kind of person when you treat money as your biggest goal, your idol. I never want to be the kind of person who does that. I will pay the money to live by my own code of ethics. I would rather have no candles at all.

Saving money is important, but there should be principles that are more important. What boundaries will you not cross to save money?

The Power of Community

There was a famous antidrug PSA during the 1980s that showed a rat alone in a cage with two water bottles. One bottle was filled with pure water and the other was laced with cocaine. Unsurprisingly, the rat became addicted to the cocaine water. The ad ominously warned: “Nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it . . . and use it . . . and use it . . . until they are dead.”

But here’s the catch: These tests were done in isolation. Each rat was by itself, alone in a cage for a prolonged period of time. The experiment was repeated a second time, but the rats were now living together. This time, the rats mostly ignored the cocaine water. They didn’t like it, and no rats died.

Community and togetherness, it turns out, can often overpower the most self-destructive threats. Like many people, these rats were less interested in getting high than in escaping a profound sense of loneliness. 

–Andrea Miller, Radical Acceptance

How many of our financial woes are due to an interest in escaping loneliness? Do you think a sense of community might help you spend less?

How I Paid off $112,000 in Debt in 18 Months

You can add this to the unremitting list of “how I paid off my student loan” articles. I will admit right now that my story is more boring than most.

My secret is that there is no secret: I got paid a salary that made it possible to pay off the debt while living a reasonable lifestyle. There are no magical tricks herein. My story is completely mathematically realistic.

There were a few basic guidelines I followed that helped me pay off the debt.

1. I Reduced Debt Before Repayment
Part of the reason I was able to pay back my debt in such a short time was that a year and a half is not that long a time to sacrifice. Had I taken the maximum load of debt offered to me, it wouldn’t have been feasible to pay off the debt for several years, and I likely would have given up the fast-paying scheme.

The more interesting articles are why I only accumulated $112,000 in debt as opposed to upwards of $180,000, which is the full cost of tuition, fees and approximate living costs at my law school for three years, without interest:

How I Saved $65k in Four Years for Graduate School

How I Saved Tens of Thousands in Law School

It also helped that I was entering a profession that offered jobs that could be high enough to pay off this debt in a reasonable time period. I worry sometimes that these amazing debt paying stories may encourage people to accumulate huge debt while preparing to enter low-paying fields. Don’t accumulate so much debt that it becomes mathematically impossible to pay back!

2. I Used my Bonuses
I was lucky enough to get two bonuses during this time period, both of which I put completely towards my debt. I didn’t even consider using the money to buy anything else.

3. I Plowed All of My Money Towards Loans First
After bonuses, I paid about $5,000/month for 18 months to pay off my loans. I had an auto payment of approximately $3,000/month (which was 3 times my minimum loan payment) and then I would make periodic payments when it looked like my bank account was too flush. I could have made a higher automatic payment but I get paid every 2 weeks, making some of the accounting more difficult than getting paid twice a month, and I had already had one disaster where extra expenses left me without sufficient funds to pay my rent and credit cards on time. I figured I’d give myself a little more leeway on the monthly payment.

Instead, I would make extra payments when my bank account looked high. There’s something about having large balances in my bank account that encourages me to spend. Low balances, even if they are artificially low – like the money is in a separate bank account – subliminally encourage me to spend less. So the extra payments served both to pay down my debt and discourage spending. Still  it was really difficult writing such large amounts to pay out of my bank, particularly after loan payments were already taken out. It was like ripping a bandaid off. You force yourself not to put it off and then when you get to it, you do it quickly and move on. If I had given myself the option, I would have left the money to wallow in my bank accounts. But I was determined to pay off my debt so I made sure that

4. I Knew the Value of Money
After maxing out my 401k, transportation, taxes and health benefits, and after rent and utilities, and paying off my loans, I was left with about $1,100/month. That covered the cost of my car, home goods, clothes, food, insurance – basically everything else. For a lot of new lawyers, $1,100/month is too low. (I knew a classmate that was renting a $7,000/month apartment after all).

But $1,100 was enough money for me and I knew it. When I was an entry level employee, I lived on just a little bit less disposable income, because I was maxing out my 401k. And I remember during that time wanting for nothing.

I was also used to living like a law student.  Knowing that I could survive on less was invaluable knowledge to me; I wouldn’t have paid off such large chunks of debt so quickly had I thought I would have had to feel deprived.

5. Everyone was in the same boat
I knew I could live on less, but I also had more expenses in this time period than before. The most difficult parts during this time were moving into and furnishing my apartment, buying a professional wardrobe, and paying off some hospital bills. Also I was much older and I was in a much better-paid social sphere.

It helped that most of my friends were also paying back loans and lived similar lifestyles. I also had a lot of friends that were supporting their parents with their salaries.  It also helped that we were all working such long hours our first year that we had very little time to blow through our money. (Some people though would take this as license to spend more).

I felt that I was able to maintain a fairly comfortable existence – just without any lifestyle inflation – and I knew that the time for watching my purchases was short. It was a small price to pay to be debt-free in 18 months.

***

So there you have it – I paid off my loans by reducing the loans I took out, making enough money to cover the loans I had and then just throwing money at the loans until they disappeared.

It was technically possible, and indeed my initial plan, to pay off the debt in one year. But I thought my life was becoming too Spartan. I had increasing visions of dying without having bought a sofa for my apartment. So I went on Craigslist and I bought a sofa and chair for $60. (frugal doesn’t change, natch).

Whatever your plan, being debt free is amazing.  I don’t regret any part of it (even law school, which is rare among lawyers).

Do you have any debt repayment tips?

Don’t Force Your Kids to Eat Their Vegetables: What I Learned from “First Bite”

I’ve considered all the best books I’ve read this year to be invaluable because of the changes they’ve made in my life – via new information and new perspectives. This book, First Bite: How We Learn to Eat, is the only one that changed my family’s life.

I accidentally left this book in my sister’s car, and she started reading it. She took one of the experiments described in the book, the tiny tastes program, on her picky-eating son, to great success. His palate has been considerably expanded to include new favorites like cherries, asparagus and cucumbers. The tiny tastes experiment is offering the subject an incredibly small amount of the target food over a period of days. The subject can also be bribed with a spoonful of their favorite food for successful completion of each “tiny taste.” Because the taste is so small, the subject generally complies. And with repeated exposure to the taste, the subject learns to like the taste.

The most interesting bit of knowledge that I learned from this book is that there is almost no genetic component of our taste. If you dropped us off in a different culture, we would be eating that culture’s food rather the one we currently do. The food we tend to like is food that is familiar to us and that may also be associated with good memories. The food we tend to avoid is food we are unfamiliar with and/or is associated with bad experiences in our past, like being forced to eat a whole plateful of food we hate/weren’t familiar with.

I know I still can’t stand the smell of creamed corn because I threw up once when after eating it when I was a kid, so I totally believe in this hypothesis. Also, as an Asian family, we ate all our meals family style, so there’s a lot less coercion to eat a large plate of vegetables by oneself.

The more I read about our personal preferences, it seems like we are really products of our culture. Like how our taste in music tends to run towards whatever was popular (or at least whatever music we listened to) when we were 13. That’s why I’m a 90s music girl, but that’s why most women of my age also listen to the same music. We are all uniquely the same in this way.

Overall though, people can still change. One way to do this may be to incorporate something like a “tiny tastes” program into one’s own life. Small exposures breed familiarity, which may breed to affinity (though there’s no guarantee that you’ll like after a tiny taste). You are not confined to your childhood experiences and small changes can help you change them (maybe, I’m shooting off the cuff here – it’s a hypothesis).

Let’s talk about our traumatic eating experiences!

Why It’s Not Surprising Al Franken Won’t Resign: Reading “With Liberty and Justice for Some”

Following up on the fun inequality theme of The Broken Ladder, I read Glenn Greenwald’s “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is Used to destroyed Equality and Protect the Powerful.”

In a nutshell, Greenwald describes how, starting with the pardon of Richard Nixon, our nation’s Presidents, high-ranking officials and other wealthy and powerful people have continued to commit crimes and been shielded from any prosecution whatsoever (often by fellow politicians) while simultaneously increasing the tough-on-crime mentality that keeps more Americans in prison, per capita and as a percentage of population, than any other country in the world, many for low-level nonviolent crimes.

The disparity of justice is best highlighted by two anecdotes.

In one, a hedge fund manager at Morgan Stanley, Martin Joel Erzinger, hit a bicyclist from behind and sped away, leaving the bicyclist with “spinal cord injuries, bleeding from his brain and damage to his knee and scapula.” Though a hit-and-run is a felony in Colorado, Erzinger was only charged with a misdemeanor, which carries no jail time. The district attorney’s explanation: “Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger’s profession.”

In 2007, a couple threw a birthday party for their 16-year old son and his friends of the same age. The couple provided beer and wine but collected keys from all guests to ensure they couldn’t drive. None of the teens left the party and nobody was injured but a neighbor called the police and reported underage drinking. Both members of the couple were convicted of nine misdemeanor counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor (one count for each minor who drank at the party) and were each sentenced to eight years in prison. On appeal, the sentences were reduced to 27 months, and the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear the case. (As a Virginian, this is extra sad for me but not unexpected).

There was no mention of the jobs of the Virginia couple. No one considered whether their lives would be ruined by the prison sentences. It’s clear that their “crime” was not nearly as bad as Erzinger. And yet Erzinger gets away with no jail time.

There’s a completely different justice system for the wealthy than for the regular people. This is why Al Franken, who was caught on camera groping a woman without her consent, remains in office with the support of many women but if he were a less powerful person, would be spending years in jail.

For the non-wealthy, the scope of criminal law has expanded rapidly and in 2000, police arrested more than 2 million individuals for “consensual” or “victimless” crimes as curfew violations, prostitution, gambling, drug possession, vagrancy and public drunkenness. American prison sentences are vastly harsher and longer than in any other country to which the U.S. would ordinarily be compared. Public defenders are vastly overworked, understaffed and underpaid in order to be able to offer a meaningful defense. And the prison lobby has become a formidable force in keeping prisons occupied with more new prisoners and repeat offenders.

This, of course, assumes you ever get a trial, which is unlikely for those detained at Guantanamo Bay, which is still open despite Obama’s promises to close it.

Thus, in Obama’s multitiered justice system, only certain detainees are entitled to real trials: namely, those whom the government is sure it can convict. Others, for whom conviction is less certain, will be accorded fewer rights and tried by military commission. And those whom the government believes it can’t convict in either forum will simply be held indefinitely with no charges . . .

Greenwald posits that the reason this justice system is left standing is that most citizens don’t believe it will affect them. I think that’s a pretty pessimistic way to look at the issue. I think Americans just don’t really understand the extent of the multi-tiered justice system or don’t think they can change it. I’m not sure about the latter but now you know something about the former.

Americans – and non-Americans – do you think you will ever be entangled in this unjust justice system?

How to Spend A Lot on Things that are Free

Yes, you read that title correctly. (And hey, you clicked on the link, so it’s your own fault). There are innumerable websites on how to get expensive luxury good items for cheap. Most of those are scams. This article, well this may also be a scam but I’m telling you upfront: the most valuable items mentioned in this article are free
We are in the holiday shopping season and people and companies are trying to sell you all manner of things to cure whatever ails you. The marketing tends to play on your emotions, promising happy family relationships, stress free and happy living.
1. Energy
There is no shortage of beauty products you can buy to make yourself look like you sleep. There’s concealer for the dark circles, brightening makeup for dull skin, eye drops, etc.  Then there’s coffee to trick your body into being awake.
The Free Solution: SLEEP!
On my to-read list if Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution. I remember hearing her speak on a podcast and quote Andy Murray, the famous tennis player, as saying something to the extent of “When you sleep, it’s like the ball comes to you in slow motion.” That’s something that you can’t get from a bottle.
2. Happiness
We buy toys for our kids and toys for ourselves. We buy expensive vacations that leave us yearning to return home.
There’s nothing wrong with a vacation. Of course we need time from work. But more than 4 in 10 workers say they don’t use all their vacation time and 35% of millenials reported working every day of their vacations.
Even if workers were using their vacation days, 4 weeks of the year isn’t really enough time to recharge from our stressed and busy lives. Just as intense workouts aren’t enough to counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle (consistent movement is key), thus, for our overworked culture, consistent play is needed.
The Free Solution: play! Take some time to doodle, frolic, go on a lark, a spree, a spelunk, and engage in some tomfoolery. Schedule some playtime into your day. TV-watching doesn’t count.
3. Good Relationships
This is the season for commercials about family togetherness, so treacly and saccharine that even the most happy families can still leave feeling wanting.
So we buy gifts! This is the season for feeling stressed about buying innumerable gifts, hoping against all hope that the gift can convey the message of how much we value each other and that the cards, gift wrap, shipping, travel, home baked goodies, and stocking stuffers only bolster our relationships for the future. And we also hope it won’t cost too much per person.
The Free Solution: tell your family and friends how you feel about them.

If you don’t sleep well one night and drink an extra cup of coffee to make up for it, that’s fine and inevitable. But once you make it a lifestyle, you can end up spending quite a bit of money for subpar replacements. Let’s not forget what really matters. And what really matters is often free, but the hardest to get.

What do you spend money on that is actually free?

What I’ve Learned from Reading My Journal

After many years of trying, this is the first year I’ve been able to consistently keep a journal since I was a kid. The research on writing in a journal is pretty settled. It reduces anxiety, clears one’s mind and helps one reflect. Also, if you’re anything like me, you change so many things in your daily life, that when some part of your body freaks out, it’s hard to pin down exactly what might be the cause.

In my head I knew keeping a journal was important but I couldn’t get myself to do it. I tried the gratitude journal, but it quickly became a meaningless list of every thing to which I have a positive association.

The only thing that worked for me was writing about what I learned that day.

Part of the impetus for this format was that I wanted to cull out the junk to which I was exposed. If the media I was reading wasn’t consistently offering tidbits that made it to the journal, then it was a goner.

Part of the impetus is that I have a terrible memory. I can rewatch movies  like new because I don’t remember the endings (the third time I watched Braveheart I was pretty shocked). So I had finally instilled in myself a habit for reading books and though I read 50 books last year, but I was afraid that I wasn’t distilling all that information for ready incorporation into my life. So it seemed like a huge waste if I didn’t write that information down.

It’s November now and I realize that I need to re-read my journal to remember what was in it. And it’s quite a funny read for the following reasons

  • I remember the stupid stuff I used to worry about.

I have a prayer list that includes my brother finding a job. I completely forgot that he was unemployed this year.

I have a prayer that my ex would get a job that he wanted. He’s now working at another firm.

I tell myself I’m at my wit’s end at my job. This was 8 months ago. I’m still at the same job.

It reminds me that everything worked out. I’m not saying it was clear that it would work out in this way or that it’s futile to pray, because prayer has a lot of positive benefits for the self, but it’s true what they say when they ask if what you’re worrying about will matter in a year’s time. Some things will, but most won’t.

  • I remember the stupid stuff I used to think.

I don’t think it’s necessarily fair of me to judge the stupid thoughts in my journal. It’s not a publication. It’s all a first draft that isn’t meant to see human eyes. But it’s not like I’m so much older now. I feel like a disinterested third party picking apart the logic I had back then.

Suffice to say, I had read a bunch of books about psychology and had really gone full arm-chair psychiatrist on my family and friends. But I can see clearly now that the diagnoses were flawed.

  • I remember lost promises I forgot to keep.

My very first entry was how I was going to use the app One Second Video to record the best moments of my year. Unfortunately, I only reread that section AFTER I got back from my Paris trip. Opportunity lost!

  • I see my growth

My natural hair color is black but this year I put some pretty blond highlights in the front. For me, it was a gradual process but for people I hadn’t seen often, I was unrecognizable. That’s how it is with change. You don’t notice the subtle changes in your life, in your habits or appearance, but it is readily apparent to people who only see the before and after.

That’s why it’s so useful to step back in time and see who you used to be. It seems like second nature what your character and habits are now. You’ve already forgotten who you used to be. You’ve forgotten that you can change. And now that you know that change is not only possible, but at times inevitable, you can be purposeful with your changes in the future.

All in all, it’s been really helpful to revisit my diary entries. I’m really glad that I didn’t keep my journal from last year though because I’m sure it would have been filled with happy thoughts about my engagement that I would have had to relive after the breakup. This year was about rebuilding and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

Do you keep a journal and do you ever reread it?

 

Kaizen Method: Read one page a day

Kaizen (改善), is the Japanese word for “improvement.”  And the Kaizen Effect is the idea of getting 1% better everyday.  Another way to look at it is “No Zero Days,” which is saying that every day you do at least one thing everyday to advance your goals.

And to alter a Bill Gates quote:

Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.

A one percent improvement every day will compound to amazing results in a year. Even, or perhaps more importantly, establishing the habit of thinking of improvements and consistently working towards your goal every day will do more to advance your goals than working for hours intermittently.

In this spirit, every week I will put up a suggestion on a 1% improvement you can make.

And in honor of my book reviews, which I started this week, and which will become an ongoing weekly feature:

Pick a book that you want to read, borrow it from the library (or take it off your bookshelf) and read 1 page every day this week.

What book will you start this week?

 

How to Let Go of Your Anger: Reviewing the Mistitled “How to Fight”

I’m a Christian but I understand that there is a lot of moral wisdom to be gained from nonChristian and non-religious books. I also often think that the Bible may be lacking sometimes in practical guidance. For instance, Jesus instructs us in Matthew 5:22, that even being angry at your brother is a sin. But he doesn’t tell us how to stop being angry. And the church doesn’t usually offer any advice beyond “call on the Holy Spirit to give you [patience, endurance, kindness].”

In Bible study, we are wrestling with the idea of God being our friend, while also being someone who was revered. The group agreed that “Sup, Bro” would be too casual to say to God. But they also agreed that getting angry at God was ok. But I think it’s got to be more reverential to ask “how are you” in vernacular than it is to express anger. Plus, though I realize that God isn’t a human, so we don’t really have to worry about God’s feelings, I think the act of getting angry, even when another person is not the victim, has damaging effects on us.

How to Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh has a really misleading name. It’s really about controlling your anger. Hanh shares my belief in the corrupting force of anger:

When you try to get anger out by hitting something like a pillow, it may seem harmless. But it’s not certain that you can release your anger by hitting the pillow, imagining it to be your enemy, the one who has made you suffer. You may be rehearsing your anger and making it stronger instead of releasing it. . . By rehearsing our anger we are creating a habit of being angry, which can be dangerous and destructive.

So Hanh is saying, the act of getting angry, even when there are no victims, is destructive to oneself. I think we know this instinctively to be true. My favorite passage is called “Killing Anger”:

…he cursed the Buddha to his face. The Buddha only smiled. The cousin became even more incensed and asked, “Why don’t you respond?” The Buddha replied, “If someone refuses a gift, it must be taken back by the one who offered it.” Angry words and actions hurt oneself first and hurt oneself most of all.

This passage reminded me that, many times, you have complete choice in how to respond to people. (It’s also helpful to think of in terms of gifts this holiday season. If someone gives you a malicious gift, you can just give it back. You don’t have to accept everything that is given to you). They may bait you, they may come at you with anger, but you don’t have to return the gift. They can take the anger home with them. You don’t have to take the anger home with you.

It’s funny that when you start reading books, they all start to relate to one another. The Longevity Plan , which I had discussed in another blog post, had also talked about the dangers of anger for the heart and breathing as a means to remove anger.

This book was really helpful to me for understanding my own anger. When I think of getting angry, I think of fighting. I don’t stop to think, did I misunderstand what the other person said or did? Do I need to fight back? If I started fighting, what would “winning” look like?

But when you’re angry and the other person is angry, you feel like you’re the only one suffering but the fact is, you’re both suffering. Hanh compares fighting in this scenario to running after the arsonist when your house is still on fire. By settling the anger within ourselves, we stop both sides from suffering, and we train ourselves not to become angry. This is the only way to truly put out the fire and prevent more fires from spreading.

What are your techniques for defusing anger?

Image via Giphy.