You Can Be a Feminist and Have a Big Wedding

Personal finance blogs can be the source of some great financial wisdom but also a lot of judgmental and conflicting advice. For instance, many financial bloggers espouse the idea that one should choose experiences over stuff. So it should come as no surprise that if a young couple saves money to travel the world, that’s equated with living the dream. Contrast that with  a young couple who buys all their loved ones dinner and drinks to celebrate their commitment to one another – i.e. they have a wedding. This couple is stupid and wasteful and stupid again.

A wedding is an experience – it’s not stuff. So why should the couple throwing the wedding be derided?

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Why I Moved

I moved 4 miles and a world away.

Whenever people visit my new apartment, they ask why I moved four miles to a worse neighborhood. I explain that this apartment is cheaper and larger and closer to my office. It’s a good explanation because it sounds plausible. But I loathe moving, and I loved my old place. Further, I just hate change.

But change came for me. After almost two years of a long-distance relationship, my fiance was moving into town. We had toured some very hoity-toity apartments and picked the best one. We were planning to move in mid-August. I remember worrying a lot about the overlap with my existing lease. Those wasted days of rent! Perhaps I should have spent the time being more excited than worried.
Despite hating moving, I enjoy the preparation. I like decluttering. I like building boxes. I like packing. I had made a spreadsheet of all my possessions so that I could eliminate redundancies when we combined our stuff. These little tasks kept me distracted from the gnawing worry that my fiance still hadn’t reserved the apartment. It was -mid-July.

In late July, my fiance said he was having second thoughts about moving in together. He would move into the apartment complex that we had chosen and I should find another place. My current apartment required two months notice before moving out and they told me my apartment had already been rented out.

So I had to find a new place before my move-out date on August 14. I figured it made the most sense to rent a place near my fiance. It didn’t have to be too nice because we would move in together soon.

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Help! My Lifestyle is DEflating!

Placeholder ImageFinancial experts say one should continue to live like a grad student even after starting work to avoid lifestyle inflation. I took this advice to heart when I graduated from law school. I maintained my 18-year old car and rented a one-bedroom apartment in the ‘burbs in a 1970s-era building.  Much of my income was spent killing my student loans, nesting and building a corporate wardrobe.

Fast forward six years to today and I’m car-free and in a cheaper apartment. I still wear the corporate wardrobe I bought at the start of my career. I am typing this on the couch I bought off Craigslist for $40 when I moved into my first apartment. The money I spent on loans is largely moved toward investments.

All the while, my income has increased by 25%.

 Turns out, lifestyle deflation can creep up as easily as lifestyle inflation.

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The Amazing Free Resource that Will Help You Achieve Your Life Goals

In 2017, I decluttered my apartment, improved my language skills, wrote a quarter of my novel, and read 70 books. I did all these things with help from programs and services from my community’s best free resource – the library.

Obviously, you can also use the library to read more books. Many people don’t realize, however, that the library offers so many other resources for learning, entertainment, socialization or even getting involved in local politics.  Libraries are an amazing resource – and it’s amazing that people don’t take full advantage of them because libraries are completely free! Use the following tricks to advance all your goals, including reading more books.

  1. Hack the hold system to save time.

First things first – use the library to learn about a wider variety of topics cheaply and efficiently. I used to determine what books I was going to read by browsing aimlessly in bookstores or the library. This took at least half an hour and I would go home with 7-8 books, read whatever was interesting and then repeat the process in a few weeks. It was a fine method but hopelessly inefficient. Also I would gravitate to the same sections over and over again. I found myself reading too many books about parties, personality tests and dating and not doing enough to repair my lack of knowledge in history, geography and biography .

Instead, I recommend starting with a list. Go to your favorite bloggers and websites or ask your friends to recommend books. Alternatively you could google a list of “best books to read” or “best books of 2017.”  Your own library may have a list of favorite reader books or a list of new books that you can browse. Also, in an effort to diversify your reading list, think about what kinds of topics you want to learn more about and search for the best books in these categories.

Once you have this list of books, go online to your library catalog and put these books on hold. If you are looking for current popular books, there may be a long wait so it’s imperative that you also keep a long list of books on your hold list. At any given time I have about 20 books on hold and I’m on various places on the wait list for several others.  This way I don’t get new books all at once but also don’t have to wait around for something to read.

Having books on hold means that you don’t waste time browsing through the library to figure out what book you want or reading the same kind of book over and over. Additionally, if your library is part of a network of libraries, you then have access to a greater number of books without having to travel to access them.

When you go to the library, you can just head over to the hold section and check out your books. By taking out multiple books at once, if you’re not in the mood for one book, then you can read another. Saving time in the library means you have more time for reading, which will lead to more books being read. You’ll be zooming through books in no time in 2018!

  1. Check out the digital resources. 

Want to read the latest issues of Cosmo, The Economist or GQ? Want to download audio books from the comfort of your home? Want to have access to university-level courses? I can do all these things from the comfort of my apartment, with my library app. Check to see if your library participates in the RB digital app or a similar app. By downloading the app, you save even the time of going to the library in order to stock up on knowledge.

 The app is just the start of the library’s potential resources, however. If you get familiar with your library’s website, you may also discover a number of free educational programs like Lynda or Mango Languages. I personally used Lynda to learn about SEO and marketing for my website.  I used Mango to brush up on some languages before a big European trip. Both provided top notch and unique methods of instruction. Best of all, I could access both services from the comfort of my computer or phone and they were both totally free.

  1. Explore in-person programs.

 My library has lots of programming to keep its clientele entertained and social. If you want to meet new people, you can discuss all the new books you’re reading through a variety of book clubs, learn to make gifts or food through craft nights or even chat people up during happy hours hosted by the library.

If you want to entertain your mind, you can attend one of the many talks a library may sponsor with famous authors or workshops geared to teach a variety of different interests.  Upcoming events at my library include information about becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen and a workshop on personal finance. Many libraries also host language lessons and meet-ups for various special interests.

 If you are interested in fitness, libraries often also have fitness classes. My library offers yoga and tai chi.

For other interests, libraries also host events where you can meet your local congressmen, obtain toys for kids or even get help with technology. Libraries are amazing incubators for meeting new people and learning new skills.

  1. Shop the book sale.

Many libraries have blowout book sales to get rid of old books and other donated materials. Personally, I find it useful to buy children’s books at these sales because kids’ books can be crazy expensive and you need a lot if you have a voracious reader.

Library books sales don’t just sell books though. I’ve gotten a pretty impressive and unique collection of sheet music and records from library sales at a small fraction of their original costs. Having a record collection that goes from Liszt to Springsteen to mariachi covers of the Beatles – it’s all thanks to the library.

  1. Donate your old magazines and books.

 If your goal in 2018 is to declutter, then you may want to start by giving your bookshelves a break. Consider giving used books, magazines and DVDs to your local library, which they can incorporate into their circulation or into the aforementioned book sale. You get a tax deduction and are helping other people in  your community while giving new life to your possessions and helping the environment. Plus, think about all the storage space you’ll save!

  1. Don’t be afraid of fines.

 On the one hand, the due date and the warning of a fine (and the threat of disappointing another user) keeps you focused on finishing your books so that you can return them. On the other hand, people use fines to stay away from libraries and nothing worse could happen than using a piddling fine to deter your access to the library!

I think of fines as part of my charitable giving – because it’s going to a good cause. Of course you shouldn’t keep your books out longer than you have them reserved but things happen and you’ll inevitably accrue some fines if you’re taking out dozens of books at a time. I spend about $20/year on book fines but I get so much use out of my library, I’m happy to pay the fines. It doesn’t deter me – rather, it encourages me to give. This is why I’m a lifetime member of my library – and I encourage you to give to your library too. It’s only fair to give back some of the largesse you receive from being a frequent patron of your library and you’re helping the library get even better than it already is.

 All in all, the library is an amazing resource. Even though some may think it odd to go to one’s local library, those who understand the amazing benefits offered by local libraries are really gaining incredible advantages – all for free.

What about you? Do you use all the resources provided by your local library?

The Beautiful Uncertainty of the New Year

The first clue that something was off was the pint of strawberries. We don’t usually eat strawberries and it was the end of December – they were not in season.
As I pondered the mystery of the strawberries, the second clue came when he uncharacteristically shooed me out of the kitchen to prepare dinner. We always cook dinner together unless I’m too hangry to cooperate.
He told me later he thought he was being so clever and was acting completely naturally. The third clue was that it was a small apartment so I could tell that he was pounding meat with a tenderizer I had gifted him. Unexpected strawberries and secretive meat-pounding? The clues were inexorably barreling toward a single conclusion.
He was going to propose.
The list of things for which I have been certain and proved to be wrong is quite long and embarrassing. I was certain the stock market was going to dive after the 2016 election. I believed silk cargo pants were a worthy investment piece. I thought Justin Bieber was just a fad. It’s not that I’m wrong all the time but when I’m wrong, I’m spectacularly wrong.
It makes me wonder why I trust anything that originates from the Magic-Eight ball mind of mine. But the one thing I am usually right about is the New Year. I’m excellent at keeping resolutions. And how I ring in the New Year Eve is how I spend the rest of my year – usually alone, and asleep. I can control the New Year’s Eve though I can’t always control the New Year.
But when I have been wrong, I’ve been pretty spectacularly wrong.
***
New Year’s Eve 2009, I was texting a guy with whom I had drunkenly made out after finals. We decided to give dating a go and set our anniverary as January 20, 2010. That meant that after only dating one month, it was suddenly Valentine’s Day, the most fraught holiday for new couples.
He gifted well – romantic but not frighteningly expensive or serious – hand-dipped chocolate covered strawberries. I don’t often eat strawberries, chocolate covered or not, but he had spent so much time on them and there were so many and so perishable I found myself eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offering them to anyone who would come by.
I told him I had never had chicken fried steak, and he, a southern boy, said he would make it for me once he bought a meat tenderizer.  I gifted him with a tenderizer and he gifted me with the steak – the first dinner he made for me.
***
New Year’s Eve 2015 I got a proposal (I said yes). We spent the New Year at a party with his friends, where I felt awkward and out of place. But my friends all texted me warm wishes from their perches around the country and I basked in the glow of my phone.
I spent, well a few months basking in the glow of being newly engaged and planning our wedding. Then we hit a rough patch. He ghosted for a week. Then, he reappeared and there was fighting. We broke up August 22, 2015, a day before my 33rd birthday. So in retrospect, and if you include the time I spent cancelling the wedding, the whole year was spent around wedding festivities, which is what one would expect following a NYE proposal.
I was certain it would be better to have the answer before my birthday. Then I realized too late this meant I would be spending my birthday alone. Everyone assumed I would be celebrating my birthday with my fiance and I couldn’t tell anyone until I was ready to tell them everything. And I wasn’t ready. And I wanted to go out for my birthday.
And so I had a pity birthday dinner with my fiance after he had broke up with me. And that was worse.
We had a lot of problems. We had a lot of outside pressures. I felt 100% certain that we could work through it.
The reason was that he had doubts. He doubted that I could communicate effectively. He doubted that I could understand him. I didn’t realize it at the time but on New Year’s Eve, he had gifted me with a several thousand dollar token representing doubt.
Doubt is stronger than certainty. A single doubt can kill all certainty, even at 100% proof.
Then I was certain we would get back together. As the months went on, less certain. And now that he has stopped talking to me for about 9 months I have to admit defeat. I am no longer certain of anything.
***
Why are we so certain of everything? It makes us feel good when it’s actually leading us to utter confusion.
We live in a country where everyone is certain that they’re right. A sizable proportion are certain it’s one way and others are certain it’s the opposite. The problem with certainty is that if you are certain of something good, you’ll be disappointed if you’re wrong and if you are certain of something bad, no one wants to be around you. If you’re certain that we should go left, you put yourself at odds with those who are certain it’s right. Certainty divides us and makes us miserable.
New Year’s Eve 2016 I went back to being asleep when the ball dropped and I spent a fair amount of 2017 sleeping and reading. Some things don’t change.
This New Year’s Eve I’ve given up on certainty. But it’s not sacrifice to give up something I never had. Some people think the opposite of certainty is doubt, but you can look down the crevasse and not be sure what is in store for you. Then you don’t have certainty, and it’s not quite the feeling of doubt.
 At those moments, all that is left is hope.

Thoughts on Paycheck to Paycheck Documentary

When I was in law school, I interned at the Legal Aid Center. One of my tasks was to help an elderly woman apply for jobs. Her name was Flossie and she was in her 80s. She was still quite spry but she needed to work in order to afford to live. I helped her create an email address and apply for CNA (certified nurse assistant) positions. I found her two jobs by the end of my internship to make up one full time job. I never heard back from her after that. But it’s crazy to be in your 80s and be a CNA. It’s as difficult as being a nurse but for much less pay.

I was reminded of Flossie after watching the documentary, Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. 

Katrina Gilbert is also a CNA, but she’s 30 and has sole custody of her three young kids. She’s in the process of divorcing her husband, who had been battling an opioid addiction while they were married. He’s unemployed and lives far away so he doesn’t help with the children. Their kids go to daycare under a highly subsidized program. Katrina has a new boyfriend who also lives paycheck to paycheck – he puts sunblock and floaties on his credit card so the kids can go to the beach.

By the end of the documentary, the ex finds a job and takes over more care of the kids. Katrina has moved in with her new boyfriend, who has lost custody of his four daughters and will need to pay child support.

I think both sides of the political divide will have their judgments, but neither side has the solution that will get Gilbert out. Being a CNA, a single parent with three kids, no savings and no familial or friend support- there’s no happy ending there.

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Do you Shame Yourself for Spending Money?

I am addicted to my Fitbit. In fact, when I don’t wear my Fitbit, I will honestly sit on my butt all day. Thus, when I’m without my Fitbit, I get a little frantic.

I’ve lost my Fitbit three times. The last time I lost my Fitbit, I thought, “No! You don’t deserve another one.” Like I was speaking to a young child. Fortunately, I found my Fitbit after scolding myself. But I had the same reaction when I lost my Fitbit charger. Sorry, me, you’ll have to do without.

Let’s consider the following pros/cons:

  • The Fitbit is an undisputed good in my life. Increasing my steps, increasing my exercise are good for my health.
  • I don’t struggle for money. Further, the charger is only $5 off eBay.
  • I can’t use my Fitbit without the charger.

So there are no really cons, and some pretty strong pros. Of course, I finally did buy the charger. I still had to ask myself why did I even question paying $5 for this?

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Four Ways I Cut My Data Usage by Over 75%

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I am a late adopter to technology. I got my first personal smart phone in 2013. So it should come as no surprise that I haven’t yet developed the habits to max out my data. I have a 2GB/month plan and usually use slightly under that limit.

But when I switched service providers and upgraded my phone, my data usage shot up.  Soon I was being warned that I was approaching my limit, just two weeks into the month.  I suspect there’s something wrong with how my new phone sucks up data. But rather than just upgrade my plan to a larger plan, I was proactive and reduced my usage.  Last month, I used 0.3GB of data.  Here’s how I did it.

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I Haven’t Bought Groceries This Year, but I Have Plenty to Eat

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While most people are resolving to spend their Januarys getting out and being more active, I have resolved to stay in as much as possible. I like to start my year by having a No-Buy January, including groceries. The last time I went shopping was December 30. To be fair, I did do a fair amount of shopping at the end of December. I spent $70 from Dec. 29-30 but most of that stuff was used for a party I threw. To be fairer, it’s only mid-January so I’ve only gone two weeks without going to the grocery store. This is my third week.

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Make These 5 Easy Items from Scratch to Save Mega Money

The philosophy that saves me the most in my grocery budget is to shop less. It saves money, but more importantly, it saves time.

If you buy processed, pre-made products, once you’ve finished them, you’re out of food. If you buy raw ingredients like flour, yeast, sugar, butter and salt, you can continue to make meals for weeks. For instance, if you want a nice loaf of bread, that can cost you $4 at the store. Once you’re done with that loaf, you have no more food. But if you buy $4 in flour and $4 in yeast, you can make 6 loaves of bread (and if you store the yeast in the freezer, you will never run out). In addition to the obvious cost savings, rather than making six grocery store runs, you only need to make one.

I’ve only picked items that are really easy and cheap to make. They require few ingredients, very little time, and no advanced techniques. The only equipment required is a blender, a slow cooker or a mixer. It’s easier to use a stand mixer for some of them – but they can all be made without one.

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