6 Month Anniversary

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Today is the 6 month anniversary of my broken engagement. It was the day before my birthday because I didn’t want to go into my birthday not knowing. So the anniversary is clear in my head.

Like the type-A nutjob that I had, I had given myself a deadline to “get better.” It was 6 months. So now that I’ve reached the deadline – no more Mr. Nice Me. No more sleeping in. No more crying in bed. In an effort to help my goals, I’m plunging into meeting new people. I’ve started rock climbing. The weather has gotten nice and I’m biking to work more regularly. I’ve joined some meetups. I’m trying to attend a new bible study (because mine will likely end soon and this one will hopefully be closer). I’m networking on LinkedIn and Twitter. I joined Bumble yesterday but mostly to have someone to talk to. B has cut off contact mostly. I need to stop talking to my ex, who has his own girlfriend. I feel like a great burden on my friends. I do need to reach out to my therapist again. I saw someone on Craigslist that posted that she just wanted to hear about someone else’s problems to distract her from her own. I wrote to her about mine and never heard back.

So you shouldn’t feel sorry for me because it’s time I stop feeling sorry for myself.

Quick Money Tip: How to Use Natural Beauty Products Without Going Broke

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Natural products can get a bad rap because marketers are cashing in on rich yuppies who want to be healthy but 1) give too much credit to people hawking products in pretty packaging and/or 2) don’t read the labels. The FDA doesn’t have the manpower or resources to judge the accuracy of most claims of cosmetic products, so the promises are often empty. And if you actually read the labels on these products, you can see that the product itself is telling you it’s lying. Its advertised ingredient is usually buried among the ingredients listed (it’s usually listed after water) and there are all sorts of other ingredients that you don’t necessarily want. For instance, take this Kale and Spinach cream, sold for $48 at Sephora.

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First you should know that the ingredient list is organized so that the ingredient with the highest concentration appears first and then it goes in descending order. See the first ingredient is water. Water is basically free. The second ingredient is sunflower seed oil, which is good for your skin, but not expensive – you can get it for $1/oz on Amazon. This is a 2oz products. Let’s say there’s 0.7oz of water and 0.7oz of sunflower seed oil, so we are at $0.70 for ingredients to far.

Glyceryl stereate,  cetyl alcohol,and polysorbate 60 are emulsifying agents – so basically it serves to combine the water with the sunflower oil.  They may also be in there to make the cream feel thicker or add other texture or feel qualities. In any case, they’re not in there for the benefit of your skin – just for the benefit of the cream. The next ingredient is glycerin, which is also good for your skin, but which you can buy for 26 cents/oz on Amazon.

Ok, now we’re on to Vitamins E, A, C and Panthenol. At this point, it’s unclear how much of these ingredients are actually used in this product. But none of these ingredients are particularly expensive. Probably 90% of the product can be recreated for $2 and then they add a few drops of some fancy-sounding oils. (Does kale oil even benefit your skin?) But you’ve paid $48 for what is essentially sunflower seed oil and glycerin suspended in water. Save yourself the money and just buy the sunflower seed oil. The other 20 or so ingredients aren’t benefitting your skin, may actually cause a reaction with your skin, and are 20 more ingredients you have to worry about being in your body.

Before you spend the $50 or $100 on a fancy sounding “natural moisturizer,” make sure to read the labels and see if you can replicate the results by just buying some oil. This especially goes for all those fancy “facial oils” that are being hawked.” Some olive or avocado oil will work wonders on your skin and if you don’t like it, you can always fry up some eggs with it. The environment thanks you, and so will your skin.

How Not to Use Money to Find Happiness

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When reading Gary Keller’s “The One Thing,” he shared an ancient tale that really resonated with me. It’s about thinking of abundance and the pursuit of happiness.

The Begging Bowl

Upon coming out of his palace one morning and encountering a beggar, a king asks, “What do you want?” The beggar laughingly says, “You ask as though you can fulfill my desire!” Offended, the king replies, “Of course I can. What is it?” The beggar warns, “Think twice before you promise anything.”

Now, the beggar was no ordinary beggar but the king’s past-life master, who had promised in their former life, “I will come to try to wake you in our next life. This life you have missed, but I will come again to help you.”

The King, not recognizing his old friend, insisted, “I will fulfill anything you ask, for I am a very powerful king who can fulfill any desire.” The beggar said, “It is a very simple desire. Can you fill this begging bowl?” “Of course!” said the king, and he instructed his vizier to “Fill the mans begging bowl with money.” The vizier did, but when the money was poured into the bowl, it disappeared. So he poured more and more, but the moment he did, it would disappear.

The begging bowl remained empty.

Word spread throughout the kingdom, and a huge crowd gathered. The prestige and power of the king were at stake, so he told his vizier, “If my kingdom is to be lost, I am ready to lose it, but I cannot be defeated by this beggar.” He continued to empty his wealth into the bowl.

Diamonds, pearls, emeralds. His treasury was becoming empty.

And yet the begging bowl seemed bottomless. Everything put into it immediately disappeared!

Finally, as the crowd stood in utter silence, the king dropped at the beggar’s feet and admitted defeat. “You are victorious, but before you go, fulfill my curiosity. What is the secret of this begging bowl?”

The beggar humbly replied, ‘There is no secret. It is simply made up of human desire.”

What I get from this parable is that we will never be happy/satisfied/finished if we try to fulfill our wants. We have to seek something beyond desire.

 

Is being nice hurting your finances?

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Yesterday, I was at a gala event where it was encouraged to take the centerpieces after the event. My dad reached for our centerpiece, which looked like leftover Valentine’s day bouquets full of pink and red carnations and roses, but I shooed him away because I saw that there were much better centerpieces from the front tables. Yes, these centerpieces were nearly twice as big, and had snapdragons and lilies and foliage. I guarded my bouquet while I waited for my dad to bring the car around. On their way out, a duo of women whom I thought were friends of my dad, looked at my bouquet and asked if they could swap my bouquet with theirs. One woman was a board member, she said. And honestly, I felt like I was trapped in an etiquette quagmire. Yes, that was rude of them to ask. But they were old women. And so I swapped my beautiful bouquet for her crappy bouquet. 

Later I found out that these women had caused my dad endless frustration during the ceremony, hadn’t even paid for their tickets and did nothing but put my father down. So I was pretty furious that I gave my bouquet to them.

But even more than that, there was no reason for me to switch my bouquet. I got my centerpiece fair and square, well after the people at the table had left and people had started leaving. I had given other bouquets to other people who wanted them. And even if I hadn’t, this woman had no right to my centerpiece. It was a free-for-all and I took advantage. And then she took advantage of me.  

The incidence caused me to wonder, is everyone either a taker or a giver in life, and am I too much of a giver than a taker?

Now, I would never ask for something that clearly belongs to someone else, but maybe I should. Sometimes, that person may give it up. Furthermore, if someone asks me for something that I don’t need, I am often willing to give it away. I wonder if I’m too giving in this regard.

And while this all seems quite mean, 1) I’m not advocating for stealing and 2) maybe this is the way the world works.

First, I’m advocating for asking for things, not taking without permission. And I’m advocating for taking ownership of what’s yours. There’s nothing even slightly immoral about what I’m positing. Don’t rob the poor and take from the needy – because that’s silly and mean. But ask for what you want from people who can give it to you.

Second, I think this is how people get ahead. I’ve read that people actually like you more when you ask them to do favors for you. So it gets to be a win-win for the askers and a lose-lose for the givers. I guess, third, and finally, no one should only be a giver or only a taker. We should all strive for balance. I find that I might be giving too much, and being only a giver has a lot of disadvantages. 

What do you think? Are you too much of a giver, too much of a taker or have you found the right balance?

Does the latte factor make sense for personal finance?

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I don’t think you can even write about personal finance without addressing the so-called “latte factor.” A long time ago (the 90s) a personal finance writer named David Bach coined the term to express the idea that you could build up wealth by redirecting your small time expenditures into savings.

I’m of two minds on this. On the first mind, I think, even though I don’t drink much coffee, the cost/benefit ratio of quitting a daily coffee habit seems low. Assuming you incur no additional expenses (say, you cut out a $2 coffee every day and switch to tap water in a water bottle you already own), derive no additional benefit from your coffee than the actual coffee, invest that money and wait for it to grow, and there isn’t a market downturn, you can have, $55,000 over 40 years. But you had to make the choice 14,600 times (40*365, assuming that you are only tempted to get coffee once per day). You get a year of retirement savings after making 14,600 perfectly correct decisions.

This doesn’t seem like a bargain to me. It’s like saying – “here’s the secret to being healthy in old age – “Just say no every time you see something delicious you want to eat. Continue for 40 years.”  I like to think I have a fair amount of willpower, but this coffee task seems daunting. And that’s to me – someone who can only physically handle one coffee per week.

On the other hand, no one deserves luxury.Let’s face it – the latte-a-day habit is something fairly new. The Starbucks-on-every-corner only happened in the 1990s.  I remember, in the 90s, the news stories about the outrageous prices people were paying for coffee. Now, the prices and the habits have become commonplace.

What I’ve realized after being a frugal saver ever since my first job, is that these small expenses don’t matter to me. A daily $4 coffee, a $10 Uber, even a $500 airplane change ticket – none of these will affect my day-to-day. They don’t affect my savings. They don’t change my plans for retirement. They don’t register on my net worth. When I was starting out, they certainly would have. But I’ve achieved a level of financial security where I don’t have to worry about these amounts.

However, this might be different for you. If this sum of money is significant to you, then you shouldn’t fritter it away on coffee. Even if we assume that all the studies about the health benefits of coffee are 100% true and there are no downsides, no one needs coffee, and certainly no one needs it in a to-go cup everyday. So if you’re already scrimping and saving on the big things – housing, education, food, transportation, etc., and you are still struggling with money – and the amount of money you spend on coffee is a factor in your budget – then cut out the coffee.

I don’t think of this as the “latte factor” because overall, I think attacking a part of your budget that will yield such small results seems pointless, but the “latte spectrum.”  Don’t spend on luxuries, even little ones, until you can afford them, but when you can afford them, don’t sweat the small stuff. 

I think when you can enjoy your little luxuries without worrying about the cost, they’ll become even more luxurious, and you’ll appreciate them more because you will remember a time when you couldn’t have them.

What do you think of the latte factor? Is it worth it to you?

My New Year’s Resolution: Stop Doing Stuff I Hate

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I think I’m actually quite good at ignoring other people’s opinions – about certain things. I’ve always had my own sense of style, grating personality, and my weird hipster tendencies. But I also have a high threshold for pain and misery. I mean I’ve worked as an attorney in a law firm for almost 5 years, and I lived with appendicitis for a few years.

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So recently I was invited to a baby shower. And I know this makes me a terrible person, but I hate baby showers. Or at least I hate it when only women are invited to these things – as if raising children is just a woman’s job. And then you play these stupid gross games like eating baby food. And you don’t even know each other that well, unlike at bridal showers, where you might be all really good friends. And then you just talk about baby stuff and there’s often no booze!

So I went shopping for something off the registry, and I was figuring out my train ride back from a little vacation I was having so that I could make it back for the baby shower. And then it occurred to me, I don’t have to go. I could give the gift ahead of time and spend the time I would have spent at the baby shower, doing anything I wanted to do.

In 2016, I was hampered by saying yes to things I knew I would hate. I spent way too much time with people I hated, including on a 5-day vacation, where I wished every minute that I was back at work. And that vacation was something that cast a shadow and caused a strain on my whole relationship with my fiance. It would have been much easier for both of us, if I had just acknowledged that I didn’t want to go to these events.I could have done things I wanted to do. I wouldn’t have built up so much resentment. The resentment wouldn’t have caused so much anger. The anger wouldn’t have seeped into every interaction we had.

So yeah, there’s nothing wrong with saying no to stuff that you hate.  I heard this great quote: “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot” – Michael Altshuler. Why pilot yourself into situations you hate?

How to Start A Gratitude Journal

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Sometimes the happier you are, the less you’re going to spend. If you feel great in your body, you may be less likely to fall for claims that the latest diet pills will help you lose weight or that some cellulite creams will do anything for you.  (However, you may also feel so happy that you buy a new outfit, so your mileage may vary).  In any case, happy spending is probably better, no?

A great way to be happy is a gratitude journal. Or so I’ve heard. I never really understood it because I tried it and just found myself writing an ongoing list of friends or family or terrible things that had, as yet, not inflicted me. But I saw this list of reflections from the Chopra Center, and this would make sense. I could think of a few of these questions everyday to come up with something to be grateful for that wouldn’t be horribly generic, and that, dare I say it, would increase the gratitude I feel in my life. Try it with me!

  • What was the funniest experience you had? Who did you share it with?
    • P’s Bachelorette Party with the 4-foot inflatable dildo. I also loved how someone brought this uninflated dildo to the fancy restaurant where we ate dinner.
  • What made your mouth drop in awe and wonder?
    • The dramatic decline of my relationship with B.
    • How my friend M has never mentioned any of the wrongs that I’ve done to her and picked me up from my car accident.
    • J’s wedding vows to P.
  • What was your smallest ritual that you loved?
    • Baths with tons of epsom salts, coconut oil and essential oils.
    • Buying flowers.
  • Who made you smile the most?
    • B, always. But possibly my new nephew, Arthur, who has very sweet cheeks.
  • What was a kind thing a stranger did for you?
    • The Managing Director of a charity thanked me personally and invited me to an event over email for a contribution. I felt like some fancy benefactor even though I had donated very little.
  • What is an annoying experience you had that is now a great memory?
    • After my car accident, my parents said I could drive the car to their house so I would have a place to park it without incurring the daily tow parking lot fees.  I drove the 20 miles to my parents’ house at about 25 mph because I was warned that the hood might fly up. But all throughout my car accident, people came through the woodwork to express concern and to help me. At the time, I hadn’t talked to my parents civilly in months.
  • When did you feel closest to God or your Higher Power?
    • When my Community Group noticed I had been missing for a few weeks and reached out to me.
  • What made you jump for joy? (On the inside or literally?)
    • My car hitting 200k miles, thankfully before the accident.
    • How happy I was that B was sharing equally with wedding planning. (would have traded that in for a wedding actually going through, but we aren’t given those choices).
    • Seeing the beach on my much-needed vacation.
    • Finding a Cheesecake Factory after wandering around starved, jetlagged and scared in L.A.
  • What was the most beautiful thing you saw?
    • The water around the Jefferson Memorial on my bike ride home from work.
    • An open table, food and beer after The Great Saunter.
  • What words made your heart melt?
    • I remember my brother saying he would support me whomever I was marrying.
  • Who gave you the best hug?
    • My friend Jim when I saw him at the marathon. I hadn’t seen him in years and he was invited and then uninvited to my wedding (because it was cancelled). He’s a great hugger.