The Huge Financial Privilege No One Talks About

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When we think of the haves vs. the have-nots, we assume that the “haves” hold all the financial advantages. Obviously tons of money is a huge financial privilege, but having money is no guarantee for proper management. There is no amount of money that is so large that it cannot be lost. See, e.g. pro athletes, lottery winners, MC Hammer.

People who succeed in careers often have good mentors; people who succeed in finance often have good role models. So while I did not grow up with a trust fund, I did have a huge financial privilege that set me up for financial success:

I had the privilege of being raised by financially responsible parents.
My parents didn’t have a lot of money when they came to this country but I grew up in a middle class family.  In the years between when my parents emigrated and when they had children, they saved every penny to give their children a more comfortable life, and they continued to model this behavior as we grew up.

What did this mean for me?

Lifestyle inflation is a foreign concept.

Before going car-free two years ago, I drove an 18-year old Honda Accord. I also used a 7-year old laptop. This was a few years after I had started working as an attorney with a six-figure salary and after I had paid off my law school debt. Someone asked me once why I didn’t upgrade and I honestly thought, you CAN’T buy something new until the old thing falls apart.

When you’re raised by immigrants, you never let things go to waste. My parents kept the same threadbare artificial Christmas tree for 20 years. My nephews sleep in the bunk bed that I slept in until I was 22. I still sleep with the same comforter I received when I was 8.  This idea of upgrading for upgrading’s sake is new to me and it honestly seems like too much work.

In fact, lifestyle inflation makes even less sense when you have judge-y immigrant parents. People talk a lot about peer pressure to spend. In my family, it was peer pressure to save. My parents routinely criticize me for spending on some pretty “normal” things, but they never encouraged me to buy more than I need to. Thrift is next to godliness.

They taught me that money is not love.

My parents never gave us gifts for Christmas or birthdays. While it would have been nice to have some new gadgets and gizmos, I never felt less loved. And my parents weren’t stressed about buying my love through gifts.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with gifts but I think some families really do get caught up in buying gifts, thinking that without spending $X on their kids, then they would have failed. But what’s more detrimental to children is being raised by stressed parents and learning that bigger gifts mean bigger love.

Money is an important tool but it’s not a cure-all.  Money is money and love is love. Confusing the two can only lead to disasters for your financial accounts and your heart.

They taught me that money isn’t shame.

My parents, they weren’t perfect (let me tell you!). But they never used money as a bargaining chip. They’d always ask if I needed money when I went out in high school (In fact, they still ask. They know I don’t carry cash). And they’d just give it to me. There was no “what are you going to use it for” or “didn’t you already get a new sweater?”

As a kid, if I needed money, they just gave it to me, no questions asked. I mean, they’re lucky I wasn’t into drugs or big shopping sprees, but maybe I wasn’t into those things because I didn’t grow up ashamed of needing money or of having needs.

I know some other people are raised to think that earning a lot of money is shameful. I obviously wasn’t raised that way and, well, obviously earning a lot of money is a lot easier than getting by on very little. It’s also easier to save when you aren’t ashamed of having money. I would argue that shame is the biggest obstacle to proper money management. (Maybe in a later post.)

They make me optimistic about my future.

Everyday there are countless articles/tweets/memes written by Americans throwing America under the bus. And yes, I know there are a ton of problems in this country. I don’t want to get all patriotic on you (but I’m not afraid to) but I love America. I was raised to love America.

Were my parents lucky? Sure. There’s an element of luck. Did they also make a lifetime of hard choices that had a high probability of success? Yes.

My dad served in the Navy and then studied accounting, a very stable career. My mother worked at the supermarket and various fast food restaurants to pay for her degree in math. They took English classes at night. We moved when they got better jobs. They commuted an hour each way to get to work. They drove their cars to the ground. They packed their lunches. We rarely went out to eat, and when we did, we went to a Chinese restaurant, which is not as expensive as many other kinds of restaurant. We would vacation wherever we could drive to (which explains why I’ve been to so many U.S. states). When my mom got fired (she was probably the fourth Asian person in a row to get fired), she picked herself up and refashioned herself as a computer programmer in her 50s.

And though my parents’ life hasn’t been that easy, and they get frustrated with certain things, they are incredibly proud of the life they have made for themselves. America is their home and they wouldn’t have been able to have this life where they once lived. They never speak ill of America and neither do I.

I know the “privilege” police would disagree, but I honestly think my life is the easiest life anyone could live. The hardest things in my life were minor medical problems, doing well in school and paying off my law school debt. And whenever I’ve thought even for a second “woe is me,” I just look at my parents’ life and think, this will work out. I’ll just work harder. So what if I eat ramen a few nights? My mom used to eat rice and soy sauce. (I also flippin’ love ramen and rice and soy sauce.) If my parents could be optimistic for so long, then what excuse do I have not to be? If my parents can make it, I can and will too.

Were you raised by financially responsible parents?

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Yes, You Can Retire Early With a Low Income: A Guide to Saving Money by Not Having Expenses

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**THIS IS A SATIRICAL ARTICLE.**

The FIRE (that’s Financially Independent, Retire Early) crowd has gotten some blowback for not offering enough content to the lower-income folks. Well, I saw some other rich person write an article about how to FIRE on a low-income and I thought, if that guy can do it, so can I. #GIRLPOWER

And just because the poor don’t have that much money, doesn’t mean they can’t click on my affiliate links and make me money, right? Wait, did I type that out loud?

I know you must be thinking, this girl grew up middle class and never had to live on a low-income; she can’t have any good advice for me. But just because I’ve never had your life experiences doesn’t mean I don’t know everything there is to know about personal finance as it applies to everyone no matter how much they make, where they live or what their circumstances are. I’ll have you know that I lived on minimum wage in law school and I had an entry level salary once upon a time and I saved 105% of my income. Here are my tips so you can be as rich as me!

1. Housing

People will grouse that the rent is too darn high! Well, we’d all like to live in Park Avenue penthouses but sometimes we have to suck it up and ask our parents to rent us a modest apartment in Tribeca. Or, if you’re really daring, you could live rent-free at your parents’ Park Avenue penthouse or maybe their summer house in the Hamptons. It’s still a sacrifice because it’s annoying to live with your parents. Guys, I know it seems like you should be able to afford your own apartments at this stage in life but, remember life just isn’t fair sometimes.

If your parents are renovating their houses or otherwise won’t let you live with them without paying rent, I’ve looked up some low-cost-of-living areas where you can rent. This article says Wichita, Kansas has the lowest rents in America. I bet you could live there. Just get your parents to pay for your moving expenses and furnish your apartment when you get there. Easy peasey.

And I know you’re thinking what if I need to fly home because my parents get ill or because I scored Hamilton tickets?!?! I mean, how much could a last-minute ticket cost? Ten thousand dollars? Just take it from your trust fund. You know it’s there for emergencies.
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But even if you want to live in a city, there are areas that are more affordable than others. Even where I live in pricey Washington, DC, there are 2-bedroom apartments that are going for $1000/month in the pre-gentrified locations. Yes, the crime rate in those areas tend to be twice what you’d have anywhere else in the country. But you still have a 11/12 chance of NOT being a victim of crime. Those sound like good odds to me. And you can’t beat the price for this area.

2. Vacations

I can tell you’re already zoning out over how many sacrifices you already have to make with housing. Taking away your vacation too? I sound like the strictest parent ever. Like the one that would make you end your parties at midnight on school nights and not let you drink single-malt scotch before you turned 15.

But I don’t want to be the parent that tells you that you can’t make it to Cabo every year or that your Vail ski pass will go to waste. Realistically, though, having a low-income requires a certain level of sacrifice and prioritization. Maybe you can only afford to take three vacations a year and only one of them is international. I’ve found some great travel deals ***AFFILIATE LINK*** where I’ve only spent a couple grand to stay in a resort for a weekend. But yeah, realistically, only one or two times a year, guys. Try to stay off Instagram so you don’t feel too #FOMO deprived. It’ll be worth it when you can live in Vail year round, I promise!


3. Food

Guys, you can’t go out to eat every meal, ok? That’s for rich people. Instead, act like I did in middle school – sushi ONLY on weekends.  Or if you really want to save, look into hiring a private chef. You can find affordable rates on TaskRabbit!

4. Insurance

Insurance is boring. Just stay on your parents’ plan to save money.

Oh, you’re over 26? What’s that like?

Well, if you’re over 26, I don’t know. Isn’t insurance free? It’s not? #ThanksObama. Maybe just don’t get insurance then. I’m healthy and it’s not that hard! Work out at your home gym and lay off the seasonal Starbucks frappaccinos – they’re loaded with sugar and you won’t get as many likes on Instagram as you would expect. #truestory Also some doctor on Oprah once said that being sick is all a matter of mindset (and then he jumped up and down on this lumpy couch so you know he has good abs). So think positive thoughts – if you get sick – it’s your fault for thinking negatively!!


5. Dependents

Don’t have kids. Kids are expensive. And kinda gross. If you already have kids,  and can’t afford them on a low-income, I’m not sure what to tell you. Maybe you can go back in a time machine and make better choices? Or take the time-machine forward until they’re old enough to leave your home.


6. Debt

Did you go overboard on your credit cards for a shopping spree? Well, you should probably go ahead and get your parents to pay for that debt before it accrues too much interest. If they won’t, I saw a documentary about a shopaholic where she got a job as a financial advisor and sold all her stuff to pay off her debt. I mean if it worked for her, it should work for you too, right? I also saw this other documentary where a woman got into really big debt and her friend sold her engagement ring to help her out. So it helps to have rich friends!! Also, in that last documentary, everyone with low-incomes married wealthy. So we’ll call that Plan B.

7. Cars

I know, it’s hard not to get jealous when your friends are all driving the latest Audi but again, you can’t afford that kind of payment on your low-income. You’re poor now! Deal with it.
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My advice: just keep driving the Lexus your parents bought you. Just tell everyone you think it’s better for the environment if you don’t change cars too often.

8. Clothing

They say dress for the job you want but Megan Markle’s fashions literally sell out in  seconds. My advice: just wear last season’s clothes. It’s ok – the fashion cycle lasts at least a year, maybe two years if you’re poor.

But definitely make room in your budget for an investment bag. It’s called “investment” for a reason, right? It’ll only go up in value. And, as Her Majesty Anna Wintour has said, mixing high and low is the trend du jour.  Who’s going to notice that you’re wearing a cheapo $200 J. Crew sweater if you’re flashing a $20,000 Birkin?
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Managing your money is all about prioritization and smart sacrifices.  But I promise it’ll be worth it because you can literally save thousands of dollars a month with these tips and then you’ll only have to work, probably five years before you early retire.  So you’ll be old at 26, but I promise you can still do things at that age.

And last but not least, if this seems like too much sacrifice for you, just ask your parents to ask their friends to get you a better job. Preferably something in the seven figures range with lots of vacation time. Life shouldn’t be all about sacrifices, you know?

**THIS IS A SATIRICAL ARTICLE.**

Gifs via Giphy.

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Why My Favorite Student Loan Debt Payoff Stories are Boring

pexels-photo-765228.jpegI’m sure you’ve seen the clickbait headlines – student pays off $100,000, $200,000 in debt in a ridiculously short time.

Heck that’s me too: How I Paid Off $112,000 in Debt in 18 Months

Awhile ago, I was interviewed for Learnvest regarding my debt payoff story. I remember one of the comments said something to the effect of:

Well of course she could pay off her debt with her high salary. Why can’t we have stories of people who quickly pay off large sums of debt on low salaries?

Bitter much?

There are many reasons why we don’t have large debt payoff stories from the low-income. First, the math doesn’t add up. Yes, people side hustle and get salary increases, but usually that takes some time to get started and you’re not making the big bucks immediately. So the people who can do this, are rare.

Second, and most importantly, people shouldn’t get into big student loan debt and have a low salary job.

There are the stories of people who graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt who work at the poverty line. Yeah, that’d be a great story if someone succeeded given those odds. And it’s possible that someone can graduate with six figures in student loan debt and eventually pay it off on an entry level salary.  Yes, this makes for the start of a great story but the vast majority of these stories are not going to end well. This is not something to aspire to. Most of these stories are not told in articles because they’re not going to end well, and people don’t want to read those articles. They want the inspiration.

 Yes we can congratulate someone and admire someone for having the fortitude to pay off an insurmountable mountain of debt. But let’s not forget that it was probably a mistake somewhere along the line first to get into such large debt and have a low-paying job. That’s a failure of the system if you graduate with a lot of debt and only work a low-paying job.

And yes, we should and need to talk about out-of-control higher education costs and how easy it is to get into ridiculous amounts of debt for low-paying degrees. We should talk about how low-income people are caught in a catch-22 because they want to get better jobs, are required to get college or graduate degrees in order to get ahead. And we don’t have to blame the person for making this mistake because it’s a hard place to be in, but we also need not make it seem normal to graduate with way too much debt and pay it off on a low salary.
It’s great that there are inspirational student loan debt payoff stories. But let’s not forget the fundamentals – first, don’t take out too much debt. The rule of thumb is not to have higher total debt than your median first year salary. Also generally don’t to go to NYU. Or get an MFA.
So yes, I had six figures of debt and six figures of income. My debt payoff story is  really boring. It’s meant to be boring. I’m proud that it’s boring. I don’t want to encourage anyone to have an exciting debt payoff story where they pay off a crazy sum of money in a short period of time on a low salary because that’s a recipe for a very stressful life. Boring is good when it comes to  money. Prevention is most of the battle.
Was your debt payoff story exciting or boring?

The Unexpected Reason Why It’s Easier for the Rich to Save and Harder for the Poor

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That feeling when you see a low-income person with nicer stuff than you

My mother had heard that some kids at our church couldn’t afford new clothes. She asked me to help her pick out some clothes to give to them. This was the 90s so we went to the typical teenager stores of the time – Old Navy, Guess, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger.

When she gave them the clothes, I noticed that they discarded the Old Navy duds but were quite excited about the name-brand items. The name brand items weren’t better looking but they were emblazoned with the brand name (this was the 90s when that was the style). I thought this was peculiar because new clothes are new clothes. I proudly wore (and still wear) clothing from Walmart and would have been grateful for the gift.

Similarly, when I visited a child for whom I was performing pro bono services, I couldn’t help but notice that she was wearing a Helly Hansen coat. That coat was probably more expensive than the one I was wearing, as her attorney.

Something similar happened when I was talking to a woman I mentor at an event for our mentees. Nearby was a child of another mentee decked out in a shiny rose gold shirt with matching rose gold accessories, including cat ears, hair trinkets and shoes. I definitely never had such nice things when I was a kid, and I’m sure my parents earned at least quadruple the income that hers did.

Why the Rich Can Have Worse Stuff

When I was younger, I didn’t quite understand the dichotomy. When you don’t have anything shouldn’t you be grateful for anything? Why spend a lot on clothes, particularly children’s clothes, when you are worried about the rent, the electric, the car, etc.? Shouldn’t these families learn to be minimalist and frugal?

But sometime after seeing my mom donate those clothes, something clicked for me. Yes, I was wearing cheap hand-me-down clothes. But I also never had to worry about where I was sleeping for the night. I never had to worry about where my next meal would come from.

Most importantly, I never had to worry about someone accusing me of being poor.

My family wasn’t rich, in absolute terms or in comparison with the people in my middle-class public school, but we were safe – both in terms of living in a safe neighborhood but also in terms of social status. I could “afford” to wear cheap clothes because I had confidence that if someone even joked about me being poor, my classmates could vouch for my living in their neighborhood in a suitably sized house.

Why the Poor Have Nice Stuff

If I were poor, I’m sure being called poor would be absolutely terrifying. I wouldn’t have the self-confidence of a middle-income person. I wouldn’t have people who could vouch for the size of my house or the white collar-ness of my parents’ jobs.  Because of this anxiety, I’m sure I would change my lifestyle so I would never fear being accused of being poor. I would wear nicer clothes, eat fancier meals, drive a nice car. I would do these things not because it made mathematical sense, but because, I would want to avoid anyone second-guessing my social class, and thus, subtly second-guessing my worth. (I’m not saying a person’s worth is dependent on their social class, or that it should be that way – I’m just saying that many people feel this way).

You try to keep up appearances to bolster your own self esteem. Maybe you can barely afford rent but no one needs to know that. The very last straw isn’t homelessness or even when others stop believing in you; the last straw is when you can’t believe in yourself. And if you can’t have the stable life, you can at least look the part, to others and to yourself.

A Caveat

This mindset isn’t only held by the poor. You can grow up at any income level and still have a chip on your shoulder. There are people who grew up far richer than me that might identify with it. But it’s a mindset that is easier to overcome as a rich person than as a poor person. It’s a simple matter of looking around and being grateful for having the roof over your head. It’s much easier to be confident when you have some constants in your life.

Changing your Perspective About the Poor

When a rich person says that he could pull himself up by his bootstraps if he had a reduced income, he may be right. To be more specific, he is right that he may have the skills, health, education, connections and confidence that if he were put in a situation with low income, he could lift himself up by his very own bootstraps. He could visualize where he was before and say, well I got there once and I believe in myself to get there again.

But the poor aren’t “rich people pretending to be poor.” The poor are the way they are.

When people point at the poor and say, why do you have the newest iPhone or the big SUV when I, as a rich person, have a flip phone and take the bus, this is part of the reason why. It’s not that the poor are secretly not poor. They very much are. In fact, they are acting in ways that very much show that they’re poor, though perhaps not monetarily. They are poor of mindset. And that can be harder to fix than a cash flow problem. They may very well not believe that they can get out of their situation so the thinking may go, I might as well have my fun now. You may not have hope, but at least you have an Xbox.

When people say, the poor shouldn’t care what other people think, that’s a fallacy too. The rich don’t need to care what people think of them. The rich can insulate themselves from people they don’t want to have around; the poor cannot. The poor have to see social workers, teachers, school administrators, government workers, neighbors and family because they rely on all these people to survive. So the poor have more people judging them than the rich. Thus, the poor have more people they want to and need to view them positively. In fact, the poor likely get a lot more bang for their buck by spending extravagantly on appearances.

Additionally, being rich drastically changes how you’re viewed even without spending any money. For instance, I can be frugal because I have so many indicators to show that I’m wealthy. When people come to visit, they don’t care that my furniture is secondhand Ikea because my apartment is in a neighborhood where the median home values are $1 million.  They don’t notice the lack of TV, because I have a laptop laying around that costs over $1000. When I say I don’t have a car, the understanding is that I choose not to, not because I can’t – because everyone knows I’m a lawyer and I make bank.

Similarly, when I say my clothes are several years old, low-priced and sourced from ignoble locales like Payless and Walmart, it doesn’t affect others’ views of me because I’m young, thin, pretty and rich so my humble clothes seem more expensive when I wear them. Everything seems more expensive in my life because of me. It’s actually a waste for me to spend on more expensive things because I will get compliments whether my dress is from Target or Gucci.

No one wants to wear Mark Zuckerberg’s clothes, but they want to be as rich as Zuckerberg and then be free to wear whatever they want. The people who get away with wearing junky things are the rich.

The purpose of expensive things is so people will think you’re rich. If you’re already rich, you don’t need people to think anything of you. People will come to you if you’re rich. If you’re poor, you still need to prove yourself to get a job, friends, connections, business partners, etc. The irony is that the Gucci works best for those that can’t afford it.

The dirty secret to being frugal is not caring what people think. The secret to not caring what people think is being rich.

If you don’t have these indicators of wealth, it’s a lot less likely that being frugal seems like a worthy goal. Having the junky items I have just makes you look poor, and no one wants to look poor without secretly being rich.

 

Unforgettable Personal Finance Articles that Actually Changed My Life

art-graffiti-abstract-vintage.jpgI’ve got the “earn money, save money” thing down. So why do I keep reading personal finance articles? Probably for the chance that they will inspire.

When we talk about money, we aren’t always talking about math. We’re really talking about how we view and interact with the world. We are talking about how our unique backgrounds shaped our perspectives on the worth of things, of people, of ourselves. We’re talking about how we expand our understanding of each other and the world when we encounter different stories. When we tell our stories about money, it can really challenge all our preconceived notions about morality, about politics, about disaster and redemption.Money is a story we tell ourselves. Money doesn’t have intrinsic value; the value is what we bring to the money, what we trade in exchange for it. How we interact with money is basically how we interact with life. So when I say these articles changed how I interacted with money, I mean, they changed my life.

I read this article over 10 years ago and it introduced me to coupon stacking and avoiding dryers. It also is a constant reminder of positivity (something you’ll see a lot of in these posts). What I learned most from this article was the idea of abundance. Freedman had $12,000/year to spend per year. To most people that would mean that she would be on the receiving end of charity but she gave to support her daughter and her church because she knew there were people less fortunate. I never have an excuse not to give now.

On the Road to Nowhere: The True Story of My First and (Worst) Job – Get Rich Slowly

J.D. Roth’s tale of his worst job reminded me of my own horrible door-to-door job once. I lasted one day before my mother picked me up and grounded me for life. The story is a reminder that we all have failures, we all have this shame about starting out in life and not being exactly where we thought we would be and we still have this hope that maybe we’ll beat the odds and make a million dollars at this crazy job and show them all wrong.

That never happens. But it was such a human story. I felt like I had been there watching my car go down a hill. And it’s also a constant reminder that I never want to work for a job that makes me feel sleazy. No amount of money in the world is worth that.
This article (ok it’s mainly a list) reminds me that we have so many choices that make up the lives that we live. Yes there’s a role for luck and privilege, but let’s not discount that we choose how much we smile, what thoughts we think and how we respond to the cards dealt to us.
I’ll tell you right now that I downplay the importance of luck and highlight hard work. But Sam’s article upended that and made me think about what we blame others for and what we blame ourselves for when we really may not have any control.

I always knew I would be thin. My dad was only 20 pounds heavier than me when I was growing up and my mom is currently around 110 pounds. We are not heavy people. Until last year, I was the exact same weight I was in high school (now I’m 10 pounds lighter).  I would eat more, eat less – weight never changed. Some years I would sit on my butt all day long and my weight never changed. I took up biking to work – didn’t lose any weight.

I know I have the cards stacked in my favor. In law school, I ate every single meal with my boyfriend, who was twice my weight. He never lost weight and I never gained weight. This was not based on hard work but completely, purely dumb luck. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that and cut everyone (including ourselves) a break. Yes everyone should eat well and exercise – but your results will necessarily vary based on genetics, which you have no control over.

I think about this when I go shopping. I also think about this as I roam about my apartment. Everything I get rid of is one thing less a family member will have to get rid of if I die. Everything I don’t buy is one less thing for a family member to get rid of if I die. Everything I get rid of from my parents’ house is one less thing I’ll have to clean out later. It’s super morbid. But then again, death cleaning is the new decluttering fad.

All of our stuff is future trash. We shouldn’t value it so much.

This article is just insanely positive. Even after growing up in a tough childhood, Mr. Free at 33 has this amazing mentality of not blaming anyone and not treating himself as a victim. I would definitely not have been that strong.

What are your favorite personal finance articles?

 

What Amazing Things Would You Do With Your Money if You Weren’t So Gigantically Afraid?

what amazing things could you do with your money if you weren't gigantically afraidUnless you are Chuck Norris (in which case, hi Mr. Norris!), you probably have some fears – whether it be violence, money, bugs, etc. Recently, I’ve read a number of articles and social media posts discussing how #allwomen live in constant fear of being attacked or killed by a man, and, because of this, women engage in many rituals aimed at minimizing the risk of being hurt by strangers.  This is interesting to me for a number of reasons. One, I’m a woman and I don’t live in constant fear for my life. So I was surprised that all women, including women who don’t live in war-torn countries or gang-ridden areas, were living in a state of constant fear. Two, it’s interesting to me that all women are essentially my mother.

How Fear Robs You of Joy

My mother was and is irrationally afraid of many things and she tried to spread this fear to me. I couldn’t go to anyone’s house or to a dance or to a football game because it wasn’t safe. I couldn’t stay out after 10pm because it wasn’t safe. Rather than seeing this as love and care from my mother, I viewed it as a way of restricting my freedom and controlling me.

Despite the repercussions in my own life, I didn’t blame my mother for these fears. I know she held her fears honestly. If anything, I felt sad for her being afraid her whole life. You can’t be content and afraid. You can’t be joyful and afraid. Nearly all good emotions are mutually exclusive from fear. To me, that is quite an opportunity cost. Fear might protect you from some trouble, but at the cost of taking away all that is good in your life. And imagine, if #allwomen are like my mother – they are living in daily fear and robbing themselves of all joy.

*I’m not saying all women are afraid – but women are taught to be afraid all the time, as if it’s just good sense. In my opinion, it’s a way of controlling women – keeping them from doing certain things society frowns upon. Thus, after something bad happens, someone can say, well you shouldn’t drink – you need to stay constantly vigilant! Or, quit your job and stay at home where it’s safe, even though your significant other is the person statistically most likely to kill you. But I digress.

How Fear Robs You of Life

So many accomplishments in life require overcoming fear. If you’re busy worrying about getting killed in a freak accident, you’re not going to do anything more risky than ordering your groceries online and barricading yourself in your “safe” home.

You might say, well once you’ve been harassed, you’ll sing a different tune. But I have been harassed, at work and on the streets. I’ve been followed. I’ve gotten mysterious notes in the mail and phone calls from people I didn’t know had my number. I haven’t experienced the worst of it, for sure and it isn’t common in my life. In total, these were a few days of my life. I certainly don’t think back and regret not worrying on all those days I wasn’t harassed. I don’t think now that I should worry more. And even if there are more days of trouble than joy in your life- why waste those precious days of joy when nothing happened fearing that something would?

A lifetime of fear is still worth it to be safe, you may say. But being afraid is not the same as being safe – you can take precautions without being in fear and you can be afraid and act in ways that put you in danger. I think that the more prepared you are, the less you have to fear. And the more fearful you are, the more that preparation goes to waste.  One should consider instead how to respond to the necessary fears in our lives in ways that are actually helpful. And because fear is such a detrimental factor in one’s life, it should be used judiciously, not without abandon.

Fear Gives You the Illusion of Safety While Placing You in Danger

Many times, fear encourages irrational responses. There are, unfortunately, a lot of women who will experience violence this year. The majority of the violence will be committed by men the victims knew (3:1 proportion). But no one is encouraging women to avoid all men at all times (and they shouldn’t encourage that – that would be crippling). In contrast, the lists that purport to guide women on how to protect themselves focus on strangers. And even those tips tend to be useless.

Women are often told to keep their keys in their hands to use as a weapon but in interviews with rapists, it proves ineffective because you have to be really close to the potential rapist to use them. More effective were large objects like umbrellas, that the potential rapist could see from a distance, and, having seen them, choose not to assault you. Also, most kidnappings occurred in the morning in parking lots – so the fear of being out at night seems less valid. The more you know.

The result is that women are taught to spend their lives in fear, but 1) they’re protecting themselves against events that are unlikely to happen; 2) their methods for protection are futile; 3) the constant feeling of fear may actually immunize women from recognizing when they should actually be afraid, or make them too exhausted to address them; and 4) the constant fear and worry hurt their lives. And yet, people keep saying that women need to stay in fear. Maybe women should be afraid because the actions they are taking aren’t protecting them from what they fear most.

How Fears Can Ruin Your Financial Life

Ok, so this was a very long introduction.

Suffice to say, I was thinking about fear and risk in terms of violence, and then I thought about fear and risk in terms of money. A lot of the fears that people have regarding money (the stock market or economy crashes, your job is outsourced, you’ll never advance in your career) are low-probability, but hey, they happen.

What’s worse though is the actions that people take to respond to these fears (i.e. staying out of the stock market, picking “safe” jobs, spending hundreds of thousands on grad school) are putting them in much more dangerous places. Yes, the stock market might crash but what will definitely happen is that inflation will swallow up your savings. Yes, maybe your job won’t be outsourced but instead, you definitely hate every day of work. Maybe you will stall out at a certain level in your career without a graduate degree but you will definitely have to deal with hundreds of dollars of debt to advance just a little bit further in your career.

Don’t Let Money Fears Control Your Life

There’s nothing wrong with fear. Fear can be a good messenger reminding us to be extra careful. But we should hear our fear and respond to it intelligently. Just because our lizard brain is programmed to say “Be afraid!” doesn’t mean you have to keep listening to your lizard brain when it says “Never go out at night! Sell all your stocks! Become a lawyer!”

Constantly being afraid, is a bad game plan. Stress makes us make bad decisions. Instead, we should be using our modern brains to come up with the best long-term plan  even if it makes us a little afraid in the short-term. I’m not saying you can’t be afraid, or that you can get rid of your fears. Fear is a part of life, but you shouldn’t let your fear dictate, and thus ruin, your life.

In the end, it’s all about balancing your risk tolerance and your fears with what you want out of life. If you don’t lean heavily towards focusing on your own life, you could be consumed by your fears. I’m a pretty risk averse person but I’m trying to be more free. I think what we all really want, what we are all searching for, is freedom from fear. Imagine what you could do with your life if you weren’t always gigantically afraid!

What Could You Do with Your Money/Life if You Weren’t Gigantically Afraid?

There’s fear in everything. Nothing is certain. In my mind, it makes the most sense to move forward with what you want to do. It would be the worst of all worlds to not go after your dreams and still be afraid in the process. You’re going to be afraid anyway whether you pursue the gold medal or never try out for the Olympics. Why not at least try?

I remember a story I read in Carol Dweck’s Mindset where a man acknowledges that he had spent his whole life worried that something terrible would happen to his family. Then his family died in a car accident and he realized that the lifetime of worrying hadn’t helped prepare him for the event one iota. Instead, the fear robbed him of fully appreciating the joyful times that he had spent with his family.

I think about this story when people tell me I should be afraid.

What are your money fears?

 

How to Meet Excellent People, Eat and Drink, and Support a Fantastic Cause for (Basically) Free

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Last night, I got dolled up in an evening gown and heels, got my makeup professionally done, and went to a $1,000/seat gala. For dinner, I had amazingly tender short ribs, bright green beans, creamy mashed potatoes and finished it off with a deliciously rich tiramisu.

Total out of pocket cost: $5.

How did I accomplish this? I was a volunteer.

Sometime last year, I was decluttering and I thought, I have too many fancy dresses. And then I figured, ok I’m single and I don’t actually have places to wear such fancy clothes. I should get rid of them. OR I should start attending events where I can wear these dresses.

And because I love my dresses, I was set on option number two. Lucky for me though, Washington, DC is a hotbed for fundraiser galas. And not having a date is no obstacle – all galas need volunteers.

One of my 18 Resolutions for 2018 was to attend a gala. The first one came in January with a charity that I perform pro bono services for. I had so much fun meeting the other women and dancing the night away (during our dead time in between volunteer services) that I signed up for another and then another.

I have volunteered at four galas this year. At the first, we danced the night away (but spend quite awhile loading way  too many decorations into vans). At the second gala, I ran into my old boss (haven’t seen him in 10 years and he’s a great guy) and had amazing tastings from some of the best restaurants in the city. At the third gala, I was truly impressed with the honorees, and I got to explore a hotel close to my apartment, which hosts A LOT of galas. At last night’s gala, a vendor advertising their makeup services touched up our makeup. I took home a beautiful leftover bouquet of flowers including orange roses, my favorite.

Throughout the whole adventure, I’ve met a number of great ladies who love doing things by themselves. I’ve done a lot of work helping great causes and had a great doing it. Total cost – cab rides home (which may be tax-deductible).

I should mention that I did do work at these events. I stood at information booths and walk around silent auctions helping the rich and semi-powerful spend too much money on good causes. There’s a lot of work involved in volunteering but it’s typically not laborious and it’s for a good cause.

So if you are bored of another Netflix and chill night, have too many unused ball gowns and dancing shoes, consider volunteering your time to a gala near you.

What do you think of this idea?

 

 

 

Believing This Myth is Keeping You Perpetually Broke

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Photo by Luca Zanon on Unsplash

An equity partner at my firm once asked me how I was and I replied with what I thought was the perfect answer – “Good. Busy.” He gave me a quizzical look and walked away. I still don’t know what he meant by it.

This was years ago but I still remember the encounter, likely because I’ve never been one to say I’m “busy.” Sometimes I have conflicting plans, but I’m not busy. I spend a few nights a week sitting by myself in my apartment, writing this blog, cleaning, doing work, cooking, etc. To me, busy people are the social butterflies who have way too many invitations to make time for whatever boring thing I’m up to. I’m sure you have busy friends that are the same. Maybe you’re that busy bee.

I started to wonder about busy people several years ago when I noticed that the people I saw most often were 1) the med student I was dating, who I would see once a week between 7pm and 9pm, in between his hospital shifts and classes and studying for tests; 2) my sister, who was working full time and pregnant with her second child, her first son a rambunctious 3-year old; or 3) my lawyer and consultant friends, who I would meet up with around 11pm at night to get a break in during our 80 hour work weeks. Still, we were not the busy ones. These people always were ready and willing to meet, because their schedules left so little downtime.

I know what you’re thinking – the people who were “busy” had the time, they just didn’t make the time to see me. YES! Exactly. I wasn’t a priority to them so busyness was a good cover. But I wonder if they really thought they were too busy. A lot of people do.

I wrote a comment recently that I didn’t understand why people didn’t make their own peanut butter. It takes literally 30 seconds of blending peanuts with oil and salt and you have a much tastier, fresher, cheaper product. I got a reply – the reason people don’t make their own peanut butter is “time.”

Do people really not have enough time in their lives to spare seconds to make something better? Again, I see what you’re thinking. Of course they have the time, they just don’t care about the difference between store bought and homemade peanut butter. And that’s fine. But why not just say that? What would happen if that person said, I do not care enough to spend 30 seconds to have a tastier, fresher, cheaper product. If you don’t care about pleasure, health or expense, then it seems you care a lot about time. But what are you using that extra thirty seconds for? Probably nothing. People fritter their time away in worse, more meaningless ways than they fritter away their money. Maybe if we’re honest, we would say, I care about convenience more than anything else.

What if we were honest about all our “busy” excuses?

I have time but I care more about convenience than getting out of debt. I have time but I care more about having an easy comfortable life than my health. I have time but I care more about watching junk TV than learning by reading books.

What if we said, I have everything I want and need to achieve my goals but I choose not to?

It’s very difficult to save money if you are stuck on convenience. Making food is less convenient than buying food. Taking a taxi is faster but more expensive than taking public transit. Accepting the salary given to you is easier than negotiating a higher one. If you think you have little to no time to do the things that are cost-efficient, then it’ll be very difficult to save money. Hence you’ll always be broke. But if you can learn to carve out some time to reach your goals, that’s the start of something possibly life-changing.

Are you suffering from the cult of busyness? Is it keeping you from admitting what your true priorities are in life? Or are you actually so busy that you can’t spare 30 seconds to make your own food or read this blog post?