Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go AWAY!

Rainy days are EXPENSIVE.

When it rains, my beloved bike Cecilia stays safely in our building’s bike room and I pony up nearly $4.00 each way to get breathed on and pushed around by a mass of fleshy, germ-ridden horror on the metro.

I also don’t really feel like going to yoga when it’s raining, which means I’m wasting the cost of my unlimited membership by not attending as many classes as possible.

Rain makes me lazy, and that means….. DELIVERY! The only escape from this fate is the off chance that there is a frozen pizza in our freezer.

Rainy days also exponentially increase the chance of me ruining a piece of clothing and/or purchasing something to entertain me while I am stuck inside.

So here is a little run down of what all these crappy, rainy days are costing me:

Metro: $8.00
Yoga (lack thereof): $10.00
Delivery dinner for two: $25.00
Ruined shoes: $30.00 (that’s right, I wear cheap-a** flats because this happens all the time)
New book or game: $15.00

Monday, December 5, 2011


I am not the first person to post about how shitty “should” can feel. What we should do, how we should feel, how much we should be saving, when we should get married, when we should go into debt. Penelope Trunk wrote about should last week. She writes that “There is no should. There is no living up to your potential. There is just doing your life”.

When people told me I should go home because it was raining and buggy on our camping trip, I refused to accept defeat.

She’s right. There are a lot of well-meaning people out there who give us “should” in the form of good advice. The issue is that should can really make you feel horrible when your goals aren’t in line with the imaginary goals that others may have for you, or even worse, when you’re not sure what your own goals are yet. For example; a simple comment from a good friend that the Grige and I should get married before he goes to grad school can send me into a spiral of doubt about my relationship choices because I haven’t made my mind up about that topic yet.
Tina Fey writes about the problem with should quite a bit in her new book Bossypants. Women should work. Women should stay home. Women should be cute. Women should not be gross, political or have a baby after 40. I’m pretty sure that if Tina Fey gets overwhelmed by all the should-ing, I don’t have much chance of surviving my 20s without a few more emotional breakdowns.

Should furniture stores be allowed to make denim furniture? I don't know...

It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you are constantly defining and re-defining your goals. This is one of the reasons that I think the mighty list idea is so good. I may be in an irreversible slump at work, but instead of getting depressed because the timing is bad to do anything about it, I can focus on another part of the list, like baking or writing more. If I get injured and am having a hard time running, there are 99 other goals and dreams that I can focus my energy on to keep me thinking positive.
With most big decisions, we seek the opinions of those we admire and trust to help us formulate our own opinion. So how can we ask for feedback without inviting others to should all over us? I have a few ideas:
1.       Frame the question so that they are forced to admit that they are voicing their own opinion as it applies to them, not you. Say “What would you do to save a little extra money” or “how did you approach your last career move?” instead of “what should I do about this problem”.
2.       Lead by example, don’t should on others. If a friend asks you for advice, ask them a series of questions in return to help lead them to an answer on their own. For example, a friend asks “Should I break up with my boyfriend?”. You reply by asking why she is thinking about doing that, whether or not she feels happy, what’s kept her in the relationship so far, or by helping her make a list of pros and cons.
3.       Realize and address the importance of your personal goals and their role in your decision making process. Instead of asking broadly about a situation (“what should I do!?”), say “I’m having trouble deciding whether or not I should move across the country. On one hand, it appeals to my desire for adventure. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem very financially responsible... What would you do?”
4.       Remind yourself that Penelope Trunk and all these other strong women all over the internets and bookshelves are right. There is no should. Only you, doing your life. So tell them to shut up and keep focusing on the goals that do make sense right now. As long as you keep moving, things will fall into place.
Don't worry, if it all gets to be too much, you can always just do your life anonymously for a while. (Disclaimer: that is a candy cigarette, because you really SHOULD NOT smoke).

Good luck defeating the should in your life!

 Double E

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gobble Gobble!

Thanksgiving is probably my absolute favorite holiday, mostly because the expectations that are attached to it (in my family, at least) are minimal. In high school, I spent Thanksgiving at a ski team training camp in the rocky mountains. In college I spent it trying not to choke on dry turkey (because my grandmother cooks the turkey like it might fly up and bite her if its internal temperature is below 200 degrees*). The last few years I have spent it bouncing between my Aunt's house, the Grige's family, and this year, FINALLY, I was able to take charge of the bird and share it with friends.

This is my bird. I am the only one who was really disappointed that we didn't name it.
I certainly missed my family, but man was it exciting to pick out that turkey and go to town on a trendy recipe from Bon Appetit for my friends! Not only that, but every one of the other three people I shared the meal with is a bad ass cook in their own right. We had everything from tofu paneer to vegetarian sushi next to our mashed potato/parsnip blend, sausage and cherry stuffing and cider anise brined turkey. It was AhhhhMAZING. We all ran a turkey trot 5k together that morning and every bite of that delicious meal was like rain in the desert.

I'm a big fan of cooking fancy meals and sharing them with loved ones, which is another reason I love Thanksgiving. It's like a sanctioned holiday where I get to go to the grocery store and splurge on fresh herbs and new spices and try new recipes and buy the fancy wine. In fact, I do the week before thanksgiving in grocery stores what most people do on black friday in box stores. It's expensive! My "budget exceeded for groceries" reminder was popping up in my inbox every 30 seconds.

My Cousin made these last year... They are awesome.

But ohhhhhh, was it worth it! A good meal almost always is, in my world. If the Grige and I learned to appreciate Ramen Noodles and thought of Chipotle as a "nice meal out", we would probably have enough money to stop playing chicken with our empty shampoo bottles and live in an apartment with more than one closet. It's all about your priorities....

Double E

*My grandmother also makes the MOST DELICIOUS COOKIES IN THE WORLD! It is not a comment on her baking skills to say that she has no clue how to cook meat, she's just trying to save us all from bacteria a little too zealously.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Black Friday Indeed...

I spent the Friday after Thanksgiving blissfully napping on the Grige's chest, playing Mario Galaxy and conducting an experiment in the best ways to re-heat turkey and stuffing. I'm sorry if it's disappointing to hear that I do not, in fact have news from the front lines of bargaindom. If you would like to know about that, you can check it out here - apparently there was lots of pepper spray.

In spite of the barrage of bargain/consumerism related emails that were overflowing my inbox, this weekend reminded me of an important point that I sometimes forget - fun does not always cost money.

In all fairness, this wasn't taken this weekend... but this is essentially what I did.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Leave Me Alone, I'm a Twentysomething....

Do you know what? I am totally sick of being constantly defined and re-defined by major news outlets. They tell me that I can’t hold on to a job because my expectations are too high. They tell me I’ve over-valued my excellent (and expensive) education when I ask for more responsibility at work. They tell me I won’t even think about marriage until I’m 30 and by then I’ll be too old to keep up with children. They tell me that I’m occupying Wall Street and starting my own business at the same time all while keeping up my fabulous blog. I am not even going to link to the stupid articles because they make me so MAD! I don’t want you to read them. I don’t want one more person making judgments about my character and predicting my decisions based on my age.

Photo -
Jamie Cullum released an album in 2003 called Twentysomething (go check it out now – He is awesome!) The entire album (both musically and lyrically) is an ode to being young, stumbling around and figuring out who you are. The brilliant blend of covers and originals encapsulates the way I feel about growing up – by building creatively on the foundations of those I admire. In the album’s title track, Cullum croons: “leave me alone, I’m a twentysomething…” Which is exactly what all these psychologists and analysts and writers should do – leave us alone!

I know we’re fascinating and everything, with our high-tech gadgets and careers, our sky-is-the-limit career mentality, but when you make (and widely publish) perceptions about a group of people who are still growing and changing, you create self-fulfilling prophesies. It’s not healthy for young adults who are desperately trying to find themselves to be constantly confronted with someone else’s opinion about their situation.

Photo: Emily Fraker
I know it’s hard – you want to write about the great recession and how it impacted our minds and career paths. You want to write about our unstable careers and all the new challenges we face, and that’s fine. Really, it is. The problem is, you need to alter your angle. I don’t keep a blog because I am in my twenties. I keep a blog because companies no longer offer the professional development and training options that they used to. Blogging is the best way to keep my writing skills sharp. I didn’t leave my first job after only two years because I was bored or wanted a promotion. I left because the crappy economy meant that they could only contract me for three months at a time. Justifying my existence by interviewing for my own job four times each year was making my hair fall out. You could say that my approach to these problems is unique to my age group, but that is like asking if the chicken or the egg came first.

Photo: Chad Fisk

  For me, my twenties have been about two things so far: passion and survival. I want to be passionate about my work and my life. I also want to survive on my own – i.e. make enough money to live on my own and eat food other than ramen noodles. So far, reconciling has been a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. I don’t think my experience is unique. I’m not yet laying plans to start my own business and I’m still not entirely sure who I am. One thing I do know for sure is that whoever I am and whatever I become, I want to get there on my own. So write all you want about the challenges of a new economy, but keep the spoiler ending to yourself and leave birthdays out of it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Mighty, Mighty List

I’ve always been a list keeper in the name of mastering tasks. There’s something mystical and almost religious for me in buying a cute notebook made of recyclable materials, taking a deep breath, and categorizing my work life by priority level. I’ve always been a fan of the grocery list as well, even if it never makes it out of my pocket once I arrive at the store.

But for some crazy reason, I’ve always been terrified at the idea of a bucket list. And then I read about all these powerful, artsy, inspiring people getting together in California next week to talk about their mighty lists. And then I thought – oh sh*t – I know why I haven’t made one of these. Because I’m a scaredy-cat and that is so not fitting with the powerful, feminist, adult life-makeover I’ve been trying to give myself lately.

So I made a list. Or started one, rather. Draft one only has 20 things on it, and only two of them really seem impossible right now. Lewis Carroll wrote “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…” in Through the Looking Glass. I suppose I’ll be getting up a bit earlier for the next few weeks to expand my list, and watching closely for white rabbits.

Image - Walt Disney Pictures

Thus far – the list itself has been my white rabbit; it leads you down the path all by itself, like a crossword that your mind keeps working on long after you set down the paper. I listed those first 20 dreams/goals/ambitions in the 30 minutes I have between work and yoga. Number three on the list was to know my strengths and weaknesses better, and to prove it by finally holding a headstand. And do you know what? I did. For almost a full minute! Things like this just don’t happen. I’ve been calming my mind and working on that headstand for over 2 months and have never even hit a balance before.

In yoga, the most important things are emptying your mind and knowing yourself. That’s exactly what a mighty list is/does. It forces you to de-clutter your mind by putting all of your dreams and goals on paper. Once your mind is emptied of all those scary ambitions, you can look at them, know them and conquer them (or revise them!). I can’t think of a better way to get to know myself than to come up with and then look at 100 things I want from life. 100 is a lot of things! I can cover everything from my ambition to write a novel to my desire to ski out of a helicopter with that many open opportunities!

The best thing about the Mighty List is that it is a break from the cold, hard reality that surrounds so many of my lists. One thing I noticed that the amount of time I spend worrying about money is totally disproportionate to the amount of goals on my list that are about money. Sure, some of the things I want to do will cost money, but not the big ones. Not planting my own vegetable garden. Not reading 100 new books. Not watching the sunrise every day for a month. And definitely not doing a headstand. Even with the things that will cost lots of $$, part of the challenge is to let life lead you to these things you want to do – not sit around with your accounting book trying to figure out how much it costs to rent a helicopter and charter a sailboat.

Of course, I'll still have to reconcile my dreams with my budget. What if the money I save by growing my own vegetables or baking all my own bread could be translated into a fund to pay for a glacier ski trip? What if I could find a way to combine my job with doing disaster relief work in Africa? What if I could serve as a guide/trip organizer in order to pay for a hike on the High Sierra loop? What a great creative challenge it will be take my dreams off the page and into reality. Money has absolutely nothing to do with what you can achieve -  unless you let it get in your way.
So go on… start writing yours! 

Double E

Monday, November 7, 2011

On Men and Women and Money and Things

Money and power fuel gender inequality in a way that is very different from other types of discrimination. It’s not just about how much buying power a given group has – it’s about who makes the money, and who pays. As someone who
generally picks up her own checks in the interest of maintaining power, this has always intrigued me.

Women have always had most of the buying power in our country, and advertisers have spent the last 100 years leaping to take advantage of that fact. There is concrete research behind the decision to have Kelly Ripa sell us kitchen appliances instead of Regis Philbin.  Traditionally, women select our own major appliances, we influence the cars our family drives, we select the groceries, the clothes and the furniture and now, we even carefully bookmark the ring we would like to be given for our engagement.  Those decisions translate into a lot of power, but for some odd reason, it has never seemed to bother men to hand over the purchasing reins.

The reason is probably because traditionally, men have held the pocketbook. They worked all day to earn money and women worked all day to select the best ways to spend that money. Both of those roles are challenging, both require a lot of time, skill and attention, and both generally make the person doing them feel valuable. Men can sigh all they want about women spending all of their money, but the fact of the matter is that they neither want nor have the time to make all the buying decisions that women are making for them. At the same time, women know that their decisions are important and valued and get to reap the benefits of the choices they make for their homes and families. Right?

But it’s not the 50’s anymore. It’s not even the 60’s or 70’s or 80’s. We’re addressing Betty Friedan’s “problem with no name” and most families involve two working adults.  All of a sudden, both men and women have lost their traditional and familiar (if somewhat stifling) roles. Men feel stripped of their power because they are no longer the sole provider of wealth. Women feel stripped of our power (and energy) because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep a sparkling kitchen, cook gourmet meals and succeed in our high-powered careers. We’re “failing” everywhere we turn.


So we’re all stressed out when really we want the same thing – to have equally meaningful roles both in our family units and in the outside world. What’s so infuriating is that in the middle of this highly emotional and personal debate about relationships are money and things. We’ve let the meaning and value in our lives become defined by the power associated with money and things! Does that make anyone else angry?   

I want my power and validation to come from somewhere else - like finally nailing a headstand in my yoga practice, or by finishing War and Peace, or when I pull that perfectly cooked turkey out of the oven this Thanksgiving and say "hell yes, self. We did it!". And it's all on me and The Grige to make those the power sources of value in our home. 

What will yours be?

No, really. It was a very busy August/September/October. But I'm back now, and ready to dive in to some interesting personal finance dilemmas. However, it's been an eventful month or two. I'll fast-forward through the commercials and give you a peek of things I want to talk about soon:

1. The Grige and I both navigated (and survived) our performance reviews at work, which led to some interesting discussions about "alternative raises", what "cost of living" even means and whether or not failing to include your projected overtime in your salary predictions makes you just another shmoe at the Kellogg's plant.

2. Everyone is shocked because they thought nothing good could ever come out of Detroit again. I'm referring with equal excitement to the Lions, the Tigers and the AWESOME "imported from Detroit" Cadillac commercials (oh my!) which are all dominating in their respective fields this fall. Mitten-five, Michiganders!

3. My childhood best friend moved to NYC and got engaged (yay!). She's got my wheels turning on the whole wedding industry thing, which I've been dying to write about. She's also asking (and answering) some great questions about what money (and love) does to your politics, your values, and your life plans. Unfortunately, I also discovered that I can no longer de-facto hate everyone who has two full bathrooms in a major east coast city. Balls.

4.  Our gym is closing. No one is surprised, every other gym in the neighborhood is at least twice as expensive. But now what? Pay upwards of $60/month to be sweated on by a bunch of strangers in a trendy gym full of former sorority girls? Get fat? Buy a dog to force me to run outside every day? Stop eating whatever we want whenever we want it? Ugh.

5.  Oorrrrrrrr I could start doing yoga every day. While expensive, I can say with confidence that this is the only form of exercise I've ever truly enjoyed enough to look forward to every day.

6. Football season has begun, and the Grige and I are testing our theory that watching games at a sports bar will still be cheaper than paying for cable + ESPN package + Big 10 Network. So far, so good....but it's only November.

7. When I was working crazy over-time, I discovered that the extra pay is totally justified by the extra expenses you rack up. When you get home at 11:00 pm, there is no time to cook. Therefore, you either learn to plan better or the people at Chop't Salad learn your name and start preparing your salad before you arrive to order it. You also stop riding your bike because it's too dark and your dry-cleaner starts charging you for storage because your clothes have been there for so long. Fail.

8. Cecilia is breaking my heart. I am officially the owner of the most expensive "cheap vintage" bike ever. Also, I am totally tired of feeling disenfranchised by the gear heads at the bike shop. I pay you to work on my bike, not to make me feel like an idiot.

So that's the run down - I'm looking forward to an exciting holiday season and hopefully more regular posting.

welcome back,
Double E

Friday, August 5, 2011

Flight and Fight

Moving is hard. I hate change in general, and moving just changes everything.  You get lost, your mail gets lost, you don't know anyone, you can't find the bathroom while still half asleep and you keep forgetting where all the light switches are. The loneliness is probably the hardest part, but I would rank having to wake all the way up to find the bathroom as a very close second.

Moving is also expensive. You have to pay for a truck, overlapping rent payments, an additional security deposit, application fees, take-out for at least a week while you search the boxes for your kitchen equipment and replacements for all the stuff you broke because you were too cheap to hire a mover. All that is just for switching apartments. Should you decide to switch cities, states or countries, you will also be slammed with a whole host of fees related to insurance and personal identification.
When the Grige and I moved into our current apartment, I really thought we were done moving. We bought a big TV and a bed frame – a piano desk for him and a reading chair for me. I thought we were settled for a least three or four years. But now that the flash cards are packed away and the GRE is over, His Grigiousness has filled the space with giant scrolls of building schemes and other art work for his portfolio and has started talking about leaving the capitol.
Needless to say, I'm not pleased. I'm not a fan of grad school to begin with, and now we are talking about packing up our lives to go to another city and state where I have no job so that he can spend tens of thousands of dollars that we do not have. Of course I want him to go to the best school he can get in to, but for me to just pack up and go with him seems like financial idiocy.
So here is yet another problem that you cannot spray roundup on. The alternative is to commit personal and romantic suicide by trying to live apart for two years. Maybe we could do it, but neither of us want to. And now we are in the very awkward position of choosing between love and money  - as well as the unknown future and the familiar present.
For me, the decision carries extra weight, because I'm not the kind of woman who just follows her boyfriend around. I could shout at you all day long that there is a difference between making a sacrifice for someone you love and letting gender dynamics make your choices for you, but I would still be bartending or event planning to make ends meet while the man in my life pursues his passion. Not only is that not fair, but it's not me.

At least not without some kind of compromise. Which is exactly what the Grige suggested. "Where do you really want to live?" he asks me when I get upset and start yapping about feminism (while he cooks me dinner, no less). And what he's hitting on there is the real meat of what I want to talk about here, in this blog: You can't let money run your life.
What you can do is spend and save the money you do have as best you can. We will probably move. It will probably be to a place where we can ski, hike and play outside more. Somewhere we can afford more than a 1-bedroom apartment someday. Somewhere it's not so hot that I have to have a "no touching rule" for more than half the year. Somewhere the Grige is, because that is where I really want to live.

Money is important, and it's so easy to let it grab us by the ear and pull us down a path we have no real interest in walking. It's important to have people like the Grige in our lives to remind us that we don't always have make the safest financial decision. Sometimes it's worth the risk to reach for what you really want, instead of what you know you can get. If you don't get it? You're resiliant, you will start over. If you are lucky, someday you will be able to sleepwalk to the bathroom again.

Dress for Your Day

"Dress for the job you want, not the job you have" used to just mean that you should wear a suit, even if you are the copy boy. Things have changed since then – many offices have gone business casual or have flexible dress policies. However, the mentality is still the same. I want to look as well-dressed and polished as the person who holds the highest position available at my place of business, and I think most other ambitious young professionals want to as well. 

The problem is that clothes are expensive! And if you want to get things tailored to fit perfectly and have matching shoes – forget it. By the time you add astronomical dry cleaning bills into the equation, dressing for work can cost you more than they're paying you to do the job in the first place.

Coming out of the college environment where appropriate daily attire has expanded to include sweatshirts and ripped jeans, it can be hard to imagine wearing seemingly uncomfortable clothes that you've reserved for graduations, weddings and funerals every single day. It can be even harder to imagine the amount of money you're going to have to spend purchasing and maintaining them.

It is possible to look polished on a budget, but sale stalking is just the beginning. The trick is to buy clothes you like and can afford, but then take great care of them. That means wearing undershirts, dry cleaning weekly and buying some shoe shine and a nice shoe brush (and using it).  If you have a strict care regiment, these clothes will look good for a few years or more, and you can enjoy adding to them rather than replacing them.

A good tailor and cobbler can also increase your bang for your buck. I've had my favorite pair of heels for almost 9 years. I have had them re-heeled twice and I bleach clean them once a season. Re-heeling costs about 20$ for a pair of shoes and you can clean them yourself with bleach and laundry detergent.  It's a lot cheaper than buying a new pair of shoes once a year. A good tailor can take a $40 sale rack dress and make it look like a $100 + masterpiece, just by altering it to fit you perfectly.

Wearing simple clothes that really fit you well with seasonal, colorful accent pieces like jewelry, scarves or cardigans can keep your costs low and your style high. It's possible to wear a simple black dress or skirt 3 times a week without anyone noticing that it's a re-run.  The same goes for guys with a nice, dark suit.

So don't let the cost of new clothes keep you from putting your best foot forward at work. Head to a tailor/dry cleaner with those pieces your parents bought you and inject some life back into them, because there's nothing worse than looking like an assistant.

See you at the sale rack,
Double E

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Great Groupon Debate

There are a lot of deals out there that look like they are saving us money. The Grige and I have a hot debate open on the Groupon/Living Social deals, and whether or not they are actually saving us money. To be fair – I've only used either service for meal-related deals, though I'm trying to score one of the escapes/getaways for our anniversary weekend. I'll report back on that if it works out.

The Grige thinks that, while nice, these deals are actually costing us more money than they are saving us. While I have a strict "it must be in our neighborhood" rule about the deals I purchase, most of the restaurants are not places we go regularly. He argues that since we wouldn't normally go there, spending any amount of money for a meal there is excess spending. In addition, these deals usually come in increments of $50.00. Since we are good citizens and tip 20% on the full amount when the service is decent, this means we're out at least whatever we paid for the deal + $10.00. Finally, when we know we have $50.00 to spend on a meal, we have a tendency to go a little nuts and order nicer entrees than we normally would, drinks and maybe even an appetizer or dessert. The end result is usually a bill that is well over our deal-allotted $50.00 and we end up shelling out as much as $100.00 for a meal that was supposed to be a "deal".

I usually put our experiences in the context of spending $100.00 for a $125.00 dollar meal. Money saved is money saved, period. I also like to try a new place every once and a while, and saving $25 dollars is a great way to do it. Letting deal availability drive my restaurant choices also simplifies my life by eliminating decisions. Simply put, I am a fan.

At the end of the day, I think we're both right. The Grige's suggestions highlight the crux of the issue: the real problem with misusing deals is personal judgment. We can't blame deal drivers like Groupon and Living Social for our spending habits. They are giving us a discount, while sending us to try new places, which is a good thing. It's our fault that we decided to go bananas and spring for the bottle of wine and dessert, and we need to hold ourselves accountable for that money.

So the next time we're out for a meal with a deal, we're going to stick to that $50.00 limit (or at least close to it, this is D.C.) and not let the allure of "free money" lead us down the wine list. We'll save the "special" meals for actual special occasions, because a coupon is not an occasion.

Double E

PS: If you're not up on the deal finders, you should be. You can start with and, but there are plenty of other options out there. Just remember to keep your selections in check!

Debt, Credit and Hiding Under the Bed

We've established that I am terrified of debt. I generally think this a good thing. It keeps me from buying that gorgeous pair of $300 shoes and from fronting $100,000 that I'll never be able to earn back for that Ph.D in English Literature that I'm dying to spend the next 6 years working on.

But maybe it's not always a good thing. Maybe when it's time for me to buy a house, and a loan officer hands me a pen, I'll scream like he's the crypt keeper and go hide under my bed. Thank heaven for the Grige! He frequently says things like "good debt", "opportunity cost" and "well, do you want to raise kids in our one-bedroom aparment?".

So when is the time right to drop some real money, and what are the kinds of things you should feel okay about going into debt for? My first thought is that a house, car and maybe educational debt are the only kinds I could handle. But maybe there are other things we should go into debt for. Maybe that payment plan for the nice sofa is worth it, and perhaps it's okay if you can't pay for every piece of your wedding all at once.

The problem is, it's hard to tell the smart deals from the gimmicks. It seems like every retailer I visit wants me to sign up for their special credit card deal, and every time I make a large purchase, someone is trying to talk me into a payment plan that I don't need. How can one possibly make a smart decision while being bombarded with propaganda?

I tend to take a conservative approach, and given the economy and the fact that I'm still pretty early (read unstable) in my career, I think that's best. The following are some guidelines to keep your finances under control, but still get the things you want:  

·         Pay your balance. I didn't have a credit card until I was 23. I only caved because my credit rating was in the toilet, and I still use it exactly like a debit card – diligently paying my balance every month. It's annoying, but our society demands that we pay for things with credit instead of money we have. Just make sure that you don't put anything on your credit card that you wouldn't charge to your checking account unless it's an extreme circumstance.

·         Stick to one card.  I know it's tempting when you are checking out at your favorite retailer and they offer you an additional 15% off, but you have to remember that it's part of a business strategy. The whole reason the store is pushing that card on you is because statistically, you will spend way more once that card is in your wallet. according to researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, "the initiation of a 1% cash rewards program yielded, on average, a $25 reward each month and an increase in spending by $68 a month and in credit-card debt of $115 a month." I have been on both sides of the checkout counter and I've found that "no thank you, I'm not interested." will keep most salespeople from hassling you too much. You definitely don't owe them an excuse, it's your money and your credit rating.

·         Save first, buy later. Maybe you can't save the full amount for your goal, but you should spend the time to at least tuck away a good down payment for big events or items. This way you can get in the habit of making payments while earning interest, instead of paying interest.  

·         Only take advantage of a payment plan when you need to. If you are purchasing furniture or large electronics, there can be some great payment plans available to help you get what you want. Keep the timeline on the payment plan as short as possible and only buy one large item at a time. Once you have paid it off, you can move on to the next big purchase.

So perhaps it is okay to accrue some debt to get the things we want and need. But if you max out your credit to buy that new furniture set and then get bedbugs, how are you going to pay the exterminator? With a little patience and a conservative approach, there's no reason you can't do both.

Yours in the Red,
Double E

You can read more about the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago article here: 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"yes - I live in a basement the neighborhood I grew up in..."

Parental support and it's boundaries can often define the intersection of adolescence and adult-hood. With employment prospects coming up short after college graduation, many of us are choosing (or are forced to) delay flipping on our blinkers and pulling out onto the highway of adulthood.

I could definitely rant about how unfair it is that some people have basements within commuting distance of good jobs. Or I could tell you about how a real self-starter would do whatever it takes to avoid having curfew reinstated at age 22. I would absolutely tell you all those things if it were 2007 and we were seeing this trend. But it's not 2007, and I was lucky to spend my first 6 months out of college on my cousin's pull-out-couch. I think we're asking the wrong questions, and yelling about the wrong problems.

The real question is: How can we live in our parent's basements and still become adults?

1. Pay Rent. It shouldn't be an equal share of the mortgage or anything like that, and it doesn't even have to be on par with local housing prices. However, putting at least 15% of your income towards the roof over your head will do a lot for your self esteem and your argument against that pesky curfew.

2. Establish Boundaries. Plan for only 1 or 2 "family activities" per week. Certainly, you will see each other more than this, but Mom shouldn't be holding dinner for you to get home and Dad shouldn't expect that you are going to work in the yard with him unless it is pre-planned and mutually agreed upon.

3. Work. Looking for a job is not a job. Take whatever you can get – fast food, retail, customer service – any of these will suffice. Working gives you something to do, money to burn (since your rent is so low), and improves your interview skills for when you actually do land that meeting at MyDreamJob Inc. Customer service jobs in particular will hone those interview skills.

4. Bring in your own food. If you are having some friends over to play videogames or get ready for a night out, don't drink your father's beer or eat your mom's secret stash of cookies. Go to the store and buy your own. Be respectful of the fact that your parents only planned to feed you for 18 years. That extra money has to come from somewhere, and that place is probably their retirement savings. You will pay this back later when they can't pay their nursing home fees.

5. Know when it's time to leave. It's great that you can stay at home to save money, but you need to cut the cord at some point. Set concrete goals that you want to achieve before you can support yourself, and when you've met them, hand over your house keys and hit the bricks. If your house is anything like mine, someone will be yelling "write when you get work!!" every time you leave the house until those goals are met.

Moving back home has become a reality for many of us "young professionals". I don't think it should be an embarassment. Sometimes, it's a really smart decision to avoid or pay off debt. So let's attack the stigma and find better ways for families to live together at different stages in life.

I would never laugh at my Dad's beer,

Double E

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

House of Cards

I am living in a house of cards. Flash cards, that is. They are everywhere! I feel like I'm sharing our tiny apartment with someone who is learning english and trying to label everything. 

The toilet is intransigent.
The closet is pernicious.
The kitchen is insipid.
My bookshelf (and I do say mine, because all of these words are housed in my books. I don't need the ridiculous cards) is iconoclast. 

They're grouped by whatever standards the GRE has deemed necessary, and they seem to follow me everywhere. My gym sock was redoubtable this morning and thank heaven too. It smelled nothing of the sort. 

This doesn't have much to do with money, except that if I had more, I would probably have rented a hotel room for the Grige to live in with all these stupid cards. At least until the test is over. 


Double E

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems....

.... Like getting a shaving cream pie in your dirty billionaire face at a parliamentary hearing:

How clearly I remember when Rupert Murdoch purchased The Wall Street Journal. I sat with my banker Dad on our porch, twin Adirondack chairs facing the street with The Weekend Journal between us like a smoking gun. I think it's the closest I ever got him to actually consider switching to The New York Times (a subtle fight we've been engaged in for years)

Like a typical teenager on a soapbox, I probably over-used the term "evil empire" and lost my battle yet again. My Dad insisted that his beloved bastion of financial news couldn't change much without losing it's audience, and that the purchase was simply a rather impulsive money grab by a powerful man, rather than an attempt to control the every thought of our nation.

Freaking Dr Evil

At the time, I was too disgusted with the fact that I was sprung from a man who wouldn't change his newspaper allegiance on principle alone to notice that he was probably right. After watching Mr. Murdoch get the pie treatment yesterday, I started thinking about all the problems that come with having more money.

After I made my last 2 job changes, I was shocked at how much money I wasn't saving. I thought I would literally be lounging in a bathtub full of singles with a glass of champagne when I wasn't at work.

In reality, I didn't notice my life change much, but somehow I managed to spend all that "extra" money. Granted, one cannot live on ramen and 3 buck chuck forever. There were also a lot of big ticket items (like new glasses and contacts, a bed, and furnishings for my new apartment) that I put off purchasing when I wasn't making much. Even after I bought all those things, it seems like there is always a vacation or a new suit or a "special" dinner out that cuts into those projected savings. It's become apparent that even with strict budgeting, making more money means that I "require" more stuff.

I actually think it's pretty unlikely that the Murdoch's knew exactly what was going on at News of the World, and I almost feel bad for them. They have a lot of publications to keep up with, and one doesn't exactly run to the boss with an exit strategy after authorizing illegal actions to sell the product. 

Everybody (including Rupert Murdoch) knows that more money = more problems (read: more money = more responsibility). If that occasionally means getting a shaving cream pie in your face, I guess you'll just have to cry it out in your Bentley and increase your executive oversight in the remainder of your news empire. 

Yours in cream pie,
Double E 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

While I'm Whining about What a Waste Grad School Is....

Above the Law is another blog that spends some quality time on the uselessness of higher education. While the blog normally focuses on Law school specifically, an artical by Elie Mystal yesterday draws some stark conclusions from this New York Times article. Elie's thoughts follow:

"Think about that for a second. The system of American education churns out thousands of people with totally useless liberal arts degrees every year. English, Romance Languages, Philosophy — these are all things that provide the backdrop for a fascinating life of the mind, but they hardly pay the bills. In fact, to make any of these degrees pay off, you usually have to find employment teaching these “skills” to others. And that requires you to get additional education.

But nobody in their right mind would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get additional education in some of this crap, because they know they’ll never make enough to justify the cost. The university needs to subsidize that education in some way — and so they turn to law schools.

Universities pay for advanced useless degrees by fleecing the kids who decided four years was enough time wasted in the pursuit of knowledge that would not lead to dollars. And thus the law students resign themselves to a life of paying back debts doing something they don’t really like, while the kids who stayed the “I’m going to become an expert in this totally useless field” course end up with cushy professorial jobs teaching “Thinking in the Digital Multiverse” to the next group of university students.

How do you like them apples?

It’s all in the game, I guess."

Elie's point is exactly what I was talking about yesterday - The fact that my generation can not wait to throw our parent's/the government's (and in some very rare cases, our own) money at higher education institutions that are ripping us off.

While reading the NYT article, I noticed that the advertising in the corner had been purchased by none other than Cooley Law School. That's right - the school that shames my beautiful home state by offering a legal education to anyone who wants one, providing they can shell out tuition.  Cooley is like the law school version of diet pills - "just shell out your money and we will..... do nothing!" Maybe it's even worse than that - because the people who consume the Cooley product are not trying to lose weight the "easy" way. They are trying to build careers that will support their families in a state that is already hurting.

And then my head exploded.

If you are interested in more information about the problems with law schools, please check out Above the Law.

So much for higher knowledge,
Double E

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Grige, Grad School and the GRE

One of my favorite things about my Partner is that he really just doesn't care about what other people think of him.  After a weekend of heavy boozing at my cousin's wedding in Michigan, he earned himself a nickname that will likely follow him to the grave. He asked for another glass of "the Grige" and thus was baptized in wine by my family.

So now, the Grige is planning to go to grad school and spends all of his time studying for the GRE (read: ignoring me/ the dishes/ the laundry/ the dead cockroach that I almost stepped on). I am being as supportive as I can, because that's what you do in a healthy relationship. However, the very idea of grad school makes me want to do this:

I think that pursuing a graduate degree is a hugely un-necessary waste of money. The fact that practically everyone who graduated around the same time I did decided to hide in the library rather than face the dismal job market is probably the reason for this. Call me crazy, but staring down the rabbit hole after $100,000 that I didn't have in the first place while I search for jobs in a market that really just wants experience does not sound like a good idea to me. Penelope Trunk  talks more about this problem and other fun career topics in her excellent blog.

Penelope's points that I agree with most involve delaying adulthood, graduate education being pyramid scheme/money pit and the fact that working is not so bad. Most of my friends who went to grad school seem sort of stunted compared to my friends who worked (or worked and went to grad school). It's not that I don't love a good game of beer pong once and a while, but you have an actual table on your back deck? What would your boss say!? Oh wait... you don't have one.

These people are counting on expensive degrees to assist them in a market they know nothing about. If I wrote a book containing the really important skills I learned in my first year in the workforce alone, it would be longer than War and Peace and definitely worth more than I spent on my undergraduate degree. I would also venture to guess that those skills are very important to my future employers as well. I think that my peers who went to grad school instead will have a hard time competing with that knowledge when we are both up for higher paying jobs. Even if I don't get that job because I don't have a masters degree, at least I dodged the debt bomb. I'm not a risk taker, and that kind of investment return rate is just not for me.

So here I am, trying to be supportive as my roommate and Partner plants his feet firmly on the path back to grad school. It can't have been an easy decision for him, what with me spewing vitriol about cost-benefit analyses and irresponsible debt acquisition. And it is definitely not easy for him now that I've added a good deal of yelling about house-hold chores and how I refuse to clean up after him just because he's studying.

Despite all that, he is determined to go back, and I have to admit that his reasons are good. He's an architect, and it will be impossible for him to get licensed without a masters degree. Even though it will be years before he can even think about the pay-out from his hard work, he is talented and driven and I believe in him - in spite of my own good sense. 

I can't imagine having the kind of conviction the Grige has about being an architecht in my own career, and maybe that's my problem. Perhaps someday I will say "AHAH!" and run to my neighborhood university with application fee in hand. That day is not today, and I believe graduate school is a mistake for those of us who are not planning to become doctors (I am looking at you, Ph.D in cultural anthropology). But before I cry "unfair!" as our debt and the dishes in the sink pile up, I am going to take a deep breath and try to believe in the person I love.

Wish me luck,
Double E

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vacationing Above Your Means (Within Your Means) Part II

Last time, I wrote about vacationing "exotically" within your means. After writing it, I started thinking that my favorite vacations are not the most exotic ones. Traveling abroad can be stressful, and I think that the relax factor is very important. We take time away from work to re-charge our batteries, anyone who has been out of the country knows there is nothing more annoying and stressful than a faulty power converter. Now, I want to write about some less high-profile vacation options, and ways to keep a domestic vacation even more reasonably priced.

On the East Coast (and I assume near any large body of water), it's quite trendy to travel to the shore for weekends and holidays when the weather is nice. Some people rent beach houses, some people stay in "spring break" themed hotels on the "strip", and some people RV or car camp. The Grige (my Partner) and I backpack and I think it is the most wonderful and un-stressful break ever. 

We generally go to Assateague National Park (not to be confused with the State Park, which is full of RVs and screaming children where you must book your spot 6 months in advance). Once you arrive, you pay $15 dollars to park, check in with the rangers, grab your backpack and hike anywhere from 2 to 11 miles up the beach to pre-set camp areas with fire pits, picnic tables and even a classy latrine (read eco-friendly port-a-potty). You can stay for a weekend or a week, you fall asleep to the sound of the waves, and there is usually not another person in view as you sip a nightcap and enjoy your fire-fresh supper. 

Granted, this is easier if you are not a total camping novice. You will need bug repellant, and you will need to stick to beverages that do not come in glass containers or require blenders. You will also need some basic camping gear - the most primitive versions of which can be purchased for under $20 at Target. But isn't that a tiny price to pay for peace, tranquility and miles of open seashore? Oh yeah, and wild horses.

I'm of the belief that this camping thing works anywhere, but if spending a night out of doors really isn't your bag, there are still options left for a domestic beach vacation that doesn't break the bank (or involve droves of guidos doing jager bombs in the next hotel room). I am from Michigan and I love Michigan, so it was only a matter of time before I spent a few paragraphs telling you how amazing and awesome Michigan is. So here it is: Michigan rocks

Michigan is also cheap. Renting a house within walking distance of the lake on Michigan's west coast is not for the poor, but it's night and day when compared with a beach rental on the eastern shore. There are also hotels and cabins in abundance with all kinds of deals. We all know that Michigan's economy is in the sewer, so you will see a price drop in everything from draught beer to boat rentals once you cross the border. The best part is that there is no drop in quality to match. 

Michigan also offers a ton of variety. You can head to the Upper Peninsula for woodsy solitude on the chilly shores of Lake Superior, or you can hit up any one of hundreds of adorable little beach towns up and down the coast of Lake Michigan. There are great restaurants and tons of entertainment to be found pretty much everywhere. You can swim, you can surf, you can kayak, paddle board, sail, sand-board, bike, hike, or even head to the dunes in your 4-wheel drive vehicle. There is something for everyone. 

So before you drop an entire paycheck to sleep on the floor of an Atlantic Coast beach house with 27 of your "closest friends", check out Grand Haven, Traverse City, Pentwater, Marquette, or Harbor Springs. You may find yourself on the front end of a very affordable trend. 

See you at the Beach,
Double E