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 - www.JamieCullum.com/Twentysomething
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