Around the World in 80 Books: Greece and Albania

Welcome to the next installment in my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge! It’s exactly what it sounds like: I’m trying to read 80 books from 80 different countries/cultures around the world, and to add a frugal spin, I’m trying to do it all for under $20.

Here’s my running tally so far:
$0- Library books: Russia, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Spain
$2.75- Late fees on the book for Italy
$0- Free eBooks: Scotland, England
$0- Gift: Turkey, Pakistan
$0- Won in a Giveaway: Jerusalem
$1.99- eBook: Basque Country, Japan
$0- Paid, and interesting, review: Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid
______________________________________

Grand Total: $6.73

That may not seem like a lot for 15 books, but when you consider I now have 63 to go with only $13.27 left, it puts me a little on edge.

With that in mind, my next barrage of books were free eBooks. I’m finding that these are pretty hit or miss. Self-published books have often been good in terms of formatting and typos in my experience, but the ones that have been made free and available as some type of public service tend to be rougher around the edges.

Greece

Panayotis Cacoyannis lives in England, and this book is set largely in London. However, since he was born and raised in Greece, I’m counting this book for his country of origin.

Honestly, I picked this one up solely because it was free and met a country that I had not yet read. It was such a pleasant surprise to read such a fun tome of fiction!

Fun to read, anyways. The content itself deals with death as the main character is an obituary writer who loses quite a few friends and coworkers throughout the book. It also focuses a lot on the paranoia (or is it?) surrounding adultery, and contemplates on what merits art, versus trash, versus just not art. Initially, I was afraid it was going to be a romance novel, but thankfully it wasn’t.

Cacoyannis is a skilled storyteller. You go through the book as oblivious as the first-person protagonist, following his emotions and suspicions up and down. He’s not an entirely sympathetic character. For that reason, he feels like a real human being.

The twist at the end comes with the single, last line of dialogue. When I like a book, I’m often sad to see it end and want more, but this one was ended so brilliantly I actually felt…satisfied. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to me before.

Albania

This was less of a book and more of a dissertation, but I didn’t realize that when I downloaded it. I read it and learned a ton from it, so I’m counting it anyways.

It covers the culture of the people of the northern Albanian highlands. As with many highlands, the geographic features of the area has kept the inhabitants both protected and largely isolated, making the culture there extremely unique.

Patriarchal, extended families live together under the same roof, carrying out very specific roles as dictated by their culture’s code of conduct: The Canon of Lek Dukagjini. The canon isn’t completely untainted by outside influences; it was written by a monk in the 15th century. It does accurately reflect the cultural norms and values, but it also introduced consequences for acting against members of the Christian clergy. The author, Albanian himself, thinks that’s a good thing.

He also notes that while slavery has never been a part of the culture, that’s essentially what women are in the Albanian highlands. He cites that they’re born without rights, and are expected to serve in their assigned roles throughout their lives with no choices in regards to which direction their life will take at any given point.

Have I mentioned this is a mafia culture? Honor is the most important thing to the people of the Albanian highlands, and all men (literally male here) are born with it. If someone accuses you of lying in public or strikes you you are robbed of your honor. (There are other ways to lose it, too.)

Once you’re robbed of your honor, the only way to get it back is through blood. As in killing the person who took it from you. After you’ve killed them? You have to go tell their family you killed them, or you’ll lose your honor again. Their family is going to have a blood feud with you, and while the Canon says you can only kill the murderer, Habilaj relates that in modern times they can kill any male in your household, even the babies.

This cycle continues incessantly, unless the most recent blood-taking is formally forgiven by the family’s patriarch. Even then, Habilaj relates that a generations-old blood feud between his family and another was reignited by the other family a generation after his grandfather gave the formal forgiveness.

All males walk around armed with rifles and pistols and knives, but the rifle is the most important from what I could tell.

So it’s a bloody society, but not necessarily a chaotic one. It is highly regulated by the Canon. There’s bits about guest rites and role descriptions, too, in the dissertation.

Have a recommendation for what I should read next? Leave it in the comments! Here’s what’s already in my queue:

Canada: The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat recommeded by Messy Money
Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg recommended by Savvy Working Gal
Nigeria: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Philippines: May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin recommended by Guiltless Reader
Iceland: Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget
Sudan: The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih recommended by Kate Wilson
Kenya: Out of Africa by Karen Blixen recommended by Christine from The Wallet Diet
China: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang
Ethiopia: The God Who Begat a Jakal by Nega Mezlekia recommended by Based On a True Story
French Antilles: Victoire: My Mother’s Mother by Maryse Conde recommended by Based on A True Story
Suriname: The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod recommended by Based On A True Story
Costa Rica: The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica
France: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr recommended by Our Next Life
Germany: In the Garden of Beasts or Devil in the White City by Erik Larson recommended by Emi from AIP Around the World
Haiti: All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell recommended by Tre from House of Tre
Jamaica: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James recommended by Jana of Jana Say
South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton recommended by Emily from The John & Jane Doe Guide to Money & Investing
Australia: In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson recommended by Aaron from When Life Gives You Lemons, Add Vodka

Financially Savvy Saturdays #128

Welcome to Financially Savvy Saturdays, the best place to find the best writing on personal finance on the interwebs! It’s created specifically for personal finance writers! We welcome all things money here. Whether you’ve written anything from how to bootstrap yourself to financial success to the best frugal tips from your grandparents, you’re invited to link-up.

If it ties into personal finance, we want to read it!

Financially Savvy Saturdays Blog Hop with Disease Called Debt and Broke Girl Rich

Femme Frugality - Financially Savvy Saturdays with Broke Girl Rich and Disease Called Debt

This week we’re pleased to welcome back Femme from Femme Frugality as our visiting co-host (and for those new to the link up – she’s actually the person who created it)! She writes about money saving for moms, dads, students, brides and Pittsburghers over at her blog.

Tweet about it. You can use #finsavsat when tweeting about the party!

Concerns about SEO? Recently many bloggers have decided to stop participating in events such as Carnivals. If you’re worried about how participating in this link-up could effect your SEO, we’d encourage you to check out this article.

Interested in co-hosting? Co-hosting is fun AND easy. If you’re interested, you can email us via brokeGIRLrich(at)gmail(dot)com or info(at)diseasecalleddebt(dot)com with any questions. Or if you’re ready to take the plunge, you can sign up on this Google doc.

If you’ve co-hosted before and enjoyed it, please consider doing it again! If you’re interested but nervous about getting involved, please email one of us, we love talking to new bloggers and would enjoy explaining how blog hops work and getting you more involved!

Feature of the Week

As this week’s visiting co-host, Femme has selected her favorite post from last week’s blog hop to be this week’s feature. Femme chose 7 Ways to Prep for a FRUGAL FULL-TIME RV LIFESTYLE by Kay at The Barefoot Minimalist!

Click here to read her post!

Click the pic to read her post!

If you submit a post, you could be featured in next week’s party!

We do have a couple of rules for participation. Those who don’t follow the rules will have their link taken down and won’t have the chance to be featured.

1. Your post must be written in the past seven days, related to personal finance and not be solely a giveaway.

2. Be sure to include a link to one of your hosts by copying and pasting the html in one of the boxes below into your linked up post. You have the option of the button or a text link.

3. Follow your hosts. You can follow brokeGIRLrich on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, OR by subscribing to her RSS feed and A Disease Called Debt on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, OR by subscribing to her RSS feed. Also, you can follow Femme Frugality on Twitter, Google+, Pinterest OR by subscribing to her RSS feed.

4. Comment on at least one post before and after you that have joined the party.

5. HAVE FUN!

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 <em>*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on <a href="http://brokegirlrich.com/financially-savvy-saturdays-128" rel="nofollow">brokeGIRLrich</a>, <a href="http://diseasecalleddebt.com/financially-savvy-saturdays-128" rel="nofollow">A Disease Called Debt</a> and <a href="http://wp.me/p3TJm1-13H" rel="nofollow">Femme Frugality</a>*</em>


Why Standing Too Long is Bad for Your Health

It sounds counterintuitive, but standing for too long can damage your health. See how different jobs take their toll on your body, and what you can do about it.Sometimes you may find yourself standing for long periods. It could be a habit you have acquired over the years, or it could be part of your job. Some of the people whose jobs require them to stand for many hours include machine operators, assembly-line workers, and sales people. Other people who fall in this category are retail staff, security personnel, catering staff, hairstylists, and laboratory technicians. People who stand for long often get affected by various conditions but there are things you can do to minimize the effects of these.

Conditions Associated with Prolonged Standing

Some of the common complaints from people who have to stand for long include swollen legs, general muscle fatigue, pain in the lower back, stiff shoulders and neck, migraines, and varicose veins. In some instances, some individuals have complained of strains in the lower limbs, serious pressure on the hips, ankles, and knees, and damaged feet. The feet may have bunions and corns. There are some severe cases as well, and in such, the patients may suffer from swellings on the lower limbs, acute back pain, or coronary heart diseases. They could also get high blood pressure, locking of joints, and knee arthritis.

Reasons for the Ailments

When most employers design jobs for their employees, they seldom consider the characteristics of the body in general and those of the individual workers. If the needs of the workers are ignored, then work becomes a source of discomfort and, over time, the distress grows into a critical condition. The work area and the tasks at hand affect people as well. In this regard, it is important to think of how the workstation layout, placement of keys, displays, controls, and tools of the trade will affect the persons as they work while standing. In some instances, employees may not have many body positions to work with or for resting their muscles, causing the health conditions highlighted.

Treatment of the Conditions

If you have developed any of these conditions, you will need to get treatment from specialists of the respective ailments. However, prevention is always better than cure, so if standing for too long is part of your job, there are some things you can do reduce your discomfort, such as sitting down for lunch, wearing appropriate shoes and taking a foot bath when you get home.

Note from Femme: One of the most physically intensive jobs I’ve ever had was being a cashier. No one was more surprised than me! After my first day, I went home crying because my feet hurt so badly. Have you ever had a job that required you to be on your feet for hours upon hours?

*This post is written and brought to you by Isabella Ramos.*

 

The Impact of an Auto Accident on Your Insurance

Think an auto accident will automatically make your insurance rates soar? Find out when and why that does, and doesn't, happen.If you’ve never been in an auto accident, congratulations. That’s a feat on today’s fast-paced highways. If you have been in an accident, you’re likely somewhat aware of the effect it can have on your auto insurance. Either way, it’s best to remain as knowledgeable as possible when it comes to accidents and your insurance. Although people will tell you your premium will skyrocket after an accident, this isn’t always the case. There are many different scenarios that can cause changes to your premium, and they’re not all expensive.

Remember: you’re not liable for every accident that occurs. Sometimes, the other person’s insurance provider is liable. In these situations, their insurance will pay and you won’t have to deal with the financial consequences. Automobile accident lawyers who specialize in personal injury can and will represent you in the event you’re in an accident and suspect the other driver is at fault.

The Effects of a Minor Accident

Minor accidents, such as a fender bender, may not increase your premium, especially if you have a good driving record. The best insurance companies look at your complete driving history instead of just the single accident. If your insurance company does raise your premium, it may be time to look at other companies.

If the minor accident was not your fault, your insurance premium shouldn’t change. After all, if the accident wasn’t your fault why should you pay the price? If your insurance company holds you liable, again, you may have the wrong insurance.

The Effects of an At-Fault Accident

If you’re the reason for the accident, you may see an increase in your premium at your time of renewal. This is especially true if you’ve been in an at-fault accident before. Although this increase isn’t written in stone, there is a chance it will happen.

Look to insurance companies that offer discounts, such as safe-driving discounts or discounts for taking defensive driving courses. Keep in mind, if you’re already taking advantage of these discounts, you may lose them after an at-fault accident. With the loss of a discount, it’s guaranteed your premium will increase; however, after some time you should be able to receive the discount again.

Dealing with Rate Increases

If you’re someone whose rate has increased due to an accident, you can expect this increase to last for a minimum of three years. It really depends on the type of accident and how much damage there was. For example, if you caused a serious at-fault accident and the insurance company was liable for your vehicle plus other vehicles, you’re increase will be more than what it would be following a minor fender bender. You can always check with alternate insurance companies for the best rate, but they’ll all have access to the information on your motor vehicle report.

Take Advantage of Discounts to Offset the Costs

Post-insurance premium increase, you should look to discounts to offset the costs. For example, you can bundle insurances to save money (homeowners, recreational vehicle, etc.). If you haven’t already, take a defensive driving course and use the discount associated with that to save money. Look into what your insurance company offers and oblige them wherever possible.

As a reminder, have your insurance card in your vehicle at all times and the company’s phone number in your phone or on record somewhere. Keep a pad of paper and pen in your glove box to note important accident information, such as time, date, the other vehicle’s license plate number, and the other driver’s license and insurance information. If you’re in any sort of accident, be sure to file a claim as quickly as possible.

 

*This post is brought to you by Abby Locker.*

 

Shopping Reuse–Or Recycle Stores

Want to save a ton of money decorating your place? Check out reuse stores AKA recycle stores.

I first read about reuse stores as an option for frugal decorating on From Shopping to Saving.  I checked out what options we have in Pittsburgh, and I found two.  They’re both in the same building:  Construction Junction and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse (PCCR.)  Construction Junction is the one that runs the free bike program that I wrote about, and their shop is mostly for old construction stuff, though I did see a couple walking out with a glass door.  PCCR is for…everything random you could possibly imagine.  Mostly crafty and artsy.

I had a couple of projects I wanted to start working on, so we headed to PCCR.  I was floored.  There’s bins and containers everywhere, most of which are pseudo-organized, overflowing with…stuff.  Some of the things I saw:  old trophies that could easily be repurposed, tons of slides and slide projectors, a whole section dedicated to sewing/knitting (including yarn, material, and sewing machines,)  a mannequin, old school stationary, greeting cards, and postcards, small kids toys, rubber cartoon pig heads, cds, records, antiques, birthday stuff, nails, screws, etc., paint, nice $8 decorative vases (that easily could be used practically,) jewelry, beading supplies, ink for printers! (but they didn’t have the right size for mine..even though they were HP,) paint and painting supplies, flags and material scraps for the fourth of July, and a million other random little things.

IMG_2815

My haul?  Included: the ceramic mermaid head pictured above, red sand for sensory bottles, confetti sequins for sensory bottles, balloons, kiddo sunglasses and a gift bag.  My sibling walked out with a roll of used film they intend to develop for curiosity’s sake.  Our bill?  $4.60-some cents.  I’m glad I didn’t just go to Michael’s.  Everything at PCCR was $8 or under the day I went (aside from the mannequin, who was $85.)  Most of it fell in the $.50 to $1.00 range.

It was amazing, but it’s more of a place to browse when you’re not on a tight schedule and don’t have a specific item in mind.  I was able to find things specific for what I wanted to do, but they sell whatever’s been donated; they don’t have a regular inventory.  Crafty imaginative people will love it.  And, like Erika suggested, home decorators who are starting with a clean slate both in their apartment and in their mind.

 

10 Tips for Young Parents to Save Money

Children are expensive. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average cost of raising a child to adulthood is almost $250,000. Let’s face it, even if you have a pretty good job, you probably don’t have that much money just lying around. Children usually end up being an earn-as-you-go sort of thing, and one of the best ways of paying for their growth is working to reduce what you’re spending now. In addition to the tips contained with this infographic, here are a few important considerations:

Save Early and Save Often

You should start saving money for a child when the mother first finds out she’s pregnant. Ideally, you’ll have at least several years of savings put aside, and that’s on top of saving for a home and for your future retirement. This cushion will help you get past the first major expenses of having a child, like hospital bills, new furniture, taking some time off from work, etc. The bigger the cushion, the better off you’ll be, especially if you buy smart and don’t invest too heavily in things you’ll soon get rid of as the child continues to grow.

Don’t forget that some services and supplies are available for free, especially if you’re part of a low- or mid-income household. Shop around for the best deals – you could end up saving more than you ever imagined possible.

Find Out Your Workplace’s Policies

Some workplaces have more generous parental leave plans than others, and you’ll want to be intimately familiar with them before you even consider planning on having a baby. For example, if you know you’ll have six months of paid leave, you can work this into your budget and calculate your exact income stream for that time period, which makes it far easier to figure out when to buy certain necessities and supplies.

Don’t scrimp on saving even if your parental leave plan is particularly generous. Unexpected things can (and probably will) happen as your child continues to grow, and a solid cushion can stop a problem from becoming a crisis. Check out this infographic on “10 Tips For Young Parents To Save Money!” In today’s economy, every penny counts:

Overwhelmed by the costs of parenthood? Check out these 10 tips to save money as a young parent.

 

Mark Kirkpatrick is a father, blogger and tech enthusiast in Santa Clara, California. He has found that good parenting and productivity start with healthy habits and hopes to help others achieve their goals through positive reinforcement.

The Earned Income Credit: Why It’s Not Cool to Hate on Poor People

In honor of Earned Income Tax Awareness Day, I’m bringing back this post from February of 2013. Enjoy, and don’t forget to see if you qualify for this tax credit!

The Earned Income Credit (or EIC) is a tax credit that’s available to low-income Americans.  As it’s a credit and not a deduction, filing for it often results in people getting a refund, and a large refund at that.

It’s been called the biggest cash-assistance program in the country.  And you don’t have to be on welfare to get it.

But before you get outraged about this credit that you work so hard and pay taxes to supply, consider this:

  • The people receiving the EIC (or EITC) are working and paying taxes, too.  The amount you get refunded is proportionate to the amount you make.  It drops off after reaching a certain income, like a bell curve.
  • It’s been argued and proven through research that it actually encourages work rather than collecting welfare.
  • It’s also been argued that it’s a minimum wage subsidy.  It’s no secret that big companies own our government.  This tax credit has been issued and renewed by Republicans and Democrats alike over the years.  (Think Reagan and Clinton just to name a couple.)  Instead of raising minimum wage, the government compensates people who live on wages that can’t even accumulate to higher than the poverty line at full-time by giving them back a chunk of money every April.  Companies don’t have to pay their workers as much as a result.  The biggest beneficiaries from this credit are not the low-income recipients, but the mega corporations that aren’t required to pay their workers a living wage.

The minimum wage vs. the cost of living is so disproportionate right now that Obama has proposed to raise it to a rate where anyone working  a full-time job would make enough to be above the poverty-line.  Would this be better or worse for low-income workers?  Would it disqualify them from receiving the EIC?  Would the raise compensate for the refund lost?  It would all depend on how much you’re making and how the tax laws change over the next couple of years.

Want to claim this credit, but don’t know how? Or think you won’t qualify? You’d be surprised. Get free help with your taxes from the VITA program.

For example, if you’re one of those people popping out babies to get the most out of the system (which I don’t endorse, and arguably happens rarely, if ever,) you know that right now you max out your EIC “earning” opportunities with three children. I wouldn’t have a baby this year simply for tax purposes.  Because next season you’ll max out at two.

UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, legislation passed that extended the 3 child limit to at least 2017.

But proportionately there are so few people who work the system as opposed to people who are in the system because they’re really trying to make life work.  The biggest problem in our government spending isn’t the poor.  The bigger problem is the rich who would impose subsidies on everything from sugar cane to the everglades to the minimum wage so that they can make even more money.  And that’s on both sides of the aisle.  Have a little sympathy for those celebrating a brief relief from their struggles this spring.

Featured on JLCOLLINSNH:  VITA, income taxes and the IRS

Asset Allocation for Newbie Investors

Want to start investing, but have no idea where to start? Check out these general definitions about asset allocation to help you gain your footing.

In the past year, we’ve been talking a lot more about investing on Femme Frugality. Jason talked about why it, as a part of sound finances, is particularly important for women. Yulin broke down why we shouldn’t take the backseat to our spouses when it comes to retirement numbers. John and Gary set out ten rules of investing for beginners.

Today, I want to tackle a new-to-this-blog investing topic: asset allocation. We’ll talk about what the basic, general accepted rules are, when many people break them, and what the heck the assets are that you’re supposed to be allocating.

Bear in mind that while I write a personal finance blog, I am not a financial professional. What you’ll read here is meant to define, not advise. Once you read this primer, do more research before deciding what is best for your individual financial situation, or, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it on your own, seek out help from a trusted financial professional. But be sure to take one of those actions. Because the sooner you start saving, the more money you’ll have for retirement.

For example, let’s assume (but not guarantee) that the market provides a conservative 6% return. Becky starts saving when she’s 21 and gets her first out-of-college job. Sarah doesn’t start saving until she’s 30. Ashley doesn’t start until she’s 38. Here’s how their final balance would look assuming they retire at a traditional retirement age of 65:

Age Started Saving How Much Saved Per Month How Much Saved Total How Much They Have at Age 65 Thanks to Interest
Becky 21 $200 $105,600 $479,419
Sarah 30 $300 $126,000 $401,165
Ashley 38 $400 $129, 600 $305,787

 

Arguably, none of them have enough to retire on comfortably when we account for inflation and life expectancy, and make an assumption that social security will not be there for them. The interesting thing is that while each woman saved more than the last, because they started saving later, they ultimately had less money once they reached retirement. The more time you give interest to compound, the less money you have to actually save.

What is this asset allocation you speak of?

Asset allocation is how you divvy up your investments. It measures what percentage of your portfolio you have invested in riskier investments versus what percentage you have in less risky investments. Riskier investments have a higher potential for larger gains, but also have a higher potential for larger losses.

One general, sweeping rule for asset allocation says that you should take the number 110. (The number used to be 100, but then people started living longer.) Then, subtract your age from it. This is the amount you should have in riskier investments. The rest should be invested in less risky investments.

Let’s take a look at these three women to see how that allocation looks for them at the beginning of their investment journeys:

Becky is 21. She does the math: 110-21=89. So she should be investing 89% of her portfolio in riskier investments, and 21% in less risky investments if she chooses to follow this rule.

Sarah is 30. Her math equation looks like this: 110-30=80. She chooses to follow the rule, and invests 80% in riskier investments, and 30% in less risky investments.

Ashley is 38. She subtracts 38 from 110 and gets 72. When she follows the rule, she invests 72% in riskier investments and 38% in less risky investments.

As the women age, they move more of their assets into less risky investments so they can be more confident that their saved money won’t disappear in a stock market plunge when they’re nearing retirement.

Do you see a problem?

There are exceptions to this rule. If you caught the one above, good eye. Ashley started saving much later in her life. While Becky had time to take some risks early on, Ashley doesn’t have as much at her disposal. At the same time, if she wants to make up gains for the time lost, she may have to take on a higher percentage of riskier investments than the general rule would dictate, if she feels comfortable with that after doing her research and/or talking with a financial professional like the ones at PenFed Invest

Another exception is if you’re aiming for early retirement. Especially during those first few years of retirement, you may want to look into investing heavily in less risky investments, despite your age. Here’s why.

Are you a woman? Then you may have cause to claim another exception to the rule. On average, women retiring today will live 2.3 years longer than their male counterparts. We tend to stick around longer, and therefore should be saving for those additional years of life. Having this knowledge may also affect how you view asset allocation.

Yet another exception is that your tolerance from risk varies from the standard, one-size-fits all advice. Every individual’s situation is different, and as your situation changes, your risk tolerance might as well.

Riskier Investments

So what exactly are riskier investments? Essentially, they’re equities, or stocks. But having them in your portfolio can look all kinds of different. This list will cover some of the most popular ones, but will by no means be all-inclusive.

Stocks

Stocks are shares in a company. When you buy a stock, you own a part of that company. As the market changes and the company’s profits oscillate, the value of your stock will go up or down. Picking individual stocks requires a great deal of background knowledge and research into the industry and the specific company. This is an option, albeit a time-intensive one associated with risk.

Index Funds

Index Funds are a method heavily endorsed by my favorite investment blogger, Jim Collins. Essentially, they are a snapshot of the market. They contain some stocks from all the industries in the market, and are not actively managed. They come with low fees, and the idea is that because they cover the entire market, their performance will closely follow what the market itself does. Instead of beating the market, you’re trying only to follow it, as the market does historically go up over time.

As with all riskier investments, there’s no guarantee that they will do what they’re supposed to do, but in general index funds tend to have a pretty decent track record. Be sure to research each individual fund before purchasing, as some are better than others.

ETFs

ETFs (exchange traded funds) are much like index funds in that they try to track the market and contain a number of equities across all industries in the market. ETFs tend to carry different fees than index funds. You’ll see more fees here for commissions and spreads which are classified as transaction costs. However, in other areas the costs can be lower.

Less Risky Investments

Less risky investments are those that are inherently safer, but as a result offer lower rewards.

Bonds

When you buy stocks, you’re buying a part of the company itself. When you buy bonds, you’re lending the company money. Just like any other loan, the company must pay you back with interest within a set amount of time.

You can also buy government bonds at the municipal and federal level. These bonds are generally recognized as some of the safest investments, especially at the federal level, because the only way they’re going to fail is if the government actually defaults. (On the municipal level, you don’t have quite the same security.)

Some interest rates are set in stone before you invest; you’ll be able to look at them and know exactly how much you’ll earn back by the end of the loan. For others, the interest rate will vary based on the market.

Certificates of Deposit

Certificates of deposit, or CDs, are an extremely safe investment. You give a lending institution money, and they will pay you interest on that investment. At the end of the term (which generally lasts for 1-7 years,) you can get your money plus the dividends earned back, or you can reinvest it so it continues to grow. You cannot touch the money until the end date without incurring serious penalties.

Since the Recession, interest rates on both government bonds and CDs have been very low. The good news for those looking to balance out their portfolio with these less risky investments is that since the Fed has started raising interest rates again, the interest rates on these investments are likely to go up, For example, PenFed’s Money Market Certificates ² just saw a significant rate increase in the past few days, jumping up to 1.51% APY for a 15 month certificate.

These Options Could Go Either Way

Index funds and ETFs can hold either stocks or bonds, or a combination of both. The same holds true for the last investment option we’ll cover today…

…Mutual Funds.

Mutual funds hold a large basket of investments. The idea behind these is that you don’t want to research each individual stock and/or bond, so you are willing to pay someone else to do it for you. It diversifies your portfolio, but you will be stuck paying fees for the convenience. These funds are actively managed, and most of the time actively managed funds tend to underperform when compared to other investment options.

What’s Right for Me?

Only you, or a financial professional you trust, can answer that question. You’ll need to take into account your age, your risk tolerance, when you started saving, when you want to retire, how hands-on you want to be with your investments, and which products you think are worth the fees.

It is important to start investing, though. Be like Becky. Start as young as you can. While you can’t go back and start yesterday, you can start today and thank yourself tomorrow.

 

¹ Non-deposit investment products and services are offered through CUSO Financial Services, LP (“CFS”), a registered broker-dealer (Member FINRA/SIPC) and SEC Registered Investment Advisor.   Products offered through CFS are not NCUA/NCUSIF or otherwise federal insured and are not guarantees or obligations of the credit union, and may involved investment risk, including possible loss of principal. Representatives are registered through CFS. Pentagon Federal Credit Union has contracted CFS to make non-deposit investment products and services available to credit union members.   PenFed Invest is the marketing name for non-deposit investment products and services provided at Pentagon Federal Credit Union through CFS.

²This post is in partnership with Pentagon Federal Credit Union.

Abandoned Dreams: #WhenIGrowUp

How a book about an alternative school in WWII Japan reignited my childhood dreams.

It’s been a while since an Around the World in Books update, where I strive to read 80 books from cultures across the world for under $20 total. Here’s my running tally so far:

$0- Library books: RussiaNorwaySwedenMexicoSierra Leone, Spain
$2.75- Late fees on the book for Italy
$0- Free eBooks: ScotlandEngland
$0- Gift: Turkey, Pakistan
$0- Won in a Giveaway: Jerusalem
$1.99- eBook: Basque Country
$0- Paid, and interesting, review: Financial Inclusion at the Bottom of the Pyramid
______________________________________

Grand Total: $4.74

And today’s book was another eBook that I spent $1.99 on, but it turns out this one was well worth the cost. That will bring my grand total up to $6.73. Not a great number for only being 15 books in. I’m going to have to watch myself and not rack up anymore late fees!

 Japan


Reading in email? Click here to see the title.

I’m pretty sure this book was recommended by Sarah, but it was definitely someone over at Suburban Finance.

Ohmigod. It was an amazing recommendation. The quick read chronicles the early education of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi herself. She got kicked out of her first grade classroom, but her mother never let her know that. Because she didn’t want to give her a complex.

She had an amazing mother.

Her mother then enrolled her in a very, very alternative school. The building itself was literally train cars lined up on the school’s property, with one for each grade. The children were allowed to work independently in each subject in whichever order they fancied, with the teacher there to support the learning process and answer questions. As long as they got all of their work done, they got to go on walks in the afternoon, which were hands-on science and history lessons in disguise.

It was magical. This book is nonfiction.

Unfortunately, this was also during WWII. The school was bombed, and subsequently never able to reopen.

It’s a tragedy.

The school’s headmaster, Mr. Kobayashi, had envisioned building this school his entire life. He was very involved in every aspect, making full-inclusion a part of the everyday curriculum long before our mainstream policies did so here in the States. He understood the way children learned, and fostered an environment where they could do so effectively and without fear of repercussion.

There is good news. His students went on to do great things, whether they were acclaimed for them or not. Kuroyanagi herself was acclaimed, and has done many amazing things over her lifetime. But she started out as an actress and talk show host, raising herself to celebrity level which allowed her to do a ton of charitable work across the globe. She accredits her success to her early education at Mr. Kobayashi’s school.

My only regret with this book is that I had not read it sooner. It’s been around since the 80’s…..

…why is it not required reading for anyone who will have to work with children ever? Seriously, if you have or work with kids, it’s a must-read. And a short one at that.

When I Grow Up…

I was highlighting all through this book, but there were a couple quotes from Mr. Kobayashi that really and truly hit home.

Mr. Kobayashi used to tell the kindergarten teachers not to try and fit the children into preconceived molds. “Leave them to nature,” he would say. “Don’t cramp their ambitions. Their dreams are bigger than yours.”

This was said in the midst of the human race tearing itself a part. There was so much hope in those words. There’s a lot of truth, too.

When we fit children, or ourselves, into molds, we too often stifle creativity. We lose solutions to future problems as we teach and learn that there is only so much we can do within the confines of our self-imposed black and white lines. Imagination dies a slow death in this way, and the curiosity we need to ask questions like, “Why did the apple fall from the tree?” slowly dissipates.

The wonder that embodies childhood helps us invent the world of tomorrow when we maintain it. Filling out bubbles on a sheet of paper only assesses our knowledge of what we already understand about the current world. It does not create tomorrow.

This got me thinking about my own childhood dreams. I wanted to write novels about adventure and friendship when I grew up. I’d fold thick stacks of standard white paper in half and staple them together at the center, creating my binding. I’d write words and draw pictures.

To give you an idea, the one I remember most was one where my three best friends and I were trying to catch and stop a nefarious crew of criminals. Our quest led us to my family’s ethnic homeland, where my great-grandmother’s spirit rose from her grave as she gave us vital information that would help us catch the deviants.

What genre is that?

The real question: who cares?

It was in those pages that I allowed myself to create. It’s where I first manipulated idioms. It’s where I first learned to love writing. It’s where my imagination went to thrive, to ask questions, and to create solutions.

Abandoned Dreams

Obviously, like most childhood dreams, it died. I’m not writing adventure/friendship/ghost stories/mystery novels as I sit here today.

I can actually remember exactly how it died. I was working on Windows 93 in my family’s basement. I was typing away at a story about a girl who found out that she had a twin she had been separated from at birth. That twin had recently died. That twin had been a witch.

My main character had magic blood in her, too, and the school was looking for a replacement for her sister as they had one representative from each magic family. So they uprooted her from her perfectly normal life, and forced her to acculturate into a residential school where her biological family’s reputation for magic powers preceded her.

I worked really hard on this. I was probably about three-quarters of the way through the first book by the two month mark. But then, at the two month mark, Harry Potter came out.

It was totally going to look like I ripped of JK Rowling.

So I quit. My idea was no longer original. And who was I but a young girl in a suburban basement, when compared to a grown adult who knew how to market and was wise enough to not initially reveal that she was a woman? Because sexism? (I had no idea she wrote her first outline on napkins on a train at this point.)

A few years later, I read Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. I loved it. I started devouring everything of his I could get my hands on. There was a prevailing theme that ran through his work. It went something like this:

Sorry, kids. There’s no way to make money as a writer anymore.

I gave up on my dream when someone else had a similar idea to my own. I buried it when my literary hero told me it was impossible.

#whenigrowup

Fitting the Mold

To be honest, I’ve never felt like I fit the mold. But I sure as heck tried. I started placing greater importance on numbers and practicalities. I convinced myself that my adventure novels weren’t going to rock the world, anyways. I gave up imagination for logic, ignorant to the fact that the two work best in concert.

I continued studying language. Our language. Other languages. Both of my careers have focused around it, actually. Mr. Vonnegut, something amazing happened. The internet popped off. I now get paid to create content based around personal finance because of new technology.

And yet, he was still probably right. I get paid to write. But it’s a far cry from the fiction I had envisioned in my youth. In all honesty, it’s a dream I’m not overly anxious to get back to.

But it’s still really sad that I left it behind.

In my adult life, I now try to actively create. Not for money. But for the process of it. To exercise my imagination. To put my hands to something that doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything. To paint or write or dream just because I want to.

I think that’s the goal of personal finance, specifically when we start talking about financial independence. To get to a point where we can create the life we want to, simply because we want to. To not be tied down by obligations and practicalities.

But when we get too entrenched in the numbers and working out the practicalities of today, we can sometimes stifle that childlike urge that was our initial motivator.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

With that in mind, I want to ask something of you. What did you want to be when you grew up? The “crazier” the better. Leave it in the comments, or if you want to get really fancy, post a pic on Twitter with the hashtag #whenigrowup. I’ll do a compilation post of all of our dreams.

Maybe you don’t still identify with them today. But the lack of inhibition from your childhood is something I’d love to bring back. Because when we stop trying to fit the mold, we can do amazing, creative things.

Again, from Mr. Kobayashi:

Having eyes, but not seeing beauty; having ears, but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear, said the headmaster.

 

 

Have a recommendation for what I should read next? Leave it in the comments! Here’s what’s already in my queue:

Canada: The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be by Farley Mowat recommeded by Messy Money
Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg recommended by Savvy Working Gal
Nigeria: Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Philippines: May Day Eve and Other Stories by Nick Joaquin recommended by Guiltless Reader
Iceland: Scarcity in Excess by Arna Mathiesen & Thomas Forget
Sudan: The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih recommended by Kate Wilson
Kenya: Out of Africa by Karen Blixen recommended by Christine from The Wallet Diet
China: Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang
Ethiopia: The God Who Begat a Jakal by Nega Mezlekia recommended by Based On a True Story
French Antilles: Victoire: My Mother’s Mother by Maryse Conde recommended by Based on A True Story
Suriname: The Free Negress Elisabeth by Cynthia McLeod recommended by Based On A True Story
Costa Rica: The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica
France: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr recommended by Our Next Life
Germany: In the Garden of Beasts or Devil in the White City by Erik Larson recommended by Emi from AIP Around the World
Haiti: All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell recommended by Tre from House of Tre
Jamaica: A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James recommended by Jana of Jana Say
South Africa: Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton recommended by Emily from The John & Jane Doe Guide to Money & Investing

Man Punches Bear. And Other Weird Things With Animals.

IMG_20160119_243859488

Some of you may remember my quirky gift guide from back around Christmas. In it, there was a shower curtain with a sloth climbing the Empire State building like he was King Kong. It was ridiculous. And awesome.

That shower curtain came from Sharp Shirter, a company that makes off-the-wall art focusing on our relationship with animals. While the Slothzilla shower curtain was a top contender as I shopped over the holidays, this poster won the internal battle for what-to-get-my-BIL. (Though I would have been a better sister-in-law if I had thought to buy a frame, too.)

This is what I love about Sharp Shirter. They’re weird. Obviously. But their products are truly art. They’ll make you think. They’ll start a discussion. Like the fact that the dude punching the bear looks like a family friend. And is there an intentional meaning behind the Cyrillic wording on the bear? Why is this guy punching the bear in the first place?

Why would a gigantic sloth climb the Empire State building? And who allowed him the time to do it?

Art is one of the greatest raisons-d’etre. While these products aren’t overpriced, they’re not priced for the bargain-bin either. They aren’t cheapie gifts that will save you a ton of money. But if you’re looking for a different kind of gift, whether that be for Christmas or Valentine’s Day, they may just have something so quirky that it’s perfect.

 

 

*I was provided with this product in exchange for a review. Regardless, all opinions are 100% my own and 100% honest.*

 

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