Category Archives: Think

Don’t Wait to Speak Up

The decision to publish today’s post was not made lightly. This is a personal finance blog, and the below has but loose ties to personal finance. Though white supremacy does engender real consequences for the personal finances of millions of people: the economic oppression felt by minorities when one race or culture is named “supreme” over the others—which is real and dramatic as evidenced by our history.

Ultimately, today’s post is presented in keeping with this blog’s theory that thoughts and ideas are a stronger currency than paper money.

You don't have to look too far back in history to see that white supremacy has real and devastating consequences. Don't wait to speak up.

Government-sanctioned white supremacist rallies aren’t something new in the United States. When my husband was growing up in the metropolis of Pittsburgh in the 90s, he ran into them every once in a while as he hopped buses and trains to get to school.

They weren’t exactly the epitome of peaceful, either. Objects were thrown. Threats, both explicit and implied, abounded. All this in a city that I consider to be more than tolerant compared to many others in the US.

But those who were marching in those rallies–in the name of the KKK and unabashed racism–wore hoods. They knew they had to because they were doing something shameful.

What we saw this weekend wasn’t new. If you can pay for a city permit, you can have your voice heard no matter how harmful your words—at least if you’re white and by-and-large adhere to Christian culture.

The Dissipation of Shame

What was different this weekend was that no one felt the need to cover their face. No one felt shame for the hatred they were spewing—the same hatred we, as a nation, fought so hard against with the rest of the world not 100 years ago. The same hatred we are still battling to overcome as we examine our own deeply-ingrained intentional systems of oppression.

The problem has always been here. We are a kyriarchal society who resorted to genocide, slavery and colonialism to build our empire. But in the past few decades, it felt like we were getting better. We were seeing the errors of our ways. We were becoming a more enlightened people. There was pain, and we were far from cured. But we were making forward progress—however slow—in the right direction.

Now we see a pushback. In an election that, like it or not, had questionable enough results to garner an investigation, a minority of the American populace managed to get a majority of Electoral College votes in order to put a man into one of our highest offices whilst he surrounded himself with white supremacists.

Astonishingly, the shame dissipates. The hoods come off.

This is 2017.

You’re Not Alone.

We need to remember that those who would inspire fear, who would incite violence, who would commit an act of terrorism by turning a vehicle into a weapon, who would claim that they are divinely superior over the “others”—other races, other genders, other sexual orientations, other human beings who were born into a different part of the world or into a different economic class—do not constitute majority political opinion in this country.

The hope is that the majority will keep their heads down. That they freeze up and go about their business until the drama starts affecting them directly.

Because the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (wo)men to do nothing.*

After WWII, we really wanted to know why people went along with Nazism. We had heard the atrocities. We had seen the camps. So we launched psychological studies. They found that as human beings, we’re able to pass the buck pretty easily. Given orders to harm another human being, participants did so with little remorse.

“It’s not my fault. It’s the guy giving the orders!”

We have an uncanny ability to shut our empathy off in favor of self-preservation—even while in a controlled lab.

Never Again

Let’s not let all this happen again. Let’s not fall into a world of anti-intellectualism where falsehoods are touted as facts. Where false moral equivalence at a societal level distorts our own, individual moral compasses. Where we create a society devoid of hope.

Let’s not regress to the same patterns of economic oppression our nation has enforced through policy over the past 241 years.

Let’s do less “othering” and start recognizing that we need each other to get through this messy thing called life. We are facing some of the most challenging times in our nation’s history—and really, some of the most potentially devastating times during human beings’ history on the planet. Let’s rally together to lift each other up and remove each other’s obstacles rather than staunchly placing more in the way.

Unless your power relies on oppressing others, the empowerment of others–who have been historically oppressed–is of no threat to you.

What Can I Do?

I’ve found myself grappling with this question for the past couple of days.

I wasn’t able to come up with many answers on my own, but I did stumble upon this list of action items Sara Benincasa put together. It includes ways to raise money–and your voice–for positive causes that work for unity across experiences rather than division.

 

 

*This quote has never successfully been attributed correctly, though most people would tell you I just riffed off Edmund Burke.

 

 

My Love/Hate Relationship with Self-Employment

I always thought self-employment was good but she brings up some pretty good counterpoints.

In the past, I’ve worked as a contract employee, but typically it’s always been with the understanding that the work will be full-time and that the contract would be renewed at the end of the year.

This venture into online writing and blogging, though, has been a completely different experience. I find short-term work. I look for more short-term work. I balance multiple clients while still working remotely.

I’m nearly two years into running this business as my sole source of income (though the old day job has turned into an occasional side hustle,) and I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about it.

A lot of times, when we read about how bloggers go full-time, it feels like they’ve won at something. They can show you how to start your own blog, too! And experience the freedom of not having to go into a stuffy 9-5!

While there are definitely some merits to all that, today I want to get real with you. I want to tell you my personal experiences with both the good and bad sides of self-employment. Will you want to leave your 9-5 at the end?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

What I Love About Self-Employment

I don’t want to be overly morose. There are a lot of good things about this gig, and I’m lucky I had it to fall back on. Here are some of the definite pros.

I write my own hours.

If my kid has therapy or I have to battle an insurance company over their healthcare coverage, getting “off” normal business hours to take care of it is no big deal. At all. I just have to make up the hours during nontraditional hours.

I enjoy the freedom of being able to work when I want and where I want. I can travel without worrying about getting approval for time off, and take a mental health day if I absolutely need it.

As a matter of fact, last week I had a week-long migraine. Sometimes medication was helping. Sometimes it wasn’t. I was a mess, and would have had to use seven sick days if I were working a traditional job.

I don’t know if anyone even offers that many sick days outside of unpaid FMLA leave.

Because I was able to work in the windows of relief, I was still able to meet deadlines and get my stuff done.

I work with who I want.

I have to make money, so I am accountable to clients for freelancing, and to my readers when I choose to take on advertisers.

But if someone’s a jerk, I can shut that relationship down. I can look for other people to pay me money if I don’t want to take theirs.

It’s super liberating to only work with people you think are awesome.

I mostly work in my PJs.

Which is fantastic. When I have to get dressed up in business casual, it’s kind of a big deal. Technology has saved my wardrobe so many dollars by allowing me to work in solace.

I get invited to do cool stuff.

As a blogger, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do a lot of cool things. Just this year, I’ve taken my child to an awesome LEGO event, tried my hand at skiing in Banff, viewed the Stanley Cup IRL, visited NYC for a dynamic conference on innovation, and have had some cool experiences with the FinCon Pittsburgh group I coordinate.

None of that would have happened if I hadn’t started Femme Frugality all those years ago.

I get to interview cool people.

For this blog and for other publications I write for, I get to interview people who are really, really good at what they do. They’re smart, interesting and actually want to spend time to sit down and talk with me about all those things that make them smart and interesting. I don’t normally like talking on the phone, but doing these interviews is something I truly love about my job.

The Cons of Self-Employment

There are definitely some things I’m not into, though. Or at least, things that I thought would be great, but have downsides, too.

I work by myself in my PJs.

The things that make this job amazing also have their negatives. Sometimes I get lonely, if I’m being completely honest. It’s way harder to maintain a social life as a mom of young kids when I’m not forced to see coworkers or fellow students everyday as a part of my routine.

I know. Co-working spaces. I even know which one I’d go to. But I don’t have to budget it in, so my frugal self has a really hard time legitimizing the expense.

It’s a constant hustle.

I don’t have to work with people I don’t like, but it is a constant hustle to find the people that I do enjoy working with. Before I started this gig, I would have thought this part of the job would be zero problem for me. I’ve always been hypervigilant about my money, and hustling went right along with that.

But at a certain point, you just get burnt out. Not necessarily with the work. But with the constant pitching that’s involved in obtaining  that work.

That’s not just true for the freelance writing side of my business. It’s also true for the blog. While it’s great to have advertisers come to you, sometimes you have to go after that partnership idea that’s been living in your head.

In fact, some of my longest and most profitable relationships have happened this way, and they’ve happened that way because I know what’s good for my readers–what they like and what will actually help them. But in order to give that to you, I have to make others see that they need you, my readers, too.

The work? I love. The constant pitching so you have enough to pay the bills next month? I don’t mind it, but could do with a whole lot less of it.

You never know when you’re going to get paid.

You can set up a contract with penalties for late payment, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get your money in time. It just means you can legally enforce late payments for when the client does finally pay.

In the meantime, get ready to run around like a crazy person figuring out how to get your health insurance premiums paid this month.

No benefits.

Any benefit you used to get from an employer is at least two times as expensive–and you have to pay for it all yourself.

The same can be applied to taxes.

Without set hours, you’re always on.

I used to work after my kids went to bed. When I first started this blog, that’s the only time I had. When I made this my full-time gig, the hours started driving me mad.

I wasn’t enjoying time with my kids during the day the way I thought I would because I was so stressed out about everything that I still had to do after I tucked them in at night.

Owning your own business is a never-ending to-do list. You’ll literally never have everything checked off. For a Type A person like me, that was a huge adjustment that I really struggled with at first. It’s all about prioritizing and accepting the things that you cannot do, because believe it or not, we don’t all have the same 24 hours in a day.

I’ve mostly figured things out now. I work during the day like a normal person. Nights are reserved for mental relaxation. Sometimes I’ll work weekends if I’ve had a particularly upset schedule Monday through Friday.

But it’s still not the same as going in at 8 and being done at 4. It’s not the same as being able to leave all the mental work baggage at your workplace. Because your business affects financial decisions in every other area of your life.

And you’ve got some pesky ambition to go along with it that will always be pushing you to do more, even when you know you can’t or shouldn’t.

Would I do it again?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy with my business, and I want to keep doing bigger and better things with it. I want to keep helping people in a meaningful way and support my family while I’m at it.

Two years ago, the floor dropped out from under my day job thanks to a regional work shortage in a career I had just finished re-training for. I’m extremely lucky I had this going on.

But I would caution people to look both ways before they dropped everything and quit their stable 9-5 in pursuit of some illusion of perfect freedom to be found in self-employment. The grass is always greener, and we’ve definitely got some brown patches over on this side.

Ella Builds a Wall: Anti-Bullying Book for Kids

Wow, this is a surprisingly deep kids' book that teaches children how to deal with bullies in genius but simple ways.

Today I want to stop and take a second to address something that’s not directly finance related: bullying.

When I was growing up, bullying made you tough, supposedly, though it hardly ever happened to the “tough” kids. With boys it sometimes but not always got physical, while girls for the most part stuck to tearing each other’s souls apart with words.

As time went on, anti-bullying campaigns became a thing. People started advocating for children who went through emotional abuse in schools, in particular. While society definitely didn’t reach perfection, things appeared to be moving in the right direction.

Without delving into the specifics of why, things have shifted culturally and quickly. Bullying is largely touted as a sign of strength. Violence and hate crimes have been on the rise in the US as of late.

This is the world I’m raising my kids in, and it makes me ill. While I hope we can make a speedy U-turn back to progress, and I know I can raise my own children to be kind, charitable and empathetic, I can’t protect them from the entire world. Bullying is something I have to prepare them for.

Ella Builds a Wall

One way I’m choosing to instill good values and resilience in my kids is by making sure there are good morals and role models in the literature they consume.

When teacher and fellow personal finance blogger Ruth McKeague released her book Ella Builds a Wall, I knew it would be one of those books. The important kind. The kind you read again and again, and discuss later in context of real life situations.

Her work did not disappoint. In it, a girl named Ella is getting bullied at school. Frustrated, she joins a karate class, where she thinks she’s going to learn how to kick some butt.

Instead, her instructor teaches her how to control her emotions. She teaches her how to build emotional walls around herself to protect her feelings, and how to use blocks to defend herself if, and only if, someone attacks her physically.

She also learns to not build walls of outward hatred or self-loathing around herself, separating herself from the rest of the playground kids.

Ella’s walls are metaphorical, but insanely important to understand. When she finds herself jealous of a peer, she recognizes and subdues the emotion, leading to a beautiful friendship.

When her bully gets violent with her again, she defends herself until a teacher arrives to witness what is actually happening.

And when the bully, in his punishment, starts building walls of anger around himself, wallowing in his misery, she extends kindness to try to pull them down.

What We Learned

My kids enjoyed learning the karate blocks in the book, but I was impressed with how much they understood the emotional lessons, too. When I asked them about the walls Ella tore down, they told me about the jealousy and anger. They told me about the bully, and the kindness Ella extended to him.

Overall, regardless of which era you’re living in, the takeaways were valuable lessons that many adults still haven’t mastered:

  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Mindfulness
  • Self-Worth
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • You are allowed to defend yourself in physically threatening situations.
  • You are not only allowed, but should, stand up for others when you see them becoming victims of bullying.

If you want a quick tie-in to money, when you have these skills, you’re more likely to have a larger network of friendly faces in your career. You’re also more likely to negotiate for higher pay when you believe in yourself and feel like self-advocacy is a strength rather than something to be ashamed of.

But mostly, you’ll just be a better person.

Bring Home a Copy of Ella Builds a Wall

If you want to take on this complex subject with your kids, this book makes it simple. I’d highly recommend picking up a copy.

Ruth is Canadian, so the prices are CAD rather than USD, but after you pay for shipping it comes out to around $15-ish USD, anyways.

 

How have you dealt with bullying?

Whether you’ve experienced it yourself or have seen your child experience it, whether it’s happened in the schoolyard or in the workplace, I’d love to hear your experiences with bullying and how you’ve handled it. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Why The Founding Fathers Were Broke

Why the founding fathers were broke, and why in the grand scheme of time and humanity, it doesn't matter.

It’s so interesting to me how many versions there are of the founding fathers.  From politics to religion, many different people associate many different ideals with each one, sometimes correctly, sometime erroneously, and sometimes both.  These were men founding a democratic republic in a world where Western society was still largely ruled by monarchies.   They had a lot of ideas.  They said a lot of things.  Over the courses of their lives, they sometimes contradicted themselves.

Their situations changed from birth until death, too.  They were born British citizens, and died founders of a new country that not too many people wanted to do business with.  Many of them were, in fact, broke after the birth of America.

George Washington

Washington had some rich parents.  His dad made his living farming, and he inherited his estate (Mount Vernon.)   Washington himself made some money as a soldier, rising to the rank of Major during the French and Indian War, but gave up the whole military thing for a while to go back to his farm and marry into some more money.

He then led American rebels against British forces to win the American Revolution.  He lost more battles than he won, but he also won the war.  Post-war, America’s trade was limited as most of its ships had been destroyed and Britain cut off any economic ties not only with England itself, but also the British part of the Caribbean.  We had taken on massive amounts of debt to fund the war.  Inflation was out of control.  To top it off, we had defeated Britain, but didn’t really have a replacement government ready to go.  At least not one everyone agreed on.  So fixing the economy took some time.

What that meant was that while Washington owned a lot of land, the people he leased it out to weren’t necessarily paying him what they owed.  It was a huge class issue, and the government at the time slightly took the side of the tenants, lightening burdens for debtors (who, at that time, could face prison.)

It’s pretty common knowledge that Washington was reluctant to take positions of power.  He wouldn’t have take command of American rebel forces if it hadn’t been for idealism and honor.  But he mostly took the presidency because he was broke.  When he was president, he was very generous with funding programs and guests, putting everything on his tab while waving away a salary.  When he checked out, Congress paid him back everything he had billed, but the money had lost most of its value to inflation.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was also born to a wealthy, land-owning family.  (It should be noted that both families utilized slave labor.)  He also married a wealthy widow.

I don’t mean to assert that either marriage was loveless, but it’s worth noting that neither of these men married someone of a different economic status than themselves. Though Jefferson did have a family with Sally Hemings after his first wife passed away. I’m not going to comment on whether there was love or not because I don’t know and there was definitely a massive imbalance of power in that relationship.

Essentially the same thing happened to Jefferson as it did to Washington.  During the war, he had racked up some personal and business debts.  After the war, when he tried to pay with American money; the Brits that he owed to flat out turned it down, saying it wasn’t real currency.  He was in trouble.  And then his father-in-law died, passing his debts on to Jefferson.

Jefferson still lived a life of high society, though.  He outspent what he earned.  He served as an Ambassador to France, and the President, keeping up appearances all the while. He kept on racking up debt.  He lived long enough to see another period of economic turmoil in 1819, which didn’t help.  And he cosigned on a pretty big loan with a friend.  The friend died a year later.

He made some bad decisions, and could not catch a break.

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was not a president, or a great military leader, but was a shining example of the pen fortifying the sword.  His pamphlet, Common Sense, rallied the American people to the cause of independence.

He was born solidly middle class, and married a house servant purely for love (which was abnormal at the time.)  She passed away in childbirth, and then he married a teacher.  He tried his hand at many trades, but was pretty much broke all the time.  At the worst of it, he and the teacher split.

He came to America, and found his calling as a writer for a magazine.  As things heated up between the American colonists and the British, he firmly chose a side and wrote his epic pamphlet.  It tipped the colonists’ feeling of trepidation in confronting the crown towards outrage and a willingness to fight back.  It was the unifying force behind colonial political opinion.

During the war, he served as a military secretary.  While he was serving under Washington, he wrote a series of pamphlets called American Crisis that kept the troops’ morale up.

After the war, he was broke again.  He went to Congress to try to get payment for all he had done to help win the war.  They gave him land (we can all guess how that turned out, based on the previous two landowners,) and $3k reimbursement for money he had spent on war-related efforts.

Paine was fiery, which was what the colonists needed at the time.  But as a result, he wasn’t very tactful, and made a lot enemies.  He lived in France during their own Revolution, and was imprisoned by the Jacobins.  They meant to execute him, but by some lucky miracle the guy who was supposed to get him out of his cell forgot.  Before anyone could notice the error, Robespierre had been beheaded.

He wrote more pamphlets,  hung out with Napoleon, came back to America, and convinced Jefferson to make the Louisiana Purchase.  But he never really had any serious money.  He died penniless.  I’m not sure if he didn’t manage his money well, or he got into a career that didn’t pay well.  It was probably a combination of both.

They weren’t all broke.  And why does it matter?

Then there were men like Benjamin Franklin.  A rags to riches story.  A man who was not only constantly curious, but also invested in and expanded businesses he knew inside and out.  Maybe not the best family man.  Sound familiar?

The point is this: as we make our journeys through life, money can make us comfortable.  It can make some things easier.  It can be a powerful tool.  But it does not dictate the legacy we leave behind.  Today, does it matter that Washington struggled financially?  Not a bit.  In fact, if he hadn’t, he probably wouldn’t have been our first president.  Jefferson’s struggles with debt don’t weaken the power of The Declaration of Independence.  And the fact that Paine was essentially penniless for most of his life didn’t stop him from uniting a people to revolution.

We are important.  No matter who we are.  No matter how much money we have or don’t have.  We can make positive changes in the world around us, because the most important currency doesn’t lie with dollars and cents; it lies with inspiration and ideas.

What Financial Health Means to Me #FinHealthMatters

A lot of times when we write about money, we pretend that our income will look like this:

While we may hope our money looks like this over our lifetime, that isn't reality.

But just as the aging process doesn’t always go the way we want it to, studies show that for most American families, income doesn’t go up in a straight line at a 40 degree angle. For many of us, our income journeys will look more like this:

The reality of money is that it doesn't come in at a consistent clip. Build resilience.

It’s not a convenient truth. But it’s a reality the vast majority of us face. You can’t always count on a raise. You can’t always count on a lateral move that pays more. Heck, if the Recession taught us anything, it’s that you can’t always count on having a job or a home six months down the line.

But there are some things you can do to straighten your line out a little bit. You might not have a steady, increasing source of income, but there are financial habits you can build that will help you not throw up in your mouth as you ride the ups and downs of a lifetime of income fluctuation.

Build Resilience Through Savings

I’ve been through some pretty crazy ups and downs in my financial life. I’ve been unemployed. I’ve lived in poverty. I’ve had great jobs that I loved, and even a great job that paid well.

But nothing is static. It’s true in life, and it’s true for your money.

To build resilience during those times of trial, you need to sock money away while things are good. Avoid lifestyle creep, and instead invest in your emergency fund and retirement accounts.

I know this is a good idea because I once had to live for five months without work after an involuntary cross-country move. Fortunately, I had built up a five-figure emergency fund by living frugally while I had a (comparatively but not really) fat paycheck.

Being unemployed didn’t feel good, but it felt a heck of a lot better than it could have because I knew I could pay my bills while I looked for work.

Maintain a Side Hustle

A few years ago, there was a regional shortage of work in my unionized field. Because I didn’t yet have crow’s feet, I was on the bottom of the employment register, and lost nearly all my income as the primary breadwinner for my family.

Luckily, I had this side hustle going on called blogging. I used all that extra time I had gained from not working my 9-5 to build up my business to the point where it could sustain my family, and even exceeded the max income I could have earned in the career I classically trained for.

I was blogging for a few years before I was at a point where all this was possible. Because I was able to work in my off hours to build up a side source of income, I was able to avoid financial stress and jump as cleanly as possible into a new form of employment.

Keep a side hustle going, even if your income flow is making you happy right now. You never know when you’re going to need it.

Love how she parses out how to deal with financial reality through resiliency.

Humble Yourself

When I had my oldest child, things were not going well financially. Neither my husband nor I had a degree, and our income was extremely stunted.

To this point, we hadn’t asked for help. There were literally times where we chose between the electricity bill and food. Between sporadic stints of employer-sponsored insurance, we didn’t get to go to the doctor. We didn’t get to go to the dentist. We lived on this suspended hope that everything would be okay–someday.

When I found out I was expecting, I checked my pride real quick. I realized that I was responsible for another life, and that I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed consistent health insurance. I needed food. I needed help.

So I got it. Applying for benefits was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever done, and in retrospect, I can’t believe it took me so long to do it. Those programs helped me get on my feet and facilitated our upward mobility so much faster. Because of that help, I now pull in a decent income, paying it back both through those taxes everyone complains about and charitable giving.

But I couldn’t have gotten to “good” without asking for help to get out of the “bad.”

Get humble. Get what you need to make things better. Don’t sit in squalor because of imposed cultural shame.

Remember: It will get better.

You know how earlier we said that nothing was static?

It seemed like a bummer because I was telling you the good times don’t last.

Well, guess what? It works the other way, too.

When things are bad, they don’t stay bad forever. Things will eventually get better, especially if you’re working hard towards your goals. It might take a while, but you can fend off (situational) depression by knowing that no matter how low things seem right now, there’s a high point around the corner. Start taking action today to reach it.

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