Category Archives: College Money

Of Unions, Benefits and Steamfitters: #Pittsburgh Event

This post is in collaboration with Steamfitters Local 449.

Welder dressed in orange working on a huge, green pipe. Text reads, "Benefits of Unions: Pension, Healthcare, Truly Equal Pay, Opportunity for career and salary growth. Steamfitters449 on femmefrugality.com"

I’m a huge proponent of education. Sometimes that means college.

Sometimes that means trade school.

We need to remember that one is not superior to the other. In fact, if you’re measuring ROI over the course of your career, there’s a decent argument for trade school being the smarter decision.

CASE STUDY!!!!

Career Training Without the Student Loans via Steamfitters Local 449

Steamfitters Local 449 is a union here in the Pittsburgh region representing those who make, install and service piping systems. This includes occupations such as welders and your HVAC-R service person.

How do you learn these skills?

Through free career training.

Steamfitters Local 449 works with the United Association and the Mechanical Contractors Association to provide this free education at its training center in Harmony, PA.

After that union members pay a marginal amount into the apprenticeship fund for each hour they work, which continues the cycle of free education.

This frees you to use the money you’re bringing in while you’re training to do things like live in safe housing, afford groceries and plan for your financial future–things that are much harder to do if you’re spending your younger working years burdened by student loans.

Getting Paid to Learn

The first step in the training process will be uncompensated. But if you can make it through that initial training, the rewards are worth it.

The initial training for those interested in building trades is an 18-week course that runs in the daytime teaching you how to weld. If you’re more interested in the HVAC-R side of things, your initial training will only be 8 weeks.

If you complete this step successfully, you’ll be taken on as an apprentice. Apprentices currently start at $18.25/hour plus health benefits. If you make it through that first, probationary year, you’ll be eligible for a pay bump of  10% and gain access to Steamfitters’ retirement vehicles.

Keep doing well and you’ll continue to earn those 10% pay bumps each year throughout your five-year apprenticeship.

Live a Middle-Class Life

When you’ve completed your apprenticeship, you’ll start earning journeyman’s pay. That’s currently $41/hour or $82,000/year if you work fifty 40-hour work weeks. Nick Kappas, Director of Marketing at Steamfitters Local 449, notes that after you add in benefits like health insurance and access to retirement vehicles, the effective hourly pay jumps to about $65/hour.

Either way, that’s enough to live a solidly middle-class lifestyle in the Pittsburgh region. And you won’t have to worry about your first ten years of pay going to service student loan debt.

If you’d like to make even more money, journeyman status isn’t the end of the line. Steamfitters Local 449 offers further training, enabling you to become a working foreman, general foreman, area foreman, superintendent, diagnostician, estimator, scheduler and more.

Each of these positions include a pay bump up from the journeyman status, allow you to bring in an even higher income.

How the heck does a pension work?

A major benefit to union positions is access to a pension. Pensions are defined benefit plans, which means you’ll easily be able to figure out how much money you’ll be pulling in once you’re retired.

For example, Kappas says that a journeyman currently working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year will pull in $160/month in retirement for each service year they complete.

If you decided to stay at the journeyman position over a 35-year career, you’d be collecting $5,600/month–or $67,200/year–in retirement.

If you extend your career five more  years remaining at journeyman status, your retirement benefits would jump up to $76,800/year.

Closing the Pay Gap

Want to know who doesn’t face a gender pay gap?

Union members.

When everyone’s salary is public knowledge, it’s kind of hard to screw people over based on their gender.

Not only does joining a union eliminate your chance of facing a gender pay gap, but women are considered valuable assets at Steamfitters Local 449. Our cultural conditioning finally finds a place where it’s an asset as Kappas notes a phenomenon that Sam Paxson has previously put forth as a reason for hiring and retaining women:

“When we’re looking at trouble shooting, women tend to be a very valuable asset to us. They’re more patient and creative in finding solutions.”

He also says that these are assets that serve these union members at all levels, including welding and higher-paying administrative positions.

We as women also tend to be more concerned about long-term financial security, so we see the value that union benefits such as healthcare and defined benefit plans provide to us and our families–whether we’re working on a job site or doing the equally important work of managing the home front.

Learn More Live

If you’re curious and want to learn more about this career path, you’re in luck! Steamfitters Local 449 is holding its annual Expo up at its training center in Harmony.

It looks a long way from the city mileage wise, but as someone who has made every possible Pittsburgh commute over my adult life, I promise you that 279/79 is way easy to deal with as it has the least congestion, an HOV lane and is a legitimate highway where you can drive fast.

Yes, I’m looking at you, 51. You’re the reason I will never again willingly commute to the South Hills.

The Expo will be happening on May 23, 2019 from 12p to 8p, and will allow you to explore the field, ask questions of union reps and those currently working in the job position you’d eventually like to secure, and even learn through three continuing education courses.

If you, your child or your partner are interested in a career path that won’t end in dramatic debt you can never shake off, I’d highly encourage you to check it out. There is more than one way to secure upward economic mobility.

Career Resources for Autistic Youth

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality will be running a series of Friday articles in April that focuses on the financial challenges and triumphs Autistic people face and achieve.

girl with glasses reading a comic book, lying down in between the shelves of the library. Beneath this blue and black text reads "Career Resources for Autistic Youth femmefrugality.com"

If you have a child on the spectrum, you have one child on the spectrum. Your kiddo’s needs are completely different than the child next to them–even if the other child is on the spectrum, too.

With that in mind, today we’re going to be reviewing a governmental department which has resources to help those with disabilities–including autism–get the resources they need to start their careers off on the right foot. Your child does not have to have communication issues or visually-obvious accommodations in order to qualify for services.

If you are Autistic and American, you can benefit greatly from these services directly. Though I am writing to parents in this article, I do not mean to talk around you. But parents have a responsibility to figure these things out for their minor children, and I’m hoping that everyone has access to these services as young as possible. However, the programs run by this department can help you throughout your life even beyond the days of youth.

State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies

The federal government provides funding to state vocational rehabilitation agencies for a number of purposes. They aid both employers and job seekers to build inclusive workplaces, and go the extra mile to make sure training is available to those with medical needs.

Their aim is to help the disabled secure meaningful employment that highlights their skills, talents and interests. Their job is to remove barriers that may stand in their way of securing such employment, such as lack of guidance, lack of funding or lack of awareness and knowledge on the part of the employer.

For all you libertarians in the audience, I see you. And here’s something important to know:

It costs less to provide these services than it does to take care of an unemployed person. It costs less to take care of an unemployed person in their own home than it does in an institution built to accommodate those with disabilities. Reagan himself made policy changes for the disabled for this very reason, notably via Medicaid expansion.

Rather than railing on government spending in this arena, we should all be lauding it. It not only lowers societal costs; more importantly, these programs serve to bridge the gap between the oppressed and the ill-fitted places of employment our societal disablism has created.

*steps off anticipatory soapbox*

All right. Let’s get down to business and check out the resources available to those with medical-need at large–including Autistic individuals.

Career Prep in Middle and High School

As a disabled student, your child has access to certain career-focused programs in middle and high school. The age at which your state starts attending IEP meetings to facilitate these opportunities through Individualized Plans for Employment (IPEs) may vary depending on which state you live in. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your state vocational rehabilitation agency as your child transitions from elementary to middle school–or around age 12.

Even if they are not eligible for services just yet, staff can make you aware of the programs that exist in your state, and make you aware of the earliest age at which your child qualifies for specific services.

States have some autonomy, so programs may vary. But here are some examples of services that may be available to your child as they move through middle and high school:

  • Career exploration, in which you identify your skills and interests to apply to the following opportunities:
  • Facilitation of guest speakers relevant to your field(s) of interest.
  • Information about relevant career fairs.
  • Workplace tours and visits.
  • Summer employment opportunities.
  • Job shadowing.
  • One-on-one mentoring.
  • Information regarding relevant volunteer opportunities in the area.
  • Direct employment programs during the latter years of high school.
  • Education about your rights in post-secondary educational settings and the workplace, along with coaching for self-advocacy.
  • Information and access to job-specific education opportunities, including but not limited to vo tech schools and community colleges.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list. And not every opportunity will exist in every area of the country. But working with your state vocational rehabilitation agency will help you find as many of the doors that are open to your child as possible.

Funding for College, University or Trade School

No matter your child’s (or your own) age, there is a specific program across states that allows for funding of higher education. Some states, like Pennsylvania, will only offer funding up to the average cost of community college, the reasoning being that the Office of Vocation Rehabilitation works in tandem with the state school system and community colleges to provide adequate services and accommodations to disabled students. You don’t necessarily have to go to a state school, but the amount vocational rehabilitation funding will be capped at that community college level.

Other states may pay full tuition even through grad school pending the availability of funds. Regardless of how much money you or your child is eligible for, you should take measures to get in touch with your state’s Vocational Rehabilitative Services agency. Any money for college is good money for college!

Note that for this program, you do not necessarily have to prove SSI disability qualification. As an individual on the spectrum, your child will qualify as disabled through SSI, but the SSI rigamarole is not something you’ll have to go through for this particular program.

After 21. Now what?

Vocational Rehabilitative Services which provide educational funding don’t have an age requirement. But so much else does when your child turns 21. Insurance requirements and coverages change, IEPs and the state school system are no longer required to execute the next step in your child’s growth, and if your child isn’t on the path to a traditional college education, it can be difficult to find support services which help them live a functional, meaningful life–even if they exist.

That’s where your state vocational rehabilitation agency can help. Well, sometimes. There are programs available which offer meaningful employment and social opportunities to those with communication and sensory needs dramatically divergent from the neurotypical population society has traditionally accommodated.

The hitch is your state has to choose to allocate their funding towards these programs.

Even if your state does not directly offer these types of specialized employment opportunities, your state vocational rehabilitative agency may be able to point you to other community organizations which do.

And if they can’t? They will have other programs established. The first step to learning more about them is contacting your state vocational rehabilitation agency. They’ll sit down and work with your child to create a plan to get closer to meaningful employment.

Additional Resources for Parents of Autistic Children

Getting resources and planning with your child for their future is definitely a long game. There are so many steps in the process. It’s legitimately a lucky miracle if you know some of these programs exist at all.

As you’re going through the process, here are some resources that can help make you and your child aware of their rights, services available to them, and the best available ways to pursue their dreams. Here are a few. If readers know of any more, they are highly encouraged to share them in the comments and I’ll add them to this list!

 

 

Year of Bravery in Summation and 2019 Reveal

Love this twist on the new year's resolution. Setting intentions through single words, and the results.

You may remember that 2018 was my year of bravery. I did things that intimidated me. Things that I had been putting off. For the most part, this panned out well. Regardless of the end results, I learned something as a result of taking each and every leap.

Year of Bravery in Summation

Most of this I’ve told you about before. I was reticent to book my trip to Japan without my kids, but it ended up being the experience of a lifetime. I’m so glad I did it.

I wrote a book, which was released on October 15. Aside from a few trolling tweets, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I shouldn’t seek outside validation, but when you put a creative work into the world it’s hard. It’s like bearing your soul to the world, and then trying to get people to look at it. So when the feedback comes back positively, there’s a huge wave of relief.

I moved into my own place, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It has also opened up opportunities for great personal growth, though.

Going Back to School

Then there was going back to school. I thought I had this one down, but, boy was I wrong. First, the school I chose to attend was an hour and a half away. Which was fine (though I did start feeling terribly about it when the latest climate reports came out.) I can deduct the mileage as a self-employed person working towards further education, but spending 9 hours in a car per week was overwhelming. I made the right choice on which school to attend; I just wish it were closer. Or that I trusted and then owned a self-driving car.

Either way.

While none of my classmates were anything but kind, it was completely weird being in a sea of 18- to 21-year-olds. I had to adjust to the professor/student dynamic again, which wasn’t too big of a deal. It was just something I didn’t think about. I interview academics on a pseudo-regular basis for work, and have a few friends in the field. Taking that interpersonal dynamic down to an 18-year-old level again was a move I made awkwardly at first, but I think I figured it out.

I asked too many questions. I missed too many classes thanks to kids’ illnesses and snow days. For a little while there I was ill myself.

And I had to reconcile the fact that I wasn’t going to get an A on everything. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my studies. But I simply didn’t have the time. Even with substantial childcare help from my family, I had to choose kids and work over school several times, which was not a decision I wanted to face. But it was the only one that was logical at this juncture of my life.

Pretty much, I overbooked myself. So I’m taking next semester off while I get a plan together to viably try it again. While I learned amazing things and wouldn’t assign the word “regret” to the past semester, I did realize I need to do less things better moving forward. Which brings me into my plans for 2019.

The Year of Organization

By nature, I’m hyper type A. I like spreadsheets. I like planning for my future 1-, 5- and 10-years out. I oddly enough enjoy the process of filing taxes–even if the end result isn’t always fun. I like making to-do lists, and get way too much joy about crossing all the items off of them.

But the past few years, I haven’t been myself. My money hasn’t been as religiously organized. My schedule has changed at the drop of a hat over and over again both because I’m self-employed and because I’m the mother of young children. So I got to a point where I built skeletons of schedules scant on details. Which led to a lot of incomplete to-do lists.

Some people can operate in this space. I’m not one of them. So this year I’m really going to try to get back on track. To legit fix my money. To get a concrete schedule down–which will undoubtedly change a few times throughout the year–so I can cross more of those items off my to-do list.

I want that sense of accomplishment back. Because this year, I learned that while bravery comes with great rewards, I am left in a state of panic after its results come in if I don’t have a plan. I am capable of handling it. But handling it is not something I enjoy.

So in 2019, I’m going to continue to be brave. It’s a value that is now integrated into my life, I hope. But I’m also going to get organized so I can enjoy the fruits of my efforts a bit more. I’ve already got a weekly schedule down. My paperwork is almost to a point where I’m ready to file taxes. And I’ve scheduled money dates with myself for both my personal life and my business.

While this is a great time for new goals and new beginnings, remember to not wait until the new year to address any aspect of your life you’re not happy with. Start as soon as the thought or motivation comes to mind.

Do you have a word for 2019? What goals/resolutions are you currently working on?

The Year of Bravery

Loving this Mark Twain quote. And I might have to steal her annual theme--love how much being brave in 2018 has changed her life.

Hey, hey, everyone. It’s been a hot minute.

To be honest, life has been crazy around here. The new school year is starting soon–both for my kids and myself. I’m learning that promoting a book can be just as much work as writing one. Plus some other personal stuff has been going on that has nothing to do with money but has added to the insanity.

I’d say I’m overwhelmed, and that would be partially true. But the circumstances I’ve put myself in are of my own doing.

Despite all the craziness, all the self-imposed stress, I’m in this place right now because of a decision I made at the beginning of the year. Actually, it’s one I made in late 2017. But 2018 has been bearing the fruit of my decisiveness.

The Year of Bravery

I realized about 8-10 months ago that I wasn’t entirely happy with the way I was living my life. Yes, we all have challenges. And, yes, those outside influences can really take over.

But in my specific circumstances, there were things I could have been doing to make things better. Steps I knew I could take, and goals I could pursue.

But I wasn’t. Because of fear.

I don’t like living my life from a place of fear, but I felt I had been cornered. Adulthood and motherhood both come with so many responsibilities that sometimes you feel saddled down by it all, and lose yourself in the process.

I thought back to a quote I saw on my history teacher’s door in high school that really changed the way I have (mostly) handled challenges throughout my life:

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

I knew I had to make a shift. I knew it was time to get out of my frozen state and start taking action towards the things I wanted–no matter how scary or unrealistic taking those actions seemed to be.

I dubbed 2018 the Year of Bravery, and have tried to live my life over the past eight months in that mindset. I’m not going to lie. At moments it’s been hard. Really, really hard. But with the pain of change, there comes transformation. I can see my life and attitude morphing before my eyes, and I’m proud of what I’m becoming.

The Feminist Financial Handbook

Late last year, Mango Publishing contacted me to see if I’d be interested in writing a book on feminist finances. It wasn’t the first book offer I’ve received, but it was the first one with agreeable terms. Still, writing a book is a lot of work, and it would mean boldly attaching my name to my opinions–and then promoting it.

For most of my blogging life, I was anonymous. I’m not ashamed of my work, but I do prefer the work to stand on its own–its own merit, its own two legs. Fame and recognition is not only something I don’t seek, but is something I actively try to avoid.

I don’t think I’m going to get famous for writing a niche personal finance book. Haha. But I do know I’m going to have to shout my own name from the rooftops, which makes me extremely uncomfortable.

But I decided to do it anyways. This decision was made with encouragement from my friends and peers. It was made because a book like this needs to exist, period. And it was made because 2018 is the Year of Bravery.

This weekend, I got an email from my publisher notifying me that The Feminist Financial Handbook is officially an Amazon #1 New Release:

The Feminist Financial Handbook Amazon Number One New Release

 

It’s super exciting, and I’m humbled by all of you who have expressed interest and preordered. If you want to learn more about what’s inside, you can do so here. Or, if you’re already sold because feminism + money is where it’s at, you can preorder your copy here.

I took a risk by putting myself out there. And although I still feel some trepidation, I’m glad I did. Writing a book is something I’ve always wanted to do, and however this whole thing turns out, I can look back on my life without the, “What if?”

Traveling Across the World

pikachu japan

When I was a child, one of my best friends was Japanese. We only lived close to each other for a couple years, but our bond was deep. We kept touch even after she returned to Osaka and my family moved to Pittsburgh.

Right around the time I started blogging, she came to visit me. It was the first time we had seen each other since our tear-filled goodbyes, and brought me so much joy. I’ve always wanted to visit her in her home country, but it always seemed like an impossible dream.

I was sitting on a bunch of airline miles last year, and was waiting for a time when my whole family could go with me on this adventure. But I had been waiting for a while, and the more time wore on, the more apparent it became that there was going to be no perfect time when we could all go and have a good time. So I asked my sibling if they wanted to come with me.

They jumped at the invitation, and in Spring we finally got to visit our childhood friend and see her wonderful, amazing family for the first time in over twenty years. It was the most amazing trip of my life, but it’s one that almost didn’t happen. Because I took the plunge, despite the fears of regret that I might create by not bringing my children along, I had one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and saw some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Well, it was also because my friend and her family are amazing, generous people. Actually mostly because of that.

But you get the idea.

Returning to School

National program to get student loans forgiven

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. As the primary breadwinner, though, it seemed irresponsible to threaten my own time with more responsibilities as I’m already pressed for time enough.

But we make room in our lives for the things we value. And education is way up there for me. I’m excited to see the new paths this venture will lead me down, and all the new things I’m going to learn.

I start classes next week. I’m oddly nervous about my age even though I’ve never been a traditional student. I’m also worried about the time aspect.

But the last time I did this school thing, I did it while carrying and then birthing children. If I can handle that, I can definitely make this work.

So while I have some jitters, I’m also incredibly psyched to step back into the halls of scholarship.

If the Year of Bravery has taught me anything, it’s that I won’t regret this decision.

The Feminist Financial Handbook

This book is so needed! Excited to be one of the first to get my hands on The Feminist Financial Handbook. Fighting the patriarchy and kyriarchy while building my wealth.

I’ve mentioned in passing that I’m writing a book.

Well, I can now say that I’ve written a book.

That’s right, guys. It’s getting real up in here.

Now that the manuscript is done, I wanted to tell you guys a little bit more about the project, what it entailed and what comes next.

The Feminist Financial Handbook

Even before I was blogging about money, I was interested in personal finances. I’d read book after book on how to make my money better. There were some crazy great hacks. Like opening CDs before the Recession. Or investing your money starting young so you could take full advantage of the power of compound interest.

And I was all, “I can’t wait until I can do this stuff!”

I wrote out goals and future budgets, but something was missing. That missing thing was an income which met more than just my baic needs so I could do things like save and invest. I was great at money management; I just didn’t have enough green to do all the responsible things I wanted to do.

I now recognize that there were some systemic road blocks in my way at that point in my life. I also recognize that there are women out there who face far larger and more frequent road blocks than myself.

And that’s the piece of financial advice that seems to always be missing: When you’re motivated, disciplined and hard-working,  yet you can’t seem to get around these massive obstacles, what do you do next?

That’s what The Feminist Financial Handbook is about. It’s about recognizing oppression and its  effects on our day-to-day personal economies. Without minimizing these struggles, it looks at ways you may be able to get a leg up so you can do all those fun things like watch your wealth explode over a period of 30-40 working years through diligent investing.

It’s about being real about the real-life situations so many of us struggle with every single day, and finding ways to take action despite them.

Defining Wealth

The first part of the book looks at how we define wealth. Does money actually  make us happier? I don’t want to spoil too much, but the answer is sometimes.

In this part of the book, we also take a deep dive into the things that actually can make us feel more content, and counting them holistically in our personal wealth equations. Because while money scarcity is no good, a relentless pursuit of cash isn’t healthy, either.

Earn More

It’s no secret that women tend to earn less than men. The gender wage gap is real. But I tend to think the commonly cited reasons behind it are sexist and fictitious. Some of these arguments include:

  • Women gravitate towards lower-paying fields.
  • Women don’t negotiate.
  • Women carry babies in their wombs.

These are all poor justifications for paying women less, and some are straight up untrue. in the book, we tackle each one of them.

Gender is not the only reason for lower pay, though. Whether you’re a single mother, disabled, a woman of color, transgender, gay, or bi, society is going to punish you economically. It’s not right. But there are some workarounds for financial success, even within a system that would have you believe you’re worth less.

You’re not worth less, by the way. And this whole section of the book outlines why that is and what we can collectively and individually do about it.

Save More

Not only is there a wage gap, but there is also a gender-centric investing gap. This gap starts young, and can result in poverty in old age. We take a look at some of the basics of financial planning and how to become more aware of any internalized sexism that may be affecting your investing decisions.

We also look at how you or your child can go to college for free–or sometimes even get paid to go back to school. I promise this is real. These strategies have worked for me in real life, and are backed by a professional in the higher education industry.

And, of course, we look at budgeting. Not just budgeting, but judgement-free budgeting. Just because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to spend the money you earn, or that you can’t stash it all away in pursuit of financial independence. But to do either one of these things, you’re going to need a budget.

When One Thing Affects Everything

Ladies, we put up with some intense experiences in our lives. Because of the normalization of sexism and other -isms, we suffer much higher rates of mental illness and domestic violence. Both of these areas have real, long-term affects not just on our mental health, but on our finances.

We also tend to make less money than our male counterparts when a child is diagnosed with an illness or is pronounced differently abled. And that’s on top of the gender pay gap.

This final section of the book looks at all of these things, offering up solutions for living a wealthy life in spite of the effects oppression can take on our bodies, minds and finances.

Pre-Order The Feminist Financial Handbook

Believe it or not, these are just some of the topics covered in the book. The pages take a deep dive into so many issues–issues not typically discussed in the personal finance sphere. Because they’re hard issues to tackle, and there aren’t always easy solutions.

But at the heart of the matter is hope. Hope that we can fight the system to build a successful career for ourselves as women in business or a fat e-fund as homemakers. Hope that you can build a wealthy life even when the system would stunt your cash flow. It affirms that you are worth it and capable no matter what society tells you, because there is no “right” way to be a successful woman with motivation.

Now that we’re getting ready to launch, you can pre-order today from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

I’d be so grateful if you could hop on board and join the waitlist so you can be one of the first to get your hands on a copy!

I can’t wait to hear what you think. It’s been a huge effort to produce, and I hope it opens up a lot of conversation about what we can do to make the economic plight of women better, whether we’re talking about society as a whole or ourselves as individual females.

This book was very much a collaborative effort. Because I cannot speak with experience to all the different issues women face, it largely features the experiences of others. These are the amazing women who gave so much of their time and heart to the effort: