With my husband across the planet in Kuwait for most of the past two years, we don't fight a lot.
When we do fight, it's about three things: what I'm doing with the kids. What things are going to be like when he comes back (for leave, or for good). And money.
We started out so well?
At the beginning of our relationship, I had a great job I was leaving, along with my ex-boyfriend, to move back home to Portland and my to-be-husband. It was easy to find a new job (this was 2001), and we settled quickly into the financial structure that existed then. I made most of the family's money and paid all the bills. My husband and I, honestly, were thinking ahead only in general terms. "I want to save money for retirement," we would say. "Let's have college savings funds for the boys," we'd say.
Recently I outed myself as an occasional lottery player and as a person who thinks that lotteries in and of themselves aren't so bad.
I don't think they're good. Rather, I think they're not-too-terrible in the way that potato chips are not-too-terrible. Enjoy a few every so often and you'll likely be okay. Eat nothing but chips? Problem.
A number of readers admitted they sometimes buy in, too. But one responded in this way: “I wish the people who spend more than a dollar or two a year would put their money to a better use, such as donating to a soup kitchen or to the Salvation Army. Continue reading...
When I was a boy, my family had a series of dogs: a Saint Bernard, a Shih Tzu, a Golden Retriever and a whole host of mutts. Because dogs will be dogs, and because we lived in the country far from anything, our dogs would sometimes begin barking...and continue barking for minutes. Or hours. When this happened, my dad would shake his head and say, "That dog is barking for the sake of barking."
Barking for the sake of barking started as yet another silly father-ism (I'm sure your family has some too), but it morphed into something more. Whenever somebody did something irrational, we'd say they were "blanking for the sake of blanking".
As most of you know, I used to be a compulsive shopper. I lived beyond my means. I used credit cards to fund a lifestyle I couldn't afford. Though my wife and my family tried to get me to change my ways, I wouldn't listen to reason. And, of course, one day my father told me, "J.D., you've got to stop. You're shopping for the sake of shopping."
Prom dresses have started to appear in the windows of downtown department stores, signaling that in the next few months, another crop of seniors will be heading off to college. By now, the ones on their game have kept the grades up, participated in extra-curricular activities, researched the value of a college education and the best-value colleges, applied for scholarships, and found a good deal on housing.
Still, a whole new world of financial responsibility awaits them. I thought I'd share some of the best (and worst) financial decisions I made as an undergrad.
Find a good place to put your money.
One of the first things I did was join a local credit union, instead of one the big banks that setup tables on campus and offered free checking accounts, t-shirts, and laundry bags that read “off to a clean start.” By joining a credit union, I avoided overdraft fees. (One of the big banks handed out a card to new customers that said “sh*t happens.” It was a get-out-of-jail-free card for your first overdraft fee.)
You can have more money. And you can have it — get it — without turning your life upside down or driving yourself nuts. Seriously.
I got it that way, quietly, simply, and still am. You can, too. Maybe only a modest amount more, maybe a lot more. I don't know. But I do know that you can have more. I'm not doing anything so far as concept and technique go that you can't either. I just work the simple little four-point program that follows. You're welcome to it.
Here's what I do — and don't do.<
I spent the weekend in Chicago, meeting and talking with 279 other financial bloggers. After years of saying we should all get together, we finally did (thanks to the hard work of Phil Taylor from PT Money). For three days, we talked about writing, marketing, and monetization. We also talked about how to make our blogs more useful to our readers.
I opened the conference by speaking about why we write. Why do we blog about money? Do we do it for the fame? The fortune? The fun? I think all of these are part of it, but I argued that the real reason we blog is because of you, the readers.
Your blog does not belong to you. Your blog actually belongs to your readers. Without them, you have no blog. If you want to grow your blog, to gain fame and fortune, let your readers have as much control as possible. I'm not saying you should allow a no-holds-barred free-for-all in the comments. I'm saying you should allow your readers to steer the blog's content and direction.
The morning is my time. Five days a week, I'm up at 5:30. I come downstairs, sip a diet soda or a cup of tea (lapsang souchong), and spend a few minutes checking e-mail and approving comments. By 5:45, I'm in my gym clothes and out the door.
I walk through the quiet streets of my neighborhood, greeting the birds and the cats and the dogs. I admire the flowers. I notice all the small changes in the yards. If it's cold, I jog until I'm warm. I walk down past the retirement village to the railroad tracks and then make the five-minute crossing of the river. On the other side, I walk along the tracks through the tall, stately trees until I reach the highway, which I follow into town.
After 2-1/2 miles and 45 minutes, I reach my Crossfit gym. I spend the next hour working out with the men and women of the 6:30 class. We run and jump and climb and stretch and lift heavy objects into the air. We sweat together and we joke together. We share our lives. After an hour of exercise, I walk home again, basking in the sun, soaking in the warmth.
Today I'm going to rant.
I get a lot of requests from reporters who want quotes for their stories about personal finance. That's fine. I'm happy to help when possible. What bugs me, though, is that nearly every single reporter pitches her story with the same caveat: "I need tips about saving, but I don't want the same old stuff. I need new, unique ways to save money."
Do women need specialized personal-finance resources specific to our gender? That's what some financial advice books seem to imply. Slate writer Hannah Seligson points out that bookseller Amazon.com has a "money management for women" category, but no category specifically for men.
- Shoo, Jimmy Choo!: The Modern Girl's Guide to Spending Less and Saving More
- Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?: A Woman's Guide to Finding Financial Empowerment and Success
- Addicted to Shopping and Other Issues Women Have with Money
- Divanomics: How to Still Be Fabulous When You're Broke
- How to Shop for Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women Who Love to Get Something for Nothing
There seems to be a general theme around spending. Even as I was writing this post I saw an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where, to cover up his own overspending, Raymond blames his wife Debra for compulsive spending.
Last night, I joined a large group at Powell's Books in Portland to see my friend Chris Guillebeau speak on the last stop of his 50-state book tour. Afterward, I got to chat with several GRS readers, including Dakota and Katy. I also talked with Tsilli Pines, whom I've mentioned here several times before.
"You look great," Tsilli said. "You've lost a lot of weight." She and I talked about fitness, about Crossfit, and about growing old. She told me how inspiring it is to see her in-laws staying fit as they turn seventy.
Aligning spending and values
"That's one of my goals," I told her. "I may have been unfit when I was younger, but now I want to be fit when I'm older. And I'm willing to spend a little money to do it."