Budgetpalooza

I never know how or when to talk about money. Does anyone? That being said, money is a major part of everyone’s life, for good or evil (or both).

So, budgeting. I did not know much about personal finance or budgets until I met my husband. At the time, I was paying the minimum balance on both my credit card and student loan. I was living the life I thought I could afford, in an expensive city. I indulged in meals out, travel, clothes and shoes. I didn’t have a very affluent upbringing, so I took pride in my life as a working woman. I liked making my own money and paying my own way. But truthfully, I couldn’t afford my lifestyle. Hubby-to-be pointed out that I should be paying down my debt and building up a cushion of savings, and he was right. I bought a Suze Orman book and took some of her advice. I paid off my student loan and my credit card bill in one year by making smart choices and most importantly, by tracking every cent I spent. I did this on paper, as my expenses were not very complicated. The next year, I built a six month emergency fund. I got a raise, so I transferred that money to the fund, and I also saved, although less.

These experience sort of sucked at the time (shopping was banned, and not a lot of fun meals with friends happened), but it was ultimately liberating and showed me I could manage my money effectively. Since my husband and I have gotten married, we’ve had various joint savings goals at various times, usually to pay down debt or pay for IF. However, we have tracked our expenses carefully, just without a strict budget.

Until 2016. For the next two years, if all goes well, we will be working to build up a cushion that will allow for some financial freedom. It’s not a crazy goal, like apparently some bloggers commit to, but it’s not insignificant either.

(And a note is needed here about how privileged and lucky we are to be in good jobs, and how those jobs enable us to be in a position to save now. Those jobs, plus our education, choices and family backgrounds all allow us to do this. I would never presume to think those who are disadvantaged / living hand-to-mouth can “just” live frugally and budget.)

The Budget: We use Mint to track our expenses. This month we checked in each week (and sometimes even every day) where we were within each category, and adjusted spending accordingly. We had a problem right away – both cars broke down the same day within 20 minutes (REALLY?!) and that hurt. We had to shift money from groceries to miscellaneous, then delay purchases of some useful items until next month. But there was something empowering about doing this – skipping a purchase, changing plans. We renegotiated contracts we had with cable and phone providers to allow for more savings.

There’s a Nora Ephron quote I love. It’s overused, but I strive to live it everyday, whether at work, parenting, with family or friends.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

I love budgeting, because it allows me to enact this in some small way. At the end of this month, even with the car problems, we stayed within budget and we saved the desired monthly amount.

This is where I ask you, readers, to share any budgeting, or even savings tips you have. And, if you are looking for personal finance tips, there’s no better resource I’ve found lately than the very smart women at Grumpy Rumblings.

Do you like budgets? How do you stay within budget, and what kind of tools do you use? Do you budget only when you have a saving goal? 

 

 

 

 

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When to be “Shallow”…and When Not To

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In the last couple of years, I have revitalized my social life. This has mostly been a great thing.

That last miscarriage (in 2010) decimated me, and I spent about three years rebuilding. I just kind of withdrew and recharged, and I don’t regret doing that. But the “seclusion” led to a decline in social skills. I sucked at small talk, and especially finding common ground in conversation. I began to think maybe I just wasn’t cut out for little league, soccer, pre-school circles.

But then I went back to work full-time, and it threw me into a universe where rational thinking, problem solving and social skills are everything. Re-entry was a game changer. Why? Probably because collaboration and teamwork are so important in my field. I remembered that finding common ground, even over something tentative and small, helps to build bonds. So instead of narrowing my net like in 2010 (and clicking only with people who “got” my situation on many levels – which was rare) I widened it, and now I connect with people who have lived in London, love sushi, like shopping at H & M, etc. It feels nice to connect with so many folks, even over “silly” things.

One of my mentors likes to talk about how “affinity” is needed for proper communication. In order to communicate with people, you need to LIKE them, even if just a little bit. You need to feel some sense of affinity with them – whether a sense of commonality or kinship or loose association. Sometimes you need to dig deep to find an affinity, but in almost all cases, it’s there, somewhere. Unless a person is just a total douche, and that’s relatively rare.

I have built several lovely groups of friends recently. I have a weekly tennis clinic with three awesome buddies who don’t hold the fact that I am a terrible player against me. My husband and I have some couple friends – husbands and wives we both like and get along with. I have empathetic blogging friends like Bodega and Mo for heartfelt conversations. And I also have some great work colleagues whom I can laugh and commiserate with. I have neighborhood friends, I have my past college friends, I have FB friends.

All of these people have one thing in common with me – we can meet in the middle and find something to talk about, whether it’s work, parenting or my embarrassing tennis. It’s a collaborative effort, with a balanced result.

But.

I guess that could mean I am a “shallow” person, a term someone used to describe me recently. And I don’t think that description is off the mark. I do have a lot of superficial connections to people now, more than I probably ever have had. I try to bond with many people, but I tend to keep it “light” so I can stay in touch with them indefinitely. I don’t want enemies, or “bad blood,” to paraphrase that poet of our time, Taylor Swift. It’s too exhausting, and I’m too old.

I didn’t love being called shallow. But maybe being shallow is the key to a circle with many resources. I guess it’s OK as long as I always have the good friends too, the ones who will be there for me. And the most important social skill is to be a good friend. I try really hard to do that.

What do you think? Better to be “shallow” and have many connections? Or be deep, and only connect with a few who have many things in common with you? Or is the ideal actually both?

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Thoughts on Resilience

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One of my favorite bloggers (and humans) returned with a post after a three year absence. Go ahead and read Bodega Bliss’s take on how past wounds both hinder her, but also help keep her moving and hopeful. Then come back, if you like.

The passage that really jolted me awake is this:

Even if you have support in the form of your partner or this community, it’s still solely on you to come out the other side.  You are the one responsible for finding the strength to continue.  To somehow find a glimmer of hope in the depths of your hell.  Others can love you and be there for you, but you are the one that has to reach inside of you and figure out a way to keep breathing.

So very true, and wise. And I think this realization is valid for anyone who has gone through any major type of loss or setback. There’s nothing like failure and grief to make you feel completely alone. We always are, of course, alone but there’s a specificity to pain which reinforces this reality.

There is no upside to an awful experience like loss, but in my case this alone-ness made me a lot more independent. I slowly and in small baby steps dug into myself and pulled through challenges both small and large. And there was something empowering about knowing that I could.

I gradually realized that this independence was indeed something else: resilience. I know I’m lucky to have become resilient, but I think many who get to the other side, no matter how it is “resolved,” DO find resilience.

This is my take (not applicable to others, YMMV, disclaimer alert) on what resilience has taught me:

  • Self-pity is toxic. Avoid wallowing, and try to problem solve.
  • At the same time, when things are bad, acknowledge it to yourself. Sit with it. Then, try to release it.
  • Avoid enablers, and try not to enable. This behavior can lead to a static state where nothing improves.
  • Contact those you know going through tough things who are quiet. The quiet ones are often not getting the help/attention they need.
  • Don’t expect anyone to be what you need. YOU are the only one who can be what you need.
  • When you are what you need, your marriage, friendships and family relationships become so much easier, richer and better.

By the way, none of this was easy to figure out, and I am still figuring it out. I still make mistakes all the time.

But if there is one thing I want my husband and I to teach my children, it’s how to be resilient. Because while they are lucky, beautiful, smart and funny, none of that will protect them from life’s realities. However, resilience will allow them to deal with the bad. And hope for the best, even in light of the worst.

As Bodega says:

I have a confidence in myself and what I can do, that was never there before all of this.  I’m proud of the woman I have become. The battle gave me that.  Surviving the war gave me that.

May whatever battle you have fought or are fighting give you resilience.

xoxo

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“Quiet: The Book” and More Thoughts on Self-Help

“Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing.” The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

In the comments for my post “The Quiet Ones,” Loribeth asked if I had read the book “Quiet.” As it so happened, shortly after I wrote that post (one of my all-time favorites), I had a long layover at an airport and found “Quiet” in a nearby book kiosk. It seemed a happy circumstance, and I began reading it.

There is much to enjoy about “Quiet,” but I particularly liked Cain’s description of self-help gurus, including Tony Robbins. What is most interesting about “Quiet” is that it dispels many a conventional wisdom, like the commonly-held belief that extroverts make the best leaders and most persuasively, that the American tradition of self-help is one that is at odds with much research, as well as our own personalities.

I believe that the most seductive and destructive fantasies in our culture involve the belief that if we just change something fundamental about ourselves, we will become better. If we can buy into the latest weird health trends, we will become thin, and our husbands will love us more. If we get Botox, we will remain young and relevant. Most especially, the idea that we can overhaul our personalities to become different, more successful people is disturbing. We’re told in the media that we should follow the advice of success stories like Suze Orman and Tony Robbins, who frankly have had their own bizarre and completely unique paths to success. Tony Robbins is most likely, according to Susan Cain, a “hyperthymic:” a kind of super extrovert characterized by one psychiatrist as possessing “exuberant, upbeat, overenthusiastic and overconfident lifelong traits.” His own personality is most likely unusual, and it’s really cool that he used his unique traits to become very successful. But I personally, could never be more “like him.” Why try to be something we’re not?

In other words, “Fitter, happier, more productive.” To quote my beloved Radiohead.

In “Gone Girl,” the psychotic but brilliant “Amazing Amy” famously describes the ultimate self-help female nightmare, “Cool Girl,” and hilariously pokes fun at how false it is.

“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in the world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.” Susan Cain, “Quiet”

I honestly believe that all of us are granted in our own way the potential to be our best selves. But the most important way to become our best self is to be different. Truly, different. Whether it’s embracing being childless not by choice, or changing opinions by being an open adoption advocate or full-on “leaning in” or knowing we would be best at staying at home with our children. We ALL have the capacity to be our best selves.

But only by knowing ourselves will we ever fully be ourselves. Otherwise we might yet be tricked by false lights – illuminating as J.R.R. Tolkien says – nothing.

Have you ever tried to change something fundamental about your personality, and did it work? Or do you believe that being yourself is the best way to live your life?

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#BrassIsBack – Maybe?!?

There is finally, finally some proof our kitchen might actually be useable some day, as opposed to never.

Maybe it was an overreaction to all those annoying couples on House Hunters who sniff at anything not “stainless steel” or “granite.” But the biggest design risk we took was on brass. I’d seen it on Remodelista and Pinterest here and there. Our designer LOVED the idea.

Interestingly, almost no one stocks brass fixtures or hardware anymore. We wanted something in brushed brass, not the super shiny kind. Finding our preferred option was not easy, and our order took weeks. Luckily, Newport Brass exists.

The hardware finally came in, and the contractor installed the handles on our kitchen cabinets. No turning back now.

So…tada!

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Sorry for the crappy photos. I find myself hovering between thrill and a “what did I just do” sensation. I remember one time we bought a painting we loved, and a friend who had majored in art history came over and crushed us with his two word analysis: “It’s vaginal.” The painting was of an abstract tulip, and as soon as he said it, his observation became horrifyingly obvious.

Still missing – appliances, countertops and a faucet. But a girl can dream…

Have you ever made an out there decision? Did you embrace it or was it a huge mistake?

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