Thank You, The Babysitters Club

This is unlikely very surprising, but I was a precocious child. I read voraciously, cultivated fifty-cent words like ‘voraciously,’ and was generally an enterprising youth. My elementary school math book had paper punch-out dollars and change as part of a unit on money, quickly becoming the only math chapter I ever really loved (until the logic of geometry proofs). Among my many quirks was a deep love for the stationary aisle at any store, those multi-layered carbon receipt books in particular. When Staples opened it was a revelation. I loved the idea of documenting things, of creating a situation that warranted such documentation. Bring on the notebooks and fancy pens!

Imagine my utter delight when The Babysitters Club was published.

I credit The Babysitters Club with much of my itch to build small businesses. Tenacious Feminist is part of a larger consulting brand that includes my genealogical work, but it’s not my first foray into entrepreneurship. In addition to the lemonade stands and hours and hours of babysitting, I also created a sewing company that got me through grad school with my sanity mostly intact.

If you haven’t read the books, the gist of it is this: a bunch of preteen girls who do neighborhood babysitting in Stoneybrook, Connecticut, form a club so as to more efficiently sit for all the kids in town. They call it The Babysitters Club (BSC).

There are dozens of books in the series featuring the four main characters: Kristy, the tomboy-ish lead, daughter of divorce. MaryAnn, whose mom died when she was young, leaving her with an overprotective dad and a lifetime of sheepishness. Claudia, Japanese-American with uncanny fashion sense (I still remember reading about a giant purple sweater she wore). Stacey, diabetic with gorgeous blond hair and links to New York City. I wanted to be all of them.

Most readers might have been mostly interested in Stacey’s ongoing romance with boyfriend Logan or MaryAnn’s struggle for independence but me? I wanted the paperwork.

The club held open office hours at Claudia’s house twice a week, where she had a dedicated phone line. Parents could thus call one number and find an available sitter from several. As calls came in, the club consulted a calendar of their available time. Dates and names ere be pencilled in, pay rates recorded, dues to the club paid and tracked–the club had to fund said notebook as well as periodic pizza parties, after all.

Did I mention that THEY HAD THEIR OWN PHONE LINE? This felt like the epitome of business ventures to me. I wanted in. (This, btw, is the phone I eventually got installed in my room. It was amazing, but I still shared the line with the rest of my family).

The club also kept client records, a diary of difficult pets, weird neighbors, and kids’ various issues. Allergies? Noted. Neighbor rumored to be a witch? Accounted for.

LET ME IN YOUR CLUB. I had a collection of purposeless notecards, an old steno notebook (two columns? OMG the possibilities), and at least one four-colors-in-one pen.
80s cool. Don’t even get me started on Trapper Keepers, the best thing to happen to people who like to organize stuff since the invention of paper.

The example of the BSC stuck with me. Since I was 13ish and a regular sitter myself, I’ve been earning my own paychecks. My love for paperwork led me to fill out my own tax forms by myself when I had a proper job (in a pharmacy–boring but those first checks? hot damn). And the trappings of running a business have always excited me: from stickers to excel spreadsheets to ULINE catalogs to accounting software, those details fill me with glee. The BSC notebook has loomed large for me since I first read about it.

More importantly, though I didn’t think much about it at the time, is that seeing a group of young girls create their own company served as a form of representation for me: I could do that. And I think that’s been at the back of my mind ever since. Between the BSC’s carefully organized sitting business to Nancy Drew’s detective enterprise (though I don’t recall her getting paid), I read constantly–voraciously, even–about young women forging entrepreneurial paths. I have to credit them with contributing to who I was, in order for me to be who I now am.

 

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Frugaler February: Recap

It’s time to recap how we did during Frugaler February! Sure, you’re reading this on February 27 and chuckling “but there’s still today and tomorrow!” I, however, only have time to write on February 27, so this post is what you get.

As you may recall, here are the rules:
  1. Eating in restaurants is limited to once a week.
  2. Coffee out is fine if it means I’m working in a coffee shop on my projects for a couple of hours. Muffins and related yummies are now generally on the no-go list (the expanding waistline is real, and I like baking more than coffee shop muffins).
  3. Don’t shop much–this is generally easy. Buy mostly essentials/needs, avoid the rest.
  4. I must move this body at least 3-4x/week. I’d gotten one good week in in January, after having an endless cold, only to spend most of last week injured. Ha. So this category needs work.
  5. Less booze. I like to imbibe. A glass of wine at night is fine by me. But maybe fewer nights? And probably not out as much, since booze is big money when it’s not happy hour.
So how’d we do?

We did generally very well at this. We ate out on Fridays, capping our weeks with a dinner we didn’t cook. We cheated twice-ish: once, we also got Chipotle on Saturday, and last Sunday friends we hadn’t seen in a while invited us over for games and Chinese take-out. The perk here is that technically Sunday started a new week, one that ends on a Thursday, so we did a pretty stellar job here. Another minor purchase: I got a slice of pumpkin bread and a yogurt parfait in the caf yesterday because I was hungry and working a very long day. It was worth the $4.75, but technically I broke the rules.

Category 1.

I broke the rules twice. Once, I got coffee as I started a long drive on a bleak gray day. And yesterday I got one on the way in to work for my very long day; I didn’t have coffee left in my office as I’d forgotten to get packets at the grocery store this last weekend. Not too bad, tho.

Category 2.

We did a great job here, tho things cropped up we didn’t initially expect that became essential-ish. One, decorations for a party we’re throwing for my inlaws this weekend. Two, a little gift for a young friend of ours who turned 12. Three, a donation to the endowment of an org I preside over that I meant to make in January and needed to make before our board meets this Friday 😆

Category 3.

Unrelated to money, but related to money. I signed up for StepBet–this was a $40 outlay that should go under category three, except that if I do what I’m supposed to do, I get my $40 plus some. I’m considering it neutral cash but the threat of losing $40 makes me get my steps in daily. I’ve been walking around the mall, over and over, on these cold days. I hate the mall, so this tells you how much I value $40.

Category 4.

Yeah, I probably did the least well here. I got a drink with every Friday dinner, and last night bought one while on a work dinner (work won’t buy booze). That’s my guiltiest splurge throughout February. I generally only imbibed on class days and weekends, so that’s some cutting back, but if I mean to do this, I need to actually mean to do it.

Also part of Frugaler February was reconsidering my kickboxing membership; I’m letting it go for now because I rarely make it, so that’ll save me $600. I may spend it later, but not now.

Overall, we did really well.

We had some unexpected essentials–an expensive plumbing repair and ill cat. What can you do. But we didn’t go out when bored (really hard in the long, dark winter) and we ate damn near everything we cooked and cooked nearly everything we ate. We won’t really see the benefits until my February credit card statement, which closes right about now, comes due at the end of March, but it’ll be really nice to have that smaller bill.

In the meantime, it’s almost Moderate March.
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Frugaler February

Having enjoyed both the Christmas season credit card bill and seen our appalling tax bill (thanks for that tax cut, jerks!), it’s time for us to get our financial house a bit more in order. We’re generally pretty good financial eggs, but we have a serious weak spot for dining out (the winter is long and the cats make us crazy, so we go out). I haven’t run the 2018 credit card report, but I’d bet dollars to donuts (both of which are on there) that the biggest category for us is dining–we’re not really shoppers and don’t travel much. Since I’m feeling broker than usual, so I’m putting us (well, at least me) on a Frugaler February. Frugaler February is about spending but also about what I choose to eat and do.

Here are the rules:
  1. Eating in restaurants is limited to once a week.
  2. Coffee out is fine if it means I’m working in a coffee shop on my projects for a couple of hours. Muffins and related yummies are now generally on the no-go list (the expanding waistline is real, and I like baking more than coffee shop muffins).
  3. Don’t shop much–this is generally easy. Buy mostly essentials/needs, avoid the rest.
  4. I must move this body at least 3-4x/week. I’d gotten one good week in in January, after having an endless cold, only to spend most of last week injured. Ha. So this category needs work.
  5. Less booze. I like to imbibe. A glass of wine at night is fine by me. But maybe fewer nights? And probably not out as much, since booze is big money when it’s not happy hour.

Other areas of effort include thinking about my karate studio membership: I go there for a kickboxing class (it’s like a high-energy self-defense class), but it’s an 18 minute drive with no traffic and a half an hour with it–that’s why I don’t go as much as I ought. It was easy in the summer, but I’ve barely made it in since October. Renewal is March 1. It’s a serious chunk of change, especially since we also have gym memberships and pay for training. I like doing it, but I don’t know that I like doing it at a rate of $100/month. So this needs real thought.

Four days in and tho my husband has no idea we/I’ve been doing this, things are going well. All we’ve purchased are groceries and cat food, including a pie we took to a night with some friends and ingredients for something to bring to a superbowl party last night. I stocked up on ground turkey because I had a digital coupon making it $1.48/pound, but it didn’t scan correctly so I’m headed back there for an adjustment today (and they’ll likely have to give it to me for free–state laws say if something scans wrong, you get it free here). We have enough food to basically not shop but for lunch supplies and some fresh veg for at least a week or two. The issue will be sticking to it when we’re tired or bored.

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Don’t be a Rich Jerk

Good morning, dear readers! Today we’re going to have a fun chat about money and shame. It’s going to be one giant subtweet of Some People on the Internet. Let’s do it.

Let’s start here, with Tanja Hester’s pithy observations about charitable giving (you can source her points here):

Predictably, within a few short hours people were lamenting that we shouldn’t shame people on how they spend their money, because it was their money to spend.

Now the core of this point has some truth to it: we shouldn’t shame people on how they spend their money. If you saw this twitter thread last week you know the many ways in which poor people are shamed: if they pick up some fast food, if they have a smartphone, if they drive a decent car–all of their choices are policed by those who needn’t worry about such things. It has to do with control: some wealthier people seem to think they have the best ability to make choices and that poor people have made chronically bad choices, thus leading to poverty. You can’t throw a rock on the personal finance internet without hitting this kind of belief in bootstrap narratives. Even though most of America’s wealthiest players have made their money on far more than the sweat of their brows (family money, government subsidies and tax breaks only the wealthy enjoy, the ability to invest their money so as to make passive income, etc.), they’re treated as though they’re all self-made–and those who are struggling are often treated as the opposite, even though they make up far more of the population.

The recent government shutdown and the idiotic criticisms of government employees as not having substantial enough emergency funds to weather an unanticipated MONTH-LONG shutdown is a prime example. Suddenly every choice an employee ever made was up for public scrutiny, and the scrutinizing done by people who have no idea what the employees’ lives were like but who spoke like some kind of god-given authority.

Then some of the very same circles of people started talking about how we shouldn’t shame the rich for not giving to charity.

For me this hits on so many levels of things. One, peoples’ wealth-bias was showing here. Glaringly. They’re buying into the “wealthy people know best” narrative, and that narrative is garbage.

Next, you’re letting people who could make a serious difference off the charitable giving hook while also taking for granted how much less wealthy to downright poor people DO help each other out. We also need to talk about how so many people (cough, Jeff Bezos, cough) make their money by keeping others at stupidly low wages–and how when they do finally decide to be charitable, it’s often a tiny percentage of their wealth they give away; in reality, they could still be stupidly wealthy while paying people more and putting more money towards good causes.

You see, for example, I think shooting a car into space isn’t a good cause.

We have tremendous wealth disparity right now in the US and in the world at large. Shaming less-wealthy people for their lack of emergency funds while claiming wealthy people shouldn’t be shamed for their financial choices reflects not just a double standard but a double standard that promotes these ongoing disparities. It supports the “wealth knows best” approach and unsurprisingly rejects any awareness of systemic problems that exist, persist, and grow with wealth disparity.

We can fix this, and if shame’s what it takes, well, I’m all for it.

 

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Let’s Talk Financial Feminism

I’m a big fan of The Fairer Cents, a podcast hosted by Tanja Hester and Kara Perez and dedicated to all things women and money. A recent episode titled “Financial Feminism” got me thinking. Tanja and Kara talk about all kinds of elements they’d consider under that header and much of the episode concerns things like wage gaps, the illusion many have that those who don’t get certain salaries simply aren’t working as hard as themselves, and the child penalty. But I think we should think even broader about financial feminism: let’s talk about “pink collar” work. Continue reading Let’s Talk Financial Feminism

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Casual Sex(ism), Part II

We haven’t talked about money here on the blog in some time, mostly because the world has been on fire and/or I was buried under end-of-semester stuff and not talking at all. Today, though, we’re talking about casual sexism in the workplace. Casual sexism is a reflection of misogyny—that is, a culture in which prejudice against women is fine and women as people are unvalued—and workplaces have long been bastions of old boys’ clubs and other sexist practices. The corporate world and tech are particularly bad, but academia, health care and other fields offer no exception. (see part I of this series here). Today we’ll feature stock photos of irritated women for effect. Continue reading Casual Sex(ism), Part II

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What Kind of Society Do You Want? Let’s Talk Taxes

Lately there have been some skirmishes on ye old Twitter regarding taxes. One side includes people who see taxes as theft and/or will skirt them as much as possible. Another includes those who don’t feel that way. A third wants us peons to thank them for paying taxes.

Continue reading What Kind of Society Do You Want? Let’s Talk Taxes

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Lunch Prepping

Hello, friends! Despite my 2018 pledge to blog weekly, I’ve gone a few weeks here in total silence. Not for a lack of blogging topics, for certain–what with the near-daily White House scandals that each, individually, would have badly wounded prior administrations, the defense of abuse against women in all forms (sexual, physical, emotional) coming from most corners, and yet another op-ed telling Hillary Clinton, who has gone away, to go away,–my goodness, there’s been a wealth of possible posts. I wish it were boring, truly I do, but damn near everything has the volatility of our current stock market. What fun! (it’s not fun). I find it so exhausting that posting about any of it right now just isn’t in the cards for me.  So let’s talk about lunch prepping instead. Continue reading Lunch Prepping

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Finance Friday: Yes, I Have a Side Gig (or, Additional Revenue Stream)

We’ve talked about having a side gig before on this blog–particularly the problems in how we discuss them and the implications therein. Today I’m going to tell you about mine. It’s truly a side project, secondary to my main job, something I do primarily on weekends and during the summer. It’s turned into a nice little revenue stream, largely because it has next to no overhead. And I can do it because I had the time to develop it and because my primary job enables me not to worry about making ends meet. Continue reading Finance Friday: Yes, I Have a Side Gig (or, Additional Revenue Stream)

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