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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A Personal Impact of Awful Politics: I Haven’t Been Frugal, and I Miss my Kitchen

Lord, y’all.

The nation’s political situation feels, when I’m not optimistic, like the nation is wrecked. It’s never been perfect, but it’s always had fantastic ideals worth striving for. It has always proclaimed it was exceptional for its freedom, its liberties: a point I always thought was nonsense (we’re not exceptional, we’re like much of the rest of the world) but the country’s dedication to an ethos of liberty and justice feels utterly abandoned lately. Combined with my busy schedule and the financial exhaustion of the two kittens when they were in the vet’s weekly, well, I’ve kind of abandoned my frugality. I’ve been wrestling with unfrugal politics. Continue reading A Personal Impact of Awful Politics: I Haven’t Been Frugal, and I Miss my Kitchen

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Ok, PF Bloggers: Constructive Criticism

I’ve seen a number of posts in my Twitter feed lately that follow similar patterns. In what I’m assuming is intended as benevolent helpfulness, they encourage readers to save. “Save for retirement, even if you only make three nickels!” is (my) exaggerated version. Today I saw some that suggested the only barrier to saving is self-discipline. These kinds of posts struck me as troubling, and I think PF (personal finance) bloggers need to take a deep breath and a step back to evaluate some.

Chiefly, my criticism is this: posts like that deny the very real problem of class in America and show little empathy for that problem. If I’m making, say, $30k a year, saving for retirement–and surely for early retirement–is nearly impossible. If I live in a less-expensive area, maybe my odds improve, but overall? $30k is very little in our country, and even less so if that person has a spouse or kids or even, hell, pets. $30k is barely enough to begin to save an emergency fund for some people. No amount of budgeting in the world will make much difference if expenses–food, rent, transit to work–are average. Telling people–as some have–to move for better-paying jobs ignores how costly moving is. First month, last month, security–these add up to thousands of dollars in many cases, and that’s not including something to haul one’s stuff. It’s also denying that people want more than just to save for retirement–living near family, for instance, might be worth far more than being isolated someplace in order to save money. A little empathy aforethought might change what this piece was up to entirely.

And while sometimes indeed what stops people from saving is willpower, just as often it’s likely a combination of events that leaves a person in the red or paycheck to paycheck. Class is a very real part of our world, and it’s compounded in America by other factors like gender, sex, and race, all of which lead to lower paychecks than white men receive. We know that 2/3 of Americans don’t have much of anything saved for an emergency, and it’s not always because of willpower: it’s because of a lack of funds to begin with. Significantly, a $1000 emergency–say, the refrigerator croaks–is 31 days’ worth of work for someone making $25000 a year (Pew Charitable Trust study, cited in link above–$25000 is just over the official poverty line for a family of four). Setting aside that money may be nigh on impossible for someone making $25000. Average income in America is a little over $56k, which means many people are making well below that amount (by some estimates, up to 14.5% are below the poverty line). Deepening one’s ability to understand where people are coming from–finding some financial empathy–will go a a long way to being a better advocate for people interested in personal finance issues, and better able to figure out what people actually need rather than what one thinks they need.

Relatedly, it’s time to chuck the “just pull yourself up from your bootstraps” narrative. It’s been a persistent part of American culture for decades, but it lacks awareness that everyone’s bootstraps start in different places. White, educated men in certain geographical markets and without prior roots in poverty have the easiest-to-pull bootstraps, as they’ve got the most overt privilege, systemic and otherwise. Everyone else starts lower. For many, the straps themselves barely exist. To assume otherwise–to say or imply, “I did it, why can’t you?” about any given topic without qualifiers–suggest that you either haven’t recognized that we don’t all have the same bootstrap pullability, or an unwillingless to recognize it.

So, take this as a piece of constructive criticism, PF bloggers. Before you offer, however well-intended, a suggestion that anyone if they tried hard enough could FIRE or hell, just retire someday, or save far more than they already do, think about the position of privilege you’re coming from. You’ve been blessed. No doubt you’ve worked hard, but sometimes hard work alone doesn’t cut it. Keep that in mind as you proffer advice for the rest of us. Work on developing empathy for what $30k means for some families and for the complicating factors in people’s lives. Empathy is as good as gold in terms of social currency.

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Finance Friday (Monday): Kitten Adoption

As many of you know, Friday–my usual money post day–was a busy day. I sewed  most of the day while I had time and easy access to my stuff, because Friday afternoon was kitten adoption time! We’ve been planning on adopting new felines to be companions to our resident cat, Jane, since June. She’s been lonely since our other cat, Charlie, unexpectedly passed. When we got back from vacation we went to a local shelter and picked two out. They were on vet hold a bit, but are now quarantined in my sewing room/office.

Adopting from a shelter is a wonderful thing. You support pets that would otherwise be homeless and free up shelter cages for more animals. Sadly, those cages are never emptied. The litter our kittens came from was shipped from South Carolina to our New England state. I’m not sure what the story is there–perhaps it’s the best way to get them into no-kill shelters?

While adopting adult cats is usually fairly inexpensive–they’re much harder for shelters to place–we’d tried that with Jane before and it was a no-go. Kittens, on the other hand, are expensive.

Here’s the breakdown across the last few days
Here’s kitten Sol, who wants to know what’s in the closet.

Adoption fee/each: $175. They’ve had some basic vet provision but need a second distemper shot. I could bring them back to the shelter a half-hour away for free, but one of them pooped in the crate while traveling, which meant both needed to be cleaned when I got home. I don’t think we’ll be doing that trip with them again–they’ll go to our vet.

Food: $95.75. I ordered five flats, 24 cans each, of kitten food from petco. We buy the fancier stuff, I admit–stuff by Blue pet foods. I became turned off of major US brands after they had multiple fatal recalls a few years ago. This food should be more pricey than it already is but I ordered it as a repeat delivery–my first–so I got 20% off. That’s why I ordered so much of it. It’ll keep us in kitten food nearly the rest of the year. I also splurged and got them a fancy climbing tree: https://s7d1.scene7.com/is/image/PETCO/  so that was $45.

So, in purchases made so far (the bulk of which were necessities), we’re looking at $500. Good lord.

Now let’s look ahead to the next week.
Kitten Trixie sees the patriarchy for what it is.

Upcoming vet appointment: Both kittens have colds, which could be feline herpes (it’s a respiratory illness, common in shelters, and viral–goes away on its own) or a bacterial infection. The shelter’s visiting vet wanted both of them on an antibiotic, but didn’t leave any for them. The shelter figured they’d be better at our house than there and that I should call them Saturday about the anti-b. Saturday came and went, they had no word from their vet. Sunday came and went. This morning I figured the heck with this, we’re going to our vet. We have an appointment for both, which they’d need anyway as new pets. This is likely to run around $300 if they need prescriptions, and if they get their vaccine (they may not if they’re too ill, which means we’ll need another appointment). Then they’ll need to be spayed/neutered (one of each)–I can’t remember what that ran a few years ago, but somewhere around $300 is likely as well.

Kitten adoption
Sol wants to know when I’ll actually read these books.

I’ll be honest–we go to a vet we love and trust (they only do cats!) but it’s likely more expensive than others. But our cats are our babies. We’ve lost two under pretty tragic circumstances so I do my damndest to make their lives as healthy and happy as possible.

But clearly, adopting kittens is not for those without the means to do so. In our experience, kittens always have some complications that cost $$. Charlie had feline herpes and went to the vet several times before the herpes went away–it gave him conjunctivitis needed an Rx for his little eyes. They have all kinds of needs, and toys are the least of them. Before you adopt a pet, do some real math and determine what your plan is. They’re too sweet to deal with you having to change your mind later.

Kitten adoption
Trixie thinks I’m delicious.
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Health Care is a Feminist Financial Issue

Well, folks, today is a much better day than I anticipated, as the ACA remains the law of the land, Medicaid remains intact, and I won’t anticipate my premiums skyrocketing more than usual next year. Let’s talk about health care anyway, and then maybe we’ll get a politics-light weekend.

Health care is a feminist financial issue.

The “Health Care Freedom Act” drafted at lunch yesterday but GOP senators and voted on around midnight last night permitted states in most cases to strip away the essential benefits the ACA determined. Many of those benefits apply to women. Free annual gynecology visits and maternity care (I’m not sure of the cost there–still copays? no copays?) and just two examples. The big one, hard fought, was accessible, free birth control. You still needed an insurance plan for these benefits (another issue–access and affordability are still not what they might be, or are in other countries) but still: that the ACA mandated coverage of basic women’s health needs was a tremendous jump forward. One of the reasons Mr Tenacious and I have the plan we have (work-sponsored) was because it became super affordable once, for example, my annual gyn visit was without copay, since it’s the only regular appointment I make.

(pssst–we’ve talked about some of these things before, as the House drafted the AHCA)

When women’s health care is affordable and guaranteed, women are able to do much more in their lives. When we control our own fertility, we can make sound choices about our futures. We can plan our careers; run for office; and create families with children when and if we want them, not just when it happens to happen. While there has been a lot of rhetoric about why the ACA is bad and needs repeal, this point hasn’t been explored so much: that repeal is directly oppressive to women and their advancement. Perhaps that isn’t so much an accident, though I feel like a conspiracy theorist suggesting so.

Historical precedent

During the second world war, the government sprung for day care all over the nation to facilitate women’s work in factories. When the war was over, rather than have a debate over the merits of better sex parity in the workplace and ignoring that many war-working women wanted to stay working, the government shut those free daycare centers down, lickety-split. The consequence was that women stopped working. The lack of women’s health provision (among so many others) in the various repeal-and-replace bills feels similar. While the ACA promises more social, political and work advancement for women when they don’t have to worry about unintended pregnancies and undetected cancers, the r-and-r bills shut those paths down.

A small coincidence that women who left the GOP’s position on health care faced threats from their party (those are three separate examples: two involving violence).

And so.

While you may be healthy and able-bodied now, that doesn’t guarantee you will be forever. In the same way singles like me pay for schools for kids I don’t need (I have cat–she rejects education), we pay into health care so as to cover those of us who need it. If we learned nothing from this week’s health care roller coaster, it’s that we all need more women in the senate and the house. We need good, accessible, affordable health care for them to do so. All we need is the political will for both.

 

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Finance Friday: Wardrobe Rebuild

It’s Friday again! Today’s episode of Finance Friday is about a situation that folks who have either gained weight, lost weight, or have generally seen their bodies change have to deal with: rebuilding their wardrobe. As I’ve mentioned before, my body has changed a lot in the last couple of years that I’ve been weightlifting. And here I am again–it’s time for a wardrobe rebuild before the fall semester starts.

The situation

Last summer, I bought new pants for the fall term only to have them all barely fit in the spring. Most of the stuff I’d gotten the year before–beloved, seriously expensive stuff from Stitch Fix, for example–I donated when it no longer zipped over my lower half. I bought new shorts this summer as only one pair I had last year remained. My jackets don’t fit as my shoulders have broadened, and my blouses don’t fit over my biceps. Now don’t get me wrong–I love my strength. I love my muscles. But I hate replacing clothes every few months. It’s expensive and irritating. So I have a new plan so that I can replace my wardrobe with enough flexibility that hopefully, I won’t have to do it again anytime soon.

Here’s My Thinking
Diana, Kickass *and* Fashionable

I should tell you that Wonder Woman as Diana, working at the Louvre, inspired my fashion aesthetic here.

The perk of having to have a wardrobe rebuild is that I can use it as a chance to plan, essentially, most of my clothes deliberately. I’m aiming for a modified capsule wardrobe–a moderate amount of clothing, nearly all interchangeable (ie, tops can swap with other tops with all of the bottoms). Outfits can be changed up with accessories: I have lots of scarves, costume jewelry, shoes, and so forth for that.

So far, I’ve replaced my multiple too-small work-suitable jackets with a Prime Day purchase: a nice trench I scored for a fraction of its MSRP at $35. I used my head, looked at the size chart and the comments, and made sure to size appropriately, rather than buying the size I have usually been. It arrived Thursday and it fits my shoulders beautifully and my biceps well. Hopefully it will last a long while. I’ll try not to spill coffee on it too often.

Sew on

I’m a skilled seamstress, which allows me to tailor much of the rest of my new wardrobe. I’m making it primarily out of knits. Thus they’ll stretch if I grow a bit, and I can take them in if I shrink a bit. I’ve made myself two pencil skirts using the remarkably easy and FREE pattern at Patterns for Pirates–one’s a charcoal knit (Ponte de Roma is the fabric type), so easily paired with any top, and the other’s a pink and black gingham, for fun. I lined the front of both with a little Power Mesh, cut to a smaller size and stretched to provide just a little belly smoothing. The charcoal I’d bought last year, so that’s not even on my cost tally this year, and I got the pink gingham and mesh from Purple Seamstress for $25 shipped. The mesh will last me through probably four or five skirts.

Next, I took advantage of a sale at Joann Fabric and Craft to get more of the charcoal and some black Ponte de Roma as well as a McCall’s pattern to make some wide-leg pants. They’ll end up coming in at about $22 a pair. That they’ll be adjustable with their stretchy though formal enough goodness has me hoping they’ll make it through at least a couple of years. (I got a nice Ibotta rebate on this, too–we’ll talk about that another day.)

So, assuming my skinny pants still fit (super stretchy poplin), with these two pants and a few skirts, I should be good with bottoms for a while.

Squeezing into Shirts

In addition to several surviving tops from last year, I picked up two blouses on thredup for a song. They’re classic in styling, one black, one white. They were already inexpensive enough but I found a 40% discount code I could use as a first-time buyer. I got them both for $13. That black blouse and the gingham skirt are going to be smashing together.

I have some shirt fabric in an online cart but I’m not read to pull the trigger yet. They’ll replace the too-small ones I bought on clearance a few years ago that do not fit at all now. Stretchy knit fitted tops are my go-to. I also have some sweater fabric in there to make myself a nice cowl neck.

All of these pieces should be easily swappable for nice, professional outfits. I can wear them to work, to conferences and casually. All told, I shouldn’t spend more than $150 to replace my wardrobe, and replace it well. Here’s hoping, anyway.

**If you want to try thredup, here’s a referral link I’d love for you to use: http://www.thredup.com/r/F3ITO7. You get $10, I get $10! Everybody wins!

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Finance Friday: How We Write About Side Gigs

Good weekend, readers! Today I’m going to talk about side gigs. If you read financial blogs and forums at all, you’ve seen this phrase. The gist of discussion tends to go like this: lower your expenses as you will in order to better your savings rate (or whatever), but at some point you can’t (or won’t) lower any more. At that point, assuming you want a better savings rate or more money for your ferret farm or whatever it is you’re up to, you need to increase your income. Get a side gig–a second job, generally less intensive than the first. But how we frame the concept of side gigs carries class and sex assumptions that need unpacking.

The Gig Economy

In America, we increasingly have a “gig economy” wherein people freelance for work. This has occurred for a couple of reasons.  One, because of lack of choice, and two, because the nature of the work people want to do can necessitate that kind of self-employment. (Plug for universal health care to make self-employment and gig living easier goes here–it would be infinitely easier to be working gig-style or as an entrepreneur if you didn’t have to worry about medical expenses, dammit). The phrase “side gig” can be related to this economic situation. It is not necessarily reflective of broader, more long-lasting trends in America’s employment and economics scene, however. Greater complexities are missing, and their absence is troubling.

Class

One piece that is missing in many discussions of side gigs is that the concept itself assume a middle-class status. It assumes you have a primary gig, the one that pays you reasonably well and likely gives you health benefits, maybe a retirement plan of some kind, paid sick days and the like. It negates the fact that for many people, two jobs was a way of life, with poverty the consequence of missing either. Plenty of people for decades have worked two jobs to make ends meet; neither of those jobs would be side gigs, neither secondary to the other. They’re necessities.

This assumption of middle class status-shades a lot of finance blog writing, including mine, but I want to own it. I know I’m often making that assumption. I fully understand there’s a difference between side gig for added savings and a person working two jobs to put food on the table, and that the latter are often trapped in jobs that don’t come with benefits or decent hours. America loves to point fingers at those people, laying responsibility for their situations to poor choices when the reality is nearly always far more complicated. In any case, while I get why we talk about side gigs (I have a badass one, myself), we need to at least be cognizant that two gigs is the norm for a lot of folks.

Sex

Another issue with the way we conceptualize side gigs is sex. Here are my thoughts, generally malformed and in need of work:

Women chronically earn less than men. The wage gap persists. If we talk about pursuing side gigs as a way of rounding out the primary gig, are we abandoning to some extent the real problem–that primary gigs don’t often pay enough, particularly for women? That there are penalties for time to raise kids, but that putting them in day care can cost the mother’s near-entire salary (which is one reason why moms tend to stay home more than dads–it’s the patriarchy reinforcing financial traditions that then reinforces social ones).

Here’s a fun link, btw: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/upshot/the-gender-pay-gap-is-largely-because-of-motherhood.html

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but there’s something there I can’t yet put my finger on.

So, Anyway

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that there is a lot of baggage with the concept of the side gig. It comes with assumptions about class, and I think what I’m leaning towards is that it comes with assumptions of (masculine) gender. What are your thoughts? Should we modify our conversations about side gigs, and if so, how? What are our assumptions and our own baggage in these conversations?

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