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: All the Frustration

Hi all. I was going to write a standard Finance Friday post for today, either about Ibotta or a mid-year “how’s that budget?” check-in. But I am not feeling it. I’m not feeling like much. Current events have me beyond frustration.

I suspect to a large part I’m preaching to the choir here. If you’re interested in feminism, you probably care about people, and you probably care that the state not work in ways that deliberately hurt people. So you’re probably just as frustrated as I am with the senate bill (I don’t think we can call it a health care bill).

While we don’t have the CBO score yet, it’s pretty clear that the ramifications of the bill will be to limit people’s access to and ability to afford health care. As a nation, that’s pretty much saying that residents don’t have a right to be healthy, an idea most western democracies did away with decades ago. This bill will disproportionately harm those who are not wealthy. It will likely disproportionately harm women, since Maternity Care need not be included as mandatory provision of insurance policies. And god help you if you’re just a middle class male–one bout with cancer or other serious illness, as proposed “lifetime limit” caps mean that you’ll be SOL when the insurance you buy won’t pay for rudimentary stuff after you’re better, because they’ve already spent what they’re going to on you.

Imagine what that would mean for a child with cancer: a whole uninsured life.

Now this whole shebang is supposed to make health care cheaper, but it won’t. It won’t for most people, and it won’t for all of us when emergency rooms become the choice for care again–something we all pay for eventually.

This is a bill, in the guise of a libertarian passion for what government should and should not do, that will lead to harm for many, many Americans, and really only benefit the most wealthy among us. That it was negotiated in secret and a full version not released tells you that even those who are writing it know it will be hated. So then you have to ask: why do it? Is it just a racist response to the last administration? Do they think Americans are dumb enough to say, well, we wanted it repealed, and now we have even less than prior to the ACA, yay!

The ACA has its problems, absolutely. But this is not a solution. It’s nowhere close. It’s a bill written out of spite and designed to grease the palms of people and companies who donate huge sums to campaigns for guys like these, so that they might benefit (there are some nice charts circulating to that end). It’s the work of greedy, horrible people akin to 19th century assholes who saw anyone as less robustly wealthy as themselves as some kind of moral inferior who deserved penury.

I don’t even have the words for the despair this makes me feel. And I don’t know what kind of financial thinking any of us can even do with this. Can one, even with a 99% savings rate, ever be financially independent if they’re one disease away from uninsurability in a country that evidently sees illness as a moral failure?

America was once better. Only eight months ago, really. “MAGA” should become our slogan for the pre-45 era.
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Finance Friday: Do You Shop Your Ethics?

Recently I was having a perfectly lovely conversation about eyeglasses that ended on a weird note about ethics and money. I was at the largest conference in my field (the history of women), where I gave a paper and tried not to fangirl over historians I deeply admire. I was there by myself—no cadre of buddies—and spent one evening chatting with friends of a friend, which was when this conversation came up.

Class Stratification in Full-Time Academia

Academia (the phrase refers to all colleges and universities, collectively) is a funny place. A chunk of its denizens are people like me, who—through a combination of hard work and good luck—overcame the odds against being there. I don’t teach at a prestigious university; I went to a really good college, and a good graduate school, but I’m not from Harvard. Other people, um, are. And while I can’t and shouldn’t generalize about Harvardians, I’d hazard a guess that there’s a class element there—its own website notes only 16% of students have Pell grants, and 20% have family incomes of less than $65,000. Many Harvard grads, particularly from their grad programs, go on to teach at R1 institutions—that is, universities that focus on faculty research more than faculty teaching. While I would much rather teach 3 to 4 classes a term than write frequent books, those R1 universities (1-2 classes per term) tend to pay faculty far more than small universities like my own. Thus there’s class stratification among even full time academics—and this doesn’t get us started on the problem of contingent labor.

In any case, I was at this conference, chatting with some very nice Harvardians, when I complimented one of them on her glasses. “Thanks!” she said, “I like yours, too.” And we got talking about the challenge and cost of finding interesting frames I said, “Yeah, I couldn’t justify spending the $400+ on new frames for fashion reasons, so I just got these on Zenni optical for a song.” She replied, “Because of my ethics, I don’t shop there.”

Oh. Well.

The conversation pretty much stopped cold and I stood there feeling like a poor at a rich people’s party. Perhaps she didn’t realize that by implication, she suggested I didn’t have ethics, or that leaving hers unsaid put me in a super awkward position of stammering that glasses were expensive, dammit. Maybe she thought they were made with child labor, whereas I didn’t; maybe she was all about supporting a local economy. We’ll never know. I got another glass of wine and ran off to get snacks in my awkwardness.

The whole situation was further uncomfortable because it was a conversation among women. Women are notoriously underpaid in academia; those who are full time tend to be chastised for having kids whereas men are complimented, as having kids has implications for the “tenure clock.” Both of these issues have serious financial and class implications we should be working to eradicate through understanding and respecting each other, rather than, however unintentionally, undercutting each other.

I am a firm believer in shopping your ethics when you can…

but I am also keenly aware that my class position and geographic location allows me to do so. It’s also an exchange—I’ll spend more on things that are ethically satisfying to me, but consequently spend less on other things, like fancy new specs. For example, I do not set foot in Walmart. I find what Walmart has done to small towns (I lived in one and watched this happen) in terms of decimating small shops on main street, and then paying people so little that they can only afford to shop at Walmart, is terrible. I avoid it whenever possible. But I live in a suburb with lots of options; I have the disposable income to make other choices.

Similarly, I try not to buy factory-farmed meat. I strongly disagree with our current agricultural system and what it does to animals; I have a local Whole Foods, so I buy most of our meat there or from the organic department at Costco. I can do so because of my privileged class and geographic position. It’s the same reason I can support our local hardware or paint stores rather than Home Depot whenever possible.

I do, however, still buy my clothes at Old Navy. I buy my glasses online. I’m not a purist, and I realize there are ethical implications to these choices. But I am also hardly so wealthy or, frankly, so motivated that all of our purchases can be sustainably, ethically sourced. I think it’s important to support your values when you can (hello, recycled printer paper!) but it takes a certain kind of gall to speak of those ethics as though they are a given for all, or as though they do not come with enabling or limiting conditions. I might, for example, seek to support women business owners in my neighborhood, but am also aware that I can’t and shouldn’t keep visiting the home décor shops on that principle alone. Or the bakery. Good god, those cakes are delicious.

How do you feel about these issues?

Do you shop your ethics, and do you find your ability to do so both enabled and limited by your situation(s)? How do you navigate social class in your world?

 

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I am The Problem (and that’s ok)

finance fridaySo we’ve had some conversations here about getting honest in our relationships with stuff and with money, and examining our pasts to get a sense of our presents (ha, presents). I like to think that I’ve been honest with you, and today I’m going to take that honesty in a different direction by confessing that despite my love of spreadsheets, saving, tallying and so on, I am the leak. I am the spender. I am the problem.

I have only so much willpower. I generally don’t care about shopping, though my husband sent us into Old Navy last week and somehow I’m the one who came out with three new things. Clearance, but still. I love to cook, but I also love to not cook. When I’m not feeling well in any capacity, all bets are off. I might have planned a week of meals, but I’m not sticking to it if I’m not well. That was last week: I felt nauseous and crabby from a change to a medication I was taking, and the only thing that sounded appealing was greasy pizza. So greasy pizza it was. And eggplant fries—we need a veggie now and again.

Oops

We budget $400 a month for eating out, and we’re well over for May. I’ll roll the overage amount into June’s budget, but I imagine that just means we’ll have a deeper hole as July begins.

Mercifully, our overage isn’t a big deal because we are extremely fortunate enough to not have to worry about what difference the $20 spent on a pepperoni thin crust will mean at the end of the month. But such expenses do make me feel like a hypocrite. I tend to be a very hostile self-critic, and so I’ll beat myself up for a) spending money I didn’t need to spend and b) for beating myself up in the first place. It’s a delightful shame circle.

It’s not that my husband doesn’t spend, but for him, spending doesn’t usually come with shame. I punish myself for $6 on two pizza slices when there’s perfectly good food in the fridge. That’s not his way.He doesn’t seem himself as the problem. He’s on to something.

Self-Forgiveness: I am Not Actually “the Problem”

This scenario reminds me that in addition to perhaps building some good spend-and-save habits, I also need to work on taking care of me, accepting myself for who I am, and not punishing myself when I don’t live up to goals that I’ve somewhat arbitrarily set. Could I do better? Sure! Is not doing so the end of the world? Nope. And when friends whom we hadn’t seen in ages asked us to go out for dinner last week, I would have been crazy to say “No—I want to save $40 and not see you” when it was financially within my power to do otherwise.

We have different kinds of values and I have to find a way to balance the friends I value, the saving I value, and my sanity. I love my tracking spreadsheet, but it doesn’t determine who I am.

So, then, a word to the proverbially wise: it is not enough to simply spend, save, and track. One must also be flexible and self-forgiving in her pursuit of financial awareness and stability. We are more than the numbers we enter as data, and truly, we are not “the problem” when those numbers don’t match our goal every time. Show yourself a little compassion as you work on your financial journey.

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Finance Friday: FREE Downloadable Budget and Spend Spreadsheet!

Is this you? The Street reported this week that as female breadwinning grows, so does financial anxiety. They report that women tend to a) earn less than men and b) worry more about money than men and c) worry about retirement more than men. It would appear that money–duh–is gendered, or at least sexed. Nine out of ten women, they say, are the main support of their families at some point, and many women support themselves alone. Having some sense of what money you have, where it is going, and where you might change those paths to meet particular goals (so long, student loans), brings at least some sense of calm. My free Budget and Spend Spreadsheet is here to help.

I am the primary breadwinner in our household and my husband has fluctuating income as an adjunct professor (we should talk about labor exploitation in academia some other time, as well as women-as-breadwinners ). We’ve had some hefty expenses over the years—hello, front steps needing replacement; sick tree in front yard; kitchen reno we sloooowly did ourselves—but we never quite seemed to be getting ahead. Mind you, we are very, very fortunate; we’ve been extraordinarily lucky to live comfortably since I started my job in 2008. Even so, I was surprised that every year our balances seemed to be exactly where we started, and our credit cards were constantly in use, creating high monthly balances we paid off.

Where did the money go? I expect I’m not alone in my wonder here. Many Americans don’t keep track of their funds, and the stuff they buy—little and big—add up over time (google the “latte factor” –the idea that buying expensive coffee frequently is a money pit). Many Americans don’t budget, either. I was one of them, even after my financial adviser suggested doing so. Budgeting seemed like a pain to do, and it could bring up some painful truths I did not want to face. So I ignored her.

But ignoring my advisor’s advice and my own internal monologue telling me something could be better meant that I wasn’t making my money work for me. Spending it with no plan is fun sometimes (buying new front steps less so), but it came with an opportunity cost—that money might be put elsewhere, better used. I had no real way of knowing. Those Target runs might have added up to something more consequential.

Good thing I like spreadsheets.

I built this one originally for me in a much simpler form. This version features all the bells and whistles I’ve added in five months of working on and with it. William Buffet (evidently) once said that what you spend is what remains after you save (thanks, feministfinancier.com!). So let’s get a handle on what we’re actually spending. And maybe—if we’re feeling brave—consider a budget, so as to better save.

spreadsheet snap
Spreadsheet snapshot

This Budget and Spend Spreadsheet allows you to do both. It’s set up with pre-build categories for both expenses and income, so you can just punch in some numbers and get rolling. It’s also got blank spaces for new items. That’s just the main sheet. Subsequent sheets are set up for each of those expense categories; you just punch in the number you allowed on sheet one at the top of each subsequent sheet and enter your expenses in that category as you go. For example, there’s a sheet for dining out. Say you allot $5k/year for that (you crazy minx, you)—you put that number in at the top and fill in the rows as you go and it does the math for you, allowing you to see what you have on balance to spend.

I like spending down. Beats spending up.

piggy bank
Feed the piggy.

If you run out of rows, you can always add some with the edit function. Then copy the last cell that contains a number derived by the formula (that is, the last one that math-ed correctly), copy it, and paste it into the new boxes below. That’ll keep your math going.

The very last sheet is a net worth sheet. This is a fun little element that lets you track your net worth over time. Net worth, simply put, is assets minus liabilities. On my own personal sheet, for example, I have our house as an asset with its approximate value (somewhere in between Zillow and the town’s recent revaluation) and what we owe on it as liability. The difference between them isn’t just equity, it’s part of your net worth. There are areas for 401k balances, bank accounts, student loans, car loans, the whole kit and caboodle.

The sheet is entirely editable, so if you want it to have different themes, different topics, or math in different ways, you can adjust it for your own consumption. It contains a number of comments that will help you fill boxes in. Feel free to send any questions along to me as well at admin@tenaciousfeminist.com.

benjamins
Knowing where these go means (hopefully) keeping more of them in your accounts.

If you talk about this spreadsheet—and please, talk about it, on your blog, your twitter, your instagram, whatever!—please link back. It’s creative commons copyrighted to me.

I’d love to hear about your progress! Let me know how the Budget and Spend Spreadsheet works for you.

Just a reminder: I AM NOT A FINANCIAL ADVISOR. You can take whatever I say with a grain of salt. I’m sharing what has worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. I am not responsible for any action taken based on my posts.

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Considering our Relationships with Stuff

finance friday: talking about stuffLast week we talked about our relationships with money, looking at their origins and considering how they play out in how we handle, save, and spend. This week, we’ll take the next logical step: let’s talk about our relationships with stuff.

It seemed no coincidence to me that the pre-recession era, marked with the growth of McMansion subdivisions and the rise—as well as the fall—of the Hummer also seemed to feature the growth of storage centers. Now I’ve never fact-checked this, but I don’t remember seeing more than the occasional, isolated storage center when I was a kid. But in my early adult years, these places seemed to multiply like rabbits and take on gargantuan proportions. They’re eyesores, and always led me to thinking: what has caused such a demand for these? The answer: stuff.

I myself have a mixed relationship with stuff.

I have, if I’m honest, a real love for Sephora. We are book keepers. I wax and wane in terms of clothing purchases. We have a mess of a basement full of god knows what.

I’m working on thinning out this mess, putting stuff in the garbage bin and in a yard sale pile. If I can make a few bucks and clean out the basement, I’ll be a happy camper.

Some folks fill their emotional needs with things.

Others feel caught up in the race to have the newest-best-fastest car, phone, you name it. Mercifully, I am not one of those people. I’m not a must-have-this-tech person; I have a bare-bones phone (I’ve only had a smartphone for about a year, and had a flip phone until then), an older-model iPad I got through work, and a work laptop. I reason that these things do what I need them to do, and so I’m generally pretty happy with them and certainly unwilling to spend more money to upgrade them. I tend to fill my emotional needs with chocolate rather than iPhones.

For a long time I was easily lured in by those “here’s $10 off $25” coupon deals to places like DSW. One day I bought a pair of shoes accordingly and brought them home to find I already had a pair just like it. That’s when I began to really reconsider the shopping choices I was making, and the reasons I was making them, and why I made them when I had little disposable income to make them in the first place, nevermind when my economic position improved. (I also wonder about the gender and sex breakdown of all of this, tho I haven’t done the research, in terms of who gets what kind of advertising and who then takes advantage of it.)

Since then, I’ve tried to save more money and spend what I do on experiences.

Eating out is still a money pit for me, but I’m working on it. I still feel that as long as I’m enjoying the experience of dining out, it counts for more than a pair of shoes I don’t need.

So here’s today’s question: why do you buy what you choose to buy? Do you buy just for fun? To satisfy emotional longings? To meet concrete needs? To take advantage of deals when they present themselves? How might these categories overlap? Do you spend money you don’t have in order to meet any of these categories? What’s the opportunity cost* in such spending, whether you’ve got the income or not? How might all of these questions revolve around sex and gender?

Down the road we’ll prod these questions further as we start to map out better uses of your cash than stuff, or figuring out your cash-stuff balance.

*a fun economics term that refers to the other things you might have done with the money (or time, or whatever) spent.

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Let’s talk about relationships with money.

We all have them, but I don’t know how often we explore them or consider their roots.

How does money make you feel? Anxious? Eager? Safe? Afraid?

Our emotions about money oftentimes fuel our money habits, and are complicated by our historical past. Women, in particular, have historically been responsible for a home’s consumption while at the same time having no access to the inner workings of bills and income. When we’re kids, we might have parents who still maintained this kind of system, and as we learn much by parental observation, many of us women might be as confused (bemused?) as our mothers were, however long ago, by our finances.

Our parents also serve as other models: models of spending, models of saving. Sometimes we turn into them; other times, we choose deliberately not to be them.

When I was growing up, we did not have a lot of extra money. I did not want for food, a roof over my head, or warm clothes in the winter, but luxuries were not frequent. Perhaps consequently, when I went to college and got my first credit card, I got a little bit out of control. I had access to money (well, plastic money) and before I knew it, I had a $4k credit card debt at 21 years old. Then I went to grad school, made a whopping $11k a year, and had looming, enormous undergrad bills to pay off.

But money made me anxious even before then. I expect I’m not alone. I have often vacillated between “SPEND NOTHING!” and “I’ve spent so little, I deserve this item here on sale at Target.” I suspect part of my anxiety and spending habits had to do with my father’s repeated injunctions to BE CAREFUL with money, which often felt like a principle to violate (oh, hey, credit card) and which, once violated, left me feeling guilty for having done so. I wonder sometimes if he felt the same way. He always had a “bigger, better, faster” streak that reminded me of Tim Allen as the dad on “Home Improvement” when I was a kid.

As an adult, I am only just getting past my money anxiety.

For a long time, even as I began to make a reasonable salary, I felt like I was teetering on some financial precipice, even if that wasn’t true. My money anxieties are bundled up—as I expect they are for a number of women—with insecurities about who I am and what I do. Classic “Imposter Syndrome” stuff. They’ll figure out I’m a fraud, and I’ll never work again. I had nightmares along those lines for years.

Finding some control over my finances has helped me get change my thinking about money considerably. Not that I was ever really out of control, but by laying stuff out on paper, both on a grand scale with a financial planner last year and on a smaller day-to-day scale now on my own, I feel like I have a better understanding of how my money works, where it goes, and what I can do about it and with it. Since then, I’ve paid down a chunk of our debt, improved our bottom line by cutting expenses, and given us a framework with which to evaluate what we do spend. I’m not beyond picking fights with utilities for better rates when I don’t like what I see.

So for this Finance Friday, spend a little time thinking about how you feel about money, and where from where those feelings might arise. Contemplate how those feelings might shape your spending habits, and how those habits themselves make you feel. How might control—or lack thereof—figure in?

Consider this article, as well, which is honest in some amazing ways. http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/poor-people-worries/

We’ll chat again next week.

J.

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“Retail Therapy”

Even though Hulu frontloaded 3 episodes of Handmaid’s Tale, I’m going to put off chatting about them to get started on another, recurring segment: Finance Fridays! Let’s talk about money.

By way of introduction to this segment, let’s talk about “retail therapy.”

Y’all know what that is, and I suspect most of you have done it at one point or another. Akin to “eating your feelings” (my preferred default for days when I’m frustrated—hello, m&ms), “retail therapy” is when we take to the mall to deal with our anger, frustration, a long week, a bad meeting, a rough paper, you name it. We buy ourselves a few things to ease that pain, and then many of us feel a different pain when the credit card bill comes in. Sound familiar?

“Retail therapy” is a phrase I’ve primarily heard women use, and this makes sense: we live in a culture in which women do a great deal of the shopping and have for decades. We also live in a culture in which we celebrate shopping as a women’s activity. Dealing with our feelings by spending money is, by logical extension, a feminized activity. Shopping aimlessly is a routine choice for women’s outings together–it’s also a cultural norm. As an aside, when I took students to a new state—a new city—for a conference recently, the first night they wanted to go to the mall. They were both broke. This shit is pervasive.

shopping lady, money
I mean, just look at this ridiculous stock photo.

Longer-term Repercussions

The consequence of this feminization of shopping—combined with other issues, like the pay gap, the generally lower pay in feminized industries in which women predominantly work, and women’s periodic departure from the work force in order to give birth, all despite their higher numbers in colleges and universities—is that women carry far more consumer debt than men. US News reported in 2015 that,

“63 percent of women ages 18 to 24 carried some credit card debt, but only 36 percent of men in that age category had any debt. Similarly, 66 percent of women ages 55 to 64 carried credit card debt, but only 33 percent of men in that age bracket had credit card debt.” (Abby Hayes, 6.25.15, http://bit.ly/1JoZLok)

Consumer debt is arguably far worse than other kinds, as the interest rates are much higher, meaning that what you owe increases dramatically over time. Needing to pay that debt off, particularly when combined with other bills such as student loans and the like, yields another troublesome picture. According to a 2014 Forbes article,

“A new LearnVest.com survey found that an American woman’s retirement nest egg totals approximately $150,000, on average, while a man’s comes in at roughly $235,000. That’s a 57% difference!” (Jane Bianchi, 2.12.14, http://bit.ly/2qen0k7)

All of this is gendered; make no mistake. We’ll come back to these various categories in the weeks to come, but for now, try to keep yourself out of the shops this weekend. The weather in much of the country is gorgeous this time of year, so get outside with your friends rather than head to the mall. I’ll leave the m&ms alone, too.

Next week, we’ll discuss budgeting: knowing where your cash is going so as to better give it direction.

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