Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: Words to Eat By

I like reading in general, but I especially like narrative non-fiction that aims to teach me something I didn't know. When I received a clever pitch titled "Pork Chops Not Pig Chops," I had to bite (ha!). The book, Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language,is so much more than our finicky little preferences for "pork" vs. "pig"- covering ancient history, religious oppression, political rebellion, and the long-standing inferiority complex English speakers have had regarding Italian and French cooking.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Words to Eat By identifies five common foods - apples, leeks, milk, meat and bread - and traces the origins of the words English speakers use for them, and how the word usage varies for both common and sophisticated uses for these items. Consistently, she finds that our ancestors clung to the Old English or Germanic ("low language") words to describe foods that frequently the conquering cultures disparaged as "barbaric," but adopted the French, Italian, or Latin-inspired ("high language") words to describe dishes that were more in line with class, privilege, and elitism. It continues to this day - consider Au Bon Pain, which can charge more for the same sandwich than a shop called Nice Bread, or foie gras which sounds much more appetizing than "fatty liver" (even though that's exactly what it means and is).

I learned something new from each section, and was both fascinated and horrified by the history I found there, particularly the religious history concerning food traditions and holidays and how adaptable the invaders were to transforming the local customs into ordained Church events, with all the control that would have afforded them. Here were some of my favorite tidbits:

Apple - Apples are one of the most cultivated foods on the planet. Apple trees must be germinated with the seeds from a different variety, so it's almost impossible for consistently tasty apples to be produced in nature. Left to their own devices, apples would all revert to producing tiny, sour crabapples in fairly short order.

Leek - Leeks are so closely related to onions and garlic that it's a huge wonder I don't much like them. I think maybe I've been doing not-great things with them, and I'm going to try some other recipes. I find leeks to have a very pungent and sharp flavor, when supposedly they are milder than onions.

Milk - The phrase "Milky Way Galaxy" is redundant. It is so named for the Greek myth of Hera, who was tricked into suckling her husband Zeus's child-from-a-mortal-mama. When she found out, she flung the baby from her breast and the resulting spray of milk can still be seen across the sky as our galaxy. The word galaxy comes from the Greek word gala, meaning milk.

Meat - The word we used to use was "flesh" but this was passed over for the less-connotative "meat". In addition to trying to downplay what the stuff actually is, we also change the name of the creatures we eat: pork vs. pig, beef vs. cow, veal vs. calf, and so on (no explanation, unfortunately, about why our poultry tends to retain their given names). There was a reporter once who obtained some healthy human meat (without violence) and cooked and ate it in the name of science, and it was astounding how absolutely horrifying that section was to read, and even to type out here - even referring to it as "meat" is weird, knowing  it came off a person.

Bread - The distinction between leavened and unleavened bread is made in many other languages and for many reasons, dating back to biblical times. The word "loaf" that we use to describe the shape of bread comes to us straight from the Middle Ages, when our English-speaking ancestors discovered that putting a bakery near a brewery tended to result in fluffy, tasty hlafs.

If I had to name one complaint about the book, I would say that it's a bit wordy in terms of reiterating the author's point about the English-speaker's inferiority complex regarding food and language. I was totally willing to buy in from page one, and her research easily convinced me by the second chapter - so I got a little annoyed at being reminded of her thesis so frequently.

Other than that, however, I really loved this book and will be recommending it to others I know who like their books with a little meat on the bone, as it were. I found myself inserting little "did you know?" comments in my emails all week as I read it, which is always a good sign. This book will go on my list of great food writing books as not dessert - fluffy, entertaining and soon forgotten - but as an entree - filling, nourishing, and with a good stick-to-your-bones staying power, along the lines of A History of the World in Six Glasses. Highly recommended.

I received a free digital copy of this book for review. This is no way affected my opinion of the contents.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Weekly Money Checkup

Weekly Money Check-Up is a weekly series on My Pretty Pennies

1. The most I’ve spent this last week was paying our mortgage, I think. I'm pretty sure the jeep falls into the previous week's spending. :)
2. Today I am thankful for hope, in general.  
3. Money can’t buy happiness. One free thing I did last week that made me happy sit outside in my backyard and look at all the buds popping out of the ground. I can't wait to see what it looks like in bloom!
4. I will consider this week a success if I stick to my schedule. I've been doing really well at a home yoga practice and getting some things done around the house after work AND going to bed on time. I'd like to keep that up, because it makes me feel much calmer!
5. One thing I love about my home is well, right now, pretty much everything. I love the arched doorways. I love having stairs to climb every day. I love having a landscaped backyard, an oasis to take in some of the great outdoors without being in public. I love the purple color of the front door against the gray brown of the siding. I love the colors on all the walls now. I love having carpet, hardwood and tile. I love fixing little bits of it myself, and dreaming about what's to be done in the future.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Linkfest

I've been struggling with regular menu planning and as usual, Cate at Liberal Simplicity gave me an "ah ha!" moment. If you look at how she does her menu planning, she repeats meals in a week! HELLO! Duh. That means I only need to pick three or four meals to make, not 7, which makes it much more likely that I'll do it. (It doesn't affect my lunches - while I take lunch to work, I don't usually take leftovers but opt for SmartOnes frozen lunches during the winter [ugh I know] and interesting salads when it's warm). So I'm going to try that method this week and see where it gets me.

Speaking of  meal planning, Wisebread's got my back with 25 tasty ways to get more of that classic pairing, beans and rice.

This post about whether it's better to earn more or be frugal brings out a really good point - frugality is about value, not just saving dollars out up front. I need to remind myself of that next time I spend thirty minutes trying to build a shopping list based only on coupons!

I loved, loved, loved this post at A Practical Wedding about combining finances after getting married. It's a good point that however independent you want to feel in your daily life, legally (depending on your state) you are considered a single financial unit for most purposes - so it doesn't make sense for one person to struggle and struggle without allowing their partner to help. This line in particular struck me: "Being married is scary. It's about creating great dependence and great emotional vulnerability." In my case, becoming "dependent" on another person in any form was something that I struggled to avoid. It wasn't until we lived apart for two months last year that I realized how much I truly do depend on him, simply to be in my life. Rather than being scary, it showed me how tight we really are.

I thought this post from Trent was so weird - people leave coupons on products in the store? That's so thoughtful (and bizarre)! And then, today at the grocery store, I totally saw coupons left on a bag of easter candy! I didn't buy it but I thought it was neat. I totally might clip all the coupons next time and leave them with the related products. (Or not - see the above link about recognizing the value of your time!)

In my ongoing quest to fan all of my suspicions of social media and privacy issues, this post at The Atlantic details what a user feels when Facebook suggests that she and her fiance are engaged - even though she never even listed him as being "in a relationship".

That comes on the heels of the article about how Target can predict pregnancy and how Barnes & Noble employees call the customer Julie, and it's all just sort of weirding me out about corporate marketing in general. I don't know really what the problem is - if Target figures out I'm pregnant and sends me coupons for things that I will need to buy for the baby (thus saving me money) is that really a problem? I like to save money! My personal information doesn't really impart anything about me and who I am in the transcendental way of thinking, and even if it did - well, I write a blog, I'm putting myself out there in some form anyway. Do I have a right to get mad if companies do something with the data they can collect in order to actually offer me products I want?

Lastly, check out the MoneyPros Index Fund challenge! I'm still doing really well, up over 15%. Too bad this isn't real money. :p

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Second car

So, yes, we bought a jeep over the weekend.

I am of two minds about it. First, I really was holding closely to the idea of being a one-car family, or even better, not owning a car at all and taking the bus everywhere (although you will note exactly how long I took the bus myself, which was not at all). I just like the idea of being different, or embracing great difficulty for the righteous position it can give me, or something. (My On Change post was not about buying the jeep, although it could certainly apply, this sense of living a different life than the one I envisioned for myself.) So in that sense I am a little disappointed that in less than a year we went from totally urban apartment-dwellers with unlimited metrocards to semi-urban homeowners with more vehicles than our garage will hold.

On the other hand, Peanut has talked about owning another jeep since I've known him. He had one in high school (well, he had two in high school, at the same time, but that's another story) and that's his dream car. We had the money saved up for him to start looking. After a few weeks, he found one in decent condition and the right make and model and whatnot only an hour away, so this past weekend he went out there with his mechanic brother and bought it. I may not have seen this man so happy since the day he proposed to me, and it's been really cool to see one of his dreams come true under our own power. Also, the jeep is pretty freaking cool to ride in, and now I will learn to drive a stick shift! Today I managed to get moving from a stop without stalling out, so that's a big improvement.

So now we are a two-car family, and one of those cars is a collectible that's nearly as old as we are.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sometimes I fail at being an adult

You guys, I feel like such a jerk.

I got home from work and was really excited to start my home yoga practice. I got into it and all of a sudden the doorbell rang. I answered it, a little flustered from being upside down, sweaty, and thinking that I was pretty sure I'd noticed that my workout shirt is getting kind of sheer when I put it on, and of course, there's a kid standing there, a like thirteen-year-old boy, with a stack of something or other in his hand and he tells me his name and that he lives up the street and was I interested in buying...*something or other* and I was like ack! I just want to close the door so he doesn't see me in my sweaty grossness and my see-through shirt!

So I told him well, you know, I don't have any cash on me but come back in half an hour or so and my husband will be home. So, that was the first jerky thing - foisting it off on Peanut and making this hopeful kid come to our house a second time when I'm pretty sure that whatever it was he was selling (honestly I've no idea what it was) we're not going to buy it anyway.

Then Peanut got home and was all like, hey, let's go for a ride in the jeep before it rains!* And I was like OKAY! So we got in the jeep and rode to Home Depot for bolts so we could actually attach the license plates to the jeep. So when the kid came back to our house, we weren't even home. I feel like we were hiding from this teenager trying to raise money for school!

And now I keep muttering to myself every ten minutes, Gosh, I'm such a jerk. Why didn't I just tell him I wasn't interested this year? Or why don't I have some workout shirts that you can't see through, so I can answer the door if someone rings the bell and be calm? That was the first person to ring the bell who wasn't expressly invited by us since we moved in two months ago! Our first visitor!

Oh, and then of course, I'm also feeling guilty for not buying whatever it is he was selling in the name of school spirit and whatnot but jeez louise we are bleeding money out all over the place already and I'm pretty sure I can live without it.

Talk me down, guys. Tell me about the time some adult was a jerk to you as a kid and how you survived just fine. It seems like in all my memories adults seemed confident and capable and unflappable in all situations, and here I am in my adult life squawking about my husband not being home and then running off to hide from the vice president of the chess club or whatever.

 
* Um, I didn't tell you that we bought a jeep two days ago?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Linkfest

Lovely weather makes me spend edition: This weekend, Peanut and I spent another metric ton of money, and we also bought outdoor chairs for our beautiful patio. We then ate dinner outside tonight, which was amazing and I guess worth it. After all, it's only money, right?

Andrea at So Over Debt asks who do you trust with your money - and your passwords? Don't forget to include your online accounts in an emergency information plan, so that someone can take care of your online identity as well as your financial one.

Money Beagle asks what the lowest stamp price is that you remember - I remember the increase from $.25 to $.29, when I was around 10 years old. Current stamp prices don't affect how many letters I mail now. I prefer email or online banking for a million reasons, but price really isn't one of them. I think I probably wouldn't start to balk at mailing the few letters I do until prices went up to $1 per first class envelope. I do think, however, that the postal service should cut back to five-day delivery (or even four-day!) instead of six-day delivery. I personally don't get enough mail - especially enough time-sensitive mail - to require delivery nearly all week. What about you?

I really enjoyed this Day in the Life of The Frugal Girl - other people's lives seem so much more interesting than mine, even the mundane things!

Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate talks about her nursing degree. Although I love my job, sometimes I wish I had chosen a career with more transferable skills that isn't so sedentary. My 18-year-old self had no idea what she wanted to do, though, so I'm glad that I did eventually found something I love.

Prepare to get sick, says a GRS staff writer. It's a good point - you WILL get sick at some point, and going out to buy chicken soup and nyquil when you're already feeling puny is just not something you should subject yourself to if you can help it!

Fig talks about living like a student. I hope that the first two items remain how I live my life always - cooking at home is better for health and better for the budget, and a wardrobe that flatters and fits without costing a fortune is something I definitely aspire to. Thrift stores and discount stores are fine by me, no matter what stage of life I'm in!

MoneyCone lists the companies he or she won't do business with - and some of them surprised me! Pretty much the only company I avoid spending money with is Amazon - what about you?

My post on text message spam remains my most popular post of all time, and the issue hasn't gone away in the four and a half years (!!) I've been writing this blog. Last week, Wisebread posted about the kind of text message scams that wind up adding big subscription charges to your bill, and how to avoid them.

Yikes, Girl Makes Cents is facing a very scary situation! I talked about it a little bit on this blog when it was going on, but my last boyfriend stalked and harassed me for two years after he broke up with me. I eventually got a restraining order against him, which curbed the contact, but I still feel weird and uneasy when I think about it. If I could go back in time and change anything about it, I would tell everyone what was going on. I would tell my employer, my friends, his friends, and so on. I wouldn't keep quiet or think that it somehow reflected badly on me, because it absolutely had nothing to do with me. It was his weirdness. Of course, it's easy to look back and think that now - at the time, it was just too scary and I figured if I didn't say anything and pretended it wasn't happening, maybe it would just go away. Please keep Girl Makes Sense in your thoughts as she deals with this guy.

#pfworkout! I'll play - I am trying to be more diligent about having a home yoga practice, so that's what my tweets will reflect. I did one on Thursday, one yesterday, and went to class this morning, so I'm starting off on a good foot.

Check out this Money Cactus post about hyperbolic discounting, which is one of the most fantastic explanations I've ever read about why I end up not doing something I said I would do, like, um, a home yoga practice.

Trent discusses the value of fixing things yourself. As I type this, Peanut is working on our sink and garbage disposal. The sink has drained slowly since we moved in, and twice this week the dishwasher backed up several inches of gross water into the sink. Unfortunately, our DIY skills are pretty nonexistent, and we don't have the majority of the tools we need to do any repair. At this point, the problem is worse than it was when we started (now on top of slow draining, we have drips! and leaks!), we can't figure out what's wrong, and Home Depot is closed. Awesome.

I'm still glad we went this route first, but it's a lot of headache for 9 p.m. on a Sunday night.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Choice

I feel a great deal of pressure to be "good". To recycle everything, to choose organic/cage-free/grass-fed, to avoid plastics/red dye #5/diamonds, to not drive or at least drive less, to reduce food waste, to go all-natural whether fighting headaches or delivering a child, to consider the risks, to keep things clean and tidy, to worry about global warming and child labor and oppressive regimes, to vote with my dollars, to avoid sugar and carbs and fats and processed anything, to be on trend, to change my passwords regularly, to see specialists for that, to floss, to stay together, to know what I'm signing, to read the fine print, to save X%, to talk to an expert and do all the research before making a decision, to not spank but practice tough love, to take nothing but pictures.

Guys, I'm tired.

Much of this pressure is internal, I grant you that. I don't have people regularly preaching at me about any of these things, but the voice in my head is loud and it sees everything I do. And that voice has been informed by thirty years of the catastrophic news and issues blogs and books and was probably a fairly rigid right-doer to begin with.

I don't know where all of the ideas I've listed above came from - some of them I've internalized so thoroughly that the point where they first came into my consciousness is indiscernible. I define myself by the things that I do or do not do, the choices that I make. Some of them are truly uncrossable moral boundaries but some are lines I've drawn that are fairly arbitrary alternative ways of choosing to live.

So where does that leave me? I'm at something of a crossroads in my life right now, having to re-evaluate something that I held very important that may not be available to me. I may have to say yes to something that's even bigger than the thing I've said I didn't want. There's not anything necessarily wrong with the options in front of me, except that they've always been not options.

Perhaps I'm afraid of the outcomes of those decisions. I beat myself up too much when I look back on my past choices. All the bottles of water I ever unthinkingly purchased and threw away, the long drives I took because gas was cheap and I was bored, all the cigarettes I ever smoked, the disposable diapers that diapered my butt when I had no say in the matter. Those choices that did not seem like a big deal at the time in fact do have a lasting legacy. I feel like this decision is of that magnitude, but it may not be.

My fear is that if I choose this thing that has previously been off the table for me, what will I regret by doing so? I know what the consequences are, or are likely to be, if I leave it off the table. But what might the impact be to me down the road? Will I end up regretting my decision either way?

I'm sorry to be cryptic. The specifics I am not comfortable discussing here yet. But situations like this have likely faced a number of you, whether it was the realization that you'd have to bottle-feed instead of breast-feed or that being vegan is not a healthy option for you or that the effort you put forward to live with a minimal footprint doesn't do a lot to solve the greater problem. How do I redefine my worldview to include mainstream options in my special snowflake life?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Linkfest

Daisy is definitely not the only one who doesn't want to work for herself - it's not up my alley either. It might make me a corporate drone, but I like having someone else be the boss, so I can leave my job at work and focus on my own interests at home.

Trent's post about removing the toxic elements from his life really struck a chord with me this week. I've been trying to take more responsibility for the unpleasant things that I face on a regular basis, and doing what I can to remove them from my life. He has some good recommendations.

One Frugal Girl talks about identifying your spending black hole. I think ours is going out to eat with our friends - we're lucky to have a big group of friends that we like to see on a regular basis, but we frequently wind up going out to eat. We're trying to curb that by going to one another's homes more frequently, but there are so many of us that it's no small undertaking to feed that many people at once (even if it's a potluck - we certainly don't have enough cups, plates, or silverware to feed so many!).

And Money Saving Mom finds 7 items worth splurging on - but, she points out, that doesn't mean paying full price.

This post is brought to you by the colors lavender and purpleybrown - the colors we spent this weekend painting our bathroom and bedroom. They look fantastic, thanks to the aforementioned spending-black-hole-friends, who showed up en masse to help us out. I have a little bit of touch up work left to do, but I'm so relieved that that project is done, and so grateful that I'm not still wobbling on a ladder to finish it up myself on a Sunday night.

How was your weekend?


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Women's Money Week: Debt

If you've read personal finance blogs for any length of time, you know that debt is to be avoided. That seems to be what generally motivates people to start a blog in the first place - they want a public place to discuss their journey towards financial freedom, and nothing helps that like accountability. And it's fun as a reader to watch the monthly reports and see the counters tick down towards that final payment.

Even though we all generally agree that debt is to be avoided, there are some types of debt that seem okay to take on. Student loan debt frequently seems inevitable, as does a mortgage. If you have to choose between putting groceries on a credit card or making payments on a hospital bill, you know which lender is more likely to work with you on income-based repayment plans. Even the IRS is generally an understanding creditor, as long as you stay in touch with them and let them know about your financial situation.

In my mind, though, the most pernicious type of debt is that between friends and family. I don't particularly care what Bank of America thinks of me - I'm not afraid they won't like me if I miss a payment. And frankly, most people don't have very friendly thoughts towards their lenders. But what if the lender is your sibling or your parent? What if your adult child or your friend borrows money and then instead of paying you back, they make excuses or start ignoring your calls?

I'm watching someone close to me struggle somewhat to pay a debt to a former family member - she probably doesn't have to pay this money back, or at least not in a timely manner. There's no interest on it. But she feels very strongly that the relationship will never be the same until she pays it back, and it weighs on her more heavily than money she owes to a faceless corporation. I'm really proud of her for taking this attitude.

What do you think about loaning or borrowing money between family or friends?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Women's Money Week: Money by Age

So the official title for today is "Money in Your Twenties/Thirties/Forties/Fifties/Retirement". Since I've only lived through two of those decades, I really only feel qualified to discuss those - but I'll toss out some predictions as well!

Money in Your Twenties
First "real" job. Student loan debt. Buying a house. Planning a wedding. Having a baby. These are just some of the financial events that can happen in this decade. I experienced a few of them - I graduated from college, moved across the country, started my first job, switched careers, got a masters degree, started paying back student loans, and got married, all of which required money I felt like I really didn't have. Here are some Must Do's for your twenties:
  • Start an emergency fund. I know, it seems like you've got no money to save - do it anyway. Get creative to earn the money from a side hustle, but get to the point that you don't have to rely on your parents for an emergency.
  • Start a retirement account. If your company offers any kind of matching, you are foregoing a raise by not taking advantage of this! Even if not, it's simply not financially possible to later make up the ground you are losing if you don't save for retirement in your twenties. Ideally, contribute to a 401(k) up to the match and max out a Roth each year starting as soon as you can.
  • Do something really stupid with money. (The stakes are lower!) I used my emergency fund to go to Europe with no job or plan lined up when I got back. It was totally worth it, and I wouldn't be able to bring myself to do it now. It worked out fine and I think made me more responsible with money later down the line - it was scary to see a $0 balance for a while!
  • Find a job you like, even if it's not what your degree is for. 
  • Track your spending and/or learn to live within a budget - this is likely pretty easy because you've only got so much and you know how to stretch it. But learn how to do that on purpose, not just because you have to. 
  • Get renter's insurance.
Money in Your Thirties
Any of the above milestones you missed in your twenties you are probably starting to loom in your life now - and sometimes they're more expensive than they would have been had they happened earlier. Luckily, you might be in a more stable place financially - you might be earning more than an entry level wage and you've started to figure out your personal spending habits, meaning you're probably not wasting as much money on crap (hopefully). Here are some things to do this decade:
  • Get life insurance, if you have anyone who depends on your income. 
  • Beef up your savings. It's not just for emergencies - it's for things that you now realize will cost money eventually, like replacing a car or a furnace or a roof. These things shouldn't be a surprise. 
  • Continue your retirement savings.
  • Re-evaluate your career decisions and make any changes you need to really appreciate your life. 
  • Spend  some money on yourself. If you've gotten in the habit of scrimping and saving all the time, it's important to realize that money exists to be spent and you can actually spend some of it on yourself without ruining your financial plans. Get a set of matching dishes or a towels that aren't ratty or put in a garden or whatever it is that will make you feel like you are a grown-up already. (This is not permission to buy a new car. My advice extends to anything that will not depreciate in value the moment you drive it off the lot.)
  • Give some money to others. 
  • Get serious about taking care of your physical self. 
Money in Your Forties
I suspect my forties will be quite a bit like my thirties, with more zeros attached. Extra things I'll probably think about doing then include:
  • Renovating our house. Ideally, we'll still be living in this house and it might be starting to feel cramped or old. A renovation is cheaper than moving, and would probably satisfy that itch just fine. 
  • Going on a nice vacation. 
  • Another career evaluation - are we happy with what we're doing?
Money in Your Fifties
It's hard to picture twenty years down the road - twenty years ago, I couldn't even babysit. From what I've seen of my parents' financial lives, I would say that I'd hope to take a hard, close look at my retirement savings and start making it a lot more conservative and fraud-proof. Hopefully a Bernie Madoff won't affect my golden years.

Retirement
I can't even imagine what this will look like. Will my generation retire in our fifties or sixties?  It seems unlikely. Do I want to have a traditional retirement anyway? As a woman who grew up expecting to work and enjoying my career, it seems weird that someday I'll just decide to...stop working and stay home and garden for potentially another twenty years. What might I want to do with the second phase of my life? How can I fund it?

That brings us back to the issue of money in your twenties or thirties or wherever you happen to be - making the choices for your future self as wide open as possible is really what financial responsibility is all about.

What financial advice would you give to anyone in these age ranges?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Women's Money Week: Budgeting

 Today, let's talk about budgeting.

Specifically, let's talk about what budgeting is not.
  • A straightjacket
  • A reason to beat yourself up about your spending
  • Boring
  • Useless
In my mind, the components of a budget are actually
  • A plan for where your money will go
  • A reliable method of tracking where your money went
  • A review to see how that all worked out
I will confess right now that Peanut and I don't have a written budget anymore.We've been tracking our spending and I've been doing monthly reports here on this blog for so long that we don't find that we need to make an official, written-down plan of where our money is going every month. SO. If you're new to budgeting and you hate the thought of having to do one forever...you don't.


In my opinion, a budget requires tracking and can't exist without some method of tracking what you've spent. If you don't track your spending (either by writing it down and then looking over it as a whole every month, or using the envelope system so that when your envelope is empty, you know you've spent that category's budget), how can you tell whether you're staying on target?

That's why Peanut and I have moved away from the "on purpose, on paper" written budget model. We know how much we tend to spend in certain areas and we've removed a lot of the temptations that would cause us to mess up our plans: we stay away from advertising/don't go window shopping, we save up for large purchases and plan ahead for them, we transfer money from our checking to our savings account on a regular basis so it's not just hanging out there, and we write down every single dollar we spend and go over it at least once a month together. Doing this allows us to see where our habits are changing and make small corrections if we feel like we don't like what we see.

If you're thinking of starting a budget, don't forget to include the tracking element. In fact, I'd say that if you track your spending diligently, you may never need to move to creating a planned, written budget (Peanut never did).

Do you track your spending, use a budget, or a combination? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Women's Money Week: Saving and Investing

I'm just going to throw this out there: I think women are generally better able at saving money than men.

I don't really have a lot to base that on, just my gut feeling and general experience with my significant others. I've noticed that women also seem more likely to do "saving" things like use coupons, shop from a list, cruise the clearance racks, and stuff like that.

On the other hand (and it's not just me noticing this), men seem more likely to invest with their money. Women are sort of stereotypically scared of the stock market, and tend to be conservative with their savings and investments. These generalities seem to be true of me, at least. That's why it was such a breath of fresh air for me to discover the pf blogosphere and read about women following the stock market, watching their net worth, and buying individual stocks.

It's important that both everyone learn to both save and invest, regardless of gender. Savings is an important facet of managing one's money: saving for emergencies, saving for large purchases, and saving for the future cannot be overlooked. However, investing is a way to increase passive income, increase retirement contributions, and participate in the larger economy, and needs to be included if you're going to have a well-rounded financial plan.

On this note, we'll check in on the MoneyPros Index Fund Challenge - I'm still pretty much in the middle of the pack and am earning a respectable 8% return on my "money". It's been interesting to watch this challenge go on and determine who's doing the best and why - I would be very curious to find out the genders of all the participants to see how the risk stereotype plays out across this small sample.

What do you think: do men and women differ in their saving and investing habits?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Womens Money Week: Relationships & Money

The second post in the 7 Days, 7 Topics personal finance blogger event is about relationships and money. Obviously, money plays a huge role in many relationships,

Romance

From the first date to the joint checking account, issues about money can plague or stabilize your significant romantic relationship.
* Who pays on the first date? What about the second?
* How do you share living costs when living together but unmarried?
* What if one of you makes a lot more than the other? What if one of you has a lot more debt than the other?
* How much transparency do you need whether or not you join finances?
* How do you discuss finances without fighting?

Family

Most people learn their financial philosophies from their families of origin. You might try to emulate the model that your parents demonstrated, or you might handle your finances as a reaction to the choices that they made. Financial issues with family can include:
* If you go out to eat with your parents as an adult, who pays?
* How much of your parents' financial lives is your business, and when is it time for you to step in to help them manage their money?
* How much should you save for your kids college funds?
* Do you give your kids an allowance? Pay them for chores?
* Will you require your kids to save a percentage of their money? Will you buy them a car?
* If you have siblings, are you in similar financial circumstances? If not, how do you handle gift-giving and travel?

Friends

Money issues and friendship can be very squirrely. Most people don't want to bring money into friendships, but sometimes it can't be helped. For example,
* What about that friend who's always a few bucks short?
* What if you can't afford the restaurant they want to eat at?
* How do you split costs if you go on vacation together?
* How much of your financial situation do you want to share?
* Do you exchange gifts?

Colleagues

You might think that money wouldn't come up at work, but it does - surprisingly often.
* How do you split the bill at lunch - by the number of people or by the actual orders, even though someone got wine and dessert and someone else drank water?
* Do you discuss how much you earn? What if it's wildly uneven?
* Will you participate in every girl scout cookie/baby shower/fantasy football league/charity walk that comes up asking for donations?

Self

I think possibly the most important financial relationship is one that you have with yourself. Ideas about money are all tied up with ideas of worth, and this is where things can get tricky in this relationship.
* Do you find yourself buying whatever you want because "you're worth it"?
* Or do you have to convince yourself that you're worth spending money on at all?
* Can you help protect your future self by saving for a rainy day?
* Do you trust yourself that you are smart enough to handle your finances? Or do you throw receipts and bills in a box under the bed and tell yourself that you "just aren't good with money"?
* Do you rank your value as a person by your financial net worth?

How would you answer any of these questions about your relationships?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Women's Money Week: Making Money

So it's women's money week and I'm participating in the 7 Days, 7 Topics writing experiment (click that link to take a gander at the other fabulous bloggers who are participating). Today's topic is making money, and to talk about that from a women's issues angle, I'm going to focus on ways women can make money that men typically can't.

We frequently discuss income in terms of gender disparity - that women get paid less than men do for the same jobs, that women tend to drop out of the workforce in larger numbers and for longer times than men do, that we have a harder time negotiating fair salaries and benefits and that we play down the amount we earn. However, there are some areas in which women have the potential to outearn men, and I'd like to look at those today.

The Sex Industry
Obviously, men can and do earn money in the sex industry. However, women have the upper hand here when it comes to getting paid for sex - whether it's implied, simulated, voyeuristic or actual. There are simply a lot more jobs for women because it's generally men that are willing to pay for sex. While the majority of these jobs can be dangerous, there are also some high-paying, high-powered positions, and I fully believe that there are women who can find sex work a very satisfying career choice. (I also believe that all sex work should be de-criminalized as a way to make it a safer choice. Things that are legal are easier to regulate and people who won't get in trouble for their work are more likely to report crimes perpetrated against them. /end political rant)

Teachers
Teachers, particularly of elementary and middle schools, have traditionally mostly been female. In my opinion, teachers are criminally underpaid, and getting three months off in the summer doesn't make up for it (you know that in many jurisdictions, that's three month off unpaid, right?). Still, there will always need to be teachers and this is a job where I think women may still have a slight edge over men.

Childcare
Most childcare providers, whether they be daycare centers, home care providers or nannies, are also women. Perhaps this is evidence of a natural gift for child-rearing or perhaps it's a symptom of a sexist culture, but most parents seem to be more comfortable having their children cared for by women.

Nursing
Historically, women have filled the ranks of nurses, but there's been a shortage lately. I think nursing is a really demanding and difficult job, and I would be a terrible nurse myself, but I think it's an important position to highlight as a secure job for women. Just like not everyone wants to be the CEO, not everyone wants to be a doctor, and there will always be a need for nurses.

Most of the positions I've highlighted here are traditionally held by women, and they are traditionally lower-paid and less prestigious than analogous positions held by men (principal, doctor). Why do you think that is? Can you think of any other jobs generally held by woman that I've left off?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Linkfest

Wow - So Over Debt had a close call with last week's sever weather! She talks about how much it costs to prepare for emergencies, and I hope the real takeaway is that whatever the cost, we all need to be prepared.

I thought this was a really touching post from Girls Gone Child. I think my secret real self is about 17 years old - old enough for people to think I'm responsible, and for me to sometimes be responsible, but seriously, I have no idea what I'm doing!

I totally agree that financial stability impacts a marriage. I know that I felt more secure with Peanut early on in our relationship than I ever did in some of my previous ones because I knew that we were on the same page about money, and that made me not feel worried about that aspect of where we were going.

There are two quotes in this piece from Oprah's Money newsletter that I really like:
"For many of us, the current rediscovery of what my British friends call "mending and making do" feels more liberating than the go-go years ever did" - I completely agree with this! Removing the pressure to keep up with Joneses is a lot more satisfying than always have the Shiny New Thing.
"Weighing up how you spend your money recenters you, allowing you to feel the reach and heft of yourself moving through the world." I agree with this, too - realizing that spending money is a way of projecting your values into the public sphere means that you understand that with every purchase you are saying "This is me." What do your purchases say about you?

Seeing posts like this one about mending dishtowels makes me realize how far I have to go before this whole frugality thing really sinks into my bones. I'm not sure it would occur to me to do this - but why not? It works!

I used to keep all my files to one drawer of our two-drawer filing cabinet, using the other one like a desk drawer. I've since expanded to fill up most of that one, too, and I bet it's unnecessary. A file clean-up has been on my to-do list for a while, and I think I'll try to take after Small Notebook and keep it to one drawer again.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February Recap/March Goals

February Goals
1. Make an appointment with a lawyer for drawing up wills and medical directives. This didn't get done again, but I consciously put it off. For whatever reason, I am really avoiding getting this done, and actually, I really don't need to do it right now. Peanut and I own all our assets jointly, so if something happened to one of us, the other would inherit everything. We have no kids, and our life insurance will cover the major needs that either of us will face. I know we need to do medical directives and wills, but I just can't bring myself to face our own mortality right now. I'm putting this on hold until we need to it - ie, if we're expecting a child.

2. Pay taxes - or at least fill out TurboTax to the point of readiness. Done! We owe a little less than we expected and we could give it another thorough once-over, but we'll probably wait to file until a few days before the deadline - more time for that money to earn interest for us.

3. Figure out how to fund Roth IRAs for 2012. Not done. We've just been too busy and Peanut and I disagree about how we want to handle it, so we haven't done anything about it yet.

4. Have a cheap ski weekend. Success-ish. It was a pricey vacation at just over $1,000 but we kept costs down where we could, by eating most meals at our lodge and not paying any extra for other entertainment. And it was well worth the cost!

5. Get my driver's license. Fail - I just couldn't find any day that I could be an hour late to work to deal with this. I'm doing it on Monday, though - I've already let my job know I'll be in late!

March Goals
1. Figure out how to fund 2012 Roths. Again!

2. Book my April trip. I'm going on a family trip in April and I need to figure out transportation on my end, and talk to my family about what they're covering.

3. STREAMLINE. Since about October I've felt like life is moving really fast - we were house hunting and then moving and all the while I had event after project after deadline to deal with at work. I'm really close to getting a lot of the work stuff wrapped up and then I want to deal with the pile of filing on top of the filing cabinet and the pile of magazines on my desk and the pile of books on my coffee table...I just want to get stuff done.

4. Take it easy physically. I hyperextended my leg several weeks ago, and I fell on our slippery driveway trying to manhandle the garbage can, then I took a tough yoga workshop, and then I got bruised and sore from skiing, and now my elbow is hurting in a way that seems suspiciously like a repetitive stress injury. I'm not going to avoid yoga classes or anything but I want to pay careful attention to how I'm treating my physical self.

5. Read my car's owner's manual and plan maintenance. Yes, for fun, I plan to read our car's owner's manual. I assumed that it needs an oil change every 3,000 miles/3 months, but then this article at The Simple Dollar gave me pause - I believe the 3,000/3 model because that's what my mechanic tells me - the very person who stands to gain the most if I adhere to that timing. What if the producer of my vehicle tells me otherwise?

What are your goals for the month?
 

February Spending Review

Blogging $3.07
Business expenses (deductable) $3.89
Car $139.79
Charity $310
Clothing $201.64
Food—dining out $243.89
Food—groceries $370.33
Household items $225.03
House $1392.29
Hygiene/Medical $22.35
Sewing/Quilting $3
Student loans $403.83
Transportation $100
Utilities $349.84
Vacation $1169.18
Yoga $65

Total Spending: $5061.92

Things of note: 

See those clothing expenditures? Those are all Peanut. Not me at all! He goes clothes shopping about every other year, and he was seriously due to update his uniform wardrobe. We picked up over a week's worth of t-shirts, four hoodies, and three pairs of jeans, plus a sweater that we'll be returning because, let's be honest, he'll never wear it. He still needs a new pair of shoes but he probably won't buy them until his current shoes start letting water in.

Sometimes I'm seriously jealous of his ability to wear the exact same thing, day in and day out, in different colors, and that he can wear t-shirts and jeans and hoodies to work every day. Then again, I like dressing up sometimes!

Our household spending was higher than normal due to the restaurant supply stores and estate sales. It'll be high in March, too, because we're doing some painting and furnishing the guest room, but hopefully after that it'll go back down.

It seems like this is a pretty representative month for utilities, our first real idea of what that's going to look like. The breakdown is as follows:
  • Peanut cell phone $45
  • My cell phone $66
  • Home internet $22 (this is a little low; I think it'll usually be around $36)
  • City water/sewer/trash $58.25
  • Electric $57.25
  • Gas $100.26
Compare this to the average $229 in 2011 when we lived in apartments and you can see that our utility bills have jumped by about $120. (In New York, we had to pay gas/electric personally but heat/hot water/garbage were included in our rent. In Minneapolis, all utilities were included in our monthly statement.) It's possible we could nudge this down a little more but I'm pretty satisfied. I've already lowered our trash bill by $3 per month by requesting a 22-gallon bin instead of a 94-gallon bin, plus we get a $7 credit per month for recycling. We programmed our thermostat to drop during the day when we're not home and at night when we're sleeping. Most of our lightbulbs are CFLs and we'll replace all of them with CFLs as they burn out. Certainly there are additional things we can do to bridge the gap, but I was expecting a difference between apartment and house of a few hundred dollars, so ~$120 is just fine by me.