Living In Fear Of My Bank Account

bank scene Portlandia

Arguably the first step to financial solvency has to be basic awareness of where you stand with your money. This is the step that I struggle with the most. You might think that the simple act of checking your bank account to look at your recent transactions would be easy, but for me it isn’t. The thought of checking my bank account, regardless of whether I’m in a positive or negative financial state, makes me break into a sweat.

I have anxiety, and my anxiety makes me avoidant. I have a tendency to stick my head in the sand and pretend that my bank account isn’t even there. And of course, like any adult task I avoid or put off, the longer I go without checking it the more daunting it becomes.

In my last relationship, my ex-boyfriend and I were both generally terrible about checking our finances. This was the relationship that I was in for the bulk of my twenties, when financial habits are usually formed. We had a semi-monthly ritual in which we totaled up and divided what each person had spent on our living expenses as a couple so that we could see what we might owe to one another, and it was always hellish. I say ‘semi-monthly’ because we could never bring ourselves to actually look at our bank accounts once a month, which meant that we’d be peering backwards at purchases made three months ago, trying to remember if it was an individual expense or if it should be shared.

This was a deeply clumsy way to address our split costs, and knowing that the process would be painful always made us put it off more. Usually after a totaling session we would find out that I owed my ex-boyfriend money, and I was never good at budgeting for that expense in advance. It was a heavy strain on our relationship. Our mutual reluctance to so much as glance at our bank accounts on a regular basis meant that we were guaranteed a nasty surprise any time we managed to muster the courage to look.  READ MORE

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The Cost of an Ugly Christmas Sweater

not that ugly tbh

“There’s quite a bit of tinsel!” I said.

“It also lights up!”

“There’s a battery?”

“It’s sewn into the sweater.”

“Can I ask how much this cost?”

“Somewhere around $80? Partly homemade.”

I was at an ugly Christmas sweater party this week and, since I don’t own any ugly sweaters (well, I hope), ran out and bought the ugliest sweater I could find for $20. READ MORE

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How Not to Practice Public Speaking

Michael Gives a Preso

I’m pretty good at some things. I’m a fast reader, I can bake really delicious gluten-free peanut butter cookies from scratch, and I’m excellent at making up answers to questions I don’t actually know much about. If anything, I am sometimes overconfident in my abilities. Yet any ideas I have about having gift for public speaking are entirely fantasy.

Knowing this, I deliberately pushed myself to find an opportunity to speak publicly for my job earlier this year. I applied to be on a panel at a conference, wrote an abstract and then a full conference paper, and yet, once my paper was accepted, I was horrified that I would actually have to present in front of real, live people. It’s not just me (and perhaps you)—public speaking is often cited as the number one fear that Americans face. The intimidation public speaking leaves more people awake at night than death, or even the fear of an ebola epidemic.

Friends, fear not! Today, I will help you conquer your fears of public speaking, and in just three simple steps. Trust me, I’ve done them all myself and this approach worked pretty well: READ MORE

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“If you’re enjoying yourself, you’re not working hard enough” (Or You’re In Denmark)

Copenhagen movie screencapDenmark is a semi-socialist paradise full of cozy cities, castles, Cinematheques, remnants of Vikings, and parks where the sheep graze at night. It’s more diverse than you might expect; you could get pretty impressive falafel and Turkish food in Copenhagen even ten years ago, when I studied abroad there. Yes, it’s pricey, but when the state picks up the tab for big-ticket items like education and health care, that makes a difference.

Everyone bikes. The drinking age is 15. More people die from falling down stairs than from violent crime, because the Danes have sane gun laws and even knives beyond a certain length are regulated. (So they told me in my Criminal Justice class, anyway.) Can you imagine if America’s biggest problem was stairs?

Instead America’s biggest problems include the fact that we work too hard over too many hours for too little return, in part because we can’t rely on our nation’s wobbly, threadbare safety net, and — not coincidentally – we spend insane amounts of money on Seamless. Because we don’t have time to cook!
READ MORE

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How Is Your Credit Score Calculated?

Brought to you by Bank of America: Better Money Habits

Knowing what credit is and how it affects you might be the most important thing you can do for your financial wellbeing. More simply put, your credit score is like your financial reputation – it helps lenders determine how trustworthy of a borrower you are, whether it’s for a home mortgage, a car lease or even something as small as a cell phone. The lower your credit score is, the higher your interest rates will be, and the more money you’ll have to spend over time.

To get ahead of the curve, check out how your credit score is calculated below.

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Eat the Ginger

ginge

Around Christmastime, when you search for recipes with “ginger,” you get exclusively sweet things: gingerbread, gingersnaps, ginger cake, ginger donuts, ginger biscotti, ginger muffins. But ginger is so much more. It’s one of the four or five ingredients that I am never, ever without. I would like to share with you my One Weird Trick for using ginger in a foolproof and easy way.

Nearly everything I cook starts with the same process: Get out a pan, put some oil in it, and saute some combination of chopped plants; on Top Chef this is referred to as “building flavor,” or sometimes as creating a base. Onion is pretty much a given. Garlic, usually. Also common are celery, carrot, and peppers. (Depending on which specific ingredients you use and the various subtleties of how you use them, these base ingredients are sometimes called mirepoix, or soffritto—or, confusingly, sofrito, which is not the same thing; soffritto is Italian, sofrito is Spanish/Latin American, with slightly different ingredients depending on even which Latin American country you’re talking about.) Ginger is a key ingredient in a flavor base for so, so many cuisines—Indian, Chinese, Thai, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Filipino—so it should be as present in your cooking as garlic or onion, and you should have it on hand at all times. This can be difficult, because though it is fairly hardy, it will dry out after a while, and what if you have a stretch where you’re only cooking French or Italian food? Your ginger will go bad.

Except it won’t, because you should freeze your ginger. READ MORE

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Terrible Financial Decisions That I Have Made or Am Considering Making

waiting for guffman

The other day I was singing to myself in my microapartment—everyone who lives alone continually sings to themselves like life was their own badly-written musical, right?—and the lyrics went something like “Why do they let me write about personal finance when I break all of the personal finance rules?”

So let’s look at some of the terrible financial decisions I’ve made, say, in the past month.

1. Bought a $923.15 round-trip ticket to fly and visit my parents in Iowa for Christmas

I feel like there’s nobody in the entire country who is paying more for a single ticket to a location within the contiguous United States than I am. And $923 is a bargain compared to last year, when the ticket cost $1,179.

The heartless and prudent thing to do would have been to say “Sorry, parents, Christmas is cancelled. Let’s all sit in our respective homes and spend the holiday staring at the wall.” You see all the advice columnists handing around this “get out of plane free” card this time of year: If you can’t afford to travel on the holidays, don’t do it.

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My No-Purchase November Adventure

lisa turtle saved by the bell

Generationally I’m at the oldest end of the millennial spectrum, or as I like to call myself, a “Geriatric Millennial.” I still remember pre-internet life, my first email was the family Compuserve account when I was 12, and I didn’t have a cell-phone until I was 19. I had one foot in each world, the old analogue one and the new burgeoning digital dimension. I thought my life trajectory would follow those of my Boomer parents: college, employment, retirement. Alas I inherited the worst parts of my millennial counterparts: financial upheaval, debt, and the refusal to become an adult.

Most people my age and younger are sort of grasping at straws when it comes to money and when it comes to money we don’t really listen to our folks much, though we’ve asked for help with rent. For much of my life, my money-conscious father would blast warnings towards me about how foolish all of my spending was: “YOU HAVE HOW MANY SHOES?” But I laughed it off – after all look at how happy all of those fabulous fashionable working women are, living the big life in New York (I curse you “Sex and the City”). Career women have to be well-dressed and well-heeled!

And so my shopping habits grew and grew, and for me, the hallmark of success tended to translate into an ability to acquire all things “fabulous.” Maybe this is myopic, but I’d argue that our generation, maybe more than any others previously, has a deep sense of immortality and denial of the future. Whether that is indicative of our technological progression or the economic landscape, it is hard to say. But I don’t hear many 20-30 year olds worrying about their retirement.

I’ve had steady jobs intermingled with the odd unemployment stint and then a couple years where I went back to school to get my writing degree (so I could deliver this fine essay here for all of you to enjoy). I certainly didn’t spend wildly when I was in those situations; I didn’t get a credit card until 2013. But whenever I came into money I almost frothed with desire to shop for new items.

Clothing, shoes, makeup and books. Those things are my coveted goods and the things that I allowed myself to have always telling myself “hey, I deserve it!” READ MORE

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Walmart Owes Employees Unpaid Wages

walmart

Anyone who’s worked an hourly job has probably seen the reminder signs plastered all over the break room: “TAKE YOUR BREAKS! THEY ARE THE LAW.” And you’ve probably, at least once, skipped that break.

You’ve probably also, at least once, been asked to work off the clock.

Well, on Tuesday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Walmart and Sam’s Club workers were entitled to unpaid wages for both skipping their breaks and working off the clock, a decision that made this former hourly worker very happy.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer put it:

Workers at Walmart and Sam’s Club stores in Pennsylvania who worked off the clock and when they were supposed to be on break, or who were forced to skip their breaks, will receive $151 million in unpaid wages and damages, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled Monday, upholding lower- and appellate-court decisions.

The case affects nearly 187,000 people employed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. from March 1998 through April 2006.

READ MORE

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Uber and PDX: A Not-Exactly-Love Story

portlandia-season3jpg-8db045a98a646a17So here we are talking about Uber again. I promise, it’s for a good reason. This story by Alexis C. Madrigal — about two of the giants of our age, Portland, OR, and Uber, duking it out for dominance — is both riveting journalism and totally bonkers.

First Uber tried to sweet talk its way into the city, bringing the legislature flowers and Champagne. The legislators were like, thanks, we’re more into craft beer, though, and our own (admittedly dysfunctional) black car and taxi system.

Then Uber started wooing Portland’s next-door neighbor Vancouver, followed by Portland’s dependents, the suburbs. All of this went smoothly. Then it sidled into Portland itself, without an invitation, set up shop and began doing business. It relied on the fact that even the progressive good-white-people types who populate the city will try the service — for convenience, and to save money — and become addicted and ultimately rally the legislature to allow Uber to operate in the open.

In other words, the people of Portland will do Uber’s work for it.

Your move, Portland. READ MORE

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