Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How to live like a millionaire

A few years ago I read a book (suggested by my financial advisor) about how people who are millionaires actually live.  It was titled The Millionaire Next Door:  The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley.

What I learned from this book I actually watched my parents live my entire life and boils down to a few things:

1. Live as if you aren't wealthy (within your means)
2. Pay off your house (don't keep upgrading to bigger and better with granite this and that)
3. Don't buy new cars or if you them forever and ever and ever
4. Pay yourself first (in savings/investments/401k)

(These are not in order of importance.  If they were, #4 would move to #1.)

For my undergraduate degree, I double majored in English and Economics.  Teaching literature is my first love, but teaching personal finance would probably be a close second (although I don't get an opportunity to do this).  I think it is a terrible flaw in our education system that we don't teach young people about the importance of saving and spending wisely.

My financial advisor, Hank, and and I have talked (perhaps dreamily) about writing an article together about our partnership to achieve wealth.  This partnership has involved me and D mapping our goals, sticking to them, with Hank cheering us on and offering guidance as needed.

I know some "millionaires," but they do not look like millionaires.  They are people who have families, who have modest homes with well-worn furniture, who have old cars and who shop at Target and Payless.  They use coupons and buy at consignment shops.  On paper, they are millionaires, but they do not live lavishly.

Most importantly, they do not get everything they want.  They make a lot of thoughtful choices and are willing to delay gratification.  They also know their priorities and do not allow other distractions to infringe on their priorities.

My priorities have always been to be home with my children and to take vacations with them.  But due to my not working, we didn't go on vacation every year or every other year (beyond a day trip).  We went to the beach when I was 5 months pregnant with M, and we did not go to the beach again until M was almost 4.

Since my priority is making memories on vacations, we do not go to movies.  We do not go to church picnics.  We do not go to entertainment venues with bowling and arcades.  We do not go to the state fair and ride the amusement rides.  We do not go see concerts or theater performances often.  We do not do other things that would keep us from funneling money into saving for vacations.  We do as much free stuff as possible, like taking hikes at the park and going to the local playground.

Other things we've done to save money (not specifically to save for vacation but to save for whatever)---

*We got rid of cable/satellite television long ago.  We spend $18 a month on Netflix.

*I didn't get a smart phone until April 2015 (thereby not having a monthly bill for many years).

*N doesn't have a cell phone and won't get one until high school (or that is the plan anyway) so we don't have that monthly bill.

*We don't eat a whole lot of meat.  We never eat steak, not because we don't like steak, but because it is so expensive.

*D's car is 15 years old.  Mine is 7 (and we're planning to drive it another 7, hopefully.)

*We use the public library.  If we do buy a book or a DVD, we generally get it gently used from

Are there times when it would be easier or nicer or more convenient to just pay $15 at Target for the novel my bookclub is reading?  Yes....but that would cost $15, and so I wait patiently for it from the library.

Becoming a millionaire isn't fun or lively or exciting, but I like to think that it will, ultimately, be worth it.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

I've won a Major Award

That is a reference, of course, to A Christmas Story.

The truth is that I have won an award....actually a couple of awards....but I didn't know about them until recently when a fellow writer emailed me and said, "Hey, did you know you won an award?"

To which I responded, "Uh, no."

First, I should say I did know that I won (along with a team of other writers) a 2015 Parenting Media Association award for a special series in our local family magazine on "Raising Boys."  I was notified about that one.  I quietly patted myself on the back and promptly forgot about it.

So the other two that I didn't know about until recently:

  • 2015 Metro Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists on an article I wrote titled, "Stepping Up Her Game" (Minority & Women's Affairs).

  • 2016 Metro Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists on a breast cancer supplement I co-wrote (Health Care Reporting).

So I bring these up now because it occurred to me, after attending the writing conference this week, that I am a legitimate freelance writer.

Like, this really is a thing.

Of course that sounds stupid to probably anyone else but me.

At the conference, during our panel, I began by saying that I consider myself the least qualified of the three panelists because 1. it was accidental that I even became a freelancer and 2. I feel like I do it haphazardly.  I don't "go after" jobs or strive to go anywhere beyond the little work I do.

One of the other panelists, who has what I consider a more extensive list of experience/expertise but who happens to be a male of about 24 years of age, respectfully disagreed with the experience thing and thought he qualifies in that arena.

(The third panelist is an editor-in-chief of a magazine with 30 years of experience who told a hilarious story about interviewing Geraldo Rivera, so he definitely takes the "Most Extensive Experience" category.)

Anyway, the director of the organization that sponsored the conference made the point to me that I may sell myself short, that lots of women are interested in the things I balance, and that my perspectives are valuable.

Which made me think of those awards.....

I told D about them, but I don't think I even told my mom.  I certainly didn't add them to my resume (yes, I do keep one on file cause you just never know), but maybe I should.

Maybe I do need to give myself more credit?

I guess the thing that I readily acknowledge is that I think I'm pretty great, but I also know that no one else cares.

The thing is...maybe I should care a little more than I do?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I think I need another savings account

I am financially conservative, but I intentionally violate a practice that I often hear suggested by other financially conservative people (like Dave Ramsey):
I use a credit card for as many of my purchases as possible except groceries.  
(But we pay off our credit card every month.  So far in my life, I've never carried a balance from one month to another).

I have a very good reason for using my credit card a lot.  Actually I have two.  

I. Putting it on credit card provides me a record of what I've spent, where I've spent it, and the date on which I spent it.  

I know myself, and I know that on the occasions that I spend cash, I end up having no idea what I spent money on.  The cash is gone, and I cannot remember where it went.  What did I buy?  Where did I buy it?  And I hate that feeling of having no idea where the $50 in my wallet went.  

If I put it on credit card, I save the receipt.  All credit card receipts go in a special "Credit Card" folder above my desk.

(I also use my debit card for expendables, like groceries or household cleaning items, for this same reason:  a paper trail for me to notate in my checkbook.)

II. Putting it on credit card provides me with cash back bonuses.

Every time we have a cash back bonus, I funnel the money into our Christmas savings account.  In the past year, I've put over $500 into that account from cash back.  That is $500 of essentially free money to me (and it is free to me because I don't carry a credit card balance from month-to-month and don't pay anything beyond 0% in interest.)

I feel like I'm violating a code of frugal people by admitting this.  I may be shunned.

Here is another financially conservative faux pas of mine:  I don't use the envelope system of saving.

The "envelope" system has never been appealing to me.  I tried to institute a virtual envelope system years and years ago.  I would earmark a certain amount of money in various categories each month.  Ultimately, at the end of the month, I would need to buy milk and give myself 40 kinds of guilt and grief because I didn't have any money left in my "grocery" virtual envelope, but we were totally out of milk and needed it.  I may have had $500 sitting in all of my other envelopes not being used for anything, but I felt terrible taking $3 to get milk.  D thought this was ludicrous.

Eventually, I did too, and I decided to come up with a better system for us.

That system is to squirrel a bunch of money into various savings accounts.  I think it is called something like the 80/20 rule.  We have the following:

Escrow--we pay our mortgage and homeowners/car insurance out of this
House-- for repairs/maintenance and improvements
Car-- for repairs/maintenance and, assuming we can ever save a sizable chunk, for the purchase of     other cars when ours conk out.
Fun-- for vacations, concerts, performances
Medical-- for medical costs.
Christmas-- for Christmas gifts/expenses

The money leftover is used to pay utilities and groceries.  Anything beyond that.....fair game.

I have been thinking lately that we might need to add another savings account category, which would be Clothing.  We definitely don't spend a lot of money on clothes, but inevitably, everything hits at once.  In June, N needed soccer cleats.  We also had two rounds of family photographs, so I needed to buy some things for those.  The boys had outgrown their summer pajamas, so I had to purchase some of those.  Even if you find sales or shop consignment (as I do), when you are purchasing for three kids, it adds up.

I do keep a budget using, and that allows me to see how much, on average, we spend in various categories.  The one thing I don't like about mint is that when we do spend a bunch of money on something (like the bathroom remodel for which we paid cash), it puts us in the red, which makes me feel like we've been horribly irresponsible people.  It doesn't matter if we had saved $16,000 for the past however long to be able to do that remodel and spend that money.  That part screws with my money psychology.

I guess there is no perfect just have to find the system that allows you to save and spend in the most efficient and non-guilt- and stress-inducing way for your family

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Upcoming writers' or maybe I am qualified?

'A few months ago, one of my editors emailed me asking if I'd be interested in attending a local writers' conference and serving on a panel session with other freelance writers.  This coming weekend is that conference.

Sure, thoughts like "I wonder if I'm the 19th person she's emailed to see if they'd be interested?" ran through my head, but ultimately I decided that even if 18 other people turned it down, I'm the one who didn't.  Showing up counts for a lot in my opinion.  (And I'm hoping not to be struck down by the viral funk that is coursing through my family.)

I keep flitting between thinking I am qualified to be on this panel and thinking I am completely unqualified to sit on the dais (or whatever I'll be sitting on).  

I've been actually earning money for my writing for 6 years, so I think I can say I'm a "professional writer."  Whether that money is enough in total to pay one month's mortgage is neither here nor there, I reckon.  The point is that someone thinks my writing is good enough to pay me for it.  I guess I'm qualified.

In the email reminders I keep getting about the conference, the freelancers have been told to bring some of their books to sell to attendees.  This is the part where I say I feel completely unqualified.  I haven't written books.  I do the little ads on this blog, which have rendered me a total of zero dollars and zero cents.  I have been published but not that published.  

On the rare occasions when friends have said, "You should write a book," my response is that I have nothing that would fill up a book, which isn't me gunning for praise.  I have no motivation to write a book because I have nothing I want to say in a book.  

Also, even if I did have the desire to write a book, I haven't the time.  I would have to let other things go, like the freelancing for the magazines or the teaching at the cottage school, and I enjoy doing those things.  I would feel like I have a real, full-time job, and I don't want a real, full-time job.  

This blog is a meandering stroll that dabs into family events and mood disorder challenges and parenting perils.  I'm not sure I could come up with a succinct thesis statement that would sum up what this blog is (assuming if I ever wrote a book I would use this blog as a jumping off point).  

This blog is mostly a place where I can fulfill that need to write that I think all writers have.  There isn't a take it or leave it (even if you love it) to writing if you are a writer.  There is an imperative to write, even if that writing isn't something for which you are paid, even if you never write a book from it, even if you never show anyone anything you've ever written.  You may go for days or weeks without writing, without having that urge, but when it comes, you have to heed it.  You feel overwhelmed with the need to "get these thoughts out and down" onto paper or screen so you can see them in the clearest light, away from anything else in your head that clouds them.  

Writing is this

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cycles of family life

There are rhythms to family life especially if you have more than one child.  The iterations of children going through milestones and performances and graduations one after the other, with a couple years or many years scattered between them, provide a routine of sorts.  A feeling of "I think we've done this before."

Our family has had rhythms of sickness.  I suspect all families do.

For a long, long time, we had cycles of surgery.

2006--D had his gallbladder removed.
2007--G was born via c-section.
2008--G had bilateral myringotomy with tubes.
2009--M was born via c-section.
2010--M had bilateral myringotomy with tubes.
2011--M had bilateral myringotomy with tubes, and N had tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy.
2012--Blip year with no surgeries.  Our FSA might have made it to September.
2013--M had tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy and bilateral myringotomy with tubes.
2014--M had bilateral myringotomy with tubes.

For the past 3 years, we've had vacation cycles of sickness/injury.

2014--M developed the ear infection from hell as we began our trip to Sanibel, FL.
2015--D pulled a muscle in his back and got a steroid shot/muscle relaxers while in Orlando, FL.
2016--N, G, and M all had a virus while we were in Michigan.

We are currently in the month-long virus that interfered with Michigan that has both boys on oral antibiotics due to subsequent sinus/ear infections and D down-for-the-count (although trying mightily to work from home).  I keep wondering if I will be the last man to fall or if, somehow, it might pass me by.  I'm not sure what the incubation period is, but I have been breathed on/coughed on for the past month by 4 other people so hopefully I have some kind of super-mom immunity.

It should make me feel better to see a record of these cycles and to remember that we do move beyond them.  Minor illnesses and issues, all, but the repetitiveness of them makes it feel sometimes like it is

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Off-the-grid: Michigan Trip, Post #3

July 7 was an overcast day.  My brother's family did the lazy Platte River excursion, but my gang went to see Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Northport, MI.  

It was a lovely drive up M-22 to Northport, which is a cute little town.  After visiting the lighthouse and lunch, we walked to the marina and around the town a bit.  (If I ever have the chance to go back, I definitely want to stop at Suttons Bay, a slightly larger village in MI.)

On July 8, the girls went shopping along Front Street in Traverse City, MI and then down to the bay for a toe-dip.

On July 9, my brother's family headed home, while the rest of us drove 2 hours north to the Upper Peninsula.  (Another place I'd visit if I ever got the chance is Charlevoix, MI.  Looked amazing!)  

We stopped at Mackinaw City and picnicked near the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.  By this point in the trip, G was running a fever (apparently, shared by his sister.)  Fortunately for him (and us), a dose of ibuprofen restored his energy and allowed him to have some fun.  

We stayed in St. Ignace, in a quaint home right on Lake Michigan.  From where I took this picture of the house, I am standing on the beach.  Less than a minute's walk from deck to lake.  

This was the view of the lake from where I stood to take a picture of the house.

One of the neatest things about this house was Betty, the neighborhood dog, who roamed around and would greet us whenever we went outside.  She took walks on the beach with us.  

On July 10 we went into St. Ignace to see the boardwalk and the lighthouse.

G was still feeling OTC to the rescue again.

Later we went to a beach near the house for some fun.  The water was still.

On July 11, we drove an hour north for a day-trip to see Tahquamenon Falls near Paradise, MI.  We started at the Lower Falls and then made our way to the Upper.

G was feeling better by then, which left us with M, who started complaining of feeling cold (and subsequently running a fever).  By the time we drove to Whitefish Point to see the lighthouse and stick our toes in Lake Superior, M opted to sit in the car.  He was done.  Actually, we were all pretty done from such a busy day.  

We had intended to drive up to Sault Ste. Marie to see the Soo Locks, but with M feeling puny and G moaning nonstop that all he wanted to do was swim, we decided to hang loose our last two days and just go to the beach.  It was a smart decision.  

(Given all the sickness on the trip, I figured what is a little swim in ice-cold water to ensure pneumonia?)

Evenings were spent walking along our little stretch of beach near the house.

See our friend Betty?

And that, in 3 long posts, was our 2016 Michigan vacation.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

Off-the-grid: Michigan Trip, Post #2

On July 6, we had photos taken by a neighbor of the owner of our rental, who lives directly across the lake.  We wanted to take advantage of being at the same place at the same time.  

The whole gang.  D, N, me, G and M.  My brother, my SIL, 
my 2 nephews and my niece.  My MIL (M is on her lap), and 
my parents.

After pictures, we had some fun in the lake.  

N and my niece prepared to kayak.  

Approximately 7.3 minutes later, my niece is crying and screaming, which results in my brother staging a rescue mission.  

Yours truly kayaking.

And paddle-boating. 

D on a paddle board, which I did too, 
but no one took any pictures.  

 G did GREAT kayaking.  
I couldn't believe it.

We worked in some putt-putt as well that day.

Off-the-grid: Michigan Trip, Post #1

As a general rule, I try to go off-the-grid during vacations.  I don't post on Facebook as a security measure.....I don't really want people knowing what I'm doing every second I'm doing it.  But I also want to be present in the moment of my time away from "real life."

Going to Michigan made it easy to be off-the-grid because I didn't have a choice. I couldn't get much cell reception in Traverse City and couldn't get ANY in the UP.

The first part of our trip was at High Lake in Traverse City, MI.  We rented a home that could accommodate my 5, my brother's family of 5, our parents and my MIL.

We could walk into the lake from the small beach in the yard and had access to kayaks, a paddle board, a paddle boat and a canoe.  The kids swam out to the floating dock and jumped off the diving board.

Arrival day:  July 4......
Checking it out

The first of many fires for making s'mores.

We visited Sleeping Bear Dunes on July 5, which was amazing.  The weather was perfect. We hiked Empire Bluffs Trail first, then drove to Esch Beach.  The kids liked going a ways up into Otter Creek, which was warmer than Lake Michigan.

We ate lunch at Joe's Friendly Tavern and then drove to the Dune Climb.  We finished the day by seeing the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

Hiking the trail
(N was a trooper even though she wasn't completely 
back-to-normal from her pre-trip virus.)

Views from the top

A dune at the top of the trail.

Heading back down

Esch Beach
(our first dip in Lake Michigan)

Venturing up Otter Creek

At Dune Climb in Sleeping Bear before heading up.

We made it!

From Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, stop #9