Politics and Money

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
― Albert Einstein

For obvious reasons, politics is on my mind this week.

Something I’ve probably not spent enough time thinking through is how politics affects my money choices. A lot of the “big” purchases normally associated with American politics are simply not part of our lives at the moment. We have only ever bought one car and that was from a family member, we have never bought a house, and the biggest choice we’ve made is to live and work abroad which obviously makes an impact in our taxes and expenses. I know that political policy informs my life day to day, but I’d never really really done an examination as to how or how intimately.

That started to change last year after the Brexit vote. It was a political decision that had and will have enormous consequences for the industry I work in, to the tune of millions and perhaps billions of pounds. Of course I know that every budget the US Congress has passed in my lifetime has affected me, but this was the first time that I felt the financial implications of politics hit my work and wallet directly since the Great Recession. It was sobering and it changed several of our potential futures.

 photo DeathtoStock_Creative Community8_zpsmxybcv1y.jpgimage via Death to the Stock Photo

We love living in London, the idea of ever leaving cracks my heart…but we do occasionally take a look at career opportunities back in the States where we’d be likely to make larger paychecks (Jeff in particular). Meanwhile the exchange rate is now much less favorable to us than it once was, with more uncertainty in the forecast. Given these financial realities, influenced by international and local politics, it’s not inconceivable that we may move back to the States or to another country at some point. If we do our taxation will change, so will other political realities.

As the future of the Affordable Care Act is currently in a state of limbo in the States, I just had the cervical exam I’m entitled to as a person who pays UK taxes that funds the NHS–I won’t call it “free.” I’m also provided access to regular birth control at no additional cost to me and regular dentistry (joke about UK teeth care all you want, I still get mine checked out every six month and it costs a fraction of what it would in the States). On the flip side, there are legitimate critiques for a system that many find bureaucratic and overstretched, and that some people dislike.

Money and politics are a constant trade off for what we have, what we want, what we are able to provide for ourselves, and what we deem that government/society/employers should provide for us. The financial choices I/we have made are personal ones, but they are political as well. As the saying goes, “The personal is political.”

But we’ve not yet really parsed out how politics will affect our desire to invest, to save, to retire. These still feel like “far away” problems, even though I know they aren’t.

So, wiser, older, and more experienced friends, talk to me about how politics has affected your money choices. What decisions did you have to make under the past administration (if you’re American), and what decisions do you think you will need to under the new one? Brit friends, ditto your experiences under recent governments?

The Paradox of Space and Stuff

“Our pleasures are not material pleasures, but symbols of pleasure – attractively packaged but inferior in content.”
― Alan W. Watts

When our friends were in town the other week it was an amazing chance to catch up. One half of the pair, Chris, and I have been friends since freshmen year of university. In fact he, Jeff, and I were all in an assigned cohort for freshmen students and it’s kind of funny to think about how life has turned out for us in the past 12 years. I absolutely adore his wife, who I’ve known almost as long, and having the ability to see friends from the States is such a rare pleasure for us.

In talking all things work, life, and adulthood related we got on the the subject of upgrading. They live in California and bought a house there. Since then they’ve been working on all kinds of DIY projects to improve their home and add value to it, and seem to be enjoying the process. But in spite of being able to do these improvements on a tight budget and by themselves, we quickly found we were dealing with a similar issue even though we live in a rented apartment.

The famous saying is mo’ money, mo’ problems. Add mo’ space, mo’ spending to the mix.

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We started comparing notes on how that as soon as we’d either moved into a house or a larger apartment, we found our “stuff” multiplying. Closets full of items they rarely used on their end, furniture we’ve never previously owned on ours. More empty space that we feel compelled to fill for us, a garage for them to store stuff, which means they’re holding on to things that they’ve never accumulated before.

Chris told me of a piece of motorcycle equipment that he doesn’t use anymore, but is loathe to give away or even sell because 1) it cost him a pretty penny to get in the first place and, 2) what if he needs it again in the future? We now have a second bedroom (currently being used primarily as storage) which is where, if an item doesn’t really have a home yet, there it goes! A quick, sheepish scan of the contents this morning revealed a number of older cords and electronics I should probably recycle and a bag of linens and stuff that I’ve been meaning to drop off for donation since we moved in. Oops. Having space clearly does something to our mental relationship with stuff!

In our old flat, we didn’t have room for much…and so we didn’t have much. When we moved to a twice as large apartment in October, we suddenly had twice the space to fill. Plus we gave up landlord-provided furniture as part of a negotiation for lower rent and so had to buy furniture for the first time since living in London. Our old apartment barely held a loveseat, but suddenly we needed a sofa to fill a living room. In our old apartment, that loveseat and a desk chair were the only places we had to sit down in, in our new apartment we had a breakfast bar but we now needed stools to sit at it. We have two bathrooms and so needed two bathmats. We have more than one cupboard now and have somehow acquired a mug collection. Oops again.

Like water, people, their money habits, and their stuff seem to expand to fit their containers. Ours certainly have. When we have made more money, we have historically spent more money…even after living quite comfortably on less! Before moving to a larger apartment, our expenses didn’t necessarily change, but we found our habits did. Both we and the handful of friends I have unscientifically surveyed for this post have also found their ability to accumulate and retain stuff grow significantly due to moving into a house for the first time, a bigger apartment, or a first home all to one’s self after leaving the sharing economy that is living with roommates. Call it the curse of comfort! Part of the reason I don’t want a big house anymore is because I don’t want to have to pay to outfit it, keep up a yard, and take care of the whole thing. I’d rather have a much smaller home with fewer, nicer things, and spend my money on other priorities.

On the other hand, I do think there is a correlation between generally being in a position to make more money, and it having more places to go. If you are working full time, you are likely to be an adult with either rent or mortgage to pay. If you’re living in certain areas, you are more likely to require a car. Past a certain age you are statistically more likely to have a partner or children, leading to different kinds of costs. Life gets more expensive the longer it goes on.

As I’m working to limit my consumption, I’m starting to think a portion of that mindset long term will come from limiting my space, both physical and metaphoric. What else will I have to resize besides a “dream home?”

Have you found this same correlation between space and stuff? Those of you who have up- or downgraded at some point in your lives, I’m doubly curious to hear from you.

 

The Picture of Success

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
― Albert Einstein

Once upon a time if you asked me to describe my dream house I’d have given you a roof to basement description of a three level red brick colonial (inspiration via Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia) with a massive lawn and back garden. If it was historic, so much the better. Nowadays, rereading that description, my reaction is a low whistle and the thought, “That sounds like a lot of work!” Growing up a military brat we moved every few years and seldom owned a house. We also didn’t have to put in the effort of maintaining several of our homes as government support services often did so when we lived in base housings. Even when growing up I also had the idea that I wanted to continue to live abroad and travel–what on earth would I do with a massive house in that case!

Not only does the vision no longer really appeal, but more recently I’ve recognize that the idea of a grand house was something more of a symbol for me than an actual goal. In some corner of my mind, the idea had developed that if I were “successful,” that’s the kind of house I’d live in.

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image via Death to the Stock Photo

We all have assumptions about, and unique frameworks for how we view personal success. Mine have shifted a bit over the years, and even now, having arrived in a relatively healthy place, I am constantly checking in with myself and my aspirations.

Jeff has a more financial view of success than I do, which makes a lot of sense to me. He works in and related to financial industries, there is a more traditional track of advancement in his line of work, and salary can be a good indicator of where a person is at in his or her career. It’s a simple but highly informative metric to him. On the other hand, I tend to think success in terms of achievement. This wasn’t always the case, when I was younger I framed the idea of success in certain status markers, like that big house I envisioned. I also used to  measure success by work I accomplish. On the surface this may sound much more zen than Jeff, but with my personality that can sometimes lead to bad health decisions (like burnout), hyper self criticism or other setbacks. I’ve done some pretty amazing things in terms of my writing, and yet some days (usually ones where pitches have been met with radio silence, I’ve lost a gig to a competitor, or I’m just feeling down about myself) I still have to remind myself that I’ve been able to support my family on writing for years, or achieved a byline that many can only dream of. Reframing success through the lens of achievement rather than how much work I’ve done in a given day has been a big breakthrough for me in the past year.

I’m open to the idea of my views shifting again in the future, goodness knows they’ve shifted in the past! I’d certainly like to make more money than I currently do, and perhaps shifting my mindset to a more quantifiable way of thinking for a time might be useful. I think it may even help me build the more long term financial mindset I’m working on. On the other hand, I think most of us have or know someone who has chased only money before and didn’t necessarily end up better off because of it.

What does success look like or mean to you?

Weekend Links

“Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.”
― George Burns

Well, we’re a week away from the US presidential inauguration, so expect at least one post on that to break up Money Month next week. In the meantime, following all kinds of political and media shenanigans in the run up to said event (good grief, what a week…), let’s have an issues-dense round up of links, shall we?

A brief note: I’m not going to be linking to any of the news coverage about the publication of documents supposedly compiled about the President-elect. Because at this point I almost don’t care if any of the information contained in it turns out to be accurate (at time of writing all of the info is still unsubstantiated) or not. That shady business dealings and divergent sexual behaviors have been documented or alleged in Mr. Trump’s past is a matter of recorded fact, it should shock no one to think that it could happen again. To me the idea that a story of romps with Russian escorts caught on tape by an unfriendly government even feels like it could be plausible is a sobering snapshot of our democracy at the moment for me. It’s depressing as hell, but no one gets to claim that they are shocked–shocked!–by the possibility, in my opinion. And of course, the allegations that there was any type of collusion between members of his staff and a foreign government are potentially incendiary…but again, not entirely new in this campaign. This is who we elected, people. He wasn’t shy about courting controversy at any point in the past four decades, and the expectation that he might “settle” into the office has always seemed wildly optimistic to me.

Finally, the last person who should be whining about people spreading false information about him, should this indeed be the case, is Mr. Trump himself. He helped make this media bed…finish the rest of this saying how you see fit given the circumstances.

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Self medicating with hollandaise sauce. 

Studying the arts is fatal to prejudice. One of the most eye-opening courses I took at university was one on Islamic art.

I can certainly do better about cultivating my own intersectional feminism. Read with me, will you?

Right up SDS content alley!

A bit of a tear jerker profile, but a good one.

Girls v. fear.

The commercialization of style and who gets paid. It’s not always who you think.

Not to get too TMI about it, but an IUD is something I’ve been thinking about switching to for birth control for a while, mostly for hormonal reasons. In the US IUDs have a complicated history and have not been encouraged as much as pill based BC, but in the UK things are a bit different and it’s a much more common option available with the NHS. Political shifts in the US have also seen a well-reported on uptick in women choosing or switching to IUDs over fears that a more conservative government will limit their access to reproductive healthcare options (yay…). All of which is to say that this article in the New York Times about China’s walking back of its famous One Child Policy is fascinating. It reports on how IUDs have been more or less mandatory for women for decades (common knowledge) but how the state is now offering to remove them free of charge to encourage larger families, without so much as an explanation much less apology from the government about their previous draconian restrictions on women’s bodies. As you may expect, this is an intensely complicated topic, up to an including the backlash and criticism from citizens over the whiplash changes and requests/demands from their government. (This link entry brought to you by feminism and acronyms, apparently.)

And speaking of government lockdowns on uteri: GET HYPE! Also, get prepared to go to the political mattresses (pun very much intended) over the rights of women and girls at the first sign of them being walked back or taken away.

Meanwhile, in other foreign-governments-with-which-we-may-suddenly-be-friends-but-maybe-not-who-knows news, holy crap.

Quick reminder that this happened. No biggie, I’m sure…

Speaking of gender rights, a story from a couple of weeks ago that flew under my radar but should NOT have.

Meryl Streep, ladies and gentlemen!

Tracey Ellis Ross, ladies and gentlemen!

Album of the week: Migration, by Bonobo

Spending Diary Vol. 2

“Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”
― Woody Allen, Without Feathers

After allowing ourselves to indulge last week, we put ourselves back on more typical austerity. Knowing I’m going to publish a full list of accountability each Saturday this month is an excellent tool to keep me frugal, even if it’s a lot more intimidating than I initially thought it would be to do (perhaps naively). Judgement and scrutiny, self inflicted or otherwise, is not fun to volunteer for. But still, expenses will happen. I knew I had a big yearly cost coming this week and so, anything not spent on groceries was basically restricted. It’s worth noting that my biggest drop of money was an automated payment that required precisely zero effort from me but still accounted for 60% of my spending, hence my query yesterday.

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Sunday
We made “brunch” at home, did some meal prep and a ton of chores to get set up for the week, and exercised. I also spent some time on writing projects, and exchanging emails with friends. I’m doing the Yoga Revolution program from Yoga With Adriene this month for my flexibility (and to tick off a goal!) which is free and available on YouTube. But it was time for the annual renewal payment of my professional site, which is an automated payment…so, without so much as lifting a finger…
Annual site renewal/hosting/domain fees: 75.00.

Monday
I headed into the city to work even though a Tube strike promised to make the commute a mess (previous strikes have resulted in me spending up to four hours a day on foot getting to and from a workspace) so I got up, packed a lunch, and got some mileage on my FitBit. It was a longer day that usual, but far from fatal. Unfortunately I’d snapped a cheap hair clip I use daily and so had to stop into Boots to replace it: 1.50

Tuesday
Ditto most of the above, minus any strike headaches and the need to replace things. Thank goodness. A no spend day.

Wednesday
No spend day again! I worked from home on a bunch of pitches in preparation for…

Thursday
I worked from a good friend’s office all day until meeting up with another friend and member of an editorial team for a magazine to pitch some collaboration ideas and content. It’s a great opportunity, so fingers crossed! We could only meet up in the evening and so had food together and split the bill.
Dinner meeting: 25.00 (paid in cash)

Friday
A couple of meetings today that required getting up and about the city but all my food prep was ready to cope, snacks included. I also landed a new gig with a great day rate, hurrah! Heading home and into the weekend I had to pick up a few things and, after reviewing our cupboards and budget, Jeff and I decided we could afford some pizza.
Groceries 10.oo
Takeaway dinner: 15.00

Saturday
We decided to make it a home day with chores, and so delayed renewing our travel cards and doing a full food shop until tomorrow, aka next week’s budget. Sneaky, but that’s three no spend days this week to counteract some freelance costs.

Total: 126.50

Friday Poll: Recurring Costs

“Don’t you ever mind,” she asked suddenly, “not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?”
― Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

Quick query, dumplings. What are your monthly recurring costs [ETA, I’m speaking of discretionary spending]? When I was doing my first Spending Diary entry, I had tallied everything I had either personally or jointly put a card or cash down for that week, but walking into the gym for an evening workout, I was smacked with the realization that we have multiple monthly or annual payments for services that I hadn’t considered. I amended my post to include one, and will have more listed tomorrow in the next installment.

What are yours? Gym, media subscriptions, paper/magazine deliveries, meal box services, club memberships–what’s your grand total if you add them all up?

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What Do You Already Have?

“Buy what you don’t have yet, or what you really want, which can be mixed with what you already own. Buy only because something excites you, not just for the simple act of shopping.”
― Karl Lagerfeld

This weekend and next week I am going to do a wardrobe review of my closest with an aim of putting together that lookbook project I have for myself. Why? Because–not to brag–I have great clothes and I want to use them better than I do. It’s taken me years to do it, but I’ve put together a wardrobe with which I know I am happy and that serves almost all of my needs. It was a purposeful project too, I didn’t sling money around willy nilly. Over time I found the styles that I liked and suppliers who provided clothing I found attractive in ethical ways. I put together lists of gaps in my wardrobe and filled them a piece at a time. I bought from second hand or consignment shops, eschewed fast fashion, invested in quality brands and well made products.

I am on record as being content with my wardrobe where it’s at for right now. I am not looking to buy the next furniture pieces for our apartment for months. I don’t want any household goods at the moment. I’ve cut myself off from frivolous spending for months.

So, why am I still subscribed to a seeming infinite amount of mailing lists?

Since Christmas I’ve been unsubscribing left and right from suppliers who seem to bombard my inbox daily with discount codes, offers of gifts with purchase and, in more than one sneaky emotional attempt at my wallet. “We miss you! Come back and check out our store.”

Consumerism, you are not subtle!

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image via StockSnap

It got me thinking though, about all the ways we are surrounded by messages telling us to spend to buy more. It’s constant. From window displays to pop up ads, even arrangements of goods and signage at grocery stores, it is everywhere and a lot of it is subliminal or emotionally based. Trust me, I work in marketing! There are companies spending huge amount of time and resources to get us to spend our time and resources on consuming their products and come back regularly for more.

And I know I’ve been suckered by these kinds of messages more than once. I’ve bought the 2 for 1 deal on groceries and ended up throwing out food that I didn’t manage to cook fast enough. At this moment, I have multiple bottles of the same spice in my cupboard because at some point another I was either too busy (or more likely lazy) to double check if I already had it before putting it on a shopping list. I’ve been lured by the siren song of discounts. Hence my desire to eliminate as much advertising as possible from my life, as part of this conscious attempt to shift in my money mindset and exert a bit more effort in planning out my spending in advance.

Not only that but these days it’s frighteningly easy to spend money. I’ve mentioned in the comments section before that one of the inspirations for this project was a day where between a trip the dentist, dry cleaning, and groceries, I dropped over £100 in a single afternoon. I didn’t even have to leave my neighborhood to accomplish this. Almost everything in Western consumerist culture is built around the idea of eliminating a customer’s reason to say “no.” As a result, products are cheaper and more quickly to hand than ever before. In some cases this is great–I for one like regular and affordable dental care! But in many, many others, it’s bad for us.

If you are buying fast fashion, especially as a woman, you are buying crap. That stuff is practically designed to fall apart the first time you wash it, requiring you to make another trip to the shop and drop some more coin on a replacement that was probably produced by low wage labor at tremendous environmental cost. If you are buying cheap and processed food, you are again buying crap. It’s enjoyable as hell, yes, but it’s not providing you a quarter of the nutrition you need and very likely contributing to any of the vitamin deficiencies and physical ills that affect our society. 9 times out of 10, if you are buying a branded product for your home, a chunk of your spend is for the name of the item rather than any intrinsic material value.

Now, I’m wholly not opposed to some of these as tradeoffs. We might have bought our sofa on sale, but we still bought it from West Elm. I’m just as guilty as anybody of being susceptible to style or brand cache.

But in my day to day life? I know intellectually that in many areas I have all I need for right now. Hence my decisions to be aggressive about monitoring and clamping down on my less-conscious money decisions. Eliminating emails beckoning me to buy things I don’t need was one step. Putting together a lookbook documenting my wardrobe is another, and I’m also in the midst of a kitchen audit to keep a better stock of my food basics so I can use ingredients I already have to hand in cooking. It’s small potatoes, maybe, but I want to be very conscious and more intentional about knowing and using what I already have.

How about you guys? What do you already have that you could use better, more often or more intelligently? Have you ever tried specifically to reduce your waste or consumption? Are you susceptible to any particular temptations and, if so, how have you staved them off? And have you ever gone on a massive unsubscribe spree?