Tag: Education

Money Matters

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
― Epictetus

Welcome to money month on SDS. In keeping with my 101/1001 goals I’ll be keeping a spending diary and reporting in weekly on where my money goes so that you, faithful minions, will keep me honest. There will also be posts on the subjects of money, spending, and adjacent choices. I’m curious to read your thoughts and feedback.

We the Small Dog clan have an odd sort of problem. We aren’t bad with money, but we’ve always made just enough to not have to worry about it. Hurrah for you, check your privilege, you might respond–which would not be an unreasonable admonition–but it has had a curious side effect in that we have never prioritized saving as much as I think we should have. Between rent, groceries, cars and subsequently travel cards, etc., most of our money has always been spoken for the moment it arrives in our pockets. We’ve always had a bit extra…and instead of saving, we’ve typically spent it.

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There are some socioeconomic factors at work here. Jeff and I are millennials and like many of our generation we are paying off massive student loans. We were fortunate in that I had a job through the recession, during the worst of which we lived in a cheap university town, but it’s still had long term impact. Our savings from my first job financed our move to London but for several years we were paying over $1,000 a month towards student loans which was, in a word, backbreaking. We’ve also tended to prioritize personal goals over financial goals (one of the key insights that came out of an Edelman study looking into generational behavior) such as living in a major city abroad rather than buying a house and preferring purchasing experiences to stuff. We’re not extravagant, but the fact is that there have been times that we’ve overspent or life has been more expensive than anticipated (losses in the family requiring international travel, for instance).

We also live in one of the most expensive cities on earth. By choice. But nearly everything is more expensive for us than it would be most anywhere else. There are endless think pieces and reporting on Londoners moving further and further out from the city in order to afford rent. Expats without UK driver licenses, we need to live more centrally as we rely on public transportation to get around. Rent is, as a result, our biggest expense by far and followed closely by food. Would we like to own property someday? Sure, but it seems like a very faraway goal. It’s not outrageous for a good but basic house in a well connected part of the city to cost over £1m. For a central London home, a deposit of close to £100k is not atypical and, according to this piece in The Telegraph, if we were able to set aside £500 a month towards a down payment, we’d be able to save up to that…in about 16 years. Yikes.

Years back I made it a goal to put a specific sum (nowhere near the £500 mentioned above) in savings monthly and have mostly kept to it. But in six months of freelancing it has been hard to keep that up and some of those unexpected life incidents have periodically depleted or swallowed our savings over 7.5 years of marriage. We’re fortunate to have not really struggled thus far (written with the biggest knock-on-wood possible), but an unexpected side effect of this making of enough-to-get-by-comfortably-but-not-much-more has been an attitude of living in the moment, financially speaking, and not really thinking as much about the future as we should.

Which is why I’m making savings and budgeting a much bigger priority moving forward. This is part of my Year of Less, in that I want specifically to cut down on casual spending, consume less in general, and budget more closely. But overall, I want to start cultivating a saver’s mindset. It will be a shift, but as I start thinking about the second two thirds of our lives, it’s one I want and need to make.

What has had a significant impact on how you think about money–a book you read, an experience you had, a relationship you’ve been in or witnessed? What were the immediate effects? The long term ones? And how have the past few years changed (or cemented) your ideas about money? 

New Friends, Levo League, and Business Skills

“Make your work to be in keeping with your purpose”
― Leonardo da Vinci

I absolutely loved my degree at university – a BA in European Studies (emphasis in British history, literature, and linguistic development) and a Minor in history. But I will be the first to admit that as educated as I believed my degree helped make me, there were a host of other skills I didn’t learn at school. Among them were a number of business skills that I’ve spent the last year working purposefully to acquire. I’ve had to develop a book keeping system. I’ve had to learn how to set prices for my services, and how to eventually change them to reflect new skills, value, and economic realities. I’ve had to learn how to do taxes as a freelancer – yick. I’ve learned about coding and SEO and other things still beyond my current scope, but not as much as they once were. But one of the most important things I never learned at school was “networking,” and I’m still learning how to do it well.

Since transitioning to freelancing full time, I’ve worked from home. For a few months I was working from a kitchen table in the middle of a central Virginia in a rural town. Now I work largely from a desk in a foreign city. I love meeting people, swapping stories and information, but chances to engage with other professionals (freelance or not) to say nothing of people are not always easy to come by.

Which is why I was thrilled that Levo League was organizing an evening of networking and negotiation training and discussion last weekend! I signed up immediately and last Thursday, off I trotted to it.

I first heard of Levo through a blogger whose skill and tenacity I admire tremendously, especially since she’s five years younger than me and already accomplishing things I find truly impressive things even though we have very different interests. Levo is a network and community of and for Millennial professional women of all stripes. They offer content and resources in the forms of articles, training, events like the one I hosted, and what they call “Office Hours,” conversations and presentations from big names in their industries like Warren Buffet, Cathy Calvin of the United Nations Foundation, Deborah Spar the President of Barnard College, and Nanette Lepore.

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Why YES, I am bragging about where I get to go to work sometimes.

The event I went to was hosted next door to the Tower of London (the views were stellar) and one of the best things I’ve done in a long time. I met Maxie McCoy, a woman and writer who I’ve girl-crushed on from afar for months, who works for Levo. I bonded with the presenter, a fabulous woman in sales who taught me to think in a new way about offering value and with whom I hope to meet up with again in the future because she’s hilarious. I met students from NYU who are so ambitious, whipsmart, and capable that it’s a bit staggering. And I even met another freelancer doing amazing work with social entrepreneurship who was not just brilliant but wonderfully lovely to talk to – we’re already making plans to do some co-working when we need to get out of our home offices!

I’m really lucky to be working in a time when so many others are freelancing as well (some estimates in Britain put the numbers as 1 in 6 Britons and 1 in 5 Londoners working for themselves), and that there are communities and resources available to us. At times it’s been downright frightening to feel so out of depth this past year, but it’s also been really encouraging to find I’m able to rise to challenges with just a little help, good information, and the realization that I’m not alone in either my struggles or my triumphs.

Levo League is currently expanding in Europe (congratulations!) so hopefully there will be more of these events to look forward to – and more seriously impressive people to get to know!

(PS – nope, no one paid me to write any of this, it’s 100% gushing. Carry on.)

Chocolate Week Part I: The Chocolate Museum

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
― Charles M. Schulz

Chocolate has played a significant role in our social lives lately, so brace yourselves for a week of it here on Small Dog Cocoa Beans Lovers and Consumers, Inc. First stop on our tour of goodness, the Chocolate Museum in Brixton.

Frankly on its face it a bit…dinky. It’s not the museum’s fault. It’s a tiny, tiny two room independent establishment with about three display cases and a few wall displays of historic artifacts relating to the history of chocolate in Britain.

A couple centuries of British chocolate pots.
A couple centuries of British chocolate pots.
Tools of the chocolatier trade.
Tools of the chocolatier trade.

Which is a fascinating subject! Chocolate and coffee houses were places of major political and social unrest and discourse, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s rise as a sweet beverage (instead of its original state as a bitter, odd tasting thing drunk by the people of the New World) coincided directly with the rise of sugar…and therefore the slave trade – which Britain played a major role in both spreading and ending. Cadbury’s supported troops in the First World War with supplies (including chocolate of course), and in World War II converted part of their factory to to making airplane parts. Also during WWII chocolate was deemed an “essential food item” (truth!) and its manufacture and distrubution was carefully monitored, which it became a major black market item until rationing for it ended.  While not on the level of Belgian, German, and Swiss chocolatiers, British candymakers are responsible for a lot of the popular appeal and commercial availability of chocolate. John Cadbury is the man responsible for inventing the method responsible for the creation of solid chocolate bars – for which humanity should be duly grateful.

In other words, yeah! Topic deserving of a museum! A museum with more than a couple of rooms.

Chocolate consumption around the globe, which is pretty interesting!
Chocolate consumption around the globe, which is pretty interesting!

But despite the seemingly limited setting, the Chocolate Museum has quite a few things going for it. First of all it puts on a number of chocolate making workshops and themed events throughout the year. Secondly it stocks some genuinely stellar chocolate items from artisan and free-trade growers and makers.

It was at one such event that Jeff and I made the museum’s acquaintance. Their Christmas Fair to be precise. Along with their wares, on display for nibbling, other artisans were invited to pair their offerings with the chocolates. Wine, beer, coffee, tea, cheese, breads, cured meats, and honey were prominent, but Jeff and I got distracted by a woman selling funky Italian, naturally made sodas.

Hi Jeff!
Hi Jeff!

We came away with lots of chocolate bars (ginger and lime for him, cardamon and nutmeg for me), and a hunk of farmhouse cheddar that was scrumptious. I’ll definitely be heading back to the Chocolate Museum, even though I’ve seen it in its entirety, for two reasons. First of all because I’ve not found cardamon flavored chocolate anywhere else that didn’t cost me an arm and a leg. Secondly because I believe strongly in supporting small museums dedicated to telling narrowly focused historical narratives.

Financial. Aid.

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
~ Andy McIntyre

Woof, ducklings!  I thought the application process for J.’s grad school was grueling and soul destroying…but it is as nothing compared to working out how to pay for it!

Where will we live?
How much can we contribute ourselves?
How much, then, will we need in loans?
Federal, private, or both?
and most importantly…
Will we have to sell any kidneys and/or future children to pull this off?

We must write such moving personal statements that the entire selection committe will be moved to tears/frenzy/generosity. See photo for desired effect.

Last night we stayed up past 1am writing (another!) personal statement, this time for a scholarship application.  Let me just say here, that between J.’s experience and my editing, we have streamlined this sort of midnight activity to a science.  In fact reading the earliest application essays and comparing them to the last one we put together was hilarious – especially considering that earliest and probably least polished piece of work is the one that got him into the school we’re most excited about.  Who can fathom the ways of grad school selection committees?

Naturally staying up that late working on something that will only decide the course of our destiny is not conducive to stress free and happy Small Dogs.  I was frighteningly stressed and humorless about it all, I’m afraid, but J. seems to find this sort of angst in me amusing – granted I was especially klutzy last night and after midnight all sorts of incoherent things start coming out of my mouth, so maybe I’m better company than I thought.

So far this work is paying off, though.  J. has one fabulous scholarship offer to school A and now we’re just waiting to see what school B will throw at us (we’re dreadful tarts, you see, money buys our affections).  We’ve callously kicked schools C and D to the curb.

We’ll be making a final decision sometime in the near future.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I simply have to go breathe into a paper bag just thinking about it…

Liberal. Education

“A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.”
– George Santayana

We here at Small Dog Syndrome got some fun  emails from a previous post (the post about things one’s kids ought to know.  Not the post about beating one’s kids.  Very different).  And so, because it’s summer and I need something to do on my lunch breaks and weekends, I think I’ll start up a bit of a series on the subject (again, about what’s one’s children out to be exposed to, not domestic violence.  Just so we’re clear).  Nothing formal, and certainly not organized; that’s just not the way we do things around here.  Let’s think of it as an ongoing project that will intermittently interject into our regularly scheduled reading.

Do you have something to share with the class?

I’m opening this up for discussion as well, be free with your comments, accolades, scathing rebukes towards my taste, etc.  And by all means, add your own suggestions!  I’m looking for books, movies, TV shows, vacation spots, and the like, all I ask is that you keep it culturally-minded.  Meaning while Spongebob Squarepants may have been your favorite drivel growing up, I’m looking for the quality things that you’d truly want your future spawn to know of.  More importantly, why.