Friday, March 24, 2017

Lin, Hamilton, NY!

This makes me so happy! Lin-Manuel Miranda talked to Morgan Stanley about personal finance!!
Not only that, Seth Stewart (from the original Broadway casts of both In The Heights and Hamilton) did an interview for MarketWatch about money, too!!

I love Lin's answer about why this topic is so important. He covers almost everything on what that freedom can mean for almost anyone:

Why is building a financial foundation critical for pursuing your passions?
To educate yourself about personal finance is to empower yourself with the resources and tools needed to help you achieve your goals: whether it be owning your own home, starting a business, making a living off of your passions, providing for a family, having a healthy relationship with money, or paying it forward.

I like that Seth's first answer focuses on balance; he skimps in some areas to splurge in others:

MarketWatch: What are you a cheapskate about? What do you splurge on?
Seth Stewart: I’m a cheapskate on my rent because I’m an actor. I splurge on food and vacations. I am living further out in Queens [New York] so that if I don’t have a job for a year, I’m not stressed about my rent. Every actor’s had a dry season because of what we do. Our work is never guaranteed. I’m saving my money. But I make sure I go out and eat all the time. I love really expensive meals. I feel like that’s what life’s about: Good food and good conversation.
I love that artists are talking about money in this way. Back in my day [she croaks], money was still a fairly taboo topic with those in my little arts community. Some nights after shows, we spent way too much in fancy restaurants (but hey, I got to shake Bernadette Peters' hand once). I never minded working for free in theatre, but I did mind that I paid for that by working 11 pm - 7 am, proofreading at a law firm. We would sigh and curse money, but we never had fruitful conversations on how to manage money.

I also think it negatively impacted my ability to support myself in the field. I was too desperate for jobs to get them. I wanted them for the wrong reasons. Then, my life took some weird turns and I put that dream behind me.

Of course, there's no way of knowing what could've been, but I am hoping my girls will have more friends like Lin and Seth than I did. I'm doing what I can, but the more people talk about this, the better chance they all have of succeeding.

We're very good at talking about hard work, but not so good about talking about how to really make those hard-earned dollars work for us. The concepts are not so complex, but it's still difficult to practice them until they become a natural part of daily life.

Part of that difficulty stems from the discomfort that arises from telling friends "no" to get-togethers or walking into an audition or job interview, feeling desperate instead of confident.

I have found that it gets much easier to say "no" with practice. I remember one time, really agonizing about how to say that I couldn't contribute as much as others were to a particular gift. It was through text and after a few starts, I finally ended up just saying, "that's not in my budget. I can contribute $x." I got a quick reply that that was no problem, no one made me feel guilty or questioned it and it was done. Now, I only really think twice about it if it's something I really want to do and if so, I look for other areas in my budget where I can skimp or sacrifice to make it happen. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. Just going through the process of looking helps me decide how important it really is to me.

A year ago, I wasn't even thinking of going to New York. Vacations were not a high priority for me. But in June, I got an email from Hamilton, offering me tickets for early 2017. I clicked on the link, thinking this will be for nothing. The tickets will be $900 and I'll close the window, delete the email and move on. Except that when I clicked the link, there were tickets in the mezzanine for $200. Well, that's downright doable, I thought!

I called my friend Nancy. Within minutes, we decided to go for it. We picked a day in March 2017, and we bought 4 tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway!  From that moment on, my vacation budget become a huge priority!

We got back from that trip just a couple of weeks ago, and I'm still smiling! Everything went beautifully, and I even stayed under budget! I wasn't even really trying; we went to a couple of fancy restaurants, but we also ate pizza for $1. When it was too cold or we were running late, we took Lyfts, but we bought a week pass for the subway and got around mostly that way. I bought souvenirs, but didn't buy a couple that I just thought were way too overpriced.  I didn't ever feel like I was sacrificing, but I didn't feel like I was wasting money, either. We thoroughly enjoyed it!

And now I'm back to real life, back to saving money for a car - and a few droplets in the Vacation category, too.

Okay, I have strayed very far from the original intent of this post. Bottom lines:

  1. Encourage financial conversations with friends. Real conversations, not just moaning about money, but "let's brainstorm on how we improve our financial lives now." And bonus: if you and your friends are all committed to saving money, you may find new ways to have fun together that don't involve spending it!
  2. Remain open for new opportunities. Obviously, our trip to NY wasn't what everyone would consider an "opportunity," but it was for me. It was like a dream come true that I didn't even know I was having until it became a reality. And it reminded me that I really love NY and want to go there more often that once a decade!





Monday, March 6, 2017

My Podcast Feed #TryPod

Some of the podcasts I listen to have been participating in the #TryPod campaign: encouraging listeners to share podcasts. They say share one with one friend/family member, but I don't like to choose so I'm just listing my entire podcast feed.

Now, this is a long list but keep in mind, not all of them air a new episode every week so no, I don't listen to 100 hours' worth of podcasts every week!

Missing Richard Simmons: I'll be honest, I didn't actually know Richard Simmons was missing until I started hearing about this podcast, and now I'm hooked. It's told with love, but not the rose-colored glasses kind. He's clearly searching for the truth.

The Official Disney on Broadway Podcast: It's really new, and so far, they've told the stories of how Newsies and Aladdin happened. (Fun fact: Newsies was never supposed to go to Broadway.)

Popaganda/Backtalk: From Bitch Media.  I needed a feminist replacement to Stuff Mom Never Told You. This focuses on feminist issues in pop culture.

Twice Removed: I subscribe to almost every Gimlet Media podcast. This is a genealogy show; each episode taking a different person through various stories of their family's history.

Crimetown: Gimlet Media show about Providence, RI during the height of their corruption that makes Chicago look squeaky clean. One of the best theme songs ever!

Heavyweight: Best thing about this Gimlet show is its host, Jonathan Goldstein. I honestly don't care what the episode is about, I just love how he tells stories.

Broadway Backstory:  All about how shows went from idea to stage, including interviews with the creators and original cast members.  (I should mention that it's sponsored by TodayTix, and you can use my code, FAGSL, for a discount.)

living the dream with Rory O'Malley: HamilFans will know him as King George III the Fourth. He's currently the King for the first national tour of Hamilton. He was also nominated for a Tony for The Book of Mormon ("Turn it Off"). He has long form interviews with friends of his; people like Stephanie J. Block and Joel Grey. They tend to focus on how to balance life with their art and figuring out how to have a life once your dreams start coming true...and what dreams coming true really means.

BroadwayCon: The Podcast: One of these years, I will get to BroadwayCon. In the meantime, I experience it vicariously through this podcast where they talk about how they put BroadwayCon together, as well as interviews with Broadway actors focused on their days as fans, and what theatre means to them. As NPH said (written by LMM), "we were that kid."

The Room Where It's Happening: A Hamilton Fan Podcast: Usually, interviews with others in pop culture also obsessed with Hamilton, but sometimes people involved with the show, too (their episode with Alex Lacamoire was the best). Each guest picks a favorite song from Hamilton to discuss and sing along. They're also campaigning to have the Obamas come on and talk about "One Last Time."

Katie Couric: Pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a Katie Couric podcast, except she has a co-host. (Come to think of it, you might expect that, too.)

Science Vs: Another one where the host, Wendy Zukerman, totally makes the show. Exploring different (often controversial) subjects, and trying to get answers.

Dear Sugar: I found this through NPR One (the podcast app that includes non-NPR shows, too). Advice show with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond.  They are both awesome.

Sooo Many White Guys: Another great theme song! Phoebe Robinson interviews those in pop culture that aren't straight white guys...and ends the season with a token straight white male.

Little Known Facts with Ilana Levine: Apparently, she knows everyone in show biz. She's interviewed Matthew Broderick, Molly Ringwald, Lucas Hedges, to name just a few.

RadioLab Presents: More Perfect: I don't know if this show is coming back, but each episode explored a different Supreme Court case that changed our country.

The Ensemblist: Focuses on those Broadway performers whose names aren't above the title. I particularly enjoyed their episodes about each Broadway musical that won the Pulitzer prize.

Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me: I mean, if this show doesn't make you laugh, I don't know what will.

HerMoney with Jean Chatzky: Financial podcast focusing on women.

Behind the Curtain: They have two different shows per week: one that interviews Broadway legends, and one of their Favorite Things: YouTube clips, books, musicals, people that may not be as well known as the Broadway legends they interview.

Broadway Stories: Broadway performers telling their own stories.

The Producer's Perspective Podcast: Usually interviews with those behind the scenes like the producers, publicists, directors, etc.

The Hamilcast:  Yes, another one. It started mainly as two HamilFans talking about the show and the book behind the show, but recently, they've been interviewing many cast members, too.

BroadwayRadio: I love starting my weekdays with this podcast to catch me up on all the latest Broadway news: casting, grosses, business stories, etc. On Sundays, they have longer episodes where they may interview someone, plus reviews of everything they saw that week, both on Broadway and off.

Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People: I first heard about this one on This American Life. Anonymous callers chat with the host, Chris Gethard, for an hour.

 2 Dope Queens: Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson host this comedy show.

Throwing Shade: A gay man and feminist talk about issues.

 The Longest Shortest Time: Parenthood from every angle.

Embedded: Kelly McEvers takes a deep dive into the people and worlds we may hear about in the news, but don't really know or understand.

The West Wing Weekly: Every Wednesday, I look forward to this podcast! Josh Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway go episode by episode, interviewing cast members (and even Aaron Sorkin) along the way. Given that this is my favorite TV show of all time, of course, I love learning more about it. Oh, and if anyone wants to get me this sweatshirt, I'd be okay with that!

Theater People: More interviews with Broadway stars! I wish I were Patrick Hinds sometimes.

Afford Anything: My favorite financial podcast with my favorite financial blogger, Paula Pant.

The Sporkful: 20 minutes about food.

Better Off with Jill Schlesinger: Shorter than her old show, Jill on Money, now sponsored by Betterment, an interview and 1 caller asks their financial question.

RadioLab:  Usually science-y, but also very much about the people and their science-y stories.

Note to Self: I actually kind of did #TryPod with Note to Self's Privacy Paradox series. About technology, but more about how we interact with tech.

The DoughRoller Money Podcast: Rob Berger has grown so much as a podcaster since I first started listening to him, and I think he's loosened up since he retired from his day job as a lawyer. Now, he's more like a financial father, explaining both the issues of the day and a more advanced course than the general basics of financial planning.

Invisibilia: Much like Embedded, a deeper look into interesting stories.

Reply All: One of those shows where you have no idea from one week to the next what they'll explore, since their basic premise is the internet, but always great storytelling.

Serial: Another podcast that doesn't really require any explanation.

StartUp Podcast: The first Gimlet Media show. The name says it all, really.

This American Life: Need I say more?

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Best show to learn about what movie or TV show you may want to watch; also comic books, theatre and books.

Planet Money: 2nd best show to learn about the financial world.

Marketplace: The best show to learn about the financial world. It's hard to keep up as they usually publish 2-3 podcasts a day, but it's what I listen to after Broadway Radio every morning and I have learned so much from this show.

Death, Sex & Money: Really great interviews with fascinating people, usually known, but a lot of unknowns, too.

Ask Me Another: NPR's other quiz show that is so much fun, particularly the musical games with Jonathan Coulton.

Money Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips:  Probably the first financial podcast I found.

The Loh Life: Only about 3 minutes long, I always loved when I happened to be in the car when Sandra Tsing Loh's segment was on NPR. Now, I don't ever have to miss it!

StoryCorps: Now I can't listen to this in the car because it almost always makes me cry, so I can tear up in the comfort of my own home. Whenever you need to restore your faith in humanity, listen to this show!

You Need a Budget: When I first discovered YNAB, subscribing to the podcast was part of my "all-in" strategy. I don't really get much from it anymore, but it's usually pretty short, so it remains in my feed.

I'm even shocked looking at this list! But again, because many of them aren't on every week, it usually works out. I listen while I'm doing dishes, while I'm driving, making dinner, etc.  Some of them are pure entertainment, and some of them really open my eyes to things I never really thought about before. They all explore humanity in one way or another, and I appreciate the chance to step for just a moment into their perspective.

If you have an Apple product, iTunes is the easiest way to subscribe. Otherwise, try Stitcher or the NPR One app.

















































Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Balancing your Personal Financial Responsibility

I thoroughly enjoyed Afford Anything's most recent podcast on what they're calling radical responsibility...though it's not as scary as that may sound.

As long-time readers know, there were certainly extenuating factors that contributed to my negative net worth and increasing debt obligations.

My journey as a single mom began when my girls were not yet 3 and 6 and I had no job, car or home to call my own and bad credit. X was (and is) a drug addict that didn't (and doesn't) pay child support regularly. For reasons not necessary for this blog post, I was not yet a college graduate.

After finding a steady job, I went back to school, but to do so, I had to take out student loans. I don't regret that for a moment, but it didn't exactly help my financial situation. After getting my B.A., I realized I needed to continue my education before I could really see a substantial difference in my pay. Enter more student loans.

To be clear, I am not recommending this or dissuading it. This is just where I was.

Then, one day, after financial ups and downs for most of my adult life, I was done. I no longer cared whose fault it was, I just had to make it better.

I stopped focusing on our circumstances and just worked the problem.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm still a bleeding heart liberal. I totally get that everyone's circumstances are different, and that it may feel like there simply are no choices. 

I am, however, going to offer a different perspective.

Instead of focusing on what I couldn't control, I turned to what I could.

I couldn't count on X giving me child support, but I could re-work my budget to not be dependent upon it - and anytime I did get child support, I would split it between paying off debt and paying for the girls' needs.

I couldn't count on any other sources of income, so I looked to both increase my own while decreasing expenses.

Though many choices felt like choosing between a rock and a hard place, I recognized the choices that we had made. I accepted some, and changed others.

I accepted that I wanted to live in SoCal where the rents are high, but family (and free babysitting) are available. I accepted SoCal rents, but moved when rent got too high.

For a while, we chose to keep cable TV...until we changed our minds. It became a personal challenge to decrease our grocery spending month by month until now, it's a challenge to overspend!

But I think the best thing about taking financial responsibility is how empowered it makes me feel. I mean, I have nowhere near the financial net worth of Paula Pant or Emma Pattee (the ladies on the aforementioned podcast), but I am where I want to be, and I know I am headed in the right direction. Instead of feeling defeated by the problems that arise, I feel like standing taller and saying, "bring it on!" (I mean, not really, but you know what I mean.)

So my X is a deadbeat, so what? He's not worth my anger or tears, either.

When Riley needs something, she's not worried that I'm going to freak out and I am in fact, happy to oblige...because I can!

It doesn't happen overnight, of course. But it does take that moment of deciding that you are up for this challenge. Taking responsibility means that no one else can have it. You get to control your financial destiny. How cool is that? 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Check Your Balances

A few weeks ago, I logged into one of my credit card accounts and came across a fraud alert that a couple of transactions had been flagged. I called, they weren't mine, I was not charged for any charges that weren't mine (and confirmed those that were), they issued me a new card and all was well.

Not two weeks later, I noticed another couple fraudulent charges on another card! Called, confirmed they weren't mine (and which were), and I will not be charged.

This hasn't happened to me in years, so I guess it was just a matter of time before I got hit again, but man! That's twice in like 2-3 weeks! One of them I use really infrequently and had I not just used it, I may not have logged in to check my balance for another few weeks!

The other is the one I use most often, so it's not surprising we caught it so soon.

I'm wondering if the post-holiday season has anything to do with this. I wonder if some people don't check their transactions, dreading what they'll see. It is in your best interest for a number of reasons to always know what's going on with your money.

And it's much better that it happened on my credit cards than a debit card. I probably still wouldn't have been liable, but it would take longer to replace those funds in my account.

Seemed like a good reason to post this PSA: check your balances and review your transactions on a regular basis.

I check mine (and pay my credit cards) fairly habitually.  I check my bank account every day. With my frequently used credit cards, I check them at least once a week. With my less frequent cards, I do this whenever they've been used - I am going to start checking all of them once a week now.

If you are experiencing some post-holiday financial hangover, you don't want to make it worse by finding out too late that you've also been a victim of fraud. Oh, and you might want to change a few passwords while you're at it!

We probably (sadly) will never be able to eliminate this kind of fraud from happening. But we can pay enough attention to our money that it's merely an inconvenience instead of a nightmare.






Wednesday, January 25, 2017

My Money, My Mouth and all that

I think about world events and politics every day. Sometimes, I wish I didn't. I'm not trying to turn this into a political blog, but I did want to talk about how I'm thinking about my personal finances in connection with my personal politics.

I simply do not have a lot of money to give. I am working on where to spend more time on the issues that matter most to me, but I'm not jumping into anything just yet.

There are a lot of non-profits and PACs that interest me. So what I've decided to do is give to one organization per month. 

I used to let my Giving category in my budget accrue and then give a larger sum when the impulse strikes. But the impulse strikes all the time now!

If there's an event or something that requires a larger amount, I will use funds from another category (theatre tickets, clothing or fun money), but at least 12 different organizations will get at least something from me this year. I'm keeping a running tally now that I've made my January donation.

I also try to shop with companies that may not necessarily share my views, but at least don't support those people/organizations/parties that I oppose. I hesitate to use the word "boycott," because I have no belief or even really a desire to see those places go out of business (most of the time). It's just that I don't want to give them my money. So far, this hasn't been difficult or even inconvenient. I just don't go to some places.

As always, I will continue to work on shaving the budget where I can to make room for more Giving this year, and in the years to come.

I suppose I do have a political message after all: it's your money, it's your voice. Use them.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

1st Financial Update of 2017

I decided to check out my Net Worth report for 2016. I was beyond thrilled to discover that it's grown by more than $10,000! That doesn't include my 401k, Betterment account or my student loan debt. I only track my cash accounts in YNAB, which is where I ran the report.


I expect it to decrease significantly this year because part of that is saving for a new car, which will be purchased this year and for our NY vacation. Also, I may be planning another vacation later this year so I'm increasing my cash savings to spend it later.

So I'm totally okay with not seeing that kind of increase for 2017, but I'm still pretty happy about it!

I've changed my mind hundreds of times about what I'll do when my car lease is up, but I think I've made up my mind that I'll buy a new hybrid. I thought about buying used, but I think I'd prefer to spend more now so that I won't have to think about buying a replacement for at least a decade. As much as I love having the fully electric Fiat now, I want the flexibility of a hybrid. I've got a price in mind that I'm fairly sure is doable and while I'll still have to borrow some, I want it paid off in 5 years max, but I hope to do so in 3.

I've already paid for flights and theatre tickets for NY and have enough saved for food and other recreation. I'd like to get in at least one more show while I'm there, but I will see what's available on TodayTix (use referral code FAGSL for $10 off).

Not sure if I've mentioned here, but Sylvia is currently working on a cruise ship. If she does a second contract, Riley and I will probably take a cruise so I'm starting to save for that.

I also really want to get my student loan debt down. While the interest rate is low, the balance barely seems to move and the site currently says I won't pay it off for another 7 years, and I've been paying it for about 10 now! Enough already! I'll make a more concrete goal once I get the car situation under control, but for now, I'm throwing an extra $100/mo towards it.

I'm also starting to save for Riley's senior year. We've been foregoing on pictures, yearbooks, dances, etc. with the understanding that she'll do it all her senior year...which is next school year, OMG. We recently decided that she'll finish out her junior year before she gets a job, since this is the hardest academic year. She knows that means she won't get a driver's license or anything like that until after she starts earning her own money towards it. Her only "job" right now is to start looking for scholarships.

She's picked her dream school. It's not the most expensive, but it's not the cheapest either. We still don't have anything put away for that, but she's prepared to take on most of that responsibility herself. Mostly, that's next year's problem.

So all in all, 2016 was fairly successful, financially speaking!






Monday, September 19, 2016

Self-Care; Unmarried & Single Americans Week

Yes, it's that time of year again! And this article has some fascinating facts and figures that make me believe every year, more and more will be celebrating.

To kick this off, I want to start by addressing those who may not be single by choice, or wouldn't call themselves happily single.

For whatever reason, you're single at this moment, and this is your life right now so embrace it. Here are some ideas on how to take care of you.

Take time to do what you love. I'd be hard-pressed to find anyone, even among the happiest couples I know, that don't have certain activities or hobbies that don't interest their partner/spouse/whatever you want to call them. Whether it's binge-watching a certain TV show, hiking, the opera, even dancing around your living room... you can enjoy freely, and without that feeling that the other is just tolerating it. If these activities take place outside of your home, consider doing them solo. Personally, I love belting while making dinner, picking a show to binge-watch on weekends, and I have a few shows coming up where I've just bought one ticket.


Take care of your money. I sleep so much better knowing that I have a plan in place that's working for me. Of course, I'm far away from most of my financial goals, but I'm moving in the right direction. I know how it feels to not have a plan, too. It's incredibly empowering to know I'm taking care of my money.

Re-think your home.  To be clear, I don't mean spending lots of money on this, but take another look at where furniture, pictures and knick-knacks live. Sometimes, there may be only one or two lay-outs that make sense in the space, but a re-configuring of treasured items may help you appreciate them anew...or you may prefer empty space there instead now. Coming home should feel inviting, and if it doesn't, consider what changes could be made that would make it so.

Define (or re-define) your goals. Plan your future as if you'll always be single. You may or may not be, but again, this is your life right now. Are there classes you've been meaning to take to advance your career? Is there another career path that you want to research? If you're closer to retirement, have you thought about what that would look like? Figure out the small steps you can start taking today to live the future you want tomorrow. Writing the book and the upcoming workshop both came from thinking about this.

Connect/re-connect with your friends. Be forewarned: if you've dropped friends for a relationship, some may not be anxious to re-connect without at least calling you out on this. If that's the case, honor their feelings. I still don't see as many of my friends as often as I'd like, but I enjoy it whenever I do. Especially if it's some quality one-on-one time together over lunch or dinner. I actually prefer that over seeing shows or movies with friends - where talking to each other is the main activity. There's one friend in particular I have a standing lunch appointment once a month. It's always something I look forward to, it's always a good conversation, and I just always feel good after spending time with her.

Biologically, we are each whole all by ourselves.

I definitely went through a period soon after my divorce where being alone completely terrified me, so I do get it. But once I accepted my single status, I was able to start thinking about me and my life and what I could do to make it better. We have so little control over so much of the world, and many of us are responsible for the care of others, but often feel like no one is taking care of us...and that's because as adults, we are responsible for our own care. Whether single or coupled, take that responsibility seriously. I'm pretty sure you'll find yourself well worth the effort!