What Financial Health Means to Me

Why financial health matters to us: please share with the #FinHealthMatters tagThis is an entry in the #FinHealthMatters contest sponsored by Center for Financial Services Innovation and FinCon. This is my first year attending and the prize would help tremendously. One of the winners will be selected by top engagement on Twitter and Instagram using #FinHealthMatters.  I’d appreciate your support by sharing this post with the hashtag on Twitter!


My parents did their best. Graduating from high school, daughter of immigrants, I headed to college armed with a $1000 scholarship, a minimum wage job, and the knowledge that it was my turn to study hard and make good on their sacrifice.

Ignoring for a minute that I’d been experiencing increasingly debilitating bouts of idiopathic pain, I couldn’t hide the thrill of embarking on Ye Grande Adventure of Adulthood.

“Weeping may endure for a night…”

It happened fast. Mom was diagnosed with diabetes. There were complications, she needed surgery. I stepped in with my meager paycheck temporarily, I thought, until she was better. Post-surgical anxiety and depression set in, the diabetes was complicated by a stroke, the stroke left her unable to work, and her inability to work sent her into a tailspin from which she never recovered.

Managing the household in her stead, an endeavor chronicled here for moral support and posterity, was more downs than ups, more tears than laughter.

To my horror, I discovered that Mom and Dad had been using credit cards to fill in gaps for years, paying only the minimum payment, to the tune of $100,000. It didn’t make sense! They worked 365 days a year. We never ate out, never vacationed, rarely shopped. Where did it go?

Answer: They’d been helping our extended family for decades.

I couldn’t leave. No one could pick up the pieces. Their family was unwilling to return the help, Dad was out of work and Mom wasn’t well. I felt obligated to fix the mess while hiding our shame from more affluent friends. (Y’all, everyone was more affluent than we were.)

The next decade blurred into a haze.

I ran the overtime meter, paying the bills, cutting swaths off the Family Debt, started my first IRA, started saving, and brought home my college diploma without any debt attached. Success, purchased at a steep price.

At my lowest point, sick with embarrassment, in chronic daily pain, seeing our car get repossessed because Dad lied to me, and having to fix that humiliating mess, my hope faltered. And then Mom died, suddenly.

Reeling, I stumbled into my new reality.

While I was focused on my family, my life path had changed, irrevocably. The stress of trying to settle my family on firm ground exacerbated my long-elusive diagnosis (fibromyalgia) so the career I’d dreamed of was impossible. And now, Mom, my inspiration and strength, was gone.

Any hope of rescuing my good health was sacrificed on the altar of filial piety. Now my job was to create my own financial safety net before my body gave out. It was time to make my own way in life, career and especially money.

“…but joy cometh in the morning (Psalms 30:5)”

I learned to plan: for tomorrow, for forty years from now. I needed to pay this month’s bills and know we could pay next year’s. I needed to know we would retire someday. Saving and investing were top priorities, equal to paying off that crushing debt, and I never regretted it for a minute.

Financial health means we work for our future, instead of scrambling to escape the morass of our past.

It means PiC and I were home together with our JuggerBaby when ze was born.
It means that we can afford reliable (expensive) childcare.
It means that when, not if, my health declines further, we don’t have to choose between medical care or food.
It means we can support those in need, lend a hand, and celebrate friends and family.

It means that we can grow old, keep a roof over our heads, and try to leave the world a better place than we found it.

:: What was your moment of joy, when it all turned around for you, financially? How are you financially fit? What drives you to do better?

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That time I spent $600 on a phone

I had to replace my phone and return to the Apple fold. Terrible or great?Like a scab, I keep picking at it reminding myself how much money we just spent to see if I’m over it yet. (Nope.)

My 3.5 year old phone was slowly spiraling down the drain, losing capabilities as the months ticked by, and I stubbornly refused to replace it thinking that I’d miraculously figure out how to revive it. Part of this was money stubbornness. I didn’t WANT to spend the money, period. Part of it was the fact that my research on replacement phones has yielded nothing but frustration.

My priorities in no particular order: cost, lots of memory, great camera, can consistently make calls and send texts, the right size.

That last one was shockingly hard to manage. This trend of ever-larger phones is tough on my small and rickety hands. I didn’t want a tiny phone, my eyes aren’t 21 anymore, but it also couldn’t be enormous.

I’ve loved my experience with Android phones. It’s been six mostly happy years on Android, and six years post-iPhone, so I really didn’t want to change back to the iPhone.

But all the Androids suffer from giantitis, alas. The shockingly few that don’t were well out of my desirable price range. They also felt like a more risky purchase because I had never used those brands before, and the smaller handsets were brand new designs. I had what felt like premonitory (but probably weren’t) flashes of paying for a lemon that couldn’t be replaced.

Apple, however, had just released an iPhone that was 4 inches with plenty of memory. For $500. Oh lordy, I couldn’t face the thought.

I kept browsing, putting off the replacement, and the inevitable.

Well, I was asking for it. Sure enough, the plan to buy well before my old phone died to give myself some options became the “oh crap, buy a replacement phone tomorrow!” quest.

In one of those Monty Pythonesque moments, JuggerBaby grabbed my hand at the park, dragging me to the exit with all haste. Between saving hir face from abruptly meeting the cement, and catching myself from being swung into the brick wall while saving hir face, my phone popped out of my pocket. It fell screen first, of course, like a piece of buttered toast always seems to land butter side down. A terrible victim of gravity and circumstance, it landed on a most-unfortunately placed rock at the park. At first I thought it was only chipped, but the damage was done. Within days, the screen responsiveness was nil and I was at my computer placing an order for in-store pickup.

Going to the dark (Apple) side

You wouldn’t think that after ponying up nearly $550 for the phone itself that I would balk at another $30 for shipping, or an additional $20 for a SIM card but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.

I could have ordered from T-Mobile if I wanted to pay in installments rather than taking the hit all at once. It was tempting but why pay an extra $50 for the privilege of paying over time? If I had a place to stash that cash where it would generate some serious returns, sure, but I don’t and I didn’t want to think about this for 36 months.

Instead, we planned a family outing into the city and took JuggerBaby on hir first subway ride into San Francisco and Union Square.

iPhone, with tax: $542.66
Otterbox case: $10
City adventure, BART: $15

We toured the brand new Apple store, (only 2 weeks old!) and enjoyed a snack-lunch on the lovely outdoor porch attached to the store. Inside, they were prepping for some presentation with a floor to ceiling screen and before heading back to the BART, we lounged in the lounging-type room on the clearly kid friendly furniture.

We watched as a small pack of kids, JuggerBaby included, constructed a tunnel of chair blocks to crawl through. One odd and creepy little girl, dirt smeared all over her face, ignored by her dad, took it in her head to try bullying JuggerBaby. She kept bringing chips over and leaning in close to JuggerBaby’s face to say “MMMM!!!” while holding the chips out of JuggerBaby’s reach. I’m not sure what that was meant to accomplish, JuggerBaby was confused about why this kid was being such a jerk because ze is used to kids who share and aren’t jerks.

Perhaps ze is a little spoiled by the people in hir world right now. In daycare, ze loves sharing hir food and snacks with everyone, and generally assumes that others are similarly inclined.

The weekend before, ze smiled to a little girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old, hanging out by the deli with a bag of chips, and waved at hir chips. We chided hir, “those are her chips, come on, let’s go.” But the girl quickly hopped off the wall and came over to give JuggerBaby a chip. It was awfully cute, but also a pleasant surprise.

Anyway, the phone. It was successfully retrieved and even came with equipped with a SIM card that was prepared for T-Mobile for no extra charge.

So, what do I think?

I deeply appreciate a phone that works. Being able to make and receive calls when needed, send and receive texts, check my work email from the road, being able to navigate the phone’s touchscreen relatively reliably? AMAZING.

After a couple weeks of it, I can say that I’m not in love but I am definitely not unhappy that I bought it.

I know. Resounding endorsement, right?

  • The camera quality is great. Especially compared to the not-quality of my last phone. Both photographer and subject had to stay perfectly still if there was a hope of the photo to maybe come out clearly. Clearly that was ideal for my fast-moving child and dog.
  • I detest the inability to attach photos from anything but iCloud. We primarily use Google photos to share photos but iOS and Gmail are simply not compatible in the way they were on an Android. I hate having to find workarounds to attach a file from my phone.
  • Some apps are clunkier for iOS. This was a surprise.
  • I miss being able to toggle between apps on screen without exiting them officially by hitting the Home button which I have to do on iOS. (If I’m wrong, please tell me what I should be doing instead!)
  • The native Health app is both creepy and helpful: it automatically tracks my steps so now I’m obsessively checking my metrics. Before I couldn’t be sure how low my activity was on high pain days, now I have metrics. It may not be good for a mind that has a tendency to obsess over data, but it is satisfying to set a goal of hitting at least a mile every day and see how activity correlates positively with more manageable days. I wouldn’t say low pain, those are rare, but when the pain is not in my spine or more than two limbs, it’s possible to push myself to hit that minimum activity level.  (Yes, I know a mile is nothing for a normal human but I have to start somewhere when most days it feels like I’m wrestling a sack of decrepit bones and overtaxed sinew out the door.)

I may never be an Apple cultist, never have been, but I am a great fan of having functioning electronics. Cross your fingers that I didn’t just jinx myself again.

:: Do you have brand loyalty when it comes to your phones? Have you had a great experience with either Apple or Android? Should I spring for AppleCare or is that a waste of money?

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Just a little (link) love: Tonys edition

LinkLoveCAREER + MONEY THINGS

Taylor continues the conversation about parenting and gentrification and schools

I’m surprised how pleased I am for Freddie Prinze, Jr that he made proactive decisions about leaving Hollywood and building what sounds like a pretty awesome life. He chose to be a stay at home dad and still earns income from his hobbies, reportedly working 6 hours a week. A Hollywood (or rather, ex-Hollywood) story I enjoyed, for once!

I shouldn’t laugh about this but I did. Call it the schadenfreude of the working executive. I’ve been the executor of many a rushed and ill-conceived plan dreamt up by top management. Despite all my warnings about the time and resources we needed to properly roll out whatever we were working on, they never listened and it was almost always some kind of a PR disaster.

You may have heard that Costco and AmEx broke up some months ago, and Citi Visa was taking AmEx’s place. Well, the changeover was official on Monday and it wasn’t pretty. Costco reportedly has 81 million members, all of whom needed to receive an activate a new card. Considering that number, don’t you suppose the smart money would have been on bolstering customer service employees and staggering card mail outs and activations over a period of several months? Nah. The almost inevitable train wreck went into effect on Monday and Business Insider blandly reports: “Citi may not have put sufficient additional resources toward the project.”
No kidding? We got our new card a few weeks ago but it’s just been sitting on our table because we’ve been too busy to activate it. I’m sure that’s the case for many people and is in no way surprisingly human behavior. With all we have on our plates, activating a new card is really low on the priority list. So I’m guessing 80M of those 81M were all calling this week trying to activate their cards!

I adore Costco but I have never been impressed by Citi or Visa, and suspected it would be a kludger of a transition.

FUN THINGS

The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the girl” like you’ve not heard it before. I’m trying to imagine Sebastian singing it this way.

Lion eating man’s pants. This is not unlike any given Thursday at our house.

INTERESTING THINGS

A Muslim woman in a feminist marriage

On Isabel Allende and our failures in imagining the past

70th Tony Awards: Hamilton

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Our experience: Flying with your toddler won’t kill you

How to fly with a toddler Depending on how it goes, you might wish it had, but it won’t.

Spoiler Alert: We survived flying with an active, task oriented, curious, very mobile toddler!

We took two trips this year that required flying, changing time zones for one. The flights ranged from pretty good to Are we there, yet??

We flew Alaska Air for the first time in a decade, and discovered they were both pretty infant-friendly, and had a nifty 20-minute baggage guarantee that meant we waited zero time at baggage claim. I LOVED that. There were no other children on our Alaska Air flights but the flight attendants were actively engaged with us as parents, and offered us coloring books and crayons. They also encouraged us to belt JuggerLB in when appropriate, reassuring us that safety was more important than avoiding crying. All of that was really helpful in calming my slight case of nerves since it was our first flight and I didn’t know how ze would react to all of it. This flight was only about three hours so it was a useful data point in seeing how an airline might handle parents flying with children, and how JuggerLB handled travel.

We then crossed time zones with United, which had no baggage delivery guarantee, but was pretty quick. On the flip side, they misplaced our stroller for a while, and that gave us a bit of a scare. They weren’t actively unfriendly towards kids, but they definitely didn’t have anything for them either. While we were prepared to entertain JuggerLB, every little bit helps.

Booking midday and midweek flights

At this stage of life, I’m finally all about the Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday flights.

We flew with JuggerLB as a lap infant but since the midday and midweek flight was only partly full, the flight attendants shuffled seat assignments to make sure we had a seat for hir anyway. As long as we didn’t get the absolute back row, we didn’t care where they put us. On Alaska, at least, it seemed to be such a routine thing they didn’t even mention it to us. The drawback of booking a midday flight is that it cuts into both morning and afternoon naps, and for a shorter flight, JuggerLB isn’t about to sleep and miss a minute of travel fun.

Getting to our destination with plenty of daylight, whether in a new city or getting back home, was a new and delightful change. We typically get in late at night when we travel and I much prefer the midday arrival. We had time to settle in and have a leisurely dinner without cutting into a full night’s rest.

Things I found especially useful

For quiet play, I left all the chiming or electronic toys at home. Instead, we packed board books, plastic rings, colorful window clings. Your mileage may vary from airline to airline but on one flight, we were offered a small box of crayons and coloring book which we happily accepted, and everyone was given snacks and drinks in plastic cups which came in very handy for more toddler distraction.

We packed multipurpose washcloths for cleaning up spills, to hold taut and form a pretend tray for LB to stack toys on, and save my clothes from sticky accidents. Drool bibs were a must because a teething toddler is drippy drooly, empty water bottles doubled as toys, and hir velcro tabbed shoes were entertainment for a solid ten minutes at a time.

We had our own snack bag: crackers, pretzels and cheese, raisins and pre-cut fruit all staved off the hunger between milk sessions. Ze was being weaned off bottles for our first set of flights but travel was not the time to be fussing about cups with those uncoordinated hands. SFO TSA was remarkably efficient, by the by, they simply sent us through with hir, and scanned all hir liquids, the stroller, and the car seat, and even helped me carry the car seat over to our pile of stuff after the security check. Pleasant and helpful – never knew they could be so good!

Plastic baggies were huge time-savers. I stored clean clothes, extra empty bottles, diapers and wipes, and medicine in them. When things spilled, as they do, the wet stuff went into the plastic bag and we moved right along.

First flight recap

LB was bouncy-excited about a plane full of hostages to hir. They were all in one place and couldn’t escape!

We were lucky, the flight attendants were already rearranging the passengers for weight distribution so they graciously made sure that we had an extra seat for LB. Wonderful surprise! We did lots of in-seat play, focusing on keeping hir attention on us and our games, taking advantage of that third seat to move more freely and keep toys on the seats. Ze zeroed in on rearranging the seat back reading material for at least 20-40 minutes, so we were scrupulously careful about not letting hir actually touch the seat back. The people in front of us weren’t crankypants and giving us the evil eye to begin with, like some child-haters do, and we weren’t about to give anyone cause for it.

When the wiggly was uncontainable, the two of them did lots of walking up and down the aisle, waving and smiling. Ze made a friend of most people with hir smiles, and more probably with hir generally quiet play. I think ze hollered in excitement about three times and cried once. But ze completely missed takeoff and landing, impervious to the pressure changes, and may that forever be the case.

Second flight recap

We did all in-seat play, due to unexpected turbulence, but we had a few unlooked for perks. The plane wasn’t full, again, so the attendants rearranged seating to give hir a seat which the person in our row was offering to do (random nice people!) when he thought we’d been separated, AND the middle seat in front of us was empty. That meant we could let hir play with the seat back materials and also use the tray. We don’t let hir use or touch the trays if people are in the seat. Ze likes to bang things on the tray, or bang it up and down, and that’s just rude.

We thought we needed the iPad but we never even got to most of hir regular toys because ze was having so much fun pulling out the safety cards and rearranging them. I’d brought some cool window clings that ze didn’t quite know what to do with so we spent half an hour with me placing them on the window and hir removing them. Those things probably won’t be able to cling to anything ever again.

Third flight recap

I felt like a terrible parent when we realized that ze was having teething pain after we took off. Ze has never noticed take off or landing, I should mention, so far ze has had good luck with the change in pressure. May that always be the case! Since ze hadn’t been drooling or teething for a few days, I’d packed up all hir medications and checked the bag. ERROR. I won’t be making that mistake again! An hour into the flight, ze was huddled, miserable and feverish, and in need of Motrin.

We lucked out in sitting near a lovely family with an infant of their own, and who hadn’t foolishly checked in their medications so they gave us their travel bottle. I offered to pay or replace it but they waved me off. It’s amazing how nice some people can be.

We had some trouble getting hir to take all the meds but the side effect of hir discomfort was that ze took two catnaps on the long flight. That’s totally abnormal and was clearly because ze wasn’t feeling well but it got us through the flight somewhat less exhausted than if we’d had to entertain hir for the full 5 hours.

Fourth flight recap

No such mercy on this flight, though. Not that I’m wishing JuggerBaby was sick, even if ze is easier when sick. I just hoped that ze would have found it old hat enough at this point to relax and nap. Instead, ze played hard and grouched harder. There was some crying on this flight, and that sucked. We took it in turns to play, feed, and distract hir, wishing heartily for time to pass faster.

Obviously we made it back safely and each in our respective pieces but you couldn’t have sighed a bigger sigh of relief than we did once ze was fed, clean, and put to bed. HOME SWEET HOME.

:: Do you find flying stressful? What makes it easier? 

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