February 18, 2013

What gives your time worth?

It’s a bit of a truism that time is money.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff about paying for “extra time” by hiring out the work you don’t need to do and stuff about activities like watching tv are time and money wasting but I won’t bore you with a rehash of that.

I used to take advantage of every possible earning hour by doing something that might or would bring in the extra cash. But there’s only so many earning opportunities, and frankly I don’t need to spend every waking hour trying to scrape in every single penny. This is a luxury I’ll gladly enjoy.

So the equation’s different for me.  It’s not a cash value I assign to the time that I would normally be “off”, it’s the energy and satisfaction return on investment.

(Of course, even as fatigued as I get some days, that Puritan work ethic I subscribe to suggests that sleeping my weekends away is not “worth” it but who said I was great at theoretical maths anyway?)

That got me thinking about how we choose to spend our non-work time.

Money over time choices

choosing the labor: In a very direct time-to-savings thing – PiC participates in a hobby that requires membership in an organization. Part of the membership requirement is a set number of required volunteer hours per year. If those hours are not fulfilled, the organization charges you per hour up to a max of, say, $300.

I suppose “required volunteer hours” becomes oxymoronic: required =/= volunteer, so much.  But PiC refuses to budget for that charge, insisting that he’ll be darned if he pays $300 that he doesn’t have to. Here’s the fun part: he’s allowed to claim hours that non-members log with him. So guess who gets roped into the choice to do “volunteer” hours?

As the best wife evar, though, I don’t complain. 🙂  He picks things we can do where, for the most part,  I get much-needed sun and he can do most of the work if I’m not really up to it. By our powers combined, we can knock off nearly all the required hours in a day or two.

result: six to ten hours of labor, lots of tired afterward depending on how long we’re on our feet. But those hours are spent doing “recreational” stuff together and equal 1 very grateful spouse.

choosing being “boring”: On tired days, or even just after a really rough week, I can spend my weekend reading, futzing around on the internet and watching tv. NCIS marathons FTW!

I’ve slowly collected a tiny collection of DVDs I cherish to keep me company when I’m having long days alone. FIREFLY FOREVER. <3

result: very little going out. There are times I actively refuse to think of reasons to go out, instead of stay in. Perhaps excessively so. But I am quite entertained. Cheap, cheap date. And indoctrinating PiC in my favorite pop culture. Discovering that PiC actually has a favorite Firefly episode now = priceless.

choosing DIY instead of relying on the professionals: I love trying to cook things at home when the dish becomes a favorite. Also, some maintenance I’d just rather do myself. Likewise, PiC insists on doing some hobby related repairs.

result: lots of cursing, scaring the dog into the furniture and exile, burning of hair stove-top, breaking of tools to save anything from $12-35 at a time. Yields entertainment, the occasional sense of accomplishment or embarrassment: “how long did that take???” We’re not horrible at DIY, but the screw-ups are most memorable.

Time over money choices

choosing to eat out: because eating is good. But sometimes, food is just not worth scraping ourselves off the sofa, bed, or ground to spend a couple hours in the kitchen. Or we just really have to do that other thing.

result: supporting our favorite restaurants, retaining some sanity, discovering new delicious restaurants. Unless they’re not.

choosing professional massages: need I explain?

result: happier body, saner spouse.

choosing a Costco run: instead of going to four different stores to shop sales and coupons.

result: trading the thrill of the bargain hunt and occasionally losing PiC in the morass of Costco on a weekend for less variety in the foodstuffs and fewer stops. And not spending time couponclipping. (Which I actually enjoyed when time wasn’t so precious.)

choosing travel: Much as I hate leaving my precious Doggle behind, and avoid extraneous exertion ;D travel for work or pleasure is always a bit of a learning experience and an opportunity to eat delicious food.

result: Experience and things, I say, each in moderation.

choosing professionals instead of DIY: Most car repairs are now beyond me. In Southern California, there was more room and friends to help test repair notions out. Without a driveway and with fewer tools at our disposal, to the mechanic!

result: Possibly more airtight repairs, more reading up on what a car really needs to avoid unnecessary work, fewer oil stains.

The Choices Not Yet Made

Entirely outside of work and lifestyle stuff that directly relates to money, I still want to volunteer my time to causes I believe in:

I haven’t figured out how to fit in a regular volunteer gig though. They all want some specific time commitment that may be more than I can actually handle right now.

Ultimately, no real issues with how we’re doing things right now with the exception of needing to figure out how to fit in something good. It feels important and perhaps worthy of trading money for time to make that happen.

Are you happy with the choices you’re making right now?

May 21, 2012

Stay at home dads: logical choices

Recent discussions about money, higher-earners and expectations, external and internal to the relevant family members, has conveniently coincided with the point in time where we start talking about trajectories for the future.

I was fascinated, and disturbed to see, value judgments still being passed on choices like whether dads should stay at home with the kids. I completely understand having a strong personal preference one way or the other, but I’m not a fan of declaring one way right or wrong when harm isn’t being done in the pursuit of building and rearing a family.

I wandered into a parenting forum that disgusted and outraged me on the subject. One woman was stomping all over the thread (population: single dads/stay at home dads/dads being the primary caretakers for other reasons) telling all the posters that they were second class citizens, the second but worst choice, that they were harming their children by choosing to be home with them instead of leaving them with the women in their lives, because “women are naturally better at caring for children”. Her claim was that at childbirth, women are gifted with the skills and a level of cognition that men can never achieve, so men are bumbling incompetents apt to do more harm than good interfering with the women’s right to raise the children.

In this day and age, that was difficult to see.

When people are constantly decrying the deadbeat dad, the detached dad, the long-gone dad, how on earth does someone have the gall to decry those men who are choosing their children over their career or choosing to make their career work with their children as the first priority? And what about those situations where the mothers/females are not in the children’s lives because they simply cannot be or choose not to be?

I can tell you this much: giving birth to a child means you are capable of giving birth. I have never in my anecdotal experience of seeing dozens of cousins, first, second and third degree, and coworkers, have children, seen it confer any level of parenting expertise that outmatched anyone else’s if that person didn’t have a brain to begin with and resources to coach them. I say this from having learnt how to care for three children alone, a toddler and two infants, while their idiot mother swanned off for several hours to hang out. Because she figured a seven year old was appropriate childcare for her 3 kids under the age of three. And from watching more than one coworker smoke and drink her way through pregnancy and then wonder why her kid was on a respirator at birth.

So what makes the “choice” more or less “ok”? If it’s not a choice and one has to be forced into the situation due to unemployment, disability, or other circumstances beyond one’s control?

That was the situation my relatives found themselves in: the husband was becoming obsolete in his field due to rapid technology changes and the cost of staying up to date was beyond their means. With the kids, it made sense for the dad to stay home with them. Yes, they were poor but they weren’t latchkey kids. And for all I know, that could have been the choice that saved our family from eventual meltdown.

Good friends of ours consciously made that choice. Dad could have kept a horrible commute to make more money but his wife made good enough money for their household and it was better for their peace of mind to always have Dad with the young ones rather than babysitting with family (which meant no rules!) when mom wasn’t home so that’s what they did.

Let this pessimist declare that judgment system flawed.

I’d much rather try to make as conscious a choice as possible and plan ahead. I know what it’s like to be raised with not much in the till or on the table, and I saw how much my parents struggled with not having anything at the end of their lives. In the middle here, I’d like to attempt some informed choices that include all possibilities.

I like to think I’d choose to be a mother who stays in the workplace because I don’t think I’d be stellar at caretaking while I know I’m awesome at professional work. I know this because I’ve spent over 20 years caring for family and children, related or not. I love them dearly but it’s exhausting and I simply didn’t have the instinctive biological yearning that my mother did to want to continue to care for children. I’m not bad at it, in fact, I am a great sitter in a pinch, but I’m no Child Whisperer. In contrast, love or hate my job at the time, I’ve always been good at it. And even if I’m in pain, I can do my job. And when it’s really bad, I can work from home or take a sick day. You cannot take a sick day from your kid!

PiC, on the other hand, may not have 20+ years under his belt but he is goooood with kids. They love him. They love uncle to distraction. At any age, at any time of day or night, Uncle is awesome. And he has so much more energy than I do. And to him, a job is a job is a job. It’s there to make a living, he’d rather be (fill in the blank). He understands how to live life – which is what grounds me when I’m willing to be grounded away from work.

He’s never loved his work to the degree that I do. My theory is that he would be way better at home with kids than I would. I have no real idea if he’d survive nap times and setting structure but he’s so good at ignoring a clingy Doggle that I’m certain he’d set boundaries after a while. Men parent differently and I know he’d make it work.

Financially, it could be a little tricky. Frankly, at the moment, he has far superior benefits. Mine are mediocre. If we had a family, I’d want his coverage. I make more now but I need to make way more if we were to lose his salary. In part, because we’re still covering my dad. But things could definitely change. I could find a better gig with better benefits, or at least different benefits, and then it could work.

At the end of all this, this is only the Right Now.

My health hasn’t improved appreciably over the last ten years and has in some ways, declined. This is a reminder that we cannot take our health and capabilities for granted.

There are so many unknowns:

What’s my actual health and earning life span? (No idea.)
What if he takes a break and has to go back to work? How does that work? (we could sort of plan for that)
What if I have to be the one to take a break?
How does that affect earnings and savings?
And what about cultivating alternative income?

And honestly, we could just change our minds and want something totally different from what we thought we wanted. I not only want, I need and expect that to be ok. That’s why any of this: choice.

April 13, 2012

Speaking of impulse control ….

TeacHer Finance’s attempts to find her frugal again had me laughing over my similar attempts to find my own sanity, financial and otherwise. 

I was just chastising myself the other night for craving some really lovely luggage as shared by Feather Factor here. That was after wanting to book a pricey Michelin star restaurant for a surprise for PiC. That plan was junked, btw, because it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation and he’d gone and bought himself concert tickets. Then there were sales. Lots of sales. Ignore. Never mind the new dog bed. Rental cars, hotel rooms, more travel for other obligations.

Clearly my brain’d gone, just back from a trip (pictures to come) where the cost of living was astronomical, I think my impulse control on spending and being sensible had just gone kaput. As usual, this mouse was fed a cookie and, and, and ….!

Anyway, I talked myself off that particular tower when I remembered what kind of traveler I really am: prone to dropping/tripping over/leaning on/pushing over things, going into dirty dusty outdoorsy or urban places, business traveling or back-to-home traveling, not glamorous destination vacationy traveling. That’s not the sort of person who has gorgeous luggage!  That’s the sort of person who stuffs up a duffel and a pack and rolls on out the door having forgotten two essential things. (Five, this last trip.)

Aspirationally I’d love to be that fabulously coiffed, trimmed traveler with the good shined up luggage, I mentally shop like Sarah (Paranoid Asteroid) but at the end of the day, we both know that, unless someone else is doing up my hair and scrubbing out the stains in my cargos that I just dumped PiC’s coffee all over, as you do before a five hour road trip, I’m not going anywhere as anyone’s pretty little lady.

Nor will I be any kind of a power careerist simply because I’m dressed to the nines. If I am. I’m doing well just to be not-terribly-mismatched during the work week but as that in itself is a chore, I often find myself reverting to trying to buy a sense of style and fashion through the insights of the petite fashion bloggers.

Admittedly, I might succumb to a sale this weekend for a staple piece or two but the best part of valor may really be to shut off the valve of spending entirely and not even try this halfhearted resistance. We all know it barely works on me.

Besides, I have bigger things to save for, like Comic-Con!

July 28, 2009

Returns, exchanges, recycles

Stuff is a bit of an obsession for me.

Wasting money on stuff that doesn’t do its job bothers me almost as much as wasting money does but sometimes I can’t resist the gimmes. Shiny things – I like. When that happens, I try to follow a one-in, one-out policy but in such a small space, over-accumulation is much too easy. Ultimately, I’ve got to get better at rejecting or selecting because the time spent on making the purchase right, whether by return, exchange, or gifting, is getting to be a bit much.

Every week, I’ll root out another box or corner, decide what objects are just collecting dust and start disposing. You’d think I’d have nothing left at this point, but alas, it’s a never-ending project to pare down my possessions.

Most recently, the pile of things to Deal With consisted of:
1) A never used lock replacement set from Home Depot
2) A pair of flats from Target that failed miserably
3) Four Breyer horses in good condition, one still in the box
4) two pairs of shoes from Endless.com that I simply couldn’t love
5) a couple stuffed animals
6) an old point and shoot camera [Lexio 70] that I stopped using years ago
7) a pile of old books that were sent my way for reading and disposal
8) a pair of running shoes, half a size too big
9) t-shirts from Con

I managed Items 1-3 before San Diego, getting ~$20 in merchandise credits from each store with surprisingly very little trouble, and gave the Breyers to a good friend whose daughter is just learning to walk. Her momma loves horses and is very excited to add to her daughter’s future collection. I know that they were worth money but not enough to make it worth the trouble of trying to find buyers. They weren’t valuable models, they were just to make me feel better about not having a horse of my own. Yep, definitely went through that girl loves horses stage but now I know they’re too expensive.

(4) The shoes were taken to the UPS store for return and that should kick almost a hundred dollars back onto my credit card, and the (5) running shoes were finally exchanged for a better size. Free exchange! I even got my feet sized: they’re 5.5 but you’re supposed to go half a size larger for running shoes, and my right foot is freakish so it needs a shoe yet another half size larger. [If anyone wants to buy me running shoes, you now know that I need a size 6.5.]

At Con, I bought a hilariously inappropriate (9) t-shirt from these guys, and later realized that there is no way I can wear it in public. No matter how funny it is, I just can’t think of a single time or place it’d be ok. Call me a prude if you must, I took the shirt back and asked them to give me a different one. There’s no point in paying $18 for a shirt I’ll only giggle over at home.

Looks like I’m just left with stuffed animals and books. The books will likely go into the paperbackswap pile that my friend manages, but what to do with the stuffeds? And the camera? I really don’t want to set up an Ebay store for the camera…. Craigslist? Must overcome laziness factor!

June 4, 2009

Changing tactics

Every time I get set in my financial plan, I turn my mind one-quarter turn to the right and find myself seeing it in a slightly, or wholly, different way. That change of focus is, in many cases, a good thing.

So … I thought I had too much cash? No, not really, it was more like I finally realized that my previous worrying was excessive. Not unjustified, just rather obsessive. I am a slightly obsessive personality. Normally, I vent, develop a game plan, set the course and go! This time, I tinkered with the game plan, started off and kept second, third, and fiftieth guessing myself. For months. No wonder I was going slightly mad.

No small part of that is that there’s enough uncertainty in the job market, aside from the rather certain rejections I’ve had, to keep me guessing about how confident I should be.

More, reading articles about folks who planned well, saved, and still couldn’t find a job after months and even years of pounding the pavement catalyzed panic mode. I could literally taste my every fear coming to life: of following my family’s footsteps into unemployment and drudgery, of being the last bastion of support, and spiraling into financial and health failures … just like they did.

That’s one reason I haven’t even mentioned the layoff date to my family. I have no answers for them, other than unemployment +savings, and I can’t even mention the savings because my lousy brother will take that as an excuse to coast even more. The irony, of course, is that I’m hiding a major life event from my family that I support and still live with, yet I still haven’t forgiven my dad for lying to me about his job losses and indebtedness.

After spinning my mental wheels for a while, that steam wears out and leads to more productive thinking like, I can probably take a little of that stash and start investing now. I know that I haven’t maxed out either of my retirement vehicles yet, but with a dwindling income stream, I’d prefer not to lock up any more cash in the 403(b)/401(a)/Roth.

I’ve been wanting to buy some dividend stocks for years. Not on a grand scale. But what am I waiting for? Someone to take my hand and lead me through it? That’s not how I operate and that’s definitely not how I learn. I can read all I want about the schools of thought behind investing, but what I want is basic: to create income and protect assets. I’m looking for dividends and lower prices for companies that are basic and sound.

The temptation is to do it up big: throw five grand in the pot and create a diversified portfolio right from the get-go. But that dips far too heavily into the emergency pot for something that is essentially a business venture, non-essential, and a bit of an analgesic for the financial fear that swamps my common sense every so often.

So! The plan: open up an account with TradeKing using a referral from Sun at The Sun’s Financial Diary, deposit $1000, and buy some stocks. And hold them. No day trader am I.

Simple. Quick, except for setting up the ACH transfer capability which has always seemed rather primitive to me. Easy.

It’s all about finding the comfortable zone between being ultra-safe and taking some risks. I’m not going to get anywhere by stashing all my money in retirement accounts and CDs, nor will I throw caution to the wind. It’s just time to get in the game. More importantly, it’s time to work on things I can do.

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