Posts filed under ‘thoughts’
Two years ago my brother and I officially stopped giving each other gifts for Christmas. I can say without a bit of remorse that I’m glad we ended the exchange. Every year it became more difficult to decide on a gift and the added stress and cost just wasn’t worth it anymore. It was a mutual agreement; my brother was just as happy to end the swap as I was.
Honestly, I wish I could end the majority of my gift exchanges. I’d prefer Christmas to work like Thanksgiving where we drive to someone’s house, eat good food, spend quality time together and head home.
More often than not I spend a lot of time thinking about what people will like and find that I receive generic, thoughtless gifts in return. Last year I received a particularly crappy, five dollar present as part of a family exchange. (Before anyone jumps in and says “maybe the gift giver can’t afford more than that” I will say with absolutely certainty that they can.) This particular person had no problem providing more thoughtful, expensive gifts to other family members.
I spent a good deal of time and money buying gifts for that person, but as the calendar rolls into December I’m not certain that I want to get burned again. I’m not really sure how to handle the exchange of gifts this year.
Do I continue to spend energy searching for gifts when I know full well that I won’t get anything decent in return or do I throw in the towel and buy this particular person something equally crappy? Ninety-nine percent of me says do the right thing and buy a nice gift. The other one percent says forget that; put very little thought or money into it and call it a day.
Unfortunately I cannot envision a way to end the exchange all together. That would be my preferable solution to this problem, but I just don’t see a way to make it happen without a larger conflict arising.
So what do you think? Have you ever been faced with a terrible gift giver? Do you have advice on how to handle my situation?
Once or twice a year my dad invites a few of his friends down south to spend five or six days at our beach house. My parents always arrange the date around a convenient time for us. In essence, they make certain that we won’t have a need or desire to stay at our house during that time.
My husband and I are happy to share the house with my parents and their friends and because they stay during the off season we’ve never asked them for a rent check or any other form of payment.
My parents typically invite three other couples to the beach with them. The first year two of the couples bought us a thank you gift. They purchased the gift together and wrote both of their names on the card. The same thing happened the following year. This time around we received a very generous gift from one of the couples, but nothing from the other couple. The third couple didn’t provide a gift this year or any other.
For the record I don’t expect a thank you gift from any of the couples. I do find it interesting though that some couples always think to send us a gift and others never do.
I am not always great about providing thank you gifts, but I do send cards and notes quite frequently. Do you have a rule for providing thank you gifts to others? If you stayed in a friend’s beach house do you think you would provide a gift to them?
My finances have been all over the board lately.
On the good side of things:
- My husband never watches television and I typically only watched Chopped or Cutthroat Kitchen once every couple of days so I downgraded our package and requested a monthly discount. Yearly savings: $324.
- We increased the deductible on our insurance policy from $1000 to $2500. Actually I asked to change it to $5000 but that wasn’t possible through our particular policy. Yearly savings: $240.
- Requested off-season rates for internet service to our beach home. Yearly savings: $137.48.
- Our mechanic purchased our broken 1999 Toyota. We agreed to the deal for $350. That’s not a whole lot of money, but it’s more than a tax write off would have provided.
On the not so good side of things:
- I opened a new IRA account. Somehow my husband and I missed the opportunity to contribute to our IRAs the last two years! I set calendar alerts to remind me from this point forward. That will not happen again in the future.
- I ordered new black flats and boots. I actually picked out a few pairs from Zappos with the intention of returning whatever doesn’t fit. Estimate: $200. By the way does anyone know a place to purchase super comfy, good quality boots that don’t cost a fortune?
- I drained $250 on new clothes last weekend. My clothes don’t fit particularly well right now and I need to prepare for the colder weather.
- We are closer to choosing a vehicle to replace our old Toyota. My husband originally wanted a commuter car, but recently started dreaming of something bigger.
The other night I took my husband out to celebrate his thirty-eighth birthday. Over wings and beer we began discussing the current state of our bank accounts and the events that helped define our finances. Here are the details in no particular order:
- Our parents paid for our college education leaving us completely debt free after college.
- Neither of us ever accumulated credit card debt.
- Through the combination of a variety of paid internships and jobs we saved a good deal of money before ever leaving school.
- After graduation I lived in a group house, which saved me thousands of dollars in rent and utilities.
- Rather than renting an apartment we bought our first house within two years of graduation. We lucked out and purchased when the market was low and refinanced a number of times when rates dropped.
- Moving in together helped us save on all living expenses as we paid one set of bills rather than two.
- We both worked in the high paying field of software development.
- The company where I worked had amazing benefits including high paying bonuses and pay raises in my first ten years.
- Two of our three cars are over fifteen years old.
- We live within our means and never inflated our lifestyles, (other than purchasing our vacation home), as our incomes increased.
- Other than back and forth trips to North Carolina we have traveled very infrequently. (I’m not particularly happy with this fact, but it has helped us save money.)
- Due to a number of unforeseen medical issues my first child was not born until shortly after my thirty-fourth birthday. Thanks to time and the first eleven items on this bullet list we had already saved a significant amount of money.
I’m sure there are other major events that impacted our financial success but these are the first twelve that came to mind.
A few days ago I posted a reader’s question about unequal financial gifts for his children. I thought I’d follow up with my advice. Here is the email I sent in response:
Up until this point I have only received comments and emails about this subject from grown children and I appreciated hearing from a parent’s point of view.I have not experienced financially inequality from my own parents, but I have witnessed it many times via extended family members.Here is the issue… Hypothetically, f I work hard, stay on track and save my money I can afford a house in a nice community. If my sibling does not do these things do they “deserve” the same life that I live? Do we not make choices in our life and have to live by the choices we made? For example, if I choose to become a software engineer than I may earn a lot, but I might not enjoy my job. In that case money wins over enjoyment. If my sibling chooses to become an artist they may love their job but not be able to afford a house in a nice community. I believe resentment grows when a sibling sees a child getting the best of both worlds; a life they enjoy and financial success (in the form of money from their parents).Similarly if a child goes through his late teens and early twenties enjoying life and running up debt, while another sibling settles into a career and starts working, is it really fair to even the financial score. That sibling had the time of his life and ends up right on track with their sibling who had to work hard and make a way in their lives for themselves. Resentment breeds when perception says “I didn’t enjoy the last ten years the way my sibling did and now they are on equal footing.”You also have to take into account “perceived” need versus “real” need. Is your son really in such a dire predicament. Does he really need to move into a new, nicer community if he cannot afford to get their himself? I have seen parents who believed their children “needed” an SUV because they had two children. There are many families who drive smaller cars and get by just fine with that. Only you know if he really needs help, but it is important to realize that your dreams for his life may not match up with his salary and lifestyle.Having said all of that I love my son more than anything I ever could have imagined in life. I am going to send him to preschool next week and my heart breaks for the couple of hours that he will be away from me each week. While I know that it will be good for him to play with other children I hate to let him go even for just a little bit. The love we have for our children is strong and as parents we want to do everything in our power to protect and help them. Ultimately you have to follow your heart in your decision and if you believe your son needs help then you will probably provide it to him.I would suggest talking to your daughter about the situation though. From what I’ve seen a lot of the pain comes from misunderstandings between parents and their children. The child who receives money feels loved. The child who does not feels left out. If you plan to give your son money I would have a very frank and open conversation with your daughter about your choices and how it ultimately effects her. She may be perfectly fine with your decision but even if she’s not she will appreciate the fact that you were concerned over this topic, that you thought of her feelings and that you reached out to her before doing anything. Let her know that you are concerned that she will not receive equality in this situation, but that you love her so much that you wrote a comment seeking adviceMy son is not even three, but one of my goals in life, (and I sure hope I’m able to remain on task), is to provide a level of transparency into the decisions we make for him. If we don’t understand motivations we may come to resentment them.Thanks again for leaving a comment and sending an email. I do hope you will let me know what you decide and how things work out. I wish you the best of luck.
Over the years I’ve written a lot about unequal financial gifts for children. In response I’ve received many personal emails asking for advice. Up until this week all of those posts came from grown children in these situations, but a few days ago I received this comment from a concerned parent.
I thought I would repost his comment and ask my readers for advice. What do you think this concerned father should do?
We very much love and have been trying hard to treat both our now adult children equally. We paid for their education, though they paid for their living away from home. They love and trust each other, and this is very important for us.
Our daughter worked hard in school, got a university diploma and has been working tirelessly, even now, while raising her three teen/pre-teen children. They have their own house with a large mortgage, but they live comfortably as both she and her husband have good income, and need no financial support.
Our son, several years younger, had a couple of false starts at college but eventually got a minor degree, while engaging in a more liberal and financially less responsible lifestyle, accumulating a sizable debt. We cleared most of his debt with a “loan” at one point, most of which was left unpaid. At the time we made it clear that it will be considered in the distribution of our estate whenever… Many years later, after getting married and having one child, he lost his job (not his fault…), and had a hard time finally finding one, which is still just an unpaid “Internship”, hoping it leads to a reasonably paying full time position. Now their second child is coming, and they still live in a rented apartment, in an area not preferred for raising children. Their savings are not enough for the down payment on a reasonable house. We live frugally, but would be willing to help him out from our limited retirement savings. However, it would be difficult to justify giving an equal amount to our daughter now, as our savings were meant for our old age, so we should have no need to rely on our children’s help. In a way, we would like to equalize the chances of our grandchildren.
So, what to do, and how to do it? We would love to hear from you, the contributors of this blog “on the other side of the coin”.
My ninety-one year old grandmother recently told me she regrets never traveling to Paris. She mentioned the desire to take a trip there ten or fifteen years ago, but I didn’t realize how important it was to her. At the time I was so entrenched in my own day-t0-day life that I failed to see how valuable that experience may have been for the two of us. If I could turn back the hands of time I would purchase two first class tickets and spend a week there with her. Now she is too frail to travel.
My grandmother is a feisty woman and I love to listen to her take on the world. “Everything is expensive these days,” she tells me. She wholeheartedly believes this to be true. After all when she was younger she earned a dime a day and a visit to the doctor cost her one solitary dollar. It’s amazing how much the world has changed since she was a child. I never get tired of hearing about horse drawn carriages and men who delivered milk and ice each morning. She’s convinced we are killing ourselves with prepackaged foods filled with preservatives meant to last for a decade. She told me she went to the market every day in search of fresh food to cook for dinner.
I hope to live another fifty-five years, but I wonder what the world will look like then. My grandmother’s parents didn’t own a car. How strange it must seem to her that my son can carry the entire world in his pocket via the iPhone.
I have regrets in life but most cannot be changed. I wish I hadn’t destroyed a high school friendship over a boy. I wish I had been nicer to the thirteen year old girl who was teased by all of the other students in our class. I wish I had learned empathy at a younger age and been kinder to those who were undergoing difficulties in their lives.
I wonder if my regret list will grow with time. Right now I have the health and ability to fulfill my dreams, but I know that neither of those two factors are guaranteed.
I’ve always felt old beyond my years. Some children are free spirits. I was not. I was the serious type, always concerned about one thing or another. My parents are worriers and I wonder if I was born this way or if their behavior changed me. I never gave that idea much thought until I had a child of my own. Now as I watch my son I think a lot about who he is and how my actions may change him. I wouldn’t say I worry about it, but I certainly think about it a lot.
I am a worrier. As someone who often felt shy I worried about making friends, fitting in and feeling comfortable in my own skin. I remember reading the class rosters that came out every August and counting the number of classmates I already knew. Oddly enough I never had trouble making friends and despite my fears I often befriended the new kids and exchange students who transferred to our school. Everything always worked out alright.
Throughout my school years I constantly worried about my grades. I had a competitive streak and hard-working drive that made me crave straight As and positive recognition from my teachers. My worries were always unfounded. Throughout the years I always received near perfect grades.
During my teenagers years I constantly worried that I would never find love. I was always tall, finally topping out at 6’1” and little old ladies would often tell me men wouldn’t want to marry someone taller than them. During one very short elevator ride a woman told me men would find it unnatural to marry someone who looked down physically upon them. That woman whose name I don’t even know impacted my self esteem for years. I worried that I would never find love, but eventually married a man who is about two inches shorter than I am. He was never concerned about the height difference and as a result neither was I.
In my mid-twenties I ended up in the emergency room with a pulmonary embolism. As doctors failed to diagnose the cause of my clot I worried that I wouldn’t survive and that I would die of an incurable disease. It took many months to receive a diagnosis and many years to recover, but once again my worries were completely unfounded. If I didn’t tell you about my medical history you would never know that anything had happened to me.
During the time I was sick I worried that I would die, but oddly enough I worried more about the fact that I would never have children. I remember holding back tears as I walked through the neighborhood attempting to rebuild my strength and stamina. When I finally felt well enough to try to conceive I didn’t get pregnant easily.
Nearly six years after my embolism and recovery I now worried that I was too old to bear children. I constantly stared at the calendar dreading having my first child over the age of thirty-five. I got pregnant at thirty-three and delivered my son a few months after my thirty-fourth birthday. My pregnancy was easy. I was amazed that my body that always felt so broken was able to carry and deliver a child.
When my son was small I worried that his speech was delayed. I scoured the Internet for articles on speech delays and treatments. He reached all of his other milestones with such ease that I seemed stuck on the fact that he couldn’t seem to master this one. Since that time his language has exploded. In fact, he now speaks in longer sentences than any of his peers.
Lately I started to worry that we won’t have another child. It took us a year to conceive my son and many months have passed since we started trying for another. First I worried about whether or not it would happen and then I worried that even if it did happen the gap between my first and second would be larger than I ever expected.
On a walk to the playground I began to feel a bit overwhelmed with my worries. I looked deeply into the eyes of my son and forced myself to stop focusing on them. I realized two very important things. First, I am grateful for all that I have and am blessed beyond my wildest dreams. The world is filled with sob stories much bigger than my own. Second, when I started to reflect on all of my past worries I realized that everything worked out in the end.
In every instance I can ever remember things worked out just fine. I made friends, got good grades, found an amazing husband, healed, got pregnant and delivered the most amazing child. I don’t know if we will have another child or not, but I certainly need to focus more on my blessings and less on those things that I cannot control anyway.
In case you haven’t noticed I’m the kind of girl who likes to save money. I met an extremely intelligent guy with a similar tendency. We are the type of people who envision large goals for ourselves and then dig our heels in the sand in order to achieve them.
Our lives are not difficult. I’ve had my fair share of strange medical problems, but in the big scheme of life my illnesses pale in comparison to the struggles of many others. We’ve both held high paying jobs and although we worked hard to increase our salaries and prove ourselves on the job we’ve have it really easy; neither of us have ever slathered tar on rooftops in the heat of summer. We dedicate long hours to our employers, but it is our own drive and determination that motivates us to work hard. In fact, we have no one to blame for that balls-to-the-walls mentality other than ourselves.
Although our success stems from a myriad of factors I believe that earning high incomes and learning to manage our money has had the greatest impact.
There are many paths people take in life. You can earn less money and manage it well or you can make a lot of money and manage it poorly. Either of these situations may lead you to the same place my husband and I have landed, but it is certainly easier to reach financial independence by understanding both aspects of the equation.
What boggles my mind more than anything is those people who earn high incomes but fail to save their money. I’ve recently heard two stories that boggled my mind. The first was a man earning over $200,000 a year who did not have enough money in the bank to survive a three week furlough. The second was a married couple earning $200,000 a year who did not have $5000 set aside as a down payment for a new car.
As someone obsessed with personal finance I immediately want to know more. How much do they pay on their rent/mortgage, how large are their car payments, are they paying back school loans or medical bills? Where does ALL of that money go?
When I was growing up my father made a middle class salary and my mom stayed home to be with my brother and I until we were nine and twelve. During this time they drove old cars, lived in a small three bedroom house and didn’t complain about needing anything bigger. Despite earning high incomes my husband and I tend to live by a similar model.
In life you make many decisions and although we don’t think about it on a minute-by-minute basis we make decisions about money every single day.
Some decisions are rather small; doughnut here, a sandwich there. Others are slightly bigger; a new TV, a new video camera. Ultimately you make the whopper of all financial decisions, which typically consist of those big ticket items like cars, expensive vacations and a house.
Each time you spend money you lose the opportunity to spend it somewhere else. Although you can earn more money, you will never regain the dollar you just spent. If you want to spend your money on thousands of little things then you cannot lump it together to buy something larger.
The $200,000 couple cannot afford an SUV because they are choosing to spend their income in other ways. In and of itself that decision is perfectly fine. They can choose to spend their money any way they want, but they cannot cry woah-is-me because they want a larger vehicle they cannot afford.
The same goes for any other big ticket item including a house. Don’t spend your days looking for five bedroom houses in the nicest neighborhoods with the highest rated schools. If you want to move into a larger home than create a new house fund and put every dollar you can spare towards that new goal. If you cannot save a lot of money, then stay where you currently live, buy a smaller home or buy a larger house further away from the city where housing is cheaper.
I believe your wallet should keep pace with your lifestyle. If you cannot save enough money for the life you want to live isn’t it time to redraw the plans?
- The medical bills finally started rolling in. It is remarkable how much providers charge and how little insurance companies are willing to pay. The most outlandish bill was for lab work. The total: $1,570! The allowed charges knocked that bill all the way down to $57.01. Pretty remarkable! With all the bills in hand I now know that I owe roughly $2,000 more than I already paid, but I have reached my $2,600 deductible for the year, which means I shouldn’t owe much more from this point forward.
- The good news is that I feel 90% better than I did in February. The $1500 I spent on alternative treatments really paid off and my symptoms are almost non-existent.
- With the medical all clear we started trying again for baby #2. It took nearly a year to get pregnant with baby #1. I thought it would be easier this time around, but unfortunately I haven’t had any luck so far. I keep trying to remind myself that baby #1 was worth the wait, but some days that is easier said then done. I’d like to write more about my journey to motherhood, but I keep finding myself struggling to push the publish button on posts I write.
- There are a lot of babies coming into the world this spring and I have been on the lookout for baby bargains since late January. I scoured the clearance sections of a number of stores and managed to buy a mountain of gifts for friends and family who have or will soon be delivering. I plan to post pictures of the loot, but I need to wait just a little bit longer since some gifts have yet to be opened.
- In lighter financial and emotional news I bought 10 pairs of pajamas for my son from Old Navy. He finally transitioned out of footed pajamas and I had absolutely nothing else for him to wear. On my first trip to the store the prices were hovering between $5 and $6, so I bought just a few to make sure they fit well. They were perfect, so I returned a few days later to buy more. The second time around prices ranged from $0.97 to $2.67 so I snagged one of every design in his size and five more in the next size up. I had a $5 coupon from a previous visit and spent less than $2 per pair. I asked the clerk to price check a few items and I just noticed today that I was charged for something I didn’t buy. Ugh. I’ve never had this happen before but I suppose I’ll return to the store in the hopes of receiving a refund.
- That same day I tried to fill my car with gas at Shell and found after pumping that my reward points weren’t used to save 50 cents per gallon. The display mentioned a 50 cent savings, but after pumping the receipt showed the full price per gallon. I don’t think there is anything I can do about this one.
- I earned $2500 so far this year from online endeavors including reward programs, giveaways, advertising and surveys. I plan to sell a bunch of stuff on eBay in the next few weeks, which should give my PayPal account a slight boost. My advertising revenue has dropped dramatically as I haven’t posted much since I got sick in February.
I know I have other topics to write about, but it’s time to pack up the house and get ready for the beach, so I suppose that’s all I have to say for now. Everything is better at the beach and I cannot wait to get down there.