The Best Laid Plans

hand with sand

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2014.

For twelve years I worked as a software developer for a large financial corporation. When I became pregnant with my son there was no doubt in mind about working: I would continue receiving a paycheck and hire a nanny to watch over my son.

A few months before his birth my company decided to decrease the head count of my department. After twelve loyal years I sat in my manager’s office and learned of my fate. Two hundred employees were getting the boot and my name was included in that list.

Most people wouldn’t consider getting laid off the luckiest of days, but unlike previous cuts this one wasn’t immediate. Over the years I witnessed downsized employees being escorted from the premises by stern looking security guards. This time management decided to keep us on board a few months to wrap up our tasks, document everything we knew and pass on information to the contractors who would take over our jobs.

As luck would have it my last day on the job coincided with the birth of my first child. In fact, he was due just eight days before my scheduled termination date. My company offered a decent severance package, which included employer sponsored health care and two weeks of pay for every year of employment. If I stayed on board until my scheduled termination date I would receive the equivalent of twenty-four weeks of pay.

I wasted no time to updating my resume. I applied to a number of different positions and received requests for interviews quite quickly. Within a matter of weeks I was offered a higher paying job.

I spoke candidly to the recruiter. I let her know that I was pregnant and that I needed to stay on board for another few months. Surprisingly she agreed to the arrangement and delayed my start date until six months after my son’s due date.

Rather than returning to work twelve weeks after my son was born I would take on a new job after six months. My story hadn’t changed that much. I still planned to hold down a job.

But months after giving birth I had a complete change of heart. I decided I wasn’t ready to hand my son over to a nanny. I spoke candidly to my husband and we jointly decided that I would not return to work.

Luckily my husband and I saved a significant amount of money in those first twelve years out of college. We maximized our retirement accounts, we paid down our mortgage, we spent very little on groceries and entertainment, which made the financial decision to stay home less worrisome.

Still it wasn’t an easy decision to make.  As much as I wanted to be home with my son I mourned the decision to leave the workforce. I left behind a piece of myself. I also walked away from a six figure salary.

I still wonder when I will return to work and how hard it will be to find a job when I’m ready, but I do not regret my decision. I experienced the most magical year of my life during that first year out of the workforce.

I think many women have thought long and hard about this decision. Some of my friends knew they wanted to work, others have known they wanted to stay home, but there are a few like myself who have reversed their decisions.

My best advice to those considering having children is to set yourself up financially. You may have every intention of returning to work after the birth of your child, (I know I did), but sometimes your heart pushes you in a different direction.  Try to arrange your finances so that you can stay home if you desire.

March 3, 2014 at 4:21 PM 4 comments

Hope

ground

There have been a few occasions when I have nearly given up hope. When I have cried more tears than I believed my body could produce. In those most desperate hours my aches, (both emotional and physical), have always managed to heal. This time will be no different.

 

March 1, 2014 at 5:55 PM 4 comments

Hitting the Pause Button

Pause Button

In 2006 new management took over the company where I worked. Within a few short months the HR department was handed a big fat check and directed to spend it on sensitivity training. I welcomed the excuse to miss work for two days. I was a shell of an employee. I had just returned to my job after a five month absence. Five long, torturous months after surgery I walked into the building a shadow of my former self. I felt broken. My twenty-seven year old body had betrayed me and I was struggling to come to terms with my health and my future.

Five months is a long time to be away from work. During my absence my manager was replaced, members of my team moved on to other projects and my cubicle was occupied by a new employee. On my first day back I had no where to sit. My stuff sat in boxes in the corner of a coworker’s cube.

When a friend stopped by to say hello an employee on the other side of my cubicle shushed me. I was telling a very emotional story about my first trip to the emergency room. I was already on the verge of tears and just wanted to shrink into a little ball and disappear.

I don’t remember much about those training sessions. I remember that it occurred offsite. I remember that my arm still ached and my heart throbbed. I remember that I fought to hold back tears as we listened to guided meditation and my thoughts began to run amok in my mind, but I don’t remember much about what I learned or how it was supposed to make me a better employee.

Most of my coworkers didn’t want to be there, but they really didn’t want to be attending to their weekly tasks either. Who wants to sit in a cubicle all day? Who wants to stare at a computer screen? Who wants to sit through endless meetings? Not many.

The majority of participants went through the motions of listening and responding, but I remember being fully awake and alive during those sessions. It was there that I learned about the pause button. In essence, the need to halt your words and emotions. We learned how to quiet our minds and hearts to be fully present in the moment; to reflect on what was being said by someone else and how those words made us feel before reacting to them.

It has been a long time since I attended those training sessions, but I still employ this technique whenever I feel overwhelmed. I try my best to quiet my mind and my mouth before reacting; sometimes I am more successful than other times.

A week and a half ago I suffered unexpected effects from a course of antibiotics. The side effects of the medication left my body aching and my heart quite pained. It’s one of those side effects that is only supposed to happen to 1% of the population and I happen to be in that lucky 1%. I have dealt with my fair share of medical complications before and do not wish to relive any of it. I wanted to scream and cry. I’ll be honest I did a lot of both of things, but ultimately I hit the pause button and reflected on the situation.

I am still alive. Although this is extremely painful it will not kill me. I am ill but still able to care for my son. I am still capable of walking and talking even if it pains me. I am grateful for all that I have. I am thankful for a husband that will support me through these medical complications just as he supported me through my previous medical hurdles. Did I mention that I am thankful and grateful?

I still want to curse and scream and say why me, but there are many worse things that could happen and in the big scheme of medical conditions this is certainly not the worst to have. I can choose to continue on with life. To find things to be happy about and to hope that this too shall pass. My neurologist seems quite hopeful that the side effects are temporary.

Perhaps as much as I am pressing the pause button on my own thoughts and fears a higher power is pushing the pause button for me. If nothing else being ill or caring for someone with an illness puts all of the little things back into perspective. All of those little piddly annoyances in life are no longer a big deal.

You can choose to mope about a situation or press on. Although the pause button was pressed for me it does not mean life will not carry on.

February 27, 2014 at 8:32 AM Leave a comment

Personal Loans: A Good Solution?

I don’t like debt. In my life I’ve signed for one car loan and two mortgages. In fact, I dislike debt so much that I paid off my car loan within a year of buying it. The mortgages, which are held on two separate properties, are my only outstanding liabilities.

I realize I’m unbelievably fortunate and I am grateful for all that I’ve been given. My parents paid for my college education and with my degree I was able to work my way up from a starting salary of $32,000 to a mind boggling six figure salary. When I unexpectedly fell ill I had amazing health insurance and great employee benefits including short term disability that enabled me to stay home and heal for nearly five months.

I know that my life could easily be very different. If you change just one key variable I could have ended up in quite a bit of debt. What if I had taken out student loans? What if I hadn’t found such a high-paying career or had the courage and conviction to live within my means? What if my employer didn’t have great health benefits and I did not receive short term disability?

While we often talk about debt associated with carelessness and overspending I know that there are also a lot of people in the world with unfortunate and uncontrollable circumstances that leave them without the money to pay necessary bills. Without short-term-disability and amazing health benefits I believe I would have been one of them.

If you find yourself in need of a life line what do you do? Many people turn to friends and family for money, but borrowing from relatives can be quite tricky. You never know how money can impact a relationship and a lot of people aren’t willing to risk the repercussions. You can use credit cards to pay your bills, but they often charge exorbitant interest rates. If you are a homeowner you can take out a home equity loan, but a lot of people fear putting the house up as collateral.

So if you don’t want to take out a new credit card, borrow money from your family or apply for a home equity loan, what can you do? You can apply for a personal loan. A personal loan works much like any other loan. You pay a fixed amount of money in equal installments over a period of months or years. Unlike other types of loans there is typically no collateral to secure the loan, so there is no fear that your car will be repossessed or your home foreclosed upon. Not sure how to get started with a personal loan, check out Lend Me to learn more.

The terms can vary widely for these types of loans so it’s best to compare rates to figure out if this is the best alternative for you.

Of course, you should make certain to consider all of the alternatives before entering into any financial agreement. Weigh your options, compare terms and determine which is the right solution for you.

February 24, 2014 at 10:28 PM Leave a comment

How Much Can You Afford to Spend on a New Car?

The most important aspect of buying a new car is determining just how much you can afford to pay for one. Don’t let yourself walk through a car lot or peruse the automakers websites until you evaluate your finances.

The best plan of action is to create a budget. Write down how much income you bring in after taxes, how many recurring expenses you pay for on a monthly basis and the amount of money you have leftover after paying all of your current bills.

Some people are budgeters by nature. If this is the case you can determine how much you can afford rather quickly. If you don’t keep solid track of your finances you may need to pull out all of your household bills, credit card statements and pay-stubs.

When setting a figure don’t underestimate your discretionary expenses. Some people plan to cut back on these types of expenses in order to buy a more expensive vehicle. If you think this way I urge you to try cutting back before buying your car. Spend a few months foregoing those discretionary expenses and then decide if you are willing to continue going without them. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you can’t realistically cut back on these over the long haul.

Don’t forget to factor in the cost of fuel and regularly scheduled maintenance. More expensive vehicles often cost more to fix.

If you need help determining how much car you can afford visit this site for a car finance calculator. You can enter your loan amount, interest rate and loan term to determine just how much you’ll need to pay each month.

If you don’t need a car right away, consider setting aside money each paycheck to pay for it. A significant down payment can greatly reduce those monthly payments.

February 21, 2014 at 12:57 PM Leave a comment

Does a High Deductible Health Insurance Plan Make You More Reluctant to Visit a Doctor?

Last January I sat on the couch with three large insurance documents spread out across my computer screen. Should I choose an HMO or PPO? Should I opt for a high deductible insurance plan or pay up front for everything in the form of higher premiums? I have to admit I was overwhelmed with details.

With a very complicated medical history I wanted to make certain my family and I have solid coverage. Illnesses can arise unexpectedly at any age. I was only twenty-seven when I was swiftly sidelined by rare medical complications.

One plan seemed to cover more treatments more than an other, but since we do not suffer from chronic conditions, (at least not ones that require medical supervision), it is unclear if we would ever need or use those services.

Ultimately it came down to a question of money. The high deductible plan was $760 less per month than the standard PPO and saving $760 a month seemed like a no-brainer.

Here are the numbers that helped us choose the HSA plan. For the record as a result of ObamaCare we now pay a MUCH larger premium.

Current Monthly Premium: $1525
New Monthly Premium: $765
Monthly Savings: $760
Yearly Premium: $18,300
New Yearly Premium: $9180
Yearly Savings: $9120

At the time I wondered why I hadn’t switched over to a High Deductible, HSA plan sooner. We pay less in premiums and can set aside $6,550, (the maximum contribution permitted in 2014), to our HSA.

But now that I have a high deductible insurance plan I find myself less willing to go to the doctor. A few weeks ago I found myself feeling quite ill, but my first thought was “am I sick enough to go to the doctor?” In fact, I tried a number of alternative treatments before seeking professional help.

When I paid a higher monthly premium I thought nothing of going to the doctor. I didn’t visit a doctor frequently, but if I needed to go I made an appointment and didn’t think twice about it.

Now I immediately wonder how much that appointment might cost. What tests will they want to run? How much will each of those tests cost? Of course, no one can ever tell me in advance what I might expect to pay. Instead I have to wait for the insurance claim to be processed and then pay whatever amount has been negotiated between my insurance provider and my doctor.

It’s interesting how much my mind set has changed now that I have a high deductible plan. It’s silly really. It’s not that I can’t afford to go to the doctor. I also know deep down that I am still paying less than I did with a standard PPO plan and that I am still paying a ridiculous amount of money to remain insured. Yet I still find myself hesitating before calling the doctor and in the doctor’s office I wonder if the tests they run are really necessary. (That’s another hold over from my medical past. A lot of the expensive tests they ran on me were unwarranted.)

So I wonder. Is it just me or do high deductible insurance plans make people more hesitant to visit the doctor?

Are you having trouble deciding which health plan to choose? To compare health funds, click here.

February 19, 2014 at 10:29 AM 3 comments

Could A Snapshot of Your Net Worth Help You Save Money?

Net-Worth-Barchart

A long time ago my husband and I consolidated all of our accounts into one bank. We rolled all of 401ks into IRAs and acquired access so that we can view each others retirement accounts. When we log into our bank account we can now see each and every dollar we’ve saved and just how much it’s increased or decreased as the days and months pass by.

After entering a user name and password we can see a total of our net worth minus the properties we own. For the record I don’t include cars, jewelry and other such things in my net worth. I include money in the bank and real estate; nothing else.

Having everything in one place certainly makes things easier, but could it also be saving me money? I hadn’t thought much about it until a friend forwarded me this link. I did not pay to read the entire study, but the abstract states:

The decision to save enhances well-being in the long-term but it conflicts with the desire to spend money to gain immediate gratification. In this research, we examine the influence of having single versus multiple accounts on individuals’ savings and spending decisions. We find that individuals save more with a single account than with multiple liquid accounts. Utilizing work on motivated reasoning and fuzzy-trace theory, we suggest that multiple accounts engender fuzzy gist representations, making it easier for people to generate justifications to support their desired spending decisions. However, a single account reduces the latitude for distortion and hinders generation of justifications to support desirable spending decisions. Across four studies that provide participants with the opportunity to earn, spend, and save money, we demonstrate the proposed effect and test the underlying process.

Perhaps it is easier to overstate your net worth when money is placed in multiple accounts. When money is not co-located you must add the funds from each account in order to decipher just how much money you have. If you don’t manually add the figures together you may create a fuzzy estimate of your overall worth.

I think this makes perfect sense. Without looking at a concrete figure you create a ballpark estimate in your mind and then decide whether or not you have enough money to spend on the items you want.  I can see how it would be easier to spend money without that black and white figure staring back at you.

Over the years I’ve found that the more I save the more I have a desire to save. That’s because I can log into my bank and see the progress I’ve made to date. If you save $100 in one bank and $100 in another the numbers don’t look nearly as impressive as saving $200 all in one place. It seems silly, but it’s true.

Looking at that $200 number will provide the incentive to continue setting aside money. As the number grows so does your sense of achievement. The more money you save the more accomplished you feel.

I never thought about the correlation between consolidated bank accounts and saving money, but the more I think about the more it makes sense. For the record, sites that provide a snapshot of your bank accounts could probably provide the same value.

What do you think? Do you think consolidated bank accounts and snapshots of net worth would help you save money?

February 15, 2014 at 1:51 PM Leave a comment

How To Make Life Run Just a Little More Smoothly

Life is busy. To make it a little less hectic I adhere to the following rules. I hope you find them useful too.

mailbox

  • Write down all those little thoughts floating around in your brain. I use an application on my iPhone, but a pen and paper would do the very same trick.  I maintain a number of lists, but I reference my to-do list more than all the others. I write things like: return order to Amazon, check credit card statement, buy trash bags, find a notary and review tax statements. When applicable I add a date to the task and receive a reminder twenty-four hours in advance. Any item that requires action on my part gets written into this list and every time I finish a task I check it off. Doing so ensures that I don’t forget anything important. It also ensures I don’t miss the mundane tasks like stocking laundry detergent downstairs or buying trash bags to hold our garbage.
  • Reduce clutter and organize rooms. The easiest way to reduce work around your house is to purge your possessions. Minimalists have this all figured out, but I am not a minimalist. I keep various pots and pans in the kitchen to serve different purposes. I own a blender, juicer, crock pot and waffle maker. The trick for me is finding a place for everything. The appliances all reside on a basement shelf, which leaves room on our kitchen counter for chopping and mixing. Those tools that I use only one time a year, (for some reason the turkey baster comes to mind), reside in a small plastic box that I also keep in the basement. One drawer in my kitchen contains our silverware, the other contains a pizza cutter, ice cream scooper and the utensils I need for flipping, stirring and whisking. That is all. Everything in my house has a place. We have bins for toys and cubbies for hats, scarfs and gloves sorted by owner. In our case: Dad, Mom and Son. When we get home from an outing we put things away immediately. Coats go into the closet, hats into the box, shoes in a special spot on the floor. With that stuff out of sight and out of mind we have much more space to play and when we go back outside we don’t waste time looking for misplaced items.
  • Clean out your wallet, purse, briefcase or backpack everyday. Before my son was born I almost never carried a purse. Instead I tucked a very small wallet into my back pocket that contained one credit card, my license, a AAA card and insurance information. These days I carry a much bigger bag full of snacks, toys, stickers and training pants, but every afternoon when we come home from our daily excursions I dump the contents of that bag out onto the table and then put everything away. Garbage is tossed and food is placed back into the fridge. This allows you to start over tomorrow with a clean slate.
  • File your receipts. Buy an inexpensive accordion binder. I bought mine from the $1 bin at Target. As you clean out your bags and wallets check for receipts and file them into your binder. Mine is compartmentalized by the stores I most frequently visit: Target, Macy’s, Home Depot, Marshalls, etc. If the description on the receipt looks too vague take a minute and write the details of what you purchased on the back of it. Every few months I weed out the receipts and shred the ones that are over six months old. Receipts for more expensive items like a television are kept longer, since these items often come with one year warranties. If you need to return something to the store you’ll know exactly where to find that receipt.
  • Read the magazines that arrive every month. If you subscribe to magazines make certain that you stack them in one location in the house and actually take the time each month to read them. Every time you finish a magazine donate or recycle it. Do not leave it in the house to collect dust. The stack should remain the same size each month as each time a new magazine arrives the old one should be read and discarded. If you find the stack growing larger and larger consider ending your subscription. This probably means that you are paying good money for something you aren’t using.
  • Ask to be removed from all catalogs. Email or call the company who sent the catalog and ask to be removed from their mailing list. Make certain to include the details found on the back of the catalog; sometimes a company will not stop solicitations without those special codes.  Getting rid of catalogs helps you on multiple fronts. First, you won’t feel tempted to buy things you don’t really need. Second, you will save the environment as less trees are cut down and less fuel is utilized to get those magazines from point A to point B. Third, you won’t have to deal with them in your mail anymore.
  • Unsubscribe from all unwanted email. Go through your inbox and click the unsubscribe link for each and every email that you are not interested in. It only takes a second or two to open these, but removing them from your inbox means you don’t have to waste any time at all.
  • Open and read your mail every day. This is an easy one. Pick a room in the house and set up a shredder, scanner, trash can and recycle bin. Dump the spam into the recycle bin, this may include circulars, unsolicited mail, (without your name on it), and anything else that you don’t want. Dump envelopes into the recycle bin. Shred all unsolicited credit card offers and anything else that could make it easy for someone to steal your identity or wreak havoc on your credit score. Whatever is left is real mail. Much of this may include bills and bank statements. These documents should be scanned and digitally filed by date. We save all documents as yyyy-mm-dd – description. This ensures that items are sortable and easy to find when needed. Once things are scanned shred the physical documents. Don’t forget to set aside time to pay your bills.
  • Create backups of your data. I must admit that my husband has taken over this particular task for our household. The key is to backup everything you can. Family photos, bank statements, medical records, you name it. Make sure everything is backed up so a broken hard drive doesn’t force you to lose everything.

This may seem like a lot of tasks, but after awhile it will become second nature to complete them. With less mail to process, less email to read and less time wasted looking for lost objects you’ll free up a good chunk of time in your day.

Photo Credit

February 12, 2014 at 11:52 PM 1 comment

Saturday Night Link Love

A Few Favorites from the Past Few Weeks:

Flower

Photo Credit

February 8, 2014 at 7:45 PM 1 comment

eBay Auction: Gift Card Stripped of It’s Value Before I Received It

ebay

I rarely buy anything on eBay. Unless I’m looking for a vintage toy I prefer to shop elsewhere. I bought a couple of playskool puzzles for my son’s birthday and a 1960s Lite-Brite for Christmas. Unfortunately, I overpaid for both.

I earned eBay bucks for each purchase and my big cash back total was a whopping $5.  I didn’t need anything, but decided to poke around on the site for a couple of minutes, just in case something caught my eye. I ultimately convinced myself to purchase a discounted gift card. I figured I could buy a $10 gift card for less than half price. The eBay bucks would knock $5 off the price and it would probably be discounted by at least a couple of dollars. Of course I couldn’t find any $10 auctions I liked so I upped the ante and settled on a $25 auction. With one minute to spare I placed my bid, won, paid immediately and waited for my gift card to arrive in the mail.

I used to buy discounted gift cards quite frequently. Back in the day there was a site that would allow you to swap cards. Let’s say you had a Crate and Barrel gift card and wanted a Babies-R-Us gift card instead. You could create a wish list of the cars you wanted and another list containing the cards you had available. Thirty seconds later the system would match you up with someone wanting to trade. I swapped fifteen or twenty gift cards this way and bought others at deeply discounted prices. That site went out of business, (total bummer), so I stopped buying discounted gift cards as often. Every once in awhile I come across a good deal, but otherwise it’s a whole lot of hassle to save five or ten percent. The fact is you never know if the person will actually ship the card to you. Even if it does arrive the description is not always accurate. I’ve received two or three that were actually merchandise credit cards not true gift cards, which cannot always be used interchangeably.

If I hadn’t wanted to burn the $5 worth of eBay credit I would not have poked around eBay and I would not have bid on an auction. I will admit that eBay bucks suckered me into buying something I didn’t really need.

Nevertheless when the card came I did not check the balance. I was busy that afternoon. I looked through the mail while I was making dinner, stuck the card in my wallet and didn’t think about it until I was at the store today returning a couple of items. When I presented it to the cashier she told me it had no money left on it.

Ugh. I bought a gift card with no value. I immediately contacted the customer service number on the back of the card and asked for a history of transactions. I was told the entire amount was used prior to the time I bid on the auction and certainly prior to the time I received it. I contacted the seller immediately. She apologized and refunded the money, but why would a seller send a gift card without any money on it?

Here is what I think happened. I bid on the auction at the last minute without looking clearly at the photos.  It seems there were two attached.  The first contained a picture of the front of the card. The second contained a picture of the back of it. I can honestly say I never noticed the photo of the back of the card. I would have taken note of it because it clearly displayed the gift card numbers.

My guess is that someone was trolling eBay, came across the listing, wrote down the numbers from the card and used it before the auction ever ended.

The lesson here: NEVER, EVER, EVER buy a gift card from eBay if the numbers are listed or photographed. If you are a seller NEVER, EVER, EVER sell a gift card with the numbers are listed or photographed. There are a lot of crooks and scammers in the world so don’t post valuable information like this out on the internet.

Luckily the seller felt bad about the situation and refunded my purchase. I’m not sure what would have happened if she hadn’t been so nice about it.

My lesson has been learned. 1) Do not buy things you do not need just because you have a coupon or in this case expiring eBay bucks. 2) Do not bid on an auction without looking at all aspects of it including descriptions and photograph.s 3) Do not buy a gift card if the numbers are made available on the internet.

February 6, 2014 at 11:12 PM Leave a comment

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