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Tough conversations at work: Do you shy away from them?

Categories: Career Talk, Money

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This morning I had coffee with a friend and was telling her about the last few weeks at work and how they kicked my butt. It was a combination of a ton more work than usual, some changes that weren’t entirely smooth, and some tough conversations I’ve had to have with my colleagues and my boss(es). I recounted one of those tough conversations to my friend and she told me she was surprised how gutsy I was.

Gutsy? OK, I like being called gutsy, but here’s the thing: I didn’t think what I was doing was being gutsy. I didn’t question for a minute whether I should be having these conversations — it seemed like a normal thing to do. And I wonder if I were a guy if my friend would still call me gutsy.
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Confession: I shop when I’m stressed out

Categories: Balancing Act, Money, Your life

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Actually, I’ll share another confession right off the bat: My first instinct is to eat when I am stressed out. And it’s not rare that you’ll find me popping an ungodly amount of nuts when I am losing my mind at work or when my kiddo drives me up the wall and I escape to the kitchen to catch my breath. Nuts or a really crunchy apple or, if I am really feeling like I am climbing out of my skin, some awesome cheese, are my stress-escape foods.

But, stress eating is no good for you and for a while now, I’ve tried to be more disciplined about not doing it. When I stress-eat I don’t really taste what I am eating, which means it’s all entirely unsatisfying (and not that stress-relieving anyway.) But a girl has got to have some relief, don’t you think? Going for a very brisk walk while listening to some French rap (yes, this post is about sharing more than a few embarrassing facts about myself) works wonders, but it’s hard to always find the time to hop out during the day. (Although I’ve been known to schedule a “meeting” on my calendar and escape for some stress-reducing air.) I’ve tried the whole take deep breaths for two minutes thing, but since I generally have issues exhaling, it doesn’t work so well.

So sometimes, when I am bursting with stress or some other negative emotion, I shop. Have you heard of  Gilt Group and Rue la la, the daily sale sites that sell expensive beautiful stuff for less and make it all so easy and fun to browse and buy that resisting in the moment of ultra-stress is not for the weak? Well, I have and boy, do they provide some nice stress-reducing shopping. The good news is that I’ll often Internet-window shop there and leave without plunking down any cash. The other news is that sometimes I find what I really like. You know the rest of that story.

I don’t limit my stress-relief shopping to the Internet. This morning, for example, my husband and I were walking around to get some air while our kiddo was spending a few hours with the grandparents. I’m coming off an insane week, which tops off five insane weeks at my new gig, and which comes before what promises to be an even more difficult week coming up. (We have a major new product launch coming up so all bets on normal working hours and pace are off.) So needless to say, a little down time, with a latte in hand, was in order. So was checking out one of my favorite stores and finding a dress which made me smile (1) because it fit nicely and (2) because, well, I felt like I deserved it.

This post might not make me sound like it, but I’m not a big spender, when it comes to most things. For many, many years I rarely spent any real money on myself, which probably has to do with my growing up without any money and then being an immigrant, who is always a little afraid of money running out, even while my husband and I have good jobs. I don’t quite know why, but in the last few years I’ve become a bit more relaxed about it — something having to do with the whole life is short and unpredictable feelings I’ve started to have more often. And if I really think about it, a lot of my stress shopping turns out to be either window shopping or ends up being pretty cheap (a funky t-shirt, some new lipstick, a large latte, or some new cool pens to feed my pen obsession). Still, realizing that I do it gives me a bit of pause for thought.

So I’m curious: Any of you guys indulge in some retail therapy to relief stress? Do you think it’s a bad habit or a fun way to fight the ever-present working mom stress?

It’s not how much you have, but what you spend on

Categories: Money, Your life

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I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the idea that money can’t buy happiness. My take on it is a bit different: Money ALONE can’t buy happiness, but it can help buy experiences that make you happier.

For example, going on vacation absolutely positively makes me happier. I’d go further and say that getting away from the day-to-day routine and traveling to a destination away from our home is almost as essential to my well-being as eating or sleeping. Do we need a ton of money for this? No, we can always hop in a car and spend the weekend at a little cottage by the beach or even stay with friends in a different city. But being able to spend some money on vacations means being able to visit new and amazing places, eat awesome food, see new art, enjoy new culture and music and yes, be more happy.

I’ve had a life motto for a while that goes something like this:

Life is short. Collect experiences.


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Silly Bandz: To buy or not to buy?

Categories: Balancing Act, Money, Parenting & Family

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I am probably behind the times because the first time I heard the words “silly bands” was about two weeks ago, when my daughter asked me why she didn’t have them. I asked her what she meant and she told me that EVERYONE in her kindergarten class had silly bands and she really wanted some. I truly had no idea what she was talking about but she did her best to describe them to me. It wasn’t immediately clear why “rubber bands which are different colors and some are sparkly and some smell funny and they are really cool” was such a special thing that everyone had it, but I told my daughter that she didn’t have them because I’d never seen them before.

“Well, can you please get me some, mama?” she asked, eagerly, “because I really really really want some.”

This isn’t the first time that our kiddo has come home asking for something she saw other kids playing with or eating.
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Small lessons learned: Things worth a few extra bucks

Categories: Money

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I wouldn’t call myself extremely frugal, but for as long as I can remember I’ve been pretty conservative with my money. I would always try to save as much as possible and even as my income — and after I got married, my husband’s and my incomes — grew, I refused to spend a lot more money. I like to look nice but I rarely buy full-priced clothes, opting instead to find awesome bargains, even if it takes a while. Even when we lived in New York and were surrounded by endless awesome restaurant options, my husband and I chose to eat in a lot more than eat out. I’ve never been big on famous brands and I am sure a few of my friends still remember my claim that there can’t be enough difference between $50 jeans and $150 jeans to make the money worth it.

I am sure my attitude towards money has something to do with how I grew up - first in the Soviet Union, where no one had much money and then as an immigrant in the US, where our family built a life from literally nothing, including living on food stamps and welfare for a while after we got here. I’ll go as far as to say that in many ways I am thankful for having had this background because it’s taught me to be very smart about managing my money. But everything is good in moderation and in the past few years I’ve realized that always trying to save money might not be the smartest idea — there are a few things that might be worth a few extra bucks. This is not an exhaustive list, but I thought I’d share:
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Woman as main breadwinner = happier marriage?

Categories: Money, Parenting & Family, Working Women Issues

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I was fascinated to read this article in the New York Times suggesting that the rise of women breadwinners has led to happier and more stable marriages. According to the Pew Research Center report, in 22% of couples women are now the main breadwinners, up from 7% in 1970. And in 1/3 of all couples women are better educated than their husbands.

First of all, wow. Second of all, according to the New York Times article, this gender role reversal is having a surprising effect — it’s making marriages happier.

Here are some interesting points from the article that support the idea that when both the wife and the husband work, their marriage is more stable:
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Do your kids ask for less stuff because of the recession?

Categories: Money, Parenting & Family

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We were visiting friends in New York City this past weekend (where I was basically in tears over how much I miss living there, but that’s for an entirely different post) and went into a kids’ book store. Our daughters are the same age, five, and of course after running around for a bit they came asking if they could get stuff. One was carrying a book, the other a science experiment kit.

Our friends were standing off to the side talking to my husband so I ended up being the one who was asked. My first instinct was to say no. I generally think that giving into my daughter’s every whimsy is a bad idea and just because we go into the store doesn’t mean we’re going to buy something there. On the flip side, we were there for a short visit, the girls were behaving really well (despite being dragged around doing adult stuff most of the weekend), and the things they wanted to get were reasonably priced and items I would consider great — a good book and a fun, interesting science kit.

I told the girls to go play some more and that I’d talk to the other girl’s mom and see what we decide. They didn’t whine and left to check out more books — which I think pushed me over the edge towards deciding that it was actually a good occasion to get them each a small gift. But it did get me thinking about the recession and whether it was affecting the amount of things we were getting for our daughter or the amount of stuff she was asking for.
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Are you planning to help your kids pay for college?

Categories: Money, Parenting & Family

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We met with a financial advisor the other day to get our finances organized. Nothing fancy, but we wanted to make sure we had enough (and the right kind) of life insurance, were maximizing our savings and had a solid plan to save for our daughter’s college.

According to our financial advisor, a year at a private college is projected to cost almost $100,000 by the time our daughter turns 18, which is in 13 years. (I’ll just pause a bit here as we all stare at this INSANE number. My husband and I both went to the same liberal arts college, which seemed insanely expensive at $30,000 per year. Wow.)

This means that a four year private college education will cost nearly $400,000 for one child. (And this is on top of the $200,000+ that it costs to raise a child during his or her first 18 years of life.) The only question that comes to mind when I see this number is how in the world will most non-ultra-rich families be able to cover this? Of course there are scholarships and loans and work study jobs, all of which can reduce this number, but what remains will likely still be scary.
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The fine line between spoiling and not spoiling

Categories: Money, Parenting & Family, Your life

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We just got home from our daughter’s 5th birthday party. It was great — no major meltdowns, everyone had fun, and she came home smothered in chocolate from a cupcake and paint from painting a plaster princess. Mission accomplished.

My friend, one of the other kid’s mom, helped me unpack the cupcakes and remarked on how pretty they were. I told her that we special-ordered them from this great little bakery, complete with purple butterflies and purple flowers, as requested by our daughter. They weren’t cheap and a simple cake would have done the trick, but the birthday girl wanted these and we obliged.

I told my friend that while I’m happy to see my kiddo be all giddy when she saw the special cupcakes, I was conflicted about ordering them. Well, not so much conflicted as it gave me pause for thought. Cupcakes were a bit of a no-brainer — sure, they’re a bit more expensive than a cake, but not materially so. But as our daughter grows, there will be other things that she really, really, reeealy wants, and drawing boundaries will become tougher. I can see it coming.

Generally, I’d say that we haven’t been guilty of extreme spoiling to this point.
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Rising unemployment of men is good for women? Not so.

Categories: Balancing Act, Career Talk, Money

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I’ve seen a few articles recently which mention the fact that the layoffs in the current recession are hitting men much harder than women (having something to do with more men being employed in finance and manufacturing, two industries suffering the most). And more than a few news stories and commentators have mentioned that men being laid off is actually good for women. The logic goes like this: Men get laid off. They go home and start taking over more domestic duties, like childcare and cleaning and cooking. This frees up more time for women who then head back into the labor force.

OK, I am sure some very smart people have studied these trends and determined that this is what’s going to happen. And yes, it’s true that more moms are heading back to work or cutting their maternity leaves short during this recession. But I doubt very much that they are doing this because their husbands are doing more around the house. Rather, they are doing this because they need to support their families financially. In other words, they are doing it because they have to, not because they want to.
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