Monthly Archives: June 2012

MDMS: Every Job I’ve Ever Held

Every Job I’ve Ever Held

  • High school janitor (80-81)
  • Housecleaning (82-83)
  • Bank teller (84-87)
  • Admin Assistant (1988)
  • Apple Computer store (1989)


  • Executive Assistant (1990)
  • Research Assistant (1991-1996)
  • (volunteer: Suicide Hotline coordinator, trainer, and call-taker)
  • Executive Assistant (1997-2004)
  • Director, Administration (2004-present)

I’ve had a remarkably cohesive career. The break, above, shows the line between my work life in college and earlier (which was part time and/or temporary) and then post-college, which was full time.

MDMS: My First Job

My first job was working for my mother . . . I did chores for my allowance every week. If I didn’t do them well enough, I didn’t get paid and had to redo them to her satisfaction. My first job outside the home (<g>) was cleaning the houses of friends of the family for $5/hour. It was a good use of the only marketable skills I had at the time.

The first job that gave me a paycheck was through my high school. I spent the summer as part of a student crew doing a variety of projects around the campus. We stripped the floor of the basketball court of wax, and reapplied it. We dug a new water line for the soccer field. We cleaned everything. The worst part of the job was the hard labor. The most boring task I did was figuring out which lock went with which combination so they could be assigned to new students in the new year. (The last day of school everyone had to clean out their lockers and throw their lock into a big bucket. 2000 locks, several sheets of paper, a week or so of my life. I started dreaming of lines of number and saw patterns in the numbers after awhile. Not good.) The good thing about the job was that I hung around with a group of kids about my age and felt like I belonged. (In retrospect, I didn’t, but that is a story for another day.)  We also had a lot of parties on campus, complete with drinking, and I liked that danger.

One way or another, I’ve been working since I was 13 years old.

MDMS: My Worst Money Situation

I had some tough times in college, but the worst situation I got myself into was post-college. I’d moved to NYC and was living with my then boyfriend and another good friend. None of us was doing particularly well, although they both had good jobs (bf as an editor of a prestigious quarterly magazine and friend as an advertising designer) and I was working as a secretary. They both had a lot of friends who were trust fund babies, and I was soon caught up in their social life.

Wanting to seem like I fit in, I bought drinks, and dinners for large groups of people, regularly. Running out of room on one credit card, I got another. To keep a decent wardrobe, I got a 3rd card, and then a couple of department store cards. I paid my minimums each month; I thought I was fine, that it was no big deal to have some debt.

Then I got my evaluation at work and got a 5% raise, bringing my annual salary to $21k. This was still more money than I’d ever had before, but it didn’t feel like I was doing well. So I got a copy of excel and set up my first budget sheet.

I was horrified to discover that the total I owed was more than $21k . . . I literally owed more than I could make in a year, before taxes. I wept, I babbled, I fell into despair.

That lasted about a day (maybe longer, its been awhile, but not by much). At lunch an acquaintance mentioned that the research department at Prudential Securities was hiring. So I polished my resume and sent it off with a nice cover letter. Three days later I got a call and an interview. Three days after that I was given an offer – for $28k – to start as a Research Analyst. I went to my current boss and asked him if he could do anything for me (I loved working for him, although not in that department so much). I will always appreciate his honesty when he told me he couldn’t match the offer, got up, walked around his desk, and shook my hand.

So – more money in – check.

Next step? Spend less. I put myself on a strict budget of $5/day. All meals were made at home, for as little as we could spend (my bf and I moved into our own place, a two room apartment that was really nice, in a better neighborhood). That money could be saved for a night out, or to buy cigarettes (I smoked 2-4 a day back then, so a pack lasted a long time), or used to take the bus or subway to work and home. That was it. If I forgot lunch, or wanted more to eat at work, it came out of that $5 . . . and there were times I misspent and walked to and from work for a few days (an 80 block walk, btw).

I paid off the small cards first, as fast as I could. Then took the money I was spending on them and added it to the next largest balance *or* the next highest interest rate, whichever made the most financial sense. My spreadsheet calculated what the next bill would be (current balance less payment = new balance; new balance * interest rate + new balance) so I could decide where to put my money each month. All bills were calculated and budgeted for – there were no surprises. I even budgeted for gifts for family. The best thing I did for myself was use my formulas to SHOW when the cards would be paid off. Seeing that there was an end helped me cope with the really tight months.

As each card was paid off, I closed the account. It took five years, but every penny was paid off. Since then I have almost never left a balance on my credit cards. I loathe paying interest and avoid it like the plague.

MDMS: Three Times I Felt Financially Powerless

1)      Having cancer a few years ago. I had few choices about the cost of my care, and fewer about the care itself. Asking for the cost of treatments got me little, if any, information. In the end, I gave up and just did what needed to be done. In retrospect I truly wonder what I paid for.

2)      In college. I didn’t always make good financial decisions, and there were a number of weeks when beans and rice were two meals a day, with cereal for breakfast. I went hungry, a lot. Several friends ‘rescued’ me on regular occasions, buying groceries for me to cook a meal and then ‘repaying’ me by taking me out for a dinner. Those were usually the only times I ate meat – when others paid.

3)      The first several years I lived in New York. I maxed out my credit card, and another one, and another one . . . until I owed more money to them than I made in a year. I was literally putting off paying one, to make a payment on another, and I was desperately broke. All of my ‘friends’ at that time were trust fund babies, so they had unlimited income and no awareness of how much trouble I was in. Nor would my pride allow anyone to realize how bad it was.

Another one is . . . now. I’m in mgmt and salaried. Our company is having periodic work slowdowns which usually result in my taking a temporary pay cut. My hours don’t change, I still work more than 40 a week, I just get paid less. This time we have not instituted a pay cut for me, but this paycheck I am only getting paid for one week instead of two because there isn’t enough money in the bank to cover payroll for everyone. *MY* efforts do nothing to get me paid. The best outlook is that I work hard and keep my job . . . and I am eventually repaid.

It still makes it hard to budget our finances and I feel very out of control of an extremely important aspect of life.

MDMS: Three Stories of Financial Implosion

This task assumes you will look at the news for stories, but I’ve chosen to relate several from my own personal knowledge.

1)      C. inherited a large sum of money at the death of a parent. Despite owing student loans, having only a part time job, and facing medical problems, C. elected to create a phenomenal music CD collection, bought some better furniture, ate out a lot, and smoked more dope. In less than a year the entire amount was gone. That was a turning point in my relationship with C. as I realized that no matter how much money I gave/lent, it would always be spent on pleasures rather than necessaries.

2)      A. was working as the manager of a hotel on an island. It was a very strange circumstance, including the fact that A. was paid off the books and entirely in cash. A. came back to the mainland about once a month, loaded with cash  . . . which was spent on CDs, books, and (interestingly) original art. The job only lasted a year, and at the end of that time A. had a few hundred in savings, and nothing else.

3)      D. was working in a good IT job, but as the sole income earner the family was living paycheck to paycheck. When the downturn hit, D. was laid off. Unemployment got them through for quite a while, but eventually ran out. Despite good references and a good job history, D. was unable to find a new job. Online sales of goods and services kept them from starving, but they lost their home, their possessions, and ended up living in a two room apartment above a nightclub.

These stories are warnings for me.

Bright Solstice Blessings!

This is an odd time of year for me, has been for more than a decade, almost without break. The sun is at its peak, the weather is often glorious (certainly it is today), and I am often filled with energy.

At the same time, there is a sadness I cope with. My students, those few who made it through the year-long Art of Ritual class, are preparing to leave the class and go on to . . . whatever. Some have been amazing and excellent and a joy to work with. Some have been frustrating. Some have been absent. Each has been a pleasure (yes, I really like teaching).

Very appropriate for this holy day: the sun may be at its peak, but that means it begins its decline tomorrow. Joy and sorrow meet as one.

Sometimes one will join the coven, most times not. And that is just fine thankyouverymuch. We are not interested in being the largest online coven or school. We don’t do this for the money (which is good, since we have yet to ‘make money’ in the 10+ years we’ve offered the class). We don’t seek out fame. We expect our students to finish the year with a good amount of knowledge under their belts. We expect that they will have an idea of where their next step or path might be. We expect that they will have an idea of what topics they are good at, and which they like, and which they may want to explore further.

Most of all, we expect that they will have high expectations for their next teacher and will be able to determine if someone is selling bullcrap instead of good knowledge.

It’s been a good year.

MDMS: My Current Debt

Recent events have given me debt, for the first time in a long time. In time order:

  • Mortgage(s)
  • Car loan
  • Gall Bladder surgery
  • Wedding
  • Honeymoon

The mortgage is ticking along. At our work, 4 times a year, we get 3 week paychecks. When we do, we make a double payment on our mortgage(s) and car loan. As a result, we are ticking along nicely to being able to pay off the mortgage in less than 20 years instead of 30, saving us $130k over the life of the loan.  We actually have two mortgages, one smaller than the other. The smaller one has had some large payments made to it so we can pay it off as fast as possible. It’s a 10 year loan, with a $15k balloon payment at the end. We now owe less than $15k, and have 8 years left on the loan – we’re doing fine.

(I’m very interested in seeing whether Congress passes Obama’s proposed law to make refinancing your mortgage easier. Right now we can’t take advantage of the lower rates because we are technically ‘underwater’ on the house value. His bill proposes that you can refinance based on the value of the amount owed, not the appraised value. *And* the bill eliminates much of the fees you pay to go through the refinancing process. We’re paying ~5%, if we could get to 3% [or less!] we’d have a ton more money to put into paying off the mortgage.)

Our car loan also gets double payments, and we now owe less than the value of the vehicle. We have four more years for the loan, and will pay off in now more than three years.

John’s surgery took us by surprise. Fortunately, he had some monies set aside in a FSA (which he was going to spend on some dental work) and the burdened is lessened. But we still need to suddenly pay ~$5k. Ouch.

The wedding came in right on budget, which we had saved for (augmented by a generous gift from my father).

We did NOT budget for the honeymoon sufficiently. Oh we had some monies saved up, and the airfare was free (miles) and we’d prepaid several hotels and the rental cars . . . but food was far more expensive than we expected, and we bought a few things, and . . . It was good for me in that I realized I need to plan for travel costs much like any budgeted item – we spend more than I expect, so I need to pay attention to that area. We opened a second credit card specifically for the

The bottom line is that if I take out the mortgage and car loan, we can pay off all outstanding debt this month. If we do so, we will have very depleted savings, but we will not incur $100s of dollars in credit card fees. Which I think is a worthwhile trade off.

It’s important to note that we usually do not carry any debt (except the mortgage and car), paying our credit card in full each month. We also put nearly every expense on the credit card, because we earn triple or double miles on almost every purchase, and that really adds up for us.

Normally I am able to save money each month, but not with the last few months.

MDMS: Tracking my Cash for a Week

I don’t spend money on myself. Over the course of the week, I only paid the household bills, bought groceries, and agreed to the purchase of a few hobby items for J. Now, we’re on a deliberately frugal plan this month (and next, and perhaps the month following) as recent expenditures (wedding, honeymoon, surgery) have left our savings pretty depleted so as to pay off the credit cards in full.

What I do spend money on in a normal month is:

  • Coffee drinks     $4 ea, 1-4x/ mo (A coffee drink is a treat for me. I get a venti, decaf, nonfat, vanilla, latte; I think that makes me one of *those* people.)
  • Books                    $25/ mo               (More likely, I buy $50-$75 once a quarter. Otherwise, I use the library. Being a reviewer usually fixes my habit otherwise.)
  • Exercise              variable
  • Dinner out          Our biggest expense and indulgence.  This can range from $200 to $500 a month.

I have found that I am more likely to go to a private class than a group one, so I’ve been paying for privates for the last year. This month that changed to some degree. I am keeping my Muay Thai privates, but taking a few months off from Pilates and instead joined a fitness club and taking advantage of their water aerobics. This resulted in a  large outlay this month because I bought a year’s membership at a discounted rate.  Whenever possible, I bought exercise classes ‘in bulk’ so as to get a discount. For example, five yoga classes is $60, instead of $75 if I purchase them one at a time.

Everything else is a fixed or usual cost (pet food and supplies, groceries, insurance, gas, etc.). That said, groceries are expensive. We buy organic a lot, and most of what we purchase doesn’t get discounted or have coupons. We do belong to the Safeway Club, which gets us in-house discounts, but not always. During the summer we can get veggies and fruit from the farmer’s market, which also reduces our costs (and they taste so good!).

I use Quicken to track the household expenses. It’s the latest in a long line of programs and devices I’ve used to keep on budget or to track exactly where my money goes. My original tools were a series of very basic, but evolved into complicated, excel spreadsheets.  (More on them in a later post.)

Money Drunk Money Sober: Family Influences

A friend of mine (Di) is working through the book Money Drunk, Money Sober and blogging about it. She’s remarkably fearless and I want to emulate her, so I’m going to try and follow in her footsteps. If you don’t know this book, it theorizes that some of us have an addictive/co-dependent relationship with money, in a way that is similar to drugs, or sex, or . . . It’s an interesting theory.

Based on the quiz, I do have money issues (I checked off 33% of the “Did you grow up money drunk?” questions and 20% each for being a compulsive spender and maintenance money drunk), but not to an addictive degree.

Money issues in my family were byzantine and uncomfortable. My grandparents were all working class, although my father’s parents did pretty well – mostly by kicking their kids out at 18 and not helping them much with college expenses, thereby keeping more money for themselves to spend on my grandmother’s (seemingly) endless redecorating of their home. I’m pretty sure they got married because they got pregnant, and that they finished college by sharing classes, childcare, and even the same robe (back then seniors were required to wear black ‘graduation type’ robes to their classes). The robe is a wonderful metaphor – too short for my Dad, and too long for my Mom. I’m sure it was made far worse by my Mom insisting that she finish her degree, even though the (Catholic) college probably frowned on her doing anything other than childcare. I know they lived in two rooms plus a bath in student housing. It must have been dreadful.

Post-college, my Dad got a job and they both applied for scholarships and grants . . . and got into graduate school. So it was off to Florida for my Dad to get one degree and then up to UNC Chapel Hill for him to get his 2nd Masters, and my Mom her Masters. All this time, we were living lean, and somewhere in there my sister was born.

My mother’s parents lent them enough money for a down payment on a house, my Dad got a good job with the City, and we ended up back in Philadelphia around the time I was in preschool/kindergarten, and for all practical purposes, lived an eminently sane, normal, middle-class life. It was pretty white bread and bland, but that’s what all the kids were doing around us.

Then we moved to Albany, CA, right into married student housing, as my Mom was going to get her PhD in English. Apparently the agreement was that they would try, unless my Dad couldn’t find work (early 70s, terrible recession time) in which case they would go back to PA and she’d try to get her degree elsewhere, or wait a little longer. He couldn’t find work and went back to PA in ~ six months. During this time my Mom met the man who later became my stepfather, and my parents got a separation.

This is the moment of serious disruption in my life. This is the wounding time. We went from being pretty ok and then on the low end of the middle class spectrum, but with a high likelihood of doing just fine thankyouverymuch, to living in – I kid you not – a commune. (Not my Dad, he stayed back in PA in the house they owned.) When my parents divorced, there was no alimony given to my Mom, just child support. My father was, to my perception always on time with the payment, but never willing to give a penny more than the amount agreed upon. (Although he did increase the monies as time went on.)

I’m sure he felt deeply resentful that he had to pay when he felt so betrayed; I’m sure he didn’t think about it in terms of actually taking care of my sister and I, just that he was getting the short end on all sides. I’m sure my mother resented having to be the primary parent, and later betrayed because the man she later married was not good with money in any sense. He provided for himself, not the family, she made the money stretch to cover everyone.

What I know, what I lived, was a daily awareness that we didn’t have enough. That it was no use asking for something special, there was no way to have a treat, there was no way to make it happen. When my mother’s mother would give us huge amounts of clothes for gifts (holidays and birthdays), she always bought them at Macy’s . . . and we always returned them for cash, and then went to the thrift store, or the Gap (This was back when that was one of the only places you could get jeans) to buy clothes we could wear. I never had anything ‘dress up’ or fancy, beyond the occasional nice blouse. My white jeans were my prized ‘dress up’ possession.

We lived in a very poor (not even working class) neighborhood; we were the only white people there. I regularly got bullied and beat up; I was even mugged once on my way home from school. My mother found a part time job and then a full time one, so that as we grew up, there was money for nicer apartments and then, finally, a home with a garden. We stayed there from my early teens until after my sister graduated.

My father gave me a specific amount of money each quarter, it was just enough to cover the tuition (yay for a good education at the state-run UC system) and a bit more for living. It was, literally, just enough. So I had to work at least part time all the way through college to have ‘extra’ money (you know, for chicken occasionally instead of beans and rice all of the time).  Given his family history, this was an extremely generous gesture on his part, although it didn’t feel that way to me.

So, money was a weird topic, one full of anger and resentment, and the lingering perfume of past history being re-written by negative emotions.