Personal finance is a social justice issue

The so-called K-shaped recovery to the pandemic economy is expected to widen inequality. It was already well-known that it is expensive to be poor. Yet we sometimes think of personal finance as the hobby of the already rich — of a white male dalliance.

Since the Great Recession and the lost generation of Millennials, there has been renewed interest in accessible financial advice. Yet even as white Millennials are finally making financial gains, it seems Black Millennials are still falling behind. For years at my company, I’ve tried to strike a balance between being positively encouraging to my team to increase their retirement savings (and to speak to the financial planner we make available to staff) without becoming too overbearing. We’ve made gains but I find the topic daunting.

Perhaps because the pandemic cancelled my annual Personal Finance Day with friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about a passion of mine: Personal finance is a social justice issue.

This is important because so many savings and investment fundamentals are simply not intuitive. Get rich schemes continue to fool many. In contrast, slowly and patiently putting a little bit aside into a passive index fund has been a remarkably reliable method for building wealth. Even God couldn’t beat dollar cost averaging.

Talk openly with your friends about what you earn, what you save and how you develop on your own journey. The internet is full of bad advice, but it’s also home to so much good stuff too. How to decide what is what? A solid rule: look toward the longterm and be committed by building habits.

(Photo of the calculator app by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash)

A few quick personal finance lessons from Morgan Housel’s ‘Psychology of Money’

Finance is no science. It involves the tiny actions and feelings of millions of people.

Finance writer Morgan Housel published a tidy book last year called the Psychology of Money that does a fine job communicating the concept. I quite liked it, so I’ve shared a few quick takeaways I got from the book. Consider buying your own copy.

Here’s a 2018 blog post he wrote honing the topic.

Continue reading A few quick personal finance lessons from Morgan Housel’s ‘Psychology of Money’

How to live into your 90s

This isn’t like much of what I share here, but, then, this year isn’t like any we’ve experienced. From pandemic to other major personal life changes, I’ve been exercising less. It’s a challenge I’ve had before.

I’ve been thinking about that, as I’ve tried to maintain other habits. It’s something we all might ask: how can I live a longer, healthier life?

Five years after the initial round of findings from a longitudinal study called 90+, I saw an update on a new, detailed review on what we know about living longer and healthier. I thought I’d share a few of the simple takeaways, if only for my own uses.

Continue reading How to live into your 90s

“I want to be the best in the world at something.”

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Moments of terror can look purely foolish when the threat is removed.

After you leap in fright, it’s pretty funny that it was just a broom that caught your eye in the dark. Even when the terror was real, after we survive, we usually can eventually joke about being stuck in that elevator. Later on, we have a tendency to laugh about the risks and stress. With doom removed from memory, romance can flourish.

I do find that soothing. When you feel like you can’t survive something, rest assured that afterward either it will be a hell of a story or, as a boss used to remind me, “you’ll be dead, and nobody expects you to show up for you own funeral.”

Continue reading “I want to be the best in the world at something.”

Notes from Scene on Radio’s ‘Seeing White’ in 2017

Ahead of an Antiracist seminar that several coworkers and I are attending, organizer Kim Crayton recommended attendees listen back to the popular 2017 podcast season of Scene on the Radio ‘Seeing White.”

Though it’s several years old, I appreciated listening in greater detail and with fresh eyes. It’s as timely today as ever. Here I will share notes for me to return to, but I strongly suggest you listen to the entire excellent 14-episode series on “whiteness,” the historical construct of race and its implications today.

Continue reading Notes from Scene on Radio’s ‘Seeing White’ in 2017

What does work productivity look like during a pandemic?

For a story she wrote for Technical.ly (which you should read), my colleague Paige Gross asked me what I thought of work productivity during this disruption. I gave her a long answer, which she helpfully trimmed for her piece.

If interested, below I shared my stream of consciousness response to her at midnight 🙂

Continue reading What does work productivity look like during a pandemic?

Sometimes you have to go backward

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

I was hanging a drop ceiling in my basement with my father-in-law a back in November. The materials and approach of suspended drop ceilings haven’t much changed since the 1960s. You run long beams perpendicular to shorter cross beams. Those hang from the structural ceiling to support tiles that serve some aesthetic purpose. It isn’t complicated. 

But a half-day into the project, a series of minor decisions had created a major problem. My precise measurements were thrown out. A crucial structural beam was now blocked by my gas pipe. To maximize ceiling height in my home built in the 1890s, I had ignored the recommended distance between my drop ceiling and the rafters. I had a plan. But to make other accommodations, that plan faltered. We tried a few hacks to correct the issue but it got worse.

It wasn’t square. It wasn’t sound. We had a mess.

Continue reading Sometimes you have to go backward

Opportunity costs: think of the big but not the small

version of this essay was published as part of my monthly newsletter several weeks back. Find other archives and join here to get updates like this first.

Economists love to review our decisions through the lens of opportunity costs. Each decision we make has the added cost of that which we did not do. 

When a big box-store clerk, paid hourly, volunteers to leave her shift early because foot traffic is particularly slow, she’s making a choice. She values what she does with that time more than the wage she would have earned. 

When an influential academic, evaluated by her published research, agrees to take on another young mentee, she’s making a choice. She values that relationship and the person’s development more than what she perceives to be the potential career gains she could have developed with more time in the lab.

I wrestle with this paradigm more often than I might want to admit.

Continue reading Opportunity costs: think of the big but not the small

Try a ‘Laser Day Weekend’ for dropping projects

I let projects accumulate. Consider it enthusiasm.

That means I’ll let 100 draft posts bottle up on this blog. I’ll sit on too many drafts of newsletters. I’ll get a household project half-way done.

In truth, I consider this habit of mine a healthy one for getting things done: I’ll always get myself to take the first step of a project. Sometimes though something will linger too long.

To solve for that, every few months, I’ll try to protect some time and call for a ‘Laser Day Weekend,’ in which I shut down, delete, end, complete, finish or discard lingering projects. I take a very different mindset when my intention is to finish a thing.

Once I get on a role, I can pick up steam and get plenty done. Give it a try, the frame of reference helps plenty.

Ways I combat my amassing lots of unused clothing

Between family hoarding tendencies and being surrounded by company swag, I tend to collect more articles of clothing than I need. Fortunately, like most of America, I’m passed peak-closet.

I’ve built up some habits that gently help me keep myself under control.

Know your thrift store

Loving a nearby thrift store helps plenty. It feels good to donate, and then find something you love there.

One for one

I maintain a fairly rigorous donating of one item if I bring a new one in.

No seasonal switchout

I keep all of my clothes in a single closet, no seasonal boxes. That keeps me honest and offers a fixed constaint.

Month of purging

I occasionally do purges of a thing for each day of the month (meaning, one thing on the first day of the month; 15 on the 15th, etc.) and these put a lot of pressure on me to unload those freebie t-shirts that have piled up.

Must-use

Every year or so, I try the reverse hanger trick, in which I flip a hanger around for a garment I’ve used. If I go through an entire season and something hasn’t been worn, it’s got to go.

Does it ‘spark joy’

If not, toss it. That’s the tidying classic. I try to use it too.