Person in hammock

Financial smarts: maximizing weekends

I’m all about getting the maximum juice from the financial lemon. I really believe you can get far more pleasure out of your dollars with a little forethought, and lead a much richer life with less money. But then again, I’m not the kind of person who would ever buy pre-boiled, peeled eggs. How is that even a thing? Except for elderly or disabled people who need things made as easy as possible, and that is most definitely not who they’re marketing to.

Recently,  Lifehacker’s Nick Douglas had an excellent article on maximizing your holiday weekend, and that’s really in my wheelhouse. I think much of it could apply to any weekend. Having been a horrible student of math in childhood, and dreading every Sunday night with its attendant un-done math homework, it’s been really hard to get over the rumination and fear at the end of the weekend. And even my daughter, who never even went to school, gets depressed on Sunday evenings. I guess we’ve all had enough terrible bosses to develop that dread of Monday morning. If nothing else, a lot of us feel that the days we so anticipated on Friday afternoon feel wasted by 8 pm Sunday.

I’d like to stress some of Lifehacker’s points, and add on a little of my own thinking.

  1. Do something to celebrate Friday night. Lifehacker regularly runs “three ingredient drinks” so if you need an idea to try something new, I can recommend the maraschino martini from last week. Friday night is the only night we have mixed drinks, so it’s special. Stop for a beer, invite friends over, go out to eat, whatever. I favor watching the expenses on this one, and not cultivating practices that result in a hangover Saturday morning or the rest of the plan falls apart.
  1. Get up on Saturday and Sunday by 8 am. Douglas makes the excellent point that this probably allows you to sleep later than in the rest of the week, but that you haven’t then slept so late that you feel the morning is wasted.
  1. I recommend you set aside half an hour to an hour before noon on Saturday to clean or repair something. This should be something doable—not requiring a run to Home Depot—so that you can feel pride that you’ve actually accomplished something. Sort a drawer, re-pot a plant, sweep the kitchen, vacuum the car. Bonus points if it’s something you’ve been putting off. Even if you get nothing else done, I promise you’ll feel better about yourself. In fact, keep a running list of achievements. If you note it in  your planner you can use it to reinforce yourself that you have indeed accomplished something.
  1. Make at least one effort to get out of yourself. Go out for coffee and be extra nice to the people surrounding you. Chat up the checker at the grocery store. Call your mom. Just do something to define yourself as a nice, social human being.
  1. This one is critical: plan something special for Sunday late afternoon/evening. You need something to look forward to, not dread. This has to be something you’re really looking forward to, not just watching the best PBS programs of the week. Go to a movie, schedule a mani/pedi (what we did last weekend), explore an inexpensive ethnic restaurant (again, bonus if you go with a group), go over to a friend’s or invite them over—and don’t sit around commiserating: remember board games?
  1. Spend some time with your pets. When was the last time you spent some focused time playing with your cat? Taken your dog on the walk she really wants? We’re always excited to get the kitten or puppy, but then they tend to become part of the furniture. Their joy can enhance your joy.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Do you have any ideas or activities that take away Sunday night dread? Do share!

Ten ways to improve your finances over a holiday weekend (or any weekend)

Teachers should assign How I wasted my summer vacation. It’s a topic that more accurately reflects what actually happens. Most of us look forward to a long weekend, and many of us resolve that we’re finally going to do some long put-off project, that will have tremendous benefits.

Me, my resolution is to power wash the house. Phew! luckily, it’s supposed to rain all weekend.

Projects that don’t get done are generally too big. So, I’m asking you to break it down into something that can be accomplished in less than an hour, and you’ll take a small but significant step forward in your financial life. DO NOT do all 10; plenty of other weekends are coming up.

  1. Find a financial software program you might actually use and install it. I’ve used Quicken for 20 years now, so I’m a little biased. Other people report they like Mint. Neither of these? Try searching Personal Financial Software and you’ll find quite a few. Don’t think to long—just make one work.For the future: Watch or read one quick start guide. Download one account into it.
  1. Find out how to access Morningstar online. Many articles and a lot of information is free. In order to (eventually) access deeper analysis, check out whether your library offers access to premium content through your library card. Read at least one personal finance article or watch a video.
  2. Pull out a statement from your 401k or IRA. Go to Morningstar and read what the analyst has to say about it (“premium” content).
  3. Read a blog. Don’t believe everything you read, but start somewhere. Don’t get lost, okay? I said one hour. I like:

Mr. Money Mustache

Chris Guillebeau: The Art of Nonconformity

Get Rich Slowly

I Will Teach You to Be Rich

Kiplinger

 

  1. Clean out a file. Notice I didn’t say file drawer, closet, or room. I recently cleaned out a file box (ouch!) of records from my dad that’s been sitting under my desk since 2010, when he died. I found nearly $200 in it, squirreled away among Medicare statements. You’ll be amazed at all the stuff you don’t need.
  2. Install a password manager on your computer. I use the free LastPass and it really improves cybersecurity. Change any of your passwords that are the name of your children, dog, or your birth date.
  3. Take 15 minutes to identify what good causes you really care about. Instead of giving 10 bucks to everyone who asks, choose half a dozen or less that you really care about and resolve to give to fewer, but more green. It saves them processing and fundraising. Like their Facebook page so you have some idea where your money is going.
  4. If you’re going shopping over the weekend, resolve not to buy anything major until next weekend, when you’ve had time to think about it. In the meantime, do a little online price comparison.
  5. You know all those travel points you don’t use? Check out Award Wallet, which (for free) will consolidate and update all your programs on one page. Then make a plan to use them—earn and burn!
  6. Learn about travel hacking. If you like to travel, you’ll earn more per hour spending a few hours learning how to do this than at most really good jobs. A real money saver, and really—not too hard. Here’s where I started, but there are many sites that can teach you.

If the employment picture is so great, why are people unhappy?

Don’t believe everything the President tells you. In fact, it’s a generally accepted principle that for anything he says, the opposite is true. Which is really chilling when he announces that we have the best employment and economic picture, well, since forever.
That’s not the felt experience of nearly every client (or family member, or friend) that I see. Although most people I see do have a job, I see certain factors that paint a far less rosy picture:

• Even if you have a job, you’re scared that it may evaporate. Corporate and institutional loyalty to employees is long gone. People definitely get fired at will, or on a whim.• If you’re young, you’re expendable. They can definitely find someone with your (limited) skills.
• If you’re old, you’re also expendable. They can definitely find someone younger for far less, and who cares about your experience. Your skills are probably out of date anyway.
• Ha-ha on worker protections. Do you really think this administration is going to go full throttle on discrimination claims, disability accommodations, or workers’ rights?
• You probably don’t have a union to protect you. Somehow employees were convinced that unions weren’t for “professionals” and that union dues would send them into poverty. Being on your own with no backup is certainly worth it, right? To the employer, that is.
• If you just graduated, you may feel hopeless about finding a job at all, and therefore aren’t counted as in the labor market. Congratulations if that $120K-$250K you just spent got you any services at all from your school’s Career Services office.
• The gig economy has infected even so-called full time, in demand jobs. Staffing companies have appeared like cucarachas in the so-called in-demand fields like health care and computer services. They may offer you a tiny bit better hourly rate (and it’s always hourly, not a salary), but your benefits are non-existent, they probably aren’t going to contribute to any retirement plan, your paid days off may not exist, and you’re very likely to be held to unreasonably high “productivity” standards. You’re working for Uber, whether you know it or not. So yeah, I guess you’re in demand.
• We have a miniscule social safety net nowadays. Social Security is unlikely to be anywhere near enough to cover expenses. You’re a unicorn if you still have a pension, and even if it exists you’ll have to work longer to qualify than indentured servants in the colonies did.
• Good quality childcare is so expensive that it’s not even worth it to work in some professions (you know, the helping, socially useful ones).
• Make me laugh, let’s discuss health insurance. If you leave your job, once it runs out you’re back on the exchange. And if you take a new one with group insurance, unless the employer has the same insurer, you’re probably going to have to meet a second deductible. If you do find yourself in this situation, be sure to discuss this with the new insurer—some will give you credit for having met your deductible. Despite how it looked when the Affordable Care Act went into effect, most of us are afraid to leave our jobs because of the cost of insurance. Oh well, at least we can get it now.

Except for the childcare (mom stayed home until I went to school) NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THESE POINTS was true for my parents (born in 1913 & 1915). Sure, there’s lots that was wrong in previous eras (discrimination, worker safety), but full employment under Harry Truman (I just finished David McCullough’s biography) looked a lot different than what “full employment” means today. And not in a good way.