I Lost My 2016 Resolutions

I had a list of New Year’s Resolutions divided into categories: Work, Money, Personal and Relationships.  It was neatly typed up, with photos, printed out and pasted to the back of a daily planner.  A few days ago, I dumped the planner. I forgot that I hadn’t saved a copy of the NY Resolutions List.  Luckily, my finance and career-related resolutions were logged in an old blog post.

  1. Get my house in order with a will/special needs trust, life insurance, etc..
  2. Look into passive/side income. Research the rental market, perhaps increase funds in my peer-to-peer lending account.
  3. Focus at work.  I had 4 concrete actions to achieve this goal.
    1. Have only 2 tabs open on my computer at one time so that I’m not clicking between 5+ different websites.
    2. Read career-related books or articles during down time.
    3. Print out important information so that I really read it instead of scanning, as I tend to do with content on screen.
    4. Limit blog reading time to Grumpy Rumblings in the morning.

So far, I’ve been doing well with the “Focus at Work” goal.  I’m multi-tasking a lot less and absorbing more information. I also signed up for a conference in my field. I’m hoping that my employer will pay for it but it’s my personal goal to keep up with changes in my field and this conference was the most reasonably priced one I’ve seen in a while, and it’s local.  I’m extremely bad at networking but it’s important to keep your skills fresh and that’s my primary goal for going. I’m pretty excited because I haven’t invested any extra time or money into my career for years.

Even though I no longer have my resolutions list, I know that it included exercise (fail) and making time for friendships and spouse. I’ve been pretty good about planning outings with friends but that’s obviously an ongoing process. My spouse and I had an “accidental” date and it reminded me/us of our carefree pre-kids days. We’re planning another half-day lunch/outing soon.  We’re also going to a concert in a few weeks – my first in years! I can’t stress how important it is for us (and most couples) to find quality time together. Otherwise, most recent memories will be of family stuff, fights and chores. At least that’s the way it is for me.

I also added a shopping ban after a rather spendy January/February. I have some good tips on keeping to this ban which I’ll share at some later date.
Hope you’re doing well on your resolutions!
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Breaking Down My New Year’s Resolutions

I haven’t made New Year’s resolutions in a few years. It’s not because I don’t believe in them or forget them by mid-year. In fact, I’m actually pretty good at keeping my resolutions.

Some years, I set ONE BIG GOAL. Experts say that having too many resolutions is a set-up for failure.

Most years, I set multiple goals and categorize these (money, health, work, etc…) When I have many resolutions, I have to do one or two things:

  1. Make sure my goal is not too vague. (i.e. instead of saying I will work out, say I will go to the kickboxing class every Tuesday and Thursday).
  2. Write down specific actions to achieve goals. By this, I mean if I resolve to eat vegetarian on Mondays, I also need to include actions that may help me achieve this, such as download 10 delicious-sounding veggie recipes.

Since this is a money-blog, I’ll focus on my financial and career-related resolutions.

  1. Get my house in order with a will/special needs trust, life insurance, etc.. My husband and I have been saying this for years! The first step is scheduling a meeting with a lawyer.
  2. Look into passive/side income. Research the rental market, perhaps increase funds in my peer-to-peer lending account.
  3. Focus at work.  I’ve been making too many mistakes at work and I need to get back to basics — focus on the project at hand, single task, read the fine print, etc.. — in order to get a good evaluation and rebuild my career capital.  I came up 3 concrete actions to achieve this goal.
    1. Have only 2 tabs open on my computer at one time so that I’m not clicking between 5+ different websites.
    2. Read career-related books or articles during down time.
    3. Print out important information so that I really read it instead of scanning, as I tend to do with content on screen.
    4. Limit blog reading time. I will read Grumpy Rumblings in the morning and that’s it. Note: I’m already breaking this resolution but it’s a slow day…

My other resolutions are mainly about nurturing self and relationships with loved ones.

 

Do you make New Year resolutions? Are you good at keeping them?

 

 

 

 

 

Retired by 50?

Many finance bloggers are on the Early Retirement track.  They save a high percentage of their income in order to get out of the rat face, preferably no later than age 40. While early retirement has never been my top priority, I can see the attraction of spending more time on doing things you love/like and with friends and family.

However, I have seen way too many older workers get laid off in their 40s and 50s who are then unable to find a new job.  Maybe a forced Early Retirement will be the new normal?

layoffAs I approach my mid-40s, it’s hard not to wonder if I’m next on the cutting block. I enjoy learning new things and am relatively digital-savvy but I still find it hard to keep on top of technological changes. When I first got a smartphone, I had to ask a younger co-worker how to use it!  I still have no clue about Apple TV or other ways of streaming video to your TV set. I rarely use Twitter and haven’t even tried SnapChat or Instagram.

There’s a huge difference between getting laid off in your 20s/30s than in your 40s or 50s. Age discrimination is very real in corporate circles, from the lower echelons up to middle management. Even an experienced middle-aged managers with a stellar history can be passed over in favor of someone younger who is experienced but presumed to be more, tech-savvy and less expensive.

I’m not so much as focused on retiring in my 40s as NOT being retired by age 50 or sooner!

Yes, There Are People Who Work 40 Hours A Week And Want To Get Ahead

Financial Samurai once asked in one of his most popular posts, “Are There Really People Who Only Work 40 Hours A Week Or Less And Complain Why They Can’t Get Ahead?”  I would like to add my response in the form of this post.

First, the answer is “Yes”.

I think it’s okay to work “only” 40 hours a week and complain about not getting salary increases and/or not getting promotions.  At the same time, I focus my complaints on wage stagnation, rather than a better title, because I know that most companies reward the person who puts in the most hours.  I’m not saying that the promoted person is not smart or deserving; it’s just that many equally smart or deserving people often get overlooked for the wrong reason.

One of the commenters, DoveArrow, had an excellent response to that way of thinking:

“While I agree that people who take 90 minute coffee breaks have no room to complain that they aren’t getting promoted, I do think that there is a tendency to reward people who are busy rather than people who are efficient.

Now compare what I do to my co-workers. Many of them can barely open a spreadsheet, much less use one. When looking for duplicates on two separate spreadsheets, they will print out both and go through them laboriously line-by-line, rather than running a simple query in Access…As a result, they work 50-60 hours a week in order to get everything done.

Now here’s the rub. I have seen people like my co-workers, who make less efficient use of their time, get rewarded with overtime and promotions time and again. People like me, who are more efficient and innovative, get rewarded with laborious, boring shit jobs that need to get done, but nobody else has time to do. That’s because busyness in our culture is equated with ambition whereas efficiency is overlooked and often equated with laziness.”

Are we really making the best of our (human) resources when we promote base on looking busy, rather than creativity, innovation or effectiveness? This way of thinking actually excludes many smart people who want a work/life balance.

40 hours is long enough to do a job well — very well. With all the technological advances that have taken place in the past 20+ years, worker productivity has soared.  Think of the days before fax machines, smartphones, or computers.  In an office, every facet of a person’s job from filing to booking travel to creating presentations took twice as long to accomplish.  Yet we adhere to this “clock in – clock out” mentality that insists putting in the hours is the best way to measure productivity, when people should be measured by results.

I grant that there may be times that over-time is needed but if we expect someone to work 50-60 every week, there’s a problem that can and should be fixed by adding another employee or two. The real loser in this scenario is the person who puts in those long hours, and actually makes less per hour.  As venture capitalist Nick Hanauer revealed in a popular post about income inequality:

“…we capitalists will never actually ask you to work overtime. I don’t even track your hours. I just make it clear that I trust you to get your job done in the time allotted. And then I hand you twice as much work as you can reasonably do in a 40-hour week….And so you work even more hours, pushing unemployment up and wages down. And that, my friends, is one of the little tricks that keeps you poor and me rich.”

workerThere is also ample research showing that the optimal work hours for most people is about 40 – 50 hours max. Working longer hours does not make a person’s work more valuable.  He/she can make more mistakes and be resentful.  He/she may create work, like pretty reports and charts, just to have enough work to fill up those extra hours. I have personally seen that happen many times.

Even though this is a response to Financial Samurai’s original post, it’s not an attack on him or his beliefs.  However, I disagree with his core statement that “anybody who wants to be better than average can’t work 40 hours and expect to be more than they’re not.”  This implies that anyone who works “only” 40 hours per week cannot be exceptional.  I disagree. Consider that the extra hours can be consumed by office politics, back-stabbing, fixing mistakes, sitting in long meetings, and doing mindless work. Therefore it’s very possible and probable that a smart, efficient worker could average 40 hours a week and still be very valuable and worthy of promotion.

Finally, I think this 80-hour week mentality causes many qualified professionals to exit their careers due to burn-out or family needs, especially working mothers. In this day and age, where companies have zero loyalty to its employees, is it really worth it to put in all those additional hours just to get pushed out when you can easily become dispensable due to age or circumstance?

No Wonder I Can’t Afford To Buy A House

I recently came across a 2007 report from the California Budget Project called “Making Ends Meet: How Much Does It Cost To Raise A Family in California?”  We didn’t even have kids in 2007, but I guess I was concerned abou this topic already.

The report is very detailed and informative, breaking down expenses for 1) Single Adults, 2) Single Parent Family, 3) Two Parent Family (One Working), and 4) Two Working Parent Family.

In 2007, the income required to have a modest standard of living for a two-parent family (one working) was $51,035. In 2013, it costs the same family $62,382 to survive in Los Angeles — a $11,347 increase. 

For two working parents, the cost of survival is $83,561.  This seems do-able until you see the cost breakdown.

CA-family-83561-2

For example, housing and utilities is shown as only $1,421.  In reality, rent is a huge burden for most Californian families.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2012, 48.3 percent of households spent at least 35% of their income on rent.  Nearly 1/3 of households spent at least half of their income on rent.

Our rent is on the high-side — $2,000 for a 3-bedroom house in a modest working-class neighborhood.  This does not include utilities, water or trash services.  We also own two cars, which is more of a need than a want in suburban Los Angeles. We do save on childcare thanks to family help.  No wonder we tend to spend more than we make each month, and cannot save for a down payment!

The problem for my family and many, many others is that salary has not kept up with cost of living. According to the California Budget project (my emphasis in bold):

“The steady economic recovery has failed to generate robust gains in earnings for many of those who are working…Earnings have not kept up with the overall rate of inflation, with low- and mid-wage workers in particular still coping with the substantial erosion of their wages. In 2013, the hourly wage for low-wage workers – those earning at the 20th percentile of the wage distribution – was still 5.4 percent below its 2006 level, after adjusting for inflation…those earning California’s median wage – earned 5.1 percent less in 2013 than similar workers did in 2006, after adjusting for inflation.”

I am not at all surprised by these findings. During the recession, companies froze salaries, laid off scores of employees, and outsource work as much as possible.  The workers left behind had little power to negotiate and were just glad to be employed.  Now that the recession is officially over, employers are not instituting wage increases to “make up” for the last few years even while they’re enjoying greater productivity.

I know the solution, as always, is to jump ship. However, I wonder why companies don’t value and hold on to good, loyal employees?  It will be interesting when my company does its annual review.  I would hope for a bigger raise but chances are, I’ll be lucky to get a small raise that doesn’t even cover increased healthcare costs.

How did you fare in terms of salary over the past few years?

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