Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover


Book review: One Year Lived

I love books. In fact, if it weren't for some of the shows on AMC and Southland, I could probably give up my television and just read books (maybe watch a movie or two). And even more than books, I love free books. So when the author of one of my all time favorite personal finance memoirs, Adam Shepard, contacted me to read his new book, One Year Lived, there was no way I was going to say no (and if you haven't read his first book, Scratch Beginnings, I implore you to do so immediately. It was written as a sort of rebuttal to Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed, which is fascinating in its own right, but Adam's book is much more optimistic and presents a whole different side to the working class equation).

The premise of One Year Lived is essentially this: Adam takes one year to travel around the world (on a budget, of course), trying to complete items on a list he made in college (side note: I really would like to know what was going on in his mind in college. Because that's where he formed many ideas that he's acted upon. When I was in college, I thought of very little beyond making sure I got to class on time and remembering to wear my sorority letters on assigned days so I didn't get into trouble) and really living. Enjoying all the world has to offer outside of his typical middle class, American life. Making a difference, experiencing different cultures, and creating moments and memories that he'll reflect on at 70, sitting in his recliner, grandchildren at his feet.

Honestly, reading the book made me a little jealous that he had the nerve to do what so many of us dream about doing (well, something I dream of doing). None of his adventures came without sacrifice, of course–money, career opportunities, moments with family and friends–but he made the jump (both figuratively and literally. You'll have to read the book to find out what I'm alluding to). He did it. He saved the money, said goodbye to his regular life and set out on an expedition that most of us plan on paper but postpone until it's too late. It's hard not to admire that kind of audacity, especially when you consider the fact that he did it alone (side note: I could never do something like this alone. I'm too shy and awkward).

But his nerve and ability to chase his dream and complete the list he made in college are not what I liked most about the book. What hooked me is Adam's ability to tell a story. Reading his book was like sitting down and listening to a friend regale tales from his recent vacation (I half expected a slide show). And the stories are not bragging; in fact, it's just the opposite. Adam does a phenomenal job of weaving personal tales of failure and regret into his summation of his time in each country. He's smart, funny, and self-deprecating at times which, for me, makes for good, entertaining reading.

Not only that, his appreciation and admiration of the different people and cultures he experienced shines through in his descriptions of them. Vivid, detailed, and written with almost no judgment, Adam talks about those he encountered in such a way that you feel like you know them, too. And in a year, he met quite a cast of characters so you know that makes for some good reading.

One Year Lived is, without a doubt, a book I recommend, particularly if you're interested in learning how to afford a once in a lifetime trip and enjoying all that it has to offer without going totally broke. If that's something that doesn't interest you, I recommend reading it just for the stories. And I'll make it easy for you to read. Until this Wednesday, 4/24/13, you can download a copy of eBook, for free, in one of 3 formats by clicking the link to the book's website, using the login slimshep12@gmail.com and the password 123456 (seriously. That's not a joke).

Give the book a shot. Even if you don't like it, it was free! But I assure you–you will like it.


Sandy Hook: What I wanted to say

This post is not about personal finance. I understand if you’d like to skip it. Normal personal finance talk will resume on Wednesday.

As the parent of a 6 year old, friend of teachers, and general human being, I spent (like almost everyone else) this past weekend sorting through a jumbled mess of emotions in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. I waffled back and forth about telling my daughter what happened (I haven’t, for reasons including not wanting her to be terrified of going to school). I found myself on the brink of tears reading about the heroics of the school staff and the heartache of the parents who have spoken to the media. I wished that I could reach out to every parent of every victim and give them a hug or just hold their hands while they cry. I read the words of much more eloquent people than me and thought, “now that’s a great expression of emotion. That says exactly what I’m thinking”.

But still, I felt I needed to say something. I had a lot of thoughts but I didn’t know how to say them properly so I mainly kept them to myself.  I thought maybe I’d tell you some of what I thought about saying and maybe you can tell me how you feel. So I’ll go first:

I wanted to say that my heart is broken for the parents and siblings and other family members of the victims. I can’t begin to imagine what they’re going through. No parent should have to bury a child and certainly not from something this horrific.

I wanted to say that public schools, especially elementary schools, still are safe. Most schools take as many precautions as they possibly can to protect the kids and staff, and that one nightmare incident, one incident that took place despite the efforts of the school, is not at all reflective of the security measures at schools. But still, I can’t help but be a little extra nervous knowing that I have to bring my daughter to school.

I wanted to say that the teachers, the survivors and the deceased, are heroes. Several of them gave their lives to protect those kids and the ones that were able to keep their classes safe deserve recognition beyond words. I am blessed that my daughter has a teacher who would do that and hope many other parents feel the same.

I wanted to say that all the first responders to the scene have my utmost respect. The carnage, the bodies of children, that they witnesses must be incomprehensible and the fact that they were able to conduct their jobs efficiently and professionally is just incredible.

I wanted to say that I am outraged with the traditional media. Many of these networks and reporters have no interest in anything beyond getting the first scoop and making their story as sensationalist as possible. Swarming to interview the kids–even with their parents’ permission–is deplorable and I hope that it prompts the networks to think about how they conduct themselves. Some things are more important that being first in the ratings. And as for treating the shooter like he’s some sort of enigmatic celebrity? Shame on you.

I wanted to say that I am also outraged with the so-called “friends” of the shooter who are using this incident as a way to get their 15 minutes of fame. If you haven’t talked to him in years or were his elementary school bus driver (or whatever it was), you provide absolutely no insight into him as a person and I can only assume you are a fame whore. That is disgusting and you should be ashamed for exploiting the deaths of children for your own personal gain.

I wanted to say (and this was one thing that I actually did say) a big fuck you to the Westboro Baptist Church. They are vile, horrendous, immoral people who are not only proof that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should but they are also proof that that level of fanaticism needs to be contained. The funerals of murdered children is not the place to spread their agenda of hate.

I wanted to say that I am saddened for the shooter’s family. They have to live with the stigma of what he did for the rest of their lives. And his brother? Has now lost a mother. That’s not fair either.

I wanted to say that to ask “why” or seek a good, legitimate explanation is useless. Not because it’s unimportant but because no answer will ever be satisfactory. There will never be a good enough reason why a 20 year old man chose to kill his mother, 27 strangers, and himself. We can explain his behavior and his choices but his motive? For me, no words will ever be good enough to explain that.

I wanted to say that we do need to have open discussions about gun control and mental health care in this county. But we need to do it civilly, without resorting to name calling, threats, or any other ridiculous, shameful behavior. Because to conduct ourselves in that way is a dishonor to all of those who have lost their lives as the result of a mass shooting. This includes the victims of Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and all of the other incidents in the last 15 years.

So that’s what I wanted to say. And now that I’m done, I’m going to go hug my child and thank G-d for every day that I get to spend with her. And I’m going to pray that we, as a country, can heal from this. And I’m going to hope that we can fix what’s broken so no one–no parent, teacher, sister, brother, grandparent, friend, neighbor 17 blocks away–ever has to go through anything like this ever again.

Please, just write what you know

You know the expression “write what you know”? I think it exists for a reason.

When you write what you know, you give the theoretical a real life application. It makes the information seem real and relatable rather than artificial and contrived. It gives your writing a tone of understanding and knowledge that can’t be acquired simply from reading a book or a news article. It makes me want to keep coming back and, even if I disagree with what you say or do, I have an appreciation for what you’re writing.

It’s a special kind of writer that can do research and write realistically about topics she knows nothing about (for instance, Jodi Picoult. I don’t know how that woman does it but she is good). Most of us can’t do that. Most of us have to write about our experiences and our knowledge because, well…that’s all we have.

I will tell you, though, that nothing makes me click away or not return to a website faster than the author or authors trying to dispense advice on topics they clearly know nothing about. With so many aspects of life to write about, why bother with stuff you don’t have a clue about? However, if that’s what you’re interested in and that’s what you like and you feel compelled to write about it, why not just turn the topics on their heads and present information in a different light?

For instance:

  • If you have never had kids, don’t tell me how to save money on kids’ clothes or how to keep them occupied for cheap or how to host an inexpensive birthday party. While I get what you’re trying to do, it’s a whole different experience when you’re actually a parent. And no, babysitting your nephew for a weekend does not count. It would be helpful to me, as a reader, to know what you’ve learned about money from your friends who are parents. Or how your parents handling of money affected you.
  • If you’ve never dealt with a hostile or unfriendly workplace, don’t tell me how to handle a boss who’s a bully or an obnoxious co-worker. What you would do if you ever encountered that is completely different than actually encountering that situation. Instead, talk to me about what your ideal workplace looks like or how you’ve become a better employee by working in a nurturing environment.
  • If you’ve never been in debt, don’t tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing to get out of debt. And don’t tell me you understand what I’m going through. You don’t. You’d be more helpful if you told me what you’ve gained by living a debt free life. Do it without condescension, though. Because if you’re condescending, that would make me hate you more.
  • If you don’t cook, don’t write about saving money at the grocery store or cooking from scratch. How do you know? Instead, think about how your mealtime habits could present useful information. In fact, you know what would benefit your readers? Writing about how you go out to eat every day without going bankrupt.
  • If you’ve never planned a wedding, don’t tell me how to do it “on the cheap” (one of the many expressions I abhor). Don’t give me details on how to score a sweet deal on a dress or flowers or location. Instead, tell me why you don’t want to spend a lot of money on your wedding or other ways to use that money instead of on a fancy wedding.
  • If you’ve never dealt with financial or actual infidelity, don’t give me tips on what to do next or how to spot it. Just like the bad boss or workplace, what you’d actually do is entirely different than what you think you’d do. I have no positive suggestions for this one except just leave it alone. Don’t even broach the subject.

An exception to some of these: if you are a seasoned industry veteran (ex., wedding planner, therapist, HR rep, financial planner. etc), then feel free to write away. You have insider knowledge that could benefit readers from all sides.

There are plenty of ways to discuss financial evergreen and popular topics without a) sounding cliché; b) sounding like a know-it-all asshole when in fact you know nothing about the topic; and c) being boring. If you want to write about those aspects of personal finance, great. Fabulous! Just make sure that you’re drawing on what you know and your experiences in order to make it as authentic (and as useful) to your readers as possible.

Because that? Is good writing.

4 ways being an asshole affects your finances

someecards.com - Don't ever say stuff just because you think you should.  That's the definition of an asshole

No matter where you live, no matter what you do for a living, no matter how much money you may or may not have, there is one person we have all met. You don’t always know that he is coming and often, he’s in disguise. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he shows up, ready to reveal himself.  And the reveal usually takes place in unexpected situations. Because that’s a typical characteristic of…

The asshole.

We’ve all, at one point or another, met a giant asshole. He might be at work, he might be in your family, he might be the customer in line behind you at the grocery store. But we’ve all met him. He’s rude, arrogant, obnoxious, condescending, and, worst of all, kind of dumb. Sadly, he doesn’t know these things and falsely assumes that there’s something wrong with everyone else because there’s no possible way it can be him.

The asshole also thinks that he is the most important person in the room/building/store/world, which makes his sense of entitlement that much stronger. This belief leads him to act in atrocious ways towards everyone he deems beneath him (which, in his mind, is everyone) and how someone like this can look at his own reflection in a mirror and go to bed with a clear conscience just boggles my mind.

But I guess it is not for me to understand the inner psychological workings of an asshole. It is just for me to deal with.

However, contrary to the asshole’s primary belief system, acting in that manner is not the best way to get things done (sorry, any assholes reading this. It’s true). Since this is a personal finance site, let’s focus for a minute on the many ways in which being an asshole can actually hurt a person financially:

Promotions at work.

Many assholes are very productive at work. The desire to outdo everyone and prove that he is the greatest worker around is very strong. And that kind of work ethic is great! Who doesn’t want to work with someone who is superproductive and great at finishing his work on time (or early!)? When I was in an office, I certainly did. Unfortunately, the asshole makes the working environment so unpleasant that when it comes time for promotions, his reputation may precede him, leaving him left out in the cold when a higher paying position becomes available. Because while everyone is willing to tolerate a mid-level asshole worker, no one wants him in charge.

Dealing with customer service.

Things get screwed up. It happens. A bill is wrong, a product is defective, a meal is too cold or contains a vile ingredient that we distinctly asked NOT to be in the food. In all of these instances, you are going to need someone else’s assistance. In all of these instances, it behooves you to be nice. By being nice when a mistake has been made, I have received money off bills, free food, new products…all good things, right? But I have witnessed people being assholes in all of these instances and it has never, ever worked in their favor. Sure, they might bully the people into giving them something but it’s never as much as if they had been nice in the first place.

Getting help from friends and family.  

Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, needed the help of friends or family on a project? Whether it’s moving, painting a room, babysitting, or just general assistance, we’ve all called on friends or family for a little help. We do so because asking for that kind of help is cheaper than hiring a professional. In fact, many finance experts advocate bartering services with friends and family for just that reason. But no one wants to help an asshole (unless, of course, the asshole is also a bully. In which case, the asshole will probably just bully you into helping him, making you think he’s an even bigger asshole).  So he is left to either pay someone or do it himself. That can get expensive.

Creating friendships.

No one wants to be friends with an asshole. They are horrible to be around, mainly because you have to listen to their narcissistic rantings, holier than thou attitude and general disdain for everyone and everything they feels is beneath them. An asshole is negative, annoying, and full of general unpleasantness. In short, if an asshole is at a party, it’s because the host takes pity on him. Actually, now that I think about it, most assholes don’t have any friends because no one wants them around. So, they develop expensive, ridiculous habits that eat away at money that probably should be saved for a rainy day. Or the day they actually get a friend. Because the only thing worse than an asshole is a broke asshole.

Most of us have our asshole moments. I know I do. It’s hard to be perfect all the time. But for those who are assholes all the time, it has more than just a negative effect on your personal life. It affects your financial life, too.

Just something to think about.

Why do we care so much about Chick-Fil-A?

Caution: This is a really sensitive topic, one that brings out very strong opinions. If you’re going to comment, please do so in a polite, respectful manner. I don’t want to have to disable commenting on this post because a few people choose to act like assholes.  

Let me be clear right from the start: I 100%, completely, undoubtedly support gay marriage. If two people love each other enough to want to commit themselves to one another for the rest of their lives, I think they should be able to do just that. I don’t care if that’s two women, two men, one man and one woman who used to be a man, or a man and a woman. It makes absolutely no difference to me who someone happens to want to marry. Because when it all comes down to it, their marriage has absolutely no bearing on my marriage. At all. Ever. In any way.

A nontraditional marriage doesn’t nullify my wedding vows or make them any less sacred. You know what does that? Cheating. Abuse. Lying. Stealing money. The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and all the other reality shows that make a mockery out of dating and marriage. Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears and all the other celebrities who treat marriage as if it’s the latest red carpet accessory. Not two people of the same sex wanted to be able to legally declare each other as spouses and be afforded all the same benefits as a straight couple.

Okay, with that out of the way, I now need to say this: The whole Chick-Fil-A/Gay marriage controversy is absolutely fucking ridiculous. Who gives a shit that the president of a privately held, fast food chicken company (who has never once kept their beliefs a secret) doesn’t support gay marriage? I certainly don’t. His opinion isn’t going to change my mind anymore than my boycotting his restaurants is going to change his.

Why do we care so much? Why isn’t he allowed to believe what he wants to believe just like those of us who support gay marriage? Is his statement really going to have that much influence over legislation in states that have already approved it (or their placating ilk, civil unions)?  No. And what really burns me up is that before this controversy emerged, North Carolina voters passed a damn Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Why wasn’t there more of an uproar or news coverage over that? Why didn’t the Muppets (who I absolutely adore) stop selling their products in that entire state or refuse to allow showing of any future movies? Why weren’t people going ballistic on Facebook over that? Where were the snarky statements and rants and calls for boycotts of North Carolina tourism? Where were state and local representatives calling out North Carolina voters for their stupidity?

I couldn’t find them. (Note: I realize that the previous paragraph was filled with a lot of questions. They’re mainly rhetorical but if you have a good answer, please feel free to share).

What is it about chicken that is making people go crazy this time? I don’t have the answer and quite frankly, I’ve stopped trying to come up with one. To me, all it illustrates is how messed up our country’s thinking is that the owner of a chicken company has more clout than a state constitution. The fact that one or two statements from a man with antiquated views who’s made his money (and not even his money, really. It’s his father’s company) off of waffle fries and fried chicken can incite this kind of riot is absolutely asinine. And despite boycotts and organized protests and other tactics people are using to express their frustration (or support) with this man, it boils down to this: this is his opinion and he is entitled to it. He’s clearly proud of his stance and doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that his company’s bottom line may suffer. He doesn’t seem put off enough that his views are ostracizing customers. In fact, he’s been very quiet since this whole controversy began. But is he at home, contemplating what he said and rethinking his position to help boost his company’s sinking reputation?

I highly doubt it. Because in his mind, he didn’t say anything wrong. He was asked a question and he answered it. I don’t think he predicted this kind of uproar and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s happy with all the publicity that’s ensued as a result. Good or bad, Chick-Fil-A is now a household name, even in parts of the country that don’t have one of their restaurants.

It’s just a shame that it’s over something that shouldn’t even be an issue anymore.