Do you look like Julia?

Politically, I’m on the left side of left, I’m so far left, you can’t see me (unless you’re there too). But this post isn’t about whether or not I like or dislike Obama or Romney (I am not a fan of either if you were wondering) but about the ‘Life of Julia’ Campaign that Obama’s team put together. Have you seen it?

Because of my public policy background I have an astute appreciation for what they’re doing with this – it’s important for people to understand how policies will actually affect them on an personal level. Otherwise, public policies exist in a vacuum where Congressional members care about them but the people (for whom they will matter) don’t.

However I have some key issues with both the specifics and style of the campaign.

If you don’t want to go through the slide show I’ll give you a brief synopsis. Julia is shown at various ages throughout her life, engaging in the very standardized “this is what a woman’s life looks like in America” model. Hmm…I didn’t realize that women’s lives in America were so homogenized, orrrr white, or filled with babies, and college.

Anyway! Each slide features a public policy that Obama has created or supported and explains how that policy affects Julia’s life in a positive way (See the slides below).

Pretty effective stuff don’t you agree? (Well it’s effective if YOU can relate to the lady in the slide show).

Now you know I didn’t just put that last slide up there by accident because Student Loans are a BIG ISSUE on this blog. What about Julia’s mom in this scenario – what’s going on to help her with the debt she might still have? What about making tuition prices less outrageous for Julia’s son?

I appreciate the public policy messaging savvy but I’d like the campaign to think about reaching out to those who don’t exactly live Julia’s life.


Why Bother With a Credit Card?

When I turned 18 my dad got a credit card in my name and kept it to make small purchases, pay them off immediately, and start building my credit history. I still have that credit card but hardly use it – there’s no point! I get nothing for it except the stress of having to pay off a credit card once a month.

My husband however has no credit card and an in-the-middle credit score because of it. Now that our finances are fully merged and we’re looking to plan some vacations we decided to explore some rewards cards. I’m not a big lover of credit cards because I don’t want to spend beyond my means and I think they absolutely encourage over spending! Even if you’re an avid bank account watcher you can still be fooled by high balances if you have credit card payments lurking out there.  BUT I’ve proven to myself that I don’t let this happen so rewards card it is!

So it’s fortunate timing that Chris Guillbeau at The Art of Non-Conformity just wrote a great Q&A piece about managing miles. Here’s a snippet of his advice:

Q. I can only get 1-2 cards. Which should I get?

A. Different cards work better for different people, but long story short, my new favorite is the Chase Sapphire card. It offers a mega-bonus of 50,000 points which can be transferred to a variety of airline and hotel partners (including United/Continental and Hyatt), no foreign transaction fees, and the annual fee is waived for year one.

I also like the AA Citi cards and have been getting them for years on a 90-day cycle, reapplying after I’ve fulfilled the requirements for one card, getting the bonus, and then moving on to another.

Q. Do you cancel the cards after a year, when the annual fee comes due?

A. I usually keep them for a year, then see what happens. Sometimes I call up and say I want to cancel and they waive the fee. Other times, they shift the card into a no-fee version (which doesn’t earn as many points, but I don’t care since I’m not actively using it then).

On a couple of occasions, I’ve kept the card and paid the fee if I’m still using it frequently.

Q. Can I get a business card without a business?

A. Yes. One of the easiest ways to double your points bonus is to get both a personal and business card from the same issuer. For example, you can get the Chase Sapphire card mentioned above and receive a 50,000 point bonus—and you can also get the Chase Ink Bold card and receive an additional 50,000 points. The same strategy holds with the Starwood Preferred Guest Business card.

Similarly, you can get an AA card from Citi for a 30,000 mile bonus, and also add the AA Hilton version for an additional 40,000 Hilton hotel points. If you have a willing spouse or partner, they can do their own applications—so as you can imagine, the bonuses add up very quickly.

Q: What about cards for outside the U.S.?

A. There are some, but not many. In Canada we recommend the AmEx Business Gold card, which includes a 25,000 point bonus after completing an initial spend of $3,000, and the AmEx Starwood cards (two versions) which each offer an immediate 15,000 point bonus. If we find more for Canada or other countries, we’ll add them to the list.

We chose to go with Capital One Venture card because 1) no annual fee 2) decent APR (in case something happens and we can’t pay back immediately) 3) good rewards in our opinion. I’m not a fan of annual fees; in fact I booked it out of BoA when they started charging fees for using their debit cards. Blech! But I didn’t know you could get a business card without a business – did you??

Chris answers a question about managing multiple cards and I have to admit, I wouldn’t want to do that and I don’t see the benefit. As it is we all juggle our finances – remembering to pay bills on time, move money around to various accounts, track spending – so it seems like too big of a hassle to manage multiple credit cards especially when mismanagement can hurt you. However, if you’re up for the challenge, you can also reap some great rewards (especially if you’re a world traveler like Chris or aspiring to be one like me)


‘Just Ask’ isn’t Such a Simple Solution

There are a good deal of statistics out there about how and why women don’t negotiate salaries when starting a new job. For example: 

A May study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University polled nearly 600 young men and women who graduated from college between 2006 and 2010. The authors found that young men are not only out-earning young women, they’re doing so by an average of more than $5,000 per year. Male participants reported first-year job earnings averaging $33,150, while young women earned about $28,000.
Another report released in May, this one by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, indicated that new female college graduates are earning 17 percent less than their male counterparts.
The National Partnership for Women & Families reports that, among full-time workers in the population as a whole, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. 
When asking the internet what to do about this problem the most common suggestion (in my findings) was “Just ask for more! The worst they can say is ‘no’. But, it turns out that’s not really true. 
Kevin Drum has more to say about this at Mother Jones

E.J. Graff asked all the men to leave the room before she linked to this reddit piece below, but I didn’t. It’s from an HR person at a tech company explaining why women routinely get lower salary offers than men:

The reason they don’t keep up, from where I sit, is simple. Often, a woman will enter the salary negotiation phase and I’ll tell them a number will be sent to them in a couple days. Usually we start around $45k for an entry level position. 50% to 60% of the women I interview simply take this offer. It’s insane, I already know I can get authorization for more if you simply refuse. Inversely, almost 90% of the men I interview immediately ask for more upon getting the offer.

The next major mistake happens with how they ask for more. In general, the women I have negotiated with will say 45k is not enough and they need more, but not give a number. I will then usually give a nominal bump to 48k or 50k. Company policy wont let me bump more than 5k over the initial offer unless they specifically request more. On the other hand, men more frequently will come back with a number along the lines of 65k to 75k, and I will be forced to negotiate down from there. After this phase, almost all women will take the offer or move on to somewhere else, not knowing they could have gotten more if they asked.

At the end, most of the women I hire make between 45k and 50k, whereas the men make between 60k and 70k. Even more crazy, they ask for raises far less often, so the disparity only grows.

I apologize for sticking around, but there’s a reason. I’ve run into this before myself, and have always told women “Just ask! The worst that can happen is that they say no.” But that’s not actually the case. Here’s a bit of research on the subject:

Their study…found that women’s reluctance [to negotiate] was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did….”What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” Bowles said. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.”

So listen up, boys: there’s a reason women don’t negotiate as hard as men. Several of them, in fact. But one of these reasons is that men treat them shabbily when they do. So knock it off. Tell the women you love to negotiate the same as you would, and when they do, don’t hold it against them. OK?

I have to admit – I did not negotiate my salary for my current position. I was so tired of being unemployed and I was also pleased with the salary and benefits offer. I realize that this could have been a mistake in the long run – nonprofit models of raises and careers can be pretty broken; you often have to move out to move up and raises are based on your starting salary. But it’s unfortunate that “just asking” isn’t really the simple answer so many people want it to be. 

Second Jobs – Are They Worth It?

In this economy, a lot of young professionals (and older professionals) are taking on side jobs – these jobs help to pay off loans and make living a post-student lifestyle easier. In my own workplace I know a few women, of varying career levels, who go to work after work; it’s hard!

For two years now I have been a part of an organization that works with exchange students. I even talked about how hard it can be over here. The extra money isn’t much, but I have to admit that it was very helpful during the unemployed times. But I recently realized that with the new job, the new commute, and the new marriage, the extra money is just not worth the time sink that this side job has become. For my own sanity I have to let it go. 
I think it’s important to evaluate how important free time is to you when considering whether or not to take on a second job (this is assuming that a second job isn’t a necessity for you). I hate to quit mid-year but my priorities are 1) staying sane 2) staying fit and 3) staying happy and right now the second job doesn’t help me to achieve any of those things.

There are definitely young professionals out there who disagree with my stance on this, seeing a second job as a necessity for getting ahead. I understand their points too:

  • A second job can help bridge your experience gap, allowing you to jump to your next, more desirable position, more easily
  • More $$$$
  • You may be more appealing to hiring managers because you’ve shown you take you can juggle many responsibilities. 
But it’s all about priorities and if you can handle a second job and want to handle a second job, more power to you. 

Keeping Sane Through the Sales

It seems to me that this “sale season” there were a lot of awful commercials, maybe more than usual. You had a woman doing physical training for shopping:

And someone who actually used that HORRID song, Friday as though it were an acceptable tune: 
And it seems to me like our commercial culture has decided it’s totally okay to be crazy – we are progressively normalizing insane sale spending. These commercials are designed to make us look at the TV and say, Oh! Other people are doing it…it’s totally fine to leave dinner early and camp outside of stores…it’s NORMAL. 

Now I understand that there are two sides to this story. Families can rely on these sales for gifts – it helps stretch the budget. But I think our culture should be shifting its values back to the feast and away from the sales. Black Friday and Cyber Monday epitomize the problems with our consumerist culture. Instead of actively trying to just pair down our gifting habits, we scour sales to get as much as possible, and I bet a lot of it is stuff people didn’t need and maybe didn’t want in the first place. 
If you’re the type who loves to do this type of shopping then more power to you. But I wouldn’t suggest going out if you see it as a chore and I certainly don’t think it’s OK to normalize excessive spending and PT for shopping. 

Occupy Student Debt

My student debt tale has all the makings of a horror story. I made choices that have now saddled me with a hefty sum of student loans and I am not the only one.

From Danny Rubin at Brazen Life: 

$38,000. $84,000. $253,000.
Those five and six-figure sums might look like payouts from different rounds on ‘Who Wants to be Millionaire,’ but you won’t find Regis or an oversized check anywhere near this kind of money.
That’s because these totals represent what different people owe on their student loans. Some are in such deep debt that they can barely make payments on the interest of their loans. Forget actual loan payments. Those will have to wait for a better day.
Since Occupy Wall Street exploded two months ago, a website called Occupy Student Debtsprung up alongside and collected horror stories of higher education.
Some are straightforward:
Original Balance: $199.256.90
Current Balance: $253,015.63
Paid so far: $29,242.15 (I’ve never missed a payment)
Interest rates: up to 10.7% (Citibank)
Others full of panic:
I graduated college in 2005, originally borrowed a total of $54,232.62, even only paying a lower interest rate and a fluctuating repayment plan over the course of almost 7 years of paying back my loan. I still owe at this time an amount of $54,158.13. As you can see, not much has come off at all.
And plenty more seem like all is lost:
Never mind the American Dream. Now, I’d just like to be able to pay my rent. Bills take care of my health and my cat’s health. Even my cat didn’t realize what she was in for in 1996, when I started grad school at a private university. Silly me.
Universities, banks and politicians… please explain yourselves.
More than 300 people have posted on the site with tales of financial ruin. Thousands more suffer in silence just fordoing what we were taught all along: work hard, earn good grades, get into college and make something of ourselves.
Rising tuition, dried up state funding for public universities, easy access to loans (i.e. Sallie Mae) and a culture that pushes young people to four-year institutions (whether they want to go or not) have all led to statements like this:
Education debt… is a loaded gun to my head.

To me, this was the most shocking:

While we may never pinpoint the root cause of student debt, it’s quite clear where we ended up. A Pew Research study this past week revealed that a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times that of a 35-year-old. That is believed to be the biggest wealth disparity in American history, and surely student debt, along with high unemployment, factors into the equation. 

I am lucky in that my husband and I can live on his salary solely while we work to widdle away the debt. But I feel for those people who have invested so heavily in their education but aren’t seeing positive results. I am not trying to argue the merits of higher education – I am just arguing that education is too expensive and students aren’t given the tools they need to help themselves afford this massive expense.

So now the question is, what can we do and how can we affect change that resonates with students and those thousands of graduates with crippling debt?

Investment Research

Investing is a very salient issue for me right now. The other day I talked about wanting to find a financial adviser but I’m still doing a lot of research on my own. I have to admit, I’m as investment savvy as I am technology savvy – meaning, not very. But I’m trying to figure this stuff out because I think it’s pretty important to have a firm grasp on what’s going on. My husband *gosh I love saying that* is on the up-and-up when it comes to global economics but is about as clueless as me regarding stocks, bonds, blablabla.

Want I want to do though is share the resources I am finding and start some conversations about different investment styles – what works and for whom?

I’m not a big risk taker when it comes to money. I don’t gamble simply because I’m a hoarder with my cash and I don’t want to lose it to chance. Well I know that investment carries risk and as someone who is young, some people suggest taking a higher-risk road. 

But I should back up and start at the beginning with some Investing 101 by MangoMoney:

And here’s the important one for today – Investing 101: Investment Personalities
*Why does the only female personality need to be the ‘moody’ one?*
I realize that these videos simplify things quite a bit but some of us need simple to start understanding investment lingo. I still don’t have a solid idea of HOW stocks and bonds work but I now have firmer grasp on what they mean for me and my money. I think my biggest struggle with high-risk investing will be not wanting to bolt at the first sign of trouble, even though I should be able to handle the changes over the long haul.