Personal Finance Archive


Charity: how will you do it?

As soon as I could talk, animals, especially strays, were my thing: finding and cleaning them up. Then trying to figure out what to do with them since my parents were not about to play host to a menagerie no matter how cool I thought it’d be.

They’re still my deeply beloved cause but of course these intervening years from childhood through to independent adulthood had to shift my financial focus to more urgent, immediate, needs in supporting my family. And since becoming financially stable enough to reconsider more than personal needs and wants, as we all do, I’ve also become inundated with the myriad needs and causes for which organizations, foundations, grassroots and corporate alike, clamor for attention and donations.

The difficult issues which our world is facing, globally, domestically, socially and developmentally are complex and become absolutely dizzying when I contemplate how to make the slightest difference.

But I’ve remembered the sage advice from watching Sports Night during my college years: you’ve just got to get in the game.

It’s our turn

As I develop our annual budget and plan for upcoming years, it’s a priority to build in a new dedicated line item meant for these issues whether it is intended to be a direct donation or money that means PiC and I will have the ability to give our time or some other sort of thing that is appropriate to the causes that mean the most to us.

After designating the actual budget, we’ll have to talk about what causes and specifically to whom we might be sending our money.

My charity tends to be a little closer to home, generally speaking, so I don’t think of it as charity so much as putting my money (time, expertise, or other efforts) where my heart is. That always informs my choices as much as any other factor of decision-making.

Historically, I’ve given money to organizations and people I know personally. Animal shelters that I’ve done volunteer work for, family in need, to fund the building of other charitable organizations that would go on to do good works in the community. Lovedrop, recently the brainchild of our PF blogger community’s own J. Money of Budgets are Sexy & his partner Nate St. Pierre that gave to the community, funded by the community.

And of course, I’m always on the lookout for ways to incorporate giving into everyday life.

One such find: A non profit organization called the I Do Foundation gives couples a way to create registries that are linked through the umbrella of the I Do Foundation. When guests purchase gifts online from the list, your charity of choice receives a certain percentage of that purchase in cash back. This is applicable to a limited number of stores and to online purchases unfortunately, but it’s still a neat option for those purchases that would occur online anyway.

How can you get in the game?

When looking into new charities, my recommendation would be to make your first stop at Charity Navigator to check that they use donation money wisely. That means that they’re not spending a vast amounts or percentages of donated money on overhead costs like extraordinary and expensive fundraising campaigns and other extraneous expenses rather than the use it was originally intended for: the cause itself.

Whether it’s feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless or tending to medical needs, those aims have to be the primary beneficiary of any donations. A well-managed charity does have to constantly generate new funds to survive and thrive, and should eventually be able to make investments on its own behalf at a certain stage of life, so some overhead is always necessary but it ought to be a reasonable amount in comparison to the whole. Charity Navigator does a good job of guiding you in making the determination of how well the charity carries out their mission and you can make your decision from that point.

Do you have favorite charities or causes that you support?


3 new habits: baby steps to better health

Over the past two months, I’ve quietly been making changes to my lifestyle in pursuit of better health. Normally, I’m a State Your Goal Loud and Proud sort of taskmaster, and go for the gusto publicly, because that’s worked in the past. But because my health challenges are so unpredictable, and there’s a whole slate of things to change, I was actually worried that I’d do that thing where I’d ambitiously take on the world, start stumbling, and struggle to find my footing again.

It’s weird. Financial goals, no matter how outrageous, always seem achievable. Even if they are vastly out of reach, they aren’t ever daunting. But health goals are no longer that easy for me. They actually even make me a little insecure.

Knowing that, I’ve eased into the pool, a few toes a time. Picking a few areas where slack habits that were ingrained for a (bad) reason, I gave myself a new reason and new license to like the new habit.

1. New Habit: “Missing the bus”.

In an effort to maintain work-life balance, I tried to stick to a schedule of leaving work at a certain time. This was partly because my public transit option was fairly rigid. If I missed a specific bus, every other bus behind that magic one was unreliable, late, or might not show up at all.

Triggered: Stress over the transit, grouchiness about getting home really late, double stress if PiC had to come pick me up because we’d both be extra late.

Conclusion: My work-life balance “solution” was actually not always workable, it was exhausting when extenuating circumstances arose as they will in my position and the extra stress is unhealthy.

Solution: I found an alternate transit solution that required a mile walk. Now, if something really needs just a few extra minutes, or an hour, and it’s important, I don’t need to stress myself out over the choice between not getting it done or running for the bus. I get it done, and take a nice long decompression walk.

Now, I actually plan to “miss” the bus more than once a week when the weather’s fine because it’s good for me. That removes all guilt-related stress from the equation. PiC knows that it’s semi-planned that it will be at least one to three times per week, I let him know as soon as bus-time nears, and he doesn’t feel pressured to rush around to accommodate an unexpected late day.  He knows that on those late days, he’ll just go to Plan B and everything goes more smoothly.

2. Spend Money. On purpose.

Mostly I’m frugal but there are days, and weeks, when I’m an absolute cheapskate because “I just don’t feel like spending.” And being disinclined to shop just doesn’t help matters at all. Say, when it comes to necessities.

My feet take a pounding because I run around at work all day. Plus I’ve added the above walking regimen. You would think I’d be willing to get the necessary things to be well shod and comfortable. But it costs money and takes time to find such things, it requires dedicated shopping and I haven’t got the patience so I just won’t do it.

Triggered: Pain!

Conclusion: That’s just silly. I have smart, fashion forward friends who can make good recommendations and I can order online if I refuse to shop in-store. I’ve been walking around with blisters for nearly a month because my shoes have failed me. Now, where’s my sign?

Solution: I asked for shoe recommendations from friends who travel and walk like I do: in flats and a LOT.

I also remembered that Nordstrom has a really good return policy so I can actually try shoes for real, not just a few steps on carpet which isn’t at all a stress test of how they will feel when you have to commute in them. I ordered a STACK to try on and will keep the ones that hold up to real trial.

3. Chunking

Weekends are often saved for all those chores and errands that seem impossible to squeeze in during the week after a long day, at the end of a night: Laundry, grocery shopping, dry cleaning, car maintenance, cleaning of every sort.

Triggered: Exhaustion and a sad weekend when it’s all work and no play.

Conclusion: Trying to preserve the weekday and weekend divide between work and home just creates a lump sum of misery on either side of the wall.

Solution: I’ve been breaking off little chunks of errands like filling up the car with gas, or vacuuming just one part of one room, or clearing off a table top and fitting it into my day if I can squeeze in fifteen or thirty minutes. This still leaves the big stuff for the weekend but if there are only two or three big things for each day, that’s only a few hours’ worth of work and a lot of free hours left!


These three items are my focus right now. I’m taking it slow and steady to let the habits become natural before I heap any more on my plate.


::: What would you target in a quest for better health and happiness?

::: How would you make it sustainable for your life?



Why You Should Shout It From The Rooftops

Chatting with a friend the other day, I learned that he was on a quest to lose weight and had been for some time. He’d been slowly modifying his lifestyle, diet and exercise, and was making some progress but was a little frustrated by what seemed like a bit of plateau in previously steady progress.

I complimented him on his weight loss to date, and asked after the details of his diet. “It’s not a diet, he’d said, it’s a project.” Spoken like a true techie.

He’s managing it through modifying his food intake against his calorie burn, and exercising more regularly.

Most importantly, he said, he’s telling people about it. It keeps him accountable. In fact, the key to his success thus far was making sure that people knew about his quest because it meant that he really couldn’t fail. He was trusting in the need to protect his ego and his ever loving friends to keep him in check.

The best piece of advice he’d received, he said, was to plaster your intentions across the front page of the Times, and shine the spotlight on your goals. With that many eyes on your waistline, or anything else you chose to make public, you really couldn’t afford the embarrassment of failure.

As blogging’s explosion across the internet has demonstrated in the last several years, people naturally gravitate to sharing and discussing their lives, hopes and aspirations in more public spaces, albeit, not necessarily with the intent of holding themselves up for ridicule. Many people are simply looking for validation or feedback, or keeping a public journal, in some way.

Whatever the motivation, this propensity to make once-private aspirations more public has given rise to companies like SmartyPig where users can also choose to share their savings goals with their family and friends, both incentivizing the savings behavior and the social aspect.

Research indicates that there are benefits to actually committing goals to paper, as it were, that the act of writing it down is a form of reinforcing the desire to achieve.

The additional public sharing of those goals gives you access to a supportive community around something that only you cared about before.

There’s a lot of truth in this and readers will see that in the personal finance blogging community. That’s why there is so much emphasis on the setting of concrete goals, S.M.A.R.T. goals. Socially and intellectually, blogging about money gives bloggers and non-blogging readers a forum to discuss the world of finance, learn about money, and talk about how other people are finding ways to solve similar problems. Built into that support network is knowledge sharing – both things that would help in the achievement of those goals.

Even though the same topics typically revolve around the ‘sphere, the voices of experience range across life stages and resonate uniquely across writers and readers to present a vibrant patchwork of resources.

And there are certainly ways to set goals in equally supportive communities offline as well, through mentorships, professional associations, friends of a similar mindset. Like my friend, relying on the good old fashioned peer pressure, redirected to work for him.