Personal finance

I’ve been reading a lot of personal finance books lately. It all started when I read The Millionaire Next Door because it was on sale in the Kindle store ($2!).
Later, I attended a seminar on graduate school personal finance put on by Emily Roberts of
One of the things she said was that when your budget aligns with your values then budgeting stops being an unpleasant chore, it helps you save for things you want. This idea resonated with me and I wanted to read more about it, being a good former graduate student, Roberts included a great bibliography for her presentation. What I found in my own subsequent survey of 5 personal finance books was that all offered similar advice about getting your budget into alignment but that each one had a different way of determining what your values were. I found each one helpful in its own right.

Smart Women Finish Rich, David Bach

One of the books Roberts suggested to help you figure out your values was
Smart Women Finish Rich, by David Bach. I quickly found a cheap copy, devoured the book and began setting up his 7 step plan to get rich. The way Bach suggests determining your values is based on an analogy of a ladder. You brainstorm ideas until you come up with a value you have about money and then you get to the next value (or rung on the ladder) by assuming that you already have that covered. For example, if the #1 reason you value money is to have Peace of Mind, the next step is to assume that you have enough money to have Peace of Mind and then think of what you would want next. In this way you come up with 5 core values. Mine turned out to be:
Peace of Mind
Health/Spirituality(mental health and physical health),
Justice/Charity(paying back the people and institutions that helped me get to where I am),
Joy, Mirth and Great Renown (A line from the Agincourt Song, a song we used to sing at my high school Sing assemblies).

Another thing Bach suggests is talking to rich people you know about how they set up their own finances, so I sent out an email to 10 or so of my parents wealthier friends. In researching some of the books they suggested I came across this stellar roundup of 52 top finance books by Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar. After reading through this great list, I came up with my own short-list of books that seemed the most relevant to me.

The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke, Suze Orman

This book, and the one below I found in a Little Free Library while walking around the neighborhood. It was on my list so I picked it up along with Stanny’s (they had both been read and heavily annotated by their previous reader). Suze Orman’s advice didn’t differ wildly from David Bach’s but I appreciated the structure of the book and the frank style (also, the classic 90s cover!). The book doesn’t really get into how to set up your values, but rather assumes that everyone reading it is in their twenties or thirties and offers great, if generic, advice to those in that demographic. I’ve left it on my kitchen table, and my housemates have taken to browsing it over meals (we all independently acquired the David Bach book).

Overcoming Underearning, Barbara Stanny

This book is the only one that was not recommended to me and I found problematic, however, I also found it very helpful. Rather than focusing on financial tips like Orman, Stanny focuses on the psychological relationship that people have with money. I’d describe it as a mix between ‘Smart Women Finish Rich’ and ‘The Secret.’ The book is full of Stanny’s trademarked phrases, affirmations, and handouts from workshops she’s led. In order to determine your values about money Stanny shows a list of 100 or so values and has you chose 10, and then narrow them down to 5. Mine were:
Time Alone



After determining these values you are to keep them in mind whenever making any decision in order to make your life (and money) align with your values. I found this and other exercises very helpful in my own personal exploration of my money values.

What Color is Your Parachute, Dick Bolles

This book is a classic for a reason. And when Trent Hamm sang the praises of the flower exercises on his list I quickly added it to my list (as well as my boyfriend’s). In addition to helping to kickstart my job search (which I’ll be doing in the next couple years) the flower exercise helps people determine their values as their relate to jobs and money. The way Bolles helps you find your values is to list 9 and use his prioritizing grid to get to the one value/purpose/life-goal/mission our most identify with. Of the 9 values:
Human Spirit

I most identified with Conscience/Will because of its focus on morality, justice, righteousness and honesty. I’ll definitely be coming back to this book as I get further along in my job search.

Your Money or Your Life

In a way, I saved the best for last. Robin’s book is the only one I am excited to pay full price for after initially borrowing it from the public library. I suspect I will return to it often (and I want to support the author’s charitable mission). Although another 9-Step plan for financial independence was sounding pretty trite by this point, it was so highly recommended by Hamm that I decided add this book to my ‘Must Read’ list. I’m really glad I did. The book briefly mentions money types, of the 4 (guardian, rationalist, idealist and artisan) I most identified with the idealist

In order to figure out your money values the authors have you take a thorough inventory of the things you own now, all the money you’ve ever received and your current job in order to calculate a ‘real hourly wage’ which they use as a measure of ‘life energy’. Rather than using abstract words and concepts to align your budget with, the authors have you use your own budget and your current real hourly wage to calculate your budget’s alignment with your values. It’s a little hard to explain (though not complicated), it’s well summarized here:

One of the things i really appreciated is that this book is the only one that isn’t focused on getting rich. As such, it doesn’t rely on risky stock market investments to plan your finances.

Strong Black Women are Women Too

Ironically, I’m writing a post decrying ‘angry black women’ because I’m feeling bitter and black tonight. It’s been a tough couple weeks for American Blacks with both Mike Brown and Eric Garner joining the scores of black people killed at the hands of police. On a depressing episode of the Read the hosts tried to keep our spirits up with news of Black Excellence. To support beautiful black women, I went out to buy the new W Magazine with Iman on the cover, but it wasn’t out yet, instead I bought a copy of bitch magazine with an article on ‘the Myth of the Strong Black Woman.’ In it, Tamara Winfrey Harris describes the myth of the sassy no-nonsense ladies, “the cold, overeducated, work obsessed woman” who is “half as likely to marry as white women.”

I just finished reading Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Americanah,’ which lived up to all the hype, as far as I’m concerned. I was excited to hear what my Slate friends had to say on the Audio Book Club (like all podcast listeners I have an imagined relationship with them) and was so disappointed to hear their criticisms. While I loved the book, I think there are many things you can criticize it for. I too felt like the romance was not the strongest part of the book. But The Audio Book Club argued that it wasn’t believable that such a strong female protagonist would do something so weak, selfish and cruel. Emily Bazelon, friend to the blacks was the strongest champion of this opinion. I am so disappointed that these critics, even after reading a book that exposes and challenges these stereotypes, could not get past the idea of the strong black woman. It was unebelievable to them that a woman could be strong in her sense of self, but be ‘weak’ or vulnerable. Haven’t they seen the new stereotype of a woman who has it together in her work life, but can’t get it together in her personal life (have they missed Mindy’s character on the Mindy Project)?

What will it take to convince people to stop thinking of black people as animals? We are strong women, we have to be to withstand the racism and sexism of this culture. Some American blacks come from a line of women who survived the middle passage, who survived the back-breaking work of slavery. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel pain the same as whites. We are independent and capable, but we aren’t invincible. Strength should not be the only positive attribute a black woman can own, we are sensitive and vulnerable too and this is not weakness, this is powerful, this is what it means to be human.

Updated 10/13/14:

In which other white people on slate have trouble understanding why black people idolize white people (hint: there are a lot more white people in the US to idolize than black ones):

from the Gawker Review of Books Interview of Charles Blow:

First comes the recognition that we are devaluing black and brown bodies. And that that is not even a new phenomenon, that that is an extension of an American phenomenon, in fact it is even a world phenomenon. There is a mountain of social science that ranges from doctors not prescribing pain medication to black kids at the same rate as they do for white kids with similar illnesses to spanking being more prevalent among black boys. When you think about that body, and the violence that it must endure—

Right, like the word Ta-Nehisi Coates’s constantly used in his reparations essay, “plunder.” It’s similar to what he was getting at. I keep thinking about how there is not only always something coming at us, but something being taken from us.

Right. And endurance becomes this ambient thing in your life; it becomes your constant. It is not just to play and grow up and fall in love, but it is to endure. It becomes the paramount motivation in your life. The tragedy when you hear young men say, Oh I never thought I’d be 18 or 21 without going to jail or being in the grave. I’ve heard this too much. If that is being drilled into your mind, what kind of psychological damage does that do to you, and to your relationship to society? And in addition to that, whatever damage is being done, society is amplifying the damage by misconstruing the data and concepts so that we overestimate black crime, we overestimate black hostility, we overestimate black aggression. We ascribe it everything dark and negative. In that kind of hostile milieu of black bodies that have been tortured in a way, in a system that is designed to destroy it, these concepts of black being dangerous and wrong, you can have the unfortunate crossing of those wires and you get shootings. I don’t know how to fix that. I don’t know if I’m equipped to answer that.

Maybe not “fix,” but you’re in a very powerful post at the Times. You have a platform every week to talk about whatever you want, or at least what’s topical in the news, do you—

Well, my job is to shine a light. Illuminating and educating as best I can is the tool that I have. Other people have different tools. And hopefully they can use what I do in their advocacy, in their boots-on-the-ground sort of work in neighborhoods, changing minds person to person. Other than that, I’m not sure how it changes.

The Women Reading Upstairs

When I lived in New York, I (think) I came up with an expression: The difference between being lonely and being alone is a good book. I had spent a lot of time lonely but not alone and alone but not lonely and the distinction seemed arbitrary. I was trying to find out how to flip the switch when a friend recommended Atlas Shrugged which I greedily devoured over the next month or so. What I realized was that it had a lot to do with how I felt I was being perceived by others. I felt loneliest when I felt the pity of others. When engrossed in a good book it didn’t matter what others were thinking about me. Recently I read Claire Messud’s the Woman Upstairs which reminded me of Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. The women of Messud and Heller are alone with books. Their worldviews are shaped not just because they were alone, but because of society’s perceptions of their loneliness as women.

Messud and Heller have both been criticized for these characters. Messud gave an interview in Publisher’s Weekly where the interviewer criticized her character’s likeability, a decidedly gendered attack. Heller’s book is on the Wikipedia list for ‘unreliable narrator.’ While I acknowledge that the women had boughts of anger and bitterness, I completely empathized with both of these characters. In fact in response to Messud’s interviewer, I would want to be friends with Nora and Barbara, they’re both whip-smart and well read, I’d love to see Nora’s art or compare biting cultural criticism with Barbara.

I see these women as potential friends but also as cautionary tales. The criticism of the books belies the scorn I would experience from society if I became a woman upstairs. Society only teaches us to measure us in the mirrors of others. Both stories deal with betrayal, but the moral of both of these stories is one of the narcissism of solitude. Of the distortion of individualism that we experience without others:

People like Sheba think that they know what it’s like to be lonely. They cast their minds back to the time they broke up with a boyfriend in 1975 and endured a whole month before meeting someone new. Or the week they spent in Bavarian steel town when they were fifteen years old, visiting their greasy-haired German pen pal and discovering that her handwriting was the best thing about her. But about the drip, drip of the long-haul, no-end-in-sight solitude, they know nothing. They don’t know what it is to construct an entire weekend around a visit to the launderette. Or to sit in a darkened flat on Halloween night because you can’t bear to expose your bleak evening to a crowd of jeering trick-or-treaters. Or to have the librarian smile pityingly and say, “goodness, you’re a quick reader!” when you bring back seven books, read from cover to cover, a week after taking them out…About all of this, Sheba and her like have no clue.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller.

I kept thinking, as I was telling Didi, that somehow what was in my head—in my memory, in my thoughts—was not being translated fully into the world. I felt as thought three-dimensional people and events were becoming two-dimensional in the telling, and as though they were smaller as well as flatter. that they were just less for being spoken. What was missing was the intense emotion that I felt, which, like water or youth itself, buoyed these small insignificant encounters into all that they meant to me. There they were, shrinking before my eyes; shrinking into words. Anything that can be said, can be said clearly. Anything that cannot be said clearly, cannot be said.

Claire Messud’s the Woman Upstairs

Women I Admire: Dominique Dawes

As a young black gymnast, Dominique Dawes was my idol. As a child my walls were bare except a big Dominique Dawes poster squished by my bottom bunk, wishing me goodnight and reminding me what excellence could look like.

Like most children I looked for representations of myself, and was lucky enough to live in a place where I could find them. They added the black American girl doll (Addy) during my childhood, I had a great black power library by my house, and a school full of educated and progressive teachers who knew that Black history was American history. I knew of Nadia Comenici of course, and did book reports on Olga Korbut and Mary-Lou Retton (same year I did a report on Josephine Baker) but no one held a candle to ‘Awesome Dawesome’.

Ultimately I was far too tall to be a great gymnast. Even the tallest gymnasts I saw on TV, who seemed to tower above all the others, was Svetlana Khorkina who clocked in at a whopping 5′ 5″. By 5th grade, I was 5′ 7″ Though it took me years to realize it, it just wasn’t meant to be.


Works in Progress II: Prison stats

When I found out that a friend of mine was imprisoned at San Quentin I was reading Dreaming in French. The book talks about Angela Davis’ experience with the Soledad Brothers at San Quentin. When I saw that she would be speaking in my area I bought some books for her to sign. ‘Are Prisons Obsolete‘ was short enough for me to finish in the week leading up to her talk. It reminded me of this clip from black power mixtape:

The introduction to the book was full of mind-boggling statistics. For my job I had been using the d3 library to make data visualizations, so this seemed like a great opportunity to make a compelling infographic about these statistics. I haven’t done so yet, but here are some of the stats I want to use:

-Only 5% of world population lives in the US, but it holds 20% of prison population
-There are 2x as mental mentally in in prisons/jails than in all psychiatric hospitals combined
In 1990 1/4 black men between the ages of 20 and 29 have been incarcerated…
by 1995 it was 32.2%
-Many minorities are more likely to be in prison than educated

Fastest growing portion of the prison population is black women
Up 78% in 5 years
-There are more women in prison now than in the entire decade of the 70s

California Statistics

in 2002:
there are 157,979 people incarcerated
20,000 for immigration detention
35.2% Latino
30% black
29% white

I’d like to make a CA prison timeline, showing their proliferation during the Reagan Era and how they continue to be built at alarming rates:
1852 San Quentin
1880 Folsom
1952-55 9 prisons built
1962-65 3 jails
1980s (Reagan Era) 9 prisons
90s 12 new prisons
Takes 100 years for 1st 9 prisons, last 9 in 10 yrs
Now 33 prisons, 38 camps, 16 correctional facilities and 15 prisoner mother facilities

Things that made me cry

This is a list of things that have made me cry in the last month or so:

I had originally thought to put the list in order of what should have made me cry but I don’t think such an order exists. I am trying to be kinder to myself about being a highly sensitive person. Recognizing that I am part of a larger group (20% of individuals) who share this genetic trait and that there isn’t anything wrong with it.

This feels related to this post from around this time last year.

Gymnastics Montages

We have a deadline at work and I’ve realized that my current favorite form of stress release is gymnastics montages. Here are some of my faves:

A sassy intro to gymnastics from the movie Stick It:

An artful training compilation from same:

The wonderful French gymnast Elvire Teza on my favorite event, beam:

(If you can’t understand the French, the trick performed at 0:14 is named after her. I just couldn’t tolerate Elfi Schlagel’s comments in the American version)

5 beautiful and artistic beam routines compiled by MostepanovaFan:

A great compilation of difficult and interesting beam mounts:

And who can forget Wei-Wei’s breakdancing beam routine:

When the movie first came out the late Roger Ebert remarked that this skill could only be achieved with special effects. I don’t know if (or how) special effects might have been used in this movie, but I am confident that with a dedicated gymnast and enough time and takes, a girl can do a headspin on a beam. Rock it Wei Wei.