Welcome to Montooth Money!

I like talking about money, and I especially want to help my students make wise choices so they don’t have to worry about the debt that cripples so many of our citizens, but, as an English teacher, I can’t really spend class time on the subject. Also, I have no credentials in finance, just experience.

Therefore, I have decided to start this blog. Read it if you want to know how a lifetime of being (mostly) responsible with money has allowed me to:

  • graduate college without debt until my final semester (debt I paid off within six months)
  • help my siblings with a wide array of financial needs, including, but not limited to:
    • paying college tuition
    • helping with security deposits on apartments
    • providing a place to live
    • paying various emergency fees
  • pay a friend’s lawyer fees for citizenship
  • spoil my parents on occasion (they deserve it!)
    • more practically, I’m also saving for their eventual and inevitable health-care needs as they age
  • travel domestically and internationally
  • help friends create budgets to get out of debt and/or avoid bankruptcy
  • help friends improve their credit scores (including my then-boyfriend, now husband)
  • give a car to a student
  • buy classroom laptops that students can take home
  • say no to work I don’t want to do
  • continue my education, including paying for my master’s degree without a loan
  • pursue hobbies
  • avoid unnecessary stress about plumbing emergencies, cars breaking down, and other unplanned expenses
  • sponsor children’s education in countries where the U.S. dollar is strong
  • donate monthly to ten non-profits/charities that are important to me
  • be a patron of the arts, sometimes sponsoring or producing specific artists or productions
  • pay off my house in less than 30 years (right now, I’m on track for 18 years total, which means I’ll pay off my house before I retire)
  • tip generously (I once depended on tips!)
  • have the option of retiring early
  • get rid of stuff I don’t need
  • appreciate all that is free in life
  • love my work rather than be a slave to it

Recommended Reading:

The Millionaire Next Door by Stanley  (Get it at the library where it’s free!)

Enjoy this stock photo until I upload some photos to WordPress:

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Haggling Is Still an Important Skill

I just got off the phone with my cell phone carrier. I prepared by having three different competing cell phone carrier offers open on my computer and a solid idea of what I wanted. On my current plan, I get 2 GB of data. I wanted at least 4 GB of data without paying any more. Since other carrier’s transfer offers were much lower than my carrier’s, I had good leverage.

First, I talked to the basic customer service representative. She was nice and offered some deals I wasn’t interested in, but wasn’t able to give me 4 GBs for free. I told her I was going to take one of the other offers, but if she wanted to, she could transfer me to a manager first. She did.

The manager worked hard to keep my business. Every offer he gave me wasn’t quite good enough until he offered me 6 GB/month for $20 less per month than I was already paying. Awesome!

I do this every year or so with various services: cell phone, internet, etc. It takes a little time (today’s call was 45 minutes), but it’s worth it in the long run. Over the next year, I’ll save $240 (over the next five years, $1,200) because of this one phone call.

The Library Saved Me $29.99 Today

My husband and I had a hankering to watch Time Bandits this week (a wonderful and strange movie if you haven’t seen it). First we checked Netflix and Amazon Prime — no go. Then I tried Kanopy and Hoopla through every library account I have, and they didn’t have it available for streaming, either. For a second there, I thought I was going to have to shell out $29.99 to by the blu-ray of the Criterion Collection edition, but then I remembered (duh) that I could check out a physical copy from the Long Beach Public Library.

When I checked out the DVD, the librarian mentioned that he has the blu-ray copy and would be happy to loan it to me if the quality of the DVD weren’t good. The quality was fine, but it’s definitely nice when librarians know you and are willing to share their personal belongings.

Just one more reason libraries are the coolest things on Earth.

No, Teachers Don’t Get Paid in the Summer

This morning a student was telling me it was cool that teachers get to do nothing while they get paid during the summer. That’s not how that works…

I get 10.2 quadriweekly paychecks per year. That means that for 2.8 quadriweekly periods (about 12 weeks), I get no money at all. This is where a budget comes in: each paycheck, I put aside enough money to pay for 3 quadriweekly paychecks (and then I use the 0.2 to pay for my professional subscriptions to things like NCTE, ALA, SCTE, etc.). That money goes into a CD account that currently gets 3.5% interest and then matures in July. Until it matures, I can’t touch the money unless I want to pay a big penalty on my earnings. CD accounts can be a good way to save for near-future expenses — things that are coming up too soon to invest in bonds or the stock market but are far enough away that you don’t need to spend any of the money for 6 months – a few years (CD interest rates usually increase the longer you plan to keep the account open).

That said, it is possible to get work over the summer. I’ve taught summer school a few times, and it’s super fun. The down side is I feel like I had no break and then I start the school year unrefreshed, so I don’t do it often. I can sometimes get paid to grade the AP exam or take an AP training session. I can get paid to teach summer bridge sessions to future AP and ACC students. I could also apply for a summer job just like many of my students are doing right now.

For much of the summer, though, I work for free. Lessons still have to be planned, handouts created, texts analyzed… all of that happens in the summer. There’s no guarantee that I’ll teach the same things next year that I did last year, so sometimes I’m planning an entire curriculum. Other times, I’m just revising last year’s lessons to make them better. I don’t get paid for any of that work. I also don’t get paid when I stay after school to grade or bring big stacks of grading home for the weekend. There are definitely a lot of things about this job that aren’t glamorous, but it’s all worth it in the end.

If you ever end up with a seasonal job or a contract that doesn’t last a full year, make sure you plan ahead and save a percentage of your paycheck for the period that you will be unemployed.

Am I Rich?

A few of my students keep telling me I’m rich. I think I’m middle-class, but in some ways that is rich. I’m generally comfortable in the fact that I will have a roof over my head and food for at least the next year. Things can change —  disabilities can get worse, districts can layoff teachers, etc. — but for the most part, I feel secure, and security is way more important than wealth.

If I compare my current self to my young self, though, I am extremely rich. No debt besides my mortgage? An electric car? Medical insurance? A job a love? That’s all pretty posh to me.

Senior Year Expenses

Most of my readers are sophomores and juniors, so I thought it would be nice to make a list of senior expenses that you should start saving for now:

  • Grad Night
  • Prom
  • Cap and gown rental
  • A nice outfit for senior dress-up day and/or graduation
  • Yearbook
  • College application fees
  • Any school fines accrued over the years
  • Fees for expected activities (ex: AP Literature theater excursion, uniforms or costumes for sports/music/dance, etc.)
  • Gifts and/or cards for people you appreciate (a good friend going to an out-of-state college, a helpful counselor, parents that have supported you, people who wrote letters of recommendation for you, etc.)
  • AP exams
  • SAT and ACT exams
  • College entrance exams (some no longer have these, but some do — do your research!)

 

That’s all I can think of right now. Do you have any to add?

 

“Thank You, It’s Fake”

I have a very non-flashy wedding ring for both political and practical reasons. The practical: stones get caught in my hair. The political: blood diamonds are evil. I don’t have (nor did I want) an engagement ring; getting married was a joint decision without the need for some antiquated proposal. It cost less than $300 for our wedding rings, and we love them.

That said, plenty of people are more romantic than my husband and I and have bought into the myth that somehow the cost of an engagement and/or wedding ring is somehow equal to the amount of love one person has for another. Some people just want to one-up their friends by having a larger diamond.

When my sister got engaged, she wanted something sparkly, but she also didn’t want her future financial partner to go into debt for the ring, nor did she want to be evil (see blood diamonds above), so she ended up getting a Cubic Zirconia ring. It’s large and super sparkly. My younger sister-in-law complimented it one day, to which my sister replied, “Thank you. It’s fake.” I hope that someday that becomes a common reply.

The only real problem with Cubic Zirconia is that over time it can get scratched up. Because the stones are cheap, though, they are easily replaced.

If you’re dead-set on getting a diamond, you can always get a lab created diamond. They are real diamonds, but they don’t have the environmental or human atrocity costs of natural diamonds. They are also significantly cheaper to purchase, though considerably more expensive than Cubic Zirconia.

Some friends of mine forego rings entirely. I’ve always liked wearing rings, but there’s no real reason I needed a wedding ring; I will admit it was fun designing our matching rings, though.

Avoiding the Female Tax

Women in our society are simply set up to pay more. This is wrong on a number of levels that are beyond the scope of this post; instead, this post will give you some ideas to mitigate the costs of being a woman. I see two categories here: medical costs and society costs.

Medical Costs

Women menstruate, have (or avoid having) children, are at higher risk for breast cancer, and are at a higher risk for a number of chronic illnesses, many of them autoimmune in nature. It’s not fair, but that’s just the way the chromosomes tumble. Here are some ways I have (or wish I had) kept my costs for being female down:

The Keeper: The Keeper is a menstrual cup used in lieu of pads or tampons. There are other brands available (the Diva Cup is its closest competitor). The Keeper is made of natural gum rubber and lasts about ten years, though you do have to get a different size if you give birth vaginally. It saves money on pads and tampons and is great for the environment. It takes a little practice to insert and remove, but after a day or two, it’s second nature. I really can’t recommend it enough. For those who prefer pads, there are also many reusable pads available, Luna Pads and Glad Rags among the most popular. (If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you can also find free patterns to make your own). I’ve been using the Keeper since 1995 and have saved thousands of dollars in disposable menstrual products because of that.

Pain: Menstruation isn’t exactly fun, but you can avoid bloating and pain (and, by extension, wasted money on Midol) by exercising regularly, reducing sodium intake in the week before your period, staying hydrated, and continuing to exercise through the cramps. The exercise you do during your period doesn’t have to be intense — even a walk can cut down on the pain — but sitting around on the swallowing Midol and chocolate ice cream (or, when you’re older, downing a bottle of wine) doesn’t really do any good in the long run.

Birth control: Okay, what I did here is extreme because I knew I didn’t ever want to have children. I had a bilateral tubal ligation (basically, they cauterized my Fallopian tubes making it impossible for an egg to make its way to my uterus). Voila! No need for pills or other contraceptives! Thanks to provisions from the affordable care act, birth control pills are now free, but with the change of party control in the federal government, I don’t know how long that will last.

Children: I don’t have any, but I know from being around when my friends and family have had children, that the actual cost of giving birth is a bit astronomical. Copays for appointments during pregnancy, the hospital stay, lactation nurses, etc. all add up. My tip is this: if you want to have children, great! That will keep me employed! But once you decide that’s what you want to do (or once you’re happily surprised that you’re pregnant), call your insurance company and have them walk you through your exact coverage. Then call the human resources department of your job and find out exactly what benefits they have (how much of your leave will be paid? How much can you take without pay and still have a job?). Then start saving  enough so you can enjoy your time with your little one without having to worry about how you’re going to eat. I would suggest saving enough for all the costs you estimated plus one extra month of pay just in case there are complications in your pregnancy and you’re put on bed rest. It certainly can’t hurt to have a little extra. I’ll write another post about the cost of children themselves (diapers, clothing, furniture, etc.).

Cancer checks: As you get older, you’ll spend more and more time paying to have the privilege of having your breasts painfully compressed during a mammogram so they can check for cancer. They’ll pretty much always find a lump, so then you get to pay again to have them do an ultrasound to see if that lump is anything to worry about. It’s definitely worth getting checked out, but start saving for those copays now when you’re young and (hopefully) healthy. Make a “medical” section in your budget and start adding to it. Only withdraw from it for copays and medications.

Chronic illnesses: Lupus, MS, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Pancreatitis, Hashimoto’s, and a whole host of fun diseases are more common in women than in men. Aren’t we lucky? Here’s one thing they have in common: though there is a genetic predisposition for all of them, the key factor in activating the gene is stress. Do yourself a favor and learn to manage your stress now (and learn to say no!) so that you don’t end up like me with a chronic pain and fatigue disorder that has forced me to learn to manage stress after the fact with no hope of curing my disease, just not making it worse. Take care of yourself. Eat well, exercise, spend time with people you care about, get a good night’s sleep, and don’t try to do everything at once. That may mean being okay with a B when if you really stressed yourself out you could have gotten an A. It may mean that you can’t be on ASB AND be an ambassador AND be in all the music groups AND play on two sports AND take six AP classes. What it looks like for you will differ, but if you’re already suffering from depression and/or panic attacks (and I know some of you are), then that’s your body telling you you need help. We have psychological services here on campus to help you, and all state-funded schools (so community colleges and state colleges) have free psychological services. Take advantage of them. This is true for the men as well, of course, but since we women are more likely to be hit with these stress-induced illnesses, I believe this belongs on this post. Good books to read on this topic are The Body Keeps the Score and Cure. (As always, check these out from the library.)

Societal Costs

Make-up: When I was about twelve and a friend of mine I walked to school with was fourteen, my friend complained, “I wish I were young like you and didn’t have to put on make-up every day.” I thought she was nuts. Who was making her put on make-up every day at fourteen? And who decided that women had to wear make-up as adults? I decided then and there that I would only wear make-up on stage and for special occasions that would be photographed like a friend’s wedding (I don’t want my pale face to ruin their photos! That said, I did not wear make-up at my own wedding). Since then, I have also considered the environmental costs of so much plastic being used to hold and package make-up as well as the injustice of women being expected to make themselves look different than how they look naturally while men get to just shower and go. I put sunscreen on my face because skin cancer runs in my family, but beyond that, my face is bare, and I’ve saved thousands upon thousands of dollars because of that. I also save time (more time to read! no need to keep up with what this year’s colors are!) and stress. For the record, I don’t judge people who use make-up so long as they do so by choice. For some people, it’s an artistic outlet, and that’s great. I worry about women who feel obligated to wear make-up, however.

Fashion: Lately this has invaded male life once again, but the onus is still more heavy on women to keep up with trends. For me, it helped that I grew up only wearing hand-me-downs, most of them from my older brother. At one point, during the grunge era of the 90s, my jeans, t-shirts, and flannel shirts were even in fashion! After that passed, though, I kept wearing them. I actually do have some nice clothes that I wear to the theater, to friends’ weddings or showers, or even just to the park on a nice spring day, but for my regular uniform, it’s jeans and t-shirts all the way. They last, and I don’t have to think in the morning.

You may end up with a job that requires more formal wear. Even if you do, I strongly recommend a classic uniform that you simply spice up with, say, a scarf or other accessory to note the seasons and add some personality. If you’re a lawyer, a pair of black or grey slacks, a skirt, a suit jacket, and a week’s worth of professional blouses plus a few accessories can get you through. Don’t skimp on the quality; you want these timeless pieces to last a while. Avoid trendy cuts and lengths. Look up “capsule wardrobes” for more ideas to keep your clothing costs down while still looking professional or appropriate at a variety of events.

Weight loss/gain: People make a ton of money of women’s insecurity about their weight. Here’s my advice:

  1. Watch less TV. You won’t feel compelled to look like people with personal trainers and dietitians if you don’t stare at them all the time.
  2. Read fewer popular magazines. The pictures in there aren’t even real people half the time, so trying to look like them is even more damaging.
  3. Eat healthy and exercise. Don’t do this because of a goal weight; do this because it’s a way to show you care about yourself.
  4. Notice how beautiful other (non-photoshopped) people (in person) are. If you see the beauty in others of all body types, it will become easier to see the beauty in yourself.
  5. Remember that “comparison is the thief of joy.” You will never be anyone but you, so don’t make someone else’s body your goal. You can strive for change of your inner and outer self, but only do so if it’s for your own good. I, for example, want to make my upper body stronger (it has atrophied a bit because a lot of exercises are painful to me). Some of that working out will lead to a better-looking body overall, but my goal is actually to be able to use a wheelchair instead of a scooter when I can’t walk far because wheelchairs are way more easy to navigate and way more fun to use.
  6. If your weight is a health issue (you are significantly under or overweight), then by all means, address it with your doctor’s help. I was underweight for years, and nothing I did could help me gain weight until I found out I had Celiac disease and that by eating gluten-free I could suddenly actually absorb nutrients. Now I’m a few pounds heavier than I’d like (I hate shopping for clothes, so I like to stay the same weight), but I am SO happy that my body has been able to gain weight like a normal person! I’m also 40, so a bit of weight gain during middle age is normal and nothing to be concerned about.
  7. If you need help losing or gaining weight because the diet changes and exercise changes you’ve tried aren’t working, use a free app like MyFitnessPal to track your food and exercise rather than paying for Weight Watchers or for ridiculously priced (and generally inaccurate) fitness trackers.

 

Are there other costs that only women pay in our society that you can think of? Post them in the comments and I’ll see what I can come up with to save money on them.