Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Basement Vocation?

We all know the rule, you live at home in the basement until you're married, right? And if that marriage, job, move to a yoga centre in California doesn't work out, the basement will be ready for your return, still decked-out in fake wood panelling and orange curtains with mom upstairs making meals and doing your laundry. Just like in That 70's Show...

I have recently had an idea for a book that I'd like to publish on financial advice that I would give to my Millennial generation peers entitled, How to Move Out of the Basement and Never Come Back. Since I'm not a professional financial advisor (yet, anyway), my words of wisdom are mostly anecdotal and gained from my own experiences. Since writing a book won't do much to keep me out of the basement personally, I thought I'd just share a few of the ideas I have in mind here at The Do-tique.

Xylophone jobs were harder to get than anticipated!
Living at Home Does Not Help Save Money

How often have you, your siblings or your friends used the old adage, "I'm just living at home for a while to save some money so that..."?

The problem is that a few years go by and the bank accounts are still pretty much empty. 

Living at home doesn't save anyone money - I mean if it's between street life and basement dwelling, by all means, live at home - but the tactic that really helps anyone save money is to have a savings goal and a savings plan. Usually, if you're working and not getting resourceful about supporting yourself - ie. get a roommate, cut expenses - than you might have some work to do in terms of developing better spending and saving habits before you can expect your parents to help you.

Paying rent is not always throwing money away - do the math on property taxes and interest rates and sometimes renting can be better than buying.

Pact with the Devil (1633)
Avoid Unnecessary Debts

When I graduated, I had a student loan that was worth more than my annual starting salary in my first job after graduation. I graduated in 2003 and cleared my loan by 2007.

The key is to continue living like a student for as long as you can while you still can and pay those suckers down. My strategy was to set up a savings account and move an amount over at the start of each month from my paycheck. If I needed the money later in the month, it was there for me. I would make a lump-sum payment on my loans each time the savings account balance reached $1,000. Soon, bigger purchases like cars, weddings, mortgages are going to start coming around and no one wants to be stuck at 30 still paying off purchases they made at 19. 

Part of this mentality is choosing not to make luxury purchases that you have to borrow to acquire. This does not mean always use cash, but the bottom line is to re-claim a mentality that you have to save for things like clothes, electronics, trips. 

By living as debt-free as possible, if your income changes suddenly, you're not carrying monthly debt payments as part of your fixed expenses. It might help you close the gap on a few more rent payments until times get better.

Saving Can "Buy" Time

Granted, young, single people rarely have room in their budgets for major savings, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't start looking at the small things. Finance gurus are always showing us how much those Starbucks trips and magazine purchases add up to annually. We noticed a huge difference just by taking bagged lunches to work and cutting down our restaurant visits to once a week or less.

So few people in my generation are working in full-time jobs with benefits and insurance. Most people are surprised to find out that EI benefit payments do not equal their regular salary or they are simply not eligible to make a claim. Events like job loss or the birth of a child might mean you need to rely on your savings to stay out of the basement. Do you have a good idea of what your monthly expenses are and how many months you could survive for on savings? 

Once you've saved an emergency amount, you can start thinking about moving excesses into your retirement fund. The days of jobs with pensions are pretty well over for the Millennial generation and it's going to be up to us to self-manage this process. 

Their mommies wouldn't let them
bring their guns home from work!
Build Your "A" Team

There are all kinds of professionals who can guide you  through the steps that will help keep you out of the basement. Some are amazing and will treat you as well as their own children. You need to start looking for these people and getting to know them long before you'll need their help.

Your Parents - seriously and honestly think about their spending and saving habits and how they have managed their money, careers and hard times in the past. Ask them about these things if you can. The key to understanding your own ways of dealing with financial matters is buried in your experience as part of that family. It will help you to know what worked and what behavior you need to avoid.

Financial Advisor - these folks do more than just help the wealthy! Often, their advice is free and they get paid on commission through products you may eventually purchase through them. Shop around until you find someone you trust and ask them to help you create a financial plan. 

Insurance and Mortgage Brokers - yes, you are indeed invincible, but just in case something happens, you are going to need to be insured. Agents can shop out the best policies for your needs. Question those automatic insurance checkboxes on major purchases and make sure you are getting the right coverage at the best prices. 

As for a mortgage broker, you will be glad that you got pre-approval on a fantastic interest rate when you happen to find that perfect home to buy rather than having to scramble and risk losing a chance to make an offer. He or she can identify what you need to do to become eligible for a mortgage in case you do have some other major debts or bad credit in your past.

Real Estate Agent - buying a home for the first time is a major emotional and administrative experience. An agent can help you to get realistic about what your dream house costs and this will help you with developing a specific dollar amount you need to save for your down-payment. Get to know their personality long before that 2 AM negotiation session when you're ready to buy. Stay in touch with them afterward to discuss market prices and recoup values on renovations in your area before you put in a $10,000 hot tub. We'd spent three years getting to know our agent casually and it paid off when we ended up in a fast-moving bidding war over our dream home.

I am going to share this post with some professionals and perhaps they will have their own comments to add. What are your thoughts as a reader? Agree? Disagree? 

DIY Rating: 10 and 0!

Unless you experience some very unlucky circumstances, 
staying out of the basement is a total DIY project!

That means get resourceful about bringing in experts who 
can help you get yourself the lifestyle you actually want.
And a bedtime that's as late as YOU want it to be!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Double Doing

Over the past few months, I've been thinking about these two TV pals of mine: June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) and Don Draper (MadMen). 

Mrs. Cleaver made a daily appearance in my childhood via television. 

Strangely, we had some of the same office furniture at home as appears in the offices of Sterling Cooper, so that world somehow feels familiar to me - my grandfather was a building superintendent just off Wall St. in the 1960's and we had some cast-away pieces still floating around. 

It feels like I grew up around both June and Don. 

Interestingly, I often feel torn between the need to ask both, What would June do? and What would Don do? What's interesting in the television shows is that their worlds were shown as completely divorced from one another while today, I sense that many of us, especially parents, are forced into both lifestyles at the same time.

Don is a leader. He's suave, he demands and receives respect at work, he delegates and manages, he has freedom and martinis at lunch and he regularly has moments of brilliance leading to adulation from his superiors and cash flow. He works late a lot, is not accountable at home for his day at work and is free to either show up for dinner in his kitchen decked out in plaid wallpaper or hit the bar and female company in a hotel room afterward.

June is a proper wife. She's dressed to the nines and her boys rarely have dirty faces. The house is orderly, the briefcase and lunch bags are ready to go, the roasts are cooked on time and there is a large glass of milk at everyone's place at the table. Everything, except for a few mischievous mishaps with her boys, is under control and she appears at ease and has time for social and leisure activities.

Don is a jerk at home and June is helpless in the office. 

Many of don't have the luxury of either foible!

This Mom Loves published a post yesterday on "Millennial Moms" noting the trend toward seeing fathers as equal partners in parenting and household management. Women, in my experience, seem to participate as equal partners in the workforce, taking on jobs as or more demanding than those held by their husbands.

Are we all trying to be both Don and June - the "powersuit" who can divorce themselves from the cares of the home during the day and then come home to put on an apron and pull together a roast of beef and pour a glass of milk and even have the leisure to wash the dishes as a couple afterward since none of the children ever seemed to need a ride to soccer practice back then? 

Do you ever feel only half as good as you'd like to be at either of your two roles? 

How do you find balance? 

How do we make the home and the workforce accommodate this reality of spouses both working and both parenting equally when the boss demands Don Draper during the day and our kids' teachers are still expecting to get June Cleaver on the line when Beaver gets sick at school?

My continuing goal has been to speak with working moms (and some dads) whose children are into their teenage years or older and to ask how they made it work for them when their kids were younger. The answers are surprising. They are always creative. They all involve sacrifice and they give me a lot of hope. My thanks to the successful and unsuccessful career-oriented women and men who have been sharing their knowledge with me. If you are someone like this, there is a lot you can share with us Millennial parents! 

DIY Rating: 0

The pull to be an impressive leader at work and have 
a perfectly oiled machine for a home life can seem irresistible. 

This often results in insanity, 
even with some serious hired help (think daycare here).

There are experts around you who have walked this road before - 
find out their secrets and start drawing up your own battle plan.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Books and Miscellanea at The Do-tique

Dear Readers,

Please do not lose hope and assume that I have abandoned my work here at The Do-tique! The fact is that most of my internet publishing time has been taken up with designing and assembling a web site that I intend to launch shortly. Truth be told, this was most certainly a project best left up to the experts! While I have come to learn quite a bit about using online templates to design a page, the frustrating hours spent trying to learn how to do this sort of work myself have caused me to develop a new-found appreciation for the skills of a technician. The knowledge and experience gained have been higly valuable and I can now say that I'm capable of creating a basic web page, but the time investment has also been quite a bit larger than I anticipated and my plans are to find an expert to help me finish and polish up my work before the big reveal. I've realized that my skills are in concept and layout, but that I still have some technical learning to do before I can use the technology to manufacture what I see in my mind's eye!

DIY Rating: 4
WYSIWYG site design was not as straightforward for a
novice user as I anticipated. Consider an expert here if
you cannot afford to invest the DIY time.

Where Nests the Water Hen (Paperback) ~ Gabrielle Roy (Author) a... Cover Art

Part of the small remainder of my free time has been spent reading Where Nests the Water Hen by Gabrielle Roy. This book appeared in the New Fiction section at the library and I was attracted to a title that included the key words "nest" and "hen" - they sounded like just the sort of thing I'd be interested in.

What I was not aware of is that water hen in the title refers to a settlement on a body of water (I think connected to Lake Winneopegis) located in southern Manitoba. Depsite this tome's placement in the public library, it was originally published in 1951 and this is a new edition of that publication.

The author, Gabrielle Roy, spent a number of years as a school teacher in Manitoba and this book is loosley based on characters and events that she experienced during that time. She writes here about these events some years later and her voice appears here as an anonymous, thrid person narrator.

There are two story lines in the novel that are joined together at the end. The first concerns the Tousignant family headed by the hen-like Luzina and her husband Hyppolite and their many children. I think the final tally works out to ten children in 14 years and I don't think that includes the surprise baby that arrives some years later. The family lives on a small island set on the river and the tale opens with Luzina's myterious annual business trip. I will leave the reason for the trip a surprise and note only that once the business is revealed, it is a delightful surprise for the reader. The main theme here is the relationship between the family and the "outside world" partly represented by the correspondence that they exchange with the government and the three school teachers that are deployed to the island by that same government. The family demonstrates and interesting reflection of Canadian nationalism in that they hold the founders of French Canada and the country of France in high esteeem as their heroes and champions while at the same time reserving no guile for the current anglophone government, even allowing one of the school teachers to raise the Union Jack on their property - indeed there is an awe for the authority of the British Empire and the miracles that it can acheive.

The second story line concerns the character of a Capuchin father who visits the Tousignants annually in July. He is an authentic mendicant living as a constant traveller with a genuine innocence in his belief that Providence will provide for his needs through the kindness and charity of others. He provides the reader with a gentle and heartfelt reflection on life on and around the Water Hen from the perspective of a loving outsider. He is bold in his belief that God will assist him and guide him in helping these people - his indulgences include making a child-like request to the head of the CPR to gain a bell for his small chapel and his intervention with the poor fur trappers where he takes their furs all the way to Toronto and ends up receiving in payment many times what they had been able to sell their goods for locally. The Imperial Fur Company rewards him with a beautiful fur coat that he dons but once a year for his trip to Toronto and eventually divests himself of lest he should become too accustomed to luxuries of the flesh. In contrast, when Luzina is asked to repair his habit, she finds it to be so threadbare that she can barely piece it back together.

Gallinula chloropus NBII.jpg

Birds are a recurring image in the book. We hear of their coming and going with the seasons and their presence in the poetic descriptions of the landscape. The family is disconcerted by the teacher, Armand Dubriel, who comes to live with them for the season and spends more time massacring the island's bird population for rifle sport than he seems to spend teaching the children. The author spells it out most plainly through the Capuchin's use of bird species to describe different types of souls in his annual sermon. There is also the Capuchin father's reflection on the "dance of the birds" that so closely mirrors the evening of dance on the prairie at the end of the novel. For the most part, the souls that live in the area are not soaring eagles or hawks, but rather homey water hens who like to nest and roost and raise their families in lonely peace. Some, like the older Tousignant children, tend to "fly the nest" in search of greater education and careers others are migratory like the Capuchin himself.

As a reader, what was strange was how disconnected I felt from this story as a part of my own cultural heritage. As someone growing up and living in modern southern Ontario, life in rural Manitoba in the 1930's is like hearing about an exotic foreign country. Embarrassingly I barely know anything of the French-Canadian culture of the prairies let alone the history of all the other immigrants that are mentioned in the book. I was reminded a bit of Tolstoy's character Dmitriy Olenin from The Cossacks in so far as it was a bit of a journey into a culture and experience as Canadian as my own, but so very foreign and in the end, unchangeable by the reader's visit to that time and place.

RIY (Read it yourself) Rating: 10
Very much enjoyed this short and delightful novel. 
The translation is also excellent and flows beautifully.