Sunday, April 21, 2013

Money Matters: Put It On The Bill.

Eliza looking whimsical.
While I write about some of the things that money can’t buy, I’m going to trust the TeamTeenAuthors to write about the really useful practical stuff about money. You know, the things you’ll actually need in the day-to-day running of your young adult lives like:
  • ·         How to Budget,
  • ·         How to Live Within Your Means,
  • ·         How to Save Up for Things.

When I was a teenager I went to a Boarding School that looked just like this…

We had a pretty cool phrase we’d use whenever we wanted something: ‘put it on the bill’.

“Sir, I’d like twenty pounds to go into town.”
“Of course you can have twenty pounds. I’ll put it on the bill.”
“Miss, I need new trainers. My old ones just aren’t cool enough anymore.”
“Not cool enough? Oh dear. Let me see what I can do about putting that on the bill.”

Yep. I know what you’re thinking. We were a little spoiled. It was the kind of place where students played lacrosse. Lacrosse is a real sport and students actually played it for fun. By the age of eighteen though, I found myself here:

West Africa, in the most dangerous place I had ever known. Can you imagine? I thought my ‘putting it on the bill days’ were well behind me. However, what I learned was that although money is really important, there were so many things it couldn’t buy.

Money can’t buy good health. It can pay for good healthcare but that’s not the same thing. When I was in West Africa I lived above a clinic, and watched the line between life and death crossed day after day. From my window I started to come up with a list of things that money just couldn’t bring:
    •  Integrity
    • Trust
    • Humility
    • Peace
    • Happy Memories
    • Wisdom
    • Class
    • Selflessness
    • An Open Mind
    • A Happy Home

    This list would go on to define everything about the way I choose to live my life. I chose to work in a state college and not a private one, I chose to be start out as an independent author, I chose to do a lot of things very differently because money was no longer my motivating factor. This freed me. And the funny thing is, lots of fantastic opportunities have come looking for me ever since.

    As you go into your teen and new adult lives, thrilling away at the entrepreneurship that will surely come, you should remember there are more important things than money. It's a fact you can take all the way to the bank.

    Elizabeth Amisu is a writer, reviewer of film and fiction, and lecturer in Film and English. She is the author of The Sacerdos Mysteries. Her novels, Sacerdos, Arcane Rising and Waterblood, are available on Amazon Kindle. Sign up for a free short at

    Tuesday, April 16, 2013

    Money Matters: Stop Wanting Stuff

    E.C. Myers
    Going to college meant a lot more than independence from my mother — it also meant financial independence. When I was growing up, my family didn't have much money, and sometimes we had no money, so I went without a lot of the things that kids think are important. My mom always made sure I had food, books for school, clothing, etc., but that was small comfort to the boy who really wanted a toy Sword of Omens from Thundercats, more than two new Nintendo games a year, and a constant supply of books.

    So my first undergrad job (in the campus dining hall) gave me my first discretionary income, and I didn't have much discretion in spending it. I made all the important payments for tuition and textbooks and everything, but I didn't bother saving beyond that. My advice really boils down to this: Save as much money as you can (while you can), and stop wanting stuff. But I have a few more specific suggestions that I think would have come in handy when I was younger.

    1) It's a trap! If you get a credit card (and these days, almost everyone needs a credit card, if only to build good credit for later in life), only spend money that you already have. I usually factored in my incoming paychecks and impending bills and all that, so I could be sure to pay my balance in full and on time, but after a while I stopped keeping track of it — and once you do that, it's easier to dig yourself an even deeper hole of debt. Do not carry a balance on your credit card, particularly if you have a high interest rate, and remember that cards often start out at low interest rates and then get significantly higher later.

    2) Avoid eBay. This was a huge distraction and money waster for me, as I made up for a childhood without lots of things by buying all of them from eBay. It might seem like a bargain to get that Darkwing Duck action figure you always wanted for only $3, but all those little purchases add up. So whatever your poison is, whether it's Etsy, Think Geek, or eBay, stay away!

    3) Money doesn't buy happiness. It seemed that the more I worked and the more money I had, the more I spent, as if the value of all that time could only be measured in stuff, or fine dining, or going to see movies and shows. I think it's important to work, and I feel like most of us have to, even authors. I actually recommend that everyone work in some kind of service industry at least once in a life (my first summer job was as a doorman), so that you can learn the value of being kind to others, as well as how much money is really worth. Weighing the cost of a shiny new DVD player against the number of hours it took you to earn it is a quick way to determine whether you really need a new DVD player. Now this might seem contradictory, but I think it's even more important to get a job you enjoy, that pays you what you need. I had a great paying job as a technical writer, but I didn't like working for a corporation; when I switched jobs and halved my salary, but had more fun at work and time to write, I was much happier. Money doesn't buy happiness, but it can buy you security — especially if you save.

    I still struggle to follow all my own advice; it always seems like there are more unavoidable expenses the older I get, which makes it even more important to limit the avoidable ones. And sometimes you do consider the cost analysis of debt versus things like a once-in-a-lifetime trip. (Pro tip: Once you're in damage control on debt, zero percent interest cards are your friend.) As I prioritized writing in my life, I had less time for other pursuits, so I stopped buying as many games, movies, and so on. (I still buy lots of books, of course. I'll always buy lots of books.) Using Netflix and libraries also helps cut down on expenses and clutter, because space in my apartment is just as finite as my funds.

    So where do you spend most of your money? What poses the biggest ongoing threat to your allowance or paycheck?

    Monday, April 15, 2013

    MONEY MATTERS: Know Your Employee Rights! It could pay off big time

    Julie Cross-TEMPEST/VORTEX

    Tax day. What does that mean to you young people? I’m not sure. For me, I started working a real job (so not cleaning or babysitting where I was paid in cash) the day I turned 16. 

    March 15, 1996. Minimum wage was around $4.50 and hour and I made a whopping $6.00 and hour much to the envy of everyone my age.

    I had been volunteering as a gymnastics coach at the YMCA in Des Plaines, IL for 5 months and knew all along I’d be able to become a real employee at 16. I loved that job more than anything else I did at the time and couldn’t believe that I would get paid. My mom worked full time, we only had one car and hadn’t been able to afford driver’s ed for me until the summer after I turned 16. So my journey to work, even before I got paid, took 1-1 ½ hours and three buses from Skokie to Des Plaines. Many days my mom was able to pick me up in the late evenings after work so I wouldn’t have to take the bus home. The drive was only around 20 minutes. 

    The summer after my sophomore year, I worked the Y day camp from 7:30am to late afternoon and then hopped on a short bus ride from the camp site to the Y building and then taught gymnastics classes until 7pm or 8pm. I was in teenage heaven, just living on the high of independence, of making my own fortune, of taking control of my life. And I truly loved my job so that helped a ton. Originally, it wasn’t my boss’ intention to have me working such long days. I remember my punch card (yes we had punch cards!) getting so full in the two week pay periods, I’d have to go onto another card. I never took breaks. I ate lunch with the campers and ate dinner after I got home at night. No one schooled me on the label laws and I hadn’t noticed until late August that in every pay check, 2-4 hours had been taken out each day, five days a week for the entire summer to account for my “breaks.”

    Once I realized this, I went into one of the Senior Director’s office and mentioned to him that I hadn’t been taking breaks and that was very clear in looking at the classes I’d been teaching. It’s not like I could’ve snuck out during a preschool gymnastics class to grab a cheeseburger at McDonalds. Being the fair YMCA work environment that they were, in early September, I received a check for $900 to compensate for the break hours and coincidently, those break hours had kept me from overtime pay and they gave me that as well. 

    So I guess today my advice ended up being not so much about taxes as it was about first jobs and knowing your employing rights. And I’m not saying that these will be violated intentionally because I don’t believe that’s what happened in my case and I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I quit my full time job to write full time in August 2011. But the four years before that, I was a program director at the YMCA. I managed staff, approved all their time sheets every two weeks, took care of preparing and turning in employee paperwork. Even though I made everyone’s work schedules, we did them by 7 week class sessions and instructors would call other coaches and get substitutes and this would sometimes throw someone into overtime before I could catch it. When I had staff working for multiple departments it was very easy for them to end up with a 12 hour day and no break scheduled. 

    When you are hired for your first job and you get that big pile of paperwork, my advice is to take some time, read it through, ask questions and then keep asking questions about what’s legal and not legal. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to have your employee rights violated without anyone being aware of this happening. 

    Also! I highly recommend having a higher number of deductions taken out of your pay check and getting a bigger return later, but financial experts will tell you it’s smarter to save that money and let it grow interest rather the government collecting the interest. The question you have to ask yourself is will you actually save that little bit extra in your pay check? Your employee should be able to change your number of deductions at any time, though some will tell you it’s decided when filling out your packet. I’m open to any and all financial related questions you may have!


    Wednesday, April 10, 2013

    Money Matters: Sew Up that Hole in your Pocket

    Whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness obviously already had enough of it.  Because while having lots of money isn’t the only ingredient in a happy life, having sufficient funds to take care of your needs is a major part of a happy lifestyle.  There are a million things I could say about how you should handle your money, and all of them have been said before.  So I’m going to focus on just one skill that people who handle money effectively master, whether they have a lot of money, or a little.

    You have to learn not to spend money just because you have it. 

    This is not easy.  The world is full of things to spend your money on, and our advertising-saturated culture conspires to convince you to spend it now.  There is no end of things you can do with your money.  (There is not even an end to all the good and worthy things you can do with it.)  Having money means having the power of buying choice, and spending it means making choices.  So as soon as you have money, you want to spend it on many shiny things.  This is natural.

    But here’s the thing: financially speaking, bad things happen to everyone.  Cars break down.  Unexpected bills come due.  People get sick.  And when you’ve budgeted yourself out to the penny (or worse, spent money you don’t have), there’s nothing left over to handle these things when they happen.  I’ve watched people I love bemoan their “bad luck” when hard things happen that cost money, because clearly it’s unlucky that these expenses came when they couldn’t afford them.  And sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, that happens.

    But if you’re not in the habit of saving money, it’ll happen all the time.  And that’s not bad luck.  It’s poor planning.  (Sometimes it’s also other problems, like under-employment or lack of education, or poverty or other such things, but I promised I was only going to talk about the one thing, and I’m sticking to it.)

    So do yourself a favor: spend less money than you have.  Set some aside for expenses that pop up.  If you have to, put it in an envelope and pretend it doesn’t exist.  If you can manage it, leave it in a bank account and let it earn interest.  Count it, and keep it for times when bad things happen.  And (here’s the best part!) sometimes that’ll mean that you can take advantage of happy opportunities, too, because fun things will pop up suddenly (not at the moment you have money), and you’ll have savings for those, too. 

    It’s been said that people whose wants are less than their means are rich and people whose wants exceed their means are poor.  This is, of course, a gross oversimplification, which ignores that there are many people in this world whose basic needs go unmet.  But assuming you have enough money for your basic needs (and I don’t mean your smart phone or your tablet or your new car, either), then it’s possible to scale back to less than you make, however much or little that might be.  Do it.  Take some of your money and save it like it doesn’t exist. 

    You’ll thank yourself for it later.