Finicky Financial Advice

money blogI’ve signed up for many blogs and Facebook groups about money, business & investing in the last 5 years. Suze Orman, the Budgetnista, my banks’ newsletters…

I’ve saturated my brain space with such things at this point and I’ve learned a lot along the way. What’s challenging, however, is the fact that I’ve hit a wall. Some of this may just be lil’ ole’ me having zero willpower to implement new financial patterns, but I’ve brain stormed what’s not right (saying “wrong” sounds wrong) about the advice I’m seeing populate my many newsfeeds, pages and inboxes.

1 – The rags to riches story is tired.  A lot of advice starts from the assumption that you’re poor. Setting aside all the debates that argue that many poor people actually think they’re middle class, these “she used to have $12 in her bank account and now she has $1 Million” stories have grown old. I don’t want to be a millionaire and I definitely don’t have $12 in my bank account. I’m looking for tips on how to improve from okay to great, not how to save myself from destitution. The lessons aren’t the same, so the inspirational story loses impact, because the practical steps to make a change aren’t replicable.  

2 – Entrepreneurship is hard.  I appreciate the messaging around being a business owner and acting as one’s own boss, but actually doing it is not easy. Dare I say, it’s less fun than showing up at a “day job,” which could be totally boring, but not nerve wracking. Investing your savings in a business venture that’s supposed to grant financial freedom is a pipe dream. If it’s really yours, as a successful business will be, you are duty bound to making that business succeed, keeping up its reputation and growing its reach. To my mind, that’s the exact opposite of freedom, if you’re doing it right. It’s a huge emotional and time commitment that I don’t think many people are truly prepared for.

IMG_20160220_0811343 – Save money when you spend. Coupon clipping, deal seeking, promotion pimping shoppers still spend money. Yet, I find that many blogs don’t promote less consumption, just lower costs of consumption. And while I’m a good capitalist like the next woman with ten fingers and ten toes, I have to say that this is exactly the type of mind set that keeps sweatshops in business. If you don’t want to spend money, don’t shop. But, if you need/want to, I think it should be done with a conscience and awareness about the supply chain the purchase comes from. Even if we can’t afford to get out of the trap of supporting cheap(er) labor, we should be aware that we’re doing it and make efforts to ensure that our financial situation improves such that we can lessen the habit.

4 – Why do I have homework? Many blogs and books give you lessons, but I’ve found that many newsletters and groups are dishing out homework too. I’ve seen everything from accountability partners to daily tasks for financial wellness. I have the attention span of a fly when it comes to things that aren’t about work, school or family, so these reminders convert to spam and spam into trash. And there’s a vicious cycle of mass deletions.

5 – Everything on stocks sucks. I haven’t read anything good about stocks yet. I suppose it’s pretty plain that there’s no good “how to” guide for stock market and bond investing, but it just feels like all the books and blogs seem to say 1) keep your money in for at least 10 years, 2) don’t pull out when everyone else is and don’t invest when/where everyone else is, 3) invest in what you use and 4) only invest money you can afford to lose. Anything else?… If not, let’s not keep printing big books and articles that add other fancy pants words around these basic lessons.

6 – The charity and tax nexus are non-starters. Last but not least, there are 2 issues that very rarely show up in these advice columns. How to manage income and taxes to net more AND how to integrate philanthropy into a budget. Better yet, if I can find anything on how charitable spending can help lower taxable income, I’ll be sure to send the author home made chocolate chip cookies. Sure, maybe we all should hire a financial planner to figure this out for our individual situation… maybe… but can I just get some basic principles? just one article? one book? or one measly little blog post? Or nahh…

That said, for those of you who want to troll the wealth of financial baggage I’ve accumulated over the years, please check out the list below. It’s chocked full of useful info, but it’s not what I’m looking for anymore. To help me get past this money advice rut, share resources that worked for you in the comments section.

Sharing (even sharing frustrations) is caring!

Suze Orman’s book

The Live Richer Challenge

Girls Just Wanna Have Funds

Modest Money

My Wife Quit Her Job

Shortguide to Sifting through Advice

Advice you probably don't need - http://twaddle101.blogspot.com

Advice you probably don’t need – http://twaddle101.blogspot.com

As of late, I have been the victim of unsolicited career advice. At first I was flattered by the abundance, because frankly it means someone cares enough about me to think about my future. Then, I became overwhelmed by all the possibilities that came my way by hearing all these inspiring words of wisdom. Finally I became paralyzed, because much of this advice is contradictory and seems totally irrelevant to my current ambitions or track record thus far. So, what to do?

Just as I was coming out of my advice coma, a long lost cousin contacted me to learn more about a career in international relations. I had been wracking my brain about what to tell her when we finally connect, because I’m still reeling from my week of mismatched mentorship. At least my advice will be solicited, which absolves me of only half of my problems. What about the rest of my advice? How relevant will it be for her when she starts her career? Why would she ever trust me and why would my advice be particularly useful? These are the questions that passed through my mind until I remembered that these are her problems, not mine. She asked me for advice. She will need to put on her big girl boots and sift out the good, the bad and the useful for herself and simply know that my intentions were good.

In thinking through this cycle of advice, mentorship, professional development, supervising, managing and being a cog in a wheel for the next 35 years, here are a few things that I would offer (unsolicited) to help strike a healthy balance between listening and unlistening to the bits of ‘knowledge’ that will come your way, no matter what field you specialize in. Consider this a short guide to sifting through career advice.

Broke Life – http://bit.ly/1Jws94I

1 – Money advice rarely ever changes. Career advice and money advice aren’t the same thing. – In my field, there are particular positions that are coveted for the political cache they yield. You hear that people come out with powerful networks and transform into semi-Gods. Ok, fair enough. But, these positions are often low paid, high powered, and stressful. Your spouse will probably hate you. The credit card companies will love you. Your gas guzzling car will enjoy being fed every 3 days for your 1 hour commute to & fro. But, your co-workers will know your name! There is a price to pay for power and I consider it very steep. So, you’ll need to decide for yourself what drives you. If you want to be the talk of the office, maybe it’s worth it. If not, you’ll want to think long and hard about what’s important to you, because you may be taking a pay cut to chase someone else’s dream.

2 – Thinking of your day job as your second stream of income is transformative. – There are some people who enjoy going to their offices because the work is fulfilling and they are passionate about the organization. I know very few of these people who live with this reality every day. There are days when you’re going to want to stab someone with a pencil, no matter what office you work in. But, sometimes it’s important to realize that your day job allows you to have expensive hobbies or lucrative independent businesses or priceless experiences that you can only float with your day job money. For me, that’s been going to school. For others, it can be jewelry making, art collecting, import/export, teaching, photography, and a whole slew of other opportunities. Sometimes it just takes remembering that you’re not a slave to your day job; in fact, your day job allows you to be free in other areas of your life. So, switch around job #1 and job #2 in your head and it can change your whole mindset.

Back in my Day

Back in my Day

3 – The industry you’re in likely changes every 10-15 years. So, know which generation of professional you’re talking to and balance well.  – Like I said, this has been a rough few weeks because very successful individuals in my field have been inclined to share with me what they think is best for me. Yet, I’ve found much of their advice to be dated, because when they entered the field the rules were different. Does this mean that I throw out all their well-intentioned advice? Well, of course not. Some nuggets of it are worth listening to simply because these people are at the top and, right now, I have to know the lens they’re using to define success when they view me. Why? Their minority point of view, since it’s at the top of the hierarchy, still rules the game. Their views prevail when it comes to promotions and hiring. So, while I don’t agree with everything they may believe, I need to know WHAT they believe so I can play to my strengths and moderate expectations when dealing with these career power brokers.

Get Like Me

4 – When most people say ‘success,’ you should hear ‘be like me.’ – When offering unsolicited advice to a colleague over sangrias recently, it dawned on me that the reference for ‘success’ is rarely ever Oprah or Warren Buffet. In those terms, people mean ‘rich.’ Or when people say Gwen Stefani or Jay-Z, they mean ‘famous.’ You have to read between the lines to know if their vocabulary really defines ‘success,’ because what I’ve found is that most people are just talking about themselves. Sometimes that’s great, esp. if you’re talking to a mentor whose excellence you want to emulate. The greatness is that most people are just telling you how they would have lived their lives or made professional choices differently if they had the chance to do it again; you can avoid their missteps. Other times, you will have to agree to hear, but not to listen because some of the circumstances of your advisor’s life or interests just don’t apply to you or yours.

5 – Everything people say about others is true (to some degree). – My workplace is an institution built on talking shit about co-workers. Workplace gossip isn’t new, but I was shocked to the degree that it was codified and perpetuated in my industry. People believe that hearing how others have worked with a person will help them decide to bring that colleague onto a new team. While this can be altruistic, it also sucks because there are probably 2-3 dozen people who like you (good), thousands who don’t know you (neutral), and about 3-10 dozen who have personal or professional misgivings about you (bad). The nice people in the latter category just don’t say anything, but there’s a small minority who will rip you a new one at the first opportunity. You probably don’t even know that they hate your guts, but your future boss now does! But, understand that smack talking works 2 ways. It’s highly likely that if they don’t like you, you don’t like them – so your time will come.

http://blogs.longwood.edu/jazminehurteportfolio/work-samples/research/

Workplace Gossip – http://bit.ly/1NUHL8m jazminehurteportfolio

The true revelation is that pretty much everything you hear about colleagues is true to some extent. The question is just how relevant is Jack Smith’s dreaded experience with Jane Doe in Honduras on a marine life conservation project to my projected experience partnering with Jane on a microcredit project in the Mali three years from now. It’s anyone’s guess! If Jane and I work well together, it isn’t to say that Jack was lying. It is to say that we have different angles & needs from Jane as a colleague. And Jane is not one dimensional. The reality is that Jane might not have liked marine life, she may have been going through a bad break up, she probably doesn’t speak Spanish and it’s highly likely that she thinks Jack was a total douche bag. And all of that, too, could be true… so what now?

In giving and receiving advice in your work place keep these thoughts in mind (or don’t), so that you can hear the wisdom through all the noise!

Giving Birth to my Vision Board

IMG_2545The first time I ever heard about a vision board, I was in a restaurant in Melville, Johannesburg with my friend Michelle. We were talking about all of the things we wanted for our businesses and our plans for the coming year. She had been working on an online consignment shop concept for many years but hadn’t yet brought it to market. And me, well, I have a million little hustles going at any one time and often no sleep and no quality time with my husband to show for it. She mentioned all the things she has on her vision board and how they’ve helped her focus. I immediately laughed at her and thought she was a quack. Dinner continued and developed into a night of NYC inspired debauchery and life went on…

Fast forward to last month. I was in the US and Europe traveling for a while to recharge my battery and reconnect with family. During these long plane rides and alone time while everyone is at work, I usually have time to refresh my goals. I get inspired by remembering all the things and people who made me.

Annette+Johnson+Profile+Pic

The FLY Coach (PHOTO CREDIT: YASMEEN ANDERSON PHOTOGRAPHY)

So, I started reading blogs by the FLY Coach and Christine Kane on visualizing success and they brought me back to that table in Melville a few months ago. My quack of a friend didn’t really explain herself very well when she dropped the vision board reference in passing. After doing my own reading, I totally saw the logic. For years I have had annual lists of projected accomplishments. In short, they were glorified to-do lists. They required minimal revision throughout the year and usually 90% of the list was completed by year’s end. Success! But, recently I’ve drifted away from the validation of accomplishments and focused on the long-term. You can’t really put, “Be a better person” on a to do list and be empowered to go out and achieve it. This vision board, though, really fills in the gaps.

The logic here is that you use images of what makes you happy, fulfilled, accomplished and loved to create a board to remind you to go after that vision of your future. Not everyone’s idea of “be rich,” for example, look alike. So, you’re tasked to be specific: create a collage of pictures that match how you want to feel and that look exactly like what you want for yourself. Interesting things emerge.

I found that things I expected to have on my vision board weren’t what eventually made the cut.  In fact, I was looking for someone rolling around in a pile of money, but that picture never came up in my stack of Latina, Bona, Real Simple and House & Leisure mags. I also expected to have something about travel, airplanes or globe-trotting crop up. Ditto – there isn’t so much as a beach image with a mai tai or a paper plane heading towards palm trees.

P1070335Looking at my board with fresh eyes this morning, there are a few things that even I am shocked by. First, I used glue. I hear that many people like to use push pins or something that isn’t as permanent. Rather than having to scrap the whole board or paste over it, they like to switch out images as they no longer become relevant. Maybe it was just a beginner’s boo boo, but I also think maybe the glue shows both how committed I am to these concepts and how much I think each piece is integral to all the others. Second, there are 6 children on my board. We agreed on 5! But somehow on the family side of my board there’s an extra body. I intended to add the very last one to the work side of my board, but the kid with the Kindle ended up with the other babies. Good thing we’re ok with adopting.

Third, the work side of my board is racially mixed; the family side of my board isn’t. I suppose that’s just my reality, but it’s very telling. Proximity doesn’t mean integration and rather than fighting that, I’m happy to embrace the fact that I will produce healthy, intelligent Black children raised in a loving, successful, two parent household. So few kids have this in the world and I’m committed to this vision for my own. Fourth, all the images of a de-cluttered home were supposed to be paired with the words for the cities where I want to buy new property. Instead they’re in a section between work and family that’s labeled “Sleep.” The images are actually of a bed and pillows. Subliminal much? Last, when it comes to work, my vision board doesn’t include anything about my PhD, my day job, or even my multiple side businesses. It focuses on being a writer. All in all, I knocked my own socks off with this vision board. I’ve drilled down to the most important and most essential images that reflect what I want to be my future. I’m a believer and I’ve just begun to use it this morning!

I’m not sure what vision board sharing etiquette is, but I’m beginning to think that it’s supposed to be a sacred secret. My friends who have them refer to them vaguely in Facebook posts, but never really tell us what they’re after. I think you’re supposed to keep it in a place where you see it everyday, but I’m not sure what that means for your family who have to walk past your future every single day of their lives. I don’t quite know if you can share it after you’re no longer using it or if that jinxes it somehow. I’m still new to this. But, I’m proud of what I’ve compiled and I had to share the journey with people who would appreciate it. Maybe now, I sound like a quack too or maybe you’ve had one for years and this is letting you revisit what you already know. But, if you’re also green on vision boards, I hope you’ll give it a try. I found that my vision for my future doesn’t match the words I use in my daily life. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, so long as I have some way to stay grounded and remind myself of what success, love, and ‘a life in full’ really mean to me. My vision board’s got my back!

IMG_3035

Travel is the giving tree!

Outside of my hometown, I consider myself to have “lived” in very few cities. Soon to join New York City, New Delhi, and Zaragoza is Maputo, Mozambique, which makes for four continents over the course of 15 years!  Unlike Raven Simone, I actually know the difference between a country and a continent, so I’d say that’s kinda a big deal. I’m quickly coming upon my one year anniversary in this southern African town and it’s got me reminiscing on the biggest lessons I’ve learned since embarking on a life of travel and subdued mayhem. People often ask me for tips and tools for life lived abroad. Usually I’m stumped by the combo of negatives and positives, much like the “Giving Tree,” but for this occasion I’m going to share the top ten lessons I’ve learned from living on the road…

ID card from the Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

 10- Race is a figment of many people’s imaginations, but it’s real.  – I’ve been stared at like I have 3 heads in India. I’ve been called “Negrita” in a loving way, really. I can speak 4 languages, but I still have very few close friends that are of a different race. There is no such thing as post-racial. No matter where you go, people codify color in ways that will make your head spin. One isn’t worse or better, it’s just the stories people tell themselves to understand where they fit in a social order that you may not yet understand. You can’t wig out every time someone does something “racist”  or else you will be the subject of multiple international incidents. I’ve learned that understanding people’s thinking isn’t the same as accepting it. Understanding is something you can achieve with time & travel.

 

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Li Kitchen Dim Sum, Johannesburg

9-  Life is better lived when you can eat everything you’re offered. – Just friday, I was browsing the menu of a hot spot in Maputo and noticed ‘hamburger de espada.’ I asked what ‘espada’ was and I was told it was a fish. “You know, it’s mainly for the vegetarians,” the waitress said with a straight face. As a person who has traveled the world with food restrictions, I can tell you that I feel like I’ve been restricted from taking full advantage of the cultural connection food offers. I’ve been handed chicken and told “but it’s not meat.” When I turn down the dish, then I feel bad and undoubtedly I’ve just offended my host. It sucks. If you can eat everything that comes your way, you’ll be the better for it.

 

Ingozi, Durban (2015)

Ingozi, Durban (2015)

8-  Being bilingual is a gift. Being multilingual is best kept a secret. – I learned my first second language when I was 15 and I always used my powers for good. I always helped the Spanish speakers who looked stranded on the subway tracks staring at the English map. But then once Portuguese and Hindi started to muck up my brain waves, I’ve become very strategic about when to reveal my tongues. Seriously, it just makes my head hurt to switch between languages, and I’m always second guessing if I said the right thing in the right language. It stopped being cool the time I went to the nail salon and could actually understand all the languages being spoken by the workers – and they weren’t saying anything worth listening to. And just last week Thursday I went to a Zumba class and knew the words to all the songs. It was pretty cool at first, then I started to trip over my own feet while trying to translate “Chori chori..hum gori se pyar karenge.” Seriously, I almost long for the days when it was ok to just listen to people talk and not know what their words mean.

 

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“Hood spot” Newark, NJ

7- Money doesn’t make the world go ’round, but you’ll never make it around the world with no money. I’ve never said that I travel on a shoestring budget. Rather, I’d say that my travel style is modest – I like guest houses and family owned B&Bs. I think my approach comes from the reality that I don’t have the luxury of treating travel as a luxury. It’s a part of my life – much like brushing my teeth twice a day and checking emails, it’s so integrated that it’s hard to consider life without it. That said, many people blame their inability to travel on money and that’s just a thinly veiled lie. Travel is not about how much money you have. It is instead about how you choose to spend it. Some people will blow all their cash on souvenirs to show others that they’ve been traveling. Some people will eat through $300 on an exotic meal and great wine. Some people will not go anywhere because they value spending their money on things rather than experiences. Either way, money isn’t what matters in life, but travel is about finding a way to be comfortable in uncomfortable settings. That doesn’t come for free. It really does hinge on a cash flow that suits your travel needs and the currency of friendship, which can help you save your tour guide money and explore the joys of couchsurfing.

 

Siren, Swazi. 2014

Siren, Swazi. 2014

6- Art is life. No one remembers a city because it looked intelligent. You remember cities when they strike you visually. Barcelona and Chicago have a special place in my heart for their artsy architecture. Bangkok’s street graffiti juxtaposed with traditional Thai residential neighborhoods left an impression on me. I fell in love with every street corner in New Orleans’ Marigny and French Quarter neighborhoods, because of how delicately history and art were interwoven. Art tells all – the cultural struggles that exist or don’t. Even the absence of art can leave an outsider with very strong impressions about how little a people value or can access this mode of communication and expression. Beyond the galleries and sculptures, a city’s art scene (or lack there of) says a lot about what is important to the city’s inhabitants.

 

Tibet 50, Dharmsala, India 2013

Tibet 50, Dharmsala, India 2013

5- You always have it better than someone else, you just may not yet have met that someone. Many cities I’ve visited have had their flashy sides of town and their gritty underbellies. Usually people in both sides have a rivalry based in their lack of mutual understanding, nevertheless this tension can really be palpable to a traveler. What comes with more time and travel to different places is this sense that the rivalries in that one small place are just distractions from bigger issues. In Dubai, I was disgusted by the labor camps and the practices to help build this town of glitz in the middle of an inhospitable desert.  But then I thought, well having seen some slums in Delhi, I can imagine why someone would choose to be the lowest in the Dubai hierarchy, rather than somewhere in the murky middle in Delhi. Even when it seems like life in a particular place is unfair and unjust, there is always another place where people have it far worse. Sometimes it’s best to focus on the positive affirmation of what’s going well where you are in that moment, rather than focusing on the negative rivalries that seem more present and palpable.

 

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Shimla

4- It’s best not to compare traumas. Piggybacking off #5, I can’t tell you much I value people who can understand history and not compare traumas. People have asked me if I think slavery was worse than the holocaust. I’ve been asked in Portuguese colonization was worse in Cape Verde or Mozambique. I actually dropped my Spanish history class in 1999, because my instructor said in class that “Spanish colonialism was better than all other kinds of colonialism, because at least the colonizers mixed with the locals.”  Whatever makes people sleep better at night is their own business, but I would caution against statements like these that pit one place/time period’s inhumane treatment against another atrocity of a different hue. Can we just all agree that none of us really know (and we should quit before someone ends up saying something hella racist)?

 

Miudos, Maputo, 2014

Miudos, Maputo, 2014

3- Friendships come (and go), but they ARE the journey. Much like seasons, friendships have their moment. Good ones are cyclical and they are consistent despite the changes. Others, not so much. Each is important in its moment, no matter whether the lesson is learned from a negative or positive experience. I’ve traveled around the world, often staying with people who I knew, but didn’t really know very well until I shared a night under the same roof with them. Some connections were brief. Others dwindled, but I do feel that the friends I’ve met and made in many towns all over the world were really the reason why I have certain travel memories in the first place. I’ve been to carnival in Bahia and I can’t separate that from having met Urania. My first trip to Jamaica was spent at Teelie and Leslie’s place in Gordon Town. Were it not for them, I suppose maybe I wouldn’t have grown this lust for travel and the assurance that no matter where I am I’ll make the friends I need to make in order to enjoy that space to the fullest.

 

IMG-20131026-000162- Social media is the best thing that’s happened to me since birth. I got my first cell phone while living in Spain. I was 15 and it was a necessity. Our school had a computer room with 2 computers with internet and 50 students had to take turns sending emails and chatting with friends between classes. I remember thinking then that one day we wouldn’t have to ration our time spent staying connected. So, long gone are the days before Skype and Twitter and Instagram. Perhaps, now, there is the opposite challenge – it’s harder to unplug while traveling these days. I doubt I could have stayed as far away for as long as I have if I didn’t have the modes of modern communication to feel that I’m not as far away as it might seem on a map. 

 

dc aids walk31- Being a critical thinker is priceless. Being judgmental is useless.  From the likes of #4, #5 and #10, I hope you can tell that I learned to form my own opinions from a variety of experiences. Being an analytical thinker is the only way you can travel, absorb, and benefit from the experience. However, India in particular taught me that it is okay to strive to respect behaviors and practices you don’t fully understand and, even from what you do understand, you don’t like.  Being overly judgmental runs the risk of having others be offended and shut you out, then you’ll never even have the opportunity to be exposed enough to learn more.  Respecting isn’t the same as accepting, it’s being tolerant. I’ve learned that I don’t always have to have an opinion about something or someone, sometimes the curiosity to continue to explore is good enough – especially in a foreign setting. I’ve become a big advocate for learning and respecting, with no strings attached.