And that's when I strangled him, your honor.

The Subjectivity of Wealth, Or: Don’t Tell Me What’s Expensive

Wealth is entirely subjective. Depending on where you’re sitting on the great Staircase of Financial Solvency, your perspective of who’s wealthy and what’s expensive is going to vary wildly.

Because of this disparity, the definition of “expensive” truly depends on an individual’s personal money situation. Someone who makes $300K a year and can easily afford their rent and insurance isn’t going to think twice about buying cage free eggs, organic milk, and grass-fed beef. Meanwhile, their neighbor who makes $30K a year is going to be buying the practically expired store brand milk on sale. To them, the whole concept of buying organic, cruelty-free food seems absurdly out of reach even while their wealthier neighbor finds it “inexpensive.”

Which is why it’s about as irritating as a Spotify Premium commercial to hear people speak authoritatively about what’s expensive and what’s not. Especially when their version of “expensive” is a diamond encrusted dog manicure and yours is a Whole Foods grapefruit.

Lemme ‘splain.

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You Need to Ask for a Fucking Raise

A new whiskey distillery opened near my office. And because we work for a publishing house and some stereotypes exist for a reason, my coworkers and I went for happy hour the day it opened. Which is how I found myself drunkenly badgering three of my female coworkers about their income (if this is shocking to you, you must be new here).

At issue was the fact that none of them had ever asked for a raise. Ever. And as I listened to their lame excuses I felt the worst kind of déjà vu. All of their reasoning and fear sounded so familiar to my own personal experience.

Because if you recall, I too had once waffled about asking for a raise. And I think of the whole miserable time just like the Alamo: NEVER AGAIN. (That’s how the saying goes, right? … right? Right.)

Apparently not, because if my coworkers are still struggling with all the same hang-ups about asking for a raise that I once had, then chances are some of you are too. And it is my sworn duty as a personal finance blogger and Loud Internet Woman to type words at you until you get the hell over it! So here goes.

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Dispensing advice about the Latte Factor to those who live one medical emergency away from complete financial ruin sounds a helluva lot like poor shaming.

The Latte Factor, Poor Shaming, and Economic Compassion

There’s a piece of conventional financial wisdom that goes like this: if you’re looking to save money or pay off debt, start by skipping small luxuries like lattes and instead put that money toward your financial goals. The single digit savings will add up to a significant amount over time, all because you had the fortitude to practice a little self-control. It’s a simple, effective way to find some wiggle room in your budget and a great first step toward living a frugal lifestyle.

The Latte Factor, as it’s known, is both virtuous and practical. It gives its frugal practitioner a sense of self-righteous superiority over those who continue to waste their money on overpriced, over-sweetened, caffeinated beverages every day. And because it’s such a simple solution, those preaching the gospel of frugality peddle it like a magic elixir. Can’t seem to save money? Just skip the latte! It works miracles.

Yet to those who truly struggle with systemic poverty, getting advice about the Latte Factor feels horribly condescending. In fact, being told that skipping a small luxury here and there will raise you up out of your low-income status feels downright cruel and deliberately ignorant. Because in cases of economic disenfranchisement, a lack of frugality is not the root of the problem.

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If you're constantly shilling out money for cheap, subpar necessities then at what point can you invest in high-quality, long-term solutions?

It’s More Expensive to Be Poor Than to Be Rich

Terry Pratchett had a really perfect explanation for one of the many reasons why it’s more expensive to be poor than to be rich:

“Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of ok for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

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