If It’s Good Enough for Obama, It’s Good Enough For Me: How I Chose To Resist

Gentle Readers,

You know I feel strongly about making the world a better place. You know that I am not in favor of our current POTUS. There are so many things he stands for that I find abhorrent. However, one person can only do so much, and I prefer to focus my efforts into things I can actually impact. I cannot do a damn thing about Russian interference. I cannot stop climate change. I cannot protect NAFTA. I cannot make them hold a hearing for Merrick Garland.

My advocacy must lay elsewhere if it is to have an impact

For advocacy to be most effective, it should focus on asking the right person to do or not do something specific that is within their power to do or not do. Unless your advocacy is more broadly about making a conversation happen. Changing narratives is important, but it cannot be the only thing done. I am glad that there are people staging protests and using their voices in that way, but it is not the route for me.

My tactics are different. I do not have much available time, and I must use it effectively.

I know that the election was decided by a very small margin of voters. I also know that many potential voters wanted to vote, but were disenfranchised. Either by someone’s intent, or through inability to secure the proper documentation. The very inability to secure the proper documentation is because of how we set up our system. I think it is intentional. Many countries automatically register everyone to vote, or use ink on a finger as proof that you’ve already voted, etc. Our system is not the only way, nor is it an effective way if you want more of the electorate to vote.

One of my many internships was working at a nonprofit that considered itself a homeless shelter without walls. We did not have beds for people, but we acted as a hub in that community to enable people to access the multiple services they all needed. Most of our clients had been through homelessness and many other complicating factors. To access services provided by the city and state, they needed to prove who they were. Many homeless individuals lose their birth certificates and other documentation because they are very far down in the hierarchy of needs.

Part of my job included contacting the office of vital records on a client’s behalf. I would fill out the paperwork and get our treasurer to write a check for ten dollars. None of our clients had ten dollars to spare for something that was not urgent for survival. Within seven to ten business days, that man would have a birth certificate. Then we would help him get an ID. Another process that can be hard for people to navigate. The forms can be confusing even if your language skills are more “advanced” than others. The forms also required patience and the ability to prove where you lived. Not always easy for someone. People who’ve been homeless don’t often have utilities in their name.

Without an ID, people cannot vote. As seen above, even without government agencies and officials intentionally disenfranchising people, ie felons and former felons in some jurisdictions, the processes to navigate having the paperwork can be impenetrable. If a person uses a mobility aid, and the bus system only comes by once an hour when it works properly, that person may not be able to make it to the DMV during the appointed time. Having nonprofits who can literally arrange transportation for people who do not have access to personal vehicles can literally be the difference between a citizen being allowed to vote in elections that impact their bus service and not being allowed to vote.

How I chose to resist

Knowing all this, I have followed President Obama’s lead and will focus my energies on voter enfranchisement work. He is a politician, and rightly focused on anti-gerrymandering work, but I don’t have the political knowledge or resources to impact these efforts. I know more about how government works than the average American, but not enough about the systems and processes and political machinations to be able to successfully work in that arena.

I don’t have the capacity to volunteer in a nonprofit at this time, but I do have the internet and the ability to research.

I looked at the states with the most voting restrictions. Then I narrowed that list to those states that had the closest elections in 2016. I chose to narrow in this manner because I do not have unlimited funds. If I were rich, I would have expanded my list and worked on all states with significant voting restrictions.

The states with the most voting restrictions that had the closest elections in 2016 were Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

I then searched for organizations in those states doing voter registration or anti-gerrymandering work. I found https://www.wisconsinvoices.org/, http://www.nonprofitvote.org/, and http://www.blueprintnc.org/. All of these organizations are focused on nonpartisan civic engagement.

If the organization I interned at still existed, I would love to donate to an organization like that. Especially if they allowed me to direct it to enfranchisement efforts.

This is the concrete action I have chosen to take. It is okay if you have chosen something else. I just needed a discrete problem to focus on because of how my brain works. I cannot solve all problems. I know advocacy works. I saw it when all of the phone calls, town halls, letters to Congress and berating our Legislators resulted in the Affordable Care Act living to see another day.

I cannot do everything, but I can do this one thing.

How do you engage in resistance? Do you have a nonprofit you wished I more folks donated to?

 

Goals 2017 – Accountability and Chutzpah!

Gentle Readers,

I am not typically into resolutions, but I think that financial ones could be helpful in focusing me and so I will try them this year. Last year at this time, I did not have this blog or the goals the blog has led me to pursuing. I was ignoring my money and figuring that student debt would constrain my choices for life.  That’s unpleasant to consider.

In April of 2016 I began this blog, and I was in debt to the tune of -$151,728. Focusing on my money had my debt diminish to -$146,049 by year end. That’s an increase of 3.74%. I had hoped to do better than that, but was not anticipating so many medical expenses. Explicit goals are said to be helpful. Let’s give it a go.

2017 Achievable Financial Goals for ZJ Thorne

  1. Pay myself from my business at least a nominal amount every month. If I get one client a month to cash-flow properly, I could pay myself $500/m before taxes.
  2. Finish contributing to my 2016 IRA ($1340 to go)
  3. Increase my Emergency Fund to $1000. ($691 to go)
  4. Pay off Credit Cards ($5785).
  5. Fully fund 2017 IRA ($5500 to go)

This is $13,316.  That is $256.07 a week or $1109 a month for all of these goals. I have until April 15 to finish contributing to my 2016 IRA. It and the emergency fund will be my first priority. Then I will shift to paying down my credit card. The 0% balance transfer ends in July. If I cease spending on my credit cards and pay them off in 6 months, that would be $964.17 monthly. Perhaps this is attainable. If July through December is dedicated to funding my 2017 IRA, that is $916.67 a month in contributions.

My current gig is scheduled to last until mid-February, and we are supposed to continue with unlimited overtime until then. It is possible they will extend beyond February. We won’t know for some time. Our industry shifts rapidly. It is not uncommon to be told at 2 pm that your gig ends that day. Staying gainfully employed is helpful to achieving these goals.

The big goals are even grander and dependent upon finding a gig utilizing the skill I’ve been mastering. If I do that, I can double my pay for some gigs. If I do that, my goals can become enormous depending on how long a gig at that rate could last. These goals are too big for one year, but they are in my mind. Luring me.

2017 Stretch Goals for ZJ Thorne

  1. Get my Emergency Fund up to $5000-$10000 ($4691-$9691 to go).
  2. Save up a down-payment of $15000-$30000 ($14981-$29981 to go).
  3. Spend $5000 on my brokerage account.
  4. Pay off the smaller student loan in a fell-swoop $45000.

What are your goals for 2017?

Reading Makes You Happier

Gentle Readers,

Some among you may have wondered at my particular format. Why I open as I do. You shouldn’t be shocked to learn that it is in homage to a book. “Jane Eyre” fundamentally shaped my existence. The way that Currer Bell addressed his readers in both the preface to the second edition and in the work itself. When Currer states unequivocally that “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion.” while still actually being a person of deep religious belief and conviction, I noticed.  It has done society great good for folks to not confuse what is normal with what is right. Folks on the path to FIRE know that conventional money beliefs are not for them.

Charlotte Bronte’s re-shaping of what is possible in a novel included directly addressing her readers. Sometimes with an almost out-of-place paragraph about the feelings and place of women in society, and sometimes by letting us know that “Gentle Reader, I married him.”  (spoiler alert, but it’s been over a century).

I was reminded of my love of “Jane Eyre,” this summer by a New Yorker piece. The author had been gifted a session with a bibliotherapist. It seems that a bibliotherapist literally prescribes specific reading to help their patients. I was intrigued. I have done this for myself and others for as long as I could access the written word.

I worried that this would be another boring list of the 100 greatest novels, which don’t necessarily stand the test of time as well as the creators of such lists would like.  However, the author clarifies “I’ve long been wary of the peculiar evangelism of certain readers: You must read this, they say, thrusting a book into your hands with a beatific gleam in their eyes, with no allowance for the fact that books mean different things to people—or different things to the same person—at various points in our lives.”

For me, “Jane Eyre” has meant a great many things. When I first found her as a lonely middle schooler in a very bad environment, I saw a way out. If I modeled myself after Jane and worked very diligently at my academics and always held very strictly to my sense of morality, I should be able to get out of my bad environment. When I re-read it through high school as a balm, it acted as a talisman. It defended me against many injustices that I had no other recourse to counter at the time.

With all of that, and having read it over twenty times, it is not my go-to recommendation for folks. It is a very particular sort of novel. It does not sit well for everyone. It will not mean the same thing for them. That does not mean that the novel is bad, but that it is not appropriate to the situation. And some folks are unwilling to read something so long.

In bibliotherapy, the therapist gives you a questionnaire detailing your reading habits among other things. The author continues,

“What is preoccupying you at the moment?,” I was surprised by what I wanted to confess: I am worried about having no spiritual resources to shore myself up against the inevitable future grief of losing somebody I love, I wrote. I’m not religious, and I don’t particularly want to be, but I’d like to read more about other people’s reflections on coming to some sort of early, weird form of faith in a “higher being” as an emotional survival tactic. Simply answering the questions made me feel better, lighter.”

The author is prescribed some fiction and nonfiction after a series of email exchanges with the bibliotherapist. The author reads them at her leisure and desire over the next few years. She finds the insights she gains helpful, but nebulous.

Personally, I’ve done this. Every time I need to branch out into a dormant portion of my life. I read.

I read when I wanted to come out, but was terrified.  I read when I wanted to walk away from religion, but was worried that I was wrong. I read when I wanted to start a business, but felt inadequate to the task. I read when my heart hurt. I read when my heart was bursting with joy.

There are certain books I re-read in many seasons. I am never surprised when I see that “people who read a lot of fiction tend to be better at empathizing with others.” I know that whole worlds have opened up to me through reading. My friend Financial Libre has also written about this very topic. As I told FL, the books I’ve read in the past two years that have altered my thinking the most are Exile and Pride and this biography of Frances Perkins. While neither is fiction, they both helped me understand different ways of being. They’ve helped me be better.

Have any books altered your existence?

Net Worth Week 24 – Fall Growth Edition

9/9/16 9/16/16 9/23/16
Joy 1100 1100 1100
Travel 323 323 323
Down Payment 19 19 19
Retirement 21 21 21
Health 45 45 45
Moving 31 283 283
EF 1004 1004 1004
Business 1 1 1
Bed 0.29 0.29 0.29
Life 747 871  1732
IRA 10186 9854  10079
Brokerage 403 395  402
CC (largest) -4699 -4699  -4693
CC (longest) 0 0 0
Rewards Card 0 0  0
SL 1 -102594 -102726  -102858
SL 2 -45163 -45223  -45283
Earnest -8109 -8126  -8143
Net Worth -146532 -146867  -145967
Percentage Change .15% -0.22%  0.60%

Is Fall a busy season in your industry?

Net Worth Week 21 – Tacos Trucks On Every Corner

Date 8/12/16 8/19/2016 8/26/2016 9/2/2016
Joy 1100 1100 1100  1100
Travel 323 323 323  323
Down Payment  19 19 19 19
retirement  21 21 21 21
health  45 45 45 45
Moving  31 31 31 31
EF  2003 2003 2003 1004
Business  1 1 1 1
Bed  .29 0.29 0.29 0.29
Life  769 1844 2127  1775
IRA  10087 10127 10058  10118
Brokerage  410 402 401  402
CC (largest)  -4791 -4791 -4791  -4755
CC (longest)  -295 -319 -427  0
Rewards Card  -273 -564 -1022  -644
SL 1  -102489  -102604 -102719 -102835
SL 2  -45115  -45167 -45220 -45273
Earnest  -8404 -8522 -8540 -8094
-$146657 -$146050 -$146599 -$146761
  -.38% change .41% change -.37% change -.11% change

Have you ever felt more secure even when the numbers stayed the same?

Net Worth Week 18 – IRA Milestone Edition

My IRA made it to the $10,000 mark for the first time this week! My net worth is slightly more negative than last week due to a plane ticket purchase, but important growth is happening. It definitely makes me feel good. I am supposed to be mentally preparing for a big correction, which I do think will happen, that will drastically change the current value of my portfolio. However, these little victories feel like a balm nevertheless. I’ll take them.

My business included two client meetings and word of a potential client on the horizon. I hope it comes to fruition soon. There are really big expenses due at the end of the month, and I don’t want to pay from my own emergency fund.

My pain is still present, but it is altered. Reflexology and massage are helping a lot. The former is doing the most for my bones, and is cheaper than the latter. I’m still trying to get to maintenance mode and out of What the Devil Is Wrong mode, but this is looking up.

I still love Earnest and credit them with my ability to conquer some of this debt.

Date 7/22/16 7/29/2016 8/5/2016 8/12/2016
Joy 1099 1099 1100  1100
Travel 323 323 323  323
Down Payment  19 19 19 19
retirement  21 21 21 21
health  45 45 45 45
Moving  31 31 31 31
EF  2002 2002 2003 2003
Business  1 1 1 1
Bed  .29 0.29 0.29 0.29
Life  897 1796 1444 769
IRA  9908 9920 9984  10087
Brokerage  337 407 409  410
CC (largest)  -4791 -4791 -4791  -4791
CC (longest)  -529 -1095 -273  -295
Rewards Card  0 0 0  -273
SL 1  -102489  -102604 -102713 -102489
SL 2  -45115  -45168 -45217 -45115
Earnest  -8915 -8934 -8486 -8504
-$147156 -$146927 -$146099 -$146657
  -.32% change .15% change .56% change -.38% change

How are your retirements doing?

Why I Started My Own Small Business

Gentle Readers,

There are many reasons I decided to start my own small business two years ago. These reasons are still compelling to me even though I have been working full-time on top of my business, and started the business in a niche I did not yet fully understand. I am a queer woman and the professional world wanted to wipe that off of me.

Like many young professional women, I don’t necessarily fit in many work settings. I have worked for small businesses, fast food, county government, local nonprofits, national nonprofits, retail, and a variety of temping opportunities, first as an admin and now as a professional. I fit in maybe one of those work environments, and that organization no longer exists.

A little over two years ago, the female editor in chief of the NY Times was fired for daring to ask why she was being paid less than the male editor who occupied the role before you. Fired for asking why.

Work environments were not designed with women in mind because sexism said they didn’t have to be.

Most women I know contort themselves to fit in to work environments. We ignore the subtle and not-so-subtle sexism. We ignore clients hitting on us when we are not free to leave their vicinity. We ignore that desks are built with the average-sized man in mind, and are not comfortable for our bodies. We beg to have office buildings not burn us in winter and freeze us in summer since we are more likely dressed for the actual weather and not insistent (conditioned into) on wearing a three-piece suit regardless of the appropriateness to the season.

We read the articles telling us that we are considered harsh if we act confidently. We read the articles that bemoan our poor negotiating skills right next to the articles that say we are not appropriately ladylike when we negotiate well.

We are chided for our very voices with new concepts like vocal fry and commanded to talk in masculine normative methods of expression. EVEN when it is proven that women’s general style is more collaborative and more effective.

We contort ourselves. Many of us have extra things to contort. Our colleagues ask about boyfriends we aren’t interested in having. Our preferred styles of dressing can be read as unprofessional on a body read as femme, but would be fine on a body read as masculine. Our bodies themselves are not read as belonging in public due to disability. Our relationship styles may not value marriage or monogamy the way the government and dominant culture would prefer.

We can contort all of these things and still not succeed. We can still be fired for daring to simply ask about our pay rate.

I opened my own small business to avoid these controls on my personality and dress-code.

Two years ago, I was fed up with my gig-centered work-life and my inability to get hired for a career-based job in my profession. I had applied for so many things. I had contorted. I was not getting what I wanted.

So I decided to create it.

I am creating a space that focuses on a niche in my profession and allows me to serve my community through it. I am creating a space where I own the keys to the door, and set the dress code. I am still a professional, but my fantastic dyke hair is fine with my supervisor as she is me. She still makes me wear the pearls when it is required, but she never tells me to grow my hair out. She never requires me to wear heals. She never tells me to dress like a lady. She knows that I am a human and that being a good human is the true goal.

I am creating a space where I do not have to say yes to potential clients that I find distasteful to work with. I can focus on serving the LGBT community. I can serve my community competently, because I know from personal experience some of what they are facing and I know where to research the specific problems that impact us.

I am creating an environment where I do not have to punch in. Eventually, I will not have to be there to “get my 40,” but rather must get the work done in a timely manner for my clients. I work better after 10 am, and can set most appointments after that. I adapt my work life to me. Should I decide to have a family in the future, I can schedule my life and career together far more easily. I am creating this because I am dissatisfied with the work environments available to me.

I don’t want to just show up. I want my work to reflect my values. I am creating that work.

What made you start your own business?

Net Worth Week 16

Gentle Readers,

I’m still spending a lot of money attempting to get a handle on my pain, but there has been some improvement and the hope for much more. It will take more money and will definitely impact my timing, but not as much as the new FHA mortgage guidance. I am getting lessons in patience and working harder towards goals.

I’ve been interested in dividend growth investing, but I find it intimidating. To see in more stark terms what it can be like, I bought one stock. That’s right, one. I’ve been reading a lot at http://www.suredividend.com/ and http://bamfmoney.com/. They’ve both taught me a lot, but there is so much value in seeing for yourself. Financially, it was silly to buy one. The fee will take a long time to pay for itself, but I think the opportunity to learn is worth it.

I was bummed to learn that I did not win the contest to make it to FinCon this year. I’ll keep learning and growing with y’all and we can see what next year is like.

I still love Earnest and credit them with my ability to conquer some of this debt.

Date 7/8/16 7/15/2016 7/22/2016 7/29/2016
Joy 1099 1099 1099  1099
Travel 323 323 323 323
Down Payment  19 19 19 19
retirement  21 21 21 21
health  45 45 45 45
Moving  31 31 31 31
EF  2002 2002 2002 2002
Business  1 1 1 1
Bed  .29 0.29 0.29 0.29
Life  863 746 897  1796
IRA  9653 9894 9908  9920
Brokerage  329 335 337  407
CC (largest)  0 0 -4791  -4791
CC (longest)  0 0 -529  -1095
Rewards Card  -5247 -4862 0  0
SL 1  -102258  -102374 -102489 -102604
SL 2  -45010  -450062 -45115 -45168
Earnest  -8878 -8897 -8915 -8934
-$147006 -$146678 -$147156 -$146927
  .14% change .22% change -.32% change  .15% change

Do you stick to one type of investment (indexing) or have more variety in your portfolios?

Road Less Traveled Challenge

Gentle Readers,

If you are not reading Our Next Life, you are missing out on some delightful people. They have issued a challenge whose mantle is well-worth taking up.

The challenge: Instead of talking about what we’re all doing that’s the same (saving at a high rate, optimizing our budgets, etc.), let’s celebrate what we’re each doing that’s unique.

My unique path is relatively simple. I’m a dyke and have been setting my own course from a very early age. If you do not conform to heterosexuality and the assumptions that many people attach to it, you must necessarily decide what life should be for you because there are fewer examples. This is a blessing. You have to figure out what is important to you. You have to create your joy. The day I graduated from high school, I moved out of my “family” home. I’ve been forging an expanded version of family and what life means for me ever since.  It changes with new information and new versions of myself. Self-improvement means that you have to accept new ways of being.

I was fortunate to find other families to take me in at all times. I was never on the street. In other people’s homes, I found a way to contribute, but mainly I learned from them and appreciated the safety and food they provided. The conclusion I reached from living with so many diverse people was that every person believes they are normal. Every person thinks that the way their family has always done something is the way to do something. Everyone’s assumptions are hidden from themselves because they’ve lived in them for so long. The greatest thing about my early nomadic lifestyle was to see through the veil of normal. There are a million ways to “properly” prepare dinner, and all of them are right for someone.

The way you’ve always done something does not have to be the way you continue doing something. 

Until very recently, I never imagined that I would be able to retire at all. I have significant student loan debt and some personal debt. My net worth is hovering around -$150,000.  However, there has been a change brewing in me. I see hope to drastically alter my situation through two different mechanisms.

The first mechanism involves learning a skill that will double my earnings. I’m really enjoying the learning process and plan to continue learning it even after it becomes profitable for me. Once I’m able to do temp work based on that skill-set, my take home pay will skyrocket. It will be enough money that I could realistically pay off all of my debt and save for a down payment in a high COL area in three years or less. With a much higher income, I intend to take a “balanced” approach. Credit card debt will be knocked out entirely in a month. Then I will save a down payment while increasing my emergency fund. If all goes well, I’ll find a small place that is affordable. Once I get an understanding of what my mortgage feels like on my bank account, I will shift focus to buying index funds and paying down my student loans. After the educational debt is gone, I will probably work one more year doing the highly lucrative temp work and plow most of my earnings into index funds.

Then, I will stop.

I will shift to my second mechanism. With the encouragement of my best friends and girlfriend, I started an LLC two years ago that will eventually allow me to live the lifestyle I desire. The work is a passion of mine and contributes to making the world better. With an appropriate nest egg and low expenses, I could work 20 hours a week doing something of value for the world without wearing myself out. My free time will be mine. I will have slow mornings with strong coffee.

I will use the freedom to travel to practice languages I’ve learned. To go on miniature adventures and learn even more ways people view their choices as normal.

I will use the freedom to create things. I like to write stories and paint furniture. I think I will continue to like that in the future.

I will use the freedom to properly learn how to cook. I’m an excellent baker, but my cooking skills are mediocre. Classes would be wonderful. I love food. I’m sure I can learn.

I will use my freedom to continue volunteering for organizations in my city. I will use my freedom to be a more involved citizen.

I will use my freedom to get a puppy. A big one.

What is your unique approach to life and FIRE?

Net Worth Week 13

Gentle Reader,

Man, the violence in our world is a lot sometimes. It is hard to be hopeful, but then I see the image of the strangers in Dallas who immediately surrounded a baby in a stroller when the shots rang out.  They were willing to put their body in harm’s way to protect a small life. That crowd was diverse and, I assume, did not all personally know that baby. They did not know why the shots were happening or who was being targeted, but they decided to protect a defenseless child. That is my hope for the world. That crowd of strangers who chose danger for another.

I know that y’all noticed I was quiet on twitter this week, and thanks for checking on me. PF bloggers are a great community. I had family in town and they had shenanigans to put me through.  I’m still trying to win my way to FinCon – in large part to meet y’all. It is already an honor to know you and I can only suspect that honor will grow when I can shake your hand.

My net worth plucked along in the positive direction and that small victory is helping me remember the destination this journey is leading me to.

I still love Earnest and credit them with my ability to conquer some of this debt.

Date 6/17/16 6/25/2016 7/1/2016 7/8/2016
Joy 1098 1098 1099  1099
Travel 323 323 323 323
Down Payment  19 19 19 19
retirement  21 21 21 21
health  45 45 45 45
Moving  31 31 31 31
EF  2597 2597 2002 2002
Business  1 1 1 1
Bed  .29 0.29 0.29 0.29
Life  1839 1140 1929  863
IRA  8285 8765 9580  9653
Brokerage  221 315 324 329
CC (largest)  0 0 0 0
CC (longest)  0 0 0 0
Rewards Card  -5300 -5347 -5675  -5247
SL 1  -102268  -102284 -102482 -102258
SL 2  -45017  -45067 -45112 -45010
Earnest  -9286 -9306 -9328 -8878
-$147390 -$147748 -$147222 -$147006
  -1.0% change -.24% change .35% change  .14% change

Have you been encouraged by small progress?