Aug 20

Can I ask you a strange money question?

money flowThe other day one of my staff came to me with a money dilemma. **Nobody at work knows about this blog, so I sort of chuckled to myself when she said that she wanted to ask me a, “strange money question.”** At first I thought she was going to ask me something about the payroll, since it happened to be a payday, but the conversation took an unexpected turn.

Here’s the scenario:

“Laura” (names changed to protect identities) came to ask me my opinion about a situation. She said that a peer, “Jane” asked her to contribute money (to a pool) to help buy a plane ticket for another co-worker, “Sarah”. Per Jane, Sarah’s mom is terminally ill, lives outside of the country and may pass away shortly. Laura told me she felt a little bit awkward when Jane asked her to give money, and went silent for a minute. Not because she didn’t want to contribute, but because she didn’t know a lot about the situation.

Specifically, she had a few questions/concerns:

  • Is Sarah comfortable with people knowing about her mom’s illness?
  • Is Sarah comfortable with people knowing about her financial situation (assumption being that she doesn’t have the funds to purchase the ticket on her own)?
  • Does Sarah know that co-workers are donating money?
  • If Sarah doesn’t know that co-workers are donating money will she be upset/feel weird about it when she finds out?

I validated Laura’s concerns and voiced that I would have some of the same concerns if I had been asked to donate. And there’s the added awkwardness…Laura assumed Jane had asked me to give money too. But she didn’t! Why? I’m not sure, but don’t think I didn’t over analyze it (that’s what I’m best at).

Laura told me not to feel weird about it and rationalized that maybe Jane didn’t ask me because I’m a supervisor and he felt uncomfortable. Or maybe Jane didn’t ask me because Sarah and I aren’t that close (I really like Sarah, we just work on different teams and don’t have much interaction). Or perhaps it was just an oversight on Jane’s part that she didn’t ask me?

What came to mind for me was, “Maybe Jane didn’t ask me because co-workers think I’m cheap frugal.” In an office where most people go out to eat, I’m one of the few employees who regularly brings my own lunch. I don’t “rock” expensive or fancy work clothes and it’s common knowledge that I use coupons and watch my spending. While I’m not embarrassed about any of those things (in fact, quite the opposite, I’m actually pretty proud of my frugality), not everyone, “gets it” or thinks it’s a good thing. But that’s OK, I’m fine with being “weird” when “weird” means I’m NOT broke.

So tell me…Have you ever been asked to donate to a cause and felt weird about it? Would you donate to a co-worker in need? Would you feel weird if co-workers were putting together a collection and you weren’t asked to donate?

Image: Simon Cunningham

Aug 11

My search for lost money: I just “found” $400!


Cash Money, yo!

No joke! A few weeks back a friend of mine sent me an e-mail with a link to the NY State Comptroller’s Office of Unclaimed Funds. She said that a friend of hers checked the site and was owed about $50.

I was curious, so I clicked the link in the email and typed in my name. I was shocked when my old NYC address popped up.

Did NY State really owe me money?!

Because I’m a little a lot skeptical and I wanted to make sure the site was legit, I closed my browser and typed “NY State Comptroller” in a new Google search. The same website came up so I re-entered my name, confirmed my social security number (the site is secure) and entered my current mailing address. The site doesn’t tell you how much money you’re owed, so I had no idea how much money would arrive.

I expected it might only be few bucks (or less). But hey, it’s my money and I want it back, even if it’s 20 cents!

Two weeks later I got one of those funny checks in the mail (you know the ones you have to tear all the sides off). I was beyond shocked when I saw the amount…almost $400!!! I was so excited I almost cried (and I’m not a “crier”…unless I see that damn Sarah McLaughlin commercial with the abused animals-god I hate that commercial).

Eric thought I was crazy when I did a happy dance around the living room. Then he saw the check! His first response, “What’s that website again?” then, “dinner’s on you!”

With all the unexpected vet bills we’ve been incurring lately, we’ve had to dip into the emergency fund. So “finding” this money couldn’t have come at a better time.

I’ve since told a few people about the site, and two of them are actually owed money as well. I’m excited for them to receive their checks and I feel good that I’ve helped reunite people with their hard earned cash.

I’ve also looked at several other states’ websites to see if I anyone else was holding onto my money. As an “adult”, I’ve lived in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey. Yes I’m trying to live in all of New England and the tri-state ;-) ) Nobody else owed me money, but I’m more than happy with getting my big fat NY state check.

Have you ever “found” money? What would you do with an extra $400?

**In case you’re curious my grad school alma mater was listed as the original holder of the monies. My co-worker went to the same school and they were listed as the original holder of his money as well.

Image: Miran Rijvec

Aug 06

Money bought me happiness…sort of

mneySome people say that money can’t buy you happiness. I think they are wrong…sort of. While I don’t truly think that money can “buy” you happiness, literally, I do believe that having money affords you certain securities and comforts that people with less money may not have.

When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money. We were rich in love, but that was probably the only way we were rich ;-) Don’t get me wrong, I had a very happy and loving childhood growing up on the coast of Maine, but we didn’t have a lot of money and it wasn’t always easy for my mom and step-dad. I now know as an adult, that there were many nights that they stayed up late, worrying about how they were going to make it all work financially.

Growing up in a solidly working class family, I’m well aware of the opportunities I now have as an adult, to do things, go places and have experiences that my parents never had. I know the comforts that money can, “buy” and I know the feeling of security I feel when I look at my bank statements and see my emergency fund.

I also feel an immense gratitude for the ways I’m able to give to my family and my community. I’m thankful that I can make my grandparents’ life a little more comfortable, put money in my nephews and niece’s college funds and donate to our favorite charities. I’m certainly not rich by any means, but I don’t have to worry about money the way my parents did when I was growing up and growing up that way makes me even more appreciative of the money I do have.

Gratitude for money:

Last weekend Eric and I drove out to the burbs to have the dog groomed. When I was paying down my student debt, I couldn’t afford to have the dog groomed professionally, so I bought some clippers online and tried to do it myself. I mangled poor boo boo and accidentally cut off off part of his “beard” (he’s a shih tzu so imagine how weird he looked-almost like he didn’t have a bottom lip). The poor dog was so embarrassed he didn’t even want to go outside for walks. I cried, I felt so bad for him. Now that I’m debt-free, I can have him professionally groomed every few months and we’re both very thankful. He looks and feels good and I sold the clippers, thank goodness!

While Brooklyn was getting his spiffy, new, “do” Eric and I went to lunch at Outback. Eric had a steak and I had a sandwich and we had a few drinks and an appetizer. The total bill was about $65 (I used a coupon of course). Not a gourmet meal, by any means, but it was yummy and we had a good time. As we were walking out to our (paid for–Gratitude!) car, I couldn’t help but smile to myself and be thankful that we can afford to go out for lunch. Gratitude! When I was paying off my student loans, I couldn’t justify any sort of extravagance, including dining out.

mexico beachThis past winter, I paid for my grandparents to go to Cancun with us. It was a beautiful trip that I’ll remember for many reasons. First of all, my grandparents had never been on a “vacation”, second of all, my grandmother had never left the country, third of all, I paid for the trip in cash. What a wonderful feeling to be able to do something so
special for the people that I love so much. To see them sitting under that umbrella with their toes in the sand, soaking in the warm Mexican sun without a care in the world, Gratitude!

Two years ago, Eric and I bought our first home together. After months of saving a down payment and searching for the perfect place, Eric saw a, “for sale” sign 2-blocks from our apartment. I checked the place out online and fell in love with it’s charm. I suspected that we’d get outbid and didn’t want to get my hopes up, but was silently praying that things would work out in our favor and we’d be able to buy the place for the list price. We put in our bid and despite the fact that the other interested buyer offered much more than we offered, the seller accepted our offer because her realtor had had bad experiences with the other buyer (he was an investor). Luck? Karma? I’m not sure, but I do know that I love our little condo and I’m incredibly thankful that we live where we live. The neighborhood is so vibrant and fun and there are lots of dog-friendly restaurants and shops. To live in a place were we feel so safe and comfortable, Gratitude!

Has money ever, “bought” you happiness?

Jul 31

Why we didn’t buy our “dream” home

houseThis weekend Eric and I almost put in a bid on a multi-family home in the suburbs. Everything about the house was perfect. It was a two-unit home with a two-bedroom apartment on the bottom level and a three-bedroom unit on the top. The outside of the house was in great shape (newer siding and windows, paved driveway, 2-car garage), and the inside was in very good shape too (newer appliances, newer heating systems, walls in good shape).

The house had most of what we were looking for in a home. It was an older Victorian with plenty of charming features including built-in bookcases, crown molding and hardwood floors. It was close to the commuter trains and buses and there was even a little yard for the dog with some nice landscaping and flowers.

Everything I’ve told Eric I wanted, minus the white-picket fence right?

The only problem?

The asking price was more than I felt comfortable paying (and would likely go up, thanks to bidding wars).

Eric said we’d be fine making the payments, especially with the rental income we’d be making from the second unit (which is why we’ve been wanting to buy a multi-family home). So we signed the contract and I promptly freaked out and changed my mind before we e-mailed the pdf to our realtor.

Here’s the Background:

For the last 6 months or so, we’ve debated whether we should keep our current condo and rent it out, or sell it and use the money towards a bigger down payment on a multi-family home.

Ultimately, with the soaring prices in our neighborhood we have decided to keep the condo and rent it. Our realtor took at look at our place and said we’d be able to cover our mortgage and condo fees with the rent we’d be collecting. So basically our renters would be paying our mortgage on the condo. Which isn’t a bad deal considering property values in our neighborhood and the likelihood that they will continue to increase.

The irony in this whole story, is that I’d, “convinced” Eric that we should buy a multi-family home so we could pay down the mortgage faster and/or have a lower mortgage payment in the event that I cut back my hours when we have kids (in the future, no wedding bells yet). Now that I’ve got him, “on board” and he’s excited about the idea, I’m putting on the brakes. Go figure!

Why this isn’t the house for us:

While the numbers “work” on the multi-family we liked, this home felt too expensive to me. Once we paid the downpayment and closing costs, we wouldn’t have a very big emergency fund left. Our emergency fund took some pretty big hits this year (first the broken furnace and then the very ill kitties).

Had we not had an emergency fund to cover those emergencies, I probably would have had a panic attack. After working so hard to get myself out of student loan debt, the thought of being in debt again terrifies me. Yes, I know there are far more scary things to be afraid of, but I know how bad I felt when I had that huge debt hanging over my head and I don’t want to go back to that place if our renters bail on us or one of us (god forbid) loses our job. What it all boils down to, is I don’t want to set myself up in a situation where I feel scared about my finances.

What does that mean for a future purchase?

Long story, short, I think I’ll be much more comfortable buying a more modest, smaller and/or less updated home with a smaller mortgage payment. Ideally, I’d like to know that we could cover both mortgages for both properties out of our salaries. If that’s not possible, I’d want a big emergency fund that would cover 3-6 months of both mortgages in the event that one or both of our tenants don’t pay. Hopefully that wouldn’t ever happen, but it’s what will make me comfortable and you can’t put a price on financial security.

Am I nuts for backing out of the “perfect” home for us? Does debt scare you?

Image: Pat Williams

Jul 28

Healthcare is expensive, ask for what you want!

521898569_cd0b65a7c7_mHealthcare in this country is so freaking expensive! Whether you have insurance or not, I’m sure you know how ridiculously expensive it is to be treated in the Emergency room. So in this post, I hope I can empower you to advocate for the care that you need, want and deserve.

I’m not saying you have to be pushy, nasty or demanding (although sometimes that works), but I do think that you should feel comfortable expecting a certain level of standard care. And if you don’t get the care you want, say something! Lord knows you’re paying enough for it!

A few months back Eric ended up in the ER. He was having difficulty breathing and after a lot of coaxing and friendly “threats” from his sister and I (i.e. “people die from pneumonia” and “I don’t want to wake up next to a dead man”) we were able to convince him to go. We arrived around 10pm, which was great timing because the ER waiting room was practically empty.

We were escorted to a room very quickly and stayed there for a better part of an hour before a nurse and doctor finally arrived. The nurse did some blood draws and gave the bf some IV steroids to open up his lungs. 5 hours, and EKG, chest x-ray and several amusing/horrifying stories later…see below, we found out that the bf had the flu.

Asking For What You Want From Healthcare Professionals: 5 Lessons Learned…
Based on real life experiences in our local ER…brought to you from your favorite ease dropper…me (bf was fast asleep in his comfy hospital bed, so I had nobody to talk to.)

First Scenario-Bed 19.

  • Bed 19 was the bf. When the nurse came in the room to do his blood-work, I was reading and not really paying attention. I don’t mind blood and needles, but also feel bad when I see people in pain, so reading was a good distraction. When I looked up I noticed the nurse wiping some blood off bf’s arm with a cotton square. No big deal, except for the fact she wasn’t wearing gloves! I immediately mentioned this to bf who didn’t seemed bothered or phased. I mean, come on it’s 2104, we all know that you need to wear gloves when you’re touching body fluids, especially when you’re a nurse working in the ER!
  • Lesson: Don’t feel weird about asking staff to follow universal precautions!

    If they are touching blood or body fluids they should be wearing gloves, period! If they aren’t, they’re putting themselves, you and others at risk. Don’t be shy to ask them to wash their hands or put on gloves before they touch you. Who knows who (or what) they touched before they came into the room.

Second Scenario-Bed 17.

  • Bed 17 was an elderly woman who feel down 5 stairs while hosting a party at her home. Her daughter and several of her daughter’s friends accompanied her to the ER. Things were quiet at first, but the woman started experiencing intense pain. Her daughter asked the nurse to call the MD to get some pain meds. 30 minutes later, no meds and the daughter was getting upset. As staff walked by she asked each and every one of them to help. I could tell the staff was annoyed by her, but eventually she found an attending, who immediately went to the room and gave the elderly woman some pain medication.
  • Lesson: The squeaky wheel gets the grease! Speak up.

    If my mother was in pain, I don’t care what the staff think about me, I’ll ask every person who walks by for help until I get it.

Third Scenario-Bed 18.

  • Bed 18 was a woman named Anna. How do I know? Because the nursing tech that came to do Eric’s EKG quietly said, “Anna?” when she came in the room. Neither boyfriend nor I heard or understood what she’d said (and in our defense Anna and Eric sound somewhat similar when someone mumbles), so we both just smiled and sat quietly while she stuck little stickers all over his body. A few minutes later she looked confused and left the room for a minute. When she came back she asked Eric for his name, then laughed saying, “I thought you were a man, why didn’t you didn’t tell me your name wasn’t Anna?” Umm didn’t the facial hair, Adam’s apple and men’s shoes on the floor give it away? Weird and scary. Now I can understand how the wrong patients are sometimes operated on!
  • Lesson: If you can’t/don’t understand, ask for clarification!

    Don’t be afraid to ask questions and insure that the staff know who you are and what your condition is!

Fourth Scenario-Bed 15.

  • Bed 15 was in police custody. I’m not sure why she ended up in the ER, but I do know her full name, the charges that were brought against her, and her pre-existing medical conditions. I also know that the police called her boyfriend and asked him to come to the hospital ASAP.
  • Lesson: If you hear hospital staff sharing private health information in public, say something!

    Your private health information is protected by national law. Granted, in this specific instance it was the police sharing personal information about this patient with hospital staff (loudly in the hallway) but I’m sure we’ve all heard hospital staff share confidential information about patients in front of strangers.

Fifth Scenario-Bed 14.

  • Bed 14 was occupied by a family who only spoke Spanish. I’m not sure who the patient was, but I believe it may have been a child based on the fact that the woman (I assume the child’s mother) mother was insistent that someone come to translate and repeatedly told the doctors, “I don’t understand I need someone who speaks Spanish.” The mom started out quiet, but was getting pretty loud (I could hear her many rooms away). I can’t even imagine how scary it would be to not understand what the doctors were telling me due to a language barrier.  With the technical jargon doctors use, I have a hard enough time understanding MDs who speak English.
  • Lesson: You are your own best advocate!

    If you have to raise your voice to get what you need, don’t be afraid to do so. When you’re scared and in pain, regular “rules” about manners and niceties go out the window.

How have you advocated for yourself or others? Are you embarrassed to ask for want from your health care providers?

Image: Taber Andrew Bain

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