Life

HOW TO FOCUS ON YOUR FINANCES THIS YEAR

Hello 2021! If 2020 (and frankly the start to this year) has taught us anything, it’s that there are many things out of our control. For most of my adult life – I felt that my finances fell into this category. Which often led to a feeling of general helplessness and frustration. In January of 2019, finally fed up, I made a huge personal shift in my money mindset (you can read all about that here). To put it plainly, it changed my life.

I realize that for so many, the past year of the pandemic has been crippling when it comes to finances. But if you’re in a place where – due to debt, reduced income or just general uncertainty/fear – you’re not focused on your finances at all, I’m here to try and convince you to make a change. I say this as a person who has made a lot of mistakes with her money, had years where I had practically none of it and now am finally in a place where I’m out of debt, have emergency savings and am investing in my retirement. I promise you it can be done, even with the smallest baby steps.

It sounds counterintuitive, but being strict about my finances actually provides me a huge sense of freedom. The more I understand, track and control my budget and goals – the less worry, shame and guilt I feel about my finances. Below – my best advice for finally focusing on your own finances this year.

Go It Alone

You can only change yourself. If you partner isn’t on board yet or none of your friends/roommates talk about money – don’t wait for them to start the conversation. I can’t stress enough how important it is for women especially to not rely on anyone else when it comes to their finances. A savings account can give you the freedom to walk away from a bad relationship or a toxic work environment. Plus, on top of the fact that women statistically earn less than men.. we also outlive them. So we have more years to save for with less money to do it. It’s harsh.. I know.

The great thing is, once your partner, family or friends see you getting things on track – they just might be inspired to join in.

Become Financially Literate

I was SO intimidated when I first began my financial journey. I was always good at math but I’d never taken a course in accounting or personal finances and had couldn’t have told you the difference between a Traditional or a Roth IRA. It felt like an old white man’s club that I hadn’t been invited to. So I sent myself back to “school”. I found podcasts, blogs, books, Instagram accounts and youtube videos that talked about money in relatable ways. I sought out the voices of women that came from esteemed financial backgrounds, people with careers I admired and young people with similar messy financial starts who had since gotten themselves on track. It made me feel less alone, more informed and ultimately confident that I could figure this all out.

I like the podcast HerMoney and She Makes Money Moves, the info on Ellevest and Instagram accounts @thefinancebar, @babeonabudgetblog and @thefiscalfemme for starters.

Lead With Your Values

Money is SO personal. The reasons why I want to save or what I think is worthy of spending on is likely completely different than yours. And that’s fine! I found that once I wrote out the things that felt important to me and some benchmark life goals it really helped for me to get clear on why I wanted to focus on my finances. It also makes it easier to resist the urge to ‘add to cart’ because in the back of my mind I know what the bigger picture looks like and can remind myself of the “why” behind the numbers.

Lay It All Out

Look at every cent you have coming in against all of your fixed expenses. Make savings, debt repayment and – eventually – retirement investments non negotiable. See what’s left. Is it enough to live on? If not – could you pick up a side hustle to earn extra income? Could you sell unwanted items on Facebook Marketplace? Could you give up some of those monthly subscriptions? If it it enough – could you be saving more? A good benchmark is the 50/30/20 rule. You should spend 50% of your income on fixed expenses, 30% on discretionary spending and 20% on savings. Our budget lives in a Google Sheet so it’s easy to access and edit at all times.

Make Time for Your Money

This is probably my number one tip and my real “secret” if I have one. Make it a habit like anything else. I began looking at my finances as another layer of my health. If I can make time to workout, I also have to make time to budget.

  • DAILY: I check my account balance and budget spreadsheet for about 5 minutes every morning. I promise you – your skincare routine or mindless Instagram scroll takes longer than this – your schedule will allow it. And I find that when those numbers are top of mind it stays in your subconscious throughout the day and you’re more likely to make better decisions.
  • WEEKLY: Once a week Adam and I meet for about 15 minutes to check in about our spending that week, talk about anything coming up in the next couple of weeks and look at the month as a whole.
  • MONTHLY: We check in to be sure we met all of our monthly savings goals, make transfers between accounts (like our regular checking/savings and our high interest savings account) and look at how we’re tracking towards our yearly goals.
  • YEARLY: A major review of everything. We look at how we did the year prior (did we meet our goals? If not, why?) and plan for the year ahead (will there be any big purchases like a car or big vacation we want to save extra for? Does one of us want to look for a new job?). We also check in and revise our 2-year, 5-year, 10-year and 20-year plans as needed. Life is not perfectly predictable and these aren’t set in stone – but I think it’s important to have a big picture mentality.

To recap: Commit to starting – even if you’re on your own. Even if you can only set aside $10 a month. Even if you think you’ll never see the end of your student loans. Lean on free resources to get comfortable with finances. Make a list of your values, goals and create a preliminary budget for yourself. Track your income, expenses, spending, savings and debt payments. Check in on those numbers often and remind yourself why you started. Write to me in 6 months and tell me how far you’ve come.

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2020: A YEAR IN REVIEW

They say hindsight is 2020. While I’m not sure that enough time has passed to allow for perfect clarity, the memory of this past year is, at the least, still fresh in my mind.

We’ll all have our own stories to come out of 2020. The silver linings of those that welcomed healthy babies, finally enjoyed their own backyards, relished their lack of commutes. Those that just might look back on the year with fondness. But there are many others, less lucky, that grieved losses and loneliness, watched careers evaporate, were trapped in unhappy spaces with the wrong people, were asked to juggle too much or found themselves, unexpectedly, with not enough to get by. I suspect it will take many a long time to come to terms with the effects of this year.

I find myself somewhere in the middle. Incredibly grateful that our immediate family remained healthy and we had a safe home to weather the worst. Someone to kiss me goodnight at the end of every long day.

And yet. I watched the city I love become the epicenter of a deadly pandemic nearly overnight. Stores boarded up and police barricades built. In April, silence and sirens. By June, the screams of people so tired of the same old shit in this country amidst a year that was anything but the same old. By October, the company I’d worked at for nearly 7 years closed and I lost my job. There was isolation from friends and family, worry over what would come next in my career and what would pay the bills in the meantime, the stress of the election and useless fights with Adam.

When I look back on this year I will remember us lying in bed listening to the persistent drone of hovering helicopters. How we constantly watched the news and some days, never even stepped outside. I will remember kneeling on pavement in the middle of Fifth Avenue amidst a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest. A young Black woman next to me holding a baby boy to her chest, as police in riot gear looked on. I will remember the constant stream of moving trucks by summer – offering a way out or a reluctant exit for so many. I will remember scrawling our initials into permanence in freshly poured concrete outside our apartment, when the world beyond our block felt so incredibly uncertain.

I will remember our long talks on the couch that dug deeper than the petty fights and healed past hurts. I will remember catching the afternoon sun on the fire escape, a good book in hand. Watching sunsets and season change from that same perch. I will remember leaning out the windows at 7PM as the city erupted into applause for healthcare workers while the “corner DJ” played our street a song of the day. I will picture the pink whistle that I used to add to the noise. I will remember working the polls on election day, spending 17 hours with a woman named Lena who has lived in Harlem since the 50s. The way she reassured me ‘baby, we’re gonna be alright’. I will remember that as the rest of the world fell away – those of us who stayed in this city held tight to each other. Even from a safe distance. I will remember walking miles and miles – admiring the bridges and bones of New York that have held steady through so many other storms.

I’m not sure what’s to come next year, but I’m thrilled to share that I started a new job at the beginning of December and I couldn’t be more grateful or excited about the position and the company itself. They say that 1 million New Yorkers will be vaccinated in January and we’ll have a new president in a few short weeks. Despite a year that held so much darkness, there are glimmers of hope everywhere.

Wishing you all a 2021 filled with more health, happiness, love and light.

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THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2020

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2020 was a lot of things. But it was, despite everything, a very good year for reading. I set a goal to read 24 books and finished just over 60. From heart-swelling romances to heart-breaking memoirs, inventive new fiction to thought provoking non-fiction. It felt like an impossible choice narrowing it down to just my top 10, but below I’m sharing what made the list.

P.S. Find my best of 2019 list here and all of my book reviews here.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab – I just finished this book and am still lost in its sweeping story. Read if you like an ill-fated love story, strong female lead, 18th century Paris meets modern day Brooklyn and a bit of magical realism.

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah – I’ve been singing the praises of this book ever since I read it in June. Noah has an incredible life story to begin with but it’s elevated even more by his sharp witted story-telling skills. I laughed and nearly cried. One of the best memoirs I’ve read.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – I read this in January and I still find myself picturing that grand, old house, replaying scenes of Danny & Maeve parked in a car out front. The marker of a great book is when visions of it stay with me months, and even years, after reading it. Pick this up if you like dynamic family dramas and perfectly crafted novels.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo – In a series of short stories, the lives of 12 “regular” British women (mostly Black) are woven together in a rhythmic prose that read like almost life poetry. Absorbing and honest – these are the types of stories that are rarely told.

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier – I love an anti-hero and this dazzling debut novel served one up that I couldn’t look away from – even as she was quite obviously self-destructing. Read if you liked the movie Juno.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – Jenkins Reid has a knack for books that feel fun but also have weight to them. I loved this story of Old Hollywood glamour and a decades long clandestine love affair.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – This one broke my heart from the first to the last page. I hope everyone makes time for this book that speaks to the history of systemic racism and the lost potential of young black boys in this country.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – Another one that I’ve been fan-girling over since February when I read it. An absolute romp of a story with the much-needed bonus of diversity in the romance genre.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller – A raw and riveting memoir. It’s a difficult and absolutely essential book that tackles rape culture in this country. This should be required reading for high school students.

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur – Another memoir! But they each couldn’t be more different. This one blew me away and is another one that I think about often since reading it in February. Read if you like complicated mother, daughter stories.

Here’s to 2021 being another great year for reading!

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A VERY BOOKISH GIFT GUIDE

To me, there’s nothing quite like the gift of a book. And at a time when many of us could use an escape, a good cry or a good laugh or something to inspire us – books can provide that. So without further ado – A Very Bookish Gift Guide for 2020. There are mistletoe-filled romances and challenging literary novels, books for parents, partners and friends – and yourself of course. Nearly 50 of them in total!

Disclosure: If you’re able to purchase these from your local bookstores please do so! I’ve also linked everything on Bookshop.org which is an awesome resource that supports indie stores across the country. However, in the product carousels below the images link to Amazon – as it was the best way for me to show all the covers.

Click to the next page for all of my recommendations!

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A 2020 IDENTITY CRISIS

I think one of the most uncomfortable things about 2020 is the fact that so many of us, without warning, lost a part of our identities when the world changed. Breadwinner. Social Butterfly. Working Mom. Community Leader. Who are we when these identities suddenly slip away? How do we measure our value? Earn our self esteem?

For my entire adult life my identity has been wound tightly around two concepts. Being a New Yorker and having a successful career in fashion. Who would I be if I didn’t live in New York? Or didn’t have a job in the industry I’d dreamed of? How would I feel if I weren’t the primary breadwinner in our household? I feel unmoored when I consider it, like a boat drifting further and further from the safety of my figurative shore. The skyline fading from view.

The funny thing about identity is that it only exists in your own head. I doubt anyone would think less of me if I lived elsewhere. No one would care if I was a clerk at a bookstore instead of the COO of a company. But the definitions that we write for ourselves are often the hardest to edit, aren’t they?

As I approach the last week at my current job I’ve been thinking a lot about this all and wondering if, in a silver lining light, 2020 has allowed us all to try on other identities that could lead us in a different direction. Maybe there’s someone out there that realized he’d love to be a stay at home Dad. Maybe there’s someone else who realized that being the life of the party served the crowd but actually left them feeling perpetually exhausted.

In my case, New York and my career truly are things that bring me joy and fulfillment – so I don’t plan on charting a drastically new course anytime soon. But rather, loosening the grip I’ve had on how I define myself. And at the very least – leaving the door ajar for the future unknown.

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The Steele Maiden © 2012

Fashion, Travel & Lifestyle. Based in NYC.