Monthly Archives: August 2011
August 2011 Update:
Debt Total: $37,558
% Change from July 2011: 1.99% Increase, Ah!
Woops, I made some silly purchases this month. I was trying to build passive income but I don’t think I should have gotten into debt over it. Also I loaned someone some money (not reflected in the total) but that ended up making me unexpectedly low on cash, and I ended up using my credit card at the end of the month.
If you are trying to reduce debt and you find yourself in a worse position one month, don’t get discouraged. I’m not! I am just going to work extra hard to increase my income this month, and pay off what I spent this month and pay off old debt.
Here is my goal for September 2011: Get under $37,000 in debt and continue to research business opportunities, and read this book on real estate (to see if it is a possibility for me or not, based on the recommendation from Geniustypes): Weekend Millionaire’s Secrets to Investing in Real Estate by Mike Sumney and Roger Dawson.
I’ll give my review on this book in my next month Debt Update!
Note: If you want to monitor my progress on reducing debt since the beginning of this blog, just click on the ‘debt update’ category and you’ll see every month’s progress.
As I discussed in my previous post, I often feel compelled to temper any wisdom I gain with an equal amount of stupidity and/or banality. So when I was at the library picking up The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros, I also wanted some light reading in the form of style books. I thought maybe these books would help me punch up my style since I used to be quite fashionable when I shopped a lot. I can now safely tell you that reading style books will NOT make you feel better/inspired about your own style. Instead, it makes you feel like any high-end fashion magazine will make you feel: my clothes are crap, and I will never wear the type of clothes these women wear, because each complete outfit is at least $300 (and that’s the “affordable” option put together by Isaac Mizrahi). Here were the books I checked out:
1. The ELLEments of Personal Style: 25 Modern Fashion Icons on How to Dress, Shop, and Live by ELLE editors Joe Zee and Maggie Bullock
2. Nina Garcia’s Look Book: What to Wear for Every Occasion by Nina Garcia (she gave that away by putting her name in the title, huh?)
3. How to Have Style by Isaac Mizrahi
I got over the first two books in about 15 minutes. I admit I didn’t even read the full title of the ELLE book, since if I had read the part about “25 Modern Fashion Icons on How to Dress, Shop, and Live“, I would have tossed it in the trash on behalf of the library. Nobody tells me how to live, OK, ELLE? I picked it up because it had a shiny gold cover. This book turned out to be 25 gushy, celebrity-worshipping interviews of famous women and their things. “Oh, look how unique her things are! She has yellow polka-dot shoes! SHE’S AN ICON!!” Next up was Nina Garcia’s Look Book. This book is beautiful because of the illustrations of Ruben Toledo. I loved the colors and the watercolor-look of every image. It is truly gorgeous, but unfortunately, I wasn’t crazy about the overwhelming amount of detail in this book and somewhat tedious idea of going through 100-plus different occasions (What to wear to work on a Tuesday, what to wear to therapy, what to wear when getting your hair done) and figuring out what is the right thing to wear for all of these occasions beforehand. That is exhausting, and also, kind of creepy (example- What to wear to meet a potential surrogate). She also fell back one too many many times on the word ‘fabulous’ in her Look Book. Which brings me to the last book, How to Have Style by Isaac Mizrahi.
I thought the book was great. It was exactly what a fashion and style book should be, which is light and airy but still useful, and has more pictures than words. Don’t make me think, Nina Garcia, just tell me what to wear! Side note: one of the people in How to Have Style was someone I went to college with and we even played on the same sports team, although I didn’t know she was in the book until I opened it. Anyways, the book was useful. Mizrahi put different outfits together using many of the same pieces, and there was a makeover element to each profile, as they got their hair and makeup done as well. Even though the outfits in Mizrahi’s book were out of my price range, I got plenty of ideas on things I could do with clothes and accessories I already own.
Then I got to the last section: “What You Need” which was the basics in jewelry, watches, bags, shoes and bras. Isaac claims these are all the most basic items that every woman has to have, including:
-Aspirational handbag, shown was a Louis Vuitton bag
-Splurge bangle bracelets, which were Cartier LOVE bracelets that cost around $6,000 each
-Cartier tank watch
-Diamond evening watch
Oh really, Isaac? I need three luxury watches in my collection? Really? I was going to get mad and huffy about it, but then I remembered that the main purpose of fashion magazines and style books is to further the prestige around aspirational brands.
What is an aspirational brand?
Aspirational brands are brands that are marketed around a lifestyle and image that (as the name suggests) the masses will “aspire” to. The price point of aspirational products are their main differentiation, besides high advertising budgets. Luxury brands can be considered aspirational, especially those with high name recognition like Cartier and Louis Vuitton. But I consider aspirational brands to be those that are at the price point just below the luxury brands- stuff like Juicy Couture, Coach, Tory Burch, and Michael Kors. These items and brands are the pitfalls of debt for many women: they’re priced at a somewhat attainable point (you’ll consider the $300 bag much more than the $1,700 bag), and their marketing department has already done the work of making the product look cool, and a little confidence boost in the form of new shoes or a bag always feels good. But if you are buying one or two aspirational products a month, that could be $500 you could have spent on paying down debt, putting towards saving, or even taking a cool trip. And here’s the secret about aspirational brands: they have no special powers or features besides the perceived value of the brand itself. If you have a Michael Kors bag without the big MK gold hardware attached to it, does it still look as cool? It kind of just looks like any other bag right?
It’s not easy to start detaching from the prestige of aspirational brands, especially if you’re like me and love anything to do with photography, shiny things, and sensory overload. But I am looking at items with less of an emotional response and more of “What else could I do with my money?” and “Do I need to go into debt for more stuff?”. I think that aspirational brands hold lots of people back from achieving bigger dreams, and I’m no exception. I wonder how much less debt I would have if I hadn’t been such a sucker for brands?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on aspirational and luxury brands you used to love that no longer hold their sway!
I wrote earlier this year about how income inequality in the US, which has increased dramatically in the last two decades, is finally getting some attention. Watch this video from PBS for more coverage on this topic and how the scales continue to tip…in favor of the richest 0.1 percent of Americans!
On a similar topic, here’s an in-depth article on a huge housing bargain opportunity, but only for connected investors of course. I highly recommend reading all of Roger Arnold’s articles. He covers the financial markets but is much more concerned with the greater political and economic forces influencing them than most authors.
What to Do When Laziness Threatens To Unravel Recent Accomplishments
Laziness affects a lot of people. It certainly affects me and often gets in the way of things I’m trying to accomplish. I have a crippling laziness habit routed in the patterns of my brain, the neural pathways and what not. I am addicted to laziness. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is characterized by:
- Inability to consistently Abstain; (I want to be lazy every day)
- Impairment in Behavioral control; (I try not to be lazy but the urge takes over)
- Craving; or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences; (I put off doing things so I can lay on the couch and watch shows on Bravo)
- Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships; (There isn’t anything wrong with what I’m doing since I’m not hurting anybody, right?)
- A dysfunctional Emotional response. (I don’t want to think anymore! I just want everything to be easy!)
But it’s not just classic laziness. There’s also a healthy dose of procrastination, wishy-washiness and general apathy. I know how to work hard, but I just don’t want to. Take this blog. I’ve been doing pretty good on posting regularly and I am also doing my research on how to boost traffic and build followers. But for the past week, I’ve felt simply paralyzed to take the next step. I have three good posts in draft form that I can’t bring myself to finish. And I’m getting great feedback from everyone who checks out my blog. So how do I get out of my rut?
Step #1: Assessment
The first thing was realizing I have some weird bad habits.
Bad Habit #1: Balance the good with some bad, the smart with some stupid…
Somewhere in my subconscious, I have decided that things have to balance out, but this is not always positive, and I think it is standing in the way of me making substantial progress. Let me give you some examples:
- When I read a powerful, insightful book, I feel compelled to watch a few hours of reality TV to balance the weighty ideas that were in my mind.
- I’ve always been an athlete and love sports and working out. But just when I start getting into the zone, say, working out 4 days in a row, then I feel like I deserve a break and do nothing and eat greasy comfort foods fort the next 3 days.
- I got into debt because I was taking lots of vacations and spending lots of money I didn’t have. Since then, I’ve gone without a “real” vacation (anything longer than 3 days off) since January 2010 and I’m starting to get a little cabin fever. I don’t want to undo the hard work but I need to learn how to relax in my daily life so I don’t feel compelled to fly somewhere far just to relax and have a good time.
I’ve never admitted that the weird patterns I fall into are actually holding me back. I don’t have to watch reality TV to remind myself that there are people out there who are stupid, obnoxious and/or ridiculous. I don’t have to “reward” my productivity for finishing a blog post with 3 hours of Melrose Place episodes on Netflix. (Don’t ask me why I’m watching a nighttime soap from almost 20 years ago. Like I said, I can’t help myself. I have addictions.). Why does everything I talk about come back to TV?
Bad Habit #2: A body on the couch likes to stay on the couch…
My other bad habit is inertia. It means unless I have formally committed in my mind to doing something, then I am way too lazy to do it when the moment arrives and I haven’t pre-committed. If I am at work, I have to decide I am working out before leaving work or I won’t do it. I need to work up the energy to go grocery shopping at least 2 hours before I go. I can’t just decide I need food and go. Even waking up early requires a commitment. When I go to bed, I absolutely have to remind myself what time I am waking up the next morning, or I will sleep in to 9 or 10 and never even hear the alarm.
I’ve gotten better about the first habit and don’t feel the need to balance as much, but I am still working on getting away from the inertia, which is a new habit and that takes time to develop.
Step #2: Stop drinking the Haterade
Look, I’m a hater. It’s what I’ve done as long as I can remember. My best friend has described me as “anti-everything”. I can’t help it. It’s easier to hate or find fault than to create something yourself. But as I am growing older and slightly wiser, it is becoming obvious that being a critic is a waste of time. Why should I spend my energy analyzing something I don’t like and bringing more attention to things I don’t like? Unless it’s funny, of course. But I like Jean Sibelius’s quote: “Pay no attention to what critics say. No statue has ever been put up to a critic.” I want to spend less of my time and energy on finding fault and pointing out what is wrong with something/someone.
I’ve spent way too long being comfortable with doing nothing by effectively criticizing and finding fault with what others were doing, famous and non-famous alike. Who cares if I’m right? Unless someone starts paying me to professionally hate on others, I see that being a critic is just a crutch. (Note to readers: Please contact me if you are looking for someone to help you hate/trash the competition. I am efficient and effective!)
Step #3: Plans you can achieve, goals you can obtain
I know, that sounds so cheesy I’m going to have to warn Anthony Robbin’s people not to try to tweet that and pretend they made it up. I want to make it big, but I am starting at a smaller level that is much more achievable. Here are a few goals for this blog:
First milestones for the American Debt Project:
1) 100 page views per day
2) 1,000 Twitter followers ASAP
So my plan to get to those two goals are:
1) Blog 5 days a week, and take 2 days to rest and get inspired.
2) Stay active on Twitter, discover new people, follow interesting people who follow me who aren’t obviously spambots/automated.
3) Read one good article per day on building a blog, developing an online presence, etc. But don’t spend all day reading and do nothing. Here’s a great slideshow on building a blog.
4) Organize my blog better and make popular posts easy to find.
Step #4: A little bit of action every day
It doesn’t have to be a lot, but I want to do something positive everyday. Something that is moving me towards my goals of reducing my debt, finding a good investment, or developing my blog into a great resource on debt, trends in society, worthwhile movements, and more. When I get things done, I relax more. I am not trying to become one of those wonder woman types who are dying inside like Annette Bening in American Beauty or Daria’s mom in Daria. I just want to stop being so lazy and get the necessary things done so I can relax.
I hope this gave you some ideas on how to change lazy habits into good ones. I wanted to be realistic because even though this blog has been great, I am still feeling stuck when it comes to my debt (more on that in the August update coming next week). Here are a few more great reads on laziness and getting into action. The last link is a video that you don’t want to relate to:
More laziness articles:
What did I miss? Do you have some secrets about not being lazy that I need to know about?