May 29, 2010

Is Capitalism Evil?

I'm a little late to the table on this question, but is Capitalism evil? My boyfriend and I watched the Michael Moore film Capitalism a few days ago and have been arguing since. My boyfriend believes the whole capitalism is evil argument, while I'm torn. It is a system based on greed and greed ultimately equals corruption (because that's just the way people are), however it's the best system I know. That's not saying it's the right way to have an economy.

If my boyfriend had his way, he'd live in a real communist society. One where everyone really gets exactly the same. His happiness will never come from material goods. He could live in a cardboard box and be perfectly happy as long as he had the freedom to live as he chooses and more importantly that he knows everyone else is equally compensated.

I, on the other hand, live my life squeezing out pennies from my salary, negotiating for higher pay, working long hours at two jobs to earn as much income in as little time so I can put it into the stock market and other less risky savings vehicles and have compound interest hopefully work it's magic for the future. It's not that I need a lot of money to be happy... I more so need a lot of money to feel comfortable. Maybe that's the evils of capitalism telling their story.

My boyfriend likes to compare Hitler killing all the Jews to capitalism, because in a capitalist society you have the super rich and then everyone else is poor, and there's very little in between. As a Jew, I kind of take offense to this argument. I don't think it's the same thing at all. In Capitalism, everyone DOES have a chance to succeed. Not everyone will. Some people do have an unfair advantage. But no one is taking masses of people and killing them in gas chambers. The comparison is unexcusable.

But -- I'm not sure where I stand on the whole capitalism thing. If I knew that I could make less money but have stability over the years (a pension, enough to buy a house, live a decent life, take vacations every few years) then maybe I wouldn't be so set in supporting capitalism. The only way I can see living that life is through capitalism now. Even if I'm able to sock away $50k per year after tax for the rest of my life, it will take me 20 years to become a millionaire. I'll be 46. That's not so bad, but that also means that I will need to keep renting an apartment with roommates, will need to keep working two jobs with one of them being for a large corporation that can afford to pay a 6 figure contractor salary, and I'll have to sacrifice much of my life for work.

At least with the stock market there's the chance that those 20 years can be shorter, or that I can save less each year and through compound interest have my million or two million in retirement. I know I won't have a pension. I don't know how much social security will be around by the time I retire. I can't lead a comfortable life unless I know I can save money and have it grow.

Ok, so the biggest argument in the movie that I can say my boyfriend and I agree on is that politicians shouldn't be allowed to be funded by private corporations. That really is just asking for corruption. It doesn't even help the small businesses because the only companies who can afford to have major influence are the ones who are already super rich.

But I don't want to live in a communist society. I like making money. It seems that's the only thing I'm passionate about these days. I don't even like spending money anymore. The more I make, the less I want to spend, because I'm able to start saving thousands of dollars a year. My goal this year is for my networth to go from $50k to $100k. And what's amazing is that it's possible. I'm one of the lucky ones, sure, but I'm still working two jobs. I'm still finding out what my skills are and applying them to roles where I can make a decent wage. I still know that I can lose my job at any second, so I have a sizable emergency fund, and I don't have debts so if I need to cut back on my spending I could feasibly live off $1,000 a month. I wouldn't get to save any more, but I wouldn't be losing money. I wouldn't be evicted.

Maybe I can't understand yet because I don't have a family. I'm sure it's a lot harder with kids. I have so much freedom as a single person to say I can live on $1k a month. But that's why I believe in spending your 20s earning as much as possible and saving as much as possible. Living as cheaply as possible. Work hard now, play later. Hope the stock market doesn't completely crash. That's my motto. Does that make me a capitalist? Eh, I guess so. Will my boyfriend ever understand? I think not.


May 24, 2010

The Value of Each Second

I've been making an insane amount of money so far this year. I still owe taxes on my freelance earnings, but I'd guestimate I've taken in about $30k so far.

But I still feel empty. I'm not saying a job is supposed to give me my ultimate fulfillment in life, but I'd like to feel proud of what I do. I work for a very cool company but ultimately I am not a huge fan of the product I'm paid to promote. I'm given very little power to impact the product, so all I can do is work with what exists. And that's not the easiest job. That's why they pay me so much.

Still, I don't know how long I can do this successfully. After less than two months in the role, I feel myself lost for what to do. My contract ends about half way through the year, so my goal is to make it that far. If I can do that, I'll have earned at least the amount I earned for an entire year of work in 2009. Sure, I won't make my $100k Net Worth goal by the end of the year, but I'd be doing ok.

I just want a job that I feel like I can DO a good job at. I like feeling like I've accomplished something, and it's a lot easier to do this with a product that is useful. Ultimately, I think the only way I could ever really be happy in a work environment is if I have a say in the product and get to help make it useful. Not just to market whatever it is.

Ok, so I'm not destined to be a marketer. I've done a good job marketing myself and getting this far. But my introverted and honest nature makes me struggle with any sort of promotion. It's even harder that my role requires me to be "honest" and seem like I'm not promoting a product. Instead, I have to actually like the product and talk about it like I use it all the time. That could be a lot of fun if it were true. The problem is that it's not, and I can't bring myself to flat out lie.

The good news is that I'm strongly leaning towards applying to graduate school for 2011. I see no reason to put it off any longer. I'm still terrified of the debt I'll rack up (my top choice program is $33k a year for two years, not including room & board, yikes! so long savings!) and even more terrified that I'll find out what I want to study isn't right for me either. And it's still hard to justify going to grad school when I could have $100k+ in the bank instead of -/~0.

But everyday I am anxious because I can't do my job well. Because whatever my boss asks me to do, I am unsure how to do it properly. Because I'm not really good at my job. And if I'm going to manage to survive my life, I need a job I can be good at. Really good at. I'm looking forward to the day I figure out what that is.


May 7, 2010

Which Credit Card Should I Use for Business Expenses?

Over the years, I've accumulated my fair share of credit cards. I was lured in by cash back programs in the olden days when they were actually giving decent cash back rewards, so I have Chase Freedom and American Express Blue Cash cards. I also have a Chase Amazon card, a Bank of America card (my first credit card), a Macy's card, a Bloomingdales card, and an Express card, oh, and a shiny red Virgin America card that has a lot of miles on it I haven't used yet.

Lately, though, I've faced a new kind of credit card spending that I'm not sure how to approach. I work for a company that requires their employees to pay for all their expenses up front. While for small expenses this isn't a huge deal, I'm talking international trips here. Thousands of dollars. On my credit card bill.

Now, the good thing about this is I can rack up miles fairly quickly, and ultimately I'm not paying for the travel, I'm just paying up front. I am sure I will be reimbursed. It still concerns me that this is on a credit card under my name just in case there is a delay in that. But this is for a large, trustworthy company so I don't foresee this being an issue.

What I'd like to get your advice/opinions on is...

1) Should I put all my travel on one of my cash back cards (like the American Express Blue Cash) so I actually reach the 5% cash back after $6500 spent, even though now it's only for purchases like gas and stuff?

2) Should I open a mileage card on United or Continental, esp now that they're merged? I hate the annual fees for the mileage cards... they just seem so stupid. With the processing fees they charge to book flights now with frequent flier miles, is it even worth it?

3) Should I get a business credit card (like the American Express Gold Business Card?) These cards also have annual fees (even higher than the mileage cards) but they do, at least, keep my business expenses in a separate account. It's just, for the sake of the expenses spending, I don't really own a business. I'm a W2 consultant. Not a contractor. I do have a side business but have yet so spend any money on it, except car mileage. Maybe I would if I get a business credit card. But are the benefits/rewards really worth it? Also, I read that you have less protection on a business card. That scares me. What if it gets stolen when I'm traveling or something? I do like the peace of mind that I have with consumer credit cards while traveling. I'd have those too, but what if a business credit card was lost?

Any other ideas? I'm worried about having too many cards because it will do something to my credit history. I am not sure what, though.


May 1, 2010

Should I Have Children?

During my therapy session today, it occurred to me that this question alone is one that, of all the questions and confusions on life I have, is the one that freaks me out the most. I'm not going to have kids tomorrow or the next day, but at 26 I have to face reality that if I am going to have children (I'd like at least 2, at most 3) I should have kids within approximately the next 10 years. That's a lot of time and not much time at all.

10 years ago, I was 16.5. I was a junior in high school, trying to figure out where to go to college, taking the PSATs, and really just starting on my journey of adulthood. It kind of feels like a long time ago. Will 30 or 35 feel that long from now? I hear time speeds up the older you get.

My therapist and I briefly discussed today whether or not I want kids. To be honest, I don't know. She said that people don't have to have children, and you have to really have a physical urge to have kids and a desire to appreciate the joy they'll bring (along with all the sacrifice and stress.) Do I have that urge? Will I ever?

Surely, my life without children might feel a bit meaningless. It already feels meaningless. But it's not good to put that much responsibility on my yet-to-be-conceived offspring -- "bring my life meaning or else." I can't really see myself being a mother. Then again, there are plenty of other people in this world who should not be mothers who are, so why should I be so hard on myself? (Ie -- see I'm not THAT bad, right?

I mean, I have my shit together. Sort of. I have $50k in savings/retirement, a job (that isn't stable, but I at least have a career that can lead to more jobs), I'm probably doing a lot better than many people my age who already have children. Why do I feel like I need a million dollars in the bank before I can procreate?

Some days, I think reading all these personal finance blogs and listening to Ray Lucia and tracking my Net Worth hurts me a bit. It just makes me freak out about money. It's important to be responsible with money, to save a certain percentage of your income, etc, etc, but I'm paralyzed by my fear of never having enough. This whole "should I have kids" question goes beyond just having the finances to afford them (heck, am I really the type of person who can be responsible for infants or deal when my teenagers talk back to me?) but the money is a big part of it.

The days I dream of grad school, I have to remind myself how much debt I'll be in at 30, versus the non grad school route where I can possibly reach a networth of $100k or more by 30. If I end up having kids and wanting to stay home with them, why even bother with grad school?

Meanwhile, my boyfriend has barely any savings, no Roth IRA, no retirement accounts, and is planning to go to grad school -- at least for his masters, probably for his PhD. So we'll likely have his debts to deal with. Why bother adding mine? We can't do that if we want to have children. I really need to have kids in my early 30s... I will have to go through in vitro and all that fun due to my PCOS, and having children will probably cost $20k+ a pop. I'm not just making these money concerns up.

What do you think? Do you have children? When did you have your kids? How much did you have in net worth when you had children? Do you think it's silly for me to be this concerned about money before having kids?