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The Last $Monday: Dumpster Dived FIRE

The cursed year 2020 is finally ending! Let us warm our cold, tired bodies beside this dumpster fire and, before it goes out, dive in to salvage the embers that will spark new joys in 2021. For example, this is the last $Monday post I am going to write for " Money Money 2020 ," but it won't be the last time I write about money at all. I am simply going to change my focus to clarify that money is a means, not an end--and that personal finance isn't the only means to achieve our ends. During the 2010s, many of us were briefly interested in the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early) and ultimately discarded it as neither practical nor joyful for most people, because it only works if you can score yourself a six-figure income as a young adult (unrealistic for most Americans) and if your big life goals can wait until you're middle-aged (in other words, if you're willing to risk running out of time before running out of money ).  There are components

$Monday: Poop Your Problems Away

Grandma always said eat your fiber. And now Grandma is in her 90s and still sharp and chic, so I've baked this whole grain banana bread with flax seeds to share for her birthday. This week's bougie financial advice was inspired by last week's birthday cake binge. I bought a sheet cake for my daughter's party, and the children only ate 2/3 of it. I was happy to take the rest home, because I enjoy having a sweet treat with my morning coffee. For a week after the party, I started each day with a little piece of birthday cake and a latte. Dreamy, right? This proved to be a lesson in what happens when you make a habit (even for just one week) out of a special occasion treat when you're used to a fairly healthy lifestyle and you're over age 35. Holy poop. Like Homer Simpson, I refused to stop eating the treat before it was gone, so I soldiered on through a spiraling cycle of indigestion, fatigue, anxiety, lowered productivity, and sleep trouble. But but but

My Kitchen Is a Dirty, Empty Box

My kitchen is demolished! Goodbye, soffits! Goodbye, can lights that never worked and dead outlets and bad fire-hazard electrical circuits! Goodbye, busted hinges and wonky drawers and peeling laminate cabinets! Goodbye, moldy plywood and crumbling tile countertops! Goodbye, load of rubble I drove to the dump in my rusty old pickup truck! Goodbye, goofy tile backsplash and chunks of various glues! This week, we'll say goodbye to corroded pipes and have some new plumbing stubbed in before we install new cabinetry. Soon, we'll get to start adding new stuff to this empty box! Tomorrow, I'll get a quick YouTube education in how to plaster a ceiling. I have never done a demolition or construction project before, so this is all stressful and scary, yet exciting. It's nicely metaphorical to gut and re-imagine a living space as the whole human world feels its way out of the worst (we hope) of a historic pandemic and thinks carefully about rebuilding differently than how things

A Good, Clean Spring Break

Happy Easter Monday! Today, vaccine eligibility in Michigan extends to all adults!! Those vaccines cannot be rolled out quickly enough here in Michigan, currently the #1 state to catch coronavirus. Michigan's infections have blown up over the past month, reaching the height of last fall's surge with no sign of turning a corner yet. Many people are so mentally done with the pandemic that they are living in complete denial by now, traveling for fun and getting faced in restaurants and bars and socializing sloppily with pretty much anyone, while our state and local governments live in fear of violent uprisings against any new public health measures, so vaccines are our only hope. My parents and my husband will soon receive their second shots, and I hope to get an appointment for my first shot soon. However, our preteen daughter won't have a vaccine available to her age group (which is leading this current surge) until next year. So while we are celebrating, we're being goo

$Monday: All Heroes Wear Masks

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And less than one ounce of vaccine can end the threat of Covid-19! It has taken the hard work of so many masked heroes to get us here--the doctors, the nurses, the scientists, the grocery workers, the bicycle and auto mechanics, the childcare providers, the pilots, the truck drivers, the security guards, the janitors and cleaners, the construction workers and handy people, the food distribution volunteers, the social workers, and too many others to name--but a lot of us are still here at the end of 2020, and we owe our present and future health to our network of mostly undervalued essential workers, volunteers, and unpaid laborers. Thanks to all of them, the end of the pandemic is finally within our reach! My husband has been working as "Santa's elf" (UPS air loader/unloader) for over 15 years, but this is the first time he's been on the front page of national news for it! It isn't the first time he's worked an

$Monday: Dreaming of a Wise Christmas

It's a tough holiday season for the half of Americans whose finances have taken a hit in 2020, especially families with children. And yet, we can make it a profoundly meaningful holiday. The pandemic is a tragedy of what you might call Biblical proportions. Paradoxically, that presents a unique opportunity for us to get serious about the reasons for the season. Think of all the Christmas and winter-holiday stories you know, from ancient times to the New Testament to classic cartoons and holiday films . Can you think of any that don't involve the overcoming of a terrible hardship? How many involve poverty and deprivation, like the Biblical Christmas story itself? This is the year of all years to shift our focus from greed and gluttony to love and hope and faith... from flashy vanity to quiet sparkles in the dark . If you have children, you are most likely experiencing some kind of financial hardship this year. Let go of the idea that you must buy your children a pile of toys. Ch

$Monday: Money Money 2020 Part II: Told Ya So!

What a gift to old millennials and young gen Xers! The Network hath blessed us with a sudden and prolific follow-up to Money Money 2020 in 2003 : Money Money 2020 Part II: Told Ya So! I feel so in touch with my inner teenager. Who's ready to mosh?  At home! By ourselves!! Like back in the day, when the scalpers had cleaned out Ticketmaster and you put the radio station phone number on speed dial but still weren't the seventh caller!!! My husband and I were already listening to our old Money Money 2020 CD earlier this year and laughing about the dystopian year foretold by Billie Joe Armstrong (oops, I mean totally NOT Billie Joe). And now The Network has arisen from vintage obscurity to proclaim NEENER NEENER to the world! It's funny how right they were that 2020 would be a terrible year. But isn't that great? 2020 is a dumpster fire for sure, but not everything is worse now than it was 17 years ago. Unlike in 2003, for example, we don't need illegal file-sharing

$Monday: The Best Pandemic Gifts Are Local or Literary

Or both! 2020 is the year to cross most people off of your gift shopping list (unless you're wealthy, in which case, ho ho ho!) and give fewer, specialer things. It's the thought that counts, not the price tag, so homemade items express warmth and personal care whether you make them yourself or buy them from a local vendor offering contactless pickup or delivery. Unique, local goods purchased from good old-fashioned mom-and-pop stores are lovely, and it has never been more important to shop local if you don't want all your cute downtown storefronts swapped out for another Walmart or Amazon warehouse. In a pandemic, it has also become more attractive than ever before to dive into the Jólabókaflóð spirit! Giving and receiving books is my own favorite kind of gifting, whether the books are pre-owned, picked up at a charming local book shop, or ordered on bookshop.org . Can't afford to support your favorite small businesses by shopping as much as you'd like? That's

$Monday: The Life-Preserving Magic of Hunkering Down

Here I am trying to show off the new silver streak in my hair that matches all my cozy gray loungewear. There's no banishing the gray this year--the hair, the clouds gathering outside, the moods of quarantine, the mental fog--so we might as well embrace it with as much warmth and compassion as we can. In a dreadful and lonely time, my anxiety tells me I need to get out and do more, to do people favors, to keep someone company, to reach out, to find a change of scene, to earn more money in case of financial disaster, but my rational mind knows that the most helpful thing I can do for my family and community during a pandemic is to hunker down.  Settle in, simmer down, think small and simple and safe. Make smart, long-term investments of time, attention, energy, and resources for the next year. This is not the season to hustle and produce more, it’s time to wait patiently and conserve. The best most of us can do right now is damage control. A pandemic is no time for big risks or gamb

$Monday: A Room of Her Own (Pandemic Tween Bedroom Makeover)

Before the pandemic struck, my family had planned to use every last bit of our spare time and cash in 2020 on badly needed updates to our deteriorating kitchen and main bathroom. We were going to start the work in the spring or summer, when we could have windows open for ventilation (just for the dust and fumes! ha!), and then the pandemic came along and shifted our priorities. We spent part of our stimulus check on an electric log splitter, a new fridge and dishwasher to replace our breaking-down old ones, and one professional plumbing fix. We postponed all cosmetic and non-emergency kitchen and bath work, made ourselves a temporary pantry in a torn-out hole in our kitchen, and invested the rest of our renovation funds (and my year's worth of vacation time) into a bedroom makeover for our nine-year-old daughter. The pandemic made it less important (because we aren't having guests inside the house) and more dangerous (because of the likely need to bring in professionals) to co

$Monday: Grant Her Your Clearness of Sight

If you have a daughter, you may recognize this excerpt from Neil Gaiman's picture book Blueberry Girl .  Ladies of grace and ladies of favor and ladies of merciful night, This is a prayer for a blueberry girl. Grant her your clearness of sight. Words can be worrisome, people complex, motives and manners unclear, Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear.  This week, I took my daughter to the optometrist for her annual new pair of glasses. Unfortunately, she has inherited my severe myopia. Fortunately, she has access to comprehensive vision care , which has a huge return on investment (ROI) across the lifespan, allowing her to succeed academically. (America, maybe soon we can finally achieve comprehensive health, vision, and dental care for all children!) While I never would have chosen for my daughter to inherit my nearsightedness, there are always unique experiences available to those who perceive the world differently. My daughter receives the a

$Monday: Make Space for Survival

Never underestimate the value of empty space. To stay virus-free, you need literal breathing space. To stock up your pantry, you need shelf space. To stay physically flexible and strong, you need workout space. To do anything meaningful, you need space in your schedule. To stay sane, you need personal space and the time to enjoy it. To eat something wholesome, you need space in your belly. To save money for the next emergency, you need a sustained, negative space between your expenses and your income--no matter how much you earn. This is a critical time to avoid extremes. Invest in efforts to protect balance wherever you can in your life, because the national crises of pandemic, economic and supply chain disruptions, natural disasters fueled by climate change, and the rise of fascist ideologies are all continuing to ramp up. This winter, aspire to be a metaphorical fat bear with a den big enough for you to hibernate in. However, literal human body fatness should be neither a goal nor a

TBT: Day to Night Fashion with Office Supplies

Remember nine months or a dozen years ago or whatever, when we used to go to work at the office building and then go to parties afterward? I wrote the post below in a different time, when transitioning quickly from office to party attire was a concern. Now it's 2020, and "day to night fashion" means changing out of the pajamas / athleisure that can pass as real clothes on a Zoom video and slipping into our regular sleeping pajamas. By the way, that neon-dyed jute fiber and seed necklace I'm wearing in the pictures below is the one a man ran across the street to ask me about in last Monday's post about worthwhile travel . This is all painfully nostalgic. Day to Night Fashion with Office Supplies Yesterday, I worked until 6:30, and a friend's birthday party started at 6:00. I wanted to dress up a little for my friend's 30th, but I didn't want to spend a lot of time getting changed at work before rushing over there. So I brought a piece of sari silk that

$Monday: Priceless Travel Preserves

In my teens and 20s, I jumped on a few personal and educational opportunities to travel to places I couldn't afford to just go and visit as a tourist. I wondered what it would be like to book vacations at international resorts like the rich kids at my private high school and college, but now, looking back, I'm grateful that I didn't have the means to treat the world like a safari or a theme park. I couldn't be a tourist, so I went places as a student or an invited guest. Now I appreciate that I was able to access deep, rich, immersive experiences that I had to pay for with pride, innocence, and comfort rather than a lot of money. My travels weren't consistently pleasant or fun or easy, but they were meaningful. Visceral challenges mixed with ecstatic thrills to make me feel more alive and human than I ever had before. They changed me, made me grow, and infused my memories with a store of what Till Lindemann calls "travel preserves." Till likes to go on sur