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Well-heeled means not wearing Manolo Blahniks

Pearl Bailey once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor and honey, rich is better.” I know I’ve certainly been poor at times in my life and it was not fun. Not having money can mean living a simple, happy, uncomplicated life but in today’s world it more often means worrying about not having enough to pay our bills, how to save for a home or vacations, or the big one, how to retire comfortably.

well heeledAfter hearing the young author interviewed on the radio, I just finished reading a book called “Well-Heeled – The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting Rich” by Alberta’s Lesley-Anne Scorgie. Well-Heeled is one of the best books I’ve come across for providing practical advice for young twenty and thirty-something women about how to best manage their money.

When Boomers were growing up in the fifties and sixties, credit cards were not part of our vocabulary or our parents’. Visa and Mastercard did not exist so other than Diners’ Club for traveling businessmen, everyone paid cash for everything they purchased. I clearly remember paying cash to my dentist in the late sixties ($35.00, which was half my weekly salary) when I went for checkups and cash to my doctor for piercing my ears (the old-fashioned way with a needle). We paid cash for shoes, clothes and gifts. Charge accounts at major department stores were available but of no use to anyone in our small town where there was no Eatons or Simpson’s store. We did have mail order offices for Eatons and Simpsons but it was rare for anyone to use a credit card back then. Business was strictly cash.

As a result of not having the option of charging frivolous purchases to credit cards , we were perhaps more cautious with our pennies. Boomers started working full-time in the mid-sixties and when we saw a blouse we liked, we either had to go to the bank on our lunch hour and withdraw the cash from our savings account (and banks were only open between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. back in the olden days) or write a cheque which involved the inconvenience of filling out a detailed information form and having it approved by the store manager. I remember once at the old Savette store at Dundas Street West and Roncesvalles purchasing a kitchen table. When I wrote a cheque for it they even took my picture for future reference.

Financial problems can ruin a relationship.
Financial problems can ruin a relationship.

I’m horrified as I watch Gail Vaz Oxlade’s Til Debt Do Us Part show on television. The show often features young couples who, despite receiving sometimes as much as $200,000.00 in wedding gift money have managed to rack up $90,000.00 in consumer credit card debt. Did no one teach them about managing money? I think the more likely cause is that parents were always there to give these young people everything they wanted and bail them out when they ran into financial trouble.  I finally had to quit watching the programme as I got too frustrated and depressed watching the idiocy. Financial troubles are a major cause of breakups among young couples. It is very important to not only be smart about money yourself but to make sure your partner is on the same page.

debt1If young women would listen to only one piece of advice it would be to stress the importance of financial independence. And the simple reason is that having a nest egg means you have options. When I was in my fifties during the recession that lasted most of the 1990s, I was broke. It was difficult to find work and it was incredibly stressful because I had no financial resources to draw on. After reading Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin I decided to give up self-employment and re-enter the corporate world. This would assure me of a regular paycheque, health benefits and a chance at building some retirement equity. It worked. But I wish I’d been more frugal in the 70s and 80s when I was blowing my hard-earned bucks on $800.00 ultra-suede power suits and silk blouses. Being able to distinguish between needs and wants is an important first step. Scorgie outlines more steps young women can follow to achieve security.

Being a financially-savy young woman is not only smart, it’s sexy. The late Helen Gurley-Brown, former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine said that one of the reasons her husband David Brown (producer of such block-buster movies as Jaws) was attracted to her was because he appreciated that she had been smart enough to own her own (used) Mercedes that she’d paid cash for. When we’re fifty years old and out of work or wanting a life-style change, the credit card debt we accrued buying that Coach handbag or “I-just-needed-to-get-away” trip to Cuba will be an enormous ball and chain around a young woman’s ankle. In Scorgie’s words, “If it’s on your ass, it’s not an asset!”

Financial security is really about freedom.
Financial security is really about freedom.

In the course of reading Well-Heeled even this old Boomer learned a few things I didn’t know, such as, you can arrange for your bank to automatically transfer the money out of your chequing account to your credit card on the same day you make the purchase on your credit card so you will have zero balance at the end of each month. That means you know exactly where you stand on a daily basis. I often get confused about my credit card balance as it’s shown on my on-line statement and when it is due. They never seem to jibe. When I got my first credit card in the seventies, I diligently kept a running list on a piece of paper in my wallet, like a cheque book, of every purchase and the amount spent each time I used my credit card so I wouldn’t have a heart attack when the bill arrived. Scorgie also provides several excellent website addresses for tracking, planning and saving tools such as Mint.com and bank websites. I plan to check out the one she recommends for calculating how much retirement income we’ll need.

Lesley-Anne Scorgie is an excellent example of what can be accomplished by young women with smart financial planning. She has guested on Oprah and other television programs as a result of her personal successes. Well-Heeled is written to get young women started on the right foot or get them back on track if they’ve fallen off the rails. If you have a daughter or granddaughter or know a young woman who could benefit from learning how to better manage her money, please get on-line (here’s the link “Well-Heeled – The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting Rich“) and send her this book. Everyone deserves to have the options and freedom that financial security can bring.

 

 

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It is written, therefore it is . . . retained

Albert Einstein was once asked a simple question for which he did not have the answer. The world-renowned genius’ response was, “I don’t clutter my head with things that can be found in a book.”.  I knew there was a reason that story has stayed with me. And I certainly don’t clutter my head with anything I can do without.

mindThe journal Psychological Science reports that tests on university students who hand-wrote their class notes instead of typing them on a laptop had better retention of what they were learning. The Cleveland Browns of the NFL have put this knowledge to practical use and now require that their players write team strategies by hand. According to Dr. Daniel  J. Levitin, author of Organized Mind, professor and neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, our brain has only so much capacity for retained information so we should not clutter it with useless information. The human brain works much like our laptops. We have ROM for functioning and RAM for storing data and I certainly wouldn’t like my RAM to jam. It might affect my ROM and then I’d be royally screwed.

On an everyday level we can all relate to the importance of “To Do” lists in our lives. If we write down a task and enjoy the act of stroking it out when it’s completed, we feel satisfied and less stressed. Taking this a step further, Dr. Levitin suggests that making “To Do” lists is a kind of mental clutter that should be dispensed with in favour of breaking down the tasks. We should put each task or piece of information on a separate piece of paper such as an index card to free the brain from what he calls “rehearsal loop” or replaying of an idea or task repeatedly to remember it. Students practise this technique by writing and rewriting information on flash cards or index cards to etch it in their brains for exams. Stupid me—I just tried to memorize everything and was rewarded with dismal results.

Here's what my daily production schedule looks like.
Here’s what my daily production schedule looks like.

However, maybe I have genius potential after all. A few years ago, after I retired I ditched my “To Do” list system in favour of putting sticky Post-In notes on my kitchen cupboard doors. After I complete the ironing sticky note, I gleefully rip it off and stash in the drawer for re-use next time. This system works beautifully and keeps me organized and stress-free. Perhaps Dr. Levitin would like to research my brain. I’m amazing at retaining garbage but have trouble remembering the simple sequence of the three buttons I need to push on the remote to engage my PVR. Fortunately, I wrote it down on a stickie that I keep beside the remote. Otherwise my life would be chaos. Now it’s Guide, Record, Select. Simple, but I can only retain that information as long as it’s written on a yellow stickie. It’s genius.

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To “e” or not to “e”, that is the question

reading5Digital e-readers are becoming increasingly more popular and are available in different devices to suit most individual preferences and pocketbooks. A divide does exist, however, between those who have embraced the new technology and those who prefer the traditional hard or soft-cover paper version. I have one foot firmly planted in each camp. On one hand, I love the convenience of downloading books from a retailer or the library from the comfort of my LaZ-Girl chair with a lovely cup of tea at my side. On the other hand, I’m a dedicated fan of cracking open a wonderful new book, the old-fashioned kind with ink imprinted on paper. I admit to sometimes even bringing the paper version up to my face so I can smell the wonderful musty aroma. Older books have a very special warm-sunny-day-sitting-in-a-chair-by-the window dusty smell that only enhances the reading experience.

Over the past few years I’ve acquired four e-reading devices and I’m still not satisfied that I’ve achieved e-reader nirvana. Here’s an outline of the steps in my quest for the ultimate, perfect device:

  1. My first e-reader was a rather hefty and expensive (at the time) Kindle that I purchased shortly after they launched. I incorrectly concluded that bigger and more expensive would be better and would minimize the obsolescence factor. I found that first Kindle to be too big and heavy and passed it along to a grandson.
  2. The smaller, pocket-book-sized Kindle proved to be perfect for toting along in my purse but because of Amazon’s proprietary software I couldn’t download library books. Back to the mall.
  3. The next, and most expensive step was to purchase an iPad so I could add e-mail capabilities, colour screen, durability, reputation and web-searching benefits to my list of performance enhancers.  I loved being able to carry it around for web-browsing and e-mailing but before long, I again found it too big and heavy for everyday reading. Start the car! (Unlike a trip to IKEA, this quest is costing a lot of money.)
  4. reading4The Kobo seemed like the next logical step. Available at Chapters/Indigo, they had several models with various features and a wide range of price points. Previous experience with my first Kindle and iPad told me that bigger and most expensive was not necessarily the best way to go, so I opted for the Kobo Touch which is their least expensive version. I’m embarrassed to say that I still have not achieved e-reader perfection. My new little Kobo is a joy to carry around as it’s light as a feather and takes up hardly any room in my purse but it’s a bit hard to read in low light, such as reading in bed with poor lighting.

Looking back at my checkered past in e-reader experimentation, I now think I should have purchased an iPad mini or similar Kobo device with internet, colour and web-browsing capabilities. These devices will never replace my laptop for word processing but they definitely have value and are a joy to use. My second little Kindle would have been perfect except I’m now a colour-screen snob who likes to download from the library and my little Kindle can’t accommodate that.

Regrets, I have a few.
Regrets, I have a few.

In the meantime, I’ve pre-ordered an old-fashioned hardcover copy of Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity, Book Three of the Century Trilogy. At more than eleven hundred pages, that should keep me busy for awhile and keep my mind off the tempting virtues of an iPad mini. I absolutely can’t wait to dig into Edge of Eternity and by the time I finish I should have steroid-worthy biceps and snoot full of lovely paper and ink smells. By then it should be Christmas-e time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This #GIRLBOSS has her sh$# together

sophia4The first time I heard the name Sophia Amoruso was during a radio interview when she was promoting her new book, “#GIRLBOSS“. This 20-something young woman was describing her path to becoming owner of a highly-successful on-line retail fashion business called Nasty Gal. Her business smarts were remarkable for someone so young and my heart sang when she outlined her advice based on lessons learned that were so in-line with my own that I couldn’t wait to read her book.

Amoruso was the rebellious only child of baby boomers who grew up in San Francisco. Diagnosed with ADD, she was always swimming against the current and attended a different school nearly every year. Never a conscientious or cooperative student, she distinguished herself by wearing strange vintage clothing and generally resisting all efforts by her parents and teachers to conform.

sophia1Leaving home before finishing high school, Amoruso bounced around living the life of a young vagrant who managed to keep herself fed and clothed by dumpster diving and shoplifting. With a peculiar knack for sourcing and selling unique vintage clothing found at thrift and charity shops, she started selling her finds on eBay. This was the beginning of her understanding of the basic principles of work and reward, profit and loss.

Before long, she set up her own website for selling vintage merchandise and like most beginning entrepreneurs she did everything herself including buying, repairing, cleaning, merchandising, packing, and shipping her fashion finds herself. She soon recruited a friend to help and grew her business to 350 employees and annual sales in excess of $100 million in vintage and new clothing sales shipped to customers around the world.

sophia3Still only in her 20’s, Amoruso is an example worth paying attention to. Because she had no credit, her entire business was built on whatever income she generated, her own hard work, a genuine love for what she was doing and  turning the profits she made back into the business. There were no well-researched business plans, bank loans, fancy offices or early investors involved.

I loved the book. I endorse her philosophy. And I highly recommend her book. She’s a kind of anti-Sheryl-Sandberg example in that she had no educational or financial advantages. The business she created confirms that a successful career based on hard work, an original idea and perseverance can be achieved. Good fortune is earned and Amoruso used her own no-cost resources to become her own boss and a successful one to boot.

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Elizabeth is Missing

elizabethFor a debut novel, Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing is remarkable. The book combines understanding and empathy for dementia with mystery and suspense. Maud Horsham is in her 80’s and while still living in her own home with the assistance of her daughter and a daily caregiver, she struggles with the challenges of memory loss and confusion associated with geriatric dementia. She writes copious sticky notes to herself which she stuffs into her pockets to prompt her memory while her caregiver and daughter leave similar notes stuck to walls and doors around the house to help Maud retain a sense of reality and perspective.

When Maud cannot contact her only remaining friend, Elizabeth, she enters a world of fear, confusion and frustration when no one takes her concerns seriously. She has stopped by Elizabeth’s house, contacted Elizabeth’s son, gone to the police and even placed an ad in the local paper to help locate her friend. This loss is tumbled in her brain with the loss of her beloved only sister Suki after World War II, a disappearance that was never adequately explained.
The early half of the book was at times a bit slow as the reader wades through lengthy internal dialogues Maud engages in to try to make sense of her thoughts and actions. While I understand it is all part of setting the scene, I became frustrated at times with the lack of progress. This little stumble in my opinion is minor compared with the overall cleverness of the plot. It was a fast read and as it picked up momentum toward the end I couldn’t put it down. I’d give it eight out of 10.
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Heather O’Neill bangs it home

saturdayWaiting more than two months to download Heather O’Neill’s new book, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night  from the library was worth the wait. I have a soft spot for Canadian authors and I enjoyed O’Neill’s debut novel Lullabies for Little Criminals enormously. She writes about the grittier side of life in Montreal, Quebec through the eyes of a young teenager in her first book and a 20-year-old in The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. The main character, Noushcka is the twin sister of Nicholas. They are the illegitimate children of a legendary 1970’s Québécois folksinger Étienne Tremblay and his one-night stand with a 14-year-old girl. The twins were abandoned at birth to their paternal grandparents who raised them in the rough Boulevard Saint-Laurent neighbourhood on the island in Montreal.

An English teacher would be impressed with O’Neill’s frequent and graphic use of similes and metaphors. Her descriptions of cats are sensitive and painterly, “A calico cat was sleeping on its back, like a girl in grey stockings with her skirt pulled up over her hips.” Twins Nouskcka and Nicholas were raised during their impressionable teenage years by their aging grandfather, Loulou on his own after the death of his wife. They drop out of school and despite Loulou’s best efforts they inevitably screw up.

Both twins are precocious and Noushcka in particular displays potential for rising above her circumstances. She is intelligent and is trying to earn a better education at night school so she can become a writer. Predictably, they hang around with the wrong people and get into trouble as a result of being irresponsible and emotionally immature. Like many twins, they share a special psychic bond and feel lost and diminished without the physical presence of the other twin. Emotionally immature Noushcka vacillates between displays of childishness and mature assessment.

As the children of an absentee father who is also a confirmed Separatist, both Noushcka and Nicholas have a strong interest in the political climate in Quebec. The fact that they have hardly ventured further than a few kilometers from their Boulevard Saint-Laurent neighbourhood helps explain their lack of perspective and their naivety. This aspect of their personalities reminded me of people I’ve met in the southern United States known as “crackers” who have often never set foot beyond 15 miles of where they were born. These people have a rather peculiar and innocent lack of knowledge and understanding about how real life functions beyond the confines of their own small community.

blueThe narrative of the book reminded me of two movies I rather enjoyed. In Blue Valentine with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, the lead characters fall into the same destructive behavioural patterns as Noushcka and Nicholas. The same fate awaited Drew Barrymore’s character in Riding in Cars With Boys.

ridingThe ending in The Girl Who Was Saturday Night caught me a bit off-guard but I’m not going to spoil it. You’ll have to read it and draw your own conclusions. The book is a clever, well-written description of contemporary life in a small corner of Montreal. I’d give it 8 out 10.

 

 

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