New Home

I’ve finally gotten off my duff and moved all my blogs to my very own site. What does that mean for you? Well, if you primarily read my blog from my Facebook updates, you don’t have to do anything! YAY! If you happen to use an RSS Reader such as Feedly, then please take the time to re-subscribe at my new Mandarin Mama site. If you primarily read through WordPress, you should still be able to subscribe through WordPress at the new site.

The site shouldn’t look too different since I would rather get something up than make a ton of fancy changes only to never make the transition. I know I often fall victim to perfectionism and as a result, procrastinate until some arbitrary “perfect” state which, of course, never arrives in a timely manner (if ever).

Now that I am older and hopefully wiser, I am more okay with the idea that “good enough” is perfectly good enough. I don’t have to have everything perfect and final right out the gate. In true fact, the creative process is rarely like that. (I know. I’ve written about this before.) Of course, since I love detailed and well working systems, this chafes at my inner anal retentive crazy person. But as my old boss used to say, “A mediocre plan executed perfectly is better than a perfect plan executed mediocrely.” Or something like that.

Besides, the beauty of life is that it is always a work in progress. This site (like life), can have one iteration now and a different iteration later. There is nothing wrong with that. I know. So boring when I’m blabbing on and on about the site (“But it’s a metaphor,” she said pretentiously) when who cares as long as it’s working?

Very well. Moving on! (Pun intended. I’m here all week, folks.)

Speaking of new homes, we’ve been at our current house for about 4.5 years and it STILL has mostly bare walls (except for the wall I’ve designated for all of Cookie Monster and Gamera). I am TERRIBLE at interior decorating and my house is so boring and over-run with toys and functional furniture. There are no interesting eye-catching pieces and we will never be featured in a magazine.

Part of me thinks that when the kids are older, we’ll hire someone and re-decorate and be all fancy and modern. (I do enjoy the modern look.) However, I doubt that will happen because even though I like the LOOK of modern furniture and pretty, sleek designs, it doesn’t seem very ME, if that makes sense. I think I am much more of a comfy, slouchy sofa and well-loved furniture type. Also, I HATE knickknacks and clutter. (I do well enough cluttering up my house, thanks!) But perhaps, someone can spruce “me” up a bit. This will be at least a decade off, so I suppose there is no sense in worrying about it now.

Anyhow, hope you like the new place! 😉

What I Learned On My Girls’ Weekend Getaway

This past weekend, a few fellow mommies and I went to SF for a Girls’ Weekend out. We lolled about, walked without considering small children, ate a ton and drank in the day time! Heck, we even drank at night! Awesome! It was so enjoyable and relaxing and truly fun. Thanks, ladies and husbands!

Here are a few things I learned this weekend on my first weekend trip without the kids in two years.

1) I didn’t really miss my children. Not even the baby. But I did talk about them at least 65% of the time and checked in with Hapa Papa every few hours.

2) Hapa Papa did fantastic with all three kids – even without having lactating breasts! Clearly, this is a sign that I need to leave more often.

3) Getting to know new friends is really fun. I’ve slowly been getting to know some of the moms at Cookie Monster’s preschool better and it has been wonderful. I don’t know why I worried so much about getting along with the other mommies. It gives me great hope for the future when the kids start elementary school.

4) Finding out what the other moms did before becoming SAHMs was a revelation. In our group, we had two lawyers, one child psychologist/school counselor, a financial advisor, and a preschool teacher. I had the least amount of education out of them all. They were all slumming it!

5) There is such a thing as too much chocolate. We attended a chocolate festival at Fort Mason and by the end, I was a bit sick of chocolate. Also, turns out I prefer truffles over bars. The best thing that I put in my mouth this weekend.

6) Valet parking in SF is totally worth it.

7) After attending an Asian American Film Festival, I realized I might have to start putting my money where my mouth is. If I want to see more Asians in film, I need to support their work.

8) Even though I’ve had my pixie cut for at least a month, I’m still not used to my new look. I am constantly surprised when I see myself in pictures and reflective surfaces.

9) I still get carsick.

10) Things that I might’ve found titillating or risqué a few years ago are now boring and contrived. Not because I am jaded or inured to sex. I’m just older and wiser and find some of the more desperate actions really sad.

11) I can’t control myself in bookstores. Especially when it comes to books that feature Chinese or Japanese stories for the kids. I’m also a sucker for coffee table books with tons of art/pictures.

12) Staying up until 3am chatting is better than sleep.

13) After coming home, say, “Thank you” to Hapa Papa and try to curb the urge to point out everything you see that is wrong with the house. It makes Hapa Papa feel shitty and me seem like an ungrateful jerk. Which I was for a few moments. Sorry, Hapa Papa. You are an awesome dad and husband and I am so fortunate to have you.

Since all the husbands performed admirably (one hit it out of the park by taking his boys on a spur of the moment camping trip to Santa Cruz), we clearly can leave our children more often. Any suggestions of where to go and what to do next?

The Myth of Meritocracy

ETA: Apparently, this post has attracted a lot of attention. (Much to my surprise although Hapa Papa has graciously mocked me with, “Do you NOT know how the internet works?”) At any rate, if you are new to my blog, might I kindly steer you to my Site Disclaimer & Comment Policy? You don’t have to read it, but you are responsible for adhering to it. I don’t mind if you disagree with me – that is totally your right. Just like it is my right to not allow any personally insulting or attacking comments. Free speech is guaranteed by the government, not my blog. 

When Hapa Papa and I were first dating, he used to mock me for using big words in common, every day speech. He told me that I was being an elitist and that no one normal could understand me so I should stop showing off. I was greatly offended. I told him, “I had twenty SAT words drilled in my head every week from the 7th grade through Senior year in high school. I read over a hundred books a year. These words are a part of my vocabulary. What the hell were YOU doing in high school? Didn’t you study for the SAT?”

Hapa Papa just shrugged and said that he took the SATs once during his senior year. He didn’t study for it. Didn’t really know he could study for it. He just showed up to take the SAT his senior year. His parents had never spoken to him about college other than telling him he couldn’t go to an expensive one. He assumed he’d attend a community college or something like that. His parents didn’t encourage him to go to college. (ETA: For those of you who are new to my site, Hapa Papa is half Japanese and half German. I am Pro SCA5 even at the supposed detriment to my own children.) He knew nothing about college applications. No counselors told him what to do. He only took one AP class (he can’t remember which subject: English or History) and applied only to one school, Cal State LA (CSULA), and got in (along with some scholarships). That’s it.

I was astounded. More like incredulous. I thought his parents and school were horrible.

“They didn’t tell you anything? You didn’t study at all? You just, ‘showed up’ one day to take the test?”

“Yep.”

“Did you go to school in the inner city? Are LA schools really that bad? How is it possible you did not know ANYTHING?”

My sheltered little brain couldn’t conceive of a world in which the parents and teachers did not provide a united push for the sole goal of getting their kids into college. The thing is, Hapa Papa actually went to a pretty good school in LA. (The school where they filmed Grease.) College just wasn’t a big deal for him or his parents. Even now, I still have trouble processing this fact.

This scenario of his would have NEVER occurred in my family or my friends’ families. NEVER. As in IMPOSSIBLE. ZERO% chance.

By the time I was in 7th grade, the next six years of my educational life were geared solely to get into college. I had tutors. Bought SAT books. Took as many AP classes as possible. Joined extracurricular activities in order to look good on my college applications. Took summer school for “easy” throw away classes so I could make room for more AP classes. I had piano and voice lessons. I was in choir and marching band and the Colorguard. Took the SATs (both the original SATs and then the SAT I and II) multiple times in multiple years. Took PSATs. Took assessment tests for the standardized tests. Took multiple AP tests. Went to college fairs and information sessions. Our classes were geared to getting us into as well as succeeding at college.

All my friends were like me to varying degrees. My best friends made up the top 5% of my class and I rounded it out, the dumbest of all my super smart friends. And even then, my weighted high school GPA was well over 4.0. (I’d tell you the exact number but I really don’t remember.) College was NEVER not an option.

Another time, we were hanging out with Hapa Papa’s CSULA friends, (who incidentally, were mostly Latino), and they started reminiscing about college. Wanting to contribute to the conversation and bond with them, I started talking about the dorm life and how the cafeteria food was amazing and like restaurant quality when I realized his friends had all fallen silent and just kind of gave me a blank stare. Embarrassed, my voice petered out and never finished what I had started to say.

Later, Hapa Papa gave me shit for being completely tone deaf to the situation. His friends worked through school and either lived with their parents or in the super cheap fraternity house. Their dorms weren’t fancy and they didn’t have amazing restaurant quality cafeterias. He called me a spoiled little rich girl. I felt foolish and ashamed.

I remember a Latino friend at UCLA telling me how angry he was when he realized just how different his schooling was from the majority of other UCLA students. He felt constantly out of place and kept thinking he didn’t deserve to be at campus even though he was in the top of his high school. He had started to think he was stupid and slow at picking things up when he realized it wasn’t because he was stupid. It was because the other students had ALREADY learned these subjects in high school and were taking them again for an easy “A.”

I remember a black friend at UCLA who was clearly smarter than me, worked harder than me, came from a similar socioeconomic background and completely deserved to be at UCLA and yet, people always assumed he got in because of affirmative action. Even back when I was at UCLA, a time before Prop 209 killed affirmative action, at most there were one or two black students in my classes of three hundred. There were so few black people on campus, even though the student population in the late 1990s was approximately 35,000, they knew all the other black students by sight if not by name.

Where am I going with all this?

This past week, I have seen many of my Asian friends post “No on SCA5” on their Facebook feeds, linking articles on how the bill is racist and discriminatory and how it is a new version of the Chinese Exclusion ActSCA5 would repeal provisions of Prop 209 and allow the State of California to deny an individual or group’s rights to public education on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. In layman’s terms, SCA5 would re-allow CA to use race as admissions criteria for UCs and CSUs. Basically, to re-allow affirmative action in UCs and CSUs.

According to UC data, the UC’s 2013 freshman class was 36% Asian, 28.1% white, 27.6% Latino and 4.2% black. At some campuses, including UC San Diego and UC Irvine, Asians are more than 45% of admitted freshmen this year. As of 2010, Asians made up only 14.9% of CA’s population.

If SCA5 passes and UCs and CSUs want to increase Latino and black student populations, due to the immutable properties of math, Asian and white student populations will decrease. And since Asians make up the predominant group, it is highly likely Asians would be the most affected. Understandably, many people (especially Asians) are up in arms over this.

I get why my Asian friends are angry and upset over SCA5. When I was applying for colleges, I remember debating whether or not I should tick off “Asian” when applying. After all, that could hurt my chances to get into school. And now, if SCA5 passes and isn’t repealed, when it comes turn for my children to attend university, their chances of getting into their colleges of choice will also be impacted.

It doesn’t seem fair. Why should blacks, Latinos, and heck, whites, get my kids’ spot just because of their race? They should work hard, get good grades and EARN their way – just like the rest of us.

But what is fair? On the surface, merit-based ONLY (the status quo) seems fair. But is it?

I want meritocracy to be true. I don’t want to admit that I did not get to where I am by myself – that I had help. But truthfully, I did. I benefited from tutors, better teachers, schools, and environment. I grew up without the expectation of violence. I had trusted advisors (who had already gone to college) show me what I needed to do in order to get into UCLA or similar institutions. Many of my extra-curricular activities were possible because my family had enough money so that A) I could do these things and pay for the materials they required and B) I wouldn’t have to work because I wasn’t expected to contribute to the family income.

In addition, I grew up in an environment where attending college was the rule not the exception. Being Taiwanese and the daughter of two MBA graduates makes it assumed that I would make good grades and go to a good school. Whatever you think of the “model minority myth,” society constantly reinforced the idea that I was smart, great at math and sciences, and would likely become a doctor.

I want to believe that I am singularly awesome and responsible for my success. I don’t want to believe that the black or Latino student who didn’t get into UCLA likely could’ve gotten in and done BETTER than I had they my advantages. Who wants to think that of themselves?

But when I honestly look at myself and my work ethic (or complete lack thereof), if situations were reversed and I was in an environment where succeeding at school was considered being a “race traitor” or I had few examples of academic success or all of society was telling me that I could only be successful as either a rap star or an athlete but never an intelligent human being and that I was most likely a thief, a thug, or a drug dealer and going to be knocked up at fourteen or incarcerated, I really don’t think I would have the mental fortitude or personal strength to overcome all of that. 

Even just from the anecdotes I included at the beginning of this post, without doing any research at all (which also backs up what I am saying), it is evident that there are huge differences in student backgrounds.

Money, neighborhoods, schools, race, and cultural expectations make it impossible to have a level playing field. 

Obviously, not ALL blacks and Latinos grow up in poverty. That is clearly false. However, at 12.6%, Asians have half the poverty rates of Latinos (23.6%) and African Americans (24.2%) in California. (Whites are at 9.8%.) So, even though not ALL blacks and Latinos have to overcome immense hurdles, many do. Besides, I’m not worried about the rich and middle-class black/Latino kids. They would get into the UCs and CSUs without affirmative action. But this helps blacks and Latinos who may not have the same grades (especially weighted grades) or access to AP classes, tutors, etc. and had to overcome overwhelming odds to get the opportunity to attend school.

Furthermore, even though Asian households have the highest median income in America, that fails to distinguish between different ethnic groups with different histories. When divided up by ethnicity, the majority of economic and academic success is concentrated in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian Americans. Cambodians (14.6%), Hmong (16%), Laotians (13%), and to a lesser extent, Vietnamese (26.1%), have college graduation rates lower than the US national average (28%). Additionally, one in five Hmong and Bangladeshi people live in poverty.

These are the Asians most likely to be hurt by SCA5. (Not the vast majority of Asians who are protesting on Facebook.)

There are no easy answers. There are limited spots. But sometimes, people in privilege have to give up some of theirs in order to allow other people a seat at the table. That is the burden and responsibility of being in a “majority” or in a seat of privilege. And in this case, I would consider Asians to be in the majority since they occupy a huge portion of spots at the UCs and CSUs.

Remember, Asians benefited greatly from the advocacy and rights of blacks and Latinos. We benefit from their fights for racial equality yet rarely do anything to help out their causes when we could. We Asians think that we achieved all our successes by ourselves when we wouldn’t even be in the conversation if it were not for blacks demanding their civil rights. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

How hypocritical for Asians to demand opportunities in situations where we clearly benefit but not offer others that same opportunity where we would NOT benefit? Where would we be in other areas (bamboo and glass ceilings) if many whites did not give up some of THEIR privilege? Where would we be if blacks and Latinos had not fought for equal opportunities in employment, housing, and education?

Though much of our personal successes are due to our hard work, how much of that would have mattered if our rights were not secure in the first place? We Asians forget that we stand on top of the backs of our black and Latino friends as they paved the way and fought for our right to be here. 

What good does it do us if we succeed at the expense of blacks and Latinos? Who will come to our aid when we need it? (And believe me, we will need it.)

We are too afraid and pinning too much of our hopes and dreams on getting into certain schools. The truth is, there are so many opportunities out there. It SEEMS like a zero sum game where there is one pie and fuck it we’re losing some of our slice to blacks and Latinos. But in reality, our kids who would succeed at UCs and CSUs would succeed in many different schools. They will be fine. There are SO MANY pies. (Mmmm… pies…) UCs and CSUs are NOT the only game in town. There are many ways to succeed.

We do not need to fear.

Ultimately, is SCA5 fair? I don’t think so. But until I see Asians rallying with equal fervency against the unfairness of impoverished schools, the many Latino and black kids in underperforming school districts, living in areas of violence, drugs, broken families, and hardship, which, unsurprisingly, leads to it being much more difficult to do well in school (especially if you may be the first kid in your family to go to college), I am going to vote Yes on SCA5.

Suggested Reading:

Top 5 Anti-Affirmative Action Myths About SCA-5

NY Times: Asian Americans in the Argument

Civil Rights 101

14 Important Statistics on Asian Americans

Poverty in California

Reflections on the Rise of Asian Americans or Don’t Believe the Hype

Intelligence Squared Affirmative Action Debate (Hat Tip: Andrea Lee)

Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action for College Bound Students

Minorities and Whites Follow Unequal College Paths

A New SAT Aims to Realign With Schoolwork

Chasing that Status

An article on why poor people spend a lot of money on stuff they can’t afford has been making the rounds on the interwebs lately and I’m glad I finally read it. I’ve always wondered this very same thing and would make confused comments to Hapa Papa like, “If they don’t have money, why are they spending it on huge flat screens and name brand clothes and things that we, who do have money, don’t even spend on?” Hapa Papa‘s theory was that if you thought you were always going to be poor, why delay gratification? Get what pleasures you can when you can.

However, this article finally explained why in a way that I could understand and even identify with. The tl;dr gist can be summed up in this quote:

Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on.

We’ve all heard of the expression, “Dress for the job you want to have, not the job that you do.” This is just a variant of the expression – except for your whole life. It never occurred to me that the poor might possibly be spending so much on these items because it helped them not be immediately lumped into an easily dismissed category. That they wanted to signify they belonged at a job interview or at a restaurant or a nice store.

It totally makes sense to me. I do the same in my own life – but perhaps not in this extreme. And the only reason it’s not as extreme is because my ethnicity, clothing, demeanor, and gender scream, “middle class housewife with lots of spending money.” I don’t need as many outward symbols of wealth because I already fit in.

I recall distinctly my mother telling me that when I go get a haircut, or makeup, or even shopping for nicer clothes, to always dress up. Not only would I get better service, but I would get a better haircut or clothing or makeup as a result. My mom explained that if I showed up looking the part, it would take the sales person less stretch of the imagination to put me in quality than if I had shown up in sweats and no makeup. I thought it was a horribly classist way to view the world, but in my own experience, I have found my mom’s statement to be completely accurate.

When I first started working as a financial advisor, it took me almost a year before I finally settled in on clothes that suited both the position as well as my personal sense of style. At first, I had purchased all these suits from a suit outlet, but I just looked so old and dowdy. I hated the clothes – especially when I went on a three week training session and there were young women there who dressed so fabulously. I felt insecure, unprofessional, and sadly, somewhat less confident. Thankfully, my personality is such that it didn’t affect my interactions too badly. All the same, when I got home, I went shopping.

I would work with men who got custom made suits and spent ridiculous amounts of money on monogrammed shirts and fancy cuff links. I thought it was ridiculous. After all, if you had a financial advisor, wouldn’t you be looking for someone who was PRUDENT with their money? But then again, would you want someone who didn’t look outwardly “successful” and didn’t drive the “right” car?

I was teased about driving a Toyota Avalon. Not sure why since it’s totally a grandma car (nor exactly cheap), but they said it wasn’t flashy enough. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t really want a flashy advisor – I’d be too worried about them trying to make as much money off of me as possible. But I can see WHY certain people gravitated towards that type of advisor. Thankfully, I attracted clients just like myself. People who had money to invest because they didn’t spend it all on fancy clothes and cars.

Anyway, I guess this is just my rambling way of saying, I kinda get why poor people choose to spend their money a certain way. I do it, too. It’s just less obvious because I have more discretionary funds – and no one is judging me on my purchases because it’s in keeping with my income threshold.

One other thing. As much as I love to judge people, ultimately, who are we to tell people how to spend their money? Whether or not people are rich or poor, the money is theirs and they can spend it however they want.

My Genius Business Idea

You know what we need more of? Drive thrus. It doesn’t matter for what. We just need more of them. You would think that in my suburb of soccer moms and mini-vans, some clever shopping plaza owner would’ve built one long drive thru with multiple entry and exit points down the back of a building. I don’t care what that place is selling – I would go there and buy it. Drive thru pie in the face? YES, PLEASE.

Before I had children, let alone THREE of them, I appreciated a drive-thru (especially the drive-thru pharmacy), but I didn’t see the need for most of them. How hard could it be to get out of your car and WALK somewhere? How lazy a nation were we? Drive thru Starbucks? Ridiculous.

I knew absolutely nothing.

How was I to know of the perilous drive in the afternoon with a tired kid who is talking and screaming and hey-mommying non-stop until the second you pull into a parking spot to wherever you were planning to go and you turn around and WTF they are totally passed out? Then, you go through the no-win inner dialogue every parent in this situation has agonized over: Do you wake the kid up or go home?

If you wake the kid up, you run the risk of them being super cranky while you’re in the store running your errand and then they won’t nap at their normal napping time (or maybe this IS their normal napping time and you were just an idiot for hoping this wouldn’t happen). But if you go home, you don’t get your thing done – and wouldn’t you know it as soon as you pull in the garage and close it, blissfully anticipating a baby-free hour or two for your own little nap, your damn kid opens their eyes and wants you to play with them.

And that drive-thru Starbucks? I have friends who are willing to drive to a town half an hour away just so they can get a Starbucks without having to schlep their kids out of the car, wait in line, get their order, somehow carry both their drink and kid back to the car without spilling everything on the ground, shoving their kid back into that stupid car seat, and go home. A five minute endeavor turns into at least a half hour excursion (usually punctuated with pleading, swearing, and weeping – in that order).  That’s probably why McDonald’s coffee is becoming more popular – they have a drive thru.

In the town next to mine, they have a drive-thru dairy where you can pick up eggs, milk, and some groceries. Sure, you may have to pay more, but TOTALLY WORTH IT. I have yet to avail myself of this because I am infinitely lazy and just DELIVER MY GROCERIES ALREADY, COSTCO!!! Safeway will deliver groceries over $50, but I feel too much shame to attempt it. As if I don’t get enough boxes on my front porch from Amazon. Now, I’m so indolent, I can’t make it to Safeway? It’s really only the neighbors judging me that prevents me from doing this. If I lived in the boonies with no one to see or know, you bet your bottom dollar I’d be best friends with the Safeway delivery guy.

Oooh, even better. Star Trek replicator technology. Let’s get to work on that, shall we? 3D printing is close, but not quite there yet. In the meantime, a drive thru is far less difficult and certainly not rocket science. Get to it, people.

Why I Buy Used: Money Series Pt 2

Now, everyone knows I do my fair share to stimulate the economy. I can be quite the profligate spender – especially when it comes to buying fruit from Costco. I have often come back from a trip to Costco after throwing down a ton of money only to be asked by Hapa Papa, “Where is the food?” Because all he can see are piles and piles of fruit. What can I say? I’m Chinese. We eat fruit. Lots of it.

But even with Hapa Papa being my personal money train, we do still live off of one income (albeit, very generous) and have a mortgage and preschool and utilities so at some point, there is a limit to my spending. One time, in despair, Hapa Papa asked, “Why don’t you love me? Do you want me to work until I die?” After that, I started to watch my spending as a way to love him. He asks for so little, you know. The least I could do was throw him a bone.

Anyhow, even though Amazon and Costco are kept in business almost single-handedly by me, I do try to limit my spending without hampering my desire to hoard and get stuff. What I do, however, is buy used.

For those of you who have had the dubious honor of coming to my house, you know that it is a giant toy store. I own pretty much every toy known to man and the beauty of it is that around 80% of them were purchased used. I’m sure my kids think my day job is a drug dealer because I constantly go to people’s houses, give them cash and get something in return. People also come to my house to buy things I sell. I don’t think Cookie Monster or Gamera realize that we can go to stores to buy toys. They think toys come from other people’s houses.

It has actually come to the point where I no longer troll craigslist or the various Facebook virtual garage sale pages because I OWN EVERYTHING. (This helps a lot because now, I don’t really buy anything anymore.) When I go to real garage sales, I go for fun and rarely spend more than $20 because again, I OWN EVERYTHING. (Of course, my house is crammed full of toys, so you know, there are downsides to owning everything.) I justify having so many toys because I will have so many children they are bound to be used.

For clothes, I often buy used to supplement clothes I buy on clearance and clothes swap with friends. I think Cookie Monster’s baby clothes have gone through at least five (soon to be six) babies so far. The majority of them have held up just fine because babies grow so quickly, they really don’t wear them long enough to do enough damage.

I buy ahead for the next year or two when clothes go on clearance at the end of each season because why pay full price for clothes if I don’t have to? Who’s going to know they were purchased on clearance? Do kids’ clothes really go out of style? (Not the clothes I’m buying.) Plus, as the kids get older, the clothes wear out more quickly because they are more actively running, jumping, climbing, and therefore falling. I have bought many an iron on patch! Also, Cookie Monster grows so quickly that he is sometimes in between sizes in the spring – but I know he will be out of them by fall or winter. Why buy brand new pants if he’s going to be wearing them only for a few months?

Here’s my secret to buying used things: go to the super-nice, rich neighborhoods. People often have a glut of barely worn, brand name clothes that they want to get rid of quickly. I have purchased a bag of clothes for $25 that contained nine pairs of pants/shorts, ten shirts, and a sweater or two thrown in for good measure. When you consider that often, a pair of jeans from Old Navy is $15, that’s a really good deal.

The same goes for toys. Usually, used toys start at 50% retail (and are sometimes lower). You will get better deals on toys at garage sales, but if you want something specific, you’ll have to wait a long time. If you don’t want to wait, craigslist or the Facebook pages will be a better bet (although a little more costly). Sadly, I know the going rate of almost any used toy (as well as their retail price). Why is my brain so full of useless minutiae? My family will HATE me for all this useless information in the coming zombie apocalypse.

As for books, I usually buy them when the local library has their book sales. Children’s books are usually $0.50-$1 and I also get to support my local library. Incidentally, I use the library a TON for my personal use as well as for my kids. I read at least 100-150 books a year and if I bought them all new or even used, that would be thousands of dollars. Instead, I am willing to wait for new releases and get pretty much all my books for free. That allows me to pay for the occasional new book in order to support an author or a series that I really appreciate and enjoy. Plus, I already paid taxes for my library access – why shouldn’t I use it?

This also keeps my house from accumulating hundreds of books every year. Between my brother and I, we had hundreds of books that I no longer had room for. I gave several boxes to the local library and sold at least twenty boxes back to various used book stores for either cash or credit. Nothing is sadder than an unread or no longer read book sitting on a dusty shelf, waiting to be noticed. Why not send it somewhere it can be loved or put to good use?

I also buy used furniture – but usually, I buy things that are made of wood because the thought of a used mattress or couch I find squicky. I know. I’m a snob. But all my dining tables have been used – and they were great deals! I once got a dining set with six chairs for $100. The guy even lent us his truck to move it! Hapa Papa was very sad when I sold the same set three years later for the same $100.

Ok, this post ended up much longer than I originally anticipated. To sum up in nice bullet-points, here are some reasons I buy used:

1) It saves money – sometimes at least 50%.

2) Helps the environment – reduce, reuse, recycle and all that. (But it seriously is not a very important reason for me, personally.)

3) I can get more for less money – therefore, it frees up more money for things I really want but cannot get at reduced price. (It’s the same basic premise as #1.)

4) I feel smug/brilliant every time I see something go “on sale” new and it’s STILL more expensive than I spent on a used item. Even better when I can’t tell the difference between the new and used item due to the previous owner’s awesomeness.

5) My kids end up turning new toys into “used” toys almost immediately. Why not just save myself the trouble? It pains me less when they batter something I bought used than when they batter something I bought brand new. Although, sometimes I get even more upset because WHEN WILL I EVER GET WEDGE-ITS FOR LESS THAN $1 EVER AGAIN?!

6) My kids don’t really know any better – they are just happy they get toys (and lots of them). Bonus: they don’t realize you can buy the toys at the store – so they never ask me for anything they see in a store.

7) DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH LEGOS COST BRAND NEW? OMG – it’s the biggest racket EVER. Even used, they are pricey. But let’s just say that I’ve spent about $200 in total on both the BIG and small Legos – and I guarantee for the same price, I would’ve come away with two, small, sad regular Lego sets. (Perhaps a slight exaggeration – but not by much!)

8) In addition, DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THOMAS TRAINS COST BRAND NEW??? It’s almost as big a racket as the Lego Conspiracy! I’ve spent about $8-900 used on various train related things since Cookie Monster started to like trains. This same stuff would have cost me several thousand if I purchased brand new. Yes, I realize $900 is A LOT of money already (not all at the same time, thank goodness), but for the same haul brand new? At least $3-4,000. This only makes me feel slightly better.

9) When my children finally are done with the toys and I start selling them, I can most likely sell them at the same price at which I purchased them – and possibly, even more. Granted, that’s likely another ten years down the line, but then I can claim “vintage” status so I can charge even MORE. It won’t hurt nearly as much as if I bought them brand new and I think to myself, “I’m selling these things at 50% off! GAH!! All my MONIES!!!”

Ok. I think you get my point. I buy used to save money and as a nice after thought, to save the environment. Either way, I’m a HERO. A SAVVY HERO!!!

What about you? Do you buy used? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments. 😀

How Am I Going to Send 3+ Kids to College?: Money Series Pt 1

The thought is terrifying from a monetary standpoint. In about twenty years, I will have three children in college AT THE SAME TIME. Talk about poor family planning (from a paying for college standpoint). And if I do end up having four kids, I will have three kids in college for at least 2-3 years IN A ROW. They’re on their own for grad school, man. Geez.

You’ve seen the numbers. From 1985-2011, college costs rose 500%. (I don’t even want to know what it will cost me in fifteen years when Cookie Monster starts college.) As for loans, I suppose I could have my kids take them out, but have you seen the statistics? Plus, all that brouhaha right now about student loans and interest rates and how I know people who are my age who are STILL paying off student loans (both for undergrad and grad school) and how much that hampers them financially.

So what am I to do? If I can help it, I don’t want my kids saddled with debt (at least too much of it). I can’t count on scholarships (especially not athletic) because who knows how smart or hard-working my kids will be? Since my neighborhood is half Indian/Pakistani and half Chinese, I really have no illusions of them being at the top of the pack. (And I’m OK with that. Hapa Papa was nowhere near the top of the pack in high school, went to a state school, and makes SCADS more money than I ever did because he works harder and smarter than I ever wanted to. That’s another post for some other day.)

And no, I’m not going to move to a less competitive neighborhood because really, who doesn’t want their kids surrounded by smart, hard-working kids? If I don’t like my kids’ grades, then they’ll just have to work HARDER, not move to an easier school. (White flight, I’m looking at YOU!)

The only other recourse (in terms of helping my kids with their education costs) is to save aggressively and to save NOW. (Of course, they can also work in high school – and Hapa Papa has big plans for that – and college, too. Those are absolutely on the table!) This is when it totally helps to be a financial advisor (and to have a mother for one as well).

Here is what we are currently doing and hoping to do so in the future. Hopefully, this will help you, but I do realize that I may be in a different financial situation than you and your family so please don’t feel too bad or too smug if you are doing better or worse than we are. There are many ways to pay for school. This is just what I am doing for now.

Disclaimer: I am a financial advisor and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own children. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your situation. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) 529 Plans – These are plans that accumulate tax-free and are dispensed tax-free as long as you use them for qualifying higher education costs. The funds remain in our custody and we can switch the beneficiary at any time. (So, if Cookie Monster gets a full ride and doesn’t need this money, then I can transfer the funds to Gamera or Baby3.)

We opened an account for each child as soon as I got their Social Security numbers. I seed it with some money and then contribute about $100/mo per account. I would put more in here, but because it can only be used for higher education costs, I don’t want to put TOO much money in here just in case the kids don’t end up at college or whatever.

2) UGMA/UTMA Accounts – These are just regular savings/investment accounts for my children. I am the custodian but my kids are the ultimate owners when they hit either 18, 21, or 25 (For CA). (I am pretty sure I chose 21.) After that, the money is theirs to do with HOWEVER THEY WISH. Somewhat terrifying, but hopefully, I will have taught my children how to handle their finances well and to make good decisions. I do have to pay taxes on these accounts, but since they’re children, the tax rate is not as horrible.

Any gift cards/checks/cash I received during baby showers, gifts, birthdays, Chinese New Year, etc., I put in here. (In the case of gift cards, I just use the gift card and deposit a corresponding amount into their account.) As with the 529 plan, as soon as I get their Social Security number, I open an UTMA for my kid and deposit a “seed” amount. Then, when they receive money, I put it in their accounts – even if it’s as trivial as a few dollars for a birthday or Chinese New Year. (Usually, I round up and add something on top of it.)

If Hapa Papa gets a bonus at work, or sells some stock grants, or whatever, I will take either all or a portion of it and apply it equally among the kids. If we happen to get a really nice financial gift from family, I do the same. Whatever “extra” money that comes our way, I will always consider putting it in the kids’ accounts. (Unless, for some reason, we need to replenish our emergency fund, our IRA contributions are coming up, or property taxes are coming up, I usually put some in the kids’ accounts.)

Also, any time there is a new baby, I will not only seed money in the new baby’s account, I will also add some money into the older kids’ accounts. Not as much, of course, but some.

3) Aggressively pay down all other debts. That’s pretty self-explanatory. We paid off our mini-van last year ahead of schedule thanks to a stock grant, and we pay extra on our principal for our mortgage every month. Every now and then, we also send in a fat chunk of a bonus or severance or stock grant to pay down the mortgage principal even more. Our goal is to pay off the mortgage before Cookie Monster starts college. We are very lucky that currently, our mortgage is our only debt. This may change if we have to buy a new car later down the road or if we have to get a bigger house when the kids become teenagers.

4) Save aggressively for our retirement. This may seem strange to include as part of the kids’ education savings, but it makes perfect sense to me. The more we save now, due to the time value of money, the less we will have to put away when we’re older and much closer to retirement. In other words, when the kids are in college, we will not have to be scrambling any more than usual to come up with money both for college AND for retirement. The retirement money (barring some horrible economic downturn AGAIN) will already be there.

5) Have the kids work. My parents paid entirely for my education and as a result, I don’t think I took it very seriously. I have been coddled pretty much all my life. Hapa Papa, on the other hand, had some scholarships and worked his way through college without any substantial help from his family. I would like my kids to have something in between.

My current plan is to have the majority of tuition and board as well as some “fun” money for my kids covered. I will give them a monthly stipend and if they run out, they’re out. If they need more money, they can work for it. Also, Hapa Papa is thinking that some day, he’ll start his own consulting firm and farm out work to the kids. He’ll pay them and yes, they can spend some of that money, but a good portion of that will be forced into their college savings account so that they will also pay for their college in that way.

This, of course, is the highly speculative portion of my plan. The kids obviously cannot work now. (Such slackers! Their fellow Chinese kids are making clothes right now! Lazy bastards.) We have no idea if Hapa Papa will ever open up his own shop. We don’t know if college will even be relevant in the future (although, likely yes). But that is our plan for the moment.

I know that we are very fortunate to have so many options. Many folks do not have enough money after necessities to set aside for their kids (let alone for themselves). I would say in terms of priorities, take care of your daily needs first, then emergency funds, then retirement, then kids. No one will give you a loan for the first three, but the last one, there are plenty available.

Again, when I think of all these resources I have available for both myself and my children, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness and guilt and relief. We always want the best for our children – no matter what our circumstances. So I have no doubt that the folks who cannot provide as much for their kids would OF COURSE, do so if their circumstances allowed it. Ultimately, money is important, but there are plenty of children who grew up without a single financial want who have huge holes in their souls due to other unmet needs.

Hrm. Didn’t mean to get all Hallmark on you there. I just know that because of Hapa Papa’s job, we are able to provide much for our family without too much hardship. It isn’t fair; I’m sorry. My only hope is that we can be generous to others as well as ourselves.