Saturday, February 22, 2014

So What is Wrong with a Minimum Wage Job?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the economy.  You can't help it. The articles about the disparity - the vilifying the 1%.  The glorifying the 1%.  The statements from people like Tom Perkins.  (I have worked for companies that are funded by this guy.  Doesn't he realize he already gets "more votes"?)

The comments sections are always a thrill.  On one side, you have people vilifying the 1% for being liars, cheaters, and thieves.  On the other side, you have people glorifying them for being hard working and earning everything they have.  What is the truth?  Well, both, and usually something in between.

There is nothing wrong with being in the 1% and earning all of it.  Two income couples with good careers can hit that number.  There's nothing wrong with being in the 1% and inheriting it.  Sure, it's not as "noble", but hey you can't pick your parents.  I think when people vilify the 1%, they are generally talking about people who lie, cheat and steal.  Should we admire people who are on Wall Street earning the money just because that's how the "game is played"?  Hedge fund managers, are they really earning their big bucks?  Should we admire the bankers who cheat?  Should we admire the CEOs who make big bucks for their companies by offshoring?  Should we admire the CEOs of companies who bring in billions - but pay their employees less, make sure they get less than 30 hours a week so they don't have to give them health insurance, and pretty much guarantee that a large # of their employees are on public assistance?  Because then ALL Americans are paying for that.

I am amazed at the attitude that "people should go to college, learn a trade, and get a better job!"  I get that it's part of the "pull yourself up from your bootstraps" American attitude.  And hey, that's what I did.  That's what a lot of my family members did.  I am not saying that it's not a good attitude to have.

But what I DON'T understand is - when did it become shameful to have a minimum wage job?  When did it become shameful to have a service job?  Frankly, in my lifetime, you could support a family on these jobs.  You may start out on minimum wage at McDonald's or a grocery store.  Eventually you got raises because you were a hard worker.  You got more hours.  You got medical insurance.

But now?  These jobs are increasingly part time with no benefits.  "Just get a better job."  What's the problem with that?  THERE AREN'T ENOUGH JOBS.  There, I said it.

I'm an engineer.  Over my 20+ year career, I have seen most of my jobs going overseas.  How many new semiconductor fabs open in the US?  Not many (it has been changing a bit lately because China is getting more expensive).  Offshoring of good paying jobs in manufacturing or programming is a serious problem.  What does that leave us with?  Service jobs.  People who ignore this fact are living in a dream land.

So then it becomes more competitive.  You have 10 programmers competing for 5 jobs.  (And they are also competing with 5 H1B's because we have a "shortage of programmers".)  You have 8 accountants competing for 5 jobs.  You have 5 programmers and 3 accountants working receptionist jobs.  You have 8 receptionists working at McDonalds and Walmart.

I think there is this thought that all it takes is effort and hard work to better yourself.  But what about when that doesn't work?  When did it become SHAMEFUL to work hard at a manual or minimum wage job?  You can work hard stocking shelves, driving a truck, cleaning toilets, picking up trash.  You can take PRIDE in flipping burgers, being a cashier.  Why is that suddenly shameful?  Why should it be embarrassing?  Why is it suddenly, here in 2014, "not worthy of having a decent living"?  It used to be worthy. 

Growing up, my family members were: auto mechanics, bank tellers, cafeteria ladies, cleaning ladies, secretaries, office managers, shelf stockers, truck drivers.  You might not have been able to be solid middle or upper middle class on those jobs, but you could make a living.  If some of those jobs are not "worthy" of a good living anymore, then what next?  Next thing will be that accountants, programmers, restaurant managers, waiters - they aren't "worthy" either.  Then what?

What seems to be ignored here are two things:
1.  Not everyone has the mental capacity to go further.  Not everyone can be an engineer, scientist, doctor. So?  Is there shame in that if someone is creative or hard working or dedicated?
2.  SOMEONE HAS TO DO THESE JOBS.  Clean the toilets, flip the burgers.  We cannot have a country full of "16 to 22 year olds" who do all of the menial labor.  Even if we had a country of 100% college degrees, that means someone with a college degree is working the cash register at McDonald's. 

Why is that so shameful?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Week in Pictures

I had this blog started in my head - discussing the reason behind each dish, the cost per serving. know life got in the way with the kids and stuff.  So, you get pictures.

Ham sammies and salad

Washed arugula and parsley, headed for pesto

Mini croissant and salad

Banana bread

Pasta, vegetable, meatball bake


Sunday's meal on my fancy Corelle plates

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meal prepping

So it's no secret by now that I do a lot of meal prepping on the weekends.  It's a little easier now that the baby is a toddler - he's a bit more independent at the end of the day, so I actually get about 10-30 minutes to prep dinner.  Still I prefer to have food ready to go, because you never know what's going to hit you.  (This week, I have to work late 2 days for conference calls with Japan.)

My niece does a TON of food prep on the weekend.  I bow to her amazingness.  I only do a bit.  But this week the CSA started, so it was a bit of a challenge!  First week of the CSA, first item wasted (a bag of spicy greens, mostly arugula...didn't get to the parsley-arugula pesto making fast enough).

Here's a little summary of what I made over the weekend:

Herb bread (bread machine - that thing was a little dusty)

Massaged kale salad

Kale chips (these were gone at dinner)

Lettuce (two heads, have washed one so far)

Carrot sticks

Moroccan lentil soup

Spanish rice (rice cooker instead of pot)

Roasted baby beets and fennel (for the salads)

Steamed broccoli

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Adjusting the Budget

You know it happens.  Life.  Stuff.  Someone loses a job, or takes a pay cut.  You have a child.  Your car breaks down.  Expenses go up.  Kids grow up and start to eat more (a LOT more).  Your pay does not keep up (no raises, no bonuses...boy am I feeling that one).  It is important to keep up with your finances and continually review your budget.

Now, we don't really have a budget.  In years past, we've made one.  But I see our tendency when our children are very young to be too busy with life to actually make a budget.  But that doesn't mean that we don't review our finances.  I consider it to be our job to constantly think about what we can change.  In some cases, it's because we get lax - eating out more, buying prepared food more (sometimes this is temporary, due to an excessively busy life).  In some cases, it's simply because our finances don't keep up with time.

Some of the things that we have done in the last several months to adjust our budget include:

- Home improvement - we have replaced our toilet and washing machine in the last year and a half.  Now, while this isn't particularly "cheap", water saving devices in my area of the country mean rebates (to make the cost more bearable), and savings in the water bill.  If you have to replace items anyway, it can be good to think about saving money on water or electricity.

- Refinancing.  We refinanced our house in December, saving $700 a month.  Most of this was simply from resetting our payment schedule from about 25 years to 30, but we also lowered our interest rate by 0.5%. Now, why didn't we refi earlier last year when the rates were even lower?  The comps.  In real estate speak, the comps were not high enough.  This means that we did not have enough equity in our house - not 20%, so we couldn't do a standard refi.  So, despite buying our house in 2004, putting 20% down and paying off aggressively for 9 years, we STILL didn't have 20% equity.  I'll let that set in for a moment.  Sucks.  All water under the bridge at this point.

- After school care.  There are two options at my son's school.  One that goes from K-2 and one that goes from 1 to 6.  We had him in the K-2 one for at least two years.  We had put him in the same care this year because his/our friend and neighbor (who was also in it) - her younger sister started kinder.  So the idea is that all three would be together.  Well, very shortly after the school year started, he asked to switch.  We waited until after the holidays - the advantage to the more expensive care is that they are open during spring break and holiday break and that is included.  So in January, we switched.  This saves us $200 per month.

- Activities - We withdrew from soccer (he didn't like it anyway, and there's a free option at the school).  We use Netflix, hulu, and Amazon prime for TV instead of cable.  Our philosophy on sports - we like them, but we don't particularly care to be competitive and we don't like to watch them. So we don't need cable nor competitive sports.  Any sport that requires multiple days a week (for a 7 year old!) is out.  We like to play with him at the park and we'd like him to learn enough about each sport to play with his friends.

- Cooking.  I have started cooking from scratch more, mostly because my toddler is getting a bit more self-entertaining.  He's always on the mood, and after work/ school/ daycare, the first thing he wants to do is go outside and play with the kids.  I'm also trying to use up the food in the freezer.

- Vacations.  Vacations with young children are a pain.  Especially toddlers.  So, we went to visit family last year and then stopped.  Thanksgiving?  Staycation.  Christmas?  Same thing.  You know what?  A lot more relaxing than traveling.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I've priced trips to Hawaii.  I've looked into renting a camping van for a camping trip in May (the timing doesn't work out - they are closed Memorial Day, so I guess that just saved me $400!) Pre-second baby, we would probably spend $3000-$7000 a year on vacation.  I spent $600 on two weekend retreats, but otherwise, we haven't traveled since July.

- Wine - I'm really just trying to cut back to almost none, because I need to lose some weight.

- Date nights - We'd really like to start trading babysitting.  So far, though, our "date nights" are lunch time walks at work occasionally.

- Movies - my  husband enjoys going to movies.  I don't much. Most movies are him and the 7 year old, or just him.  But this week is the film festival, so we get to see some free kid's movies (today: Frozen, tomorrow: The Croods).  Last night we went to the drive in (really only worth it in the winter when the toddler is still awake), and it was $15.50 for all of us.  We took our own food.

- Books - library and Amazon prime (borrowing books or getting free books).

- Clothing - mostly for the kids - we get a lot of hand me downs, and we need to keep it organized!

Future planning:

- Childcare.  I love our childcare.  Quality providers are NOT cheap.  In my town?  Preschool is even more expensive.  I will get around this by waiting until my son is 4 to go to preschool, so it will only be one year.

- Fitness.  I love fitness!  I have been really trying to use my YMCA membership more (dang it, STILL have a hurt knee from last week's Zumba class).  I really want to trim down and get into my wetsuit so I can do the triathlon this summer again.  But man.  It's about $380 for the training group AND the triathlon. Ouch.  So I'm thinking, can I get friends together?  Or can I maybe just do my "own" triathlon at the YMCA? (Pool, bike, run?)  Or walk.  Since I can't run.

So, how have you adjusted the budget in the last year?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Women's Wellness Retreat #2 and an Inspiration

I have been notably absent lately.  It's the reality of life with a full time job and two kids (one of them 18 months old) - no time to myself and a computer that has been crashing for months.  (Luckily we bought a new one yesterday, not yet hooked up).  Mr. D (toddler) has been waking up in the night off and on, and that makes for bad sleep.  Mostly I really have a  hard time getting back to sleep.

Last fall when I was seriously at my wit's end with my job and family life I attended the first Winter Wellness Retreat at a beach house in Oxnard, run by an awesome running coach and personal trainer and a VERY good chef.  This is her book.  If you live anywhere near Santa Barbara/ Ventura/ Oxnard/ Thousand Oaks - she does classes up and down the coast.  (I'm talking to you Kalli!)  Alas, I was coming down with a cold that weekend (that turned into 3 weeks of bronchitis).  What I took from that, besides the need to take care of myself, was the need to take care of one thing.  So I focused on my mental state.  Sure, I wanted to exercise more and eat right, but small steps...
The view from the patio of the beach house.

Once I recovered from the bronchitis, I started taking more time off work.  I have PTO - so if I felt like taking a long lunch or going home early, I did.  In reality, that rarely happened.  What I did do is take a lot of time off for sick time - my sick time, the kids' sick time, doctor's appointments, dentist's appointments, school holidays, company holidays.  All in all I took 152 hours of PTO in 4 months.  And I'm almost out of PTO.  While this is not great for any future holiday plans, it really did help me relax - in past times, I would have tried to "make up" missed time at nights or on weekends.  I seriously have not worked a full 80 hour pay period since September.  (I really never should have gone back to full time work in July.  I regret it mightily - so in reality, I'm not working full time anymore.  I earn 10 hours of PTO a pay period, and seem to be taking an average of 5-10 each pay period).

The other thing I decided to do to relax is more meditative things right before bed.  I started knitting and crocheting (which has meditative benefits).  I started ending the day with a cup of hot herbal tea several days a week.  I make it a point to try and read 10 minutes before bed.  I am asleep most days by 9 pm.

Finally, I stopped setting the alarm to go to the gym at 5 am.  My husband thinks we should start going again.  I am really leery of it in cold and flu time.  Because, I'm recovering from another cold.  The advantage here is simply extra sleep. I wake up at 6:10 am when the baby wakes up.

A week and a half ago, I got an email that there were two cancellations for the next weekend retreat.  I asked my  husband, and he said, "it's a good time, work is normal, go".  What a great guy.  So, I went.  Of course I had a cold again (but not bronchitis, so it was much better).  And I ended up sharing a room, with a woman named Marsha.  It was funny - on our door they misspelled my name so that it said "Marsha B" and "Marsha M" and I was a bit confused (because B is my maiden initial and M is my married initial).  As a little funny story - M is her maiden initial and B is her married initial.

This time, I was happy that I had made so much progress on my mental state and was starting decluttering the house.  I then had to decide "what next" - food or fitness.  I still haven't figured out "what next" because I'm doing a little bit of both. I have started walking 30 minutes on my lunch break every day.  I have also started eating more fruit for breakfast - smoothies mostly.  These two things plus a bout with the stomach flu in mid-January (yes, a second bout) have helped me drop 10 pounds.  So let's keep it going, shall we?

The wonderful thing about the women's retreat is the women - you get delicious meals, beach walks, beach yoga, meditation, massages - but the best part is connecting with other women at various stages in their lives and journeys and getting inspired by them.  We spent an evening doing a "story board" of what we want in life this year, what is important to us (I did three of them).  I need to find a place to hang them.

I think it's very important to find inspiration from many things and people.  Last summer my sister told me that her daughter, my niece, had lost 30 pounds.  I thought that was GREAT.  She didn't really say anything about it.  This week, my niece posts a link to her blog on her FB page.  I was very impressed.  Much of her experience matches my own.  I am inspired.  As she says "everyone has the same 24 hours".  Now, of course this is true, but then everyone has different requirements for their 24 hours. So while it's good to get inspiration, it's also not good to do a direct comparison.  I cannot work out 2x a day - I can barely get any exercise in because my kids are awake when I am, with the exception of about 15 minutes a day.  (It's really Mr. D who is the problem - but you know, he won't ALWAYS be.  He will soon be able to work out with me or just watch - not crawl under me when I do downward dog and reach up and poke my stomach.)

You can read her blog hereThis is my favorite post so far.  She goes a lot into nutrition, so it's very nice that she posted her blog right after my healthy living retreat.  Here is an example of the food we had on the retreat weekend:

homemade granola, yogurt, berries
passionate breakfast cookies (from her book) - delish!
Baked parmesan tofu (this was really good)
Mediterranean quinoa salad (I have a version in the fridge right now)
Chicken piccata
Lentil soup
Egg and avocado salad
Kale and pumpkin seed salad
Arugula and baby spinach salad
Vegetables and hummus

Many of the recipes are in her book.  She has a large forward on nutrition and how it saved her family's health.