Monthly Archives: August 2015

Floor 46: How to Know If You’re Doing It Right

As I have learned recently, there are lots of books and articles out there about parenting.  They all have one thing in common: there is a RIGHT way and a WRONG way to parent.

DogDebtFreeJD always does fluffliness perfectly.

DogDebtFreeJD always does fluffliness perfectly.

For example, there are some people out there who are totally opposed to letting your baby hang out in a Pack’N’Play all day.  This is supposed to be isolating to the baby, bad for the mother-baby bond, cause a flat head*, and increase digestive issues.  According to anti-Pack’N’Play contingent, it is much better for your baby to be carried around during the day in a sling.

However, for every proponent of carrying your baby around in a sling, it appears there is an equally passionate Anti-Sling-Ian.  “Bad for night-time sleep!” “Your baby will never become independent!” “Dangerous – baby could suffocate!”

In the face of this (and other similar fights), the DebtFreeJD household has adopted the following test for good parenting:

If the baby is happy and healthy, you’re doing it right.

Plus an important corollary:

Every baby is different, so there’s as many ways to have a happy and healthy baby as there are babies.

BabyDebtFreeJD, for example, likes to nurse stretched across my belly.  He prefers to snooze in his baby carrier during the day.  And he doesn’t like hats.**

In short, I’ve got an “ends” rather than a “means” test for good parenting: I think I’m doing it right when BabyDebtFreeJD is happily eating, napping, and going through Costco diapers at a terrifyingly fast rate, and doing it wrong when he’s screaming so loud in the middle of Stop&Shop that little old ladies stop to offer unsolicited advice on how to calm him down.

I feel as if personal finance is like parenting.  Everyone has an opinion on how to do it.  And there’s a lot of books and articles that claim there is a RIGHT WAY and a WRONG WAY.

For example, some people might think spending the last year aggressively paying off my law school loans was WRONG.  If we’d invested that money in the stock market, we’d be a lot richer.  If we’d put a bigger chunk of it into retirement savings, we’d have paid less in taxes.  Etc. etc. etc.

That’s all true.  However, having one financial goal gave us lots of motivation to actually pay off the loans.  I don’t know that we would have had the same kind of discipline regarding our budget if we were investing money in the stock market or trying to optimize our retirement accounts.  Plus, I’m naturally risk-adverse.***  There was no way to know what would happen with the stock market when we started paying off my loans.  By contrast, killing the loans was a guaranteed win.

My test for “good” personal finance – like my test for good parenting – is results-oriented:

If you are saving enough that you don’t have to worry about the future, but are still enjoying the present, you’re doing it right.

In my opinion, there are two big financial pitfalls out there.  The first (more common) problem is failing to save enough so that you are unprepared for an emergency/retirement/kids going off to college/etc.  The second is being so miserly that you’re not actually enjoying your money in the present.  Of course, you don’t have to spend lots of money to enjoy yourself.  The Frugalwoods are a great example.  Our own strategy was that we kept living like graduate students even after we got real jobs – so Chinese takeout feels luxurious and we don’t feel deprived by not eating at four-star French restaurants.****

Everyone’s going to be different in how they achieve the balance between saving for the future and enjoying the present, and so I think there’s a lot of ways to do personal finance “right.” Basically, if you’ve got enough in the bank account to sleep soundly at night, and you have enough little luxuries that you feel rich (even if you’re most definitely not), I think you’ve got it figured out.  Everything else – retirement savings strategies, your Starbucks budget – is just coloring in between the lines you’ve drawn correctly.

BabyDebtFreeJD and DogDebtFreeJD display happiness in napping.

BabyDebtFreeJD and DogDebtFreeJD display doing napping right.

*The flat head thing might be true, but is temporary.

** Unfortunately, he’s fighting a losing battle on the hat front.  That’s an area where we prioritize healthy baby over happy baby.

***In other words, I’m a lawyer.

****Confession: I actually like take-out pizza more than fine dining.  Something about very fancy restaurants (and I’ve been to a few with my job) gives me the heebbie-jeebies.  There are exceptions, but that’s my general rule.

Floor 45: No Fancy Bar Trip

As many of the readers of this blog will know, this past week was BAR EXAM* week.

I don’t think sitting for the bar exam was fun for anyone.  I walked out so convinced I had failed that Mr. DebtFreeJD had to talk me out of canceling my results.  Good thing he did, too.

There’s a tradition among law school graduates of taking a fancy bar trip to an exotic location after sitting for the bar.

Instead of shelling out thousands of dollars to travel abroad, after I sat for the bar, Mr. DebtFreeJD and I went to visit his aunt and uncle on the Jersey shore for a few days.

We were so happy we did.  First, Mr. DebtFreeJD’s aunt and uncle are fabulous.  It’s always a ton of fun to visit them.  It’s great to go swimming on the shore, the food’s great, and the company even better.

Plus, I spent about 90% of the first 72 hours after the bar exam asleep.** I would have felt pretty stupid doing that in a European hotel.

There’s a pretty good case for going on an expensive bar trip.  It’s the last opportunity a lot of people have to take a three- or four-week vacation.  It’s a great way to celebrate being done with law school and a stressful test.

I think the case against is even better.

First, when I just graduated from law school, I had no money.  It is possible to take out money to cover you during the bar exam.  Some people I know took out a bar loan, and then used the money to fly to the tropics.  Borrowing money in July to fund a fancy vacation in August is not crazy if you are starting a BigLaw job in September. *** However, a vacation you have to pay interest on just was not appealing to me.

Second, if you are a recent law school graduate who has just taken the bar exam, you are probably exhausted.  The August after the bar exam is done is a time for:

  1. Sleep (lots and lots of sleep)
  2. Eating healthy food (after probably months of munching late-night fried foods during study sessions and copious consumption of adult beverages in the days before graduation)
  3. Exercise (see #2)
  4. Seeing family members and friends you haven’t seen at all during the crazy of bar exam study
  5. Generally being as low-key as possible

I think those things are harder to do while touring Thailand or visiting 15 European countries in 15 days.  Going on a vacation from which you’ll need a vacation is a terrible idea when you are sleep deprived, probably a little burnt-out, and about to start your first job as a lawyer in a couple of weeks.

Third, after just graduating from law school, I needed time to THINK.  As in, I spend a whole chunk of time lying on the couch and processing the fact that I’d graduated, was about to start my first legal job, etc. etc. etc.  (Plus various personal things like “Holy #%@ I’m getting married in a few months!!!)

My gripe with a fancy bar trip is really two-fold.  First, it’s expensive, and when you are not earning a pay check, things should be cheap.  Second, after the bar exam, you need low-key R&R.  And I think that’s much easier to accomplish on your own couch than during an elephant tour of southern Africa,


* Imagine ominous music playing here.

**The other 10% was spent eating.  Some people eat when they’re stressed.  I’m the opposite – I’m not hungry when stressed, and then eat like a boa constrictor once the stressful event is over.

***Under any other circumstances, it IS crazy.  I’m sorry, but them’s the facts.