Ten Money Questions for Skye Kilaen

In this week’s Ten Money Questions, we speak with Skye Kilaen, who blogs at Lizard Kingdom, Heroine Content and the soon-to-launch All Access Blogging. At last year’s BlogHer conference, Skye taught us how to make simple changes to our blogs so that everyone could read them. Until then, I had never thought about accessibility in these terms and she raised awareness through her passionate presentation. It’s with the same enthusiasm that Skye gets personal in this interview about money, mates, and motherhood. I enjoyed her thoughts. I’m sure you will too!

1. You used student loans to help pay for college but chose the pay-as-you-go plan with graduate school. How can students reconcile the opportunity an education provides with the investment, typically meaning debt, which is required?
The key is to be realistic about how much debt your future income can support without boxing you in. When I was borrowing money for undergrad and my first year of grad school, I had no clue what the total meant. $40K? What’s that? If I had estimated the monthly payments, and then done a little research about what my expected take-home would be as a social worker (clue: not much), I would have cut myself off from loans much earlier. Or I could have decided it was worth it to borrow and then work two jobs later. Either way, making a plan ahead of time is more comfortable than getting your first student loan bill and thinking “Quick, what can I sell on Ebay?”

2. What is your most significant memory about money?
Buying a new bed after my divorce. I had been sleeping on the floor on a comforter for several months because I had no savings when I moved out. I had my parents to fall back on in emergencies, thankfully, but I didn’t want to count on them for basics like food and shelter. I had to figure out how to take care of myself. When I got organized enough to buy a bed (with cash, not credit) and I knew I could still buy groceries and pay rent, I realized I could probably manage my life just fine.

3. What is your worst habit around finances?
Buying clothes that aren’t 100% right for me. Then my clothing budget is used up, and I still have nothing to wear, so I keep spending more money. I daydream about having BlogHer CE Susan Wagner as a personal shopping consultant.

4. I love the tiara in your BlogHer head shot. As princess of your kingdom, do you always pay yourself first?
And here I was thinking of replacing the tiara photo with something more professional!

I’m lucky in my current job, because state government employees have to pay ourselves first - they take 3% of our checks and put it in our state retirement account! So that requires no willpower. But I also include my IRA contributions in my annual budget, and last time I got a raise I started putting some of my paycheck in my 401(k) as well.

It can be really painful to start putting that money away. You’re used to a certain size check and then it goes down... depressing. What’s really depressing, though, is talking to retired folks who are trying to make ends meet on Social Security, or with food stamps. I’d rather skip some recreational spending now and buy a used car instead of a new one if it means I’ll still be able to buy groceries when I’m 70.

5. You recently bought your first home. All the experts say that owning real estate is the cornerstone of wealth. Do you agree? What advice can you give to young adults trying to save for their first home?
Credit rating is more important than cash on hand. Protect it with all of your might. Also, find a mortgage broker who will get you out of paying mortgage insurance. What a scam that is.

6. Do you think motherhood could restrict your finances and curb professional opportunities? How will having a “dependent” alter your life?
I wish I knew. I don’t know whether I’ll want to stay at home or whether after two weeks at home, I’ll be dying to get back to work. I’m lucky to have a choice; most women don’t. I’m definitely not comfortable with the idea of making absolutely no money for several years, even though we’ve planned it so that we can survive on Cody’s income alone. I’ve been working and taking responsibility for myself for so long, it would be hard to give that up. But everything after the end of September is a big question mark right now. Except for sleep deprivation and lots of laundry, I hear that’s guaranteed.

7. If you could buy one thing right now what would it be?
A counter depth refrigerator. We got a cheap EnergyStar rated one when we moved in, and I hate it. We’re probably stuck with it, though, since the thought of paying over $2000 for a refrigerator makes me feel slightly ill. Maybe the scratch-and-dent place in town will get one in. You can cover anything with enough refrigerator magnets, right?

8. You currently live in Texas, but have lived in various parts of the country. Which is more important: how much money you make, how you spend it or where you live?
I would say that where you live plays a big, big role. Living in Boston was constraining because rent was so expensive and very few landlords there take dogs. I couldn’t shop around at all, I had to beg people to take me as a tenant. I couldn’t make much more money without a graduate degree, and I couldn’t take a lower-paying job with a nonprofit because of my student loans. I should have taken a second job, but my commute was so long during the week that I just couldn’t bear it. Coming back to Austin eased a lot of that pressure.

However, I had friends in Boston who made more money and had cheaper apartments - but they spent most of their money on going out, having their hair colored every month at $100 a pop, etc. I put any money my parents gave me towards my student loans, their windfalls went to trips abroad. I was jealous of their lifestyles, but I gritted my teeth and several years later I was way ahead on debt reduction. My friends were refinancing their student loans over 30 year terms so they could afford their payments.

Then there are the people that no matter where they live, how hard they work, and how well they manage their money, they just can’t make enough to support themselves and their families. I try to remember those people when I find myself complaining about how I “can’t afford” something. Usually I could afford whatever it is if I really wanted to, by making different choices about how I spend my money. The same is not true of people who are trying to raise kids on minimum wage jobs. I was very lucky to be born in an educated, affluent family that could support me in my education and keep me from running up credit card debt when I needed $800 worth of dental surgery one year. Before I spend a lot of time congratulating myself for my success, I need to remember how much of that was given to me.

9. You spoke about accessibility and blogging at BlogHer last summer which taught us that blogs should be open to all users on the Internet, regardless of disability. Are there monetary benefits to building accessible websites or blogs or is it just about doing the right thing and encouraging compliance?
No one can guarantee that if you make your blog or website more accessible, you’ll see an immediate jump in sales or ad revenue or get offered that dream job. However, it makes sense that you will benefit if more people can get to the information on your site. As a bonus, many of the changes recommended for accessibility also improve search engine optimization.

Many people may think that no people with disabilities visit their websites or read their blogs. The truth about the internet is that you never really know who’s visiting your site, and you definitely don’t know how many people have tried, but found the information inaccessible and never came back. Especially if you include people with advanced arthritis, poor vision, and other conditions that we don’t usually think of when we hear the word “disabilities,” I would bet that everyone has website visitors who would benefit from more accessible design. For example, my mom is terribly nearsighted. If you’re trying to sell anything related to gardening, books, or home repair and your site uses a black font on a dark orange background, you’re not going to end up with any of her money.

It’s also worth noting that Target is being sued for not making their website accessible to people with visual disabilities. Ouch! Even though this particular lawsuit is narrowly tailored, I wonder how long websites are going to be exempt from the same kind of considerations the law requires of buildings that serve the public. And it’s always cheaper to build in accessibility from the get-go than to rebuild a site later - or get sued.

10. You were married at a young age, then divorced and are now remarried. How did money play a role in both of these relationships?
At age 21, I married someone with a very different style of money management. Basically, he did none. All the responsibility was on me to keep him from running up big credit card balances, and that was stressful. I expected him to be the breadwinner and didn’t work as much as I should have, so that was hard on him as well. There were plenty of other problems in that relationship, but constant struggles over money made everything else harder to deal with. A year and a half later, I gave up and left.

Before I married Cody last year, I made sure that we were compatible on money management. I even asked him to log into his bank account online and let me look through it. He agreed and answered all of my questions openly. I have total confidence that he won’t spend a bunch of money that we don’t have, so I don’t have to be the money cop. We have similar views on when to pay bills, how to make large purchases, and who should make the long-term plans and research investment options (me, ’cause I like it). As we’re figuring out how this impending parenthood thing will affect our budget, I know we’ll work as a team, and that’s very reassuring.

Read other interviews in Nina’s Ten Money Questions series at Queercents.