Ten Money Questions for Heather Barmore
By Nina Smith on January 26, 2008
In this week’s Ten Money Questions we speak with Heather Barmore, one of BlogHer’s Contributing Editors for Business, Career & Personal Finance. She also blogs at No Pasa Nada. In her money posts, Heather always offers a refreshing and honest view about finances. She lives up to this reputation in her answers below. Enjoy!
1. You’re a rarity in that you escaped college without any student loan debt. Does this make it easier for you to get ahead financially?
I didn’t realize how rare it was until after I graduated from college and started reading more about personal finance. Throughout college many of my close friends had parents who paid for their educations because they – our parents – wanted for us to be as ‘free’ to do what we really wanted to do without having that burden of paying back several thousand dollars. It’s helping me more now than it did at first; at 21 I was broke no matter who was paying for what and at 24 I am making more and saving more without the fear of Citibank knocking on my door to get their money back.
2. What is your most significant memory about money?
My parents never ever, ever spoke of money. Not what they bought or how much they paid for things. NOTHING. Then one day my mother calls me up and says “There’s a house being built on Martha’s Vineyard and I put an offer on it”. And I was like “Ummm, excuse me? You did what? And Where?” It’s not like houses on the Vineyard are cheap. So I took it upon myself to ask for $200 and she was like “Yeah right. Get your own money.” And this is when I began to learn the difference between my parent’s money and my money. They have money and if I want to go on vacation to Europe then I have to save my money. Ever since then, borrowing like $20 requires a contract in blood. Because it’s THEIR money and they’re both all about forcing me to save to get what I really want.
3. What is your worst habit around finances?
I am so guilty of guesstimating. It is such a huge fiscal sin and I am always wrong and yet I do it all the time. It’s like playing a game of Russian roulette repeatedly knowing full well that the end might not always be what I was hoping for. I finally check my online bank statement and I’m off by like $150. And it’s never like there is something that cannot be covered but oh my God, I’ll get gas and be like “Oh it was roughly $15” apparently I’m living in 1999 because it was ‘roughly’ $45. I should probably stop doing that.
4. Awhile back you confessed that you didn’t contribute to your 401(k). Now that you do, why does this signal to the world (and your family!) that you are a real adult?
Suddenly people start suggesting accountants and their tax specialists and I’m all “Only adults have accountants”. Then I go back to counting on my fingers. I don’t feel like an adult but apparently the world thinks that I am because I have savings. This past year has been very interesting for me financially and what really freaks me out and makes me feel all adult like is when people seriously suggest purchasing real estate. I still can’t say ‘purchase a house’ without laughing.
5. Since you’ve been covering Business, Career and Personal Finance, what has been the single most meaningful post? How is it relevant to your pocketbook?
Writing SINKing and Loving It hit me with the sudden reality of how sensitive the topic of money can be. It also showed the massive chasm that lies between a single woman in her mid-20s and a married woman with two children in her mid-30s. Obviously the differences between the two had always been in the back of my mind but when you enter into the subject of disposable income and how it’s spent, just remember to tread very, very lightly. The relevance to my pocketbook is the reality that as a single woman, in my mid-20’s with a career, I have a disposable income and can do what I wish with it. I still save, but I can also peruse Banana Republic at my leisure and get regular manicures and pedicures. I can go out for drinks with my friends and I don’t think I should be made to feel guilty for doing what most single people are doing at this point in their lives; ennjoying themselves. I don’t think I should be admonished for exercising my right and my decision to spend my ‘extra’ money on a Kate Spade sample sale and not on shoes for my five year old. And when I have children (or prepare to have children) things will obviously change but until that moment, I’m going to have fun with the life that I have now as it will all go by far too quickly.
6. Who or what experience taught you the value of a dollar?
It was last winter, sadly. I needed a new laptop and a new bed, desperately. My parents were very well aware that I needed both and yet both were pretty adamant that I needed to use my money and if I truly ‘needed’ these things then I would think of a way to get them. I babysat twice a week for months. All my friends would go out on Saturday nights and I would have to work around my babysitting schedule. It was exhausting and tedious and I spent a lot of time contemplating tubal ligations. In the end it was worth it as every cent went into savings and I ended up with a bed and a Macbook. With CASH. Now it’s something I do automatically; anything I want I HAVE to purchase with cash. If I don’t have it then I save it for the next month or later. It’s fun to see how quickly I can save for what I really want and a lot safer than that game of Russian Roulette I’m usually playing with my checking account.
7. You used to have a reputation for frivolous purchases. What changed?
It’s not that I have a reputation for frivolous purchases it is that people perceive that I am spending frivolously based on tunnel vision from where they are in their lives compared to where I am in mine. I had this conversation recently when I was feeling defensive and a very wise person brought to my attention that what might be frivolous to a stay at home mother of two isn’t frivolous to a 24 year old single woman. A nice black bag from Coach that isn’t trendy and covered in ugly ‘C’s isn’t frivolous to me it’s what I use everyday for work no matter the season. Do I enjoy Coach? Do I enjoy Stuart Weitzman? Yes I do enjoy these things but I’m not buying myself $300 ballet flats every two weeks. Too often one thing is read and that automatically someone into an arbitrary category. I’m not opening up my bank account for the world to see, I’m discussing one fairly innocuous shopping trip and that should be the end of it, but it never is for some people. Mention that you enjoy your pearls and Anthropologie and that makes you a person who is wholly fiscally irresponsible. Unless your name is Suze Orman, there is no need for yelling at me about my finances.
And really nothing has changed with my ‘frivolous’ purchases. People tend to get riled up when I mention a new purchase from Kate Spade but when I mentioned going to Paris it’s all “Bon Voyage!” Last I checked going to Paris isn’t a necessity and my frivolous purchases, or what others may feel are frivolous purchases, have only gotten bigger.
8. On your personal blog, you like to discuss wine more than money. What percentage of your income gets tagged for indulgences? How do you strike a balance between enjoying life and spending wisely?
My personal blog isn’t exactly a money blog. In fact I hardly ever mention money on my personal blog because I’m writing about it so much everywhere else. Hell by the time I’m done writing about money, I deserve a glass of wine. Also wine isn’t what I would call an indulgence only because a good bottle of ‘cheap’ wine rarely runs me more than $12 and even then I hem and haw about it because the Yellowtail is always $6.99. When I lived in DC wine was sold in Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods so I would always pick up a few bottles and it would be part of my grocery bill without second thought. In New York liquor and wine are sold separately so now I have to actually think about how I spend money on wine.
There isn’t an exact percentage that I’ve tagged for indulgences but I do have two separate checking accounts. I was very specific when making up my budget so that I could plan for everything. So my account for ‘necessities’ also includes money for that inevitable trip to Target and the amount I spend on personal products along with rent and groceries. The other account is for indulgences like movies, Netflix, itunes purchases, whatever. When that money is gone, it’s gone. Dividing up my money this way was the only way I was able to strike a balance. Before I’d spend my food money on a new sweater from J.Crew, then I’d go crying to my parents about not having any money for food. Doing it this way keeps me from getting confused and has made things considerably easier.
9. Do you have any financial conditions for the men you date?
Good Lord. No. And to be honest I’m laughing because it’s never crossed my mind. Perhaps I’ll add it to my list: Must be a bleeding heart liberal, enjoy Spanish wines and make six figures. If I start doing that I’ll be single forever. But I suppose that will keep people from getting on my case for buying shoes; they’ll feel bad for me for being a spinster.
As an aside, Chris Rock had this great joke the other night about getting a credit check before marriage instead of blood tests. Before getting married one half of the couple may owe $50,000. Once married it’s WE owe $50,000. So there is one financial condition; I refuse to be with someone who lies about their finances. And from what I understand a credit check is far cheaper than divorce.
10. How old were you when you got your first credit card? How did you learn to use it responsibly?
This is my favorite story to tell. It’s like the ultimate HB is a dumbass moment. It’s funny now but it wasn’t all that funny before. For my 19th birthday my mother sends me a card and includes a platinum credit card. In the card she writes “Be, This card is for EMERGENCIES ONLY but feel free to spend $50 as a birthday gift. Love, Mom”. I am a 19 year old with a fake ID, living in Washington, DC where there is a Sephora on every other corner and I’m supposed to use a credit card for emergencies only? That’s nice, but no. I used that credit card for EVERYTHING. I ended up losing a ton of weight that year so I bought myself a whole new wardrobe. It’s amazing how many more stores can be discovered when your ass is smaller. I would go to bars in Georgetown and leave the tab open for my friends. Here’s a bit of a lesson for you: Grey Goose is not an emergency! I thought my mother was going to drive down to DC to kill me with her bare hands herself. She didn’t. I was scolded a few hundred times then the card was taken away and hidden in the most obvious place ever. So I busted it out for one last hoorah and took it outlet shopping. And THEN my mother killed me.
It’s funny now because of the absurdity and stupidity of it all. It’s a classic case of what not to do. If you give your child a credit card accompany it with a ‘Come to Jesus’ discussion about how credit cards work. Don’t just say, “Here you go, sweet child of mine” and expect that your child will automatically be responsible and know that credit cards need to be paid off. College students do not know these things so parents really, really, REALLY, need to have this discussion with their kids before they go out into the real world so that they don’t make the same egregious errors that I did. Trust me; no parent wants to discover a purchase of Titleist golf clubs on their credit card statement; because then that parent will beat that child with a four iron and that wouldn’t be good for anyone.
More about Heather Barmore
Heather is a ‘recent’ college graduate who finds being an adult in the ‘real world’ a rather crappy deal after paying that much for private education. She shops a lot, owns a lot of Coach bags, drinks a lot of wine, always wears pearls and can tie a cherry stem with her tongue. She blogs at No Pasa Nada.
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