Fending off the Consumer Economy: Expecting a Newborn Baby

“You will always be your child’s favorite toy.” – Vicki Lansky

I had a meltdown last weekend at Babies R Us. We were there doing research on the things needed come December. This is when our baby arrives. We’re adopting (in case you aren’t current with our two year fertility saga) and December is when the birthmother is due.

Friends, neighbors and family members have offered to host three separate baby showers. The sheer enthusiasm about our pending parenthood is quite sweet, but the concept of a baby registry is completely foreign to me. Hence, the trip to Babies R Us to get the lay of the land. And that land, my childless friends, is bizarre.

First of all, 90 percent of this world is composed of plastic (see Jennifer’s post at Queercents on how to minimize the plastics found in the lives of our young children!). Second, it taps into the consumerist culture that personifies many Americans. Susan Gregory Thomas, the author of Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds expressed some notable things in a Salon.com interview last year including:
Noam Chomsky said it best when he said the consumer economy takes our concerns, commodifies them and sells them back to us.
This pretty much sums up Babies R Us! New parents beware. Before entering the store, we printed Mombian’s list of essential Baby Gear to keep us focused on the basics. It was an excellent guide. And as Susan Gregory Thomas emphasizes:
Life itself is very stimulating — children don’t need a lot of this extra stuff. Just being with your parents and getting to relax and hang out, or even just sort of sitting in the bouncy seat and watching your mom type on the keyboard as she does her work, or going to the market, or just taking a nap and cuddling, is all the stimulation a baby needs.
Ok, I get it! We need the bouncy seat, maybe the Baby Bjorn, a good stroller, a car seat, a Pack & Play (which can double as a bassinette in the first couple of months), and a crib. But most of the stuff located in the other forty aisles just taps into the fears of new parents.

We left without buying a thing. As I said, we were there doing research and once we were armed with a baseline on prices, we went home and I spent the rest of the afternoon doing searches on Craigslist. I’m certain some mothers would be horrified at the thought of buying anything second hand for their new baby… but Jeanine and I are in total agreement that second hand is fine and preferred for things like nursery furniture.

So we made our first few purchases and I’m proud to say, a week later, we couldn’t be more pleased with our decision and the results. We bought a Pali crib from a nice family in Laguna Beach. The crib is Italian-made, aesthetically in line with the rest of our home furnishings, and was less than half the price if we had purchased it new. Total cost: $350 and this included a high quality mattress (which would have set us back another $100 at Babies R Us!). Of course, I first read up on the ins and outs of selecting a baby crib.

We then went to the consignment shop and bought an antique rocker for $150. Next on the list is a mahogany dresser that will act as the changing table. After all, does he really need furniture specially made with blue bunnies stenciled all over it!?

What do you think? About our consuming culture and raising consuming kids? About new vs. second hand? About marketing to young parents? About what is the right amount of money to be spending on preparations for a newborn? The philosophy behind the baby registry and baby showers? My new parent preparing mind wants to hear your thoughts in the comments section over at Queercents.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.

Ten Money Questions for Michael Jacoby

Michael Jacoby is a filmmaker and director of Ten More Good Years, a new documentary about LGBT elders and the governmental and social injustices experienced by those growing old and gay in America. It’s screening around the world at a number of film festivals this fall and has been licensed by both the Sundance Channel and LOGO.

Of course, money plays a part in aging and it’s only natural for Queercents to want to understand more. Michael hopes to change a few perceptions with his film and answers.

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

I.O.U.S.A: compulsory viewing for every dollar-spending American

“Capitalism without failure is like Christianity without hell.” – Warren Buffett

I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt. is the new Sundance-selected documentary that I watched recently. Michelle Orange of The Village Voice called it an Inconvenient Truth for the debt crisis. The film addresses four deficits confronting America: the budget deficit, the savings deficit, balance of payments/trade deficit, and of course, our leadership deficit.

In the wake of last week’s banking meltdown, the film warns in timely tone, “What’s coming down the pike could make the subprime mortgage problem seem like a speed-bump.” The New York Times calls it:

Yet another documentary that everyone should see but most will not, “I.O.U.S.A.” tackles the unsexy topic of our soaring national debt and its likely consequences for present and future Americans — or at least those who survive the tsunamis, water shortages and Beijing-level air quality promised by Al Gore.

Brimful of disquieting facts on inflation, trade deficits and Wall Street’s influence on national monetary policy, Patrick Creadon’s resolutely nonpartisan movie tracks America’s “fiscal cancer” through centuries of budgetary highs and lows.
Deficits and Americans: this isn’t really a recent phenomenon. After all, it took a deficit throughout the Revolutionary War to break free from the British Empire. The nation has typically prospered through each of its ups and downs. The problem now though is the Baby Boomers. With 80 million reaching the age of retirement eligibility, the government has made massive commitments to Social Security and Medicare programs. These and other unfunded liabilities total a staggering $53 trillion and Gen X & Y will pay the price for the ills of the previous generation. Perhaps the Baby Boomers don’t deserve retirement. That might solve some of the problem. Hey Mom and Dad, keep working!

All in all, the film is a bit depressing. And scary too. Of course, it’s meant to be a wake up call. But it seems to fail at the end. Kiplinger.com explains how the director:

…tries to mobilize his audience with a closing sequence that feels like a pep rally, calling viewers to save money and to hold politicians accountable. But just as Gore left viewers mystified as to how joining an e-mail list could solve global warming, I.O.U.S.A.’s call to action sounds a bit feeble…
As Alan Greenspan noted in the film, “Human beings cannot survive unless they create a provision for the future.” Sure, we can all send demanding emails to our Senators and Representatives about the need to do something to halt what appears to be pending fiscal disaster, but it seems like the best remedy begins when it gets personal. As in personal finance. Bottom line, Americans need to save and stop spending more money than we earn.

In an interview at The Huffington Post, the director echoes this sentiment:

I think that is a realistic hope. I also hope people who watch our film start saving more money and investing it wisely. Without savings there is no future, and yet for the past 2 years America has had a negative savings rate. We’ve spent more money than we’ve earned. That has to stop.
The book version just became available on Amazon. For more information about the movie and The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour, visit:
Have you seen the documentary? What were your feelings? Please share your comments over at Queercents.

Ten Money Questions for Heather Matarazzo

Years after Ellen paved the way; it still takes courage to be out in Hollywood. Heather Matarazzo is one brave actor and although she’s neither richer nor poorer because of it, her roles continue to captivate in priceless ways.

Probably best known for playing Dawn Wiener in Welcome to the Dollhouse, Heather has come of age and recently became engaged to musician, Carolyn Murphy. Chalk it up to love, progress and same-sex marriage in California! She takes some time to talk money, matrimony and the business of acting with Queercents.

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Coffee Break

“Put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers.” – Glengarry Glen Ross

I'm out this week... busy working, traveling to far away places and of course, drinking some espresso! Please visit the writers of Queercents in my absence.

Ten Money Questions for Michael Landa

Michael Landa founded The Pet Staff with Brett Montana in 2001 and it’s now the largest professional in-home pet sitting and dog walking service in greater Los Angeles. Their service offers a personalized, stress free and healthy alternative to the traditional method of kennel boarding pets.

This week’s interview offers a different perspective to the often talked about topic of pet costs at Queercents. There’s nothing quite like gays, their pets and Hollywood! “Sit Ubu, sit. Good dog!”

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Your Money at Work on the Shifting Careers blog at NYTimes.com

“Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” – Thomas J. Watson

Marci Alboher, the Shifting Careers columnist for The New York Times, invited me to post again about work and money. The topic this time: Are Personal Finances the Boss’s Business?

Most people know someone at work who has gotten a call from a debt collector, maxed out her credit cards or given a list of reasons about why he can’t afford to contribute to the company’s 401(k) plan. In our tell-all culture, it’s easy to catch the clues about financial missteps.

As an employee with an extracurricular interest in personal finance, I’m always fascinated when I see a co-worker who is careless with money or hear about his financial problems at home. I have often wondered if I would scrutinize the situation differently if I were the boss. After all, should the personal part of one’s finances matter at work?
Continue reading at Shifting Careers.

The Mommy Economy: A Review of The Feminine Mistake

“Motherhood is a state of being, not a job description.” – Sara Nelson

When I announced to one of my sisters that Jeanine and I plan to work full time after the baby is born (we’re adopting a newborn boy and he arrives in December!), she asked, “What’s the point of having children if you’re both going to work?”
The question, coming from my competitive sister, was hardly a surprise. After all, she gave up her career as a CPA to stay at home with her three young children and in her mind; this was the just the “right” thing to do. With the youngest now in first grade, she went back to work part time. Of course, I wanted to ask: why on earth would you have children if you were going to work?

I didn’t because I already knew the answer: it was based on economics. They need the money. Most families do these days. That said, my sister seems happier (and I think is probably a better mom) when she’s working. These are the same arguments made by Leslie Bennetts in her book: The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?

I met Bennetts recently at a panel discussion in Los Angeles entitled: Baby I’m Bored: When Did Motherhood Become a Career and is it a Professional Disaster? The audio broadcast is available here. It was moderated by the brilliant Meghan Daum:

Forty years ago, the term “stay at home mom” would have been considered redundant. Twenty years ago, “housewife” had become a dirty word and the ability to balance family and career was seen as an extension of female self-respect and empowerment. Today, some women are rejecting the 1980s-era notion of “having it all” by dropping out of the workforce–sometimes permanently–to raise their children. In her book The Feminine Mistake, journalist Leslie Bennetts suggests that women have been oversold on the idea they must choose between being good workers and being good mothers. Using extensive data, she suggests that women who stop working even temporarily sacrifice much more than financial stability.
A lot of people disliked this book when it came out last year. There were plenty of SAHM’s that thought Bennetts was the anti-Christ. Of course, it makes perfect sense they would be defensive about their choice to opt out of the workforce. I was surprised though when the writer at The New Yorker gave it a tepid review.

Unlike those above, I loved this book for its financial stance and have been sounding the trumpets ever since Bennetts signed my copy and warned that many gay and lesbian parents were falling into the same trap as their traditional counterparts. In the book, Bennetts cautions women:
What I want to do is sound a warning to women who forgo income-producing work in favor of a domestic role predicated on economic dependency. My first goal is to document the long-term dangers of that choice in hopes of persuading these women to reevaluate its costs. My second goal is to reaffirm the immense value of income-producing work that gives women financial autonomy along with innumerable other rewards. In the endless acrimony of the culture wars, those key factors seem to have been largely overlooked, at least in the media and the standard public debate.
I meet more and more gays and lesbians who are opting out of the workforce to stay home with their kids. They cite many of the same reasons that straight mothers use: the high costs of childcare out weighs the income and benefits of working, it’s better for the kids if one of us stays home, my partner’s career is more important (and he/she makes more money).

According to the trade group, the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies, the average cost of infant care is 10.6 percent of household income. Bennetts writes:
Discouraged by such warnings, women often decide to give up their careers, rationalizing that choice with the thought that they would be working only to pay for child care, and that their work would therefore be pointless. But this argument completely fails to take into account the long-term development of any worker’s earnings potential. Your own career is an investment you make in yourself, one that – unless it is interrupted or derailed – will pay dividends throughout your life.

Some benefits are financial, some are intellectual or creative, and others involve different kinds of personal growth. If you devote your life to supporting your husband’s career, all those dividends belong to him – as does the career itself. Ultimately it’s his asset, not yours. This basic fact many not become apparent unless you lose your breadwinner, whether through divorce, illness or death – but the harsh truth is that a dependent wife spends her life enhancing an asset that, in the end, may not even belong to her.

This makes about as much sense as putting millions of dollars’ worth of renovations into a house you don’t even own. Few intelligent people would sink a lot of money into refurbishing a rental, but stay-at-home wives think nothing of subordinating their own financial interests to those of their husbands, blithely assuming that those interests will never diverge.
What spoke to me about this book is how quickly we’ll give up our financial independence in the name of motherhood. Of course, the intent of this review and post is not to start the lesbian mommy wars. Actually, I think the review at Salon.com says it best:
In the end, I’m not sure the book’s bravado will be entirely convincing to all of the women she wants to persuade. It’s deaf to the way a child and family-centered life calls out to a lot of women, and to some men. When I’ve written on these topics before and gotten shrill about the importance of having a career and keeping maternal urges in check, I’ve gotten thoughtful and sometimes persuasive letters from women and a few men who derive more joy from family than from work, who’ve sacrificed to make sure at least one parent is regularly home with their kids, who take the time to make their house a home, not in a competitive or compulsive way, but out of love and longing. I no longer dismiss them as victims of a new feminine mystique.
Still, I’m glad to have “The Feminine Mistake” reminding women to protect their future and that of their kids. In the end, women have to search their hearts, and not merely books, to find the right balance of child rearing, work and home for their own lives.
After reviewing a book, I typically raffle it off to those that entertain me in the comments section over at Queercents. Sorry gang, I’m keeping this one. I want it for our library so if Jeanine ever comes home after a hard day wanting to opt out of the workforce, I can point to it and say, read! Or who knows, maybe it will be me that gets the crazy idea…

I certainly understand that making money isn’t the cure all and I’m just about to find out how hard the balancing act is. After all, I’ll be a WAHM paying for childcare, but still traveling internationally for my job. I write this on the brink of packing for another 7 day trip: London, Paris, Rome. It all sounds so glamorous as a childless career girl. But wow, the reality of motherhood is about to hit our household. And I’ll be turning to Leslie Bennetts’ book as a reminder that financial independence still trumps diaper duty in my Queercents opinion.

So lesbian mommies (and gay daddies too!), what’s your take on this topic? If you’re a stay at home parent, are there any safeguards you can put in place to protect your finances and ability to return to the workforce down the road? Please feel free to comment on the original post at Queercents.

Ten Money Questions for Anne Stockwell

Most recently, Anne Stockwell ruled gay LA as the Editor in Chief of The Advocate. She’s also one of the founders of MoneyPants.com. Anne is a talented writer with a side interest in money. Writer! Money! Needless to say, I have an enormous crush on her. What’s not to love? To titillate my fancy, she agreed to our ten money questions. I hope you enjoy her words as much as I did!

Mosey on over to Queercents to read more or catch other interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

The Secret to Money: Gratitude and Thankfulness

“Happiness is self-contentedness.” – Aristotle

Recently, I’ve been jazzed about The Secret. I suspect a lot of you are saying, “Oh, jeez!” But hear me out. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie but I downloaded the audio version from iTunes about a month ago and it has made my morning run more enjoyable. I’m training for a half marathon in October, so it feels like I’m running a lot these days and the ideas that make up The Secret have been motivating me along the way. Some people are spurred on by music. I gravitate to podcasts and audiobooks on iTunes U.

The Secret isn’t really a secret. It’s an anecdotal book blending self-help, pop psychology and motivational theory. The secret is “The Law of Attraction” and the author and her “experts” believe that what we think creates what we feel. If our feelings are positive, then positive energy and experiences flow back to us. Like attracts like. We are our thoughts.

There certainly are plenty of skeptics. At the other extreme, there are die-hard devotees. I’m somewhere in the middle. I regard the principles metaphorically, not literally… much in the same way that I’d choose to appreciate the Bible or other sacred texts. Does it really matter if it’s nothing more than pseudo-scientific twaddle? Can’t I glean a few truths about positive thinking and goal setting and call it a day. For me personally, I find this to be motivating. I find it inspiring. And listening to it makes six miles feel like three. I’m hoping in another month it will make 13 miles feel like 6.

How does this apply to money? The Secret to Money isn’t really any different than Napoleon Hill’s Think & Grow Rich where he explains how riches are the offspring of thought. But is wealth really a mindset as so many people claim?

I believe most things begin with changing your thinking. Lana recently wrote an excellent series at Queercents about building wealth consciousness from within… it’s worth reading (purchase the eBook here) especially if you struggle with negative thought patterns when it comes to money.

I consider myself a happy and positive person, but I’d probably never use the word grateful to describe me. To be honest, I never really understood the concept of gratitude and thankfulness until I started listening to The Secret. What’s the magic with these concepts? And what’s the difference between the two?

“Gratefulness is full awareness; thankfulness is thoughtfulness.”

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and the person behind Gratefulness.org, explains the difference in this column on Beliefnet:

Do you remember a night when you stood outdoors looking up at the stars, countless in the high, silent dome of the sky, and saw them as if for the first time? What happened?

Eugene O’Neill described his experience this way: “For a moment I lost myself–actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the…high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life…to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way.” [You may have good reasons for not putting it that way, for not using the G-word, but in any case you have caught a glimpse of “something greater” than your limited self.] “For a second you see–and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning!”

In the second that follows, you may hear your heart calling out, “Thank you, thank you!” – “to God, if you want to put it that way,” or to no one in particular. But let us steady our focus on the second of gratefulness before thankfulness. Why do I call that wild joy of belonging “gratefulness?” Because it is our full appreciation of something altogether undeserved, utterly gratuitous–life, existence, ultimate belonging–and this is the literal meaning of grate-full-ness.

In a moment of gratefulness, you do not discriminate. You fully accept the whole of this given universe, as you are fully one with the whole.
In the very next moment, when the fullness of gratitude overflows into thanksgiving, the oneness you were experiencing breaks up. Now you are beginning to think in terms of giver, gift, and receiver. Gratefulness turns into thankfulness. This is a different fullness. A moment ago you were fully aware; now you are thoughtful. Gratefulness is full awareness; thankfulness is thoughtfulness.
I remember as a born-again, Christ-like teenager, I never quite understood the concept of prayer. Prayer would have made a lot more sense if someone had explained it to me in terms of gratitude and thankfulness. In The Secret, Rhonda Byrne writes:
With all that I have read and all that I have experienced in my own life using The Secret, the power of gratitude stands above everything else. If you do only one thing with the knowledge of The Secret, use gratitude until it becomes your way of life.
With money, it begins with being content with what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. Leo Babauta at ZenHabits writes:
The reason we get into financial trouble, oftentimes, is that we buy more than we can afford. And the root of that buying is buying things we want instead of only things we need, and the root of that is not being content with what we already have.

Finding contentment with the stuff you have and with a simpler life can lead to buying less, to buying things we need instead of want, and to only spending what we can afford. I know this first-hand, as uncontrolled spending led to debt for me, and contentedness led to me getting out of debt.
Gratitude, thankfulness and contentment are the foundation for a rich life and I believe, when coupled with sound financial decisions; we realize wealth. What do you think? Feel free to comment over at Queercents.

Photo credit: stock.xchng.