My Book Review of Markus Zusak’s, I Am the Messenger

Synopsis:
Protect the diamonds survive the clubs dig deep through the spades feel the hearts Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

My Review – 3 stars
I LOVED the first chapter and would give it 5 stars. I then learned you shouldn’t judge a book by its first chapter ?. After reading chapter one I assumed I would like this book better than The Book Thief, Zusak’s 2005 historical fiction novel which I rated 5 stars. However, I was wrong with my assumption. I Am the Messenger went downhill from there.

Was it because of my high expectations from the get-go? I don’t think that was the only issue. One of the biggest problems for me was Zusak’s writing style. The story had a good premise but his fragmented sentences brought about an affected and grandiose element. It didn’t feel like it was a natural evolution of the plot. If he had been a little less forceful with his writing style the story may have been more enjoyable.

Another problem was the characters. I didn’t like Ed or any of his friends. I find that I need to appreciate at least one character to like a book but I didn’t like any of them. I don’t think it was the lack of character development but a true dislike of the people in the story.

My Favorite Quotes:
“Believe it or not – it takes a lot of love to hate you like this.”

“I’m just another stupid human.”

“That was when the world wasn’t so big and I could see everywhere. It was when my father was a hero and not a human.”

“She soon says, ‘You’re my best friend, Ed.’  You can kill a man with those words. No gun. No bullets. Just words and a girl.”

“Have you ever noticed that idiots have a lot of friends? It’s just an observation.”

“Big things are often just little things that people notice.”

Final Thoughts:
I was disappointed in this book but I’ll admit it wasn’t my kind of story and the characters were not my kind of people. Zusak’s writing style made it even worse. It’s a shame because I tremendously enjoyed his book, The Book Thief. All in all, I gave this book 3 stars because of its first chapter and its original plot.

Why I Stopped Eating Gluten

Why I Stopped Eating Gluten:

Back in 2010, I was having consistent nausea. I wasn’t vomiting but it felt like a bad version of car sickness 80% of my waking hours. I was frustrated because the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with me and my blood work came back “a picture of perfect health.” In the meantime, my sister was having similar issues but of a more serious nature. She also went to the doctors and had tests done including a test for celiac disease. It came back that she didn’t have celiac disease but she was gluten intolerant.  She then changed her diet and was suddenly a much happier person. She then suggested I give the “no gluten” diet a try to see if that was it. At that point I was sick and tired of feeling nauseous. It was beginning to wear on me so I gave it a try.

Why I stopped eating gluten...

What Happened When I Eliminated It From My Diet:

I went all out and eliminated gluten from my diet. I was not a die-hard pasta or bread fan so it wasn’t that big of a deal. However, I did have to learn what “gluten” was and make a new menu for my meals which many times differed from what my family was having.  Within two days I felt great. I had no more nausea and I had other surprising and positive side effects that have continued to this day.

One of the most notable side effects was a huge increase in energy. I thought lacking energy was a normal thing for a career mother of two kids. I would go home from work every night feeling exhausted and have to slug my way through the evening routine of homework, baths and prepping for the next day. My nausea was gone and my energy had gone through the roof.  I imagine I was a lot more pleasant to be around as well.

Within a couple weeks I had lost 5-7 pounds. I was not overweight but apparently my change in diet made enough of a difference. At that time, I was still a sugar addict so instead of having cake or cookies full of gluten, I would have a gluten free candy bar such as a snickers bar (yum!). I opted to stay away from the cakes, cookies and donuts which were always in abundance at my workplace. I would prefer not to be nauseous. It was well worth avoiding as long as I could get my sugar fix in elsewhere. This could be the reason for my weight loss (less cookies and cakes). Of course I quickly tested out various gluten free baked goods made with rice flour which often times I found to be tastier than the baked goods made with wheat flour.

Another great benefit was an improvement in my mood. I’ve always dealt with depression and continued to struggle with it but I seemed to have a lot less ups and downs. I also noticed my PMS wasn’t as bad. It’s possible my mood improvement had no relation to the gluten reduction but all in all I felt consistently better.

Why Was I Suddenly Gluten Intolerant?

The question then was why suddenly did I have a gluten intolerance? After doing some research and a bunch of reading, the only thing I could figure is that auto-immune disorders run in my family (Type 1 Diabetes, Sjogrens Disease) and I probably had an intolerance all along. I read that if you have a trauma to your body it can trigger more symptoms of autoimmune disorders. When I think back on it, I had started feeling the major nausea after I ran my second half marathon. It may have started gradually during my training but I most likely brushed it off and assumed it was due to over-training.

My Current Stance On Gluten:

Due to the way I feel when I eat gluten I have chosen never to eat it again. I’m not saying this should be everyone’s choice. On the other hand, I do believe if gluten is eliminated there is a great uptick in your health and the way you feel. I’m a believer in “everything in moderation” but I have found that some people who have health issues eat gluten way too much. I don’t believe in fad diets and unfortunately the GF diet has been labeled as one and has gotten a bad rap. However, I still hold strong to my belief that gluten should be eliminated due to my personal experience as well as a few other people I know.  If you’re not convinced, you should read a book called Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health.  You may also give going gluten-free a try for a few weeks and see how you feel. You may be surprised (or not).

Below is a great article cited from authoritynutrition.com

Here are 6 reasons why gluten is bad for some people:

1. Celiac Disease is on The Rise and Most People Remain Undiagnosed

Gluten is a protein composite found in several types of grains, including wheat, spelt, rye and barley. Gluten consists of two proteins… gliadin and glutenin. It is the gliadin part that people react negatively to.

When flour is mixed with water, gluten forms a sticky cross-linked network of proteins, giving elastic properties to dough and allowing bread to rise when baked. Actually, the name gluten is derived from these glue-like properties. When gluten reaches the digestive tract and is exposed to the cells of the immune system, they mistakenly believe that it is coming from some sort of foreign invader, like a bacteria. In certain people who are sensitive to gluten, this causes the immune system to mount an attack against it.

In celiac disease (the most severe form of gluten sensitivity), the immune system attacks the gluten proteins, but it also attacks an enzyme in the cells of the digestive tract called tissue transglutaminase. Therefore, gluten exposure in celiacs causes the immune system to attack both the gluten as well as the intestinal wall itself. For this reason, celiac disease is classified as an autoimmune disease. The immune reaction can cause degeneration of the intestinal wall, which leads to nutrient deficiencies, various digestive issues, anemia, fatigue, failure to thrive as well as an increased risk of many serious diseases.

Celiac disease is believed to afflict about 1% of people, but it may be more common (over 2%) in the elderly. There are also studies showing that the rate of celiac disease is increasing rapidly in the population.

Keep in mind that a large percentage of celiacs don’t even have abdominal symptoms, making diagnosis on clinical grounds very difficult. The symptoms might manifest themselves in different ways, like fatigue, anemia… or something much worse, like a doubled risk of death in several studies. According to one study, over 80% of people with celiac disease don’t even know that they have it.

2. Gluten Sensitivity is Much More Common and Can Also Have Serious Consequences

Bread Caution

You don’t need to have full-blown celiac disease to have adverse reactions to gluten. There is another disorder called gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance), which is much more common.

Although there is no clear definition of gluten sensitivity, it basically means having some sort of adverse reaction to gluten and an improvement in symptoms on a gluten-free diet. If you have adverse reactions to gluten, but celiac disease is ruled out, then it is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there is no attack on the body’s own tissues. However, many of the symptoms are similar to those in celiac disease, including bloating, stomach pain, fatigue, diarrhea, as well as pain in the bones and joints.

Unfortunately… because there is no clear way of diagnosing gluten sensitivity, reliable numbers on how common it is are impossible to find. There are two sources showing that up to 6-8% people may have gluten sensitivity, based on anti-gliadin antibodies found in the blood. However, one gastroenterologist found that 11% of people had antibodies against gluten in their blood and 29% of people had antibodies against it in stool samples. About 40% of people carry the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes, which make people susceptible to gluten sensitivity.

Given that there is no clear definition of gluten sensitivity, or a good way to diagnose it, the only true way of knowing is by eliminating gluten temporarily from your diet, then reintroducing it to see if you have symptoms.

Bottom Line: Gluten sensitivity is much more common than celiac disease, also leading to multiple adverse effects. However, there is no clear way of diagnosing it yet.

3. Gluten May Cause Adverse Effects, Even in People Who Don’t Have Gluten Sensitivity

There are also studies showing that individuals with neither celiac disease nor diagnosed gluten sensitivity have adverse reactions to gluten.

Young Man Eating Bread

In one of these studies, 34 individuals with irritable bowel syndrome were randomized to either a gluten-containing or a gluten-free diet. The group on the gluten-containing diet had more pain, bloating, stool inconsistency and fatigue compared to the other group.

There are also studies showing that gluten can cause inflammation in the intestine and a degenerated intestinal lining. Gluten may also have negative effects on the barrier function of the intestine, allowing unwanted substances to “leak” through into the bloodstream. However, according to one study, this “leakiness” of the gut only happens in celiac patients.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) involves various digestive issues with an unknown cause, afflicting about 14% of people in the U.S. According to the studies above, some cases of IBS may be either caused or exacerbated by gluten. Although this needs to be studied a lot more, it seems very clear that many more people than just celiac patients react negatively to gluten.

Bottom Line: Several studies show that individuals (especially IBS patients) who don’t have diagnosed gluten sensitivity can have adverse reactions to gluten.

4. Many Brain Disorders Are Associated With Gluten and Patients See Dramatic Improvements on a Gluten-Free Diet

Bread

Even though gluten primarily works its “magic” in the gut, it can also have severe effects on the brain. Many cases of neurological illness may be caused and/or exacerbated by gluten consumption. This is called gluten sensitive idiopathic neuropathy.

In a study of patients with neurological illness of an unknown cause, 30 of 53 patients (57%) had antibodies against gluten in the blood. The main neurological disorder believed to be at least partly caused by gluten is cerebellar ataxia, a serious disease of the brain that involves an inability to coordinate balance, movements, problems talking, etc. It is now known that many cases of ataxia are directly linked to gluten consumption. This is called gluten ataxia and involves irreversible damage to the cerebellum, a part of the brain that is important in motor control. Many studies show strong statistical associations between gluten consumption, gluten sensitivity and cerebellar ataxia. There is also a controlled trial showing that ataxia patients improve significantly on a gluten-free diet. There are several other brain disorders that respond well to a gluten-free diet:

  • Schizophrenia: A subset of schizophrenia patients sees massive improvements by removing gluten.
  • Autism: Several studies suggest that people with autism see improvements in symptoms on a gluten-free diet.
  • Epilepsy: There are several reports of patients with epilepsy improving significantly when removing gluten.

If you have any neurological problems and your doctor doesn’t have a clue what is causing them… then it makes sense to try removing gluten from your diet.

Bottom Line: Several disorders of the brain respond well to a gluten-free diet, including autism, schizophrenia and a rare form of epilepsy.

5. Wheat Gluten May be Addictive

 

There are many people who believe that wheat may be addictive. Getting unnatural cravings for things like bread or donuts is very common. Even though this is far from being proven, there are some studies suggesting that gluten may have addictive properties.

When gluten is broken down in a test tube, the peptides that are formed can activate opioid receptors. These peptides (small proteins) are called gluten exorphins. Exorphin = peptide that is not formed in the body, that can activate opioid receptors in the brain. Given that gluten may cause increased permeability in the intestine (at least in celiac patients), some believe that these exorphins can find their way into the bloodstream, then reaching the brain and causing addiction. Gluten exorphins have been found in the blood of celiac patients.

There is also some evidence from animal studies that these opioid-like peptides derived from gluten can make it into the brain. It is well known in various food addiction circles that wheat is one of the most addictive foods there are (right after sugar). This doesn’t prove anything of course, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Bottom Line: Many people report getting unnatural cravings for wheat and there is some evidence of gluten having opioid-like effects. However, this is definitely not proven and is mostly speculation at this point.

6. Gluten is Associated With Autoimmune Diseases

Toast With MargarineAutoimmune diseases are caused by the immune system attacking things that are found naturally in the body. There are many types of autoimmune diseases that affect various organ systems. All of them combined afflict about 3% of the population.

Celiac disease is one type of autoimmune disease and celiac patients are at a drastically increased risk of getting other autoimmune diseases as well. Many studies have found strong statistical associations between celiac disease and various other autoimmune diseases, including Hashimotos Thyroiditis, Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple sclerosis and various others. Additionally, celiac disease is associated with a ton of other serious diseases, many of which have nothing to do with digestion.

Do you have identity theft protection?

Do you know 11 million people were affected by identity theft last year? It continues to be the number one crime in the US. An identity is stolen every 3 seconds, and you could be next.

You may be thinking – this would never happen to me. However, with the growing cyberworld, it’s becoming an increasing problem. You wouldn’t believe the things people do with others’ identities. Here are a few instances and how it can play out:

Andrea Harris-Frazier – Margot Somerville lost her wallet on a trolley. Two years later she was arrested. Andrea Harris-Frazier had defrauded several banks—using Somerville’s identity—out of tens of thousands of dollars. The real crook was caught.

Lara Love and David Jackson – This California couple one day began tapping into a neighbor’s wireless Internet router. This led to them raiding the neighbors’ personal data. Thirty victims were affected ultimately by the time this pair was busted.

Abraham Abdallah – A busboy named Abraham Abdallah got into the bank accounts of Steven Spielberg and other famous people after tricking his victims via computer, getting sufficient data to fake being their financial advisors—then calling their banks…and you know the rest.

Phillip Cummings – This man worked for a software company and sold customers’ credit card reports to a Nigerian ID theft ring for $30 each—30,000 times.

Do you have identity theft protection?

Phishing Schemes
The big thing recently have been phishing e-mails, mainly people pretending to be your bank. If you don’t know what phishing is, it’s the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.

It’s not always easy to detect when someone is pretending to be your bank especially if they’re using the bank’s exact logo and e-mail scheme. However, you should know that your bank would never ask you to provide identifying information via e-mail. To be safe, you should never give personal information electronically or over the phone.

Tax-Refund Fraud
Phishing is not the only big identity theft scheme. As a matter of fact, tax-refund fraud is expected to soar again this tax season and will hit a whopping $21 billion by end of 2016, from just $6.5 billion two years ago.

Here are the aggregated numbers from 2014:

Average number of U.S. identity fraud victims annually: 12,157,400

Total financial loss attributed to identity theft in 2014: $26,350,000,000

Percent of Reported Identity Thefts by Type of Fraud Percent Reported:
Misuse of Existing Credit Card 64.1%
Misuse of Other Existing Bank Account 35%
Misuse of Personal Information 14.2%

Get protected – it’s worth it!

If you don’t have identity theft protection, I’d highly recommend it. It’s worth the small cost – and I don’t say this for many things. ?

My husband and I use IdentityForce. It’s rated in the top three out of hundreds of identity theft protection companies.

IdentityForce excels in the following areas and even has Lost Wallet Assistance:

• Price: Monthly prices range between $12.95 – $19.95
• Comprehensive Identity Protection: Credit Monitoring, Internet Scanning, Legal Protection, and Analytical System
• Complete Identity Recovery Services: Financial, Medical, Tax, and Criminal
• Valuable Insurance Quality: $1 Million amount through AIG (if case is reported within 90 days)
• Credit Monitoring: Available through Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
• Better Business Bureau Rating: A+

It offers its services as a government-approved General Services Administration (GSA) Provider, meaning its products and services have been approved by the United States Government. IdentityForce contracts with various government agencies to respond to data breaches including the Army, Navy, FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

I like this company for its reputation but it’s also one of the most competitively priced for what they offer. ??

Click this link to get a 14 day free trial plus a 17% discount. Don’t leave yourself or your family unprotected.

Granted, this wasn’t exactly a money saving tip but it is risk reduction which in the end is the same thing. ?

{Please note that the above links are affiliate links. However, I would never recommend a product that I don’t personally use and like. I have done the research and like it best for my own reasons but feel free to do your own research. The whole point of this post is to encourage you to protect yourself by getting identity theft protection.}

My Book Review of Fredrik Backman’s, A Man Called Ove

Synopsis:

In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon – the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time? Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations. A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others.

My Review – 5 stars

I LOVED this book❣️ It was funny, touching, endearing, sad and “laugh out loud” hilarious. I adored Ove from the start even though he was clearly a “grumpy old man,” albeit only 59. Backman did a phenomenal job developing all the characters, even the neighborhood cat. The cat seemed to be symbolic of Ove’s deceased wife. It made me think the book was heading in a different direction but it remained a simple story with great depth. This book was all about the characters and not so much about the plot. The characters made me want to keep reading. This is one of the few books I wanted to keep reading but for the sake of the journey, not the ending. I wasn’t even curious about the ending. I enjoyed witnessing a re-awakening of Ove’s soul which brought about a tremendous feeling of hope.

My Favorite Quotes:

“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the greatest motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.”

“Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn’t.”

“And time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps.”

“Men are what they are because of what they do. Not what they say.”

“One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future. And it wasn’t as if Ove also died when Sonja left him. He just stopped living.”

Final Thoughts:
I enjoy books that make me laugh and cry and this was a perfect combination of both.  But it wasn’t a sad kind of cry. It was a cry for the heartwarming feelings it brought.  This book also made me think more about the value of personal relationships and how some people take for granted the relationships in their life.  A Man Called Ove is a must read!

Are You Car Poor?

I warn you this is going to be another post with numbers ?.   However, I like to use numbers because it helps demonstrate why my financial advice is solid. Here are my rules on car ownership:

1) The value of your car(s) and all motorized vehicles should be less than 50% of your gross income. This includes boats and motorcycles as well. It’s a good rule of thumb to use since motorized vehicles are depreciating assets. This means they always lose value especially in the first five years unlike a home which typically gains value, building equity. Plus the 50% rule of thumb gives you practical limitations on what you can truly afford.

2) Save up and pay cash for your car. Don’t get yourself trapped in years of car payments. Many people look at me like I’m crazy when I say this but guess what, it’s time to be an adult and plan accordingly. If you’re driving a 20 year old car and know it’s on its last wheel, start putting money aside as part of your monthly budget for your “car fund.”

3) Don’t buy a brand new car. You lose a ton of money as soon as you drive it off the lot (depreciation/loss of value). Ideally you should get a car at least a few years old as long as you can pay cash for it and stay under 50% of your gross income. If not, you need to get one even older. Here are average depreciation rates: 11% after driving it off the lot, 25% after one year, 46% after three years and 63% after five years.  What this means is that your car will lose 63% of its value after five years.  Of course these are averages and it really depends on the year, make and model. There are numerous car depreciation calculators online if you want to take a look at your car’s expected depreciation.

Emergency Plan:  This is the ONLY time you should get a loan for a car. If your current car is dead, you don’t have money saved up and you need a car to get to your job, make sure you get an older car with a value less than 25% of your gross income. Plus you should shop around for the best interest rate. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT LEASE A CAR!  This is a waste of money and you become a slave to the car dealership.

Plan on buying a new car?

Now let’s talk about the nitty gritty. I’ve made car buying mistakes in the past. I’ve bought a brand new car and I’ve leased. I was in my early twenties so didn’t know any better even though I should have since I’ve always been a financial person. I was young and still in the stage of doing “stupid things” and apparently didn’t want to think my way through the transaction because my immaturity didn’t allow it.  However, I’ve become wiser as I’ve gotten older.

Now I’m going to face reality and think my way through my “brand new” car transaction. I was so happy driving it home. It had 20 miles on the odometer and smelled “new car” fresh. This fancy new car was all mine. It wasn’t really that fancy but in my mind it was. I threw away approximately 11% of the purchase price immediately (depreciation). I can’t remember exactly how much this car cost me but let’s just say it was $35,000 which is also the average price of a new car nowadays. So that means the drive home cost me $3,850. Ugh! I now think about what I could have done with $3,850.

Now fast forward a year. The new car smell has worn off and I’m not as excited about my “not so new” car as when I first drove it off the lot.  Plus I’ve thrown another 14% out the window. This is an additional $4,900 for a total of $8,750 (25% loss in value after one year). If I had bought a car that was at least one year old and invested that $8,750 instead, twenty years later (now) I would have over $35,000, using a conservative 7% interest rate.

Now let’s think about the car payments. Assuming the $35,000 loan cost me 2.98% with a 60 month term, the payments would be $629 per month. Again, I can’t remember my interest rate but we’ll go with average numbers from the present day. That means over five years I spent $37,740. Why couldn’t I have saved $629 per month for a year and bought a used car for $7,548? After all, I was committing to the fact that I could afford $629 per month. Or maybe I could have held out for something even nicer and saved for a couple years to pay cash for a $15,000 car. Why did I pay the bank $2,740 in interest and take the hit on depreciation which would now be worth 35K?

Let’s say I went with scenario two instead where I saved for a couple years and paid $15,000 cash for a used car, didn’t pay the bank a dime and depreciation on that used car is much lower. Then I invest $629 per month for the next three years. Again, I committed to the fact that I could spend $629 per month for five years. To be consistent, assuming a conservative 7% interest rate, by the end of the three years I would have contributed $22,644 and earned $2600.  If I hadn’t contributed another dime but left the money alone ($25,244), 15 years later (now) I would have $71,919. I would have over $71K for making a different decision for one car! Was that brand new car worth it? I think not!

Imagine if you’re one of those people who always have a $400 car lease for most of your adult life. If you had invested this money starting at age 25 through age 65, you would have $1,056,050 (using a 7% interest rate). This means you invested $192,000 and earned interest of $864K instead of making a monthly car payment. I would much rather earn interest and be a millionaire than thow my money away.

By the way, once you hit millionaire status, go ahead and buy a new car! When you’re a millionaire, buying a brand new car is not as big of a deal because it’s a small portion of your net worth. Plus you’re using money that made money (compound interest), not money you worked hard to make, if that makes sense. Of course, be smart about it and pay cash. Don’t pay the bank a dime!  If you’re not sure what being a millionaire means, read my post: You CAN become a millionaire on an average income.

Think about your current motorized vehicle situation. If all your motorized vehicles are valued at more than 50% of your income, you should consider selling some to get under that number.  You can then use that money to pay off other debt or invest in an index mutual fund.

You should also consider your future car ownership plans. Do you have a car savings fund and are you saving enough to pay cash for your next car? I have found the biggest way to build wealth is to have a plan for your money rather than having your money control you.

My Journey with Depression

I woke up depressed, again. This is the time of year when it becomes a little more present in my life. The goal is to prevent it from getting severe. That just means I will not contemplate suicide. The good news is that I haven’t done so in about thirteen years. I will admit I have paranoia about getting that bad again. I would never end my life. Instead, I accept the challenge and appreciate the low-level to mediocre depression.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate being depressed. What does it mean to be depressed?  Primarily it means having a feeling of hopelessness. Nothing excites you. I mean NOTHING. It sucks to have great things going on but you have no ability to look forward to and enjoy them.

I subconsciously started doing something years ago when I felt the big D coming on. I start making plans. I’m the type of person who will always do what I say I’m going to do, no matter what. If I can’t live for myself, I will do things for my family and friends. So I make plans with family and friends. Then I follow through with those plans even though I may not want to. It’s like going through the motion of life. However, sometimes I feel better when I do. This is a coping mechanism. It’s one of the ways I keep myself going.

Depression is NOT the opposite of happiness. I hate when people say “just be happy.”  I AM happy.  What is there NOT to be happy about?  My husband is phenomenal. My kids are happy, healthy and well-balanced and my parents are supportive and superb people. I’m a successful career mom who has the support of her husband to make it all work, all while he works a job too. We have money because we’re smart with it, most of the time. I have good physical health but admittedly work hard to make that happen. At least I’m doing everything I can to be healthy and often think how much worse my depression would be if I weren’t doing those things.

So why do I suffer? I used to ask myself this a lot when I was younger.  It never made sense to me until my doctor said, “it’s all chemical Honey.”  Yes, he calls me “honey” probably because he’s old and that’s what you call people when you’re old.

I tell myself I should be thankful that this is my disease.  I could have cancer, MS, diabetes, or any other sucky-ass condition. I should appreciate my asinine mood disorder. I should appreciate that sometimes I feel like I’m in a black hole that I can eventually dig my way out of because others don’t have the ability to dig their way out of a cancer diagnosis.

Depression is pretending you’re hunky dory when you’re not. Who said authenticity is overrated? Probably an asshole. I’m sorry, but I’m sick of “faking it until I make it.” Do you know how exhausting that is?

I pull myself out of bed every day and live my life. What’s the alternative? I get on my treadmill because nine times out of ten this will give me “hope” and push me through my day.  Sometimes that running-induced chemical change will only last a couple of hours but guess what, those couple of hours feel so good!  Then I just fake my way through the rest of my day.

I work in an office environment so I’m surrounded by people. I can’t tell them I’m not feeling well. I can but I don’t want to talk about it. Some of my closest co-workers know and they support me. That means they let me be myself. I can be authentic. I can cry in front of them. I don’t have to put my fake smile on. I can just be “me” and I love them for that. They are not just co-workers, they are my closest friends.

Being depressed is feeling bad about yourself. It’s finding all the negatives and making them ten times bigger than they are. I’d like to point out that most of the time I’m frickin awesome and the rest of the time I suck. There’s never an in-between.

Being depressed is feeling like you’re a burden to everyone around you. This is when you may “fake it” because you don’t want to burden the people you love most.  Of course, these are the people who will know right away when you’re not “OK” especially if you see them every day. They can see the look in your face. It’s a little harder to ascertain via phone call or text message.

My journey with depression

My husband is my primary support. He can take one look at me and know I’m depressed. He will push me when I need to be pushed but he also knows when to stop. He’s my anchor and my strength. I can’t imagine how depressed people without a strong support system can do it. Maybe that’s why suicides happen. Suicides also happen because depressed people truly have a mindset that they’re burdening others. That makes me sad.

Depression is not sadness but I do cry a lot. It’s not “having a bad day” and it’s not “having a sucky life.”  I’m a big believer in “you reap what you sow.” I didn’t ask to be depressed but I fight against it every day.  When I’m NOT depressed, I’m usually high as a kite because I’m so happy I’m not depressed!  These are the times my kids call me “weird.” I love being weird.

For those of you who suffer, just think of HOPE – hold on, pain ends.  Remember, you are not a burden and you are not alone.

I also encourage you to read a book called Beat Depression and Anxiety by Changing your Brain.  It will not heal you but it will help you cope.

Review of Amy Schumer’s Memoir, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Synopsis:

The Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress, writer, and star of Inside Amy Schumer and the acclaimed film Trainwreck has taken the entertainment world by storm with her winning blend of smart, satirical humor.  Now, Amy Shumer has written a refreshingly candid and uproariously funny collection of (extremely) personal and observational essays.

In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex, and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is – a woman with the courage to bare her soul and stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.

Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friend – an unforgettable and fun adventure you wish could last forever.  Whether she’s experiencing lust at first sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her boot camp instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller who will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably – but only because it’s over.

Amy Schumer's Memoir, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

My Review – 4 Stars

This book was entertaining and a much needed read after my last two books involving serious and dark topics.  I give The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo 4 stars for Amy’s amazing courage and candidness along with her rawness, humor AND seriousness.

What do I mean by seriousness?  I assumed this book would be 100% funny since she’s a comedian.  However, there were two topics she talked about with great solemnity:

1) Her Father’s battle with Multiple Sclerosis.  You can feel the love she has for her father.  She’s open about his alcoholism and MS and how the MS has crippled him over the past several years.  I like her determination to push her father (even though he doesn’t have it left in him) to see the only doctor in the US who is FDA approved to treat MS patients with stem cells.

2) The theater shooting that occurred in Louisiana during her movie Trainwreck in 2015.  She talks about how heartbroken she was over this and dedicates a chapter to the two women who were killed during the shooting, Mayci and Jillian.  Amy has since become an advocate for sensible ways to stop gun violence.  She’s involved in an organization called Everytown for Gun Safety and even lists the members of Congress who have taken money from and been influenced by the gun lobby (about 65 names).

My favorite quotes:

“Do they think models size 6 and above can’t make it to the end of the runway without stopping midway for a burrito? Enough, enough with these waifish elves walking your impossible clothing down an ugly runway with ugly lighting and noisy music. Life doesn’t look like that runway.”

“On the evolution chart, this guy and I were at opposite ends. I was dragging my knuckles, sniffing around for bananas, throwing my own feces at tourists, and he was a Disney prince but with more sex appeal.”

“First, I’d like to thank all the people who pointed out that I was a woman… You made sure I didn’t lose sight of my ovaries. Thank you. Without your constant reminders, I may have just forgotten my uterus on a crosstown bus, but you guys made me perpetually aware that I bleed once a month and I can tell a joke!”

“Women are always expected to be the gracious hostess, quick with an anecdote and a sprinkling of laughter at other stories. We are basically unpaid geishas. But when we do not fulfill these expectations, people assume we must be either depressed or a c**t. Maybe I’m a c**t anyway, but it’s not because I don’t want to blink and smile at someone as they tell me they ran cross-country in middle school.”

“My favorite people in the world still give me shit and treat me like the Long Island trash receptacle that I am.”

“I have been skydiving but I didn’t like it because you have to JUMP OUT OF A FUCKING AIRPLANE.”

Final Thoughts:

There are so many things I loved about this book:

I laughed out loud a lot such as when she shared her diary excerpts from when she was a teenager. They were entertaining especially since Amy added footnotes in 2016 in response to her teenage self.

I loved her courage to share the stories of her childhood even if they didn’t put her or the members of her family in the best light.  I especially enjoyed hearing about her relationship with her sister, who she is still very close with.

Above all, I loved that she was able to show a more serious side and how she has such a big heart.  The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo has made me an even bigger Amy Schumer fan.

Are you saving for retirement?

Benjamin Franklin said “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”  I am very much a planner in all aspects of my life but have learned that not everyone is.  However, when it comes to money, YOU MUST PLAN.  You should have a monthly budget plan, a long-term financial plan AND a retirement plan.

If you’re not saving for retirement, ask yourself why.  Here are some excuses I’ve heard:

1) I’m too young to think about retirement.  Wake up!  Have you heard of compound interest?  This is the BEST time to save for retirement!  Why work hard for your money if you’re not going to invest in your future?  Start early and let your money make more money.  It’s that simple.

2) I don’t make enough money to save for retirement.  I understand you may be trying to get back on your feet due to a life emergency such as a job loss or unexpected medical event and can’t invest 15% of your pay towards retirement.  However, you need to start somewhere.  If you have a budget and FOLLOW it, you should be able to work your way up to 15%.  Read my article on how you don’t have to earn a high income to become a millionaire.  Maybe once you realize it’s possible, you’ll be more motivated to get started.

3) I don’t think I’ll want to retire.  You may be one of those people who can’t imagine NOT going to work everyday.  I understand that because I always feel like I have to be doing something.  However, you may change your mind at some point in your life.  Maybe you’ll get a hobby you enjoy so much that you’d prefer to do that instead of working all the time?  Or you may lose your job and have a hard time finding another one or finding one you enjoy as much as the last one.  You may become disabled and unable to work.  Call me Negative Nellie but life happens and some of these things are out of your control.  What if you didn’t plan for retirement but you’re more or less forced into it?

4) Isn’t that what Social Security is for?  Based on the most recent Social Security Administration’s report, “the trust is on track to be depleted in 2034, at which point the system will be able to pay 79% of benefits from ongoing tax revenue.”  Not to mention even 100% of social security would not be enough to live on.  If you use this excuse, look at your expected social security benefits and see how that would work out for your current lifestyle.  What would you have to change and are you willing to do that?

Are you saving for retirement?

If you’re NOT one of those people who want to work forever, what DO you plan to do when you retire?  Most people don’t think through the qualitative piece of their retirement.  They’re focused on careers and family life while they’re working, which is normal and expected.  However, I’d encourage you to start thinking about the answer to that question right now.

For example, if you plan to travel extensively, you may need to save significantly more money.  Family vacations and cruises are common for retirees. This could cost an additional $10K to $30K per year, depending on the amount of travel and lifestyle.

Should you start thinking about developing some hobbies and interests so you’re not bored in retirement?  Maybe you want to drive a bus in the morning or volunteer your time for a cause that you’re passionate about. Maybe you’d like to spend time helping your children with their kids.

The key is to make the answer of what retirement looks like for you an integral part of your planning so you can understand how this may impact you financially.

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SAVE?

When you take the time to figure out the qualitative piece, the quantitative piece is easier.  Chris Hogan has a great online tool called the R:IQ.  You only need to enter four numbers: your current income (including your spouse), how much money you’ll need each month which includes necessities plus your “wants” or “dreams”, how much you currently have saved and how many years until you would like to retire.  Give this tool a try and see if this will motivate you to start saving or save even more.  I also encourage you to read Chris Hogan’s book Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, It’s a Financial Number.

The key with the quantitative piece is understanding that we’re always dealing with some level of uncertainty, whether it’s unknown future portfolio returns, rising health care costs, or the possibility of changes to income taxes or government programs such as Social Security. Having a plan and monitoring changing variables is critical so that you can make adjustments to your plan to ensure a successful retirement. But as long as you keep your eye on the qualitative parts of your retirement plan, what you want to do with your time, you can stay focused on saving what you need.

You often hear the saying, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Well, that may be true, but if you don’t have a destination, you’ll never get to where you want to go.

My Review of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings

Synopsis:

From the celebrated author of The Secret Life of Bees, a #1 New York Times bestselling novel about two unforgettable American women.

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world.

Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household.  The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid.  We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process.  Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

My Review – 4.5 stars:

Why did I wait so long to read this book?  Once again, Sue Monk Kidd’s lovely prose is like no other.  She has an interesting way of telling a story and bringing all the fine details together.  The parallel yet intertwined stories of Sarah and Hetty were captivating.

Sarah had limitations imposed upon her from a young age. She wanted to be a lawyer just like her father yet could not pursue her dreams since she was a woman.  I enjoyed the relationship she had with her father and her brother, Thomas, but I found myself a bit irritated over their cowardice.

Sarah and her sister, Nina, were anything but cowards.  I have never been a history buff but enjoy learning about it through a fictional story.  I was happy to hear Sarah and Angelina Grimke were true abolitionist women but disappointed that I had never heard of them until I read this book.

Hetty had limitations imposed on her from a young age since she was a third generation slave.  I enjoyed the relationship she had with her mother, Charlotte, and the strength and perseverance she learned from her.  Her life was similar to Sarah’s in that she had no freedom to pursue her dream which was as simple as being free to live her OWN life.

Favorite Quotes:

“To remain silent in the face of evil is itself a form of evil.”

“If you must err, do so on the side of audacity.”

“My body might be a slave, but not my mind.  For you, it’s the other way round.”

“I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it.  I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil.  There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you should know where you came from.”

“You got to figure out which end of the needle you’re gon be, the one that’s fastened to the thread or the end that pierces the cloth.”

“How could I choose someone who would force me to give up my own small reach for meaning?  I chose myself, and without consolation.”

“She was braver than I, she always had been.  I cared too much for the opinions of others, she cared not a whit.  I was cautious, she was brash.  I was a thinker, she was a doer.  I kindled fires, she spread them.  And right then and ever after, I saw how cunning the Fates had been.  Nina was one wing, I was the other.

Final Thoughts:

Sue Monk Kidd did a great job portraying the evils and reality of slavery so this book had many sections that were painful to read. At the same time, it was a well knit story with rich character development so well worth the emotional turmoil.  I would highly recommend it.

Know your Debt to Income Ratio

I’m a big fan of “knowing your financial numbers.”  It’s natural to assume financial success based on income.  However, financial success is not based on income alone.  It’s a fact that high income doesn’t always mean you’re financially stable.  Many high income earners are broke.  This means net worth is negative.  Your net worth is the value of what you own minus the amount you owe.  You can read more about this in my blog post You CAN Become a Millionaire on an Average Income.

Debt to Income Ratio (DTI)

Another number that’s extremely important is your Debt to Income Ratio or DTI.  It’s especially important if you plan on obtaining a mortgage for a home.  You can’t get a loan if your DTI is too high.

In addition, DTI provides a snapshot of your spending habits and buying power.  Once you complete the calculation you may realize why you feel like you’re living paycheck to paycheck (because you are!).  You may realize why you can’t get your budget to work (because you’re spending more than you make!).  You may realize you’re house poor or car poor or in other words, spending too much of your income on your house or cars.

Here’s how to calculate your Debt to Income Ratio (bank method):

First total your monthly debt payments which includes car loans, student loans, credit card payments, secondary housing debt or any other amounts you’re obligated to pay.  This number should not include non-debt payments such as groceries, utilities, car insurance or entertainment.  It should not include current rent payment or mortgage payment as it’s assumed you will be replacing these with a revised mortgage payment.

Then you divide the above number by your gross monthly income and this gives you your DTI ratio.

Make sure you use your gross income and NOT net take home pay.

Example:

Mr and Mrs Smith have a combined gross monthly income of $6,000.

They have the following monthly payments obligated by contractual debt: car payment 1 of $250; car payment 2 of $500; student loan of $200; credit card minimum payments of $400; personal loan payment of $150 making their total monthly debt payments $1,500.

Therefore, their DTI ratio is $1500/$6000 = 25%.

What does this mean?

Traditional lenders generally prefer a 36% DTI ratio, with no more than 28% of that debt dedicated to your mortgage payment (including taxes and insurance).

Prior to the credit crisis of 2008, the banks were getting loose and were allowing as high as 55% total debt to income ratio.  The subprime mortgage crisis produced a market correction that revised these limits back down to 36%.

What does this mean for Mr and Mrs Smith from my example above?  Regardless of their good credit score, they’ll not be able to get a conventional loan mortgage of more than $660 per month ($6000 gross monthly income X 36% = $2,160 minus current debt obligations of $1,500 =$660).

The bank’s DTI formula says that the couple could ultimately afford a mortgage payment of 1,680 (28% of $6,000).  However, due to their current debt obligations, that won’t be possible because it would bring their DTI to 53%.  If Mr and Mrs Smith would like a house with a mortgage payment of more than $660, they need to get rid of their expensive car and replace it with a used one.  They should focus on revising their budget to get rid of their high credit card and personal loan debt.  Ultimately and ideally, they’ll need to bring their current debt obligations down to 8% of their gross income which is $480 per month thus allowing them to get a mortgage for $1,680.

You can easily calculate your debt to income ratio through Zillow’s online calculator.

Kaz’s Advice (my improved DTI calculation)

I know I’m just another person but I can tell you why you should take my advice: 1) I’m not a bank trying to squeeze every bit of money out of you. 2) I’m a CPA and have worked in the finance field for nearly 25 years. 3) I’m 42 years old and have some life experience under my belt.  I have made many money mistakes that I have learned from ?.

It’s good to know the banks are being (forced to be) a little more stringent than they were in the early 2000’s.  However, I think the 28% DTI for a mortgage is still too high for two reasons.

First of all, everyone’s in a different tax bracket so I believe it’s a bit unrealistic to say everyone can afford a mortgage at 28% DTI, especially people in higher tax brackets.

Debt to Income Ratio is especially important to know if you plan to buy a house.

Secondly and most critically, it enforces a trend Americans have gotten into over the past 40 years: low savings rate or none at all.  When a bank says you can afford 28% of your gross pay in a house payment, it limits the amount of money you could be saving and then 15 to 30 years go by and you haven’t saved a dime towards your retirement or your kids’ college funds.

This is the crucial time to save for these two major life events.  Your kids need college money at 18.  It’s really unfortunate if your mortgage has you strapped and you can’t save for your kids’ college during that time,  Don’t let your kids start their life in debt!

In addition, the earlier you contribute to retirement, the better, due to the compound interest of money.  TIME is the best money-maker!  Don’t think about retirement AFTER you’ve paid off your mortgage.  By then, it’s too late.

With these two factors in mind, my rule is that your house payment should be no more than 25% of your take home pay.  I’m a big believer in paying yourself FIRST.  Take advantage of your employer’s retirement plan and put away 15% for your retirement.  The benefit of this is that it’s pre-tax money and therefore lowers your taxable income.  You can read more about this in my post on What You Need to Know About Your 401(k) or 403(b).

Let’s use Mr and Mrs Smith as an example.  They make $72,000 a year which puts them in the 15% tax bracket with an effective tax rate of 14%.  Let’s assume they have 18% deducted in medicare, social security, state and local taxes and benefits.  If we use the bank method of 28% DTI for their mortgage and assume they have gotten their total monthly debts down to $480, it leaves them with $443 per week for groceries, utilities, entertainment, car insurance and savings.  Of course we know groceries, car insurance and utilities should come first.  Using weekly averages: groceries $160, utilities $115 and car insurance $20 therefore leaving $148 for entertainment, incidentals, retirement savings and kids’ college savings.  Incidentals and entertainment happen next especially when you have kids and a house to maintain.  Now they have no money left for savings.

If Mr and Mrs Smith take my advice, they would first put away 12% into their pre-tax retirement plan.  Both of their employers match 3% so they would be taking advantage of the match and would be saving $10,800 annually (total of 15%).

We would use the same percentages in taxes and benefits with a slight decrease in fed tax due to the deferred retirement income.  This brings their take home pay down to $42,000 or $3,500 per month.  However, I would not include the 12% retirement deferral in the 25% calculation which means they should have a house payment of $1,055 or less ($3,500 true take home pay plus $720 for the 12% deferral = $4,220 times 25%).

I would assume they still have 8% in other debts plus the same amount in groceries, utilities and insurance.  Therefore, they would have $158 each week to use for incidentals, entertainment, kids’ college savings and other savings goals.  They’re able to live within their means while paying themselves first because they didn’t get a mortgage more than they could afford.

Summary

In summary, the bank says they can afford $1,680 for a mortgage (28% of gross pay) with $148 left per week and most likely no savings.

I’m saying they can afford $1,055 for a mortgage (25% of take home pay) with $158 left per week AFTER saving for retirement.

If they started putting away $10,800 annually at age 25, they would have over a million dollars at the age of 55 (assuming no annual increases and a conservative 7% interest rate).

I digress to prove my point that listening to the bank is not always in your best interest (no pun intended)?.  They are out to take your money as the additional interest paid is going to them.  I’m saying you should pay yourself first and budget less for your home.  This interest then goes in your pocket, not the bank’s.

Maybe you would rather have a larger home and no retirement savings?  You should ask yourself why you want a larger home.  Is it worth not paying yourself first?  Right now it may seem so but when you get closer to retirement age, your perspective on life changes.  You may regret not saving enough for retirement.  Social security will NOT be enough to comfortably live on.  Maybe you plan on working until you die?

I challenge you to calculate your DTI regardless of whether you want to get a mortgage or if you already have one.  Ideally your DTI (including housing) should be less than 37%.  If your DTI is higher than that you should read Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover to help you get your finances on track.