It has been so long since our last blog post. I am excited to be back with the help of our brand new assistant, aka Baby Banana, who arrived in June 2020, which explains our absence. Little Banana has been the brightest spot in our quarantine life.
The arrival of our baby girl, together with the events of 2020, has made us realize the importance of thinking ahead and securing a financial future for our loved ones.
Who needs life insurance?
If you have dependents be it, children, parents, siblings, you should get life insurance. If anyone will suffer financially from the loss of your income, then you should get a policy.
How much insurance is good enough?
Most gurus will tell you 10x your income or enough to pay off your mortgage and or pay college costs for your kids. I spoke to a financial planner recently who said they encourage people to get $1 million.
The truth is somewhere in what you can comfortably afford. The cost of a policy is based on many factors, including your health, age, and occupation. Can you believe that insurance companies are charging teachers more?
I also know that many people have lost incomes or, as in our case, face salary increment freezes. COVID sucks. You want to be prudent in your decision making. For a generally healthy 30 something male, the cost of $1 million coverage is about $60/month for a 35-year policy from most insurers. The price is a little higher for women.
Policy rates tend to be lower when you are younger and healthier. However, today is an excellent time to get this taken care of regardless of your age. I suggest getting a term policy instead of whole life insurance. A good term is anywhere between 25 and 35 years.
Where do we buy insurance?
I use policygenius.com to compare rates. My husband and I have also taken the maximum coverage we can get through our employers because the rates are often lower. The downside is that you can’t take the policy with you when you change jobs. However, this is a good start if you are still trying to figure out finances.
Life comes at as fast. So much has happened in the last six months that we never anticipated. Protect yourself and the ones you love.
Before you go
I know many of you know more about this topic than I do. Please share your thoughts and tips. If you recommend a particular insurer, do let us know.
For academic conference organizers, attendees and anyone inviting us for talks
I like going to conferences. I think most academics do. I love talking about my work and getting feedback and hanging with friends in the academy
(side note: I quite like the academy- I know it is not fashionable to like your job but…).
The thing though is that as much as we all like going to conferences (big and small) and giving talks it isn’t cheap. The cost is higher on graduate students who get a tiny share of the funding pool.
Professor friends – I know you have research funds – why aren’t you using them to help fund travel for your graduate students?
I do not even have graduate students, but our school gives us money to pay for our students to go to conferences with us. It is a lot easier for professors, especially tenured faculty, to find more money than it is for graduate students. Topic/rant for another day
So how do we financially prepare for conference/talks travel
Sources of funding
- Know your allocated travel funds – every school or let me say most schools have some travel allowance. When I was a graduate student, we had an allowance of $250 -which is cray, but we can discuss that later
- Make a list of all possible sources of funding for travel – my faculty mentor gave a list of at five sources that I did not even know existed
- Always ask organizers if they have a budget to cover your travel needs – this works – trust me
- Investigate possibilities for funding via the conference or affiliated organizations
- Most conferences have funding for students – recently there was a twitter storm about tenured people applying for student funding – we should all have more shame
- Some conferences have targeted funding for minorities
- Attending workshops before the conference might come with free travel and or housing
- Volunteering to help with some activity might also come with complimentary travel
- If you have a co-author, you may have the option to use some of your travel funds to cover their travel.
- You might be able to use travel awards to cover childcare – double and triple check with your school
Planning for travel
- Understand all related costs. The obvious ones are hotel and airfare but some small things to keep in mind-
- Travel to and from your home to the airport – this is huge for me. To get to the airport from Wellesley, I have to pay $80. That means a total of $160 unless I drive and park at the airport, which is neither cheap nor convenient for me. I could also ask my husband to pick me up, but that sucks if I get back at night – he has to be up at 5 am for work, so yeah, we are not doing that. Taking the bus is an unnecessary 2-hour journey. Uber is not an easy option because – Wellesley
- Meals during travel – coffee, bagels, lunch all add up- you also want to make sure you are eating healthy wholesome meals to avoid travel fatigue and sickness ($20 for the day or more depending on length)
- Luggage – black hair products, shampoo, lotion, bathing gels, etc. all require that I check in my bags. Hotel shampoo, conditioners, and soap are not designed for black bodies ($50)
Ways to cut costs
- Itemize your travel budget, so you know what to expect
- Build a relationship with taxi/car service if you live in the middle of nowhere – often they can give you a discount or override surge rates
- Buy bulk travel size supplies – I regularly stock up at bath and body when they have sales
- Buy bulk travel snacks – trader joes has some good size snacks
- Pack easy to carry fruit like apples, banana and 3oz yogurt (also trader joes)
- Eat a good meal before you leave home
- Book travel with an airline credit card to get double miles and free luggage check-in
Suggestions to expedite reimbursements
- Ask if your school allows for travel advance that way you are not out of pocket for a long time
- Complete reimbursement forms for each trip from the moment you make the first purchase – e.g., when you buy your air ticket
- Take pictures of every receipt or use an app to capture and store receipts – this is great when you are in the field
- Keep a small wallet for all your receipts
What other strategies do you use?
A (maybe) controversial post on debit and credit
You do not need to have some debt to have good credit. You need to be able to use credit to establish a credit score/record, but you do not need to carry around thousands of debts in loans or consumer credit to have a decent credit score.
Debt is stressful. Debt can make you go crazy, and having monthly payments sucks. Monthly payments annoy me. We bought a brand-new car in December because our old car, which I bought in grad school (cash $3,000), looked close to giving out. However, it is a Toyota and no longer looks like it will die any time soon. Back to the car. All good advice says buy a used car, and I agree, except in this case our crossover SUV from Nissan was cheaper than any other used SUV we looked at lol. The Nissan kicks range between $17k to $20,000 brand-new. It is super basic with some excellent features. We wish it had more power, but it works.
I was telling a friend that we plan to pay it off soon (we are about 52% paid up), and she said, but you need a bit of debt for your credit score. This is false. I agree that for most people, especially folks of color looking to make big purchases like a home, we do need a credit history. There are many ways to do this – your phone bill, your cable bill, buying groceries with a credit card, and paying it off at the end of every month. My credit score is over 800, which is more than enough for getting a house loan when the time comes. A bigger focus should be saving for a down payment and staying clear of unnecessary loans.
Ask yourself these questions before you make purchases – do you want to make monthly payments for say underwear? If you buy underwear from Victoria Secrets and do not pay it off at the end of the month, you will most certainly be in debt (plus interest) for underwear. This is not necessary. There are other reasons not to support Victoria Secrets, but being in debt for undergarments is a top one.
If you have consumer credit, I suggest that you buckle down and pay it off. People use different strategies like
- the highest interest first
- Smallest debts first –
- Or mixed methods.
Whatever methods you decide on, you will need to pause on using your credit cards or borrowing until you are paid off. I prefer making minimum payments on everything and putting extra $ on the smallest debt first. I like seeing wins, so this works for me. When I was paying off debt, I customized the Dave Ramsey snowball method. I closed off two of my cards and negotiated a lower rate with the companies. This brought my credit score down to 705, which sucked, but I knew I would fix the situation faster this way.
I am also no anti-credit card. I love free things, so the rewards work for me. Every year we take a couple of trips for “free” using rewards.
I will do another post on my fav credit cards – I want to hear from you- which credit cards have the best rewards?
Thinking about the cost of good health
Most of my friends are in their 20s and 30s, so conversations about health care costs are not top on our minds, but they should be. I think that part of having a sound financial plan involves thinking proactively about health care costs. The good thing is that if you are young and healthy preventative care is all you need.
Dental – I am honestly obsessed with dental care and know first hand that this small thing can put in you in pits for thousands of dollars when something goes wrong. Before coming to the US, I had never been to the dentist. I never had toothaches, and I brushed my teeth. In college, I did not even know we had dental coverage- I now know that most college plans cover dental.
College student resources can be found on your campus websites. A quick look around shows that schools like Brown, Wellesley, Amherst, Harvard all introduced dental plans in recent years. You can also check here to see if your school participates in this discount program – I had a look around and still prefer the insurance option.
Some states also offer great insurance options. For those in MA have a look here
Teeth are great because if you do the bare minimum, you will most likely have exceptionally healthy teeth for a long time – genetics also play a part and some of us luckier than others. Dental insurance is also cheaper than health insurance – I encourage you to get it.
People often ignore easy to fix dental issues. Your gums should be a lovely healthy pink.
Your gums should not bleed when you brush them
your teeth shouldn’t hurt when you bite on them,
you should not have extreme sensitivity to hot or cold drinks
And, you may not want to have bad breath.
The excellent news is that dental health can be attained at a reasonable cost over a long period allowing you to save for payments. If you have a good dentist, you can plan together with advance notice for big expenses.
I was reading that being able to flash a happy smile does wonders for our self-confidence.
What is covered in a basic dental insurance plan?
Two cleanings twice a year –regular cleanings are usually $60-$80
Some proportion of things like fillings, crowns, implants
What are some common dental issues faced by migrants?
Most people will need to have a deep cleaning (scaling and root planning) the first time you visit a dentist as an adult – the dentist will check your gum pockets with a needle to determine gum health – healthy gums have pockets between less than 2 millimeters (mm). If you have deep pockets above 3 mm, you maybe have some gum disease. Worry not – most people only need to have the deep cleaning done once in their life. When I first went to the dentist in college, he said my pockets were between 3 and 6. I was so scared. But he explained that most of us from the global south eat yummy starchy foods – so we have a lot of sugar retained in our mouth. Happy to report that now my dentist often uses my gums as an example for healthy and well taken care of teeth. Most of my gum pockets are 1.
If you do not get regular cleanings, food collects in the gums and on the teeth. If you look at your teeth, you may notice the tartar build-up. This is not good. Our grandmothers understood this because they used traditional floss and toothbrush. Great for the environment and your health. We will be selling these at ZimTuckshop soon.
Dealing with gum disease can cost anywhere from $300 per quad to $1,000 health insurance will cover some of the costs, but generally, you will have to pay for the vast majority.
If you have had fillings done at home, they might suggest redoing them – ask for a second opinion because this is not always necessary.
They might suggest that you have your wisdom teeth pulled out. I did not, but there are some cases when you need to have this done.
They may also suggest that you need braces – ask for a second opinion and do a lot of research on your own. If you decide to get braces, most insurance plans will cover at the very minimum $1,000. Braces, including Invisalign, usually cost between $4,000 and $6,000. There are very few reasons to rush getting braces so even if you do decide you want them you can certainly wait until you have saved a bit. Most dental offices offer payment plans, but they also require down payment between $500 and $1,000. My husband is currently going through Invisalign. His teeth are already starting to look amazing, but I should warn that the process is painful lol – happy to chat if you go this route. I have so much to say about a process that is not happening in a mouth LOL
The good thing about dental care is that once you get into a rhythm of care, you will not need to do much.
Strategies for dealing with dental costs and maintaining good dental health
1. Get the premium plan – it is usually just $20 more – you will be glad you did
2. If you have a partner who also gets dental insurance at work, I suggest you both get family plans. We have not paid out of pocket costs for dental health in years – most policies cover 80%, so having two plans is great.
3. Go to the dentist twice a year -I go three times a year because we have excellent insurance
4. Brush your teeth a MINIMUM of two times a day
5. Invest in good toothpaste – if you have sensitive teeth -Sensodyne is great
6. Invest in a right electric toothbrush ($10) change your toothbrush at least twice a year (my husband says monthly YIKES!) – you probably go shoe shipping three times a year
7. Floss at a minimum once a day (good floss is just $2-$5 per month)
8. For some people, a Waterpik is also a great idea
9. Use mouth wash (a big jar will cost about $5)
10. Ask your dentist for a gum stimulator to help clean your gums and keep them healthy
11. Avoid sugary drinks if you are prone to dental issues
Good resource for what to expect with
Other good health practices that will save you money in the long run
1. Go for your annual checkup – this is free under ALL health insurance plans in the US. I know in the UK, Canada, and even Zim this is also free
2. Follow what the doctors suggest for any issues – if you have high blood pressure take this seriously, iron deficiency, etc. take it all seriously and improve your diet, increase your workouts and your body might self-heal and take medications if you must
3. Invest in multivitamins
4. Use protection if you have sex with multiple partners
5. Use birth control if this is something you believe in (and want to avoid pregnancy)
The usual – not an advisor just love sharing my thoughts
As you already know or now know, I am from Zimbabwe. Zim is an amazingly beautiful place, and the people are wonderful. However, we are mostly known now for our bad economy. The day I came to college, inflation was just hitting over 1000% -it was crazy. People lost all savings; retirement plans were voided, and most investments were wiped out. I was in high school then – things have not gotten much better as we have become adults, parents and in some cases, primary breadwinners.
It is hard to imagine that any good stories are coming out of Zim on finances. I am inspired by several people who have managed to survive during the last two decades. They are stressed a LOT, but I think we can all draw some inspiration from their stores.
Two teachers, two (then three) babies, chickens, and a home
I do not tell this particular woman often how much she inspires me. This is a story of a couple – they are both teachers in relatively low-income areas (Chi-Town). Neither comes from money. When I met them five years ago, they were paying $140 US rent for a couple of rooms in a shared home. The wife said to me that she had bought a stand and wanted to build. At the time their combined “formal” income was $800 US – today it is ZW$800 which is just under $200 US – inflation! Think compound interest in REVERSE!!!
Between 2013 and today here is what they have achieved and how (everything paid for in cash)
- Built a 3-bed home in a new development
- Taken the two oldest kids aged 8 and 13 to a better government school
- Had a 3rdbaby – C-section that became very costly due to complications missed during a regular scan
- Bought their first car and sold it for a more efficient used SUV
Their money strategies
- Moved out of rental after building the first two rooms on their stand to eliminate $140 in rent. That $140 added to their building fund
- Extra lessons and a second job – both teachers began offering private tutoring on weekends, and the husband took up a second job at a night school for adult learners. This move doubled their income
- The wife sold candy (she also sold shoes for my store on a small commission 10%)
- Organized a school carpool with other parents – this saved them 50% on transport costs
- A few years later moved one kid to a cheaper local school (they are heartbroken about this – any tips for them?)
- Ran a chicken business from their new home for a while (this required investing in a gas freezer and solar)
- The wife cut her hair (this made me super sad) she said she had been spending $70 monthly or so on her hair, so this has freed up some money
- Reduced maid service (this was a little rough with a little one at home, but she is doing nanny sharing with another family) which means she has to do all the house cleaning and laundry herself. Hand washing clothes is not fun for anyone
- Cut down on car use and relying on the new government buses which are only 0.50 but require that the husband leave home at 4:30 am EVERY WORKDAY!!!!!!
- Keeping it simple – but they have told me that the hardest thing is explaining to the babies why they can’t have small nice things. I am happy to report that as an experienced aunt (also available for hire) I am always happy to spoil the babies 🙂
- oh – they also said they avoid debt like a plague – they did get a loan through work in 2013 to start the house building but the interest was killing them
If you are surviving in a tough economy and have some tips to share please send them to me so that I can feature you on the blog. I would love love to hear from people taking nice vacations – how are you doing it? Ladies – get in formation
This post is on thoughtful giving and things I learned from my mom
So maybe I am feeling a little sentimental because of some good things happening in our family, or perhaps it is that school is about to start. The start of school makes me happy for several reasons- the top of which is the arrival of international students in the US. I love getting to meet the students, especially those who have gone through a lot to find themselves here. My heart is filled with hope each time I learn of a young kid coming out of the refugee camps or a kid who has managed to live with very severe disabilities to make it to college. There are many inspiring stories. Common among them is the fact that the world is full of kind of people who donate in cash and in-kind to open doors for others.
I do not want us to become cynical about money. Yes, we must save and achieve whatever goals we set for ourselves, but we are not islands. Do not feel bad if you have more responsibilities than your peers. I think a lot about compound interest these days and I have thought that our big families and the villages we come from or build for ourselves are also a function of compound interest.
One of the things that shocked me the most when I first arrived in America was homelessness. It takes a lot for someone to end up homeless back home. Our families will rather sleep 20 people to a room than have a brother, a cousin, an uncle, or an aunt sleep on the streets.
There was a point when mom’s house was home to at least 15 adults, including an aunt, her husband, and two kids, my sister’s friend and her two kids and so on. I am always indebted to my sister, who made room for me at her home even when their home was already at full capacity with at least six teenage nephews and nieces from her husband’s side.
This is the core of who we are. I know there are many of you hosting new immigrants, friends who find themselves on the street for many reasons and still managing the demands from big families and the politics that come with that. Thank you. I am giving you a big hug.
What I do want us to continue thinking about is ways in which we balance our responsibilities and grow our money to build generational wealth. While we can’t plan for every emergency and hardship that the world throws our way, we can plan to mitigate the impact of bad things by planning.
Giving lessons from Chipo’s mom
- Never pay less than you can afford: There was a trader who sold tomatoes on our street. Amai Beauty was her name. She had four kids around my age. Whenever my mom returned from South Africa, she would bring clothes for her kids and some groceries, so naturally, Amai Beauty always offered my mom a discount on her veggies. My mom always politely declined. Mom explained to me that Mai Beauty needed every penny, and we did not need discounted tomatoes. Even though we had a lovely garden with tomatoes, veggies, corn, oranges (YES!!!), avocadoes (thanks Dad) mom would buy from Mai Beauty.
I get frustrated when I read of FIRE movement people who brag about free-riding on their friend’s Netflix account or always looking to get free yoga classes. People who seek out free yoga classes aggravate me. If you can afford to pay for Netflix or exchange a Netflix password for Hulu/amazon with your friend, then don’t be a douchebag. If you are saving a bunch of your income to grow a net worth of 2 million, you can very well pay $18 for a yoga class. Yoga teachers spend a ton of money on training, so trying to cheat them just to see your net worth numbers grow is an awful thing to do.
- Making giving a part of your lifestyle: My mom is a hopeless giver. Before I came to college, I told mom that one of my friends had a full scholarship, but she would likely miss out on school because of the $800 airfare. Mom sent the money. I would later learn that doing so wasn’t easy for her, but mom was adamant that a young girl should not miss out on education because of the cost of an air ticket. I am more like my dad. I try to be a bit more systematic in how I give. I believe that you can set aside a small % of your paycheck towards charitable giving and that % will grow as your income increases.
Think about what you value and give towards that.
- College giving, I am a beneficiary of generous scholarships from Linfield College. I feel very strongly about giving back – I know that my $20 a month is not worth much – to maximize my donation I itemized the gift and directed it towards a need that is often overlooked by big donors. I have asked that my donations be used to fund textbooks for a low-income international student.
- Tithing – I have not always been able to tithe, but now that I am working, I love being able to support our church activities. I honestly do not tithe 10% since I distribute my 10% giving allowance across my many passions. My church family is a central part of my life. A healthy church is a gift. I have also been very blessed to be a member of churches that support homeless shelters, food banks, and give scholarships.
- Supporting family- when I got to college, I decided to help my mom by taking over financial responsibility for a few family members. I chose to pay tuition and provide a food allowance. The need is always greater than I can afford, but I firmly believe that we need to send as many kids to school as we can.
- No money – no problem – other ways to give
My mom can be annoying when it comes to preaching about giving and doing for others. Mom says money is not the most significant gift. Every time we talk, mom is running from one volunteer activity to another.
- Time – I will never forget that my second Sunday in America (many may years ago) I showed up to the first Methodist church I found. My now host mom (had been host mom to a Zim student -my now adopted big sis-) asked if I could teach Sunday school. The Sunday school teacher had suddenly quit. I was happy to do it – what I did not know then was that children’s ministry never has enough volunteers, so I was stuck for four years lol. I didn’t mind. Every Sunday (and later Wednesday evenings) I committed 3 hours. Most parents are happy to have an hour of adult time, and they appreciate having a safe space to drop off their kids. I also learned a lot about America from the middle schoolers, so I was winning too.
- Habitat for humanity: our church ran a lot of HH programs. We built a ton of houses for low-income families. If you have a habitat for humanity in your town, I highly recommend getting involved. You will learn a lot and have a ton of fun. I also bonded with one of my host moms during our many trips to various homes. A decade-plus later she put together our pre-marriage guide -see you always win
- Leading volunteer trips- obviously I did not have money to pay for various excursions in college -duh – Zim inflation was in the billion trillion % at the time so yeah. But one free thing is being a team leader, or you pay a reduced rate. People hate leading trips because it is a lot of work! One of my best buddies and I led a trip to the Navajo valley and woow – what an experience. What an experience! I also interviewed for my Carter Center internship during that trip, and the hiring team loved the beat of the pow wow drums in the background lol -YOLO! I got the internship. That experience and that has opened to many doors in my life, including a weekend with President and Mrs. Carter for the husband and me a couple of years ago. I also made life long friends 🙂 our class had some of the best humans I have come to know and love.
- Random volunteer things- try to give in ways that make you happy. Trust me – it is always worth it.
- Never ask for a discount from someone who needs the money when you can afford to pay full price
- Make financial giving a central part of your budget even if it is a small amount. If you are not sure of where to send money may I suggest
- The USAP school https://usapschool.org-also read their NYTimes feature here
- Local churches especially ones with a homeless shelter program and or a food bank
- Family members who need a financial boost
- Paying tuition for as many little boys and girls as you can
- Your alma mater
- Give your time – financial giving is just a small part of your giving life
- Instead of asking for a discount for services ask if you can exchange labor for a class
- Habitat for humanity
- Leading volunteer trips
- Children’s ministry
- Set up and breakdown at events
- Big Brother Big Sister programs
- Food Bank – they always need people to clean up, organize the food and do deliveries
This week’s TV show suggestions because YOLO
Into the badlands
Family Reunion on Netflix
Glow on Netflix
The funny or not funny JAniston and Adam Sandler movie
Four Weddings and A Funeral on Hulu
I am worried about my TV choices