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It’s Monday, which means it’s time to set a financial goal for the week.

Since I had my eye appointment last week, bought my glasses, and have a dental appointment scheduled for tomorrow, this week’s goal is to figure out how to get all of those expenses reimbursed through my HSA.

What about you?

Photo by on Unsplash.

This post is sponsored by 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy, a free program of the AICPA.

The Billfold has always billed itself as a place to have honest conversations about money — which is important, because there aren’t a lot of spaces in which people feel comfortable discussing their finances. Spending every day with all of you has made me so much more financially savvy; you’ve seen me get out of debt, build up my emergency fund, open an IRA, and start my first investment portfolio.

But when you’re not on The Billfold, who do you talk to about money? Anyone? Or do you save your money-related questions for the next Question Wednesday?

You don’t need me to tell you that there’s a lot of baggage around discussing money, especially if you’re earning significantly more or less than your parents or peers. It’s awkward to tell a friend that you can’t afford to go to dinner with them — and it’s just as awkward to suggest a restaurant that your friend can’t afford. It’s hard to ask your parents for financial help, and it’s even harder to ask your parents if they need financial help from you.

It’s also hard to ask...

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It’s Monday, which means it’s time to check in with our weekend spending.

Ecofest was super-fun — I got to plant trees, ride bikes, participate in a demonstration about threats to Iowa’s tree canopies, and eat a bunch of food. $20.39 worth, including a bag of fancy popcorn.

I also received a pack of Warby Parker glasses to try at home, but I didn’t like any of them, so I ended up paying $253.98 for glasses from Target Optical. (The Warby Parker glasses were all twice as big as my face — like, my eyebrows were under the frames — which is weird because earlier this year I had to special-order a bike helmet due to my unusually large head.)

Total spending: $274.37, which is way more than the $160 I expected to spend this weekend, but I got to taste all kinds of locally-grown food and found a pair of glasses I really liked, so… worth it?

How about you?

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Do you belong to customer reward programs? As I looked through the contents of my wallet, I realized that I belonged to more than I thought. But are reward programs worth it?

Cards from Raley’s, Walgreens, Plenti, CVS, Eddie Bauer, Dimple Records, Barnes & Noble, Ulta, Sephora, Office Depot, Jamba Juice, Panera Bread, Capital City Beads, Ikea, Best Buy, Total Beauty Experience, and even Hot Topic cluttered my wallet. No wonder it was so heavy. But was weighing down my wallet saving me money?

I lived across the street from a Raley’s for ten years, so naturally I joined their rewards program and got a “Something Extra” card. During each visit to the supermarket, I would swipe the card to get one point for each $1 spent. Personalized offers were sent by email periodically, based on prior purchases. Once I logged into the website, I could accept offers, such as $1 off frozen quiche or $1 off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, which would be in effect for several weeks. Once every quarter, I received a voucher for $5 for every 500 points, plus $1 for each additional 100 points. The voucher comes in the mail, along with more coupons based on your shopping habits. It seems somewhat Orwellian to get a coupon for detergent just when you are ready to run out. But, like online cookies, your preferences are...

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I don’t have a Friday Chat scheduled for this week… or next week… so I’m curious what y’all would like me to run on weeks we don’t have Friday Chats. An open thread? A link roundup?

If you are interested in being part of a future Friday Chat, email me at Otherwise, enjoy this week’s Ask A Manager podcast episode about salary negotiation! I love how Alison Green explains that a good negotiation should be one sentence long.

So earlier this month I hinted that I was planning to spend a lot of money in April, and so far the list of expenses include:

  • $160.50 on 12 Ann Taylor Loft floral-pattern T-shirts, to continue the basic uniform idea while updating it for the warmer weather that WILL ARRIVE AT SOME POINT
  • $939.33 on book tour travel expenses (currently booked)
  • $1,000ish on additional book tour travel expenses (still to be booked — yes, I will spend more on this tour than I’ll earn in sales while on tour, but I’ll also be connecting with readers and booksellers, visiting friends, teaching a class, etc.)
  • $218 on my annual eye exam
  • $160ish on a new pair of glasses
  • $200ish on my first dental exam in six years
  • $70 on last night’s massage
  • $70ish on next week’s float
  • $149.99 on a set of Power Block adjustable dumbbells
  • $49.99 on an AmazonBasics Flat Weight Bench

Yes, I have finally gotten into lifting — and I do mean finally, because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Casey Johnston’s “Ask a Swole Woman” columns, first on The Hairpin and now at Self, and thought “I wonder if I want to do that.”


(We can go into the psychological dynamics of starting a new, physically intense hobby at exactly the same time I transitioned into a more complex role at The Billfold later....

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It’s Friday, which means it’s time to estimate our weekend spending.

Saturday is Cedar Rapids’ annual Ecofest, with opportunities to plant trees, test-drive electric cars, listen to live music, and get a tour of Mount Trashmore. (I can’t decide whether it’s hilarious or depressing that so many cities and towns have their own Mount Trashmores.)

The Ecofest activities are free, but I might end up spending $10 or so on food from local vendors. TBD.

I also might end up spending $150 or so on a new pair of Warby Parker glasses, depending on when my Home Try-On Order arrives. (The website says I could get my order any time between now and Monday.) I got my eye exam this week, which cost $218 out of pocket but will be reimbursable through my HSA. The new glasses will also be reimbursable, so expect a “how I got reimbursed for my qualified HSA expenses” post soon.

Total estimate: $0-$160.

What about you?

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I used to love meeting new people. Now, I hate small talk, cocktail party questions among strangers. I dread being asked and what do you do? Should I mention my first career, past tense? It inevitably leads to questions, unknowingly loaded with heavy answers, about my current situation. I didn’t change careers by choice. I can’t explain that I decided to go back to school, or that I wanted a different challenge, or that I was bored, or even that I got laid off and had to find something new, because that’s the way life goes sometimes, right? What should I say, when the answer to what do you do is I don’t?

The First Career

In my first career, I was a physical therapist, and yes, I’m familiar with the jokes. Some patients called me a “physical terrorist;” others, “the person who helped me walk again.” As a career, physical therapy suited me, as well as my desire to keep learning: first my degree and license, then dual credentials, a national board certification, and ongoing continuing education. It’s also a social career, and I loved working with people and learning the stories behind the public façade. I spent my days in patient care, evaluating injuries and progressing exercise regimens, all while talking with men and...

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Daniela (not her real name) is 31 years old and is working in fundraising and donor relations in Boston.

So, Daniela, how much are you making?

I make $73,100, but my husband contributes $1,225 (starting next month $1,350) to that total because I take care of all the bills, healthcare, groceries, etc.

Do you and your husband keep your finances separate, then? And he pays you for your household work?

We tried to do a shared checking account a long time ago but it ended up just being more work than it was worth, so we’ve handled it in a way where he pays me his share of rent and contributes towards the shared expenses of utilities, internet, insurance, phone, and the dog.

The increase for next month is because we’ve added the cost of car insurance and I asked if we could rebalance, since I’m actually handling the bill. So we keep separate accounts! It works really well for us and wasn’t a painless process to really figure out what was best for our styles (I budget down to the cent, he’s much more free-wheeling).

I also make a decent bit more than he does, so I don’t mind picking a larger chunk of the grocery and household costs.

Got it. Where does your money usually go, each month? How much goes towards household costs, how much...

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It’s Thursday, which means it’s time to Do 1 Thing.

Today, my 1 Thing is to update my Billfold LLC bookkeeping spreadsheet with some additional information required by the IRS (member names, contact information, capital contributions, etc. etc. etc.).

I’m also getting a massage this evening because my local spa is offering Throwback Thursday prices, and since you get a float tank coupon with every massage, I’m booking myself a float tank session. I’ve never done a float before and I am eagerly anticipating it.

What about you?


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I changed jobs two years ago from school administrative support to a job that is half project management and half staff development. Both jobs are in the field of educational policy. My salary increased from $92K to $102K, but I left many things behind: a defined benefits pension, a bank of paid annual and sick leave that totaled about four months of paid leave, and a constant marinade of unhappiness that evaporated as soon as I received the offer letter. My friends who had been hearing me complain about this role were aghast that I had to give up those accrued days. I weighed it hard, and the cost of using those days paled in comparison to the cost of staying longer in the job.

I took the new job because my original one had been sold to me as support: resolving issues for principals, teachers, and the kids they were responsible for educating. Instead I became their warden, cracking down on misdemeanors that the central office tracked via their data systems. Spend enough time as a warden, and your mind conforms to that role. I was always watching for the next mistake, and felt both disappointment and inevitability when each red exclamation mark chimed into my inbox. When you’re miserable in your job, you cope...

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From the Dusselheim Post, translated into English:

My dear readers! As I am the Post’s newest food critic at large — a title that, you will note, reflects my physique — I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and share my philosophies on what makes a dining experience truly great.

Let’s start with that single word: share. I am a great admirer of The New York Times’ Frank Bruni, whose style I hope I will not inadvertently copy, and his theory that people are either food hoarders or food sharers. I began my life as a food hoarder, reaching out to grab every best bite for myself. When I was a child, after an appearance on what you might call an untelevised reality show, I came into possession of a lifetime supply of chocolate, divided and delivered annually in an immense truck. Though it was more chocolate than even a fat young boy could eat, and though I was allowed to order more if I consumed my supply, I did not share a single bar that first year. Not even with my family.

I have, since then, grown up. Today I believe that food is best enjoyed in the company of others, and that is how I plan to conduct myself as critic: evaluating not only the dishes themselves, but also the way in which...

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It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time to extend our financial questions.

Today, my question is: were any of you affected by the IRS website crash? We’ve all been granted a one-day tax extension, so anyone who didn’t get their taxes filed yesterday have until midnight to get ’em done — and no, the IRS doesn’t clarify which time zone, because that would make things too easy.

Discuss — or ask your own questions — in the comments.

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My first job at 14 was an at OB-GYN’s office. In retrospect, that maybe wasn’t the best first teenager job. I made minimum wage until minimum wage went up. I saved that minimum wage money until I had enough to buy a car. Even though that job ended, I went on to work steadily at other jobs for the next 15 years. I paid for my own cars, college, clothes, gas, and insurance. I did college work-study jobs. I completed a full-time stint as a VISTA volunteer. I had no idea what it was like NOT to work. I liked having my own money. I liked being independent. I liked being in charge of people. I promise I’m not money-hungry or bossy, but there were things I loved about working and things I hated. I had an idea in the back of my head that I wanted to stay home when I had kids — though at the time I wasn’t anywhere near starting a family.

I met my now-husband when he was midway through his PhD program. We decided to wait to get married until he finished his classes and dissertation. I continued to work full-time in retail management, HR, and property management until we got married. Because I was nearing thirty, we sat down and decided having...

I’ve always been one of those “freelancers should think of themselves as small-business owners” people, because it’s true. The more you run your freelance career like a business — which is to say, the more time you spend thinking about how to increase your revenue and build your contacts and make six-month and one-year and five-year plans — the more successful you’re likely to be.

About two years ago, I added “take on greater responsibility at The Billfold” into my five-year plan, and now I’m a different kind of small-business owner, because I share ownership of a business that is separate from myself.

The day-to-day tasks of running The Billfold are nearly identical to the day-to-day tasks of running my freelance business: I write posts, I edit posts, I check email and do social media and conduct interviews, I deal with administrative stuff and state business requirements and taxes. I build out a schedule of work, planning posts up to a month in advance. I keep the books and balance the budget.

I also need to ensure that The Billfold stays funded into the future — which, on the surface, is almost exactly like the work I do to ensure that I stay funded. Both involve a lot of pitching, and pitching a sponsored content post is much like pitching any other kind of post: I get two paragraphs max to outline the proposed...

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It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time to share our recent financial successes.

Last week, I set myself the goal of fully booking my West Coast book tour (for The Biographies of Ordinary People: Volume 2) and, although I have a significant chunk of it booked, I’m still trying to pin down two more bookstores.

This is my own fault for setting a goal that I couldn’t complete “on my own” — I can control the number of pitches I send out, but I can’t control when people get back to me (or whether or not they say yes).

But I’ll keep sending out pitches. I’m giving myself one more week of reaching out to bookstores before I finalize the tour stops and drop any cities where I couldn’t get a reading.

How about you?

Photo credit: Keith Trice, CC BY 2.0. Monday

Monday is a “weekend day” for my boyfriend and me, so we went to the movies to watch The Shape of Water. I’m not terribly enthused with fantastical romances, but the movie has garnered favorable reviews and besides, out of all the Oscar movies, this one seemed like the most fun and not at all depressing.

$21.18: Because of our work schedules, we normally go to the movies as soon as they open — but we just missed the discounted matinee rate and I paid for the higher ticket prices.

The Shape of Water’s imagery and cinematography were quite beautiful and I haven’t watched a movie in a long time that had me thinking about it for days.

$7.00: After the movies, we grabbed coffees at a new Starbucks that opened in our neighborhood. I know it’s sacrilege to drink Starbucks when there’s much better coffee in Western Washington, but we both actually like the detached and impersonal customer service at any and all Starbucks we visit. Nobody ever asks how our day is going, or why we haven’t visited in a while. I just want to get caffeinated and be sent on our way.

$17.00: Tacos! We haven’t taco-ed in...

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It’s Monday, which means it’s time to set a financial goal for the week.

I have a lot of Billfold LLC goals for this week: I need to get a business bank account set up, I need to contact the Iowa Department of Revenue to confirm whether or not we need to file for a sales permit (we don’t make any sales, but the state may require us to get the permit anyway), I need to file our SS-4… there are a lot of tasks that show up after you become a LLC that I wasn’t really aware of — like, I knew we’d need a bank account but didn’t know we might need a sales permit — and I need to start getting ’em done.

What about you?

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How much do you love shipping containers? I hope the answer is A WHOLE BUNCH, because you might end up drinking and/or sleeping in one very soon.

At Dwell, we have shipping container pod bars:

Canadian prefabricated home builder Honomobo has debuted the Honomobar, a portable bar made out of a recycled shipping container. Able to be sent anywhere across North America, the Honomobar is a pop-up structure that can bring hospitality to your backyard, the pool, by the lake—or anywhere else a drink may come in handy.

And no, this isn’t just for Canadians. Honomobo is rolling out its Honomobars in Seattle and San Francisco — but I’m assuming they only really work if you have both a backyard and enough cash to purchase a $19,764 portable bar. (What’s wrong with just putting your liquor and lemons on the kitchen counter? Or setting up a cooler on your back deck? Is that not hospitable enough anymore?)

Meanwhile, Newsweek wants us to prepare for Airbus’s new shipping container class:

Aircraft colossus Airbus has announced plans to convert the luggage storage areas of its planes into sleeping and recreation areas for passengers.

Airbus is partnering with Zodiac Aerospace to develop dedicated sleeping modules which are interchangeable with luggage containers. According to a joint press release, the companies say the plan will offer travelers better value and choice.

The plan will also...

Photo credit: Max Stanworth, CC BY 2.0.

It’s Monday, which means that it’s time to check in on our weekend spending.

Last Friday, I estimated that I would spend $7 on museum admission for Slow Art Day, and $20 on groceries.

I ended up spending $7 on the museum and $21.16 on groceries, so… not bad. (Also, Slow Art Day was a great way to look at art — I had been to the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art before, but spending 10 minutes with a single work of art helped me see so much detail that I had missed with the typical museum-goer’s glance.)

Total spending: $28.16.

How about you?