Sunday, March 21, 2010

Will You Do It Too?

We did it.  It was really hard and I realized something about myself.  I have an aversion to dying.  I don't like to talk about it and I certainly don't like to think about people going through my stuff when I am not around.  I don't like to think about Gustavo dying before me, or me dying before him.  I'd just really rather not know what happens after I die before I die. Regardless of all this avoidance and denial, we finally did our will.

We used an attorney here in Houston that I can certainly recommend to you. She was very thorough and patient as we discussed how we would go about dispersing our estates.  I am so indecisive and she even worked through that with me.  Her name is Mary Beth Cameron and you can contact her here. She can actually do all kinds of lawyering stuff so if you need something else, call her for that too.

We did something kind of fun with our wills.  Instead of just only giving money to family members, we will also each be setting up two scholarship funds, one for the children in our families and one for our high schools.  We both strongly believe in education and thought it was a great way to keep a legacy of that belief going.

My scholarship trust for my high school will be for a student who was just like me, enthusiastic and active, made good grades but wasn't the top top student and didn't qualify for financial aid.  There are so many worthy students who are in the middle area and that is who I want to help. Eventually we will set up this scholarship fund while we are still alive so we can have fun picking the student too.  Gustavo is setting one up for his high school in Puerto Rico, a specialized boarding school for future engineers called CROEM.

Maybe you have something that you strongly believe in and want to help with too.  If you do, it's not as complicated as it sounds.  You don't have to set it up now so there's nothing to do really except put it in your will and appoint the trustees.  When you die a "springing trust" will be created and you have already named the trustees in your will.  You have to pick three people in case some of those people are already gone.  Wouldn't it be fun to have a scholarship named after you in your high school?  I seriously thought about only giving it for students who want to study abroad since I had a hard time paying for my study abroad programs.  (I went to Spain and Wales.) Why not pick someone who was just like you and play favorites like I did?

If you haven't done your will yet, just make an appointment and do it.  It won't be fun and I'm not even sure you will feel better after all these thoughts about dying, but it is a necessary evil.  If you have children, you especially need to think about who will raise your children by appointing a guardian.  Depending on your state there are different consequences to not having a will.  There may be financial consequences or it will just be harder on your spouse or family.  Believe me, when there is a death you have enough paper work to deal with without having to fight the court.  I learned that having a will written partly in ink and partly typed is not valid in places.  There are actually a lot of rules and if you are going through the trouble to make one, make sure you find out from an attorney if it will be valid.  The kits at Office Depot for $20 are probably not be worth it.

I bet you are all ahead of me and took care of this already.  Who has a will and did you do something special in it?  Did you know that you aren't allowed to leave money to your dog?  Are you like me, and avoided it like the plague?  Does it creep you out to think about people going through your stuff?  What better reason to go clean out your closet right now!

Picture from here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Make Your Own Must-Have List

In the spirit of daylight savings time and 70 degree weather, G and I exchanged out our summer and winter wardrobes this past weekend.  As we were taking out and putting away, we also took the opportunity to clean out some things in the process.  It was really fun, especially pointing all the things G should throw out, and our closet looks so much tidier.

G doesn't usually have an opinion about my clothes but he did intervene on some items for me this time.  There were some pointy toed heels with love written on them that he slowly reached in, took out and placed in the to go bag.  I only slightly flinched as I watched them go.  The same happened with the strappy, rhinestone buckle heels that I bought for our first date. They will be much prettier in memory when I tell the story to our kids, rather than their grubby reality.  The green Theory pants and the candy cane striped velvet Theory pants are in there too.  Bye bye faithful friends, I hope that you make someone else smile too!   The back of the car is full and headed to KCM, our local charity store, this week.

As I was sitting on the floor gathering up my winter socks into their bag for another year in hibernation, I looked up at my slightly stuffed side and thought "I still have too many clothes."   I had preserved some winter items until the heat is here for good, but I still have too many clothes.

This is a picture of my side of the closet and you can see that for the average American woman my wardrobe is really pared down and small, although it's kind of stuffed in there at the moment. 

Even though my wardrobe is smaller than the average bear, I still sat there contemplating this, as only a Closet Therapist would do and I had a thought.

What if I started over with nothing?  

How many clothes would I need?


Hmmmmm.  First I asked Gustavo because guys are simpler to organize.  We both agreed that 10 shirts and 5-8 pairs of pants would be a good place to start for him.  But women tend to be more complicated.  Our closets consist of items that have organically grown over the years, through sizes and trends and phases.  As we exit one phase, we don't automatically let go of the previous one but what would we choose if we started over today? 

I am a stay at home wife and I have a pretty basic uniform that I wear everyday yet my wardrobe is still filled with many unnecessary items because some of those clothes are work clothes.  I don't work outside the home but if I did for a time I wouldn't want to go shopping.  Obviously I would need to earn money and not spend it shopping for new clothes. Everyone has their reasons for keeping items that don't work for them at the moment.  Maybe you are getting back into pre-baby clothes, or holding on to a smaller size because you are determined to lose weight.  I've decided to put those work clothes away so that they are there if I need them but I don't have to look at the extra clothes every day stuffed in my closet.  

Why does this even matter?  Let's just all stuff our closets full and not worry about it.   The truth is that a simplified wardrobe that works for us presently is important to all areas of our life.  It affects our confidence, how appropriate we dress and how comfortable we are working in our daily lives.  

I don't have an answer for how much you need, but if you ask yourself I bet you'll find an answer.  There are tons of must-have wardrobe staples lists but really you should make your own.  Those famous must-have lists are not for everyone.  Why does every list have a trench coat and why don't I see anyone walking around in one?

Why not put in a box the clothes that you don't wear?  They say we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time.  Is that true for you?  What would happen if you had less clothes in your closet?  Would you feel rested or start to panic? What would your wardrobe look like if you started over?  Tell me what is in your "Must-Have List".  

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

How My Wallet Went on a Diet


Recently I bought a new wallet from Rue La La.  It's by Chocolat Blu and just a clean, crisp black.  I usually would have gone for a color but decided to be conservative and classic in my choice this time.  I eagerly awaited it in the mail, and when I got it was delighted at the leathery smell and clean design.  Then I put all my stuff in it and to my dismay, it looked so stuffed and fat that I took everything out and considered sending it back.  I mean, it wasn't going to work for me, was it?

After some inward thought about my wallet full of cards, I started thinking it was time to declutter this area of my life too.  Why is it necessary to be dragging around all these things with me?  In the spirit of full disclosure and shame, I'm going to list what was in my wallet.

Chase credit card
Chase debit card
Banana Republic Luxe credit card
Banana Republic $10 gift card
Banana Republic $10 gift card (yes, another one)
Banana Republic choose a day to get 15% off card
Banana Republic February 23 30% card
Banana Republic February 18-28 25% card
Wachovia debit card
Nordstrom card
Drivers License
Starbucks Registered Card (1)
Starbucks Registered Card (2)
Starbucks Registered Card (3)
Insurance Card
Prescription Card
Whole Foods vitamin card
Whole Foods vitamin card (yes, two)
Water machine card
Talbots credit card
Ann Taylor credit card
AAA card
Hertz AAA discount card
Home Depot gift card (well earned for listening to Rain Soft presentation)
Pottery Barn merchandise credit (for pillows I took back without receipt)
Anthropologie customer card
AT&T debit card (was gift for signing up with them & has .57 on it)
Coupon for free pair of Victoria's Secret panties
Checkbook
Checkbook register
Coffee card from Lenoir, NC (drive thru coffee when I visit my family)
Coffee card from Lenoir, NC (internet & coffee when I visit my family)
CVS card
Library card from Houston
Library card from Katy
Business card for hairdresser
Money
Coins

Can you believe this?  Is this a Dave Ramsey nightmare?  We don't carry any debt on any of these credit cards, but I had to ask myself why it is necessary to have all these on me at all times.  I am not often unprepared when asked to produce something as you can imagine and, believe it or not, I'm having a hard time whittling this list down to fit all neat and tidy in my new wallet.

If you break down my list into categories, it would look like this:

Major Credit Cards
Banking Debit Cards
Store Credit Cards
Customer Loyalty Cards (not credit but you give when you shop)
Coupons
Store Credit (they have money on them)
Misc. but important like insurance and drivers license

In an effort to become who my wallet wants me to be, I have been evaluating all these categories and making decisions to simplify my financial life.  I found there are sentimental attachments to these cards, just like everything else we try to declutter.  There are personal associations that I feel by having cards to certain stores.  That is how they want us to feel!  I have been sure that there is an advantage to being a part of this store by having their credit card because they send me catalogs and coupons.  As far as Talbots and Ann Taylor, I hardly ever shop there.

I have already taken action to reduce this credit clutter.  I canceled my Ann Taylor card with the touch of a few buttons.  Yesterday I said bye bye to my Wachovia checking account and debit card which I never use.  It was my first checking account in college which is probably what kept my loyalty all these years.  G had a Saks card that he canceled but wasn't in my wallet.  Yay for progress!

We have the Chase Freedom card which gives you cash back, and used to make all our purchases on that card.  For the last 8 months or so we have been weaning ourself off of using it because it June they will start charging an annual fee.  I don't have any problem canceling a card that charges me just for having it!  Even though we paid it off every month, using a credit card still makes you spend more money.  There is something very real about using cash to pay for things.  You don't let go of it as easily and may think twice about a purchase.

On Sunday, we were at the Columbia store looking for outdoorsy clothes for our trip to Israel coming up.  I had four things that I was going to buy and they came to $130.  I asked G how we were going to pay for it and he said we should try to not use the credit card.  That means that I have to use my allowance for these clothes.  I ended up putting one jacket back, using the cash I had in my wallet and then writing a check for the rest.  We definitely reconsidered every item right there at the cash register when I realized I wouldn't be using the credit card.

One card that we won't be canceling is the Banana Republic.  We shop there a lot and find a lot of value in it.  We get free hemming alterations on all our pants we buy, free shipping with online shopping, and a lot of promotions for cardholders.  Gustavo is so slim that their clothes fit him best and I love dressing him from there.

The customer loyalty cards are quite bulky and when it comes down to it, you can give them your phone number.  The CVS card, I had on my key chain and in my wallet.  It's just amazing to me how I comply with these marketing strategies.  Because of this CVS card, I certainly shop there rather than Walgreens.

There are other reasons to not be carrying around all these items in your wallet, financial reasons and logistical ones.  If my wallet got stolen, I would have to remember all these things were in my wallet, and make a ton of phone calls to cancel and replace.  What if I forgot one that I rarely used like my Wachovia debit card?  I think that making changes like these have to happen from time to time.  What used to work for us may not be working anymore.  Sometimes just leaving it alone seems easier which was certainly the case for me.

I'm so happy that this little wallet has come into my life to expedite these changes.  I'm not sure I would have done it otherwise.  I will think twice about accepting a 10% discount to open a store charge card.  Sometimes it really isn't worth the complication that it causes.  It's another bill that you have to remember to pay.  Hey, sometimes it is worth it but that's not for me to decide.  Sometimes 10% is a lot!  Maybe cancel the card after you get the discount.  Then again, you have to consider that your credit is being hit by opening the card, so if you are buying a house or need your credit score to be high, it's not worth it.

What do you think about simplifying your finances?  What do you do to make your life less complicated.  Is your wallet fat and stuffed like mine, or mainstreamed and uncluttered?  Want to send me a picture for inspiration or share in my shame?  Do tell!

Picture from here.  This is not my wallet by the way!

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