How I Built A Work Wardrobe From Scratch By Shopping Only at Thrift and Discount Stores

My sister, Maura, recently graduated from college. When I went home to visit, I took her shopping for a work wardrobe as a graduation present. Maura was starting from scratch, so we thought it might be nice to share the process with She Spends readers who might be dealing with a similar issue. 

The problem: Maura’s pre-existing wardrobe was perfect for class or the summers she spent working at camp, where she typically wore leggings or shorts and a t-shirt. That wardrobe was too casual for her upcoming role as a dietetic intern. 

In Maura’s words, “I am always overwhelmed by shopping, but shopping for ‘professional clothes’ is the worst.”

“Everything is more expensive, pants suddenly don't fit, all the dresses are made for people who are six feet tall, and the shirts are all see through,” she added. “I've also never been into fashion so navigating how to put myself together to look professional is just terrifying.”

Here’s how we tackled it. 

Step one: Cataloguing

We started by cataloguing what Maura already had in her closet. There were some items she had on hand that could help her transition into workwear more easily. 

She had four pairs of pants: grey skinny pants, grey chinos, black skinny pants and black trousers. She had one black blazer as well. She also had some tops and cardigans that could make the transition. These included an emerald green bell sleeve blouse, a cream-colored long sleeve blouse, a purple striped short-sleeve sweater, a dark purple cardigan, a green striped wrap shirt, a navy ruffle shirt, an army green linen button-up, a chambray button-up, and a LOFT blue flowered tunic top. She also had grey Sperry Topsiders, black booties and tan booties. 

Once we had catalogued these pieces, it became easier to see the holes in her wardrobe. 

Step two: Analysis

Using the list of what Maura already owned, we discussed some of the holes she wanted to fill in her wardrobe, as well as some of the colors and motifs she likes to use when getting dressed. Maura had been cataloging clothing she liked on Pinterest, which is a fantastic tool for folks working to figure out their style. 

Maura’s Pinterest board did not have a lot of work-specific looks on it, but it did show her style. When scrolling through, it became clear that Maura liked colors like light pink, army green, cream, blue and burgundy. The tones were muted and soft. It also became clear that Maura liked longer sweaters paired with skirts, jeans or even shorts, despite the fact that she didn’t own any long sweaters. 

We also considered the work Maura will be doing, as well as her own dressing preferences when it came to her wardrobe. Because she will be working in a hospital, Maura needed closed-toed shoes. She doesn’t like wearing heels, so we decided to look for a pair of black oxfords, as well as a pair of trendy sneakers. She prefers to be comfortable and to sleep as long as possible in the mornings. She doesn’t wear makeup, and tends to reach for comfort over style.

Based on this, we added a pair of green chinos, nicer short sleeve tops, long sweaters, and a wristlet to replace the one she’s been carrying for awhile to our list.

Step three: Shopping 

We began our shopping trip at a Goodwill based in a higher-income neighborhood in western Pennsylvania, where Maura lives. We pulled clothing in light pink, army green, cream, blue and burgundy in several sizes for her to try on. 

If you want tips on how to find the best stuff at Goodwill, check out our piece on thrifting here

In total, we spent $40.70 on eight items. We got a light pink long-sleeve blouse, a striped t-shirt from LOFT, a dark green pullover sweater from Hollister, a burgundy pullover Aerie sweatshirt, a blue marled cable sweater from Gap, a striped short-sleeve wrap dress, a light pink pullover sweater and a grey a-line Monteau dress.

Our next stop was Marshalls, where we took a similar approach to finding clothing. 

In total, we spent $75 at the store for five items. We purchased a white short-sleeve floral blouse, a light blue polka-dot camisole, a paper-airplane printed white short-sleeve blouse, a pair of green chinos and a pair of pink jeans. 

Step four: Review

By the time we had finished our trip to Marshalls, Maura was exhausted. Once home, we reviewed her haul to determine how well we did, and what wardrobe holes still existed. 

In total, we spent $115.70 to purchase 13 new items for Maura’s wardrobe. Combined with the items she already had on hand, the pieces are quite complementary, particularly the two pairs of pants we picked up at Marshalls. 

We did not manage to find a wristlet or a pair of black oxfords. At press time, Maura had managed to find a wristlet, which her friend gifted her for graduation. She is still on the hunt for a comfortable pair of oxfords, so if you have suggestions, do let us know. 

Step five: Putting it all together

The final step in building a new wardrobe is styling it. Much of Maura’s work wardrobe has been designed so that she can pull on a pair of pants and a top and feel put-together. However, I do have some suggestions for styling beyond that. 

A French tuck for some of the blouses she selected would be a nice way to handle the length. They were a bit long on her, and can look smart and neat tucked into her tighter-fitting pants. 

Another way Maura could elevate her looks is to layer the Aerie pullover with a collared shirt, like some of the blouses she selected. The two combined look pulled-together while still feeling comfortable. 

Finally, Maura could choose to leave army green linen top unbuttoned over her striped LOFT shirt. She could pair the look with her pink pants and tan booties. The layering would be a nod to some of the looks she pinned on Pinterest, while still looking professional. 

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Freaking Out About A Recession? We Got Your Back

Given the stock market’s movements this week (and the financial media’s subsequent panic) we thought it would be helpful to answer some questions we got in our Facebook group and Instagram here. Consider this your guide to current market conditions, and save it for later so you can feel prepared for the next time investors get spooked.

Are we in a recession?
Nope! A recession occurs when the economy contracts for more than two months. A recession is measured using several indicators, which include real gross domestic product (GDP), income, employment, manufacturing and retail sales.

Other terms, including market correction, a bear market and a stock market crash, are used interchangeably with the term recession, but they shouldn’t be.

A market correction occurs when the overall market falls 10 percent. It can also be applied to individual stocks.

Meanwhile, a bear market occurs when there’s a 20 percent drop in share prices over at least a two-month period. Related: if you can’t keep bear and bull markets straight, think about how the two animals attack. A bear often stands up over its victim, punching down. Thus, a bear market is falling. Meanwhile, a bull uses its horns to push up against the victim, lifting them in the air. A bull market works similarly.

A stock market crash, like the ones in 2008 during the Recession and in 1929 before the Great Depression, is a sudden steep drop in stock prices. Think 20 percent over a week, rather than a few months.

What does the yield curve mean? Why do we care that it inverted?
Okay, so the yield curve measures how bond investors are feeling about risk. It’s typically a more legitimate way to track how the market is doing than stock prices because the bond market is larger, and because bond investors are a bit more intentional about what they do than stock investors.

When the yield curve inverts, long-term (10-year) bonds have yields, also called returns, that are lower than short-term (2-year) bonds. Check out this writing metaphor, or this sports analogy, for a more detailed explanation.

We care that a yield curve inverts because it has often indicated that a recession is on its way.

And why are stock prices going down?
Stock prices fell about three percent on Wednesday, then stabilized on Thursday. Investors are concerned about the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, among other issues.

What other indicators do people watch?
Some folks watch the VIX, or the volatility index. When it goes up, it means there is more volatility, or uncertainty, in the market. On Wednesday, as stock prices fell, the VIX was up nearly 30 percent.

Why does it feel like everyone is talking about a recession?
Well, they are! I work in financial media, and I can attest to the fact that reporters and our sources alike have been talking about when the next recession would happen since at least 2015 (folks who have been in the field longer than me say it goes back as far as 2012). Quite frankly, media folks and investors alike have been terrified that another 2008 would happen (although the next economic contraction likely won’t be as serious). As a result, both jump at any signal that the markets are turning.

Okay, so we’re not in a recession. But eventually, we will be. What should I do to protect myself and my family?
First, don’t panic! If a recession happens, you can do a few things. First, when it comes to your investments, you’ll likely be best served to do nothing, especially if you’re investing for the long term. Remember that when you sell investments, they are subject to taxes.

Consider refinancing your mortgage or student loans now, because it is often easier to do prior to a recession than during it. Remember that every situation is different though, and you may not find this necessary.

Finally, look at beefing up your emergency fund. The way most folks are hardest hit during a recession is that they lose their jobs. Make sure you have extra liquid cash, and keep that resume up to date, just in case.

Got memes?
We love a good finance meme. These two are great for the recession panickers among us.

What You Need To Know About Payday Loans

Let’s talk payday loans. From a personal finance standpoint, they’re easy to criticize: they have high interest rates, large fees and you have to pay them back all at once. But what those criticisms miss is the necessity these services play in people’s lives.

What are payday loans?
A payday loan is a cash advance on a paycheck. The loan is tied to that paycheck and is expected to be paid back all at once. The loan is short term, and has high interest rates -- they can be as high as 500%. You also typically must pay a fee upfront for the loan.

To get a payday loan, you simply need paycheck stubs and a checking account. There is no credit check or down payment like with other lending services.

The Pew Trust has a great video explaining the process.

Who uses them?
According to data from Pew (which is a little old as it’s from 2012), most payday loans are sought by white women between the ages of 25 and 44. There are five groups of people who have higher odds of taking out payday loans: folks without four-year degrees, renters, African Americans, those making under $40,000 annually and those who are separated or divorced, the data shows.

These folks use payday lenders instead of putting things on a credit card because they don’t have strong enough credit to borrow from mainstream lenders. This is important -- the people who take out payday loans aren’t served by other markets. This is why they keep returning to payday lenders, instead of going elsewhere.

Why do people use them?
Many folks are using these loans to cover normal expenses like the utility bill, rent or other monthly bills, according to Pew. This is what makes these loans especially difficult to get out from under.

Once you take out one loan for rent, you then have to spend time paying that back before you’re able to pay for the next month’s rent. Because both rent and income tend to be the same each month, it’s a cycle that continues on and on for many folks, depriving them of their hard-earned money.

Why are they harmful?
There are several reasons. First, and foremost, the high interest rates make these loans extremely difficult to pay back. The payments up front are an added cost, which can make them even more difficult to take care of.

As evidenced by some of the demographic information above, payday lenders tend to prey on folks who are already struggling financially. A payday loan can add to other challenges these folks face.

I’m in a tight spot with my money, what can I do instead?
You have several options. You can go to your credit union or bank and ask for an unsecured loan. The loan’s terms will not be as restrictive as the payday loan, and will often have a better timeline to be paid off.

You can call your utility company, landlord, or other bill collector and ask for an extension. This is especially helpful if you have a good track record with on-time payments.

Look at your checking account. It may have overdraft protection that allows you to spend money that you don’t have in your account, with the expectation that you deposit that money ASAP. While this may not be an ideal situation, it is a way to avoid high interest rates.

Peer-to-peer lending services are also another option. Again, they don’t have such high interest rates or predatory lenders. Your options include Kiva, Lending Club and Prosper, among others.

Longer term, work to consider how you can increase your income and cut back on expenses to ensure that you’re not in this spot again.

I understand the risks of payday loans and want things to change. What can I do?
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created to protect consumers following the Recession (and it was Elizabeth Warren’s idea!) is now avoiding implementing the Payday Lending Rule, which would regulate the industry.

You can also learn more about the payday loan market and what you can do to take action is to go to Stop The Debt Trap’s website.

What You Need To Know About Fiduciary Duty

If you’ve spent much time reading personal finance media, you’ve likely heard the term “fiduciary.” But if you haven’t, no need to fret. It’s a complex term that’s brought quite a bit of confusion to the industry since its inception. In the hopes of clarifying some things for you, we’re here to explain!

What exactly is a fiduciary?
Broadly speaking, a fiduciary is a person who agrees to act in your best interest -- and not their own -- when it comes to managing your money.

Wait...so not everyone who helps manage money has to act in my best interest?
That’s right! And most consumers don’t know this.

Let’s break it down further.
A fiduciary typically doesn’t take commissions from mutual fund providers or investment firms in exchange for steering your money into their funds.

Most fiduciaries choose to work on a fee-only basis, which means that they charge their client a fee, and that’s how they get paid. They’re not getting kickbacks from investment firms, banks, financial institutions, etc., at the same time.

This is both an ethical and legal concept, so not only do fiduciaries have a moral obligation to hold your interests above their own, but they also have to do so BY LAW. In other words, if they don’t act that way, you have legal recourse available.

Why does it matter?
Well, there are a ton of folks acting as financial advisors, coaches and more who are not fiduciaries. They can accept these types of commission payments, and even though they may say they are not swayed by their relationships with outside companies, that likely isn’t the case.

So, who is a fiduciary?
A certified financial planner is a fiduciary, as is a registered investment adviser. Brokers, advisors and coaches are not required to be fiduciaries, but some may act in that capacity. Some lawyers can also act as fiduciaries.

How can I tell if the person I am working with is a fiduciary?
Ask lots of questions. You can ask them outright whether they are, and they should give you an honest answer.

If you’re not convinced, ask them if they receive commission beyond what clients pay them. If they do, there’s a clear conflict of interest.

You can also check to see if that person has any sort of credentials on BrokerCheck. The listings there will show you whether the person is a registered investment adviser or working in some other capacity. To check if someone is a certified financial planner, use this link.

Is She Spends a fiduciary?
That is a complex question! She Spends as an entity is not a fiduciary. We do our very best to ensure that we’re acting in your best interests, but we do not have a legal obligation to do so. We also receive commissions from Ellevest, which bears on our ability to act as a fiduciary.

Ellevest itself is a fiduciary. Because of that, there are certain, specific rules for how we, as an affiliate, can write things about Ellevest.

Brooklyn Plans, the financial planning firm we work with to offer coaching services, is a fiduciary. Alicia, our founder who is working as a coach with Brooklyn Plans, will be a fiduciary once she passes the CFP exam.

Got questions about what it means to be a fiduciary? Shoot us an email and we’ll do our best to answer!

Sarah Solomon on Writing Her Debut Book: "Guac Is Extra, But So Am I"

Sarah Solomon and I met at my first job in media, a financial news website called TheStreet that went through a series of strategy changes and layoffs during the time we worked there.

Since leaving the company, Solomon has gone on to write and illustrate a book called Guac Is Extra But So Am I, a handbook for millennials in their 20s. The book includes advice on everything from how to respond to a wedding invite when you don’t want to attend to how to buy a home.

I may be biased because I’m quoted in it, but I really think the book is a fun read (especially because of Solomon’s trademark sarcasm).

I talked with Solomon about her book, her career and her future goals. What follows is our conversation.

How did you get started in media?
When I was graduating college I started the UrbanJAP twitter account because I was bored and I wanted a platform where I could test content. Twitter was still a space where it wasn’t that negative. You could still gain a following quickly if you had a good handle. There were a lot of WASP accounts that didn’t pertain to religion, so I thought that would be a good way in.

I met all my friends through Twitter. My entire network is through Twitter. I owe my entire career to Twitter.

I went to Drexel for graphic design. I started out working in advertising as a copywriter for Club Monaco. I did editorial at Brooks Brothers for a few years, and then I worked in the copy department at Aeropostale. Then I moved into traditional media, working for TheStreet. Now I’m back at an ad agency. My favorite was editorial and social at Brooks Brothers. Getting to deal with influencers was really fun. I live for preppy crap.

So where does the book come in?
TheStreet had announced a round of layoffs, and I was included in them. I had just gotten out of the car TheStreet had sent me home in, and I looked at my phone. Amid all these texts from people checking in on me,I saw of emails from Powerhouse, my publisher. That was the moment when I found out that they had picked up my book.

I had a long and weird career, people in their 20s are treated like expendable crew members. I had to move jobs and apartments so many times, I was like, you know what, I wish I had something to look to when I was 24. I wanted to write a handbook for your 20s that was useful. I wanted to include a lot of voices of people I respected.

You pitch with three chapters with nonfiction. I had to rewrite them all. I had like four months in my contract to write it. I would do research at night and I would leave all the tabs open and during the day I would go to the park and write it.

There’s a whole chapter on weddings. How to turn down an invitation and a breakdown of what to wear to them based on the dress code. That’s really important for our age group. I really hammer down that if you don’t want to go, don’t go. It’ll be a lot of money. Just say no and send a small gift, it’s fine.

The other thing that I really enjoyed writing was the bare minimum cheat sheet covers, which include everything from how to move to expiration dates for food, plants that are hard to kill, stuff to look for in an apartment and hangover cures.

What has the response been like so far?
It’s been incredible. I was not expecting this big of a response. I keep getting messages from anyone and everyone. It’s made me the happiest I’ve ever been. It’s wild. I had severe imposter syndrome. Before every event, I freak out.

What advice do you have to our readers?
I’m a huge supporter of the fuck off fund. It was what I lived off of. I don’t have student loans and I don’t think this would have been possible if I didn’t have them. I don’t ask my family for money, I have enough. Living off of savings was terrifying. When you’re a contract worker, no one cares about you.

Make sure you always have a contract with a client, because they will run. If they don’t have a contract they won’t pay you. Avoid writing tests. They can use that for free content.

What are you working on now?
I’m back with an ad agency. I’m also working on more freelance stuff. I’m going to try to start my second book toward the latter part of the summer. I just think the cool thing about our industry is that you never know what’s around the corner.

Kira Bushman on How To Handle Money Criticism

(editor's note: Kira Bushman, the blogger behind Style To Spare, wrote this piece for us. Check out her marketing portfolio here!)
Money is a sensitive topic. When it comes to how much we make or how much wespend, it’s downright taboo. This is even though one of the best ways to create an economically fairer world is to be open about your money and how you use it. But this comes at a price. If you’re willing to share exactly how you use your cash, there’s someone, somewhere, who is going to give you shit about it.

You may play it off like you aren’t gonna let what they have to say get you down. Yet, especially when they come from people close to you, comments about your spending or saving habits can really affect you. Your life is probably stressful enough without added judgment.

The Two Main Money Criticisms
From what I’ve experienced, there are two main money criticisms: “I would never spendthat much!” and “You need to get your priorities straight!” They’re equally annoying, but once you think them through and know how to respond, it’s much easier to shut them out. Here’s how I deal with them both.

“I would never spend that much!”

I’m from the Greater Cincinnati area, a mellow midwestern place that’s much cheaper than bigger cities on the East Coast. When I moved to South Florida with my fiance, I knew the cost of living was going to be much higher than I was used to. I thought my family would get it, too. But when I finally told them we were going to be splitting $2,100 for a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Fort Lauderdale, they couldn’t hold back.

“I’ve never even paid a mortgage that big,” one of my family members said. “That’s a lot. Are you sure about this?” Well, I had been sure about it until they said that. I started second-guessing myself. Should I really be spending that much? Was I being realistic? Was I good enough at budgeting to make this work out?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions was yes, but hearing my inner fears voiced by my relatives put me on shaky mental ground. To work through it, I started doing my homework. What percentage of your income did experts recommend spending on housing? What was the difference in cost of living between where I grew up and where I now lived?

Knowing how to answer these questions gave me a way to respond calmly and factually to friends and relatives who didn’t understand why I was spending in a way they considered excessive. It also helped me realize that I was still being smart with my money, no matter what anyone said.

“You need to get your priorities straight.”

I’ve gotten this comment many different times from many different people, usually after they witness me make a large purchase on something they see as trivial. One good example is the way one of my family members reacted when I told them how much I recently spent on skincare products. I splurged and bought some high-quality stuff for around $200. According to my mom, I was taking myself too seriously and spending in the wrong places. My priorities were out of alignment.

Her comments bothered me at first, and I had to remind myself that it was totally within the budget I had set and that it was more than fine for skincare to be one of my spending priorities. In the end, I just stopped feeling the need to defend myself. I knew my own truth.

My Tips for Responding to Criticism and Gaining Money Confidence
The two stories I shared are just a couple of examples of working through getting criticized for your personal finances. These tips can help you get through whatever negative comments come your way:

Tip #1: Recognize critical loved ones for what they are.
As cheesy as it sounds, your loved ones are probably only criticizing what you do with your money because they love you and want the best for you. They probably also don’t want you to end up losing all your money and moving back home, but that’s beside the point. The bottom line is that it’s much easier to take criticism when you recognize that it’s coming from a place of compassion.

Tip #2: Research helps others - and your inner critic - understand.
If you can’t seem to shake those negative thoughts after being criticized, then start doing your research. You’ll either find facts to back you up or find methods to fix your mistakes. It’s a win-win.

Tip #3: Know that you don’t have to defend your personal choices.
Comments about your personal finances can automatically put you on the defensive if you aren’t thinking it through. Take a moment to think. Do you need to defend your choices to this person? In almost all cases, the answer is no. When you resist getting defensive, your interaction doesn’t have to get toxic and you feel better about your situation.

Tip #4: Practice mindfulness to see these situations from an unbiased perspective.
Yeah yeah, I know. I’m probably the hundredth person this week to recommend that you try meditation or some other mindfulness practice to center yourself and improve your life. The thing is, being mindful in your daily life is what will enable you to truly take advantage of the first three tips. It’s hard to look at money criticism objectively if you’re stuck in your emotions and getting upset too quickly. If you’re willing to try meditating, start with just ten minutes in the morning for a few days a week. I use the simple MindBell app, but if you need more guidance, try something like Headspace. If meditation isn’t for you, just remember to take a few deep breaths and think before reacting to a negative comment about how you use your money.

Tip #5: When you need extra help, try financial counseling or therapy.
Sometimes, money criticism can be too overwhelming to deal with on your own. This is nothing to be ashamed of! Money is a common stressor and there are many services to help you deal. If you think the problem is the way you handle your money, talk with a financial counselor. If it’s more related to your self-esteem and how you feel about the opinions of others, try therapy with a licensed psychologist. You could even try a combination of both to tackle your money problems from multiple angles.

If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this: Focus on what’s good for your wallet and not what other people are saying about it. You’ll be confident that you’re doing the right thing for your life and be able to block out the noise.

Women's Personal Finance Media Has A Problem: Diet Culture

We started She Spends with the goal of providing a space for women and non-binary folks to learn about money without being infantilized or pandered to. With this goal in mind, we try to pay a great deal of attention to the language we use to talk about money.

We previously wrote about why you’ll never see us use #girlboss or terms like it at SheSpends. But a recent Instagram post from one of our readers and fellow financial feminists, Ally-Jane Ayers, reminded us of the importance of language, particularly as it pertains to diet culture. 

The post that Ayers shared, along with an eye roll emoji, is a photo of a book called “Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Financial Empowerment and Success.” The book was published in 2010 and uses comparisons to dieting to teach the book’s audience (primarily women) about money. 

The book isn’t alone -- there’s a world of personal finance media targeting women that uses weight loss to serve as an analogy for saving money. But what’s the big deal? What does it matter if these folks want to use a dieting analogy for money? 

Well, for one, diets don’t work. While researchers have shown that folks can typically lose weight when they start a diet, they tend to gain all of it back and then some. At their best, diets feel restrictive and can lead to episodes of overindulging. At their worst, they can act as a launch-pad for eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. 

When we apply a diet framework to our financial lives, we are applying a similarly restrictive set of rules on ourselves. We can end up making the same “mistakes” that we may on a diet: sticking to it in the near term may feel good, but we eventually burn out. Instead of overeating our favorite snacks, we blow our hard-earned cash on cute clothes or a pricey night out.

What makes this sort of personal finance content worse is that it upholds diet culture.

As dietitian Christy Harrison writes, diet culture rewards thinness by equating it to moral value and health. It promotes weight loss as something worth investing hours of time, money and effort into. And we buy into it: the U.S. weight loss market was worth $66 billion in 2017 according to Marketdata, a market research firm focused on the diet industry.

To put it another way, we’re putting a ton of money towards thinness that could be padding our savings accounts or paying off our student loans. 

What’s perhaps worst about it is the amount of headspace thinness and dieting takes up. I’m sickened when I consider how much time I have spent in my life worrying about a 100 calorie snack pack or having to go up a bra size. And I know I’m not alone. According to a2008 study from the University of North Carolina, a whopping 75 percent of women ages 25 to 45 surveyed reported engaging in disordered eating behaviors. 

We’re engaging in this culture all while it punishes and oppresses fatness. It frowns on certain ways of eating (those ways that tend to be the only ones accessible to poor folks). Diet culture is disproportionately focused on policing fat bodies, bodies of color, women’s bodies and bodies that do not neatly fit into the gender binary.

It would be easy to pretend that the use of “diet” in a book title or a weight loss comparison in an article doesn’t have an effect on how someone feels about their own body. But the point isn’t how one person feels about their body. It’s about how we as a culture think about marginalized folks, bodies and money, and how it has all become intertwined. It’s a systemic problem, and it’s important to call it out when it enters our niche. 

When personal finance media uses diet analogies, it infantilizes and demeans readers. Can’t understand money? We’ll couch it in terms you can understand: weight loss. 

Our audience deserves more than to be inundated by messages that encourage them to return to a place of shrinking, especially when it’s on a topic so utterly unrelated to dieting. We should be given the chance to learn about a complex, emotional topic without having to think about weight loss. 

When we defined our mission and values for She Spends, we made sure to choose “body positivity” as a key belief for our brand. We didn’t expect for it to come up much: it simply meant that we wouldn’t cover weight loss and would be sure to consider all bodies when it comes to creating merch. 

But as time has gone on, it has become much more to us than that: it means calling out fat-shaming memes posted by personal finance bros on Instagram (yep, we did that). It means writing articles like this about the intersection of diet culture and money. And it means you can trust that She Spends will never be a space where you’re told to be smaller. 

On Elizabeth Warren's Student Debt Cancellation Plan And The Ensuing Debate

I want to talk about Elizabeth Warren’s plan for universal free public college and cancellation of student loan debt this week. 

One, because I think it’s important for the public to have a discussion on how we plan to tackle the ongoing student loan crisis that has saddled our generation with an incredible amount of debt. 

Two, because I think the critique the plan has gotten gets to the heart of a larger issue in the United States: a lack of community, and how that bears out in our economic system.

So first, let’s discuss what is inside the proposal. Warren is proposing that we cancel $50,000 in student loan debt for every person with a household income of less than $100,000 per year. For folks who make between $100,000 and $250,000, debt will also be canceled, but it’s phased out by $1 for every $3 over $100,000 the person makes. 

For the folks who make more than $250,000 per year, there is no debt cancellation, because, as Warren noted in her proposal, these people are in the top 5% of Americans when it comes to wages. For most, the cancellation would be automatic. Private student loans would be eligible for the cancellation. The debt canceled wouldn’t be taxed. 

Warren is proposing that in addition to the debt cancellation, the country would offer free education at two- and four-year public state-run colleges. The federal and local government would split the cost. Her plan will also create a fund worth at least $50 billion for historically black and minority-serving colleges. 

Wait, so how the fuck would we pay for it? According to Warren, it will cost $1.25 trillion over ten years. First, the plan is expected to create an economic stimulus, which would offset some of the spending. The second part of the plan is an ultra-millionaire tax, which would be levied on folks who make $50 million or more. 

We had a hearty discussion on the news in the She Spends Facebook group this week. It was great to see a variety of opinions and ideas about how to tackle the ongoing student debt crisis. 

One critique of the plan really stuck out in the debate that ensued, not only in our Facebook group but on the internet at large. It’s the idea that the folks who took on the debt knew what they were doing when the took it on.

I think it’s worth examining whether these people really do understand what it means. It’s rare that 17- or 18-year-olds have a strong grasp of what it means to have to repay $100,000. The counterargument to that is “well I knew that I was taking out debt” or that their parents should have taught them better. 

Of course, this is an argument that doesn’t hold up: anecdotes can’t trump data. A 2018 survey from Student Loan Hero showed that half of the respondents didn’t know that interest accrued on federal unsubsidized student loans. A remarkable 10% thought that if you don’t get a job out of college, you don’t have to pay off your loans. 

What’s more, is that the “smart” option -- the one where you live at your parents’ house and work part-time while going to community college or a state school -- still costs a lot of money. And while some people have made real careers without having a college education, a lot of folks would not be where they are today without having a college education on their resumes. It’s become a requirement for many industries.

Couple this with the fact that student loan providers often operate in predatory andunhelpful ways, and it becomes clear that this is clearly a problem with student loans, not with individuals who don’t know enough about money. 

I think what the discourse following the release Warren’s plan made clear is that personal finance cannot be divorced from the systemic issues we face as a country. And I think the critiques highlighted the lack of community we feel as a nation when it comes to addressing problems like student loan debt. 

When I think about student loan debt, I think about what it holds us back from. On the She Spends money diaries survey, we ask folks what they would do if they won the lottery. One of the biggest answers? Pay off student loan debt.

So what can we do about this? 

Check out Warren’s plan, and decide whether it’s something you’d support. Consider other plans to tackle student loan debt, like the one from Scholarship America, which is less all-encompassing, but equally as interesting. 

If you have student loan debt, think about your options for repayment. Consider refinancing, and check out the Student Debt Crisis website for information on making a plan for repayment. Even as policies like Warren’s are proposed, you should still work on paying off your loans. 

If you don’t have student loan debt (lucky you!), talk to your friends and family members who do. Ask about what went into their decision making before they took on the debt and ask about what they have to forgo while they’re working on making payments. 

Ellevest Snags VC Investments, Offers Readers Their Own Investment Plans

Ellevest, one of our affiliates, announced some awesome news this week. The robo-advisor focused on building women’s wealth announced Thursday that it has raised $33 million in venture funding. 

It’s been a fantastic month (Women’s Month, of course!) for women in venture capital: Glossier and Rent the Runway, both of which are owned by women, surpassed $1 billion valuations, which means they achieved ~unicorn status~ in the VC world. 

Ellevest’s latest funding round was led by Rethink Impact, a gender lens impact investing firm, and PSP Growth, the growth equity arm of investment firm PSP Partners. 

“Today, we bring in a group of rock star investors deeply aligned with our mission,” Sallie Krawcheck, Ellevest’s founder, said in a statement. “And it’s no coincidence that many of them are unparalleled changemakers and advocates for women who understand that being under-invested can cost women a fortune over their lives,”

Other investors include Melinda Gates’ incubator Pivotal Ventures, Valerie Jarrett, who formerly served as a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, Gingerbread Capital, and Morningstar. Former chairman of Google and Alphabet, Eric Schmidt, Aspect Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Asia Angels, Creditease Fintech Investment Fund and Ulu Ventures also invested.

One name on the investor list stuck out: Elaine Wynn, the co-founder of Wynn Resorts, invested capital into Ellevest. 

Recall that Wynn Resorts was fined in February for how they handled sexual misconduct claims against founder Steve Wynn. Elaine and Steve divorced back in 2010. When the allegations against Steve came out in 2018, forcing him to resign, Elaine hustled to oust one of his cronies from the company’s board. Baller move, if you ask us. 

According to Krawcheck, investing can mean “life-changing money” for women. She called it “retire-like-an-Instagram-influencer money. Get-your-hand-off-my-leg money.”

Ellevest plans to use the investments to expand into new product categories, developing new, “non-boring” financial education and growing its community. 

And, to go along with that news, we have a super-special offer from Ellevest for you. If youcreate a free plan with Ellevest, we get a small payment ($3) in return. And, if you use thelink, you’ll get $25 from Ellevest to put toward your investment goals, as long as you start funding those goals. Pretty sweet deal, right? The deal only lasts through the end of this month, so be quick! 

When you support She Spends through affiliate programs like these, you make it easier for us to publish a free newsletter every week and to continue growing our online community. At present, all money earned by She Spends via programs like this or through IRL events and tote bag sales is reinvested into the venture (in other words, we’re not putting any of the money into our own wallets yet!). 

Ask A Financial Planner: How Do I Budget Once I Pay Off My Loans? 

We recently partnered with the owner of Brooklyn Plans, Kristen Euretig, to bring you a new monthly feature called "Ask A Financial Planner." While we aim to provide helpful advice through our She Saves section, finances can get really complicated. Send us an email with your personal finance questions, and Kristen could answer them in an upcoming newsletter. 

Dear Kristen,
So many of the budget strategies I see online are complex and geared towards paying off lots of debt. What is the best technique for using a budget if you’re not trying to pay off any debt and already have a separate retirement fund?
Thanks!

Loanless & Lost

Hi Loanless! 
At Brooklyn Plans, my financial planning firm, we conceive of budgeting a little bit differently than other folks. We look at our clients’ take-home pay, subtract their fixed or committed costs and then come up with a monthly, weekly and even daily “safe to spend” number. We advocate our clients view this number as an allowance.

While it takes some upfront calculations, it eliminates the need for expense tracking going forward because ultimately as a financial planner I don’t care how much my client spends on eating out versus on entertainment and neither should they. If their savings goals are met and they are living within their means, that’s all that matters to me.

That’s probably why a lot of budgeting tools seem overly complicated - I agree that they are! The big-picture purpose of a budget is to spend within your means and have room to save. Some people have a better intuitive sense of the give and take that requires. If you know you can’t go out to a friend’s birthday dinner and pick up your part of the tab, buy a new iPad and go away for the weekend the same week, then you are, in a sense, already budgeting.

Whatever method you choose to manage your spending - whether it’s our allowance system, an excel spreadsheet or an app, don’t lose sight of the reason we manage our expenses in the first place: to live within our means, avoid relying on debt and save for future goals. If you can make that happen without a complicated budgeting tool, then it’s safe to say you’re effectively managing your money without it.

Happy Budgeting!
Kristen

Shopping Diaries: Exactly How Much I Spent On Clothing In Two Months

I recently engaged in a bit of an experiment when it comes to my spending. I tallied up everything I spent in one category, clothing, over the past two months, and how many items I spent that money on. 

Inspired by bloggers like Sophie With a Blog and The Luxe Strategist, I wanted to become more mindful about what I added to my wardrobe. The first step in that, of course, was figuring out what it was that I was already doing (I knew it felt excessive). 

The Numbers
In the past two months, I added 21 items to my wardrobe for $287.37. Those numbers were both better and worse than I expected. The total retail price of these items is around $976.03. In other words, I paid just 30 percent of the retail value for these clothes. 

I take home $1,459.93 twice per month. During the two-month period of this experiment, my income totaled a bit higher than that, because I received a bonus from work. In total, during the two month period, I made $7,273.27. As a proportion of my take-home pay for the two months, I spent 3.9% of my income on clothing. That said, the bonus was a bit of a surprise to me, and I socked it away in my savings account almost immediately. Had the total spend been a proportion of my expected income, it would have been 4.9% of expected take-home pay. 

In two months, I added two pairs of jeans, two blouses, two pairs of tights, two sweaters, one skirt, one swimsuit, six “basic” tops, one pair of shoes, one dress, one purse, one pair of earrings and one scarf to my wardrobe.

READ MORE ON THE BLOG HERE.

Caroline Calloway's Internet Grift Isn't Unique. It's a Symptom of a Larger Online Problem.

When Instagram star Caroline Calloway announced in December that she would charge $165 for tickets to workshops as a part of her “creativity tour,” one journalist, Kayleigh Donaldson, took note. She began cataloging Calloway’s planning for the event via aTwitter thread that went viral earlier this week. 

It’s not exactly surprising that the first of Calloway’s events didn’t go as planned. After Calloway announced that many of the things she promised to offer at the events wouldn’t be possible (flower crowns made of orchids, personalized handwritten notes, etc.), she received a ton of backlash online.

Many of us watched with schadenfreude as Calloway announced her plans to cancel the rest of the tour and refund those who already attended, only to rescind those plans the following day, citing her confidence in herself and her workshops. 

As we continue to collectively cringe at Calloway’s very public decision-making, it’s worth examining her behavior because I think it’s symptomatic of a larger epidemic: the urge to monetize an internet presence with little regard for who pays.

There is a growing number of folks online whose primary roles are as “creators.” They make content through social channels like Instagram or Youtube, and when the reach a certain peak in popularity, it seems reasonable for them to seek compensation for their efforts. 

Where these creators go wrong, ethically, is when they decide to offer workshops, coaching or events they simply are not qualified to offer. These offerings often come at high prices and take advantage of their fans’ desires to get closer to and to become more like the creators.

What often makes this worse is the choice to ask for volunteers (or in creator-speak, “interns”) to take pictures, run social media or “assist” them at these events. Their compensation? Free admission. In other words, while the creator makes money from their fans, they also benefit from unpaid labor.

Take, for instance, an online course by a popular influencer entitled “Radical Rituals: Abundance.” The course is two weeks long and promises “a series of rituals, exercises, and activities to clean up your money mindset, bust through your blocks, and manifest cold, hard cash.” It costs $88. 

Um, hold up. The creator, who has a gorgeous Instagram page and website, is not a financial planner. They’re also not a financial adviser or even someone who has expertise in the area. 

So why is this influencer — and others like them — offering courses like this, and why do they cost so much money?

I think it’s because creators like this influencer and Calloway are also falling prey to questionable messaging. They are told by self-help books and business coaches never to work for free. They’re told that their hard work should pay off and that they deserve to make money.

I get it. It’s a message I’ve gotten quite a bit as the founder of She Spends. And frankly, it’s fair to say that these people do work hard to keep up an internet appearance. 

So they want to be compensated for their work — what’s the big problem? 

The problem, I believe, is that these “creative capitalists” are focused more on making money than on how they’re making it. Instead of taking a mindful, measured approach to their fans, ensuring that they offer valuable products and experiences that they are qualified to offer, they push for growth at all costs. 

There is a better way to do things. It may take time to build a more ethical brand, but I think it’s worth doing. 

For creators: If you want to charge people money, you need to have a plan for why and how you’re doing it. And please, never demand people work for free. The services you offer in exchange for their labor often aren’t as valuable as you want them to be. 

For consumers: Don’t be afraid to ask yourself hard questions about the online creators you love. Is what they’re sharing substantive and valuable? Is the amount of work they’re putting into it worth the high price tag? Do they prioritize growth of the brand over the humans they employ?

What We Can Do About Millennial Burnout

After reading Anne Helen Petersen’s Buzzfeed piece on millennial burnout this week, I felt extraordinarily discouraged. 

In her piece, Petersen vocalized so many of the things we talk about at She Spends like emotional labor and the struggle to do menial errands. 

It also touched on the larger struggle our generation faces: after years of being groomed to desire traditional success (the job, the house, the dog, the kids), what happens when we can’t get it?

When I shared it with the Facebook group, it was no surprise that it resonated. But like myself, many of the group members were left wondering, what now? If we’re so burnt out, yet so constantly striving for more, what can we do? 

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the answer lies in changing what we value, which is incredibly difficult to do. 

This is because even if we weren’t, as a generation, raised by parents who wanted everything for us and acted accordingly, we’d still be living in a system where the things we value the most supersede our longevity. 

Here’s what I mean: In the United States, we live in a financial system that prioritizes GDP growth as a measure of success as a nation. GDP, or gross domestic product, is simply a financial measure of all the goods and services we as a country produce during a set amount of time. 

At the same time that the value of our nation depends on GDP, the existence of our country — and the planet generally — is threatened by global warming. Climate change has increased over time as a result of our own consumption. And yet, we still prioritize GDP growth as a nation, which pushes consumption higher.

As individuals, we can barely make real change on these issues because our own lives, perhaps rightfully, take precedence. Our generation is buried under a veritable mountain of student debt.

What’s more is that on the individual level, our ability to lead a healthy life is based solely on the amount of money we’re able to make. That becomes clear when we consider our health system, in which if we want important healthcare procedures, we need money and insurance. 

It’s easy to see how this system continues to tell us that our lives could be better with more money. And, of course, to make more money, we need to become more successful. Even without pushy parents, we as millennials still would be on that hamster wheel of work and pressure that Petersen points out in her story.

So what could we value instead of GDP growth? For some, it’s community. For others, it’s religion, or ideas, or science, or art. I first started thinking about this on a personal level when I read The Communist Manifesto recently. The manifesto posits that our system values money — or “capital” — above everything else. I started to wonder what our system would look like if we shifted away from valuing capital, and instead picked something like ideas or community.

A system that prioritizes community over capital likely wouldn’t produce things in the same way. Ditto for any of those other values I mentioned above. And yes, to be fair, it's impossible for our national value system to change completely in a short amount of time. But, given current conditions in the United States, I think it’s important to consider what exactly we value, and how our lives are shaped around those values. 

We can do this on an individual level by taking stock of our worldviews, our consumption habits, how much we value material goods and services, and what actually brings us joy in this world. 

I found this blog post on determining what to follow on social media by To Universe With Love incredibly helpful in these considerations. As a result of reading the post linked above, I went from following a lot of influencers on Instagram who posted #topshelfies and brand promotions to following educational art and poetry accounts. It’s totally changed the way I use the Instagram app. 

I also found Jennifer Taylor Chan’s recent post on materialism helpful. It suggests envisioning our values in a pie chart. The more materialistic we are, the less room we have in our pie to value other things.

It’s also worth considering the system at large. I recommend two pieces from Longreads: “Beyond Growth” and “Happy Health Economy.” Both of these pieces discuss how our financial system would look if GDP was no longer the measure of success. 

I’m curious to know what you think, She Spends readers. Shoot me an email if you’d like to discuss. We’ll also post a thread in the Facebook group on this topic where the community can chat about these issues. 

Welcome To The She Spends Savings Challenge: Week Three

Welcome to week three of the She Spends savings challenge! As a reminder, use the #SheSpendsSavingsChallenge as a hashtag and update us on your progress in the Facebook group! 

This week, we’re focusing on building our earning potential. There are two ways to grow the amount of money in your bank account. You can cut back on your spending while keeping your income the same, or you can increase your income. This week, we'll focus on a few ways to do the latter.

There are several ways to grow your income. You can, of course, ask for a raise. You can also consider a side hustle.  

One of the fastest ways to grow your income, though, is to find a new job. When you ask for a raise, you typically can achieve a 10% increase in salary at the very most. Typically, though, that boost from a raise tends to hover closer to 5%. In order to truly push up your earnings, it's important to look outside the walls of your office.

It can be intimidating to start, so we recommend checking out our guide to refreshing your career. The guide walks you through creating a resume, cover letter and thank you note for your job applications.

Following that, tap into your network. Check out our guide to networking, and then once you've built that network, think about what you can ask for from them.   

Welcome To The She Spends Savings Challenge: Week Two

Welcome to week two of the She Spends savings challenge! As a reminder, use the #SheSpendsSavingChallenge as a hashtag and update us on your progress in the Facebook group! 

This week, we’re focusing on cutting back. There is a myriad of ways to save money, and we wanted to highlight some of the most effective. 

To start, ensure that you’re using all programs made available through your employer. They may offer a commute program, therapy, gym discounts and other perks. Check in with your HR department to see what programs you may be missing out on. 

Try meal prepping or packing your lunch every day this week. I find that buying groceries for different weekly meals, without picking exact days that I will eat everything on is a huge help. If I’m feeling like cooking, I’ll make a more in-depth recipe, but I have the option to make something easy too. Check out our meal prep and desk lunch guides for tips on how to make the process more enjoyable.

If you haven’t yet, open a high-yield savings account and transfer your savings there. Returns still aren’t high, but you’ll make a bit more than you would by keeping your money in a traditional savings account. 

Let us know if you complete these challenges! I’ve made it a goal to pack my lunches for work next week, and will be sharing the results on the She Spends Instagram.

Welcome To The She Spends Savings Challenge!

Welcome To The She Spends Savings Challenge!

With some of our spendiest months of the year approaching, we thought we’d try something different in October to get you prepared. We created an easy-to-follow savings challenge for the next five weeks that you can follow along with. We have created a hashtag, #SheSpendsSavingChallenge that you can use on any social media you like to track your progress and connect with other readers who are working through the challenge. We will also be checking in with you in our Facebook group each week.

How To Handle A Large Medical Bill

We’ve talked quite a bit this month about advocating for yourself in a medical setting. It’s important to be outspoken at the doctor’s office, not only to ensure that you’re receiving the best care, but also to make certain that you can pay the bill when you’re finished.The healthcare system in the United States is notoriously opaque, and because of the way things are set up, it’s often unclear how much you’ll have to pay for your care until after you receive it. This is totally bonkers, right? It’s rare that we’ll pay for a pair of shoes before knowing how expensive they’ll be. So why do we do the same for healthcare?

Want to Try Alternative Medicine? Here's How To Do It In a Fiscally Responsible Way

Okay, so, I don’t know how to admit this, but I read medical studies for fun. I’ve talked about it before, but I have PMDD, a disease affecting people who get their periods that’s basically PMS to the nth degree. 

Because it only affects people who get their periods, there are surprisingly few medical treatments available, even though it is destructive. So I read medical studies in the hopes of finding a supplement, a dietary protocol, literally anything that could help. I’m sure many of you can relate given this conversation we had in the Facebook group. 

It’s no surprise, then, that many of us turn to alternative medicine in the hopes of finding a fix. I personally have tried just about every supplement under the sun, in addition to adjusting my diet and going to acupuncture each week. The costs of all of this adds up. 

According to a study from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans spend a total of $30.2 billion each year on alternative medicine. 

What’s more is that as family income increases, so did spending on alternative medicine, and significantly. The average yearly spend for people with family incomes with who make less than $25,000 per year was $435. Meanwhile, for families with incomes of $100,000 or more, the yearly spend was $590.

So we’re spending a lot of money on alternative medicine. Does it actually work? 

That, of course, depends on your condition, the treatment options and whether you actually stick to the protocol. You can get highly specific and dig into the Journal of the American Medical Association to determine the chances of a specific treatment working.

That’s actually an important step here: instead of relying on what a Facebook group or Reddit thread full of people with a similar condition, make sure that you read up on the research behind their claims. You don’t want to be scammed into using a supplement that won’t work, right? 

Once you’ve done some research, check in with your doctor. You can call your PCP’s office for free to check whether it’s safe for you to take a supplement or engage in some other sort of treatment. 

You can use a flexible spending account or a health care spending account (both offered through your employer) to use tax-free money on these types of care. You can also look into perks offered by your employer and insurer: sometimes they partner with a store and offer a certain percentage off. 

Other ways to cut costs include waiting for sales and promotions (of course!), using credit card points to pay for certain expenses, seeking out sliding scale treatments (this is how I was able to afford acupuncture) and checking with your insurer to see if the treatment is covered.