Suze Orman, author of Women & Money, makes up a financial To Do list to start the year off right.January 1, 2008
January is such a dangerous month. Dangerously deceptive, is what I mean. You have twelve months of possibility before you. You’re full of optimistic resolutions and good intentions. This year, you resolve, is going to be different. Yet as February approaches and nothing has budged on your To Do list, you lose momentum and then you lose heart—and too often you give up before you ever got going.
Not this year, my friends. Below are four simple things to do—all of them doable in the thirty-one days of January—to get 2008 off to a great start financially.
1. Sign up for the company bonus. If your employer offers a 401(k) or 403(b) retirement savings plan and agrees to match a portion of your contribution, you must sign up for the plan. Not to participate is essentially turning down a bonus from your boss. Hello? It’s free money, and you’re saying no thanks? Make an appointment with your HR person, get the forms, ask for help filling them out, do not be ashamed—do what you need to do to get this started. I promise it will take less than an hour and you’ll wonder why it took you this long.
2. Sleep Better. Here’s my one and only prediction for this year: something unpredictable will happen to you that you haven’t budgeted for. It might be a busted water heater, a battery of medical tests not fully covered by your health insurance, an unforeseen car repair, or any number of the few thousand things beyond your control. But what is totally within your control is how prepared you are. When it comes to stress management there is no greater asset than an emergency savings account that can cover the cost of the unknowns that might befall you and your family. A great place to start up your fund is with a “Save Yourself” account at TD Ameritrade. Go to www.saveyourself.com and open an account before March 31 to take advantage of the extraordinary offer TD Ameritrade is making to readers of Women & Money: Arrange for a monthly direct deposit of $50 or more for twelve consecutive months and after the twelfth deposit, TD Ameritrade will contribute $100 to your account. More free money! Go to the site to learn all the details of this offer, but trust me—this is one not to pass up.
3. Sleep Better (Part II). If anyone is dependent on your income—spouse, partner, child, parent, sibling—the single best way to protect them is to have a term life insurance policy. The great news is that term policies are fairly inexpensive these days; ensuring the well-being of your loved ones has never been so affordable. As a general rule of thumb I recommend buying a policy with a death benefit that is 20 times the annual income you want to replace. For example, if you want to replace $50,000 in income you would purchase a $1 million term insurance policy. That sum would allow your beneficiaries to invest the death benefit conservatively—in bonds—and live off the income without needing to touch the principal. I know $1 million sounds like it will be way too costly, but the premium for a healthy 45-year-old is $100 or so a month. You can learn more about term insurance and shop for policies at www.selectquote.com and www.accuquote.com.
4. Keep the Momentum Rolling. Before January ends, make up a financial To Do list for February. Need help? Go to the “Save Yourself Plan” in Women & Money. I’ve made up my wish list for you, month by month for five months—the things that if you would only do them, I’d sleep better. Honestly, is that too much to ask? Now, let’s face it, the single best motivator is achievement, so capitalize on the momentum you gained by checking off points 1, 2, and 3 above and set goals for the 29 days of February. If you keep that process going for a few months, you will never turn back—you’ll learn that there is only one way, and it’s forward. I am prepared to make you a guarantee that if you can accomplish even just three items on your To Do list every month for three consecutive months, by the time spring rolls around, you will own the power to control your destiny.
Catherine Sanderson, author of Petite Anglaise, writes from Paris about her Belleville neighborhood on the cusp of the New Year.January 1, 2008
Jours sombres à Belleville/Dark days in Belleville/Belleville rendez vous
I live in Belleville, a neighborhood northeast of the center of Paris, four kilometers as the crow flies from Nôtre Dame. Once upon a time, when Belleville was still a village outside the city limits, there were farms, vineyards and windmills on this hillside. Nowadays it’s a haphazard combination of old and new: charmless high-rise tenement blocks rub shoulders with century-old farmhouses.
One of the things I love most about my neighbourhood is its cultural diversity. Let me take you, for example, inside my four-year-old daughter, Tadpole’s, classroom. Dinah is Jewish. Lorène, Natalie, Jacques, Leo, Clarisse, and Hugo are Chinese (although, ironically, their names are the most traditionally French sounding of the bunch). Milan has a German father, Elimane’s parents are of Moroccan descent, and Rokia—whose mother wears a traditional batik print dress and headscarf—has beads in her braided hair which drive Tadpole wild with envy.
“Ni hao,” Tadpole calls out to Natalie when we pass her in the street. I’ve enrolled her in Mandarin lessons after school, and it’s one of the few phrases she’s mastered so far, along with a mysterious song, which I’m told is about a duck.
But when Tadpole returns to school after the holiday season, she may find empty chairs in her classroom, empty coat pegs in the hallway. And Natalie may be among the missing children, because, although she was born in France and has every right to live here and to attend Tadpole’s school, her parents are “sans papiers.” This is the catch-all term applied to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants—even to migrants who’ve arrived legally but haven’t quite managed to jump through the necessary administrative hoops. Although Natalie’s parents and others like them may have lived here for longer than I have, they could be rounded up and deported at any time. They’ll be grateful if they ring in the New Year without falling foul of a random ID check as they go about their daily business.
Throughout the chilly month of December, Belleville has been bathed in the light, not of Christmas decorations, but of convoys of police cars, as teams of uniformed policeman disappear inside buildings to carry out targeted searches. Earlier this year, the Ministre de l’Intérieur—a certain Mr. Sarkozy—set an ambitious deportation quota, vowing to send “home” no less than twenty-five thousand sans papiers before the year’s end. And as the police have fallen far short of this target—possibly because they have more important things to do than round up otherwise law-abiding civilians—activity has been stepped up noticeably in recent weeks. It’s a sinister race against the clock which has prompted comparisons with darker periods in France’s history.
Being British, a citizen of the EU, I require neither residence permit nor working papers in order to live and write in Paris. In the past I took this state of affairs for granted, but seeing Natalie’s parents dashing to school, head down, terrified of crossing the path of a zealous policeman, has given me pause.
2008, my thirteenth year in France, will be the year in which I bite the bullet and file an application for French nationality. Not because I fear for my future here in France. The procedure will be little more than a formality—albeit a torturously complex and time-consuming one. But after years of cheering and booing from the sidelines, the time is ripe to get involved: it’s time to make my vote count. For my neighbors’ sake.
Spiegel & Grau asked Lee Siegel to choose his favorite against-the-grain books.January 1, 2008
The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm
From its immortal first sentence—“Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible”—to its final words, Malcolm’s paradigm-shifting book is a guileful polemic, wrapped in a thrilling investigative story, hidden in the form of a scathing parable. Every word falls on the page with a fatality of felt experience—and every word runs counter to the received wisdom about journalism, writing, and even the human personality. Having read the book several times, I now pick up this scathingly honest book and read a passage at random whenever I need to be replenished and refreshed.
Don Juan, Lord Byron
The natural man, in all his shades and moods, against “civilized” society’s cruelty and hypocrisy. Written in strict ottava rima, the poem’s very meter is like a reproach against the stifling custom and convention it assails—as if to say that art’s rigor and discipline, conferred on honest expression, is the strongest proof of character and decency.
Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer
A culture obsessed by fame and celebrity, as ours is, might turn to this book as an antidote to the general fame-sickness. An account of Mailer’s involvement in the march on the Pentagon in October 1967, the book portrays Mailer at his most self-detached, mocking his own renown, deflating himself at every turn, and yet somehow amplifying his dignity the more he punctures the incurable side of his nature. Written in the first person, Armies is an object lesson in how to write about your life without writing about yourself.
Parodies, Dwight Macdonald
Macdonald put together this once-celebrated book of parodies to, as he wryly wrote, put his children through college. Everything is here, from Max Beerbohm’s parody of Henry James, to an absolutely wicked and hilarious send-up of existentialism in the form of “resistentialism,” a philosophy that deals with objects that resist being moved, or that won’t get out of your way as you walk unwittingly toward them in the dark on your way to the bathroom. Nothing cuts a clear soundless path through all the daily din as effectively as parody and satire. This volume should be placed next to the Gideon Bible in every hotel and motel room in the country.
Rilke once wrote that music picked him up and dropped him into the unfinished. (That unsettled him, he said.) The Bible picks you up and drops you into completion, into fullness of being, into astringent and yet calming first and last things. We see as through a glass darkly, and so the most “contrarian” line ever written is “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” And though inaccurate, the language of the King James Version is English at its peak of perfection, a creation of ontological translucency. Words are—to paraphrase James Joyce—the beleaguered, noise-ridden, mentally cluttered and distracted contemporary person’s arsenal. Words exist in the Bible (as well as in the plays of Shakespeare, written at the same time as the King James Version was produced) in their original freshness of being. They keep your perceptions green.