How to Overcome an Addiction

I did it! I’m no longer a sugar-holic! After a lifetime of consuming cookies, ice-cream, cake, chocolate croissants, cupcakes, hot chocolate, candy, cheesecake, you name it…on a daily basis, I’m totally over it!


After a 21 day detox, I no longer crave sugar. It’s incredible. As someone who got her “fix on” every single day, this is, obviously, life-changing for me. No more Starbucks runs. No more standing in line for frozen yogurt. No more trips to the vending machine for a Twix bar.

After the detox was over, I thought maybe I’ll do another 21 days. But I figured that was a bit draconian. So here’s my guideline: I’ll only eat processed sugar if it’s offered to me. Donuts at the office? Bring it. Cupcakes at a baby shower? Gladly. But I will not spend a dime to buy myself a sugary treat.

There’s one scenario that’s really hard for me. On the weekends, I love strolling Franco around in our neighborhood and sitting down at our local bakery and having a hot chocolate. Not being able to do that is really tough. I guess I can always get tea, but for now, I know I need to avoid the aroma of baked goods. I can see myself caving in with a hot chocolate and one of their pear tarts.

I will say that when you give up an addiction, you’re really just transferring one addiction for another. In my case, I now eat more salty snacks and drink more alcohol.

But otherwise, I feel great! No more sugar rushes. No more ups and downs.

Now if I can just get my baby to sleep through the night!

Tips for Securing Apartments in Popular Cities

I live in San Francisco where a million dollars will buy you a 2-bedroom, 2-bath, 1200 sq. ft. condo in a nice neighborhood. Not only are home prices and rents sky-rocketing, the path to securing a home or apartment has gotten ultra-competitive. I partnered with Zillow, one of the best real estate sites, to share the following wisdom on securing an apartment in a city with a competitive real estate market.

By Jennifer Riner of Zillow

New York

Large metropolitan rental markets are inherently competitive. Young professionals working downtown often prefer living within walking or public transportation distance of their offices. However, the cost of rentals in high-demand cities often leads to sticker shock for first-time renters.

The median rental listing in New York City, for instance, is $2,600 each month for a two-bedroom unit. Even more shocking, the median list price for two-bedroom apartments in San Francisco is $4,400 per month. Compare New York City and San Francisco to smaller, stable markets such as Atlanta, where a two-bedroom apartment may cost around $1,400. Potential city center leaseholders might be forced to rethink their desired locales.

Given the high demand for rentals in major metros, landlords are able to price their units astronomically high and remain successful. The nature of these markets also leads to short listing periods, quick decisions and strategic application practices. Therefore, renters must get organized prior to searching for apartments in the concrete jungle.

Consider the following tips to find and secure the right rentals in competitive markets.

Start Early

Be on the right schedule for rental searches. It’s beneficial to preview units a few months prior to renting to analyze the current and shifting markets. Vacancies don’t last long in competitive areas, so use these units as comparable properties, as they’ll likely rent within weeks. Potential applicants should begin their official searches about a month before planned move-ins. Landlords usually know the number of vacant units one to two months before leases end. Some begin advertising, scheduling showings and accepting new applicants as early as two months prior to vacancy.

Be Realistic

Most financial advisors warn against spending more than 30 percent of gross monthly income on rent. However, new graduates, no matter how hard they work, might only be making around $40,000 per year before taxes. With such low salaries, young professionals should budget $1,000 per month or less on rent.

In New York City, the typical studio costs $2,150 monthly, equating to almost 65 percent of monthly income, assuming a $40,000 salary. Either New York City leaseholders search for better paying positions, or stretch their budgets while jeopardizing their potential savings. Fact is, if residents don’t have at least $2,000 to spend on rent, they should look to live outside of Manhattan. The same rules apply to more expensive markets such as San Francisco. Consider outlying suburbs, where list prices are significantly more cost-effective than their city counterparts.

Pay Upfront

It pays to bring cash. In a competitive market, landlords search for the most responsible tenants to fill their vacancies. Deposits show landlords that tenants are financially capable of providing reliable, timely rents. Deposits also give property managers and landlords the incentive to choose one applicant over another. And, in a region like New York City where applicants scramble to sign the best leases, motivators are important. Be aware that most hot-market landlords also require first and last month’s rent upon lease signing. For a $2,500 per month apartment, the total initial payment might amount to $9,000 upfront, including the security deposit.

Be Prepared

New York City landlords don’t have time to waste on ill-prepared applicants. Show up with state-issued identification or passports, solid references, cosigners (if necessary) and credit reports in hand. Reference lists should include full names, phone numbers, email addresses and addresses. Select trustworthy associates to provide accurate and positive information. Previous landlords are great references, so maintain good rapport – even if living situations prove less than satisfactory.

Discuss any disclosures openly and honestly. For instance, foreclosures and short sales appear on credit checks. Disregarding such items may come off as devious, forcing landlords to assume applicants are untrustworthy. Regardless of track records, check credit reports before applying for leases. This way, any discrepancies or blemishes can be fixed or explained appropriately.

As renters become more seasoned at leasing in the city, they tend to automatically adapt these practices. However, stay up to date with individual market and industry trends, and adjust search processes to reflect these shifts. Down the road, high demand may require even earlier rental searches – potentially two or more months in advance.

Do You Have Enough to Retire?

ID-100267709I had an ex-boyfriend who was a computer science major and I remember asking him if he could build me a computer. When he said he wasn’t able to do that, I gave him a lot of flak. “How is it that a computer science major can’t build a computer from scratch? That’s like me being an English major and saying I can’t write a book.”

Oh the irony. Even though I have an MBA, I don’t know googly squat about managing money. Sure I’ve socked a lot away, but that isn’t a retirement strategy. Do I have enough? Hell if I know. When can I retire? Your guess is as good as mine.

Now that I have a baby, I’ve suddenly become hyper-responsible. I’ve retained a lawyer to create a trust for our family. I scheduled an appointment with a financial advisor I found highly-recommended through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Mothers Group. She gathered all my financial data and recently walked me through my plan. It was really informative and she advised the following:

1) Continue to max out our 401ks (no brainer).

2) Keep an emergency fund of 6 months living expenses in cash (already done).

3) Save at least $12k/year (duh).

4) Save an additional $12k/year to be able to pay private school tuition for Franco from K-12 (not a problem).

5) Rebalance my stock portfolio because having half my investments in Berkshire Hathaway isn’t smart (must rebalance ASAP, bad Catherine).

6) Supplement with life insurance for me and Dean.

All really great points that I will be acting on, especially life insurance. If you are young and healthy, life insurance is a no brainer. I should have gotten life insurance years ago! For a nominal monthly fee, I can ensure that all our debts (i.e., mortgage) are paid off and my family is provided for in case I get killed by a wayward Amazon Prime drone. Now if you’re old (i.e., in your 40s) then you’re screwed because life insurance premiums are exorbitant.

Now here’s the part that was really empowering. After decades of scrimping, eating Cup O’Noodle and maxing out my 401k from the time I was 22 when I absolutely hated my first full-time job after college, I am on track to retire when I’m 57 years old, which is when Franco turns 18. Happy dance! At that point, I can withdraw $10k/month until I die at 92 years old. How insane is that? First of all, I don’t even need half that amount to live comfortably every month. Secondly, there is no way with my genetics that I am living to 92 years old. No one in my family has lived that long.

Put this on your to-do list: schedule an appointment with a financial advisor. All of the above was free advice!

Thumbnail image courtesy of ddpavumba at

The Very Stressful Catherine: Inching My Way to Less Stress

the-very-hungry-caterpillarIn talking to a wellness coach recently, she asked my stress level on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest. My response was an 11 because I have never been more stressed out in my life.

Here’s the thing. I thrive on stress. I like being busy, overworked, and admittedly, I actually enjoy being a bit on the overly-stressed side. I’m also the type of person who doesn’t need much sleep. 6 hours is the perfect amount for me. But these days, I feel like I have no reprieve.

Pre-child, I could always get into the office earlier or stay later if I was busy with work. I could go for a hike or a run. But all the things I could count on previously to de-stress no longer apply.

The nanny picks up Franco at 7:30am. Soon after, I am practically running to catch the train. Luckily my commute is 25 minutes from the time I leave home to the moment I’m logging into my computer. I’m the last person on my team in the office (when I used to be one of the first) and now I’m also one of the first to leave because I try to be home in time for Franco’s drop-off at 5:30pm. We barely get any time with him before he starts fussing and needs to go to bed.

Further, I pump at least twice at work which means booking a reservation to the company mother’s room, getting there, partially getting undressed, pumping, collecting, labeling, washing and cleaning the pump supplies, then getting dressed again.

I dream of the day when I can go to a spa or gym and sit in the steam room for 10 minutes. Imagine!

I have no time, I told the wellness coach. Taking this into consideration, she gave me one action item to implement and pointed me to an excellent resource. Three times a day at 9am, noon, and 3pm, I put into my calendar a recurring appointment to breathe and stretch. I roll my head around, stretch my arms and legs, and breathe deeply. I also dab lavender oil on my nose. It’s such a lovely relaxing scent.

I read a few articles on stress here and they were really helpful. Some tips included:

Look at a favorite picture or memento.

Listen to uplifting music.

Spritz on your favorite perfume or cologne.

Stretch or roll your head in circles.

When have you been super stressed out?

What do you do to alleviate stress?

The Buck Stops Here: When Your Children Steal from You

change-20272_640I was reading an article in Money magazine that posed the question, ‘How much should you help your adult kids?’ I was appalled at the real-world situations that were featured. Most of the parents were delaying retirement as they continued to support their college-educated children. They were footing the bill for cell phones, groceries and rent.

One couple agreed to pay for an expensive design school because their daughter realized after college (which they financed) that design was what she was passionate about. Are you F*ing kidding me?

One daughter needed her parents’ continued support because, sigh, NYC is expensive. No shit Shirley. How about moving to a more affordable city rather than depleting your parents’ 401k?!

What happened to common sense? They sure didn’t teach you that in college, so why even go?

[Insert major head shakes here.]

At what point do you stop supporting your children? When they’re adults, correct? How about when they can vote at 18? Personally, I think that’s the right age. If our ancestors can withstand hard manual labor, sweeping chimneys or grazing farm land for hours on end, then it stands to reason that our educated, iPhone-loving, privileged children can financially support themselves at the age of 18. If not, then there’s a big problem!

Money may not grow on trees, but opportunity sure does. We can educate ourselves online for free. There are plenty of jobs to be had; the unemployment rate is steadily dropping.

But most importantly, children will meet whatever expectations you have of them. If they are low, then expect low performers. These are parents who have no goals set for their children. They’ll pay for college and grad school and design school and provide them with an allowance until they are ‘adult’ enough to figure it out on their own. These people will dip into their retirement while I’m sitting on the beach drinking a mimosa the day my baby Franco turns 18.

Why? Because I have high expectations that will be made crystal clear. No ambiguity, no room for error. There will be no inheritance. Mommy ain’t paying for college. Get scholarships and loans if a college education is what you want to pursue. Mommy did it. So can you. The gravy train stops at 18. And while his friends are trying to figure out which expensive college to go to because their parents are going to pay the bill, my adult Franco is going to be running cost-benefit analyses on what’s best for him.

I guess it’s not stealing when you are aware of the theft, but the way parents are raising their adult kids these days is practically criminal.

Paying for a twenty-something’s cell phone bill? Time to get Skype.

Paying for your son’s rent? Time to move home and pitch in with the chores.

Paying for anything at all? Time for your kid to get a job!

Children cite all sorts of reasons for their reliance on their parents: the poor economy, the lack of jobs, their inexperience. There’s an excuse for everything! Let’s stop enabling their lack of ambition and start promoting independence and security. It can be done, as long as you let them.

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