Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Money News Lately: Grab Bag

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In a little less than a week, I'll be off on my travels! K and I will make a quick stop in Taiwan to see my family, and then we'll be off to Tokyo and Kyoto. Things will probably be quiet around here until I get back. I might be able to get another post or two written and scheduled to go live during my trip, but that will depend on how some things go at the office in the next few days. I'll be fully back to writing here and reading and commenting elsewhere in a few weeks, once I get back from my trip and have gotten over the jetlag! 

For today, here are a few quick thoughts about some money-related news items (and well, yet another unpopular Refinery29 Money Diary) that I've found interesting lately: 

On Fleeting and Ill-Gotten Gains

Congressman Duncan Hunter from San Diego is a personal finance cautionary tale for us all (as well as a "don't commit federal crimes" cautionary tale, but that's a given). The indictment is a doozy, let's just say. I personally think its worth skimming through just for all the very many alleged instances of money mismanagement and misuse it contains, detailed down to specific transactions. Among other details, the Hunters allegedly incurred approximately $37,700 in overdraft and insufficient funds fees on their personal bank accounts over seven years. All this despite his annual congressional salary of approximately $174,000, and allegedly siphoning off $250,000 in campaign funds over the years on top of that! 

In other news that's, at least in part, also about, er, how quickly even a large quantity of ill-gotten gains can potentially be spent, there's also that saga of the $400,000 GoFundMe. The story, and the related civil litigation (and possible criminal investigation), are all still developing, but there's an allegation that the couple that raised the money depleted it all without actually giving it to the person they raised it for. It sounds like GoFundMe has committed to giving the intended recipient the money that was raised for him, but there could be potential criminal proceedings against the couple regardless

The Case of Another Unpopular Money Diary

I know it's terribly silly of me to regularly think too hard about comments and reactions to Refinery29 Money Diaries, but sometimes, I just can't help myself! With this particular diarist, or rather, the reader reactions, I may yet spin off my thoughts into another post at a later date, but I thought the story was also worth sharing now.

The initial Money Diary, by a purported 24 year-old NYC-dwelling software engineer with $118,000 base salary, and additional bonus and stock worth approximately $168,000, was... unpopular. I did find a few details odd (including that a Duane Reade purchase of batteries, decongestant, and a box of tissues would cost significantly more than $5.50). Except that I feel like most Money Diaries probably fudge some numbers, both intentionally to protect anonymity and accidentally because of mistakes with record-keeping or math. I don't think that kind of slight adjustment or error prevents a Money Diary from being substantially true and interesting. Furthermore, I generally find a lot of the reflexive skepticism and criticism about high-earner Money Diaries to ultimately be ill-founded, so I'm generally not inclined to nitpicking individual details as if that might call the whole thing into question. People hated that Brooklyn-dwelling biglaw attorney's Money Diary, for instance, and some even declared she must be defrauding her firm with some of the reimbursed expenses. Trust me, because of the generous reimbursements associated with summer associate programs and business development (charged to the firm, not the client), those charge were likely all proper.

I thought the software engineer diarist's follow-up with Refinery29 about her approach to investing should have calmed some of the criticisms. I thought she came across as being practical and hard-working. Alas, if you go through the comments there, not everyone agreed. I know it's particularly foolish of me to think too much about the especially mean comments, particularly ones I can identify as baseless or incorrect, but I really am interested in the psychology and mindset behind them, as well as in whether those comments suggest that there's a need for better personal finance education for everyone. 

There are some real awful things in the comments, some of them buried deep in the discussion threads and responses to other reader comments: 
  • One reader accuses her of having an "I'm only here for the cash y'all" attitude towards her career, and maybe her life in general. (There's some terrible and horrifyingly sexist aspersions about the diarist's personal life in that particular gem of a comment, if you find it.) Um, isn't compensation, and seeking fair market compensation for our work, something we should all value? 
  • Various readers turned up their noses at the idea that someone who was average in school could get themselves to that compensation level by their mid-20s, which just seems really wrong-headed to me. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like anyone who's been in the working world for a while, whether they were excellent students or not, quickly realizes that grades have almost nothing to do with career success and compensation after one has gotten their foot in the door? 
  • The diarist noted that, given her many successes in the years since school and a challenging search for a first job, "[n]ow it's easy to think I was always a superstar". Many readers gnashed their teeth about this. Some readers were skeptical that any real person would say that about themselves. I found that entire set of reactions particularly bizarre. (I tend to be a bit self-deprecating, but I'm also not afraid to own up to my successes when it's warranted...) 
I totally shouldn't get so absorbed into Money Diaries comments sections, but I really do have a strange and intense fascination with it. How do people get so opinionated, sometimes based on incorrect assumptions? (There are many other times when commenters on other Refinery29 money-related discussions are actually extremely sensible, it is mostly just the Money Diaries where the comments sections get really wild.)

Have you been following the Duncan Hunter or the depleted $400,000 GoFundMe stories? What did you think? Particularly if you're familiar with the STEM industry in the US, do the numbers in that Money Diary seem plausible to you? 

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