the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: money

One Thing a Day #3 – High Finance


My grandparents were socialist-leaning Democrats who kept a photo of Eleanor Roosevelt in their hallway, next to the family photos.  My father worked in a city hospital, and received a city pension.  He bought New York City bonds, the safest bet at the time, which had the lowest interest.  We never talked about money or finance.   The business section of the Sunday newspaper was the one we always tossed aside.   “People like us” didn’t have anything to do with Wall Street or the business world.

I became an English major in college.  A film student in graduate school. A writer. A blogger. An instagram photographer. To this day, I remain a financial idiot. I don’t own any real estate or stock.  Doing my income taxes gives me anxiety.   There’s no one else to blame.  I am to blame.   I’m certainly smart enough to open a book on investing or use google to search “mutual funds.” It just never seemed like something that I should do.  Thinking too much about money was wrong.  I should rather worry about the wealth inequalities in American life than selfishly grab my share of it.

I’ve been blogging for nine years now, and I’ve met many people.  I can categorize everyone I know into two camps — those who understand the business side of life AND those who are clueless.

Most of my friends tend to lean towards the artistic side, and for many of those who don’t have a working spouse or a trust fund,  they are hurting financially. Freelance jobs have disappeared, and the publishing, film, academic, and music worlds are shrinking.  Years ago, our parents worked for the same firm for decades.   You could live a comfortable life, even if you weren’t a self-starter.  We are not as lucky.

My advice to you.   Forget BlogHer this year.  Attend a personal finance class instead.  Some of have started online courses. Others have bought real estate, renting it out to students.  The key to survival is KNOWLEDGE.  Most who make money found a mentor, or have a relative, who showed them the ropes.

We feel uncomfortable talking about money.   We say platitudes like “there is enough for everyone,” when we know this isn’t true.  There aren’t unlimited opportunities.  Luck comes from the whispers in a room, and not everyone is invited.

If times are tough for artists and writers, imagine the difficulties of the hard-working individual, stuck in a low-paying job.  We’ve heard many reports about the vast inequality of wealth in America, where the richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s total wealth.  In an article in The Atlantic, Noah Smith, an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University, says that while income is important, we should not forget the importance of finance and savings.  It is through saving and investing that the wealthy STAY wealthy. He goes as far as suggesting that public schools TEACH financial education as a way to prepare students for life.

Financial education in public schools is a must. I’m not talking about teaching kids the Capital Asset Pricing Model. I mean what Bob Shiller calls “basic Suze Orman stuff.” How to make a monthly budget. What “saving” and “borrowing” mean. How wealth builds over time. How to avoid borrowing lots of money at high interest rates (e.g. credit cards and payday loans). Etc. The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help a lot with this too, by preventing companies from tricking poor people into taking out high-interest debt.

I think this is a great idea, even if all this money talk seems like a foreign language to the disenfranchised.   It will demystify the concept of wealth and money.   I have two advanced degrees — and I need help with the basics of saving, borrowing, assets and mutual funds.

In addition to “nudging” middle-class and poor Americans to save more, we can help them get a better return on their assets — the second thing that has a huge effect on wealth in the long run. This means helping middle-class people invest in stocks without paying high fees. The first part of this is teaching middle-class people to avoid making frequent changes in their stock portfolios. Studies show that individual investors consistently lose money when they try to buy and sell and buy and sell, mostly because they tend to ignore trading costs. So financial education should teach people to let their stock portfolios just sit there for decades, and ignore the ups and downs.

Last year, we wanted to Occupy Wall Street, but no one had a plan for what to do with it — once it was occupied.   Perhaps a better strategy is education, so everyone can be smarter with their money.    Those with money have created the game so they always win.  Everyone else is going to be left out, unless they study up.

Thinking About Money

Is it that bad for Bank of America?!  (actually a bank in a Los Angeles supermarket)

With friends and family members getting laid off and the economy growing sour, I think a lot more about money lately, and how important it is to have a decent amount of this precious commodity if you want to live a certain lifestyle  (like LIVING IN an apartment in New York or LA).

My trip to Las Vegas last week was enough to remind me what it is like to stay at hotels, eat and drink well, go to expensive shows, and have to pay for it!  Even BlogHer will end up costing a $1000 dollars, right?  How do some of you afford to go to a different online conference every other week?

I used to make fun of your constant advertising and pimping, but maybe you are the smart ones.  Your main priority is to your family and self.  What’s the point of doing anything if it isn’t helping you get front row seats to Cirque de Soleil?

Of course, I’m not sure I believe any of this — that’s the problem — or else I wouldn’t have to write this here making believe I do.  I have a habit of writing things I don’t believe in an effort to force myself to accept it, as if I repeat it over and over, I will hypnotise myself into submission.

A One Day Break From Arrogance

I miss Brenda, my friendly therapist in Los Angeles, the one with the nice legs. During our last meeting, I told her I was going to New York for a few month. I was embarrassed to tell her this, fearing that she would consider it a cop-out, that I was running away from my problems rather than solving it. Instead, she surprised me and said it showed great progress.

“You’re taking action. It doesn’t matter what action. It could be an action that backfires. But it is better than doing nothing.”

My last two posts have been all about action. The purpose? I have no idea! The concept of publicly announcing my blog as the greatest blog ever created was so outlandish to me — almost sinful — that I became tremendously horny after publishing it. I’ve always hated those obnoxious blatantly-promotional blog badges, so placing one my blog was the equivalent of bungie jumping off of of Mount Rushmore, and I felt the adrenaline rush in the most obvious of places.

That said, I am a little worried that I am boring you. I seem to be writing a lot about blogging rather than real life. But let me assure you, if you read between the lines, this has anything to do with blogging. It is just easier to take action in the virtual world before attempting the same in the real world.

So, I took some action. I said my blog was the best blog ever created. I didn’t die from my hubris. The world is not all black and white, where every decision is monumental and forever. Recently, I even mentioned the word “divorce” with Sophia. But I said it in a clever, loving way. I said, “What is the worst thing that can happen? If we wanted to get married again, we could! Didn’t Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton get married and divorced eleven times?!” By presenting it in this manner, it defused some of the tension. We haven’t done anything, and it isn’t on the agenda right now, but it felt good to take some “action.”

OK, enough with real life. Back to blogging. I never liked guest posts. Two months ago, I had some guest posters write on my blog, randomly picked. They were terrific and I survived giving up some control. I never wanted to write for another blog. I started writing for another blog, for money — one that is corporate sponsored. Two days ago, I displayed a badge for a blogging contest, even later adding the actual link, after a blogger called me out for being a wimp.

But my biggest online nemesis remains: yes, advertising. That is my dragon. For years. I’ve written so much about this issue that other bloggers have started to make fun of me, like Rattling the Kettle.

I told Jennifer from Thursday Drive my plan.

“What’s the big deal? I can try advertising for one month and if I don’t like it, I can dump it.”

“Sounds good.” she said.

“It’s no big deal. I used to be against it for symbolic reasons. Bloggers would say they “deserve” to get paid for entertaining their readers. That statement made me sick. We’re all entertaining each other, like a barter system. If anything, I should be paying YOU for coming here and enhancing my blog posts with your comments. But enough. I’m done with this hang-up. It is time to take some action!”

At that point, Jennifer fell asleep on the other end, tried of me always IM-ing her and talking endlessly about myself. But it didn’t matter. I was ready for Healthy Arrogance, Day 3: Advertising and Money!

But then my brain started playing games. I felt a pain in my side and I had to lie down. I felt dizzy. My arrogance was slipping away. I know it is ridiculous. I know this all my seem very silly to most decent citizens. Whatever I decide, I don’t want the fear — and psychological angst — to make the decision for me. I want to decide myself — and take action one way or another, like I want to do with other things in my life. New York or Los Angeles? Married or not? Crest or Colgate? Advertising or not? It’s time to make a stand and overcome this. And not be so wishy-washy about the reasons.

Uh, I’m not ready yet for this decision. I need one more day.



Sophia and I went to a party in Malibu, where we met this woman who was telling us how her husband had just bought his seventh car. Sophia asked if he traded in his car every year, thinking that he was on his seventh car since moving to Los Angeles. No — this was his SEVENTH CAR.   I felt a little uncomfortable the rest of the night as they talked about real estate and their trip to Norway.  You didn’t have to be a psychic to know that the four of us probably wouldn’t be hanging out too much together, simply because of the differences in wealth.

We’re not poor, but we’re not rich, and for some reason, I’ve always noticed that it is difficult to hang out in social circles where others are very richer or poorer than you, just because your lifestyles tend to be different. This is something none of us dare talk about — that money can separate us more than color or religion or age.

Yesterday, I made fun of the categories that the blogosphere puts us in — mommybloggers, etc. But if all the mommybloggers met in a room together, they would less separate into groups of color or age than groups based on income, where the wealthy group would chat about the hippest new stroller and getting their child into the “right” pre-school while the middle-class group would complain about health care.

That’s just life.

I don’t begrudge the guy from Malibu for having his seven cars. It’s actually pretty cool, and I’m sure he worked hard to get where he is. Even though I felt a little insecure talking with him, I can’t say that he was “better” than me. After all, I run a successful blog and he doesn’t. Still, it made me sad to think that our friendship had barriers to it based on money. Growing up, I understood the importance of money in enjoying life, but I never quite realized how much of a role it has in determining your social interactions. Is this just a Los Angeles/New York thing?

As I read your blogs, I notice that some of you go on exotic vacations seemingly every week. Some of you are working two jobs, although I suspect most bloggers are doing well enough to waste their time… uh, blogging.. I find it all interesting. I love that ONLINE there is freedom to walk in different social circles. I’m hoping that race, religion, etc. is never a factor in online friendship.

But, let’s be honest, do you think differences in MONEY would hinder many of us from becoming friends in real life?

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