In January, Consumerism Commentary will begin the Naked With Cash event and series. Several Consumerism Commentary readers will share their financial reports and analyses at the beginning of each month, with insight from financial planners and other experts. To introduce each of the participants to readers, I asked them to share where they’ve been, where they are, and where they’re going, and to describe their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Meet Naked With Cash participant Calvin. He has provided the following introduction.
Hi Everyone, I would like to introduce myself as Calvin. That’s not my real name, but one that I think suits me because of the amount of mischief that seems to follow me around in life.
I am in my early 40’s and grew up in a large blue collar family in suburban New Jersey. My Father was a strong believer in civil service and encouraged all of the kids to pursue that route in life. I did work in civil service for about 10 years after high school as an electrician before finishing my undergraduate degree in IT and moving to a white collar work environment in the late 90’s. I have worked for the same large, multi-national corporation since 1999 and am currently an IT project manager for a global IT project.
My employment seems to be fairly secure for the next few years at least, as we continue to roll our project out to various countries around the world. My base salary is about $120,000 annually and I also receive a bonus which is usually 10-15% of my annual salary. I also have a 401(k). My company matches 66% of my contributions up to 6% so if I contribute 6% of my salary my company will match with 4% of my salary.
My company still maintains a fully company funded pension plan and in addition I occasionally receive long term incentives in the form of stock options or restricted stock units (RSUs). These have not historically proven to be very valuable but I have been able to cash in for an extra few thousand the last couple of years. I do retain hope that at some point my company’s stock may rise again and these may provide a healthy financial return.
I was married for 17 years and had a painful two-plus year separation and have just recently finalized my divorce. I have a teenage child who has some ongoing medical issues which add additional emotional and financial strain to a very stressful life situation. While money problems did not play a direct role in the reasons for my separation and divorce, my wife and I did a terrible job of managing our money while we were married, and our lack of savings made separation and divorce additionally painful.
Prior to my divorce my wife and were never very good at managing money. She basically took no interest in any discussion involving money matters, and I did the best I could managing the finances on my own. That meant that we lived above our means for our entire marriage. From the outside, everything looked fantastic. We had a large house in a rural town with Blue Ribbon Schools and a regular cleaning lady to keep it neat and tidy. We had a large piece of property which we paid a landscaper to maintain. We provided our child with all kinds of private lessons, had a built-in pool, three cars in the driveway, regular vacations, a big flat screen TV, a full complement of electronic gadgets, and lots of debt to keep everything afloat.
I never made really bad financial decisions, while we did take equity from our house from time to time to pay down credit cards, we never borrowed more then 80% of our home’s value and never went for any kind of exotic and irresponsible mortgage products. I used to say that I never worried about money because anytime I ever needed it, it never failed to show up in my life. When my marriage failed we happened to be caught in a perfect storm of financial problems. My wife had been unemployed for almost 2 years and her unemployment benefits were going to run out shortly, our house was underwater by about 25% of its value and we were maybe just barely making ends meet on all of our financial obligations.
I think that my financial strength is that I have very good earning power. I have valuable IT skills which remain in high demand, especially in the part of the country where I live. I have gone on to receive an MBA from a good school and am always taking training to keep my skill set fresh. I have a very good employer who still believes that there is value in employee loyalty and as a result provides an excellent work environment, fair wages and what I would consider above-average benefits.
I would also say that I have a fair bit of inherent financial knowledge. Because of my career I am very good at crunching numbers and understanding the details of financial products and services. In the past my financial weakness has been primarily living above my means. Until my divorce I was always looking for the next gadget or trip or vehicle that was going to make me happy, and I never let something as silly as whether I could really afford it factor into my decisions. Unfortunately for me, it took a major life crisis — divorce — for me to come to appreciate the value of savings and the safety and security that it brings. Although in my current situation I am still living paycheck-to-paycheck and have not been able to put aside any savings, I anticipate in the next few years as my debt gets paid off and my divorce obligations begin to subside, I should be able to put together a safe and effective financial plan.
I have been reading Consumerism Commentary for the past three years, and although I don’t comment or participate in the community, I would say that I read on average 60% to 70% of the postings. For fun I like to spend time with my child, with whom I have 50% custody, and my dog. I also play guitar (poorly) and am very interested in physical health and wellness topics like nutrition, exercise, and emotional and spiritual health such as prayer and meditation. I would like to one day be able to use my passion to teach and share what I have learned about health and wellness with others.
Thanks for continuing to read Consumerism Commentary, and welcome to Naked With Cash, Calvin!
Updated December 27, 2012 and originally published December 24, 2012.