Your 401(K) Savings Goal for Age 35…

24 Jul

I’m nearly three months into my new job, but the human resources department continues to blow up my inbox with reminders on one remaining bit o’ paperwork – retirement planning.

Like most corporate gigs, my employer offers a 401(K) retirement savings plan, which allows me to funnel pre-tax dollars directly into a Fidelity account to stow away – and grow, with the help of compounding interest – for my more (ahem) golden years.

I’ve been contributing to 401(K) accounts since the age of 24, so this isn’t anything new to me, but for some reason, I’ve found myself floundering over the percentage that I should contribute. Up until now, throughout my twenties, I’ve contributed between 7 and 9 percent. (Clearly, double digits frighten me.) But having reached 30 – in my mind, official adulthood – I feel like I solidify my game plan.

One of the recent musings that’s stuck in my head came from personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, who I heard recommend in an interview (and here) this simply rule: By age 35, your retirement savings should include an amount equal to your annual salary.

Does that comfort you… or frighten you? I like this advice, because it feels concrete and I feel like I’m on track to achieve it.

More broadly, most personal finance experts preach that 10 – 15 percent of your income should go directly toward retirement to build a realistic cushion for your later years. I’ve finally nudged myself to contribute a full 10 percent (I should note that I also automatically funnel money into my savings accounts each month, too) and am operating with the mindset that I won’t miss what I never see. We’ll see if I can slowly work my way up to 15 percent… I’m not holding my breath. Yet.

In the meantime, I follow several non-professional finance-related blogs to help keep me motivated to save money and live below my means – an especially difficult task when Nordstrom’s Anniversary Sale rolls around. Scrolling through blog posts and reading inspiring comments from people at all levels of financial freedom makes smart budgeting feel nearly addictive.

You can check out a few of my favorite money / career blogs here; what are yours?

 

Escaping to the Canadian Rockies

22 Jul

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

The gorgeous, glacial Moraine Lake in Canada’s Banff National Park

Each of us need an occasional escape from the everyday. Earlier this month, I hit the brakes on this tilt-a-whirl ride and headed north for something between relaxation and rejuvenation. 

Obligatory iPhone shot on our way into Banff National ParkObligatory iPhone shot as we entered Banff; look at those slopes!

For years – ever since stumbling upon a resort photo online – I’ve been dreaming of Lake Louise in Banff National Park. (Google it and you’ll instantly know what I mean; I promise.) A Caribbean-blue, glacial lake nestled between snow-capped mountains is surely enough in itself, but this idyllic scene also boasts a stately Fairmont resort at its shore. Need I say more? 

We booked a flight into Calgary, reserved a rental car and packed our bags. 

And when we first laid eyes on those deep, icy waters, I was entranced. This, you guys, was the closest I’d been to heaven on earth. It was like the ultimate find in a scavenger hunt designed by God. And for four days, we stared in awe at it, paddled atop it and hiked around it before settling into a dreamy guestroom each evening. Like Xanax, but better (wink). 

Paddling Moraine Lake

Paddling Moraine Lake and scouting the perfect picnic spot

For those that appreciate the quieter, less sandy side of travel, here are some tips from our trip: 

  • GO: By plane; we flew into Calgary, Alberta, Cananda
  • SEE: Moraine Lake, Icefields Parkway, Downtown Banff
  • STAYFairmont Chateau Lake Louise
  • DO: Canoe everywhere you can; hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

In future posts, I’ll share a bit more about our favorite parts of the stay. If you’ve been, please tell me yours, too!

The canoeing operation on Lake Louise

The canoeing operation on Lake Louise is legit – and there’s usually a line

In the distance, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

In the distance, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is the only resort on the water

Learning to Cope with Grief

20 Jul

In everyday life, I crave a deep sense of privacy. My circle is tight and even within it, I try to be cautious about what I share and to what level I reveal myself. This characteristic certainly doesn’t stem from trust issues, but it does serve as a type of self protection that has let me rely on my truest instincts—not the misguided input of others—for some time.

The exception to this rule of social privacy has always been my mother. As a therapist, she spent years mastering the tactics to break into my brain, which often, meant simply staying quiet and letting me ease into my thoughts, unlike the constant chatter that so often accompanies gatherings with my closest girlfriends.

For years, she gently guided me through the woes of adolescent angst, the vulnerabilities of adult relationships and the political web of workplace drama by nudging me to express myself and think through my quandaries aloud. She taught me how to work through difficult moments with as much grace as I could muster and when it she deemed it necessary, she’d share her insights, culled from a lifetime of lessons learned.

Recently, she taught me the greatest lesson—how to embrace and trust God’s plan without question, fear or anxiety.

She died on May 1. And since that day, I’ve been struggling with the deepest sense of grief that I’ve known. It lives so solidly inside of my chest that the only way to maintain normalcy in my everyday life has been to simply skim the surface of each day… never allowing too long a silence, as I’ve found it nearly always leads to an emotional collapse.

Instead, I’ve found a weird sort of comfort in the buzz of TV, droning personal finance podcasts that keep my mind busy on my commute to and from work, and more nights than normal spent with my boyfriend, whose presence simply helps keep me out of my own head. It might not be the healthiest way to cope, but it is a way to cope—and right now, that’s enough.

A year ago, I wanted to start writing a capsule that dabbled in the daily, from fashion and finances to style and stressors. And I suppose, this seismic shift in my life is more relevant that any of those things. The most odd piece of it all is that even when it feels impossible, life continues to move on just as it did before. Grocery stores lines still snaking down aisles, horns still being honked on the expressway, neighbors still walking their dogs.

I don’t know many women who have lost their mother at the age of 30, but I imagine there are so many of us struggling in the same ways to rebuild a life around an irreplaceable loss. Maybe this can be a place where in between the moments of normalcy, we learn to cope, together.

 

Photo: Today we celebrated the extraordinary life of my mom, a woman committed to living to the fullest no matter the circumstances. She nurtured, shaped and inspired not only me, but so many others. And while she'll be heart-achingly missed here, I'm so looking forward to seeing her again.

This beautiful woman, my mom.

Springtime Sweets: Lemon Cookies

21 Apr

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Sweet and spring-ish lemon cookies seem especially fitting for the Easter holiday, but these baked treats are so delicious, my relatives ask that I bring them to Thanksgiving and Christmas, too. No lie. With a powdered-sugar sprinkling and a zesty little zip, they’re light enough to snack on with tea, or to end an already-indulgent meal.

It’s no surprise that yesterday morning, I woke up early to bake a double batch for our family gathering.

The recipe – which I originally pulled from a Martha Stewart Everyday magazine, has evolved slightly over the years, but not too much.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium-sized lemons (organic if possible, since peel is used)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; zest both lemons fully and squeeze lemon juice into a bowl.

Using a mixer, beat butter (at room temperature) with granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add in egg, vanilla and two tablespoons of lemon  juice. Mix  until blended. On top of wet batter, sift flour, baking soda and salt. Add one heaping tablespoon of lemon zest and mix entire batter together until well blended.

Roll dough into approximately 1 1/2-inch balls, place two inches apart on baking sheet. Bake each sheet at 15 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Once cookies have cooled, add remaining zest to lemon juice and mix in powdered sugar. Add powdered sugar as necessary until frosting is pale yellow. Coat tops of cookies with frosting and let dry for 10 minutes. Using sifter, coat all cookies with powdered sugar.

Store at room temperature or freeze for up to two weeks.

(Makes approximately two-dozen cookies.)

 

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A One-Day Vacay at Langdon Hall

14 Apr wpe_cambridge_1

What a weekend. I’ve mentioned here that I was escaping for an evening in a faraway land (read: Canada) for a break from reality, and that’s just what I did. It was a quick break from reality with a bit of a smack-in-the-face return, but sometimes, that’s life.

In the moment, during the roughly three-hour drives to and from Detroit, and the deliciously lazy evening and morning at Langdon Hall, I enjoyed every piece of it, including the amazing spring temperatures. I didn’t snap too many photos, unfortunately, which meant that I didn’t capture our quaint guestroom with working fireplace and soaking tub… but trust me when I tell you it was perfect. That is, if what you’re looking for is quiet, calm and cozy.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff…

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Dining on mussels in blush cream sauce al fresco at London’s
Covent Garden Market, Waldo’s Bistro on King

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Cambridge’s architecture, which sits against the (literally: rushing) river
is a mix of very old and very new

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Langdon Hall in all its early spring, pre-sprouting glory

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Eight o’clock dinner reservations at Langdon; good wine, great food

Adding a Pop of Color at Home

11 Apr wpe_color_1

Throwing the windows open and letting in some fresh air has me giddy over some simple home updates. The easiest trick to spice up my neutral decor is to throw in a pop of unexpected color – in the form of bright pillows, a lacquer tray or a pop of peonies.

What’s your hue du jour? Minty greens and robin’s egg blues are popping up everywhere this spring, but I’ve also continued to see a steady stream of tried-and-true magenta and mossy green among the mix. (Especially in investment pieces like sofas and wooden furniture.)

Naturally, I’ve pulled some ideas from the grand ol’ internet that are sure to inspire you…

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via (who wouldn’t want the “get it girl” pillow, right?)

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via (those turquoise shutters are everything)

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via (the minty green of those stools feels perfect for a kitchen)

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via (magenta goes sophisticate with brass accents)

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via (polka dots, zebra and mossy green? i can’t.)

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via (well, hey, that’s a clever idea if I’ve ever seen it)

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via (for the not-so-daring among us… the equivalent of animal-print undies)

An Overnight Getaway

10 Apr

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Sometimes, the best medicine for mental fatigue is to get the hell out of Dodge.

After a few exhausting weeks of juggling an uncommon amount of career and family-related situations, I am so ready for a mini-vacation. I’ve marked myself out of office on Friday and will be promptly picking up and heading north, er, northeast, toward Canada’s Langdon Hall (hotel summer photo above). A boutique property that was once a 25,000-square-foot “summer residence,” today’s hotel and spa is a dreamy throwback – with fireplaces in every room (swoon) – that’s a painless three-hour drive from Detroit.

My plans for the overnight escapade? Well, they involve sunglasses, THE best road-tripping playlist, plenty of wine, a leisurely dinner and lots of general not-caring-ness. (Is that a word? It should be.) Oh, and my passport. CANNOT forget to pack the passport.

I hope that your weekend plans excite you equally – whether you’ll be strolling the farmer’s market, making it a movie night or off jetsetting. Enjoy!

April Planner: Refresh + Refuel

3 Apr

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Here’s an idea. Just as the earth starts to peel back the brownish layers of late winter and give way to spring, let’s use the month of April to refresh our own lives a bit.

Nobody likes a long list of to-dos, so here are a few “take ‘em or leave ‘em suggestions” that you can use to balance playfulness – and priorities – in your life.

  • April 2: A windowsill herb garden is even more fun when the end result can be used as the basis for a sweet, spring swig. Try mint, lavender or basil, which are easy additions to a cool cocktail.
  • April 5: Lug out your seasonal furniture or choose a new bistro set before they’re picked over in the stores. On the first beautiful day, you’ll be kicking yourself if your patio isn’t ready for use.
  • April 7: Commit to reading at least one “book with benefits” this month. Choose either a business or self-help option; I obviously love the title of this new release, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.
  • April 16: Tax day was yesterday, so now’s the time to take all of those papers (and digital materials) and neatly file them away. Keep a folder at home for hard copies, and save them on a data drive as well.
  • April 18: Prep for Easter celebrations with a citrusy sweet like lemon sugar cookies. I drizzle mine with a frosting made of 2 tbs. lemon  juice, 1 tbs. lemon peel and 1 cup confectioner’s sugar.
  • April 22: Celebrate Earth Day by doing something good and green. Visit a restaurant that sources locally, light some candles rather than using lights in the evening, or plant a sapling in the backyard.
  • April 26: Pull on your favorite sunnies and live in layers with a soft, floral scarf. Pair it with a cardigan and distressed denim or simply tie it onto your spring tote.
  • April 27: Don’t leave all the fun to your closet. Dress up your home with some brightly colored and textured throw pillows to instantly liven your living space.
  • April 30: Wrap up the month with a DIY manicure in a brilliant shade of cool blue or minty green. Slather a sugar and olive oil paste onto cuticles and rinse before stepping outside of your comfort zone with sparkles or stripes to create statement-making nails.

What I’m Reading

1 Apr

Image Isn’t there something delicious about settling into a cozy spot and poring over a feed full of juicy, new posts? Ever since the Google Reader tool was axed, I’ve used Feedly (specifically, its Chrome extension app) to categorize and keep track of my favorite blogs. Each day, whether I’m taking a 10-minute mental break at work or killing time in a grocery line, I can quickly scan stories for a dose of inspiration.

A fashion fix, a reality check on retirement planning, and a ruby-hued cocktail recipe. A great day of blogspiration is like the most amazing afternoon of scouring at Nordstrom Rack. Except free. Which as it turns out, is a much savvier way to kill time.

Which bloggers are you addicted to? Here, I’ve included a peek at my daily reads:

FASHION (Credit: Top row images, left to right)

  • Atlantic-Pacific I adore Blair’s preppy, east coast style. And even more, I love that her posts are pure photos… making Atlantic-Pacific the ideal destination when I need some strictly visual inspiration.
  • Dean Street Society Hilary’s eclectic style and bubbly personality are just as infectious as her #StyleMe wardrobe challenges. I’ve never actually completed one, but every month, I’m inspired to try at least a few of the trends.
  • The Classy Cubicle I love me a Vogue spread every now and then, but a girl’s gotta earn a paycheck. Mary’s wardrobe is a bit more professional than my full-time gig requires, but I totally appreciate her working girl mentality.
  • The Coveteur A sneak peek inside celeb and fashion influencer closets? Yes, please. Need I say more?

HOME + DESIGN (Credit: Second row images, left to right)

  • Centsational Girl Kate’s DIY approach is a welcome deviation from hours spent flipping through Elle Home and Architectural Digest. Her projects always turn out five times better than mine ever could, which is a good thing.
  • South Shore Decorating Each day, Stacy curates compilations of stunning home design and decor. So many times, I’ve spied images from the pages of a magazine that only catch my eye when she’s called them out.
  • Design Love Fest There’s something clean, calm and distinctively Scandinavian about Bri’s aesthetic. Through photos, workshops and graphic images, her posts infuse a dose of creativity into my day to day.
  • Young House Love Watching this family fix up their home one day at a time is fun and entirely practical, thanks to the in-depth tutorials they provide. Sweet shots of their daughter and dog are bonus material.

LIFESTYLE (Credit: Third row images, left to right)

  • A Cup of Jo I seem to always find a bevy of interesting links and thoughts on Jo’s blog. A little bit like a goodie bag, I wander over and am almost always pleasantly surprised at what I find – family stories, recipes, polls and more.
  • Cupcakes and Cashmere The day I stumbled across this blog, I remember telling every other girl I knew about it. And when Emily’s book was published, I snatched that up too. Her sensible, laid-back approach to life keeps things in check.
  • Dooce The first blog that I read and most likely, the only blog that I’ve ever scrolled through for hours at a time. I have cried from laughter and shared deep moments of empathy and reflection reading the story of Heather and her family.
  • Jenny Steffens Hobick A little bit of a young Martha Stewart, Jenny fills her home with warm colors and scrumptious foods. Her content always feels especially inviting to me during the fall and winter seasons.

MONEY + WORK (Credit: Fourth row images, left to right)

  • Blonde on a Budget She might live in Canada, but I appreciate Cait’s refreshingly frugal episodes. She’s past the start of her personal finance journey at this point, but she continues to chronicle her progress.
  • Get Rich Slowly When I was digging my way out of student loans and thousands in accumulated college debt, I read this no-gimmicks blog daily to keep me motivated. Today, with new and varied bloggers, it still helps to keep me on track financially.
  • More than Money J.D. Roth, who started Get Rich Slowly, now writes about managing money – and life – at More than Money. His musings on finance, travel and the power of yes are relevant at any age.
  • Penelope Trunk Talk about telling it like it is. With programs like “Networking for People Who Hate Networking,” Penelope is often inappropriate, slightly offensive, but insightful when it comes to women (or anyone) and careers.

Brightening Up Your Workspace

28 Mar

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Anthropologie Gloriosa Mug ($12) | Ballard Designs antique gold Style Tacks ($19) | Russell and Hazel Lucite Stapler ($32) | Marc by Marc Jacobs iPhone Compact Mirror Case ($78) | Rebecca Minkoff Wallet Mason Continental in minty ($95)

Spring has sprung in some of the sunnier portions of the states. And while we’re still waiting for the mounds of snow to melt here in Michigan, there’s {at least} a breath of optimism in the air – a “we did it!” mentality that’s palpable even on the grayest days. We’re all hanging in there for that promised reward… blooming tulips, puffy, white clouds, and, well, you know the drill.

While we’re waiting for Mother Nature to do her thang outside, there’s no reason we can’t perk things up inside.

As you flip the calendar to April, consider adding some of spring’s pretty pastel hues to your physical desktop, and your virtual one, too. (Click here to download some lovely desktop patterns from Design Love Fest!)

With the addition of a slick lucite stapler and a few adorably antiqued push pins, you’re work space will be brighter in a matter of moments. Voila – spring has sprung! Well, nearly.

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