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I have never bought lottery tickets on my own. But if there’s a pool going on at the office, I’m there. I’ll run to my car and dig for change under my car seat if I have to.

Why do I do this?

Consider – there are 4 basic scenarios:

1. You participate – the pool loses.
2. You participate – the pool wins.
3. You don’t participate – the pool loses.
4. You don’t participate – the pool wins.

In Scenario 1: the most you will lose is your contribution ($1 or $2 or $5). Scenario 2 is the big one, of course – depending on how much you win, that can be financial freedom right there (or at least enough for a down payment or a year’s worth of Roth IRA contributions).

In Scenario 3:  you don’t lose anything. You get to keep your dollar for tomorrow’s lunch, or whatever. But Scenario 4… Scenario 4 is the WORST possible scenario of them all. It’s the reason why I buy in lottery pools – not because I think I’ll win, but to protect myself against the horror that is Scenario 4.

I understand that the chance of the office pool winning is small. Very, very, very small. Close to impossible, even. But I’m not talking about probability here – I’m talking about being the only person who did not participate in the lottery and now has to watch all his/her coworkers jubilantly cash their million-dollar payouts.

I most happily and willingly pay my dollar or two to insure against that scenario from coming true.

Do you always buy in at the office lotto pool?

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My mother is a towering figure in my world – I’ve always secretly thought that she can’t possibly be as whip-smart and determined and rational as I think she is… can she?

Fabulously Broke wrote an interesting post on stay-at-home mothers. The post got me thinking… I don’t quite know what to think when it comes to the “debate” on stay-at-home mothers vs. working mothers. Even though I see myself as a working mom, all moms just try to make the best choice they can for themselves and their family, right? Can’t we just ditch the guilt and get along?

My mother always worked, though she always made sure she can pick me up from school and cook me my favorite meals. We didn’t spend a lot of time together otherwise (although Mom DID sit me down and walked me through the calculations of prepaying a mortgage when I was in middle school).

I don’t ever remember wanting more time with her. I suppose it was because I was a fairly private child. I had my books and girlish secrets and I wasn’t a fan of heart-to-hearts. Too awkward and revealing. My thoughts were my own. MINE! (I was also really stubborn).

The only time I remembered missing Mom was when I was very young, when she went to work overseas for almost five years. I grew up with very loving grandparents who coddled me a bit (OK – a lot). Mom missed out on a big chunk of my childhood, but I have never felt bad about it.

It was always something that she had to do in order to give me a better opportunity. If Mom ever suffered any guilt over the situation, it didn’t show.  There was no hand-wringing or second-guessing, at least not in front of her child.

As I grow older, I really think that that no-nonsense manner is the best way to act when a mother (or father, or both, as it was in my case) decides to work overseas, work domestically, or for whatever reason cannot spend as much time with their children as they’d like (or think they should). This matter-of-fact approach shows children that things, while maybe not ideal right now, will eventually be OK.

I think children are resilient and can adapt to most circumstances as long as they know that they are loved and wanted. Don’t introduce guilt or confusion or self-flagellation into the picture. Most kids will do just fine.

Forget Supermom. If I become a mother, I just want to be a guiltless mom.

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Recently, it seems as if a new word has entered the recession-inspired lexicon. First we had “staycation,” then came “frugalistas” and “recessionistas.” Now, there’s “funemployment”. Los Angeles Times and SF Weekly both published features on the trend (and I have several friends who are taking time off to do their own thing).

So while all the dismal jobs news makes me feel anxious about my career future, these reports help me feel like, well, the world wouldn’t end if one does not have a job for a little while.

Out of college, everyone (or so it seemed) wanted to “take over the world.” But this deep retrenchment may have given people – especially young, well-educated professionals in their 20s and 30s, a chance to reexamine their ambitions, priorities, and assumptions.

I wonder – if this dismal market has given people the chance to do something differently, chase their dreams instead of the next promotion. Having experienced or witnessed the massive disruptions to our identities as producers and consumers, how will we respond once the recession ends?

One 20something blogger I read is Molly of These Little Moments (who shares my penchant for shoes). She has been unemployed for 6 months after being laid off from her job in public relations. Today, she wrote a very honest post about her experience with unemployment, and how this stint outside the workforce has changed her view towards work and altered her career ambitions.

This recession has affected my thinking too – maybe not as drastically as it has Molly, but it definitely has on several fronts.

The recession has reminded many people – myself included – that family and friends are the most important things in life. My thinking has always been that true love and friendship are hard to find. So once you do you better hold on to them for dear life! I think for me, a rich and fulfilling life can be lived out in both the personal and professional spheres. This recession has reaffirmed in me the importance of financial independence, and my desire to have a career, not a job.

One alumna sticks out in my mind – she worked at several large companies domestically and internationally, graduated from a top business school, and now is in charge of marketing an entire brand in Europe. She’s maybe 35. She’s going to be a CMO or an EVP one day (maybe even a CEO), I can almost bet on it.

I’m impatient, and sometimes, on a bad day, it feels like I’m already falling behind. But I know I can get there.

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The apartment is mine!

Afterward, my future landlord and his wife showed me their tiny little herb garden and invited me to come and get cilantro, basil, thyme, or rosemary anytime I want.

It’s seriously time to learn to cook!

I can’t believe I lucked into an apartment with just about everything I wanted, and at such a great price. And with such nice landlords.

In other news, I am worried about being let go at my job. One of my friends just passed his sixth month on unemployment. But being out of a job may be the impetus for me to finally take action on my idea.

A lot of people around me (four, at last count, and all in their 20s) are pursuing their own businesses, even (or maybe because) of the dismal labor market and recession. Some have been laid off, but others are quitting decent-paying jobs to take a risk and make a go of it on their own.

Talking to them and hearing the excitement they bring to their work inspires me. The trick is to get enough inspiration and determination to get over the FEAR of flying out, on your own.

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How to start a startup*

* I don’t actually have the answer to this question. If you do, please share!

BUT – I’ve been kicking around a couple of ideas after speaking to my cousin. I’ve also discussed starting a side business with my roommate a while back. And for several months I just kind of let the ideas die away because, well, I am scared and apprehensive and I’ve never thought of myself as particularly entreprenuerial.

Yet – I have some ideas that I think are worth progressing on. I’m going to speak to my parents later this week to get their input on it. I have NO idea if it will succeed, but it costs me nothing to think more about it.

Lots of market research and business planning in the works, me thinks.

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Try

Things have been… a little stressful.

A big reason why I am saving so aggressively is because I am worried about my job. In my line of work, the billable hour is key (I don’t work in law, but the concept is similar). If you don’t bill, you don’t generate revenue, and if you don’t generate revenue, the firm has no reason to keep you.

Some weeks I’d work past midnight and have 8AM Saturday calls, etc., but some weeks I’d bill 2 hours for the entire week. Averaged out, my billing is below target. That means I am not producing enough revenue to make my position worthwhile. I’m going to have to be a lot more aggressive about getting on projects.

I’ve approached a manager about an upcoming project. If it turns into a long-term engagement, that’d be a really good development. In addition, there are areas of improvement that I really want to hit in terms of improving my technical modeling skills, seeing the “bigger picture”, etc. There are two managers who will likely write my business school recommendations, so that’s an added incentive to perform extra well for them (in addition to, you know, not get laid off).

So that’s the reason why I’m looking at 2009 with a sense of trepidation. The economy sucks. Unemployment is up. California is broke (IOUs for tax refunds, seriously?!). Graduate school applications are skyrocketing. I have to retake the GMAT and do better than the 88th percentile I scored the first time.

I’ve always been one of those people who overachieved. Who had a PLAN. Who did well. I’m trying to get that spark back.

I look around and try not to feel like a failure because everyone around me seems to be loving their jobs, winning promotions, going on cool trips, scoring 750+ on the GMAT, getting engaged, running marathons, and buying real estate.

I try to pray and be thankful for what I have.

I try not to mind that I don’t have life figured out.

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In this shaky economic environment, I am fortunate that my job is not in jeopardy (knock on wood). But given that most employment is “at-will”, very few of us have the luxury of being unprepared for the financial impacts of a job loss.

Companies often go through financial restructurings during times of difficulty, so I thought it fitting to have a plan in place for my own “restructuring,” should the need arise.

At the end of June I will have $12,000 in my Freedom Fund.

If I am laid off, all finances will go in CONSERVE CASH mode. Currently I am spending around $2,250 a month, but I can cut that down to $1,700/month. At that level, I can stretch my Freedom Fund 7 months (and it can go even longer if I move back home).

Rent / utilities / DSL : $830 (I included a 5% rent increase)
Student loan: $160 (may be able to have payments suspended)
Car insurance: $120
Individual insurance: $125 (estimate from einsurance.com)
Prescription: $60
Gas: $200 (may have to drive further for interviews)
Food: $125
Car repair: $80
Total: $1700

I have another $12,000 in Roth contributions that I can withdraw – although I’d move back in with Mom & Dad before that happens!

Do you have a restructuring plan in place?

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