Welcome to The New Social Worker's Blog

The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Money Money Money Money... Money!

How does a University choose what to make a part of their mandatory curriculum, what to make optional, and what isn’t even offered in their course offerings book?

Personally, I’ve never understood why I needed to learn the circumference of a trapezoid, as I have yet to ever use such in my life. (In full disclosure though, my math score on the GRE left something to be desired.) After talking with many friends in the social work profession, I continue to be surprised by how many money mistakes are made, mostly out of never being taught otherwise. Why there isn’t a mandatory class on this, I’ll never know.

While I don’t claim to be an expert, I thought I’d share some information here, for those who wish to become better educated on the subject. (For those wanting even more, fellow social worker Suze Orman is a great place to start as her show/books/website are full of info!) The following list comes out of many conversations with many social workers who too often realize their financial mistakes too late.

MISTAKE #1: Starting Off On the Wrong Foot

After being a middle school kid with an allowance, a high school youth with a part-time job, and a broke college student, it’s no wonder that many begin first jobs with a desire to spend some (or lots) of that money as soon as it starts to come in. However, the sooner wise financial choices are made, the smaller the chances are that you’ll find yourself at age 30, 40, or 70 and having to return to the financial life of ramen noodle dinners.


MISTAKE #2: Postponing Saving For Retirement

One of the most important pieces of information I ever received was to begin to plan for retirement ASAP. It sounded silly to me, while in my mid-20s, to think about something 50+ years away, but it’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made. Investing in a retirement account works on something called compound interest, which means that, the earlier you begin to save, the more the money grows on its own for you.

Here’s the actual math for you, both on why compound interest is awesome and why it pays (literally!) to start early: http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2006/05/23/how-compound-interest-favors-the-young/

For more info on why it’s important to begin saving in your 20s: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/CollegeAndFamily/MoneyInYour20s/ToGetRichStartSavingInYour20s.aspx

For info on how to save while you’re a student, unemployed, or aren’t making much for other reasons: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/SimpleStrategies/HowToInvestWhenYoureBroke.aspx

MISTAKE #3: Thinking You Have to Make Major Money to Thrive

It’s pretty well assumed that none of us became social workers for the money, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live a wonderfully happy life or save for big purchases (a home, a vehicle, a vacation, etc.) if you make wise financial choices.

An article on getting by and thriving on 32,000/yr: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Investing/StockInvestingTrading/Getting-by-on-32000--MSNMoney.aspx

MISTAKE #4: Being Too Romantic or Shy to Discuss Money with Your Potential Mate

It’s long been said that money is the cause of many break-ups, which often happens because couples aren’t up-front about their finances. Granted, it’s far more fun to discuss a romantic getaway (or to go on one) than to talk about how it’ll be funded, but knowing where both people stand is crucial to figuring out whether you are as financially compatible as you are emotionally/physically/intellectually matched.

Great articles on money + love:



MISTAKE #5: Believing Money Myths

Tax information, interest rates, and banking rules all change over time, yet some money beliefs seem to transcend, causing people to believe what they’re told and then acting on wrong information. Here are a few myths vs. facts:

10 Bank-Breaking Money Myths: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/basics/08/financial-myths.asp

20 Dangerous Money Myths:

As you can see from the links and the information those pages link you to, there is a ton to learn about money. It can feel quite overwhelming at first, but the more you know, the more powerful you are in terms of your current and future finances. With so many books, websites, and other media based on financial education, there’s someone out there for us all to learn from, in whatever financial style suits us each best. Personally, I’ve found the aforementioned social worker Suze Orman is a great source of information and inspiration. Her weekly tv show on CNBC has taught me a great deal over the years (I even appeared on it once!), and I continue to refer to her books “Young, Fabulous, and Broke” and “Women and Money” as I’ve transitioned from undergrad to grad school, from student to unemployed, and as I’ve begun to earn my first salaried paychecks.

I know that this isn’t the typical “easy reading” blog entry you’re used to from me, but I hope it’s been a helpful post. In the spirit of both social work and money management, I will close this in the way that Suze Orman’s ends each episode of her television show:

“People first, then money, then things… now you stay safe.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Social Work Valentine

The 2/13 9pm EST live chat on www.socialworkchat.org was themed for Valentine’s Day and was centered around the participating social workers sharing thoughts on what cards they’d write if they were to write one to Social Work. In the spirit of the week, I’ve decided to share mine here and encourage you all to share your own in the comment section below.

Dear Social Work,

You are a field that doesn’t lend itself well to giving an “elevator speech,” so people regularly have no true idea of who you are. Your elusive nature causes you to be regularly ignored on television programs and in film, though others sometimes masquerade as if your work is within the confines of their own jobs. You are sometimes confusing and often cause me to turn to peers for guidance on how to handle you. I’m pretty sure that my mother thinks I could have chosen a safer option, or at least one that affords me a more lavish lifestyle. Sometimes, when I come home, there is nothing less I’d rather think about than you, though sometimes you refuse to let me rest. People regularly question why we’re together. They suggest that I might be crazy, but thanks to you and that gorgeous DSM of yours, I know I’m not… though I admit, I’ve recognized pieces of myself (and almost everyone I know) in so many of your pages.

No matter where I am or what time of day it is, I am aware of your presence in my life. Occasionally, I contemplate leaving you for another, but then I realize that it would be a silly notion to think that I could really just up and leave. At the end of the day, I know one thing for certain; we’re enmeshed. You are a part of everything I do, everything I believe in, and everything I fight for. You are my reason for getting out of bed in the morning (Monday-Friday, at least), you are my reason for falling asleep at night (good Lord, you’re exhausting).

I just wanted you to know that, for reasons sometimes even I can’t explain, I’m glad we found each other. I anticipate a long future together, one that’s full of 3-minute lunches between clients, getaways to the steps of Capitol buildings, and more surprises than I can even imagine.

Thanks for everything,


Friday, February 11, 2011

Aches and Chills and Coughing, Oh My!

It officially feels like flu season to me now… why? Because I officially have the flu. There’s nothing like that feeling of aches/chills/fever/cough/stuffy head/everything ever mentioned in a cold medicine ad feeling that makes me just want to stay in bed until my body’s back to normal. But now that I’m in a position that isn’t as easy as calling in a substitute server to pick up my shift or emailing the professor to request the notes for the lecture I’m missing, I wonder how others feel about being sick in the workplace.

Is it better to be a person who never misses work and hunkers down, risking contaminating others and making the illness worse? Is it better to take time off to rest and heal and risk the boss wondering if you’re a big baby? Is it better to use up those sick days at the beginning of the year if that’s when you need them or is it better to try to hold off just in case you need them later?

While I know that most agencies don’t have a set-up to work from home, I sometimes wish it was an option for us all. In this age of technology, it only makes sense that, if half of the classes we took to get this degree were available online, shouldn’t at least half of our work be available that way too? Of course, I’m not advocating for anyone to hang a shingle with the agency logo when they’re sick at home, but sometimes I wonder if paperwork couldn’t still be completed online, allowing the person to heal and quarantine him/herself while still being productive. At the same time though, I wonder if doing such would lead already overworked people to continue to work from home during healthy times.

What do you think? If your agency offered an option to complete some of your work from your personal computer, would you do so only when you were ill or otherwise couldn’t be at the office or would it compel you to work additional hours on top of your regular schedule?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Who Are You?

When I was a child, I would have bet you all the money in my piggy bank that my second grade teacher’s first name was “Mrs.” and that she lived in the school. (Between you and me, I’m pretty sure she slept in the reading nook and dined on feasts of chocolate milk and spaghetti with the other teachers after the school buses took the students home.) I simply couldn’t imagine that my teacher was anything other than my teacher.

Now, I find myself wondering whether I see myself in the same way and whether, as social workers, we’re ever “just social workers.” For example, today my morning felt hectic due to a dog who wanted more attention than I had time to give and having to wait a longer time for the shared bathroom than I’d planned into my morning schedule. When I came into the office, it wasn’t easy to suddenly drop that rushed feeling and become the calm social worker I’m expected to be. It makes me wonder how many moms and grandpas and partners and pet-owners there are among us Social Workers and how often we all carry our morning baggage in with us, unbeknownst to those around us.

Maybe this is bigger than that though. I suddenly find myself reconsidering everyone around me… maybe “unfriendly-grocery-store-cashier” is also “single-mother-of-four-working-too-many-hours-and-sleeping-too-few.” Maybe “super-rude-customer-service-man-who-kept-me-on-hold-for-45-stinking-minutes” is also “wife-just-served-surprise-divorce-papers-this-morning” or “layoffs-mean-he-is-now-required-to-do-the-work-of-two-people-for-the-same-rate-of-pay-he’s-always-gotten.” What about our beliefs as social workers, activists, and helpers? Was Martin Luther King, Jr. ever “man-going-to-the-store-to-buy-milk” or was he always “activist-man-going-to-the-store-to-buy-milk?” Are we ever just parents, just partners/spouses, just friends, or just anything? Maybe the same innate traits that led us to become social workers emanate from us no matter what we’re doing. And, if this is true, are we ever truly able to put ourselves completely aside or are we always viewing our surroundings and clients through our own colored lenses?
There’s a quote I love, from a man I’ve never heard of (Delbert Stapley), “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” I think of it often, in all types of situations, and I find it applicable here. Perhaps we should all take a moment and figure out who we are, both to the world and to ourselves. I wonder if such introspection might make it easier to understand how others choose to approach us.

Until Next Week,
~ Wishes-she-could-just-stay-home-with-her-dog-sometimes/Wonders-why-work-can’t-start-at-noon/LGBTQI-activist/Former-midwesterner/Your-Social-Work-Blogger