Ten Money Questions for Susan Ryan-Vollmar
If you live in the Northeast then it’s likely you are familiar with Bay Windows. Susan Ryan-Vollmar is editor-in-chief of New England’s largest LGBT publication and oversees the award-winning coverage of topics near and dear to our community. I turned the tables and asked this journalist a few questions about making money, making babies and juggling finances throughout matrimony.
1. You have been quoted as saying that, “Outside of my children, I have two obsessions: gay politics and city politics.” What role does money play in politics and specifically in the advancement of gay political causes?
Money plays a huge role. It’s how advocacy groups can finance advertising campaigns and grassroots political organizing and it’s how politicians get elected. Here in Massachusetts , money ” and lots of it ” has been used by MassEquality (the lead organization lobbying for marriage equality) to combat efforts by right-wingers (yes, even Massachusetts has a few) to amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.
In two years, MassEquality alone has contributed more than $1 million to political candidates who support equal marriage rights. And it’s paid off: since 2004, when the Goodridge ruling (the case that found that lesbian and gay couples have a right to marry) was issued, not a single state lawmaker who supports marriage equality has been voted out of office. Several anti-equality candidates, on the other hand, have lost their seats.
2. What is your most significant memory about money?
Not having enough of it.
3. I read that in the past you taught journalism at Northeastern University. Young graduates, specifically those pursuing careers in writing, typically struggle with earning a living at some point during their career. Did you ever feel like a starving artist? Is there truth to the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow?”
I definitely felt like a starving artist (actually, I didn’t feel like much of an artist, but the “starving” part fit) when I tried to live on the $16,500 annual salary I was offered for my first full-time job in journalism. I had just earned a master’s degree in print journalism from Boston University for which I had borrowed $20,000 to pay the tuition. Through the years, though, I have pursued interesting work and the money has followed. I’ve definitely put in a lot of hard work that’s paid off, but I also feel incredibly lucky.
4. What is your worst habit around finances?
I spend money I don’t have. The bills (usually) get fully paid off with our tax refunds.
5. Prior to becoming the editor-in-chief of Bay Windows, you stayed home with your two young daughters while writing part-time. How important is it for stay-at-home parents to keep one foot in the adult/work world?
I think that depends entirely on the person. I’ve never been happier than when I was home with my kids. The job I left was difficult in many ways, not least of which were the long hours. Until our second daughter was born, our first was in daycare full time and it broke my heart to have to go back to work. Being able to get legally married gave my partner and I the financial security (not to mention the family health insurance) that we needed in order for me to stay home with both girls. (Our second daughter was born just five days before gay couples started marrying in Massachusetts .)
The publishers of Bay Windows made an attractive offer for me write part-time that I would have been nuts to turn down ” especially given that the family plan always included me going back to work full-time. I actually found it pretty hard to do the part-time writing with the full-time stay-at-home parenting. But that part-time gig lead to the full-time job I have now.
6. Do you and your partner see eye-to-eye on money?
We do. We have our differences, but they’re minor. The worst thing we do as a couple is we convince ourselves that it’s okay to buy things that are probably a wee bit extravagant for us. Prime example would be our fully loaded 2005 Honda Odyssey (in our defense, we bought it used).
7. Which is more important: how much you make or how you spend it?
It’s easy to say that the most important thing is how you spend your money, but when you’re making $16,500 and you live in Boston , it really doesn’t matter how you spend your money ” it isn’t going to be enough. Once you get above a certain threshold, though, and I won’t put a dollar amount on it because it’s different for everyone, how you spend your money becomes extremely important. Do you spend an extra $2000 on a big screen television? Or do you buy some stock in your Roth IRA?
8. You once left a comment on my blog that the baby-making process can take much longer than planned and often becomes an extremely stressful time for couples. As a mother of two girls, what advice would you give to lesbian couples trying to have a baby?
I would say the most important thing is to keep talking with one another about what you’re experiencing. Actually, there are two most important things. You have to talk honestly and you have to listen to your partner. It may sound trite, but it’s true. My partner and I have been together now for 22 years. We met during our freshman year in college and went through the most ridiculously difficult, years-long coming out process before we finally got our acts together.
I always believed that surviving the start of our relationship would be our biggest test as a couple. But it wasn’t even close. Dealing with infertility proved to be 1000 times more difficult. You are two individuals going through entirely different things ” one person may be getting hormone shots to increase the likelihood of getting pregnant and the other is dealing with the hormone-addled lunatic. You’re spending a lot of money. You may also be borrowing a lot of money. You don’t know if it’s going to work. You may start to hate to be around other people who have babies because it’s too painful.
It’s not easy. But the kicker is once you finally get a baby. That makes the whole infertility thing look like a cakewalk. It’s a ton of stress and you *must* take care of your relationship or you *will* end up divorced. Gee, I’m making this whole journey-to-parenthood thing sound great, aren’t I?
9. A few years ago, you wrote a review at Fool.com about three personal finance books you read on a ski holiday: Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert T. Kiyosaki; The Richest Man in Babylon, by George S. Clason; and The Joys of Not Working by Ernie J. Zelinski. Fast forward to present day: can you cite a best lesson learned… one that still impacts your life today?
The best thing I’ve ever learned about money was simply learning how to manage it. Both my partner and I grew up with very little money. Both our mothers received public assistance. And a funny thing happens if you grow up without money, you never really learn how to manage it. Some people like, um, me, need to learn not to spend more than you make (you can see from an answer above that I’m still working on that one). It sounds silly, but just teaching myself Money 101 ” tracking expenses, saving, investing ” from a bunch of books changed my life.
10. Does money buy happiness?
If you’re miserable to begin with, I don’t think money can buy happiness. But if you’re relatively content, if you’re happy with who you are and happy with your family, money can make things much more comfortable.
More about Susan Ryan-Vollmar
Susan Ryan-Vollmar is the editor of Bay Windows, New England’s largest LGBT publication, and the editor of the South End News, a community newsweekly covering the South End neighborhood of Boston. Prior to that, she was the news editor of the Boston Phoenix, one of the country’s leading alternative newspapers. There, she edited coverage of the paper’s groundbreaking work on the clergy sex abuse scandal of the Boston archdiocese as well as its coverage of the historic 2003 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court finding that same-sex couples have a right to wed.
She lives in Arlington , Massachusetts with her wife, who is a public schools administrator, and their two daughters. She and her wife met as college students in 1983 and were legally married in May, 2004, eight days after the birth of their second child.
Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.