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If you had to choose

Money Mentality, Real Money

If You Had to Choose

We all have different money situations.

Some have more. Some have less.

But there’s one thing we all have in common: a finite amount.

When it comes to money, there are so many options. Whether it’s saving for retirement, spending it all on a vacation or buying the new car tires you’ve been avoiding, there’s an endless array of ways to spend your hard earned cash.

But you have to choose. Each and every day we make choices about where our money goes and how it is spent.

Choices are made, one dollar at a time.

We’ve been told that we can have it all. The career, the family, the car, the house, the vacations. The list is endless. It’s the American Dream, packaged and sold in thousands of different forms.

But the Dream is a lie. You can’t have it all.

If you’re part of the 99%, you have to choose.

Will you buy a plane ticket to visit your family or a new car? Will you take the promotion that comes with 30% more pay (and 30% more hours) or will you stay where you are and spend the extra time with your family?

Sometimes we feel like we have no choice. And that’s intentional. The barrage of information, commercials and pitches are intentionally designed to make us feel confused and stuck.

Of course I can’t decline the promotion. We need the money.

My car is a necessity. I’ll visit my parents next year.

The choices start to feel less like choices and more like facts. “I can’t afford it,” becomes less of an excuse and more of a belief.

So life happens. Without love and attention, partners become strangers. Without exercise, bodies grow weak. Without noticing, parents become elderly.

In order to choose, we have to take a break.

We have to step off the treadmill of life and stop sprinting.

It feels difficult, but there are some easy ways to get started:

  • Take in the view from your apartment balcony. Step outside into your backyard. Ground yourself in the moment and take a deep breath.
  • Dust off your journal and ask yourself some hard questions: What do I truly value?
  • Pretend that you’ve already lived once and this your redemption round. You did it wrong the first time. What will you do differently now?
  • Go on a long walk near your favorite body of water and leave your headphones at home.

Once you’ve done one (or all) of the above, it’s time to make your list.

Here’s mine:

  1. Family

  2. Health + Safety

  3. Friends

  4. Meaningful work

  5. Adventure

 

 

This list is the roadmap to your finances. It’s your guiding light when things feel hard and money feels tight.

Hold tight to your list and make sure your spending aligns with what you’ve chosen.

Because the truth is that you can afford it.

But you have to choose.

What will you choose?

Uncategorized

You Are More Than What You Earn, or Why I’m Choosing a Career I Love

When I landed my job in digital marketing at a local university, it was a dream come true. I got the offer via phone call exactly one week after graduating from university and I was thrilled. The role was perfect for me—digital strategy with lots of writing—and the salary was higher than I had imagined. After splurging on a dinner out, surprising my mom with a new MacBook (love you, Mom!) and treating my better half to a weekend at the Disney Resort, I buckled down and started paying off my student loans.

Less than a year later, I was debt free and I felt….miserable.

I expected to be deliriously happy, but instead, I felt defeated and sad. In many ways, paying off my debt was a life changing moment for me, but not in the way I expected.

It was the moment that I truly understood that money wasn’t the answer. For the first time in years, I was financially stable and debt free. It was a time in my life when I should have been able to take a deep breath and truly relax. But even though I was no longer living on less than $15,000 in one of the nation’s most expensive cities, I still felt poor and terrified.

I was trapped in a world of scarcity.

$1,000 in the bank wasn’t enough to make me feel safe, but neither was $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000. No amount of money was big enough to rescue me from my feelings of fear.

I went back to therapy. I journaled. I allowed myself to spend money. I went on long runs. I worked through my feelings of guilt and fear. I cried a lot, but I kept going.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that I wouldn’t allow money to define me. For so many years, my lack of money defined my existence. Could I afford to spend $1 on dinner? Would I be able to work another 15 hour day so I could pay rent?

But once I was earning money at my full-time job, the obsession didn’t end.

The circumstances had changed—I had more than enough money—but my fear-based spending did not. Enough was never enough and even more heartbreaking, I felt like I was never enough.

I no longer think that.

I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I decided that I was enough, and that one small shift has changed everything.

One of the biggest things it’s changed? My career path.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be embarking on an entirely new career as a high school English teacher. After a lot of soul-searching, I feel confident that this is exactly where I am meant to be right now and I am SO EXCITED.

For the next 8 months, I’ll be a full-time student and student teacher. I’ll be working in the classroom with a guide teacher and 30 teenagers, all of whom will help decide the future of our world. I’m excited to play a small part in the people they choose to become.

I feel excited. I feel ready. And most importantly, I feel at peace. I feel at peace with my money and my career and all of the decisions I’ve made to get to this point.

But the funny thing about feeling at peace is that other people, who have not yet arrived at a the same destination, have strong reactions.

When I was at FinCon last year (a huge financial conference), I was in the beginning stages of planning for this career shift. I found myself in a car full of early retirement bloggers and one of them asked what I do for work.

I answered that I work in digital marketing. Heads started to nod and someone sagely replied, “There’s a lot of money to be earned in digital marketing.” I laughed in response, “I’m actually working towards becoming a high school teacher.” The car filled with silence. Someone finally replied with pity in their voice, “Oh, there’s no money in that.”

I’ll never forget that moment because in that instance, I saw my previous self reflected back to me.

For that person, money was the beginning, the middle and the end.

It was the sole aspect to consider when making a decision and the only element that mattered when it came to big choices like how to use our one lifetime. My obsession with money took a different form than his, but it was similar nonetheless.

Instead of responding, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me. I felt sad for the younger version of myself who felt so fearful about not having enough that she made herself sick. But I also felt sad for this man and the ways in which he had clearly limited his own life and happiness.

As for me, I’m glad to be free.

Extreme Savings, Money Mentality

Your Money is Bigger Than You

The following blog post is part of The Road to Financial Wellness blog tour. The Road to Financial Wellness is a three-month, grassroots campaign promoting financial empowerment on a national level and encourages people to pursue their dream lifestyle. Find out more about local events near you and come see me at the stop in San Diego!

 

I always considered myself to be a left-brained humanitarian, interested in changing the world through vague ideas and niceness. Even though I never knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up, I knew that I wanted to do good in the world. (See what I mean about vague ideas?)

My plans for doing good varied from charity work abroad to teaching and becoming a chef (??) to working as a therapist. I had a huge drive to help people but felt utterly confused about how to harness my desire to serve others because I didn’t really agree with the systems that existed.

Around that time, I stumbled across a quote that perfectly articulated my frustrations:

“ ‘Normal’ is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.
— Ellen Goodman

Shortly after reading the quote, my sister linked me to an article: Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed.

In the article, David Cain dives into the ways in which we have been programmed to live a certain kind of life—the very life I never wanted. Work, spend, consume and repeat until you die.

He continues on to explain that as people who live in a developed, “first world” country, we are programmed to be mindless consumers. The entire pre-determined structure of our lives (9-5 until 65) pushes us towards consumption and waste because we have no spare time. Regardless of our salaries, we are poor when it comes to time. By the end of an eight-hour day in the office, we are so emotionally and physically tired that we are happy to spend money to ease our pain.

So we do. We spend the money and the cycle continues.

Some people are okay with this structure, others whole-heartedly embrace it and certain people don’t ever realize that it even exists.

But there’s a fourth group as well: the rebels.

People rebel in all sorts of ways: starting businesses, early retirement, freelancing, tiny living, going off the grid and “semi” retirement.

I’m still not sure which path I will choose (or if I’ll choose something else altogether).

But there is one thing I know with certainty: the quickest way to create the change I crave is to align my spending with my values.

As we enter an era of rapid climate change and the next mass extinction, I know that I want to part of the solution and not, you know, contributing to the demise of our planet. How I spend will be one of the biggest ways I can do that.

That doesn’t mean I’ll never end a long day with Costco pizza, Netflix and wine (yum) but it does mean that I’m trying to be more mindful about how I spend and consume.

How we spend (or don’t) spend our money is directly related to our moral beliefs and our hope (or lack thereof) for a better future.

In other words, your money is bigger than you.

Your money, and how you spend it, is a direct reflection of you and the impact you will have on the world.

When I read that article as a seventeen year old, I realized that money is a big freaking deal, but not for the reasons I had previously thought.

Money Mentality

Stop Working Hard: Choose “The Easy Way”

Like most eighteen year-olds, I struggled with my career ambitions and my ideas ran the gamut: high school teacher, environmental scientist, makeup artist. So it was a relief when I finally chose an occupation—writer.

At first I was excited, but that was quickly replaced with confusion: how do I become a “writer”? To make matters worse, I was constantly reminded that the field was “extremely competitive” and the pay was crap. (Thanks, Professor!)

With typical teenage optimism, I ignored the negativity and pushed forward towards my dream. I applied for internships with major magazines and sent letters to every publishing house, asking for the chance to shadow an editor. I crossed my fingers and waited for the responses to trickle in.

Finally, the emails came and they were all the same: No.

Every single one rejected me.

The rejections stung and I was plagued with doubt, “God, my writing must suck if they all denied me. Should I become a teacher instead?

But then I did something powerful. I decided to get strategic.

Yes, it was true that Seventeen Magazine and Harpers Collins denied my application, but luckily, there were thousands of other magazines in the world.

Two weeks later, I was offered a weeklong internship with DIVA Magazine in London, UK. As the United Kingdom’s #1 LGBT magazine, DIVA offered me a unique opportunity: the chance to be a big fish in a small pond.

I knew that competition for the internship was almost non-existent, especially compared to the number of applicants at publications like Seventeen or Cosmopolitan. But even beyond that, I strategically chose DIVA because it provided three crucial things:

 

1. The opportunity to be published in an international magazine

As any writer will tell you, getting published with an established brand for the first time is difficult. DIVA’s job description explicitly stated that I would have the opportunity to write for the website and possibly be published in the magazine as well. I walked away from the internship with 8 website bylines and 2 feature stories in the print magazine.

DivaMag

 

2. Short duration

The internship length ensured that I would stay focused and accomplish my publishing goals in a short amount of time. It also freed up the rest of my summer to pursue other jobs and opportunities. (My resume does not disclose the length of the position and I never offer to clarify.)

 

3. International connections and bragging rights

After the internship, my resume boasted international work experience. Future internship coordinators were impressed and my next editor explicitly stated that my experience at DIVA was why he hired me. To this day, my internship at DIVA is listed on my resume.

 

By strategically taking The Easy Way, I was able to reap exponential rewards while exerting less than half the effort that would have been required at other internships. It’s a result I’ve aimed to replicate in every area of my life.

Tim Ferris explains the concept of The Easy Way in his book,  The Four-Hour Workweek. By choosing the “easy way,” Ferris became a world-class kickboxing champion in less than a month:

 

“I won the gold medal at the Chinese Kickboxing National Championships. It wasn’t because I was good at punching and kicking. God forbid. That seemed a bit dangerous, considering I did it on a dare and had four weeks of preparation. Besides, I have a watermelon head–it’s a big target.

I won by reading the rules and looking for loopholes, of which there were two…

The result? I won all my matches by technical knock-out and went home national champion, something 99% of those with 5-10 years of experience had been unable to do.”

 

In our society, “hard” work and busy-ness are worn as shiny badges of honor. But the truth is that your time is the most precious commodity you have.

Time is more important than anything else because we have a finite amount. As a result, it’s important to reach your goals and accomplish your dreams while using as little of your time as possible.

In fact, this is the underlying belief that fuels the desire for passive income or investments. By trading time for money, you are instantly poorer in the world’s most precious commodity: time.  

Yes, hard work is important in the sense that it’s critical to deliver phenomenal results. In fact, I worked my butt off during my week at DIVA. I arrived early, left late and never took lunch. When an editor asked me to write something, I delivered it within the next two hours and also included a list of ideas for future articles.

 Working for one week instead of two months allowed more time for this...

Working for one week instead of two months allowed more time for this…

 

But I only did this for one week. I didn’t waste two months fetching coffee for executives who didn’t know my name. I busted my butt for a grand total of 40 hours and was rewarded with phenomenal results because I knew my goals (a full-time writing job after graduation—accomplished!) and created a plan that would allow me to achieve it while exerting the least amount of effort and wasting the least amount of time.

We have been taught to never admit to taking the easy path, and honestly, that’s absurd. You have been given a limited amount of time, resources and energy, so it only makes sense to use them sparingly while you relentlessly pursue your dreams.

The same is true for money.

Saving half of my income requires minimal effort because I automate my spending. Each month, $1,100 leaves my account before I ever see it. I don’t have to agonize over every purchase or worry whether or not I’ll be able to pay $1,000 towards my loans that month. Instead, I kick back, relax and spend my remaining money as I see fit—guilt free.

(Sometimes there’s even enough leftover for a trip to Disneyland…)

 Sometimes, there's even enough leftover for a trip to Disneyland! (Perks of living in Southern California)

It makes sense to take The Easy Way and automate your savings. In the same way it would have been pointless for me to work a two month unpaid internship that would have yielded the same results as a weeklong internship, it’s pointless to torture yourself over whether or not you’ll have enough money left for saving at the end of the month.

By taking The Easy Way, your life becomes infinitely better.

 

Luckily, The Easy Way is applicable to everything:

 

  1. Salary Raise: If you’re gunning for a raise at work, ONLY focus on meaningful projects that solve a major company issue. Small, administrative tasks will never set you apart as a critical team member. Instead, solve a major problem, save the company money and establish yourself as an expert.

 

  1. Health: Intense cardio for 30 minutes a day will keep you healthy, toned and strong. There’s no need to buy expensive equipment or invest hours at the gym. All you need is 30 minutes and a pair of running shoes.

 

  1. Interior Design: Want to create a beautiful home without breaking the bank or DIY-ing for an entire weekend? Hang curtains. For a total of $30, your home will receive an instant facelift and it will only require 20 minutes, a pair of Command Strips and a set of curtains.

 

  1. College Admissions: If you’re interested in attending a top university and studying a subject that is impacted or super competitive, apply as a less competitive major and change courses once you are accepted. I successfully accomplished this by applying as a Gender Studies major at UCLA and then switching to English once I was accepted.

 

IMG_2711

Walking across the stage at UCLA and getting my BA in English Literature! 

 

  1. Relationships: If you feel like you’re distant from your friends, family or partner commit yourself to an intensive yet short amount of quality time. 20 minutes of uninterrupted time with someone you love will instantly improve your connection. You don’t need to plan an entire day or commit yourself to a weekend “getaway.” Instead, commit to an uninterrupted, distraction-free conversation with a person you love.

 

Establish your goals, determine how to achieve them while exerting minimal effort and kick up your feet as you watch yourself accomplish amazing things.

 

What else can be hacked with The Easy Way?” Have you ever taken the “easy” way?

Extreme Savings

Is Your Car Making You Poor? 8 Alternatives That Won’t Cost You Your Sanity

It’s been six months since I sold my car. The registration tags were expired, there was a gas leak and the air conditioning hadn’t worked for years. As I walked away from my VW Cabrio six months ago, I felt surprisingly free, but also scared. There were no more unexpected $500 repairs or $70 monthly insurance payments. But mindless errands and simple drives to my friends’ houses had ended as well. Instead, I had entered a new frontier: car-free living.

On average, Americans spend $8,698 per year on their cars. This year, my transportation costs will ring in at $900. That number includes 24 bus trips to Los Angeles from San Diego, the occasional Uber ride, three months of daily bus transportation to work and pitching for gas with friends and family.

In other words, my $900 a year ensures that I have a shockingly mobile life while saving $7,798. In 10 years, I’ll be $77,980 richer than my car-owning friends. My net worth will be nearly six figures higher simply because I do not own a car. Sure, it can be annoying to ride the bus home or bike massive hills on my commute to work. But the payoff of saving nearly $8,000 is so worth it.

But even beyond the savings, my car-free life has helped me become a more competent and confident person. I change buses with ease, bike past freeway entrances without fear and know that I am able to get myself anywhere I need to go without the assistance of a personal vehicle. It wasn’t until I ditched my car that I realized exactly how dependent on it I had become. At this point in my life, car ownership is not a priority.

When I first became car free, I thought riding the bus or biking were my only options. Although both have become staples in my transportation arsenal, they only comprise a small percentage of the modes of transportation I use. Whether you want to ditch your car altogether or simply cut down on usage to save some cash, the following alternatives will help you achieve your goals and save large sums of cash without going insane.

 

1. Biking

It can be physically demanding and slightly scary when you first begin, but it is the ultimate form of transportation for one reason alone: It’s free. Once you buy your bike, you never have to spend again.

When I bought my bike, I had no idea what I was looking for. After researching bikes for hours and thoroughly overwhelming myself, I decided to just take the plunge and do it. Two days later, I bought my first bike on Craigslist for $100.

Bike

My $100 wonder bike!

I started with a cheap bike because I wasn’t sure if I would like it. If you’re on the fence about biking, do not spend large sums of money on your first bike. Shop on Craigslist and aim to spend between $100 and $200. Once you decide you enjoy biking and have plans to continue, feel free to opt for a more expensive bike with a better set-up and re-sell your first bike back to a Craigslist beginner. For first-timers, 10-20 speeds will do.

The key to biking is simple: Just do it. Stay on the right side of the road, always use hand signals when you make a turn, wear a helmet no matter what and be prepared to sweat on hills. If you’re worried about getting lost, load Google Maps on your phone (choose the bike option) and put on your headphones. You’ll be guided every step of the way.

 

2. Ride Sharing

It may sound absurd, but I’m so grateful to live in a time when ride sharing services like Uber exist. Although I don’t use ride sharing apps that often, they provide me excellent peace of mind. No matter what happens or where I need to be, I know that I always have Uber as a back up. A personalizes pick-up is always 5 minutes away, and that’s a beautiful thing.

If you’re new to ride sharing apps like Uber, I cannot overstate how much they ease the transition from owning a car to becoming car-free. Even better, they offer excellent deals for first time users. If you’ve never used the apps before, I highly recommend downloading all of them and getting as many free rides as possible.

Uber: Uber’s services are wonderful. I’ve used Uber to go to appointments, meet friends and even move into a new apartment. Their customer service is excellent as well. A few months ago, I emailed to complain about a driver who was rude to me and they refunded me the entire ride within hours.

Lyft: Like Uber, Lyft is awesome. If you’re worried about safety, they tend to screen their drivers a bit more and I’ve even had female drivers (which is awesome, but relatively rare in ride sharing).

Sidecar: Sidecar is great because it lets you know the price of your ride before you get in the car. With the other apps, you get an “estimate” but depending on traffic (and the driver’s sense of direction…) it can become more expensive pretty quickly.

 

3. Public Transportation 

Growing up in American suburbs, public transportation was practically unheard of. When I was 19, I studied abroad in London and everything changed. I learned to navigate the Tube, read bus maps and jet to new cities on trains. But above all, I learned that public transportation is phenomenal. California’s public transportation system isn’t nearly as sophisticated as London’s, but it still gets the job done. Don’t discount the efficiency (and cheapness) of a good old-fashioned bus ride.

 

 Sunset views from the bus!

Sunset views from the bus!

 

4. Greyhounds

Two months ago I took my first Greyhound bus. I was prepared for questionable activities, loud passengers and gross smells. Instead, I was greeted with massive leather seats, outlets to charge my phone and silence. Greyhound buses are phenomenal and massively underrated. If you need to travel to a neighboring city, try a Greyhound. My round-trip journey from San Diego to Los Angeles costs $30, the same price I would pay for gas alone.

 

5. Car Sharing Companies

Zipcar and Car 2 Go are car sharing in its purest form. For ZipCar, the premise is simple. You pay a monthly membership fee of $7 and are given a Zipcard. When you’re ready to drive, you hop online (or on your phone) to find the car and location you want. After that, you go to the car, swipe your Zipcard and you’re good to go. There’s an hourly fee of $8 or a daily fee of $70. For short errands or quick trips, Zipcar is perfect.

The only downside to Zipcar is that you have to return the car to the location you got it from. There are rumors that they’re piloting a new system where you can return the ZipCar to any location, but for now it must be returned to the same place. For me, it’s super simple because I work at a university who has partnered with Zipcar, so three of the cars are permanently parked across the street from my office.

Car 2 Go is similar to Zipcar, but there are different kinds of restrictions. (And the cars are extra small!) With Car 2 Go, you can take the car anywhere and pay $0.41 per minute. (They have a significant discount for the first hour though.)

You can return the car anywhere you want but it must be within the Car 2 Go “city limits.” Because the city limits are defined by Car 2 Go, they typically include touristy parts of the city and might not include other parts. For San Diego, this means that I can’t park the Car 2 Go car near my job. It’s considered outside of the “city limits” even though it’s well within San Diego itself.

The best thing about Car 2 Go is that you can park it anywhere that is legal and you don’t have to pay for parking meters. Also, once you park the car, you stop being charged. This is great if you’re running errands or driving to a friend’s house. There’s no guarantee that someone else won’t snag the car while you’re in the store, but in my experience, the cars tend to stay put for a significant amount of time.

 

 

My family and friends enjoy teasing me for not owning a car, and although they’re joking, the truth is that it’s a major lifestyle adjustment. There are days I wish that I had a car. (Especially the day I got caught in the pouring rain on my bike ride to work and had to be rescued by my sister.) But ultimately, a car is not a priority right now. Aggressively paying off my loans, living in a beautiful apartment and traveling to see family are infinitely more important to me than the car ownership at this point in my life. (And if your priorities are different than mine, that’s okay too!) By utilizing the plethora of transportation options available to me, I manage to save $7,798 a year without sacrificing my sanity.

 

Would you ever sell your car to save $8,000 a year?

Money Mentality

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

“When the dog bites, when the bee stings

When I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don’t feel so bad”

– The Sound of Music

When I was eight years old, my family and I went on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, Austria. I had seen the movie at least twenty times and was so excited and it was just as magical in person. The mountains were breathtaking and the landscape felt so familiar that it seemed like the Von Trapp children were about to jump down from their perch in the trees that lined the street.

At the time, I didn’t understand a lot of the movie and definitely didn’t understand the historical context of World War II. But I did know what it was like to be scared and I adored the song about “raindrops on roses and bright colored ribbons.”

As an eight-year old, I vowed in my journal that I would “always be brave” and even when “I don’t feel brave, I will try to remember my favorite things.”

As I got older, my list of favorites evolved. My American Girl doll was replaced by tetherball which was eventually replaced with running.

In times of darkness or fear, I try to remember my list. Unlike last week’s list, The Sound of Music list is a list about the little things—the things that we often overlook as we look instead towards the future and wring our hands in fear.

This list is a celebration of the present. It’s a reminder to stop, breathe and soak in the small moments that ultimately come together to create our lives. Many of the things on my list are free. Some of the things cost a small amount of money and others are things I consider a splurge. But they all have one thing in common: they make me undeniably joyful.

 

  1. Swimming laps
  2. Reading outside
  3. Beach days
  4. Boogie boarding in the ocean
  5. Wooden roller coasters
  6. Morning runs
  7. Candles
  8. The first cup of coffee of the day
  9. Hiking
  10. Baking
  11. Fluffy blankets
  12. Twinkle lights
  13. The dog park
  14. The library
  15. Disney movies
  16. Modern art museums
  17. Playing basketball
  18. Bike rides on the boardwalk
  19. Sunset walks
  20. Musicals
  21. Massages
  22. Fresh lattes
  23. Scrapbooking
  24. Writing
  25. Taize services

 

What’s on your list?