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Money Stories: Moving Beyond a Life of Things

This week’s #MyMoneyStory comes from Jessica of It’s an incredibly powerful story about the painful process of coming to terms with the lies we’ve been told are true…and the sense of happiness and peace that follows.


I’m the first born of four to an immigrant mother and a Canadian born father. We lived in a decent sized home in the suburbs where my three siblings and I had our own bedrooms and it never felt crammed or small.

I think our neighbourhood would be considered upper-middle class, however, it didn’t seem like we were upper-middle class.

Our home was pretty empty. We had one couch in the living room, there was no furniture in our great room or the office, we had a dinning room table we never used, and our basement was unfinished.

We rarely brought friends over and if we did we would stay in our rooms. But it was fun having lots of siblings. We got along most of the time, probably because we all had our own space and a mutual understanding of our strange parents.

My dad worked at a factory his entire life. He is a very smart man, but he couldn’t finish university because he ran out of money. He, too, grew up with three other siblings but in a much smaller home. When General Motors came, it opened up a lot of employment opportunities and he got a job right away. It offered a decent pay and really great benefits, so he never left.

My mom moved to Canada to marry my dad in 1987. She was 26 and she never finished high school. She also had a large family, ten siblings in total! They worked hard in factories to try and support the family while living in Hong Kong, so I think when she found my dad she dreamed of a better life for herself in Canada.

She got a job soon after she moved here but it didn’t last because the factory shut down. She was unemployed for a while and finally got a job at my dad’s work, but was laid off soon after. She’s worked on and off most of her life and so she has never had job security.

I think because both my parents grew up poor they never felt financially secure.

It’s what motivated them to work hard and provide for us so we could live in a good neighbourhood with good schools. Amazingly, they paid for all of our university educations. I can’t thank them enough for that.

My mom always told us as long as we worked hard in school and got a good education we would get good jobs and be happy. She was pretty much right; we did all get good jobs after university, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I was happy. Happiness is not found in what your job is or how much you make.

Although we were extremely privileged to have school paid for, we never felt privileged growing up. If we wanted something my mom would tell us, “No, I don’t have any money”. I would worry we would have to sell our house because she always said we had no money. It scared me. We rarely got gifts.

I remember my brother didn’t even have underwear to wear because my mom said she couldn’t afford it.

But here’s the thing, we were not poor.

My parents pretty much maxed out their retirement savings and our education savings every year (in Canada we have what’s called a Registered Education Savings Plan that parents can contribute tax free until it is used for the child’s education), they always paid off their credit card, we had cable with all the channels and packages, and we were really well off if you looked at their bank statements.

My dad takes care of all the finances and he’s really good at saving. While mom just acted as a bank security guard, she never looked at their statements or paid the bills, but she guarded money. She assumed we never had money because she never had a steady job, no matter how much my dad told her she didn’t need to worry.

So I basically grew up tricked into thinking we were poor. How weird is that? Did that stop me from wanting things? Nope. My friends always had the nicest clothes, they went on family vacations, they had nicely furnished homes, and they always had the best gifts at Christmas.

It was hard to appreciate what we had when everyone around me had so much.

One day in elementary school, a girl asked me if my parents were poor because of the way I dressed. I was so embarrassed! I told myself at that young age as soon as I could start making money I would buy myself nice clothes and nice things and never feel ashamed again. I couldn’t understand why my parents wouldn’t buy things with their money. They never told me how they managed their money except for telling us that we had none.

Motivated to start working so young, I’ve been employed since I was 12. I had a paper route, then I was a hostess, a gymnastics teacher (I’m not a gymnast, I volunteered there and then somehow got a job), a hostess at three other restaurants, a deli clerk, a gift shop cashier, a cashier at a big box store, worked in more retail, was a server, a brand ambassador, and now I am a Fund Accountant. I would often work  three jobs at once.

I’ve been working for 16 years…but I have nothing to show for it because I spent every dollar and more.

I got a credit card as soon as I turned 18 and maxed it out shopping. Then I got another credit card and did the exact same thing again. I constantly had two maxed out cards all throughout university while my parents paid for my education. It makes me really upset when I think about it. I just never felt like I had enough. It felt like my credit card limits were limiting my ability to have more stuff. I tried to raise it multiple times to go shopping, of course without success (thankfully).

I became an accountant that sucks at money.

I can’t blame my parents for not teaching me how to be smart with money. They honestly did their best at raising four kids with a somewhat unsteady income and saving their money. I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her not to be obsessive with THINGS! There’s so much more to this life than stuff. Listen to your intuition and follow your heart.

Do not look for acceptance from the outside, look for it from within and accept yourself because you are enough.

You are not defined by what you own. You do not need validation from other people. Trust yourself and everything else in life will be just fine. If I only knew that I would become addicted to shopping and trapped by my debt. But I’m glad I know what I know now. I am glad that I am able to learn from my mistakes and now I can see a clearer, healthier financial future for myself. I take it day by day and live more presently by working on my goals one step at a time.

I had all this stuff that other people I looked up to had, that was supposed to make me happy, but I wasn’t. I had an education, I had a great job, I had nice clothes and a condo furnished with nice things. But why wasn’t I happy? Why did I owe so much money? Am I unhappy because of my spending?

Something had to change. I searched for ways to reduce my debt and increase savings which lead me to a community of personal finance bloggers.

Reading other peoples’ financial journeys was so inspiring. I learned about financial independence and financial freedom. I started my own money journal and learned a lot about myself. I learned what truly made me happy by looking from within. What makes me happy are great relationships with friends and family, spending time with loved ones, feeling compassion, love, and good health. These are things that money can’t buy.

My debt tied me down and my stuff was just adding stress to my life. I was setting myself up to be in debt forever, to have to work my entire life because I have to pay creditors, to not be able to spend as much time with people I love, and the uncertainty of what would happen if I lost my job was disturbing.

I was also upset that I was unable to buy a home or start my own family because I wasn’t financially secure.

So I started tracking my spending and created a budget for myself.

I started saving an emergency fund so I didn’t have to rely on my credit cards.

I cut out shopping completely, and I started investing more for retirement.

They were small steps, but they mattered.

I have come a long way since starting this journey to financial freedom and I only started a few months ago (!) I’m so thrilled that I have set myself up for the future and chose to stop living with the debt I created in the past.

I now chose to live in the present, while looking forward to the future and not letting the past tie me down.

I think a lot of people would be happier if they learned to not seek validation from the outside and found acceptance from within. I hope we can all learn from my money mistakes and if you take anything from this, start by finding what really makes you happy and then trust your intuition to guide you there.


Do you find happiness in things?

Money Mentality

The Power to Do Good (Even When it’s Hard)

It’s easy to see how money corrupts. From oil companies that destroy the planet to mega-million executives who exploit their workers in order to gain a bigger profit for themselves. There are endless stories of greed and pain.

And some of the stories are our own.

When my father unexpectedly cut me off in the middle of college, I learned firsthand that money can be used as a weapon.

In fact, I bet none of us would struggle to find instances of greed, fraud and destruction.

Unfortunately, it often feels more difficult to find acts of kindness.

In the face of economic injustice and destruction, it’s easy to feel powerless. In fact, it’s reassuring to feel like the problems are too big to be solved by a single person (a person like me or you) because then we are off the hook.

We are free to tune out and have other people deal with the mess. Throwing our hands up in despair while cinching our wallets in order to protect our own people is an understandable response.

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In fact, it’s been my response. After experiencing extreme hardship in college, I felt myself contract. After a taste of cruelty and poverty, my world shrunk. All that mattered was survival and the only person I felt I could trust was myself. Even after I got a full-time job and was safely middle class, I continued to hoard money and be stingy with others…and myself.

But that response—retreating into myself—is the easy way out. It’s easy cling to the past and replay the hardships we’ve endured on a never-ending loop.

It’s easy to care for the people we already love.

It’s easy to hold onto hate and fear.

It’s easy to retreat.

But it’s hard to move forward and let go of the past.

It’s hard to be generous with strangers.

It’s hard to have hope when there’s darkness.

It’s hard to forgive.

Those things are hard because they matter. Doing the hard work is how we create change.

And more importantly, it’s how we can reclaim money as a weapon for good instead of evil.

I signed up for the #GivingCards Project through the Rockstar Community Fund last month and I was surprised by what happened.

The task was simple: give away the $20 Visa gift card that was given to me (and the other participants).

But what resulted from the project was a complex inner journey that I’m slightly embarrassed to talk about.

We were asked to share what we did with the money in the forums, and this is what I wrote:

After some deliberating, I decided to use $5 to give a holiday card and Starbucks gift card to the women who cleans our building at work. She greets us every morning with a giant smile.

But on my way to work that morning, I passed a homeless man on the side of the road. He was snuggled with his dog and in that moment, I decided to do a u-turn and give him the card and gift card instead. When I handed it to him through the window, he got a huge smile on his face and said “God bless.”

While I waited at the red light, I watched him start to walk to the Starbucks on the corner. It’s funny how things work out. (I’m still planning to surprise the woman in our building with a gift card in the new year though!)

With the other $15, I bought a wool flannel to donate to our church’s clothing drive. The church is located across the street from a giant San Diego park that houses a large amount of homeless people. I donated the sweater on Christmas Eve.

It’s hard for me to talk about, but the truth is that I haven’t been as generous as I would have liked.  I lived uncomfortably close to the poverty line from 2013-2015 while finishing my college degree and I think that the feelings of fear, pain and scarcity continued to haunt me this year.

I still remember what it’s like to ashamedly take food from a food pantry and survive on pasta for months and become a shell of the person I was. Reconciling those experiences with my middle class childhood and current middle class adulthood are difficult, but the Giving Card reminded me that I don’t want to live in the past. I want to move into 2017 with generosity in my heart and help people who are experiencing hardships in whatever way I can. Thank you for the reminder, Rockstar <3


The Rockstar Community Fund is open to everyone who wants to be involved. From #GivingCards to the amazing #DebtDrop, there are SO MANY wonderful ways to do good this year and reclaim money as a weapon for good.

I hope to see you in the forums <3


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Do you think money is a weapon? Can it be used for good?

Spending Diaries, Women + Finances

Spending Diary: A Week in Orange County on a $57,000 Paralegal Salary

Crystal tracked her spending over the holidays (ekkk!) yet still managed to have a frugal, relaxing week. Beach runs, short workdays and time with family. What more can you ask for? Want to be part of the next Spending Diaries? Email me: (You can be anonymous!)


Name: Crystal Byrum

Age: 36

Occupation: Litigation Paralegal

Location: Orange County, CA

Annual Salary: $57,200 ($3,520 net a month)

Current monthly expenses: $2,266.15


A few of my financial goals for 2017 are:

  1. Max out my Roth IRA;
  2. Save 10% of my gross income in my employer’s 401(k); and
  3. Rebuild my emergency fund to $10,000.


Spending Diary for Sunday, December 18, 2016 to December 24, 2016


Sunday, December 18th


8:00 a.m.

Wake up. Sundays are the only days that I get to sleep in.


10:00 a.m.

Nick (the boyfriend) and I have breakfast at our favorite Jewish deli, Benjie’s. I buy a $30.00 gift certificate for my future father-in-law and his wife. ($30.00).


1:00 p.m.

Nick and I run errands. I buy Christmas gifts for my grams, dad and stepmom, and Nick’s stepsister and her boyfriend. ($63.88).


5:00 p.m.

Workout time! I do a new Zumba workout video I just got.


7:00 p.m.

I watch a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism.


9:00 p.m.

Lights out.


Monday, December 19th


5:45 a.m.

Wake up. I hate getting up early.


7:45 a.m.

Time for work. I send my niece and nephew $40 each for Christmas. ($80.00).


12:00 p.m.

Lunch time a/k/a quiet reading time in my car.


4:45 p.m.

Work time is done. Time for my daily phone call with Nick on my way home.


5:30 p.m.

I do another Zumba workout video.


6:30 p.m.

I watch TV and finish a book that I need to return to the library soon.


9:00 p.m.

Lights out.


Tuesday, December 20th


5:45 a.m.

Wake up.


7:45 a.m.

Time for work.


12:00 p.m.

Lunch/quiet reading time.


4:45 p.m.

Work time is done. Time for my daily phone call with Nick on my way home.


5:30 p.m.

I go for a run. I love the way I feel afterwards.


7:00 p.m.

I watch TV. There’s not much on.


9:00 p.m.

Lights out.


Wednesday, December 21st


5:15 a.m.

Wake up. I do my weight circuit workout. I’m proud of myself for working out this morning.


7:45 a.m.

Time for work.


10:30 a.m.

I do a one hour webinar on new changes to filing documents electronically with courts in California. I buy a sandwich from Lori’s Kitchen. ($6.00).


12:00 p.m.

Lunch/quiet reading time.


4:45 p.m.

Work time is done.


5:30 p.m.

Nick comes over and we go to dinner at a new restaurant in Huntington Beach. ($34.95). We get yogurt after dinner.


7:30 p.m.

Nick heads homes and I watch some TV before bed.


9:00 p.m.

Lights out.


Thursday, December 22nd


5:45 a.m.

Wake up.


7:45 a.m.

Time for work.


12:00 p.m.

Lunch/quiet reading time.


4:45 p.m.

Work time is done.


5:30 p.m.

I go for a run.


7:00 p.m.

Daily phone call with Nick.  After, I watch TV and do some reading.


9:00 p.m.

Lights out.


Friday, December 23rd


5:45 a.m.

Wake up. TGIF!


7:45 a.m.

Time for work. I hope we get off early.


12:00 p.m.

Lunch/quiet reading time.


2:30 p.m.

I get off work early! Yeah! I run some errands. I buy some last minute Christmas gifts for Nick’s mom and grandmother. ($53.60).


4:00 p.m.

Work out time. I do my weight circuit training.


6:00 p.m.

Friday night is laundry night. I relax and watch TV and do some reading.


9:30 p.m.

Lights out. I like to get up early on Saturday mornings to get gas and hit the grocery store before heading down to the beach to run.


Saturday, December 24th


6:00 a.m.

Wake up, get gas, and buy groceries. (Gas: $14.51 and groceries: $45.48 = $59.98).


7:00 a.m.

I hit the beach to run. I love doing my long runs early on Saturday mornings.


10:30 a.m.

I leave for Nick’s house for the weekend.


1:30 p.m.

I take a nap since I’ll be up late tonight.


5:00 p.m.

Christmas Eve dinner at Nick’s mom’s house.


10:00 p.m.

It’s time for the annual Christmas Eve get together at Uncle Alex’s house. I’ve been doing this for 20 years with my friend’s family.


1:30 a.m.

Bedtime finally!


Christmas Gifts: $227.48

Gas: $14.51

Groceries: $45.48

Eating Out: $46.95

Total Spending: $334.41


What I Learned:

This week was a little unusual in that I had to buy all my Christmas gifts which accounts for most of my spending this week. Normally, I don’t spend that much every week. One thing that helps control my spending is paying cash for things such as gas, groceries, eating out. etc. I’ve found that I spend less money paying for things with cash. Tracking my spending this week was helpful to show me what I spent my money on. Tracking my spending for a longer duration would be even more telling. I work to keep my expenses low so that I can save a good percentage of my income every month for things such as retirement.

Real Money

The Cost of Being Different

As someone who has lived in sunny Southern California for the past eight years, I consider myself a local. I completed my last two years of high school in the state, attended college in Los Angeles and all of my best friends are California natives. But in truth, I’ve lived everywhere. Before moving to the Golden State, I lived all around the world—Japan, Germany, Arizona and Idaho.

But there was one state that I’ll never forget: Alabama.

From the age of eleven to fourteen, I considered the deep south my home.

It’s a beautiful state with stunning greenery, gorgeous old homes and a close proximity to the white beaches of Florida. We lived in a tiny town and for the most part, I loved my time as a country belle. I rode four wheelers with friends on the weekend, hung out at the local pool and spent every Friday night at the movie theatre. I picked up a Southern drawl and learned how to entertain myself in a small town.

But if you peeked beneath the surface of my idyllic Southern life, there was a deep darkness that permeated the town.

LGBT kids were mercilessly teased in my high school, often ostracized by both students and teachers. Homophobic slurs were the norm and physical attacks weren’t uncommon in the hallways. White girls would become disowned by their parents if they dated an African American boy and racist comments infiltrated nearly every conversation.

At the time, I was a blonde haired white girl who had no idea I would one day find love with a same-sex partner.

But years later as I struggled to find the words to come out to my friends and family, I found myself remembering my time in Alabama and grappling with what it means to be different.

Things have changed a lot since my 2006 stint in the deep south. We elected an African American president, gay marriage became the law and millions of other small changes have occurred around the world. When I turn on the TV, I see a multitude of skin colors, sexual orientations and body types. But despite the forward motion, there still remains a price to pay for being different.

Racial slurs are once again normalized by the new President-elect and the Vice President-elect has a particularly deep hatred for LGBT people. Each step forward continues to be hard won and never guaranteed.

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And what most people don’t realize is that there is a literal price to pay as well.

Liberal, diverse cities like San Diego or Los Angeles come with a huge price tag and small, rural towns often feel (and actually are) unsafe and hostile places to live if you’re different.

In my beloved San Diego, California I pay $1500 for a one-bedroom apartment. It’s clean, safe and quiet, but it’s certainly not luxurious. In Wichita, Kansas the same one-bedroom apartment would run me $470. In Louisville, Kentucky, I would pay $750.

LGBT people live all around the country—some by choice and some because they can’t afford to move. Humans are incredibly adaptive and many people create their own havens no matter where they call home.

But at the end of the day, it’s difficult to quantify an experience—of being able to hold hands with the person you love without stares and jeers.

And that is where traditional personal finance advice falls short. There is no calculation that can determine how much is appropriate to pay for safety, acceptance or belonging. And there is no guarantee that your “investment” in such things will pay off.

I often find myself struggling to explain what it’s like to occupy the world as a person in a same-sex relationship.

The stares, the comments and the process of continually coming out—to colleagues, Lyft drivers, doctors and wedding venues—again and again and again are relentless. It’s a reality that I occupy but not one that I chose.

Most people can casually mention their partner at work: “My husband is picking me up today.” “My boyfriend works in that field too!” These small, daily occurrences aren’t given a second thought. But when you’re queer, those seemingly innocent statements are fraught with anxiety and rarely protected by the law: Will I get fired if I say I’m gay? Will they think I’m making a political statement by mentioning my partner?  The thoughts and worries circle around and around.

Sometimes, it’s easier to just keep quiet. 

Even though I write about money almost every single day, I still haven’t been able to quantify the price of being different. But what I do know is that it’s a price that is paid every single day, sometimes with money, but more often than not, it is paid through small acts of bravery and moments of fear.


Do you pay a price for being different?


Money Stories: Moving Beyond the Life You’re Dealt

Today we are kicking off the new #MyMoneyStory series with a powerful personal narrative from Femme of Hers is an inspiring story of perseverance and moving beyond the life she was dealt. 


I started writing about money over five years ago when I was broke, taking a hiatus from my low-paying job to focus on school, and very much pregnant.

At that point, my partner and I were living below the poverty line, but the pregnancy was a wakeup call.

We could not live on the incomes that high school degrees provided us with children, so I got myself back into the halls of scholarship.

I applied for grants and scholarships like my life depended on it. I found out that there is actually a ton of money out there that goes unclaimed. I was able to fund my education and even bring home a little excess to make up for my lack of a paycheck.

I also kicked myself for not knowing this earlier. I stopped going to college traditionally because I wasn’t willing to take on student loans. Because I didn’t have a degree, my earning capability was hindered. That was going to be a massive hit in the long term, even if my net worth was a lot higher than my peers at that specific moment in time. (It’s pretty easy to beat double digit negatives.)

Because they motivated me to get myself back to school, I really consider my children to be a boon to my financial situation rather than a hindrance.

Without my kids, I don’t know that I would have had the motivation that I needed to get myself back in the game and discover all that “free” college money.

Before they arrived, I really didn’t see a way out of my financial situation. I had lost almost all hope of things ever getting better. I was and always had been very responsible with the money I had. I carried no debt aside from a low-interest car loan that was almost paid off.

But I also had no financial safety net in the way of family support and couldn’t find a way to make a higher income. I couldn’t move back home while I went to get a heavily-financed degree—it just wasn’t an option with my family’s situation. I had to work to live, and had trouble affording my already low living expenses, nonetheless tuition.

With my kids, I was forced to hunker down and figure out a way to make it all work.

Five years later, I’m happy to report that our income has grown significantly, making us solidly middle-class. For a while, I worked in the field I studied. Then there was a regional work shortage. As the newest employee, my hours experienced the largest cut.

In my back pocket, I had this hobby called blogging. I pulled in a little bit of money with it, but once I realized our income was going to experience some major growing pains, I went at it full force. I learned a bunch of ways to make my own site better and started contributing to other sites as a freelance writer. This now makes up the bulk of my income, and my old day job has turned into my side hustle.

Over the years, I’ve learned that your mindset and ability to adapt are paramount to improving your financial life.

Whether you’re ushering a new life into the world or facing job loss, life has a way of throwing you curveballs that you just can’t plan for.

Always be cultivating something on the side, whether it’s a skill or hobby or further education. You never know when it will come in handy.

But most importantly, never give up on yourself.

If I had cared about myself as much as I cared about this new lifeform that was growing inside of me, I would have found the programs, grants and scholarships I needed to turn my money situation around a lot sooner.

And if I hadn’t ever got pregnant?

My pocketbook doesn’t want to think about it.


Do you have a money story you want to tell? I’d love to share it! Email me: (You can be anonymous!)

Real Money, Women + Finances

2017: Year of Focus

Happy 2017, friends! Before launching straight into the new year, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the one that has passed.

I’m not super great at sharing my ~inner goals/thoughts ~ with the world but I wanted to give it a try this year.

Last year, my financial goals were simple: finish paying off my debt and figure out what the heck I want to do with my life.

Both were harder than expected and resulted in a lot of confusing and often painful twists. BUT I’m happy to report that I accomplished both. My debt is gone and I have a clear vision for what I want to do in my career. Woohoo!

Even though 2016 had some very low lows (ahem, POLITICS) I feel lucky to be able to say that it had some personal highs as well:

  1. I proposed to my partner of 4 years at Disneyland and as a result, became engaged to the love of my life.
  2. We adopted our sweet cat
  3. I became debt-free (!!)
  4. Alex and I spent a glorious summer week in South Carolina on the lake with my parents and I took two more trips to the south to visit my beautiful mom.
  5. We also spent a wonderful week in San Miguel, Mexico with Alex’s parents.
  6. I saw my little sister almost every single day and my older sister 10+ times <3
  7. I had countless adventures with my best friends, including camping in the desert, visiting wineries, hiking, river rafting, going to the mountains and hours of happily chatting with one another.
  8. I went on an epic weekend road trip with Alex and explored Joshua Tree, Salvation Mountain and the Salton Sea (if you want to have your mind blown, watch this documentary)
  9. THE. BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER. Alex and I hosted Christmas this year and having my entire family in our apartment was truly a dream come true.
  10. Not one, but TWO amazing engagement parties with our favorite people.
  11. Alex and I finally moved in together and created a home we love.

And because this is a money blog, I figured I should share some money highs as well:

  1. Paid off $14,000 of student loans (!!)
  2. Hit $11,000 in my retirement account
  3. Saved an average of 40-50% of my salary each and every month
  4. Used credit cards to get two free flights to Colorado, two free flights to San Francisco and a free hotel stay in Joshua Tree.
  5. After a lot of advocating on my own behalf and refusing to believe every colleague that told me it was impossible, I got a 10% raise at my full-time job (which is a minor miracle if you work for a non-profit like I do)

As I move into 2017, I’ve realized that I have A LOT of things that I want to accomplish.

Normally, I’m too embarrassed to list my goals anywhere outside of the pages of my journal, but here we go:


  1. Get accepted into my dream graduate program and finish the first term
  2. Get a literary agent (ekkkkkk!)


  1. Save $20,000 for graduate school
  2. Become more mindful with my spending AND the things I buy—more on this coming soon (!)


  1. Run a marathon
  2. Finish 36 weeks of BBG (here’s the link if you’re interested)


  1. Continue to love, cherish and spend quality time with my family, fiancee (!) and best friends while putting energy into new friendships as well.
  2. Marry Alex (!!!!) Not really a goal, but you know I had to add it, hah.


  1. FINALLY FINISH THE ARTIST’S WAY. I’m obsessed with this program but have never done it all the way through. Ready to finally bust it out.


That pretty much sums my hopes and plans for 2017. Because there is so much that I’m hoping to accomplish, I decided that my word this is year is “Focus.”  I feel ready in a way I’ve never felt before.

Do you have a word or goal? Or do you plan to opt out of the ~New Year Mania~  and simply live? Let me know!