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Extreme Savings, Money Mentality

The Ultimate Guide to Financial Liberation

When I decided to get serious about personal finance (and paying off my student loans), I knew that I had A LOT to learn. Like anything else in life, money management is a skill that needs to be learned, practiced and continually refreshed. It definitely helped that I was already interested in money, but I still had a lot of growth ahead of me. And honestly, I’m still learning, making mistakes and trying again. It’s a ~process~.

But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that I’m making progress.

I know the difference between an IRA and a 401(k), how income tax brackets work (lol, learned that the hard way), and how my emotions will always play a role in my finances (this may or may not be true for you).

I’ve learned by reading, researching, listening to podcasts and asking questions. So I wanted to take a moment to outline all of the resources that have helped me learn and grow. I hope they can help you too.

 

Investing

Investing was definitely the topic that confused me the most. I’m pretty risk averse and my knowledge about the stock market, index funds, etc. was essentially 0. These articles and resources have helped me tremendously.

1. I Don’t Know How to Invest and I’m Afraid of Making Expensive Mistakes by Afford Anything

This is the ultimate article on investing for beginners (like me). It’s long, it’s thorough and it’s ridiculously easy to understand. After you’re done reading, be sure to bookmark it on your computer. If you’re anything like me, you’ll come back to it multiple times.

2. How to Make Money in the Stock Market by Mr. Money Mustache

Short, sweet and to the point. The last paragraph has explicit directions for the index fund that he recommends.

3. Stock Series by J. L. Collins

Comprehensive, extensive and useful. The series will answer any question you’ve ever had, and probably some you didn’t even know you were wondering.

4. Compound Interest Calculator

The number one thing that has made me excited and ready to invest is entering numbers in this calculator. Watching compound interest do its thing is thrilling and incredibly motivating.

 

Saving and Money Mentality

If there’s one thing I learned about money during my self-education, it’s that saving is irrevocably intertwined with mentality. These are the resources that have helped me become a better saver, literally and mentally.

1. Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed by Raptitude

I’ve mentioned this article before, but it should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in creating change, but especially for people who want to save more money.

2. Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes

This book is AMAZING. Shannon unpacks our consumer culture in a completely unique way. She looks at consumption, waste and finances through the lens of the home, and she does so from a feminist perspective (YESSSS). Nothing I write will do this book justice, but if you’ve ever felt like there is more to life than manicured lawns and spending money you don’t have, this is the book for you. You can get it used on Amazon for a few dollars, but I actually found my copy in the local library.

3. The True Cost

I’m still working on eliminating fast fashion from my wardrobe, but this documentary definitely helped me to prioritize the change. Currently available on Netflix, The True Cost is an inside look at the fashion industry and the harm we are causing the planet in our pursuit of being fashionable. It’s both eye-opening and heartbreaking.

4. Cait Flanders

Cait has been pursuing a simpler and more focused life for years. All of her posts are heartfelt and honest. Her writing serves as a constant inspiration for me to cut back, slow down and be grateful.

 

You’re Not Alone

As I’ve embarked on this journey, one of the most challenging aspects has been feeling alone. The truth is that I don’t know anyone else in my “real life” who prioritized debt payoff or is aggressively saving for retirement. And even though I’ve found likeminded people online, I often feel left out in a different way—that I’m not aggressive enough. It’s a weird conundrum and can feel isolating, but the sites below have been the perfect cure.

1. Budgets Are Sexy by J. Money

Budgets are Sexy is an honest look at real life finances. J is honest about things that most personal finance bloggers consider taboo (like car payments) and it makes me feel so much less alone in my personal finance journey. Throughout the past year, I’ve come to realize that life fluctuates and changes. There are career changes, graduate degrees and cross country (or world) moves. Life happens and that’s okay. Through his honesty and transparency, J shows that rolling with the punches (and being open to change) won’t derail your finances.

2. The Financial Diet

The Financial Diet is an editorial site with a bunch of different writers. Anyone can submit a post and share their opinion or financial story. They also have excellent posts where they ask 5-6 people to anonymously share their thoughts on a certain financial topic. Anytime I visit the site I feel less alone in my journey. The site serves as a reminder that we are all trying our best and finances are incredibly personal.

 

Did I leave anything out? What else would you add?

Extreme Savings, Money Mentality

Being a Military Kid Taught Me About Money…and Loneliness (But Not in the Way You’d Expect)

As the child of a military officer, I moved…A LOT. I went to three different high schools, three different elementary schools and two different middle schools. Life was constantly in flux.

It’s a weird existence. And weirdly enough, it’s something that most military families don’t really talk about; it’s simply part of the job.

My sisters and I understood that “home” was a fleeting term, something used to describe your current address, but nothing more.

When the time came for us to pack our bags and leave yet another place, there was never a big talk or announcement from my parents about where we were moving next. Instead, there was a simple conversation.

As the list of where we had lived continued to grow, my sisters and I continued to grow too.

While most kids were excited about entering third grade, we were excited about exploring castle ruins in our German backyard.

We hunted for Easter eggs at this castle!

We hunted for Easter eggs at this castle!

It was an unusual way to live, but the strangest part is something that seems so obvious: I lived so many different lives.

In Alabama, I rode four-wheelers with friends and felt confined by the square footage of a small southern town. In Japan, I posed for pictures with Harajuku girls and laughed when the toilet spoke to me. In Arizona, I rode my bike around our suburban neighborhood and swam with our Golden Retriever in the backyard pool. Each place we lived in provided a snapshot of what life could be like, of what it was like for so many different families across the world. In many ways, it felt like I was only a visitor—observing the customs of a strange land, but never actually a local.

 Small town living in Alabama

Small town living in Alabama

In some places we lived, I made friends easily. In other places, the process of finding friends felt endless. But eventually, I would trade my skater shoes for Sperry’s or my Japanese sushi for In N’ Out burgers and adjust to my surroundings. However, the friendless in between still haunted me.

When I was seven years old, I found myself reacting to the painfulness of adjusting in a weird way: I kept wishing for the weekend. Each day that I rode the bus home, I would mentally write an “X” on the day and celebrate that I was one day closer to freedom.

But I quickly realized that there was a problem with my plan. “Freedom” never lasted.

I would spend the weekend in bliss, surrounded by my family, but no matter what I did, Monday always came.

This cycle continued for a few weeks before I realized what was happening.

Five days out of seven were spent waiting for the other two.

My seven-year-old brain imploded. So many days were spent unhappy and only two were spent in contentment. As I walked home that afternoon, I started crying.

Eventually, friends were made. The weekdays became more enjoyable. I joined the other kids on the playground during lunch. The school days slowly became filled with laugher. Without noticing, I abandoned my mental log.

But even though the log was abandoned, I’ve never forgotten that feeling. The fear of wasting my life still lingers. In many ways, it has pulled me in unexpected directions. The fear drew me into personal finance, and it allowed me to approach my debt repayment with a level of aggression that is usually reserved for NFL sports.

The fear of wasting of my life on things that make me unhappy is very much still alive. And so far, there’s only one way I’ve found to silence the fear: the pursuit of financial freedom.

Sometimes I think about my 7-year old self and wonder what she would think of my answer to her unspoken question.

I like to think that she would be proud.

 

Have any childhood realizations changed your life?

Extreme Savings, Money Mentality

Money Confessions: I’m Horrible at Budgeting

It’s true. I’m not great at budgeting. I’ve read about how other people budget. I’ve watched my partner try countless methods until finally finding one that works. I’ve watched videos and read books.

And I’ve been left with one simple truth: I HATE budgeting.

I hate it with a passion that is normally reserved for things like Los Angeles rush-hour traffic and dropped ice cream comes. And trust me, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve tried every budget known to humankind: the envelope method, the zero-sum budget and the 50-30-20 method. NONE OF THEM WORKED.

I’ve never claimed to be great at money, just that I hate debt. But it’s been hard for me to admit my budgeting woes. The truth is that budgeting reminds me of dieting.

You are only allowed to spend eat a certain amount of money food each month. If you go over the allotted amount of money food than you’re a failure. The fact that I’m not supposed to do something has a laughably predictable outcome: I do it just because.

Feeling constrained and constricted makes me go insane. I’m not sure if it’s a personality type thing or some glitch I was born with, but I cannot abide by strict “rules.”

In other words, traditional budgeting is a nonstarter.

Here’s how a typical month of “budgeting” goes for me:

Day 1:

“Yay! This is the month that I’ll stay on track.”
*Puts half of salary into savings and other half into checking. Writes down the allotted amount for each spending category*

Day 6:

“Woohoo! Things are going really well.”

Day 17:

“I’m a failure. My money is already running low and I still have a lot more outings (i.e. fun things like dinners and road trips) to pay for. Man, I suck. I’ll never be good with money.”
*Internally cries and hates myself as I transfer money from my savings account*

Day 24:

“Next month will be better. I’ll finally do it! I’ll stick to a budget and be a success.”

Day 1:

*It all begins again*

 

If reading that made you want to pull your hair out and scream, you’re not alone. That is how I feel Every. Single. Month.

It’s the worst.

It’s a miserable emotional roller coaster that I subject myself to for no reason. I save about 50% of my income, have no debt and have built a healthy emergency fund. This torturous cycle is unnecessary because even on my “bad” months, I spend significantly less than I earn. It’s self-inflicted pain.

Last month, I finally decided to stop.

The first thing I did was give myself a (slightly) bigger monthly budget. I realized that part of the problem is that I was still living in “debt payoff” mode. I paid off nearly $14,000 of student loans in 7 months, but the aggressive payments weren’t sustainable in the long run and it was time for me to give myself some breathing room.

Secondly, I decided to separate my emergency fund and my “Oh crap, I need an extra $100 this month” fund.

You know those super sophisticated budgeters that have a separate fund for everything? $497 for travel, $321 for car repairs and $239 for medical. Yeah, I’m not that person.

As much as I wish it wasn’t true, I don’t think I’ll ever be that person.

So instead of falling for one of two extremes—dividing funds into hundreds of categories versus keeping it in one massive pot—I decided to try something else.

I moved all of my long-term emergency fund money into a separate bank. It is no longer linked to my checking out. I left $1,000 in the savings account that is linked to my checking account.

The $1,000 can be used for things like “Oh man. I really want to go on a road trip this month” or “I definitely need a new pair of running shoes.” It’s money that can be drawn from for various, non-emergency occasions.

It doesn’t mean that I’m giving myself free reign on the cash, but it does mean that I don’t have to have an almost panic attack every time I need to grab some extra cash.

So how is the $1,000 replenished? Exclusively from my extra freelance money. The savings from my full-time job is safely stored away in my other savings account and never touched.

So there you have it: I’m horrible at budgeting.

The truth is that I’m still figuring it all out, and I’m sure I will be for years to come. But I think the most important thing is that we all find a system that works for our unique circumstances and personalities…even if that means that we need to create our own.

Happy budgeting, friends.

Do you have any money confessions of your own? How do you budget?

Extreme Savings, Money Mentality

My Biggest Money Failure…Taking Care of Myself

There are a lot of things I do wrong with money. I’ve been known to grab a few dollars from my emergency fund and occasionally overspend on my monthly budget. None of these things are horrible offenses but they also aren’t shining examples of my money prowess. However, my biggest money failure isn’t actually spending too much…it’s not spending enough.

I don’t spend money on myself. Honestly, it’s as simple as that. I love buying gifts, going on trips and even splurging on meals out with friends. But in the past few years, even those purchases have come with a side dish of guilt.

And the one thing you’ll never catch me buying is a treat for myself.

I wasn’t always like this though. Before my financial world crashed around me, I was much better at self-care. I would treat myself to a few massages a year, buy the occasional latte (just because) and never sweat a fun outing that I really wanted to do.

I’ve been working since I was 16 and I always had money in my savings account. I never had a problem with blowing my money, but I also didn’t have a problem with spending some of it either. I occupied the elusive ~middle ground~ and it was nice.

When I was unexpectedly cut off at the age of 20, everything changed. I had two choices: drop out of college halfway through or figure it out. I figured it out, but it came at the expense of my mental health.

There were so many different heartaches involved in my final two years of college, but the main one was fear. It was the first time in my life that there was no safety net. If I missed a rent payment or tuition check, then I had to figure it out…alone.

At the time, Alex was living across the world in London, my mom was living across the country in Oklahoma and my best friends were living in various cities across the state. With my support system spread out across the world, I felt as if I was physically alone too.

In order to make it through my first year supporting myself, I had to suppress my emotions. If I had felt all of the pain, loneliness and financial stress that accompanied that year, I would have imploded.

I slashed my budget to the absolute bare minimum and learned to live on peanut butter and pasta. My goal was survival and self-care was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

Today, my financial situation is drastically different. I’m debt free. I have a full-time job with benefits and a healthy emergency fund.

The day I became debt free.

The day I became debt free.

But for some reason, I’m still stingy with myself. Every time I spend money on something fun, I start to sweat (literally) and feel waves of guilt wash over me. I check my accounts every day and even though there is more than enough money, I constantly worry that there isn’t.

It’s an exhausting way to live.

And recently, I’ve realized that it’s rippled out into other areas of my life as well.*

Without even realizing it, my charity donations have gotten smaller, and I’m much less likely to buy Alex a surprise gift or treat my sister to dinner after a long day of work. These things may seem small, but I think they are symptoms of the bigger issue: my attitude of generosity.

By being stingy with myself, I’ve become stingy with everyone else as well.

Driving to work last week, I listened to Farnoosh Torabi’s So Money podcast. The interview was with Dr. Daniel Crosby. As they began to discuss his childhood, it came out that Daniel’s parents were extremely debt averse and had paid off their mortgage by age 40.

I was immediately impressed.

However, that wasn’t the end of the story. The pay-off came at a cost. There were no family trips or delicious dinners. Instead, there was constant scrimping, saving and stress.

Daniel’s parents are now grandparents and their advice for their son is to NOT do what they did.

Daniel explains, “My dad has actually moderated his ideas about debt over time and has encouraged us to not do some of the things he did…Now they have a whole lot of money and they don’t have that time back…He preaches something different to the grandchildren because we did miss out on some things…Now my mom is in poor health and they have all the money they need, but they don’t have the opportunity.”

His story hit me hard because I could easily see myself as Daniel’s parents—scrimping, saving, planning for the future and constantly stressing about money.

But that isn’t what I want. I want to enjoy life, travel without freaking out about every penny and live with a generous heart…and a generous wallet.

I treated myself to frozen yogurt yesterday. There was no reason or occasion. I was alone at the mall and had just finished running some errands. After paying for my yogurt, I sat down in the sunshine with a view of the mountains and took the first bite. It tasted like self-care.

 

Are you good at self-care? What’s your biggest monetary failing?

 

* Last month, I created an Abundance Journal for myself. It’s a 21-Day journal that is filled with prompts and quotes designed to help you recognize the abundance that already exists in your life and I wanted to share it with you. You can click here for a free download. Happy journaling, friends.

 

Extreme Savings, Money Mentality, Women + Finances

I Rented Clothes for a Month, Here’s What Happened

Shopping for clothes has always been a stressful experience for me. Not because I don’t like clothes or I hate fashion, but because it seemed impossible to tell how I would feel about a piece of clothing until I brought it home and wore it. In other words, shopping always resulted in a lot of wasted money.

There were the ripped, acid wash jeans that I saw on the shelf in Express. It was love at first sight. I eagerly tried them on and then brought them home. However, once they were home and had been worn a few times, I realized that they looked exactly like a pair of pants that would be worn by N’SYNC or the Backstreet Boys circa 2001.

After realizing the truth about my beloved pants, I never wore them again. What had seemed stylish and hip in the store now seemed hopelessly outdated. The price of my shopping failure? $50.

However, for every bad shopping choice, I made a good one too. There was the floral kimono-style cardigan that I bought three years ago in Primark (England’s favorite discount clothing store) and still wear nearly every week. There were black flats that I wore until they broke and multiple tops that became so worn out that I eventually had to discard them.

But despite my successes, my shopping average continued to hover around 50%—I would totally nail it half of the time and utterly fail during the other half *deep sigh*

I had resigned myself to a life of fashion hits and misses when I stumbled across Le Tote. Le Tote* is a company that rents out clothing for a monthly fee. It’s similar to other subscription box companies, but the main difference is that you can order unlimited boxes each month. Each box comes with three clothing items and two accessories. You can have the box “styled” for you or you can choose the items yourself.

Once you are done, the box is delivered to your door. It includes a bag with pre-paid shipping for returns. (Yes please!) Similar companies include The Ms. Collection and Rent the Runway. For men, there is The Mr. Collection and the Five Hour Club.

For all of the companies, the premise is the same: you can keep the box as long as you want. Once you’re done, you return the box and you get a new one. ALL FOR ONE MONTHLY FEE.

I was hooked and decided to try Le Tote. It looked the perfect solution to my clothing woes.

No more unfortunate purchases yet a plethora of variety. After Googling for a discount code (#frugal) I signed up. I paid $50 and embarked on my month of rented clothes.

So how did it go?

It was fun. Like super, super fun to get boxes of clothing in the mail. Le Tote has a good variety of cutting-edge brands and styles, so I got to try out a lot of clothes that I wouldn’t necessarily buy in a store.

Like this amazing cape jacket *swoon*

Le Tote Cape

Getting ready for work was an entirely new experience because I had beautiful new clothes to wear.

Is this how fashionistas and shoppers feel all the time?!

LeToteTankTop

I got complements from co-workers and friends alike. When Alex and I went on a weekend trip for my best friends birthday, packing was a breeze because I had ordered a special Le Tote for the occasion. I sent my mom daily pictures of my outfits to show off my daily ensemble. (Did I mention that I have the world’s best mom?) I had a blast.

LeToteDress

 

But here’s the kicker.

Even though it was fun, I didn’t continue my subscription after the first month.

So what gives?

The truth is that my month of renting clothes made me feel more adventurous with the clothes I already owned. After the first few weeks of renting, I felt rejuvenated about clothing and looked at my wardrobe with a fresh set of eyes.

I suddenly realized that my neglected button-up shirt actually looked amazing with my black skinny jeans. I paired a FIDM tank top with a blazer, and my high waisted skirt with a cotton crop top.

Even beyond that, I didn’t want to pay $60 every month and I had a feeling that the novelty of new clothes would wear off quickly and become my normal. (aka: the dreaded lifestyle inflation)

So I decided to cancel the subscription and go back to my own wardrobe.

It was a fun experience and I definitely feel like it was worth the (one-time) cash. It served as a reminder that it’s okay to have fun, enjoy a few material things and still save for the future.

 

Would you ever try a company like Le Tote? How is your relationship with clothes?

 

* This post is NOT sponsored. But, if you’re interested in trying Le Tote, I’m happy to share my discount code so you can get $25 off your first tote. Also, if you’re interested in trying it for FREE, Le Tote allows every customer to giveaway five free “sample” bags, so feel free to email me and I’ll send the invite! (taylor@thefreedomfrommoney.com) I already gave one to my mom and sister…it was the least they deserved after being forced to look at my selfies for a month, lol.

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.