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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?

Real Money

It’s Time to Get Our Financial Lives Together (+ Giveaway)

UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Tarah for winning a copy and thank you everyone who entered!

There’s nothing I love more than reading a good book. (I even set a goal of reading 36 books this year, and I’m already more than halfway there!) Fiction, nonfiction, YA, short stories—I’m not picky about the genre. The only requirement? That it’s good.  And Broke Millennial by Erin Lowry exceeded that.

Erin is the blogger behind BrokeMillennnial.com and kickass millennial money expert. She founded the site because she wanted a way to talk about money with fellow millennials. (If you haven’t read it yet, Getting Financially Naked with Your Partner is my favorite article she’s written and it’s been turned into an entire chapter in the book!) She’s also an inspiring entrepreneur and set out to blaze her own trail last year. So when I found out she was writing a book, I was excited to read it.

 

(I was also excited because my favorite money emoji was on the cover, just sayin’)

 

Even though I’m a HUGE money nerd and will talk about money for hours on end, I haven’t read many money books. The few that I’ve tried to read (which will remain nameless) were super outdated and honestly didn’t feel applicable to my life.

I don’t own a house or have kids or earn a crazy high salary.

I’m a 24-year old who rents a one-bedroom apartment in a pretty expensive city. I paid off my student loans last year and am trying to save for graduate school while I continue to get used to managing my money (and earn some extra on the side). Even though I think I do a good job managing my money, the truth is that I’m still at the beginning stages of building wealth.

I don’t need an expensive advisor or a complex strategy. I need a solid foundation.

And if I, someone who reads money articles for pleasure and will happily talk about budgeting for hours, am still working on building a foundation, then I imagine the rest of my peers are too.

When I started my first job after college, I had NO IDEA how my taxes worked. I was suddenly pushed into a higher tax bracket and was losing 25% of my salary each month. It took months before I realized that I was earning the lowest possible salary to be taxed that much, and it took even longer for me to learn how to fix it.

It turns out that everything I needed to know was actually in Chapter 16 of Erin’s book (page 216 to be exact) *sigh*

I’m glad that other people won’t have to learn that lesson the hard way though.

That’s why I loved reading Broke Millennial. It’s the first financial book that felt like it was actually written for me and my friends. It covers the things we talk about in real life. Like how to evenly split the bill at dinner when all you had was a water and everyone else had two glasses of wine each (ahem) and how to navigate the finances of living at home with your parents when you’re 27.

It’s a book that mirrors the real life experiences of me and my friends. And honestly, it’s long overdue.

If you’re ready to get your hands on this book, then you’re in luck! I’m giving away a copy of Broke Millennial!

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Email me and tell me why you want to read the book (taylor@thefreedomfrommoney.com)

  2. OR leave a comment below

I’ll announce the winner next week! But if you’re looking to get your hands on a copy before then, you can get it on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Real Money, Women + Finances

The Privilege of Earning More

“What if you didn’t have access to the Internet?” my teacher asked the class. Most of my classmates looked at her with a mix of boredom and disbelief.

“Everyone has Internet now. It’s 2017. Why does it matter?” asked one of the men in the class.

I silently agreed. It seemed like a pointless question. I flipped open my laptop to check my work email while I waited for her to respond. 

13% of Americans do not use the Internet. 10% do not have access to a connection and even more Americans do not have a reliable Internet connection.”

Every Monday night, I sit in a classroom filled with graduate students working towards their Master’s in Education. There are a lot of things I’m learning, like how to create a learning environment that is accessible to everyone and why cultural backgrounds matter. But I’m also inadvertently learning about something else too: a specific kind of privilege.

The privilege of earning more.

When millennials complain about low wages and a chronic lack of job opportunities, they are typically met with two cheerful words: “Side hustle!”

“Side hustles” can range from driving Uber on the weekends to writing articles for a company after work. You can even get paid to stand in line and buy someone else’s groceries. The tasks are all different, but they have one thing in common.

Whether it’s an app on your (smart) phone that allows you to accept jobs or an Internet connection at home that allows you to send emails, “side hustles” all have one crucial ingredient: access to the Internet.

Throughout the past three months, I’ve been increasing my freelance workload in an effort to save $20,000 for graduate school by August 2017.

As I take on more clients and more work, I’ve often felt frustrated and tired. Freelancing on the side while working full-time and attending graduate school is hectic.

But last week I realized that having access to a side hustle is a gift. Sometimes it’s  an annoying gift that I would like to return, but it’s still a gift.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’ve been given the same gift. Here are a few tips about how to use it:

  1. Know When to Say “No”

 

Even though it’s wonderful to be able to earn more money on the side, it can also be incredibly stressful and overwhelming. If you’re embarking on a side hustle (or three), don’t be afraid to say “no” and set some boundaries. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you always should. I’ve found it useful to think of my freelance work as if it were a job where I had to physically show up. Because I’m working full-time, I couldn’t handle a part-time job that required more than 15 hours per week. So that’s the amount of time I’m willing to work on freelance work on a weekly basis.

  1. Take it Seriously

There are SO MANY stories of people who started a project on the side and then had it turn into their full-time gig. But regardless of whether or not you dream of becoming a full-time freelancer or business owner, the fact remains that you need to take your side hustles seriously, and the most important way to do that is by tracking your payments, tax forms and invoices. If you’re earning income on the side, the IRS will want to know about it. Do yourself a favor and start tracking all of that now and not three weeks before your taxes are due.

When I got serious about freelancing in January, I decided to sign up for Xero’s Accounting Software and Online Bookkeeping and it has been a gamechanger.

Not only is it $6.30 per month for the “Starter Pack” (!!) which includes 5 invoices, 5 bills and 20 bank transactions, but it’s also so freaking easy to use.

You also get a free 30-day trial, which is awesome cause, you know, free.

Xero has pre-made emails you can send to clients if an invoice is overdue and makes the whole ~getting paid~ part of freelancing so much less awkward.

They also have so many other amazing tools, including expense reporting.

(And after my stepfather gave me a stern lecture about how important it is to track conferences and other “business expenses” for tax purposes,  I’ve never been more thankful to have a platform that makes it so easy and organized.)

  1. Kindness and Other Things

I often struggle to truly put myself in other people’s shoes. It’s so easy to simply pass judgement about someone’s spending habits or earning potential. Whether it’s at my full-time job or at my side hustles, I feel like I work hard for my money. But that doesn’t mean that other people aren’t working equally hard in their own way and using what they have access to. Not everyone can earn more money. Sometimes that’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact.

P.S. If you’re interested in this topic, I HIGHLY recommend reading both Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.

 

What do you think? Can everyone earn more?

 

This post may contain affiliate links.

Money Mentality, Real Money

Money Confession: I Have a Car Loan

I’ve been blogging for over a year now and if there’s one thing I’ve learned since joining the realm of ~bloggers~, it’s that it is SO EASY to lie.

Instead of explaining how you spent 90+ hours a week to grow your million dollar business, it’s easy to simply say, “Hustle hard, ya’ll!” Early retirement? No more coffee or cars. Paying off debt? “Side hustle.”

The problem with these one to two word answers is that they barely scratch the surface of what is required (and what is sacrificed) in order to accomplish big money goals.

There are A LOT of things I don’t talk about on my blog. Sometimes I leave things out because it’s not my story to tell. Other times, it’s because it is too painful to talk about. Regardless of the reason, I can assure you that my money situation is more complex and nuanced than it appears.

Which leads me to today’s confession: I have a $3,000 car loan.

When I paid off nearly $14,000 of student loans last year, I swore up and down that I would NEVER take on debt again.

Debt was my greatest enemy and I was happy to bid it farewell.

So what changed?

Me.

Throughout the past year, I’ve done a deep dive into what actually matters to me. I’ve stopped chasing happiness and started chasing meaning.

I’ve become kinder to myself and made a conscious effort to become more generous…even when it’s hard.

I’ve also tried to come to terms with the fact that life is maddeningly, absurdly short.

My mom and my step-dad

As I was on my way to a UCLA math final in 2014, I received a phone call from my sister. She was in tears as she explained that they weren’t sure if my mom was going to make it. Due to one nurse’s mistake, my mom was unexpectedly experiencing kidney failure and no one was sure if she would survive.

I was forced to think about what life would be like without my mother, but I couldn’t imagine it.

She is the glue that holds our family together and the rock upon which my sisters and I lean. She is my very best friend and my role model. With my mother in a small town in Oklahoma that was a two hour car ride from the nearest airport, and me in California, there wasn’t anything I could do as I waited for updates. My sister told me to take my final and I did. While I calculated complex probability problems, tears fell on the page.

Three years later, my mom has recovered and she is as wonderful, loving and fiercely loyal as ever.

But even though three years have passed since that horrible day, I’ll never forget it.

It was the ultimate lesson of the fleeting nature of this world and the fragility of our human lives.

Nothing is guaranteed.

My (very, very small) car loan seems unrelated to my mom and the fleeting nature of life, and maybe it is. But in many ways, I think my car loan is a sign that I’m continuing to grow into the person I hope to become.

I hope to be a person who sees manageable amounts of debt as a useful tool.

I hope to be a person who looks at the big picture and not the irrelevant details.

I hope to be a person who is not obsessed with money or trapped in the past.

I hope to be a person who contributes in meaningful ways to society.

I hope to be a person who always tells my family and best friends that I love them.

I hope to be a person who doesn’t waste my life on trivialities like saving a few dollars.

I hope to be generous with people and organizations I care about.

I hope to be gentle, kind, humble and hard-working.

I hope that when my time on earth ends, I have helped to make it a slightly better place for someone else.

 

What kind of person do you hope to be? Have you ever had a change of heart about money?

 

Extra Income, Real Money

Money is Power: Organize (Your Finances)

This post may contain affiliate links.

Throughout the past few months, I’ve been been forced to think about hard questions: hope, hatred and defeating darkness.

But mainly, I’ve been struggling to answer one question in particular:

I’m only a single human, no one extraordinary or particularly remarkable, is it even possible for me to create change?

I’ve circled around and around with my answers. Somedays, I raise a fist and scream, “Yes!” But more often than not, I feel small and helpless.

The problems seem too big.

But on Monday, I saw something interesting: The ACLU received $24 million in online donations over the weekend.

It’s a HUGE number, but a huge number of people donated as well: 356,306 to be exact.

That means that each of the 356,306 people only had to give $67.36.

$67.36.

Of course, some people gave much more, and others (like myself) gave less.

But the fact remains that individuals, like you and me, made a difference.

That’s the secret about money that no one tells you: it adds up.

Every $10 that you donate, save or use to pay down debt matters. Because guess what? If you throw $10 towards something 10 times, then that’s $100.

The math is ridiculously easy, but the concept behind it is easy to forget.

Your money matters.

As I look towards the future and think about how I want to use my money this year, I have a lot of personal goals, but I also have goals that are bigger than me.

I want to use my money for good.

It’s a lofty, broad goal and I’m still hashing out the details of what that will look like, but there is one thing that I do know: there are some specific steps I’m taking to get there:

  1. Earning More

 

I’m being super aggressive with my savings for graduate school and plan to have $20,000 set aside by the end of August *gulp*

I’m currently 25% of the way there, but the truth is that I when I set out to achieve my goal, I knew that I needed to earn more money. The same is true for giving back.

We can all “trim the fat” on our lifestyles, but for most people (ahem, me) there is only so much I can trim before I literally hate everything.

As an average earner in an expensive city, the best way for me to reach my goals—of giving back and attending grad school—is earning more.

Earning more money isn’t something I’ve talked about it in great detail on the blog (yet) but I did make a starter guide for how to earn more cash online that you can check out here.

Sometimes earning more money means freelancing and other times it means extra shifts at work or a part-time retail job. The method doesn’t matter.

What’s important is that you recognize that earning more money isn’t “bad” or “greedy.” In fact, it’s often the quickest and most effective way to help others and fight for justice.

The more money you have to give, the bigger your economic voice, and in capitalism, that’s important.  

  1. Get Organized

In December, I vowed that I would earn more this year. I had a freelance coaching call with Melanie from Dear Debt and started aggressively looking for work. Since then, I’ve found some great new clients and love the freelance work I’m doing (yay!) but there’s been an unintended side effect: lack of organization.

As I’ve picked up more clients, I’ve also picked up more invoicing, tracking and tax forms to fill out. These are all super important (obviously) but they are also a freaking headache. Finally, I said “enough is enough” and signed up for Xero’s Accounting Software and Online Bookkeeping. 

As someone who is trying to earn more money and not spend more money on accounting software (or anything else for that matter), it’s been awesome.

For $6.30 per month, you get the “Starter Pack” which includes 5 invoices, 5 bills and 20 bank transactions. For someone who is freelancing on the side while working full-time, it’s the perfect amount.

You also get a free 30-day trial, which is awesome cause, you know, free.

Xero has pre-made emails you can send to clients if an invoice is overdue and that making the invoices is SO. FREAKING. SIMPLE.

But they also offer a lot of other services as well.

 

And if you’re a more organized person than me and were already with QuickBooks, they will convert your account for free. Plus Xero’s prices are better and you can redirect your savings (~ $50/year) to a worthy cause. Win-win.

 

  1. Sign up for Recurring Donations

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, but at the end of the month, when my money is low, I’m not likely to donate. If I have $30 left in my account and my friends want to grab a drink, I’m probably not going to say “no.”

And just like that, another month will pass without donating to the causes I care about.

To avoid this all-too-common pitfall, I FINALLY set up monthly donations. The money is going to the organizations every month, no matter what. If you’re serious about giving back, I think this is the most important thing you can do—from a personal standpoint, but also for the organization. It helps the organization plan their yearly budget and allocate money accordingly because they know they can rely on your monthly gift.

The concept of automatic donations is super similar to that of “paying yourself first:” get rid of the money fast and pretend it never existed. You’ll never miss it, I promise.

Do you have any tips on how to use money for good?

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?