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February Check-In

Oh man. This year has been kicking my butt. In addition to working full-time, I’m taking four graduate classes, freelancing, planning our wedding, volunteering and also passed two major tests that are a requirement for my graduate program (woohoo! Cause seriously, I was worried I wouldn’t pass them…)

It’s been a crazy two months and I think that the older I get, the more I’m learning that the craziness is the norm and not the exception.

But even beyond that, I’m learning that I like it like this. Working hard makes me feel invigorated and happy. My mom loves to remind me that I was walking at 8 months old and I think it’s safe to say that that dedicated and rambunctious 8-month old is still very much present today.

Because so much has been happening, I wanted to do a quick check-in about what I’ve been doing, reading and spending. (And hopefully you’ll fill me in about your own happenings in the comments?!)

The Wedding

We have officially set the date! The venue is booked, the dress is bought and all vendors (minus the cake) have been secured. It has been SO MUCH fun to plan this wedding with Alex. I love making decisions as a team and working together to throw a party for all our closest friends and family. We are lucky enough to be getting financial help for the wedding and feel so grateful that we get the opportunity to plan our dream celebration, especially as a same-sex couple.

When I first started dating Alex, I didn’t exactly know what being in a same-sex relationship meant for my future—Would we be able to have kids? What about getting married? Celebrating our love by legally committing to each other means everything to me. Two years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. And sadly, it might be impossible once again in another two years. No one knows what the future holds, but I know that the nearly five years I’ve spent with my other half, are the best I’ve ever had and I can’t wait for 500 more.

But because we’re getting help for the wedding, the numbers are not my story to tell.

BUT there is one thing that I’m happy to report. My GORGEOUS engagement ring was a cool $600 and boasts real diamonds and white gold.

 

We went to SO MANY different stores when we were looking because I flat out refused to spend over $1,000 on a ring but I also wanted it to be super sparkly  (lol). So if you ever need tips on how to find a cheap-yet-expensive-looking engagement ring, I’m your girl. (Hint: do not shop in the “engagement” section)

Freelancing

I have a super aggressive goal to save $20,000 by August and I’m happy to report that I’m 37% of the way there. Woohoo! In order to meet my goal, I’ve been picking up more freelance work on the side and it’s been awesome. I love writing and managing social media, so half the time, it doesn’t even feel like work. Plus, I primarily work with people and brands in the personal finance space, so becoming even more connected with the community has been an added bonus. I’m looking to pick up a bit more work in the coming months, but overall, I’m happy with where I am.

Reading

After reading a pathetically low number of books last year, I made a commitment to really up my game in 2017. In addition to reading a lot more fiction ~just for fun~ I’ve also been grabbing books from Paulette Perhach’s financial education reading list. So far I’ve read Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom which was so-so but I’m currently reading Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich and it is SO good. It’s a deep-dive into what it’s like to live and work in minimum wage jobs. But even beyond that, it highlights the assumptions and conclusions that middle class people make about those who are living in poverty. The book highlights the ways in which “traditional” personal finance advice—Buy in bulk! Meal prep! Budget better!—is literally impossible for low-wage workers to implement. It was written in 1999, but the story is (unfortunately) just as relevant as ever.

That’s pretty much it for me! Happy almost-March, friends.

 

I would love to hear what you’ve been up to. Any interesting projects or good books? 

 

Money Mentality, Uncategorized

The Pain of Getting Exactly What You Want

Sometimes life is hard, complicated or stressful. Sometimes it’s all of the above.

I’m currently in an “all of the above” stage and I’m trying my best to handle it with grace and faith.

Unfortunately, I have a track record of FREAKING OUT during times of change.

I’m a firm believer that we will be faced with the same hurdle in life until we can finally jump over it and move on. Right now, I’m staring at the same hurdle I’ve been facing for the past few years and willing it to move with my mind. *sigh*

What exactly is my hurdle? When-Then Thinking.

When-Then Thinking is the absurdly misguided belief that once you reach a certain point, achieve a certain goal or overcome a certain hurdle, then you’ll be ~happy~.

It’s an absurd belief because if you’re anything like me, once you reach the goal at hand, there will be a brief moment of celebration followed by fresh panic about the new things you need to achieve.

I’ve watched myself go through this vicious cycle again and again and again.

Yet, here I am. Still believing that when I achieve “X,” then I’ll be happy.

And unsurprisingly, this is exactly how I handled my debt repayment. I told myself (consciously and subconsciously) that life would be great once my debt was gone. It became a mantra that I repeated to myself every da and a phrase that I used to soothe my stress.

But of course, the day of debt freedom came and I wasn’t happy. Well, I was happy, but it was a short-lived joy. After it was all said and done, my debt repayment resulted in the most depressing debt freedom post EVER and a full blown career crisis.

This time, I’m trying to do things differently.

I’ve been using “Happiness Lists” (you can download my free template here) to realize that life is actually pretty amazing. I’m trying to trust that with hard work and dash of faith, that things will fall into place. But even beyond that, I’m trying to keep the changes in perspective: life isn’t going to begin or end, no matter the outcome.

 

 Any tips for handling stress?

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Reader Story: Samantha Pays Her Debt, Once and For All

Today’s post is a Q&A with blog reader, Sam. Her honesty, self-awareness and commitment to paying down her debt (no matter how long it takes) is truly inspiring and I feel honored to be able to share her journey. She also recently started a blog (YAY!) so feel free to head over and say hi at Fully Alive 25!

So without further ado, here is Sam’s story:

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hi, I’m Sam. I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in May of 2013. I grew up in various suburbs of Chicago, but I moved to Minnesota to live with my boyfriend in October since long distance is THE WORST. Since I moved, I’ve really gotten into reading again, and joined FIVE book clubs so that I could meet new people, which has been pretty successful.

SamTFFM

2. How did you get into debt?

Urgh, this was all my fault, honestly. Long story semi-short, my parents were willing to pay for my college, partly from their savings and partly from their 529 college plan they had for me. Being an only child (and a relatively good kid overall – I might be biased but I think this is still pretty true), going away to college was my first taste of freedom, which…I didn’t handle well.

[I was] going out every night and making bad decisions…well, my parents had enough. They were still willing to let me use the 529 money for college, but only for tuition. I would have to fund everything myself – room and board, school books/supplies, etc etc.

I stupidly assumed that my parents were bluffing, but when it finally dawned on me that they weren’t, I had to get my finances in gear.

I had two summer jobs, but didn’t have nearly the amount of money that was required to go back to school. So I worked it out with my parents that if I would go to community college for a semester and proved to them that I was back on the right path, that they would co-sign for my loans in the future. I also ended up switching my major to one that made me more happy and picking up two minors, but still ended up graduating on time, with about $29,000 in debt. My parents generously gave me the remaining $4,000 in the 529 account to use towards my loan repayment. So technically my debt journey started at $25,000.

Thankfully I had a job waiting for me when I graduated college, which was part salary, part commission. Turned out I was pretty good at it so the commission coupled with living at home for a year, put me at owing only $14,000 after that first year – and I wasn’t even really trying to pay off the debt. I just knew that I didn’t want to have my student loans forever and started throwing money at it.

But during this time, I was commuting an hour and a half one way to my job, and I was getting tired of the drive. So I moved in with my best friend to a place in a nice neighborhood near my work and things started going downhill again.

Doing well at work gave me more responsibilities which came with more stress…so I started buying lunch so I could get out of the office…Every. Single. Day.

My roommate was a big foodie and I would happily go with her to new and exciting places, regardless of the price. A girl’s gotta eat, right? Also, without my parents’ supervision, I again started going out more which always had me back at home, drunk and ordering random things on Amazon. Did I get cool stuff? You know it! Butttttt I also ended up racking up nearly $8,000 of credit card debt. Not cool.

I still remember the shame of having to call my parents and ask them to front money for a car down payment AND to co-sign yet another loan.

After my car debt and the loan I took from my parents on top of my credit card debt and student loans, I was at about $35000 – almost $10,000 more than when I started.

 

3. When will you be debt free?

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to knock out all my debt this year and I’m really REALLY trying to make that happen. It will essentially take up most of my paychecks for the rest of the year, but I ran the numbers and it is doable. Worst case, I’ll be debt free early 2017.

 

4. Why did you decide to aggressively pay down your loans?

 

When my car broke down and I had to ask my parents both for a personal loan AND to co-sign my car loan, it reminded me of the shame I felt my freshman year. Both times I knew that I had messed up, and I was constantly beating myself up for putting myself in these situations and so I decided that I never want to feel that way again, especially when it was something that was avoidable.

Thankfully, the credit card debt was the first thing I knocked out and I know better for the future.

Seeing $1000 in interest was a HUGE wake up call.

 

5. What are you most looking forward to about being done with debt?

This might be kind of dorky, but I’m really excited to start saving again. I have a set amount direct deposit into my savings every check, but it’s SO HARD for me not to “borrow” from my savings to put toward my debt. So I’m excited for that. Plus, if I do end up paying off all my debt by the end of 2016, that means I would have paid off $23,800 this year…which is pretty much the exact amount to max out both your 401k AND a Roth IRA. Which means I could totally survive AND max out my retirement accounts!!!!

 

6. Strategies you’ve used for paying it down? Tips? Tricks? Thoughts?

The snowball method was SO helpful. When I knocked out my credit card debt, seeing the amount get smaller and smaller was really motivating. Once I got the credit card debt out of the way, I started being more vocal about my debt and how I had it.

I know that so many people have at least some sort of debt, but it seems like everyone wants to act like they don’t. So they go out and spend a ton of money on a lifestyle they can’t afford and they just assume that since everyone has debt, that debt is normal. I was one of these people!

So once I started telling people how I had debt and I was trying to pay it off, I made suggestions that were cheaper. Like going to a matinee vs a movie at night. Or having dinner at home vs going out to the bars. People are surprisingly accommodating because, get this, they probably are paying off debt. Or trying to save money. Or really don’t like feel like dressing up for that fancy place downtown and would much rather come over in sweats for a chill night!

Also, running the numbers while also tracking your spending is key. This was single handedly the most helpful thing. It got to the point where the last couple of months were about half of what the previous months were.

As of right now, I have $12250 left between my car loan and my loan from my parents and then I’m free! Since I have an exact amount of what I owe, I was able to divide that by the number of paychecks I have left so I know exactly how much of it will have to go to debt for it to be paid off.

 

$12250 sounds like an overwhelming amount of money to pay off in less than four months but Y payments of $X.XX makes it much easier to swallow. Why do you think all those infomercials use this strategy? Because it works! (Trust me, drunk Sam loved ordering off of those infomercials too)

 

7. Have you learned anything surprising or unexpected from this journey?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can accomplish a lot as long as I believed in myself. One of the reasons my credit card debt got out of hand was because once the amount started creeping up, I started to get overwhelmed and didn’t believe I could handle it.

Once I started running the numbers and breaking the debt into smaller chunks, I was able to start believing I could pay it off.

Sam with her parents!

Sam with her parents!

I might even say I’m thankful for having to have experience debt. Had my parents kept paying for college, I might have never learn how to better manage my money. Nor would I have learn how to better appreciate my parents and their willingness to help me, whether their help was in tough love or financially.

To have paid off almost $35000 in less than three years is not the most impressive debt story, but since I’m on pace to do it, I know what I am capable of now.

 

8. What advice do you have for other people in debt?

First thing’s first, STOP BORROWING MORE. I had to delete my credit cards from my Amazon account and GrubHub profile so that if I wanted to buy something, I had to re-enter everything which most times was enough to make me not. I started using only my debit card, and having auto alerts whenever my account got below $1000 and below $500 which, early on, were serious wake up calls. With debit cards, you can only spend a set amount before you run out. With credit cards, it’s easy to lost count of how much you spend. Once you get that below $500 email, you start realizing that your funds are limited.

And like I’ve mentioned before, track your spending so you know how much you are spending and where, and then start running your numbers. If you add another $50 to your payments, how much sooner will you pay it off? If you did a no spend week, how much money will that save you that you can put towards something else? If you don’t know how you spend your money, you don’t know how to save your money.

9. Anything else you want to share?

You can do it! If you made it to Taylor’s blog, you are already headed in the right direction. And don’t be afraid to leave comments or questions on blog posts that you really enjoyed or need clarification on. Personal Finance bloggers are super nice people, and they are airing all their financial information because they want to help others succeed! I’ve found out some of my best cheerleaders are from this community and it definitely helps when you aren’t ready to air out your financial dirty laundry to those in your personal life, but still need to someone to root for you.

 

Thank you SO much to Sam for sharing her story and KICKING BUTT on her loan repayments. Don’t forget to head over to Fully Alive 25 and say hi!

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The Only Money Quiz You’ll Ever Need: The Money Type Quiz

I am obsessed with Myers-Briggs personality types. Obsessed. From my best friends to my family and from my co-workers to Alex, I try to convince everyone in my life to take it. I find it fascinating because it can explain so much about how and why we connect (or fail to connect) with other people.

If you’re interested, you can take the test here. (Let me know what you get!)

I love connecting with people and understanding the way I connect with the world. In other words, I’m a total ENFP.

However, there has always been one category of understanding that was noticeably lacking from the Myers-Briggs test: money.

Because of that, I’ve been on the hunt for a money personality quiz (and even briefly tried to make my own, lol).

After many months of Googling to no avail, I finally discovered the BEST money personality type quiz of all time: The Money Type Quiz.

It’s in-depth, fascinating and FREE. (Which to be honest, was my number one requirement).

Unlike other quizzes I’ve stumbled upon, The Money Type Quiz is complex. It doesn’t label you as a “spender” or “saver.” Instead, it explains your overall money philosophy, provides tips for growth and gives you a list of your money strengths and weaknesses. *swoon*

So what I am?

The Producer.

Producer

Pleasure: Producers love to acquire, manage and accumulate money. (Yep)

Fear: Producers fear a major loss of money or losing control of money to someone else. (True)

Sabotage Pattern: Without meaning to, Producers may become compulsive savers and become overly conservative with money. (Unfortunately, this is true too.)

My “money type” was eerily spot on, but the best part was that it showed me my percentages for the other types as well.

I’m 72% Producer, but 60% Visionary as well. (See? I told you it was nice and complex.)

 

Visionary

Unlike the Producer, the Visionary is more laid back and emotional about money…which sounds about right.

Pleasure: Visionaries love it when others recognize their worth and invest in their projects. (So true! Even when the “investment” isn’t financial.)

Fear: Visionaries fear dying with “all their books still inside them” or without “singing their song.” (Yep, and I’ve learned that this can lead to spending a lot of money on experiences.)

Sabotage Pattern: Without meaning to, Visionaries can take excessive risks, making them financially vulnerable. (Hmm, I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced this, but I definitely feel the tug and pull of financial responsibility and the YOLO method.)

Here’s my full dashboard…

Money Type Dashboard

So in other words, I’m a total and complete FINANCIAL CONTRADICTION. I’m kidding…kind of. The truth is that I am a bit of a contradiction when it comes to money. Money is complicated and I think that we all have competing financial interests and beliefs.

And honestly, that’s okay. Each day, we take another step forward and try again to find balance with our money, and our lives.

If you take the quiz (DO IT!), let me know what you get!

What’s your Money Type? Do you believe in personality quizzes?

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Debt Freedom (and Sadness…)

My loans are gone.

I paid off $14,000 of debt in 7 months.

After I scheduled my final payment and then watched it clear from my account, I felt a sense of freedom I hadn’t felt in a long, long time.

DebtFree

For me, my loans were highly emotional. They served as a connection to a time of scarcity, fear and abuse. They were reminders of what I had been put through, but even beyond that, they were a reminder of what I had lost.

Today, the $0 balance is a reminder that I survived.

I made it. It’s done. Over. Finished. Complete.

On April 2, 2016 I smiled to myself as I scrawled in my journal, “Today is the day that a new chapter begins.”

Then something strange happened.

Over the past few days, I’ve started feeling sad, and the sadness has left me confused.

What the heck is wrong with me?

For all intents and purposes, my life is the same. Same job, same partner, same apartment, same salary, same friends. Nothing dramatic has occurred and nothing has been altered.

The only change? My loan balance is now $0.

As I’ve been grappling with these new emotions over the past few days, I’ve reached the same conclusion again and again: my loans were a distraction and a trap.

They were easy to fixate on and in comparison to some of life’s difficult questions (i.e. what’s my purpose? How do I heal from abuse?) they were easy to fix. But more importantly, it wasn’t until they were gone that I could get some clarity and start tackling the hard questions.

At its core, money is simple. We all understand how to add numbers, calculate net worth and earn money.

So why the hell do we struggle with it so much?

The part that makes money difficult (and also fascinating) is the emotions that drive our decisions.

Sacrifice, fear, pride, anger and hope.

Our money serves as a gauge for our lives. If you look closely at your money, it will provide you with a map of your inner self. It will show you what you worry about, what you care about and what you hope to achieve.

 

MoneyMap

 

When I started this website, I painstakingly chose my URL. I wanted it to convey what I truly believe about money. I wanted it to explain why money matters.

Since launching the blog, I’ve been asked multiple times, “What does ‘The Freedom From Money’ actually mean?

To me, the answer is two-fold. It means that you are free from the stress, anxiety and fear of overspending and not planning. That freedom also means that you are free to pursue the things that actually matter to you.

When you are trapped in the cycle of debt and overspending, your world shrinks. You are confined by payments, interest and stress.

For the past 7 months, my loans were my distraction, my solace and my purpose. Again and again, I told myself, “If you can pay them off, you’ll be free.”

Looking back, I’m not sure what I thought I would be “free” from—pain? Fear? Stress?

I’m free from the burden of debt. I’m free from accruing interest and I’m free from monthly payments.

But those freedoms aren’t the reason I did it. I did it because I’m now free to focus on the things that truly matter to me. I’m free to tackle life’s difficult questions.

That is why money matters and that is why saving, investing and debt repayment is so important.

When your money is in order, you are free to focus on the things that truly matter. At the end of the day, money is a tool. It’s a tool that can help you create a life you adore. It’s a tool that can help you reclaim your time, energy and life.

 For 7 months, I lived in a haze. I was working full-time, picking up freelance work on the side and barely functioning. My life’s purpose could be summarized by a single question: how much money do I need?

When I made my last repayment a few days ago, the fog finally cleared and I was left with a larger worldview. It is a worldview that can finally extend beyond my immediate needs and beyond the stress of money.

The sadness still lingers because I’ve realized that there is an area of my life in which I am deeply unfulfilled. But I’m grateful for the sadness because I know it means that I am finally free to tackle the questions that matter.

 

P.S. Thank you so much to everyone who has tweeted, emailed and provided support throughout this entire process. I am so grateful for this amazing community and for each and every one of you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

 

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February Side Hustle Income Report

 

This month, I’ve decided to do things a little differently and share my side hustle income report. A few months ago, I had an epiphany: there’s a secret money equation.

Secret Money Equation

 

The truth is that it’s nearly impossible to accomplish your goals or live the life you deserve without tackling both sides of the equation.

You need to learn how to save, but you also need to learn how to earn.

During college, I was mainly focused on saving. I cut back as much as I could and I lived on less than $15,000 per year in one of the nation’s most expensive cities: Los Angeles. It wasn’t fun and it definitely wasn’t pretty. (My diet consisted of peanut butter and pasta.)

HOWEVER, it did teach me how to save. I learned where each purchase fell on the Happiness Curve and how to live without. Those lessons are ones that I will never forget because they showed me all the waste in my life and all the luxuries that I had previously taken for granted (looking at you, cars!).

It wasn’t until I landed a full-time job and finally had room to breathe that I realized saving was only one half of the equation. It was the half I had mastered, but it wasn’t the whole picture.

When I committed to paying off my student loans in less than a year, I made another commitment to myself as well: I would increase my “extra” earnings throughout the process.

 

When it comes to earnings, some months are better than others. And honestly, that’s just fine. Everything extra I earn goes straight to my loans (which will be paid off in 15 days!) and I use my salary from my full-time job to pay for my living expenses.

 

The reason I’m sharing my earnings is simple: it wasn’t until I saw other people sharing their income reports that I realized it was possible to earn extra money on the side. And I want the same for you.

I don’t want you to ever feel confined by the amount of money a company agrees to pay you each month or the salary of your chosen profession.

There is always more money to be earned, regardless of your field.

 

So without further ado, here is the breakdown of the extra money I earned in February:

 

Staff Writing: $120

Corporate Writing: $500

Total: $620.00

 

Yep, that’s it. All of my money for February came from freelance writing. By training, I’m a writer, and because of that, freelance writing has been the easiest field for me to break into.

As I move forward, I hope to diversify, but there’s an important lesson in this income report:

It’s easiest to earn money using the skills you already possess.

If you are just breaking into “side hustling” then it’s important to remember that you already have all the skills you need.

In fact, here are three ways you can started today:

 

  1. Post on Your Personal Accounts

This might sound a little scary, but the number one thing you should do if you want to earn more money is post on your personal Facebook page or Twitter account. The people who follow you on these accounts are already in your network and “know” you. Because of that, they trust you. They know you are a real human and even beyond that, they probably know where you went to high school and a few of your friends. Right off the bat, there is a connection (even if it’s a small one).

Once you’ve established what your skill is (and remember, we ALL have one), write a short post that states you’re interested in taking clients and would love to talk to anyone that might be interested.

 

Here’s the script you can use:

Hi friends! I recently started taking (insert your specialty here) clients and I would love to connect with anyone who is in need of help! Whether it’s you or someone you know, I would love to connect. Here are a few samples of my work (link to samples if you have any). My specialty is (ex: small business owners who need killer copy for their websites) and my rates are super flexible. Feel free to message me!

           

Also, when it comes to your personal social media accounts, be on the lookout for friends who post about potential jobs.

When the company I work for needed a freelance videographer and I was tasked with the job of finding one, the first thing I did was post on Facebook because my “friends” are the people I already know and trust

 

ACTION STEP:

Copy and paste the script to your social media account today. The worst thing that could happen is that no one responds. The best thing that could happen? You land a paying client with a single post!

 

  1. Ebates

Although it’s not reflected in this month’s income report, Ebates is an excellent way to earn extra money because it requires no effort and is completely free.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign up for a free Ebates account by clicking here.
  2. Once you’ve signed up you, you can start earning a percentage of cash back for every purchase you make through their site.
  3. Next time you need to buy something online, enter the online retail site through Ebates and you’ll be on your way to earning money for buying the things you would have bought anyways. (Sometimes it’s as much as 10-15% per purchase!)
  4. Ebates will send you a check in the mail (or pay via PayPal) once you’ve accumulated $25.

 

Still unsure? Here’s a testimony from my mom (the most trusted source in the world and the woman who taught me everything I know):

“Ebates is great. You just get paid for buying things you would have already bought and they send the check directly to you. One of my checks was for $50!”

 

ACTION STEP:

Sign up today! Next time you’re shopping online, enter the website through Ebates and earn $10 for your first purchase.

 

  1. Reach Out to Your Academic Network

If you graduated college and haven’t connected with your department yet, you’re missing out on potential money. Even though I graduated from UCLA nearly a year ago, I still subscribe to the English Department email list. Every week, the academic advisor sends out a few emails about events on campus and freelance jobs.

Yep, that’s right. My university sends me information about paying jobs right to my inbox.

In fact, one of my best (and longest) clients came from one of these postings.

Luckily, I know UCLA isn’t the only university that does this because the university I work at does the exact same thing.

With most universities, you can subscribe to the mailing list online. However, if you can’t find the link, you could also reach out to the academic advisor directly.

Here’s the script you can use:

 

Hi [advisor’s name],

 I graduated from UCLA in 2015 but would love to stay up to date with what is happening on campus. Is it possible to subscribe to the email list for the department?

 Thanks for the help and Go Bruins!

Best,

Taylor

ACTION STEP:

Copy and paste the email and send it off! It will take less than 5 minutes and could result in your very first freelance job.

Do you have any tips or tricks for earning extra money? Share them below!