August 29, 2014

Hello debt fighters, frugal friends, and money makers!

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. As I continue to grow Dear Debt, I think it’s really important to hear from you, the readers. If you’re really digging something, I’d like to know. Conversely, if something I’m doing just isn’t working, I’d like to know that as well.

You can take this simple, anonymous 3 question survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/HS2P6YH

If you’d rather not take the survey, feel free to comment, or drop me a line at deardebt{at}gmail.com.

Also, I wanted to share this awesome giveaway from my buddy Brent at VOSA. He’s giving away 10 copies of the popular budgeting software, YNAB (You Need a Budget). Enter here.

Lastly, for my American readers, what will you be up to for Labor Day weekend? I’ll actually be laboring for most of the weekend, but will take most of Monday off. I’m saving some time to go camping next week with some friends. Can you believe I haven’t gone camping in over 10 years? I’m such an urbanite. I’m actually scared about going without technology for two whole days, but I know it will be rejuvenating and fun!

I wish you all a safe, healthy, fun weekend!

August 28, 2014

Hello! We have an amazing dear debt letter from Kirsten at Indebted Mom. She really did a great job capturing the essence of how draining this relationship can be and the difficult choices we have to make because of debt.

Kirsten blogs at Indebtedmom.com, discussing her faith and family’s large student loan burden, which has cost her an opportunity at being a stay-at-home mom. Kirsten is an actual rocket scientist who actually doesn’t know a lot of things people think rocket scientists should know. She loves lists, coffee, and NASCAR, but not necessarily in that order.

Dear Debt,

We need to talk. This letter will have to do because you are only ever around when it’s convenient for you.

The thing is, I am just not ready for a relationship. I never was. But I didn’t know it at the time. Let’s face it; you are pretty needy and your demands exhaust me mentally and physically and emotionally. I wish I’d known what a drain you’d be on my life when I signed up for you and when I married you. We’d probably still have started this relationship, but I would have ended it much, much sooner. 20 years… I didn’t even know what I wanted in 20 days back when we started this thing. How was I supposed to know that I wanted kids? That the career that you paid for – it wasn’t going to mean anything to me when my children came?

I don’t have time for anything serious, you know? I have these two precious girls and they need me. And I need more time with them. But you make me leave them, five days a week, in the hands of strangers. You make me lose moments that I’ll never get back. You cost me hugs and kisses and cuddles. Those are the things I want to have time for – those are really serious, wonderful things. All you are is a drain.

I need to find myself again – concentrate on my life. A relationship with you doesn’t help me get to where I know I need to be – home with those sweet girls. A relationship with you doesn’t help me serve others. It doesn’t help me be the best wife and mother. All it makes me is an overworked, stressed-out version of the best me.

I think it’s best if we just don’t see each other anymore. Too bad you’re a stalker.

The next time I write you, you won’t have any power over me. No claims in my life. We will be 100% through. I don’t want you around me or my family. And I want you especially to stay far away from my girls.

Sincerely,

Kirsten

There are certain people in the world that just aren’t good for you. You know the types. The types of people who make you feel bad when you hang out with them, or quietly (but obviously) judge you for who you are or what you do, or the people who just plain manipulate any situation to their advantage.

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself really wanting to take care of myself. Not only take care of myself, but nourish myself. In my younger years, I was a magnet for people who completely depleted me and left me with nothing but doubt, fear, sadness and insecurity. Because of those situations, I was driven to spend carelessly without regard to consequence. It wasn’t just other people — it was me, too. I was a mess and I attracted other messes. I ate terribly and drank recklessly.

So glad I’ve…matured. But just because I’ve gotten older and wiser doesn’t mean everyone has. There are still people out there that are a bad influence on you and will throw you off kilter, kill your soul, and ruin your finances.

Here are five types of people to avoid to increase your health and wealth:

The Energy Vampire

Oh, the energy vampire. They come in many different forms, some more innocuous than others, but they are all the same. They completely zap any energy and positivity out of you. They are the overly chatty, breathing-all-the-air types, or the debbie downer who is sad about everything, or the constant complainer who has not one good thing to say about anything.

It’s utterly exhausting being around these people. It’s like you can hardly respond to anything they have to say because they’ve already zapped your energy.

Start minimizing how often you see these people, or cut them out altogether. They are zapping your creativity, productivity, and killing your soul.

The One-Upper

Do you know one of these special kind of people who have a knack for just making you feel bad and inadequate, regardless of what you say or do?

Example:

1. Normal person: I’m so excited! I just ran my first half marathon.

The One-Upper: Oh really? Well, I ran a marathon while being pregnant with the stomach flu. It was crazy! I can’t believe I did it.

Normal person: …

2. Normal person: I’m doing alright. Last week I was sick and had to go to the doctor.

The One-Upper: OMG one time, I thought I was going to DIE and wound up in the ICU for a week on life-support. It’s a miracle I’m even here.

3. Normal person: I’ve paid off $30,000 in 3 years making a nonprofit salary of roughly the same amount.

The One-Upper: Oh that’s nothing! I support six kids and pay more to debt on $30,000.

The one-upper can be highly annoying. It’s like no matter what you say, they have a better story, a more impactful experience than you do. On one hand, I can see its merits. The one-upper sees an opening for connection — a conversation starter. But then it turns into something completely about them and their crazy/better experience, thus invalidating yours.

One-uppers can do a number on your self-esteem and make you feel like you aren’t progressing. You see one-uppers everywhere, but especially in the personal finance world. Everyone wants to one-up each other in regards to debt repayment, how much they can save, and how far their money can go.

This is not the poverty Olympics. Life is not a race. Your experience does not invalidate someone else’s. Avoid these people to keep your sanity and happiness intact. Surround yourself with inspiring people, not people who rub it in your face how much better they are doing than you.

Drama King/Queen

In the world of the drama king/queen every day is a new crisis, or at least a perceived crisis. There is always some level of insane drama that never seems to go away, or get resolved, and is perpetually lingering.

It’s a way of life. You ever notice that some people just feed off of drama? It’s like they’re addicted to it. They don’t know what to do without it. So even if there’s no drama, they’ll find some.

These people can be a huge energy and money drain. Avoid at all costs.

I’mSOBUSYIcan’t

OMG I’m so busy right now, I can’t hang out.

Too much going on.

Three months pass by after sending an email…then finally a response.

You know the busy bodies who never have time for you, because they are sooooo busy. Here’s the thing. Everyone is busy. Yeah, that’s right. Everyone. Not just you. Thanks for trying to fit me in to your precious schedule.

But really, everyone is busy and is managing various priorities. If someone is really important to you, you’ll make time for them plain and simple. Even if it has to be weeks ahead, even if you have to stay in touch via email or text for a while.

These types of people are notorious for flaking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll schedule a happy hour with one of these people, order my drinks, and wait…and wait…and wait. Then get that notorious text.

Sorry, got caught up with stuff. Can we reschedule?

Being the nice person I am, I will kindly oblige. But I’m pissed because I just made the effort to be some place and I’ve already spent money and now I’m drinking alone. Triple fail.

Gossiper

Gossip is a type of currency for these types of people. You can’t even have a conversation without talking smack about someone else, or dish the latest news of info that normally should be completely confidential and discreet. At first you feed off their exciting energy and insight, but quickly you realize everything they say is talking crap about someone else.

Then you start to wonder. What do they say about me? What have they shared about me? The gossiper is notorious for sharing lascivious and confidential details, while making you feel like you are the only one they are sharing that info with. Well, guess what, you’re not. They’re gabbing all over town. Don’t trust these people, they are not your friends. You will have to do damage control eventually.

By avoiding these 5 types of people you can increase your health and wealth and start living a well-rounded, balanced, and meaningful life.

And my confession? I’ve been every single one of these people. I’ve catastrophized situations that weren’t that bad, I’ve completely emotionally drained my friends with my breakup baggage, I’ve gossiped at work about the latest news, and I’ve done my own share of one-upping to make myself feel better, and I’ve been “too busy” to hang out with friends.

I’m not proud of it, either. But I’ve recognized these traits in myself and realized I don’t want to be like that, or around others that are either.

Out of the five, which type of person drains you the most? Which one can you most closely relate to?

Melanie’s note: Hi friends. Today, we have a different sort of post than I usually publish here. To be transparent, this article was for a prospective client and they didn’t end up using it. But I still think it offers value. Do you know why? Because before writing this article I had no clue what a CDFI was. I’m learning more and more that what really makes a good writer is the ability to write about things you’ve never heard of, and breakdown complex issues in an easy-to-read format. So often we think that people have to be experts to write about anything, but I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. Hello, Internet! You can learn. Your skill as a writer is to distill complex information and make it engaging. I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve written about things I’ve never heard of and the whole time I’m mentally freaking out because “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m going to be found out!” Then I get some positive feedback, like last week when a client told me, “Good job on taking a potentially boring topic and making it interesting and easy-to-understand.” Ah, validation. This long-winded note is to tell you that as a writer, or whatever you are or whatever you want to be, you can do it, even if it scares you or you are not an expert.

Entrepreneurship can be rewarding for many people, but sometimes it’s difficult to get started, especially in terms of funding. Starting any enterprise costs money, and there are lots of hurdles to jump when it comes to funding. This can make things tricky if you have limited resources and are just starting out. As an entrepreneur or small business owner looking for financial resources to grow your business, you may have already had some rough experiences with this. But not to worry — there is another exciting option to consider: a CDFI. Read on to find out what it is and how it can help you.

What is a CDFI?

A CDFI, or Community Development Financial Institution, is a financial institution, like a regional bank or credit union, that functions kind of like a middleman between the sources of their funding and you, the eager entrepreneur on a mission. Their funds come from private (foundations, religious institutions, corporations, etc.) and public sources, in addition to the CDFI Fund, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Never heard of CDFIs? They’ve actually been around since the 1970’s, but grew in numbers as a result of the Riegle Community Development and Regulatory Improvement Act of 1994. Their mission is to empower their local communities through capital resources. As such, they offer loans at competitive rates to folks who are looking to start an enterprise with a community focus. Pretty awesome, right? By funding the likes of small businesses, nonprofits, and microenterprises, CDFIs have been creating jobs and fueling local economies.

CDFIs are able to offer credit and financial services to underserved areas and populations that are typically overlooked and/or considered undesirable candidates for traditional loans. This can include people with:

– No or low credit

– Bad credit

– A history of bankruptcy

CDFIs come in different forms as well. Here are some examples of what they are and who they help:

Community Development Bank or Community Development Credit Union:

– Provides personal loans, savings accounts, and other retail banking services to those who might not be eligible for funding via traditional avenues.

Community Development Loan Fund:

– Lends funds to build local businesses, support affordable housing, and bolster community facilities.

Community Development Venture Capital Fund, Microenterprise Development Loan Fund, and Community Development Corporation:

– Provides capital to entrepreneurs and minority owned businesses.

For an institution to qualify as a CDFI and receive funds from the CDFI fund, they need to demonstrate that they are serving a specific underrepresented geographic region, with a mission to improve the community they serve.

How Can a CDFI Help Me?

If you are a small business owner (or aspire to be one), nonprofit organization, or entrepreneur, a CDFI may be a viable resource to secure funding, especially if you have been previously rejected by traditional avenues of funding. A CDFI doesn’t just look at your bank account; they look at the big picture, and at the person behind the project.

Remember, CDFIs have a core mission to serve communities. The work is relationship-based and mission driven. It is to help fund community based projects that will reinvest back into the community and support the local economy. If you are interested in funding, building relationships in community, and starting a project that will enhance the work of that community, a CDFI might be a good fit for you.

Things You Should Know

Because of the unique opportunities offered, a CDFI loan typically takes longer to acquire than one from a traditional bank. If you are interested in pursuing a loan from a CDFI, it’s important to demonstrate how you will reinvest funds back into community. Will that be through job creation, by providing a service to the community, or something else?

Do your research on what type of funds you are looking for, and clearly understand the terms of the funding. CDFI Coalition is a helpful resource with all you want to know about CDFIs.

How to Choose a CDFI

If you think you might benefit from a CDFI and want to explore options in your area, you can search the Opportunity Finance Network’s website, which has a helpful map to easily find CDFIs nearby.

Another resource for more in-depth information regarding CDFIs state by state is by looking at the state profiles on the CDFI coalition website. Each profile provides information on how many CDFIs are in the state, how much funding has been dispersed, jobs created, and more.

CDFI Success Stories

CDFIs play a large part in enriching underserved communities. Currently, there are over 950 certified CDFIs, which serve both urban and rural communities.

In March of 2014, the CDFI Coalition 20th Anniversary Report highlighted CDFIs in various communities as well as success stories of some of their beneficiaries. Examples of CDFI success stories include:

– An African-American woman owned dental clinic in Tennessee

– A Salmon fishing business in rural Alaska

– A Public Charter School in Washington D.C.

– An organic agriculture small business in Illinois

– Affordable town houses in Ohio

You can make an impact too, even if you aren’t a business owner or entrepreneur.

If you are interested in fostering community development and would like to contribute to a CDFI, you can look for opportunities, such as Starbucks’ Create Jobs for USA Fund, which was created in 2011 and has raised over $7 million to support CDFIs.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, CDFIs play an integral part in supporting local community with capital resources that can be reinvested in community. For the past 20 years, CDFIs have worked all across the United States to support local enterprise. Could they help you?

Welcome back to another edition of How My Blog Changed My Life! Today, I’m super excited about featuring Michelle, who is pretty much a legend in the personal finance sphere. She’s amazingly successful, good at what she does, and makes good money doing it. Essentially, she is an inspiration to everyone.

Michelle

More about Michelle: Michelle Schroeder left her day job in 2013 to pursue a career as a freelance writer and website manager. She writes about many topics such as personal finance, entrepreneurship and traveling on her websites Making Sense of Cents and Diversified Finances. She has a popular extra income series in which she details how she makes over $10,000 a month by freelancing online.

1. What was the inspiration for starting your blog?

I started my blog in August of 2011. I graduated from college a little over one year earlier and I had a lot of student loan debt. I started reading personal finance websites such as DailyWorth so that I could get a better grasp on my finances. I then decided to start my own personal finance blog so I could talk about what was going on in my life and to track my progress. I quickly got addicted to blogging and the whole community and everything just grew from there.

I’m glad I started because my blog eventually led to me side hustling, and then my side hustling eventually led to freelancing full-time.

2. What has been the most challenging part of having a blog?

I think the most challenging part of having a blog is continually coming up with new content. Sometimes I feel like I have many, many ideas for new content, but then there are other days where I try to write and just nothing will happen.

For the most part though, I love everything about blogging. Even though some areas may be challenging, I know it’s all worthwhile.

3. In what ways, direct or indirect, has your life changed because of your blog?

Oh my, where do I even start? My blog has greatly changed my life for the better. Before I started blogging, I was living paycheck to paycheck. Even though I had two college degrees and a good job as a financial analyst, I was not good with money. I had a poorly managed budget and I spent all of my free time spending money it seemed like.

After I started my blog, I found many other blogs out there who detailed their side hustles and the income they made from it. I decided that instead of spending my time doing nothing productive I would use it to make an extra income and start putting it towards my student loans.

With this side income, I was able to pay off my $40,000 worth of student loans (which included my loans from when I earned my third college degree one year after I started my blog) within months of turning 24.

I felt so free after I paid off my student loans that I started making a plan to pursue full-time self-employment. I left my day job in October of 2013 and haven’t looked back once. :)

4. What have you learned from blogging?

I’ve learned that blogging is a lot of fun, but it is still work. Too many people think blogging is an easy way to make money and a way to get rich quick. That is just not true at all. I spend many hours everyday working on my freelancing business, and I also know quite a few people who have left the blogging business because they found it wasn’t for them.

5. What advice would you give to new bloggers who are thinking of starting a blog?

I have plenty of advice to give :)

- You won’t know if you like blogging unless you start. I receive this question all the time from people thinking about starting a blog. You honestly will not know unless you try. You can even try for free if you need to.

- Start on WordPress if you can. Blogger has its positives, and I even made the mistake of starting on there. However, I quickly made the switch to WordPress and it has been one of my best blogging decisions ever. When I was on Blogger, Blogger actually deleted my website for a day just because they can. Most people never get their website back but I begged and begged and they gave me my website back. After that, I knew I had to switch. Now, I am on self-hosted WordPress and my website can never be taken away from me.

- Blog publicly or anonymously, it’s up to you. I started out anonymously and it was great while it lasted. However, I knew if I wanted my blog and my business to grow any further I would have to become public. It has helped my business grow significantly!

Thanks, Michelle for taking part in the series!

August 19, 2014

As a freelancer, it’s more important than ever to streamline your workflow and make your time count, especially when you are just getting started. Time is money after all.

In the beginning, I was so slow and everything seemed to take forever. As I got more clients, I started to feel so disorganized at keeping everything in order. There were so many little details I needed to remember.

I’ve (luckily) become more organized and smarter about the way I do business, so that I can spend time creating and not on the ever-pervasive follow-up (which is still necessary as a freelancer). Here are 4 tips for new freelancers to help streamline your work, stay organized, and work efficiently.

1. Set up a Google Alert for your name and your blog

Although I check my Google Analytics as well as my referrers in WordPress, I can’t keep track of everything. In order to stay on top of what is being posted about me or my blog, I created a Google Alert for my full name and my blog name. This is helpful, so you can keep track of what is being posted. Even if you don’t have a blog, this is useful for anyone to monitor their identity on the internet.

To get started, go to the Google Alerts page. Then enter the terms you want to be notified about. Then enter your email address and start getting alerts when those terms show up on a page.

2. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of clients, forms of payment, due dates, etc.

All clients are different and expect something different from you. To stay organized, I created a spreadsheet to keep track of my clients, how much they paid, due dates, how they prefer to pay, how they would like me to send an invoice, etc.

Instead of trying to remember how each client prefers something, I’ve just kept track of it in my spreadsheet. Some people are flexible with deadlines, while others have firm dates. Some people prefer to use PayPal, while others write checks. I need to keep track of these details, so I can follow-up and get paid and so that I have all the important details in front of me when I need them.

3. Ask important questions upfront

Goodness, how many emails went back and forth when I just started freelancing? I’d have a million questions and think of them at different times, resulting in a million different emails.

That’s annoying. Your clients are busy and so are you, so don’t waste anyone’s time. Ask important questions upfront. Here are questions I ask when taking on a new writing gig.

- How many articles are you looking for per month? What are the deadlines?

- Do you prefer to receive articles in a Word doc, Google Doc, or via WordPress?

- How many words are you looking for?

- Do you want me to pitch topics to you or just write what I want? Or do you have ideas in mind?

- What is your budget and how do you pay? PayPal or Check?

- How and when would you like me to send an invoice?

These are my standard questions, but there are other questions you should consider as well. Where will your writing end up? Who are you writing to — i.e. who is the audience? Do you need to source an image? Will you get a link to your site or just credit? These are also important things to consider when starting out.

4. Create a separate tax savings account & save 30%

This year was the first time in my life I owed money to Uncle Sam. Fun times. Right after that, I vowed to save 10% of my freelance income. Well, I hate to say it, but I was naive. I need to be saving about 30% to cover my butt from any crazy tax bills. I also need to start looking into paying taxes quarterly. Save yourself the trouble and just save more for taxes. If you don’t need it all, you can use it elsewhere later. It’s a good practice to get into.

These four tips have helped me streamline my work as a freelancer and get to the point when taking on a new client. It also puts my mind at ease, because I am empowered with information so I can do my job well.

I hope some of these tips are helpful for you, too! Feel free to use or modify as you see fit!

In my lifelong quest at improving my finances, I am always trying to look at my moments of failure.

In what cases do I fail?

Why do I fail?

What could I be doing so that I set myself up for success and not failure?

A lot of that has to do with how we manage our money and how we spend it. In most ways, I’m on the path to recovery. I’ve got the targeted savings accounts down, I’m paying off debt, and I’m pretty frugal. However, there are moments when I am more inclined to spend money. For example, in certain situations, or with certain feelings your brain triggers a response for you to spend money on something.

These are your spending triggers.

Read more at VOSA.com

August 12, 2014

I’m so excited to see my blog lookin’ all sexy and fresh! So fresh and so clean. I haven’t been thrilled about any of the blog designs I’ve had – but if you read my quote about fashion, you would know I can be quite utilitarian. But it was time for a change!

Your website is often the first impression someone has of you. I knew the previous designs didn’t reflect my personality, at all. I want to make sure people feel welcome here, enjoy being here, and understand a little about who I am.

But money, I thought!

I’m trying to pay off debt!

Then, thanks to Debt Busting Chick, I realized that you can buy pre-made themes on Etsy for $20. Say what? After getting lost in the abyss that is Etsy, I found my designer.

Not just a designer. A chef, even. The Master Chef at Graphic Cookies. Mr. Tautvydas Gaudesius is a pretty rad dude (with a pretty rad name). I was going to get a pre-made theme for $20, until I realized a custom design was only $100. I was flabbergasted by the price. How could I say no?

He was so wonderful to work with and so accommodating. I was a real pain in the a$$. I didn’t know what I wanted, hadn’t really thought about color and was extremely picky. He was patient, generous, accommodating, creative and so fun to work with! He has a great eye for things, too.

My new design cost me $100 and took 3 weeks. I couldn’t be happier! He even installed it for me, so I didn’t have to lift a finger to make it happen.

If you’re looking for a new design, I highly recommend him.

Here’s some other things I love and highly recommend:

Carrie from Careful Cents. I think she’s a rockstar babe. Full disclosure, I do work with her and help her out with some editing and writing. But she has been more than a boss to me. She has been an incredible mentor and friend to me and I can’t even express my gratitude. I wouldn’t have pursued this crazy adventure without her support and guidance. I’m so excited that she is offering 30-minute sessions to pick her brain — so you can get started on pursuing all your wildest dreams, too. That’s how it started for me, so be ready. :)

I really dug this post by Lauren at The Write Budget. I used to waste so much time doing client work, but using a timer has really set me straight.

Also, Kassandra’s post on how she is saving 50% of her income! You go girl! I can’t wait to follow in your foot steps.

Tell me. Do you judge people by how much money they make?

Lastly, if you enjoy my content, would you consider nominating me for a Plutus award? I’d love to be considered for Best Debt Blog or Best New Blog (i.e. blogs created in 2013 or 2014). You can use this simple link that is already filled out to nominate me (and others!). You do NOT need to be a blogger to vote.

Thanks for reading! I don’t generally do roundup posts anymore, now that I retired Sunday Worship, but I do still want to spread the love. By the way, there are no affiliate links in here, just sharing content I think you’ll find useful. But if you do use any of these resources, let them know I sent you?

What things are you loving lately? How is the start of your week?

August 8, 2014

This is a bit late but I wanted to share my juicy news first!

July was pretty great on all fronts, but also stressful. I had to tie up loose ends at my old job and keep everything together, giving 100% to my job and my freelance work, which I have to say was tough.

Side note: During the last week of my job, I got stopped by a street fashion blog during my lunch break. MY RESPONSE WAS PRICELESS.

I got a little break though right after I left, as my parents came to town and we all went to Seattle. It was nice to have an adventure that didn’t cost a lot of money.

I successfully started my cash challenge and the results were shocking — my spending went down 30%!  I am going to keep up with it for a while as it really worked. Kinda bummed that apparently I suck with credit cards, but I think I will ease back into it and will just use it for necessary things, like my new health insurance (which is only $218 btw).

Now for a glimpse at the money…

This month I put:
$1,180 to student loans
$500 to EF
$100 to retirement
$75 to targeted savings

My student loan totals are now:

Undergrad

Grad Loans

Total: $37,975.75

I’m finally starting to feel like I’m making progress! This is a far cry from the $81,000 total I had amassed (23k undergrad, 58k grad).

Usually I’m a fan of the avalanche method of debt repayment, which means I focus on my high interest debt first. Considering my grad loans are a mix of 6.8% and 7.9%, and my undergrad loans are at 2.5% it seems like a no-brainer. At my highest, I was paying $11 a day in interest (UGH!). But, I saw that one of my undergrad loans was chillin’ at $636.25. I saw that and my inner debt huntress emerged.

I AM GOING TO SLAUGHTER YOU! (I swear I’m not that violent usually)

So I paid it off and felt GREAT!

Another win for me is my retirement. OK, I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this. Considering that I’m 29-years old, my retirement is pathetic. I started it at 26 in graduate school, added $20/mo, then stopped when I graduated and couldn’t find substantial work. Also note, NOT ONE of my jobs has ever had a retirement match, so I was never encouraged to start saving early. Even though, of course, now I wish I did. All this to say, my retirement account now has over $2,000! As I said, I know this is nothing to celebrate, but considering I’ve mainly focused on paying off $43,000 in debt, this was a nice milestone!

I’ve been saying for months I want more balance in all aspects of my life and this includes my finances. I can’t just focus on debt, so as I mentioned a few months ago, I’m putting $100 per month towards retirement. I can’t wait to be debt free and max it out!

July was such a great month and now I’ll be changing things up yet again. I have a fairly good idea of what my income will be in August as a freelancer. But everybody pays at different times, so I need to see when I actually receive payments to see how the budget shakes out.

My number one priority is getting out of debt, but I hope you understand that a close second will also be saving, so my EF is flush and also my retirement. I feel more balanced and happier this way.

Even though I may have to tone down some of the payments, I am already seeing a noticeable difference in my happiness. I am sleeping more, spending more time with my partner, and feeling a little more sane.

I also have a lot of ideas on where I want to go and projects I want to accomplish.

First one? Getting a site redesign! You will see the new and improved Dear Debt in the next few weeks…something that reflects my personality a bit more.

Lastly, I have to thank everyone for all the supportive comments about my new adventure in the freelance world. It truly means the world to me. It feels awesome to have people rooting for you and WANTING you to succeed. You all inspire me so much!

Here’s to a great August my friends! Let’s hustle and make that money! Pay off debt! Save! Live life to the fullest!

p.s. I won’t be around much this weekend as I’m working as a Brand Ambassador 8-hours a day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday! MONEY! It’s a pretty easy job, but there is a special sort of exhaustion with standing on your feet all day and chatting with people. Luckily, it’s a food festival, so I’ll get tons of free samples. HA!

Shannon Headshot 2014

Oh yeah! Time for another How My Blog Changed My Life, this time from Shannon, the blonde bombshell finance expert over at Financially Blonde. I am so inspired by her wisdom, sass, and class and her star is rising fast! (I swear I didn’t mean that to rhyme). Watch out world, she is about to take over!

More about her: Shannon McLay is a financial planner who left a “traditional” financial services firm to start her own company, NextGen Financial, to help clients in their 20s and 30s get financially fit. Through her blog, Financially Blonde, her book, Train Your Way to Financial Fitness and her partnership with Money Saving Pro, Shannon is committed to making financial fitness fun, easy and accessible for others.

1. What was the inspiration for starting your blog?

The blog started as a mini rebellion following my 13 year career in financial services. For most of my career, because of regulatory requirements, I always had someone from compliance or management reading my emails and sculpting what I could and could not write. I understood the need for the control based on the size of my companies and the industry I worked in; however, I longed to write and speak my mind.

While I was working for a large wealth management firm as a Financial Advisor, I wanted to send a monthly newsletter to my clients that I would call “Financially Blonde” because my male co-workers frequently called me the “Elle Woods of Financial Services.” Elle Woods was the lead character in the movie Legally Blonde. This newsletter was of course struck down by compliance; however, I tucked it in the back of my mind and knew that I would dust it off one day when I could. Within a month of leaving to start my own company, the Financially Blonde blog was born.

2. What has been the most challenging part of having a blog?

For me the biggest challenge about having a blog is finding the time to devote to it because blogging is not my primary job. I spend most of my time working as a financial planner (or I call myself a financial trainer) helping my clients achieve financially fit and rewarding lives. I love what I do everyday and it frequently inspires many of the blogs that I write; however, I would love to spend more time working on my blog. I really enjoy writing and being a part of the pf blogging community, and I would love to make a number of improvements on my blog, but I just don’t have the time to do it all.

3. In what ways, direct or indirect, has your life changed because of your blog?

Blogging has changed my life in so many ways that I am constantly shocked at how much it has. I wrote a post about this a few months ago, but the biggest way that it has changed my life is that it has introduced me to so many new friends. I was under the misinterpretation that when I first started blogging that it was an isolating activity since you accomplish it sitting alone in a room. I didn’t realize that through blog commenting and stalking that I would meet and become connected to so many wonderful people.

One of my blog friends actually introduced me to the team at AOL, and I am now the Co-Host of the Finance Hub at AOL Jobs. In this role, I am responsible for helping to guide and mentor men and women in financial services jobs. I can’t think of anything more cool than that. My blog has also led to other writing jobs as well as partnership opportunities like the one I have with Money Saving Pro.

4. What have you learned from blogging?

One of the best things I love about being a pf blogger is that I learn so much from other bloggers every single day. Even though I have a financial services job, and I have worked in the community for over 14 years, I am still learning new things all the time. Many of the tips and tools I have gotten from other bloggers, I incorporate in my client’s financial plans. I am constantly inspired by the personal stories and journeys of everyone with a blog, and I truthfully never expected to feel this way when I first started my blog.

I have also learned an important lesson about blogging that applies to most things in life, and that is the harder you work, the more you will be rewarded. Like most new bloggers, the first few months of my blog, I only seemed to be writing for my family and friends. I commented on other blogs, but not regularly. Then I decided at the end of 2013, that I would make an active commitment to my blog. I did not officially join the Yakezie Challenge; however, I put the same parameters around my blogging, and after a few months of working nights and weekends on the blogging efforts, I started seeing results.

5. What advice would you give to new bloggers who are thinking of starting a blog?

I would tell someone who is starting a blog to plan to commit a solid six months of hard work and effort to building their blog and community around their blog. The first few months are frustrating and there will be many blogs that you will comment on that will not return the favor or not even post your comment for fear that you are not serious about your blogging. You have to take these rejections in stride and keeping working on building your community. If you work on it enough, people will come around. I have been blogging for almost a year now, and I love my blog friends and community. I look forward to engaging with them every day. Don’t let a fear of hardwork and commitment rob you from the gift of community.

Thank you, Shannon!