We’re back with another edition of How My Blog Changed My Life. I know my blog has changed my life and I love hearing from others about how their lives have changed too.
What has changed in your life since starting a blog?
Today, we have a fabulous and inspiring woman who I had the pleasure of meeting at FinCon: Lauren from L Bee and the Money Tree.
Lauren Bowling is the blogger behind L Bee and the Money Tree, a finance site for career-minded 20-something women. She is also the creator and host of the award winning video blog series, Awkward Money Chat where guests discuss the most intimate details of their personal finances. Bowling is also a successful finance writer whose work has been published on Learnvest, Forbes, and The Huffington Post. By day Bowling works full time in marketing and resides in Atlanta, Georgia.
Prior to starting my blog, I paid off $10k in credit card debt while working for a hedge fund in New York City. This sparked my interest in Finance, but due to compliance issues I wasn’t able to blog publicly about my journey. When I left that job, I wanted to start a blog for someone like me: who knew a little bit about money but wanted to handle it wisely. I also wanted something that would appeal to the feminine aesthetic. The vibe of a fashion blog, but about finance.
I’m sure everyone who blogs and has a full-time job says that managing the two is the hardest part. Other than that, finding the motivation to keep going when things are going your way (readers, recognition, etc.) Blogging, especially in the beginning, can often be a very thankless job.
Blogging gave me access to a completely new skill set. I leverage my blog when it first started to completely switch careers- from administrative assistant/actor to a full-time content manager. From there I worked my way up and I now work full-time as a content strategist, helping my company leverage content to drive sales.
On a personal level, blogging has helped my self-esteem immensely. It is the first thing I have ever built, maintained, and grew successfully on my own, without the help from anyone else. It is incredibly empowering! Especially when you start to have others reading your words and work. There isn’t a feeling quite like it!
1) How to be organized. Blogging is a lot like work, but fun too because you are expressing yourself.
2) It has also taught me the importance of branding and publicizing your own brand. I used to think if you wrote something great enough, people would come. Now I know that’s not true. You have to ask for the things you want, whether it is someone to read your piece of content, or that next great raise. No one knew much about my accomplishments before I started blogging, now I tell everyone. Not to brag, because how else will they know about what I have going on unless I tell them?
Have a few blogs already before your site goes live. This will go a long way toward making you look like you know what you’re doing. Also, invest time in social media. This is where everyone starts with building an audience.
Thank you, Lauren!
Many people ask me how I pay off so much debt on such a low salary. Sometimes it baffles me too, but I figure that I would share some numbers with you, to help illuminate how I can do it.
I don’t talk about budgets that often here and there is a reason. I don’t love budgets. Budgets may be sexy, but sometimes they are hard to commit to and feel restricting.
I prefer to have a “spending plan” as other bloggers have called it, which focuses on my main goal of putting money towards my emergency fund and debt, while living on a minimal salary.
Here are my main expenses each month:
$450 for rent and utilities (my half — electricity, internet, gas, (water is included in rent)– could increase to $500 in winter)
$218 for health insurance
$300 for groceries and restaurants (it’s been higher at points too — my bad area. I consider eating out my entertainment)
$0 – $30 Transportation (only if I need to take the bus somewhere because it’s gross out — but I tend to bike or walk everywhere)
That’s it. For full disclosure, my mom pays for my phone. I’ve tried for years to pay, but since we are on a family plan, they insist I am saving them money by being on their plan. I also have the cheapest, most basic Samsung around and don’t really use data — because hello, I’m at home most of the time! I am sure this will change at some point soon.
I thought I’d share that because I believe in transparency — I always find it annoying when I read someone who pays $4,000 per month to debt and only later do you find out they live at home with their parents, or are making $100,000 per year. It’s important to look at the context of the situation. We all have our own financial privileges, which need to be taken into consideration.
I don’t buy clothes or cosmetics. I don’t have a gym membership or a car. I don’t really buy gifts. I don’t have kids or pets. My expenses are pretty minimal, which is how I can pay off debt on a low salary. This is how I’ve been able to pay off over $30,000 in debt in 3+ years, making that amount of money, or much less.
Let’s say that after taxes I make $2,000 a month (this of course fluctuates and I’m hoping to make much more soon, but this is a reasonable number to work with).
My basic expenses are about $1,000, leaving me with another $1,000 to put to debt, EF, and savings.
A few years ago, when I first moved to Portland, I brought home $800 a month. How did I do it then? I was on a food stamps and decided to go without health insurance, so then my basic expenses were around $500. I also side hustled a lot to help that number.
A few months later, I got a “better” paying temp job making $12/hr. I was bringing home $1320 a month. I was now ineligible for food stamps, but still went without insurance.
During both of these times when I was low-income, I was able to pay off debt because:
Hopefully that gives you some context on how I’m able to do it. Now that I’m freelance, I won’t touch my savings. So now, my main priority is to make more money, which I have been doing month after month since being freelance. In the next year, I want to double my income. I know that is ambitious, but I
can will do it.
It’s important to note that this is “my half” of the budget. My partner and I do not have joint finances. I just included my basics at the top, because those don’t change. With what is left over, I put nearly everything to debt and some to savings.
My spending plan helps me reach my goals — living on less, so I can put as much as possible to my debt.
Let me know if you have any questions — I don’t think I missed anything. But feel free to ask away!
p.s. If you want to hear about me being on food stamps, walking invisible dogs, side hustling, and fake laughs, then check out my girl Shannon’s podcast.
The Internet, as you know, has created ample opportunities for people to find work. From temporary gigs to full-time jobs, opportunities are everywhere.
Job hunting online can take a lot of work, but there are a ton of resources out there to make it easier. You can find a new career on job aggregate sites or use something like Craigslist for temporary gigs. Whatever type of gig you are looking for, whether it is full-time, freelance, or temporary, can be found online. While it is time-consuming to go through listings, apply, and network, it’s worth it in the end.
In order to job hunt successfully on the Internet, you need patience, persistence and consistency. Remember, I struggled for almost 2 years to find a job — and then after beating out 200 people, I finally got a full-time career. Then after a year, I transitioned into being full-time freelance, after finding work on the Internet! It is important to know where and how to look — and also utilize your personal network to your advantage.
The most popular way is to look at various websites that specialize in the work you are looking for or look at aggregate sites that do all the heavy lifting for you. I’d also say that attending networking events and tapping your network are huge. It’s all about who you know! But if you don’t have friends in your specific field, the Internet is the way to go.
How to get started: use keywords in your search that relate to your field and the type of job you are looking for. It can seem like you are swimming in job posts if you don’t start to search specifically for what you want.
1. You search the Internet, applying to specialized sites, looking for a permanent job or a suitable position that matches your skill set. If you are interested in temporary work, use a profile on freelancing sites like Elance (however, it’s tough to get started on sites like that and the pay isn’t very good).
2. Search in printed media. I know nearly everything is done online these days, but look in local papers, journals, magazines and more for jobs. Remember, some of the best jobs aren’t even listed. If you want to work somewhere, start pitching people for an informational interview and create a relationship with that company.
3. Submit your resume into a database on relevant sites. This method can also be time-consuming and less personal, but sometimes a recruiter will find you and give you a good offer. Remember to tailor your resume to each job — same goes for your cover letter. Each job is unique and deserves unique materials to look at. Trust me, it will help you stand out. You can even take language from the job description and use it in your cover letter. Companies are trying to find the best fit, so you want to show them that you are what they want.
4. Utilize your social network. This is so vital! You’d be surprised by how many jobs you can get from Facebook and Twitter. To go one level deeper, you can join specialized Facebook groups that post opportunities.
In the past few years, I’ve found nearly all my gigs and jobs online or through word of mouth. While it can be a lot of work to actually look for work, it’s worth it.
Yes, it’s true.
Tomorrow, as of 12:04 PM I’m turning the big 3-0.
Sorry mom for causing you such a stressful birth! I was born two months premature because my mom’s appendix ruptured while she was pregnant — and I wasn’t having any of it, so I got out. Because of that, it’s kind of amazing that I’m healthy, a normal weight (now — I was really skinny as a kid — like people used to make fun of me because they thought I was anorexic), and don’t have any serious problems.
I’m so grateful for all the good things that have happened this past year. It’s such a change from the deep, dark place I was in just two years ago. What a difference a year makes.
I feel pretty excited about turning 30. I feel good. I’m happy, in a long-term relationship, and enjoy my job. I think like most people, I am not where I expected to be at 30. Life has taken a lot of turns that I didn’t see coming. But I guess that is part of the adventure?
I’m not having a crisis about turning 30 like some people do — however, I am feeling scared about something. Something that I’m ashamed to admit, because it’s just so stupid.
I’m scared of losing my “young and dumb” card. What do I mean by that?
Well, let’s say in the last 12 years since I was a legal adult, I’ve done a lot of dumb stuff (saving that material for the book, you know?). I’ve been hurt. I’ve hurt others. I’ve done some questionable things. But now that I’m more mature and I’ve learned from my mistakes, I just blame those times on being “young and dumb.” That’s what you do in your twenties, right?
Now, at thirty it seems like I should know better. I feel like my margin for error is slim. I feel nervous about becoming the person I want to be. I feel like I should have everything figured out, and I clearly don’t.
I don’t know what I’m scared of — my life is fairly stable right now. I just want to feel in control. I want to continue to be happy and successful — and improve my finances by paying off debt and making more money.
I hope 30 will be the year that things continue to change and evolve for the better. In celebration of this time, I’m going away for the night from Saturday to Sunday to explore Bend, OR. We found a cheap motel for $60 and have some frugal activities planned. I am going to do my best to unplug and not work this weekend and really enjoy some time with my sweetie and recharge from this crazy week.
In case you missed it, the #DumpDebt chat was a huge success! If you couldn’t make it, search the hashtag for all the great info.
Also, feel free to check out some articles of mine on the interwebz:
How to Pay Off Debt as a Self-Employed Solopreneur or Freelancer via Careful Cents
Retirement is Not the End Goal via Retire by 40
5 Steps to Start a Side Hustle via NarrowBridge Finance
Tired of Debt? 4 Tips for Dealing With Debt Fatigue via GoGirl Finance
3 Unique Ways to Make Extra Money in College via The College Investor
7 Weird Ways to Save and Make Money via FeeX
Thanks for all the love and support this week.
What are your plans for this weekend?
Like, so over.
I am sick and tired of your excuses. You are lazy and soul sucking and can’t do a damn thing yourself.
I’m tired of holding your hand and getting nothing in return.
I’m tired of even looking at you.
When I look at you, I feel consumed by you. I can’t see myself any more. Who was I without you?
I told myself that I was doing the right thing by being with you. I believed all your little lies. I was going to change my life for you. I even thought about having kids, the white picket fence, marriage — all those things, just for the opportunity of being with you.
Now, I have to defend myself when people ask why we’re together. People think I’m an idiot. It’s like I can see it in their eyes.
You were with him?
They know I’m too good for you and I still found myself in this mess.
But with blog as my witness, you will never see my face again. I’ve made my decision.
I’m ready to #DumpDebt
Melanie’s Note: Come join me and LaTisha Styles from Young Finances for my first Twitter chat!
Are you ready to #DumpDebt? Join us this Thursday from 12-1pm EST for strategies, tips, as well as success stories from those who have made the commitment to dump debt!
RSVP Here: http://goo.gl/forms/
Then follow @DearDebtBlog, @YoungFinances, @ThomasBrightGuy, and @ClearPointCCS to join in on the conversation!
To participate in the twitter chat other than using Twitter by searching keyword #DumpDebt; you can use http://twubs.com/dumpdebt. Sign in using your Twitter account for an easy way to keep up with the chat.
On the chat, learn how you can win $10,000 from @ClearPointCCS.
Try it out by sending out a tweet to share how excited you are to participate in the #DumpDebt chat. Ex. “I’m so excited to join the campaign to #DumpDebt on Thurs @ 12PM EST w/ @YoungFinances and @DearDebtBlog”
Hope to see you there!
It seems that many people feel lost as to what they should do once they become debt-free. After accomplishing such a huge goal, it’s easy to wonder what’s next?
Although I’m not debt-free yet, I know exactly what I will do with my money, once that day comes.
For those in debt, or recently out of debt, check out my latest post and join the conversation on Investor Junkie:
As a blogger, our personal story is often at the crux of our writing. Not only that, but oftentimes we share intimate details about our lives with the world wide web, essentially opening up ourselves to criticism and judgement.
It is a form of writing that is both brave and narcissistic. We put ourselves out there to tell our story in hopes that others can relate or learn something. But then, why should people care about my story over anyone else’s? Am I any more or less “special”?
I have never really thought of blogging as narcissistic until recently.
A few days ago, my boyfriend felt like I was neglecting him because I was “working on the blog.” I admit, in the three months I have been a full-time freelancer, I have given my all to this blog, to my writing, and pursuing opportunities. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t lose part of myself in it. This became clear after my boyfriend said:
“All you ever do is talk about your blog and your work — you never talk about anything else.”
Ouch. That stung a little. Ok, a lot. The statement stopped me in my tracks. Have I been neglecting the most precious thing I have in order to be available at all times? Have I given up other interests in exchange for mornings and nights glued to the computer? I also admit that I’ve come too close to equating my self-esteem with the amount of comments and page views I get.
I start to wonder, is there something wrong with me if an article didn’t get any comments? Am I bad a writer? I suppose therein lies the narcissism right there. A level-headed person wouldn’t think such a thing, but maybe blogging turns us all into narcissists.
Now, narcissism shouldn’t be confused with arrogance or even confidence — those things I am not. But I do think I’ve grown to be more narcissistic since blogging.
But the question is how to separate? How to care, just a little less? How to “turn off”?
I realize as I write this, I am engaging in more narcissism. After the dust settled after our quibble, I thought “That’s a great blog post idea!” (ugh). So of course, I asked my partner if he’d be ok sharing this personal part of our lives. He said yes as he is still a huge fan of this blog. I just need to learn how to have blog time and how to have relationship time.
I have to remember that I have a whole slew of interests that don’t involve writing, talking about myself or my money, or blogging. I need to remember the beauty of the sky outside and get some more fresh air.
I still think blogging is very brave — it’s a way to share our stories with the world. But I can see how it can turn into an all-consuming hobby and profession that ever so slowly leads to a special kind of narcissism.
So, it’s something I’m working on…
What do you think — are bloggers narcissistic? Have you had similar moments in your life?
I’m never really good at this kind of stuff, but thought I‘d give it a try.
But first, I’d like to announce the winner of my Starbucks pay it forward love: Megan from Megan and Eggs! Congrats!
This was picked totally by random, by asking my boyfriend to pick a number.
Back to the award…Being nominated for the versatile blogging award means sharing 7 unique and interesting things about me, so here you go.
I would describe myself as a curious person. I often wonder, what happens biologically when something itches? What happens when you die? I’m fascinated by psychology, philosophy and consciousness. I’m always asking questions.
A few years back, David Lynch had an art opening at a gallery in LA. At the time, he would also introduce the weather on an LA radio station – when giving the weather update, he’d also hawk his new line of coffee. When I went to the gallery, everyone was flocking to him, stroking his ego and washing him with compliments about his art. Because I sometimes like to create awkward situations, or be a little silly, I thought of something that I thought was brilliant and hilarious.
So I went up to him, this acclaimed video director and artist, at his own gallery show and said, “David, I absolutely LOVE your coffee!” Without skipping a beat, he said “Thanks a million!” I think he was a bit confused, but he was nice.
It feels weird to be consciously aware that we are but a blip of time on this earth. We too will be gone. A memory. This is a fear that I will need to get over, but I’m still pretty scared of death.
I am proficient in Spanish and my abilities have helped me get my previous jobs. I’ve worked closely with Latino communities and I simply love the language. I studied abroad in Spain and Mexico, and have visited Argentina and Uruguay. I need to get back into practice, but I love being able to speak and understand Spanish. For a brief time, I also studied Portuguese and French, which were much harder – but similar enough to Spanish where I understood a few things.
In high school, I desperately wanted to avoid the P.E. requirement, so I signed up to be a part of the swim team for two years instead. What I thought would be a shortcut, really turned out to be more work than I thought possible. I swam 4 hours a day and I always smelled like chlorine. At one swim meet, I disqualified my team as I didn’t have all ten fingers touching the wall. My team never forgave me and people reminded me of this all throughout high school. After two years, I decided to be done with it since I didn’t have to do it anymore. I believe doing this really taught me some discipline and perseverance though.
Ok, I know this is gross and I need to just quit it. I’m not a nail biter, as I’m too OCD to put my fingers in my mouth, but I’m a nail picker. I have been since I was about 4. I’m turning 30 soon, folks. This has been my one long-standing addiction. I’ve tried everything. The only thing that works is wearing mittens, except I can’t really type like that! Now that I’m turning 30, it’s really time to retire this childish habit.
Forget roses, it’s all about the lilies. They are just so beautiful! They are vibrant and open to life, just how I want to be. Their range in color and smell delight me. My boyfriend usually gets me lilies twice a year: my birthday and Valentine’s Day. We’re not big on gifts, but I enjoy this simple form of appreciation.
What unique thing would you like to share with me?
Today, I’m super jazzed about the latest edition of How My Blog Changed My Life. If you are new here, I started this interview series after I realized my own life had changed tremendously because of my blog. Because my favorite part of blogging is the community, I thought it would be fun to interview others about how their blogs have changed their lives. These people are my inspirations!
Today, we have Stefanie who is insanely talented and someone I deeply admire. More about her: Stefanie O’Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to “live the dream” on a starving artists’ budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com.
I’m a professional actress by trade and a personal finance junkie out of necessity. During one of my first tours I read Suze Orman’s, “Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke”. From that point on, money became my hobby – “Millionaire Mind”, “Investing for Dummies”- I read anything and everything finance and became obsessed with tracking my own in my spare time. When I saw how nonchalantly other actors would treat their limited funds, I shook my head in silence. When I heard them subsequently complain about having no money, I decided to do something and start my blog.
There are a lot of challenges surrounding blogging, more than I think most people realize, but I think the hardest is having no idea what I’m doing- seriously. There are so many things that go into a blog that I never realized, it’s really overwhelming when you start out, and I’ve found it doesn’t really get any less overwhelming, but you get better at dealing with it. There’s always some new thing to do or learn for the sake of your blog that you have absolutely no idea how to implement. If you want to be a blogger you have to be a self-starter.
I used to have to do things I hated just to get by- waiting tables, personal assisting, babysitting, trade show hostessing, pretty much any random side jobs you can think of- then I’d have to be up at the crack of dawn the next morning to audition. It was soul sucking and exhausting. Now my “survival job” (as we call it in “the biz”) is freelance writing- something I absolutely adore and can do on my own time.
It might sound like a minor change, but I’ve gone from being miserable and negative 99% of the time to feeling truly happy and content 99% of the time. It’s the first time in my life where I’m not waiting for my next acting job to make me feel fulfilled.
The more opportunities you create for yourself, the luckier you get. As an actor, I’m all too familiar with rejection and how much luck matters. Rather than focusing on what I can’t control, I’ve decided to empower myself through blogging — constantly creating more opportunities for success, even in the face of rejection.
I do coaching for beginner bloggers so I could write pages on this, but if I have to narrow it down to one thing… know who you are, who you’re writing for, and what mission you’re serving. Okay, that’s like three things, but the more clarity you bring to those fundamental answers, the more focused and effective you’ll be as a blogger.
Thank you Stefanie! I want to follow in your footsteps
It’s October! My favorite month, ever.
I love fall so much. I love pumpkin everything, crisp weather and the change in seasons.
It’s also my birthday month. In a little over 2 weeks I turn the big 3-0. WOW.
I am happier than ever though. I remember just six months ago thinking to myself that I was itching for a huge change by my 30th birthday. Well, I got what I wanted.
I quit my job and have been getting more opportunities since FinCon, which was so worth it. How did I do it? I followed up with every single person I got a business card from. Sometimes it’s just a matter of telling people that you are looking and are open to new opportunities.
September was quite busy work wise, but I also had some fun adventures thrown in there. I went camping for 48 hours and completely disconnected from technology and I also went to New Orleans for FinCon and managed to work only 2 hours while there (though I was working furiously the days prior, working many late nights).
I am so happy to report that even with taking 7 days off in September, my income increased 10% from August.
My income breakdown is as follows:
7% Virtual Assisting
3% Sales (sold some books)
27% Event work (includes brand ambassador work and my part-time job at a Jewish congregation)
2% Side Hustle Coaching
As you can see, my income doesn’t come from one place. I like it that way. It will be interesting to see how this shifts in the next few months as brand ambassador work slows down – but as I mentioned, I have some new opportunities, which will hopefully put me in a better place. The goal is to steadily increase my income every month.
Now on to the debt…
But first, a confession. At the risk of getting verbal stones thrown at me, I have to let you know I committed a cardinal personal finance sin.
I withdrew $1,700 from my already pathetic retirement account to pay off one of my loans. Yep, I borrowed from my future to pay for my present. What prompted this?
I wrote this article on Joe’s site and asked the readers what I should do regarding balancing my retirement and student loans. Joe has a great group of readers, but because Joe’s site is about retirement I thought people would pat me on the back and say “great job on being more balanced and putting more to retirement!” Nope. The overwhelming response was to pay off my crazy high interest debt.
Before you think I did anything too rash, I sat on it for a while. I looked at the numbers.
Do you know how much my retirement has made this year?
Interest Paid Year to Date: $9.93
My student loan payments cost me hundreds of dollars in interest per month, which results in thousands per year of interest. The math looked at me right in the face. I couldn’t deny that my money would do more going to debt.
I understand I’m looking at a 10% penalty for this, but what’s done is done and I still think it will work out financially. If you want to read some great information on Roth IRAs, check out this post at Finance Girl.
This debt journey has its ups and downs and moments where things change — moments where I make big decisions that seem both right and wrong. Although I was previously craving more balance, I realize that for now I really want to focus on my emergency fund and debt. I have changed my retirement contributions to $20 per month, mostly so I can keep the habit. I think automation is great for creating positive habits to achieve financial success.
So there you have it. My confession. But look at what a nice number I put to debt:
$2,341.51 to debt.
Undergrad loan – $6,317.52
Grad loan – $29,429.73
My graduate loan is now under $30k! I want to scream from the rooftops about it. For some reason, psychologically, being in the twenties seems much more manageable. It feels like I’m making progress. This is a far cry from when I graduated in May 2011 and I had a balance of $58k on my graduate loans.
Here’s to hoping that I continue to grow my work and can continue to put more to debt, without getting out money from other places.
I am motivated and inspired!
Also, someone anonymously gifted me a Starbucks eCard. Literally, I got an email that said, “Anonymous has given you a Starbucks card!”
I thought it was a scam at first, but I looked at it cautiously. There was even a note. It said, “Melanie, Just because you are awesome and wanted you to have a special day!” By golly, that was one of the sweetest things someone could do. It did make my day! To anonymous, thank you!
Kayla had a great idea of paying it forward! So if you comment on this post, I’ll randomly choose someone this Friday and give out a $5 Starbucks gift card too. Go get your pumpkin spice latte on.
How is October going so far?
Update: Thanks to some friends who are smarter than me, apparently I won’t have to pay a penalty as I withdrew from my Roth IRA. I swear I read a lot of info on the matter when I made my decision, but the language wasn’t very clear, thus my confusion. Either way, I’m not a financial expert as you know — just someone sharing my journey out of debt.