February 26, 2015

I started out this year with so much fervor for the year ahead. On January 1, I wrote out the three words I wanted to guide my year: bold, balance, and adventure.

I’ve seen firsthand how being bold and making bold moves can transform your life and career. In just a year’s time, I’ve been able to write for $25 a post and turn it into $250 for a post (not all clients, obviously).

The adventure part is also a big one. I’m planning to go to Las Vegas next month for 48 hours to hang out with Tonya at Budget and the Beach. Why? Because I can. She scored a free hotel, and the flight was a small portion of the reward points I had racked up. Then, a month after that, I’ll be in Spain and Portugal. I know, I hate me too.

But do you know what I’m absolutely fucking failing at? Balance. I’m doing pretty good with the other two, but balance just seems further and further away. I keep saying, “you need to make time for yourself!” and then when it comes down to it, I’m the last on my list. My business, blog, my boyfriend, my friends, the neighbor, the stranger at the coffee shop — all of them seemingly come before me and can take up my time and energy.

And I’m exhausted. Already. On one hand, I’m very excited that the BOLD part has resulted in some new, sweet gigs. On the other hand, I’m working harder than ever, because I’ve not made balance a priority. I’ve said yes to too many things and I think it’s time to make some hard cuts.

I’m scared of letting people down. I’m scared of pushing myself to a point where I cannot return. I know what I’m doing is not sustainable and the only way to fix it is by making changes. And that has to come from me. I can’t talk to my “boss” and tell them my problems. I need to sit down with myself and really focus on what I want, what I need, out of life and business.

Have you ever felt like you are just getting by? And I don’t mean financially. But you are scraping by, moment to moment, just hoping that nervous breakdown doesn’t pop up, or that some inconvenient event suddenly ruins your already-too-tight schedule.

I quit my job so I could have balance and I’ve worked so hard, yet I’ve found anything but. This is my dirty little secret. That I feel like a failure because I work so hard and feel like I have nothing to show for it. My relationship isn’t where I want it to be, my personal goals are out the window, and my debt repayment feels stalled.

I know it probably sounds like I’m just being a whiner and being too hard on myself. I probably am, but it’s something I’m working on. It’s hard not to invest your whole self into your business when you work for yourself. How can I not take everything personally? How can I not give 110% to everything, when this is my livelihood? When my name is on the line.

I don’t know where the balance is, but I know I need to find it. It’s so freaking hard for me, but I cannot put money first. Although the personal finance blogger in me says that is the right answer, the human in me is telling me to chill the eff out.

So, there. I’ve told you my big failure.

What are you failing at today? (I’m serious)

This post is in: career, life

February 15, 2015

Over the holiday break, I got to spend two delightful weeks with my family and my partner’s family. It was truly wonderful to catch up, relax, and spend quality time together.

But it wasn’t all about relaxing. Ryan and I knew that we had to have some difficult conversations during our holiday visit.

Just a few months before, his dad had a health scare that put us in a panicked frenzy. At first he was fainting and in the hospital — we had so little information, and being a few states away, we assumed the worst.

Questions ran through our head. Should we go down there? When do we go down there? It was a stressful situation not having all the information upfront. For all we knew it could have been nothing, or it could have been very serious. It was the first time in my life that I realized how difficult it is living away from your parents. Even if we did hop on the next flight, nothing is promised to us.

Luckily, everything turned out alright. It was a pretty severe ulcer that kept him out of work for weeks.

Of course we were scared about his dad’s health — but to be honest, we were more scared for his mom. His mom relies on his dad 100% financially and has chosen a life as a homemaker — a relic of her old world in Romania. It’s all she knows. While she is an amazing cook and a wonderful homemaker, in her own words, she “doesn’t know how to pay a bill.”

Imagine our fright when we weren’t sure about his dad’s situation. We would have to go digging for his financial information, his insurance info, and more. We’d have to help her set-up everything and teach her how to pay bills, etc. It was a daunting thought.

We got off lucky this time, but we knew we had to have a difficult conversation during the holidays. We realized we knew nothing. Were they in debt? Did they have life insurance? Do they have plans in place when something happens? We were ill-equipped with answers and had only questions.

During the break, Ryan had a one-on-one with his dad. They started to talk about the future and current state of affairs. Thank goodness he did have a life insurance policy!

This situation was a pretty big wake up call for us. Both Ryan and I have one parent that relies 100% on the other financially. That tough reality is exacerbated by the fact that we are both only children and have no one else to call or rely on — we are our parents’ help, and we don’t have many resources either.

I’m so glad that we were able to have this important talk with our parents. More importantly, I’m glad that our parents have life insurance, to provide for their partners, if something happens.

I urge you to have a talk with your parents. Get a life insurance policy and prepare in advance. No one wants to deal with financial stuff in the face of emergency — so prepare now!

If you’re looking for an easy way to get started, check out Quotacy, a one-of-a-kind life insurance brokerage. Their website is super user-friendly and it takes only a matter of minutes to get a quote. Best part is that you don’t even have to put your contact info in to get a quote, so you won’t get spammed 🙂 What surprised me the most is just how affordable life insurance is, given how much it covers.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Do you have any other advice to add?

 

This post was created in partnership with Quotacy

This post is in: life

February 4, 2015

They say that home is where the heart is and for the most part I believe that to be true. But there is also a different sense of feeling at home. A feeling of comfort, a feeling of belonging, and a sensory experience that jives with your well-being.

I feel at home in several different places, but most notably, not where I actually live.

You see, I’m a big city girl. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, experiencing all the culture and diversity, and appreciating all of it. The sounds, smells, and sights were part of me. Then I moved to New York City for graduate school.

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I fell in love with New York hard — it’s a city for dreamers and believers, hustlers and hard workers. People come to New York for a reason and everyone has a purpose. I didn’t want to leave New York, but my long-distance relationship was strained and I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough in New York.

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So I moved to Portland, which is a lovely city, but for me feels like a small town. I remember the first few weeks in Portland were so eerie for me. Why was it so quiet? Where were all the people? Why was it so white? Portland and I didn’t get along at all for the first year. For a city that boasts retiring in your 20s, I felt like my ambition was out of place.

In New York and LA, I always felt pushed — you had to work hard, or you’d sink or swim. Now, I have a cordial relationship with Portland, but to be honest, I’m always longing for LA and New York.

I really miss the culture, the diversity, the design of the city, the sense of being enveloped in something bigger than yourself. I like the ooze of entertainment in LA and the abrupt honesty of New York. I can’t stand the overly nice, politically correct, passive-aggressive communication style of many Portlanders.

I have always known that Portland was not my forever home. It’s tough to fully enjoy a city when you know it’s not where you belong — but I’ve made the best of it (lately) and am enjoying it for what it is.

Now, the lingering question that my partner and I face is when to move. Just like so many other big decisions in life, it feels like there is never a good time. I’m still paying off debt and growing my business, and he is getting experience at his job.

But several things have happened lately that make us question whether it makes sense for us to stay — another move could be on the horizon. It’s too soon to say and I’m not at liberty to discuss everything. I’m the type of person who gets overwhelmed with big decisions — decisions you know will change the course of your life. I freaked out when I moved to NYC, I freaked out when I moved to Portland, and I’ll probably freak out again.

Except this time, I’ll know it’s the right move, I just don’t know the right time. I feel guilty and terrible that we want to move to LA or NYC — two of the most expensive cities in the U.S. But those places are home and they equal possibility. It would be hard, but I truly believe there are more opportunities — especially for my boyfriend who is a musician. He’s already played the biggest venue in Portland and he’s done pretty well. But there’s a cap of success.

So, we’ll see where this journey — this tale of two cities — takes us. I have no news yet, but will keep you posted.

How do you make big decisions? How did you choose where you currently live?

This post is in: life

I’m not going to lie. When I first heard about travel hacking (getting miles through credit card sign-up bonuses), I gave it one big eye roll and a hefty sigh.

Yeah, right!

I just didn’t believe it was possible. Or I did, and I thought that you had to spend too much money.

You see, I live on a pretty bare bones budget. I don’t even spend $1,000 per month on basic expenses, and I can’t pay my student loans with credit cards, so I thought that the spending requirements were out of reach. Also, let’s not forget that I got my first credit card a little over a year ago.

But I kept reading post after post about people going on vacation for what seemed like an absurdly cheap amount.

You guys know that my number one priority is getting out of debt. But a close second priority is traveling. My initial goal was to travel abroad once a year, but then life happened and it’s been about every other year. Something to note, is that I’m a frugal traveler and don’t travel unless I find sweet deals. I also always stay in hostels. My trips have usually cost around $1,500. Even so, that’s still a chunk of change — roughly two months of debt repayment. So I’ve tried to quell my thirst for travel, but if I’m honest, I think about traveling every day. I have an insatiable wanderlust and if I die tomorrow, I would regret not traveling more.

But I am trying to manage my debt and become debt free asap, while also still enjoying life. At $35,000 left to go, I still have several years of debt repayment, unless I can double or triple my income, which I hope to do at some point 🙂

So after realizing that I don’t want to compromise my debt repayment (too much) and that I still want to travel, I had to figure out how to do both, creatively. So I reluctantly applied for another (rewards) credit card. I knew my spending was low, so I took the slow and steady route.

I applied for the American Airlines card that required spending $1,000 in 3 months, to get 30,000 bonus miles. I was able to do that, and then after flying to New Orleans for FinCon on AA, and spending a little bit more, I had 40,000 miles.

A mere 40,000 miles was enough for me to go abroad off-season! It took me a while to find a flight as Portland is not a hub (ahh, sometimes I really miss living in LA or NYC!), but I finally found one. It’s not the best, but hey, I’m going to Spain for peanuts.

I’m flying from Portland to Seattle, then to Dallas, then to Madrid! Yikes. But for the price of some airport taxes at a mere $63!

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I’ll be going for 2 whole weeks in late April to early May! I’ll be flying into Madrid, which is where my love of travel first hit. When I was 21, I saved up for a year to study abroad in Spain for the summer. It was amazing. So I’m happy to get back and visit it 9 years later!

The real reason I’m going to Spain though is because one of my best friends in Portland is teaching English there until June, which means I have a limited time to visit her.

Her teaching placement is crazy. She is in a ridiculously cute location in Nerja. Every time I see her pictures on Facebook, I get excited about seeing this place in person!

Also, because I’ll be in Spain, I’ve decided to check something off my bucket list and go to Lisbon, Portugal! If you listened to the very end of my podcast interview with Shannon, you know that this was on the top of my list!

I’ll be traveling solo as my partner just got a better paying job at a music nonprofit (yay!), which is a step up from a music store. We want to grow his career a bit, and travel together again at some point.

I plan to keep it as frugal as possible and will side hustle my way there through brand ambassador work and any work that is not related to writing or editing.

So there you have it! A newbie travel hacker booking her first flight abroad. But I would like to share this post, with one big caveat.

Travel hacking isn’t for everyone. I repeat, it’s not for everyone. Some people write about travel hacking like everyone should be doing it, and that you’re an idiot if you don’t.

But the thing is, not everyone is good with credit cards. Even though I’ve paid off my balances in full every month, I’ve seen some credit card creep in my own life that I had to manage. It’s a slippery slope and I can totally see how rewards cards can encourage more spending. What works for other people, may not work for you. And if you are in credit card debt now, then definitely don’t try this at home, folks.

I think it’s important to be honest that yes, travel hacking is possible, but it’s still not a great idea for everyone. If you’re bad with credit cards, why would you put yourself through that? If you knew someone was an alcoholic, you wouldn’t recommend they get a drink, right? So I don’t want to recommend things to people that might just be a bad idea, but rather share my own experience with travel hacking.

The slow and steady route…I don’t ever see myself having a dozen cards, but I do want to be smart with my credit card spending, and try to pay off debt and reap the “rewards”.

What are your thoughts on travel hacking? Know anyone in Madrid or Lisbon I can stay with? 🙂

p.s. Michelle so eloquently stated why I prioritize travel.

This post is in: life, side hustle

It’s a marketer’s world, we only live in it.

Think about how true those words are.

Every single day we are processing an over abundance of advertisements and imagery. Our desires and interests are merely pawns in the game. Our insecurities are preyed upon.

It’s easy to understand why we have so many financial issues, when we think we can buy our way to happiness through new shoes and buy status in the form of cars or houses.

It’s easy to succumb to temptation, consumerism, and the like, because “everyone is doing it.”

But whose life is this anyway? Who signed me up for this?

I don’t know about you, but my version of happiness and the American Dream does not mean going into (more) debt to buy a house, have kids, or buy cars, that quite frankly I can’t afford.

Except the world we live in tells us that everything we want is at our fingertips. It’s so close you can almost taste it. Everything you want, you can have. For a price.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about personal finance, is that if you want to be a financial rockstar, you have to reject the status quo.

You have to reject the “shoulds”. You have to reject the scornful looks of judgement. You have to say “no” while everyone is saying “yes”. You have to play odd man out, in a sea of sheep.

Because let’s face it. Being in debt is normal. Having a car payment, or a mortgage is normal. Working until you are 65, or until you die, is normal.

For so long we grow up and never question any of it, until one day the blindfold is ripped off and we can see everything clearly.

Everything is not as it seems.

It can be a bit unsettling once you realize that in order to live the life you want, you have to go against the grain. But to stay the same is to be a prisoner of consumerism — soon, you too will be a commodity.

Companies want you to be in debt. They are only interested in you for your interest.

By choosing to pay off my student loans early, I am imposing an act of rebellion.

I am rejecting the status quo. I am breaking through the barriers and the beliefs that you have to make a lot of money to do this.

There are others paving the way and showing people that you don’t have to work until you die.

Showing people that maybe there is a better way.

But to find that way — to truly be a financial rockstar — you need to reject the status quo.

This post is in: life, money

For as long as I could remember, I have been a minimalist. I don’t like stuff. It actually overwhelms me at times.

I have a huge disdain for shopping, which I know makes me some sort of freak as I do biologically identify as a female (but how much of that is cultural conditioning, I wonder). But shopping, especially clothes shopping, simply represents a plethora of choices and inevitable disappointment. Clothes never fit the way you want, it always looks better on someone else and there is so much pressure to buy the best thing.

I much prefer experiences over things. I love traveling to far and away places, hearing live music, eating delectable food that I could never make, and sipping tasty libations.

My minimalism has gotten me in trouble though.

Read more at VOSA.com

This post is in: life

When I first started this blog, I wrote a post, it wasn’t always this bad.

I recall when I was the Arts and Culture director of a now prominent nonprofit in Los Angeles. After some struggles finding a job, I had worked my way up quickly in the LA arts & nonprofit scene. I managed a group of 20 people as well as a departmental budget of $300,000.

I felt important.

Although I had student loans, I lived on my own in Silverlake, a cute, and now almost too-hipster neighborhood. I went out often and had a blast. Everything felt like it was in place.

But I was addicted to bettering myself. I thought grad school, at NYU no less, would make me better — take me to the next level of my career.

And here is where the downward spiral begins.

I feel like all of you know me in a certain place, a certain time in history…when I was broke, partially employed, sad, and struggling.

It wasn’t always this way.

Somehow I feel like I’ve downgraded in status. The egotistical part of me wants you to know that I did indeed have a career job at one point and in my mind felt very successful.

But my story changed.

While it has been an utterly humbling and wild experience to have a career, go to NYU, move to Portland and be on food stamps, struggle to find work, eventually find work, then quit my job to work for myself, somehow I feel like who I come across is as this sad, indebted little girl.

Or maybe that’s how I perceive myself? I am not sure, but sometimes I wish all this stuff never happened. I want you to see me in the good light. When everything was together — at least it felt together.

I hope to change my story right in front of your eyes like some sort of magic trick. Become someone else. Not a victim of circumstances, but a survivor. Someone who was dealt unexpected turns, like many people post-Recession.

It wasn’t just about my choices or my failure. It was about so much more.

Now, at 30 I feel too old to deal with some of this b.s. By typical standards, I was more successful and making more money at age 23. That freaking sucks, let me tell you.

I can’t go one day without thinking of money. I’m always thinking about when the next payment will hit. I’m an addict, waiting for my next fix.

And I wonder, will I ever be ok with money?

When I’m debt free and getting my life back on track, will I be ok then?

Will it ever be enough?

I want to see a day when money is part of my lifestyle, but not an obsession or paranoia. It’s something I’m in control of, not controlling me.

So as I fight through this journey and wonder if I will ever be ok with my money, I have to ask, will I be ok with myself?

This post is in: debt, life, money

One of the things I love about the personal finance blogging community is just how many women there are. As women, I think it’s important that we are in charge of our finances and have a key role in managing them. Let’s face it — whether we are partnered or single — women are outliving men, so we need to be prepared to handle our business and keep our financial life in tact — which means we need to be educated and empowered when it comes to our own personal finance.

I feel like I have a pretty firm grasp of my finances. I check my online accounts every day, track my spending, live on a minimal budget, and try to increase my income every chance I get. Of course, I know I can improve in the areas of investing and building wealth. But overall, I feel like I have an active role in my finances.

I remember hearing horror stories of my grandparents’ generation, when men worked and women stayed at home. Men paid the bills, women cleaned. Of course, I’m generalizing here, but I know of women personally who had to experience the shock of learning how to manage finances on their own, after their husband passed away.

Can you imagine not having a clear picture of your finances? Not knowing how to pay a bill? Not knowing the log-in information to your vital accounts?

It’s a scary thought indeed and I’m sure personal finance bloggers are a step ahead of most people. However, I think there is always room for improvement.

As part of Fidelity’s campaign to encourage women to #TakeAnHour and work on their finances, I’m challenging you to set some time this weekend and review your finances. Fidelity “found that nearly one-in-four women report that they don’t take part in the decision-making around their finances at all—a huge concern given that most women will be solely responsible for their finances at some point in their lives.”

This weekend start a conversation with a female friend. Let’s talk about debt, baby. Learn about investing. Start investing. Save $5 a week for some fun money. Write down bad habits you want to change. Round up your debt payments. Max out your retirement. Make sure YOU are in charge of your financial situation, and no one else.

This weekend, don’t forget to set back the clocks and #TakeAnHour to have a money date over some coffee or wine.

For more info, check out this nifty graphic on how you can #TakeAnHour.

p.s. I was not compensated to write about this at all — I just really dig the campaign. 🙂 Go to Twitter and tell everyone how you will #TakeAnHour

 

This post is in: life, money

Ignorance is such a seductive state of mind, because it allows us to think that everything is ok with the status quo.

It convinces us that we are doing just fine and gives us permission to turn a blind eye to some of the harder truths in life.

Sometimes you are ignorant of things because of someone else – they withheld details or information from you.

But most of them time, ignorance comes from our own doing. We stop asking questions, we stop caring about outcomes, we stop doing the research, or asking for more information.

And that is what keeps us ignorant – a lack of knowing on our part, driven by inaction.

Read more at VOSA.com

This post is in: debt, life

Have you ever had one of those moments where you were just paralyzed with fear? Those moments of self-doubt, where you question everything and feel like a complete loser in the purest sense of the word?

That was me two weeks ago. The Financial Bloggers Conference (FinCon) was approaching, and I felt stuck and scared. With the impending event right around the corner, I started to freak out. I started to feel like I wasn’t good enough, not experienced enough, and that I was just a fake-ass phony.

Even though I had quit my job two months earlier, I didn’t have to go through the requisite, and sometimes awkward, “What do you do?” chat with anyone in real life.

This would be the first time that I’d be faced with people, 600 of them to be exact, and I’d have to confidently respond and discuss what I actually do.

I’d have to accept the fact that this is the real deal, not some game that I play on nights and weekends anymore, or use as something to do in my free time (and there is nothing wrong if you choose to do that, by the way).

It was a bad case of feeling like an imposter — like a complete and utter fake-ass phony. How could I get over this?

My friend Brittany said it best when she recently told me, “When you are confident, it’s like you can accomplish anything in the world, but when you are low, you have this crippling self-doubt.”

It’s true. When I start to feel that fear, I start to doubt everything. I start to doubt my talent, my path in life, my decisions, and everything that comes along with it. My normal extroverted self turns into a wannabe hermit. I want to hide in a corner and not return to the “real world” until I feel something different.

Luckily, I was able to get over this terrible feeling and rock it at FinCon. Here’s how I was able to overcome feeling like a fake-ass phony:

You are what you say you are

I am a writer. Saying those words is still tough to say, but I am a writer. I get paid to write (holy crap!). As a freelancer, I’ve had to come up with my own job title and have had to come to terms with my new profession. There are no longer any crutches related to a “day job,” and if I want to be taken seriously, I have to own what I do and make it clear to people.

So on my business cards I put “Wordsmith & Idea Maker,” imbuing some creativity into it. When people asked me what I do at FinCon, I would say, “I’m a freelance writer and I blog about breaking up with debt.” Simple and to the point. I have realized that if I don’t take myself seriously, then no one else will either. In the end, you are what you say you are — and your actions back that up.

Be uniquely you

Everyone is unique in their own special way. We all have idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. In order to stand out and not feel like a fake-ass phony, you need to embrace all that is you — even if you are scared, even if you are vulnerable, even if you think it will offend someone. Embrace your wild side, your weird side, and don’t be ashamed of it.

While at FinCon, I let loose and sang my heart out and danced all over town. I’m sure it was a different side of me than what people expected, but that’s who I really am. I also like to speak in strange voices and fake laughs. What can I say, I am an only child with a wild imagination.

It’s easy to be shy and revert into your shell when meeting people. But if you are confident in who you are and let your real self shine through, you will stand out. When you are your authentic self, you feel at home, and you get to avoid those slimy, insecure feelings that you are a complete fake.

Get comfortable with discomfort

If you are constantly feeling like an imposter, it’s likely you are outside of your comfort zone and feel like you don’t belong. The good thing is that the more you get out of your comfort zone, the more it stretches and becomes more normal. Strive to feel uncomfortable. Push yourself. Try something new. You’ll start to feel more confident and more secure as time goes on.

Practice

If you’re feeling like a phony, start practicing and preparing for events. This means talking to yourself in the mirror, repeating mantras during meditation, writing positive notes on your hands, etc. With a little practice, you’ll start to feel more confident and less like a phony.

Realize that most people feel the same way; they just present themselves better

I would venture to say most people feel like a fake-ass phony at various times. It’s like we are all scared we are going to get found out and uncovered as a fraud. So, what is the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people in this regard? I would say confidence and presentation.

People make so many judgements about you in a millisecond depending on your clothes, your posture, how you look, and how you talk. Start faking it until you make it, and think about how your ideal version of yourself talks, walks, dresses, and approaches other people. If you are feeling stumped, think about people around you that inspire you. What is it that makes them so charismatic?

Once you realize how you want to present yourself, you can be confident and own any room.

The bottom line

It’s normal to feel scared, nervous, insecure, and like a complete phony from time to time. But it can’t be a lifestyle. To be successful, you need to get out of your comfort zone and really own the situation in order to get the outcomes you want. That means that instead of saying, “I’m just a personal finance blogger,” you say something more definitive: “I’m a personal finance writer.”

It’s all about presentation. Consider people who are successful, compared to the many talented folk who never rise to the top. It’s all about marketing. Marketing is a fancy word for presentation.

And the most important thing to overcome feeling like a fake-ass phony? Not giving a shit what other people think. This is still my hardest lesson to learn as I am neurotic and want people to like me (doesn’t everyone?). But you are wasting your precious energy if you care too much about what others think.

You do you. And forget the rest.

This post is in: career, life