Growth: Part I

I do my best to surround myself with people who are constantly trying to improve themselves, whether that be their wealth, relationships, knowledge, or whatever. It's addicting. I am extremely competitive and when I hear about anyone reaching a goal of theirs, my second thought is how I can reach one of mine. My first is being proud and happy because I'm not a piece of shit friend. I want my people to do well.

Contrary to popular belief, continuing your education doesn't always have to involve getting a Master's degree that you may or may not actually use. It definitely doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg that a University would charge you. At the very least, you need to have a relevant topic to talk about should you find yourself at a networking event or especially an interview. No one cares about the celebrity fight you've been following on Twitter or how hard you cried when Derek died because wtf is Meredith supposed to do with out him!?

She will be fine and so will you.

I've compiled a list of free learning opportunities that you'll probably enjoy tenfold over that sophomore accounting lecture that you slept through the first time and ended up retaking in summer school. I pinky promise that your eyes won't even glaze over.

Part I- Documentaries:

I know you have a Netflix subscription or at least are stealing someone else's password. You can probably spare one night of The Office reruns. I'm assuming you have every Michael Scott one-liner memorized by now. Please watch at least one of these documentaries before your brain completely rots right out of your head.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room:

Nothing makes me want to go to white collar prison quite like the Enron documentary. Kidding, I promise. This documentary puts the Enron scandal into layman's terms and will hopefully horrify you with the poor ethics and sense of greed within the upper management of this former company. Plus Andy Fastow is kind of low key really attractive. No? Just me? Nevermind.

Blackfish:

I've seen this at least 50 times and I still sit 4 inches away from the screen in amazement like a child discovering cartoons for the first time. I'm terrified of whales, you should be too. They're 8000 lb creatures and we thought it would be a good idea to put them in a bath tub and have them do tricks for snacks? How about no. 

Freakonomics:

This is not your easy way out, you still have to read the book. I know you're probably thinking back to your micro or macro econ class from your gen-ed business classes. This is much different, I promise. Plus Leavitt's lisp is adorably charming and you'll be absolutely mind fucked how he's able to problem-solve.

Complacency isn't attractive, growth is. Educating yourself doesn't have to be time consuming and it definitely don't have to be expensive. Take a night off from your usual Netflix binge and try to watch something educational. Again, I pinky promise it won't kill you.

Also, please email me if you have any other documentary suggestion, I'd love to hear them!

Free and Sober

If you knew me at all in college, you know that these two words were not in my vocabulary. You could find me at $2.50 marg mugs on Tequila Tuesday, Slim Jim in hand every Thirstday, crawling on Franklin Friday, and awake impressively early for the Bloody Mary bar at brunch on Sundays. Thankfully, this was before I tracked my spending too much so I actually have no clue what all those drunken nights added up to. Probably a good chuck of my dignity and a few thousand dollars.

Very shortly after I started my entry-level cubicle job, I began tracking every single purchase I made. Every single one. It's the most therapeutic anxiety you'll ever have. Your budget spreadsheet will be brutally honest with you. There's no hiding the fact that you spent $100 on fast food, $30 on nail appointments, and another $50 on alcohol this week. If you’ve ever met me, you know I casually freak out about money on a weekly basis. After seeing all my spending in one place, I had an absolute panic attack. A $2.50 margarita (lime, no salt) doesn’t seem like much, but who can ever just have one? Pair that with my $3 beers on Thirstdays and my abundance of Jack & Diets every Friday and it was a number that I’m too afraid to share. It was exactly the rude awaking I needed at that time.

A common phrase used in Evansville is “the only thing to do here is drink” and I absolutely disagree. There’s something to do in every city, you may just have to put in a little effort. If you go to upcoming events on Facebook in the Evansville area, I’d be hard pressed to believe you can’t find a single thing to do. Make it a point to get out of your comfort zone and try new things.

I was extra creepy and slipped into the DM's of an old friend from high school and asked her to come to the gym with me every day after work. Its fine, we've all done it. Chatting in between weights and exchanging stories on the Stairmaster was more than enough to distract me from all my coworkers sending snaps of sunny patios and cold beers. My $40 per month gym membership wasn't exactly free, but definitely saved me money in the long-run.

Surprisingly enough, Friday nights become a lot harder after you've already committed yourself to an 8 hour day at the office and a tough workout afterwards. Nothing makes me roll my eyes like someone telling me a pregame doesn't start until 11pm. Don't sign me up for that. My grandma bedtime is not a secret and I'm not ashamed of it. I switched out my Jack & Diets for a home cooked dinner and my big fluffy bed by 10pm.

My post-grad Saturdays are night and day to my college Saturdays. You could find college Amanda gasping for water and immediately setting up for an all-day Netflix binge. Now? It's amazing everything you can fit into a day when you wake up at 7am with zero hangover. There's a whole world of activities out there that I had no clue about.

I joined every Facebook group I could involving social activities in my city. Free yoga in the park? Sign me up. Yard sales? Those too. You can find me at the farmers market every Saturday with a nitrous cold brew in hand. Do I need a delicately embroidered pillow with the words to my high school's fight song? No, but now at least I know it exists.

If I have attempted to make weekend plans with you in the past year, I've probably included the words "free and sober" when describing what I want to do. Of course I've lost a few friends, but not everyone you lose is a loss. I set a goal for myself and I was determined to reach it. You’d be surprised how many of your friends are in the exact same boat as you. Slide in the DM’s of that acquaintance who likes to hike, she’ll probably be overjoyed to take you with her. Text a coworker and ask to take a walk instead of gossiping over manhattans after work. Go read a book alone at the river, the sunsets are breathtaking. I promise, if you try hard enough you’ll find something to do and someone to enjoy it with. Get out of your comfort zone, your bank account is begging you.

How I Saved $10,000 in Six Months: Part I

I have a rule, you aren't allowed to complain about something unless you are actively trying to fix the situation. This goes for relationships, financial situations, career choices, and even fitness goals. We all have that one friend who complains about how much weight she's gained since graduation, but wouldn't be caught dead sweating in a gym. And everyone knows the guy in the cube over is forever complaining about being poor but continues to spend his lunch break in the Burger King drive thru. The point is, don't be the person complaining, be the person who is actively working to improve yourself.

I assume you have a list of things you aren't currently happy with about your life. You want to move out of your parents basement or even your hometown? You want to put a down payment on a car? You want to travel more? Guess what? All of these goals require you to have money. If you want it bad enough, and I definitely did, you'll need to make sacrifices and keep yourself on track to reach your goal.

In January, I sat down with my budget spreadsheet and decided that I needed to save $10,000 over the next six months. That's roughly $1670 per month. If we're being completely honest here, that's about 70% of my after-tax income from my 9-5. So if I could do it, you definitely can too.

Step 1: Get Another Job

 It sucks, I know. You need more income. LOL at me having 30% of my income left over for rent, food, gas, and you know, everything else it takes to live outside of poverty. Most successful and wealthy people will tell you that they did not become rich by simply working one 9-5 job. They gain wealth by passive income, investment opportunities, and other forms of work.

There are 168 hours in a week. We'll assume you currently work 40 of them. This leaves you with 128 hours left. I pinky promise that you will not die if you sacrifice an extra 20 to build more income. If this seems completely unreasonable to you, we need to have a conversation about grit and complacency.

Yours truly chose to hit up Dick's Sporting Goods for a part time job. How bad could it be trying to sell overpriced workout gear on weekends? It was bad. Really bad. It's a special version of Hell being surrounded by high school students on a Friday night trying to figure out how they're going to get beer for after work. And it's all sorts of awkward trying to explain to acquaintances that wander in that yes, you do actually have a real job and are really using your degree, this is just for extra income. I was there at 8am every Saturday, in my yoga pants with my walkie talkie, all ready to go. Was it awful? yes. Was it worth it? I'm not totally sure. But I did it for 6 months. I was willing to sacrifice to reach my goal.

On top of that, I got ahold of people that I had previously worked for or with to see if they knew of any other opportunities for me. Don't ever be afraid to use your network, that's what they're there for. So, thanks to a previous boss, I was all set up to be his personal slave indefinitely. Kidding, thanks Gary. I made a few beer runs, ran some errands, took minutes for meetings, edited his writing, and helped him keep his sanity on a day-to-day basis. I was often greeted with an unfiltered wheat ale and a pile of receipts to reconcile. I definitely recommend this type of income over any retail, but working 60 hour weeks isn't fun any way you spin it.

An unexpected side effect of working constantly was that I wasn't spending as much as I had in previous months. Instead of going to bars or out of town for the weekend, I was working. Not only was I building my income, I was also too busy to spend unnecessary money. I definitely don't recommend this long term for social reasons, but six months won't kill you,

Like any other goal, this will take sacrifice. If it was easy, anyone would do it. Six months will seem like no time if you reallllly want to save up for that month of backpacking across Europe, a down payment on your dream home, or maybe an early retirement.

Step 2 to follow!

How I Saved $10,000 in Six Months: Part II

I figured out pretty quickly that the Dick's Sporting Goods life was not for me. Maybe waitressing or bartending would be more bearable? Idk, I didn't try it. But I promised myself that I wouldn't quit until I found another way to make money. Determined. Determined AF.

Passive income is the concept of making money with little to no effort. If that doesn't sound attractive, I don't know what will.

I listened to podcasts, I asked around, I googled. I finally came across one episode of Side Hustle (best podcast ever, go listen) about a guy in Amsterdam who lives solely off the income he makes through Airbnb. I would describe Airbnb as a website that offers rooms or whole spaces for much cheaper than hotels. All communication, background checks, and payments go directly through the website for security reasons. Basically if there are hotels in your area, there is a possible marketplace for Airbnb. There are obviously safety precautions you should take if you look into this. I only allow female guests and also require Airbnb to do an extra background check. You don't have to book anyone you don't feel comfortable with. There's a difference between feeling awkward and feeling unsafe, trust your gut here.

My apartment is definitely not anywhere as cool as Amsterdam, but it was definitely worth a shot. If you know me at all, you know I absolutely love living alone. I love doing what I want, when I want and no one telling me otherwise. But for extra income, I was willing to sacrifice my freedom a bit. So I bought a cheap mattress, had spare keys made, took a few pictures, and listed my space on the web site.

There is currently a Chinese exchange student living in my spare bed room. She keeps taking the toilet paper from the bathroom and hiding it in the kitchen cabinet. I'm dying to know why but can't ask her because she doesn't speak any English. But she's paying me $30 a night to stay here, so I guess it's fine. Sacrifices, right?

In 2016, I have been able to pay my rent and utilities bill just from my Airbnb income. It's not all rainbows and butterflies, but income is income.

Renting out your spare room is just one way to earn passive income. Providing a budgeting/personal finance service to post grads is another. See what I did there? If you get creative the possibilities are endless here.

Homegirl got creative. She's an avid runner. Like insane amounts of miles. Enough that just thinking about it makes my shins hurt. She posted a Facebook status that she would take people's phone with her on a run for $1 a kilometer to help players hatch an egg on Pokémon Go. Genius, right? She has found a way to turn a profit and not exert any extra effort.

Start a blog, build an Airbnb empire, hatch a shit ton of eggs.  Slide in the DM's of that computer science major and ask him to help build that app you've had in the back of your mind. You might be surprised by how cute he is under those glasses, and even more surprised by how profitable your ideas really are. It doesn't matter what you do, figure out a way to make money by doing it. The more creative you are, the more opportunities you have. That's the beauty of passive income.

How I Saved $10,000 in Six Months: Part III

14. no impulse decisions financial.jpg

My first semester of college I purchased a picture of a woman in a giant pumpkin costume off Ebay. Long story short, I was drunk and it was love at first sight. I knew I had to have it. My roommate and I were trying to be as thrifty as possible when it came to Halloween costumes, and this was my perfect solution. Why I wanted to dress like a pumpkin or even why I was drunkenly browsing Ebay at 3am one night is still a mystery to me. But you can only imagine my disappointment when I went to my mailbox and found a stock photo of a woman dressed like a pumpkin instead of my adorable, creative costume.

Fast forward to my senior year of college. I was extremely single and knew how to flirt my way into a free drink or two at my local watering hole. The result was me having a savings account with a few thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket. So, another drunken night, another drunken impulse purchase. Except this time it was a 35 day backpacking trip across Europe.

I 100% do not regret either one of these decisions. They both made great stories. However, the decision making skills behind each were nonexistent. Being a post-grad doesn't leave as much wiggle room as college life. Your landlord doesn't accept love or tears as tender, he wants a signed check. I'm pretty sure Vectren wants an actual virgin sacrifice every month, but will accept 50% of your after-tax income until you can manage to find one. The consequences in your adult life are much harsher than those in your undergrad career. Try being evicted from your overpriced apartment, or worse, living in this humidity without air conditioning. 

Neither my $15 pumpkin picture of my much more expensive European vacation had any negative consequences...because I was in college. I can only imagine what my boss would say now if I had to explain that I booked a non-refundable, month-long vacation and needed the time off. I won't preach to you how the decisions you make now affect your future. But I will explain to you how they do have a financial impact.

How many times have you had the best intention to eat the lunch you packed for yourself but spent $10 on takeout instead? How often do you get antsy and plan a weekend away before checking your bank account to see if the funds are there? Do you ever put way too much in your online shopping cart without taking a second to think about if you really need 12 crop tops from Forever 21? While doing this every once in a while is totally fine, these events add up. A lunch here and there can be a couple hundred dollars a year, and you're too old for crop tops anyway.

Starting at a very young age, when my brother and I wanted anything, my mom had us start a list. We had Christmas lists, birthday lists, whatever. If you wanted it, you wrote it down. If you lost the list and couldn't remember what was on it, you probably didn't want it that bad anyway. Occasionally, we decided we didn't really want a certain toy or game that bad, and it would get crossed off the list.

I still do that to this day. There's a list in the notes section of my phone of items I want or trips I want to take. Anything from a book I see at Barnes & Noble to hiking the Appalachian trail. Not unlike my childhood, things get crossed off sometimes. The point being, don't make impulse decisions. Take a minute or a month and think about what you really want, you may change your mind. It's so much easier to change your mind on a purchase once you've thought it through and it's not lingering on your credit card bill just yet.

I know skipping your leftovers and grabbing lunch with your team sounds like a small impulse decision. And even one weekend away seems well-deserved. But keep your goals and your savings in mind. Would you rather have that $4 cup of coffee right now? Or would you rather have your dream vacation in a year?

Take a minute, or a month and think things through. Make a list of bigger purchase and decide if it's a necessity. Be logical about your smaller purchases, they can add up more than you realize. Every penny counts when you're trying to make the most of your paycheck.

What are you Willing to Sacrifice?

If you're like the rest of us, you only make x number of money annually. What you choose to spend that on or how much you choose to save is completely up to you. This is a huge privilege and responsibility that most of us face shortly after the rents kick us out of the nest. Many recent post-grads aren’t used to earning a decent paycheck and being faced with deciding to allocate the funds productively. Are you going to spend every single cent the second you earn it? Are you going to sit in your apartment alone every weekend just to save all your money for retirement? Is there a happy medium? It's your money, your decisions.

But…you can’t have it all.

It's okay to go out to lunch every day. It's also okay to buy a $4 cup of Starbucks every morning. Just like it's acceptable to go out of town every weekend and plan lavish vacations. The same way it's perfectly fine to never wear the same outfit twice. It's your money and your adult financial decisions.

But are you thinking about your future?

On the other hand, it's okay to live simply. You may live in a small, barely-furnished apartment. It's fine to drive a beat up car that you cross your fingers and say a small prayer before you attempt to start the ignition. It's perfectly fine to never travel or even leave the city you live in.

But what are you saving all that money for?

Where is the happy medium? Are you willing to sacrifice one cup of Starbucks each week to help pad your retirement account? Would you consider bringing your lunch to work to save up for the vacation you've been dreaming of? It’s extremely difficult to cut back on the things you love to save up for distant ideas such as a down payment on a house or even retirement. As an adult, financial decisions are just a few of the many annoying weights on your shoulders. It’s easy to swipe your card for that $4 coffee, your $6 cocktail after a long day at work, and that $15 worth of take out that you’ve been dreaming of all week. But what are you willing to sacrifice? You can spend all your money now. But what happens if you need to pay an unexpected medical expense? Or your car breaks down? What if you find a Groupon for an amazing 6 day trip to Italy and you’re the only one in the #squad who can’t afford to go?

You only make so much money. Unlike your mimosas, that paycheck you get bi-weekly isn’t bottomless. Trust me, a girl can dream.

What are you willing to sacrifice? Skip happy hour one night a week and put that extra $20 towards an Italian vacation. The wine is better there anyway. Bring your lunch every day for a week and put that extra $40 towards a down payment on the car you’ll eventually need. You probably don’t need those new Michael Kors wedges, you already have 2 pair anyway. Take the extra $150 and put it in your IRA. You’ll watch it grow over the years and appreciate your decisions when you’re 65.

I’m not advocating that you save all the money you make. I’m advising that you make a few sacrifices and find your happy medium. Find your balance between spending and saving and plan a budget that fits your needs. Splurge a little, save a little.

Beginners Guide to Frugal Dating

Nothing throws a wrench in your budget like throwing down your card for a few Manhattans and a vodka cranberry a couple times a week. And if the lady wants cheese fries, she gets cheese fries. Sure, you're used to paying for your own drinks and the occasional drunken app. But how is she supposed to want to touch you later if you don't pay $6 each for her watered down sugary drinks?

Dating can definitely be expensive, but It doesn't have to be. My advice for you? Don't. Just don't date. Get a cat, learn to make casseroles, you'll be fine.

Kidding. Eventually you'll have to at least try out the whole dating thing.

Lucky for you I've complied a list of affordable dates that will keep your relationship fun and frugal.

1. Make a meal together

You're adults. At least one of you should be able to create a few meals that are edible. If not, YouTube it. It won't be the last time you fake it till you make it, I promise. Choose something easy to start with. Breakfast for dinner is always a huge hit. You shouldn't be dating anyone who isn't up for bacon and pancakes at all hours anyways.

2. Sign up for a free trial

Most gyms or private classes offer a short free trial period. Think yoga, Pure Barre (your butt will thank me later), or even an indoor basketball or soccer court. This will give you both a chance to try something new. Don't be afraid to try crow pose, and fail. Every girl enjoys a guy who isn't afraid to laugh at himself. And every guy feels like a sports God when he teaches his girl how to properly shoot a lay-up.

3. Volunteer

Choose a charity or an event that you both care about. Sign up to cheer on runners at Race for the Cure, wash dogs at your local humane society, or even serve meals to the homeless at the nearest shelter. This will give you a peek into your significant others' softer side. Plus the warm fuzzy feeling never hurts.

4. Go on walks

Google the best trails or even sidewalks in your area. Somewhere near you has a trail of some sort that will end in a pretty view, I promise. Walking will give you two time to open up and get to know each other. Pack a lunch and make a day of it or just take a few laps around the neighborhood. On any scale, you will both feel good about getting a little bit of exercise in and learning something new about each other.  

5. Dogs

I'm a firm believer that you should add dogs to your life whenever possible. If you choose to do #4, take a dog with you. If neither you or your better half own a dog, sign up with the humane society or local foster homes. They will most likely be begging for help and greatly appreciate your time. You can even sign up for Rover, make an afternoon of dog sitting or walking. Take your earnings and celebrate with a drink afterwards.

6. Run errands

Both of you make a list of errands you need to run or chores you need to do that day. Grab a coffee and make a day of it. Tease each other through the aisles of the grocery store or build that piece of furniture you've been putting off. This allows you to spend time together no matter how busy you both are.

Don't feel like you have to dip into your emergency fund or grocery money just to take someone on a date. There's millions of ways to trick someone into liking you other than fancy dinners and expensive wine tastings. Relationships are about flexibility, variety, and always offering them the last cheese fry, no matter how much you want it for yourself. Get creative and stay frugal, my friends.

Mealprepping for Dummies

I know, an image of a bodybuilder with Tupperware containers, packed full of kale and grilled chicken just popped into your mind. Calm down, pizza fits in Tupperware too.

For the past few weeks I have been preaching about bringing your lunch to work verses spending fortunes on eating out. Trust me, I have a love affair with Chic-Fil-A just as much as the next girl, but we have to stay loyal to our bank accounts.

Anyways, here is where I go from preaching, to helping you make this very subtle but beneficial change. There are at least a million excuses you can use to get out of this one, don't. Maybe, you don't like eating the same thing every day? I don't either.

Can’t cook? Well, thank God for Turkey sandwiches. Maybe you enjoy the social aspect of going out to lunch? Cut it down to two days a week, I promise you won’t go into an isolation-induced coma. Bottom line, this will decrease your spending exponentially and probably even be healthier for you.

How much do you normally spend when you go out for lunch? Maybe if you swing by McDonald's and order off the dollar menu (RIP), you could stay under $4 daily. But if you're like the rest of us and enjoy an overpriced salad every once in a while, you're probably spending at least $15 each time you choose to go to lunch. I bet you could make that same salad at home for a much more reasonable price.

As long as you’re trying and making small improvements, there’s no wrong way to do this. However, I’ll help you learn from my mistakes…

Don’t go grocery shopping hung over- when you’re tackling your weekly grocery list while battling a hangover and the hunger pains that come with it, you’re going to impulse buy. What I mean by this is you’re going to throw every carb-based food into your cart and hope for the best. By the end of the week, you will run out of viable meals and be forced to either suck down Ice Cream soup or revert back to your $15 salad.

Pick items that can be used in a few different meals- to stay on track, I always pick a few items that can be repurposed into more than just one meal. Think about all the combinations of meals you could make with chicken, tortillas, veggies, beans or rice, and cheese. These are all fairly cheap options and they can be mixed and matched to make wraps, quesadillas, salads, plate lunches, and hot dinners.

Don’t be afraid to reward yourself- everyone loves a pat on the back. Grocery shopping doesn’t have to be hell. You’re saving money, so reward yourself by picking out a bunch of ingredients to make homemade pizza with. I told you that pizza fits in Tupperware, didn’t I? The point of this is to save money, not to eat boring food. As long as you give yourself a dollar amount to spend at the grocery store every week and stick to it, it doesn’t matter which items you buy.

On average, I spend $75 a week at the grocery store. Do the math, that averages out to $3.57 per meal. If you can spend less than that by eating out, please let me know your secrets.