15 Minutes a Week Can Change Your Relationship to Money

This post originally ran on Cinch

“Sure, we can watch it right after I run my numbers,” I say to my boyfriend. It’s a common Sunday evening wind-down for the two of us. Dinner is finished, dishes done, the dog’s been walked and we’re about to sit on the couch and relax while catching up on Brooklyn 99 or swearing we’ll just watch one episode of Netflix’s newest release. But before I can comfortably plop on the couch, there’s one final task I must complete: a money meeting.

The money meeting is a Sunday ritual I started around the time I moved to New York City nearly six years ago. It was designed to help me feel in control of my money, even though times were lean. I sit down in front of my computer, with pen and paper in hand, and start by checking in on (and paying off) all my credit cards and then taking a peek at my bank account balances as well. It’s a process that takes all of 15 minutes to complete and ensures I’ll never be smacked in the mouth by an overdraft charge, miss a credit card bill or overspend due to ignorance.

Instead of entirely relying on technology for all of my financial updates – I do have alerts on my credit cards and get little pings about account balances – I start the money meeting by writing down the names of all eight of my credit cards and also mark a 1 and 2 for my long-term (used to pay rent, insurance, utilities and cell phone bill) and short-term (day-to-day expenses) checking accounts.

Then I begin to log into all the accounts. I start with the credit cards and capture the outstanding balances of each one. I make sure to check recent transactions that may have not been added to the total yet and add those in myself just to have the real outstanding balance. Then I add up the outstanding balances. I usually only use two credit cards a month, even though I have eight, but I always check all the cards just to be on the lookout for fraudulent activity or perhaps an automated bill I may have forgotten was linked to a card I’m not using that month.

Once all the credit cards have been written down, I then log into my bank accounts and write down the balances of my checking accounts. Then I subtract the outstanding balances of my credit cards from the balance in short-term checking account. This gives me an accurate reflection of exactly how much I have left to spend in the month. If it’s the first three weeks of the month, I also pay off my credit card balances right then. This helps keep my utilization ratio low, and means my checking account will be updated to show me the remainder of my monthly budget.

The practice also gives me a window of opportunity to reflect on my financial goals to see if I’m on track. This is aided in part by the metrics I have set up through my bank. Logging into the dashboard for two of my checking and two savings accounts pulls up a reminder that I’m trying to have $4,000 saved in my travel fund by June of 2017. It’s displayed with the thermometer goal chart showing me where I am in red (meaning I need to up my contributions to meet my goal) and shading in grey where I should be to easily meet my goal on time.  Unfortunately, not all my money goals are linked to these savings accounts – so I also glance toward the bulletin board in my home office where I’ve stuck a yellow Post-It note with my savings goals written down. On occasion, this simple glance will motivate me to shift a little bit out of checking and tuck it into savings. Then again, somedays I’d prefer to take the extra $50 and do a boozy brunch. I’m not perfect.

Should this concept of weekly money meetings sound stressful, consider this: In 15 minutes of time, I ensured my financial house was in order, guaranteed I won’t fall victim to overspending simply because I forgot how much got financed on a card early in the month, and allowed myself to live without rigid budgets. Getting intimate with your cash flow sets you free from financial worry.

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Posted in Budgeting

The True Value of a “Worthless” Degree

Wedged into a two-seater chairlift in Ellicottville, New York the anonymous skier to my right decided to strike up conversation during our three-minute commute to the top of the mountain. The conversation soon turned to what we did, as superficial conversations with strangers are wont to do.

“I’m a junior at St. Bonaventure,” I told him.  

“Oh, what are you studying?” he asked, naturally.

“Journalism and theatre,” I responded.

“And what exactly do you plan to do with that?”

It wasn’t the first time (and wouldn’t be the last) someone implied my course of study would more-or-less leave me another overeducated, underemployed millennial with a worthless degree.

“I’d like to be a broadcast journalist,” I told him.

“That’s a hard field to break into,” he said, with that undertone of “What makes you think you’re going to make it?”

“Well, someone has to make it. So why not me?” I told him, just in time for the chairlift to reach the peak and me to make a quick exit.

Seven years later and that conversation still comes to mind on occasion.

***

Yesterday, as I pulled together all my tax documents for 2016, I typed out how much I’d earned from:

  • freelancing
  • a portion of my book advance and
  • the salary from being employed-full time for eight months and then part-time for two months of the year.

Hitting auto-sum, I sat dumbstruck for a moment before yelling, “Peach!”

$96,795.22 sat on the screen in front of me.

That’s when the random man from the ski lift popped into my mind, “And what exactly do you plan to do with that?”

***

Nearly six years ago I moved to New York City to work as a page at The Late Show with David Letterman. I hustled and picked up jobs as a Starbucks barista and babysitting. The tax year of 2012 was my first one that reflected a full year living as a New Yorker. It even included switching to a more lucrative — if we can call it that — desk job, first as an intern and later an account coordinator at a public relations firm in June of 2012.

In 2012, I grossed $23,244. (Of that, $11,400 went to rent.)

In 2013, I started Broke Millennial and began to dabble in freelance writing. I grossed $39,291.

In 2014, I switched jobs to work at MagnifyMoney, a startup, and freelancing picked up a bit. I grossed $55, 375.

In 2015, my freelance income increased 5x and I still worked full-time at MagnifyMoney. I grossed $85,424.

In 2016, I quit my stable job in August to try my hand at freelancing full-time. I also got a book deal. I grossed $96,795.22.

This is the first time I’ve so openly shared numbers on my blog. I’m doing so to quantify how a “worthless” degree (or two) isn’t always what it seems.

***

I’m not a broadcast journalist by profession, but I’ve been on CBS Sunday Morning and CNBC. My writing is regularly featured on Forbes and my opinions have been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Refinery29, Playboy, NBCNews, MarketWatch and plenty of other outlets. A major publishing house paid me to write a book.

A journalism degree trained me to write well and think critically. A theatre degree taught me to speak without vocal fry, or too many filler words (um, uh, like), and how to be quick with a dash of wit.

So, to the stranger on a chairlift all those years ago: I’m using my degrees to forge my own, lucrative path in the world. To help others get their financial lives together. To craft a life on my terms instead of opting into how it “should” be lived. All because I was willing to take a risk and invest in myself.

Oh, and I’m making decent money along the way.

And for reference, if I’d stayed with that  job in PR and risen through the ranks, I still wouldn’t be grossing nearly $100,000 yet.

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Posted in Career Tagged with: , ,

5 Things Millennials Need To Understand About Money In 2017

This piece originally ran on Forbes 

We all know to pay yourself first, have an emergency fund, you can snowball or avalanche your way out of debt. There are plenty of personal finance clichés and idioms, and for good reason. For the most part, though worn out, they’re true. This list, however, is not generalities. It’s five things you – as a millennial – need to understand about money in 2017.

1. Other people will be happy to spend your money

There’s no Hallmark card to convey “Happy You’re Getting Married, But This Destination Bachelor Party and Wedding In Another State Is Too Rich For My Budget,” because it feels like bad manners to turn down such invites. So the mid-twenties to early-thirties seems like an endless cycle of birthday parties, bachelor parties, bridal showers, weddings, baby showers and not to mention Kickstarter requests, brunch dates and happy hours, which drain both your bank account and, often, vacation time.

Here’s the secret: other people are happy to spend your money for you.

It may be your best friend’s/cousin’s/college roommate’s special day that only comes along once in a life time (or so they hope), but it’s a day that will be on repeat for you. Participating in a wedding, while an an honor, can cause a slow creep towards danger zone for your bank account. This leads to either a wildly awkward conversation or ignoring the problem and just financing the expenses on a credit card.

Don’t do the latter.

2. Just using one investing or savings app isn’t sufficient

Using apps to automate your financial life, increase your savings and start investing became all the rage in the last few years. There’s nothing wrong with using apps to give your money a little boost – but you shouldn’t solely rely on them to get the job done.

Digit is one such app that works well to help save money you probably weren’t going to tuck away in the first place – but it shouldn’t be your only means of saving. Digit, which is free to use, typically pulls money from checking to Digit savings in increments of $5 to $50. Speaking from my own experience, Digit saves me an average of $110 per month. It’s not an insignificant sum, but the annual total is around $1,320. That’s a nice supplemental amount to fund a travel savings account or emergency fund buffer – but saving a percentage of a paycheck before it even hits checking (automating) should still take priority.

Acorns is an app with the tagline “automatically invest life’s spare change. Anyone can grow wealth.” The app gets connected to your credit or debit card and rounds up each of your purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the change into a diversified portfolio of ETFs ranging in risk based on your tolerance. Unlike Digit, there is a fee to use Acorns just like nearly any investing platform. It starts at $1 a month and increases to 0.25% per year once your portfolio hits $5,000 or more.  While it’s a strong way for a millennial to start investing if they wouldn’t otherwise be proactive, just contributing your spare change isn’t enough. You could use Acorns to set up reoccurring investments, but moving beyond the spare change program alone needs to be your goal in 2017 in order to make a real impact.

3. Yes, those small purchases are actually adding up – but not why you think

You’ve certainly heard about the latte factor by now. As a lover of lattes myself, it’s an obnoxious attack on the frothy milk and espresso beverage – but it’s not entirely wrong. However, it’s not the latte itself that invokes the wrath of personal finance gurus. It’s the act of routine, mindless spending. The easiest way to nix mindless spending is that dirty b word: budget. You can still have some of your small (or occasionally large) indulgences when factored into your budget, but big or small spending without constraint keeps you in that dreaded paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

At the bare minimum you should know your cash flow – how much is coming in and how much is going out.

4. Physical buildings aren’t necessary for keeping your money safe

It’s nearly 2017 and we’re supposed to be digital natives and yet scores of millennials still feel anxious about using an Internet-only bank. Using a traditional brick-and-mortar bank is not going to keep your money any safer than an Internet-only bank like Ally, Charles Schwab, USAA or Capital One 360. Not to mention Internet-only banks tend to offer more competitive interest rates on savings accounts and provide lower fees on checking accounts. Wondering “how do I get my money out”? Some online banks belong to a network of ATMs like AllPoint or Star while others reimburse ATM fees you’re charged at any bank. Just be sure your bank is FDIC insured and you’ll be getting the same level of protection as a brick-and-mortar establishment. Plus, doesn’t it make logical sense that a progressive online bank would be more on top of its security game than some of the old school brick-and-mortar types that still have crappy websites? Just a thought.

5. Saving is important, but negotiating is critical

Personal finance articles often extoll the virtues of saving (this one already did) but this isn’t the only important money skill on the road to wealth. Your ability to negotiate has a significant impact on your lifetime earning potential. Some even claim you could be losing out on a million dollars or more over the course of your career by not learning how to negotiate early.

You don’t have to start with the biggie of walking into your annual review and asking for more money. Instead, try calling up your Internet or cable provider and negotiating to get a lower price point on your package or a perk if you stay at the same rate. Small experiences help get you prepped for not only potential rejection with little on the line, but how to counter in a negotiation.

When you prep to go into your boss’s office or get on the phone with a client, it’s important to have proof of why you deserve a raise and a specific request in mind. Don’t just accept a 3% raise to adjust for inflation. Show your boss how you’ve improved, what you’ve brought to the company, compliments you’ve received from co-workers and clients, metrics that back up your tangible contributions to the company. Also come in armed with the knowledge of how much someone in your position, living in your city, makes at your job. Then make the specific ask of how much of a raise you’d like. The worst your boss can say is no. It might ding your pride a bit, but it’s better than staying mute.

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Posted in Millennials

Financial Cleanse: You Screw Up, Reset and Keep Going

Here we are at the end of a the 30-day Financial Cleanse. Similar to the time I had an ill-fated experience with a 3-day juice cleanse, there were cravings and one bout of binging (I “needed” those Cole Haan waterproof hiker boots). Unlike the juicing, I refocused and recommitted to finishing this cleanse strong. This recommitment came in part from a conversation I had with Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz.

We all fall down…

I bluntly asked Carrie for her advice for all the people who start a process like the financial cleanse just to fall off the wagon midway and say, “screw it!”?

“It gets back to the diet thing – you just don’t let yourself give up,” Carrie told me. “You’re bound to have some slip-ups, but if you don’t give up and you stay focused, you will make progress.”

The diet to which Carrie was referring was actually her inspiration for creating the 30-day Financial Cleanse. Carrie belongs to a gym that hosts a variety of different diets and challenges throughout the year. Right before the holidays, the gym employees began to promote a “30-day Clean” Challenge.

“I usually avoid these programs.  I just slide into the gym and get out as quickly as I can,” Carrie admitted, laughing. “But I finally agreed to join the Cleanse …   and ended up really liking it.”

And as it turns out, the 30-day Clean Challenge made Carrie aware of her mindless eating habits. In fact, she got so into it that she ended up pushing herself to stick with clean eating long after the 30-day period had ended.

“I was thinking about what worked for me with the health cleanse, and it was making a commitment,” Carrie told me. “And then the lightbulb went off!  I realized that the same principles would apply to money management. What if on a Sunday we start to think about what we’re going to spend for the next week? Then we go to the ATM to get enough cash to cover the next week’s expenses? This will force us to think about where our money is going.”

The Cash Diet certainly worked that way for me. As I mentioned in my first post about this challenge, one of my goals in 2017 is to recalibrate my spending habits to help ease into the adjustment of having variable income as a freelancer. Money in pending invoices may make things look fine on paper, but it can’t be used to pay bills. This is a big reason I’ve been working hard to cut down on my own mindless spending. The Cash Diet, combined with working toward Zero-Sum Budgeting (using last month’s income to pay this month’s expenses), is helping to plug the leaks. (Not sure where you’re spending your money? Schwab offers a free, printable spending tracker.)

Three financial behaviors we need to ditch… 

Carrie sees mindless spending as one of the three financial behaviors she wants people to change. The other two are failing to save and failing to plan for specific goals.

“A lot of folks convince themselves that they don’t have money to save,” she explained. “But most of us can put at least a little money aside, if only by being a bit more mindful about what we’re spending, and paring back in areas that are less than essential.”

Millennials notoriously have a difficult time saving for retirement. Plenty of stats point to stagnant wages, student loan burden, or a general YOLO attitude. But the answer may be more simplistic than that – it’s hard to save for your future self because you feel disconnected. A study published in the Harvard Business Review does claim that seeing an aged photo of yourself encourages you to make better decisions for the future, like contributing to that 401(k). You can use AgingBooth to get a picture – but I warn you that it’s slightly terrifying.

If checking out the aged photo of yourself makes you wonder if Botox is covered by your health insurance, Carrie has a more practical suggestion.

“When people ask me about where to start planning for retirement, I say just put pen to paper and think how much you have now. Then determine how much you’ll need to have saved by the time you hit retirement age.  A quick rule of thumb is that you’ll need to save approximately 25 times the amount you’ll want to withdraw every year. So if you want to be able to spend $50,000 a year, you’ll need to have saved $1.25 million by the time you retire.”

Alternatively, you can play around with numbers by using a retirement calculator. This way you can also see how much you need to put away every year.

For those skeptical millennials who tend to procrastinate, Carrie recommends considering the minus 10% rule. This rule is pretty simple; all you have to do is subtract 10 from the decade of your age.  So if you’re in your twenties, you can reach your savings goal by putting at least 10% of all your earnings into retirement saving. If you don’t get started in your twenties and wait until you’re in your thirties, you’ll have to save 20%. If you wait until your forties, then you’ll need to save 30%. The moral of the story is to get started now!

As far as what’s next…

“I would say, learn the basics of money management,” Carrie emphasized. “It’s a life skill we all have to have. Understand how to budget, how to save and start to invest in for your future. Those are foundational life skills no matter your income.”

You can get started on Carrie’s advice by going to Schwab MoneyWise to find calculators, worksheets and guides.  Follow Carrie on Twitter and LinkedIn to get ongoing advice on the Cleanse, and much more.

This post was sponsored by Charles Schwab

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Posted in Budgeting, Financial Literacy

Reflecting on 4 Years as Broke Millennial

In the midst of writing under deadline for a client I glanced at my wall calendar and noticed the next day was January 24. Why did that date seem important? The question nagged in the back of my mind for a little bit. A quick Facebook check confirmed I wasn’t missing an important birthday. Peach and I have our anniversary in September…but anniversary…then it clicked. I’d completely forgotten Broke Millennial’s birthday! Perhaps it’s like a couple that’s been together for so long they sort of forget about the anniversary dates.

Four years ago I just wanted to write funny stories and help some of my friends get their financial lives together. This blog has changed the trajectory of my career, twice. It helped me achieve a childhood dream, just not in the way I expected. It’s allowed me to travel more both personally and professionally. It’s lead me into a world where I’ve created offline, real-life friendships with women and men whom I greatly respect.

And most importantly, I’ve learned there’s just no way to get a good still shot of yourself talking.

Highlights of 2016

Failures of 2016

  • Didn’t accomplish any of the goals outlined in my last Broke Millennial “birthday” post.
  • Felt really disconnected from the larger personal finance community as I found less time to read other blogs and interact with people online.

Goals for 2017

I detailed a lot of my goals in my first post of 2017, but Broke Millennial-specifics ones include:

  • Launching a podcast
  • Actually starting a newsletter (for reals this time)
  • Redesigning the site, which is in the works now and will actually be happening!
  • Building my email list, which you can help with right now by joining!

Favorite Posts from 2016

Post I was Most Hesitant to Publish

Most Viewed Post from 2016

Most Importantly…

THANK YOU so much to you, you person reading this right now,  for reading/subscribing/following/commenting/emailing/making this site become more than the ramblings of just another millennial. 

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Posted in About Broke Millennial

An Examination of Will Power: Money vs. Health

Sitting in my comfy desk chair with my feet firmly planted on the floor, hands clasped in my lap, a disembodied voice with an affected British accent tells me to do a scan of my body from head-to-toe. “Now note any places of discomfort or tension,” the voice coaches. Suppressing an internal eye roll because I genuinely want to give meditation a fair shake, I begin the process of mentally scanning my body. It stops at my waistline. Want to talk about discomfort. The intense awareness that a distinct roll of body fat appears when I’m in a seated position has been a cause of discomfort, tension and concern for nearly a year now. Then a transcendent moment of realization occurs to the brain I’m attempting to quiet down. This discomfort, tension and concern is how so many people feel when forced to face their financial lives.

Perhaps meditation is working for me after all.

It’s annoyingly common to draw a correlation between financial and physical fitness. Studies aplenty claim that those who have the foresight to contribute to a 401(k) are more likely to be conscientious about their physical health as well. In theory it makes a lot of sense. You’re trying to set yourself up to be financially stable in the future, so logic follows you’d nourish your body with healthy food, eat minimal junk and stick to an exercise routine – because that’s what will set you up to make it to your twilight years.

I’m calling bull shit.

Will power is not created equally. Just because someone is in excellent financial health – it doesn’t mean that same motivation to save, invest, and analyze spending patterns correlates to his or her physical life. The reverse is certainly true as well. A tight bodied individual who refuses to consume carbs, sugar and most dairy products does not a correlate to healthy financial mind.

I get that there are commonalities between being physically and financially fit. Both require sacrifice. Both take time to see results. Both set you up for a more comfortable future. However, as someone who is an innate saver and financially comfortable, but has spent more of my life stressing about what my body looks like than not, I can tell you it’s not the same will power.

Rant aside – this thought during a meditation practice did evoke another feeling. Empathy. Many of us who are financially fit look down from our fatted bank accounts upon the helpless plebs who are giving into rampant consumerism and we scoff. Don’t they realize just how easy it is to get their financial lives together? All it takes is to have the mental fortitude to dismiss the well-crafted, targeted ads engineered to get into your psyche and make you feel less than if you don’t own this car, or that outfit, or this kitchen appliance, or that piece of jewelry. Just ignore the societal pressures around you to indulge in earthly pleasures and instead put that money into an account that you theoretically won’t be able to access until you’re 59 ½. I mean, come on now. It’s so easy.

To some of us, that is actually easy. But it’s not easy to keep from buying a pint of Häagen-Dazs, or cut out pasta and bread, or avoid whole milk lattes, or motivate yourself to go running. I know the cross-fitting, yoga-doing, vegan-and-juicing-obsessed look at my 30-pounds-too-heavy-for-my-height body and think, “Ugh, how can you not just get it together enough to exercise and stop consuming sugar?” I know they do this because I’m guilty of thinking the same way when about people consistently making seemingly ridiculous financial decisions. This is why empathy for the situation is important.

Perhaps will power is finite. There’s a limited amount our brain is willing to dole out and we’re choosing, consciously or not, where to be in control. For me, it’s my financial life first and foremost (just because it consumes so much of my attention). Nurturing relationships second. My emotions third. My body fourth.

Or, maybe it’s more like the four burners theory. One burner is your friends, one is your family, one is your health and one is work. You can’t be successful and have all four running. You have to cut one off to be successful and two off to be very successful. You could argue that success is relative, but you must admit you can’t constantly and consistently give your all to four areas of your life. Even those with the best of time management skills would struggle.

I’ve tried and failed to reboot my physical health many times over the course of more than a decade. Regular exercise, fad diets, cutting out certain foods. It goes well for a bit and then eventually the dreaded weight comes back on. It’s particularly exhausting to be part of an immediate and extended family of fit people. The type of fit where family bonding on a beach vacation isn’t laying out tanning, it’s running the sand dunes together. And yet, during all this time my financial life continues to be a healthy. No yo-yo dieting or unaffordable splurging. No “maybe next month I’ll get serious and start fixing my money.” I’d love to be able to apply my financial will power to my physical health.

Perhaps someday I’ll figure out how to tap into that will power and apply it to my body, without damaging my savings account of course.

That picture isn’t me! New readers may not know that. Image from Pexels.com

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Posted in Millennials, Random

Taking Time to Recalibrate with a Financial Cleanse

With pen poised over a blank page, I struggled to ink my first goal for 2017. Granted, this may be partially attributed to the general pain I feel when marking the virgin pages of a fresh notebook. But I digress. I sat at my desk and tapped the pen against the paper while letting my mind daydream about seemingly unattainable goals for 2017.

I would obviously lose the weight I’d been talking about shedding for four years. I’d magically understand what it took to feel fashionable on the streets of New York City, but on a capsule wardrobe. My book would become a New York Times bestseller as soon as it hit shelves in May. The podcast I’m starting would become so popular that Gimlet, Panoply and WNYC would get into a bidding war to acquire my talents. I’d learn to meditate and be able to do inversions at yoga. Basically, I’d be a cross between Tim Ferriss, Blake Lively and any woman from a Lululemon print ad.

That’s not what I wrote down.

2016 turned out to be a successful year for me on paper. It started with a book deal and ended with me quitting my job to become a full-time freelancer. From the outside looking in, there’s little for me to complain about professionally (or personally). Yet, my transitions didn’t come without financial missteps.

  • I raided my savings far too often while trying to handle the move from full-time employee to self-employed.
  • After being invited to seven weddings in 2016 and agreeing to three major vacations in 2017, my travel and honey pot (emergency savings) account were in pitiful shape.
  • Personal and business funds are intertwined, which is not setting myself up for success.
  • I kept spending at my normal rate after transitioning to freelance, even though my monthly salary suddenly became uncertain.

Needless to say, even those of us who are financially fit screw up and need to recalibrate, which I why I’m participating in 30-day Financial Cleanse, hosted by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, daughter of investing icon and founder of Charles Schwab (aka Chuck Schwab). Carrie is a CFP® and serves as board chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation and helped found several financial education programs.

I started by writing down a few short-term and long-term goals for 2017 and beyond. Needless to say, I got a bit overzealous.

Short-term goals (within 3 months to the end of 2017)

  1. Reset my spending behaviors to align with my now unpredictable salary by challenging myself to a no-spend month.
  2. Set up a business account and learn how to pay myself a salary in order to have a business account and personal one.
  3. Set aside 40% of my paychecks for taxes and 10% for savings to hit other goals.
  4. Diversify income streams in order to better handle the uncertainty of projects and freelance writing.
  5. Sell 8,000 copies of my book.
  6. Get four paid speaking gigs with a comma in the paycheck (aka minimum of $1,000)
  7. Volunteer
  8. Create a new savings account to always have the amount of my health insurance deductible available ($6,850). I’m electing to have this separate from my emergency fund so the emergency fund is primarily for living expenses if I have a slow income month.

Medium-term goals (within 3 to 5 years)

  1. Create a passive revenue stream – it would be great if it were the book, but that’s not always a realistic goal.
  2. Have at least $65,000 set aside for the down payment on a home by age 30.
  3. Hit $1,000,000 in investments and savings by age 33 (five years from now).
  4. Help Peach pay off his student loans within two years of getting married – this is of course working under the assumption we get married in the next three to five years.

I know, it’s a lot of goals. Fortunately, the cleanse will help me focus and make these goals actionable, especially the short-term ones.

Cleanses are important for the financially fit

Despite a few missteps in 2016, I do consider myself financially fit. The paper version of myself has a 780 credit score, a healthy savings account, invests, has well-funded retirement savings accounts, and doesn’t live in a paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. But trust me, you need to refresh your commitment to healthy financial habits on occasion. Not unlike going back to eating loads of veggies and minimizing the sweets after the holidays (another thing I’m in desperate need of doing).

How it works

The 30-day Financial Cleanse is segmented into four weeks starting with taking a hard look at your daily expenses by utilizing a cash diet, picking one place to cut back for the month and recording transactions. No one said this was going to be painless!

Week two adds in your monthly expenses, not just tracking your daily purchases. Use this information to make a budget that can be annualized to include payments like your Amazon Prime subscription or insurance premiums. This provides a bird’s eye view of your financial situation and lets you know if you’re operating at a deficit each month – sometimes it helps to think of your life as a business and you’re the CFO.

Week three focuses on setting goals and then reprioritizing your spending and saving patterns to achieve them. Carrie recommends having one primary short-, medium- and long-term goal. I got a little trigger happy in that section as you already read.

Week four encourages you to take stock in the progress made in the last four months and apply the lessons learned to the rest of the year and beyond.

Join me on the financial cleanse

If you feel like recalibrating your financial life, or doing a complete overhaul, then join me on this 30-day financial cleanse challenge. Start by downloading (or even print out!) the PDF overview here. Then hold yourself accountable by declaring yourself a participant on Twitter with hashtag #financialcleanse.   Get encouragement from me by tagging @BrokeMillennial or from Carrie @CarrieSchwab.

You can also follow my own experience participating in the cleanse that I’ll share both on Twitter and here on the blog.

And don’t procrastinate starting because it’s towards the end of the week so you’ll just hold off until Monday. Just get going now!

This post was sponsored by Charles Schwab.

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Posted in Budgeting Tagged with: ,

17 People Share Their Biggest Financial Failures of 2016

 

The only face you’re required to show online is the carefully curated one you’d like others to see. You use the filteres to remove the bags under your eyes. You crop to keep soft parts of your body out of sight. You post updates about how in love you are with your spouse on an anniversary, even though it’s been the most trying year of your marriage. You wax poetic about all the books you read, especially how you were trying to cover a more diverse authorship, but you watched far more hours of reality television than you had your nose in a book. The danger in this careful curation of our lives is the aliennation we feel in sharing everything from our small missteps to massive failures. How can you share online, or heaven forbid speak to someone in person, about your mistakes when everyone is fronting as #flawless?

Today, we’re not posting the successes of the last 12 months. Instead, I and 17 other money nerds are sharing our biggest failures of 2016.

My year included everything from spending screw ups to down right defying Uncle Sam.

  • Mistake 1: Not keeping spending in check when my income changed. It’s a classic tale. Girl starts blog. Girl starts freelance writing. Girl decides to quit full-time job and become a full-time freelancer. Sure, there’s a bit more to why I took the risk to work for myself this year (*cough* book *cough*). I saved a healthy nest egg for the transition, but I didn’t fully prepare for the change in my monthly income. Not merely about the size of checks, but the frequency of when they actually came in. Alas, my spending habits stayed pretty similar to life with a stable income. I ended up my raiding one of my savings accounts more often than felt comfortable.
  • Mistake 2: I didn’t pay quarterly estimated taxes. Last year, despite being employed full-time all year and paying extra taxes from my paycheck to offset freelance income, I stilled owed to the tune of $8,000. This year, I was traditionally employed for 8 months and then became self-employed. I again defied the rules and didn’t file quarterly-estimated taxes. I’m probably going to get punched in the teeth with a penalty this year on top of what I owe in taxes. Goodie.
  • Mistake 3: I got real lazy about returns. This year saw in uptick in online shopping. Probably because I detest going out and buying clothes. I tried to solve this hatred by ordering online. Of course I sometimes got items I didn’t love, but several times I just got lazy about having to actually get on the train, brave the brick-and-mortar location in Manhattan and return the item. I probably wasted at least $100.
Here’s what everyone else had to say.

SPENDING SCREW UPS

  • “Ours was the same consistent failure nearly every month this year. We consistently blew our monthly budget for groceries. And it wasn’t eating out/food because that’s a separate category for us. We just couldn’t stay under our allotted amount for household items and groceries. Every single month in 2016 we had to take money from another category to get through the month. Needless to say, we’ll be upping our grocery allotment in 2017 and decreasing somewhere else.” – Nick True, Mapped Out Money
  • “Twice this year, I caught myself with the case of the ‘fuckits’ after going slightly over budget. As in, I already broke my budget, might as well buy $300 worth of new clothes that I kinda need, but don’t need right now.” – Emilie Lima Burke, Burke Does
  • “$429 in traffic violations in under 24 hours. We could have done much better things with that money!” (Read the full story here.) -Hélène Massicotte, Free To Pursue
  • “In November, I was optimistic about doing a ‘No Spend November’. Instead…. that was my highest spending month of 2016! Ultimate fail. However, just because I failed at not spending any money doesn’t mean I regret it as part of the overspending was an unexpected opportunity to donate to charity.” – Gwen, Fiery Millennials
  • “I had more than one month of dropping ~$1,000 on food and drinks this year. I justified my ballooned expenses because earning more meant I ‘deserved’ delivery, eating out, or extra drinks.” – Kate Dore, Cashville Skyline
  • “I spent $500 on an online weight loss course that sucks…no refunds.” – Lisa Phillips, Affordable Real Estate Investments
  • “I haven’t done the numbers yet, but I’m pretty sure I spent more than I made. However, I enjoyed the travel I spent the money on, and I’d probably do it again, though I can’t afford to do it every year.” Teresa Mears, LivingOnTheCheap

SAVING STALEMATE

  • “We failed to save up in advance for a new front door and storm door that we knew we needed. The cost ended up on a credit card and even at no interest, it still took the whole year to pay off.” – Gary Weiner, Super Saving Tips
  •  “Made more money and didn’t save enough for taxes. Depleted my emergency fund to pay my tax bill. This was tough as I just rebuilt my emergency fund after paying off my debt. Lesson: save more for your EF and your taxes!” – Melanie Lockert, Dear Debt

BUSINESS BLUNDERS

  • “I don’t know if this is too vague, but hopefully it’s still useful…. I lost around 6k and nearly depleted my emergency fund this year because of the roller coaster ride that is my personal life. That said, I don’t know if I’d have done anything differently. I allow myself to take risks and fail in my business all the time. It costs money and I learn. Why shouldn’t we give ourselves the same permission in our personal lives? That said, I hope it doesn’t happen again. And the lesson learned, I need a bigger emergency fund.” – Stefanie O’Connell, StefanieOConnell.com
  • “The only real money mishap was I wish I would have spent the money I put into my business more wisely. There was a LOT of wasteful spending. I already have a budget planned for more mindful spending next year.” – Jessica, Every Single Dollar
  • “I spent $40,000 on my business this year, which is more than I took home. While I’m all for investing in yourself and your business, it should be done strategically while keeping ROI in mind.” – Lauren Bowling, Financial Best Life

HOUSING HORRORS

  • “We’re getting ready to give our home back to the bank through a deed in lieu of foreclosure.” – Lindsay, Notorious D.E.B.T.  Here’s an excerpt from Lindsay’s post expanding on her story: A home of your own is the American Dream—or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe my whole life. Unfortunately, I wasn’t given the skills to know how to actually achieve this goal growing up. Instead, my husband and I have gotten ourselves into a pickle that we can’t get out of now—unless we give up our home.  (Read the full story here.)
  • “We did a major house remodel in 2016 – basically we built a new house. I had budgeted 10% for cost overruns, and it ended up closer to 30%. Some of that was us choosing more expensive options, some of that was my builder’s fault, but the contract was pretty poor. Note for next time: a couple of hundred dollars at the lawyer up front may save you thousands in the long run.” – Kate Horrell, The Military Finance Coach
  • “We didn’t double check a price on fixing a problem in our new house before we accepted a price reduction. It’s apparently going to be far more expensive than the sellers indicated.” – Kathleen Celmins, For Profit Blogging

Will you be honest and share your biggest financial failures from 2016?

Join the Squad



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Posted in Financial Literacy Tagged with:

The Broke Millennial Checklist to Avoid Overspending at Christmas

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My Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

I’m a peculiar person when it comes to gifts. I never spent an afternoon trying to find where my parents stashed Christmas gifts. In fact, two presents from Peach are sitting in my office, unwrapped, and I haven’t had the slightly temptation to take a peek. I don’t gleefully rip the wrapping from a bunch of presents in a row. Instead, there is a very extended, methodical process in which it takes me a long time to get through all my gifts. Thanks delayed gratification.

What I relish even more than the painstaking act of removing wrapping paper from a package without a tear (oh, yeah – I can do that) is the act of giving presents. There is just something about finding that perfect gift that a loved one isn’t expecting and didn’t put on a wish list.

Alas, gift giving at Christmas time often costs significant money because you have to hit everyone all at once. At least birthdays a staggered, unless you’re in the Gosselin family or Octomom.

In order to combat this budget buster, I do what any financially diligent, type-A personality would: write a checklist.

None of this will be mind-blowing. Trust me, I wish I had some special secret to automatically reduce the cost of gift giving (other than don’t give any). But one or two of the tips may help you save some money, or at least get cash back in the process.

  • Start early – really early.
    • It’s not just that I start the actual shopping process particularly early. I keep a running list on my phone of gift ideas throughout the year. Anytime someone on my Christmas gift list mentions something he or she would want – it goes on the list. This reduces the headache of scrambling for ideas in late December. It also helps buy items on sale throughout the year.
  • Making a list – and checking it a whole bunch of times.
    • I’m admittedly a little Scrooge-esque about the people to whom I give presents. I prefer to spoil those I really care about instead of giving $10 gifts to a bunch of folks. In mid-November, I draft up a gift list and then potentially make cuts. Or have open conversation with some friends about doing a Secret Santa or just nixing a gift exchange and spending time together instead.
  • Set budgets per person not just overall.
    • Yup, people are assigned dollar amounts. I put a maximum I would want to spend on said person and then shop accordingly. It also helps take the sting out if you and a friend/family member agree on a maximum budget together. Hey, I guess you can put a price tag on love.
  • Cash in on my credit card rewards
    • I’ll let cash back accrue all year long and then dump it into my checking account or use it as a statement credit during the holidays.
  • Use cash back portals like Ebates* and Mr. Rebates* when shopping.
    • Like your average millennial, most of my Christmas shopping is done online. Instead of just clicking directly to my intended website, I first check cash back portals like Ebates and Mr. Rebates. By simply clicking through those sites, I can earn a little bit of cash back. It doesn’t end up, that being big bucks, but so far I’ve earned $50 back on shopping this year. Granted did include some holiday bonuses Ebates grants and not just off the percentage back.
    • Tip: put all rebates go directly into savings and don’t use it as an excuse to spend more.
    • Combine going through a cash back portal with a rewards credit card and it makes you feel like you’re saving a little bit on your budget. Learn how to stack cash back here.
  • Use credit cards with highest cash back value on purchases.
    • I’m always sure to check and see which credit card would earn me the most cash back on a purchase before I check out.
  • Shop sales.
    • Pretty self-explanatory…
  • Combine purchasing power with my sister.
    • Cailin, my young sister, and I have been known to put our money together in order to buy something nicer for our parents. As we’ve gotten older, many of the more fun presents are experiences to share instead of just another trinket for the house. It’s nice to be able to treat our mom and dad to a night out or a fun family evening because we don’t all get to see each other too often.
  • Use Groupon or LivingSocial to find experiences.
    • Speaking of gifting experiences – Groupon and LivingSocial are great sites to help find deals. Even if you can’t find a deal, they can help get the creative juices flowing. Peach and I used Groupon to do a painting workshop class, which means I now have art in the apartment – double win. I gave my friend Hannah a chocolate tour of New York as a birthday gift. Unless you have particular materialistic loved ones, the experience route is often the way to go.
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Can guess which one is mine and which one belongs to Peach?

*I do get a small referral bonus if you sign up for Ebates or Mr. Rebates. So send me some Christmas cheer and sign up!

Catch a video I shot in 2014 about how to reduce holiday shopping stress!

This post originally ran December 11, 2015. Yay for evergreen content. 
Posted in Budgeting Tagged with: , ,

Millennial Luddite to Technology Savant (with my finances)

I’m often accused of being a millennial luddite. Not to be confused with Ron-Swanson-level-aggressively-off-the-grid-real-life luddites, I just tend to take a while to warm up to technological advances. It was even my father who notoriously forced me to get with it and leave my disc-man behind for an iPod. There’s only one place in which I’ve been a technological progressive: banking. I was doing Internet-only banking long before it became widely accessible and en vogue.

When I got invited to Capital One’s Digital Banking Celebration in Washington, D.C. – I was most intrigued to connect with people there who weren’t banking digitally. And to find out what other people look for in financial products.

What do you value from a bank?

What you value most and what I value in a bank account or a credit card may be different, but I think we can all agree we want: simple, easy access, fast, reliable, secure and FREE. Capital One took the Today Show’s Mario Armstrong to Union Station in D.C. to do a survey with random people passing by and they found 69% of people think security is most important in banking and that 50% do most of their banking on the go. Personally, I only connect to my banking apps when on secured Wi-Fi. #JustSayin’

I got to interview Mario on Facebook Live at the event.

Using technology to manage your financial life

The mix of current Capital One customers I met in D.C. ran the age range from mid-twenties to early-seventies. Obviously, some were more digital natives than others. I asked one woman in her late sixties (as politely as I could) what brought her out to the event?

“I like my bank branch, but I know I need to learn how to use these things [pointing to my smartphone] to manage my money,” she told me.

She’s right. Not that bank branches are going to be eliminated anytime soon, but it’s prudent to have access to your financial snapchat-6information at your fingertips. Plus, why go into a bank to deposit a check when you can do it from home? As a freelancer, I’d pull my hair out if I had to go to the bank each time I got a check or had to wait until several came in before I went and deposited them into my account. Fun fact from the event: via Capital One’s Mobile Check Deposit feature, you have until 9 PM on business days to deposit checks into your accounts in order to have the funds available by the next business day.

You might have also seen me playing with Alexa if you follow me on Snapchat or Instagram. I have my Capital One Venture Card and my Capital One 360 Savings Account, which is also my Mosby emergency fund, linked to Alexa so I can ask for updates on my card balance or amount in my savings account. I could even tell Alexa to pay my bill. It makes me feel a bit like Alec Baldwin in the Super Bowl commercial last year asking Alexa to order new socks. Talk about going from millennial luddite to technologically engaged. Like I said, only with finances.

The big winner: free credit score access for all

While the Alexa is awesome and I’ll always extoll the virtues of Internet-only banking, the big winner of the night was CreditWise from Capital One. CreditWise gives you access to your credit score and you do not need to be a Capital One customer in order to use it. Like I said, the big winner. You can see me doing Facebook Live in this photo as I spoke to Carolina, who was operating the CreditWise booth.

After seeing all the big changes that have occurred since I first started online banking years ago, one big question remains: will I be able to keep up with banking technology when I’m 70? Here’s hoping!

This post was sponsored by Capital One.

Posted in Millennials