It’s All About Options (Money)

howtohavemoneyforever_simplyputstrategiesA few weeks ago I presented How to Have Money Forever at Northwood High school. I loved it, and it went well. (I did talk a lot at the expense of hearing from students. I chalk that up to it being the pilot presentation.)

The take-away messages were: 1) always pay your credit card bill in full, and 2) provide your Future Self with options. I asked the class, “how much of your credit card should you pay at the end of the billing cycle?” five times during the hour. That’s a credit card practice that everyone should follow. But providing your Future Self with options is more abstract.

Your Future Self
You don’t know what your Future Self will do or be. But, you can be sure she will appreciate having options. The future is a question mark for everyone: your Future Self may have diminished earning capacity due to illness or family obligations. Or, she may have goals beyond your current imagining: to work on a farm, volunteer full time, be a philanthropist, write books, raise children. Whatever the circumstances, your Future Self will have more power and possibilities with options. You can pay it forward.

This is why debt is an emergency! The more people to whom you owe money each month, the less you can provide your Future Self with options. The average indebted consumer in the United States owes >$15,000!  Having negative money means having diminished options (not all debt is created equal. I’m talking about consumer debt, not mortgages.)

These come in many forms, including:

  • Skills: are you an expert in something specific? Do you have a quantifiable, coveted skill? Are you good with people? Do you have a degree? Are you skilled in a trade?
  • A Network: are you connected with people? Do you use social networks? Do you seek out and introduce yourself to leaders in your field? Do you follow their work? Do you attend events?
  • Money: do you have investments earning compound interest? Do you have an emergency fund, or F-you money? Do you spend a lot less than you make every month? Do you have multiple income streams?

Many of the trappings of middle class America oppose your ability to accumulate wealth (like debt).
The US economy is heavily based on consumption: buying things, using them, and discarding them. We (humans) have a tendency to compare one another, leading to keeping up with the Joneses. We learn that bigger is better, especially if that’s what everyone else has: house, car, education, activities, food, clothes, etc. All of these cost money.

How much more will you actually enjoy a luxury car than an average, used one? At first a lux car probably feels amazing, but after awhile it just feels like Your Car. Ultimately, any car that gets from point A to point B and is not unsafe or insufferably uncomfortable probably feels about the same.

It’s not that you should never have nice things. It’s just that you should only buy nice things in accordance with your values and priorities. And if you want to accumulate wealth for your Future Self, one of your priorities is likely not spending a high percentage of your income on luxury stuff.*

“But YOLO!” you may be thinking. “I’m only young once! If I can’t have fun now, what’s the point?”

Well, yes. Living should be fun perhaps most of the time, and fun often costs money (and money costs work).  Splurge sometimes: get froyo, go see movies. Treat yourself. However, the difference between a treat and a lifestyle may be the difference between a lot of options and a few. Remember, you will be YOLO-ing forever. As your goals, needs, body, and responsibilities change, you’ll be more and more grateful that your Past Self set you up with financial options.

* Some argue to focus on earning more money, rather than just having a high savings rate. I argue to focus on both.

(photo taken by Amanuel Awoke)

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Live on < $20k: April


Spending in April was higher than in March.  Socializing is more enjoyable in warm weather, which accounts for higher restaurant and alcohol tabs.  It seems that a lot of my clothes are wearing out around the same time (now), so I replaced sandals and bathing suits this month.

CategoryThis Month: AprilLast Month: MarchYear to Date
Coffee Shops$0$8.75$25.55
Public Transit$18.46
Personal Care$80$15.89$110.89
Home stuff$8.47$25$33.47
Miscellaneous$10.43 (shipping)$15.90 (SIM card)$34.03
% of $20k5.7%4.4%21%

Remainder to spend: $15,791.6 of $20k

How was your April?

Want more? Check out Live on Less Than $20k and recaps for JanuaryFebruary, and March

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What DO You Want? (Just Pick Something)


What do you want?

Mel Robbins says to be selfish. Don’t make it sound good, and don’t think about what would impress other people. Be honest. Is it to lose weight? Volunteer abroad? Stay home with your kids? Learn to cook?

Mel also says, pick something. “People don’t pick.”

I asked my roommate how to tell what you really want. He said, “the thing that won’t let you sleep because you want it so bad.” I rarely have trouble sleeping, but I think I know what he means. It’s the thing you’ve had in the back of your mind for years, maybe since you were a child. It’s the thing you daydream about while commuting or falling asleep. Maybe it’s the thing you’ve never told anyone, because it’s so important.

I was mulling over this topic when I came upon an excerpt from Gala Darling’s interview with Danielle LaPorte. Perfect timing. These stellar women talk about what to do “when you don’t have a clue,” and how to take the first step.

From Danielle:

“Clueless [about what you want to do]? I don’t think so. Somewhere inside of you, you know what lights you up…. Believe that you already know… in your body, your fantasies, the people you envy, your journal, your childhood, your longings, the things you would do if you were fearless, if money were no object… What you want to do is there… and every time you deny that, you shrink a little bit.”

She also talks about option paralysis, and echoes Mel in saying, “pick something. Just pick anything. Eventually you will fail, so get it out of the way… You’re going to learn the same kind of lessons you need no matter what you choose.”

But it’s hard to pick, isn’t it? There are dozens of things to do. If you feel stuck, consider the following:

Fearing of commitment: “Renaissance Woman” is a compliment, but the mindset to try everything could be fear’s way of preventing you from doing anything. Not doing something is still an action. Danielle says, “remember that motion is better than stasis. Doing something is better than doing nothing.”

It’s all an experiment: View your ventures as experiments, not absolutes. You can change gears any time. With equal parts curiosity and commitment you can try things to see how they work, and avoid devastation when some things inevitably fail. Shrug. It was an experiment! On to the next.

What’s your business model? It’s simple to think about what you would do if money were no object. But money IS an object, and buying groceries should be factored in to your decisions. So consider where the money comes from when you choose what to do. If it means working part time while you build to your goals, go for it.

Be selfish, be brave (you don’t have to tell anyone): what really “lights you up”? That’s what you want.

(photo source here.)

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What’s the First Decision You Made This Morning?

Mel Robbins has a theory: that it’s simple to get what you want. Simple, but not easy.

How many ideas do you have throughout the day? Things to try or create or tell people? How often do you have an impulse to send a message, compliment someone, write a story, or ask a question? How often do you act on these impulses? How many times throughout the day do you think about taking a step towards what you want, only to get distracted and think, I’ll do it later?

Mel has a message: stop screwing yourself over.

You’re never going to feel like doing it. You’re never going to feel like editing your novel, starting a business, or changing the way you eat. You’re never going to feel like doing pushups, asking for forgiveness, or writing a pitch. The end goal or product seems removed from the immediate steps. The reward for doing pushups feels like it’s a million years away. So you think well, maybe I don’t actually need to do that.

After all, you’re fine, right? But the problem with “fine,” Mel says, is that you’re saying fine to yourself. And if you’re fine, it’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t need to do anything differently. You don’t need to make changes, you don’t need to do pushups. (There’s a time and place for “I’m fine” though: it creates boundaries. I don’t want to share my emotional state with everyone. Sometimes I don’t want to go into detail. I say I’m fine. Easy. Done.)

So we hit what Mel calls the “inner snooze button” on our impulses. When our ideas well up, we snooze them. Our routines are predictable, and we are creatures of comfort. As soon as we step outside routine, it’s uncomfortable. Yet as Esther Perel tells us, we have equal needs for predictability and adventure, even (or especially) when adventure is challenging, maybe scary. We must parent ourselves: force ourselves to do what it takes to get what we want.

Sometimes it’s okay to hit snooze. It’s not important to act on every Instagram idea, or text a friends every thought that may interest them. But what about your Big Audacious Goals? You’re never going to feel like doing them. And then they won’t get done. And then you won’t get what you want.

Here’s a trick: Mel points out that if you don’t pair an impulse or idea with an action within five seconds, the opportunity is passed. Remember the Five Second Rule next time you have an idea for a blog post or program. Remember it next time you want to sing but don’t. Or dance. Or do a cartwheel.

Scientists have calculated the odds of you being born when you were, where you were, to your particular parents, with your DNA. One in four trillion: those are your odds. Miraculous, isn’t it?

So what was the first decision you made today? To go back to sleep? Or to get up within five seconds and start your day?

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Sometimes I Miss the Nine-to-Five (And What To Do About It)

There are many things I love about being a #solopreneur. I like answering to myself. I like giving my ideas legs. I like meeting people, creating things, making my own schedule, and simply trying such a venture.

But there are things I miss about the nine-to-five.  I loved working full time (not only because of the salary and benefits). I loved the people and the predictability – I knew what to expect when I got to work every morning. I loved the sense of belonging, of being on a team. Of collaborating with people, bouncing ideas off my office-mates, making decisions together. I loved the rhythm and parameters – dressing every day, going to the office, having an idea of what I would accomplish. I guess I loved that things were organized. There were often curveballs and new developments, but the basic structure was steady.

Esther Perel talks about two basic human needs: for adventure and predictability. Both can be part of self-employment and conventional employment. In my young self employment experience, there’s more adventure than stability. Sometimes I miss the stability.

But what is it that I miss, specifically? When I think about full time work, what do I remember most fondly? Can I create any of those qualities while working for myself?

People. I can find other people to share coworking space. I can set up work/study dates with friends. I can work in a cafe or library around people. I can use my network of entrepreneurs, professionals, friends and more to ask questions and get feedback.

Routine & Rhythm. I can put myself on a schedule of getting up and “starting work” at the same time every morning. I can schedule maintenance/ongoing projects for certain times, and new projects/creative work for other times.

Structure. As a solopreneur, you can do the same work from your bed in your pajamas as from a cafe in a blazer. You don’t have to go anywhere, and sometimes that feels stagnant. I can create a dedicated work space in my home. I can designate certain days to working outside of the home. I can decide not to work in pajamas.

How do you balance adventure and predictability in your life?

(photo source here.)

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Vacation-Productivity At Home

vacation-productive_SimplyPutStrategiesI spent the weekend at the beach. We soaked up sun, introduced each other to various sites from childhood, and generally took it easy.

On weekends I wake up 2-3 hours earlier than my roommates, and this held true at the beach. I had the condo to myself every morning, and I got so much done! Something about the new scenery, the quiet, the no-plans-until-beach-time made it effortless to get up when I awoke (no battling the snooze button), tiptoe downstairs, and settle with my computer to edit the money presentation, write emails, and draft blog posts. There were so few distractions that it was effortless to prioritize and organize my tasks.

We got home today, back to the grind of our jobs and responsibilities. I felt so good about my work while we were away. How can I maintain the early morning energy and productivity I had at the beach? I have a few ideas:

Work outside. The different scenery of working on our back deck, rather than from my bed or couch, may do me good. Watching the sun come up and hearing the birds chirp is a nice contrast to a computer.

Go to bed early. There was nothing to distract me at the beach the way there is at home. With all my things around, it’s easy to stay up doing small tasks or lollygagging online. At the beach I avoided my computer unless I was working, because I was on vacation. With little going on, I went to bed between 10:00 and 11:00 and woke up refreshed around 6:30-7:00.

Work time only. Every day there’s a mix of work, personal, and household things to accomplish. I often have option paralysis when I wake up, but this didn’t happen at the beach. When I wake up this week, it will be for work only. No chores, no tidying, no anything else. I’ll choose two tasks to do in the morning to avoid paralysis. It’s hard to feel overwhelmed by two things.

Keep to myself. Part of what I loved at the beach was the silence and solitude. Workdays at home involve roommates exchanging bleary hellos as we all start our days. By absconding myself to the deck, I can keep to myself and stay in the zone.

This week I’ll try to keep the vacation-productivity strong. I’m hopeful that holding on to my beach mentality will help me start my days fully present to get things done.

(photo taken by Eva Jannotta)

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Start a Business for the Win, Part 1: Yes, YOU Can


Starting a business: you can work for yourself all day in a cafe!

Originally published by DC EcoWomen on April 15th, 2015. 

If you’re thinking about starting a business, congratulations! Anyone can start a business. All you need is your idea, your goals, and a business model (and probably a website). Here are some things to consider as you plan your business:

Find your niche No market is too saturated for your unique self.
You need a business idea. What’s your product or service? And more importantly, what makes your business special? The answer to this last question is obvious in a way: you make your business special. Find a way to make it obvious to your customers. What about your experiences or creation makes you unique?

In other words, don’t just be an English major who edits stuff. What are you excellent at and experienced in editing: scientific writing? Technical writing about vacuums? Marketing organic cotton baby clothes? Or what do you know so much about that you can improve a piece by editing it?

Set yourself apart by finding a niche and becoming an expert (if you aren’t already). Develop expertise that your customers can trust. Do this by contributing content; write a blog, guest post on blogs about your topic, write white papers or ebooks, make videos, create Pin boards and use Instagram for visual content. Even curating your Twitter feed is a way to establish expertise. Key in to your industry – establish relationships with media outlets or journalists that cover your topic, volunteer at events in your industry. Pitch presentations at conferences.

Reading three paragraphs on finding a niche makes it sound like it can be done overnight, but I’m still finding my niche! I’m a professional organizer – will my niche by digital clutter? I’m a social media and marketing consultant – will I specialize in social media support for Gen Xers? I’m developing a financial literacy class for students and young adults. Maybe financial education will be my expertise. It’s okay if you’re not sure, or if it takes time to decide on your niche. You can start before you’re certain. Your niche will make itself known as you experiment with your options.

Know yourself, know your goalsThere are more reasons than “make money” to start a business.
When I started Simply Put Strategies, I had a lot of anxiety about making it “successful,” and in my mind that meant making it “pay.” My sister suggested that I change my definition of success from make money to improve peoples’ lives through organization. Not because wanting to make money is bad, but because money-making as a goal made me feel like a panicked failure instead of a powerful person who makes her clients’ lives more joyful and free.

Making money is an important goal, but know your other business goals: to create art that makes people happy or pensive? To support baby boomers as they age? To publish websites that are intuitive for new users?

There are many reasons to start a business, and they can all be goals: build expertise, practice self-management, widen your range of experiences, expand your network, have a back-up option if you leave your job, have an option if you want to work part-time to raise kids or write a book. Can you think of other great reasons to start a business?

Get a business plan modelWhere is the money coming from?
Some people insist that you need to write a business plan, and that’s up to you. But whether you write a plan or no, you DO need a business model: you need to have a plan for supporting yourself.

Few businesses make a ton of money at first. Some never make much at all. However, you need money to live. So make sure you have a business model that allows you to live while you get your business mojo flowing. This could be working full time, part-time, working virtually, contracting, living off savings, doing odd jobs off Craigslist, or dog walking. I do not recommend quitting a salaried job to start a business with no idea how you will support yourself. That is a recipe for sleepless nights and is a terrible business model! My business model is to work part time at MOM’s Organic Market while I build my client base.

Starting a business is a big step, and may sound scary. What if it fails? What if you don’t like it? Anything is possible, but what you will learn makes it a worthy investment. If you’re worried about losing money, consider this: it cost me only $300 to start my business (registering in the state of Maryland and paying for my website). You can do it!

(photo taken by Eva Jannotta)

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How To Have Money Forever


In a few weeks I’m going to my high school to talk to a class of seniors about money.

How did you learn about money? I was never taught “How To Have Money.” It wasn’t forced upon me in school (I don’t remember it even being an elective). My mom taught me how to write a check, and I taught my college roommate. If money savviness is not part of school, it’s luck of the draw whether you learn it at home. If your parents teach you, and if you pay attention. Those are two big “if’s.”

Money is important. It’s used for a lot of things. We all have feelings about it and internalized beliefs we’ve learned: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” “You get what you pay for.” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” Or my favorite, “money can’t buy happiness.”

This is true, of course. If money bought happiness, the wealthiest people in the world would be happiest. Having money doesn’t change everything that makes us unhappy: insecurity about ourselves, illness or death of loved ones, loneliness, doubt about our purpose, trust, faith.

But there IS a correlation between money and happiness, and to deny it is not helpful. An existential conversation about happiness is beyond this post, but think about it: being able to treat yourself to a frappuccino and enjoy it in the sun makes you feel good. Buying someone a gift makes you feel good. Good food, good housing, good clothing, all that stuff that makes up our lifestyles – how do we get that? With money, usually. Of course there are ascetics who live in huts and are joyous. I’ve read 12×12. I’m into minimalism. I know money isn’t everything. But it’s not nothing, either.

“[M]oney is a matter of belief, even faith: belief in the person paying us; belief in the person issuing the money he uses or the institution that honours his cheques or transfers. Money is not metal. It is trust inscribed. Anything can serve as money, from the cowrie shelves of the Maldives to the huge stone discs used on the Pacific islands of Yap” (29-30). – Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money (pro tip: this book is difficult to comprehend if you’re like me and do not have a background in economics.)

Money is an agreement, a means of exchange, and a provider of options. How can we use our money to give us the best options? We don’t know what our future selves will want, but we can be sure they will appreciate options.

Given that most of the seniors I’m addressing will get advanced degrees and jobs for which they will receive pay, I want them to know how to handle money. I want them to avoid joining the legions of Americans in thousands of dollars of debt. If they do join them, at least they were warned.

Here’s what I’ll talk about:

  1. Be aware of your goals and values
  2. Always live below your means
  3. Have an emergency fund
  4. Plan for retirement now
  5. Develop a neutral relationship with money

Would you add anything? What did you learn about money growing up? What do you know now?

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Money & Anxiety

kids-money-finance-economy-allowanceDo you ever have a feeling that you should be doing something other than what you’re doing, right now?

I get anxious about all sorts of things. Should I really be doing this, or should I be doing that? If I sleep in, I feel anxious about time “wasted.” If I indulge in Starbucks or a cocktail, I feel anxious about money spent.

A lot of anxiety is tied to money: making it, saving it, having it, sharing it, spending it on the right things, getting good bargains, not overindulging, not being miserly. Sound familiar?

I read Mr Money Mustache, a blog about financial independence. I love the DIY, minimal lifestyle. I love the emphasis on the body and on experiences. I love the people I’ve met through the “Mustachian” community. Of course, I also love the idea of saving enough money to reach financial independence in my 30’s.

The Mustachian crowd has a good relationship with money. They don’t need much of it. Their money works for them. That’s what I want. Though I love to work, I also love the idea of not needing money for my work. Money would be icing on the cake.

Nothing brought my money anxiety to the fore more clearly than quitting my job. My regular salary changed to fluctuating freelance projects and part time hourly wages. I worry sometimes that this career move makes it less likely that I’ll be able to reach financial independence. And if I can’t do that, I’ll worry about money forever!

NOT: I realized that the reason I’m into financial independence is because I imagine that once I reach it, I can stop worrying about money. It’s not how much I have that’s the problem – it’s the worry. And if I’ve worried about money for 30+ years, it’s unlikely I’ll just stop when I have enough to retire. Or if I do stop, my worry will likely transfer to something else.

One of my goals for this year is to improve my relationship with money. Knowledge is power, and I’m on a quest to better understand money and the beliefs I’ve learned about it. What are some of your beliefs?

(photo source here)

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Live on < $20k: March


Spending in March was much lower than February, on account of not buying a transatlantic flight! (Removing the flight from February brings that month’s total to $963.43, only a little higher than spending in March.)

CategoryThis Month: MarchLast Month: FebruaryYear to Date
Coffee Shops$8.75$16.8$25.55
Public Transit$9.23$18.46$36.75
Personal Care$15.89$15$30.89
Home stuff$25$25
Miscellaneous$15.90 (SIM card)$7.70 (shipping)$23.60
% of $20k4.4%7.7%15.3%
Savings Rate52.59%34.31%59.57%

Remainder to spend: $16,948.9 of $20k

Our quarterly water bill and a new cellphone plan inflated utilities.  I had to buy a SIM card for my phone, and I bought a polka-dot duvet for my bed from Craigslist. I’ve spent less than a quarter of $20k, which puts me in a good place for the rest of the year. 

My savings rate was back where I like it: over 50%. How was your March?

Want more? Check out Live on Less Than $20k and recaps for January and February.

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