Live on < $20k: September - November


September – November:

The biggest fall purchase was a new laptop! Thanks to Qapital, I was saving for the purchase for months, and spent only $712.38 out of pocket.

The past few months introduced two new spending categories: car expenses and health insurance.  I also bought some gifts and clothes, and had my wallet stolen!  I lost $62 in cash and had to replace my driver’s license.


CategoryThis Month: SeptemberLast Month: AugustYear to Date
Bills & Utilities$137.14$103.47$822.46
Coffee Shops$10$2.39$64.83
Car Expenses$293.40$1,811.56$2,104.96
Public Transit$18.46$21.46$203.2
Personal Care$111.80$110$643.51
Home stuff$2.52$0$70.47
% of $20k8.1%14.9%64.2%


CategoryThis Month: OctoberLast Month: SeptemberYear to Date
Bills & Utilities$88.60$137.14$1,048.20
Coffee Shops$0$10$74.83
Car Expenses$20$293.40$2,104.96
Public Transit$28.46$18.46$250.12
Personal Care$0$111.80$755.31
Home stuff$712.38$2.52$785.37
% of $20k9.8%8.1%73.9%


CategoryThis Month: NovemberLast Month: OctoberYear to Date
Bills & Utilities$86.19$88.60$822.46
Car Expenses$175.08$20$2,300.04
Public Transit$18.46$28.46$203.2
Personal Care$30.80$0$643.51
Home stuff$0$712.38$70.47
% of $20k6.6%9.8%80.6%

Utilities are steady, as is my cellphone bill. Though my expenses are rising (car, health care), the income from my business is going up, too. I’m still well under my $20,000 goal for the year!

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

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You Don’t Have To Listen To Your Feelings

You don't have to listen to your feelingsHow many feelings run through you every day, every moment? Feelings that may wildly fluctuate about the exact same thing: your job, your partner, your home, your goals.

As I’ve built my business over the past ten months, my mood towards these endeavors has run the gamut from fear and loathing to disbelief to excitement, pride, and joy. These dramatic contrasts happen over days, hours, or even minutes. It feels insane – how can thoughts and feelings about something completely oppose each other so quickly? How can I rely on what I feel if it changes all the time?

“Don’t ignore your feelings” is good advice. Notice them, for your feelings can indicate where you need to take action to live a life that aligns with your values and goals. But be skeptical of them, too. Feelings are so diverse that they can’t all mean something, not in the sense that they are all a roadmap for how to live.

I recently read How To Think More About Sex by Alain de Botton. Though the title is ambiguous, the book is excellent, covering many topics related to sexuality and relationships. The following passages stood out:

“Such a re-evaluation [of the institution of romantic marriage] may be prompted by an awareness of how chaotic and misleading our feelings can be. We may, for example, see an attractive face at a street crossing and want to turn our life upside down as a result. When a tempting person with whom we have been having an erotic exchange in an internet chat room suggests a meeting at an airport hotel, we may be tempted to blow up our life in favour of a few hours’ pleasure. There are times when we feel sufficiently angry with our spouse that we would be happy to see him or her knocked down by a car; but ten minutes later, we may be reminded that we would die rather than go on alone. During the longueurs of weekends, we may be desperate for our children to grow up, lose their interest in trampolining and leave us alone for ever so that we can read a magazine for once, and enjoy a tidy living room – and then a day later, at the office, we may want to howl with grief because a meeting looks like it’s going to overrun and we realize we’ll miss out on putting them to bed.

The defenders of feeling-based marriage venerate emotions for their sincerity and authenticity, but they are able to do so only because they avoid looking too closely at what actually floats through most people’s emotional kaleidoscopes in any given period: all the contradictory, sentimental and hormonal forces that pull us in a hundred often crazed and inconclusive directions. To honor every one of our emotions would be to annul any chance of leading a coherent life. We could not be fulfilled if we weren’t inauthentic some of the time, perhaps even a lot of it – inauthentic, that is, in relation to such things as our passing desires to throttle our children, poison our spouse or end our marriage over a dispute about changing a light bulb.

Romanticism highlighted the perils of inauthenticity, but we will face no fewer dangers if we attempt always to bring our outer life into line with our inner one. It is giving our feelings too great a weight to want them to be lodestars by which the major projects of our lives may be guided. We are chaotic chemical propositions, in dire need of basic principles that we can adhere to during our brief rational spells. We should feel grateful for, and protected by, the knowledge that our external circumstances are often out of line with what we feel; it is a sign that are probably on the right course.”*

These examples of how irrational and fleeting feelings can be illustrates what I sometimes forget to remember: feelings are something, but they are not everything. You don’t have to do anything based on them, and you may want to ignore them sometimes.

*I neglected to note the page numbers. Apologies to Alain de Botton!

(image taken by Mat McIntyre.)

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Business Quips from Sage Business Ladies

IMG_1843Women Inspire, Network, Create (WINC) is a women’s networking and business support group. I recently had the opportunity to join the leadership team, and the first event I helped to plan was Celebrate Our Sisters: a night of sharing business successes and listening to two professionals share their triumphs. It was so much fun, with finger foods, wine, activities, and the opportunity to meet new business-owning women.

The first to speak was Jen Vallina of One Sock On Photography. She’s been in business for ten years:

Nothing is “free”

Jen didn’t intend to start a business. She is not a formally trained photographer, but started receiving portrait requests when her first child was young. She had no portfolio, so she sent out a request on her neighborhood listserv for free portraits in exchange for models. Yet nothing is truly “free”: receiving testimonials, word-of-mouth references, and portfolio material are valuable returns for work.

Don’t undersell

Photography is popular. There are many practicing photographers in the DC area, and sometimes Jen found photographers offering her same services for slightly lower prices! There will always been competition: take it as a compliment. Perhaps because of those competitors, Jen has been tempted to undersell herself – so she tried an experiment. She was offering photo sessions which were hard work and wore her out. So, she doubled her prices – and the the sessions sold out! Be confident in what you do.

Ebb and Flow

For many, photography services are luxury. Jen has observed that her business fluctuates with the housing market. Around 2007, business was slow for One Sock On. For luxury products and services, prepare for cycles.

The second speaker was Hetty Irmer of Four Corners Counseling. She was the 2015 winner of the StartRight! Women’s Business Plan Competition in Maryland. Hetty’s business is less than three years old (a requirement of the StartRight! competition):

Expansion and contraction

There are times of business expansion: you hustle for more clients, network for contacts, build processes and systems and grow, grow, grow. There are also times of contraction, when you need to nurture what you’ve built, and take things easy. Both are equal, both are neutral, and both are part of the flow of building a business.

Your relationship with your business

Hetty led us in a short meditation, in which she asked us to picture our business as a separate entity from ourselves, and to observe our relationship with that entity. Though our businesses come from us, they exist separately, and we relate to them in different ways at different times. I observed fear and anxiety about my own business, as well as pride and excitement. It was instructive to “communicate” with my business in this way, and to take stock of our relationship.

There is no finish line

There is no time when business will be done. Many of us imagine some future point in which our goals will be complete, balance achieved, and we’ll be finished. But this future time and place is an illusion: life, work, and balance are ongoing projects. We do ourselves a service to realize that now, rather than imagine that at some point, we’ll be done.

Both Jen and Hetty mentioned something we’ve undoubtedly all heard: get out of your comfort zone. Stretch yourself! There is nothing comfortable or easy about owning a businesses, but the rewards for taking risks and challenging ourselves are great.

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Is Saving Money Boring? Not With Values!

The Ancient Egyptians valued the afterlife...

save-money-your-values-simply-putDoes saving money make you yawn?

Everyone knows they’re “supposed” to save money. But for what – retirement? A house? For many of us, those milestones seem so far away it’s like they’re not real. Or maybe you plan to rent forever, and you don’t want to retire to play golf in Florida.

If these thoughts ring a bell, it’s time to create savings goals that align with your values. If saving is boring, make it meaningful: connecting financial decisions to your values brings clarity and motivation to saving. If you’re not sure whether or how to buy something, check in with your values: does the purchase align with them? Or is it heat-of-the-moment? Does it bring you closer to your goals?

For example, from a friend of mine about her wedding: “I feel conflicted about spending money on a wedding. I want a cute wedding, and for my friends and family to be there, but I’ve been hearing about how much it costs and I think wait, what?”

My friend and her partner are not engaged, and some people might scoff that she’s thinking so far in advance. But if she values the presence of her community at an important ritual and life transition, and she values aesthetics and it’s her goal to celebrate marriage with a beautiful party, she’s smart to think about it now. Hosting a wedding is a long-term goal that relates to her values.

What are your values?

When you think about your life, either now or in the future, what do you want it to be like? What makes you feel most like yourself? What do you like to have as regular parts of your day, week, month? On the other hand, what bothers you? What irritates or upsets you? These questions are clues to defining your values.

Values are “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life” (Google). Why is it important to think about your values? For plenty of reasons, but particularly because connecting actions to values helps you make confident decisions that progress you towards your goals. It clarifies your relationship with yourself, deepens your understanding of why you do what you do (or why you need to change what you do), and gives you a lens through which to analyze situations that make you feel bad.

Do you know what your values are? If you’re not sure, think about aspects of your life that are important to you. If you love to read, that’s a start! Important things might include family, good food, travel, sleep, helping people, learning, earning money and feeling confident. You can also think about things that bother you: people who don’t do what they say they will, chaotic situations, feeling self-conscious.

But what do these preferences mean about you? If some of the things you like feel vague, it’s because they might be. There are many things we know we’re supposed to care about, like family, hard work, or education. And many of us genuinely value these things, though we may never have asked ourselves why. The why is critical to understanding your values. Without the why, it’s hard to feel connected to the concepts we claim to value.

So why do you value what you value? To figure it out, get specific: If “free time” is important to you, what do you want it for? In an ideal world, how will you use it? If you value “solitude,” what is it about solitude that works for you? Is it education for its own sake that’s important? Why is it a priority to travel?

It takes time and reflection to connect what you like to the reasons why they matter. After some consideration, you may find similar themes recurring across the things you like and dislike. For me, themes like control,  justice, and collaboration come up again and again. Pay attention: these are clues to your values!

I distilled these themes into broad categories, like keywords to reference during decision-making. Many of my personal and professional goals, such as financial independence, living abroad, and building my business, tie in with these values:

Autonomy: I like having a say in what I do and where I do it. I put a premium on having control and flexibility in how I spend time and money. I’m cultivating multiple income streams so I have professional options – being able to work more or less gives me control over my schedule. Earning money is important to me because it enables me control where I go (travel) and purchase products I believe in (organic food, sustainable goods).

Community: I feel best when I’m in community with people, whether it’s celebrating holidays with family or collaborating with colleagues on projects. It gives me a sense of place in the world. Talking with people and sharing ideas is invigorating and reminds me that I’m not a waste of space. Community challenges me, educates me, and energizes me.

Fairness: I know that “life isn’t fair,” but I want it to be. I get angry when treated without the respect and consideration that I think is appropriate. I like consistency: when people act similarly over time, when they treat others equitably. It helps me understand situations and expectations. I like clear expectations so I can meet them. I like when people keep their word.

There are more, but I want to hear from you. What are your values?

The Ancient Egyptians valued the afterlife, and spent years and tremendous enslaved labor to guarantee it. Some Pharaohs truly went the distance, but most of us have fewer resources. Of the financial resources we do have, how can we align our practices with our values?

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Live on < $20k: August


August: The Month Of The Car.

I bought a car from my grandparents. It needed some repairs, and came out to cost around $2,000. Plus I paid for car insurance. Combined with a freelance project taking longer than expected (and thus making less money in August), my bar graph on is very red for this month!

CategoryThis Month: AugustLast Month: JulyYear to Date
Bills & Utilities$103.47$91.96$822.46
Coffee Shops$2.39$21.45$64.83
Public Transit$21.46$42.69$203.2
Personal Care$110$171$643.51
Home stuff$0$37$70.47
% of $20k14.9%6.3%56%

Our rent went up a little for our second year lease. I bought a swimming pass for our local pool. I saw Jen Kirkman in DC, which was fantastic. I had a couple of health insurance copays. Other than the car it was a pretty normal month. How was your August?

Want more? Check out Live on Less Than $20k and recaps for JanuaryFebruary, MarchApril, MayJune, and July.

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Don’t Do What You Love

Don't Do What You Love - Simply PutA million times we’ve heard the advice, “do what you love.” There are hundreds of books written on the topic. But there are problems with this advice:

  1. If you’re not doing what you love, you may feel like you’re doing life wrong
  2. It sets up an impossible standard – how do you find work you love?
  3. People love more than one thing

There’s a lot of emphasis on meaningful careers. Apparently the ideal is to find work you’re so passionate about that you’d do it for free, but that’s limiting. There are many ways to create meaning, and perhaps doing something that contributes to a larger picture and allows you to buy food you like is enough meaning to expect from work.

Besides which, there are many factors that go into loving a job beyond the actual work you do (and people rarely love all the work they do). Factors like your coworkers and work environment (physical space, access to food and bathrooms, dress code, flexibility). Your benefits. The commute. And sure, the company purpose or mission.

Regardless of the nature of your job, you’ll do the things you love in life because you love them (which is simple if not easy). A better way to think about work is to do something that’s valuable, or do something you’re good at – even if you don’t love it.

I studied Gender and Women’s Studies and English in college. These are social and cultural educations: learning how to communicate with people, write, analyze situations, and understand history and context. They are not career-training fields the way engineering or computer programming are (Of course, some people go on to become writers and gender advocates. I didn’t). I spent four years learning what I love, and it was great. But if I went to school now, I would do it differently. I’d study something I’m good at that is valuable to other people: something with quantifiable, marketable skills.

It may be that you’re good at something that’s valuable, and you love it. Great. But if not, don’t worry. Your career doesn’t have to be your passion. It can just be the means that provides you the ends you want: the goods and services you value and what you want for your future self. Penelope Trunk puts it that, “career decisions are not decisions about ‘what do I love most?’ Career decisions are about what kind of life do I want to set up for myself?”

Millennials were raised with unrealistic expectations of finding passionate careers and being immediately successful at them. I have not found this to be easy, and neither have most of my peers. Maybe it’s time to adjust our expectations.

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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How To Be Professional, Part 2

How to be professional part 2Being professional doesn’t come easily to everyone. Colleagues aren’t necessarily good models, and there are many “professional” behaviors that no one tells you! Whether starting your first job, a new job, or your own thing, consider the following to keep it professional:

Create Systems:
It’s likely that your work involves doing similar tasks. Use checklists and templates to catch your mistakes and deliver consistent, high-quality work. Attention to detail, thoroughness, and consistency are important at work, but everyone makes human errors: catch yourself. (I discovered a day late that my original image for Part 1 had a typo. I am creating a system to catch myself.)

Figure It Out On Your Own:
There’s a line between asking how to do something, and figuring it out yourself. A professional tries to find the answers on her own – it shows that she’s diligent about learning as much as she can before asking for help. However, don’t waste time and money by spending hours on something that another professional could do in five minutes.

Note When You’re Afraid:
Sometimes I put off tasks that scare me. If it’s something I’ve never done before or don’t understand, I’ll sit on the task for weeks, mulling it over until I have the courage to take action or get so close to the deadline that I have no choice. In one of my jobs, this gave the impression that I was lazy. Pay attention when a task intimidates you. Is there someone you can ask for guidance? Can you research it before forging ahead? Put time on your schedule to get it done, and tell a friend or colleague to hold you accountable.

Dress Appropriately: 
A friend had a boss who wore threadbare shorts to the office. They didn’t have an office dress code, but it makes everyone uncomfortable to see a coworker’s thong underwear. Even if your company’s dress policy is relaxed, clothes give an impression and influence the way you conduct yourself. I usually get more business-y things done in a pencil skirt than cut-off shorts. Also, my posture is better. Neat, put-together clothes convey I am here to work, rather than see you at the gym.

Arrive On Time:
Another friend confessed that once she’s comfortable in a job, she doesn’t always arrive on time. She reasons that if she works hard and makes few mistakes, it’s no big deal to show up a little after 9:00. If your workplace has a flexible schedule, that’s fine. If not, it gives a certain impression to be chronically tardy – and not a professional one.

Be Polite:
Some people are rude. Be courteous because you’re a professional, while taking appropriate measures (HR) to handle people who are inappropriate. Be kind, as a policy. Be careful what you say to coworkers, especially while in the workplace (maybe the rules are different during happy hour). For great advice on how to communicate at work, see “A Case Against ‘I’ Statements.”

How To Ask For Feedback:
This is one merits its own post. Stay tuned!

For more on how to be professional, see Part 1. What have you learned about being professional? Add to the list!

(photo by Amanuel Awoke)


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How To Be Professional, Part 1

How to be professional, part 1
When I started working, I thought that being professional would be easy. How hard could it be? I was surprised by how many silent expectations and unspoken strategies there ae in the workplace. Whether starting your first job, a new job, or striking out on your own, being professional is an ongoing project that takes time and attention.

Not sure where to start? Consider the following:

Daily Check-in:*
Touch base with yourself (or a colleague, or your supervisor) on these three points: What did you accomplish today? What’s your biggest priority tomorrow? Do you have any roadblocks to getting things done? These questions provide a structure for monitoring your work and priorities, assessing your progress, and indicating if you need guidance or support to accomplish a task.

Tailor Your Communication:
People communicate differently, and it’s important to have a feel for how your supervisor or clients like to communicate. Do they want regular, detailed updates on your projects?  Do they prefer biweekly meetings? Ask how they like it, rather than waiting to be given instructions. And if you’re only checking in every other week, make sure to keep a list of ongoing projects so you can provide status updates at any time. Which brings us to….

Capture Tasks:
There are a million things coming at you from all sides. Try to have one place (hello, David Allen) for all tasks to be captured and organized. For years I kept track of my work in a notebook, using a system of columns, colors, and symbols for organization. Eventually I replaced paper with a digital system so I could keyword search and schedule tasks in advance. Sometimes things slip, but a professional has a system to capture all tasks so that when asked, she can report on the status of everything from big projects to small to-do’s.

Distinguish Between Urgency and Importance:
At any given time you have a lot to do, but not everything is important and urgent. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the quantity of work and forget to prioritize time-sensitive tasks or plan out long, multi-step ones. Rather than doing small things so you can cross them off, or working long hours on a project that isn’t due for a month, a professional has a hierarchy of important and urgent tasks and does those first. If she’s unsure, she finds out.

Take Notes:*
Use a notebook, Google doc, or similar to record any questions, suggestions, or concerns you have about work. Ideally, this is something you can review with your supervisor or a colleague. Not only does this show that you are engaged in the workplace, it also shows that you’re looking for ways to improve yourself and and the company.

Structure Your Time:
Some workdays I dive in with no plan, haphazardly doing various tasks, checking email, and distracting myself by texting. No bueno. My most productive days come from planning: dividing my time into 1-2 hour chunks for specific tasks; batching tasks like phone calls, emails, or social media scheduling; structuring breaks to refresh my mind and body. When are you most productive – is it morning? Use that time to work on creative projects and reserve email and phone meetings for after lunch. Do rote tasks while listening to TED Talks or music so your mind can take a break.

What have you learned about being professional? Add to the list!

*A fellow Bullicorn had the opportunity to mentor an intern in her company, and asked the community how to be helpful. Some of these suggestions come from that conversation. 

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Why You Do It (Your Job)

why-you-do-your-job-simply-putWhat is a career? Why do you do what you do?

Penelope Trunk recently wrote about work-life balance, referencing the recent New York Times article about how Amazon treats employees. Explaining her own experience launching startups, Penelope says, “What I’m telling you is that I have been one of those people who worked insane hours and put my company before my life. And I’m here to tell you that there are people who really do want to do that. We should let them.” Some companies expect employees to work all the time. They are for people willing to give everything to their careers – not just forty hours.

Do these employees enjoy giving so much without respite? Or is it the prestige, paycheck, intensity, and reward that makes such work worthwhile? Or the thrill of climbing that career ladder? On the other end of the spectrum, some people hate their jobs, or feel ambivalent towards them. Maybe they are stuck in the job because of debt, or the job is a means to the end of traveling or reaching financial goals.

Whatever the reason or motivation, we all have careers, and by career I mean things you spend a lot of time doing for decades (not necessarily for pay). There are people who have a clear career visions: they want to do a specific thing, and they have certainty around it. Yet most people’s professional lives are not straightforward. We move from thing to thing as opportunities arise and our interests and circumstances change. This can be done with intention and planning, but often seems to just… happen. Have you stopped to think, why am I doing what I’m doing? What careers am I experiencing now?

My cousin is starting a new job today. After discussing the lifestyle that goes with 9-to-5 work, I shared Penelope’s post with her. She said,

“My values are radically different than hers. I can’t put any value on the concept of a “career” because to me it’s invented. What are you actually driven by when you’re a “career-driven” person? What intrinsic value is there in a career? To me a job is a means to many different ends.”

Of course, there’s a lot of space between work as a means to an end, and putting your career before everything. Work is meaningful. It can come with identity, community, reward, recognition, and pride. Even if you don’t love what you do, you probably love what your job enables you to do: eat and drink well, live where you want, save money for future goals. And if we didn’t work, what would we do? …. Something, right? Some sort of occupation.

Think of “work” or “career” expansively: it’s about contributing, helping people, and creating community, whether or not you’re climbing a ladder. My cousin clarified her qualms, saying, “what I have a hard time understanding is people being ‘career-driven’ OUTSIDE OF being passionate about the actual work they’re doing, and having that be an end in itself. There are people who hate their jobs and are miserable every day but love the idea of climbing to the top of this mythical (in my opinion) career ladder. It’s much more important to me to do work that I think is interesting/helpful regardless of the paycheck or title.”

Sure, sometimes you have to work just for pay. But your career is never one thing; it’s a combination, a collection of all you do, and it changes all the time. You do it for many reasons, and those change, too. If you feel stuck, try asking yourself “why do I do these things? Do they align with my values or help me achieve my goals? Do they enable me to do what I want? Is it time for a change?

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Live on < $20k: July


July was a good money month.  I was back in the green on savings, and made few unplanned purchases.  I like viewing the July column on my spreadsheet compared to June and August.  June was travel month, and August is car month….

CategoryThis Month: JulyLast Month: June
Year to Date
Bills & Utilities$91.96$113.53
Coffee Shops$21.45$0$62.44
Public Transit$42.69$9.23$181.74
Personal Care$171$71.62$533.51
Home stuff$37$0$70.47
Qapital Savings$129.87$80$209.87
% of $20k6.1%6.5%40.6%

I want to do another No Spend Month, but it’s unappealing while the weather is good, daylight hours are long, and there’s lots to do.  Perhaps I’ll have No Spend Weeks instead.  How was your July?

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

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