How to Monetize a Blog

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

When I first started writing, I was a person filled with angst. I couldn’t quite place it exactly, not realizing  that the unrest lied in my lifestyle as a millennial yes-woman. And so I did the only thing I consistently ever did since becoming a teenager filled with regret and discomfort – I wrote.

In that writing, I found myself – buried under all of  society’s imposed expectations, fetal position underneath all the rubble and trash. When I first started this blog, I didn’t expect anyone to read it. I didn’t even think myself brave enough to share all the darkest parts. I couldn’t imagine myself coming out of it positive and vibrantly alive. And I certainly did not expect a following, nor did I think that my written word would turn into a business. It’s been two years in the making, but now I’ve been able to create a community and a space in this vast interwebs, while also make money on the side to fuel my goal of paying down my debt.

And it all began with Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing!

Where Blog Monetization Began

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner runs a personal finance blog called Making Sense of Cents  and is the author of Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. I first heard of Michelle on ChooseFI, as an interviewer like myself, talking about a life of side-hustling via blog work. It was then that I was introduced to affiliate marketing, which allows someone to share useful products relevant to their blog or lifestyle in the interest of helping others, while receiving a commission from the company if purchases are made through you. Prior to this moment, my blog made no money. Since then, I have had the joy of receiving additional side-hustle income while doing what I love. My blog became my first side-hustle. 

What I Liked About This Course:

  • It taught me how to sell without compromising my values. I am very much against selling for the sake of selling. As a minimalist and a frugalist, what I choose to purchase is very important for me, and I wanted that to translate into my blog. I dislike sales-pushy people and am very much against excessive consumption. This course helped me to balance the implementation of affiliate marketing without feeling like I sold my soul.  I use affiliate marketing as a means to share with others products or experiences that brought value to my life. I help others by directly linking them to note-worthy companies. I am very mindful about not infiltrating my blog with a cluttered handful of advertisements, generally limiting each post to one or two.
  • It allowed me to invest in myself and helped propel us forward with student loan repayment. This course is an investment in your ability to make money. More than that, it invests in expanding your skill set and abilities. I knew nothing about growing a blog, but learning about affiliate marketing was a great introduction into running blogs as more than a digital day-to-day diary. I am the first to say that my investment into becoming a dentist (costing me more than $550k in student debt) was not worth the education that I received, albeit it was worth the life lessons I learned and the person that I became. But this course is worth every penny! If you are interested in increasing your income, speeding up your trajectory towards financial independence, or a flexible job that allows you to stay home, I highly recommend this course.
  • It gave me a job that I love. I get to work as a part-time writer, staying at home working in my PJ’s, and doing what I love to do. All because affiliate marketing makes my blog a money-making venue. I always hear people say, “I don’t believe anyone can ever love their job”, and when I do, I feel very sad. I also feel guilty, because I DO love my job – in fact I love all my jobs! I love being a writer, a dog-sitter, a baker, and a dentist. However, if I never discovered how to monetize my blog, I do not think I would be able to make that statement. If I never fell into this  sphere of making money on the side, I would have probably been stuck working as a dentist, five days a week, burned out from the emotional stresses and mental challenges with a crick in my neck and an aching back at the ripe age of thirty. This course gave me my first glimpse of what it means to step back from a traditional work-life. It gave me the opportunity to limit my time in other jobs, which prevents me from hating a mundane existence. If writing is your passion, then maybe it’s time to carve out a job for yourself.
  • It gave me the confidence to start other side-hustle ventures. It’s hard to step out of  a comfort zone. It’s hard to leave a job that promises stability. It’s hard to do what others are not doing. It’s hard to chase freedom, when it also involves the freedom to fail. But once you’ve left the zone, there is empowerment outside of  it. Using what I learned in affiliate marketing gave me to confidence to believe in my ability to sell my skills rather than work for pay. I started to see value in my ability to take care of dogs. I saw value in the bread that I was making. I saw value in a lot of things. I left an egg-shell that was already shattered, I crawled out of a cocoon by putting myself out there. I think it takes one tiny step to fall fantastically forward into a black hole of bliss. This course was my one. tiny. step.

What I Like About Affiliate Marketing

There are many positives to affiliate marketing. In the interest of brevity, and in the hopes of allowing you guys to figure what you love about it yourselves, here is a list of the things I liked most.

  • It increased my income and quickened our pace with loan repayment.
  • It taught me a lot about myself, in terms of what I wanted to promote and what I did not want to promote.
  • It allowed me to share with my community what brought  the most value to my life.
  • It allows my readers to connect directly to the source, facilitating a sharing of useful resources.
  • It shined the spotlight on small businesses and companies just starting out, especially those who I believed has a great impact.
  • It provided me with the lifestyle I wanted, and is a great opportunity for writers just starting out, or people interested in working from home, nixing a commute, or being with their family.

How to Start Making Money with Your Blog

So if you are interested in writing and earning money, start with this course! It’s an easy transition for beginners like me, who knew nothing about starting a blog. Right now, the course is ON SALE (which hardly ever happens!). If you use my affiliate link here and use the code OCTOBER2019CC, you will receive $28 off of the course, making the total price $169 after the discount! Now I know frugalist followers will be rolling their eyes at this price, but do remember that it’s an investment for the FI lifestyle. When done right, you can make that money back quite easily, especially if  you approach affiliate marketing from a mindful place. But do hurry, because this deal won’t last long! It ends Sunday, October 20 at 11:59 pm PT.

As always, do not hesitate to contact me if you need any help or would like to learn more.

A Lesson in Making Do with Where You’re At in Life

I like metaphors. I like them so much that I take mundane occurrences in the every day and aggrandize them into life lessons. Over-glorified moments twisted with a truck-load of positivism, spun into something better. Oh, the world in which I live!

So I’ve got a metaphor.

Last Sunday afternoon we were experiencing an Indian summer, not atypical of Southern California. It was hot, I was wearing shorts and a tee, my bangs were sticking to my forehead, and my skin was sticking everywhere else. We were at home, finished with the morning chores, the run to the farmer’s market, the 10am football games, an afternoon of nothing ahead. An ideal situation for me. Even more so for my husband. He had just sat down at the computer, when I suggested we go to the beach. We were there exactly twenty four hours prior, but I was hankering for a re-do and thought, it couldn’t hurt to ask.

It was not unfair of him to say no, either, but there I was, left with a decision to head to the ocean water on my own and trample in the waves, or stay. Due to a fear of being swallowed whole by fierce waters (to blame: a near drowning experience that resulted in a missing bathing suit bottom after being tossed around like a rag doll in the wash), I can never brave dousing more than my bottom half when I go alone to the beach. But the hot weather had me wanting more – a fervent dumping of my entire body into deeper waters. I needed a hand, though. Strung along were other excuses – I was avoiding the drive to the water which would sacrifice an hour of my weekend, en total, along with the cost of dreaded parking meters.

I realized that in that moment, the beach was something I did not have, but wanted. It was another case of wanting more out of life when plenty abound. In much the same way that travel can be a form of escape from the mundane, so too was the beach a way for me to escape an afternoon in idleness. In a matter of moments, I started to think of what I did have, and it dawned on me to apply my mantra of making do.

As crazy it this may sound, I decided to create my own ocean. I wanted to dip in water, to cool down, to play and frolick. I scoured the tub, dug the plugger from underneath the bathroom sink, and turned the faucet to Cold. I filled the tub with water and was reminded of the kiddie pools we used to own. Those tiny things we would spread out on the lawn and clamber into, practically sitting on top of each other, all arms and legs. For some reason, I wanted to replicate that childish scene. I put on my bathing suit (you gotta dress the part, you know?), and dunked right in. I moved around a lot, which caused the water to slosh. Just like that, I had created waves. I know it seems crazy, but I got what I wanted – an escape from the mundane. It was nice. I was happy.

Now let’s aggrandize.

In honor of World Mental Health Day, I wanted to share that on THAT particular Sun-day, I got something right. I didn’t run away from my unhappiness. I acknowledged what I wanted to do. I tried to make the situation positive and bright. I worked with what I had, which I know can sometimes be the hardest thing. And as this post is titled, Make Do with Where You’re At In Life, maybe today isn’t a day that you can will yourself out of bed. You sure can try but if your limbs are too heavy or the bed too soft, then make do and imagine you’re on a cloud. We need to raise a planet where there is no social stigma for these things. Where we protect people’s feelings. So what if a thirty year old wants to pretend she’s made an ocean out of a dingy bathtub? So what if an adult needs to be a vegetable for the day? It is only when we preserve and allow for these activities that we can make the world a bit more bearable, more light, more happy.

 

An Early Morning Baker’s Shift

I’m no longer what the patisserie world would consider an early morning baker, even though to the rest of the world, I qualify simply because I rise at an earlier hour to bake. But I have been meaning to share my experience as an early morning baker for a while, if only to reminisce on what I remember as some of the best mornings of my life.

I was working for RyeGoods back when they were slinging bread in a garage-turned-commercial-kitchen behind a blue house with an orange tree located at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac. We were a band of misfits in the most positive sense – dreamers creating magic. Headed by a pastry chef who disliked sugary treats and a carpenter who built out everything we worked on, the crew was made up of a business major who decided to quit paper to help his sister fulfill her dream, a surgeon’s son who fell in love with bread at a pizza restaurant, a chef who was interested in the mission of the bakery, two ladies who were also doing their own cottage food endeavors, and myself, a dentist who wanted “something more” in life. To be honest, I was probably the less fitted to the band of misfits – a straight-edge with neither tattoos nor insight into sports or pop-culture, and no formal training in the restaurant industry. I was there because I bake sourdough bread at home. But even misfits have families, and this place felt like home. We came together under that roof called upon by a shared love of what we do and a belief in the mission – make healthy, delicious REAL artisan bread using traditional methods while supporting local farmers preserving ancient heritage grain.

My shift began at 2 am in the morning, and I worked three days a week. My alarm was set at 1:40 am, in order to get the most out of my sleep. On weekends, it was around the time the bars outside my window would close. While others went home to sleep, I left home to start my day. Theo, my cat, would clamber into the warm spot that I’ve just vacated, as if to say, “I’ll guard this until you return.” By the time I’ve slipped on my baker outfit (an old pair of jeans, a New Zealand hat, and a Krochet Kids tee), he’s already drifted back to sleep. I’d hop into my car and drive the ten minutes to our bakery, avoiding indecisive rabbits and sleepy eyelids. I would park in front of the fenced yard where the orange tree sits, and walked down the long driveway surrounded by mist, past our delivery truck and into the beloved garage.

The shift consisted of myself and the surgeon’s son. Since I am always late, he’d have switched on all three ovens and loaded two of them with sixteen lodge pans. It won’t stay cold here for long.

We remove pre-shaped pastries from the fridge – sleeping babies awaiting us to give them life. All goods made with croissant dough are placed in the proofer to rise. The others await the pre-heating ovens on a baker’s rack. These first few moments are the slowest, giving our bodies time to wake. He usually checks the bread bake for the day as I pull out the banana bread loaf pans. Once loaded into the ovens, I return to mix vegan loaves. It takes about fifteen minutes. Divvied up into their pans, they join their bread counterparts in the ovens and are forgotten about for the next fifty minutes.

Next on my list of tasks is the assembling of pop tarts. Flour the surface, sandwich jam between dough sheets, and crimp with a fork. This repetitive movement was very calming to me, along with the background noise of clanging combo-cookers, a signal that the first batch sourdoughs were being scored and loaded.

The clock hands move slightly faster.

Occasionally, one of us will ask a question about bread, share some insight, or talk about a recent experience outside of the bread world. But most times, we worked in silent understanding of the roles that we’ve fallen into. We were both working 60-something hour weeks, having picked up midnight shifts like a pair of crazies, for the love of bread. For those four months, our thirty minute conversations qualified him as my only friend. We started work the same week, “the last of the OG’s” as the carpenter would say, and leaving the system we’ve made was the hardest part.

At around this time, we begin juggling roles. Whoever was free checked the state of the croissants. When they were ready, we shuffled around each other, egg washing, sugaring treats, loading pastries, all while eyeing timers. When a timer would go off, we just needed to look at each other to know which of us was leaving to check the ovens.

At 4 am, one of us feeds the starter and mixes the levain. The other holds the fort.

There’s still the cookies to be squashed, icing to be made, lavender sugar to be sprinkled on blueberry scones, and more loaves to be pulled out of the fridge. If we could sacrifice an oven for a larger bread production, we would, but often times, pastries were a priority as it neared delivery time. Our brains are calculating minutes as our muscles mechanically move in routine rhythms.

At this time, an occasional step outside may be necessary, as the tiny garage has turned into an oven itself. The pastries fill the space with that familiar scent of a grandmother’s kitchen. The outside air in February is the perfect contrast to the passion we had for dough. We stripped sweaters and wiped sweat from our brows. But we can’t stay away from the ovens for long.

Croissants that have cooled need to be twice-baked with almond filling, pop-tarts need to be iced, and cookies need sprinkling with maldon sea salt. Meanwhile, the banana and vegan loaves require slicing. I’ve honed in on the ability to slice them into equal portions using my two finger’s width to measure. We send the end pieces out for the baristas to enjoy. Whoever was free can bag the bread loaves and load them into the truck. We had worked out the system where pastries would be ready and the area clean so that once our delivery guy walks in, he would be able to box and prep efficiently. But on some days when the bakes were heavy, the arrival of the delivery guy will indicate our need to double our speed.

Throughout all this, we’ve tried to keep up with the piling dishes during whatever down time we had. We knew it was a good day when the dishes were low once the packaging and delivery crew arrived.

Sundays, though, were my favorite. Sundays were bagel days. We would rush to get everything done and out of the way to make time for bagel prep. Standing side by side shaping bagels in silence was something I think we both relished. It was the part where everything slowed down, and when I felt like I was really in my element. As much as I liked pastries, bread was really my calling, and that translated when I started my own bakery. Pastries were oh-kay, and I somehow landed the job of pastry prep along the way, but shaping bread was where everything lined up. After letting the dough rest, we would poke holes with our thumbs and spin them around thrice to enlarge the dough to the correct size. We set them on floured trays and once they were all prepped, we would take each tray into the back part of the house where a pot of boiling water sat on the stove. It was here, in the dim morning light, that the idea of Aero Bakery was born. As we were leisurely boiling bagels (six at a time because that was the biggest pot we had), we talked about how Rye Goods started, and I learned of cottage food operations. We were dreamers, after all, and my dream was born here. I remember everything about that back house. The way the darkness slowly faded away, the creak of the wooden floorboards, the direct view you had from the kitchen window into to bustling garage. I can still smell the mist and the bread, the morning fog and the stove top heat. Nothing made more sense in my life than those few moments of peace.

I left earlier than the other guys, committing to work only until 6 am. Before leaving, I loaded as much as I can into the trucks. We wanted the delivery guys to be out around this time, too.  I grabbed my sweater, waved goodbye to my fellows, and would slip into the morning dawn. Birds are chirping, the sun is rising over the palm trees, and there was bread in hand (when there were extra). My whole body is warm and humming, just like the ovens. My skin is crackling, just like bread cooling on a rack. My brain is light, like a bird’s feather, floating free.

I joined the “early birds” on the freeway heading to work before the traffic starts. I enter my home to a meowing cat, ready for food. Sometimes, my husband and roommate are already in their respective showers. I clamber into bed and wait for breakfast, when I turn on the kettle to make a cup of coffee.

When I quit, I told myself I will never put my body through a sleep schedule like that again. I also know that I will never feel that alive, unless I do.

Simple Things: Wooden Hangers

Sometimes, simple things matter. Sometimes, it’s all that matters. Our household lives by the adage, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Curating a home is part of living an intentional life, and the things with which you surround yourself does define your lifestyle. In my opinion, a few simple things bring so much more beauty to your home and value to your life than a hundred gadgets.  This series is dedicated towards those simple things. 

I’ve wanted wooden hangers for a majority of my adult life, which equates to about the last ten years. Many a time I’ve visited department stores and turned towards the hanger aisle, if only to longingly run my fingers along the smooth edges of polished pine, or unfinished walnut. But the cost of wooden hangers is too great, at about a dollar a piece, for me to ever make that leap. So I have spent years begrudgingly using free, hand-me-down plastic hangers that leave pointy shoulders in my tees and dismay in my heart.

But providence proves just and patience is the best virtue, for this weekend when we were walking the two dogs that we were sitting on Rover (get our side hustle monthly income report here), we swung by the recycle bin behind our garages to find it overflowing with unwanted things from what we assume to be a recent neighbor’s move. And there, sitting on the floor next to the miniature Australian shepherd was a box FULL of wooden hangers. Now I am not one to dumpster dive, but in the name of frugality I am also not completely opposed to it. As my roommate fairly stated, it can’t even be considered dumpster diving. Rather, it’s as if someone plopped a box of beautiful wooden hangers in the middle of my path, already unwrapped and ready for use.

I looked to Mr. Debtist hopefully and with pleading eyes. Can I please take this home without you judging me? He carried the hangers home himself. Once we got inside, I started wiping them down with white reusable rags. They were in pristine condition. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was completely prepared to polish them up but there was no need. In fact, there was hardly any dust.

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No chore could stop me from immediately switching out those icky, flimsy, plastic hangers in our bathroom nook for these “new” wooden ones. You see, we have no closet in our main living space (only one under the stairs) and so we’ve lived with this makeshift rod hung up in a tiny indent next to the shower. Our clothes have been hanging on plastic hangers exposed to all guests and visitors who use our restroom. We’ve made do, but it’s not been pretty.

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Now, they still do hang exposed, but my heart is full. The beauty that I feel from wooden hangers make living with no closet that much more bearable. In fact, it makes it that much more exciting. I could live without a closet forever if it means I could stare lovingly at these wooden things every day. Plastics be-gone! Don’t worry though, they won’t end up in the trash. We got these plastic hangers from my parents and they will be returned just as my brother conveniently leaves for college in two weeks. I am sure there they will find a new home.

What about you? Things you’ve found in the trash that have made your home that much more beautiful?

 

Finance: How We Paid Off $145K in Student Debt in Two Years

On the heels of the previous post, a word on how we paid off $145k in Student Debt the past two years. I think it’s one thing to inspire people to pursue a road less traveled with the hopes of reaching a more ideal life, but it’s another thing to give any meaningful sort of advice on the matter. It is the latter that I wish to address in this post.

I’d be the first to admit that tackling half a million dollars in student debt is a daunting task. However, with a few pointers under your belt, the task becomes much easier. Here are some steps that we took ourselves, listed in the order we took them.

Steps to Paying Down Debt

  1. Figure Out Your Why. The pillar to every debt pay-off story is the “Why”. Why are you pursuing financial freedom? How does paying off the debt lead you to a life you want to lead? What will keep you going? These are the questions you must first answer. You need to build that fire within you, the one that burns so achingly that you’ll never forget, turn around, or give up on the reasoning behind why you decided to take that first step.
  2. Hire a Professional. While not for everybody, I highly recommend this if you are like us and do not come from a lifestyle geared towards financial independence. As you can see from my money egg, I had a long history with money that makes me hyper-aware of excess consumption. Each person has their history with money and it shapes the way you view your finances. I knew when I graduated from dental school that I did not come from a place of wealth, and neither do I have experience with dealing with large sums of money. I also did not want to be the person dealing with a looming debt hanging over my should. I had to talk to someone, and fast! While colleagues were buying homes and cars with their first paychecks, the first thing I paid for was a financial planner. And it changed our lives! If you are swimming in a large amount of student debt like I am, then I would highly recommend a conversation with Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link). He helped us save thousands of dollars on our journey, and as you can tell from our Itunes interview (here) he has no problem telling you how to optimize your repayment journey … which is exactly the type of person you would need in order to get great feedback! He broke down why we could optimize our path better (from a financial standpoint) by waiting 25 years and investing our money instead, but I chose to follow what I felt was right, and pay it back aggressively instead. The good thing is, you can discuss options and a good professional will make sure that you are aware of all the ways you can tackle the debt, but in the end, you are the decider about what to do.
  3. Educate Yourself. Admittedly, we did this with a financial planner holding our hands. We learned about budgeting strategies, loan repayment options, ways to optimize our health insurance, options with our retirement funds, and more. Off course, you don’t need a financial planner. There are plenty of books, sources and inspiration out there. The more you get educated on personal finance, the more options you will have. As you learn new ways to battle the same thing, you will become more innovative in your solutions, and doors which you never knew existed will open. Knowledge will only facilitate the process.
  4. Get Budgeting Down. It’s difficult to direct money towards paying down debt when you are always scrounging for money in order to live. Living paycheck to paycheck would indicate that there is nothing left-over to funnel towards your goals (student loans included). Creating a budget and sticking to it will help. Start with my course on creating a budgeting tool, and go from there!
  5. Manage All Other Debts. The last thing you want to do is to focus on student debt so much that you ignore all other debts, or worse, accrue an even larger number of debts! For us, managing all other debts meant paying down higher interest debts such as credit cards. We paid these off within the first month of marriage. However, for those with lower interest rates than my student loans (that is, lower than 6.8%), we paid only the minimum payments. For example, Mike’s car loan has a lower interest rate AND a lower total amount. Therefore, the money would be of better use towards my student debt, rather than eliminating the car loan.
  6. Get a Good Job. Let’s face it, a good job will largely affect how well you can pay off your loans. A job that’s consistent, reliable, and pays well. As much as I would love to explore being a temp, I also know that working more days as a dentist will help us on our repayment path. So there must be a balance. I can’t just cut down dentistry to one day a week and then pursue all my other creative endeavors. And if you’ve got a large debt, unfortunately, it wouldn’t behoove you either.
  7. Consider Side Hustles. Once our spending habits were controlled with a good budgeting tool, I started to think of ways to increase income. Actually, I started to explore hobbies that I like to do, and found ways to use that to make extra money. I started side hustles at the beginning of 2019, and the returns have been increasing steadily. I cannot wait to see where this year of side-hustles will take me.
  8. Be Kind to Yourself Along the Way. Lastly, but most importantly, find ways to make this lifestyle sustainable. The importance of enjoying life, rewarding yourself for your hard work, and having grace cannot be stressed enough. If everything in your journey is harsh, then it will be difficult to continue on when the days get rough. Because they do. I can recognize when I feel bogged down by the weight, tired by the work. When I do, I schedule a day of rest, or force myself outdoors, or meditate to reset. I send all my focus towards taking care of me, and in doing so, the loans find a way to take care of themselves. Ways in which we make this journey more sustainable include finding creative joys – I dabble a lot in the arts, Mike dabbles in music, and we both fulfill recreational activities in the form of travel, hiking, board games, and get-togethers with friends and family. In the end, you have to do whatever it takes to feed the fire.

Using Gifts to Talk About Mindful Consumption with Younger Generations

When was the first time you were introduced to the concept of gifts? If it’s like most people, it was likely at an age when you were not yet capable of comprehending what a gift was! Growing up, we all were taught to expect gifts and to ask for things, even when we were too young to expect anything at all. From our very first birthday, we were taught that gifts come hand-in-hand with any celebration. Aunts and uncles would ask for wish lists, and parents would prompt you to write a letter to Santa. In this sense, gifts were one of the first factors in propelling our lifestyles towards one of consumption. This Christmas, I implore you to change the way we talk about gifts with children.

ON TALK OF GIFTS:

Instead of asking children what they want to receive for Christmas, ask them want they want to do. Avoid the talk of gifts all-together. I ask kid patients who come into the dental office what they have done thus far to prepare for the holidays rather than ask them for their wish list. If a child says, “bake cookies”, I ask them if they plan to give some to their next-door neighbor or friends at school. If they say “write a letter to Santa”, I ask them if they are also going to write a letter to their sibling, telling them how important they are. If a child brings up gifts, I ask them to tell me the one thing they have in their life right now that makes them feel most gifted, whether that’s their family, their warm bed, a hobby, or a special moment.

ON WRITING WISH LISTS:

If you are writing a letter to Santa as a family, perhaps challenge a child to write only ONE material item that they “want”. I am not saying deprive a kid of STUFF. I am simply saying to limit how much of it surrounds them. Your child likely does not need a dozen more toys. A statistic states that the average child in the developed world owns more than 200 toys, but plays with only 12 of them on average a day. Additionally, the US children make up 3% of the children in the world, but owns over 40% of the toys in the world. So as a non-mother, I do dare say that your child should only ask for one material item. My suggestion? Ask them to request experiences instead. Perhaps your child will ask for their favorite meal, or a venture to the movie theatres. Mayhaps they ask to adopt a pet, or to spend an afternoon helping others at a soup kitchen. Maybe they’ll ask to see far-away grandparents this year, or for world peace. Children are so brilliant when it comes to ideas. They may surprise you, let alone Santa.

ON CONVERSATIONS ABOUT CONSUMERISM:

If you ARE gifting kids something, start a conversation with them about where their gift comes from. Let them know that their item affects the environment, and the people on it. Tell them how. Spend some time with them researching who made the gift, and what purchasing the gift means. It’s important to have them understand that things do not just magically appear from the sky, even if Santa does. In knowing this one simple fact, they will become more mindful about the source of everything that enters their lives, rather than dismissively assume that our consumption has no effect. In doing this, we can raise children with enough awareness to question.

ON MINDFUL GIFTS:

There are many ways to start the conversation with mindful gift-giving.

  • Fair + Simple launched their Fair + Little line this year. The collection consists of curated goods hand-sewn by women in the Philippines. Each gift is meant to change the way children views stuff. There is a card for every purchase, telling the child a little bit about the maker, and how the gift helps others. There is also a call to action that prompts each child to get out in nature, and become treasure hunters. Inside the pockets are hidden treasures from the founder, Molly. To learn more about Fair + Simple, check out my interview with the founder.
  • KrochetKids has a collection of children’s knitted goods, ranging from beanies to stuffed animals. Each product is hand-signed by its maker, thereby opening the doors for you to tell them that their items are made by hand by a human being, not a machine. You can also have them write a Thank You letter to their maker, and send it to them online!
  • Farmer’s Market and Artist Fairs are great ways to have a child actually meet the hands behind their gift. They can even speak with the maker and ask them questions, such as how they got started making these things and what was the hardest part about its production.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Advent Calendar for a Slow Holiday Season

When we were younger, we would go to the grocery store with my mom and see advent calendars up for sale. I would beg my mom to get me one, excited about the promise of opening a chocolate-filled container every day until Christmas. But my mom would refrain, telling us that we have chocolates aplenty at home and we don’t need a calendar in order to eat it. Still, I would think to myself, what a wonderful way to spend the holiday, looking forward to a little self-indulgence once a day in anticipation of Christmas morn.

Needless to say, nowadays my concerns aren’t centered so much around chocolate as they are about intentionally living each day to their fullest. (Well, sometimes they are.) Yet, living with less is a form of indulgence in-and-of-itself. How many times do I see people at the mall in angry moods, stressed by a floor-length gift list, or families rushing to check off boxes on their holiday to-do list. Put up the lights, check. Wrap the gifts, check. Pictures with Santa, check. Write the letters and bake the cookies, check. Order the holiday cards and mail them, check. It is this time of year especially that I am aware of the ways in wish we constantly fill our lives and rush through the days, missing the season completely. As with most things, we spend our lives looking to the future, and by-passing the present entirely. Therefore, my efforts are concentrated around my only goal for the holiday season, which is to simplify it.

Along those lines, I love the idea of creating an advent calendar that is constantly reminding us to take it slow. Ironically filled with activities to-do galore, the calendar is meant to insert an activity intentionally bringing us to the present. Each card details either a way to connect with others, to do good, or to wind down. And let’s not forget activities for ourselves, too. A little self-love in the form of mulled wine. Or a coffee date with a loved one.

Off course, the calendar isn’t meant to be rigid, which would add another stressor in our lives. Numbered one to twenty four, the fulfillment of said activities need not be done in sequential order. Think of it as a mere suggestion. If it’s rainy today and a walk in the neighborhood will surely bring displeasure, then swap for a different activity. If two activities sound great on the same day, then maybe double up. Skip one after a long day of work. The intention is not to add another check box to the list. Simply, it’s a physical reminder to be here.

Additional points if you create the advent calendar with the rest of the family members, like we did. (As you can probably tell when you get to activity #22.) Enjoy our suggestions, and I hope you have a few great ones, too.

  1. Watch a Christmas movie together as a family. We’ve already done Home Alone with my brother and roommate, but there are more classics to be seen. My personal favorite, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  2. See the lights at the Newport Boat Parade. We usually bundle up in our coats and gloves and beanies and stand on the bridge leading up to Lido Island as we watch the boats float by. Waving to the occupants, optional, a warm mug of hot chocolate is not.
  3. Make Christmas cookies. Sugar cookies and snickerdoodle are fun, but chocolate chip will always be my go-to.
  4. Deliver cookies to neighbors. Because we don’t know our neighbors as well as we should.
  5. Put up the tree and decorations with family. Re-living some childhood mems, we have invited my parents and brother over to join us in putting up the tree. In the interest of frugality, my parents have lent us their old 9 foot tree to put up in our home, lights included.
  6. Group gift wrapping event. It’s more fun when you wrap gifts with others, rather than alone. Instead of a chore, make it an event. Invite some pals, serve cheese and bread.
  7. Cover a Christmas song with Mikey. This requires a bit more time, and patience, on both our parts. Letting others hear the end product is up to you.
  8. Take a walk in the neighborhood to look at the lights. Every year, my parent’s neighborhood has a light contest. It’s a pretty big area, and it would likely take a few hours to walk a decent amount of it. But we’ll make the time.
  9. French Toast breakfast, for dinner. Or for breakfast, up to you. Add a smear of persimmons, perhaps.
  10. Coffee date at our favorite coffee shop with sketchbooks for sketching passer-bys. This is a true indulgence, one that requires spending. It’s been a while since we’ve ordered coffee out, what with No-Dining-Out November barely behind us. I’m sure our barista will welcome us with open arms.
  11. An evening dedicated to reading. If I could do an entire day, I just might. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to pick up a book and finish it on the same day!
  12. Bake home-made croissants for a local office. I was asked to bake my home-made croissants for an entire office team back in July. I’ve put it off for a while, because it is a lot of work. But when the croissants got mentioned again at Thanksgiving, I thought, what a perfect way to spread holiday cheer. So I will be spending a weekday off baking for others.
  13. Bake a pie. I have never made a pie. But I want to experiment using our bread. I am taking filling suggestions, if you have some.
  14. Make mulled wine and relax after a long day. In Germany when we were walking the Neuschwanstein castle with our friends, they brought us to a stand and ordered us some Gluwhein. Mulled wine is a common drink during Christmas time in Germany and Austria, served piping hot steeped with fruit and topped with a big of sugar. The perfect way to decompress after a long day.
  15. Make hot chocolate and take an after-dinner walk. Sometimes, after dinner, we just get in that mode of clean, wash, and lounge til bed. I really want to make the effort to step outside and just take the night in.
  16. Make Christmas cards and send via email. We make our Christmas cards digitally, and send them via email, to reduce waste and postage costs. Typically, we flip through the past year’s photos, making this a great way to reminisce on our best moments, as good as the day they were taken.
  17. Spend an afternoon playing boardgames. Because who doesn’t like a little friendly competition?
  18. Have a bonfire at the beach. Mike has been wanting a bonfire since the summer days. It’s time we actually do it, and bring smores along, too.
  19. Go on a hike. Get a breath of fresh air.
  20. Declutter and make space for the new year. In fact, make space for the now.
  21. Turn up the records. Neglected the past couple months, sitting on a shelf, it’s time to give em a little love. Listening to a vinyl is just way different than asking Siri to turn on Spotify.
  22. Make milkshakes and race to see who can drink them the fastest. To use a straw, or not to use a straw?
  23. Light a candle. Avoid turning on the lights. Add a little hygge and eat by candle light. Better yet, write by candle light, with paper and pen!
  24. Gather with friends. The generic-ness of this statement reflects the difficulty, as this is the busiest time of the year. Snag moments whenever you can.

Other ways to practice slowing down for the holidays.

  • Write down one thing you’re grateful for every day and put it in your stocking. Read all your gratitudes on Christmas day.
  • Put limits on everything. Limit the number of gifts you get, the number of parties you attend, the amount of minutes on your cell phone. Replace with moments of silence for a peaceful holiday.
  • Create a children’s book advent calendar.
  • Call old friends and far-away family members on the phone. Just to say hello.
  • Pick up good habits. Greet everyone you pass. Look at people in the eyes. Put away cell phones during social interactions. Say good morning every morning, give your loved one a hug every night.

Dear College Kid: Pursuing Medicine Will Not Get You to Financial Independence Faster

Dear College Kid is a series I decided to write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. I hope it changes their lives.

Dear College Kid,

Have you ever heard of the term FI? More importantly, do you know of the FIRE community? Standing for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”, FIRE is a concept that aims for the option to be free from needing to spend forty years of your life working. Not to be confused with your life’s work, FI aims to free people of your job, if and when you choose to do so, in order to do your life’s work.

What I am here to tell you is this. If you’re dream is to pursue FI, then the medical profession is not the best, most practical route. I’m a dentist, who graduated from dental school at age 26 with more than half a million dollars in student debt. Now imagine being a doctor finishing residency at age 30, or an oral surgeon finishing at age 34. What you have as a college kid that I no longer do is time on your side. Time to get a head start, time to reach freedom more quickly and efficiently. Time to start opening doors.

At 21, I had no idea FIRE existed. It’s unfathomable for me to even think that I would have understood that work is not necessary in order to live a good life. A 21 year old graduating with zero (or very little) student loans, pursuing a desk job and saving  their income will have a 5-10 year head start on a 30 year old medical professional graduating with hundreds of thousands of student loans and saving none of their income because it is all tied up in debt. I will start at 36 years old at $0 in the bank if I spend all my income right out of school and funnel it to paying down my student loans (something I’ve talked about before). Meaning, the 21 year old with the desk job will have 15 years ahead of me in savings. On top of that, those savings have been racking up compound interest for 25 years. Assuming a moderate 6-7% return rate, those 15 years makes a whole heck of a lot of difference!

Off course, if you are pursuing the medical field, I am not dissuading you entirely, if it is what you WANT to do. The medical field is great! I love my job, but that’s because I did not go into it for the money. If you want to become a medical professional because it’s what you want to do for a long time, then by all means, you will be very happy! If you want to enter the medical field because you want to be RICH and that’s your goal in life, then you will be successful. BUT, if you are pursuing freedom or FIRE, and you think the medical field will get you there quicker because of the higher salary, you are incorrect. There are people in the FIRE communities who retire at 30 years old. If you go into the medical field, unless you have relatives that can pay for your entire tuition and you graduate debt free, well, you’ll still be at net-zero at 30 years old, but at least you have the means to get to FIRE by mid-to-late thirties perhaps. Most parents, however, cannot support med school, and if you graduate with a medical degree AND a ton of student debt, then you’ll be reaching FIRE later than your other FIRE friends. See what I mean?

This does NOT mean, pursue a desk job that you hate in order to reach FI. We reach for FIRE in order to be happy. There is no point putting yourself through misery in order to get to FI because you’ll be giving up happiness in order to do it. Some people say, “Well, I’ll just put in the work and hate my job but get to FIRE faster and THEN I will be happy.” But will you really, though? Reaching the end and never working a day in your life does not guarantee you will be happy. True FIRE pursuers recognize that it isn’t about the end goal, but the journey. It’s about gaining your freedom in the future, without giving up your freedom now. Otherwise, you’ve read FIRE all wrong.

Alternatively, FIRE is not entirely about Retiring Early. It’s about having the option to not work at a job, in order to pursue something else in life that will lead to more happiness. Ultimately, this all boils down to entering a profession for the right reasons. If you find a profession you love, you may not need to retire at all. I find myself happier than a lot of my colleagues, some of whom have only been out a few years and are already “sick of it”. They want out! Unfortunately, they are far from being free because of their lifestyle, or their debt, or a combination of the two. I am happier because I did not enter the field solely for money. I am happier because I do not need as much money in order to live, and can therefore choose how much of my life I need to give up in order to live a happy one. As I’ve said many times before, having money dictate the way you live your life is not a good thing. Whether that’s a lack of money, or a plethora of money. My dream is to free myself from student debt, go FIRE, and eventually travel the world and work for free as a dentist in third – world countries. To give back to communities that dentists never touch. I will likely never be “rich”, but my life will be. I am very, very happy, because I am doing what I love.

So in summary, enter the medical field if it is something you are very interested in or really want to do. (Sage advice: enter ANY profession because it’s what you want to do.) Do NOT enter the medical field, thinking it is the quickest way to get you to financial independence. It’s not the fastest, and it’s not the easiest, either.

For those just hearing about FI, here are a few of my favorite blogs and podcasts:

Welcome to the rabbit hole.