How Cyber Monday Can Grow a Blog

It was around this time last year that I got serious about turning this blog from something entirely personal to something more helpful to the general public. I would say that it was this exact weekend that I implemented a number of changes and additions that eventually led me to publishing TWO courses this past year (How to Create a Budgeting Tool That Works and Mastering a Budget). While there are other cyber Monday deals out there that you can spend your hard-earned dollars on, here are a few that actually gives back in terms of profit, making it more like an investment rather than a purchase.

Teachable – the platform I used to create both my online courses

If there’s anything I know, it is that you have valuable skills, experiences, and expertise in something. Every one of us, including you, has something to share with the world — something that others would love to learn.

And while creating an online course is one of the fastest ways to leverage on your time and increase your earning ceiling — it’s also one of the best ways to help more people.

When you create an online course, you’re able to change your student’s lives.

So my question for you is: who’s going to be grateful for you this year when you create your course and share your knowledge with the world?

Yes, you can earn a side-income from your course. Maybe even a full-time income from your course eventually. But there are so many other benefits to creating your course and sharing what you know with the world.

A surprising number of people have found that having their own online course becomes an amazing creative outlet. You get to share your passions and knowledge with the world!

And best of all, you get to do it on your own terms. You get to be your own boss, and you can pursue your biggest, craziest ideas without anyone saying that you can’t. When was the last time you had that kind of creative freedom?

On top of that, you’ll find it’s a real joy to interact with your students. 

Whether you have a course on parenting, or building a vegetable garden…watercolor painting…or even playing the guitar… (yes, these are all real courses on Teachable). 

You’ll find yourself losing track of time. You’ll be fully immersed in the course creation process, and you’ll get to talk all about a subject you love. (With people who love to listen!) 

You don’t need to be a big recognized expert to make a big impact on the world. 

We’ve seen it time after time. Newbie course creators will start off filled with self doubt, but then they take the plunge and share something.

They have zero expectations at first. But all of a sudden, one person enrolls…then ten more…and eventually hundreds, or even thousands.

These course creators are thrilled beyond belief. They never thought “lil’ old them” could be in demand like that.

The bottom line is this: You have hidden talents that the world needs you to share. 

You deserve to feel great about doing work you love. 

You can be the one who helps other people reach their goals. 

I 100% believe this.

That’s why I want you to take advantage of Teachable’s best deal of the year.

Not only do you have a chance to get annual access to Teachable for just $299 (saving $169), but in a couple of months, when you put in the effort, you’ll be able to ask yourself, “Who’s grateful for me?” And there will be a whole bunch of students excited to raise their hands. (And hey, you can be earning a pretty nice side-income as well.)

So if the idea of creating an online course excites you—if you’ve even thought about it for a second—you gotta check this deal out.

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ConvertKit –the platform I use to build an email following

It helps to have an email following. Subscribers are people who have a genuine interest in hearing what you have to say. They are a great group of people to connect to and if you are hoping to teach a particular topic to an audience, there is no better collection than your squad of subscribers.

My followers are amazing, supportive, interactive, and optimistic. They ask a lot of questions about budgeting, paying down student debt, and living a simple lifestyle. It is very gratifying to be able to help this community, and it is because of them that I continue to write.

Having an email following is also useful if you want to reach out to people en masse, or if you have something to share with like-minded folks. Convert Kit has an easy way of organizing people by category, so that those interested in simple living will not get emails about budgeting.

I would highly recommend Convert Kit to any online writer who wants to build a community.

There is a 30 day free trial for Convert Kit for those who are unsure about Convert Kit, but one thing is definite: do not wait to create an email following! It is something that I wish I did early on. It has brought me closer to my readers and has made my writing more meaningful, both to me and others.

After a year of trying it out, I have finally switched from a month-to-month subscription to an annual subscription today, thus saving me $86.

PicMonkey – the site I use to create banners for the blog and Pinterest

PicMonkey is an easy-to-use website for creatives using visual aids to accompany their work. It is especially useful for Pinterest if you want visually captivating banners. Most people who go to Pinterest are in search of something in particular. The ability to catch their attention and redirect them to what they are searching for is key.

Many bloggers underestimate Pinterest as a social media platform, but it is actually the most useful platform to bloggers. Imagery makes it easy to catch the attention of users who are searching for something, and the linking can redirect them to a specific blog post or page.

Off course, PicMonkey has other uses. I specifically use it to create banners for my website, or to create imagery that promotes my courses.

I will even use PicMonkey for personal things, such as invitations to parties or holiday cards. It’s as easy as Paint, but with more functions.

You can try PicMonkey for FREE for 7 days, and then decide if it’s useful to you.

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing – the course I took that taught me how to monetize a blog

All of this, I learned from a course called Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing written on Teachable by Michelle Schroeder-Gardner. I have spoken extensively about how this course helped me monetize my blog, so if you are looking to invest in a course about blogging, I think this is it!

Off course, the final Cyber Monday deal that I’ve got to offer is one that is my own.

Get 75% OFF my course Mastering a Budget by doing the following:

  1. Subscribe to TheDebtist below

2. Follow TheDebtist on Instagram.

 

All subscribers and followers will receive a discount code in their inbox tomorrow that will give them 75% OFF of the course. This is my way of saying Thank You to all my followers. I couldn’t be here without you.

Also, I would like to open the conversation up to those who wish to see something different or new in 2020. Reach out to me below, or just say “Hi!”

Feature: How to Manage and Pay Off Multiple Credit Cards with Andrew Rombach

I LOVE credit cards. I think that credit cards are really useful when their perks are used efficiently, in things such as travel hacking for example. We use them frequently to fly to places around the world for free. However, my relationship with credit cards wasn’t always good. In fact, I used to hate them. My money egg story here explains how my perception of money was greatly shaped by my parents’ influence. At sixteen years old, they had me open a few credit cards under my name, and then maxed out those credit cards. By the time I was a freshman in college, I was getting letters in the mail saying that the credit card minimums are not being met and that my credit score was being affected. When I confronted my parents, their answers were “Don’t worry about it. We have it under control.” Since 2007, they had maxed out my cards at $20,000. Eventually, when I was 21 years old, I became brave enough to say “No more” and shut down all credit cards that they had access to so that they couldn’t keep using them. To this day, they still owe $8,000 towards that debt. This relationship with money is what made me fear my student loans, and it is eventually what propelled me to knock ’em down! Because this means that all this time, my parents were paying massive amounts of interest on credit card debt, and they still have not been able to pay it back. Credit cards have some of the highest interest rates and unless they are paid back in full at the end of every month, they only work to hurt your financial journey. Therefore, while I advocate the use of credit cards in order to propel you forward in reaching your finance goals, I also warn that you must have the wherewithal to be able to handle credit cards well. If you are starting from a place with existing credit card debt, my advice would be to work with all you’ve got to pay it down … OR COMMIT FINANCIAL SUICIDE! We don’t take credit card debt very lightly around here. So when Andrew Rombach from LENDEDU asked if he could share some tips with my readers, I was all on board. If you are struggling with paying off your credit cards, I hope you find some useful info in this post. 

Do you find yourself in the vicious cycle of trying to pay off your credit card debt? Do you have multiple cards and aren’t sure where to start? You’re not alone in that struggle. Credit card debt is a common problem for consumers. It’s all too easy to fall into. Just take a look at a few nationwide statistics.

According to the Federal Reserve, households in the United States owed a collective $999 billion in credit card or revolving debt by mid-2018. Some sources put average credit card debt at over $6,000 per consumer, and cardholders typically have 4 credit cards. That’s quite a hefty sum to deal with for any household, and if you find yourself in this situation, then you may find yourself stuck paying the minimum endlessly on several cards.

While getting out of excessive credit card debt is hard, it’s certainly not impossible. There are a few ways to manage your credit cards or transfer the debt that can save money, make your life simpler, or both. Check out a few of these tips if you want to find a different approach to your credit card debt.

Try Debt Consolidation Loans

A debt consolidation loan is basically a personal loan used to pay off various forms of debt, or credit cards in this case. To put it simply, you apply for and take out a loan from a bank or lender, which is usually unsecured. That loan pays off your credit card balances. Now you must make monthly installment payments on just one loan instead of various credit cards.

Consolidation loans provide the benefit of simplifying monthly payments to just one payment; plus, it adds certainty to repayment because you can stick to one repayment schedule with an end goal in sight. Furthermore, clearing your credit cards may lower your credit utilization ratio. Finally, a possible interest rate reduction on your debt could save money. This new debt consolidation loan comes with a new rate, so it could be lower than your credit cards depending on your credit.

A drawback is the eligibility requirements for a new personal loan. Lenders prefer applicants with a great credit profile and high income; in fact, those applicants are more likely to get lower interest rates. Also, remember to use newly-cleared credit cards wisely moving forward. You don’t want to be left with a loan balance and mounting credit card debt again.

Time Your Payments Accordingly

Some credit card debtors consider timing multiple monthly payments to save on interest. Interest cuts into your principle payments and extends the repayment process, but timing additional payments can help reduce your principal balance before interest accrues.

After making your monthly interest and principal payment, your interest balance should be lower moving forward. Before it accrues again, it may be worth making an extra payment on your cards. This will cut into the principal balance more significantly, and it also reduces the amount of interest paid on the next scheduled monthly payment.

On the negative side, not everyone has the extra cash to make a second payment each month. If you don’t have the money, then you may need to settle for another way to save money and expedite repayment. 

Try Either the Debt Avalanche or Snowball Method

The debt avalanche and snowball methods are two different ways to handle multiple credit cards over time, and neither requires taking out a loan or new credit card.

The avalanche method requires you to make large credit card payments on the account with the highest interest rate, while paying the minimum on all other accounts. After you pay off the high-interest credit card, you repeat the process with the next high-interest card.

It’s counterpart, the debt snowball method, works in a similar way, except you must prioritize low-balance credit cards. You would make larger payments on the credit card with the least debt and maintain the rest. When paid off, start paying more on the next low-balance card.

A major benefit of these methods is simply organization. They help you get on track with a plan of action. By prioritizing high-interest debt with debt avalanche, you’re paying off multiple debts more efficiently which should save money (eliminating high-interest debt reduce interest costs). With the snowball method, you can simplify repayment by cutting out low-balance cards from the equation. It’s generally accepted that avalanche saves more money than snowball, but that is still up for debate.

These methods are ideal because they require budgeting with your own cash (no loans involved), but this may also be a drawback because it’s very hard to pull off without the extra money for larger payments.

Balance Transfer Credit Card

If you opt for this method, you will take out a new credit card that comes with a lower interest rate, preferably a super-low or 0% rate during an introductory period. You then must transfer your credit card balance to this new card and begin repayment. It’s similar to debt consolidation, but the debt is transferred to another revolving account instead.

The point here is to get a lower interest rate on your credit card debt in order to save money. Ideally, you can get a zero-rate offer for up to a year or more which would save the most money. The goal is to pay your debt before that intro period is over.

Like with debt consolidation, you may be tempted to rack up more charges on a freed-up credit card. Remember that the debt doesn’t go away; you still need to pay it off. Also, balance transfer cards may be less suited for transferring multiple balances depending on your new credit limit.

Find the Method That Works Best for You

Each method offers its own set of benefits and drawbacks. One method could suit your budget perfectly, but another may not be the best fit. If you have the cash and organization skills, then maybe debt avalanche/snowball would work best. If your credit is stellar and you’re used to loans, a debt consolidation loan could be the solution.

Finding the method that works best for you is what matters most. Be honest with yourself and look at which style will best suit you – and then starting acting on it.

Andrew is a Content Associate for LendEDU – a website that helps consumers with their finances. He got his start in content and finance by writing all about credit cards. When he’s not working, you can find Andrew hiking or hanging with his cats Colby and Tobi.

Finance: Make Money Dog Sitting with Rover

This blog post is in affiliation with Rover.com, a platform that connects dog owners with dog sitters. I, myself, am a dog sitter at Rover and this hobby-turned-side-hustle is one of my additional sources of income!

I love watching dogs for other people. Actually, I love watching animals, period. But especially in the past half-year, I have dedicated my time to taking care of other people’s pets while their owners are away. How? Through ROVER. Rover is a hobby-turned-side-hustle and it is one of my most favorite gigs. Today, I wanted to take a few moments to share with you the benefits of becoming a dog sitter for Rover, plus a few tips on how you can start earning your own extra income by taking care of pets!

But first, why be a dog sitter?

I don’t like the idea of placing dogs (or cats) in kennels or small spaces overnight, and since my husband and I have plenty of room and time to spare, we have taken on a number of dogs in the past year. We have no children of our own, but we like to think of ourselves as temporary parents to these loving creatures. In return, being a dog-sitter gives us a number of life benefits. Here are a few of our favorites.

Benefits to Being a Dog Sitter

  • Increases Income – Dog sitting is a side-hustle. It increases our income, thereby allowing us to pay off my student debt faster. The amount of money you earn from Rover depends on what services you provide, as well as how much you choose to charge. That’s right! Rover lets YOU decide how much to charge. Off course, a cheaper price will increase your market, but a more expensive price will also reflect your level of expertise. Currently, we charge $30 a night for dog-sitting services. And since dog sitting for us is FUN, I like to think of it as getting paid for having a good time. We earn over $200 for a week’s stay. If you can manage to book your calendar more frequently or if you charge more for your services, you can easily earn up to $900 as a part-time Rover sitter. Rover reports that sitters who work full-time and take on 2-3 dogs at a time earn an average of $3,000 a month! I can see how someone can earn even more than that by adding multiple services to their profile – such as dog-walking, house-sitting, and in-house visits. However, do remember that Rover charges 20% for the use of their platform.
  • More Frequent Exercise – I will be the first to say that Mike and I hardly get any exercise. It’s a fault of ours, I know. Barring early morning yoga stretches with Adriene, and occasional laps at my parent’s community pool, Mike and I do not have an existing exercise routine. Being a dog-sitter forces us to at least walk two to three times a day for thirty minutes. On weekends, it forces us to take the dogs to parks and beaches, and we sometimes run (gasp!). Typically, the weekends involve longer walks that span one to two hours, or more activities such as ball tossing and frisbee soaring.
  • More Productive Mornings – I wrote recently about predawn priorities and ensuring productivity in the early mornings here. Dog-sitting facilitates all of that. We usually wake up early when our cat signals that it’s time to eat … at 6 am on the dot. It escapes me how he knows it’s time, but to avoid any interferences with his breakfast schedule, we take the dog out as the cat feeds, instead of crawling straight back into bed. Having a dog around makes sure that we are up and about in the wee hours of the morning, and by the time we’ve walked, the cool refreshing morning air and mild exercise has prepped us to start our day. I lay out the dog’s bowl of water and food, Mike hops into the shower, and I make breakfast and coffee.
  • Further Exploration of our Neighborhood – We are lucky in that we live in the heart of a downtown area. So there are plenty of places wherein one could take a dog out on a walk. Dog sitting gives us a reason to explore more of our neighborhood. It gets us out in the later hours of the evening, and allows us to see the vibrant city life that we would otherwise avoid due to our homebody-ness.
  • More Quality Time – What I cherish most about dog sitting is the quality time it lends to Mr. Debtist and myself. My favorite moments include playing chase with a new pup, tossing a ball between us as the dog runs back and forth, going on long walks along the beach on weekends, or having long conversations as we walk our own neighborhood. I also love snuggling on the couch as I read and he plays video games, with a dog on one side of our laps and a cat on the other. We make a great team, dedicated to walking the dogs together, and taking turns feeding the pets as well as socializing them with our cat. We kind of create these little memories for our family, and I like to think the dog appreciates the quality time just as much!

Now that you’ve heard my favorite parts of being a sitter, let’s talk about how you can start your own journey to getting paid for playing with pets! But first, why Rover?

ROVER connects dog sitters to animal lovers.

Pet sitting is an ever-growing industry, and we are far from reaching its peak. As travelling becomes more accessible, we will see a continual increase in the need to have people watch over the pets who are left behind. Most people would report that they would rather have their pets stay in the comforts of someone’s home rather than be caged in a kennel overnight. This is not only great news for pets, but for people who are seeking to earn extra income in this line of work as well! But how does one get started in building a name for themself and connecting with dog owners in their area?

Enter Rover.

FOR SITTERS…

Rover is the perfect platform for both new and experienced dog sitters. It connects potential dog-sitters with pets in the area without needing to put up flyers or create ads on Craigslist. The audience that you have on Rover is specifically made up of people shopping for dog sitters. And dog owners love Rover too, because it lists a number of different services, including dog boarding, house sitting, dog walking, doggy day care, and drop-in visits.

Not only does Rover connect you with dog parents, it is also a great space to build credibility. Reviews after each sitting are public, and is a great way for you to spread your quality services via “word-of-mouth”. You can also upload photos of yourself with dogs or of your home where dogs will be staying to convince dog owners that you are the right person for the job.

However, this does not mean that everyone should be a sitter. You need to make sure that your home is a loving and safe environment. You also need to be confident in your ability to take care of pets. This not only includes dog walking but also feeding, administering medicine, and reading dog behavior. You have to be active enough to give the dogs an appropriate amount of exercise, flexible enough to cater to the pet’s walking and feeding schedules, and patient enough to understand and learn each dog’s unique needs and wants. Lastly, you need to be a good communicator to the doggie parents, and competent in caring for the pet in case emergencies arise.

FOR OWNERS…

For pet owners, Rover makes searching for the appropriate sitter an easy task. You simply enter the dates, the appropriate zip code, and you can search through a number of profiles to find a match that would be good for your furry family member. As suggested per Rover, you can schedule a meet-and-greet to see if your pet and the sitter will get along, or to visit the house that your pet will be staying at. You can read profiles and reviews of your sitters, and rest assured that Rover performs a very thorough screening process for all sitters.

In fact, according to Rover.com, only 1/3 of the applicants make it through the screening process. And just to give a real life example, I actually applied to Rover upon hearing that a dentist colleague of mine also applied. My colleague has owned dogs before, currently owns a dog, and is a responsible and fun guy. We applied at the same time. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a position on Rover.com, who’s to say why. Rover requires all applicants to fill out a generic form, submit some photos, write essays, and answer situational questions. Examples of such questions include: “What would you do if the dog you are watching starts to fight with another pet at a dog park?” or “How will you ensure that your pet will not accidentally escape from your home?”. They ask how you would communicate with the owners if an accident were to happen, or how you would facilitate a meet-and-greet. It is obvious that the pets are Rover’s number one priority.

Lastly, Rover offers complimentary insurance for all services booked through Rover, as well as access to 24/7 vet consultation and partnerships for the sitters. Their cell phone app makes communication easy between sitter and pet parent and it allows photo sharing for those who wish to keep a visual tabs on their pet.

A Guide to Becoming a Dog Sitter

If you are a dog lover interested in earning some extra income, or if you are someone hoping to make dog sitting a full-time gig, then here are the steps to growing your new-found doggy business.

  • Apply to Rover by filling out their general application form.
  • Gather photos of your experience with dogs.
  • Collect references that Rover can call. Let these references know that you’ve given the company their name. It is best to refer either dog owners who you’ve helped in the past or people who have seen you interact with dogs before.
  • Rover will send you a questionnaire full of situational questions. Answer them to the best of your ability. Try to keep at the forefront of your mind the pet’s welfare. Be honest in your answers.
  • Once approved, you need to set up a sitter profile. Include photos of your home and interactions with dogs. Tell people a little bit about yourself and your experience.
  • Part of the job is managing your own calendar. If you have any other engagements, you need to put that in the calendar so that searching dog owners will know what days you are available. Rover makes it very simple for you to create a recurring weekly schedule. Blocking off dates for personal time is made easier with the Rover mobile app.
  • Define your parameters. Determine the size of dogs you are willing to watch. Figure out which services you wish to provide. For example, I am solely a dog sitter, which means the pups have to stay at my house. You may wish to be a dog-walker, or a house-sitter, or offer in-house visits. List all your precautions and requirements. For example, I only choose to watch dogs that get along with cats. I also only accept dogs who are completely potty-trained. Lastly, I only take one dog at a time, unless there are multiple dogs from the same family, in which case, I take a maximum of two dogs. No two families may book with me at the same time, in case two dogs do not get along well with each other. At the end of the day, this is your business! You get to decide your limitations.
  • Offer owners a discount by providing a link that Rover gives you. This discount link gives your bookers a $20 discount while still allowing you to be paid in FULL. This discount only applies if the dog owner is new to ROVER. With the discount, you are more likely to get a review as well, so I would kindly ask everyone who books for one. These reviews can get you even more bookings in the future, since most people would trust sitters with a great history. However, you want to ask for honest feedback, not just five-star reviews. You want to know how you can improve your services because only great customer service will have dog owners coming back.
  • Now you are waiting for your first booking. Rover will send you a notification when someone wants to book with you.
  • Schedule your first meet-and-greet. I would recommend doing a meet-and-greet with every pet. You want to make sure that the pet is trained and compatible with yourself and your family. It is always best to be introduced to a pet on neutral ground, such as a public park, rather than at your home where a pet may feel intimidated.
  • If the meet-and-greet goes well, confirm the booking. Request feeding schedules, walking schedules, drop-off and pick-up times, emergency contacts, veterinary hospital numbers, as well as a list of behavioral tendencies. Ask for permission to take the dog out on any adventures you may have planned and inquire whether the owner prefers to get updates or photos throughout the stay. I like to communicate at least once a day with an owner.
  • After every stay, I follow up with the owner and ask for that review! As you get more reviews under your belt, the bookings come more easily. Eventually, enough people will know your name that you create good relationships with them and you no longer need to use the site to get more bookers. Tip: the best times to get bookings is on holidays and weekends. Being in town and able to watch pets during the holidays is a great tactic for dog sitters, since most families do their traveling during this time!

And that’s it! You can create a savvy side-hustle or full-time gig taking care of pets today. If you think you’re ready to start earning money dog sitting with Rover, sign up here. If you are a pet owner and want to be matched with a sitter, right this way. If you would like to have me watch your pup, this is me. And for all who are new to Rover, why not get $20 OFF with this discount: SAMANT24058 ? See y’all there!

 

The Importance of Fun Money in Financial Sustainability

We all know that I talk a lot about sustainability, harboring borderline ad nauseam (debatable). Most oft, it refers to an environmental topic, but once in a blue moon, it will refer to something finance related. This is because tackling a student loan of $550K+ has taught me a thing or two about how to set yourself up for success with paying down debt, one of which is that the looming debt seems to most an insurmountable task that very easily deters a person from pursuing a tackling of said giant. And if you were as crazed as I about financial freedom and you did pursue freedom from debt, I would postulate bet my money on the fact that we are looking at a journey long-term. In other words, opportunities abound for insecurities to start kicking in, and there are many forks in the road that either lead you back to where you started from (in our case, on a 25 year loan forgiveness plan) or to a dead end. So we must talk sustainability if we are to expect a level of success. More importantly, we must talk sustainability if we are ever going to c r u s h this game (which we are!)

Related Posts:

Finding Financial Sustainability

Saving every dollar towards achieving a goal can be a grueling task. Most inquiries from outsiders center around how we survive the suffering. Surely, we must be starving ourselves of LIFE in an effort to be free?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Firstly, if you think that’s the case, then you don’t know us at all. I think both of us are averse towards doing anything we don’t feel is right. Read also as anything we don’t want to do. And while that seems bratty at best, it’s actually the perfect recipe towards a happy life.

Secondly, I agree. Anyone who is bogged down by the stresses of meeting payment requirements may have difficulty enjoying “the finer things”, but who gets to define “the finer things”? Only you. So while society spends their hard-earned bucks on Rolexes and Teslas, your idea of a finer thing could be a cup of coffee, a morning of solace, a day outdoors, yeah?

And lastly, even when it comes to purchasing stuff, we have the ability to, but with mindfulness. We don’t have a tendency to purchase things right when we see them anyway, and scoff at that on-demand-pull that gets most people to do some regretful spending. What we do have is a category in our budgeting tool (this link will take you to my course on how to set up your own budgeting tool). We have to thank our CFP (who is no longer doing CFP work but who have been invaluable in sending us on our way to a healthy, financially fit life – see The Value of Having a CFP) for teaching us about the importance of having a category for spending on OURSELVES.

Yes! I am talking about a category dedicated towards FUN money.

Sustainability comes from a variety of inspirations and motivations. Just when the going gets rough, one can find the push they need in a community, in the re-evaluation of perspective, in a reminder of the reason WHY we started in the first place. Sustainability can also be found in a bribe – a reward persay … but a calculated reward. This is what fun money is.

How to Set Aside Fun Money

Fun money is literally a category in our budgeting tool. It sits under the “Wants” grouping, and gets allocated a monthly amount. Nothing large by any means. We are talking $50 a month. If we want something more than $50, then we have to save for a few months.

We have our own separate categories for fun money, and we can spend our fun money however we want. Fun money is spent towards things we want but we both don’t benefit from. So, for example, if I want to buy a book about bread, then that will come out of my fun money fund. Or if he wants to buy a video game to play with his guy friends, then that will come out of his fun money account.

There isn’t anything extravagant about the fun money bucket. Because the amount is so small per month (less than 1% of our entire income), there is no guilt associated with it. Because we each have our own category, there is no blame when one spends their fun money. And because we already planned for the spending ahead of time, there is no buyer’s remorse. In fact, the opposite is true. It starts the habit of serious consideration prior to purchasing, because you realize how long it took to build up your fun money fund, and makes you assess whether there are better methods of spending. In fact, I think fun money is a great way to teach kids about appropriate spending habits, especially if the percentage set aside towards fun money is small compared to what they actually receive from birthdays, holidays, and rewarded chore duties.

How Fun Money Helps With Sustainability

So you can buy a few items. Whoop-dee-doo. How does that help with paying down a massive student debt?!

The psychology of working essentially for free and putting all your hard-earned dollars towards a debt that allowed you to work in the first place is difficult to describe. The taxation on the mind, as well as the emotional roller coaster that one experiences, cannot be stressed. Some days, you wonder what it is exactly that you’ve done. You start to question whether it was all worth it. Eventually, you’ll come around. But the hoops you have to go through to continue on this journey … it’s comical how emo the whole thing is. Like I said, the insecurities roll in like a fog. You don’t realize their coming, but they sneak up on you. It is during these times that you may need a little boost of confidence. Moral support does the trick, but there are days when I feel like no one else TRULY understands. Because how could they? We all travel different paths, and no two are exactly alike. An activity helps as well, but only momentarily, as it steals the mind and takes it elsewhere. The insecurity doesn’t fade, however, and soon you are left where you started. Unless the activity spans a long period of time, all you can do is wait.

However, the human mind responds very well to a reward system. In fact, it responds so well, that many people are obsessed with rewarding themselves, so much so that they suffer from excess consumption. No need to go down that rabbit hole now (AGAIN). Reward systems are involved in positive reinforcement, or in bribing people to do what one wants them to do. So really, I guess I’m bribing myself. Or at least, I am psychologically tricking the mind into resetting to a more positive thinking space.

The human mind doesn’t respond to starvation. Nothing lives after that. But the reward system, the mind understands. Fun money allows me to give myself calculated rewards. Things that I have already budgeted for, the purchasing of which is controlled. I don’t need much, as we already know, but occasionally, I need a push. I need breathing room. I need a break. And then, I can keep going.

Fun money makes this work sustainable. Less scary, somehow. More manageable. It makes me less of an anomaly, and more human. Hopefully, it makes me more relatable, and shows people that this isn’t me performing some heroic. It’s something that’s achievable for others too. I hope it gets them to start on their own journeys, knowing that sustainability is possible, and that fun money doesn’t make you less dedicated, nor does it make you less successful. If anything, I will dare to say that it’ll feed your fire, and make you succeed where others only dare dream.

Pictured: My most recent purchase, supporting Two Days Off, an ethical clothing line by Gina Stovall based in Los Angeles, CA.

Finance: The Second Year of Paying Down $550,000 in Student Loans, An Update

I can’t believe how fast time flies! The second year of paying down my student debt has passed, and I didn’t even notice. After the first year, I posted an update that outlined a review of our journey. It seemed to help some, so I decided to do the same for the second year. This year there were some ups and downs (a lot more downs than we thought would happen), but I am so pleased to announce that we are on track to finish paying off our debt in under 10 years. In fact, if we continue on this same trajectory that we’ve been on, we are actually estimated to finish 6.9 years from now, for a total of 8.9 years!! And I have high hopes to bring that number even lower. Read on to find out how we got here, and where we plan to go.

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To recap, we started off our journey with $574,034.50 of student debt (including the interest that had accrued)! All of which was mine. To date, we have paid a total of $145,128.48 towards my student debt over the last two years, bringing the principal amount down to $481,368.06.

To understand the progress, do recall that after year one, only $28,000 went towards paying down the principle. The rest of the $84,000 that we had paid towards the loan went towards the interest only. This means that only 33% went towards paying down the principle amount of the loan.

In year two, you start to see improvement. Of the $61,000 we paid to the loans, $29,000 went towards paying down the principle. That’s 47.5% of our payments going towards actually making the loan smaller!

Off course, you will see right away that we paid way less towards the loans in year two ($61,000) versus year one ($84,000). If we had paid the same amount or higher, we would have had an even higher percentage going towards the principle balance. So I guess this is a great time to recap what slowed us down this year.

THE SET-BACKS

  • In September of 2018, we decided to buy property. Property ownership was something we felt was right for us to do. We bought a live/work space that we hope to utilize in the future for some sort of business. Meanwhile, we are co-housing, or as financial independents might say, house-hacking, our way towards paying down the mortgage. Buying the property did entail two things to happen: We used some of our emergency fund to place a down payment on the home. Because of that, we are now re-building the emergency fund back up to what it was, which decreased our ability to pay back loans. Currently, we are setting aside $1k a month to rebuild the emergency fund and are on track to being back to normal in March of 2020. Also, it raised our total payments towards our housing a teeny bit, since now we pay for things like HOA fees and home insurance.
  • In October of 2018, we were delivered some shocking news. Mr. Debtist’s company experienced a laying off of 80% of the people working there, and even though Mike was one of the “lucky” few to stay, his pay got decreased by more than 50%! It was something we were not really prepared for, so on top of wanting to re-build the emergency fund, we also had to deal with a huge blow to our income. Since we were living off of one income, the change in salary really affected our ability to pay down the loans. But we made it work! That’s part of the joys of being on Loan Forgiveness Program even though we were paying it back aggressively. They still only required the minimum payments. Off course, we continued to pay more than the minimum. We were able to keep up with the interest that accrued and to slowly bring the loans down.

THE POSITIVES

Now that those two negatives are laid out, here are some positive things that happened!

  • A conversation with Travis from Student Loan Planner (affiliate link) is saving us THOUSANDS of dollars. He brought to our attention that we could optimize the loan repayment by switching from IBR to REPAYE. How does this help? Under REPAYE, the government subsidizes the interest at 100% for the first three years for an subsidized loan, and at 50% for unsubsidized loans and subsidized loans that have been present for longer than three years. Which means every month, we are given a free $850 to go towards our loans and help us out! This is fantastic because now that Mr. Debtist has a new job and we are back to our previous income, we also are getting help to pay back the debt. Whereas last year we were paying $6,500 per month towards the loans, we are now sending $7,300 towards the debt with the help of REPAYE’s stipend. And while we were dealing with the smaller income stream for four months, we were still getting that helpful $850 to add to the few thousands that we were contributing to the loan. If you want some loan advice, I really think Travis is your guy, and you can schedule a call with him to discuss your particular situation.
  • Additionally, the side hustle game has been ramping up since 2019 started! Now that we have our budgeting in order, it was time to start increasing our income. I was already writing on this blog and doing some dog-sitting on Rover, but I just recently started as a bread baker, and soon thereafter opened my own bakery called Aero Bakery. In January, I made only $14 in side-hustles, which made sense since we were off traveling in Australia and New Zealand for the first half of January. In February, I made $450, and in March, I made $750. For April, I am on track to make an extra $1,500 in side hustles! Read more about why I am an advocate of side hustles, here.

Why the Future Is Bright

So now, we are not only back on track with making $6,500 payments, but we are actually on track to be finished one year early! How did we do that? By being AGGRESSIVE. The minimum payment for a 10 year repayment plan was $6,063 a month. We set our sights on $6,500 a month. Even with the lapse during those few difficult months while Mr. Debtist struggled with his work situation, we were still able to be at a point where we have only 6.9 years to go! How exciting is that?! And what’s even more exciting is that I predict this will all snowball even more! I turn 30 years old this year, and wouldn’t it be great if this would all be cleared by the time I turn 35? That’s right! I have my sights set on getting rid of this in 5 more years. Here’s what we have planned.

  • Since we are now switched to REPAYE, we are making $7,300 contributions towards the loans, instead of the $6,500 that we were previously doing under IBR. That will vastly improve the trajectory of our path.
  • In March of 2020, we predict to have saved enough for our emergency fund, leaving an extra $1k to be funneled into the loans. That would increase our contributions next year to $8,300/month.
  • Also in Spring of 2020, Mr. Debtist is scheduled to finish his car loan payments. While I was in dental school, Mr. Debtist got a car loan and we currently pay $585 towards it every month. Freeing up $585 will increase our loan contribution to $8,885/month.
  • The side-hustling is just getting started. I hope to continue with many of these hobby-turned-hustles, and we will see how that impacts our payments.
  • Lastly, we decided not to refinance our loan at this time because of the risk of not being able to meet the minimum payments in case we have another fiasco like the job situation. However, when the loan is small enough (say under $300,000), we may still consider refinancing the loan. It’ll be less of a risk at that point, since the monthly payments will be way more doable. If we DO refinance as we get closer towards paying the loans off, then we will be able to attack the loans at an exponentially improving clip.

Please note that we are paying back student loans aggressively, but we are also doing it responsibly. We are living within our means, investing in our 401ks respectively, and are diversifying by entering real estate last year. I make myself less susceptible to fluctuating job conditions by having my own dental S corporation, opening my own bakery, working as a dog-sitter, working as a baker for another company, and doing some writing on the side. We are also a dual-income household, which greatly affects the possibility of this success.

If you are feeling lost in your student loan repayment journey, or you simply want to know your options, I would start with talking to a consultant at Student Loan Planner. This path is not for everyone, but it also may be more doable than they want us to believe. For those who just want to get budgeting down, why not start with my free course on creating a budgeting tool?

Frugal Challenge: Living On One Income

In this space, I try to address ways in which we can rethink a lifestyle in hopes of saving a couple of bucks. Sometimes, the advice borders insensitive, especially when it doesn’t apply to a particular person or group. Today’s post definitely pushes the bar, since it is glaringly obvious to me that not every household has the luxury of having more than one income. But speaking about finance itself makes us all very privileged. To have the ability to access a computer, to have the time to sit down and read, to have control of where our money goes, to have money worth talking about, these are all very stark privileges as compared to people whose conversations surround how to get food on the table, how to keep their kids safe. May I be the first to say that privilege seeps from my life since the moment I was born, and I am hyper aware of it. That being said, I think it’s important to point the privileged towards a direction, so that we may use money (specifically) to push the needle towards a better tomorrow, rather than spend our excesses flippantly over trivial things for today. Conclusively, it’s important to limit the spending of our earnings on only the things that bring joys that have permanence, and one such way to do that is to dedicate only one income to lifestyle spending in the cases where there are two (or more).

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When I think back to my grandparent’s time or farther, I see a period when the traditional family dynamic of a stay-at-home mom and a working dad existed. Raising 8 children in a third world country off of one income could not have been easy. But they made ends meet. Even Mike’s grandparents grew up on a farm, with his great-grandpa owning a diner that sold burgers for $0.10 each. His grandma talks of wearing the same few shirts a week, and keeping her old furniture because it still functions. My grandma takes paper towels at family gatherings, washes them, and hangs them to dry over the sink for re-use later. These little indications serve as reminders that they don’t do it to be frugal, but rather, because that’s how they’ve always done it. It’s a lifestyle born out of a necessity.

I’m not saying that this way of living no longer exists, because it still largely does. But it is becoming less and less common. Today, it is becoming more frequent that households are dual-income, so before we get too carried away rejoicing at the larger sums of money we are taking home, may I suggest we act as if none of it has ever changed? By assuming that we still need to live as if we make only one income, we too can live this lifestyle. I’m not talking about washing your paper towels and hanging them to dry (since nixing paper towels all-together is really the lifestyle I’m trying to advocate). I’m only saying, be less wasteful, of money and other things. But especially, of money.


My biggest gripe with people telling me that I could not tackle my $575,000 of student debt was their assumption that with a bigger paycheck comes a richer lifestyle. “Let the loans grow, and just wait 25 years to pay it all off! I mean, surely you’ll need to worry about buying a grand house, a new car, a dental practice. Forget that the student loans will be over a million dollars of debt by the time your 50 years old, you can worry about all that later.” I see this all the time. People who have double the income are more comfortable with going out to dinner every night, buying new cars, purchasing homes, shopping every few weeks, racking up consumer debt. The people who have to worry about money, somehow, are more capable of getting by without having any debt. Better equipped, I would say.

Mr. Debtist and I both grew up in families with a single income. We had everything we needed to live happy lives and become decent people, even though our families were not exactly the richest family on the block. With this realization, we decided, well, how bad would it be if we lived off of one income? Dentistry comes with great pay, but we will need 100% of that pay for the next 10 years in order to pay down the loans. What if I worked for free for ten years, served my time, and we act as if it was a single income household like it was during our up-bringing? It would hardly be restrained living. We don’t have any kids to worry about if the cat doesn’t count, and Mr. Debtist makes enough money to support two people comfortably despite living in Orange County, California. Plus, we are very simple people.

It was this realization that allowed us to tackle the debt. As you may already know, the naysayers had me on the 25 year loan forgiveness plan for the first 8 months after graduation. It was in this time span that we tested out our theory: Living off of one income will allow us to pay back a debt that no one else believed we could. It only took a few months to prove to ourselves that this will work. The intentionality with money is really what propelled us down this path, and we started to accomplish something people didn’t believe we could. Switching loan forgiveness plans can save you thousands of dollars, but by switching from a 25 year loan repayment to tackling student debt aggressively, it will save us more than $150,000 dollars, and 15 years of our life. Which is why I am willing to risk the flack that I might receive for the insensitivity of this post.

Because nobody told us we could.
There wasn’t ever the suggestion to work for free.
People didn’t think to tell us to act as if we were a single-income household.
It almost felt like we didn’t have a choice.

And that’s a problem.

It’s important to speak about these things, because it’s the only way to empower people. For some, it may be obvious. For others, it may be offensive. But for others, still, it may be the only thing that will free them.

If you’d like to try and see if switching to a single-income household is a good life hack for you, try to start with creating a budgeting tool!

Personal Finance First Step: Mastering the Budget

If you are embarking on a personal finance journey, then let’s get you started on the right footing. Step one begins with mastering a budget. Some may scoff at me and say that I know nothing about becoming rich and getting to financial freedom. They laugh and say that I must not realize that reaching financial freedom lies in increasing income, rather than decreasing spending. But I know something that they don’t know.

You can increase your income, and never be financially free. It’s just a quick fix attempt, and usually, quick fixes do not work. In order to really tackle your personal finance, you need to start with the basics. You can’t just jump ahead to making a ton of money, because without mastering a budget, you’ll likely never see that extra money you make. If you’re like most Americans, you’ll spend it before it even gets to your bank account.

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Now I’m not naive enough to believe that mastering your budget is all it takes. I agree that there are limitations to mastering a budget. One can only cut their spending so much. On the flip side, one can increase their income exponentially…indefinitely, perhaps.

I, myself, am well aware of the need to increase income. I worked three jobs while going to undergrad to increase my income, but I also graduated in three years in order to cut spending. I was one of the few students who worked during dental school, just to make a little extra money. And even now, am a side-hustler of sorts. I work in dentistry, write on my own blog, write for other blogs, walk dogs via Rover, work the midnight shifts as a bread baker with Rye Goods, and bake my own bread to sell (currently I am applying for a license to open my own “bakery”). But before all of this, I mastered my budget.

Here’s the thing. I know many people who are high income earners. I define high income earners as people who make six digit incomes or more. Most of them are also swimming in debt. This debt includes car loans, mortgage loans, student loans, and even consumer debt. Unfortunately, lifestyle creep is real, and unless you’re well-versed in staving off advertisements who are convincing you to spend more as you earn more, you will likely be one of the top targets (and victims) of lifestyle inflation.

There’s a statistic swimming around that 80% of Americans do not have $2,000 set aside in an emergency fund. Eighty percent! The part that gets me is the fact that $2,000 won’t even cover most true emergencies. Medical bills are way more than $2,000. If something happens to your home, or someone loses a job, $2,000 won’t last most people one month in Southern California. While it’s hard to confirm the statistic, for they do have a tendency to appear out of nowhere and start floating around, I can confirm that many patients that I meet don’t have the income to jump into an emergency dental procedure right away. Yet many of them are working their tails off (I can’t tell you how many nightguards I’ve diagnosed to help with stressful grinding habits), and earning decent pay, and still, they have to “save up” to treat a tooth in pain. And trust me, you wouldn’t put off treating a tooth that really hurts, unless you absolutely have to. It’s a feeling one never forgets.

People are working longer hours and making more money, but are saving less and less. We’ve been raised to be consumers. It’s not an anti-consumerist society, I can tell you that. But we haven’t been taught how to be SMART consumers. I was never taught how to ration out my earnings. I was never taught to pay myself first. I was told that good credit is GOOD. Wrong. Good credit is bad, and bad credit is worse. People without credit history probably are the best with handling their money. (This does not mean they are the richest. Just that they are really good at handling money).

All of this to say, you can try to get rich by working your butt off. You can spend all the hours of your day for forty years of your life trying to make enough money, and then some. But you can’t be successful if you don’t know how to manage it. You can try to take the short cut, the quick way to success. But that’s what most Americans are doing, and eighty percent of them don’t have $2,000 set aside for emergencies.

If you were to take my advice, I’d say start mastering your budget. If that’s something you’ve wanted to do in 2019 but haven’t had the chance, check out my free course How to Create a Budgeting Tool, and get started today!

Property Ownership: How to Detect and Avoid Fake Sellers

What is a fake seller and why would anyone want to knowingly waste time and money on something so lame? It may seem like a bogus idea, but fake sellers are out there. Trust us, we know. From our short-lived personal experience to boot! I feel a story unraveling…

From the onset, we knew what we wanted. We have been mulling the thought of buying a property for a year and a half, and we had extensively narrowed down the price range, location, and types of homes we would be willing to consider. Additionally, we had been spying on the market over the course of the last few years. For every home type that we were considering, I knew the neighborhoods in which they were located, the price ranges, and the typical pros and cons of the properties. I knew which agents were specialized in selling those particular places as well. So the time came when we were ready to make a leap of faith, I reached out to an agent who specialized in lofts in Orange County, CA.

Originally, we were very specific in which lofts we wanted. We wanted a loft in our current and exact neighborhood. We specifically wanted one that faced the market and commercial area, rather than one that faced Main Street or Memory Lane, which limited our search to less than twenty particular properties. We requested that she reach out to any owners to see if they would be willing to sell their loft.

She returned to us on the same day saying that there IS one owner who is interested in selling. He isn’t listed on the market, and is willing to do it without opening the deal up to other buyers And by that night, we were looking at the property.

That’s where the good parts of this story ended.

The owner had an asking price that was $50,000 more than the average value of the property. He claimed that there were upgrades to the loft, which was very true. We looked at the property and we agreed there were updates. We pulled up a comp report and analyzed the selling price of neighboring lofts in the last 6 months. They were usually selling for $575-$590k and the seller was asking for $650k. We accounted for the upgrades he had made to the home and the slightly larger square footage, and the comp report analysis returned at a value of $612-$617k. Since we really wanted the space, we offered $620k, trying to work with the seller.

Unfortunately, when the counter-offer returned, we knew this was not going to be the home. He returned with a counter offer of $645k AND we had to pay for all of HIS closing costs. He was using the downstairs space of the loft for a digital business and did not physically need to be here in California. Since he does not live in this state, he viewed the selling of the house as an inconvenience and is not willing to put any effort in the selling of his house. When we confronted his agent about the ludicrous price, he simply shrugged his shoulders. He knew that the loft would be appraised at a lower rate than $650k and that the difference will have to be covered by the buyer in cash. The seller’s agent informed us that this entire thing is an inconvenience to the Seller, to which we replied, “Then why bother say he wants to sell?” And like that, we dropped them like a handful of hot coals.

How to Spot Fake Sellers

So here’s the rub. Fake sellers can easily seem like real sellers. They do all the things a real seller would, such as put the house on the market, place FOR RENT signs on the lawn, have an agent and host open viewings. However, whether knowingly or unknowingly, they waste their time and money doing all of this because they are not really READY to sell. If you don’t know how to detect fake sellers, then you cannot avoid them. And if you don’t avoid them, then you may waste precious time and money to fruitlessly negotiate buying a house that isn’t really for sale.

  • Are the sellers realistic? The number one reason that people cannot sell their homes is because of a grossly high asking price. When you hear that an owner is having difficulty selling their home at such a high price, beware! As with the case of our first loft offer, what it actually means is that the seller is refusing to accept the market’s opinion of what their house is worth. They may have an alternative motive, such as making up for the costs they’ve spent to upgrade their place. Or just to try to get more money from a buyer who knows nothing about the current market. This, by the way, is different from real sellers who mistakenly place too high of an asking price. Real sellers will wise up over time. Fake sellers will not. My advice is to move on.
  • Are the sellers motivated? Getting a seller who is motivated is important. Most sellers are motivated by a life change, such as a job transfer, a recent marriage or divorce, retirement, etc. Having a REALLY motivated seller makes it better for the buyer, because they will have a better chance at negotiation. Our fake seller was obviously not motivated at all, which made it easy for him to be uncompromising. Lack of motivation is a giant red flag. Run the opposite way, especially if you hear them say “they are just testing the market”.
  • Do sellers have a time frame? Deadlines make things happen. If the seller has no deadline, then he is in no rush to meet deadlines. It’s easy for fake sellers to start an escrow process and decide to not meet deadlines and kill the deal. Only because there is no urgency to sell the home.
  • Are the sellers forthright? Genuine sellers are open about the condition of the home and the legal status. Why? Because they are aware that withholding vital information can ruin the sale. Early disclosures of possible problems help indicate whether you’ve got a real seller on your hands.
  • Are the sellers cooperative? Real sellers want to sell their homes. They will look for ways to make the transactions go more smoothly. Inconsistent behavior is another red flag. If seller’s become uncooperative or start missing their deadlines, they may have lost the motivation to sell. When you start to see these signs, ask why they are happening. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise if the deal ends up blowing up in your face.

My best advice is to do the same as we did. If you find yourself dealing with an unrealistic, unmotivated, and uncooperative seller, it’s time to walk away. Find something else. Maybe that seller will wise up, but then again, maybe not. You don’t want to waste your time and energy trying to coax reason into a seller like that.

Plus, you may find that it ends up being a blessing in disguise and you find a property that checks off even more boxes! Like we did!