Tag: Life Hacks

 

Are Alternative Education Programs Worth the Investment?

The numbers aren’t pretty. In 2017, the average college graduate had an average monthly student loan payment of $393. In 2018, outstanding student loan debt among all Americans stood at $1.44 trillion, and 12% of that debt was at least 90 days past-due.

With numbers like that, it’s no wonder you might be rethinking getting a four-year degree. After all, it’s not uncommon to hear about people taking out crippling student loans only to go right back to working at Starbucks.

Yet, there is another option — alternative education programs. These can be trickier to cobble together since you may not have access to an easy pipeline of federal student loans (for better or for worse), but it can be done. We’ll give you the scoop on some common programs, and how you can make them work for you and your bank account.

Coding Bootcamps

Have you heard of coding “bootcamps”? These programs are designed to fast-track you to an entirely new career in the tech industry in as little as three months. And, did you know that these bootcamps offer the potential of making a six-figure salary right out of the gate. (It’s true: my husband just got a high salary offer after finishing a General Assembly coding bootcamp.)

Coding bootcamps aren’t without their risks, however. They’re generally expensive. For example, Full Stack Academy costs up to $17,910 for a 13-week program, and General Assembly charges up to $13,950 for its program. These courses may offer pay-in-full discounts, scholarships, income sharing agreements, or personal loans as a way to pay the tuition bill if you can’t pony up the cash on your own.

It’s important to thoroughly vet these programs before you attend, and don’t just trust the statistics that the companies publicize. Instead, ask to speak with real graduates who’ve gotten jobs, and ask about the outcomes of their classmates as well to get a more realistic view of what you can — or cannot — expect.

Start a Business

Sure, your grandpa may have told you to start your own business like he did instead of going to college. These days, however, you don’t necessarily have to go it alone.

There are many programs out there dedicated to helping budding entrepreneurs launch startups. These outfits — including accelerators, incubators or startup accelerators – can provide the technical expertise, coaching, office space, and even funding to launch your business successfully.

Typically, you apply for these programs, and need to be accepted to get in. Some are run by universities (meaning one or more people on the team need to be an enrolled student), and others are private groups. Accelerators typically make money by taking a stake in your business (i.e., equity), so they have a vested interest in helping your company succeed.

Associate Degrees or Certificates

Who said you need a four-year degree to succeed? Maybe you only need two years of college, or less. The reality is that many professions only require a couple years or less of coursework, including:

  • Radiation therapist
  • Physical therapist assistant
  • Dental hygienist
  • Emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • HVAC technician

The advantage of these career prep programs is that they’re often in high demand, meaning your odds are good for getting a job. You can also use student loans to pay for your education, but you won’t have nearly as much debt coming out of school as you would if you graduate from a four-year-degree program.

Join the Military

It’s true — Uncle Sam wants you. Yet, careers in the military can come at a high personal cost. Depending on your MOS (Military Occupation Specialty — i.e. your job within the military), you may see active combat in war zones and be deployed away from your family for long periods of time. You may also not get to choose where you live — the military will decide for you. You could end up living in a exotic location abroad, or in a cornfield in Iowa.

The rewards, however, are equally as great. You’ll be paid for the entire duration you’re in the military, including while you’re in training (and you can even take these skills with you to new jobs if you leave the military.)

You can earn extra pay in the way of signing bonuses if you choose certain specialties that may require you to be in a combat zone, a high cost-of-living area, or outside the continental U.S. The military may also provide housing and health care for you and your family, GI Bill benefits, subsidized housing, and retirement benefits.

Trade Apprenticeships

Since so many people are being pushed to go to college these days, there’s actually a serious shortage of jobs in the trades. This includes construction workers, plumbers, electricians, pipefitters, factory workers, and other physical jobs. From 2016-2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects openings for another 180,500 construction workers.

This leaves a wide-open opportunity for you: Jobs are in high demand and salaries are equally high to match. Even better, many trade unions offer apprenticeship trainings for an affordable price or even for free. You may not be paid while you’re actually in class (which generally lasts for a short time), but you’ll be paid while you’re learning on the job.

You Don’t Necessarily Need a Four-Year Degree

Don’t let anyone push you into a four-year degree if that’s not what you want. The truth is that there are plenty of other options out there these days, and more are springing up each year.

College used to be a guaranteed way to get a leg up. But unless you have a concrete plan or know exactly what you want to do, it can also be a liability, especially if you have to balance savings with debt payments. Instead, set your sights on what matters most to you in your career — whether that includes college or not.

 

How to Plan the Perfect Staycation: 6 Tips for Affordable Relaxation

It’s no secret that travel can be expensive even if you’re able to take advantage of hacks to lower the costs.

In fact, according to one study, the average family of four spends $4,580 on a vacation. And, many of these families expect to put at least $1,000 of their travel costs on a credit card.

Yet, there is a way to take time off without leaving your hometown and spending oodles of cash: Take a staycation.

What is a staycation?

A staycation is just like a vacation only you stay home. This means you don’t have to spend money on travel and lodging. You’ll still take time off and seek out new experiences, but you’ll be spending time near your home exploring your own town or taking day trips.

You can save a lot of money with a staycation and still bond and make memories with your loved ones.

Here are 6 tips to help you plan the perfect staycation.

1. Explore your city

A staycation can be just as fun as a vacation because you’ll have the opportunity to explore your city like never before. To start, think about whether there are there restaurants or attractions you’ve never been to.

Perhaps you can visit a new neighborhood eatery or attend a local festival. Maybe you can swap out your online shopping to check out some local shops and support the businesses in your area. Or, visit local museums and wander through the exhibits.

If you live near a metropolitan city, you may be able to take advantage of tourist attraction passes that allow you to visit several landmarks or attractions for one flat fee. You usually have a few days to visit all the places included in the pass. This is also a great way to experience the best of what your city has to offer – on a budget.

For example, CityPASS offers a low-priced pass in many cities, including Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Seattle and New York City. For a $64 adult Boston CityPASS ($52 for kids), you get access to five major attractions, including the New England Aquarium, Museum of Science and Boston Harbor Cruises. You’ve got nine days to visit the attractions and your pass also gets you expedited entry into all sites. Not so shabby.

2. Play Catch Up

A staycation is a great way to catch up on errands, set up appointments, and organize different aspects of your life. Dentist appointment anyone?

Yes, this may sound like work, but you can schedule tasks on your own terms and check off a few things on your list, leaving you feeling refreshed.

Just think: You can accomplish things that have been on your to-do list for weeks, like getting routine maintenance checks on your car, going to a doctor’s appointment, and decluttering and organizing your home.

In true staycation fashion, you can even treat yourself to a nice lunch after you finish errands or visit a day spa for the afternoon.

3. Embrace the Outdoors

Ready to embrace the outdoors? Use your staycation to explore local trails. You can also plan an outdoor picnic with family, visit a park, go swimming if the weather permits, or ride a bike along a scenic path. If there’s a nearby state or national park, you can even take a day trip to feel as if you’re getting out of dodge.

Another option to consider: Take a trip to the local zoo. There are several free or low-cost zoos across the country. Most will even allow you to bring in your own food and snacks, cutting down on your costs even more.

4. Take on a New Hobby or Learn a New Skill

Part of the thrill of going on vacation involves going someplace new. Yet, you can still experience something new without traveling far from home. A good place to start: Try out a new hobby.

Think of something you’ve always wanted to do and plan to hone that new skill or passion during your staycation. Whether you want to start playing a new instrument, learn photography, fix cars, start sewing, or practice cake decorating, this is a great opportunity to give it a whirl. Perhaps you can even take a class in the area or check out free resources online. Skillshare, for example, is an online community that allows people to learn new things.

If you’re stumped for a new idea, try a paint and wine outing with friends. These are typically budget-friendly and you don’t need a lot of artistic skills.

5. Make Time For Friends

Take the initiative to reach out to friends you haven’t seen in a while and plan a get-together.

You can simply have a lunch date, invite your friends over, or go somewhere fun. To stay on budget, look for Groupon deals. For example, maybe you can check out a new coffee shop or restaurant in town.

You can also use your staycation as an opportunity to meet new friends. Sites like Meetup have tons of local groups that are designed to facilitate meetings of like-minded folks. There are groups for runners, parents, couples, board game lovers, creatives, pet owners, and more.

6. Relax, Just Do It

Staycations are perfect for relaxing.

Sleep in, take naps in the middle of the day, catch up on your Netflix shows, and take long walks. Before you staycation, you can deep clean your home and organize your space as if you were leaving town.

You can even plan your meals and prep dinners in advance – then freeze them so you don’t have to worry about cooking. Decide on which days you’ll dine out and which days you’ll pull a ready-made meal from the freezer.

If there are any beaches by your home, plan to spend a day there relaxing and swimming. Or, if you have a sauna or pool at your gym, this is the week to make use of it.

Determine how you want to relax during your staycation and make it happen!

Save Money and Refresh With a Staycation

A staycation can not only be a huge money-saver, but it can help you relax, enjoy time with friends and family, and return back to reality feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Most importantly, you don’t have to save up a ton of money to have a successful staycation. And, you also won’t spend as much as you would if you travel far away. Just think: These staycation ideas will help you have a memorable experience without airline fees, hotel costs, and high restaurant charges.

Are you ready to plan a staycation?

 

This Millennial Saved $200K Before Turning 30 — Here’s How

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The majority of millennials have next to nothing in their bank accounts.

You’ve probably heard the stats: Millennials couldn’t cover a $1,000 emergency, and they have an average of $36,000 of debt. And when it comes to retirement — which, to most millennials, seems like a billion years away — 66% haven’t saved a cent.

The blogger behind Fiery Millennials, however, is tipping the scales. Gwen Merz is only 28 years old, and has already saved $200,000 for retirement. Want to know how she did it? Merz revealed her savings story to us — and also offered advice for fellow millennials who want to prepare for their futures. To learn more, keep reading.

Stumbling Upon Financial Independence

One day in college, Merz was using the 2000s relic known as StumbleUpon when an article about FIRE (financial independence, retire early) popped up in her browser. Merz, who had grown up poor, immediately became “hooked” on the ideals of frugal living and financial security.

“Here are these people who never have to worry about having enough money ever again,” she says.

“That was very appealing to me, as someone who internalized a lot of those lessons about poverty early in life.”

Though she couldn’t save much money as a college student, Merz says learning about FIRE gave her a “really good foundation” for her adult life. When she totaled her car, for example, she didn’t take out a loan, and instead bought a used vehicle with cash. And when she graduated debt-free, thanks to a full-ride scholarship and her service in the National Guard, Merz was “so ready” to put financial independence (FI)  into practice.

“I was super stoked that I got to put money in my 401(k) and open a Roth IRA,” she says. “So nerdy, but it’s true!”

The Road to $200K

After she graduated college in 2013, Merz landed a full-time information technology job at the Fortune 100 company at which she had interned.

Her base salary? A lucrative $65,000, plus bonuses that averaged $7,000 to $8,000 after taxes, and a 10% 401(k) match.

While her peers spent their paychecks on nights out and new clothes, Merz saved 60% to 80% of her income (which increased each year and eventually came close to six figures).

“It was really good that I got started so young because I didn’t have any set habits or lifestyle expectations,” she says.

Merz maxed out her 401(k) — the limit is now $19,000 per year — and her Roth IRA — the limit is now $6,000 per year — and put the rest into a health savings account (HSA) and other taxable accounts.

After six years of saving, her retirement accounts reached a balance of more than $200,000.

Cutting ‘The Big Three’

Despite her ample salary, Merz admits it wasn’t always easy to save so much.

“At the beginning, it was definitely harder. But that’s only because I was still trying to live a typical American life.”

As an example, she cites the fact that she was living in a three-bedroom house by herself — a decision she now deems “ridiculous.” So she got a roommate, and cut her monthly housing budget from $900 to $450.

She also kept the 2005 Pontiac Vibe she purchased in college. Whereas most of her peers have bought one or more new cars since graduating, her vehicle will soon hit the 200,000-mile mark.

“It’s the big three you have to watch out for: housing, cars, and food,” explains Merz.

“If you can keep those three to a manageable level — or figure out how to get rid of one — you’re going to be so much better off than the average American.”

Or, as she puts it: If “you make one or two different choices in life, that can make all the difference.”

How Millennials Can Save (No Matter Their Income)

Merz is the first to acknowledge that the FIRE movement is dripping in privilege.

“Some people say everyone can achieve FI — that’s just not true. It’s a lot easier to save half of your income if you’re earning a lot of money.” And, as she points out, it’s even easier if you don’t have student loans or dependents.

Still, Merz believes anyone can learn lessons about budgeting and consumption from the FI movement. Even if someone can’t save at high rates, for example, they can maybe build an emergency fund or open a Roth IRA.

If you want to start saving — regardless of your income — Merz says your first step should be automation.

When Merz received her first paycheck, she set up automatic withdrawals that funneled money into her savings and investment accounts.

“I never saw that money and didn’t miss it because I had never known what it was like to have that much,” she explains.

The good news with this automated saving approach is it can eliminate the need for budgeting. Since Merz covered her necessities and investment goals by paying herself first, she could then give herself “free reign” to spend whatever was left.

“There’s a lot of guilt and decision making that are involved with budgets. But if you artificially lower the amount of money that you have to spend… it’s easier to save.”

If your employer offers a 401(k) program, Merz also urges you to sign up. Not only will your contributions grow over the next several decades, potentially funding your retirement, but they will also lower your taxable income right now. For example:

  • Say you earn $50,000 per year and contribute $5,000 to your 401(k). You can deduct that $5,000 from your income, meaning you’ll only pay taxes on $45,000 of earnings.

 

  • Many employers match 401(k) contributions up to a certain percentage. A “3% match,” for example, means your employee will  match every dollar you contribute, up to 3% of your paycheck.

“There’s no reason to not save up to the match,” says Merz. “They’re giving you free money — who does that?”

When This Fiery Millennial Will Retire

When Merz began her FIRE journey, her goal was to retire at 35 with $635,000. But in the years since, her outlook has shifted.

“I don’t really have a number or a date in mind anymore. It’s less about early retirement now — and more about how can I optimize my life so I’m at peak happiness,” she says.

Even if she doesn’t retire early, Merz has learned a lot from FIRE, saying: “It’s been interesting to see all the things society says we need that I am actually quite comfortable living without.”

She has also given herself a significant amount of financial freedom in the years to come. By frontloading her retirement savings — and giving her accounts decades to compound — Merz could stop saving for retirement now and still have a healthy nest egg at 65.

“I gave myself the gift of not having to worry and stress out about money in the future,” she says.

 

Five New Side Hustles for 2019

Raise your hand if you could use an extra $100-$1,000 per month!

If you’re like most of us, you’d love to make more money. And, about 50 percent of millennials are already taking advantage of extra income opportunities, according to a study by Experian.

Earning more money can help you reach your financial goals, including achieving freedom from debt, saving up for a dream vacation or even coming up with a downpayment for your first home.

By now you may be wondering how you can jump on the side hustle bandwagon. To help you get going and choose the right side gig, we spoke to five savvy women, ages 25-35, who are crushing their side hustles and changing their financial futures. Based on our discussions, here are five new side hustles to consider this year.

1. Delivering Groceries

Constance Tuner, a young mother living in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, was frustrated with “being in the red each month” because her expenses exceeded her take-home pay. Apart from finding ways to reduce her spending, she realized that it was also necessary to supplement her income if she wanted to stop living paycheck to paycheck.

Delivering groceries with Instacart has been one of Turner’s most successful side hustles. She says Instacart makes it easy to start earning more money as quickly as possible.

“You can sign up through the website or use a referral code from someone (who’s already registered with Instacart),” says Turner.

Once you pass a background check, the company will send you a card to use for purchases.

“Then, you’ll take a few tutorials, select your hours and get started the following week. Hours are selected a week in advance,” Turner says.

With a better handle on her finances now, Turner says she’s very close to using her income from Instacart to begin tackling debt.

Turner’s average earnings: In January, Turner made $976.25 based on 57 hours of shopping. She does this side hustle for two hours after work during the week and about eight hours over the weekend.

2. Field Agent 

Laura Smith, a barista in Minneapolis, Minnesota, uses side hustles to accelerate her debt freedom goals.

“It’s easy to lose perspective and get discouraged when you’re trying to pay off thousands, but every single dime adds up and goes towards changing our family’s legacy,” says Smith.

She recently got started with Field Agent, a free app which pays you for completing “missions” such as checking to see if a store has a particular product in stock. According to Smith, “it’s great because I can (earn extra cash) when I’m out running errands or during my spare time.”

Smith’s average earnings: Smith made about $45 during her first month using the app. She says that the payout amount varies depending on how in-depth each mission is. In her experience, the majority of missions pay between three and six dollars, but she’s seen some that offer up to $22.

3. Exam Proctor

Alli Rosenblum, a recent MBA graduate and founder of financiALLIfocused.com is on a mission to pay off six figures of debt (primarily student loans) in a few years. She’s explored a number of side hustles, including tutoring through Care.com.

Recently, the exam proctor company UExamS reached out to Rosenblum through Care.com.  She was asked to proctor exams for a student who needs extra time.

After researching the company and reading online reviews, she accepted the offer. Yet, while it was very easy to get started as an exam proctor, Rosenblum says this is a need-based side hustle and therefore the income is “pretty inconsistent.”

“Side hustles are more important than ever (for my fiancé and myself) so that we can pay off $140,000 of debt faster. We also use side hustle earnings to fund date nights and other treats here and there to keep us motivated on our long debt-freedom journey,” says Rosenblum.

Rosenblum’s average earnings: Her first stint earned her $63 for less than an hour. Better yet,  the exam administrator never showed up but she still got paid for her time!

4. Easy Shift

Tancy Shanelle, a stay-at-home mom with a young family, says that side hustles “make all the difference when you’re trying to set yourself up to be financially stable.”

She is $7,500 away from paying off $100,000 in debt and says that “every amount counts.”

Shanelle earns cash side hustling with Easy Shift, which is similar to Field Agent. The types of gigs include taking pictures of displays or specific products, as well as filling out surveys.

Shanelle’s average earnings: Anywhere from four dollars to $25 per shift, with most gigs paying about six dollars. The shifts are anywhere from eight to 30 minutes. How much you earn depends on what’s available in your area and whether you get selected to pick up shifts. “Depending on where you live, securing a shift can be competitive,” says Shanelle. However, in her experience, if you are dedicated, you can make upwards of $200 per month.

5. Focus Groups

Chonce Maddox, a freelance writer and founder of MyDebtEphiphany.com, uses side hustles as a way to supplement her income and fund “extras” – those bigger ticket items that fall outside of her regular monthly budget.

Using earnings from participating in focus groups, Maddox and her husband, “were able to pay a neighbor to take down some trees in our yard in the fall.” They also both did focus groups – which she found via the site Respondent – in December and January to help pay for their son’s birthday party.

“There is one drawback,” says Maddox. “This side hustle is really sporadic, so I treat it as extra (bonus) income.”

Maddox’ average earnings
: Maddox earns anywhere from $100 to $250 per focus group, yet bigger opportunities will pop up from time to time. For example, “I was really lucky to be selected for the first focus group that I applied to, which paid $500 for four and a half hours.”

Next Steps: Find a Purpose for Your Side Hustle Money

From personal experience, it can be really easy to blow through extra income coming in from side hustle opportunities. That’s why you need a plan for where that money goes. My favorite tip is to keep my extra income in a separate bank account so that it isn’t commingled with my regular earnings from my day job. This makes it less tempting to spend!

Another tip is to automate your savings. Every time you use your Chime Chime Visa® Debit Card, for example, Chime will automatically round up each transaction and transfer the money from your Spending Account into your Savings Account. It’s as easy as that!

With these extra earning tips in mind, what’s holding you back from creating a more abundant lifestyle?

 

How to Handle No Spend Sundays Like a Boss

Fun fact: Sunday is my favorite day of the week. Yes, I know it’s dangerously close to Monday. But, I still look forward to it because it’s a chance to treat myself after working for five days and then side hustling on Saturdays.

Yet, while I love Sundays, it’s easy to get caught up in my favorite day off and blow right through my budget. Let’s look at a hypothetical scenario of how quickly spending can add up on a typical Sunday:

Coffee – $5

Brunch – $50

Groceries – $75
Gas for the week – $30

Total: $160

When multiplied by four, this adds up to $640 a month or $7,680 a year. Yikes.

If this type of spending looks familiar to you, then a No Spend Sunday may be just what you need in order to boost your savings goals. If you’ve never tried one of these challenges before, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to learn how to navigate a No Spend Sunday in 5 easy steps.

Step 1: Separate Wants From Needs

First, it’s important to understand the definition of a No Spend Day.

Think of it like going on a diet but for your finances. It means that you eliminate (or scale back on) anything that’s non-essential to your budget. For me, based on the above hypothetical list, I would cut out coffee, brunch and challenge myself to lower the amount I spend on groceries. Gas would remain on the list as a “need.”

Now it’s your turn: Take a step back and write down all the activities you normally do on a Sunday that cost money. Place a checkmark next to the ones that are essential and an “x” next to the spending you can do without.

Step 2: Get Creative

Kristy Runzer, CFP® and Founder of OnRoute Financial, says that the key to surviving a money challenge like a No Spend Sunday is to get creative and find things to do that will bring you happiness without the price-tag.

“So, for example, let’s say that you typically enjoy going out to eat with girlfriends to fill the need of wanting to spend time with those closest to you and simply have fun. On a (No Spend Sunday), instead of spending money at a restaurant, you could meet up with your girlfriends at the park or hang out at someone’s house. The end result is the same – you fulfill the underlying need to connect, without feeling guilty about your spending,” says Runzer.

Sami Womack, Founder of A Sunny Side Up Life, also agrees that “having fun doesn’t have to cost money.”

Some of Womack’s favorite free activities include:

  • An at-home spa day
  • Hiking
  • Reading a book
  • A movie night at home
  • Subscribing to a new podcast
  • Spring cleaning your closet
  • Doing a pantry/freezer cleanout

Step 3: Get an Accountability Partner

It’s so much easier to stay the course with just about anything when you have extra support.

If you can’t find a friend or family member who wants to hop aboard the no spend train with you, then look no further than social media. Many money coaches and personal finance bloggers host money challenges throughout the year that you can participate in. All you have to do is search #NoSpendDay or #NoSpendWeek, etc.

Step 4: Give Your Savings a Purpose

When saving money, it’s important that you save for a specific purpose. Yet, oftentimes folks miss this when they survive a savings challenge.

So, let’s say you decide not to eat out or go to the mall during your No Spend Sunday. Estimate your savings by looking at how much you would normally spend on each of these activities.

Let’s say the total is $100. At the end of the No Spend Sunday, transfer $100 into a separate savings account until you figure out what to do with it (pay down debt, put it in your summer vacay fund, etc.) This way the money isn’t just floating around in your checking accounting, tempting you to spend it on things you probably don’t need come Monday.

Step 5: Keep Building Those Healthy Money Habits

The benefit of a spending challenge is that it teaches you money mindfulness.

“Every day, but especially on weekends, it’s easy to spend money without thinking twice. You don’t realize (the damage) until the credit card bill comes and you’re left with a spending hangover,” says Runzer.

“Putting even a little bit of thought into what you’re spending or wanting to spend on and why really goes a long way. This is truly empowering because it puts the choice and the control back in your hands. You get to make money decisions from a place of knowing where things are going and what they’re doing for you,” she says.

From here, you can make incremental changes that positively affect your finances over time, rather than trying to make a drastic overnight change. This is exactly what Lauren Tucker, Founder of An Organized Life has done. She started out with a No Spend Friday, then a No Spend Week, until she worked her way up to a No Spend Month.

“It’s definitely been a process,” says Tucker.

“But starting small is the best way to introduce a new habit,” she says.

“Everyone’s definition of a no spend (challenge) can vary, but for me, it means that I refrain from purchasing anything that’s not in the budget or that I have already identified to spend in my miscellaneous spending category.”

Tucker plans out her month using a Google Keep Note where she outlines what she intends to spend with any discretionary income. She also tracks her success each day and shares her monthly results on her social media feed.

Bonus Tip: Pay Yourself First

After my husband and I completed our first no spend challenge, we realized that one of the reasons we would overspend is that we had too much money left-over in our checking account after paying our bills. That money was just hanging out, waiting to be spent.

That’s around the time I learned about the importance of paying yourself first. This means that we save first before doing anything else. By doing this, it reduces the amount of “extra money” we have left in our checking account and forces us to be more conscious of how we spend – especially on the weekends.

We still incorporate no spend challenges every now and again, especially when we have a specific money goal, like saving for a vacation.

We challenge you to try out your own No Spend Sunday for yourself and see how much money you can save!

 

How This Millennial Side Hustled to Millionaire Status

You can call him king of the side hustle, but he will answer to Grant.

Grant Sabatier, 34 and a self-made millionaire, attributes his five-year rise to success to side hustling. Yes, he really side-hustled his way out of $30,000 debt and racked up one million plus in savings while working a 9-to-5 job.

But Sabatier, who runs Millennial Money, wasn’t always so money savvy. Not too long ago, his life looked like that of many millennials. In 2010, he lost his office job and moved back in with his parents with only $2.26 in his bank account. During this time, he applied to more than 200 jobs with no bites – not that he wanted to return to cubicle life.

The Google Searches That Changed Everything

Sabatier turned to Google for answers. And, his search for the best money books led him to Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.

“I read the book and it completely changed my life,” he says.

“One of the co-authors, Joe Dominguez, actually retired at the age of 30, and it was so mind-blowing. I’d never heard of anything like that.”

Google also led him to the discovery of Google ads. He discovered that running Google campaigns for others was profitable. With the power of YouTube, he learned everything he could.

“The fastest path, I think, to six figures is just to get Google AdWord certified. Google offers a free certification exam, and it’s amazing. I mean, that’s how basically I made all of my money,” says Sabatier.

Not only did his new skillset earn him a digital marketing job in Chicago, but it was the foundation of his side hustle success.

The Many Side Hustles of Sabatier

Running one side hustle is a huge time commitment. Balancing 11 to 14 of them might be downright crazy, but that was Sabatier’s life at one point.

“I was working literally all the time,” he says.

He basically worked late at his digital marketing job to learn more from co-workers. He would then start his side business work after that and work as late as he could. He committed his weekends to the hustle, too.

“About three months in, I got my first side hustle gig, which was building a $500 website for a lawyer,” Sabatier says.

During this time, he started his own digital marketing agency. He also launched a second agency with two others. His businesses grew fast. Three months after his first $500 website, he sold his first $50,000 website.

“By the end of that first year, even though my full-time salary was $50,000, I’d made over $300,000.”

A Closer Look at Successful Side Hustles

You don’t need a dozen side hustles to see financial results. The majority of Sabatier’s side business income came from one area – SEO and digital marketing consulting. Here is a deeper look at his most successful gigs.

SEO and Digital Marketing

Since the beginning, Sabatier booked jobs in this niche. Yet, while his early start in the field proved lucrative, there are now scores of SEO experts for hire and competition is stiff. Does Sabatier still think this is a side hustle to pursue?

 

“Oh absolutely, I mean the Internet’s not slowing down. Certainly, areas are more

competitive than they were before, but demand just continues to grow for these skillsets.”

 

“That’s an important thing to note. Because just working to get a job is different than building a skillset that’s going to help you for the rest of your life. Having a diversity of skillsets in the digital space is setting you up for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” he says.

Domain Reselling

One of Sabatier’s favorite side hustles is buying and flipping domain names. He purchases domains from GoDaddy’s website and through auctions, and then sells them for a higher price. No website building required here.

“The simple rule of thumb is buying the highest value keyword domains,” he says.

“It’s very hard to buy a one-word domain now, but you can still buy two-word domains.”

He suggests combining two popular words and to stick with dot com names. How does he know which domains to buy? “It helps to really specialize in a niche that you know,” he says.

While Sabatier specializes in money and higher-ed domains, he is savvy when it comes domains in any industry. While watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians with his wife, for example, he noticed the way Kanye West was looking at Kim in her Miami store.

“You could just tell how smitten he was with her,” he says. “I was like, oh they’re totally going to date. So, I got on my phone and bought kimandkanye.com and kanyeandkim.com.”

While he can’t disclose how much he made on those sales, you can bet there were a few zeros attached to the price.

Other Side Hustles

You would need a book to detail all of Sabatier’s side hustle adventures. Speaking of books, Sabatier’s book Financial Freedom has a step-by-step framework to pitch, launch and grow a profitable side hustle.

 

For brevity’s sake, here is a list of some of his other hustles, besides Google campaigns, domain buying and selling, and building websites:

  • Concert and event ticket flipping
  • Dog walking
  • Launching a blog
  • Campers and moped flipping
  • Freelance white paper writing
  • Selling prospect leads to law firms

Words of Wisdom

“A side hustle’s a great thing to do if you have debt. People focus way too much on the debt that they have, and it stops them from going out and making more money,” says Sabatier.

“There’s a limit of how much you can cut back, but there’s not a limit to how much

money you can make. And so, you should spend your time trying to make more money.

The net ROI of that is going to be significantly higher than just cutting back over the long

term.”

 

On that note, go forth and side hustle.

 

9 Money Lessons Learned from the Government Shutdown

The recent 35-day government shutdown was the longest on record. The level of financial stress endured was not easy for federal workers and contractors. But at the same time, the shutdown showed us all that many Americans are just a paycheck away from financial ruin.

It was also an eye opener in that we can all benefit from building up savings and planning for unforeseen circumstances, like an unexpected job loss or family crisis. Here are nine money lessons learned from the recent government shutdown.

What to Do in the Middle of a Financial Crisis

Notify your landlord and other creditors right away

Be sure to communicate with all your creditors (student loans, credit cards and utilities) to let them know of your current status. Most will appreciate the heads-up and be willing to work with you to come up with flexible payment terms. For instance, during the government shutdown, many credit unions offered interest-free personal loans to federal workers.

Go down to a “bare bones” budget

When faced with any financial crisis, one of your first action steps should be to cut out every expense that isn’t an absolute necessity, such as eating out or getting your hair done. This is also the perfect time to do a pantry cleanout. You can do this by getting creative with the items you have on hand before you go to the grocery store.

Find ways to earn extra cash fast

Believe it or not, there are many ways to make extra cash in a single day. One of my favorite money-making activities is selling items around the house that I’m no longer using. Last month, I decluttered my closet and made a cool $50 at a consignment store. Another idea is to sign up for the Next Door app. This way you can find extra income opportunities in your own neighborhood, such as babysitting or landscaping jobs.

(Temporarily) hit the brakes on your debt free journey

Diana Farmen, a middle school teacher and founder of Diana on a Dime, had direct experience with the shutdown as her partner was furloughed. Farmen says it’s important to hold off on making extra payments on your debt, even though it can feel discouraging. She explains that “since it’s hard to know how long a government shutdown will last, you’re better off paying minimums for the time being and hoarding your cash until it is over.”

Use your HSA as another buffer

Did you know that a Health Savings Account (HSA) can also function like an emergency fund for non-medical expenses? If you do have an HSA, it’s a best practice to fund it fully every year and keep all of your medical receipts.

According to CNBC, “if, say, a $500 emergency crops up and you have receipts for $500 worth of unreimbursed medical outlays handy, submit those receipts to get a $500 check from your HSA to pay for that unexpected non-medical event.”

Think carefully before borrowing money from your retirement plan

Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP® and founder of Workable Wealth, says that if you have no other sources of cash reserves, borrowing from a retirement plan can be an option but “only if you plan to be diligent in repaying the funds as soon as possible.”

Storjohann also explains that some retirement plans like your 401(k) may provide for penalty-free withdrawals if you can prove hardship, or you can also take a loan from your 401(k) with the intent to pay the money back into the plan. She prefers the latter option as “you’ll be paying yourself back instead of a creditor and you also won’t be locking in the withdrawal.”

How to Safeguard Your Finances Against Future Crises

Spend your back pay wisely

When the U.S. Congress approves back pay for furloughed federal workers, it means that when the government reopens, your paycheck will be bigger than normal. It is understandable that after having to tighten your purse strings for an extended period of time, you would be excited to splurge. Or, if you had to borrow money from a family member or elsewhere, you may want to pay them back right away. However, you should also set aside at least some of the back pay and put it toward your rainy day fund.

A fully-funded emergency fund gives you peace of mind in the event of another government shutdown or any other financial crisis. How much you need to save in your emergency fund will depend on your own personal circumstances. For example, if you have kids, your emergency fund will most likely need to be bigger than if you are a single person with a roommate. Your e-fund should be separate from your checking account but still easily accessible.

Pro tip: Once you have a separate savings account, you can sign up for automatic contributions from your checking to your savings every time you get paid. With a Chime Bank account, you can automatically save 10 percent of your salary and use it for your emergency savings. If that’s too high, you can create a salary deduction for five percent of your paycheck. The key is to start somewhere and build from there!

Keep on living below your means

Living below your means is something you can always do – not just during a crisis. In fact, spending less than you bring home is an important key to building wealth. Plus, just like having an emergency fund, you’ll feel a lot less stressed knowing that you are no longer living paycheck to paycheck.

Create multiple sources of income

This recent government shutdown shows us that it is no longer practical to rely on a single source of income.

“Having multiple streams of income is one of the best ways to prepare and safeguard against unforeseen circumstances. If you’re laid off, need to take a leave of absence, or part of something like the most recent government shutdown, you will continue to have income coming in. Not only that, but you’ll likely feel better, be less stressed, and be in a good position to adjust and move forward, despite any setback. If you only have one income stream, the shock of that income getting cut off may be hard to bounce back from, not to mention the immediate financial hit you take,” says Natalie Bacon, JD, CFP(R), Certified Life Coach at NatalieBacon.com.

Final thoughts

If you were affected by the government shutdown or find yourself in another financial crisis, fret not. While things may seem stressful right now, there are steps you can take to gain control over your money. Once you step back and make some smart money moves, you can then find the peace of mind you need to secure your financial future.

 

How to KonMari Your Money

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For a 4’ 7” human, Marie Kondo is huge.

More than 11 million people have bought her books, and still others are binge-watching her Netflix series “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.” People are drawn to Kondo’s philosophy: You can change your life by getting rid of all the things that don’t “spark joy.”

Want to give it a try? You don’t need to limit yourself to clothing or books or Beanie Babies. In fact, nearly all of us could stand to tidy up our finances, too. Here’s how to “KonMari” your bank accounts, credit card purchases, and investments — and maybe even spark financial joy.

Envision Your Ideal Lifestyle

As Kondo wrote in “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”: “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

So, take a moment to reflect. Do your expenditures and money habits reflect your ideal lifestyle? Or, are you, say, spending your money on bar tabs when you actually want to travel the world? Or living in an expensive city, even though you dream of retiring early?

Think about how you can align your finances with your ideal lifestyle.

“Start with the vision of your best financial life to help you shift your mindset and shape your criteria for what sparks joy,” says Kristyn Ivey, a KonMari Consultant who co-hosts the Spark Joy podcast.

Make a Money Mountain

If you were organizing your wardrobe, Kondo would tell you to make a “clothing mountain” by removing everything from your closet and piling it on the bed. This way, you’d get a full picture of what you own — and can therefore make better decisions about what you do or don’t need.

The same goes for your finances. While the results won’t be as physically impressive, collecting a mountain of data about your money habits will hopefully have an even greater long-term impact.

The most accurate way to assemble this information would be to track your spending and income for a few months. (That’s especially true if you often use cash to make purchases.) If you’re in a hurry to KonMari, however, you can get a decent overview by compiling your credit card, bank, and investment account statements from the past year.

“The reason we ask you to gather everything in one category all together is so that you see all that you have at the same time,” says Jane Grodem, a KonMari Consultant in the Bay Area.

“This is an opportunity to consider the state of your finances with clarity, and ultimately the goal is to let go of those [expenses] that do not serve you in your current or future life.”

Decide What Sparks Joy

Once you’ve created your money mountain, analyze the information.

  • Are you spending more than you earn?
  • Where are you spending the most money? Did those purchases spark joy?
  • Do you have enough saved to cover at least three months of expenses?
  • What have you saved for your future goals?

Unlike physical objects, finances are tricky because saving money often doesn’t spark joy in the moment. So, to help you feel that joy in your bones, visualize your financially secure future — whether it’s holding the keys to your first home or treating your grandkids to all the ice cream they desire.

You can also note the financial data points that definitely don’t spark joy, like an ATM fee from your bank, a spartan retirement account, or an expensive takeout meal.

Now that you know which financial behaviors do and don’t spark joy, you can look for ways to augment or disrupt them. For instance, you can spend more money on plane tickets instead of shoes, or you switch to a fee-free bank.

According to Liv Cloud, who blogs at Funding Cloud Nine, viewing her life and finances through the KonMari lens has saved her “thousands” of dollars.

“I no longer mindlessly spend money on unnecessary things,” says Cloud.

“I have become more intentional with my spending and with the items that I bring into my home. If it isn’t something that I really love, then I simply leave it at the store,” she says.

View Your Budget as Plentiful

Kondo is all about what your woo-woo friend might call an “abundance mindset.”

“The biggest mistake people make is to focus on what to discard instead of what to keep,” Kondo told Mic. “If you focus on this, you look for flaws… and cannot appreciate the things you own. The correct mindset is to keep what you love instead of throwing out what you don’t like.”

Although she’s talking about physical items, that’s the perfect way to look at your budget, too.

When you’re deciding which expenditures spark joy, don’t agonize over what you’re cutting out. Instead, delight in what you get to keep: rent for your (hopefully tidy!) apartment, groceries for next week’s potluck with friends, a splurge-y fancy coffee every Friday.

Organize Your Financial Paperwork

Being overwhelmed by paperwork is totally normal. In fact, Kondo devotes an entire clutter category to it, with her baseline rule being “discard everything.” (What a relief!)

Of course, some paperwork, like the past three years of tax returns, must be kept. Which is why Kondo recommends three folders, each with a different purpose: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or kept indefinitely.

You should also make a “pending” folder for papers you haven’t had time to organize yet. And then get in the habit of recycling paper as soon as you get it, so it doesn’t ever have the chance to — horror of horrors — pile up.

Be Grateful for What You Have

Before Kondo embarks on any decluttering mission, she sits on the floor and thanks the house. Before discarding an item, she thanks it for its service. Although it might sound loony, numerous studies have suggested that gratitude can vastly improve your outlook.

So, while you’re in the midst of KonMari-ing your finances, take a step back — and be grateful for what you have. Maybe you don’t have the latest designer handbag, but you have enough to eat. Maybe you don’t have enough money to take a vacation this year, but you have a job.

“I now surround myself with things, people, and experiences that bring joy to my life. Instead of focusing on what other people have, I focus on what is going to make me happy and make me the best person I can be,” says Cloud.

 

What Instagram Influencers Are Teaching Us About Money

Unless you’re living underneath a rock, chances are you’re no stranger to envy-inducing Instagram influencers. You know the ones. They’re always cavorting to exotic locales,  sipping on Mai Tais underneath a breezy palm frond, or enjoying Sunday brunch at a picturesque polo lounge surrounded by besties.

Truth bomb: Some influencers are spending a pretty penny to keep up these appearances. Yup, they’re not being compensated by corporate sponsors. And the cost to look like an influencer can cost a small fortune. According to Fashionista, you’d have to spend about $31,400 a year “to maintain the physical standards of beauty represented daily in our Instagram feeds.”

Case in point: An Instagram “star” racked up $10,000 in debt trying to make it seem like she was living a glamorous life while still living with her parents.

So, how can you keep it real and stay grounded with your finances despite the illusion that permeates your social media feeds? Here are some money lessons that can be gleaned from Instagram influencers:

Don’t: Keep up with the Joneses

Bleeding money just to keep up with your peers isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s just that it’s hard to escape Insta feeds filled with those who are “living their best lives” and “living large.”

For example, I have a friend who is married to a popular Instagram influencer. My pal once admitted to me, “it’s all empty.” I’ve also witnessed behind-the-scenes actions of a social media power couple who have 250,000 Instagram followers and sponsored ad campaigns. It turns out the couple spends a lot of time and money carefully curating their feeds. Plus, they’ve experienced massive burnout and growing pains.

The truth: Nobody has their situation figured out, financial or otherwise. We’re all struggling. It’s just that some of us are better at making it look like we have it all together.

So, instead of trying to keep up with the Joneses, live a life that works for you and a life you can afford. If you’re feeling stretched or having trouble staying on top of your bills, it’s time to recalibrate.

Don’t: Wear your wealth on your back

If the price tag of your Christian Louboutin ankle boots is higher than what’s in your bank, it’s time to think twice. Remember: Your worth isn’t defined by the type of car you drive or the swath of designer threads in your closet. It’s how much money you have sitting in your bank and investment accounts, and the value of your assets.

To figure out your net worth, enlist the help of a money-saving app or financial management software. Look at what you own and have saved up. Then, subtract all your debt – student loans, credit card debt, car payment, house payment. Whatever is left over is your net worth.

Don’t: Compare and despair

You’ve probably experienced pangs of pain from comparing yourself to others when you were a child. Who had the yummiest snack spread in their lunch box? Who was the smartest, prettiest, most athletic in your class? Sadly, those internal head games we play with ourselves don’t disappear when we become adults.

As they say, comparison is the root of despair. There will always be someone who is faring better than you. But guess what? Instead of focusing on what you don’t seem to have, practice gratitude. You’re probably doing well, and even better than most. Be appreciative of what you do have, and know that you have enough to be content.

Do: Assess the value of a purchase

As someone who tends to be super frugal, I’ve recently leaned toward focusing on the value of what I buy versus just how much it costs.

For example, I have made some “spendy” purchases, but the value was high. For instance, I bought $300 pair of leather boots. That’s more than I’m used to spending, but I wear my boots nearly every day. That’s a good value for the price.

So, take a page from my book: If you’re concerned about going into debt for a large purchase, consider setting up a savings account, and auto-saving on the regular for a splurge fund. Then, when you can afford that purchase, make sure it’s a good value and give yourself permission to splurge.

Do: Be realistic

When it comes to spending money, timing plays a huge part of whether you can or should buy something. As nerdy as it sounds, I have a list of questions I run through before I make purchases I’m on the fence about:

  • Is it the right time? Do you have enough money in the bank? Are there other purchases that should take priority?
  • Can I afford it?
  • What is the trade-off?
  • How many times would I have to use that purchase for it to be worthwhile?
  • What is my gut reaction/feelings telling me?

You do you

There’s no benefit to spreading your finances thin and digging a deep debt hole just to live like an Instagram influencer. So, live within your means, be realistic with what you can afford, and be in sync with your values.

 

Chime’s Ultimate Guide to Building Credit

Your financial health is like a puzzle, with different pieces that fit together to create a complete picture.

One of the most important pieces is your credit history and of course, your credit score. (That’s the three-digit number lenders use to determine how likely you are to repay your debts.) FICO scores, the most widely used credit scoring model in the U.S., range from 300 to 850. The average FICO score recently hit an all-time high of 704.

This in-depth guide breaks down everything you need to know about engineering a better credit rating.

Where credit scores come from

Before you can have a credit score, you first need to have a credit report. This is a collection of information about your credit accounts, including who you owe money to, how much you owe, your minimum payments and how long you’ve been using credit.

FICO scores focus on five specific factors to calculate your credit score:

  • 35% of your score is based on payment history
  • 30% is based on your amounts owed
  • 15% is based on the length of your credit history
  • 10% is based on inquiries for new credit
  • 10% is based on the types of credit you’re using (i.e. loans and credit cards)

Knowing what affects your score can help you adopt the habits that you’ll need to build good credit. But what if you’re one of the 62 million Americans with a thin credit file?

“A thin credit file just means that you don’t have an established credit history,” says personal finance expert and Money Crashers contributor David Bakke.

“Maybe you’re younger and just have never had a need for credit, or possibly in general you’ve never signed up for credit cards or taken out a car loan or a home mortgage,” says Bakke.

With a thin credit file, you may not have enough credit history to generate a credit score. Fortunately, that’s a situation you can remedy. Opening a bank account is a good first step. You can use your account to get a handle on your spending, keep track of bills and start growing your savings. Once you begin using credit, you’ll already be in the habit of keeping your spending in check and paying your bills on time. Both of these positive habits can help your score.

How to build credit from scratch

If you’re starting from square one with building credit, there are a few different routes you can take. Here’s a look at some of the most common ways you can build credit as a beginner:

Secured credit cards

Opening a secured credit card can be a great option to build credit for someone who’s new to credit or has a thin credit file, says Steven Millstein, a certified credit counselor and editor of CreditRepairExpert.

“Unlike other credit cards, a secured credit card requires that you make a cash deposit upfront. This deposit will usually be your credit card limit, which serves as collateral if you fail to make payments,” Millstein says.

The major pro of a secured credit card is that your payment history and spending can help to establish your credit history. That’s because many secured card issuers report your activity to the credit reporting bureaus. With a card limit of only a few hundred dollars, this can keep you from racking up debt.

Credit builder and savings secured loans

Credit builder and savings secured loans offer a slightly different take on building credit.

“These are basically small installment loans where the loan is secured by a certificate of deposit or a savings account,” says Jeff Smith, vice president of marketing for Self Lender, which offers credit builder loans.

“As the person repays the loan, the payments are reported to the credit bureaus so they can impact the credit history. At the end of the term, the CD or savings are unlocked and returned to the account-holder.”

Essentially, you’re repaying a loan to build credit, but you don’t get the proceeds of the loan until it’s paid in full. That’s a reversal from how loans usually work, where you get the money upfront.

There are also other drawbacks to credit builder loans. For example, you may not get immediate funds to make a purchase. On the other hand, this may not matter if your main objective is to build credit.

Become an authorized user

Instead of getting a credit card in your name, you can ask a friend or family member to add you to one of their cards as an authorized user.

“The implication is that their (the main card holders) good credit practices will start to build your credit,” Millstein says.

According to Equifax, being an authorized user allows you to make purchases with the card and have the account’s activity show up on your credit report. Yet, you’re not the one liable for the card’s balance. If the primary card holder practices good credit habits, those habits would be reflected in your credit report and score.

There’s a catch, however. If the primary card holder falls behind on payments or maxes the card out, this can hurt your credit.

Ask someone to co-sign a loan with you

Co-signing on a personal, student or auto loan is another way to build credit. Unlike being an authorized user, however, you share responsibility for the debt with your co-signer.

Asking someone to co-sign can help you qualify for a loan that you may not be able to obtain on your own. Once you’re approved, you can work on repaying the loan and building credit history.

But there is some risk involved. If you default on the loan, both your credit history and that of your co-signer can be damaged. And, this can potentially ruin your relationship, Millstein says.

How long will does it take to build credit?

“Building good credit is probably not going to happen overnight and getting a solid credit score as well isn’t going to happen immediately,” Bakke says.

So, just how soon can you expect to see results?

According to Experian, it can take between three and six months of activity to get enough history on your credit report to calculate a credit score. Millstein says it can take about 12 months to grow a fair credit score, which is in the 580 to 669 range for FICO scores. He says working towards a perfect 850 score, on the other hand, can take several years.

Bottom line? You’ll need to be patient and give your good credit habits time to pay off.

Check in with your credit regularly

If you’re hard at work on building credit, don’t forget to track your progress. You can get your credit report three times a year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. Free credit monitoring services help you track your score month to month.

In the meantime, set up alerts for your bills and schedule automatic payments through your mobile banking app so you never miss a due date. When you make payments on time and keep your balances low, your credit will eventually improve!

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