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    Financial Wellness Is the Latest Self-Care Trend—Here’s What You Should Know

    Sure, you’ve heard of buzzwords like work-life balance, self-care Sundays, and positive affirmations, but have you heard of “financial wellness?” Take a pause from your face masks and meditation pillows: There’s another form of self-care, and it just might change your life. According to a Bank of America survey, over half of companies are now offering financial wellness programs, and major universities like UCLA have started financial wellness programs for their students. Even though corporations and major businesses are instilling financial wellness programs for their employees, it isn’t just corporate America lingo or a buzzword reserved for Wall Street employees and bankers. Financial wellness is actually a crucial part of individual self-care and physical health that many people ignore. Read on for this important factor of self-care and how you can practice it yourself.

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    What is financial wellness?
    To put it simply, financial wellness is exactly what it sounds like: healthy finances. You feel prepared to handle any financial crisis, are in control of paying off debt, know what’s coming in and going out, and don’t feel stressed over your financial situation (no matter what income you make). But financial well-being does not end at having “enough” money and knowing what to do with it. The difference between financial wellness and financial literacy is that financial wellness recognizes that money is not an end destination (i.e. the end goal isn’t just to make a lot of it); instead, money is a tool we use to live our happiest, healthiest, best lives possible.
    Money is a trade system. You’re exchanging your life’s energy for whatever you want to make your life happier, healthier, and better. Think about it: Money is simply a tangible exchange for the biggest portion of time, energy, passion, and experience you put into your life. How you manage, invest, and spend your money not only dictates your future finances, but it’s also subconsciously sending a message to yourself about what your life’s energy is worth. 

    Why is financial wellness important?
    If you view your bubble baths and superfood lattes entirely separate from tax season and your IRA, it’s time you start looking at the big picture. Think of your well-being as a pie chart. Of course we know the nutrition pie slice, the fitness pie slice, and the stress-relief pie slice. Maybe you even know that strong relationships and a fulfilling work life are also important pieces of the pie. But finance is also a slice of your well-being pie, as it’s such a huge part of our lives. 
    Finance is one of the most common major stressors, and (as many of us know all too well) chronic stress can negatively affect our health and well-being. Financial anxiety not only affects your bank account or spending habits, but it can also bleed into other areas of your life as well (stress over big purchases, avoiding necessary healthcare for fear of the bill, affecting relationships, etc.).

    Beyond stress that comes with poor financial wellness, good financial wellness is a tool to help our lives be better; it’s knowing how to use the money we have for our well-being (and grow that money for more well-being). Think: achieving whatever makes us happy, whether it’s creating a home, taking care of a family, or having amazing experiences, as well as spending money on our health, whether it’s necessary healthcare, a gym membership, or regular acupuncture sessions. 
    The end goal isn’t actually to have a lot of money. The goal is to spend a lot of money (and know how to spend it) throughout your life so you’re as healthy and happy as possible. I don’t mean you can spend all of your paycheck on Postmates and shoes. I mean that at the end of your life, you’ll be able to look back on many decades of experience, memories, and happiness that you achieved partly because of how you spent your money. Financial wellness is beyond investing, saving, and 401ks; financial wellness addresses money as a common stressor, and it also views money as a tool to help us be healthier and happier. The good news? You can add it to your self-care routine no matter what your income is or what financial situation you’re in. Here’s how:

    Tips to increase financial wellness:

    Budget based on what brings you joy
    Be thoughtful about how you want to spend your life’s energy. Does it really bring you joy to grab drinks with that friend you don’t have fun with or to buy the top you’ll never end up wearing? Managing your money based on what does and doesn’t bring you joy will reduce stress that comes with spending money on the vacations, items, and experiences that you truly love.

    Educate yourself
    Throughout all my years of education, not one person decided to tell me that a personal finance class might be something important (or even accessible!). A lot of my financial stress comes from feeling uneducated. What the heck are all these types of accounts, how do I pay off debt, and what can I actually “afford?” Simply educating yourself might take away a lot of stress, help you grow your money, and find out what you deserve. Talk to your employer or university to see if they offer financial literacy programs, take our Finance 101 online course, or check out a resource like Ellevest, which is dedicated to educating and helping women manage their money. 

    Invest in yourself
    We’ve been talking about spending money, but money can also be invested. Just like you invest money into stocks to get more than what you originally invested over time, you can invest money into other things as well: get the gym membership, purchase that online course, or shop for organic groceries. Another financial wellness tip: The more money you put into something, the more likely you are to keep it up as a habit. Decide what you want your habits to be, and then invest your money to achieve them.

    Make tracking your money part of your routine
    PSA: If you’re not checking your credit card statements, checking account, and any other accounts or cards on a regular basis, you need to be. Make a finance check part of your weekly routine. Take yourself on a coffee date to set some financial goals at the beginning of the week or put on a face mask and go over bank statements on Sunday evening. Not only can this reduce added stress by identifying credit card fraud ASAP or knowing if you’re close to your credit limit, but you’ll also be more aware of how your money is being spent and feel more in control of your finances. 

    Automate savings
    The rule is to pay your past self first (debt) and pay your future self next (savings). If you’re having trouble saving money or want to start saving for those big life purchases that will make you happy, try to automate so you don’t have to think about it. Even if it’s just $5, set up an automatic deposit or transfer into a separate account from every paycheck. It’s kind of like setting short, easily attainable goals so you feel like you’re getting closer to what you want most in life, and it also brings clarity to know how much money you can spend on your day-to-day expenses and purchases to still enjoy the moment. The key is to save what you can but remember that the point of saving is so you can eventually spend it. Don’t forget to actually spend on the things you really want. 

    Spend money to make you happier
    Even if you don’t think you have any money to spend, is there any way to rearrange your budget for the things that will really make you happy? If a facial puts you in a state of bliss for days or a service like Instacart or Blue Apron saves you time and energy from chores you hate, try to see where you can find the money for it, at least once every few months. This might be as simple as using a Keurig instead of your $3.50 Starbucks every morning, packing lunch instead of buying it, or pulling from your clothing budget.

    Why Money Actually Can Buy Happiness (and How) More

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    7 Things You Should Be Saving For In Your 20s

    Saving in your 20s can be a tough habit to get into. We’re just starting to settle into our careers and it can seem like between getting settled in life and having some fun along the way, little is left over for saving. Getting into the savings game is easier if we build it around specific objectives that fit into our life goals.
    If you’re looking to up the number in your savings account but don’t know where to start, we’re here to point you in the right direction. The first step: Breaking your savings down into categories to make it easier to know what exactly you’re saving for (and to be prepared for it all). These are the places you should allocate your money when you’re in your 20s.
     
    1. Future You
    First and foremost, you should be saving for future you, and a good chunk of that savings should go to the long-term version of yourself. If your job has a 401k or any other type of retirement savings plan, getting invested should be a priority. Saving for retirement early in our careers lets the time value of money do it’s thing for longer, meaning that even small dollars add up over time! Don’t have a 401(k)? You should be exploring other options, like IRA’s and other investment vehicles, if you’re self-employed or your employer doesn’t offer these options.

    Source: Madeline Galassi

    2. Skill Top-Offs
    In our 20s, we might start to find that the college degree or other education experience we marched through isn’t always everything we need to get the day job done. It’s a competitive job market, and a few additional skills can make a big difference in getting the opportunities we want. For example, if you’re in marketing and already have a business degree, consider adding an industry certification to your resume. Or, think about adding a smaller technical certificate to your skill set to round out all those creative juices.
    While you always want to approach your employer first in helping you pay for some of these things, it’s nice to have some funding stashed away to do it yourself, especially if you’re looking to switch jobs.

    3. Emergencies
    It’s important to have a small emergency fund that can help you cope if something unexpected sneaks up in life, but it’s OK to not go nuts here.
    Savings rates are relatively low right now, so if you have other debt like credit cards, or even student loans at higher rates, consider getting more aggressive in paying those down. This is especially true if you’ve got a good base in your emergency savings of a few months of living expenses.

    4. Hobbies
    Remember those? We definitely all have fulfilling hobbies, and they’re worth putting away some money for to round out our lives and make us whole people. Further, dedicating some money to this aspect of our lives makes us more committed to exploring those interests. Even in very small dollars, money dedicated to your museum fund, knitting supplies, or cooking classes is money well-saved.
     

    Source: Alaina Kaczmarski

    5. A Home
    Just like saving for retirement, small dollars over time add up. If saving for a home is on your bucket list, plan on needing to set aside around 20 percent of your likely purchase price for your down payment. Settling into a new house can also come with a number of other expenses, and you’ll likely want a little cushion for the fun stuff—furniture, decorations, and unexpected repairs or customizations.

    6. A Family
    Saving for a future family is another goal to start thinking about in your 20s. A Nerdwallet study found that the annual cost of raising a baby in its first year is around $21,000, and supporting a child through age 17 can pass $200,000. You might also find that moving into that stage of life requires rethinking housing, work, and other lifestyle considerations. Reviewing those aspects for yourself or with a partner are important. Kids not in the cards? I’m exploring educational savings options like 529 plans for the other littles in my life I want to give to.
     

    Source: Josie Santi

    7. Travel
    In my 20s, I did not turn down a trip. Vegas for the weekend? Sounds perfect. Quick train ride down the coast to visit a friend in D.C.? Count me in. These. add. up. I got in the bad habit of tossing these travels on a credit card, and it became one of the biggest spending reflexes I had to change to get my finances in order. Between friends getting married, life changes, and our own relocations, travel adds up in our 20s. Starting a fund dedicated to trip planning and thinking about our travel plans over the entire year is an important habit to start to save around. More

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    You’ve Been Asked To Take a Pay Cut—What Do You Do Next?

    It’s fairly common to fantasize about the day your boss calls you into their office and finally offers you that well-deserved raise. Maybe they even throw in a corner office. What’s less common, and what some people may not even realize, is that your boss may be able to ask you to take a pay cut. 
    Why does this happen? One strategy some employers use to retain as much staff as possible during periods of economic downturn is to ask their employees to take a pay cut. This is a conversation no one wants to have, but it is one you may have to face if your company is struggling in light of recent events. If you do get asked to take a pay cut, you don’t want to be caught completely off guard. While it may never happen to you (fingers majorly crossed!), we’re going to answer a few questions that will help prepare you in case you are approached about taking a pay cut one day. 

    Understand what taking a pay cut means
    In short, taking a pay cut means your company will start paying you less to do the same job. While in very rare scenarios, a company may do this if an employee is underperforming; but in light of the pandemic, some companies are doing this simply to keep as many of their employees employed as possible while they fight through a difficult economic period. 
    In a 2020 study by the Pew Research Center, a third of respondents reported that either they or someone in their household had to take a pay cut in April of this year. Another study by the Conference Board found that 537 public companies have cut their top managers since the Covid-19 pandemic began. While it’s difficult to anticipate what a pay cut will look like, as every company will take a different approach, one study that reviewed changes at 22 public and private technology companies discovered that non-executive employees experienced pay cuts by an average rate of 10 to 15 percent in recent months.

    Do I have to take a pay cut?
    Maybe. If you are “hired at will,” which most employees are, then they can lower your pay or reduce your hours, as long as they don’t drop your pay below minimum wage. Workers with employment contracts may be in a different boat, but chances are an employer won’t ask someone with an iron-clad contract to take a pay cut. 

    Know your rights
    Your employer has to notify you before reducing your pay or hours, and a pay cut cannot be done discriminatorily—things like race, religion, gender, or age can’t be the reason for the cut. If you’re protected by a bargaining agreement or employment contract, they can’t lower your pay, so make sure you review your contract carefully.

    Source: Sincerely Media | Unsplash

    My employer asked me to take a pay cut… what now?

    Ask how long the pay cut will last
    Unfortunately, a pay cut can go on indefinitely. Chances are your company won’t have a clear-cut answer for you, but you still need to ask how long the dip in your salary should last. They may know that big contracts will be paid out in six months’ time or that once social distancing comes to an end that they can bounce back. You need to have a conversation about this, but don’t expect any promises made—and don’t bank on any that are.  

    Ask for something in exchange
    If your pay is going to be cut, now is the time to negotiate for more vacation days or more work-from-home days (not super relevant right now, but secure them for the future!). Something you can consider asking is if you’re able to work fewer hours in exchange for losing compensation. 

    Ask the right questions
    Do not be afraid to ask questions! You have every right to know exactly what is going on, why it is happening, and how you will be affected by these changes. Here are a few questions you deserve answers to, so make sure you ask them. 

    Why are you doing pay cuts?
    How many of my colleagues are being impacted by pay cuts?
    When will it take effect?
    How long is the cut anticipated to last?
    Are you taking away or lessening my 401(k) match?
    Will my health care costs rise?
    Are any benefits going to change?
    Is there the potential for more pay cuts to happen in the future?
    Will my hours and responsibilities remain the same?
    What are the company’s long-term plans for recovery?

    Decide what you want to do long term
    The coronavirus pandemic has caused so many companies to struggle, not just logistically but financially as well. As of September 2020, Yelp found that almost 98,000 businesses on their platform had permanently shut down during the pandemic. Companies that choose to do pay cuts instead of layoffs are trying to keep as much of their staff employed as possible, while also attempting to avoid plummeting morale for their staff. If a pay cut is too financially difficult for you, then you’ll want to start looking for a new job that can compensate you the amount that you need now. You need to prioritize your financial health and career, and you shouldn’t feel bad about doing that.

    Source: Mathilde Langevin | Unsplash

    How to turn down a pay cut gracefully
    In some cases, your employer may be informing you of a pay cut; in other cases, they may be asking employees to take pay cuts in order to help the company. If this is the case, pause for a moment. You don’t have to give your boss an answer right away. You can tell them that you need some time to digest the news and can schedule a time to talk another day. That will give you time to take a breath, talk things over with a partner or parent, and formulate a thoughtful and polite response. 
    If you do decide to reject the pay cut, you do not need to get into the details of your personal finances. You can simply say that while you understand the company is going through a difficult time, taking a pay cut isn’t feasible for you right now. If they push the issue further, you may want to involve your HR rep in any future conversations about the topic. More

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    The #1 Conversation You Need to Have Before Getting Married

    It started as a normal morning enjoying a cup of coffee together before the craziness of the day began. “Coffee time,” as we call it, is our daily ritual of couple time where no phones are allowed, and we just talk. Most days it’s an enjoyable conversation, but on this particular morning, we veered into dangerous territory: money. Before I could try to change the subject, an inevitable question surfaced.“Exactly how much debt do you have?” he asked as my body began to tense.
    For the record, I don’t have a lot of debt, but I do have some. My partner, on the other hand, has none. I immediately felt uneasy and insecure. We made it through the conversation unscathed, but it got me thinking about couples and finances and why it’s so hard to talk about money. Studies show that money is one of the most widespread, difficult, and persistent issues within marriages. It’s no wonder a new practice of premarital financial counseling seems to be gaining popularity among engaged couples. 

    Why is it so hard for couples to talk about money? 
    When two people decide to do life together, it’s much more than a merging of households and families. As a licensed couple and family therapist Michelle Collins explained, couples are also joining their pasts and future dreams. “Along with those things, they are joining their different orientations towards money,” Collins said.
    Our family culture, values, and past experiences help determine our views and beliefs about money. “One’s relationship with money develops the language they use when communicating about, interacting with, and showing others how they treat money,” Collins said. “It is common for partners to have different languages about money and when trying to bridge the gap, couples find they don’t have all the tools to translate—and listen—clearly.”
    It comes down to a communication issue. Collins works with couples to examine their family tree and discuss how each individual’s parents’ life experiences and views toward money have impacted their own relationship with money. “This conversation allows partners to better understand how the other person has developed their money language and then find ways to translate so they can be successful managing their finances.”

    What is premarital financial counseling?
    Think of it like couples counseling meets financial counseling. An unbiased, trained professional will help translate your different money languages so you can navigate important financial decisions. “Premarital financial counseling involves the creation of a budget, and the discussion of long-term and short-term financial goals like saving for a home, or the parties’ thoughts about retirement,” Holly Davis, a family law attorney at Kirker Davis LLP, explained. 
    You will discuss everything from spending habits and work ethic to how you’ll handle potential difficult financial situations. “These are so important to discuss because if you are engaged to a big spender, and you are a penny pincher, you have the opportunity to work with your fiancée to see if you can influence their behavior, or to see if you can soften your stance on the position,” Davis said. “Compromises need to be reached when two parties have two very different opinions on big financial topics.” You will learn a lot about your partner and your relationship when you get into the details of what you will do if someone loses their job, or how much money they think should be spent on vacations, entertainment, or clothing.

    Who can benefit from premarital financial counseling?
    Don’t let the word premarital fool you. Both Collins and Davis believe every couple can benefit from financial counseling. “I have never seen a couple not benefit from having a dedicated and structured conversation around money,” said Collins. 
    Davis pointed out that financial consultation is important any time a couple shares expenses or a living space regardless of the status of the relationship. “Waiting for an engagement to discuss these issues is oftentimes too late to change course if you are truly incompatible with someone financially,” she said. Even if you think you have similar views towards money because you come from similar families, Davis warned that could be a false sense of security. She said you must get into specific hypotheticals with your partner to know you’re really on the same page.

    Source: rawpixel

    How to avoid money issues in your relationship.
    First things first, stop avoiding talking about money. Davis recommended being proactive about discussing money frequently, rather than waiting until you’re in the middle of a financial issue. This, she explained, will help you become more self-aware and realize what triggers you when discussing money. “If you know your own roadmap to having a negative reaction, you can try to stop it before it starts,” Davis said.
    Don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations. According to Collins and Davis, the following questions are important yet often avoided prior to marriage:

    Will we have a joint account? 
    Are there expectations for us to monitor or hold each other accountable about personal spending? 
    Do your family members have any financial expectations of you?
    Do you like to enjoy money, have it for security, or use it as a status symbol?
    If you were fired or laid off or couldn’t perform your current job, what would you do?  What’s your Plan B?  
    If you plan on having children, how does each person feel about what their role is in raising the children? Will one person primarily perform this function, or will it be a shared role between the two parties?

    Ultimately, it comes down to willingness to communicate and compromise. The earlier you identify and understand your different money languages, the quicker you can work on finding common ground. “The hardest part isn’t identifying differences, it’s actually changing your own default opinion in the face of a different opinion that is the hard work,” Davis explained. “If you are engaged to a person who is willing to do this, then your differences can likely be successfully bridged.” 
    And if these conversations are too difficult on your own, know that you can always bring in a professional. A trained couple’s counselor or premarital financial counselor will help navigate the conversation and close the gap between your different money languages without bias or emotion. They will ensure the conversation is productive and that you walk away with a clear understanding of your financial future before you walk down the aisle.
    As for my coffee time debt discussion with my partner, I’m sure it is the first of many uncomfortable conversations about money. And maybe therein lies the real value in it. After all, life isn’t always comfortable so for a relationship to last, it needs to be built on a foundation of honest, respectful communication, no matter what the topic.  More

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    What to Do if You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck

    If it seems like your paycheck is disappearing right before your eyes and you’re always anxiously awaiting your next payday, you’re familiar with the feeling of stretching a dollar to its limits. The anxiety of living paycheck to paycheck is unnerving. Unfortunately, many of us have been there, and sometimes, at no fault of our own. Living from paycheck to paycheck might leave you to think that you are spending unwisely, but you may just need to fine-tune your expenses, set a budget, and take a closer look at what’s coming out and going into your bank account each payday. You deserve to see the fruits of your hard-earned money, not watch it go by while living on pins and needles financially until your next payday rolls in. 
    There are no shortcuts or secrets on how to maintain a healthy relationship with your money to avoid living from paycheck to paycheck, but you can be better equipped to make your money last longer and work smarter for you. Here are a few tips you can use if you are struggling to make ends meet in between paydays.
     
    Evaluate your expenses 
    Your expenses are usually the biggest culprit as to why you might be living paycheck to paycheck. Expenses often include fixed bills like your rent or mortgage, car payments, utilities, and other living expenses that don’t fluctuate much month-by-month, and variable expenses like transportation costs, dining and eating out, your personal care expenses, and other costs that can easily increase or decrease, depending on your personal spending. 
    Take a closer look at all of your expenses, down to the dollar, to evaluate where your money is truly going—even after you’ve paid all of your bills. This will help you map out how little or how much money is being spent after every paycheck. What is being spent each paycheck on food, drinks, living expenses, and other personal items? Write down how much you’re spending on a daily basis after each paycheck has hit your bank account. 
    As you assess your expenses on a paycheck-by-paycheck basis, evaluate what’s being spent and how much is going out, especially if you’ve set up auto-pay on any of your bills. Are you finding that your cable bill or your online subscriptions are going up each month? If you have these services on auto-pay, don’t continue to set and forget them. Make sure to skim through the breakdown of your bills each month to make sure you aren’t paying more than you should. 
    Another part of your expenses is how much is being taken out of your paycheck each pay for taxes, health, dental insurance, and retirement. It’s important to keep track of your contributions and elections for each to see if you can save any extra dollars by modifying your deductions. It’s best to consult with your Human Resources team or personal finance advisor about ways you can save money being taken out of your paycheck. 
    Evaluating your expenses can be cringeworthy, making you take a hard, honest look at your finances and addressing how you’re spending your money, but it’ll help you gain more control over where your hard-earned money is going to help you better manage it. 

    Now Available: The Everygirl 2021 Planners!

    Use a budgeting app 
    There’s no shortage of budgeting tools and apps on the market that can help you track and control your spending so that you can stop living from paycheck to paycheck. There are a wide variety of budgeting apps to choose from that can fit your financial situation and personal preferences, from apps that track your daily spending straight from your linked bank account to ones that let you manually track your expenses yourself. Many of these apps also offer tips and ways you can help curb your spending by grouping your transactions into categories so that you can easily visualize how much you’re spending in each area of your life, from shopping to bills and utilities. 
    From the EveryDollar app to You Need A Budget (YNAB), these device-friendly apps are designed to keep you on top of your spending and expenses in an easily accessible way. Stop living from paycheck to paycheck by using a budgeting tool to monitor your expenses and track where your money ends up after getting paid. Look at it as your accountability partner, reminding you to give every dollar a job, spend more wisely, and prepare for those unexpected expenses before they siphon your paycheck. 

    Consider a side hustle 
    Sometimes, no matter how much you try to make your check stretch after payday, one job may not be enough to cover all of your expenses, especially if you’re facing a financial hardship. If your schedule permits, pick up a side gig, as increasing your income might help alleviate some of the stress of living paycheck to paycheck. 
    Assess your personal and work schedules to see if picking up another source of income can work for you. If you have a specific skill or are trained in a specific field or trade, find a side job that will accommodate what you already have knowledge or experience in and what might fit your schedule. From freelancing to customer service to project-based jobs, there are many ways to make money on the side to offset any loss of income. Make sure your side hustle fits your lifestyle and is budgeted into your already-existing expenses, and that it doesn’t tempt you into adding more expenses to your budget. 

    Source: Abigail Yonker

    Downsize your lifestyle 
    After evaluating your bills and expenses, it may be time to cut some of your spending and downsize where you can to give yourself more room in between paychecks. 
    A great place to start is your personal spending. Are you able to cut out a few trips to Starbucks or on online shopping? Are you able to save a few extra dollars by doing your own hair and nails or working out at home instead of paying for the gym? See where you can cut back on your personal spending in a few areas like food, drinks, personal care, and entertainment—a few spending categories most people end up overspending each month.  
    Next, try evaluating ways you can save a few extra dollars by downsizing your living if possible, cutting back on what you spend on wants vs. needs each paycheck. This could include your cable and internet services, subscriptions you barely use, and other various services you could possibly live without. Find ways to share these services with friends and family and split the cost of them to help free up some money for you. 

    Don’t skimp on saving
    Even though living from paycheck to paycheck can be daunting, no matter how tight your wallet gets, don’t forget to budget in money for savings. It might be tempting to forget or push off saving due to the stress of taking care of bills and other expenses, but saving is a very important tool to help you get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. 
    Set aside a few dollars each paycheck to go straight into your savings automatically before any spending. Saving first before spending helps you set aside your hard-earned money for emergencies or future expenses so that you’re not using your last dollar solely on paying bills with nothing to fall back on. Even if it’s only small amounts here and there, each payday, designate a portion of your check to yourself in a savings account. Paying yourself first is one of the most important steps in managing your money wisely. 

    How do you avoid living from paycheck-to-paycheck? More

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    6 Changes I’ve Made on My Journey to Being Debt-Free

    Last summer, in the midst of planning a wedding and a cross-country move, I found myself in a real financial mess. While I wasn’t delinquent on payments or behind on my rent, I had no clue how I’d cover my upcoming expenses. It became pretty clear that, despite having a great job and a degree from an impressive university, I was broke.I’m one of the millions of Americans who graduated from college with student loan debt. And in my case, after paying on my loans for five years, I still had a six-figure balance and monthly payments equivalent to a second rent! And in conjunction with credit card bills and a car note, I was one missed paycheck away from spiraling out of control.
    I had a decision to make. If I ever wanted to realize my dreams of buying a home, traveling the world, and—most importantly—building wealth for my future family, something had to change. So I pushed past my self-doubt, frustration, and embarrassment, and started attacking my debt, one dollar at a time. And today, I’m more than halfway to a $0 balance. Here are six changes I’ve made along my journey.
     
    1. I convinced myself it was possible
    Prior to embarking on this journey, I was clueless as to how bad my financial situation really was. I could pay my bills on time, enjoy local restaurants and bars, shop every so often, and still have a few dollars in my account in between paychecks. In my mind, I was doing well!
    In reality, I was barely staying afloat. And it took a few wake up calls—like barely having enough for my bills after an unexpected doctor’s visit and realizing I couldn’t scrape together the deposit for my dream wedding photographer—to get my head out of the clouds. Aside from $200 in a “savings” account that I dipped into every time my checking account went into overdraft, I had nothing to fall back on. And when I finally worked up the nerve to open all my statements and tally up my balances, I could barely breathe. 
    How am I ever going to pay this off?
    After a minor meltdown and a self-loathing session, I had a decision to make. While I had no idea how I would get it done, I knew I’d never be debt-free if I accepted defeat before I gave it a solid effort. I spent time envisioning, in great detail, what my life could look like if I was debt-free, free from monthly payments, and no longer living paycheck to paycheck. It may sound silly, but focusing on the life I can live once I’m financially stable became my biggest motivation. And with Future Me in mind, it became a lot easier to take tangible steps to close the distance between my current situation and the life I want.

    2. I said “no more” adding to my balances
    The most overwhelming aspect of my debt payoff journey was coming to grips with the daunting amount I owed. If I was somehow able to put every penny of my annual salary toward my debt, it would still take nearly two years to pay off. The reality of my circumstances helped me draw a hard line in the sand: if I was going to get myself out of this mess, I had to stop digging the hole I was in. That meant waving goodbye to my credit cards.
    I reluctantly dumped my credit cards out of my wallet (even the ones with the great travel perks) and started leaving the house without them. Going out with only cash and my debit card to rely on scared me and I started checking my balance obsessively, trying desperately to avoid the embarrassment of having a transaction declined.
    But, as uncomfortable and unenjoyable as turning my back on credit cards was, I saw a near-instant change. Getting in the habit of checking my account so often forced me to think about each purchase before and after I made it. I’d gone from using credit as a makeshift emergency fund when I ran out of money to only buying what I could actually afford. Taking credit off the table sparked a level of discipline I didn’t know I was capable of. 

    3.  I reduced my fixed expenses
    As I started looking into ways to save more money and speed up my debt payoff, it became clear that I needed to cut some of my expenses to free up some money. Despite some of the “easy” recommendations for savings, I really hated the idea of never ordering a cup of coffee on my journey to debt freedom. Instead, I looked for ways to keep my small pleasures by lessening my largest expenses—namely my housing.
    At the first opportunity I had, I downsized my apartment and signed a lease that helped me save over $200 each month. When this money freed up, with newly minted discipline on my side, I prepared to put the money toward my debt payments (as opposed to shopping, brunch, and entertainment).

    4. I drafted a realistic budget
    Before I got serious about paying off my debt, I would have incorrectly said that I knew how to budget. In reality, despite the budgeting apps and resources I had on my phone, I was simply tracking my spending. It wasn’t until I decided to start putting “extra” money toward my debt each month that I realized my approach was all wrong. I needed a true budget.
    I started by writing down the dates and expected amounts of my paychecks. Next, I listed every recurring bill or expense I had each month—like my rent, car payment, and student loan payment—and organized them by due date. From there, I bucketed my expenses by paycheck to ensure I’d have the money and my payments wouldn’t be late. Then I layered on the estimated costs of my essentials, like gas and groceries, and any other unavoidable costs I had coming up and split them across my paycheck buckets. With any money that was left, I set aside a portion for non-essentials, like brunches and happy hours, and set committed to using the rest to attack my debt.
    While the idea of budgeting initially stirred feelings of overwhelm, embarrassment, and restriction, I’ve come to see my budget as an organizational tool. Determining where my money will go and how much I’ll spend in certain categories at the start of each month takes the stress and emotion out of my payments and purchases. And I use a budgeting app so my goals and guidelines are always accessible.
    Since I’m the one in charge of drafting my budget each month, I can apply lessons learned and adapt my allocations month to month. I put a little less toward debt to fund holiday gifts, for instance, and more toward debt when I get a gift or bonus.

    5. I decided on a plan of attack
    Once I got organized and identified additional money I could put toward debt pay down each month, I needed to decide what to pay off first. After a bit of research, I decided between two popular debt payroll methods: the avalanche and the snowball. 
    If I used the avalanche method, I’d make additional payments on whichever debt has the highest interest rate. Once my highest interest debt was paid off, I would add whatever I was paying on it to the payments on my account with the next highest interest rate. This strategy would save money, as I’d pay less in interest over the course of my journey. 
    If I used the snowball method, I’d make additional payments on whichever debt had the lowest balance. Once my lowest balance debt was paid off, I would add whatever I was paying on it to the payments on the next lowest debt. This strategy would help me build momentum in my payoff journey, paying off my smallest debts quickly before focusing on my largest balances.
    My debt balances and interest rates really varied and, initially, I wasn’t sure which payoff method made the most sense for my situation. But when I considered how long my journey to debt freedom would be, I knew the snowball method would be my best bet. By focusing on my smallest balances first, I was able to celebrate a few “small wins” early on. When I paid off my first credit card (a $1,200 balance), for instance, I felt incredibly energized around my goal—I could do this! And after a year of following this approach, I paid off five separate accounts and am putting more money than ever toward my payments.

    6. I shared my goals with my girls
    Along this journey, I’ve learned just how tough it is to say “no, I can’t make it” when I actually mean “I’d love to come, but I’m broke!” But I knew that making real progress with my finances would mean scaling back on the (really enjoyable) money traps I set for myself each month. That meant fewer weekend brunches, weeknight happy hours, and aimless trips to Target. And it ultimately meant learning to say “I can’t” when my friends invited me out.
    Initially, I struggled with the embarrassment of being the (seemingly) “broke” one of the group and then the guilt of blowing my friends off. But after a few months of vague excuses and declined invitations, I gradually lowered my guard and let my friends know why they were seeing me less often. And despite my initial hesitation, sharing my goals with my family and friends was one of my best decisions since starting this journey. 
    While a few people couldn’t make sense of my efforts, most of my friends were quick to offer their support and understanding. And in the time since, many of them have stepped up to cheer me on or ask for advice on their own debt-free journeys. Even though I’m on a different personal finance journey than some, I loved that money has become less of a taboo topic in my friend groups. More

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    Clicking ‘Add to Cart’ Whenever You’re Feeling Down? Here’s How to Cut Back on Emotional Spending

    You don’t need us to tell you this, but 2020 was a hard year for most. But so many years can have stressful (or euphoric) ups and downs. Maybe you found out you scored that big promotion or maybe you’re trying to forget about that argument you had with a friend or family member. All of this can result in a lot of retail therapy (whether for yourself or in the form of gifts for loved ones). Luckily, there are things you can do to reduce your stress and cut down on your emotional spending—so close that Amazon Prime window and follow these five tips to help you get through it all unscathed. 
    1. Spare your inbox the sales
    Do you really need to know about that flash sale from Old Navy for the 20th time? Probably not. Do yourself a favor and unsubscribe from the stores you know you’re likely to shop from. If you’re prone to online shopping when you’re stressed out (or bored in quarantine), not getting email alerts for every sale might save you from the impromptu shopping spree. Just because you miss a sale doesn’t mean that you’ll actually miss it—and your wallet won’t either.
     
    2. Forget your passwords (on purpose, this time)
    Credit card information already stored on your laptop or cell phone? It can be a little too easy to make a purchase with your credit card information literally at your fingertips. By removing the saved information from your computer, it’ll be one more step you have to go through to make that purchase—and who wants to get up to dig through your wallet for your credit card when there are endless movies and TV shows to watch or stream?! (Not to mention those new hobbies you’ve picked up while staying home all year to enjoy.) By creating an extra step, you’ll be less likely to press “buy” on a whim. 
     
    3. Check your list, twice 
    Sometimes a little time can help you make a better decision, particularly if you’re on an emotional shopping spree. Instead of buying something right when you see it, wait a few days to see if you think it’s actually a good idea or not. If it’s in your budget, it’ll likely still be there a few days later. If it’s not, it will give you time to decide it’s not in the budget, and wait ‘til your next paycheck or set up a savings goal. You’ll thank yourself for thinking it through.
     
    4. Don’t be afraid to get creative 
    After a year of quarantine, a pandemic, and working from home, it can be easy to justify a few extra purchases for yourself or loved ones, but just because you deserve the world doesn’t mean you need to buy it. If you’re approaching the edge of your budget or spending cap, consider choosing a lower-priced gift, DIY-ing the artwork for your walls, or opting out of plans that include spending a lot of money. Particularly during this year when finances are tight for many, your friends and family will understand if you’re on a tighter budget. 

    5. Close those tabs and step away 
    Shopping can be an easy outlet for stress because it’s something you can control in an instant. But understanding that you’re quick to press “buy” when feeling high or low also means you’re capable of finding another outlet. Consider something else you can do to resist the urge when temptation strikes, like throwing yourself an at-home spa day, reading the next chapter of a book, or testing out the perfect cookie recipe.

    What are some ways you cut back on emotional spending? Let us know in the comments below. More

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    Saving for Your First Home Can Be Overwhelming—Here’s How I’m Doing It

    I’ve always wanted to be a homeowner. I’m not exactly certain when I realized this (so maybe always is an overstatement), but all I know is there’s something so attractive about the idea of having a solid piece of real estate that I can call my own. That’s why, from college graduation on, I’ve made a conscious decision that my big, long-term goal in life is to own a home of my own. You see, beyond just wanting a space that’s truly mine, I most certainly do not want to spend money on an apartment when I can put those same funds toward a mortgage. This is a very personal choice, and one that has largely to do with the fact that I don’t like the idea of paying rent on a property I’ll never own. So, to turn my dream into a reality, I started saving. From the outset, I knew this wouldn’t be the easiest thing in the world. I’m a writer and editor and, while head over heels in love with my job, I’m the first to admit that there are much more profitable careers than my own. Even so, I didn’t let my early days as a struggling freelance writer and collector of odd jobs deter me. I have a vision, and I’m not going to stop hustling until I have the deed—and the keys—to my very own home in my hands.
    To work my way toward my home ownership goal, I keep a few ground rules. I’m a rule-follower by nature, so having a handful of things to do (and not to do) in place has been instrumental to help me stick to my resolve.

    1. Say no to memberships
    The first thing I promised myself when I decided I wanted to become a homeowner was to avoid any and every sort of membership I could. To start, I skipped the gym membership in favor of free fitness classes and programs I found on Pinterest or YouTube. I love switching up my workouts, so I’ll often hop from Pilates on PopSugar Fitness to a HIIT routine I pinned to my “healthy living” board. Sticking with free fitness opportunities has been relatively easy to do and, since I haven’t been to a gym since college, I don’t really miss it. I did invest in hand weights and a yoga mat early on, and I’ve found that those two things are really all I need to get in a good sweat session.
    The second type of membership I turned down is perhaps a harder one to quit, but also one I believe has so many positive effects. You see, I don’t have—and never have had—a streaming service subscription. That means no Netflix, no Hulu, no sort of paid television program whatsoever. Is this a controversial choice? Perhaps. But it also saves me a fair chunk of money that would otherwise go to monthly fees.
    To get around the lack of paid streaming programs, I’ve become BFFs with free services like Crackle, Tubi, and YouTube. They might not have the hottest movies and TV shows all the time (hey, did I say this was a perfect world?), but they do have a solid selection of content. For instance, I got to watch Labyrinth, one of my all-time favorite movies, on Tubi the other day, and it was everything. On top of that, I’m also an avid reader who would rather curl up with a book than stream a movie most days of the week, so I’m always happy to pick up a good read when I’m looking for entertainment.

    2. Live with a parent
    This is a hard one, Everygirls. It’s also something that is completely circumstantial and not for everyone. Personally, I’m lucky enough that my father is willing to let me live in my childhood home until I can find a place of my own. He purchased his own house, the one I live in today, around when he was my current age, so he understands and supports my vision. That being said, it’s a give-and-take arrangement that comes with its own set of sacrifices. Even so, for me, it’s worth it in the long haul.
    Starting with the pros, I’ll say that the cost of living compared to renting an apartment is far less. While I do pay for expenses and “rent,” those costs total less than it would to keep up an apartment. Because of this, I’ve been able to stash away that extra money into a savings account and CD to build up my personal funds more quickly. Plus, my dad and I get along well, and he’s always down to taste-test any recipes I make.
    As for the cons, living at home is not great for my dating life. One of the biggest downsides to living at home is knowing that I will never, ever bring a guy back to my place. My father’s house is small and I’m sleeping in my childhood room, so it’s just not an option. While it wasn’t as much of an issue during those times when I was #singleandlovingit, it’s not the greatest thing in the world now that I’m dating someone. To deal with it, I’ve been upfront with my boyfriend about my dream of owning a house, and he supports it. There’s no perfect way around this, so I think facing the issue head on and rolling with the punches is what keeps me going.

    Source: Aimée Mazzenga for The Everygirl

    3. Set up those income streams
    Like I mentioned above, I’m a writer and editor. I love, love, love what I do, but I also love a good side hustle. It keeps me busy and keeps the extra dollars coming in, so that’s a win-win in my book. To up my savings on the path toward home ownership, I’ve set up multiple side projects that help me bring in additional cash each month. This includes everything from freelancing to selling clothes on Poshmark to scanning receipts on Ibotta. Sometimes I’m not earning a lot from each outlet, but that’s not the point. What matters most is that every extra dollar goes straight into my house fund. And watching that number grow month by month is so, so motivating each time I scour my local Zillow pages.

    4. Save every penny
    When you’re saving for a house, the big picture is a long-term goal. Because of this, staying dedicated to the goal over not just months, but years can be more than a little challenging. From the start, I set up a few savings strategies to keep me going. In terms of how I’m saving, I break it up between a savings account and a certificate of deposit (CD), the latter of which earns me interest more quickly. While COVID-19 did a number on CD interest rates, overall, this option has been a great way to passively earn additional dollars each year.
    As for how I save on a day-to-day basis, it’s all about being mindful. Over the years, I’ve made it a practice to really think about each dollar I want to spend. Will the money go to something meaningful or essential? Is it something materialistic that I don’t actually need? By pausing for reflection prior to each purchase, I’ve been able to curb my spending in a big way. On top of that, I pay for a cheap phone plan, I never order takeout and only eat out occasionally, and I use coupons when I shop for groceries. Plus, a few years ago I made the decision to stop purchasing fast and new fashion. While the decision was primarily an environmentally-driven one, it’s led me to save a ton of money by looking for new-to-me duds at consignment stores, Goodwill, or The Salvation Army instead of paying full price for mass-merchandised apparel.

    Source: Stil Classics

    5. Find free things to do
    There are so many free things to do, you just need to know where to look. 
    When I first started saving for a house, I found finding ways to stay entertained particularly challenging. I didn’t want to stay inside and browse the internet for hours on end, but I also didn’t want to go out and spend all my cash. To remedy this, I started making a list of everything I wanted to do but hadn’t done in my area that was 100-percent free. In no time at all, I had a lengthy notebook page full of everything from hikes to picnics to window shopping in towns I like. And those are just the adventures I planned for outdoors. When the weather is cooler, the homebody in me loves staying indoors to try new recipes, catch up on movies, and get lost in a book or two. Plus, for savers who want to brush up on skills or learn new ones, there are so many (free!) courses available online that cover nearly every topic under the sun. Recently, I watched Canva’s design and marketing courses to help me dive into new layout concepts and improve my social media skills.

    6. Keep yourself motivated
    Last but not least, Everygirls, is the most important step on this list. It’s hard to save. Every day, there are so many temptations (that new restaurant, those trendy shoes, that awesome experience) that make it feel like pure torture to turn a blind eye and drop those hard-earned dollars into your savings account instead. But I’m here to tell you that it’s so worth it. Sometimes you just need a little extra motivation to convince yourself of that truth.
    To stay motivated, the key is to stay mindful. While I’m a huge fan of mindfulness in everyday life, I think this practice rings especially true when it comes to weighing the pros and cons of saving vs. spending. Go beyond just asking yourself “Do I really need this?” and get to the core of the matter with “Does this add value to my life? If so, how?” If the answer isn’t as meaningful or satisfying as it should be, then you probably don’t need to make that purchase.
    On top of that, it’s also important to do everything you can to visualize yourself in your new home. In addition to signing up for all the Zillow alerts, start planning what you can. Organize those Pinterest boards with your interior aesthetics room by room, set a picture of your dream home as your desktop, and write a list of all the little things that make a space feel like home to you. That way, even when the saving gets tough, you’ll never lose sight of the big, house-shaped picture.

    How do you save for large purchases? Let us know below. More