Your retirement plans may be a bit different than your parents’ and you’ll probably need more money than they’ve saved up. It won’t be easy but here’s how to get there.

For many of us, retirement seems a million miles away. And, with more and more companies handing retirement responsibilities into the hands of their employees, many of us are wondering: how on earth do I retire with more than my parents?

Fortunately, it is possible to retire with more money than your parents-if you have a financial plan that you work ruthlessly.

Let’s be clear, your parents may have a completely different vision about retirement than you do. When conceptualizing your own retirement, you need to be clear on what retirement will look like for you and an understanding of what your monthly expenses will entail during the duration of your retirement.

Are you just dreaming about golfing or fishing in your old age?

Retirement in 2017 has become somewhat sexy and there are a ton of different ways to create the perfect retirement that reflects both lifestyle and your future finances.

You may want to embrace FIRE (financial independence retire early) and retire in your thirties. Your retirement may be on a boat sailing around the Caribbean. Or, you may want to live in a large house in your hometown.

Own your vision for retirement and then begin working a plan to move you towards that vision.

Look for ways to save more.

For those of you who are younger and are currently  in the process of deciding where to go to college, double down on going local. Local tuition is always cheaper than out of state. In fact, if you’re still in high school, earn college credits

In fact, if you’re still in high school, earn college credits at  a discounted rate before going to college so that you can decrease your time in school. With the money that you save on tuition, begin saving for the future.

Negotiate every financial expenditure with the idea of investing your savings for the future. Keep your housing costs as low as possible and work hard on keeping your overall monthly and yearly operating budget as low as possible.

Currently, I have a budget of $2500 for both my personal and business expenses and I’m aggressively working hard to lower that number. It took awhile to lower my expenses, but once I did, I’ve been able to reallocate my money towards financial choices that will serve me well in the future.

I also embrace the “keep it small” philosophy.  You’ve probably heard the buzzword “minimalism” and, in my view, keeping it small and simple is basically the same thing without the snazzy  black t-shirts that minimalists always seem to wear.

I’ll be honest and say that I have no interest in super sizing my home and having a larger mortgage. Keep your housing and car expenses low so that you can invest your savings for your future.

Finally, don’t drive away your savings by purchasing too much car for your needs. In 2016, CNBC reported that the average monthly car loan payment was $503. Imagine if you paid cash for a used car and used the money that you saved on transportation costs towards retirement savings?

You also need to earn more.

Look at every opportunity to earn more money and to save money on every financial transaction you find yourself in.

Earn more money.  Let’s be frank, financial conversations seem to always cover: paying off debt, spending less, and changing your habits, but never seem to cover earning more money.

As you look at your career and your earning capability, focus on careers that start with higher earning potential.

Don’t mind dealing with blood and can get scholarships? Think about becoming a nurse or doctor.   Do you love teeth? But, you don’t want to take on student loans to become a dentist? Become a dental hygienist instead. Do you love science and computers? Become an engineer of a highly specialized field or a computer coding badass.

Embrace a financial strategy that includes finding employment with an organization that matches your retirement savings. Increase your savings as you earn more (while being mindful of savings limits). Don’t let your lifestyle costs creep up, just bank your earnings so that you save more over time.

If you want to retire with more money than your parents, keep your eye constantly on your ultimate retirement savings goal and work your plan unapologetically.

Start a business. One of the best things about becoming an entrepreneur is access to retirement savings tools that enable consumers to save substantially more than for someone who is employed.

It’s not too late.

And, for those of you who started late, all of this advice still is applicable to you. But, in all honesty,  you’ll have to double your efforts and approach your long-term retirement goals with a single-minded focus and tenacity that someone who started early won’t have to deal with.

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Small-town life may seem boring, but the reality is that you might be able to live larger. Lower living costs = more money to spend on life.

Like Dorothy and that rainbow, younger people often chase their dreams in the big cities. There’s much to see, do, and gain in major cities, but there can be downsides. Can a smaller city lead to a larger life?

Can a smaller city lead to a larger life?

Ditching small-town life.

That was the case for me. Having spent the first half of my childhood near a big city and the latter half in a small town in a land far, far away, I couldn’t wait to get far, far away myself!

As a young gay man, I thought I’d wind up in San Francisco –  with the Rice-A-Roni and all. But a friend of mine and I moved to Denver, Colorado in the late 90s instead. It wasn’t Philadelphia, PA, but it wasn’t Lebanon, PA, either. I was supposed to live here for two years, soak up the snowboarding, and then move onto “bigger and better” things.

But, I met a boy, and that’s a whole other story.

With about 549,000 people in Denver proper in 1999, Denver was big enough, but not too big. There was lots to do. Nightlife and dining scenes and all the great outdoors. It wasn’t yet expensive. Our first apartment cost less than $800 a month for about 1,000 square feet.

Denver has seen a population boom in the last decade, with a relatively consistent growth rate over 2%. That same 1,0000 square foot apartment now goes for about $1,800 a month. We’re no New York City, but the consequences of growth are evident.

A big city can mean empty pockets.

It is desirable to live in a city with half-a-dozen things to do all seven nights of the week with millions of people looking for the same; you may be surprised at how expensive it can be living in such cities. Here are the costs of living in premier locations, based on PayScale data:

  • New York – cost of living is 118% above average; housing is 341% above average
  • Los Angeles – cost of living is 32% above average; housing is 102% above average
  • San Francisco – cost of living is 63% above average; housing is 198% above average
  • Chicago – cost of living is 17% above average; housing is 38% above average
  • Seattle – cost of living is 24% above average; housing is 57% above average

All of those cities have a lot to offer, but at what cost?

More jobs are going to smaller cities.

With the combination with the dotcom bust, the 2008 housing crisis, and ever-increasing taxes in the above cities, more businesses are transferring some or all of their operations out of the bigger cities. This migration is called ex-urbanization.

Housing tends to be more affordable in second- and third-tier cities, like Denver, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte. Such cities offer a diverse pool of talent that isn’t isolated to bigger cities.

In many cases, the quality of life outside of work is appealing to many industries’ best and brightest. Denver and Salt Lake City offer skiing and snowboarding to give you your weekend adrenaline rush. Portland has amazing microbreweries to wind down your work week. Charlotte has a unique and vibrant foodie scene for those of us that love to love food. Richmond is a perfect place for runners and kayakers.

Businesses know that happy employees make for happy businesses. If employees have a high quality of life outside of work (and not just the Colorado kind), they’ll give their all at work.

Smaller cities allow for geographic arbitrage.

With the growing gig economy and online entrepreneurs, more people can now live and work from anywhere. One can charge big city prices and live on a little city budget. A virtual assistant who resides in Kansas City can charge a client who lives in Chicago Chicago-based fees. Or, they can offer competitive fees that a virtual assistant who resides in Chicago can’t.

Geographic arbitrage isn’t just a benefit for virtual assistants, virtually any online freelancing or IT job, and many contractors and consultants, can thrive off of charging big city prices with little city expenses.

If climbing the corporate ladder is more your style, get a job in a big city and then transfer within that company to a smaller city. Most companies will keep you at the same salary even though your cost of living will likely drop. I’ve seen many Denver friends leave for a few years and return, taking advantage of just this strategy.

Smaller cities can mean bigger pockets.

By and large, smaller cities come with lower living expenses. This is a big deal for things like saving money for retirement, owning your own home, and putting children through college. These financial goals are all easier to achieve with a lifetime of lower costs.

A personal, favorite perk of living in a smaller city, especially one centrally located in the country, is that we can quickly hop on a plane and get to any coast within less than five hours and many within three hours. So while I never moved to San Francisco, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been there because it’s cheap and easy to head that way.

Before you hop a jet plane over the rainbow to some major city far, far away, open your mind to second or third-tier cities elsewhere in the country. The costs may be more agreeable and open you up to a lifetime of bigger living. With transportation getting better and the internet making the world smaller, your opportunities may be greater.

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You think you need the same bling as your neighbor. But what if instead of keeping up with the Joneses, you’re actually keeping up with the Joneses’ debt?

I used to spend a lot of mental energy comparing my life to other people’s lives.

My home was never good enough. My clothes never had enough labels. And no matter how hard I tried, I could never live up to the people that I was comparing myself to.

Are you jealous of the Joneses?

I discovered the hard way that always trying to keep up with other people set me up to lose.

I didn’t have as much money as the people I was comparing myself to. I wanted their stuff, though. So I tried.

I didn’t have enough resources. Each time I tried to keep up with these people, I lost financially.

Why?

Because I had to use debt (credit) in order to pay for the stuff that the Joneses had, but I didn’t.

That sucked.

The long-term pain of those financial decisions that I made just wasn’t worth it. It has taken years to pay off the debt that I got into trying to keep up with people who could care less about how I lived my life. The certainly didn’t care about my financial well-being.

I had to hit financial rock bottom in order to change my perception of what was important for me financially.

I was broke, my mom had lost her job, and I was working at Starbucks trying to keep it all together. I was getting constant calls from creditors wanting their money and I wasn’t able to live up to my obligations making $9 at Starbucks.

At that point, I really hated the Joneses and I hated all of the bad financial decisions that I made trying to live a financial lie. Every day those financial lies bit me in the ass. Painful.

In retrospect, I wish that I’d just been honest about the fact that I was jealous of the Joneses.

No one cares about your finances as much as you do.

The Joneses don’t care about your finances.

Seriously, they really don’t. Especially if they’ve never met you.

Let’s be real. The Joneses (and everyone else) focus on their own personal finances. It is baffling to me how many people go into debt to purchase a lifestyle that they can’t afford to impress people that don’t know them.

So, I spend a lot of time being baffled by my own bad financial decisions trying to look cool for people who didn’t know me and weren’t invested in me having a strong and healthy financial life.

Think about every time you rushed to buy a new outfit for that trip that you’re going on two months from now. The people in that town have never met you, but you’ve made a decision to buy new clothes for people who have no clue what you were wearing before they met you. I used to do this. I would go on a trip (that I charged), then get new clothes (that I charged) and then go on a trip and meet great new people. Dumb.

The people in that town have never met you, but you’ve made a decision to buy new clothes for people who have no clue what you were wearing before they met you. I used to do this. I would go on a trip (that I charged), then get new clothes (that I charged), and meet great new people. Dumb.

These great new people don’t care that you bought a new outfit to impress them. They’d like you no matter what you wear.

It really pains me to think about this every time I send a payment to a creditor. What if I had saved that money and just paid cash for the same experiences, clothing, and trips? I feel like I made a deal with the Credit Devil. And the Credit Devil was laughing at me each time I made a bad financial decision based on envy.

What if I had used that money to pay off (or, at least make a dent) in my student loans? I realized that focusing on other people and what they had resulted in giving up my financial power to other people.

Are the Joneses really that rich?

Here is the final, and hopefully, most compelling reason you don’t need to keep up with the Joneses (or Kardashians): you have no idea what their financial reality really is.  

It is very easy to look wealthy without actually having cash money.

It’s also very easy to have money and lose it all.

Let’s work through a list of people who earned a ton of cash, people we all envied, but were actually broke or ended up broke.

  • MC Hammer: He tried to lift up an entire community by basically hiring an entire community. His heart was definitely in the right place. But he ended up going bankrupt even though he made millions of dollars.
  • Famous athletes: As reported by Sports Illustrated, almost 80% of professional athletes go broke once they retire. These are guys who typically earn millions during a short, sexy career running with or kicking ata ball. For those of us who cheer them on, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea that they could ever go broke. But, the numbers don’t lie. A majority of them do.
  • 50 Cent: This one falls under karma. He wrote a whole song called “Window Shopper” that basically shamed someone for window shopping.

Check out some of the lyrics:

“Man you’s a window shopper

Mad at me, I think I know why

Man you’s a window shopper

In the jewelry store lookin’ at shit you can’t buy

Man you’s a window shopper

In the dealership tryna get a test drive

Man you’s a window shopper Mad as fuck when you see me ride by.”

Nice.

Of course, he had his own financial troubles.

Here’s some real talk. No one will care about your money as much as you do.

No need to keep up with the Joneses when you know your financial stuff.

It is now easier than ever to get what you want for a lot less through comparison shopping, savings apps, and old-fashioned financial discipline.

Spend time learning how to manage your cash and grow your income.

And, always remember: unless you can get up close and personal with someone’s financials you never know what’s behind their financial curtain.

Don’t make financial decisions that will hurt you in the long run, trying to live someone else’s reality. Live your own reality-for less. Challenge yourself and see what you can make happen.

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Looking for more quality time with your S.O.? Start a business together. Just make sure you’re really cut out for a shared business.

Many moons ago, actually 495 moons ago, my husband and I decided that we were done with our W-2s.

We were tired of working for someone else, seeking other people’s seemingly impossible approval, and letting someone else dictate our income and quality of life. So, we started our own business and haven’t looked back.

If you’re thinking of working with your life partner or spouse, you may want to know that it’s pretty awesome. It’s not just me who thinks that, as you’ll see. Others think it, as well. Here are some of the myriad of reasons to work with your partner.

You can spend more time together.

I’ll start with the most nauseous reason first. The first and primary reason we started a business together is because we want to spend more time together. We happen to like each other, so, why not spend more time together?

With traveling to and from work, preparing for work, working and sleeping, we were only seeing each other a few hours a day. We were living for the weekends, but the weekends were too infrequent and too short. So, we made an employment change.

Plus, rather than text each other all day from separate locations, we can now just look up across the table.

Masterminding.

There’s something special about growing something special with your best friend. This is usually why couples make babies. Growing a business isn’t too unlike raising children. They both take patience, perseverance, creativity, money, and love.

Holly Porter Johnson of the ClubThrifty.com says, “Working with your partner is awesome because you get to dream together! I love coming up with new ideas and bringing them to fruition with my husband by my side. There is no greater joy than growing something together and becoming successful as a team.”

We couldn’t agree more. Working with your life partner is a great way to boost all your ideas and make the most of life and business.

Dividing and conquering.

Even though it’s your own business, you still often must meet the expectations of others. Sometimes those expectations come with deadlines and sometimes they come with demands. In these circumstances, we divide and conquer.

Mrs. Frugalwoods of Frugalwoods.com says, “By dividing and conquering—and focusing on our individual strengths—as partners (in love and money), we excel at creating genuine, relatable content that not only expands our brands, but also deepens our relationship.”

We both understand our business and both have a vested interest in its success. Either of us can take the helm when necessary and we work well together the rest of the time. This makes for happier clients, better service, and a stronger bond.

Motivate each other.

Building a business is hard, but it’s easier when you build one with someone else. Getting out of bed is hard, but it’s easier to get out of bed when the person next to you is getting out of bed, too.

There are times when you just don’t wanna. Usually, we don’t have that feeling at the same time. So, when one needs a pick-me-up, the other’s there and vice versa. When it’s hard to see the bright side, the other is there to shine the light.

Working with your life partner is great when you have built-in support.

Complement each other.

There are some things he’s good at doing and there are other things I’m good at doing. This, like dividing and conquering, let’s us take advantage of each of our strengths.

Personally, my husband is great with coming up with a million good ideas. He fails on the execution of those ideas. I struggle with ideas and am good with execution.

Likewise, he’s good with technology and I’m good with words. So, with the foundation of our business being an online blog, he keeps the lights on and I keep them coming back for more.

Save cost-of-working costs.

The reason many families have multiple cars is because each family member has a different job. That’s more cars, more gas and more car insurance. When you’re a home-based business of two that shares a bed, you really only need one car.

Working with your life partner cuts down on other costs, too.

Aside from our public speaking, most of our business is behind a laptop. Therefore, we don’t need as many “work clothes,” packed lunches, and Tupperware or contracted services such as a cleaning person or personal chef. We had a personal chef for a year while we were building out business and both working a W-2.

Now we have the time to take care of these things.

Lunch dates.

Even though fewer people do work lunches anymore, some business partners have the occasional lunch date. When you work with your partner, every lunch (and breakfast and dinner) is a true-blue lunch date.

Usually, we eat lunch while we watch an inspirational talk or video on YouTube, but it’s more special watching these with your someone special than watching them alone. Likewise, when we’re inspired we have someone with whom to be inspired.

Not only are these lunch dates good quality time, but they’re also a relaxing time to brainstorm solutions to struggles we’re having. As Mrs. 1500 of 1500Days.com says, “The Mister and I have a pretty solid relationship. He’s my best friend, and I know that he has my back with anything. That part’s really important.”

If you’re considering working with your life partner, know that it’s a work relationship that can work.

It may not be for everyone, but the from the other co-working couples we know and our own personal experience, it’s pretty lit.

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Debt doesn’t have to be a financial death sentence. You can overcome it. Put together a plan and get to work.

Twelve years ago, my husband, David, and I found our sitting on the floor of our basement apartment as two financial services professionals with $51,000 in credit card debt between the two of us.

Like the cobbler’s kids with unfortunate shoes and the emperor with off-the-rack clothes, we were helping other people with their money and not ourselves.

We put together a debt payoff plan and got rid of that debt in two and a half years and built a business based on our experience becoming and living financially free.

How did we pay off so much debt?

We’re often asked in interviews how we paid off so much debt so quickly.

The underlying question is, “What tools or tricks can you give us to help us become financially free?”

The problem with tools and tricks and that what works for us may not work for you and vice versa. That’s why our first response to that question is that we figured out what we most wanted in life.

We found our “why,” and as Jim Rohn says, “When you know what you want, and you want it bad enough, you’ll find a way to get it.” When we figured out what we most wanted and not what we thought we should want or what others thought we should want we had the motivation to pay off our debt.

When times were tough, and they were, we used our why as fuel to continue our path to being debt free and stick with our debt payoff plan.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tips and tricks you can try. Here’s the five-part plan we used to become and live debt free. You can see if some — or all — of this plan might work with your own style to help you reach your financial goals.

Be money conscious.

My husband and I thought we coined this term. To us, it initially meant being clear on how much money we earn, have and spend. It meant having a basic understanding of the economy and how the economies of the world affect us personally.

We later learned that Napoleon Hill thinks he coined “money consciousness” in his book, Think & Grow Rich. Hill talks about money consciousness on a metaphysical level. The results on both a practical and metaphysical level produce the same results, as Hill says, “only those who become money conscious ever accumulate great riches.”

Live below your means.

Living below your means sounds outdated and old-fashioned, but it’s critical to getting and staying out of debt and achieving financial success. This rule affects everyone, rich and poor, black and white, gay and straight and everyone in between everyone else.

Living below your means is such a powerful principle that it brings down many seemingly successful movie, music, and sports stars.

Cash is king.

Living on cash gives most people a 20% raise. Studies show that individuals who use only cash spend less money in addition to paying less in interest fees. When we had our debt, we were paying $10,000 a year in interest payments. When we paid off our debt, we gave ourselves a $10,000 raise and dramatically improved our quality of life.

Have a financial plan.

Just like you can’t drive from New York City to Los Angeles without clear directions, you can’t achieve financial goals without a financial plan. A good financial plan includes knowing the starting point of where you are financially and the ending point or goal of where you want to go.

It wasn’t until we knew which direction we wanted to go with our financial lives and our lives in general that we could go from a negative net worth of $51,000 to a positive net worth over $700,000. Therefore, you need to have a financial plan.

Creating and maintaining a financial plan isn’t hard and doesn’t limit us from enjoying life. Our budget and financial plan help us do all the things we want in life by letting us know when we can have and do what we want. As Søren Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”

Now, how do you pay down your existing debt?

The Avalanche and Snowball methods.

The Avalanche Method says to pay off highest interest rate debt first while making minimum payments on other debts. Then, proceed to the next highest interest rate debt and so forth until all debt is paid off.

The Snowball Method, popularized by Dave Ramsey, says to pay off the smallest debt first while making minimum payments on other debts. Once the smallest debt is paid off, proceed to the second lowest debt and so forth. The Snowball Method gives quick wins.

For my husband and me, neither seemed fast enough, especially because all our debt was credit card debt and we saw a loophole.

Our Debt Lasso method.

We first contacted all our credit card companies and asked them to lower our interest rates. The Debt Lasso method helped us to start saving money immediately. Any savings we had immediately went towards our debt.

Most companies obliged even if it took some explaining. It helped that despite having all that debt, we rarely missed or were late on payments. The only thing holding down our credit scores were our debt to income ratio.

It, also, helped that we explained how dire our situation was and that we didn’t want to miss or be late on future payments or file for bankruptcy. So, it was in everyone’s best interest to accommodate us.

Next, we looked for 0% interest-rate-credit-card-promotions with no annual fees. When we found a credit card and promotion that suited us, we calculated the cost of a balance transfer to that card. This strategy required reading a lot of fine print to be clear what we were getting.

At the time, 3% balance transfer fees were standard. There were some that charged less than 3% and even some that charged 0%. The 0% interest-rate-credit-card-promotions with no annual fees and 0% balance transfer fees were gold. Some exist today!

Most of the 0% interest-rate-credit-card-promotions lasted between six to 18 months. The longer the promotion, the more time we had to pay off our debt. Then, we diligently paid off as much debt as we could as fast as we could. When one card was paid off, we put more money towards our remaining debt. We continued this strategy until all our debt was paid off.

This is the five-part debt payoff plan we created to destroy $51,000 of credit card debt and, then, stay out of debt. If it worked for us, it can work for you. So, get working.

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Todd Tresidder is our featured guest, speaking about setting goals for building wealth that make sense despite today’s financial difficulties.

Once in a while, we present Adulting.tv LIVE! Subscribe on YouTube to hear about future events, and share your questions about or suggestions for our next discussions!

Show Notes

Today, Todd Tresidder from FinancialMentor.com joins Harlan and Miranda to speak with the Adulting.tv audience about setting the right kind of goals for building wealth over the long term. Thinking about the future is hard when you’re struggling, but this is the best time to put plans into action that will help you in the long run.

Todd Tresidder graduated from the University of California at Davis with a B.A. in economics and a passion for creating successful businesses. A serial entrepreneur since childhood, Todd went on to build his own wealth as a hedge fund investment manager before “retiring” at 35 to teach others. Today, he provides advanced investment and retirement planning education at FinancialMentor.Com showing you what works, what doesn’t, and why based on a depth of proven experience.

Hosted byHarlan L. Landes and Miranda Marquit
Produced byadulting.tv
Edited and mixed bySteven Flato
Music bybensound.com

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Living the dream as your own boss? Don’t let it become a budgeting nightmare. Stay on top of things when you have a variable income.

When former cubicle-jockeys switch to a freelance career, it’s almost always in pursuit of one elusive goal: freedom.

But with that freedom comes uncertainty. Many newly self-employed individuals find themselves missing the income consistency that came with their old gig.

But variable income doesn’t have to mean a dubious financial situation. There are a few methods you can use to create the consistency you’re looking for. This allows for the kind of stability you’d enjoy at an office job.

Here’s how I manage my own variable income:

Calculate how much you need.

Living on a variable income is stressful if you’re also living in the dark. If you don’t know how much you need to survive, how can you know if you’re budgeting correctly?

Go through your spending and add up your necessary expenses, including rent, groceries, gas, utilities, debt payments and other bills.

Then divide that number by 75% to calculate your target income.

That will be the minimum you need to earn each month. Anything left over can be used for discretionary spending or saving.

Live on last month’s revenue.

While salaried individuals know how much they’re going to bring in every month, people living on a variable income have no clue.

A long-term client could take an extended vacation or an assignment might be delayed indefinitely. One of my favorite ways to combat this uncertainty is to live on last month’s invoices.

If you grossed $3,000 last month, then you can only spend $3,000 this month — even if you project to make $4,500 this month.

This budgeting philosophy is all about spending the money you have, not the money you think will have. After all, things can and will go wrong every month. The technique also eases your cash flow, since many freelancers don’t get paid until 30 days after they’ve submitted an invoice.

Save most of your surplus.

A friend of mine who worked in the dance industry once told me about a mentor who would go designer shopping every time she got a choreography gig. These jobs paid exceedingly more than teaching gigs and left her with more cash than she was used to.

Instead of saving that dough, she’d go shopping for name-brand purses and clothes. I was shocked when I heard that story, but not surprised. It’s human nature to go on a shopping spree when you land a big windfall. However, budgeting responsibly (especially on a variable income) is all about denying those urges.

It’s ok to celebrate a new client or big project as long as you’re tucking some of it away for a rainy day. Try to save between 70% and 80% of your surplus income and enjoy the rest responsibly.

Keep an emergency fund.

Everyone who works for themselves has a slow period where the work seems to dry up. You can plan ahead for these months by having a larger-than-normal emergency fund.

I keep a six-month emergency fund since my husband and I are both self-employed. Having half a year’s worth of expenses keeps us afloat during the off-season. It’s a good buffer to have and prevents me from picking up a McDonald’s application when the work starts to dwindle.

Multiply your baseline income by how many months you want to save for. Most people with variable income should have between six months and a year’s worth of bills saved in an emergency fund.

Make your expenses the same every month.

One of my favorite ways to regulate my finances has been budget billing for our utilities. Most gas, water, and electric companies allow you to pay the same amount every month instead of the amount you use.

Having budget billing has simplified my finances since I know our water bill will be static, no matter the season. I don’t have to worry about high gas statements in the winter or AC costs in the summer. Contact your energy company to see if they offer this service.

Look for other ways to normalize your bills so that you have the same expenses each month.

Save by percentage, not dollar amount.

Writer Jackie Lam of Cheapsters became a freelancer after she got laid off at her full-time gig. To make the transition smoother, she started saving a percentage of what’s left over after she’s paid the bills, instead of a specific dollar amount.

For example, instead of saving $200 a month for a vacation, she sets aside 5% of her budget. Using percentages makes it easier to hit her savings goals, even if she hasn’t had the most productive month.

In busy times, she might save more than $200, and during slowdowns she might only save $100. That percentage tends to average out over the year.

It’s a way to feel a little more secure and avoid feeling like a failure if you don’t hit a set dollar amount.

Be your own CEO.

If you really miss the stability of office life, consider paying yourself a salary. Once you’ve calculated your baseline, it’s simple enough to choose a stable wage to take going forward. Overage income can be applied to your savings, while consistently coming in under budget can be a warning sign that it’s time to take a pay cut.

This isn’t exactly the most efficient method listed, but it can take a lot of psychological weight off of planning your finances. It’s simple. Pay yourself a little less than you typically make and save the rest.

Do you live on a variable income? How do you make it work? What’s your favorite budgeting technique? Let us know in the #Adulting community on Facebook.

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The things you do each day are draining your finances. Here are the things you need to stop doing. Now.

There is a mind-numbing range of mindless and expensive habits that get in the way of creating long-term and sustainable financial success. 

Let’s be honest. Most of us have financial habits that we have fallen into blindly because we’re not honest about the habits that may be getting in the way of our financial future.

The following three habits are so expensive that it may be time to kick them to the curb:

Fake hair.

The first one is tied to self-esteem. I totally get it, but your expensive fake hair habit is making you broke.

My hair broke off really badly and I needed a way to feel good about myself so I started wearing fake hair. Fortunately, this isn’t that big a deal, but my hair loss was a demoralizing experience.

I accepted that to get a great fake hair look that I would have to pay through the nose and so I paid big bucks (for me) to achieve the right look.

Like me, there are a lot of women who are dealing with hair loss or just would like to achieve a different look and spend way too much on their fake hair. I didn’t realize I had this habit and felt like I managed the expense really well.

I would stretch the times between getting an expensive weave and would try to consistently care for my fake hair with constant TLC.

But, what I didn’t realize was that I was paying too much for weaves and fun lace-front wigs and I discovered that I could get the same look for 75% less than what I was spending.

Instead of paying between $175-$200 for a weave or lace-front wig (including shipping), I discovered that there are inexpensive options that create the same look for less!

I discovered the amazing world of YouTube low-cost wig reviews. There were wigs that looked the same as what I was buying before, but for $30. It was a life-changing information.

I jumped on that savings, I still feel good about myself, and my wallet loves me for it.

Recreational pot habit.

One of the most expensive habits of all is a pot habit. You should break the weekly pot habit ASAP. 

Hey, I’m not judging you. I’m from Colorado. But that legal bud is not cheap.

If you’re smoking a bowl a couple of times a week, getting the newest in pot-related gear, and snacking like it’s going out of style, it may be time to do an audit of how much you’re spending on your legal weed.

According to the Colorado Pot Guide, the cost of an ounce of pot ranges between $100-$300 dollars depending on where you purchase it.

If you purchase just one ounce a month you’re spending $1200-$3600 in pot each year. That’s almost like shoving $20 bills into your bong and smoking it up. And, we haven’t even factored in the snacking costs.

For many people who embrace the 420 life, the expense may not always be top of mind. And, I’m not saying what you should or shouldn’t do. But your pot habit can be painful to your bottom line.

Instead of always having a reserve at home perhaps you could just indulge at your favorite concert like everyone else does?

When factoring in the cost of pot also consider the potential for losing your job if your employer does drug checks. In Colorado, employers have the right to terminate employment for off-the-job cannabis consumption, even if it’s medicinal.

Lack of research before purchases.

The first two expensive habits were pretty specific. This one, though, applies to most people.

Many of us make big (and small) purchases without doing research. I can’t even begin to tell you what a difference doing basic research on my purchases has made to my finances. I’ve discovered that there is always a deal to be found on any item I want to buy.

For example, if you hope to purchase a car, spend some time researching the following: gas mileage, if the car has had any recalls, cost for maintaining it, and if there is a place where you could buy it for less than the listed price.

There is no reason to purchase clothing at the listed price. It always goes on sale. By researching ways to get rebates on spending, savings apps, and places where you could purchase the same items at a discounted price.

Research doesn’t have to be an annoying and onerous process. And it’s at the heart of how I have been able to save substantial amounts of money on trips, shopping, and even my home purchase.

Once you kick your expensive habits to the curb, you will be more likely to have more money to spend on things that really matter to you.

What are your expensive habits? How do you plan to break them? Let us know at the #Adulting community on Facebook.

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Financial stability is a requirement for successful adulting. Here’s how you achieve stability and recognize it when you are stable.

If financial independence is the dream, financial stability is the first adult step along the path towards that vision.

On the final day of the year, fifteen years ago, I returned home from a weekend away to find my belongings on the lawn in front of the house I was renting. (I used the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to fact-check myself using my old, anonymous personal blog, my first time reading those entries in over a decade.)

My roommate thought I was moving out at the end of December, and when I wasn’t around, she moved two people into the room I had been occupying for several months. I had been planning to move out at the end of January, and the roommate knew this. But my name wasn’t on the lease, so perhaps she thought she could do whatever she wanted.

A later entry brought back the memory of a related event: I visited that apartment again ten days later to pick up a few remaining items, and the new occupants were moving out because that roommate committed some kind of check fraud. But I digress…

Being forced out of my living space with no notice on New Year’s Eve was the end of a particularly bad year. I lost a job, lost my car, and lost my girlfriend. I had moved to northern New Jersey for a job I no longer had. I was in my mid-twenties, but I wasn’t financially an adult. I survived by spending on credit cards, avoiding student loan bills, and accepting help from parents.

With the necessity of moving in with family as 2001 became 2002, I vowed to turn things around for myself.

I wasn’t necessarily aware of the idea of financial independence, but thankfully, that is how I can describe my situation today. In early 2002, I just wanted financial stability. And I had to figure out how to get there.

How I became financially stable.

After college, I chose a career somewhere between education and nonprofit. The organization I was working for was meant to be a stop-gap while looking for a teaching position, but I did enjoy it, and I didn’t put enough effort into moving forward. It cost me more to work as a nonprofit employee than I was earning — and I wasn’t even spending a significant amount of money.

1. I found a new job.

Instead of looking for my ideal career, my priority was earning money and getting back on my feet, taking control of my situation. Nothing is permanent. I could work on my loftier life goals while at least working somewhere during the day that would allow me the flexibility to plan for the future.

Without a car, I was limited to jobs that were accessible by walking or by traveling on the train. I turned to a technical temp agency. That’s how I earned money over breaks during college, and I knew I had many skills that would serve me well in corporate settings. I found something right away — an executive administrative assistant at a major financial firm.

This had no relation to my degree, but it was a job. And it paid 50 percent more than what I was earning at the nonprofit organization. Theoretically, I could even stay involved with the activity I was passionate about on weekends while working a “regular” job.

2. I designed a budget.

My dad helped me brainstorm a basic budget on the back of an envelope. That’s how I remember the situation. This budget had to take into account paying off a cash advance from my credit card, consumer spending on my credit card, and my student loans. I intended to move out and be less of a burden on family as soon as possible, so I budgeted for rent, as well. And savings for the future.

Partly because I wanted to stick to my budget and partly because I needed some self-reflection time to recover from bad choices, I also saved money in the first few months of my new job by staying in a fortress of solitude.

The budget was essential for setting myself up for financial stability.

3. I tracked every penny.

I used free software to meticulously track my spending, making sure I was staying within my budget and paying my bills on time.

You can only have a clear picture of where you’re going financially if you know where you are. It is incredibly easy today to get a full snapshot of your finances at any time thanks to technology. Apps communicate directly and securely with banks, so you all you need to do is check your phone to see where you stand. The app adds your bank balances and subtracts your debt, and the result is your financial net worth.

And beyond your net worth, you need to know how that changes over time, so you track your income and expenses, too. Today, I use Personal Capital and Quicken.

4. I started saving for the future.

It wasn’t enough to have a bank account whose balance was increasing every month. My new job offered a retirement plan with a matching contribution. Always say yes to a matching contribution. It’s free money.

How do you know when you’re financially stable?

To be considered financially stable — a true sign of adulting — you must meet these criteria.

  • You must be spending less than you’re earning. It doesn’t matter which side of the equation you try to improve, but it helps to focus on both your expenses and your income. You can only cut your expenses back so far — but income potential is unlimited. When you spend less than you earn, you have a surplus. The surplus allows you to have some control.
    • Living paycheck-to-paycheck — spending every penny you earn — means you have no surplus and you are not moving towards flexibility or control.
  • You don’t have to be debt-free, but you must be paying down your debt and not accumulating any more. If you’re able to make your minimum payments on your debt and then some, you’re in good shape.
  • You’re not relying on loans or gifts from family. This is the cornerstone of stability. You can make it on your own, just with your income and your expenses. It’s true that you may be in financial trouble if your income disappears, especially if you’re only beginning to establish savings, but for now, you are making it on your own.
  • You are building your future through savings and investment. Your nest egg might not be too big just yet, but it’s growing. You’re putting aside extra money to create an emergency fund and you have a systematic transfer to an investment account, preferably a low-cost index mutual fund.
  • Your friends support your goals. Don’t waste time around people who give you a hard time for being responsible. Often, when one starts acting more grown-up, the friends still wading through adolescence grow bitter. Or maybe you’re the last one to cross the threshold into actual adulthood.
    • People reach this point at different times in their lives. I wasn’t financially adulting until I was in my late twenties. Some start when they’re 40. And I’ve seen some sixteen-year-olds who are taking control of their future I never would have considered.
  • You’re moving forward steadily in your career. How you progress is often up to you, even when are faced with resistance was you’re trying to gain more responsibility, authority, and compensation at your job. You do know that often you have to accept more responsibilities before being granted more authority and increases in compensation. This type of success proceeds at different speeds, but you should always be aware of where you stand, and you make decisions that move you forward.
  • You have health insurance and you take care of yourself. Your health and well-being affect your ability to have a life of any sort in the future, so you watch your health and have an appropriate health insurance plan. You see a doctor once every one or two years, at least, if you’re otherwise healthy, and you see a dentist and dental hygienist every six months. If you need work, you get it done.
  • You pay your credit card balance in full every month. Credit cards can be great tools for people who are financially stable. They allow you to time-shift your spending, just like the DVR time-shifts The Walking Dead. They allow you to collect cash back and points that can be used for travel. But only if you avoid interest charges, late payments, and pay your balance in full every month.
    • This could be considered an “advanced technique,” and many people start messing with credit cards before they are prepared to handle the responsibilities. So watch out.

Financial independence is the next step after financial stability, but it could take a lifetime to achieve. Imagine if you no longer had to rely on your job. Imagine if you could live the life that you wanted to live, go where in the world that you wanted to go, and do anything that you wanted to do — without any concern about what the financial consequences would be.

That is financial independence. And you can’t get there without financial stability first.

Are you financially stable? If so, when did you finally achieve it?

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Dream of life without money worries? It’s possible. But it probably means more work than you expect.

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Have you heard about financial independence? Probably. It’s a buzzword right now.

It’s not always to nail down exactly what it means, though. Financial independence means different things to different people.

In this episode, we talk about what it means to break your chains and get on the path toward money freedom — whatever that looks like to you.

Concepts

  • What does financial independence mean, really?
  • Can creating a situation where you enjoy life without too much worry be the same thing, even if you still work?
  • Do you need to be totally debt-free to be financially independent?
  • Why is financial independence so appealing?
  • Reasons money freedom matters so much.
  • A realistic look at what it takes to actually reach financial independence.
  • The need for planning when you want money freedom.
  • Tips for saving up for the future.
  • Financial realities and the hard work necessary.

This week’s “do nows” are all about figuring out what you want your money to do for you. Instead of viewing money as the end result, it’s about changing things around to use money as a tool to help you get what you want from life.

On top of that, it includes an exercise in self-reflection. Be brutally honest about what’s holding you back from financial independence.

Our listener question is all about the worth we assign people based on their net worth. You don’t need a big pile of money to feel good about your life and your finances. Here’s how to stop treating money like a competition and feel secure in your own choices.

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Resources

Why is it so hard to say no?

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