Thursday, January 31, 2013

Post-College Financial Lessons

My post-grad experience has been typical of many of my friends, complete with college debt, no money, and certainly no money to jump into being able to pay for an apartment or put a down payment on a house. My friends and I share our experience with thousands, of college grads all over the United States who are living at home to save money and pay off any debt before really settling down. Graduating from college comes the pressure to know exactly what you want to do and how to get there. But the reality is that it isn’t that easy. Many of us don’t know what we want to do with our lives, and statistics about people like us that surface the internet simultaneously give us comfort that we are not alone, while also putting added pressure on us to defy the stereotypes placed on us.

I don’t want to spend time feeling sorry for myself or my fellow peers in writing this blog, because truly, that won’t get any of us anywhere. What I would like to do instead is to explain what I would do if I could do it all over again.

These are my mistakes. This is what I would do differently:

  1. I would live at home throughout college. If I did nothing else different, I would have half of the debt I have now.
  2. I wouldn’t have spent half my savings my sophomore year of college. I would have significantly more money now and life would be so grand.
  3. I would have gone to a tech school to get my associates before going to a 4 year college. If I did that, and lived at home all through that time, I would have have ¼ of the debt I have now, maybe less.
  4. If I did number 3, coupled with working throughout college and paying my tuition as I went, I would have NO debt! No debt! People do it every day, and it is amazing!
  5. I would have majored in something really really awesome that I love! I wasn’t crazy about my major and I put myself through a lot of unnecessary stress because of it. If I went to get my associates first, that would have given me time to figure out my passion (which I have learned a lot about over the past several years). I say that only because I don’t plan on getting a job in what I majored in, and I almost knew that from the beginning. I am one of the thousands of people who don’t know what they want to do with the rest of their life, and that really affected me in college. I would have been able to pinpoint a job with my degree a lot better had I majored in something I planned to use.
  6. I would have gone to a tech school and been done. Maybe I would have done graphic design or welding. I don’t know.
  7. I would have done more research when I was applying for college. Enough said.

I thought I knew everything when I was in high school and college. Turns out I was wrong. These ideas are ways I could have saved money, but I didn’t do it all wrong. Here are some tips that worked for me:

  1. When I wasn’t spending, I was saving.
  2. I worked in college so I didn’t use my refunds from my loan to live off of. Sending my refund checks back really cut down on my total loan cost.
  3. I lived at home 2 out of 4 years of college which saved on dorm and apartment costs.
  4. I went to a state school. Private schools are quite expensive.
  5. I joined a program after college that would help pay my student debt.
  6. I continue to live at home and defy social norms post-college to save money.
  7. I never buy anything full price.

Just some things to think about as you go to school, graduate, or start living on your own. I am always interested in financial lessons learned by others if you are willing to share. What is your story?

The Spending Diet: Challenge Accepted

I like to be honest when I blog because I when I read other people’s writing, I like to be able to either relate, or not relate. For instance, someone who makes tons of money and lives debt free might not get as much from the blogs I write compared to the low-moderate income person who is trying to pay down debt. We are all different, and when it comes to making life better and easier for us, we have to find out what works for us. That is why there are so many diets and acne medicines out there. Different solutions work for different people! I say this as a preface for the advice I write about. Most of what I write about is from research or my own personal experiences. I find finances really fascinating. I grew up in a house that talked a lot about finances and celebrated saving money and getting out of debt. I am always interested to hear others’ success stories and challenges. So when I came across a blog written by a woman named Anna who was able to pay off $24,000 of debt in 15 months by cutting spending, I had to know how she did it.

First, she made a list of her needs. From those expenses, she saw where she could cut costs. I decided to immediately make this list, and here is what I came up with:

-Student Loan
-Car Insurance
-Cell phone bill
-Gym Membership
-Gifts (had a really hard time with this one. She says it’s not a need, but I feel it is a necessity to give people gifts on occasions and holidays)
-Coffee (morning ritual; she says it is a want, but it is something I could cut down on)

Next, she says to stop spending money except for things that are on your NEEDS list.

Since this is The Spending Diet as apposed to the Spending Fast, she is allowing herself to spend $100 a month on non-needs (entertainment, clothes, etc.). This was a hard one for me (I am not quite ready to embark on the Spending Fast). Cutting down my non-needs to $100 is going to be tough, but the money left over can go to my student loan!

February Expenses:
-Coffee $20 (giving up coffee for lent starting February 13)
-Gift for a friend $0 (going to make it homemade this time which is hard for me because I love to buy people gifts)
-Superbowl $10 (gotta eat delicious food)
-Trip to Raleigh $40 (doing the Krispy Kreme Challenge)
-Valentines Day $20 (making and buying simpler gifts than what I usually try to do)
-Other $10

Wow. This is a big difference from last month. Anna says once the money is gone, it is gone. You can’t buy anything else besides needs for the rest of the month!

This is going to be tough but I am going to do this for my remaining 6 months and track my progress. I am excited to see where this will take me. If I keep this up, I could put quite a bit of extra money towards my student loan each month. We will see just how much extra I have at the end of the month. Will you take this challenge with me?

For more information on The Spending Diet, visit Anna’s website at

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Marriage and Money

When it comes time to find that special someone to share your life with, we all kind of know what we are looking for. Some people want someone fun and kind, who wants kids, and has similar religious and political views. Other people might be looking for someone who loves music, hates the mountains, but likes cooking and movies. It comes as no surprise that we want someone compatible, which is why millions of people have turned to dating sites so they can filter through to find someone who shares their interests and values.  And while it is easy to get caught up on the trivial things like the necessity for blonde hair and a golden doodle puppy, how many people think about important factors like money when they are looking for a potential spouse?

There have been plenty of successful marriages between people of differing views on money, but it isn’t easy. In fact, money is the number one argument between married couples today. Whether it is about living beyond your means, or too much independent spending, there is no denying, good or bad, that money plays a big role in marriage.

I am not married nor do I plan to be anytime soon. But when I finally decide to tie the knot, I want to share the same financial practices and goals as my spouse. I want to save money every month, only eat out a certain amount a month, enroll in the company I work for’s 401k, and invest. But this is so much easier said than done because I can’t just change the habits I might have, or that my significant other might have, in an instant. Why is all this important? Why should couples have the same financial goals and practices? Why can’t we have the fancy cars and the big house right now if we can afford the monthly payment? Why why WHY?

In order to make this lifestyle change that affects not only you, but the future of the inhabitants of your home, you have to know why what you are doing is important:

You must save money from every paycheck.
It is important to save for emergency situations and for the future of your family. Experts say having 3-6 months of living expenses in an emergency fund is vital in case something were to happen to your job or your spouse’s job. This isn’t just for married couples – this is for everyone! Put aside money each month into your savings account. If you aren’t able to have it automatically in there when your check is deposited, check out online banking and move it each month on your own which is what I do. Saving money gives you stability and can help you with big purchases. If you are tired of living in an apartment and paying the rent of your landlord (In one year’s time, you will spend an average of $9000 if you are renting. Live in an apartment for five years, and you have put in $45,000 of money you can’t get back), start saving! Cut out extra expenses like eating out and stop impulse buying. Before you know it, you will have enough money for that down payment. When you have your house, it will be your own. The more payments you make, the more equity you will have in your home, whereas with an apartment, the more payments you make, the more you lose. If you are having trouble saving and/or are interested in down payment assistance, visit our website at

You  have to think about debt.
Whichever lucky person marries me will inherit $30,000 of debt! Yay! Debt is definitely something to talk about. You don’t want any surprises. You don’t want to find out after you are already married that the IRS has been garnishing your spouse’s wages and they haven’t filed taxes since 1990. Or that your spouse has thousands of dollars of credit card debt and collection agencies won’t stop calling. You have to be open and honest and make it your goal to pay off your debt. Don’t hide from it! It will be such a relief when it is paid off! Not only that, when you wait to buy something until you can afford it, you are doing you and your family a favor. Sure, it might be nice to drive around in a nice car and live in a huge house, but would you rather be strapped for cash with a fancy car or have a manageable car payment/a car paid in full that is average or above? I’ll take the latter.

When you get married, you become a partnership. You have to stop thinking in terms of “I,” and instead think in terms of “we.” What do we need? What do we want? How should we fix this situation? So if your spouse goes out and buys a $100 pair of shoes, but you don’t have enough money to put food on the table, there is a problem. If you are trying to save, that means that the rule you guys established about not buying Starbucks for a while applies to you, too! It is important to know where your money is going each month. I know some couples who have a certain amount of money each week, and when it is gone, it is gone (single people can do that, too; I haven’t managed to make it work yet, but I am working on it). Whatever works for you and your family.

Living paycheck to paycheck is stressful.
Not having any savings and depending on that check every two weeks to get by is so so stressful. Saving and budgeting is soo important if you want to feel happy about your money. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but do so within your (agreed upon) financial limit. Also, you want to start thinking about your future. Do you still want to be working at 70 years old? If not, you and your spouse should look into joining your company’s 401k plan. If it doesn’t have one, talk to a trusted investor about saving for retirement.

I am no financial expert nor do I have any experience being married, but I do understand how important communication and being on the same page is when it comes to money and everything in between. This post is to raise awareness to talk about money before tying the not, and most certainly isn’t to discourage anyone from marrying the love of their life. So talk about it, read about it, and plan for your future!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What should parents pay for?

When I was little, I rarely bought anything at all. I’d collect my money in a little tin box and only take it out when I was desperate. And rarely was I desperate. I’d want this or that so I would try to convince my mom to buy it so I wouldn’t have to spend the precious cash I had been saving for so long. When she said no and that I could buy it with my own money, I was usually immediately cured of wanting it. After all, who wants to spend their own money?

As I get older and learn to depend less on my parents and have more responsibilities, I am fascinated by what parents are willing to pay for and for how long. When I graduated college, I was scared to death to have my car’s title in my name and to be responsible for paying taxes on it. And while my parents still pay for stuff like food and shelter since I live at home, I know it is just a matter of time before I am out on my own and bills like that become my own.

Although there have been some major changes since I graduated college, transitioning from paying for 60% of life’s expenses to 75% hasn’t been much of a change for me. But this isn’t the case for all high school and college graduates. Many of them are still being taken care of by their parents and often have a skewed concept of money and budgeting. While this is a subject that I feel passionately about, I won’t lie by saying I have always been the most financially savvy person. After being so tight with money all my life, during my sophomore year of college, I spent half my savings on clothes and entertainment. After learning a big lesson, I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to get it back. I’ve made my share of financial mistakes but have come far since. My parents have helped me tremendously and there is no way I’d be where I am at today if it weren’t for their mercy and understanding. But, I’ve learned to make it mostly on my own and I worry that our generation is falling behind on their own financial independence.

Take Anna, for example. Anna has never paid for her cell phone bill, insurance, trips overseas, or college education. But she does pay for any extra expense like clothing, gifts, and gas. Mackenzie bought her first car in cash and pays for rent, her cell phone bill, college, and food, but her parents pay for gas and her car insurance. Samantha pays for car insurance, cell phone bill, gas, and student loans but doesn‘t pay for rent. Jeff paid for his car, pays for his car and health insurance, cell phone bill, any car repairs (and there are many), any new purchase such as a laptop, iPod, etc., shampoo, clothes, car insurance, gas, and the electric bill. Is this fair? When should parents cut their children off?

When I hear of parents who pay for their kid’s expenses at an older age, I usually hear it is because they are doing so well and working so hard. I get that. Perhaps they have gotten into a great school that requires a lot of work and there is no room for a part time job. Or maybe they can’t find work but are determined to be independent and their parents are willing to help them out. Maybe their parents have the resources and wouldn’t have it any other way. Whatever the reason may be, it is interesting to see how choices and opportunity hinder and enable kids to be financially independent.

Years before college loans were such an issue, people could graduate college and most of the time move into a house upon graduation. Work was available, and in general, people spent less and saved more. But 2013 is different. Student loans are through the roof, and there are so many ways to spend money,so few people are able to put a down payment on a house when it is time to move out. So back to the initial question. What should parents pay for during and after high school? Through experience, this is my (non) expert opinion:

Every situation is different, so it depends.

Anna did great in school (high school and college) and is dedicating her life to helping people by being a social worker and English/Spanish translator. She’s worked hard to get where she is at and doesn’t waste any talent or resource she’s been given. No matter what her parents do or don’t pay for, she will be grateful.

Mackenzie is the thriftiest person I know. She isn’t going to pay a lot of money for something or buy unnecessary things. She has the best budget and is extremely giving. She was the Valedictorian of her college and she deserves any help she gets.

Samantha is saving for a house and taking the financial burden of student loans from her parents. She contributes with housework and cooking.

Jeff is helping his parents with bills and is responsible for his assets.

This works for them. While it may not be perfect or what I or my family might do or you and yours, it works for their families. These people and those like them are learning to save and budget in their own way. In my previous posts, I talked about how millennials are given an expectation to be at the same point post high school and college that those before them were at their age. But times are different and therefore, expectations must change with it. What I worry about the most are kids who pay for little and have no concept of money. The people mentioned above had a good sense of financial responsibility and are trying to better themselves. But what about those kids that live at home until they are 25 and older? What should they pay for?

I won’t pretend to know the answer to this question, but I will share what I would do. I went to an IDA class that said any child over 18 that is living with their parents should pay rent. My parents started this with my sister when she had a hard time saving in her younger years, but they did something different. They led her believe that they were using the money for this or that (we would go to dinner where my parents would pay and she would make comments on them actually paying with her rent money), but they were actually saving it for her. When she got ready to go back to college, they gave her the rent money back to use on her tuition. What a great surprise! My suggestion is to help your child in any way possible. If you can, have them give you money each week or month so they can use that money for a big purchase later on (such as a down payment for a house or a car). Financially educate yourself and teach your children the same values so that when they finally do leave the nest, they will be financially smart and independent.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Smart Phones on a Tight Budget: Good or Bad Idea

I have iPhone fever. For months now, I have agonized over whether to upgrade my flip phone when my contract ends (which ended this past October), or use my current phone until it dies, then try to revive it and use it again. I have talked about my small budget in previous posts, and that, accompanied with my student loan debt, truly has no room for luxuries like a smart phone which would add $30 a month to my bill. But what if I cut out other stuff like eating out, coffee, or my gym membership I rarely use? Could I afford it then? And even after I cut all that out, should I really use the extra money on a data plan each month when I have student loans to pay? After lots of asking around and research, this is what I have come up with:

I have too much debt.
I never wanted to be someone who complained about money and bills and then spent money on stuff I didn’t need and couldn’t afford. I see people who aren’t able to put food or gas in their car with their $90 a month cell phone plan (and I know how much it costs-I have been doing research for months), and I don’t get it. I hear of people who have their loans in forbearance because they cannot afford the monthly bill but have a smart phone. People think that when their cell phone contract expires, they have to run out and get a new phone. With all the advances in smart phones, people want them more and basic phones less so companies aren’t making basic phones as much. It is almost companies are forcing us to buy smart phones. Your phone can and will last more than the year and a half it takes for your phone upgrade. It will! I want to be able to afford gas in my car when I need it and to pay my student loan and car insurance when it’s due. Thirty extra dollars a month adds up. That is $360 a year that I could apply to my student loan!

I am willing to cut some stuff out of my budget, but not enough.
I would be crazy to cancel my gym membership to afford a smart phone. I need to go to the gym because that is all the exercise I get, and I most certainly don’t need a smart phone. Once I figured out that was not going to work, I started actually going to the gym to make use of the membership I was paying for every month. Health>portable internet. Always. As for the other stuff in my budget, anything I cut down or out should be used to go towards my debt, not a data plan.

Where I am at in my life cannot make room for a smart phone.
I live at home and thankfully do not pay rent. Most people my age have moved out and have many more bills to pay than I do. Until I can get to the point where my debt is clear and I am out of the house, there is no way I should think about an iPhone! Financial independence is much more important to me than being able to do FaceTime with friends.

I don’t want to give up the cell phone company I am with for something cheaper (sounds high maintenance but I worry about being stranded with no service).
I looked into not renewing my contract with Verizon (where I would be paying $90 with a data plan versus the $60 without) and paying less per month with another cell phone company. I found pre-paid and not pre-paid options out there with good phones that I would have to pay top dollar for (around $500-700) with a cheap monthly service ($30-50). Doing some math, if I had the prepaid service for 2 years and paid the above amount plus the amount of the phone, I am still paying less than getting a free phone from Verizon and paying $90 a month. Good deal, right? Maybe. However, as much as I drop stuff, I couldn’t justify forking out all that money for a phone whether I had a fancy Otterbox or not, nor did I want to part with Verizon’s top notch service. Sounds biased because it is, I guess, but it is how I feel.

I have the rest of my life to buy cool stuff.
I don’t need everything I have ever wanted right now. I am 22 years old. I have plenty of time to buy an iPhone, live in my dream house (for a while I thought about what it would be like to live in my dream house at 22 when I actually found my dream house for sale), settle down and have kids, or get the job with the big money. All good things will come with time.

So, I’ve decided…
To wait until I have paid off my student loans to get an iPhone. There might be an iPhone 12 at that point, but I will get it and love it and it will be great. I have done some serious consideration and been so bold as to post my decision for the world to see because we all know what happens when you tell everyone a big decision. You have to stick with it or you deal with a lot of outside scrutiny. When my education is paid for, I will celebrate with a smart phone. Until then, I will keep the era of flip phones alive.