Category: money

Why You Should Make An ‘If I Absolutely Had To’ List Today

Worried about money? Struggling with relationship problems? Whatever the problem, this list helps me calm down and take control of any situation. #selfdevelopment #selfcare #selfhelp #moneytips #FIRE #budgetingFor the ninth night in a row, it’s 3 am and I’m glaring at my ceiling. Narrowing my eyes at the light fixture I don’t  like and counting my worries like they’re sheep.

Like most of us, my anxieties have multiplied like wet gremlins over the last month. And the equation of ‘feeling constantly worried’ + ‘sleeping poorly’ does not equal, well, anything good.

So I’m returning to an exercise I used during my twenties when life was an exhausting mix of not-right-for-me boyfriends, school debt, a low-paying career, and changing apartments/cities. 

May I present an exercise that makes me feel a million times better in times of uncertainty?

I call this the ‘If I Absolutely Had To’ List.

And – like many things I teach – it falls under the heading “Seems Too Simple To Work But Very Much Does.”

How to make an ‘If I Absolutely Had To’ list

Step 1: At the top of a piece of paper*, write the problem you want to solve or the issue you’re struggling with

Something like:

I’m worried I don’t have enough in savings to get through this pandemic.

I’m worried my relationship will fall apart because we’re together so much and we’re fighting constantly.

We have to put our house on the market and who’s going to want to buy a house during a pandemic?!

You get the idea. One issue – just one! – at the top of the page.

Step 2: Brainstorm 50 different ways you could deal with this problem – including solutions you really don’t want to pursue, but could if you absolutely had to

When you’re listing ways to deal with a chosen problem, you’ll find that the first 5 – 10 ideas you come up with are probably pleasant and sensible.

If you’re unemployed + worried about money, the first few items on your list might look like: 

  • Reach out to previous clients and see if they have any work
  • Update my LinkedIn profile
  • Email people in my professional network and see if they have any leads
  • Look for contract or freelance work
  • Keep calling the unemployment office, even if I have to be on hold for two hours

See? Normal!

But the magic happens when you force your brain to start thinking of all the things you could theoretically do to solve this problem. Including things you realllllly don’t want to do (but could if you absolutely had to.)

And, obviously, the “I really don’t want to but I could” portion of these lists will vary widely from person to person. One person’s “I really don’t want to do this” is another person’s day-to-day reality. Because privilege.

If you’re worried about money, your ‘If I Absolutely Had To’ list might look like: 

  • Start taking freelance contracts doing that thing I know how to do but don’t enjoy
  • Sell my plasma
  • Sell my eggs/sperm
  • Cancel cable and start watching library dvds
  • Get a job at a grocery store even though I’m really nervous about COVID-19
  • Sell the family china set or silverware
  • Get a roommate
  • Move back in with my parents
  • Split wifi with my neighbor even though I might not be able to stream movies
  • Cancel my wifi altogether
  • Get out of my car lease and become a 1-car family / figure out bike commuting / buy a cheaper car with cash
  • Sell my iphone 11 and buy a $200 Android

These are things you probably extremely don’t want to do! Who wants their Netflix to stall out because the neighbor just started a Zoom call? Nobody, that’s who.
Forcing your brain to acknowledge that there are many, MANY ways you could deal with a problem is one of the most calming, empowering things you can do. Click To Tweet

Knowing that there are solutions to your problem will help you sleep at night. 

It will give you the strength to make tough decisions because you’ll know that, no matter what, you can get through this. It might even prevent you from spiraling into self-doubt and anxiety!

What’s stressing you out these days? If you’re being super honest with yourself, are there ways you could solve that problem if you absolutely had to?

* Annoying and slow as it may be, I’d recommend writing this list on actual paper, with your actual hand. When we write things by hand, we’re digging new neural pathways and the deeper the neural pathway, the easier it is to have a thought again.
When you write out 50 potential solutions to your problem by hand, it’s going to be a lot easier for your brain to remember that all is not lost! There are so many ways you can deal with this issue!

The Trap Of The ‘Overly Virtuous Lunch’ + How To Avoid It

Struggling with self-control? Looking for self-discipline tips or motivation advice? Click through and read this post for unexpected advice. #motivation #habits #personaldevelopment #budgeting
It is a truth universally acknowledged that bringing lunch to work is one of the best, smartest, most healthy choices a person can make.

(snoooooore)

Who among us hasn’t pledged to ‘do better’ and schlepped a Tupperware full of under-dressed lettuce across town, truly believing that come noon we’re going to eat that plastic box of leaves and enjoy it?

When I was a classroom teacher, I’d do this all the time. In a valiant attempt to save money and eat healthy, I’d trundle my salad from my apartment to my desk.

At noon, I’d open my desk drawer, see that salad, stand up and walk next door to Sun Foods and buy: 
1. A bag of Cheetos (the crunchy kind, not the puffy kind)
2. A small can of Mr. Brown’s canned coffee
3. A ‘kempswich’ ice cream sandwich which is the best ice cream sandwich on the market don’t @ me

Now, if you’re keeping track, this ridiculous lunch neither made me healthier nor saved me money. In fact, it pretty emphatically did the exact opposite.


You know what I should have done? BROUGHT A LUNCH I ACTUALLY WANTED TO EAT.

The fancy, psychologist-sanctioned term for what happened here is ‘ego depletion’ – the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up.

I call it “the trap of the overly virtuous lunch.”

See, I was asking too much of myself – I was asking myself to eat something I didn’t particularly like (I don’t like salads) AND I was asking myself to skip going to lunch with my fun, lovely co-workers.

I added insult to injury – denying myself doubly, which then backfired and led to me spending $9 a day on junk food and canned coffee.

So how did I solve this problem? I started bringing lunches I actually wanted to eat: couscous with crunchy cucumbers and lots of feta. Pad thai. Vegetarian chili and a little bag of Fritos for dipping.

And you know what happened? I stopped spending $9 a day on ice cream sandwiches and canned coffee.

But overly virtuous lunches aren’t just lunches, they can show up anywhere in our lives.

  • Going “no spend” for six months and then freaking out, falling off the wagon, and spending all the money you saved.
  • Dragging yourself to the gym at 5 am, seven days a week, to do a workout you totally hate, only to injure yourself and never, ever go back.
  • Giving up tv and social media completely, try to make yourself like knitting and puzzles when you really love Netflix, fail and then binge watch movies for four days.

What if you just found ways to get where you want to go in a way that’s actually enjoyable?

What if you stopped denying yourself everything, ever and gave yourself a release valve so you could stay the course in a sustainable, enjoyable way?

What if you admitted to yourself that you don’t actually like salads that much but you’d be very happy to eat pasta and roasted veggies for lunch?

It’s hard to deprive and deny and shame our way to success. It's not kind, fun, or particularly sustainable. Click To Tweet

It’s totally possible to get where you want to go without eating a single “overly virtuous lunch” – whatever shape that takes for you.

Photo by Dawit on Unsplash

The Totally Unsexy Skill That Makes It Easier To Go After What You Want

It might not be the inspirational tip you're looking for, but learning how to live within your means will make it a million times easier to chase your dreams. #money #personalfinance #inspiration #budgeting #FIRE #moneytips
When I was 32, I celebrated one of the biggest accomplishments of my life with a plate of nachos, a vodka gimlet, and gathering of friends at my favorite neighborhood bar.

Over a plate of melted cheese, we cheers-ed my upcoming 11-month, nine-country trip. As the night wore on and more cocktails were consumed, one of my friends leaned across the table and said “Okay, I’m just gonna say what we’re all thinking. How are you paying for this?”

I laughed because of course Midwesterners have to get lightly drunk to talk about money.

After I was done laughing I spilled the beans. I told them how I managed to live sans-roommate in a nice neighborhood, pay my $375-a-month school loan, wear these cute leather riding boots, and save enough to finance this huge trip … on $34,000 a year non-profit salary.

Want to know how I did it?

(leans in close and stage whispers)

I lived within my means.

Well, that’s wildly unsexy, isn’t it? Whenever I share this not-particularly-exciting information, I can see people become a) skeptical b) disappointed. It’d be a lot more exciting if I shared a salacious investment tip or confessed that I had a trust fund or that I was just putting it all on a credit card and hoping for the best.

But that’s not what happened. I got to take my dream trip because I did things like:

  • Bring my lunch to work

  • Buy pretty much everything, ever secondhand

  • Host potluck dinner parties rather than eating out

  • Stay with friends when I traveled – or camped!

  • Split wifi with a neighbor

  • Go to matinee movies, used my library card, had picnics in the park, etc etc etc

  • Didn’t buy stuff I didn’t need

When we talk about going after what we want, we usually talk about things like talent, luck, networking, and a tenacious work ethic. All those are important! And they will certainly help you get you closer to what you want – whatever that is.

But I’d like to posit that one of the most underrated skills necessary to chase your dreams is learning to live within your means.

What now? What does budgeting have to do with becoming an artist or a stay at home parent or opening a sanctuary for stray dogs or taking a round-the-world trip?

According to a recent survey, the average American spends an estimated $697 a month on non-essential expenses – that’s more than $8,000 a year. The mean income per capita in the U.S. is $48,150, about $24 an hour. That means the average American is working about 30 hours each month to pay for those non-essential purchases.
The average American works 360 hours a year to pay for their non-essential purchases. How much of our lives would be we get back if we made fewer of those purchases? Click To Tweet

Now, I’m not saying we should stop making every non-essential purchase, ever. Of course not! I spend thousands of dollars every year on travel, pedicures, supper club dinners, and outfits for my dog. Dog outfit are not essential!

But it’s worth remembering that we pay for our choices with the lives that we lead and all those non-essential purchases? They lead to less money in our bank accounts > longer hours at work > less time, money, and energy for the stuff we’re really excited about.

What if you dialed in those non-essential purchases by just 10%? Totally doable, right? I bet it’d be pretty painless to wear the same outfit to multiple weddings or bring lunch to work once a week. It’s not hard to make a frozen pizza rather than having one delivered.

Reducing non-essential purchases by even just 10% could free up 36 hour this year. Imagine what you could do with that! You could practice your stand up set, launch your Etsy shop, work on your novel, or train for a marathon.

And buying less shit you don’t need might also mean you can drop the side hustle, the overtime, or the second job. Which means – I bet you can see where I’m going with this – you’d have more time and energy to pursue things that light you up.

Real talk: dreams + goals require time and energy. It’s hard to find either if you’re working 60 hours a week to support expensive spending habits. Click To Tweet
Now, any conversation about money should acknowledge privilege. Because of the realities of life in America, some people will have to take jobs they hate because they need the healthcare coverage. Some people really do need to work 60 hours a week in order to pay for the bare necessities.

Not everyone has the time to wander the aisles of Goodwill, digging through racks of cheap secondhand clothing. Some people live in food deserts and they can’t do a huge shopping trip and then meal prep + freeze seventeen healthy, affordable meals that break down to $3 per person, per meal.

However, many of us – I’d hazard a guess most of us – could make one or two different financial decisions that would free up hundreds or thousands of dollars a year. Which would free up the time and energy we put into earning that money. And we could put that time and energy into something we’re really excited about.

If you’re really honest with yourself, where you could you rein in spending to free up money, time, and energy to spend on things you’re excited about? Tell us in the comments to create public accountability!

P.S. If you want help reducing those non-essential purchases in a way that doesn’t feel like deprivation, my incredibly popular program Bank Boost opens for enrollment on November 7th. Last time I ran it, it sold out in four days so you might want to jump on the waitlist!

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

The Glorious Freedom Of ‘Good Enough’ + How To Find It

Want to experience the freedom of "good enough"? Let go of perfectionism and optimizing and upgrading everything? Tap through and read more! #perfectionism #selfdevelopment #money #minimalism #budgeting

“I have extremely specific window treatment needs.”

As ridiculous as it sounds, this is a real, actual thought process I’ve had for the last three years.

I’ll spare you the boring specifics, but the windows in our master bedroom are strange. For the longest time, I was convinced that the only answer was $350 worth of custom-made roller blinds.

I set aside $350 for my custom-made window treatments. I measured the windows approximately 17 times. I visited the overpriced window treatment website 19 times and never pulled the trigger.

Every night I glared at the terrible dark brown curtains that came with the house and thought about how much better my life would be once I had my fancy roller blinds. Life is what happens on the other side of good window treatments!!!

And then, while poking around a thrift store on a random Tuesday, I stumbled upon a set of pretty, cream-colored curtains for $7. They matched the paint in our bedroom, they were thick enough to block out the light from the street, and they were $7. What did I have to lose?

I imagine you can see where this is going, reader. I took those $7 curtains home, I “hemmed” them with Stitch Witchery, and slung them on the very same curtain rods that had been home to the awful brown drapes I hated.

Was this the window treatment a professional interior designer would recommend? Probably not.

Was it the solution I’d been dreaming of for three years? No.

But it was exponentially better than what I’d been doing. And would the expensive, custom blinds have been $343 better than these second hand curtains? I don’t think so.

And my “good enough” solution meant that I now had hundreds of dollars to put towards other things. I could get that massage I needed. I could take my friend out for a nice birthday meal. I could get the exit row upgrade on my next flight.

All because I opted for a quite-good-but-not-totally-perfect option.

Saying “good enough” in one area of your life opens up time, energy, and money to be awesome in other areas. Not every aspect of your life has to be polished and remodeled and optimized to perfection. Click To TweetYou know what happens when we allow ourselves the “good enough” option? Life opens up. We can breathe again. Hundreds of hours and dollars are available to us because we kept using the two-year old iphone and decided we could paint the cabinets instead of remodeling the whole kitchen.

Most of us are exchanging time for money. We spend 40-60 hours a week working to earn the money that we spend during the other hours.  The median income in America is about $32,000 a year, or $15 an hour. The average American would have to exchange 22 hours of their life to buy those damn custom blinds I wanted.

That’s 22 hours of life that could be spent playing with our kids, throwing sticks for our dogs, re-reading our favorite books, walking along the river as the sun set, or just watching funny videos on Youtube.

That’s a lot of life we could be living and enjoying because we chose the ‘good enough’ option.

What if – instead of buying a new outfit for every wedding and holiday party – we just wore something we already owned with some different accessories?

What if we decided that the recipe would be fine if we used dried thyme instead of fresh and medium cheddar instead of extra sharp – because that’s what we have on hand?

What if – when the car gets a scuff on the back bumper and the mechanic says it’ll cost $350 to replace – we buy the $12 paint pen and shrug?

And what if – after we did all those things – we took the money and time and energy we saved saying “Good enough!” and spent it on things we were really excited about? (Because how excited can you really be about a perfectly painted bumper?)

Imagine how many hours of our lives we’d have back if we stopped trying to have the absolute best, newest, most updated everything?

Now, you are, of course, allowed to have nice things. Sometimes upgrading to the better blender, the nicer sports bra, the more supportive mattress truly will improve your life. I am not exaggerating when I say that my Roomba is an investment in the quality of my life.

But when we constantly spend time, money, and energy trying to make something that’s already an A into an A++ we burn ourselves out and make ourselves broke.

3 questions that can help you find “good enough”

How will things be different if I upgrade this?

If we’re talking about a Roomba, your life will be different because your floors and carpets will be effortlessly clean, you won’t argue with your partner about who’s going to vacuum, and you’ll stop quietly resenting your dog. (No, I will never stop shouting about my love for my Roomba!!!)

But not every purchase does this. Will your life be dramatically improved by replacing one working television with a different working television? By getting a Vitamix when you already have a Nutribullet? Will your lunches taste better when you eat them out of one of those hipstery metal bento boxes instead of tupperware?

Maybe! Maybe not. Everyone’s answer is different. But I think it’s important to take the time to actually ask ourselves this question.

How many hours would I have to work to pay for this?

Truly, one of the very few personal finance books I recommend is Your Money Or Your Life. The crux of the book is this: most of us exchange our time for money. The less money we spend, the more hours of our lives we have to spend the way we want.

So run the numbers. How many hours do you spend working each week? And how much time do you spend commuting? Divide your yearly take home pay by the amount of time you devote to work in a given year.

Is that new phone worth 10 hours of your life? Is the just-wearing-it-for-one-wedding outfit worth 15 hours? Maybe they are! But again, I think it’s an important question

Why am I buying this really?

Sometimes to answer is “Because I’m sick of vacuuming all the time” or “I spend $15 a week on hummus and this nice blender means I can make my own.”

But sometimes the answer is “Because I’m bored” or “Because all my friends are remodeling their kitchens” or “Because I’m the only person at the coffee shop who’s not using a Macbook.”

You might be surprised by what you discover when you’re really honest with yourself.

So if you’re looking for permission to allow some part of your life to be “good enough,” this is it. <3

I want to hear from you! Do you struggle with feeling like you need to improve and upgrade everything? What’s one area of your life you’re allowing to be “good enough”?

P.S. Everything is socially contagious (and what to do about it)

Photos by Junior Moran and rawpixel on Unsplash

8 things to do if you’re broke after Christmas

Are you broke after Christmas? Looking for some personal finance advice if to get back on track after overspending? Click through for 8 money tips to deal with your Christmas credit card bill!

Are you basking in the post-holiday glow of perfect presents and good food? Wonderful!

Or are you trying to ignore texts from your bank about how your balance has dipped below $50?

If that’s you,
a) I’m sorry. That’s super stressful!
b) You’re not alone and this is fixable.

The average American spends $700 on Christmas presents while carrying a $6,000 credit card balance. Not particularly ideal! Let’s talk about how to true our wheels, right our proverbial ships, and get our bank accounts back to where we want them, regardless of how much we spent over the holidays.

8 things to do if you’re broke after Christmas

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Why You Need A ‘No Grocery Challenge’ + How To Do Your Own

Want to reduce food waste while saving money, time, and eating great meals? WELL DUH OBVIOUSLY. You need to do a No Grocery Challenge! #foodwaste #FIRE #savingmoney #budgettips #moneytips #frugal

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“HOW DID YOU MAKE THIS??!!”
“You’re going to tell us how you did this, right?”

The DMs pinged into my inbox and I squinted at my screen in confusion. What was all the fuss about?

Over the last week, I’d been cobbling together meals from my pantry and fridge, putting off grocery shopping because we were leaving for vacation.

I’d been hashtagging the experiment #nogrocerychallenge and amusing myself by making homemade croutons out of old hotdog buns and bacon fat I’d saved. I made a Mexican-inspired gazpacho to use up a bunch of vegetables and a cold Vietnamese-ish salad to finally get rid of those rice noodles.

After about 20 DMs politely demanding insight on the topic, I started writing.

And then I wrote some more. And then I wrote a lot more.

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