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I was walking out of the thrift store, arms bogged down with all my treasures (and a firetruck… and a filthy Scooby Doo vehicle… because that’s the only way I got my two toddlers to participate in my thrifting adventures.)

I let a nice, old man go in front of me in the checkout line because he had one item, and I had about a million.

He smiled, and he thanked me. Then he said, nodding at the kids, “Things will get better when they’re about 5.”

I was friendly and chirped, “Great! Good to know!” Big smile on my southern lady face, of course, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

But, then I got in the car, and his words started to push into me.

First, they came through my ears, of course, as words tend to do. But then they made their way down, trickling through my neck like water that was just a bit too cold. Once the words got to their final destination in my chest, they started simmering, kind of pounding along…

Why did it irk me so much?

You see, my kids were really good in the store. I was considering it a bit of a mom-win, actually.

I let them each select a toy right when we walked in. Then, I used my favorite mom-threat of, “I will give your toys to the trash truck to eat (nom nom nom) if you don’t follow me around and be good.”

Expert level parenting, clearly.

You’re welcome.

All that to say, his comment sparked some self-reflection.

If they were good, did that mean that I wasn’t?

Did he overhear me snap at them in the store? I don’t recall doing it, but is that somehow my normal state now?

Or, did I just seem exhausted, eyes darkened from writing alone at my desk while everyone else slept the night before?

Or maybe I just seemed…off. Off in a way that I definitely feel and yet still cannot quite make it through the fog to really describe or articulate.

Perhaps there’s another explanation:

  1. I was just being typical way-overthinking-things-Cat
  2. Maybe he was just trying to be nice.
  3. Maybe he’s right.
  4. Maybe he just tells this to all moms of small kids who seem to have ants in their pants in the checkout line because they are so very very very excited to be getting a $1 firetruck and $1 filthy Scooby Doo van.

Or, maybe it’s the phrase “It’ll get better.”

God I’m starting to really hate that phrase.

It’s a phrase I used to cling to back in the early days of having infant twins.

I would have clawed my way up a mountain with my bare hands just to reach for and touch those sweet words all strung together like beautiful twinkle lights… It gets better.

But now,  I’ve realized there is really isn’t anything better about the future than there is about today.

Each section of life, each season, each hour, each heartbeat, all comes with its own flavor.

Plus, I think I’ve made myself pretty unhappy lately reaching for the idea that something better is on the horizon. When I look forward too much, it puts me in endurance mode. If it’s going to get better sometime, someday, then I just need to fight my way through the tough parts so they’ll hurry up and be the past.

By Monica Allen

I guess I’m wondering if there is a better way.

What if, instead of telling each other, “It’ll get better,” we tried something else?

What if we just let ourselves feel whatever moment or emotion is there and really examined it… kind of soaked in it a bit… maybe let it burn if necessary and stopped trying to ignore it?

I’ve learned that sometimes when you try to ignore the hard things in life they start knocking on your door. You can put whatever music or podcast in your ears to pretend it’s not there, but the banging will get louder and louder and louder until you address it.

I think those of us who parent young kids spend a lot of time waiting for it to get better. When they’re infants, you’re waiting for them to sleep through the night. When they’re a little older, you’re waiting for them to be potty trained. Then, you want them to be in school. And then you’re tired of driving them to practice and rehearsals and you can’t wait for them to get their own car. And then… they’re gone.

They will be gone someday.

So, this is why I’m going to strive to change this mindset.

The it-gets-better mindset has gotten me into a bad pattern. It’s put me in a habit of using my strong work ethic to power through some hard days. It makes me ignore things instead of addressing them.

Please notice I’m not saying I’m going to cherish every moment or soak in all the beauty of their childhood.

I’m just going to acknowledge whatever is happening in the present and try to photograph it in my mind and hold it there tight for a moment.

Because they weren’t bad in the store today. They were sweet. They were happy. They were thrilled to be getting a toy. They were bursting with joy so much they could hardly keep still.

It was me who looked like I needed to hear it gets better. 

It was me.

And I’d like to change that.

The post I’m Changing My Parenting Mindset – No More “It Gets Better” appeared first on Catherine Alford.

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I was in my usual spot at the gym, not working out – of course – but working. I bring my laptop to the gym almost every day. I mooch off of their free coffee, and my kids play in the gym daycare. I use their high-speed internet, sip my coffee, and write.

But that day was different because as I got all settled in to write, I got the phone call. You know, that kind you hear about but don’t think it’s ever going to be you?

It was the hubs, and he very calmly said, “Catherine, don’t freak out. I was in a car accident. I am ok.”

Grenada, West Indies by Michelle Greer

So, obviously, when someone tells me not to freak out, I go ahead and freak out.

Although I was upset, somewhere internally, deep in my bones, I knew he was okay because he was calling me. He wasn’t in an ambulance or a hospital bed somewhere. I didn’t get a call from a stranger telling me about the accident. It was him, which meant, this wasn’t the end.

Still, he felt so far away. Like I wasn’t connected to him. Like I didn’t even know this person on the other end of the line. My mind was on autopilot. I saw the whole conversation play out in front of me like colorful letters flashing in front of my face. My mind was alert, but my body was frozen. I thought to myself:

He’s telling me he’s fine and doesn’t need to go to the ER. I am telling him he is not fine and he absolutely needs to go to the ER. Back and forth. I’m convincing his co-worker to take him to the ER. I can’t get to him. He’s hurt, and I’m being aggressive and downright rude, demanding that he get every test available. I should be nicer to him. He just got in a car accident. Get the MRI. CT. Whatever they have. He is fine. He will be fine.

Physically, I felt like I was somewhere else, even though I was rooted in my everyday gym cafe universe. I didn’t know what the next steps should be. The hubs told me I didn’t need to drop everything and grab the kids and drive 40 minutes to the hospital. He insisted he was fine. He said our 3-year-old twins didn’t need to be in a germ-infested ER. He promised to get the tests I want him to get. He said he’d be home soon.

But I kept thinking, I’m his wife. I should be there. People’s wives go to the hospital when they get in car accidents. But I didn’t go. He said to stay put, and I listened.

Grenada, West Indies by Michelle Greer

There’s a reason he felt so far away, so disconnected. Before the call, I hadn’t talked to the hubs much at all in the days and weeks prior. He was on night shift, driving into work at the hospital at night while I was on perpetual mom shift, the kind of days and nights that feel like they will go on forever.

My daughter sobbing at the door every single night begging her dad not to go to work. 

The never-ending toddler terrorist demands.

The editors who write in all caps and make me hate my job. HATE my job.

The distance from family.

The pile of laundry that will one day eventually suffocate me. If I ever go missing, I’m in the basement, underneath the dirty clothes.

Paris, France by Localers

I traveled to the Financial Bloggers Conference right before the accident, something I go to every year.

Many of my friends and colleagues asked about the hubs. They knew I’d been quiet. I hadn’t posted on my blog in months…. many, many months. I’d been backing away, burrowing. Cocoon-ing.

I told them the truth when they asked. The hubs hasn’t been great. And neither have I. I put on a good show, but the truth is, nothing could have ever prepared me for this season of my life – of how much hubs being a doctor in residency would test me – of how much the three-year-old twins would test me – of how much this job I created for myself would test me.

The accident, instead of putting my life and my marriage in sharp focus and making us throw ourselves into each other’s arms, instead felt like another elephant to go on top of all the other elephants on our backs.

The hubs, who literally believed he could not take on one more thing suddenly had a broken hand/wrist. His future as a surgeon was suddenly uncertain. All of this work, this effort. Would it be for nothing?

Both of us moving to another country for medical school. Both of us driving our preemie babies across the country so he could start his medical school clerkship. The money we spent on his education. The money we saved so he could fly all around the country doing residency interviews. The nights he hasn’t been home. The moments he missed with the kids. The holiday parties he couldn’t attend. The grass I cut because he wasn’t there to cut it. And the trash I took out. And the snow I shoveled. Every time I had to put a kid in time out, every time I lost my temper with them because I hadn’t had a break. Every time he was about to leave the hospital to come home when an emergency rolled in and kept him there for hours more —- all of a sudden, it seemed like we had spent a decade working towards this life together and it could be gone.

Medical School in Grenada, West Indies

The accident was 8ish weeks ago.

Hubs had surgery to repair the broken hand/wrist. I took him by myself to the hospital and cried most of the time he was back there. I felt so alone in the waiting room. There were so many other families huddled together, chatting, and then there was me with my stupid laptop trying to stay busy.

He was in a cast and then a split and now, nothing. He’s in intense physical therapy. He performed his first minor surgery on a patient yesterday with an attending, a teacher, right next to him to make sure things went ok (they did.)

And, for what it’s worth, I know it could have been worse.

The car was completely totaled. All the airbags deployed. But, he stepped out of the car and walked away. And the driver who hit him? He walked away unscathed.

I have to ask myself, what would have happened if he had died? Furthermore, what would have happened if he died with me feeling so far apart from him, so disconnected? Would I have even been able to remember my last conversation with him? The last words I spoke to him? When was the last time the kids saw him or played with him? With his schedule like it is, I honestly would have had to dig deep to remember.

All that to say, any physician who is currently training in a surgical residency program is going through an experience unimaginable to outsiders. There is literally nothing I can write to explain what it is like for all the surgical residents across the country who go to work every day. Even I don’t fully understand what goes on at his work, but I know that it has changed the hubs. And it’s changed us. And because of that, I do resent it often.

Michigan by Monica Allen

Still, we’re not quitters.

And I’m going to show my kids that even when things are bleak… like really bleak… you don’t quit when you’ve committed to something. We made a commitment to each other, to our families, to our kids, and even to the hubs’ residency program. We honor our commitments and we stick to them, even when every instinct and fiber and molecule and speck of air is screaming at us to run.

This whole thing – you know, the car accident thing – isn’t over.

Hubs is still very early in his recovery. The mental recovery from something like this is stickier and slower than the physical recovery. Physical recovery can be measured by doctors and physical therapists. It can be measured by muscle tone in his hand, the angle that his wrist can flex, the grip his hand can hold.

But mental recovery? It’s kind of like thick, gooey swamp marsh, the kind I used to run around in as a child growing up in Louisiana.

Sometimes you can run across the marsh with ease and sometimes you put your foot down in the mud, and it’s deeper than you thought. Sometimes you get a little stuck and things get messy. The mental impact of this accident was unexpected. Because residency has already taken someone who was mentally strong and wore him down, he was not prepared for this event. Trying to be back at work while trying to recover is kind of like someone aiming a firehose right at his face but also asking him to hold another firehose with a hand that’s still getting its grip back.


As for me?

Well, I’m a little tired of cocoon-ing.

I’m tired of burrowing.

And, I’m tired of hiding.

Consider me back here – at this blog – chronicling our lives, the good and the bad, just as I always intended to.

The post When Your Husband Gets Into a Major Car Accident appeared first on Catherine Alford.

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Well, we are officially in back to school season. Kids where I’m from in Louisiana have already started back, and my own kids here in Michigan will start preschool in just a few weeks. (I know; it seems like they were just born.)

Anyway, today I wanted to talk about an experience I had with my kids a few weeks ago, one that caused me to reevaluate a few things.

Considering Summer Camp Withdrawal

Over the summer, my kids had their first experience with summer camp. They went to two different camps, did a ton of crafts, took swimming lessons, tennis lessons, and more.

They were having a great time until my daughter came home from camp one day and told me that someone named “Ms. Melody” hit her on the leg. She seemed adamant about it and was really upset, so I called the camp director.

Unfortunately, there was no one working there by the name Melody, nor was there a child with that name at the camp. There wasn’t even someone with a name similar to that. So, it was really hard to get concrete answers.

Thus far, our kids haven’t made up stories, but once we talked extensively with everyone at the camp, we couldn’t pinpoint exactly what happened. My husband even stayed awake after being on an overnight shift at the hospital to come with me to camp the next day to talk to the staff there.

Anyway, it’s hard with 3-year-olds because they can talk but don’t really have the depth of language to fully explain things. To me, it was very unusual for her to say that out of the blue, but at the same time, she couldn’t point out a “Miss Melody” when her Dad and I walked into camp with her.

We selected this camp for a particular reason because of their stellar reputation, and when we walked into camp to try to figure out the situation, they bent over backward to make sure my daughter was ok. In the end, we decided to keep sending her to camp because she didn’t seem to have any anxiety once we talked about the situation.

She and her twin brother finished out camp happy and with lots of crafts and stories about nature walks etc. to bring home. Still, the whole experience kind of rocked my world for that week.

Had I pulled my daughter out of camp, though, I would have lost around $100-$200 since the camp fee was nonrefundable. Clearly, her safety is paramount, and I would have taken her out of camp in one second had I felt she was in danger. But, she did seem okay in the end, and although I’ll never know exactly what happened, she does still talk about the camp in a positive way.

The Financial Impact of Withdrawing from College

Considering taking my daughter out of camp and potentially losing money made me think about kids who have to withdraw from school on a larger scale – like college.

Lots of people focus on student loans as one of the bigger problems facing college students today, but there’s a quieter problem that people are finally starting to discuss.

This problem is that there are many college students who are overwhelmed, stressed, and suffer from anxiety. Sometimes, this gets so bad that they have to withdraw from school.

In fact, The National Alliance on Mental Illness did a survey of students who dropped out of school, and of them, 64% of respondents said they were no longer in school due to a mental health related reason.

In related news, the folks at Allianz Tuition Insurance recently released the Allianz Tuition Insurance College Confidence Index which indicates that nearly half of America’s college age students anticipate the need to withdrawal.

That’s not only a lot of people but a lot of tuition money that could be lost if families don’t understand their institution’s refund policy. In fact, 85 percent of parents agree that the financial implications of college withdrawal could be severe, thus impacting their daily life and their child’s ability to one day return to school.

Then, there are other reasons kids withdraw from school, like to take care of a sick family member or to go home if they have a serious illness of their own. Sometimes, they determine that a particular program or school just wasn’t the right choice for them.

It’s disappointing to think of the financial repercussions that can accompany a withdrawal on this scale. Our twins’ safety will always come first, but my husband and I were hesitant to lose a few hundred dollars and we can’t imagine being out thousands.

How to Prevent Expensive School Withdrawals

Obviously, you can’t prevent your child getting sick, but I think we can reduce some of the other reasons for school withdrawals by having a lot more open conversations with our kids.

I know my kids are little, and I am far from a parenting expert. However, I just got the first taste of some of the stress parents can experience when they send their kids off to school (or in my case, camp.)

So, I wanted to list out a few ways parents can talk to their kids before the school year begins to help keep the lines of communication open whether you have a kid in grammar school, high school, or college.

  • Set your expectations: It’s good to have high expectations of your kids but not so much that they wake up stressed every day. Tell them you expect them to attend class and try their best. Tell them to let you know if they are having trouble with a particular class. Sometimes kids get stressed and don’t want to talk to their parents about their problems for fear of disappointing them. How you handle their setbacks will determine how much they will confide in you in the future.
  • Stay in their business: Once your child is in college, they are technically adults. However, they don’t have the full responsibilities that adulthood brings. So, stay in their business. Ask what they’re doing. Ask who they are spending time with. The more you know about them, the easier it will be to tell if they are withdrawn, ill, unhappy, or uncertain about their choices.
  • Protect your investment: If you do have a student heading off to college right now, consider buying tuition insurance. This protects you financially in the event your child does have to withdraw from school.

Ultimately, my experience with my kids this summer only gave me a small taste of the type of stress that comes with having school age children. My kids have a long way to go before they head off to college, but I know I’ll be working hard to ensure that they are safe, happy, and adjusted in every school they attend from now until then.

Have you ever had to take your kid out of a particular school, camp, or extracurricular activity? What was your experience like, and why did you do it? Did you suffer a financial loss because of it?

FTC Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company), and I received financial compensation for it. All opinions and stories mentioned here are my own.

The post Student Loans Aren’t The Only Problem Hitting College Students Today appeared first on Catherine Alford.

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Adulting: it’s hard. I’m now 30 years old, and I’m still overwhelmed by the days I have to #adult with the best of them.

Back when I started college, there were so many things about life and money I didn’t know. In fact, it’s hard to believe it’s been about 8 years since I finished college.

I’ve grown so much since that time, and it’s become my goal over the years to help those younger than I am make intelligent and thoughtful decisions about their finances.

I should note it’s important to know these things now rather than later. The younger you are when you get your financial act together, the longer you’ll get to experience fulfillment and independence throughout the rest of your life.

So, this particular post is for those of you out there who are looking forward to starting college this fall or those who know someone who is.

In many ways, college is a time to test out the adult waters before you really have to navigate them all on your own. So, while you’re there, try a few of the money tips below.

1. Make Your Own Money

Even if your parents give you spending money for college, you should absolutely make your own money in school.

Making your own money equates to freedom and independence. When I was in college, my parents put $100-$200 a month on a prepaid card for food and other expenses, but I had numerous jobs in college too.

My first job with an actual paycheck in college was working at the special collections library. I made a whopping $5.40 an hour, and I will never forget it. Eventually, they gave me a raise to $6.40 per hour, and I felt like I made the big leagues.

I also worked at a scrapbook store, taught dance to 3 year olds, and tutored on the weekends. I used my extra money for travel, for fun, and to eat out. Having extra money is great because you don’t have to ask for the things you want, and it gives you a sense of pride and ownership.

2. Know What You Spend

It seems simple, but knowing what you spend is probably one of the simplest habits to start but one of the hardest to maintain.

Much like exercising or dieting, tracking your expenses is great at first when the goal is fresh. Then, it gets tedious over time. However, if you use a free app like Personal Capital, you can link all your accounts and see your spending in one place.

I check my Personal Capital account every day. I always know where my money is going, and it’s helped me to learn what my weak points are (I’m looking at you, Starbucks.)

If you can get this money habit down as a college student, though, you’ll be far ahead of the rest of your peers in terms of money management.

3. Plan for Emergencies

When you’re young, you feel invincible. However, there are a variety of emergencies and unexpected events that can pop up while you’re in college.

You might have a sick family member you need to take care of, or you might get sick yourself. It’s also more common than you think to struggle with stress and depression during college and feel like you need to drop out of school for the time being.

In fact, according to recent Allianz Tuition Insurance research, 43% of college students said they agree or strongly agree with the statement that they’ve thought about withdrawing from their college program. On average families estimate the financial loss from withdrawal to be between $9,000-11,000.

Think about what $10,000 could buy. To protect your tuition money if you have to leave school, you or your parents should consider getting tuition insurance. For relatively little cost, it will give you financial security and peace of mind if you have to leave school. When you save your tuition money you help make sure you have the option to return to school later.

4. Know the Rules of Credit Cards

For many people, credit cards can be a great tool for convenience. However, when you’re young and just starting out your financial life, it’s important to learn as much as you can about getting a credit card and the responsibility that implies.

Since 2009, credit card companies are not legally allowed to market to college students within 1,000 feet of a college campus. This law, also called the Credit Card Act, is meant to protect college students.

Before this law passed, credit card companies marketed heavily to college students, often offering free t-shirts and other items in exchange for filling out credit card applications. This often led to poor credit card practices, credit card debt, and more, especially for college students who weren’t educated on the topic.

So, before you head off to school, talk to your parents about how to build your credit responsibly, what to do when you get credit card offers in the mail, and how to talk to credit card marketers who might approach you while you’re out and about off campus.

5. Only Take Out The Loans That You Need

When I was in college, I just accepted the student loans my school offered me. When I graduated, I didn’t even know how to find out how much I owed. I had to call my school’s financial aid office, and they had to walk me through the process of how to figure out what my debt numbers would be.

That’s hard to admit now, but it’s true. So, now when I talk to college students as a financial expert today, I encourage them to be very proactive right from the start. Know exactly how much you’re taking out in student loans, and only take out what you will need.

Add up your loans as you go through school, apply to as many scholarships as possible using apps like Scholly, and try not to borrow more money in total than you will make in your first year out of school.

6. Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over Money Mistakes

As mentioned above, I made my own fair share of money mistakes when I was younger. While I wish I hadn’t made many of them, each one taught me valuable financial lessons.

Don’t expect to go through college without making mistakes; that’s part of becoming an adult. However, do try to avoid the really big money mistakes like getting into too much credit card debt, taking out extraordinary amounts of student loans, or signing contracts (like lease agreements) without carefully reading the terms (been there, done that.)

The point is that you can absolutely have a successful financial life if you start saving, tracking and protecting your finances now when you’re young, but don’t feel like you have to be perfect when it comes to your money.

For college students, this is going to be the first time many of you have responsibilities like paying rent or managing a budget. This might even be when some of you will get your first paycheck, file your taxes for the first time, and even experience your first share of hardship or a health emergency.

So, in order to get through the ups and downs of college life and managing money, try to consider the tips I mentioned before. Trust me, your future self will thank you.

Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and my business, www.CatherineAlford.com, received financial compensation for it. All opinions and money mistakes mentioned above are all from yours truly.

The post 6 Things Every College Student Should Know About Money and Adulting appeared first on Catherine Alford.

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Every now and then on the blog, I like to do what I call an entrepreneur spotlight. I love talking to other entrepreneurs, especially women entrepreneurs, and learning how they overcame obstacles to build their businesses.

Today, I’m sharing an interview I did with Shannon McLay, a financial expert who hosts an award winning podcast called Martinis and Your Money. Shannon has expanded her business to include a brick and mortar location. Read on about how she’s changing the money landscape in New York City.

I met Shannon McLay a few years ago, first online through our blogs and then in person. I wrote on my blog that I was moving all the way from Louisiana to New Jersey, and she reached out to find out where.

Coincidentally, I moved only 40 minutes from her house, so she came over to my apartment armed with casseroles and delicious smelling candles to help me ease into my new life as a mom of twins who just moved across the country.

From the first time I met Shannon, she told me about her idea for The Financial Gym, a place where the average person could go to get money advice without worrying about having a gazillion dollars to invest.

I watched The Financial Gym go from just a concept to an actual reality. A few weeks ago I walked down 5th Avenue in New York City and passed by her first brick and mortar location.

It took a lot of time and hustle, but The Financial Gym is now a real living and breathing company in one of the biggest cities in the world.

Below is Shannon’s story on how she made this dream become a reality. I hope you enjoy my interview with her and that you find some inspiration from it.

Hi Shannon! First, could you please tell me a little bit about your background as a financial expert? What types of jobs have you held in the financial sector?

I worked for 13 years in various areas of the financial services industry including investment banking, institutional fixed income sales, hedge fund sales and management, and financial advisory.

Three years ago I left the traditional financial services world and started my company, The Financial Gym, which provides financial planning and guidance for people of all ages and financial types.

Working for large financial companies is undoubtably a lucrative career choice, especially as you advance over the years. What made you want to quit working in corporate finance and start your own company?

When you work for a large financial services company, you ultimately end up in a box; and over time it becomes increasingly more difficult to break free of your box and try a new box on for size.

For example, I worked in the commercial bank at Bank of America and helped mid to large sized companies manage their cash investments. I was paid well for the job that I did, but I didn’t have the opportunity in the bank to do something different.

There are so many specialized jobs like this within a large organization, and many people spend their whole careers working in them. I didn’t want to have a career stuck in a box, especially because there was always the possibility that the bank could get rid of the box at any time, and I would not be prepared for another job.

Despite not wanting to be stuck in one spot with a large organization, I also saw a need for a different kind of financial services, and my passion for helping others moved me to make the leap and start my own company.

How did the idea for the Financial Gym come about?

While I was working as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, I met a number of people who didn’t have $250,000 in assets, but wanted to pay for personalized help from a person and not a website or an app.

I didn’t have a means to assist them while I was at Merrill, but I put together plans for them on the side. After one meeting where I presented a basic financial plan to one of these pro-bono clients, she looked me in the eyes and said “You know you’re saving my life right?” In that moment, I knew that I needed to leave Merrill Lynch and start a company for people like her.

Every financial services company wants to work with people with wealth; however, no one wants to help people who are starting out and trying to build wealth and pay down debts. Around this same time, I had just recently lost 50 pounds between dieting and working out, and I remember thinking that there were plenty of places for me to go to get physically healthy, but if I wanted to get financially healthy, my options were severely limited.

I had the vision of the financial gym as the place that people could go to get financially healthy, and I always imagined financial gyms across the country where people could go no matter what their financial body type looks like.

It took you a few years before you opened up your first physical location for the Financial Gym. What hurdles did you encounter going from idea conception to brick and mortar business?

In the financial services startup world, 100% of venture capital money goes to fintech companies. Actually a large majority of early seed start up funds are focused on technology solutions; therefore, I had to get creative with my fundraising and really dig deep into my network to find people who believed in the concept and my vision.

Even today as we are planning the next round of growth, it’s difficult to find the right investors given the fact that our business model is completely unique. Venture capital investors love to follow patterns (look how many apps there are out there) and very few like to help companies create new patterns.

In addition to my unique business model, I am also a female founder and only 7% of female founded businesses actually receive venture capital funding. Despite these headwinds, our business continues to grow and we are changing the financial lives of hundreds of people everyday. One day, the VC’s will catch up.

Who is the Financial Gym for? What can people expect to learn when they visit the gym?

The Financial Gym is for anyone looking for personalized help with their money. Our typical clients have all tried the apps like Mint.com, YNAB, Betterment and realized that they only solved part of the problem and that they needed someone to look at the whole picture and put the pieces together for them.

Not only that, but they also need the accountability to stay on track to achieve their financial goals. When people visit the financial gym, they can expect a comfortable and friendly environment where they can feel free to share their money stories and know that a financial trainer will not only help them, but will also care about their journey.

Traditional gyms have barbells and treadmills, and we have kleenex and wine.

We understand that personal finance is personal and dealing with money is often emotional and creates great anxiety. We don’t want our clients to stress about their money; we want to empower them and help them achieve the goals they never dreamed possible. We see it every day at the gym.

What do you think is the biggest struggle for the average person when it comes to their personal finances? Or, what seems to be the most common problem you encounter with your gym clients?

I think the biggest struggle most people have with money is mindfulness. A frequent comment from most gym members when they start out is, “I have no idea where my money is going.”

We have a tracking system like Mint.com, and we help our clients not only figure out where their money is going, but also how they can successfully prevent it from leaving or at least not wasting it on expenses that are not important to their overall goals.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur who is trying to make their business goals a reality? What are some of the problems they should watch out for in their entrepreneurial journeys?

I think that before you pursue an entrepreneurial endeavor, you need to make sure that you are filled with not only passion but as many financial resources as you can secure.

Even the greatest ideas will take time to develop, and the financial resources will help sustain you on that journey and your passion will fuel you through all of the rejection you will face because it’s inevitable that not everyone will love your vision. As long as you have the passion and the funds, though, you will get your business to the place you want it to go.

What are your plans for the future of the Financial Gym?

This year we plan to hire new financial trainers, invest in marketing, and expand to other locations. My vision is to have financial gyms across the country and to-date we are just located in New York City and work with people remotely. Soon people will be able to walk into a financial gym in their neighborhood.

Where can people learn more about the Financial Gym?

People can find out more about the financial gym at our website. They can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram under the Financial Gym and hear more about it on my podcast, Martinis and Your Money on iTunes.

Thank you, Shannon, for your time! I am rooting for your success!

The post How One Entrepreneur Left High Finance to Help the Little Guys Win With Money appeared first on Catherine Alford.

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This week, I finished reading an incredible book that really surprised me (in a good way). Like millions of other people, I love Chip and Joanna Gaines and their hit TV show, Fixer Upper.

So, I wanted to read their book, The Magnolia Story. I patiently waited on a list of people at my library to get the audio book and listened to it over the course of the past two or three days.

I have to say, it wasn’t what I expected at all. You can tell Chip and Joanna are a loving couple on their show, and I thought the book was going to be like chick lit or a beach book, i.e. a romantic story about this couple who works together and runs their business together.

But it was way more than that. 

In fact,  The Magnolia Story was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and it moved me so much that I felt the need to write a post about it. Namely, I wanted to highlight the incredibly poignant lessons that Joanna teaches throughout it.

Here are three examples that really impacted me:

1. Finding Happiness

“It was such a blessing. . . thriving in the middle of pain. Unless you find a way to do that there’s always going to be this fake illusion that once you get there – wherever ‘there’ is for you – you’ll be happy. But that’s just not life. If you can’t find happiness in the ugliness, you’re not going to find it in the beauty, either.” – Joanna Gaines

Many people look at Chip and Joanna Gaines and might believe they live a perfect life. However, I see them and I know they have incredible challenges. First of all, they have four kids. I know having young children is hectic. It can bring you to your knees with the work, sacrifice, and energy required to take care of them. Then, they have a business to run on top of that.

I’ll be honest; I find myself wishing for my kids to grow up often. Having twin toddles who are so high energy honestly feels like it’s going to break me some days.

I find myself wishing my kids were in kindergarten or first grade so I can have a full work day again, instead of breaking it up between their naps and babysitters and working after they’re in bed. This doesn’t mean I don’t love them or don’t love being around them. This just means it’s a really hard job and sometimes I’d like a break.

I find myself wishing for my husband to be finished with residency, to be making the full time doctor’s salary he’s been working towards for a decade. This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate his job; it just means I’m ready for that last step, the final obstacle before he can start practicing medicine on his own.

I scrub the bathroom floor on my hands and knees wishing for a luxurious master bath of my own that doesn’t have pee stuck to the floor. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful to own my home and have a working bathroom. It just means that one day, I’d like something a little nicer that I don’t share with little kids.

I rush to make a meal for my husband at 3:00 in the afternoon so he can have a full stomach before starting a 15 hour night shift. I try to tell him everything I need to tell him in 30 minutes because right now we’re on totally opposite schedules. I know the work he does is important, but I’m still adjusting to the fact that most of the time, his patients are going to need him more than I need him.

Honestly, it feels like our life is ugly at times – and hectic. I spend a lot of time wishing for something different. I spend a lot of time just overwhelmed with how much I have to do just to keep the house running, let alone be the breadwinner and the parent who spends the most time with our kids.

That’s why this quote from Joanna hit me hard.

If you can’t find happiness in the ugliness, you’re not going to find it in the beauty, either.

It’s time to start finding more moments of happiness during the day. This struggle, this work, is going to lead to something great for my family. It just might not be today.

This leads me to the next lesson Joanna taught me:

2. Getting the Reward

“Find what it is that inspires you, go and find what it is that you love, and go do that until it hurts. Don’t quit, and don’t give up. The reward is just around the corner.” – Joanna Gaines

Again, when you look at Chip and Joanna Gaines, you might think they have the magic touch. Every venture they start seems to turn to gold, but I loved their backstory in The Magnolia Story because it shows that you can’t create a great business empire without your fair share of hardship.

I don’t want to give it all away, but there were so many moments in the Gaines’ life where most people would have just quit. The only reason their business is successful is because those two have grit and passion, and they pushed through when things seemed impossible.

I’ve read many motivational quotes about not giving up, but I like how Joanna said “the reward is just around the corner.” I think part of what’s hard about running a business or working towards a big goal is you never know when the rewards will come.

Right now, I am in the middle of negotiations for four different possible partnerships, and I’m just waiting to hear back to see if these companies want to work with me. Every day, I think I’ll get an e-mail in my inbox saying the deal is on, but it’s been very quiet the past two weeks.

I think I just need to have a more positive attitude though. Maybe the reward is around the corner and maybe it isn’t, but hoping it is or putting faith on the fact that it might be is a better way to live each day.

3. It’s OK to Be Different

“I finally believed it was actually a beautiful thing to be unique and to be different.” – Joanna Gaines

When Joanna said this, she was referring to her Korean heritage, but I think it applies to many aspects of her life, and mine.

Running a business is different. Working in the evenings and on the weekends is different. Making the majority of our family income online is different.

I’ve written about this before, but over the years I’ve struggled a lot with the reactions of other people to my work. It’s hard to explain exactly what I do. It’s hard to put a name on it. It’s taken me a long time to garner my self worth from how I live my life vs. from what I do for my job.

Lots of people don’t “get it” and coming from a family who are all professionals with a brother and a sister who are an engineer and a doctor respectively, I sometimes feel like I’m the odd one out.

As the middle child, I feel like I’ve spent my whole life trying to find my place, trying to do things that matter, trying to make my parents proud.

Now, though, at almost 30 years old, I’ve realized none of that matters. I just need to make myself proud. I need to be happy with what I do and who I am. I don’t need to seek approval from anyone, and I need to be able to live my life and do my work in the absence of praise or recognition.

“I finally believed it was actually a beautiful thing to be unique and to be different.”

As you can see, this book really made a big impact on me, and I keep reading the quotes I posted above over and over again. If you want to read it, you might have to wait a while to get it from your library like I did, but it’s relatively affordable on Amazon too.

Have you read any good or inspiring books lately? If so, leave the title in the comment section. I’m always on the lookout for more.

The post 3 Life Lessons I Learned from Joanna Gaines appeared first on Catherine Alford.

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Yesterday was one of those crazy days that was full of highs and lows.

In the morning, I talked to my accountant, Eric, who told me my tax bill was going to be about $2,000 more than I was expecting. Womp. Womp.

One day I’ll get my business tax estimations right, but this year’s miscalculation on my part was really the result of moving to a new state and not being able to deduct certain things here in Michigan that I was able to deduct in New Jersey.

I miss the simpler days of doing my taxes early in my marriage where we each had a W2 and that was about it.

Now, with the complexities of running a business and owning a home, I’m glad to outsource this task.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t freak out a little bit, though. I already mentioned a few weeks ago that the hubs and I have been working hard to get our finances on track.

We’ve been doing really well with this, but it seems as soon as we get a little bit ahead, there are setbacks. Ah, such is life.

Deciding to Take Action

I decided yesterday that I could be stressed or frustrated about money or I could do something about it. So, I went down into my basement with the Hubs and I started to look for things to sell.

Like many Americans, my basement is full of crap. You would think after moving several times that I wouldn’t have a ton of stuff, but I do. I’m normal.

The great news is that lately I’ve been getting huge bursts of energy to purge and sell things like there’s no tomorrow. Seriously, nothing is safe. Hide yo’ kids. Hide yo’ wife.

I can’t tell you how GREAT it felt to separate things in the basement, one pile to keep and one pile to sell.

There are so many expensive baby items down there that I just cannot wait to photograph and put on Craigslist. Our basement has never looked better.

I think the Hubs and I went through about 5 huge boxes, and there is more to go.

Found Money

The best part of this massive purge was that Hubs found cold. hard. cash.! I don’t know whether to be embarrassed about this or really excited. I’m just going to go with excited.

You see, the Hubs and I used to use the cash envelope system to budget. We used it when we lived in the Caribbean and we used it when we lived in New Jersey. These days, we use our debit cards for everything and use the free app, Personal Capital, to track our spending.

I’m telling you this because the money we found was actually in an old cash envelope marked “Gremlins.” If you don’t know about my weird term, Gremlins, you might want to check out this post that explains it.

Basically, Gremlins are the things that pop up in life that you don’t expect, like flat tires or a root canal. Gremlins are inevitable, so I always had a cash envelope for them. If I went a few months without a Gremlin in my life, the cash added up.

I honestly couldn’t believe it when when the Hubs started pulling $20 bills out of that envelope! I was jumping up and down like I won the lottery. All in all, there was $231 in there that I totally forgot I had. Awesome, right?

Using Found Money Wisely

I think it’s important to note that this cash will probably go to my babysitter this week. I pay her $300/week to watch the kiddos while I work so that’s a nice chunk of her weekly pay in found money right there. When it comes to found money, it’s really tempting to buy something fun with it or go out to eat to celebrate. This is true whether you find $231 in the basement or inherit $10,000 from your grandfather.

However, if you do find some money in the form of an unexpected check or something similar, try to use it towards your money goals. For me, that’s keeping my spending as low as possible so I can save $2,000 in the next month to use for my tax bill!

Have you ever found money you weren’t expecting? Have you ever used the envelope system for budgeting before?

The post That Time I Found $231 In My Basement appeared first on Catherine Alford.

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Seven years ago when I spent $10 to buy my domain name and start my blog, I had no idea how much my life was about to change.

Blogging has transformed the way I live my life. I’ve loved writing since I was a child, and I am amazed every day that I get to do what I love and get paid for it.

Blogging is just like anything else, though. It takes a lot of hard work, and every now and then I need a little boost.

Last year, I got in a bit of a rut when it came to my blog and my business. I knew there had to be a better way to blog, but I had no idea how to find it. I felt like I was working so much on my blog and not getting anywhere.

I couldn’t understand why other bloggers were making such high incomes and such an impact and why my income wasn’t going up at all.

And then I discovered Elite Blog Academy.

Elite Blogging Academy is the most comprehensive course on blogging in existence. I wish it existed when I first started my blog. When I discovered it, it seemed like the perfect solution to my problem, but I was still scared to take the leap. The primary reason is that the course was expensive. It’s $797, but they do an option for you to pay in installments. I wavered back and forth on if I needed to spend so much to learn how to blog better. After all, I was already making a full time income from my blog.

Ultimately, though, I knew I would never get unstuck on my own, and so I I decided to take my chances and enroll.

I am so glad I did!

In the time since I started Elite Blog Academy, I have dramatically improved my blog. I deleted over 400 posts that didn’t convey my primary brand message. I organized my categories. I started to write more posts that mattered and less fluff. I loved the course so much that I’m actually going through the entire thing again right now starting with Unit 1. Yes, it’s actually that good that I’m doing it a second time.

So is EBA right for you too?

Honestly, it depends.

Elite Blog Academy is for people who either want to start a blog or who want to improve the blogs they already have. It’s for people committed to following the process and actually doing the work.  As a member of EBA, I’ve noticed that the thing that the most successful graduates have in common is a willingness to put 100% of their effort into completing the assignments in order.

The program works if you do the work.

It’s also not for people who are going to insist that they’ve already heard this all before, or who are going to argue that a task seems too basic or complain that it’s too hard. It’s not for bloggers who just want to just “skip to the good stuff” picking and choosing the lessons they pay attention to, then write it off when they’re not getting results. The EBA process is designed to create success, but it only works if you are willing to commit to actually doing the work.

What’s Included with EBA?

Elite Blog Academy gives you a proven framework for success that you won’t find anywhere else. The course includes everything you need to turn your blog into a successful, profitable business, from refining your message and growing your audience to monetizing your platform and building your business.

It is possible to create a successful business from a blog, and Elite Blog Academy shares exactly how it’s done, step-by-step.

Because EBA is designed to be self-paced, in order to do it right, you should give yourself plenty of time. Blogging is not for the faint of heart, and this course requires a willingness to buckle down and get to work. That said, for those who are willing to do the work, it also comes with a 100% money-back guarantee.

How Do I Get Started?

Enrollment for Elite Blog Academy only opens ONCE each year, and will only be open this week!


And, here’s the great news: If you enroll in Elite Blog Academy using the link above, as my bonus to you, I will enroll you in the Junior Level of my course, Get Paid to Write for Blogs, for free! I truly believe that having these two courses together will make you unstoppable. Elite Blog Academy is the best course in existence for building a profitable blog and my course, Get Paid to Write for Blogs, has 29 extremely detailed videos that will show you how to use your new and shiny blog as a platform to get highly lucrative freelance writings jobs online.

So, if you’re interested in blogging as a career whether you have a blog right now or not, this week is the one week of the year where you can make a difference in your life and take the steps you need to move forward.

If you decide to go ahead and enroll in Elite Blog Academy using the link above, send me an e-mail and let me know that you did so I can enroll you in my course as well!

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The post The Biggest Week in Blogging is Here + Get My Writing Course for Free appeared first on Catherine Alford.

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