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The Lady in the Black partners with her 9-year old daughter to craft four stories that hold important financial lessons for kids as well as for adults. As with all fairy tales, our story begins with “once upon a time.”

ONCE UPON A TIME…

…there were four money trees. Their names were Cash, Penny, Benjamin, and Buck.

If you don’t know anything about money trees, you should probably know that money trees look and act and grow like normal trees but grow paper currency instead of leaves.

Cash, Penny, Benjamin, and Buck all grew up together in the nursery orchard until they were big and strong enough to move to a new home. Each tree was planted in a different backyard, at a different home, with a different person taking care of them.

In short, each money tree has a different story.

PENNY and SAM SAVER

Penny was thrilled to be planted at the quaint and cozy cottage of Sam Saver and his wife, Susie.

From the very first day, Penny noticed that the Savers were very special people. The two of them spent many of their days tending the little vegetable garden that sat in the opposite corner of the backyard as Penny. The Savers seemed to enjoy being home together and often had their friends join them for backyard barbecues.

Sam was very tender with Penny and treated her with the utmost amount of respect. He watered her every day. He plunked any weeds that might grow too close to Penny’s trunk and provided her tree food to help her grow. The truly special thing about Sam Saver was that he never picked a currency leaf off of Penny’s branches. Instead, he patiently waited for them to fall to the ground before gathering them up. Sam also thanked Penny for her blessings before took the money to his wife.

One day, a wise old owl paid Penny a visit.

“Who-who is taking such good care of you”, the owl asked. “You look so happy, Penny.”

“I am happy,” smiled Penny. “The Savers are so responsible and caring. It’s a dream come true.”

Owl nodded his agreement. “It’s true. Savers respect money and know that their patience is rewarded in time.”

Penny spent the next several months growing bigger and stronger. The older Penny became the more leaves she dropped to the ground. Penny was happy to share her leaves because it allowed the Savers to build a small addition to their cottage. She knew that room would soon be home to a teeny Saver baby. A wooden swing set soon joined Penny in the backyard.

Just a few months later, Owl flew over a party in the Saver’s backyard. Friends and family were cooing over a small white bundle cradled in Sam Saver’s arms. Susie was resting and chatting happily with a friend under the cool shade of Penny’s canopy.

“Looks like the Savers have their bundle of joy,” hooted the wise old owl. “Those Savers sure appreciate the value of one good Penny.”

BENJAMIN and ISABELLE INVESTOR

Benjamin was planted in the sunniest spot in Isabelle Investor’s amazing backyard garden. Benjamin was one very lucky money tree, indeed. She was famous for making things grow and more than one person in town envied her green thumb. Isabelle was passionate about Benjamin’s care. She provided water, fertilizer, and daily care. She pruned any underperforming branches to allow the other branches to thrive. In short, she gave Benjamin the best conditions in which to grow.

In fact, Isabelle took such good care of Benjamin that he starting to bear golden coins like fruit. Isabelle never picked the currency leaves; she didn’t need to. If Isabelle needed money, she would simply pick a coin or two. Picking these coins didn’t harm Benjamin in any way.

One day, the wise old owl popped by to visit with Benjamin.

“Hello, Owl,” Benjamin said. “See my shiny gold coins? I didn’t know I could do that!”

The owl smiled. “Yes, they are lovely little gifts, aren’t they? You are a very special tree, Benjamin. You can not only grow money, you produce dividends.”

Isabelle continued to care for Benjamin and he continued to grow and produce coins, more and more each season. In fact, Benjamin bore the most fruit in all the land. Years later, the owl flew over the Investor house and was surprised to see not one but TWO money trees in the backyard. Both money trees were ripe with coins.

“What a smart lady,” hooted the wise old owl. “That Investor cared for her Benjamins so well that all their lives are full, flush, and fruitful.”

CASH and SALLY SPENDER

Cash started his life as a money tree just like everyone else. He enjoyed the gentle summer rains and the bright sunshine. He loved the wind in his leaves and his roots in the ground. Cash was planted at the luxurious home of Sally Spender. Sally was a nice girl who lived in a nice home and loved nice things. Nice things made Sally happy–at least for a little while.

Sally Spender did a fine job of taking care of Cash, at first. She watered him and hugged him. Every day, Sally plucked off Cash’s currency leaves to pay for all the nice things she wanted. It hurt Cash to have his leaves removed but it made Sally happy so he didn’t complain.

One day the wise old owl came to visit.

“Hello, Cash. How are you feeling,” asked the owl. “You don’t look too good. Your branches are thin and your leaves are sparse.”

“I’m not feeling well at all,” Cash whined. “I’m so very tired. With so many leaves missing, I can’t gather enough energy.”

The owl looked sad. “I was afraid of that. Ms. Spender is a greedy girl. I don’t think she means you harm but she has taken too much from you, Cash. Money trees need special care.”

Cash knew the owl was right.

In the following weeks, Cash worked hard, very hard, to grow the new currency leaves that would help him feel better. He pushed his roots deeper into the ground and turned his branches toward the sun. But even as one new leaf grew, Sally Spender would come and take it. As Cash offered less money, Sally stopped watering and hugging him. She stopped treasuring him. Cash felt the life slipping from him.

One sad day, the owl flew over the Spender house and saw that Cash had withered and died.

“Poor thing,” the wise old owl hooted. “Spenders who can’t care of their Cash don’t deserve a money tree.”

BUCK and DANNY DONATE

Danny Donate was a friendly man and was thrilled to have his money tree, Buck, in his backyard. Danny made sure to make Buck feel welcome right away.

“I am so thankful for you, Buck, that I plan to share all of your blessings with those in need.”

Once Buck learned that this was the case, he produced more currency leaves than any other money tree in the land. Danny never once picked from the tree. He waited for Buck to drop his leaves. (He’d learned this from his neighbor, Sam Saver.) Only then would Danny collect them. Since Buck dropped so many leaves, Danny had to use a rake to collect all the money.

The wise old owl flew down to visit with Buck.

“Hello, Buck,” stated the owl. “You look good.”

“Thank you, Owl,” replied Buck. “Not only do I look good I am doing good deeds and that makes me feel wonderful.”

“That’s true,” said Owl. “A money tree that gives to others is the wisest and most noble of all the trees. It’s fortunate your man agrees.”

Buck loved watching Danny rake up the leaves and load them to his truck to give away. Danny often returned to share gratitude from those that had received his blessings. Some of the people he had helped got money trees of their very own. Danny Donate was thankful for him everyday. Buck felt such pride for himself and for Danny’s generosity that he produced more money any other money tree in the land.

Years later, the wise old owl flew by the Donate house.

“How huge he has grown,” hooted the wise old owl. “Donate has done such good deeds that he deserves the big Bucks.”

THE MORAL OF THE STORY

While money doesn’t really grow on trees, we should take care of our money so that it can take care of us.

THE END SUMMARY

Sure, money trees are things of fairy tales. But the lessons behind them are very real.

How do you feel about money? Is it something that simply flows in and out of your life? Is it something you work for and struggle to get? Or is it a living, growing thing that helps to support you and your dreams?

And how do you take care of your money? Do you find nice places for it to grow? Do you find ways to nurture and care for your money? Do you share its blessings with others?

What do your children know of money? Are you passing on the skills they’ll need to nurture their own money in the future?

Authors Note: This story is a strong collaboration between The Lady in the Black and her 9-year old daughter, The Kid in the Black. Not only did the kid come up with the story concept (money trees) but she gave them their names as well. She also had a firm hand in the art direction of all of the graphics. I’m using her love for art to open conversations about money. I knew to do that because I used my own love of writing to open myself to the financial community 7 months ago. 

Comments are love! (Especially since I’ll be sharing them all with The Kid!)
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Happy New Year! The Lady in the Black had an interesting experience in drafting her financial goals for 2018. It’s not as easy as making a list, is it? 

2018 Financial Goals: Draft 1

A few weeks ago, I was inspired to write down my financial goals for 2018. I took a little time out of my workday and jotted down a page and a half of “to do” items with the big title of 2018 Financial Goals at the top.

This is what I came up with:

  • Achieve positive net worth
  • Save 30% of my income for estimated taxes
  • Start a car savings fund
  • Pay 2017 taxes on time
  • Increase my freelance rate to increase income
  • Increase passive income streams
  • Max out HSA
  • Max out IRA
  • Refinance car loan
  • Re-negotiate my lease
  • Visit Greenville to research retirement potential
  • Take 2 week vacation with daughter
  • Get a reward credit card
  • Keep and improve automation
  • Eat more at home

Sounds pretty great, right? Well, not really.

After I really looked at the list and reviewed it, I realized something pretty damn important.

The list is missing dreams. It’s missing ties to emotions. It’s the “what” not the “why.” In short, it’s missing me. (In my years as a marketing writer, you’d think I’d spot a list of tactics. That’s what that what this list is; tactics not goals.)

Back in April 2016, when I first put a plan together to help solve my ongoing financial woes, I organized a traditional budget spreadsheet by goals. And that list worked like a charm.

Here’s what it looked like.

  • Goal 1: Find and Maintain a Positive, Can-do Attitude About Money
  • Goal 2: Eliminate Crushing Burden of Debt
  • Goal 3: Feel Confident that Life Goals Can Be Achieved Financially
  • Goal 4: Live Comfortably and Happy Everyday
  • Goal 5: Support My Goals Through Work That is Rewarding
  • Goal 6: Allow Wiggle Room to Account for My Mistakes

Do you see the difference in those two lists? I do.

After just under 2 years working diligently on my finances, I can see that I’ve lost my way a bit. Quantitative tactics had somehow displaced qualitative goals. And to me, that’s a big “whoop-see-daisy.”

So, let’s do this. Let’s reset my priorities back to what matters.

2018 Financial Goals: Draft 2 Goal 1: Maintain and Inspire a Positive Attitude About Money

I’m going back to this one since I feel it’s so vitally important…but tweaked it just a tad.

Sometimes I’m shocked about my own positive attitude about my finances. Sure, I still get nervous and/or anxious on occasion especially when I think about the possibility of losing my job. And now, sometimes I’m overly critical for not doing more, being more aggressive and/or diligent.

Yet overall I am transformed. I am empowered to take care of myself and my daughter; emotionally, physically, and fiscally. With 6 months of this blog under my belt, I hope to be able to inspire others that are also struggling to feel that sense of confidence and security.

Some of the tactics I see attaching under this primary goal would be:

  • Keep educating my daughter about personal finances
  • Post at least once a week on The Lady in the Black
  • Talk about money openly and honestly with family and friends
  • Track financial tactics, progress, metrics, etc.
  • Celebrate achievements
Goal 2: Recover Pride of Citizenship

I wouldn’t consider myself overly patriotic but I am aware of how fortunate I am as a white educated female American. And politics aside, I do believe that I have a responsibility to contribute to society. Yes, part of that is becoming a responsible tax payer. (For those that know my story, you understand that taxes aren’t exactly my “jam.”) Yet being a citizen means more than paying timely taxes. It’s a feeling of worth and belonging.

Here’s a few things that can help with this:

  • Save for and pay estimated taxes on time
  • File and pay taxes on time
  • Vote in local elections
  • Identify 2-3 non-profit organizations to contribute to
  • Volunteer 4-6 times over the next year
  • Encourage my daughter’s philanthropic nature
Goal 3: Increase Sense of Self-sufficiency

I’ll let you in on a little secret, I never lived by myself until after my divorce. (Well, there was 6 months in college when I got dumped by my boyfriend whom I was living with but that didn’t really count.) Since my divorce, I’ve successfully supported myself. Yes, I’ll admit to a few major bumps where I need my friends to help support me. All in all, I’m happy to report that I’m 100% self-sufficient….at least financially. (Emotionally maybe not so much but that’s another story for another day.) I hope to expand that sense of self-sufficiency.

A few things I thought of to help include:

  • Triple my current emergency fund (aim for $3,000)
  • Increase my annual income by 10% over 2017 figure
  • Continue to invest at a rate of at least $300/month
  • Improve my professional networking
  • Get 2-3 new freelance gigs
  • Achieve a positive net worth
  • Take care of my health
Goal 4: Envision a “Real” Retirement

I thought I had it all figured out. The lakeside cabin in the woods. Me writing of cheesy romance novels for income. The quirky, love of my life writing away in his study. The wooden boat docked in the boathouse. The snowbird lifestyle; 7 months in upstate NY, 5 months in the desert.

It looked like one great retirement dream.

But turns out the lakeside cabin is too damn expensive and the writer guy isn’t into co-habitation. It also turns out that most of family and friends in NY might not even live there by the time I return to retire. It also turns out it might be good to finish writing one romance novel before relying on that for retirement income.

In short, the reality of my dream was perhaps a bit too dreamy. It’s time to get a bit more practical with my retirement dream.

I can spend a bit more time in 2018:

  • Build a new vision board/vision of the perfect day
  • Max out retirement accounts
  • Visit affordable, temperate areas in mid-Atlantic states
  • Ask friends and family of their retirement dreams/plans
  • Incorporate writing on my novel into my weekly schedule
  • Continue saving for daughter’s college education
  • Invest more quality time with my family and friends
  • Return to dating (cringe)
Goal 5: Live Comfortably Everyday

One thing I’ve discovered is that managing finances isn’t all about denying yourself today in favor of tomorrow. While I plan to prepare and plan for the future, I don’t want to sacrifice the quality of my life today. I live somewhat frugally and that’s OK. I will splurge on occasion and probably spend “too much” on eating out. It’s part of me being authentic, present and grateful in the moment. It’s about living a profitable life.

Things that will help me stay comfortable include:

  • Cooking at home more (and teaching my daughter)
  • Reducing clutter/sorting through excess possessions
  • Exercising/losing weight
  • Having money in the bank
  • Talking to my friends/family more frequently
  • Writing/reading for fun
  • Use credit sparingly and responsibly
Summary

So, there you have it. A MUCH better list of goals for 2018. Sure there are a few financial tactics in there but they support larger more emotive goals. There’s talk of dreams but ones based in reality, not fantasy. There’s also only 5 goals to focus on instead of being overwhelmed with a huge list of checklist items.

The Lady in the Black might forget herself sometimes and might confuse tactics and goals but she can take a step back and see the big picture. And for 2018, the big picture is about quality of emotions, not quantity of dollars.

What is your big picture?

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As the year draws to a close, The Lady in the Black grades her financial achievements (and failures) over the past 12 months. Spoiler alert: It’s not straight A’s but it ain’t too shabby either. 

The Lady’s 2017 Financial Report Card

As I’ve said before, this blog was started as a way for me to document my financial journey (and hopefully inspire others along the way.) Yesterday, as I was sorting some paperwork, it occurred to me that I have accomplished so much this year. And as my fellow blogger friend, Ms Li z from Ms Liz Money Matters, says:

Too often we move to the next goal and forget to celebrate!

In an attempt to both celebrate AND provide a balanced perspective, I’ve included what I feel are objective grades on my biggest financial initiatives this past year.

Grades A+ Automated My Finances

When I first started getting serious about improving my financial situation, my dream was to “not have to worry about paying bills.” By that I meant both having an adequate amount of funds to cover my expenses but also the removal of the actual process of physically paying bills. I hated worrying about checking account balances, bouncing checks, writing checks, paying bills online. I hated it. A lot. It brought stress and worry every day. After years and years of it, I was conditioned to think money was bad.

The best thing I did EVER for myself was to automate my finances. I hesitated for a long time, thinking I’d somehow mess up and create a bigger mess. But finally I just did it. I sat with my bills, mapped out monthly deadlines, amounts, etc. and programmed everything to be on auto pay. In figuring out how to pay my bills, I also figured out how to auto-deposit savings.

Later in the year, I translated my process into what’s called a visual money map. It’s a good exercise to help you figure out where you money is going and how it gets there.

My automated process isn’t perfect but it’s freaking amazing. It’s allowed me to feel more positive about my money. And that positive attitude is the real key to any success I’ve had this past year.

B- Opened a Private HSA

As a freelance employee, I’m forced to buy my own medical insurance. Yes, it sucks but what sucks worse is having to pay premiums AND deductibles. I discovered there is such a thing as a private HSA. It’s the same dang thing as many employer-sponsored programs offer, I just have to pay for it myself. But that’s cool because it comes with sweet tax advantages.

In January, I started contributing $200 a month into the HSA. I grade myself only at a B- because I probably should have maxed out the account for the highest tax benefits. (I believe the maximum contribution for a family is $6,750 and I end up with $2,400 in contributions.) However, the $200/month was more than adequate in covering my daughter and my medical expenses for the year.

I gotta say, it’s pretty cool knowing that if my kid or I get sick that we don’t have to worry about money. We just worry about getting well.

A- Purchased Life Insurance

While I do have one small life insurance policy that I’ve had for 30 years, I was woefully underinsured.

In January 2017, I purchased a “whole life paid-up at age 65” policy. My financial planner suggested this as I was declined a disability insurance policy. Initially, I balked at the pricey monthly premium and was tempted to cancel it many times in favor of using the funds elsewhere.

However, this is truly a long-term play. While the $148,000 of life insurance is comforting in case The Lady kicks the bucket early, it’s the dividends and cash surrender value that are truly attractive. Extrapolating out to 20 years, they guarantee a surrender value of $85,500 and dividends COULD reach as much as $25,000. This is pretty groovy seeing that I have so very little saved for retirement.

A Paid Off Foreclosure Debt

Late summer 2016, I negotiated a settlement with Wells Fargo to eliminate $30,000 of foreclosure debt that had been written off. Bad debt doesn’t just evaporate (well, actually it does after 7 years) and it was sitting there like a crushing weight of shame on my credit report.

I’ve got red in my ledger. Now I need to wipe it out.

I knew I’d never truly be able to have a solid credit score until I did something about it. The “something” I decided to do was settle and pay it off as aggressively as I could. My monthly payment was steep and I honestly don’t know how I did it for 12 months. But I did and I’m super proud that I paid that debt.

As a point of fact, I do have another $5,000 charge off debt left to tackle but that smaller amount doesn’t warrant the same level of concern that the $30,000 did.

C- Applied for Auto Refinance

Due to the fact my credit score was crap when I purchased my Prius in June 2016, my interest rate is crazy stupid. At first, I didn’t think much about it. I could afford the monthly payment and was thrilled at having a car (after living nearly a year without one.) However, that interest rate began to bug me more and more.

My financial planner told me to wait until my credit score got to 640 and then apply for a refinance. And so I did. Only, the reaction wasn’t the “of course, Lady let us help you out unconditionally” I was hoping for. The credit union wanted me to clean up the remainder of my charge off debt. Ugh.

I’m glad I had the gumption to apply. I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t done anything else to pursue this re-finance. I could have put a plan to pay off that charge off debt. I could have applied elsewhere. Instead, I took the lazy way out and am throwing a bit more a month towards payments, hoping to pay it off sooner and save interest that way.

What can I say? I’m slacking on this one and I know it.

C+ Opened a Retirement Account

I was reluctant to start an retirement account for fear that the IRS would catch wind of it and get pissed since I owe them for back taxes. But I couldn’t let fear hold me back any longer. In truth, it was (and still is) very embarrassing to be 47 and have only $5,000 set aside for retirement.

So, based on my financial planner’s advice, I opened a backdoor ROTH IRA and deposited $950 of “found” money. I also initiated a recurring auto-deposit contribution of $200/month. This all sounds great until I tell you that I didn’t do any of this until late November.

While I’m glad I made the move, and is true with most things, I regret not doing it sooner. I also realize $200/month won’t max me out for next year.

I need to get serious about retirement plans and STAT. I gotta bring this grade up.

A- Started Investing

Speaking of “not doing it sooner”, I wish I had had the guts to start investing younger.

However, I need to cut myself a break. First, I was never interested as I was treading in survival mode for so long. Next, I didn’t really understand what investing was. I thought it was all day trading and “buy low, sell high.” Lastly, I didn’t have access to encouragement and advice from the personal finance community.

I placed my first investment (ETFs) in mid-June through the STASH app and caught the investing bug immediately. (If you aren’t sure what an ETF is or why it kicks ass, check this article by my financial mentor, Feminist Financier.) By mid-August, I had opened a brokerage account and purchased my first individual stocks. Since then, I have steadily increased my recurring contributions into STASH (went from $25/week to $50/week). My portfolio now has 10 individual company stocks and 17 ETFs.

As I hadn’t planned on investing, I didn’t have a goal. However, my current portfolio value is at $4,178. I think that’s pretty outstanding.

A+ Tracked Dividends

Since I knew diddly-squat about investing, I didn’t even know what a dividend was.

And then I read a few articles. Namely, this one by my tall friend, Tall Investing, really helped me understand what was what. Admittedly, my initial dividends didn’t total much, I knew that I should probably track them. And, I’m so glad I did. Not only is it fun, it’s another visual and positive reinforcement of my decision to invest.

Again, I had no goals in this area but I’m pretty stoked to report a cumulative divided total for 2017 of $25.58.

Remember, that’s $25 in free money. And not only that, I elected to re-invest any dividends via a DRIP program. That means that that $25 went to purchase more investments. I didn’t have to do anything. It’s like my stocks are buying themselves. Dividends are awesome.

C- Underestimated Impact of Fees on Investing Returns

So, $6.95 doesn’t seem like much money. And it’s not. However, like anything money-related, lots of little can add up to a lot.

During my initial investing “enthusiasm”, I made some pretty dumb decisions. The worst, I believe, was not really understanding the impact of that $6.95 commission fee on my potential return. For example, buying 1 share of an $11 stock with a $6.95 fee was pretty stupid. Even if the market stays as strong as it has been, it would take over 3 years to make that fee back. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I should have done my homework a bit more. As a result of these noob investing mistakes, my portfolio’s unrealized adjusted gain percentage is in the negative; -1.42%. That means that although many of my investments have made money, they still haven’t made enough to cover the cost of the commission/trading fees.

I chalk this math bumbling up to a lesson learned. I remind myself that making some mistakes early on is inevitable.

Plus, with only 6 months under my belt, I can’t really assume a huge return anyway. I’m in it for the long haul. I do now tend toward no-fee ETFs or, if I feel strongly about a commission purchase, I try to offset the impact of the fee by buying more shares.

A- Adjusted Past Year’s Tax Return

Perhaps one of the most financially smart things I did in 2017 was to re-file my federal and state tax returns for 2011. I owed a HUGE amount for that year due to the fact that I never filed. Oh, they will file for you but only based on what they know. There were many excuses for my not filing, primarily a messy divorce and the fact I lost the supporting forms and documentation. Early in January 2017 (when sorting through old file boxes of paperwork), I found the missing paperwork and rushed off to my tax pro to file.

Finding that paperwork and filing that return knocked about $22,000 off my tax debt.

I also had other assorted tax issues and took a hard look at them in July of this past year. I came up with a plan and worked the plan. And it worked. I cleaned up a good chunk of my tax mess…although not all of it.

B+ Improved Credit Score

In order to improve my credit score, I needed to increase my available credit limit.

You see I’ve only ever had a secured credit card with a $200 limit since swearing credit cards off as the devil. Once the secured card took off the shackles, converted it to an unsecured account, and raised my limit to $1,200, I was encouraged enough to open 2 additional accounts; a Shell fuel card and a Toys R’ Us credit card. Since they increase my available credit limit but don’t tempt me to use them much, they are a good rebuilding credit strategy for me.

Other improvements to my credit score can be credited to paying off a significant amount of charge off debt and having another big chunk of charge-off debt roll off due to the 7-year expiration limit.

My current score of 682 is still short of my goal of 750.

B- Paid Estimated Tax Payments For Tax Year 2017

Once I decided to grow a spine and deal with my tax situation head on, I knew I had to stop the vicious cycle I’d gotten myself into. I also knew I was essentially breaking the law by not paying estimated taxes. (I’m a freelancer.) So, I started saving toward estimated taxes for 2017.

Since I only came to this revelation/courage mid-year, I knew there would be no way to pay the full $15,000 that was estimated. However, I did surprise myself a bit that I did pay 75% of that figure by year’s end. I’m hoping by April’s tax filing deadline, I’ll have paid the full $15,000.

If God is good, my tax bill will be covered by this amount. If God is more in a “you don’t get off that easy, missy” mood, at least I’ll be ahead $15,000.

Again, the lesson learned is don’t wait. Tackle your financial weaknesses head on and save aggressively. My Achilles heel is my tax mess. If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!

C- Vacation Fund

In 2016, I did a great job of saving in advance of a summer vacation. It was an awesome and empowering feeling to not go into debt for a vacation. For 2017, I did manage two week-long vacations and one weekend getaway without incurring debt. However, I can’t say it’s because I intentionally saved for them. In fact, I wasn’t very diligent on this point this year.

I felt a bit of mom guilt in that I didn’t even plan a mini-getaway for my daughter for winter break.

Next year, I want to take a 2-week vacation, complete with rental car and rental property. Remember, for me, it’s not just covering the cost of vacation expense and fun money but also the loss of income for the time spent not working. If you get paid vacation time, cherish it. That benefit is a sweet-ass perk that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

I can and will do better.

B Opened College Fund

My kid is 9 and before the beginning of this year, I hadn’t saved a penny toward her college education. Beginning in January, I designated a Capital 360 savings account for her college fund and auto-deposited $120/month.

Then, at year’s end, not 100% confident in what I should do with those funds, I transferred them in an Ally high-yield 5-year certificate of deposit.

I’m glad I saved something aside for her. I’m really glad I locked it away so I couldn’t touch it. (I was afraid I might get crazy and plow it into the stock market.) I am sorry though that I haven’t made further strides in educating myself on the various options for these funds. I know there are plenty. However, I do feel I have sometime to research what’s right for me.

D- Missed Tax Filing Deadline

With my ongoing tax mess, you’d think I’d prioritize filing my taxes on time. And I did. I was all set to file 1 day before the deadline until I was told the preparation fee I owed. It was unexpected and expensive. I was scheduled to leave on vacation that same day and couldn’t afford to pay the fee to file. In short, I f’d up big time.

I did manage to file an extension but extensions only apply to the filing of paperwork, not the payment. So yet again, I’m dinged with late payment fees and interest. (I did manage to roll the balance due into my current installment agreement and uped my monthly installment payment by $100 to help speed the pay off process.)

All in all, I HAVE to get better at this tax stuff. I know there’s more to my failures in this area that logistics. There’s something emotional going on here that I obviously need to clean up. If I didn’t know myself better, I’d think it was self-sabotage. But, nawwwww. No one does that, right?

B+ Improved Net Worth

Starting in late August, I standardized how I track my net worth. While this is just one measurement to track your financial status, I’ll admit it might be my favorite. In the past, I was myopically focused on reducing my debt...

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The Lady in the Black is celebrating 6 months as an investor. When a Lady such as myself (single, investing naive, and a little financially blonde) places herself in the open market, it’s natural to want to play the field, right? Ok, fine. Whatever. Some might call me a promiscuous investor. 

Truth is, when it comes being a newbie investing, I get around.

I can’t help it. There are just some many exciting and handsome opportunities out there. With all the action I’ve been getting in the last 6 months, it’s a wonder I haven’t lost my shirt.

Last month, as I was reviewing my portfolio, it occurred to me that my investments somehow mirror the male archetypes of my youth. I have a working theory how dating preferences may in fact directly correlate to investment risk tolerances but I digress. For now, let’s just have a little good-old fashioned fun.

As way of background, it might be helpful for you to know that The Lady in the Black is GenX through and through. My early attractions and sexual awakenings were deep-seated in the 80s, right aside John Hughes films and hair bands.

So this should be fun, right? I mean, who doesn’t like a little casual sex with their personal finances?

Let the pun begin.

The Investments The Lady is Fooling Around With

Me-ow.

The Bad Boys

Oh, there’s just something so….[fans face]…alluring about the bad boys. They are raw. They defy convention. They are brash and spiky and unpredictable. These rebels make your heart pound and your net worths tingle.

Intuitively, you know getting mixed up with them makes no kind of sense. But there’s always that thought in the back of your mind, “what if they grow up a bit? What if they just found the right girl?” All girls want to believe that bad boys might have some long-term potential.

I’ll admit it. Straight out of the investing gate, I took up with a few bad boys. These stocks didn’t cost me much and they’ve kept me guessing since Day 1. Sure, sure, they aren’t treating me very well right now but I can’t seem to cut them off.

Call me crazy. I just love a bit of bad boy drama. For now, I’ll just watch them flail around with their Rebel Yell.

Current Bad Boy Investments: KED, KALA, AOR

Oh, Jake.

The Jake Ryans Of The World

Man, Jake Ryan. Look at him. The perfect hair. The perfect car. The perfect package.

He’s the strong solid type, the boy you don’t think you deserve. He’s rich and nearly unattainable. He’s attractive and shiny and goddamn All-Fucking-American. Jake Ryan will show you a nice time and drop you home before your curfew. He’s respectful, maybe a bit entitled, but he’ll rescue you and kiss you on your birthday.

The Jake Ryan investments are the ones you want to take home to your financial planner and say “Look! Look how great I’m doing.” They are the ones you plan to hold onto until you are old and can’t remember your kid’s birthday. Jake Ryan stocks aren’t perfect but they are pretty dreamy, increasing their value your heart, mind, and wallet nearly everyday.

Current Jake Ryan Investments: TXN, ALL, SBUX, F, MGC, ABBV

Smooth.

The Geeks

Remember Val Kilmer in Real Genius, Matthew Broderick in War Games, or Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club? Or MacGyver? Good God, MacGyver. Let’s hear it for the geeks.

This Lady has a proven track record for falling for the geeked-out intellectuals. Seriously. Ask my friends. The geeks are perfectly adorable in the way they simply defy social conventions. Geeks are often, and tragically, under valued. Sure, they might act awkward and clumsy. They just need loving encouragement, a little guidance, and an opportunity to shine.

My geek stocks are those that probably only I see as beautiful. Somewhat similar to the bad boys, they might not always do the right thing but their heart is in the right place. I have a few long-shot geek stocks that I root for everyday–mostly due to their ability to make something out of nothing.

Hey, geeks might just save our planet in the end.

Current Geek Stocks: CPST, OPTT, ICLN, VGT, SKYY

So adorable.

The Michael P. Keatons

Michael P. Keaton might be the only Republican that I crush on…well, that’s not exactly true, but he was the first.

For those not in the know, Michael P. Keaton was the first-born, academically proficient, economically savvy son of hippies. He was a square peg in a round hole. His passion for economics and wealth were lost on me as a young tween. Sure, he was quippy and cute but I never really “got” him.

However, now, as a woman learning about personal finances, I find Michael P. Keaton more and more attractive, despite his right-wing politics and pleated pants. Michael P. Keaton investments are, first and foremost, smart. They hold long-term potential and sustainable appeal. These investments might not be too very exciting but they make financial sense. They might not give you the shivers but they are responsible investments.

Current Michael P. Keaton Investments: SPLV, IWF, VUG, VTI

Summary

Ladies. It doesn’t matter how you start investing or who you end up fooling around with at first. It really doesn’t.

Investments, like men, come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to wait to find the perfect one before you dive in.

I started by purchasing partial shares of ETFs via the STASH app. It was fun and exciting. Then, I advanced up to purchasing some individual stocks via a brokerage account. That was super exciting even though I knew little of what I was doing. Now, six months later, I’m settling into the reality that playing the field is fine. In fact, it’s recommended. It’s what the experts call “diversifying your portfolio.”

Sure, you might hook up with a few losers. Hey, a few might even break your heart. But, if you put in the TLC investing deserves, these cute boys may very well be the ones taking care of you when you are an old lady.

Be a little adventurous. Be a little daring. Be a little promiscuous.

Investing, just like dating, can sound scary. But once you get past the nervousness, you can have a lot of fun.

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In honor of Thanksgiving, The Lady in the Black lists the financial things she’s most grateful for. Spoiler alert: it’s not all about the money.

As background, it’s probably good to remind my readers that in February 2016 I was essentially homeless.

I was fired from my job, living in a state with no nearby friends and/or relatives, no car, and you guessed it, no money. It was around that time that I promised myself to never put myself in such a vulnerable place ever again. It was around that time that I also got serious about my personal finances. I dreamed of one day being debt-free and financially responsible.

Just short of 2 years later, the changes in my life have been both profound and pretty remarkable.

I credit the empowerment I gained from finally taking control of my personal finances in becoming a more self-actualized human, living a profitable life.

Here’s the top 10 financial things I am thankful for.

The Lady’s Financial Thanksgiving List 10. Itsy Bitsy Prius

As I mentioned, I lived without a car for two different periods in my life. The most recent was for 10 months. Yes, I lived in 3 different states within that 10 month period and will say that California is by far the most difficult to navigate without a car.

With crappy credit, I was shopping sketchy used car dealer lots for a cheap reliable car. It was scary. During a walk around my neighborhood, I spotted a cute little Prius at the nearby Audi dealership. I called. I applied. I drove it home a few hours later.

Now, it’s true that I got reamed on my interest rate but I’ve never been so in love with a car in my whole life. Her name is Itsy and she’s part of the family now.

Itsy is my freedom, my independence, and I’m honestly grateful to her everyday.

9. My Own Private HSA

As a self-employed freelance copywriter, I miss out on some key corporate perks; most notably, medical insurance. I pay for my own medical coverage. In order to keep my premiums down, I selected a high-deductible PPO.

The biggest thing that I did to help myself was sign up for a private health savings account (HSA) with HSA Bank. As I auto-deposit pre-tax dollars, it also helps reduce my taxable income. While I don’t fully fund this account to the max benefit, my contributions more than cover any out-of-pocket medical expenses for me and my daughter.

Having that money there, just waiting to be used for a medical appointment or emergency, gives me a huge sense of security.

8. The Kid’s College Fund

Being a mom is awesome. Being a mom who has to pay for a college education for her kid is not awesome.

I feel guilty that I haven’t been more aggressive about saving for her education. However, I am grateful that I started last January.

I recently moved the little seed over to a high-interest 5-year CD with Ally so I couldn’t (for any reason) touch it. The way I figure it, it’s not my money at all and I refuse to steal from my child.

In 9 years time, I might not have the cost for a full ride to college but I’ll be able to hold my head high when I turn over what I saved. My parents weren’t in a position to help me. I’m super proud I am doing something to help my kid pursue her dreams.

The kid’s college fund is love, love from a mother to a daughter (and I just made myself cry writing that so you know it’s heartfelt.)

7. My $2,300/Month Apartment

It’s come up recently that there may be a few Browncoats out there. And if that’s you, you know why I might call my apartment (and my wireless network) Serenity.

After spending just over 3 months crashing at my friend’s house while I got back on my proverbial feet and saved some money, I was grateful that my rental application was approved. Honestly, it’s not an awesome apartment. But it is 895 sq. ft. of comfortable living in Los Angeles county with parking and two pools on property. It’s on a hill (I prefer to think of it as an urban mountain) and my view is a large tree with the mountains in the distance.

My apartment is expensive and I might move…but not now. It has what my daughter and I need (our own bedrooms and bathrooms) and every item in there is mine…and placed exactly where I want it.

Having my own comfortable apartment is a luxury that I’m grateful for. Serenity lives up to her name.

6. The Emergency Fund

Of course, when I started out on this road to personal finance improvement I ran into Dave Ramsey. While I didn’t always love his tone, I’ll admit he does making getting started pretty easy. Baby step one, right? And I suppose I have him to thank for my $1,000 emergency fund.

Now, nearly two years later, I understand that fund is woefully small for a self-employed individual. I do plan to bulk up that account to 6 months worth of basic expenses but that will take a while.

In the meantime, the emergency fund is mostly symbolic to me. It reminds me that I started this journey and that it was (and is) possible for me to save money.

For a woman who never had a savings account, my emergency fund is inspiration with 3 zeros.

5. My Vintage 4S iPhone

Yes, it’s small and outdated and may die any moment. I don’t care. I love my phone. I got it primarily to text with the man I was dating at the time…and for the camera.

Since then, my phone has become a go-to point of comfort for so many things. When I need a little pick-me-up, I scroll through the photos or peek in on my investments. I Facetime with daughter and text my friends. I read blogs and flirt with boys.

My 4s cost me $100 and I’m on my friend’s plan (from years ago) because it’s still the best deal.

My $100 iPhone keeps me connected and, yes, is priceless.

4. The Secret STASH

Man, I love STASH. The easy-to-use app was where I first dipped my toe into investments and my current automated investment strategy.

I’m currently STASHing $40/week across 5 different ETFs. Because the fees (under $2,500) are only $1/month, my unrealized returns are pretty decent.

One of the fun little functions built into the app, is a “potential” calculator. I do love sliding those things around and seeing what’s possible 1, 5, and 10 years down the road.

STASH might very well turn into the down payment to my dream house. For now, let’s just say that STASH represents my ability to learn and grow.

3. My Fun Little Stocks

After dipping my toe into investing, I quickly advanced to experimenting with individual stocks.

I kinda went a little crazy at first but wisely slowed down so I could fulfill my primary mission; to learn more about investing.

I’ll say that I found the whole thing fascinating. So much is happening that I have NO CLUE about but it’s all an education. Unfortunately, because I’m a bit clueless, the trading fees have severely impacted my bottom line. Eh. Whatever. I have nearly $2,000 invested and love watching it jump around.

I’m grateful to my stocks for making money fun.

2. My J-O-B

Technically, as a freelancer, I should call it my G-I-G but since I’ve had this gig for nearly 2 years, it’s my job.

Although I may lose patience on occasion and act the temperamental artist (only once in a while), the fact is this is probably the best gig. It suits my skill set and my lifestyle. The best thing, however, is the pay.

At 47 years old, I finally made it to a point where my skills and experience earn me the big bucks. With the invoice I just submitted today, I broke the six figure mark. Now, mind you, I have to pay my own taxes out of that. For my loyal readers, you know what a challenge that is (and has been) for me.

It’s a good gig with even better pay. My job has allowed me the quick influx of cold hard cash that I need to start anew and the continued income to not only sustain myself in one of the most expensive locations in the country but also to pay off a considerable amount of debt AND save/invest.

My J-O-B is the fuel for my profitable life.

1. Little Ol’ Me

Even with all my quirks, flaws, and failures, I’m thankful for my inner strength each and every day.

When people ask me how to get started on their personal finances, I always say “with a strong and positive mental attitude.” I pride myself for my intellect but acknowledge that resiliency has a key role in my financial progress to date.

My life isn’t different from yours. It’s riddled with tragedy and heartbreak. There’s also a tremendous amount of comebacks and defiant acts of triumph. Financial success is a statement about your spirit, not your bank account. I’m grateful that when I was down, I wasn’t out.

The Lady has long legs and a strong mind–and damned if she doesn’t look good in black.

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your house be packed with loved ones, your tummy be full of turkey, and your heart be overflowing with gratitude.

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The Lady in the Black recently took a hiatus from blogging. Now she’s back to mix more science with personal finance. This time she’s delving into the world of physics and the realm of Newtonian finance. 

As this is my first blog post after a bit of a hiatus, I’d love to say that I’ve spent that time carefully researching this topic and massaging this article to the point of perfection. But I can’t.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I didn’t know I was ready to write again. I wasn’t planning any topic at all. This just came to me and, hell, I’m going with it….because apparently the Universe is saying I’ve had enough rest.

Sir Isaac Newton and His Bossy Laws

I can’t honestly say I know much about this founding father of physics…well, there’s the story of him and an apple falling on his head but I doubt that’s really what the man should be remembered for. However, as a science geek with a degree in biology, I can say that I’m pretty familiar with his laws of motion.

Without getting too dorked out, let’s just say that Newton’s Laws of Motion are foundational to how we view the mechanics of how our world operates today. He is one of the most influential scientists of all time and, by all respects, one super smart dude.

It occurred to me tonight that some of his laws could be used to view personal finances in a new light. And isn’t that the biggest battle of all? Changing your perspective on your money and how it works in your world?

So, without further ado, I give you…

Courtesy http://postonphysicalscience.weebly.com/newtons-first-law-of-motion.html

Newton’s First Law

Per the fun website over at PhysicsClassrom.com, Newton’s first law of motion is often stated as:

An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Go ahead. Read it one more time. Sounds vaguely familiar, right?  Now, let’s break it down.

First Clause: “An object at rest stays at rest.”

When applying physical science to personal finances, this first clause of Newton’s first law could be interpreted to imply that if you don’t DO anything about your financial situation it will remain unchanged.

While that seems logical, there are many reasons why people are apathetic about their personal finances.

I won’t make grand assumptions but simply reflect on my own personal situation. While I often say I struggled with my finances for years, the simple truth is I don’t think I ever tried very hard. I thought making more money would solve everything. I even think (for a while) that I was entitled to have someone else fix my financial mess. In hindsight, I realize there were moments in times where I was more invested in creating positive change. Sadly, those bright, shining moments were far outnumbered by defeatism and apathy.

In short, I didn’t know how to build a personal finance system that worked for me so I did nothing.

So, how do you stop being “at rest” and start moving your personal finances forward?

Well, you need a force to act upon it. I believe it can be either an internal or external force that initiates forward progress but we will get to the details of force in a future post.

For now, let’s move onto the second clause of Newton’s first law.

Second Clause: “An object in motion stays in motion.”

So if there is such a thing as financial physics (and I think there is) then we can interpret this to mean that once you finally put your money in motion, it will keep going.

Hell, there are several economic and behavioral posits to back this up. Take compounding interest, for example. Once you start saving, your money starts saving itself. Or even the concept of behavioral conditioning works here, too. Building new habits like budgeting or investing takes a bit to get going but once it turns into routine, these financial behaviors seem effortless to continue.

When you are stuck at financial ground zero, it is encouraging to know that once your financial improvement project gets up and going, things have a way of moving forward on their own. Call it attraction theory, “hard work pays off”, or “fortune helps those who help themselves.”

I’ll call it financial inertia.

One Condition: “Unless acted upon by an unbalanced force”

Now, one condition to financial inertia–and it’s a kind of a bitch. It’s the last bit about “unless acted upon by an unbalanced force” that does have a habit of tripping you up.

Unbalanced forces threaten our financial motion. And honestly, with how chaotic the Universe is, it is impossible to safeguard yourself entirely. There will be missteps and mistakes and breakdowns and even big old walls on your journey. That’s natural. In fact, it’s the nature of the Universe. Yet, water finds ways to flow, gravity finds ways to attract, and life continues to reproduce.

The fix to unbalanced forces is simple in theory and difficult in practice. To fix unbalanced forces, you need balance.

Take my recent hiatus, for example. Essentially, my financial inertia was humming along pretty good there and I hit some “unbalanced forces.” There were too many factors pushing me around, preventing me from moving straight on my financial path. I wisely took a time out and honored my need for a shutdown and some rest.

I’m not here to tell you how to rebalance yourself after a financial setback. I’m just going to remind you that an unbalance CAN be rebalanced–and once you find your equilibrium again, it’s a lot easier to push back into motion.

Summary

The Universe is full of physical laws. These laws shape our lives in profound ways yet we take them for granted. Understanding certain scientific laws, such as inertia, can help us look at our financial world in a new light.

Lord knows, high school science wasn’t for everyone–but science rules our world, and so does money. Maybe the two aren’t as far apart as we imagine.

The Lady in the Black plans to continue her scientific and financial pursuits. Stay tuned for Newton’s Second Law: Acceleration….at some point.

AUTHOR NOTES:

  • I had originally planned to cover all 3 laws in one post. Now, I believe I’ll break them up into 3 separate posts. Stay tuned.
  • Sometimes stuff just pops into my brain and I think “Am I the first person to ever think of this?” That was my thought tonight when this concept of Newtonian Finance struck my brain like an epiphany apple falling from a tree. (Science geek joke there.) A bit of searching (after writing the body of this article) revealed that sadly, I am NOT the founder of a new financial theory. I found one related article, Newton’s Laws of Finance. I liked it so I’m linking to it for your reading pleasure. Oh, and how’s this for weird? The article is written by a woman who’s company is based in my hometown, 3,000 miles from my current residence. How crazy is THAT? 
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I’ve been fairly obsessed with emergency preparedness lately. The way I see it Mother Nature has just cause to be pissed. But I’m a mom, too, and plan to take care of my own. You can’t prepare for everything…but you can be more prepared than most.

The Lady in the Black’s Emergency Preparedness

CAUTION: Before we launch into the details, I’d like to qualify that the journey to getting prepared is a very personal and emotional experience. At its very core is the realization that something bad might happen. It’s not the happy-go-lucky, positive attitude that operates during disaster and emergency preparedness. It’s the darker, what-if side that truly aids what needs to be done in this type of project.

Please know that it is far too easy to spiral into a dark place while you work on getting prepared for worst-case scenarios. As a person who struggles with depression and anxiety, I strongly suggest that you only tackle preparedness projects when you are in a position of emotional strength. Being prepared can set you sailing with an unprecedented sense of security–but you do have to weather some pretty nasty waters to get there. Know thyself. 

The Lady and Kid in the Black, a few years back Background

I’m a single mom with split custody of a 9-year old daughter. She alternates every two weeks between her parents’ houses. (Ex-husband lives about 2 miles away. It’s about the same distance to her elementary school.) My current work gig is 25 miles away and I drive there at least 4 days a week. This all goes down in earthquake-ridden southern California. Oh, yeah….and fires. Oh, and floods, too. Oh, and social unrest on occasion.

Southern California: Good weather. Bad risk.

Northridge Earthquake, 1994

It occurred to me a couple of months ago that I was completely unprepared for any bad things in my life. I’ve only recently started financially planning for the future.

I strongly suspect that once your brain opens the door to the future on one aspect of your life, there is no closing it. Hence, the bridge between financial planning and emergency preparedness.

As such, my brain has been pre-occupied with all the necessary disaster preparedness and emergency planning that I needed to do. And as a single mom, the list is long.

The Scenarios

While it is not fun dreaming up all the ways your life (and that of your child’s) can get royally f’d up, it does instill a unusually morbid intellectual challenge.

You see, I have one of those problem-solving brains. Normally, I apply it to work assignments and more recently to my personal finances. Now my brain races with all the ways I can be prepared, both emotionally and tactically, for an emergency or disaster.

Here are the various scenarios I’ve addressed so far.

Earthquake

If “the big one” hits southern California (as it must eventually do), this place is going to be a cluster-fuck of chaos.

No. Seriously. Cluster-fuck of chaos might be an understatement.

Los Angeles riots, 1992 Sheltering In Place

Our evacuation routes in LA are, in fact, congested freeways riddled with earthquake-suseptible bridges and overpasses. Immediately evacuating Los Angeles county might not be possible, if at all. The need for sheltering in place while things calm down is far more likely.

I’ve stored up water, canned/dry food, personal items, candles, flashlights, pet care items, first aid items, etc. These are the basics that any preparedness list will tell you to gather. (If you haven’t visited Ready.gov, you should. )

However, I’ve gone a bit deeper and also acquired rolls of plastic sheeting and lots of duct tape. Why? Because a big earthquake will likely cause enough structural movement that windows will break. The sheeting can help close up gaping holes. Ready.gov also advises this for “contaminated air.” (Lord knows what that means!) I also purchased a 3-day supply of emergency rations. These are freeze-dried food items that don’t expire for 25 years. They only take hot water to prepare. (‘Cause I don’t know about you but I can’t imagine suddenly feeling like cooking in the event of a pseudo-apocalypse.)

Tech Ready

Oh, have you thought about how’d you charge your phone with no power? Well, I have. (Assuming cell towers remain operational.) The Ready.gov has this to say:

Smartphones have become a vital tool to receive emergency alerts and warnings, so it’s important to make sure you can keep them powered up in an emergency.

I have a portable charger in my purse and a lantern I purchased has a USB port to charge electronic devices. The lantern also has a solar panel in case my batteries crap out. (The one I purchased is pictured above.)

I’ve also signed up for three different emergency alert systems on my phone that will text me information in the event of a local emergency.

  1. Nixel Public Safety Alert
  2. FEMA 
  3. My city’s local ALERT system
In the Car

Of course, all this assumes my child and I are conveniently home when all this goes down. In the event I’m at work, I need a commuter emergency plan.

I have yet to figure it all out completely but I do have a 3-gallon reserve of water and a “bug out bag” in my car. The backpack has a change of clothes, sneakers, a first aid kit, sunblock, and a water bottle. If I have to, I’ll walk the 25 miles to get to my kid.

Wildfire, Floor, or Other Emergency Evacuation

As way of a history lesson, when I was 9, my family had a house fire. Fortunately, we were not home at the time but we lost 2 pets and everything we owned. For that reason, I’ve tended to store my most cherished sentimental items in briefcases or vintage suitcases. Why? Because in the event I have to get out of my house within minutes, I need to be able to grab and go.

Centralized, Portable Kit

In light of my personal history and in the event of a wildfire or flood, I’ve chosen to store most of my disaster items in a wheeled laundry cart in the closet by the front door. There is also an empty suitcase and duffle in there too to chuck items into (or not depending on available time.) I needed items on wheels because there is a two-flight climb to get to my carport.

The cat crate sits on top of the cart because, to me, life is most precious; my child, myself, and my cats (in that order.) I have also put a heavy-weight shopping bag in the bookshelf near my photo albums and could load those up in a matter of minutes. My passport, birth certificate, and other valuable papers are all in one manilla envelope in their secret hiding place ready to grab.

I also have a tent and 2 sleeping bags easily accessible. If I have to sleep in a park or the desert, I will. My main priority is leaving the chaos of crippled LA behind and seeking calmer, open land.

Los Angeles, Clusterf#ck Central Evacuation Routes

Oh, remember that bug out bag in my car?

It also holds printed out maps of this local area, from close up surface streets to zoomed out highway maps out of the immediate area.

I’m not relying on Siri to get me out of LA. (As a note, I do need to purchase a more comprehensive map for my bag but print outs are a band-aid fix for now.) I also have a printed list of “safe houses” and associated contact information for at least a dozen family/friends across the country. They are listed from closest to furthest.

My thought is that having a route out-of-town, complete with friendly faces, will be quite the comfort if I’m in a “get the hell out of dodge” situation.

I have considered having an emergency stash of gasoline. I’d like to think if there was open road out of town that I could make it to Phoenix without having to stop (about 6 hours.) Assuming I have less than a full tank, I don’t want to have to stop anywhere, for my own safety.

Courtesy Conewago Valley School District Something Bad At Home

Not every emergency has to be so dramatic.

Did you know that more than 18,000 Americans die every year from injuries that take place in the home? This makes it the second most common location for such fatalities.  – A Secure Life

Personal Injury

What if I had a health emergency while at home? What if a kitchen fire got out of hand?  Well, my first concern in any of those situations would be to get my child to safety.

Just tonight, I did two important things.

First, I placed two index cards on the frig for my daughter. One with important emergency numbers; 911, my ex-husband, and a local friend. The other card has our address written on it in case my kid needs to call someone to get help.

Home Fire

The second thing I did was pack a mini-bug-out bag for her and placed it near her bedroom window.

If she had to leave (via window or door), she’d have a jacket, water, flashlight, a few snacks, and a stuffed animal (for comfort) to take with her. However, the most important items inside the bag are index cards with the names and contact information for both of her parents and other trusted friends, both local and out-of-area. I also put a written note in there telling her not to be afraid and a small photo album. (That note, by the way, is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write.)

I also have a similar bag by my window but I definitely need to stock that one up a bit. I’ve also hidden a spare car key in case I need to bug out and can’t find my keys. (A near-certain probability with me.)

Home Invasion

For the unimaginable, a home invasion, I have to admit that I’ve considered purchasing a gun. I am on the fence about it but will be talking to some of my female friends who own guns to understand the process, risks, etc. If I do decide to acquire a firearm, I’ll be taking LOTS of lessons on how to safely store, own, and God-forbid, use one.

In the meantime, I do have a paracord monkey fist hanging by my front door and an extra IKEA table leg by my bed. Batters up, mother f#cker.

Courtesy Missouri Hospital Association Continual Preparation

Once your brain starts down this prepping path, it’s becomes pretty obvious that you can’t adequately prepare for everything. In fact, since I’ve start this project, I find myself buying things for my kit(s) almost every time I’m out. I also know there is still A LOT I need to do.

Family Emergency Plan

The most imperative thing I have yet to do is to have a family meeting with my ex-husband and kid to discuss our family emergency plan. Years ago, I had printed out various “in case of” scenarios but that sheet hasn’t been updated in a long time. Worst yet, we haven’t reviewed it as a family.

Household Inventory

The other thing I need to do is to inventory my personal belongings and make copies of my various insurance documents (rental insurance, life insurance, etc.) I should send copies of those to my key emergency contacts for off-site safe keeping.

Financial Preparedness

I also need to pull some emergency cash for my bug-out bag. When the shit hits the fan, cash will be king and since I rarely have ANY cash on me, I want to make sure I’m prepared to wheel and deal my way out of town.

In the Event of My Death

The last, and probably most significant, thing that I have yet to do is prepare a will. It is FAR overdue.

However, I have been giving serious thought to my child’s future without me. My ex-husband and I waited until “later in life” to have our daughter. That means it is possible that she may be younger than others when her parents pass.

It is indeed a very, very sad thing for a mother to think about but my own mother passed when I was 17. I understand first-hand what a mess that can be on so many fronts. I will do ANYTHING in my power to make my passing easier for my daughter than what I experienced.

Courtesy BainbridgeWa.gov Summary

Is The Lady ready for anything? No, of course not.

But as a single woman and a single mom, I..

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This week was pretty great. The Lady in the Black scored her fourth featured post on Rockstar Finance and continued to keep the flames alive on her continuing financial fire (not FIRE.)

The 3 Most Profitable Things I Did This Week Week Ending October 13, 2017

YAAAAA!

Calculate My Net Worth

A simple comment about my net worth triggered an interesting conversation on Twitter. In short, I post my current net worth and was asked why I cared so much about it.

It was a good question because it made me really think. Here’s what I came up with.

Eye On The Prize

First and foremost, it’s a practical way for me to track my progress. Working toward any goal is nothing without tracking how far you’ve come and how far you need to go.

Positive Reinforcement

Next, there is an emotional component to net worth. However, let me state once and forever that net worth does NOT equal self worth. Say it with me:

Net Worth does NOT equal Self Worth.

However, it should be acknowledged that changing habits and improving your personal finances are NOT easy things. As with any type of personal growth, improving your finances requires wading into uncomfortable emotional territory, swimming in new-found information, and treading with continual behavior change.

Finding multiple ways to empower perseverance is important. For me, watching the improvements to my net worth is a reinforcing reward.

These are my charts from 8/30/17 (1) and 10/11/17 (2).

Balanced Perspective

Lastly, and perhaps the big revelation here, was that tracking my net worth keeps my view of personal finances balanced.

Balanced, you ask? Yes, balanced.

Personally, I have struggled with managing my money and debt for so long that I become myopically focused on debt reduction. Yes, that important and yes, that is my priority. (I did base my blog name on it after all.) Being deep in debt, you can make huge strides to improve your situation and still be in debt. You might feel a sense of accomplishment but it’s easy to feel defeated as well as debt reduction usually takes a long time.

Net worth not only tallies your liabilities, it also credits your assets as well.

Building assets feels different. It is fun. Assets, if used correctly, can actually be self-perpetuating. Assets build more assets. Assets feel more hopeful and positive.

Focusing on the positive yield higher rewards.That’s what calculating my net worth has done for me.

I’m now focusing as much on “the light” as I am “the dark.” As a result, life seems quite a bit brighter.

Dumping $22,000 debt in 18 months feels good. Building up the equivalent in assets ($26,000) feels pretty head-banging amazing!

The Ho-roar!

Callin’ It Quits On Costly Cat Food

My fellow personal finance blogger, Financial Muse, wrote an article titled, “Are You Going Broke Buying Cat Food?

My answer was a resounding “yes.”

I have two adorable cats; Meap and Chloe. (Yes, I’m a 47-year old single woman with 2 cats. What of it?) Based on Muse’s article, I realized I was spending WAY too much spoiling my fur babies.

The Excuse

When I adopted them from the local no-kill animal shelter, I was hesitant to stray too far from the diet the shelter had them on for fear of traumatizing them, or you know, having puke all over my brand new apartment. I kept them on Fancy Feast canned food and Authority kibble to start….and then never stopped. If you aren’t familiar with these brands, let me assure your both are Pricey….with a capital P.

The Math

I did some thinking and some number crunching on how much my cats were eating away at my budget. (Get it?) While my monthly “Pet” budget line item said $65/month, I felt intuitively that wasn’t right. At 2 cans per day at $1/can, my cats were eating $730 of Fancy Feast a year! The kibble was running my approximately an additional $250. Yup, that’s nearly $1,000 a year for cat food.

Nope, not having it. Sorry, fur babies. Mama is making some changes.

The Solution

I think two years post-adoption is the perfect time to start experimenting with some less expensive pet food alternatives. This week, I’ve begun the “taste test” of other, cheaper canned food. The brand I’m trying now would be 1/4 the annual cost. That’s a lot of spavings!

The Lesson

The moral of the story? It’s easy to just let certain habits slide. Sometimes it just takes a shift in perspective (or a well written blog post) to see where your spending is excessive.

So thanks, Financial Muse. I love you for opening my eyes. (My cats might not be your biggest fans but they will get over it.) And, yes, I am tempted to try your cat food recipe…..maybe….eventually. I have a few questions.

Preach it, Yoda.

Changed Focus on Future and Friends

A profitable life isn’t all about money. Not for this Lady anyway.

This week I pushed my introverted self a bit to really engage with some of my closest friends. That meant some hands-free phone calls during my daily commute, a few-more-than-usual messages via text and social media, and a night out on the town.

It’s vitally important to me to keep up with my friends. These are the people who have quite literally saved my ass more time than I can count. When I say “save my ass”, I mean that emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially.

Beyond the increase in communications, I ventured into some pretty remarkable “mindset shift” territory this week.

For the readers that follow me, you may have heard me talk about the power of dreams. You might even recall that I have created a fairly vivid picture of my future dream life, complete with lake side house and handcrafted wooden boat.

However, it was this week’s renewed focus on my friends that led me to a fairly disturbing realization.

I have been focused on one very specific location for my future (my hometown in upstate NY to be precise.) I’ve been wrapped up in figuring out how to get back there that it hadn’t occurred to me that it was possible that none of my friends nor family would be there by the time I made it back!

What good is a gorgeous lake house if I can’t hang out with my friends and family?

In short, I had lost sight of the forest for the trees.

So I started to re-imagine my dream. I started asking beloved family and friends about their retirement plans. I started mentally toying with a future that is a bit different than what I’ve been envisioning.

For example, it might mean living in a different state than what I had imagined. (It might even turn out to be cheaper!) It might mean living with my sister instead of a yet-to-be-identified romantic partner. It might mean not having to shovel snow when I’m an old lady. It might mean my future grandkids hear a slight southern twang in my craggly old lady voice. And it might mean my future life is far more profitable than I ever dreamed.

The future might be impossible to see per Yoda. But I do see my family and friends…and closer to me than they are right now.

Quite naturally, when asked, many of my friends said they “don’t know” where they will end up in 10-20 years. And that’s totally OK with me…for now. I’ll just keep plugging away and building my assets so I can eventually have my happily-ever-after ….wherever it may land.

(Watch out South Carolina. The Lady is looking at you.)

How was your week? What are your top 3 profitable things? 
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The Lady in the Black furthers her scientific pursuit of the mysterious concept of spavings. In this installment, she and 5 other researchers explore the viability of converting one elusive economic entity (spavings) into a more stable and profitable formulation (savings.)

Background

As a professional and recreational writer, I love the nuance of language; a good pun, a strong play on words, and the occasional naughty double entendre.

And while homonyms are the red-headed step child of modern-day language, I generally find them more fascinating than not. (For those seeking reassurance, you are right. Homonyms are words that are both spelled and pronounced the same as each other, yet have different meanings.) And while “savings” is NOT on Wikipedia’s list of true homonyms, it should be.

A couple of months ago, I conducted research on the “The Definition of Savings: A Scientific Exploration” and the results were pretty compelling. The key finding?

Savings is the money you set aside for future use. Savings is NOT the money earned from a discounted purchase.

Homonym or not, when you say your “savings were huge after using coupons” or you “saved a ton at the clearance sale”, you are using the wrong word. That is spavings.

Hypothesis

Now that we have our vocabulary lesson ironed out, let’s move on.

After my preliminary research, I felt compelled to move the whole savings vs. spavings concept a bit further. I wanted to move from perception into practice. In short, I wondered if one could transform spavings into savings?

I hypothesize that spavings can be converted into savings.

It turns out that, once again, I am right–but we’ll get to results in a moment. First, let’s review the methodology.

Research Team

With a solid hypothesis in hand, The Lady in the Black needed collaborators.

Based on a first-come, first-served volunteer basis, five fellow personal finance bloggers were recruited to participate in what was code-named the Great September Spavings Experiment.

The 6-woman team is comprised of Penny from She Picks Up Pennies, Mrs. AdventureRichly from Adventure Rich, Britt from Tiny Ambitions, Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies , Nicole from Budget Like A Lady, and of course, me; The Lady in the Black.

Methodology

Following final recruitment, researchers were given loose parameters in which to operate for a duration of 30 calendar days. The experiment ran from September 1 to September 30, 2017.

Researchers were reminded of the definition of savings vs spavings and given this basic direction:

“For every purchase “you save $14.43” at the grocery store, or “2 for 1” Groupon you use, you put your spavings DIRECTLY into a savings account. You can use Tip Yourself or any other savings technique you prefer.

All participants will keep track of their spavings beginning September 1 and report back on the experience at the end of the month. You don’t have to track everything you buy, just the things that literally promise/promote a spavings or you got on sale.  

You can define spavings as conservatively/loosely as you wish…just be able to explain it at the end of the experiment.” 

Researchers periodically checked in with each other via Twitter direct message to document individual spavings and provide encouragement for continued participation.

At the conclusion of the experiment duration, data and researcher notes were submitted to The Lady to consolidate and publish.

Here is the data.

Quantitative Data (with Notes) Monthly Cumulative Spavings per Researcher:

She Picks Up Pennies : >$80

My biggest savings was $25 on a pair of flats that will replace two pairs of work shoes that have already done their last lap around the classroom.

Other “spavings” was quite small–a dollar here, eighty cents there–but it really did add up over the course of the month.

Mrs. Adventure Rich$138.64

My “spavings” totaled $138.64, with my largest spavings coming from saving $31.92 on one shopping trip!

Budget Like A Lady$175.47

My total spavings was $175.47 for the month of September. I can’t believe it! Most of my spavings came from grocery shopping.

I Pick Up Pennies$180.91

We ended up putting aside $180.91 That’s pretty impressive because only 20 of the 54 “spavings” instances were for amounts over $1. Only five were more than $5 in savings.

Mostly, the spavings came from the use of discounted gift cards. When we use a discounted GC, I put the difference into our saved savings account. So if my husband spends $5 at Walgreens and uses a Walgreens GC we got for 10% off, then $0.50 goes into savings.

The biggest amount we saved was $25. I sent my husband to the grocery store to get alcohol for the party. He had a nasty fit of ADD-ness and decided to get liquor rather than the cider I’d requested. And of course he went high-end. (Me? Bitter? Noooooo.) So he “saved” $25 — which was more than I’d wanted to spend on alcohol total. (Okay, maybe a little bitter.)

Two of the other big savings were a free movie pass (value: $9) and 15% off several of my overpriced hair products (savings: $16.50).

Tiny Ambitions$194.66

All told, my total spavings for September was $194.66, which I think is pretty decent for a first timer! This month was uncharacteristically spendy for me, since we moved at the beginning of the month and had to replace a lot of stuff we didn’t take with us (i.e. food, household items, etc).

My biggest spavings was on our new mattress. The company has a big labour day sale and we ended up saving $65 on something we fully intended to buy anyway (and had set money aside for). This savings was like icing on top of the very comfortable cake!

The rest of my spavings came from groceries, household supplies and some spur of the moment clothing purchases (very uncharacteristic for me).

The Lady in the Black: $240.91

The key to my spavings comes from loyalty cards or programs; grocery store, drug store, pet store, hair salon, and Fuel Rewards card.

By far, my biggest spavings were at CVS. In one transaction, I saved 49% of my total bill. I found a 75% off item, some buy 1, get 1 free vitamins and used a 25% coupon for the remaining items. Another CVS purchase, I spaved 36% off the total.

My grocery store, Ralph’s, was consistent in spaving me money, in fact, nearly 30% of my monthly spavings came from their reward program. My Target debit card spaved me an automatic 5% just for swiping it and my new Shell gas card (paired with its sister Fuel Rewards card), spaved me 35 cents a gallon at fill up.

Results Total Monthly Cumulative Spavings: $1,010.59

Conclusions 

She Picks Up Pennies 

I’m always looking for ways to save even though our budget is already pretty lean. I also think it is so easy to get caught up in shopping sales and being frugal without really considering what that savings actually means. For the month of September, I “spaved” over $80.

For this month, I’m putting my “spavings” into Vanguard for my Roth IRA. While I’m on a leave, I’m not collecting a paycheck. As a result, I’ve postponed a lot of our savings and investing goals.

While this certainly won’t replace a paycheck, it is more than a step in the right direction.

Adventure Rich

I have often taken advantage of coupons or store deals…but to what end?  Where did that savings go?  Why not actually save the savings?!?  Genius!

During September, I was able to make all of those small saves add up to a decent chunk of change. It was a relatively painless way to save a chunk of change and made all the coupon clipping and deal chasing worth it in a more tangible way.  And it made me look for more ways to shave a few dollars off our bill so I could “spave” more!

I would like to keep the spavings up over the next few months. I plan to put this spavings in our investment fund, which is earmarked for a future investment (TBD… IRA? Real Estate?).

While spaving will likely not be the all inclusive hack to financial success, it is certainly a motivating tool to use in our pursuit of frugality and financial independence!

NOTE: Read Mrs. Adventure Rich full experiment conclusions here.

Tiny Ambitions

I like saving money (doesn’t everyone?), and I like the idea of keeping track of how much you actually save when you buy things.

This challenge was interesting because it forced me to pay closer attention to my receipts to see exactly what I was saving dollar amount wise and on what items.

What am I going to do with my $194.66 in spavings? It’s already been added to my tiny house fund!

I Pick Up Pennies

I decided to participate because things are tight right now — specifically, we just had $4,000 in unexpected repairs — so anything to help put a little more away would be good. The spavings went right into the main savings account to help cover the second portion of repair bills.

Thoughts overall: Interesting, but overall probably not something I’ll keep doing except with things like coupons used.

We have a set weekly amount to work off of, so putting away money that we avoided spending….well, it made it kind of tough to get through full weeks, which is already difficult most of the time anyway.

As I said before, the results were great, but this isn’t something I could do sustainably in the future. It took way too much effort to check every receipt for “spavings” and transfer money accordingly. I think I’ll just stick to our regular saved savings routine.

NOTE: Read I Pick Up Pennies’ full experiment conclusions here.

Budget Like A Lady

I love trying new money savings techniques so naturally I loved the spavings challenge idea. I always look for ways to save money but I never tallied it up. I never thought of spavings as anything special until participating in this challenge.

This experiment had me realize how much I count of spavings in my monthly budget. I save an average of 30% on my groceries every week. I never include that extra 30% in my budget because I never expect to spend it. My grocery shopping spavings can fund another week of groceries for my family. I must pat myself on the back for that one.

I plan to spend my spavings, I will roll it back into my budget and pay for my daughter’s upcoming basketball season.

Doing the spavings challenge helped me put a dollar amount to my frugality.

Without spavings, I would need to make additional net amount of $175 per month. Instead of getting a part-time job, I am going to stick with maximizing my spavings.

The Lady in the Black

Overall, I found the experiment to be pretty enlightening. Will I continue? Maybe.

It certainly encouraged me to seek out spavings more.

The tracking was a bit bothersome and part of me wants the whole tracking to be automated somehow. For the record, I took my September spavings and bought 8 shares of a particularly attracted ETF. As of close of market today, that investment of my spavings has already earned me $1.00!

Discussion

The results and researcher conclusions of this 30-day experiment illuminated two fairly significant findings.

First, spavings may be far more prevalent in our daily lives than we imagine. With an average spavings of nearly $6 a day, an estimated annual per person spavings could eclipse $2,000 a year. Tracking spavings is certainly the first step.

Next, and by far the most intriguing, is the issue surrounding what to do with the spavings once they are brought to light. There seems to be two choices; absorb or convert.

Absorb

The default position is to simply absorb spavings back into the budget and allocate it to other necessary expenses. For example, if you spave money with a coupon, the money is not spent, and is therefore readily available for another expense.

This type of default spavings is helpful to be sure. Individuals can hone their skills and maximize their budgets by manifesting additional spavings through loyalty programs, discounts, coupons, pre-paid plans, etc.

Convert

There is also a more active, profitable application of spavings.

By converting spavings into actual savings, it is possible for this “invisible” money to produce a passive income stream. For example, if an individual converted the estimated annual spavings ($2,000) for 5 years, they’d have $10,797 in savings (assuming 3% interest rate, compounded monthly.)

Summary

While there are thousands of tips, tricks, and suggestions on how to “save”, the conversion of spavings allows an individual to reap both fiscal and emotional rewards by quite literally and directly transforming “scrimping” into “savings.”

However, it should be noted that conversion of spavings to savings may not be possible for everyone.

Those with very tight budgets will likely require their spavings for other immediate expenses. That is a very acceptable application of spavings.

But for those with a bit more liberty in their budgets, converting spavings into savings is a viable process to fund emergency funds, designated savings accounts, retirement contributions, or investments.

I’d encourage everyone to spend one month tracking their spavings.

What you decide to do with them is up to you.

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The weeks are slipping away from me; like sands through the hour glass. This is The Lady’s hastily slammed together memoir of a week that wasn’t so great. I’ll chalk it up to a “baby steps”-kinda week.

The 3 Most Profitable Things I Did This Week Week Ending September 29, 2017

Just. Hold. On.

Applied for a Car Loan Refinance

I did it. I finally pulled the refi trigger–and it may have been a tad premature.

My current auto loan is at a ridiculously high rate. While I was able to tolerate it for a while (I was so grateful to get a car after going over a year without one), but now the interest rate bugs the hell out of me. It’s slowly sucking financial resources I could be allocating elsewhere.

I applied for a car loan refinance through my beloved credit union. I received a follow-up email requesting some documentation on the charge-off debt on my credit report. I was able to dismiss/address 95% of it. Yay. But the 5% might trip me up. Fuck.

This news was surprisingly crushing to me. Quite honestly, it threw me into a bit of a depression. My thoughts spun somewhere in the “despite all my efforts, my finances are still a mess” vicinity. Fortunately, the down-turn into defeatism didn’t last too long. However, I will admit even days later I have yet to address the remaining 5% of financial mess preventing my refinance.

Sigh. Emotions and money. A little too intertwined over here at The Lady’s house.

SISTA!

Asked for Help

Ever have the thought that some people come into your life for a very specific reason? Some times it is for their benefit, others times for yours. Hopefully, it’s a mutually beneficial give-and-take of helpfulness.

Since my divorce, I’ve dated a number of helpful men. In hindsight, it’s pretty clear why they came into my life. It’s rare, however, to see the benefit while you are actively in a dating relationship.

For example, my first relationship after my divorce was with man who worked for the state tax department. Being a woman with a huge tax debt mess, I originally found dating a tax guy embarrassing and, yes, ironic. However, even though we now live 3,000 miles apart, he’s still a great friend and go-to resource for many of my tax-related questions and issues.

My current beau is proving helpful in his own way. He makes his income from….wait for it….options trading. Yup. Somehow I ended up in the lap of a guy who can teach me all about investing. When we met over a year ago, I had no interest in investing but now that I’ve started investing, I’m hungry for knowledge.

Sooooooo I recently proposed….a business arrangement to him.

While our negotiations are still pending, the crux of the proposal is this: I give him money to invest on my behalf. He makes the trades while teaching me all the ins and outs. We split any profit.

While the financial profit is not guaranteed, the educational gains are.

In short, my boyfriend is going to teach me more about investing and trading. Asking a friend for help is not rocket science but it’s pretty darn profitable of me, don’t you think?

Plus, he’s really cute when he gets all excited about trading.

Top Gun, baby.

Turn and Burn

Deep breath. As I type, I don’t have enough money in my checking account to cover the rent.

What?!?!? I know. It sucks….badly.

As a freelancer, my income is wholly dependent of the amount of hours I can invoice my client. The last two weeks have been SLOW. Couple that with some excess spending (emergency preparedness kit) and VOILA! A significant hiccup in my automated system of bill payments and savings deposits.

This fact also through me into an emotional tailspin. I tried pulling up, reassuring myself that I could use some of my emergency fund and even my estimated tax savings, if necessary. But sure enough, my mood flat-spinned and crashed. For the first time in years, I drank to the point of a hangover. (Not good coping technique, I admit.)

Am I bugging out of this financial independence dog fight? Fuck no.

I’m pulling up my Top Gun panties and jumping back behind the controls. I quickly restored my faith in myself, my income, and my progress. I’ll be transferring funds. I’ll also be chasing some extra income opportunities. I’ve prioritized bulking up my emergency fund.

Freelancing is quite the wild, G-force-sucking ride. The instability/insecurity isn’t for everyone. But equipped with my nifty emergency fund parachute, it’s a fine life for me full of schedule flexibility and a non-panty-hose-wearing wardrobe.

Sure, I will continue to make financial mistakes tut if you told me 18 months ago that I’d even HAVE an emergency fund to rely on, or money in the market, I’d have called you a silly Goose.

I might still fly a bit reckless but, what can I say, I just loving buzzin’ that tower.

How was your week? What are your top 3 profitable things? 
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