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The Lady in the Black shares where she’s at with her experiment with investing. For a Lady who went a little investing crazy early on, you might be surprised how grown-up she’s being about everything.

The Situation

For a financial late-blooming Lady, I’m exceedingly pleased with myself for starting to invest. Yet, of late, I’m being forced to reconsider, re-evaluate, and re-assess my entire financial big picture. (I’ll likely go into details about that in another post.) Priorities need to be decided on and adjustments made.

Taking a long, hard look at my investments has revealed a few interesting points that I thought might benefit others. And, as always, I want to document some of these bigger financial moves to hold myself accountable on this crazy journey of mine.

The Experiment

Not quite 2 years ago, I felt like dipping my big toe into investing, after being introduced to the concept in ways that were non-threatening and encouraging to me. (Shout out to Feminist Financier.)

From the start, I talked about investing in terms like dabbling or “fooling around.” (Check this risque little post!) The parallels from investing to dating seemed to make sense to me and I kind of just ran with that as a theme. In 4 short months, I was a self-proclaimed promiscuous investor.

All along the way, I did admit that I had no clue what I was doing. That was OK because, for me, it was far more about overcoming the fear of investing and learning something new. That said, I also had daydreams of somehow finding that dream stock and living happily ever after.

Now, The Lady has had her fun.

The time for fooling around is over.

I’m ready to get serious.

I want to commit to an investment strategy that works for me now AND for my future self. And with most big changes, there are two sides to consider; the head and the heart (or logic vs. emotion, if you prefer.)

Which brings us to evaluating how “smart” my investing has been to date.

The Numbers

My modest investing goal, other than education, was to exceed current savings interest rates. Pretty much, if my performance on a individual holding and/or entire portfolio exceeded 2%, I figured I was doing pretty good.

What do the numbers, as of this minute, show?

STASH
  • Started investing in June 2017.
  • Current Portfolio Value: ~$3,200
  • Positions/Holdings: 7
  • Current Adjusted Unrealized GAIN: $387 (+13.68%)
  • Pulled out money twice since inception
  • Trading fees: $1/month
  • Additional custodial account for The Kid: $551
TDAmeritrade
  • Started investing in August 2017.
  • Current Portfolio Value: ~$3,100
  • Positions/Holdings: 10
  • Current Adjusted Unrealized GAIN: $52 (or +1.7%)
  • Realized LOSS in 2017: $45
  • Realized LOSS in 2018: $59
  • Trading fees: $6.95/trade

Taking both accounts’ unrealized gains collectively, I’ve succeeded in exceeding my “beat the savings rate” goal, kinda. (I’m not a math expert but my gains seem to put me in the “not bad for a noob” category.) Yay me. I also made about $120 in dividends. Yay dividends.

But am I even getting close to market performance?

Well, according to the charts, it seems like I decided to starting to invest with bulls and then got the experience of meeting a bear, a big ugly bear. I suppose this is a good thing to happen early on when my investments are relatively low. Some would say it’s a very good thing as I am getting in the market during a “sale” time. Either way, even investing experts don’t make market performance so I’ll just let myself off the hook on that one.

In short, The Lady’s current investing experiment (by the numbers) can be summarized by:

  • Over $6,000 invested in under 2 years
  • Modest gains in a tumultuous market

When it comes to these two investment accounts, there are also some intangible, touchy-feely emotions that should be weighed when judging the true vale of my investment portfolios. Apparently, my “heart” has an opinion, too.

The Intangibles

Money is emotional. I know this to be true for myself and believe it to be true for most. What emotions have I attached to these two investment portfolios?

Hope

I strongly equate these guys with my future financial wellbeing. Unlike other savings vehicles, I am better able to imagine the stock market, and my portfolios by default, growing over time. I’ve seen the long-term market indexes and know that means long-term=growth.

Being able to attach existing funds to my future financial self is pretty damn important. Before I started this financial journey, I never could do that. It never really even occurred to me. Being able to visualize and imagine a happy, healthy financial future is something I hold dear.

Education

There is also an intellectual challenge to investing. Yes, I’ve learned a bit over this experiment but I also know I’ve barely scratched the surface. As a woman who loves to learn new things, it’s fun to know that I could really dig my heels in on this investing topics and learn a ton.

But will I? Eh. Maybe. Maybe not. (I’ve got a lot of stuff swirling around this Lady brain.)

Entertainment

And fooling around with investing is fun. It really is. I check in with my portfolios everyday (sometimes more than once) just to see what’s up with them (and what’s down.) I learned early not to panic and so now it gives me a level amusement that might equate to that of a hobby.

In short, The Lady emotions tell her that:

  • She’s learned a lot about investing but still doesn’t know much
  • Investing is fun and important to my positive mindset
The Next Steps

In light of everything I’ve expounded above, does my investing behavior need to change? No, probably not. Is it bankrupting me? No. Is it making me a millionaire? No.

I realize now that my financial foundation was never really built correctly, and that includes a profound lack of investment strategy. Sure, you can fool around in the market and have a good time. No judgment from me. But, I now have a driving need to simplify my finances across the board and am in the process of making big changes.

Plus, my horoscope said it was a good time to work on finances. Because astrology and finances mix well, right?

So, what did I decide about my investments?

Streamline the Good

As of today, I have decided to keep my STASH account but consolidate my holdings from 7 to 3.

How did I decide what to keep and what to cut loose? Truthfully, I used both my head and my heart. I looked at the returns, the dividend yields, and the expense ratios. I looked at the ETFs holdings to spot areas of duplication.

I also used a bit of Marie Kondo. Does this ETF spark joy, I asked myself. Apparently 4 did not.

STASH has been good to me. He teaches without talking down. I’ll continue my relationship with this nice guy of newbie investing.

Dump the Junk

TDAmeritrade? Sorry, Charlie. This Lady is calling it quits with you.

I’m selling off everything and applying the funds elsewhere.

I currently selling off anything with positive returns and will give the remaining positions about 2 weeks to see if they turn around. Buy low, sell high, right?

I plan to use the freed-up cash toward my credit card balance and some to fund my new money machine.

Sorry, TD. Our little fling was fun but you are just too costly and, to be honest, we are just not on the same page.

Summary

The Lady in the Black is about personal finances and personal development. My experiment with investing is not concluding but evolving. I’m growing as a financial creature and there are definitely growing pains along the way. Fortunately, there can be good times and better learnings as well.

For any of my readers who haven’t “fooled around” with investing yet, don’t be scared. Just be safe.

The post Experiment with Investing: The Lady Finally Gets Serious appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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In celebration of the new year, I thought I’d start on a positive note. For many, me included, the new year seems to bring with it a sense of renewal and hope. I believe that type of attitude is exactly what we need when it comes to our personal finances.

Did I always feel this way? No. I spent a huge chunk of my life hating money. I blamed it as the source of so many of my problems. I cursed it as “the one thing I’m really bad at.” Long story short, money and I didn’t really get along.

Now that money and I are on much better terms, I want to share the ways that I help myself stay positive about my own personal finances. These tips might not all work for you but hopefully, if you suffer from a scarcity or negative mindset, you can find one or two to help turn your attitude in the right direction.

Without further ado…19 tips to staying positive about personal finances for 2019.

19. Keep Cash In Your Wallet

It doesn’t have to be much. I try to keep $5-$20 in my wallet. It just makes me happy to see a little green paper amongst all the plastic. Plus, if I want to treat myself to a coffee or a sausage McMuffin with egg (no judging), the money is there!

18. Pay One Bill In Advance

This can be hard to think about when money is tight. But the psychological pick-me-up is so worth is. I have a utility bill that runs about $10-15 a month. I like to pay a whole year’s worth. I save myself the time it takes to send monthly payments and I can essentially forget about it for a whole year.

17. Keep a Coin Jar

There’s nothing quite like the sound of coins hitting the inside of my piggy banks’ tummies. I collect piggy banks and sprinkle them throughout the house. They are super cute and they are full of money!!!

16. Have a Savings Account

Hell, have 10! The point is to have an account that is for something other than paying bills. There is something magical about knowing that money is just sitting there. If you use it, pay it back.

15. Name Your Savings Account

I prefer to name my savings accounts after what I am saving for but the point is to personalize them to you and your situation. Share Account 01 is so cold and boring. “Little Cabin In the Woods” sounds far more interesting. Or name it “Charlie” or “Sasha” and think of them as employees you have to pay. Whatever it takes to make savings “real” for you.

14. Freeze Your Credit Cards

I believe that debt is the biggest source of negativity in personal finances. I call credit cards the devil on earth. I recently put all my credit cards in a container and put them in the freezer. (My goal is to leave them there for 6 months.) It’s a good challenge to operate off of cash-only. I also find a sick pleasure in imagining those little devils freezing their little digits off.

13. Read Personal Finance Blogs

Hey, you are reading this so congrats! You just nailed this one! (Thanks, by the way for reading The Lady in the Black!) Personal finance blogs can help you feel not-so-alone in your struggles with money. There are all sorts of people out there and many have been in your shoes. You aren’t alone.

12. Try a No-Spend Challenge

I’m not going to lie and tell you a no-spend challenge is easy. It’s not. For me, it wasn’t particularly fun either. What was great is that I walked away with a new appreciation for what my money does for me. It held new value to me. Try spending no money for a day, or two, or 5.

11. Starting Investing

Investing seemed so complex and scary to me. I started and now I’m hooked. Investing is not without risk but I found it extremely educational and interesting to learn about markets, stocks, ETFs, dividends, etc. Now, on a daily basis, I get a kick out of watching my investment balances go up and down, and up and down. Because that’s what they do.

10. Track Interest and Dividends

Once I learned about dividends, and saw other people reporting their totals, I built a spreadsheet and started tracking them right away. Dividends are monetary “gifts” for owning certain investments. It’s like a mini-bonus for investing. It’s your money making you money. Same with interest on savings accounts. It might not total much but it’s a good, positive reminder that saving and investing really pays.

9. Hold Yourself Accountable

Many of us have a negative reaction to that phrase. Somehow it seems like something your father or school principal would preach when you’ve been naughty. I propose it is a very good thing. Accountability is just a way to keep a promise; a promise to yourself–and keeping a promise feels awesome.

8. Find A Good Financial Planner

I lucked into meeting a great financial advisor. For me, she has educated me and guided me when it comes to financial products but her true value is as personal finance cheerleader. She knows where I started and where I want to go. She’s a constant source of encouragement. She cheers me up when I’m down and reminds me of how great I’m doing. (Geez, I’m actually tearing up writing this.)

7. Get Out of Debt

This is a big one. It’s not easy and it’s not fun. However, there is a certain sense of satisfaction at dinging away at your debt. I’m not out of debt completely but I’ve had some huge wins in the recent past. That sense of pride in digging yourself out of a bad situation is priceless and empowering.

6. Automate Your Finances

This was the first thing I wanted to accomplish when I started addressing my personal finances. I struggled constantly to make budgets, write checks, buy stamps, pay online, etc. Intuitively I knew that automating my payments (and deposits) was going to free me. And it has. It’s maybe the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It’s not for everyone though.

5. Talk About Money Openly

Sadly, there can be stigma in talking about your money. However, there is also a kind of freedom in being open and honest about your financial journey. You decide what level of sharing is best for you but I think it’s good to say “I’m sorry I can’t go. I’m prioritizing paying off debt for the next few months” or “Did you hear that I just opened a savings account to save for a trip to Tahiti?” Being open about your journey might even inspire others.

4. Pay Yourself First

This is my financial advisor’s mantra. Initially, I dismissed it as hokey and not applicable to me. I had debt. I had pressing need to pay rent and bills. I’ve since learned that paying yourself first really means putting yourself first. You are the most important factor in your money equation. You are also the most important person in your future. You are the one to make your dreams come true. Think of yourself as your life’s most valued employee and then pay yourself accordingly.

3. Appreciate What You Have

Gratitude is perhaps one of the most powerful tools in improving your personal finances. If you can truly be grateful for today, you can guarantee you’ll be happy tomorrow. Even when I’m down, I have now acquired the skill to look around my life and feel overwhelming awe at how good I have it.

2. Help Others

By giving to the Universe with an open heart, you are open to receiving from the Universe as well. If you can’t afford to donate money, there are other ways to help. I like to believe I help others by simply sharing my own experiences with money. Random acts of kindness are fun, too.

1. Dream Big

Imagination and visualization are extremely powerful sources of positivity. It’s healthy to have dreams and even healthier to actively work toward achieving them. Dreams can shift and evolve and that’s ok. Consider what makes you really happy and then figure out how to get more of that into your life.

Summary

In writing this list, I realize my list could far exceed 19 items. In truth, there are hundreds of tips to stay positive about personal finances. And I’d encourage you to add your own in the comments. However, the real point is that a positive attitude can be transformative to your personal finances.

Start this year with a positive attitude about money and see what happens!

The post 19 Ways to Stay Positive About Personal Finances appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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If you are reading this on the morning after I publish this post, you are most likely easing yourself back into the real world. I feel for you. But I’m not there quite yet. I am writing this from your past. Your past of last night to be precise. It is currently my January 1, 2019; a significant precipice of a day and the day I finally got up the energy to write a long-overdue post. Why today you ask?

New Year’s Day, in my opinion, far outshines it’s big dramatic sister, “Eve.” Eve is all kisses, champagne, disco balls, and tooting your own horn. Her just slightly younger sister, Day, is all laziness, stark reality, and last-ditch efforts for self-reflection. And since The Lady is the Black is far more “Day” than “Eve” in personality type, today seemed like the day to write. (Plus, I have to work tomorrow. Ugh. Poor you.)

So grab another cup of coffee and settle in. I hope not to bore you with too much backstory but if you are dying to know, you could read last year’s similar post that outlines where I was one year ago.

Net Worth

I knew it had been some months since I ran my net worth. (Shout out to my friend Chief Mom Officer for the inspiration.) Honestly, I was kind dreading it for a few important and relevant reasons. One, I’ve been slacking HARD on my personal finances (including this blog so apologies.) Next, the stock market took a serious crap. (I say that like it really has any influence in my life. It really doesn’t because I’m a long-term investor but I didn’t really want to see the numbers.) But I ran it today and it was bad…and good.

Net Worth 2017 (December): -$10,354 Net Worth 2018 (December): -$32,827

Yup, all that red looks bad.

However, I know why it dropped and actually expected it. For those who know my personal finance nemesis, you aren’t surprised to hear the drop came in the form of another year of tax bills. I can’t even stand to hear the sound of my own voice about this one any more but I’ll just say (once again), pay your estimated taxes if you have them. Just do it.

As the classy lady that I am, I don’t focus on the negative. It’s my assets you should take a ganda’ at. (For extra comic relief moment, read that last sentence again with a Mae West accent in your head. You’re welcome.)

The Lady in the Black has many assets.

Assets
Only recorded 5 months net worth for 2018.

Hey! Year end assets are about $35,000. Not bad. And my assets, although, not increasing, are NOT tanking the way I pictured.

NOTE: A few disclosures. First, my assets didn’t fluctuate too much with the market because I simply don’t have that much invested yet. My total investments don’t total $6,000. My biggest asset is Itsy (my 2012 Prius). The other largest assets are the cash values of 2 life insurance policies, 2 retirement accounts and a cash management account. Only the 401K has market exposure. Lastly, I’m one of those investors that automates their monthly investments. (I can’t explain it myself but research dollar-cost averaging.)

So, blah, blah, blah. The Lady in the Black is NOT yet in the black.

However, I strongly feel that it really is better to focus on net worth instead of your debt totals. Personally, I don’t feel I really began to change the tide on my personal finances until I started adding assets acquisition into my debt reduction strategy. I know it doesn’t make too much sense to those of us programmed to struggle with your money and battle your debt.

For me, there is a huge psychological benefit in balancing out what I have with what I’ve lost. Which brings me to celebrate a few financial victories this year.

Retirement Funding

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my current retirement funding status, let’s just say it started with a capital F and ends in a small d. I have only about $5,000 in an old 401K….and I’m 48. So, ya. Not great.

For 2018, I wanted to make some type of move to improving that situation. I opened a ROTH IRA and started contributing $200/month. It was good. I was proud. In September, I increased my contribution t to $458/month (which is the monthly payment I’d make if I was “maxing” out.)

The cooler thing is that I hope to be able to sustain that “max” contribution all through 2019.

Emergency Fund

Again, I’m pretty bored of myself talking about how I need to prioritize my emergency fund. I’m sick of my own inability to practice what I preach but it’s an important topic, and financial metric.

As a single-mom, freelance writer, an emergency fund is imperative. As such, 2018 witnessed The Lady in the Black trying 3 different strategies to build her fund. All are predicated on the concepts of automatic deposits. The difference is in the monthly amounts and into which accounts they were deposited.

As a side note, my financial advisor and I agreed that access to this fund was a barrier to me truly being successful saving. In short, if it was there, I spent it. With her help, I opened a cash management account. I can’t access the money directly. I have to ask a very nice lady to transfer funds.

For 2018, my success with my emergency fund is tepid. I got “hot” there for a while and I was contributing over $1,600 a month to my emergency fund. However, it ran a bit cold. All that digging deep plus the increase in my IRA contributions, plus my variable income had me recently backing that my contributions by about half.

However, I will say that my emergency fund has quite literally saved my ass multiple times this past year. It’s a super, duper smart move and I’m really happy I have a plan of attack While I don’t have much in way of a balance ($2,200), I am working on it. I consider it a matter of vigilance and fine tuning at this point.

Passive Income

I don’t have too many passive income streams but the one I’m finding fun to track are my dividends.

My year-end dividends totaled $86. I know. That’s not a lot but that $86 I didn’t have to earn or save. $86 of my money making money. It’s also the first full year of me investing so I get to actually see the quarterly patterns. And that’s some geeky graph fun right there!

Check that pattern! So amazing.
Consumer Debt

I have only a handful of consumer debt buckets. My car loan which is at a usurious interest rate, one converted secured credit card, one store card, and one gas card. The last three were solely for the purpose of increasing my credit.

Auto Loan

My auto loan has a stupid high interest rate so I tried to refinance. Nope. Credit score was too crappy. So I did what I could, I increased my monthly payments. Instead of the requisite $272, most months I paid $400. I offering this level of detail because I think it’s important to remember that if you can’t beat a dead horse, you certainly can poke at it with a sharp stick.

Interestingly enough, I currently owe less than my car’s private party sell value. That’s a cool feeling. I’m not planning on doing that because I’m only about $5,000 away from owning her outright. And THAT will be a good day… in 2020 I hope.

The Devil

There’s a segment of consumer debt called “the devil”? Yes. Because I believe credit cards are the devil on Earth. I lived without a single credit card for over a decade. Then, in an effort to improve my credit score, I opened a secured credit card for a whopping $200. After about a year (as promised), they converted it to an unsecured card and raised my credit limit. I used the card sparingly and paid off the balance in full every month.

But the devil loves good girls (good girls who used to be much, much worse.) Over 2018, my credit limit kept increasing, complete with a nice “Congratulations” email that felt more like an unwelcome dick pick than an announcement of increased credit limit. And yet, I continued to spend.

The good news? My credit limit is now just over $5,000. The bad news? My balance owed is $2,800 at 27.15%. (You see the devil now, right?)

So, I’m doing what any self-respecting good girl does when a bad boy starts up with his bullshit. I cut him out of my life. Literally. I play to cut that bastard up just as soon as I have my next paycheck in hand. While I was SUPER fortunate to only have paid $183 in credit card interest charges in 2018, the devil is breathing down my neck. So, it’s cutsville for you Beelzebub.

Credit Score

With all this talk of improving credit limits, you’d think my credit score would be golden by now. Well, not quite.

I started working on my credit score in earnest in 2016. It was bleak. By January 2017, I’d raised it considerably to 612. By year end 2018, I’m at 679. But worth’s celebrating is this green bar.

Green bar is 704, a first-time hit into the “Good” credit score category (as opposed to “Fair”)

For a brief moment in 2018, my credit score crossed into “Good” category. While I couldn’t sustain it, I did it. And it shows me I can do it in the future.

Income

I admit it. I make a good wage. I’m a seasoned marketing writer who freelances with a name-brand pharmaceutical account. That’s pretty cool but the choice to be freelance is not without it’s consequences. In short, cash flow (and automated bill payment, savings, and investments) is a bitch when your weekly income chart looks like this.

I did negotiate my rate for a 5% increase mid-year.

The weirdest thing about my income is how similar my year-end total is from 2017. It’s almost the exact same! And that is a blessing for me. Essentially, I have the benefits of freelance lifestyle and flexibility with the overall security of a full-time job. Of course, the flip side to having 1 main gig is the chance you become expendable. That’s why the emergency fund is imperative.

Adulting and Other Boring Crap

Again, let’s give credit where credit is due. Adulting is hard. There’s nothing real sexy about paying your own health and dental insurance. There’s nothing intriguing about putting gas in your car or grocery shopping. But I did it this past year and you did, too.

I am an adult. With that comes certain social, financial, and physical obligations. I am a mother. With that comes an additional layer of responsibility and activity. I am single. With dating comes an additional layer of involvement. It’s a lot, people. A damn lot, in fact.

So, my adult reader, if you are anything like me (or even have a few less or more layers) I give you the proverbial slow clap. Because regardless of your net worth, or your tax situation, or the value of your investments, or your credit score, you are an adult. And that in itself is an achievement.null

Slow clap to all you adults out there.

Go Get Another Coffee

Ok, that’s far more than enough about The Lady in the Black and her finances! Go get another cup of coffee and pat yourself on the back for surviving today and all of 2018.

Happy New Year to all of my Lady and Gentlemen friends!

If I can help even one other person besides myself with this post then I’m already kicking 2019 personal finance ass!

The post A YEAR IN REVIEW: THE LADY’S 2018 REPORT appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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If you have any exposure to the personal finance community, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a “no-spend weekend.” And as she’s not one of shy away from a challenge, The Lady in the Black tried her first no-spend weekend. How’d she do? Read on, my friends, read on.

Disclaimer: In my continuing attempt at full transparency, I need to preface this whole blog post with the fun little disclaimer. You see, when you are a “mature” adult female with a full-time gig, a boyfriend, and a kid starting back to school, it’s best practice to write a blog post in a timely manner when you write time-sensitive content. While I’ve done my best to recollect all the details of my no-spend Labor Day weekend, the fact is that is was 10 whole days ago. That’s like 70 days in old Lady days! I forgot some details. Sue me.

The Big Idea and The Reason Why

August 2018 was a tough month on this Lady’s cash flow situation.

I was on vacation until August 7. And as a freelance employee, vacation equals “no income.” Then, when I returned to work, a large project of mine was canceled and I was left scrambling for hours to bill to. In short, my August income was significantly lower than my average income..and it seriously hijacked my ability to pay rent on September 1.

On August 30th (2 days before rent is due), I had $240 in my checking account. My rent is $2,440.

You see a problem? Ya. So did I.

I did what I had to. I pulled savings from various accounts (designated for vacation, tax savings, emergency, etc.) and sold off some of my STASH portfolio. The next day, August 31, I had bolstered my account balance to $2,240.

I was also staring down Labor Day weekend being broke.

While I was amazed by the fact that I could pull together that much money that quickly, I was defeated that I had no money to make it through a weekend that was suppose to be fun and relaxing. Honoring all the “labor” in America was tough on me when I felt all my labor was going to squat.

Yet if The Lady in Black has learned one thing in this crazy financial journey, it’s that any success is due to a positive attitude and perseverance.

So, instead of crawling into bed and being depressed, I decided to make being broke as fun as I could.

“Hey, let’s do our first no-spend weekend. It’ll be fun,” I convinced myself. “I’ve got food in the cupboards, the freezer, and the fridge. I can totally do this.”

Then, I had to sell my uber-frugal idea to The Man in the Black (my boyfriend) and The Kid in the Black (my 10 year-old daughter.) Fortunately, they were both understanding. They weren’t thrilled but I was honest about why it was necessary.  Then I sold the crap out of the idea as the best thing since cheap white bread.

The Lady’s 1st No-Spend Weekend Friday, August 31: $0

This is where the hazy memory kicks in.

While I can verify via my bank accounts that I didn’t spend a dime, I also can’t exactly remember what I did Friday night. Based on what I know about my life, I can assume that The Kid and I probably just chilled at home. Seems like I probably even made dinner, which is a win in my book even if I can’t remember what I cooked.

Is it gingko biloba that is supposed to help enhance memory? I forget.

Anyway, I didn’t spend any money. ‘Nuf said.

Saturday, September 1: $12

Now this I do remember!

Saturday I had planned for my gang to go to the Orange International Street Fair. (Picture the cutest of historic towns closing their downtown circle intersection and filling all the streets with interesting vendors.) It’s a long-standing Labor Day event and I hadn’t been in decades.

While I reminded them of our no-spending challenge on the drive to the event and they were “in”, the instant I stepped foot inside the fair, I knew I fucked up.

In fact, it may have been one of the stupidest ideas I’ve had in a long time. The WHOLE DEAL about the fair is the dozens of food booths, beer trucks, and trendy arts and crafts available for sale. Sure, I brought snacks and waters for everyone (I’m a mom after all) but the event felt like one big-ass culinary tease. It was like bringing a Lunchable to a 5-star restaurant.

Realizing my immediate mistake, I had to come up with something to distract The Kid…and fast. Fortunately, I’d just passed down my old phone (a sweet-ass iPhone 4s thank you very much) and suggested we both take photos and then “compete” for the best photography later when we got home. (The Kid is the best kid in the world so she was down with the idea.)

Art as distraction. Score one for The Lady.

Anyway, blah, blah, blah. Click-click-click.

All was going well until we arrived to the Norway section of the international street fair. And there they were. Ableskiver. (Google it.)

I caved on a dish of ableskiver. Price $6. Now, I rationalized this treat was for my daughter and technically I owed her $25 so really it was her buying the treat, not me. (Rationalization is a bitch but I still counted the expense because I’m honest.)

Next, I just couldn’t say no to a $4 root beer float in Ireland. (Is root beer Irish? I don’t know. Doesn’t matter, I guess.)

Then, I got busted by an event authority guy for not having a wristband. The Man in the Black graciously bought me a beer but I had to fork over the $2 for the wristband. (I should also disclose that I met up with a co-worker at the event and she bought me a beer, too. Thanks, JB!)

All in all, I escaped the street fair only spending $12 of my own money! Not bad.

In fact, I challenge anyone to do better. Go ahead. Make my day, punk.

Sunday, September 2: $12

By Sunday, I knew the money in bank account wasn’t sufficient to cover my rent. I had bounced yet another rent payment.

I was angry. I was stressed. I was desperate. I bought a bottle of $12 chardonnay…and drank it. All. By. Myself.

Beyond that one indulgence, it turns out moping around feeling sorry for yourself is 100% free. Yay.

Thousand Steps beach, Laguna Beach, CA Monday, September 3: $0

With the kids transferred to their other parents, The Man and I had Monday to ourselves.

One of the huge benefits of living in southern California is the beach. It’s right there…everyday and is surprisingly easy to take for granted. However, that was not the story for this year’s Labor Day Monday.

Monday we took full advantage of an out-of-the-way beach equipped with our sunscreen and cooler packed with goodies. Full disclosure: The Man did shell out $13 at the local grocery store to supplement the snacks I had packed.

In short, it was AWESOME. It was the perfect no-spend day.

We swam, snoozed, explored, snacked, and swam some more. We were like Sandy and Danny frolicking around in our own version of a Summer Lovin’ flashback scene.

And it was all free…and once I stripped off my bathing suit in the ocean for a few minutes of nudie swimming….freeing as well. Don’t judge.

No-Spend Weekend Lessons

My official spend of $24 on a 3-day, no-spend weekend seems like a decent first attempt.

Am I disappointed that I can’t say “I did it! I spent $0”?

No, because I think I did great.

To analyze my expenditures, I spent half my money feeding my kid and the other half drowning my sorrows. And for those of you moms out there struggling with making ends meet, that might sound familiar.

So what did The Lady in The Black learn from her first no-spend weekend?

First, meal planning is a “thing.” The better you can plan out your meals in advance, the better off you are–nutritionally AND financially. Honestly, I’m not great at meal planning and most of my “cheat” expenses involve eating out. This is not news to me but not go out once over the span of a long weekend was pretty awesome for me.

Next, don’t be an idiot. Choose your activities well. Avoid situations where you will tempted to spend your hard-earned money. Select places where you aren’t bombarded by retail temptation. The street fair was stupid. The beach was genius.

Lastly, make sure your partner, kids, friends, etc. are mentally, physically, and fiscally prepared for a no-spend challenge. Sure, I spent some money on treats for my child but she didn’t beg or whine for anything all day. She knew the situation and didn’t push. My boyfriend understood my predicament and respected it by choosing an activity for the two of us that wouldn’t cost me money or my dignity for being broke.

Oh, and if you are into this kinda of thing, can I direct you to the Zero Day Challenge from my fellow blogger, Zero Day Finance? It’s kinda his jam and he has great articles about it.)

Summary

I see no-spend challenges as a type of cleanse. They can help reset your financial metabolism and put your personal finances on a healthier path.

The Lady in The Black enjoyed her no-spend weekend, even if it was involuntary. In fact, I look forward to trying it again soon, under better circumstances.

In summary, there’s no doubt that being broke is trying–but it doesn’t mean you can’t try to make the most of it.

Like one of my good friends says, life is short. Live long.

The post A No-Spend Weekend: Being Broke On Purpose appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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Did The Lady in the Black just spell “stress” wrong? Nope. Does she expect you to know what “eustress” is? Hell, no, she just discovered the term herself (although she’s been experiencing it for over 2 years.) Maybe you have, too?

Let me start with a blogger confession. I was all set to write my journal entry for the week. I was excited to write again. I had my top 3 “profitable” things lined up in my head and was good to go.

Then, I realized that each of my profitable things all shared a common theme. The problem was I couldn’t put my finger on what to call it.

I would have named it “fear” or maybe “financial anxiety” but that seemed too severe.

It’s was more like the two faces of the LEGO movie’s “Good Cop, Bad Cop” character. One personality with two faces. No, more like dual-personalities in a shared body. Or maybe 1 creepy and mean and the other nice and polite.

Shit. This metaphor isn’t working out. Let me try to explain another way.

Giving a Name to The Anxiety I Now Feel

Prior to 2 years ago, I was constantly emotionally drained by the thought of money and finances. I was overwhelmed and ashamed of my ineptitude paying monthly bills. I was defeated with my inability to save a dime. I regretted past financial decisions, grieved my debt, and beat myself up on a daily basis. I ate financial anxiety for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Now, just over 2 years later, my financial anxiety is still present but with different reasons, intensity and, most importantly, different outcomes. The reasons for my current financial anxiety are now centered around saving for the future. The intensity is mild, and occurrences of panic are far and few between.

But the biggest differences is in how this new brand of financial anxiety now impacts my behavior. Before, it was defeatist and paralyzing. Now, I’d classify my anxiety as spurring or motivating–maybe even exciting.

Being a writer, I wanted to name this feeling, to search out if others experience it as well. So, I did what any normal human would do. I Googled it. I searched for the closest phrase that I could come up with on my own; “positive anxiety.”

187,000,000 results!?!

I guess it’s positive anxiety is a thing.

Here are a few interesting snippets I found in doing a cursory online literature search.

Positive Anxiety Has A Name: Eustress

This article from VeryWellMind.com, stated:

Scientists have learned that some degree of stress or anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good stress, something now referred to now as eustress, keeps us motivated and excited about life. It appears that some degree of anxiety may have similar “silver linings.”

Eustress Has a Purpose

Linking over to it’s sister article entitled “Why Eustress Is Your Friend“, we learn that:

Eustress is a type of stress that is actually important for us to have in our lives. Without it, we would become bored at best and, in more serious cases, depressed. We would begin to feel a lack of motivation to accomplish goals and a lack of meaning in life without enough eustress. Not striving for goals, not overcoming challenges, not having a reason to wake up in the morning would be damaging to us, so eustress is considered ‘good’ stress. It keeps us healthy and happy.

There Are Useful Benefits of Anxiety

There are several articles that point out some interesting takes on how and why anxiety can actually be beneficial.

A Psychology Today article lists 6 Hidden Benefits to Anxiety. I particularly liked #3 and #5.

3. Having a Plan B and C can save you stress, heartache, and money.

5. Worrying can occasionally help you avoid problems.

Anxiety May Even Save The Human Race

One online article entitled “The 8 Most Unexpected Advantages of Anxiety” even goes so far to claim that the “human race needs anxious people.” It goes on to say:

Not only are there some personal upside to anxiety, but anxious people may also benefit the human race.

Some scientists think that worry and intelligence co-evolved as beneficial traits. Dr. Jeremy Coplan, co-author of a paper published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, explains:

“While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be.

In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates.

Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”

What About Positive Anxiety and Personal Finances?

So, this is all very interesting and, for me, slightly encouraging given my biological propensity toward depression and anxiety. But how does this positive anxiety, this eustress, play out within the realm of personal finances?

Good question. I went back to Google and entered “positive financial anxiety.”

52,500,000 results. (Only 1/4 of previous results). Additionally, with a quick scroll, I noticed that most of the top results are about “dealing with financial anxiety” as opposed to the positive consequences or benefits of financial anxiety.

So, I tried searching “financial eustress.”

Down to 50,200 results. But, yet again, most of top results didn’t mention “financial” in the title. In my subsequent scroll onto secondary pages, I didn’t come up with anything dealing directly on the correlation between positive anxiety and personal finances. (Seriously, if you know of articles, please send them my way.)

Have I just coined a new phrase? Huh. That’d be cool.

However, without an exhaustive search, I’ll just assume that it’s a poorly published subset of personal finances.

The Lady’s Hypothesis on The Benefits of Financial Eustress

With the void of available literature on the topic of “financial eustress”, I guess I’ll offer my own personal experiences as a anecdotal proof to my hypothesis that:

Financial eustress, as opposed to traditional financial anxiety, can be a positive, transformative force that can motivate and encourage financially sound behaviors.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #1

In response to my anxiety over the possibility of losing my current freelance gig, I am re-prioritizing my emergency fund. One of my personal finance goals for 2018 included a tactic to “Triple my current emergency fund (aim for $3,000).”

However, I knew all along that this amount is woefully insufficient. Based on my current monthly expenses, my financial advisor has suggested something more in line with 3 months expenses, or about $30,000.

How will I achieve that? Well, by re-allocating some budget lines items tagged for vacations and investments into a cash management account and sticking with it.

Will I stop taking vacations? No. Will I stop investing? Maybe, for the time being. I’m a bit sad about slowing my investment activity but since I don’t really know what I’m doing anyway, it’s probably best I focus on the emergency fund.

So, in short, my nervousness (read “anxiety”) about the security of my employment spurred additional savings to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

I’ll chalk that up to eustress.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #2

Due to my ex-husband’s catastrophic inability to manage his own finance, my daughter’s college education will likely fall to me. Since I only started saving last year at a modest $120/month, her college fund will not be where I’d like it to be in 8 short years.

That anxiety led me to recently open a custodial investment account for her. Sure, I can only afford $50/month contribution but I see this as a start. While the $120 is saved, and then transferred into a high-interest yielding CD at the end of each year (with interest rolled back in), the investment account is an S&P aggressive allocation ETF. I know it’s not going to constitute the whole of college tuition but, again, it’s another step in the right direction.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #3

Taxes. If you know me at all, you know this is the source of the large majority of my financial stress. It’s my personal finance nemesis. In short, paying past and estimated taxes freaks me the fuck out.

By acknowledging this, to myself and my financial advisor, I have a new strategy in place. In short, I’ll finally start doing what almost every financial expert advises–max out your tax-sheltered contributions. My ROTH IRA and private HSA will soon be seeing double the monthly contributions. This will help reduce my taxable income.

Additionally, I’m delegating. They say to foucs on the things you do well and delegate the rest. I’m transferring the responsibility of quarterly payments over to my financial team. I’ll continue to deposit the funds (that I’m currently doing) but now they will go into an account that I don’t control. Additionally, the team will alert me when estimated taxes are due and schedule appropriate disbursements.

Will this new method help? I honestly don’t know. I do know that if something’s not working, it needs to be fixed.

The eustress I feel over taxes has encouraged me to try multiple things. Not all have worked but all have come from a place of genuine intent and sincere effort.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #4

The entire insurance industry seems to be based on eustress.

According to Statistica, the gross premiums generated by the industry worldwide in 2016 was just over $5 trillion US dollars. That’s a lot of eustress right there!

Millions of people, including myself, insure against the rainy days, the what ifs, the worst-case scenarios, the never knows. Hell, I currently insure my health, my teeth, my car, my life (or more accurately, my death), and my household possessions.

I’m sure finance experts debate the wisdom of insurance but it’s an undeniable appeal for most to help relieve the anxiety of an unknown future.

Anecdotal ProofPoint #5

My own financial journey began out of sheer frustration and a promise never to be at rock bottom ever again.

Over the last two and a half years, I’ve educated myself about personal finances, joined a personal finance community, held myself accountable, developed financial theories, created a life philosophy, and experimented with various savings strategies and investments. I’ve maintained a financial advisor and continued to publish posts (although not as frequently) about my financial adventures.

The stress I had over my past failures and incompetence has transformed into a more future-focused worry. Instead of being paralyzed by my past, I am now empowered to help my future self by cleaning up my act and being proactive. For those familiar with my Traffic Light Model, I’m focused far more on the “green” than the “red.”

In short, I’ve been able to convert my stress into eustress–and I gotta say it feels way better. Sure, it’s still stress but it seems more tolerable and more actionable.

Summary

Surely, The Lady in the Black isn’t the only one on the planet to experience financial stress. In fact, all of my readers can relate. Millions of articles speak to it (just ask Google).

This article isn’t about tactical financial tips and tricks. It’s about opening your eyes to the fact that not all stress is bad.

If you are doing something to improve your financial picture then perhaps what you are feeling is eustress. And, by it’s very definition, it’s a beneficial thing.

Managing your finances can be boiled down to a shift in attitude, an attitude that that exists in real life. And, as we all know, real life can be stressful. Let’s give ourselves a break and try to view that stress as an opportunity to change and grow–both personally and financially.

So eustressing about finances? I am and it feels great.

The post Defining Financial Eustress: A Literature Search appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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It’s been a shamefully long-time since I wrote my weekly memoir but The Lady in the Black is back! Take a moment to check updates on her life, love, and pursuit of a profitable life.

The 3 Most Profitable Things I Did This Week Week Ending June 1, 2018

Run Away. Far, far away.

Ran Away From Home

Sometimes the best way to face the challenges of everyday life is to run away…far, far away.

What? Does that sound defeatist or weak to you? Well, it doesn’t to me. It seems wise and necessary, if only on rare occasions.

The last couple of weeks have been very trying on this middle-aged Lady. There were all the problems of work stress, piled up with some significant “be a great mom” pressures, backed up with some romantic discontent, and bolstered by good old-fashioned financial anxiety. Oh, and if that wasn’t all bad enough, I felt the profound and utter guilt of how first-world and “white privilege” all of my issues were. And yet, despite understanding how blessed I am, these stressors were heavy enough to cause a real (yet brief) mental/emotional collapse.

I almost quit my job. I almost broke up with my boyfriend. I almost did a lot of hurtful things.

Instead, when I was staring down a 3-day holiday weekend with no kid and no plans, I did what any sane Lady would do. GET. THE. FUCK. OUT. OF. DODGE.

I contacted a friend last minute, threw some stuff in the Prius and drove, and drove, and drove….7 hours to Sedona, AZ.

And it was the best idea I’ve had in a very long time. But you know what was even better than running away from home? Not thinking.

I purposely didn’t think about my worries. I strategically avoided solving problems. I was intent on “staying Zen” and just relaxing. In fact, if I wanted to go somewhere, I went. If I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t. I slept. I read. I hiked. I shopped. But I didn’t think. I ate. I drank. I drove aimlessly. But I didn’t think. (And that’s no small thing for me.)

Now, that’s not to say that my brain didn’t receive messages because it did. And quite honestly, these little bolts of enlightenment were pretty profound. Here’s a small sample of these pearls of wisdoms paired with the photo that inspired them.

It’s easy to misinterpret signs. It’s all a matter of perspective. Just because you are worn down by forces outside of your control doesn’t mean you aren’t beautiful and inspiring. If a stream with no water is still a stream, am I still a writer even if I’m out of words? You can be inviting and defensive at the same time. There’s really no way to expect the unexpected. LA traffic is fucking ridiculous.

In short, I believe the Universe was telling me to chill the fuck out. My friend agreed.

I’m on a solid path and just need to stay the course. Will my current gig fulfill every creative craving? No. Will my finances fixed themselves overnight? No. Will my friends and family abandon me if things take a dive? No. Will my child stop loving me if I can’t be a Stepford Mom? No.

[Insert deep breath here.] I’m fine as I am. I’m fortunate and beautiful and smart. I’m loved and supported and adored. Yes, Universe. I hear you. And yes, I’ll chill the fuck out.

I know. From a physics perspective, it’s malarky.

Played the What-If Up Game

I returned to my real life on Monday, Memorial Day and part of settling back in was retrieving my mail.

And there it was. A letter from the IRS.

For those of you who’ve followed my journey, you know that taxes and tax debt remain top of the heaping pile of personal financial bullshit. I have a love-hate relationship with the IRS and any communication from them triggers immediate dread and resulting anxiety. This letter was no different.

To provide some context, I filed my own taxes for 2017 and due to my continued underpaying of estimated taxes, I owe them a substantial chunk of change. I accept it and was expecting the big bill. That bill would not only add considerable debt to my current tax heap but also set my net worth back substantially. (And one of my financial goals for 2018 was to hit positive net worth.)

However, instead of tearing into the letter, I carted myself off to an Irish pub for a little liquid courage (AKA pints of Harp.) I also took the time to play What-If Up with the situation.

What is What-If Up? Well, I’ll let Joe Vitale explain it, as he is where I learned it from. Check out this video.

Understanding the "What if UP Method" by Joe Vitale - YouTube

I said to myself “What if I won some secret IRS lottery and they forgave my debt? What if they love me now and want to help me? What if I paid more than I thought and they reduce my tax bill? What if that letter sitting at home is good news not bad news?”

Ya. I know. It’s hard. The What-If Up game is not an easy one to stomach, especially for natural cynics like myself.

So, I trudged home, lit up a pre-execution cigarette and ripped into the letter to face the firing squad. Here’s what I saw.

Wait. What? Is that a minus sign?

So, the letter wasn’t the one I was expecting. It was something else entirely. It was them telling me that my previous year’s tax debt (2016) was REDUCED by about $4,500! WHAT!?! That’s crazy.

Was it some sort of weird IRS karma? (I have been trying like crazy to improve my situation.) Was it some magical manifestation of the What-If Up game? (I mean, OK. That’s cool.) Or was it just a temporary reprieve before next year’s tax bill hits my balance sheet? Ummm….probably all three but I’ll take it!

So, where does this put me? I’m not sure but since this balance is already rolled up in an installment plan, I’m already handling this debt. And that my friends is half the battle.

You and me both, sister.

I Wrote This Post

When I looked objectively at what had changed in my life recently that brought me from content status to discontent status, there were some obvious changes. (I won’t list them all.) However, the one that truly stuck out like a red and throbbing sore thumb was my lack of creative expression. (Sure, sure. I write all ding-dong day as a freelance marketing writer but it satisfies only a small portion of my voracious creative appetite.)

In short, I stopped writing this blog and it had negative consequences that rippled into other aspects of my life. I know many bloggers write for different reasons and many stop writing for different reasons as well. My friend, Brent, does a good job of explaining this in a recent post.

I don’t really have a ton to say on this topic except that maintaining contentment and equilibrium in life has lots of tips and tricks. Most probably, those are unique to you and only you. It’s a proprietary recipe that only you can know.

For me, having something to say but shoving it down is damaging to my spirit. Being a writer and not writing hurts. You see, I found a unique voice through The Lady in the Black and realize I need to let her have her say more often.

Do I need to maintain such a vigorous posting schedule? No. Do I need to maintain such a high-level of transparency? Actually….yes. I think I do.

I need somewhere in my life where I can’t let loose while still holding myself accountable. I need this silly little blog and I hope, somewhere out there, someone else does, too.

What are your most profitable things this week? What have you learned by not thinking at all? Any success stories playing What-If Up? Anyone have a free place to crash in Sedona? (What?!?! Doesn’t hurt to ask.)

The post The 3 Most Profitable Things: The Lady’s Animated Memoir appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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For those of my readers familiar with my financial situation, you know that The Lady in the Black’s has an evil personal finance nemesis. In the end, she concludes it’s not always about the victory…or the defeat. Everyday financial battles are waged everyday, somewhere in between win and lose.

Personal finance nemesis? (Yes, I’m excited for the premier of Marvel’s Infinity War. Sue me.) For those thinking “I don’t have a personal finance nemesis,” this article might not be for you. This article is for those of us that fought many battles with a specific yet dark financial figure or maybe they fight many. When you struggle with money, it’s a mentally, emotionally, and physically draining experience. It’s a fight and probably, if you are like me, an ongoing on.

The evil often starts lurking when you are young, and perhaps innocently enough, you get caught up in bad habits or difficult situations. It might be impulse buying, intolerance for budgeting, or an inability to save money. It might be situational like a divorce or a debilitating health condition. You might battle unemployment or underemployment. Or perhaps it’s just as simple as not ever learning about money management….or any myriad of issues that cause financial stress.

via GIPHY 

The Lady’s Personal Finance Nemesis

The Lady in the Black hasn’t posted in a while. And maybe, just maybe, I know why. Because she knew this day would come; April 17, 2018 Tax Day AKA The Big Battle. But before we get too far ahead let’s give the financial voyeurs out there a little upfront peek-a-boo.

Uncle Sam

Current balance due (prior to today) was in the neighborhood of $30,000. That’s a lot, you say. To that, I laughed heartily and with my best Dolly Parton impersonation say “Oh, bless your heart, sweet child. That’s nothing.” I’m actually proud of all the steps I’ve taken to reduce my tax debt. This amount represents 2 separate years of past due Federal tax balances. I currently have an installment plan in place for $500/month.

CA Franchise Tax Board

Just a couple of months ago, the lien these villains had on my credit report was cleared. That means that for a brief yet glorious moment in time The Lady was not indebted to these incredibly gruesome devils. (You might pick up that I don’t respect this particular agency. However, through amended returns and $200 monthly payments I cleared off a $6,500 debt.)

via GIPHY

The Agent of Evil

We could argue that tax obligations are good or evil. I’m not down with politics but will reveal that I don’t necessary oppose the concept of taxes. I do however feel that instrument of my personal devil is estimated taxes.

I know. I know. They seem so harmless. Estimate your tax bill and divide by 4. Send in payments by the due dates. Easy-peasy. Right?

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! At least not for me.

As a freelancer living in one of the nation’s most expensive regions with a notorious bad history managing her taxes and/or personal finances, it’s hard to set aside the appropriate amount for estimated taxes. Then add into the mix that I share custody of my child and only claim her (and her expenses) every other year. Oh, and my income is far from “predictable.” And if that isn’t enough, try out that fact that my budgeting system often doesn’t have enough wiggle room and I’ve been forced to use those estimated tax savings to cover those “crises of cash flow.”

Last July, when I determined to launch my most recent battle with taxes, I was determined to take a few deep cuts at that bad boy.

And you know what, I did….kinda.

The Battle Plan

Back in July 2017, I promised that I’d try to pay estimated taxes, even though I knew I was starting late in the year. It was a losing battle for sure BUT I thought I might be able to mediate the financial damage inflicted on me come The Big Fight.

And you know what, I did….kinda.

I managed to make 2 out of 4 (or 50% for those math nerds out there) of my estimated taxes for 2017. Perfect? No. Still incur late fees and penalties? Yup. (Those little goblins are relentless.) While you’ll see in a bit, this represents a drop in the bucket…but I’m still proud as shit at myself. I made a commitment, a plan, and I tried really hard.

If you are fighting your own personal finance nemesis, I strongly suggest gearing up and getting tactical. Battle wins don’t just happen. They are planned.

via GIPHY

The Big Fight

Leading up to The Big Fight (otherwise known as filing taxes), it should be disclosed that The Lady fired her previous knight in shining armor. I had used Block Advisors for previous years work but became dissatisfied and distrustful. I decided that part of my battle (perhaps foolishly) was to file for myself. (Ok, ok. An ethereal wizard named TurboTax helped tremendously.)

The Lady girded herself with requisite forms and color-coded file folders. Rainbow paper clips and Post-It notes were a trigger-fingered breadth away.

1099s? Bring it. 1099-SA? Whatevs. Home office deduction? Been there, fought that. Forfeiture of debt? Ok. Ouch. Dividend earnings? Oh, those are new. HSA contributions vs disbursement? Ummm… well. Filing single/no dependent? Ya. Ok. That one hurt.

Truth is, The Lady arrived at the tax bill she was kinda expecting for her earnings and change in filing status.

Total damage? An additional $24,000 for Feds and $6,400 for State. Nice hit, Uncle Sam and CA Bad Dudes. The Lady is down but she’s not out.

Finding My Feet and Dusting Off

Before I continue, I’ll have to pat myself on the back for a moment.

For a person with my history and current financial situation, I could probably just stay down once receiving a hit like that. Wallow in my continued defeat against my personal finance nemesis. I could close my eyes against the sound of his cackling and maniacal victory laugh. But no. Not this Lady, mister. You got the wrong gal.

To my credit, I’ve remained remarkably cool and collected during the last few weeks. Did I procrastinate until the very day before the filing deadline to file? Yes, yes I did. (Let’s not dwell on that, shall we?)

The good news is that I fought the good fight.

I promised myself as part of my New Year’s Goals that I would “file and pay taxes on time.” Yesterday, I electronically filed my Federal and State taxes ON TIME (one day early in fact.) Today, I waited in a long line at the post office to mail my two payments in ON TIME. OK. Fine. I sent them each only a token payment. I could not pay the entire bill but still I’m happy about this small victory.

And quite honestly, that win is not really too small. I sent them each $2,000. That’s $4,000! I don’t know about you but that’s a lot of money to me! It leaves me still owing and returning again to humbly request installment plans but it’s better than nothing and I’m quite proud of how I got it.

I sacrificed my emergency fund and about half of my investment portfolio. Before everyone gets up on me for doing that, remember that everyone’s fight is different and what makes financial sense to one may be different for the other. The $4,000 I pulled out of my ass today represents a good-faith gesture on my part to continue my battle.

It also was an internal acknowledgement that I know I’ve been a bit pre-mature about my investing strategy. Well, more accurately, I’ve been a bit pre-mature about my lack of investing strategy. I’m the first to admit that it’s a strength to admit when you don’t know something. I don’t know investing. I don’t. But I’m teaching myself. And I’ve learned a lot in the last 11 months. I’m OK with dumping some of my one-off positions. I need to focus on getting this tax debt under control. It’s once again my priority.

via GIPHY

Looking Toward the Sunset

In summary, The Lady in the Black just added a huge chunk of debt at her own feet. But she’s made some serious inroads in winning one year’s battle (the war is relentless) and she knows her opponent much better. She’s getting better, stronger and if she acquires bionic hearing that would be awesome. However, in the absence of bionic powers, she’ll just keep doing what she’s doing and working her steps toward a profitable life.

Yes, and I’ll establish new installment agreements. (I even know where to pull from my budget to increase my monthly payments.)

For those fighting similar battles, I encourage you enter the fight with your chin up. You might be your own worse personal finance nemesis but that is no reason not to treat your opponent with respect. Plus, there’s nothing uglier than a girl boss fighting herself.

Save your aggression for a more worthy foe like…..I don’t know, people who leave their blinkers on.

The post Personal Finance Nemesis: The Lady Fights the Good Fight appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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For those of my readers familiar with my financial situation, you know that The Lady in the Black’s has an evil personal finance nemesis. In the end, she concludes it’s not always about the victory…or the defeat. Everyday financial battles are waged everyday, somewhere in the middle of win and lose.

Personal finance nemesis? (Yes, I’m excited for the premier of Marvel’s Infinity War. Sue me.) For those thinking “I don’t have a personal finance nemesis,” this article might not be for you. This article is for those of us that fought many battles with a specific yet dark financial figure or maybe they fight many. When you struggle with money, it’s a mentally, emotionally, and physically draining experience. It’s a fight and probably, if you are like me, an ongoing on.

The evil often starts lurking when you are young, and perhaps innocently enough, you get caught up in bad habits or difficult situations. It might be impulse buying, intolerance for budgeting, or an inability to save money. It might be situational like a divorce or a debilitating health condition. You might battle unemployment or underemployment. Or perhaps it’s just as simple as not ever learning about money management….or any myriad of issues that cause financial stress.

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The Lady’s Personal Finance Nemesis

The Lady in the Black hasn’t posted in a while. And maybe, just maybe, I know why. Because she knew this day would come; April 18, 2018 Tax Day AKA The Big Battle. But before we get too far ahead let’s give the financial voyeurs out there a little upfront peek-a-boo.

Uncle Sam

Current balance due (prior to today) was in the neighborhood of $30,000. That’s a lot, you say. To that, I laughed heartily and with my best Dolly Parton impersonation say “Oh, bless your heart, sweet child. That’s nothing.” I’m actually proud of all the steps I’ve taken to reduce my tax debt. This amount represents 2 separate years of past due Federal tax balances. I currently have an installment plan in place for $500/month.

CA Franchise Tax Board

Just a couple of months ago, the lien these villians had on my credit report was cleared. That means that for a brief yet glorious moment in time The Lady was not indebted to these incredibly gruesome devils. (You might pick up that I don’t respect this particular agency.) However, through amended returns and $200 monthly payments I cleared off a $6,500.)

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The Agent of Evil

We could argue that tax obligations are good or evil. I’m not down with politics but will reveal that I don’t necessary oppose the concept of taxes. I do however feel that instrument of my personal devil is estimated taxes.

I know. I know. They seem so harmless. Estimate your tax bill and divide by 4. Send in payments by the due dates. Easy-peasy. Right?

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! At least not for me.

As a freelancer living in one of the nation’s most expensive regions with a notorious bad history managing her taxes and/or personal finances, it’s hard to set aside the appropriate amount for estimated taxes. Then add into the mix that I share custody of my child and only claim her (and her expenses) every other year. Oh, and my income is far from “predictable.” And if that isn’t enough, try out that fact that my budgeting system often doesn’t have enough wiggle room and I’ve been forced to use those estimated tax savings to cover those “crises of cash flow.”

Last July, when I determined launch into the most recent battle with taxes, I was determined to do what I could take a few deep cuts at that bad boy.

And you know what, I did….kinda.

The Battle Plan

Back in July 2017, I promised that I’d try to pay estimated taxes, even though I knew I was starting late. It was a losing battle for sure BUT I though I might be able to mediate a bit of the damaged inflict.

And you know what, I did….kinda.

I managed to make 2 out of 4 (or 50% for those math nerds out there) of my estimated taxes for 2017. Perfect? No. Still incur late fees and penalties? Yup. (Those little goblins are relentless.) While you’ll see, it was just a drop in the bucket in the end but I’m still proud as shit at myself. I made a commitment, a plan, and I tried really hard.

If you are fighting your own personal finance nemesis, I strongly suggest gearing up and getting tactical. Battle win don’t just happen. They are planned.

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The Big Fight

Leading up to the big fight (otherwise known as filing taxes), it should be disclosed that The Lady fired her previous knight in shining armor. I had used Block Advisors for previous years work but became dissatisfied and distrustful. I decided that part of my battle (perhaps foolishly) was to file for myself. (Ok, ok. A ethereal wizard named TurboTax helped tremendously.)

The Lady girded herself with requisite forms and color-coded file folders. Rainbow paper clips and Post-It notes were a trigger-fingered breadth away.

1099s? Bring it. 1099-SA? Whatevs. Home office deduction? Been there, fought that. Forfeiture of debt? Ok. Ouch. Dividend earnings? Oh, those are new. HSA contributions vs dispersement? Ummm… well. Filing single/no dependent? Ya. Ok. That one hurt.

Truth is, The Lady got the tax bill she was kinda expecting for her earnings and change in filing status. Total damage? An additional $24,000 for Feds and $6,400 for State. Nice hit, Uncle Sam and CA Bad Dudes.

The Lady is down but she’s not out.

Finding My Feet and Dusting Off

Before I continue, I’ll have to pat myself on the back for a moment.

For a person with my history and current financial situation, I could probably just stay down once receiving a hit like that. Wallow in my continued defeat against my personal personal finance nemesis. I could close my eyes against the sound of his cackling and maniacal victory laugh. But no. Not this Lady, mister. You got the wrong gal.

To my credit, I’ve remained remarkably cool and collected during the last few weeks. Did I procrastinate until the very day before the filing deadline to file? Yes, yes I did. (Let’s not dwell on that, shall we?)

The good news is that I fought the good fight.

I promised myself as part of my New Year’s Goals that I would “file and pay taxes on time.” Yesterday, I electronically filed my Federal and State taxes ON TIME. Today, I waited in a long line at the post office to mail my two payments in ON TIME. OK. Fine. I sent them each only a token payment. I could not pay the entire bill but still I’m happy about this small victory.

And quite honestly, that win is not really too small. I sent them each $2,000. That’s $4,000! I don’t know about you but that’s a lot of money to me! It leaves me still owing and returning again to humbly request installment plans but it’s better than nothing and I’m quite proud of how I got it.

I sacrificed my emergency fund and about half of my investment portfolio. Before everyone gets up on me for doing that, remember that everyone’s fight is different and what makes financial sense to one may be different for the other. The $4,000 I pulled out of my ass today represents a good-faith gesture on my part to continue my battle. It also was an internal acknowledgement that I know I’ve been a bit pre-mature about my investing strategy. Well, more accurately, I’ve been a bit pre-mature about my lack of investing strategy.

In that I pride myself on my intelligence, I’m the first to admit that it’s a strength to admit when you don’t know something. I don’t know investing. I don’t. But I’m teaching myself. And I’ve learned a lot in the last 11 months. I’m OK with dumping some of my one-off positions. I need to focus on getting this tax debt under control. It’s once again my priority.

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Looking Toward the Sunset

In summary, The Lady in the Black just added a huge chunk of debt at her own feet. But she’s made some serious inroads in winning the battle (the war is relentless) and she knows her opponent much better. She’s getting better, stronger and if I acquire bionic hearing that would be awesome. However, in the absence of bionic powers, she’ll just keep doing what she’s doing and working her steps toward a profitable life.

Yes, and I’ll establish new installment agreements. (I even know where to pull from my budget to increase my monthly payments.)

For those fighting similar battles, I encourage you enter the fight with your chin up. You might be your own worse enemy but that no reason not to treat the opponent with respect. Plus, there’s nothing uglier than a girl boss fighting herself. Save your aggression for more worthy foe like…..I don’t know, people who leave their blinkers on.

The post Personal Finance Nemesis: The Lady Fights the Good Fight appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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Managing personal finances can be a struggle. It can also be one of the most empowering exercises you can do for yourself. However, for The Lady in the Black, managing her finances is a continuing saga of both. She compiles a list of her top 5 financial confessions.

Warning: This post contains lots of swearing. Like lots. You’ve been warned.

There are lots of competent and capable personal finance bloggers who admit to the occasional “whoopsies” financial mistake. That’s cool. I respect that.

But at age 47, The Lady in the Black has a long history of financial mistakes that exceed a little “whoopsies.” Worse yet, there are some I simply can’t stop from happening. Am I feeling a little defeatist and down? Perhaps. Am I thinking that maybe any progress I make will be destroyed by my own financial incompetence? Maybe. Am I sick and tired of sucking at the same damn things? For sure.

If you think this post is for you, it’s not. I’m writing (and publishing) this post for one reason. I want to end this cycle of financial dysfunction.

I’m hoping that by writing about it (with little to no filters) that I might just arrive at something that I can use to improve myself.

If, by some miracle, my readers have some suggestions, great. Send them my way. If, by some coincidence, my readers struggle with some of the same issues, well….shit. I’m sorry. That sucks.

In short, I need to own my own shit and figure out how to move forward. The following is a list of my top 5 financial confessions.

The Lady’s Financial  Bullshit List

B.S. #1: I can never figure out my cash flow.

For some people, money just floats in and out of their lives.

For others, every dime is accounted for and given a job.

For me, managing my personal finances is like a math problem that I know I should be smart enough to figure out but NEVER CAN!

I spent decades being a full-time salaried employee with a stable, timely paycheck. Back then, my problem was not having a handle on what needed to be paid and/or when the bills were due. I tried so many different tracking systems but never found the one that made my cash flow in and out smooth. It should also be noted that I never could save a dime either. Stable income, poor organization.

I’ve also spent years as a freelancer. The problem there was compounded as my income was both variable in terms of amount and in timing. Again, I tried to create elaborate systems but could never figure it out. As a result, my debt increased. Oh, and I also never saved a dime. Variable income, poor organization.

The result of both of these divergent situations was that I hated paying bills. I hated managing money. In fact, I really hated money in general. However, when I found myself with a face full of rock bottom, I knew I had to do something.

One thing I did was to fully automate my finances. And instantly, I was in love. Finally, I found the organization I craved. I didn’t have to figure out when to pay bills every month. I didn’t have to write checks and dig for stamps. I didn’t have to do much more than check to see if everything was clicking along. I was paying bills and saving money like crazy. I even began investing! And for a whole year, I had the financial bliss I always hoped for. I had finally cracked the code!

Except I didn’t.

About 3 months ago, I experienced a “hiccup” in my smoothly operating money machine. I had to dig into my savings to cover my rent. I thought “sure, whatever. The holidays threw things off. No worries. Gosh, I’m glad I have that money set aside. I’ll just pay it back.” But I didn’t because the same thing happened for the next 2 months (including this month.)

WTF?!?

Today, I’m staring down a “pay or vacate” letter from the rental company and two $40 overdraft charges.

I’m back to square one trying to spot the error in my equation.

I get that my income as a freelancer is variable but how can something work for 11 months and then suddenly crap out? Am I working less? Am I not tracking properly? Am I spending more than I realize? Am I trying to save too much? Did I make changes that work break my system? Am I investing too aggressively? Did using a credit card for the first time in a decade throw off my spending habits? Did increases in rent and health insurance break me?

The answer is “yes”….to all of those questions–which leads me to my next steaming pile of personal crap.

B.S. #2: I don’t have my priorities in order.

For most people on the front end of their personal finance journey, the elimination of debt is priority one.

For others, it might be to save enough for an emergency fund.

Both of those tasks are easy to prioritize although they may take a significant length of time to achieve success. They are easy to focus on and then you can proceed onto the next step.

Maybe that’s the problem. I’m not really a “step” kinda gal when it comes to new adventures, even financial ones.

You see, my job is a creative one. I get paid to figure things out in new, compelling ways. I’m conditioned to think outside the box and use my imagination. While I fully appreciate logic and sequence, I profit far more heavily from my right brain than my left.

I’m a “let’s try to juggle all this new stuff because it’s fun” kinda Lady.

Sure, I started with a focus on debt reduction. Then, I quickly dove into automating my finances, designated savings accounts, tax filing modifications, ETF investing, individual stock investing, credit score improvement, net worth tracking, tracking dividends, responsible credit card use, estimated taxes, college saving, high-interest CDs, money mapping, personal finance blogging and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember right now. Oh, and all of that in under 2 years.

If you are thinking that all might have been too much, I’d be forced to agree.

It’s very easy to become distracted by the shiny new possibilities that proper money management (and the education thereof) can bring. But distraction, by its very definition, is a loss of focus.

Essentially, I need to figure my shit out. I need to re-evaluate what’s important to me at this time and take things one step at a time.

And sadly, and SO BORING, is addressing my biggest weakness, taxes. UGH. (I can’t even.)

B.S. #3: I’m fricking lazy.

It’s a new year and the joy of the holidays are behind me.

It’s Girl Scout cookie season and The Kid and I are busy.

I’m focusing on my health and fitness.

I found a great guy and am investing time in building a relationship with him.

The market is down.

My friends and family are far away and I miss them.

They shifted my accounts at work to so I need to spend more time there.

Taxes are coming up and I have lots of organizing to do.

My car is in the shop.

The carpets need cleaning.

I have a side project.

I’m busy.

I’m tired.

My friend just tweeted.

Blah, blah, blah.

Any sound familiar? These are all just excuses for slacking off on my personal finances–and I frickin’ know it. I FRICKIN’ KNOW IT.

I have learned that staying on top of your finances is an ongoing process that takes time and energy. The same precious time and energy that everything in my life is clammoring for.

The simple fact is that as you grow and change so does your money. While a certain amount of “set it and forget it” tactics are possible, your money will eventually want require your undivided time and attention. I updated my budget to reflect changes at the new year. I took HOURS. Tracking my payments needs to be done daily.

Keeping my money machine operating smoothly takes time that sometimes I just don’t want to give it.

I JUST wrote a note to my financial advisor that I’m “giving up” on my ROTH IRA contributions because my recurring payments have been returned (costing me fees) 3 times. Am I giving up too soon? Maybe. Should I maybe take the time to figure out if I can afford it first. Definitely.

In fact, now that I write all this, it’s not that I’m lazy. I’m just a busy, working professional single mom who values her downtime and quality of life. Is that more self-excusing bullshit?

Fuck. Maybe. DAMN IT.

B.S. #4: I assumed my income was enough.

I get paid well. I make more money now than I ever had before. But I also live in own of the most expensive areas of the country.

I thought I was making enough money. I’m not.

I himmed and hawed for months about “raising my rates” at my current freelance gig. It’s a sweet gig and I CAN’T mess it up. It’s the one thing that has truly enabled any financial success I’ve experienced in the last 2 years. (Well, that and my own resolve to stop sucking at money management.) I was being a pussy be not asking for what I am due.

But, guess what guys. I wrote that request just today. I asked for a 20% increase. Is that a lot? Did I ask for too much? Will they laugh me down? You know what? I frickin’ don’t know and don’t care.

I’ll wait to see what they counter with next week. In the meantime, I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I make “the right amount” of money because there is always change. Things get more expensive and “savings” can be a greedy little bastard to feed.

More money equals more freedom to me and while I tolerate being a corporate loser I refuse to be a slave.

Boom.

B.S. #5: I forget my own power.

This is a big one. I’m not sure where you fall out on the whole “theory of abundance” or “self-fulfilling destiny” or the “Universe giving you what you need” but I gotta say I was a huge skeptic. However, over and over again, I witnessed myself having a power to alter the Universe with the power of my thoughts.

And it started happening more when I switched my world view from pessimism to optimism.

A simple thought or idea would simply manifest itself in a most unusual yet undeniable way, and usually in fairly quick order, too.

So, why aren’t sitting pretty, sitting in a long fitted black gown and tiara and declaring myself the Queen of my domain? Because I forget. I forget my own power. I forget that small changes can radiate out to big changes. I forget that I am in charge of my life.

So, how can I remind myself? Hmmm. Well, it might come down to some additional gratitude exercise and surrounding myself with positive people. It might mean pulling out my old vision board, or better yet, building a new one. It might mean to stop procrastinating and stop beating myself.

It might mean reminding myself that I am a plain old human woman with supernatural superpowers.

I don’t know. But writing that makes me feel a bit better. I wonder if it helps you.

Maybe I’ll develop a mantra.

Own your shit. Believe in magic.

Nah. How about Don’t Be a Drag, Just Be A Queen?

(OK, not mine but I like it.)

The post Owning My Personal Bullshit: The Lady’s Steaming Hot Pile of Financial Confessions appeared first on The Lady in the Black.

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