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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.

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 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.)

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 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.

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. 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.

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 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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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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