When I was a kid, I was incredibly shy. I was the girl who clung to my mom at the store. I hid from adults who tried to talk to me. I couldn’t even bear to talk to my own grandpa on the phone! As I grew up, I dreaded more and more talking to people outside my comfort zone (read: everyone). As a teenager I wouldn’t even call a restaurant to ask them what their hours were. I hated asking sales people where to find things in the store.
As you might imagine, this didn’t work out great when I set off on my own to college. I was afraid to ask help from professors. I was terrified of networking and recruitment events. Even worse, I was terrified of interviews because I felt I was desperately asking for a job.
I put so much meaning on what asking represented. Asking for help represented weakness. Asking for work represented desperation. Asking for more money represented greed. I kept trying to figure out how I could genuinely ask for all the things I wanted. If I couldn’t figure out the right way to ask, I simply wouldn’t.
In the last year, I’ve forced myself to ask for what I wanted, even when I felt unready to. What I discovered is what everyone had been telling me all along—the art of asking is just asking. It really never hurts to ask, it’s certainly better than missing the opportunity to ask at all. No one has any reason to give you what you want until you ask for it.
The best part about asking in this day and age is that many interactions can take place online. It reduces the stress of reading the body language and tone of a person you might be talking to. This was a great way for me to ease into asking. I started small, yet I saw huge results.
My Credit Card Annual Fee Was Waived
I had always heard about the annual fee for credit cards being waived if you spend enough money on a card. Two years ago, I opened the Capital One Venture card to snag their 50,000 point bonus so I could subsidize my trip to Thailand. I also ended up with another card in addition to the Venture card that I liked better. By the time it was time to renew the card and pay the annual fee, I had only spent about $3000 on the card in order to get the bonus. I didn’t want to pay the fees associated with the card, but I also didn’t want to cancel the card.
I ended up chatting with a customer service rep through the web interface. I simply asked him if there was any way I could downgrade the card to one without an annual fee because I didn’t use the card enough to justify the annual fee. He immediately responded saying he would be happy to waive the annual fee for me since I had made on time payments the entire time and was a great customer. I responded saying that would be great, then he asked me if there was anything else he could do for me. That was that.
What surprised me most was how easy it was. I had expected more back and forth, escalation to a manager, the rep pulling out all these retention tactics that didn’t involve just giving me what I wanted. I had in mind a conversation similar to an endless one I had with a sales rep trying to get me to attend a “free” timeshare “vacation”. None of that happened. I just had to ask by phrasing my request without being rude, but I didn’t have to schmooze at all to get what I wanted. I just asked reasonably. I didn’t have to have this extravagant, exceptional excuse like I thought I had to have.
My Early Termination Fee Was Waived
Just this week, I went into a Verizon store to ask that a phone bill be waived. Recently I changed jobs. My old company was paying for my service with a Verizon corporate plan. To move off my corporate plan, I had to switch to an individual Verizon plan first before switching to the carrier of my choice.
I spoke with a customer service rep on the phone who added me on a $70/month 1 year annual plan since it was the cheapest plan with data she had. This worried me since I planned on transferring my number to a different carrier the next month. I asked whether there would be a fee for transferring off the annual plan after a month. She said I wouldn’t be charged if I was bringing my own phone.
Well, 2 months after transferring my plan to Google Fi, I got slammed with a $193 early termination fee from Verizon. This worried me because I wondered whether there was any record of the phone rep telling me I wouldn’t be charged for bringing my own phone to a 1 year plan. I prepped myself to be let down. I had it in my mind that Verizon would go back on their word because that’s what large cable-phone-internet monopolies like Verizon do if they can get away with it.
I was pleasantly surprised when I went into the store, explained to the customer service rep what happened, and they retracted the early termination fee! Again, all I had to do was explain my situation and ask for what I wanted.
My Mom Reused Her Coupon
The credit for this one goes to my mom. She grew up in China where everything was negotiable. Over Christmas, we went to Michael’s to buy some art supplies, and ended up picking up 2 items. My mom always seems to have a coupon handy whenever we go to this store.
We went to the store pretty late at night and the store was almost empty. While checking out at the register, my mom asked the woman working at the register whether she could use her 1 coupon on both items. If you don’t know how coupons work, they’re usually only good for one item. I completely doubted it was going to work. I thought we would get a rude look for trying to take advantage of the system.
To my surprise, the woman at the register acquiesced. She responded by saying if we wanted to use the coupon on both items, we needed to make two transactions, which we had no reason to avoid. We walked out of the store with a 40% discount on both items! It goes to show people are not out to purposely withhold from you. Even if they say no, it’s just a no.
I Got An Amazon Gift Card And Prime Extension
Over Christmas, I ordered many items on Amazon Prime. I had a shorter time frame for delivery than usual because I was having things shipped to my parents house where I was only staying for a week. It didn’t occur to me there could be shipping issues because I ordered before I even flew home. But of course, what would the holidays be without high volume shipping delays?
I ended up chatting with an Amazon customer service about the delay. Here is the exact transcript from the conversation:
Explanation of Issue: Hello, I ordered this product to be given as a Christmas gift and it’s been delayed over 2 days and now has missed the window for delivery by Christmas. I totally understand delays during the holidays, but this delay is super disappointing because according to the tracking information, it’s been in the delivery city for 2 days but has not gone out for delivery.
Amazon: Hello, my name is Nahid. I’m here to help you today.
Jing: Hi Nahid!
Amazon: Hey Jing how are you?
Jing: I’m good, were you able to get my message about my product shipment delay?
Amazon: Yes please do not worry about that I’ll take care of that let me check that for you
Jing: Great thank you
Amazon: I apologize for the delay in the delivery. The package has been delayed a bit due to high volume of packages in your area. We have a first in, first out policy and we will make sure to deliver the package as soon as possible by the end of the day
In order to compensate the late delivery i would like to extend your prime membership by 1 month…Please accept it as a token of apology
Jing: Hi Nahid, thanks for information and the prime extension! To be clear, are you saying it will go out for delivery today?
Amazon: Also added a $30.00 promo gift card as a small gift from my end:)
Jing: Thanks so much!
Amazon: Nothing pleases us more than you leaving this chat satisfied. Your association with amazon is highly valued. Thank you very much for your time and patience. I really appreciate you gave me the chance to help you out with this. Good bye for now. Take care!. Feel free to click the *End Chat* button on the top right corner of this window.
I actually didn’t even have to ask in this case! I realized many of these larger companies have established ways for their customer service departments to handle these very common asks. By chatting with customer service, I’m really just checking in for extra bonus points that are already waiting there for me. If even I can do those two things, you can too! All you have to do is reach out and explain the situation. Don’t wait to figure out the perfect thing to say, you’ll just end up not asking asking at all.
Do you ask for discounts to save money or do you have anxiety asking for what you want like me? What’s the best thing you’ve ever asked for that you didn’t think you would get?
Here in the personal finance community, we talk a lot about financial independence. Financial independence can roughly be defined as having enough money to live life on your own terms. Financial independence equals never having to do what you do not explicitly choose to do. For many, financial independence also equals early retirement. An important question that comes with the idea of early retirement is WHY do you want to retire early? You’ve reclaimed your time, but what do you plan on doing with it?
I haven’t given much thought to this question. Though I love the idea of early financial independence, I know for certain I don’t want to have a retirement that just involves sleeping in and being lazy. If you’re in the same place as me and craving that freedom, spend some time really reflecting on what mission that freedom will serve for you. I’m still figuring out what that freedom would look like for me and what my mission will be, but I absolutely figured out how dangerous it is not to know.
I went home for the Christmas holidays at the end of last year for 7 days. I usually work remotely during the business days overlapping Christmas so I can at least physically be at home with my family during the holidays. This year I was super lucky that my new company had the last 6 business days of the year off. This left plenty of time to just be at home, sleep in, and laze about. Well, that got tiring and depressing really quickly.
Laziness Begets Laziness
Initially, it felt wonderful to have no obligations. Most of my old friends from high school weren’t in town. I hardly had anyone I needed to see other than my family. I didn’t have to work. It felt great to go to sleep until I felt refreshed. It also felt great to finally live slowly and not need to hustle to get anywhere or do anything in particular. However, what was initially a positive restorative lifestyle quickly devolved into an indulgent cycle of laziness. I was sleeping until 11 am, eating lunch, and taking a 2-3 hour nap until 3 or 4 pm! I started going to bed later and later until I was sleeping at 2 or 3 am.
The rushed feeling I felt while working revolved around trying to cram everything I wanted to do in a day. While I eliminated that particular sense of restriction by sleeping as much as I wanted and clearing my calendar of anything I had to get done, the feeling began manifesting in a different way. I started feeling that same restricted feeling because I knew I was sleeping away my precious time! I felt rushed not because I had so much to do but because I had so little to do yet I couldn’t seem to find the time or motivation to do it.
This entire time, I had so many aspirational work I wanted to get done. I wanted to get ahead of my blog posting schedule. I wanted to read this very long book I had just started and brought home with me. I wanted to find time to be creative and draw. Yet I hardly did any of these things. It was a nightmare. I couldn’t motivate myself to write or read or draw or anything really. None of these were out of reach but I no longer had the structure I needed that reinforced my motivation to push forward.
I found myself defaulting to the “easy” things like scrolling through my Instagram feed. I watched tons of mediocre rom coms on Netflix. Not to say I didn’t enjoy all of these things, but I was overindulging in them. It robbed me of a lot of the momentum I built while working!
Structure Your Mission!
After this experience, I realized how easy it is to become unmotivated and complacent even when you have all the time in the world to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Wanting to do things and starting to actually do them are entirely different. Structuring time to complete your mission matters! In some ways, it was actually easier to fit in more of the things I wanted to do when I was working. It was easier because work is time blocked and everything else gets planned around it. It makes it more obvious where and when everything else you want to do should belong in your schedule.
When your calendar is a blank slate, as it would be in retirement, you can often times be left with decision paralysis. I know I personally ended up spending hours just deciding what to do, and by the time I actually made any kind of decision, it was too late to actually do anything! This was especially true when I was at home and sleeping in so late—I felt I hardly had any operating hours that overlapped with the normal waking world. Oh, finally made up my mind to go write after dinner? Well, now it’s 8 pm and all the coffee shops are closed!
I felt so much better towards the tail end of my vacation when I forced myself to leave the house. I made it an obligation. I hit up a local coffee shop with my laptop and actually got writing done! And because I forced myself to go in the afternoon, I even had time leftover to climb for 3 hours at the gym afterwards before dinner!
I totally get the desire to be free from the traditional 40 hour work week. Sometimes you just want to wake up, take all the time in the world to make coffee and breakfast, and work out at 10 am in the morning. Sometimes you just want to spend the afternoon cooking a great lunch and not have to meet some deadline set by someone else after. But I’ve also learned that some scheduled obligations actually make our own free time more manageable and valuable.
Why Are We Even Retiring In The First Place?!
Experiencing for just 7 days what it would feel like to retire without a plan or any structure led me back to my original sentiment—why do we so desperately want to retire early? Why is early retirement the holy grail? What are we reclaiming that time for?
Certainly a large reason is to escape the so-called rat race. Some people may want to travel. Others may want to escape the hard labor their job requires. Maybe some people hate their jobs so much they can’t wait to leave them as soon as possible. But I can’t help but wonder even if we left our current 40 hour obligations, how would we fill those hours?
Answering by saying “going to the beach” or “traveling” don’t feel like conclusive answers to me. When I was traveling in Vietnam, I had no idea how to fill my time. I spent my time going from coffee shop to coffee shop. I took in the scenery, but I couldn’t have sat there taking in the cultural differences of a new place for 40 hours.
While the possibility of early retirement is still a long ways away for me, I think it’s important not only to start thinking about what I would like to do during that time, but how to structure my time in a way that will force me to complete what I would like to do.
What do you think of early retirement? Does it appeal to you? Why?
Marketing driven holidays are always a funny thing. I’d be lying if I said I was 100% above holidays that seem to exist just for the sake of trying to get into your pockets. Valentine’s Day is as commercial as they come. I just learned in South Korea they celebrate on the 14th for 3 months straight! February 14 is the day women give gifts to men. March 14 is the day men give gifts to women. April 14 is the day singles commiserate their singledom by wearing black and eating black noodles.
But even with all the commercial drudgery the day brings, I still think it’s nice to celebrate the day and acknowledge your partner with something special. For those of us who are money conscious, we definitely want to find creative, inexpensive, and low key ways to celebrate it.
I’m sure you can do a simple search on Google and Pinterest and find tons of listicles of frugal date ideas that include having a picnic at home or going to IKEA to visualize your dream home together or even just cooking dinner together at home. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what you end up doing as long as you get to spend time with the other person. But to really amp up the occasion even if you’re going to be staying home, cooking Blue Apron, and watching a movie together, I suggest you do at least these 3 things beforehand.
Clean the Apartment/House
Ambiance is everything! And I’m not referring to the typical low light, mood music. A couple Valentine’s days ago, Valentine’s Day weekend overlapped Presidents Day. Since it was a long weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to drive down to Monterey Bay for a scenic weekend. The two of us are pretty last minute people so the entire trip was super spontaneous and unplanned. We ended up calling a bunch of restaurants off Yelp on Valentine’s Day to see if they had any reservations available. Thankfully we ended up stumbling upon one that did!
The restaurant, space and service all ended up making it a pretty nice place, but the general ambiance was terrible, namely because all the other couples there. It seemed as if we had stumbled into one of the only restaurants where every couple seemed to hate each other.
The dining area of the restaurant was dead silent as every couple just ate in silence across from each other. It was honestly just depressing, especially since that was our first Valentine’s together! Meanwhile, everyone probably hated us because we got a little toasted on some key lime pie martinis and were laughing like we actually enjoyed each other’s company. The point is, whatever you do, even if it’s making dinner like you always do at home, make sure the scene is as right as possible.
One small tweak like this in the setting can make a world of difference in making the night feel more relaxing. My boyfriend and I are far from neat freaks so I can totally see us try to pull off cooking a dinner together in a completely disorganized kitchen and sitting down at a table covered with a bunch of mail and books. No matter how romantic we try to make the effort of preparing a wonderful meal together, the clutter of the environment is going to take away from that. Lighting a candle on the mess would just be a fire hazard.
Make A Plan
Don’t get me wrong, spontaneity is great and all, but if you’re like me and seem to cave under pressure right at the moment of needing to come up with a great idea, you should make a plan. For me personally, if I don’t have a plan, I end up caving to the easier routine which is usually being wishy washy and spending 30 minutes picking out a movie after spending 30 minutes before that picking what to eat.
I’m a complete believer in making something special just by amping up the daily routine a little. The easiest way to do that is through planning. If you’re going to be staying in and cooking a dinner at home, plan what dishes you’ll be making. It’ll make the grocery shopping way easier even if you decide to pick up the ingredients on the day of. Having a defined grocery list also leaves room for a touch of spontaneity since you can add some additional goodies that might catch your eye.
Similarly, if you plan on watching a movie after dinner, pick out the movie in advance. I hope it’s not just me who starts feeling like I’ve already seen everything worth seeing. You don’t want to be stuck feeling ambivalent about your options. And if your actual plan gets derailed by a different movie that suddenly interests you, you’re still committed to watching something you feel great about.
How I’ll Be Spending Valentine’s Day
While plans haven’t been completely finalized yet, my boyfriend and I settled on the night in option. We’ll be scheduling a delivery with Postmates from one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in Berkeley, and since we don’t usually “eat out” on weeknights, this will be a special treat for both of us.
To top it off, we wanted to do something a little different than the usual dinner + movie option, so we decided to order a 1000 piece puzzle to work on together. If we find enough energy after a delicious Chinese dinner, we’ll be taking a nice evening walk along the lake near our apartment with some hot cocoa and tea. The lake is cheesily perfect for the holiday because it is entirely bordered by overhead bulb lights, and its shoreline is shaped like a heart!
Do you keep things frugal for Valentine’s Day or do you go all out? How do make the day special?
Ah, the age old question of modern heterosexual dating. Who should pay on the first date? This always seems to become a hot and contentious topic whenever it comes up. Everyone has their own perspective on the question. Exchanging stories with various friends of what must be at least a hundred dates, it seems like there truly still exists a spectrum of expectation and answers surrounding this question.
I’ve even seen all sorts of ridiculous questions about it on the internet like “Should I go on a second date with a guy if he didn’t pay on the first date?” or “What is the best way for screening out free loading women prior to the first date?” I can see why these questions could be considered both valid and invalid. I’ve even changed my mind about the topic more than a few times.
When I was fresh out of college, I moved to New York City and started working at a 4 month internship with 6 other female new grads. The majority of us were single ladies, new to the city, and eager to test the waters of the post college dating scene. One of the first topics to come up was the question of who should pay on the first date?
One of my coworkers declared that the man should always pay. It was the man’s responsibility to prove himself to her. She also indicated that she never offered to pay because she found it disingenuous if she didn’t want to pay in the first place. She wasn’t the type of person to offer to pay without the intention to pay. I respected her honesty, that’s for sure! Being near penniless at the time after moving to one of the most expensive cities in the US with less than $1000 in my bank account, I found plenty of reasons to see her point. I came to the conclusion that it was the man’s duty to pay. After all, I considered myself a considerate and giving girlfriend, so eventually the man would reap the rewards of a happy relationship.
At that time, I went on a lot of OkCupid dates. I met my last boyfriend on OkCupid, and while I suggested a wonderfully free first date, we ended up hitting it off and grabbing a bite to eat afterwards. Well, guess what happened when the check came to the table? I awkwardly sat there and didn’t make a move as he put his card down and paid the bill. After we were in a relationship, he recalled how rude it was that I didn’t even make an offer to pay. He had even specifically recalled this detail to his mom after the date ended. D’oh. At the time I felt entitled to it.
After that relationship ended, I dated completely differently. I’m sure maturity had something to do with it, but economic advancement definitely played its part too. When my last relationship started, I was still trying to make it with my internship and second job at the shoe store! By the time I was dating again, I had been working as a salaried employee for a year and a half. I didn’t expect the other person to pay. I always offered, and I appreciated it even more when my date paid. Even so, I have to say it feels very nice and even normal when the man pays for the first date.
There’s obviously some social conditioning at play here! Why do we put so much weight on who does or doesn’t pay? Why do we care whether the person not paying at least offers to pay? I’m very curious what the financial part of this equation really means because issues around money usually go deeper than money. I polled a bunch of friends and coworkers on their reasons and expectations when it comes to this loaded question! The results are in:
Reasons The Man Should Pay
The Man Needs To Prove His Character To The Woman
A man proves himself as chivalrous and generous when he’s able to demonstrate the ability to put someone else above himself. By giving up financial resources, he is literally sacrificing a resource with the potential to bring value to himself exclusively, and giving someone else a valuable experience. This isn’t to say he gains no value from it, but he also pays for the other person’s half of the experience as well.
While this argument makes sense, I find it interesting that the man must demonstrate his ability to sacrifice on behalf of someone else through financial means, but it isn’t generally expected that the woman prove this generosity the same way. This is a complete generalization, but I think women are more often expected to prove their feminine qualities like nurturing and empathy. These are not easily proven through financial sacrifice.
The One With Less Opportunity Pays For The Company Of The One With More
This one makes dating sound super transactional, and I think sadly in the age of online dating, it can become that way. In every article about online dating, I often read that women on dating apps receive way more messages than men. This gives women the advantage of being ones with more opportunity in general. In this case, it may not necessarily be the manis paying, but more the person with less opportunity is paying as a way to show appreciation and genuine interest for the busier person’s time.
The Person Who Asks Should Pay, And The Person Who Usually Asks Is The Man
I feel like the question “Why are men expected to ask the woman out?” could be an entirely separate article, but it would be too far removed from the theme of this blog! I would say from my own experiences and observations that it is generally true the man usually asks the woman out, and he also picks the venue.
I think barring a date that is really inexpensive, it makes sense that the person who asks also pays for the date, and I can only imagine this is how it usually works out during the dating phases of same sex couples. The person who asks and picks the date venue is indirectly setting the budget of the date. It might be rude to assume your date can pay for half a very expensive date when she had no say in where it would take place.
Women Pay Upfront In Personal Care, So Men Should Should Pay For The Date Itself
I’ve heard this argument a few times. Women pay a lot for personal care products. They have to shave, do their hair and makeup, buy all sorts of outfits that make them look good on a date. There exists a level of expectation of how a woman should appear on a date, so the man is paying in order to subsidize this upkeep.
Women Pay In Emotional Labor In The Future, So Men Should Pay Upfront For That Now
I think this mentality is highly influenced by our previous relationships as well as the dynamic between our parents growing up. In my family, my mom definitely did more of the emotional labor (not to mention the physical labor of actually popping the babies out). Not only did she have a full time job as a teacher and was an equal financial contributor to my dad, she also did the majority of the work when it came to cooking, cleaning, and raising the children. My dad was in charge of the repairs and technology portion of the household.
Even living in a time when both men and women are more progressive in their beliefs about the division of financial, physical, and emotional labor, I think we still subtly fall into the gender roles outlined by society and our upbringing. If a relationship works out and women still do the majority of the labor, then it seems a small price to pay for the man to pay for the first date. This aligns more closely with how I was thinking about the topic right after college.
The Man Is The Provider And It’s His Responsibility To Take Care Of The Woman
Men have long been considered the protectors of the family. When it comes to protecting the family, or more specifically, a potential future partner, it’s the man’s traditional responsibility to take care of all her needs. The needs may be physical protection, they may be emotional support, but they may also be financial needs. I was actually pretty surprised to learn this is how my boyfriend used to think about paying on the first date!
Reasons The Woman Should Pay
There seem to be no societal expectations around a woman paying for the date. The only time there is potentially the expectation for the woman to pay for the date is when she is the one who asks the man out. Again, this has to do with her being the one indirectly setting the budget for the date.
Reasons To Split The Bill
It’s Antiquated To Expect Otherwise
In the past, women were not allowed to own property or hold a job, so they were completely financially reliant on their husbands. Some restaurants even carried different menus for men and women. They provided a “ladies menu” which didn’t have the price on any menu items because it was not considered the woman’s responsibility to worry about the cost of the meal! Since women can both work and own property now, there’s no reason not to split the check because men and women are economic equals.
You Don’t Want To Ever See Each Other Again
I would absolutely not want my date to pay for me if I already know I don’t plan on ever seeing him again. I recognize that even people I don’t get along with work hard for their money, so I absolutely don’t want them to spend any money on me if I know I can never make it up to them by treating them the next time. Surprisingly, I’ve heard this reason a lot from others as well!
It’s Insulting To Imply A Woman Can’t Pay For Herself
I’ve heard many women say it’s insulting having a man pay for her when she is financially independent enough to pay for herself. It feels good to know you can pay your own way and afford it.
It Demonstrates Both People’s Progressive Values
Every type of person still exists in the dating world, including those with traditional mindsets around relationships. If you’re specifically looking for a partner with progressive relationship values, splitting the bill can help identify these people. Of course, splitting the bill and traditional values aren’t mutually exclusive, but it can sometimes be a helpful indicator.
Neither Person Feels They Owe The Other Anything
No matter how much we would like to believe otherwise, money clouds our judgment. Having someone else pay for us can create a feeling of indebtedness. Or it may indirectly shift the way we perceive someone. It has the power to subtly make us think more positively of someone, after all they are, in a way, sacrificing for us when they don’t even know us! Splitting the bill can smooth out the influence of the financial factors and allow both people to judge the true quality of their connection. This is the mentality I’ve personally adopted when it comes to why I always offer to split the check.
So what do you think? Who should pay on the first date? What are your reasons for thinking so? I’d love to hear any new reasons and perspectives too!
I’m a homebody at heart. On weekdays, I’m forced to be out in the evenings if I want to do any non-work related things, but on the weekends, I’m someone who loves being out and about during the day while staying at home in the evening. I generally love working in coffee shops or squeezing in an afternoon climbing session and having a good lunch/early dinner out. Outside of those activities, I’m generally not super drawn to being out at night. I don’t really drink. I don’t like loud or dark places, so it’s pretty rare to find me out in the evenings.
My most common Saturday date night has to be cooking dinner at home and watching a movie. My boyfriend and I have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Go so 90% of the time we end up watching a free movie or series. However, we do still like to rent movies when we feel in the mood to watching something new or different by “paying” to rent a movie.
When it comes to movie rentals, there are a lot of options. You can rent via Apple iTunes, Google Play, Youtube, Amazon Prime Video, and another large number of rental services. Most rental services have the exact same rental structure. You pay anywhere from $2.99-$5.99 for an HD movie, the newer the movie, the more expensive it is. Then once you actually start the movie, you have 48 hours to complete it before you lose access to the rental.
When I first heard about streaming movie rentals, I thought it was such a waste of money! Why not just opt to watch something for free on a service you already pay for? If you’re anything like me or my boyfriend, picking a movie is a huge trailer watching fest. We’re pretty indecisive because we want to spend a couple hours watching something completely worthwhile. When we turn to Top 100 lists and we finally settle on a movie, there are times we can’t find the movie on any streaming services we already pay for. Luckily, a friend told me about Google Opinion Rewards a couple years ago, and it’s become my source for movie money.
Before you ‘x’ out of this post rolling your eyes about yet another unbearable money making survey site article, hear me out! Currently I don’t use any other survey sites because I’ve just never found one that really worked for me. It’s always been really cumbersome figuring out how they work, how long the surveys take, and signing up only to realize I have to earn $100 in surveys until I can cash out.
Google Opinion Rewards is NOT like that. Google Opinion Rewards is a simple app (Android app here or iOS app here) that occasionally sends you short surveys on your phone and pays you in Google Play credit. The Play credit can be used on their Play Store, which anyone can use to rent/buy movies, books, music and apps. Even if you don’t have an Android phone, you can still use your Play store credit to get everything (though the apps are Android only).
The Way It Works
After installing the app and hooking up your Google account to it, the app will sit quietly in the background until a survey becomes available. When a survey is available, I get a little notification on my phone.
After seeing the survey starting screen disclosing how Google uses your survey responses, you can start the survey. The survey is usually 1-5 questions. I love that the app gives you a sense of where you are in the survey at the top (Question 1 of 5 or fewer, etc)
Once completing the survey, you will see how much that survey paid you in Play credit. It ranges anywhere from $0.10-$0.50. I have very rarely had a few surveys that didn’t pay anything.
Once you exit out of the payment page, you can see your current Play credit balance. You can also hit the menu and go to your Reward history to see how much you’ve earned. As you can see, I haven’t earned too much with this app—not even $100, which is why I think the credits I’ve earned are perfect for renting movies. The movies I rent are generally $3.99, so I’ve rented ~25 movies for free using my credit.
You can simply redeem your credit at the Google Play store. At the step when you would make your purchase, there’s a little checkbox under your credit card information opting in to use your Google Play balance.
What I Like About Google Opinion Rewards
1. It’s owned by Google, so I can expect very few headaches when it comes to actual usability. Other survey sites have so much going on visually and interaction wise that I don’t even want to spend the time to figure it out. You can figure this out in under a minute.
2. The surveys are SHORT. 90% of the time they are 1-5 questions and can be done in less than 30 seconds.
3. You can get the surveys on your phone. You get sent a push notification in your Notifications tray and as soon as you click on it, you’re taken right to the survey. No extra clicking.
4. It’s attached to your Google account. No logging into some app you hardly use with a username/password you can’t remember (my biggest headache, even since adopting LastPass to manage my passwords!)
5. You can use the balance immediately in the Google Play store. While you can’t redeem the survey rewards for anything else, you can redeem your money for apps, ebooks, and movies.
Things That Might Be Deal Breakers For Some
1. You don’t make much “money” from each survey. The effort for this app is low, but so is the payout. For 30 seconds of your time, you can look to earn about anywhere from $0.10-$0.50 for your work. This is definitely for supplementing your discretionary spending, not replacing your income.
2. There aren’t endless surveys. This app is usually dormant and there aren’t always surveys available. I personally get surveys sent to me anywhere from 5-15 times a month. I don’t mind this because the app is unobtrusive when there aren’t surveys and it doesn’t interfere with my day to day interaction with my phone.
3. You’re giving data to Google. I’m not someone who is paranoid about what Google is doing with my survey responses, but if I were, I wouldn’t be selling out my data for a few cents! They specifically note that they use survey responses to help tweek their ad targeting (you can still opt out of surveys that do so).
What do you think of survey sites? Is this too little money to entice usage or would you opt in for some free movies?
Have you ever stopped to wonder where your beliefs came from? It could be any belief, not just a financial one. You may have an idea that you have to outperform everyone at work for recognition. You may believe that you’re a great romantic partner. The point is, we all have some ideas about our identity that are formed from personal experiences. Similarly with finances, I’ve developed a certain set of ideas about money and its relationship to me.
There have been many moments in my life where I was just shocked by someone else’s beliefs. They always end up being jaw dropping moments where I wonder if I’ve set the bar high enough for myself. Last year at a holiday party, a guy was talking about his goals and dreams and stated he wanted to make 50 million dollars or and donate 90% of it to charity. I remember thinking it was a little crazy. I didn’t know him, so I don’t know whether he was the type who was actively hustling to get to where he wanted or if he was just a complete dreamer. While I can’t see myself in a scenario where I could ever care to make that much money, it also made me stop and wonder, what IF that was my goal? What would I be doing differently, how would I have to think differently, if it really even occurred to me that was within reach?
It made me wonder what role models did that guy encounter in life? What were his beliefs about money? In what other interesting ways did he define himself? If we feel we can’t make it to the level of wealth we want, what are the things holding us back?
Where Did You Develop Your Definition Of Wealth
Our first models of managing money are parents. But we don’t just adopt their money habits, we also adopt their mentality around building wealth and saving.
My parents immigrated to the US as graduate students. My dad started out working shifts as a night guard for our gated student apartment complex to make enough money to pay rent during school. My mom worked part time as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant. Thankfully they spoke English, were well educated, and ended up in stable careers after graduate school.
Growing up they often said no to trips my friends and their parents would go on. My friends’ parents were investing in rental properties while my parents felt fortunate just to purchase the home we lived in. They did it to save money instead of keeping up with the Joneses. I remember what a momentous occasion it was when my parents finally caved and got DSL and a family cell phone!
Due to all these small actions and deliberate decisions to upgrade their lifestyle only in certain ways, they subconsciously demonstrated how they had built their wealth only through saving. We only had what we did because my parents prepped so far in advance by saving for it, it was really their only option as moderate income earners. To this day, my parents make less than I do combined.
And it was only until a couple years ago that I realized there were 2 sides to the wealth growing equation. My parents spent their entire careers in jobs that had very rigid pay structures. They barely ever got things like raises, so it had never occurred to me that wealth could be built by making more money. Maybe that’s why salary just never really mattered to me pre-college graduation. I knew you could live a comfortable life on any salary by being good at saving. The issue with focusing only on saving is you can never really increase your savings rate beyond a fixed point. You can only keep cutting down your spending and expenses so far.
My boyfriend grew up in a household that more apparently demonstrated the other side of the wealth growing equation. For the majority of my boyfriend’s childhood, his father was the breadwinner of the family. His father is a lawyer, and through him, my boyfriend subconsciously learned the power of wealth building through a high salary career.
After he began working, he was always able to afford the lifestyle he lived, but he neglected the saving half of the equation. He believed if he could always earn more, then there was no reason to deliberately focus on saving. The issue with focusing more on the wealth growing half of the equation is that it doesn’t prepare you to ever stop working. Going back to school or changing careers can even put you in debt because you need to take out loans or can’t afford the lifestyle you used to live when more money was coming in.
By identifying where we picked up our beliefs about how to build wealth, we can then figure out which parts of the wealth building formula we’ve been ignoring, giving us an easy starting point to level up our finances.
Identify Your [Negative] Money Beliefs
Looking at how my parents first formed my initial ideas around building wealth, I also realized I picked up some other not so healthy ways of viewing money. Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to be a doctor because of the career stability and salary. But I didn’t want to be a doctor.
My parents were so focused on selling the idea of being a doctor that it became the only path illuminated to me. In my eyes, I saw only 2 options: being a doctor and making money or being anything else and not making money. I suddenly developed many ideas of money being evil, money being something you only earn if you’re willing to sell out for it. I also started believing that money doesn’t matter because I just couldn’t fathom a life of going to school for 8 more years, being in debt, just to be a doctor, a profession I just didn’t see myself in.
I saw money and doing something I enjoyed as mutually exclusive. This view of money became so ingrained in me that by the time I learned about many other lucrative careers, even careers I could genuinely enjoy, I couldn’t even conceive of enjoying them simply because I knew they paid well.
It wasn’t until many years later, and multiple years of work experience doing work I didn’t love for terrible pay, that I was able to disentangle the idea of doing work I enjoyed and being paid good money to do it.
Question Your Junk Beliefs
You may have completely different negative beliefs about money. Some people may feel working a second job to make ends meet is beneath them. Or others may believe they’ll never be able to change their career at some certain age. We use examples of how this is true to reinforce our junk ideas about money, and we make excuses for why stories that don’t are exceptions.
I wish I had forced myself to open my mind a little more about the possibilities. Did younger me seriously believe that out of the thousands of careers out in the world, there was not a single ONE that I could both enjoy and make money from? It’s statistically unlikely! I simply didn’t want to do the hard work of finding out which careers were at the intersection.
Similarly for any negative money belief, there’s probably at least some scenario you can realistically picture where your belief isn’t valid. It may take a ton of work to make that scenario happen, but it’s not as impossible as it may seem. Realize that there’s actually a huge difference between barely possible and impossible.
Dig Into The Experiences and Expectations Of People Around You
I remember in high school hearing stories about some kids being the first in their family to go to college or the first to be doctors. I remember wondering what the big deal was? Now I totally get it. It’s about the uncertainty. We take for granted so many examples that have been shown to us and the guarantee that things proceed in a certain way.
When you don’t even know how to submit a college application the “right” way, or you don’t know what the types of grades you should be getting to get into college, how can you expect it’ll be easy?
I saw this in myself when my friend said making $500k a year would not be enough for him. I realized later his expectations are so high because his father runs a very successful commercial real estate business. He genuinely expects to one day become a C-level executive or start his own successful business. I’ve never had such lofty dreams because it’s never even occurred to me that’s possible. The distance between our beliefs about money and our career are miles apart.
Even with this distance, I realized that we aren’t so different to warrant such a difference in our potential. I remember reading about athletes that would break world records and suddenly other top performances in the sport would break the same record shortly after. That breakthrough moment where the status quo is shattered is so important, and the best way I know to do that is to read and hear about the experiences of others.
Empower Yourself By Thinking Of Something Else You’re Great At
Last year, I went with my boyfriend to a Tony Robbins event, and one my main takeaways was an exercise we did called the Wheel of Life. The premise is that there are roughly 7 areas of our life that we want to constantly improve, these include physical body, relationships, finances, etc. And for this exercise, we were to grade ourselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on where we are today vs. where we want to be. We were then asked to share these with the people next to us.
It was really interesting seeing how we all have a couple areas of life we feel we excel in, or that we feel “on track” to our ideal target. Then there are some other areas that we feel negatively towards or avoidant of. The woman next to me, a doctor who came all the way from France, actually marked Finances as one of the top things she felt really negative about! When reflecting on why we were successful in the areas we felt good about, I remember being struck with the response well why wouldn’t I be good at x, I’m doing everything right? Yet when we were asked to think about why we were doing poorly in other areas, I had a million reasons that were stopping my progress.
Through the exercise you really get to see that at the end of the day, you do really well at what you’re currently good at because you sought out the correct strategies and never really wondered whether an accidental misstep could ruin your progress. I certainly realized how much doubt surrounded all the things I felt badly towards that I wanted to improve on.
Now if I ever feel something is totally impossible, I think about how I feel when I think about my finances (something I feel pretty damn empowered about!). I think of how I don’t ever doubt that I’ll keep investing through a recession. I never doubt that I’ll be able to figure out the right thing to do, even if I don’t know what that is now. It occurs to me that I could lose everything (financially), but it doesn’t really occur to me that I couldn’t figure out how to start over.
If finances is that one thing you feel you can’t get a hang of, think of something else you’re great at. Think about how you feel when you mess up in the context. Think of how you feel at the prospect of failing, do you even think of failing at all?
Do you have any junk financial beliefs? What are they? I’d love to hear how you overcame them if you have!
In mid-December, I started a new job. Along with that new job came a few very nice financial bonuses. A signing bonus. A larger paycheck from a pay raise. I had maxed out my 401k by December so both my last paycheck and first paycheck in December were larger than I had been accounting for in my monthly budget. I also cashed out a few vacation days from my old job. All in all, this summed up to a pretty hefty windfall.
Being the responsible personal finance blogger I am, I declared that I would save all of it. But the resolve and accountability pretty much ended there.
How I Blew My Windfall
So you might be wondering at this point how I managed to blow my windfall. Well I’m happy to report that I didn’t spend all of it. The issue was I did very little to track the other smaller bonuses that came in the form of larger paychecks than I was used to from not needing to contribute to 401k and my extra vacation payout.
Because I wasn’t actively tracking these smaller and gradual payouts and what portion of it exceeded my regular paycheck, I didn’t give that extra money a job so of course it ended up getting spent. How did I lose track of it? Quite a few ways actually!
I had no idea how much larger my last paycheck from my old company was because I have automatic deposits setup. The last paycheck got automatically split between Checking and Savings. I didn’t do the due diligence of spending 2 minutes to add up the deposits in both accounts and comparing it to my regular paycheck.
I had no idea how much of the extra money in my last paycheck was divided between vacation payout and excess from not needing to contribute anymore to my 401k. I also failed to do the due diligence of shooting off a 5 minute email to Payroll asking for my last paystub to see the breakdown.
I had no idea how much more my new paycheck was on a per paycheck basis.
I accidentally opted into my new company’s 401k early and ended up getting money deducted out of my paycheck. I had to ask Payroll at my new company to refund the money since my 401k with my previous employer was maxed. This caused me to lose track of the “real” amount my new paycheck + bonus was because the refund came 1 week later.
I’m disappointed to admit that I blew a significant portion of the non-signing bonus portion on a new phone, gifts, and outdoor gear. I also didn’t properly account for how much it would cost to tie up loose ends at my job and ended up having to get a temporary Verizon phone plan in order to transfer my original phone number off my company’s plan. This resulted in 2 cycles of expensive phone bills just for the privilege of buying back my phone number!
I should have known better. Even though I was good all year, I can’t say December is ever an easy month on the wallet. I do believe in splurging on gifts for the people close to you. And I had a hefty wishlist of items at this point I had been eyeing all year but holding off on. This all came to a head knowing I had this extra money. The little devil on my shoulder convinced me “What could it hurt dropping $1000 on these things you’ve been wanting?”
I call this opening the spending dam. When we have a budget and we’ve accurately projected our spending, we’re more likely to stay within the budget even if we go over by a small amount. But when we completely fail and miss our budget, it opens up a spending dam where we start thinking “What’s the point?” and money pours out of your wallet.
Why I’m Ok With Blowing My Windfall
Ultimately I’m ok knowing I blew part of my windfall. I set some aggressive financial goals for last year and I exceeded them earlier than I planned! While I do think we should be conscious of treating ourselves too frequently and feeling entitled to rewarding ourselves for a bad week [every week], I think an unaccounted for treat every once in a while for actually meeting/exceeding a measurable goal is totally fine! Life is meant to be lived, and honestly I don’t think I could have survived my winter camping in Red Rock Canyon without my 20 degree rated down sleeping bag!
I also feel comfortable with the fact that I didn’t exactly uphold my money tracking and planning principles during a few moments of weakness at the end of the year. Do you know why? Because I’m human! Psychologically punishing myself over an ultimately small amount of non-optimized spending isn’t going to make me feel empowered to actually do something about it next time. I’m completely cool with the fact that even though I’ve spent months on developing a money management process that works for me, there’s always room to improve and tweak it.
What Did I Learn From This Experience?
I was honestly disappointed the most by the fact that I completely lost visibility into my cash flow for the month, which hasn’t happened for a long time. I thought I was doing a great job by saving the entire signing bonus, but I realized I had no idea where the other money went.
You know how you can identify someone who doesn’t know how they spend their money in a given month? You ask them to break down their budget and where their money is going. Someone who doesn’t really understand their own spending will answer with their income as cash in, and they’ll answer with rent, utilities, fixed payments, and maybe groceries as cash out. They make no mention of how much they spend on eating out or discretionary fun.
Last month, this was me. I had no idea ultimately how much came into my bank account by the end of December, and I don’t really know how much went out of my bank account, especially in relation to my typical monthly budget. I do know I was about $1000 over in the Shopping category. It could have been $1500 over though. I just really have no idea (still!)
I learned how hard it is to adjust your spending and track your money at the same time when you’re not even sure what amount you can really expect. Man I feel for contractors and freelancers everywhere! I also realized how much I ended up splurging on things that had been on my mind for a while. I don’t have great insight into why I suddenly felt December was the perfect time to scoop up all the things that had been sitting on my mind, though I do believe knowing I had the windfall coming helped justify it in my mind.
What I’ll Do Better
The easiest solution would have been to decide upfront how much money I would allow myself to spend. While I didn’t know the exact amount of money I would end up receiving, especially how much of it would be taxed, I allowed that unknown to make me lazy in assigning a plan for it. I could have even used a spending waterfall technique to plan for how much I would take out of each paycheck to spend.
For example, my first paycheck came mid-month with my vacation payout and 401k excess. I could have immediately made a rule for myself saying I would allow myself to spend all of the extra money from this paycheck and not any more from the following windfall paychecks.
Ultimately it’s important to adjust your budget appropriately when a windfall happens. If we want to reward ourselves when a windfall happens, it should be prepared for!
How did you handle your financial windfall? Did you handle it with responsible diligence or did you break and go a little splurge-y?
Long weekends are perfect for a little vacation out of the city, but quick trips can end up being pricy!! Let’s see how I spent my money during a long weekend in Denver!
8:00 AM: I’m headed to work early since I’ll be heading out in the afternoon to fly to Denver to meet up with my college friends for the long weekend. We’ve been friends since freshman year so we try to find a time that works for the majority of us and meet up at least once a year. I can’t believe we’ve known each other for almost 10 years now! $1
9:00 AM: Grab a dirty chai at the cafe at work. $0
12:00 PM: My new company offers a lunch service to employees who have lunch meetings between 12:00-1:30. Thankfully I have one at 1pm! $0
3:00 PM: Head out early to catch my flight to Denver. I opt for the BART since it’ll be faster and cheaper! $9.65
5:00 PM: Snack on a bag of chips I grabbed from the office while working on my blog post for next Monday. $0
6:00 PM: Meet up with 2 of my friends for dinner in the terminal. The 3 of us are on the same flight! Traveling with friends is way more fun than traveling alone. I grab a cheeseburger to go. $14.42
7:30 PM: Splurge for in flight wifi to access my Evernote for my blog article. I’m still trying to get my new blog writing process down and don’t want to stray too early despite the fact that I can write it in a plain text editor. $8
10:00 PM: Touchdown in Denver! And luckily our other friend’s flight from Boston was delayed so we end up getting to the airport at exactly the same time. Our gates are even right across from each other! The 4 of us take the free shuttle to the Hertz to pick up our rental car. Gas, car, and parking will be calculated after the trip. $0 for now.
10:30 PM: We’re all craving a post flight snack so we opt to hit up a Wendy’s drive thru. My friends take advantage of their 4 items for $4 deal while I get a Junior Frosty. It must be a rule that you can’t beat anything healthy on either end of traveling. $0.60
11:00 PM: Meet up back at the Airbnb (already paid for in December, $106 per person for 3 nights). 2 of our other friends who flew in a day early from SF have already checked us in. Our 3 friends who flew in from NY and our 1 friend from DC have also finished grabbing dinner. It’s a full house!! $0
9:30 AM: Half the group decided to go skiing/snowboarding in Loveland, so the rest of us decide to hit up a local coffee shop for our morning buzz. It turns out the local coffee shop is the Allegro Coffee inside Whole Foods. $2.43
10:30 AM: 3 of us get dropped off at the Airbnb and are tasked with finding a good Denver brunch place while the others go to pick up our last party member flying in from SF at the airport. $0
11:30 AM: Head out to a brunch place near Larimer Square to put our names in early. We wait next to our parking space for the airport group to meet us. $0
12:30 PM: I manage not to go all out on pancakes and decide to get a quinoa kale grain bowl for breakfast. $15.04
2:00 PM: Take a nice digestive stroll through the neighborhood. We walk into Larimer Square and do some minor window shopping. My favorite site by far is Denver’s Union Station which has the most relaxing atmosphere inside. It has more of the vibe of an elegant quiet coffee shop vs the hectic grandeur of a station like Grand Central. $0
4:00 PM: Walk back to the car and drive out to Red Rocks Amphitheater. The original plan is to take a relaxing walk/easy hike after checking out the amphitheater. We’re all pretty tired and cold by the time we get there that we just end up taking in the view and heading home. $0
5:00 PM: While waiting for the ski crew to get back, I realize I’m starving and have no idea when dinner will be. I rally some friends to do a snack run at Whole Foods. We also take a gander in Nordstrom Rack across the street but didn’t find anything interesting. Has anyone noticed how awful the stuff they’re selling nowadays are? I don’t understand the frilly bell sleeve trend that’s going around in every store! I always find it amusing seeing all the signs subtly encouraging you to shop. $0
6:00 PM: Pick up snacks and tea at Whole Foods. I get a muffin to snack on before dinner and a pack of sesame crackers and Cilantro Chili Bitchin almond hummus for friends to try later. We also pick up a carrot cake to celebrate one of our friends birthdays. Head back to the Airbnb. $11.77
7:30 PM: The ski crew is back and everyone has settled on grabbing some pho for dinner so we head out for dinner. $0
8:00 PM: I don’t know why I think ordering the largest bowl is a good idea but it comes in bowl larger than my face. Not only that but I’m used to pho places skimping on the meat, but my bowl has so much meat AND noodles I have no idea how I can possibly finish. I end up only eating half and take the rest to go. $14.18
9:00 PM: My friends and I have been doing Secret Santa since Freshman year, so we decide to do our gift exchange after dinner back at the Airbnb. It’s hilarious watching people trying to guess who their Santa was! I tricked my giftee by putting her gift in a box for a product she would not be interested in at all along with a semi gag gift at the top of the box. It was hilarious watching her open it! $Priceless
10:30 AM: Get ready in the morning and head out with the entire group to our brunch reservation near Colfax. $0
11:00 AM: I order their vegetarian fritata baked with root veggies and gruyere along with some french press coffee. $22.50
12:30 PM: Walk around the Colfax area. We stop in a bookstore where I notice an intriguing book called “Money and the Meaning of Life”. I’m super curious about this book, I definitely plan on reading it at some point. For now I add it to my Goodreads list and walk out with nothing. $0
1:15 PM: A few of us want to stop into Wendy’s to use the bathroom. I end up ordering a cholocate frosty to go so it doesn’t seem too rude. $2.15
1:30 PM: Drive over to The Great Divide brewery. We heard they give free brewery tours. We manage to snag 11 tickets for the 3pm tour. $0
2:00 PM: Order a few tasting flights in the tap room while we’re waiting. Super affordable prices, we can get a flight of 3 for $6! I split one a flight with a friend who also doesn’t really enjoy beer. $3.50
3:00 PM: The brewery tour ends up being pretty short but informative. I learned canned beer actually keeps bette than bottled beer! $0
4:00 PM: Half of us head home to relax before our dinner reservation. We booked a nice dinner in Union Station for our friend’s birthday celebration. We end up gorging on Cheeto puffs, kettle corn, and Bitchin at home. I also sneak in a 30min cat nap. $0
5:30 PM: Head to Mercantile for our dinner reservation. The service here is top notch! They bring us complimentary caviar waffles. We order the paella and steak family style to share between the 9 of us, and I also split a spaghetti with one friend. The food is delicious! The spaghetti was surprisingly complex since it was cooked in a butter sauce. The paella and steak end up being more than enough to share and we take half the paella to go. Thanks to my friend for capturing these delicious looking photos! $44.31
7:30 PM: I end up picking up a cappuccino to go from their coffee bar since I feel an oncoming food coma. $3.86
8:00 PM: Head home and we surprise the birthday girl with cake! Afterwards we play 3 rounds of the game Codenames. If you’re looking to host an inexpensive event, I highly recommend a board/card game night! Codenames is a pretty social team oriented game so it’s super fun with a big group. $0
9:00 AM: New Yorkers head out super early this morning leaving just 8 of us to check out of the Airbnb. I eat my leftover pho from Saturday for breakfast as well as a slice of cake. We’re all desperate to finish everything we bought so it doesn’t go to waste. $0
11:00 AM: Check out of the Airbnb and head to another brewery near Union Station. It’s snowing!! So we plan to camp out at the brewery the majority of the day since not many of us West Coasters are actually prepped for the weather. I’m literally wearing 3 jackets over my sweater! I grab a dirty chai at a coffee shop in the station. $5.07
11:30 AM: I try to visit a climbing gym in every city, especially ones I could see myself moving to eventually. I pass on beers. I order a small butternut squash soup instead. $6.50
2:00 PM: After playing pool and darts, we decide to order some snacks to share since dinner is still pretty far off. $7.75
2:45 PM: The rest of the East Coasters need to head out to catch their plane. We head back to the car to grab their things. I also end up taking my things so I can check out the climbing gym. $0
3:00 PM: Order an Uber Pool to the climbing gym which is actually about a 30min drive away. I feel after spending the entire weekend in Denver, I still have no concept of how far apart I should expect things to be. Though the actual fare was $10.99, I had some Uber credits accrued from using my Uber Offers eligible credit card to pay at an Uber Offers restaurant and earned about ~$6 in credit. The fare ends up being $4.94
3:30 PM: Purchase a day pass and a mini bag of chalk at the climbing gym. $27.33
5:30 PM: Head out to meet one of my closest high school friends for dinner. We haven’t been home around the same time for a few years but managed to reconnect in December. The restaurant we decided on was further than I thought so I get an UberX so I can get there on time! $13.23
6:00 PM: I order a burger with her bed cream cheese, a fried egg, and avocado. It is so amazing! I’ve never thought to put cream cheese on my burger. We also split an order of fries with ranch dipping sauce. It’s super cool catching up with her because her life is so different than mine. Most of my closer friends these days all have corporate jobs. She’s a crime scene investigator! $15.65
7:30 PM: My friend is so nice and offers to give me a ride to the airport. $0
8:00 PM: Speed through check in. My other SF friends all have flights around the same time. They got to the airport earlier to return the rental cars but more importantly to get a free meal. I’m so jealous! There was a steakhouse at the airport that was offering a $28 dinner credit per person for any Priority Pass holder and unlimited guests. The 4 of them racked up a $100+ bill and it was completely free! All they had to pay was tip. $0
10:00 PM: Board the plane back to Oakland. I decide not to get WiFi this time since I’m only working on my money diary! $0
11:45 PM: Call an Uber Pool as soon as I run out of the terminal. I notice within 10 minutes of a flight, Uber prices start surging. $13.54
Auto and Transport: $42.36 Restaurants: $157.96 Groceries: $11.77
When it comes to health, the concept of The Diet is pretty well understood. A number of fad diets have come and gone for us to know that many of these diets are unsustainable. We try them out and it works for a while but the main reason they fail to stick is that they never ease us into a way of life. They usually come with immediate and heavy restrictions saying this or that is or isn’t allowed. The Diet gives us short term gains. Gradually developing a healthy everyday diet like eating vegetables with every meal and walking 30 minutes a day is something that can provide long term health. We really don’t have to workout and eat as clean as a pro athlete to be healthy.
I’ve been thinking for some time how can we translate this to our concept of a financial diet? There are quite a few fad financial Diets floating around. No new clothes for a whole year. No eating out for 3 months. While these are great challenges that show us how much less we can live with, they don’t set up a plan for how that spending can be managed after the challenge is up.
These challenges give us short term insight into what life would be like with money better spent, but are the effects so positive that we can give up those things forever? If I try a 3 day juice cleanse, my body may feel amazing, but do I really want to only drink juice 3 days a week every week moving forward? Probably not. I’d probably end up binge eating fries every other week! Similarly, restrictive spending financial diets can cause us to splurge on the things that have been on our mind.
A challenge is a great way to initiate change, but we also have to figure out how to create an everyday diet that is going to be a more moderate and sustainable way of keeping us financially healthy and happy.
Define Financial Health
First I want to define financial health. I treat financial health as everything financial that’s measurable:
Paying bills on time
Paying down debt
Saving enough to cover an emergency
Saving enough to cover my goals
Planning investments to make money work for me
Saving for retirement
Go To The Financial Gym
You might be wondering…where is the financial gym? Well, your financial gym most likely won’t be a physical place. The financial gym is the place you go to make sure your finances are order. It’s the place you go to make your budget and check if you’re spending within your budget. It’s also the place you go to check when your bills are due or where you go to transfer money into your savings account. While it won’t require a 30 minute run on the treadmill or some serious weight lifting, it’s a place you need to visit regularly if you want to keep your financial health in good shape.
Use Common Sense: Avoid The Bad, Do More Good
It’s pretty common sense with food what’s good and bad for us. That’s why we’re constantly commenting on avoiding carbs or trying not to give in to that chocolate cake someone brought to work for a coworkers birthday. We force ourselves to order salads over that more delicious looking burger because we know what’s good for us. We know we should be making the right choice.
I’ll probably always be skinny. I used to think I could eat anything and I would always be skinny/healthy. It was both a blessing and a curse because it occurred to me much later than other people that being skinny was not the same as being healthy. I was your typical skinny fat. Maybe it’s because I’m approaching my 30s, but seriously my body doesn’t work the way it used to! I visited my parents for 7 days and only ate a single salad in that time…I felt like my stomach was heavy and rotting.
Are you financially skinny fat? Or in personal finance terms…fat skinny? You make a decent salary, yet you seem to have no savings to speak of? Financially fat skinny people splurge for those costly indulgences leaving them with little leftover. Or maybe you aren’t even financially fat skinny, you’re just financially out of shape. The point is, there are a number of very basic things like setting aside savings or saying no to some things you might want but can afford that are obvious right things you should be doing for the sake of your financial health!
Find Ways to Make Your Diet Fun
So I may have mentioned that no spend challenges are unsustainable, but how about lighter, funner finance games? Finances are boring and so is running on a treadmill. I can think of 2 things that make either of those more bearable. A buddy and/or a game. It’s so much more fun going to the gym with a buddy. Luckily my financial gym buddy is the personal finance community. Other friends who have really started enjoying personal finance read the personal finance subreddit.
I love reading how everyone else is spending, what new systems they’re using to be more financially accountable, and what’s working/not working. The most motivating thing about my personal finance gym buddy is learning about their money goals. It definitely helps keep me more on track for my financial goals.
I also love all the different games floating around in the personal finance space, like Zero Day Finance’s Zero Day Challenge, or The Lady In Black’s Spavings Challenge. These are more games then restrictive challenges focused on feeling good from seeing your incremental progress, sort of like tracking how much water you drink or how many steps you’ve taken. You can even just make a game of watching your account balances grow from more focused efforts to save! That’s actually one of my absolute favorites.
Increase The Distance Between You And Financially Unhealthy Things
If you want to successfully stop snacking after work, you have to avoid keeping snacks in the house. It’s the same for finances. Sometimes we allow ourselves to stay too close to spending triggers. I used to watch Youtube constantly. I was a beauty guru binger, and I could spend hours with different beauty gurus on in the background talking about new expensive makeup they bought or showing off new clothes in their clothing hauls. This constant contact was subconsciously selling me a vision of myself. During that period, I bought so much makeup, even though I hardly ever wear makeup! I rarely watch this type of content anymore exactly because I feel it will trigger my desire to spend.
I still follow a few fashion bloggers on Instagram. While I was super bored visiting my parents over Christmas, I found myself on Instagram more than usual. I immediately noticed how much more I wanted to buy things…namely cozy wool and cashmere sweaters. Why? Because I was seeing so many ridiculously fashionable sweater posts from Death By Elocution, Matilda The Minimalist, and Jean Wang! Even things like browsing online sales when I don’t have any intention to buy, or window shopping in a mall triggers a noticeable desire to be the new/better/cooler me.
Reduce The Distance Between You And Financially Healthy Things
If you want to eat healthy, you should probably keep the basics for a good salad in the fridge. And you should make sure you have a salad dressing you like. The point is to have everything you need close by to succeed so there isn’t a single thing you can point to as the reason that stopped you.
The most financially healthy thing I do for myself is stick to my budget. As I’ve written about multiple times in the past, I use Mint for budgeting. So I keep Mint on the home screen of my phone front and center. I have the app fingerprint enabled, so there are no barriers to entry when it comes to doing a quick check of how I’ve been spending for a couple days. It’s so much easier monitoring how much you’ve spent on a 1-2 day basis. If I didn’t have Mint so easily accessible, I’d have to rely on occasionally remembering to check it, and then being inundated with reviewing a month’s worth of spending in one go!
Consistency Is Key
People we admire like athletes or celebrities all maintain consistency in the way they work out and in the way they eat. I remember reading an interview asking Jennifer Aniston how she looks so good, and she answered with the fact that she has a routine and consistent diet she follows. She reported eating the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday with only a few cheat days every so often!
Whatever your financial routine is (saving $X/month, check budget once a week, etc), create a baseline that you can keep coming back to. That way, splurging every once in a while is no big deal, and you can have confidence your financial health is in order.
What other habits can you think of that transfer from regular health to financial health?
It’s 2018! New year, new me. That means it’s time to throw down some resolutions right? While I love resolutions, I’ve made them and failed to keep them enough times to know resolutions lack the extra oomph to consistently create change. Resolve means determination, and determination alone is not enough. While our intentions are stated through resolutions (resolving to go to the gym more, resolving to eat better), I feel they really lack a hard end result. Maybe it’s just language and it really doesn’t matter what we call them, but I’d like to call what I’m sharing goals. And I’d like to share my outlined action plan along with them.
Last year was my most successful personal finance year to date! It wasn’t really a surprise since this blog kept my finances at the forefront of my mind all year long and challenged me to exceed my own standards. Not only did my investments do better than I expected, I also exceeded my savings targets.
This year will be about doing the same things, challenging myself a little more to spend less, and optimizing my budget.
The contribution limit went up to $18,500 this year, and of course I’ll be maxing my 401k out. This is the first year since moving from NY that I’ll be eligible for 401k matching with my employer! There is a 4 year vesting period for employer contributions, but I’ll be super happy to get any matching if I’m going to be maxing out anyway.
Bump my Savings Rate
After the amazing PF blogger meetup The Luxe Strategist organized last December, and talking with Mr. and Mrs. Frugal Hackers, who have a whopping savings rate, I was definitely inspired to bump my savings rate up considering I got pay bump for my new job. My goal is to increase my take home savings rate from 44% to 55% (or if factoring in 401k contributions, increasing from 56% to 61%).
I’m planning to be more aggressive in making this happen by automatically depositing 55% of my take home paycheck into savings. I still don’t have direct deposit to my brokerage, but I plan to transfer 100% of those savings into investments. Last year, I automatically deposited 35% of my paycheck into savings, and transferred over the other 9% if I had wiggle room in my budget every month. This year, I’m just going for straight deposits to savings! It definitely feels different, more “real” you could say, partitioning my money this way.
Since I’m getting a little more aggressive with my savings goals this year, I will be doing some small budget cuts across all my heavy spending categories. Last year I spent a lot on Travel, Uber, Restaurants, and Shopping. I also didn’t have a great view of how my Shopping was broken down, and I would get pretty stressed when gifts and household goods took over my monthly Shopping budget.
My new job doesn’t pay for my phone bill and has a slightly more expensive commute, so these are now updated in my new budget. I was also a bit disappointed with how much I gave to charity, so I added a category for it too, which hopefully I can find a way to beef up in the future.
Since I’m reducing the wiggle room in my budgets this year and aiming for more accurate spending, I updated all of my Mint budgets to rollover into an annual number that I’m setting at the beginning of the year. For example, if I want to allot $1800 to shopping for the year, my monthly budget in Mint is set at $150. If I don’t use all the money set aside, it gets added to the $150 for the next month. Last year, I made a really large monthly budget but if I didn’t use all of it, I would transfer it out into savings. This wasn’t the best method for consistency when trying to hit a certain savings rate. Here are the actual updates to my budget:
In order to enforce some of my budget cuts, especially around food, I’ll be carving out some time to find recipes for meal prepping. It’s been a struggle getting home late from the gym or from seeing friends, and then having to prep dinner at 9 pm with a bunch of random things in the fridge (or worse, undefrosted meat!!).
This starts with going to the grocery store not knowing what we want to eat for the week, and buying the items we’re used to. Unfortunately, after a year of buying pretty much the same groceries, we still don’t really have a good idea of what we’re able to do with them! I’ll be spending some time finding a handful of tried and true, flexible, fast recipes I can always rely on.
I started this blog last year in May. I had so much fun at the beginning and ideas came to me easily. I was writing content 20-30 hours a week in the first few months of this blog, and it took a while to settle into a writing rhythm.
Towards the end of the year, I had less time to write, and it really showed. I struggled to find time to explore new ideas, and even less time to actually write articles. My blog schedule was in a state of disarray by the end of 2017, mostly because I didn’t have a real schedule. I had a goal of producing 2 articles a week, I had a writing rhythm where I worked on blog posts Saturdays and Sundays, but I lacked an actual strategy to succeed and get ahead of my posting schedule.
My big blog goal is around organization. This might seem like a strange goal, but I really think if I want to scale and grow this blog, the content, and the readership, I need to focus on a sustainable way to consistently produce content I’m proud of. My action plan is:
Tighten Up My Post Creation Process and Timeline
Last year, writing a blog post was a disorganized mess that somehow converged into an article by the time I hit “publish”. As most bloggers learn quickly, writing a blog post is so much more than just opening up an editor, typing, and publishing. Before I started blogging, I always imagined this was the process too. In reality, there are so many more steps between starting and finishing. There’s researching and writing, proofreading, reorganizing and adding content, formatting the post, finding images + resizing them, adding images to the post, creating marketing assets (e.g. Pinterest images), proofreading again, then finally posting.
Before I would work on any of those steps in any order. While this worked and nothing ever went wrong, there was a lot of mental overhead in remembering each step. Especially because I was doing things out of order and didn’t have a task checklist, I always found myself double or triple checking whether I did everything. I also needlessly distracted myself by writing a couple paragraphs then going off and making a Pinterest image or formatting all my section headers! This year, I’ve given some thought to how I can add tooling and structure to reinforce my writing process:
Ideation (Google Docs)
This is generally the step where I jot down notes, article ideas, examples that triggered the idea. I love that this is synced so I can edit it on my phone too. I was one of those people who exclusively used the WordPress editor, mostly because I found the Google Docs interface ugly, but the WordPress editor is really bad and not mobile friendly at all.
I was never a fan of outlines in English class. I didn’t find planning an essay useful or helpful, but I realized I felt this way because the class material was already so focused on the topic I was writing about. Writing blog posts requires separating ideas, working on multiple posts concurrently, and producing content that isn’t already heavily on my mind. I can see outlining being a useful tool here.
I found toward the end of the year when I was struggling with ideas, I would start writing and get stuck around 500 words and wonder where the article was going or what was the overarching point I was trying to make. Outlining will help upfront to clarify all of that as well as the sections that support my point.
Once the outline is complete, I plan on actually filling it in with my blog post before copying it over to WordPress for editing and formatting. Another huge plus is I can also work on blog posts on my phone! I’ve used Evernote on and off for years, but I think this could be a really great system for me.
I’ll start using my WordPress editor for formatting and finishing blog posts. I’ll keep doing my Pinterest images in Photoshop, which has worked really well. I have a pretty smooth system and template down for creating these and it’s saved me so much time!
Implement a Content Calendar (Google Cal)
Along with being more organized and smoothing out my writing process, I’m hoping to spend the beginning of this year getting ahead of my content. It was a little discouraging last year trying to read about how other bloggers plan their content and not finding any actually useful information (just fluffy affiliate link heavy articles!).
It is so stressful any day of the week knowing you have an impending deadline and having nothing written! I’m hoping to keep myself a little more sane this year. Plus more of my content can be grouped together more relevantly if I’m putting a little more thought into the order they should go out!
Entrepreneurial Growth Goals
I’ve wanted to start experimenting with selling on Amazon via Fulfillment by Amazon for 2 years now. I grew up on late night infomercials selling the dream of having your own business drop shipping or selling random items, and I’ve always wondered is this really a scheme? If I don’t try, I’ll never know. I know this is something I need to find out for myself, and I think it’ll be a great learning experience for setting up a business.
I’ve been too risk averse to actually take the leap because I’m afraid of sinking money into inventory that I can’t move. But 2018 is going to be the year that I research the process thoroughly and give myself permission to make mistakes and take chances. Last year, I set aside some money for this exact purpose, and I do still have a budget item for it this year. At the end of 2017, I purchased the Junglescout Chrome Extension to start doing research on products I might be interested in selling. Wish me luck!
Career Growth Goals
Being a good student my entire life, I’ve always felt life moved along a planned trajectory with a bunch of checkboxes along the way. This mentality has really shaped the way I work, always waiting for something to be delegated to me. It has prevented me from feeling a sense of ownership and innovation in not only the technical side of things, but also the product side. I know I’m capable of both of these, I just need to set a plan with specific steps and actions I can take that will force me to get more comfortable with taking control.
In 2018, I want to allocate more of my time to think and research items that could be improved. This means scheduling time to think critically about where the product is going. I also want to deliberately schedule time to exchange knowledge with other parties to form more cohesive opinions. I’m going to challenge myself to take notes in all my meetings, speak up, and volunteer to implement things I know nothing about.
This year I’m aiming to do more with my blog, my finances, and my career. I’m definitely afraid that will take a toll on some of my friendships because I’ll be more discerning with activities that will cost money. This will require a few more boundaries than before, so hopefully I can figure out a way to communicate those without offending anyone.
I haven’t been great at keeping track of friends I’ve seen and friends I don’t get to see as frequently. I want to be more mindful of everyone in my life and when we last spent some quality time together so I can at least reach out and catch up online if I can’t in person! In some ways, it feels a little contrived to be tracking people like money, but I’ve also realized that as my interests have gotten more focused, a lot of my time is spent on those interests. I definitely don’t want to cut anyone out of my life for the simple reason that they don’t care to spend their leisure time on the same activities.
I want to host at least one event at my apartment for all my friends to meet each other and spend some quality time together! Outside of that, I also want to define and host my first friends finance party. I have no idea what it’ll look like or what we would do, but I want to bring one of my favorite topics to light and make it a little less taboo.
What are your goals/resolutions/plans for 2018? How are you planning on accomplishing them?