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What Financial Health Means to Me

Financial health is often a matter of life and death. I know it was for me.

As if the combination of dealing with college coursework, troublesome roommates, an internship, a social life was not enough of a challenge. I was attempting to manage my personal finances for the first time and it was beyond difficult. Too much month, not enough money, no clue where to begin…what’s a girl to do?

I watched my account balance vanish like cotton candy in water. But, the obligations kept coming at me. Tuition, car payment, gas, insurance, rent, food, etc…

Then I got lucky.

I qualified for a grant from the University at the very last second and I dodged a bullet. I had the boost I needed to catch up and slide through the rest of my undergraduate years. Then graduation happened, and real life hit me like a hurricane.

My money management skills improved greatly over the years and served me well. Unfortunately, my job prospects were as slim as a corset for a fire ant. After draining my savings account while searching for work, I found myself in dire straights yet again.

This time, there was no magic wand I could wave nor a four leaf clover waiting for me.

As a young adult attempting to juggle all of my responsibilities, I found myself in a familiar situation that I did not want to experience again in life. There I was, a 23-year-old college graduate with an empty bank account, empty cupboards, and an empty soul.

Instead of feeling like I was on the brink of my finest days, I found myself drowning in sorrow and on the brink of suicide. It was an experience that no one should have to endure.

 

It shouldn't be this hard to just get by Click To Tweet

I couldn’t understand everything that was happening on at the time. All the while, I kept asking myself questions to try to make sense of this rather unfortunate series of events.

Am I the only one struggling financially?

Is there anything I could I have done to prevent this painful experience?

What do I need to learn about money and where do I begin?

Who can I trust to help me with all of this money stuff?

Is there any hope for people like me?

My search for answers to these questions lead me down the rabbit hole of the personal finance world. Blogs, podcasts, videos, books. I couldn’t get enough information. One of the first things I discovered is that I was not the only person struggling, not by a long shot.

Over 138 million Americans, that's over 50% of us, are struggling financially.-CFSI Click To Tweet

How can more than half of the country be struggling? But really, HOW did this happen? As I began to learn more and more, the answer to that question has proven to be complex and multifaceted. There are cultural, geographical, social, and economic factors at play. But at the very core of the struggle is behavior. There are common behaviors and patterns that those struggling Americans share (myself included). So, what can I do with that information?

I decided to take a dive into understanding my own financial behaviors and how they lead me to my season of destitution. I now know just how important the behavioral side of finance is for helping people develop healthier financial lives. We have to start from the inside and work our way outward.

I discovered how my natural tendency toward avoidance in times of stress can make it difficult for me to plan ahead and forecast my needs in advance. And, I’m not the only one who has that experience. Income is undoubtedly helpful for building a financially healthy life, but if we can’t manage money well then it doesn’t matter how much we make.

Our personal money histories, familial experiences, and beliefs are the fuel for our behaviors involving money. There has been much research done on this over the years, and I believe that it is the key to making lasting positive changes that will help us build up healthy financial lives.

Others agree with that sentiment as well. According to the Center for Financial Services Innovation: While income significantly influences financial health, consumer behaviors— particularly those related to planning ahead and saving—also have a significant impact on consumers’ financial health segment.”

After the treacherous and tragic times of the last recession, the distrust of the financial services industry that resulted is understandable. But, how can we change that? How can we make it more accessible to those who need it and rebuild consumer trust?

There are already legislative measures in progress in this respect, which is great. Diversity is another concern. The more diverse we can make the industry, the more that people can see financial health is a human experience not a prize for the privileged few.

Because I do believe that financial health is for everyone. Click To Tweet

Behavior is only one piece of the puzzle. The knowledge and skills necessary to build wealth often require the help of a financial professional. Expanding the diversity of the industry while building bridges between consumers and professional services will prove to be immensely helpful. The deeper understanding of consumer needs would allow us to create a better variety financial products to solve problems and help Americans thrive financially. I believe it will take collaboration from different players in the finance space. Together, we can all make impactful change.

What does financial health mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Side Hustle Report: How I made over $2,000 on Upwork

Hey, Friends!

It’s been awhile since I posted. The title of this post should give you a hint about what I’ve been up to since my last post in the Fall.

Before we dive in, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Upwork, it is a freelancer platform. They have all kinds of job categories like writing, graphic design, video editing, accounting, and more. Everything happens on the platform: communication with clients through their messaging platform, payment and applying to job postings. Before this adventure, I heard about it on the internet here and there, but I didn’t really understand the purpose of the site. So this was quite the learning curve.

Since starting this blog, I have always had an interest in freelance writing but I never really considered it as a possible source of income. Once I discovered it and understood that Upwork is a freelancing marketplace, I thought I would give it a try. I have never had any professional writing experience aside from this blog, and that was the point. I wanted to see if it’s truly possible to start something from scratch with little to no experience and earn some side income. I’m living proof that it is most definitely possible!

A few months and two thousand dollars later, here we are! Click To Tweet

Let’s talk about what I learned.

The Income Report

*I want to share these specific numbers with you so you can see my personal experience. Of course, this is no guarantee of earnings. This is just for educational purposes.*

In total between the first gig in November 2016 and this posting date, I have earned $2, 215. Not bad!

Here’s a breakdown of the work I’ve completed in this timespan:

1-3: The very first project was four 600 word articles for a total of $60. The topic was about credit cards, so it was a pretty fun and simple introduction to this new world of freelance writing, weeee! I ended up doing this same thing for that client two more times. It was cool to have my first recurring client!

4. My first ebook, and what an adventure it has been! This project was initially for 5,000 words at $400. But we ended up expanding the project and working together more. This earned me an extra $200. This has been my favorite project so far because I made a new friend out of it! C’mon who doesn’t love new friends?! <3

5. I found a posting for a research article to compile a bunch of data. I thought the project was interesting so I created a proposal and sent it off. To challenge myself to work on raising my rates, I requested $1,000 as my net price (after the Upwork fee). To my surprise, it was accepted! I really didn’t plan on getting selected for the project, but now that I had it, it was time deliver. I struggled a bit with this one for reasons that I will explain in another blog post, but it was a really good experience overall. The most important thing I learned was that it’s crucial to do a thorough scope of work before taking on projects or suffering will ensue. Lol oh well.

6. One guy wanted my help with some market analysis work he was doing for a personal project totaling $480. This one was not very exciting for me, but I’m glad that I gave it a try. But I learned that I can still do good work on projects that don’t necessarily inspire me. Plus this client was super chill and nice; I really enjoyed working for him.

7. I found an opportunity to contribute articles for a blog at $20 for each $700-word article. (This is low for the industry, but I don’t care. I’m learning here lol) Should I decide to go out on my own and make writing one of my income streams, I will have the experiences and publications to be more confident charging a more standard rate. Admittedly, it is pretty cool to see my name on another website. I feel about an inch more legit than I did before this whole thing started. ^_^

8. I did one hourly project, which was interesting. This one was also internet research. It requires that you download the Upwork desktop application so that it can track the hours you work on a specific project. The app worked just fine for me; it was kind of weird to have it taking screenshots of my desktop every few minutes and saving them to the cloud in the work diary. I spent 2.5 hours on that particular project for a total of $85 (before fees).

The Positives

  1. Low barrier to entry: #confession-I definitely could have tried much harder with making my profile shiny and fabulous than I did. But again, I didn’t have much going on at the time, so I took the chance to see what would come of starting from the very bottom. So even if you just have yourself and no experience, you can do it too!
  2. Easy to find jobs: There are SO many jobs posted per hour! I can only speak for the writing jobs, but there are plenty of opportunities.
  3. Low Pressure: Since the pay is often low, it makes for a very good environment for learning (This is just my opinion). I like that I was able to start from scratch and work my way up to more demanding and higher pay work. I wasn’t in a position to be worried that I could deliver because I had already done it successfully before and had great reviews from my clients. It’s a fun way to test the waters for new services you’d like to provide.

The Negatives

  1. Fees: That 20% fee can hurt a bit at times. Because if you look at the screenshot below of my billing summary, you’ll see that I earned a few hundred dollars more. But I totally get it, Upwork has to make money too! After a certain dollar amount with each client, the fees reduce, so that’s cool at least.
  2. Low-pay: I don’t think this is the best method if you’re trying to get rich off of freelancing. One of the biggest complaints I have heard about Upwork is the ridiculously low pay. I have seen offers for as little as $1 per 1,000 words. At some point, it’s not a good use of time for the payoff, so it’s definitely something to watch out for. I feel like I found some great clients!
  3. The platform is sometimes buggy: The messenger has played me several times and sometimes I don’t get notifications that I need to get. One weird thing I experienced was waiting for a client call with the tab open, but I never got a notification that he was calling. That was awkward…haha But, such is life.
  4. It takes awhile to get payment: Before you can receive payment from Upwork, you have to have at least $100 (after fees) in earnings available before you can cash out. Then it takes a few days for the transfer to hit your account. It’s not a big deal if you’re not in desperate need of the money. So I wouldn’t recommend this necessarily as a super quick way to get some extra money in your pocket.

Recap

Here’s a screenshot of my Upwork earnings. As you can see, a total of $452.67 was deducted from my earnings. That equates to 16.9% of my total income. Remember, Upwork generally takes 20% off the top, but after you earn a certain dollar amount with one client they reduce the fees. I’m not sure how it compares to other platforms, though. That could be standard.

Overall, this was a great learning experience!

My favorite things about this whole experiment were the opportunities and the connections I made. I met some really nice people! I think if you’re interested in freelancing but not sure about it, Upwork could be a good place to start. Since you don’t have to build a brand, create service packages and client contracts, set up your own invoicing software, etc. You can just stick your toes in and start swimming. If you decide that you enjoy freelance work in your respective niche and you get good feedback from your clients, then you’ll know whether you want to go off on your own. Though there are many people who make their living exclusively off of Upwork, at some point I see myself moving off of the platform and adding it as one of my own services.

The weirdest one by far was the job that I never intended to get. The most important thing to know about applying to Upwork jobs is that you’re pitching yourself AND the rate you charge. It was a strange experience, as I’ve never been in that situation before. Normally when I apply for a job I’m aware of the rate, so this was new. But I’ll write more about that another time.

 

I’d love to hear what you’re thinking. Do you have an Upwork experience to share or have questions that I can answer for you? Go ahead and leave a comment down below!

Traditional IRA basics

Hey, friends!

I’m so glad that you’re back for more learning and adventure. Yesterday we talked about Roth IRAs, but now it’s time to go a bit deeper into the discussion.

What’s a Traditional IRA?

Similar to a Roth IRA, it’s an account one can use for investing for retirement. But Traditional IRAs have some different key features that we should talk about a bit more.

  1. The money deposited into a Traditional IRA is typically pre-tax and can be tax deductible depending on your financial situation.
  2. The money that grows in the account over time is tax-deferred. In this case, it means you’ll pay taxes on the earnings when you make withdrawals in retirement because it counts as regular income.
  3. You must begin taking withdrawals from your account by the time you are 70 and half years old.
  4. Anyone who has earned income is eligible to contribute to an IRA; there are no income restrictions here. Your income will determine whether or not your contribution is tax-deductible like mentioned above.

The most significant differences are the mandatory withdrawals from a Traditional IRA by age seventy and a half, and the income dependent tax situation.

What are the benefits of a Traditional IRA?

  • Some would say that being able to use their contribution to their retirement fund as a tax deduction is a cool benefit (for those in the appropriate income bracket).
  • If you expect to be in a lower tax bracket when you retire, tax-deferral can work out really well in your favor.

If you’d like more information, you can read more about Traditional IRAs on the IRS website, Charles Schwab or CNN Money.

This brief information is just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s good to start thinking about if you haven’t yet given much thought to your long-term investment plans.

Now that we’ve looked at Roth and Traditional IRAs, there are a few more types of IRAs to explore.

Stay tuned for more!

Until next time,

Amber

What’s a Roth IRA?

pablo-3

Happy Friday Friends! So, how about we do some talking about retirement stuff? Let’s go!

To begin, let’s break down some terminology:

  • IRA is an acronym for Individual Retirement Arrangement; you may also see it written as Individual Retirement Account.
  • There are Roth and Traditional IRAs, today we’ll just be talking about Roth IRAs.
  • Briefly, the difference between Traditional and Roth IRAs are the contribution limits and whether the dollars put into the account are pre-tax or post-tax. (Uncle Sam has already taxed the money in Roth IRAs.)

Is a Roth IRA for you?

  1. Income: There are limits on how much you can make and be able to fully contribute to this kind of account. Roughly speaking and at least for 2016, if you make no more than $117,000 per year individually you can contribute up to the yearly maximum. For people who are married, widowed or just filing separately there are some additional things to think about. If you’d like more detail straight from the horse’s mouth, you can read this article on the IRS website.
  2. Contribution limits: The number changes over time but the current contribution limit is $5,500 per year. If that won’t be enough for you long term, consider additional options for preparing for retirement.
  3. Earned Income: You have to be earning income to qualify for one of these accounts on your own.

What are some benefits of Roth IRAs?

  1. Tax-free retirement income: Since all the money put into the account has already been taxed, that amount isn’t taxed again. Also, all of your earnings are not taxed. Cool, huh?
  2. Withdrawal flexibility: Hopefully you will be able to leave your retirement for that time in your life, but there are qualified circumstances that allow withdrawals earlier than the 59 and a half age restriction. Some examples of this include having to pay health insurance premiums while unemployed or permanent disabililty.
  3. More time to grow: Roth IRAs allow for you to continue adding to your account so should you want to work into your eighties and nineties and keep contributing to your account you can do so! There are other retirement accounts that have a mandatory age that withdrawals must happen.
  4. Inheritance: Should you want to leave money for later generations, you can do so with a Roth IRA. Since there is no mandatory time that you have to take anything out, you can keep it growing for someone else if you’d like. It’s a very generous way to leave a legacy.

While this isn’t an exhaustive overview of Roth IRAs, I hope it gave you some insight about what’s going with all of this jargon. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Traditional IRAs.

I hope you’re well and I’ll see you next time!

Love Always,

Amber

Your past doesn’t determine your future

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It’s so easy to look back at where we have been and feel weighed down by the negative parts of our pasts.

It’s so easy to be angry at ourselves for mistakes we have made in the past, especially if those mistakes result in long-lasting consequences.

It’s so easy to believe that history will always repeat itself, but it’s simply not true.

You do have the power to change your future Click To Tweet

You may feel powerless because you haven’t been successful in the past with making the changes you want to see. But it’s really important to understand some things about change:

  1. Change can be a challenge, but that doesn’t make it impossible.
  2. As the saying goes, doing what you have always done will get you what you have always gotten.
  3. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable to grow into the person you need to be so you can accomplish the goals you have.

Whenever I think abut changes that I have undergone and the struggle that I had to endure to make it happen, I understand why people often give up just before they make it. During those challenging moments, the familiarity of the past is more comfortable than the uncertain potential of the future.

All of us have what we need to create the lives we want. Lives that bring us fulfillment, love, adventure, excitement, purpose, and more. The first step is believing in yourself and knowing way deep down in your soul that:

No matter what your past looks like, your future always has the potential to be a masterpiece. Click To Tweet

 

Tips for preventing holiday overspending

Holiday shopping time is upon us and I can feel the pressure coming, can you?

holiday overspending

 

It got me thinking about how people trip and fall into the hype then find themselves having spent way much more money than they ever intended. So, let’s talk about that today. Here are some alternatives and tips for making conscious choices and sticking to your spending plan:

  • In this article on GOBankingRates, I shared one of my favorite tips for making smart purchases during holiday flash sales, and I wanted to take some time to expand on it a little bit more. In the article, I discussed the importance of making informed purchases during sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I feel that it’s vital to take the time to do some research on the items you want to purchase, before stepping foot in the door of the store or clicking on that buy button. Taking time to make sure that you’re truly getting a good deal can make help you not spend money unnecessarily but you’re still able to get what you want.

 

  • Holiday spending can be lots of fun! It’s a time full of creativity because of so much gift making, baking and cooking occur between now and the end of the year, which involves purchasing new tools and supplies to make projects come to life. If you know that you have many things that you want to buy during this time, consider making yourself a holiday fund or savings account. Some banks and credit unions have them as a certificate of deposit where you can put some money aside and shop guilt-free once the holidays roll around.

 

  • If you’re a person that struggles with sticking to your planned spending amount, then taking a buddy with you for support could be helpful. Now, the person you choose as your shopping buddy should be a loving and supportive accountability partner instead of an enabling accomplice! Choose wisely, or this method won’t work for you. Share with your accountability partner what the objective is for the shopping trip and stay laser focused on achieving it. Get it, get out, and stay away from the shiny objects…

 

  • Be true to yourself and your financial situation. If you honestly can’t afford to buy everyone pricey gifts this year (or any year for that matter), then don’t stretch yourself and disregard your personal goals to do so. Here is an awesome blog post with LOTS of frugal, but loving & creative gift ideas. If anyone throws shade at you because of the gifts you give, just tell them to sit down.

 

  • Plan a fun family outing or gathering instead. This year, my family is planning a mini vacation for early 2017 that we have been saving up for all year. So we’ll be very light on the presents and super heavy on the fun. I’m excited about snowy adventures! Some people plan a family dinner or potluck.

 

  • Keep yourself busy to avoid the temptation to hang out at the store. This could be working extra hours, doing some community service, spending time with loved ones, start reading more or beginning your new year’s resolution workout plan.

 

  • If you’re feeling down about not having the funds you would like to have, consider doing a daily gratitude practice to shift your energy. It can really make a difference! I started doing a short daily gratitude practice in the morning earlier this year and it made all the difference.

As always, comment below or tweet me to let me know what you’re going to do this holiday season to stick to your plan and not overspend. I’d love to hear about it!

Love Always,

Amber

How’s your money mindset?

People often ask me where to begin making over their money mindset. Truthfully, it depends on where you are.

But, there are some core issues that everyone can benefit from working on more deeply. These include things like goal setting, focus, and the all important forgiveness.

Forgiveness of ourselves and others is critically important if we’re going to be able to overcome the setbacks that occur along the way to achieving our goals. But also, it’s super necessary for getting back up when we’ve been knocked down, and we need to give ourselves another chance to cross the finish line.

I have a compiled seven of my favorite tips into this mini-course that is digestible and quick, so you can get your money mindset exercise in five minutes or less per day.

All you have to do is enter your information on the form below, and you’ll be on your way.

Feel free to comment, email or tweet me to let me know which day is your favorite.

Hope you all are having a wonderful day!

Love Always,

Amber

So many jobs, so little time

martinissmaller

Hey Friends!

I recently connected with my friend Shannon McLay from The Financial Gym and financially-blonde.com. She has an awesome podcast called Martinis and Your Money, it was actually one of the first podcasts I listened to when I started to get into personal finance. We met in person at FinCon last month and she invited me on the show to share about my unique employment history over the last few years. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a super pro bus driver! I’ve been a driver and trainer for a little over six years at this point, and it’s been the best job I’ve ever had. And, I’ve had quite a few as you’ll see when once you listen to this episode.

I enjoyed talking with Shannon about life as a millennial trying to navigate the waters of corporate America and find an occupation that feels true to me. You can listen to this episode HERE! Shannon is always releasing new episodes and her Happy Hour shows are my favorite. You can subscribe to her show at the link above as well.

If you’ve been going through the same thing then I think you’ll enjoy this episode. Let me know in the comments, what jobs have you had and which was your favorite?

Until next time!

Amber

My Interview with the Happy Black Woman

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While I was at FinCon a few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Rosetta Thurman on her Happy Black Woman Podcast. We talked at great lengths about the mission behind starting my blog and why I decided I wanted to go into coaching. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning more about money relationships and behaviors, and I’m SUPER excited to share this interview with you!

In this episode I discuss my reasons for starting this blog out of my own stressful experiences with money. It was trying to figure my way through these ups and downs that led me to start this blog and learn how I can support other women in working through their feelings of worthlessness, shame and guilt.

Rosetta and I also talked about money relationships. Your relationship with money is generally rooted in experiences you had as a child and behaviors you learned from your family. Sometimes you will pick up some really great habits! And other times, you may find yourself really struggling to overcome thoughts and behaviors that have been causing you trouble. But it’s important to know that any troubling behaviors CAN be changed! When I hear people say that they’re “just not good with money”, I can feel the discouragement. But I want everyone to know that just because you haven’t succeeded before doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed! You may just need some new tools and strategies to get you where you want to be.

The money mindset email course I mentioned is available at the link down below, if you’re interested. =)

I hope you enjoy this episode!

Feel free to leave a comment or share with someone who might need to hear this.

How I earned over 10,000 in Scholarships

I was talking with a friend of mine who happens to helps parents and students prepare and apply for colleges. When I was in high school my parents didn’t know much about the college application process, so I had to navigate the waters on my own. It wasn’t a bad thing, I learned a LOT!

After I had finished applying to college and all of that mayhem had simmered down, I realized that I had neglected one very large responsibility. I had no plan for PAYING for school, yikes!

Graduation was only a few months away and I had about $1,000 that my parents had set aside for me. I was SO incredibly thankful for that $1,000 dollars! Only thing is, the school I wanted to attend was going to cost around $11,000…

So, after that epiphany I naturally went into a frantic panic.

WHERE ON EARTH WAS I GOING TO FIND THAT KIND OF MONEY??! #millennialproblems Click To Tweet

I had 8 months until I was going to leave for school, it was time to make some serious moves.

  1. I got a job at Arby’s. (And the answer is yes, I did come home smelling like roast beef. -__-) It was helpful for getting some money in the bank, but at eight bucks an hour that job wasn’t going to get me where I needed to be. So I kept the job but continued searching.
  2. I started looking into scholarships and I was surprised to find out that I was qualified for many of them. Now, where to begin with applying…? I wasn’t too sure.
  3. I sought out the help of my school guidance counselors and advisors, that’s when the game changed! They helped me with my applications, letters of recommendation and even helped me find scholarships to apply to.

When all was said and done, before graduation in June I had earned $12,000 for school. Yay!

It was such a relief to know that I wouldn’t have to stress about money for awhile. And most importantly, I was proud of myself for doing the work required to make it happen.

Speaking up and asking for help was the key to getting the support I needed to reach my goal. Click To Tweet

In my interview with Sia, we talked about my experience with applying for scholarships and how important it is for you to start NOW. Don’t be like me and wait until the last minute if you can avoid it. The more time you have, the more you can earn!

Below you can check out my interview as well as download the resource guide I mentioned.

 

Like this post? Feel free to share it with your friends =)