June 2019 Update

It’s six months into the year and I’m having a very “well, this has been a 2019” sort of feeling. Which is wild considering that I’ve actually accomplished a fair amount this year. (But of course never as much as an over-achiever like me would like.)

This year I’ve:

  • Started a new job with great pay where I’m learning all kinds of stuff about content management and content strategy
  • Written another 1/4 of the webcomic project that should come out later this year (it’s! so! pretty!)
  • Joined the Oakland teachers when they went on strike
  • Almost joined the ISO as a full-fledged member just before their complete implosion
  • Joined a local crocheting/fiber-crafting group and started to learn how to crochet
  • Read some books
  • Actually filled up an entire composition book journal and started on #2 for the year

It’s not the most exciting list, but considering the fact that most of the time I could swear to you that I have never accomplished anything in my life, much less in the past six months, I’ll call it impressive.

Right now, I’m reading A Wizard of Earthsea and agog at how lazy of a reader I’ve become. I’m enjoying it very much, but it’s not exactly an easy read. It takes brain power and more commitment than I’ve been able to muster for a book in a while. But I’ve been soldiering on, reading through a few pages during my commute and at lunch, and I think it’s doing me some good. Stretching my brain-legs a bit.

I’ve also been exploring vegetarian foods a bit more this year, both for health reasons and to try to handle some of my climate change anxiety. I definitely haven’t given up meat, but it’s been fun to revisit some of the vegetarian staples I grew up with (Mom, I’m sorry for hating on your veggie burgers all these years) and also try out other recipes that are completely new to me. A new household stable is pitas filled with spiced roasted sweet potatoes and other veggies along with this really tasty harissa mayo sauce. It’s simple and delicious and satisfying, which is all a girl can really ask for.

With a new job and a longer commute, I’ve also tried to figure out new ways to make my own life easier. I can’t say that any of them have really stuck, but I am still really enamored with things like cleaning schedules and bullet journaling.

I can’t say my bullet journal gets used every day, but I do look at it most days. It’s been a good tool for organizing to-dos and some other things, like writing down books I’m interested in reading or reminding myself what TV shows I’ve started and haven’t finished. For those of you who struggle with focus or get that “I just can’t hold everything I need to remember/do/check in about in my head!!” feeling, I highly recommend it. I’ve used a lot of different methods for remembering tasks and other things, but pen and paper tends to be more accessible and easier to remember for me. If you’re interested in learning how to set up a bullet journal, check out this post by [x]. I followed a lot of her advice, minus buying a fancy journal and getting new pens. (I just use ballpoint pens and composition books.)

Also, in a similar productivity/brain management vein, I started using the budgeting tool YNAB (You Need A Budget) and I’m kind of in love? I’m going to write a longer review at some point, but if you’ve been frustrated with other budgeting tools, use the trial. As someone who gets pretty overwhelmed by numbers but who also low-key finds budgeting kind of delightful, it’s my favorite budgeting tool I’ve ever used.

All of this is to say: I’m living the live of An Adult and it’s complicated and deeply exhausting, but I’m still out here getting things done, even if I don’t always feel like it.

 

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Real Tips for When You're Actually Broke

Frugal Tips for When You’re Actually Broke

Life is rough, y’all. And, for some reason, a lot of personal finance bloggers just don’t seem to… actually get that. I see the same tips over and over, just in a different order and said a slightly different way. The intended audience never seems to be people who are actually legitimately struggling to find enough cash to get by. That’s where I’m coming in, my friends.

I’m in a decent financial position right now, but given that I live in San Francisco and my costs of living are pretty astronomical, I constantly feel like I’m walking on a razor’s edge. If my budget goes absolutely perfectly this month, I’ll have exactly $23.65 left over from my monthly paycheck. I’m proud that there’s anything left over, but that is just too damn close to zero for my liking. I know a lot of you are dealing with even tighter situations.

So, here are some money tips that I hope will help you get through your struggle season the same way they’ve helped me.

 

Make Your Bank Work for You

Make sure the bank you’re using is actually your best option. A lot of us use the really big banks. A lot of us also know that banks seem like they’re trying to squeeze every last penny out of you through various fees. It doesn’t have to be that way, though! I highly recommend thinking about what you want and need from your banking services and searching for the banks that will provide them at the lowest cost. Search tools like Find A Better Bank can help. I also recommend looking into local banks and credit unions.

You often get far better benefits at a smaller institution like a credit union than you would from one of the biggest banks. If none of the smaller banks near you seem more appealing than your current institution, don’t sweat it. If you’re a student, think about signing up for a college account. Many banks grandfather in college accounts so that you’ll never have to pay banking fees. I bank with a Wells Fargo college account and between their robust mobile and online banking tools and the lack of fees, I don’t really feel the need to make a major switch.

I did do some research on high-interest savings accounts last year, though. Paying interest is one thing big banks aren’t all that great about. I use Synchrony Bank for my emergency fund. Synchrony runs entirely online. They also don’t charge me any bank fees, and they didn’t require more than $1 from me to open up my account. Also, they have some of the best interest rates for savings accounts in the country (1.75%! Crazy, right?). There are a lot of other great options out there for high-interest savings accounts and everyday checking accounts. Everyone’s needs are different, and you might require things that I don’t, like easy access to a local bank branch or an ATM close by. Do your research and figure out where you’re most comfortable putting your money. 

 

Budgeting and Organizing Your Finances

Get organized! There are a ton of ways you can track your finances. YNAB (an abbreviation for You Need A Budget) is super popular, but it costs $83.99 a year. I definitely do not have that kind of extra cash for budgeting software. I prefer Mint. Mint is totally free. You link your various financial accounts to Mint–everything from your bank accounts to PayPal to retirement accounts to student loan accounts–and it takes in all that information and tracks your spending each month. I love this because I really struggle with math and numbers. It does require some tweaking to personalize things and make sure every transaction is being properly categorized, but that’s well worth it to me.

Once you figure out how you’re going to track your spending and see where your money is going for a few months, start creating a budget. Sitting down and estimating your expenses for the upcoming month based on your standard spending is ten times more helpful than saying “Okay, we’re only going to spend $X a week on groceries,” with X being a number you randomly pulled out of the air, and then inevitably going over because you underestimated. If I look at how much we spend on groceries historically, it’s pretty stable. You’ll find that’s true for a lot of your spending categories. Use your historical spending to help you figure out your budget and where you can sustainably cut back.

 

Save Where You Can

Be frugal, but don’t brutalize yourself. This ties into tracking your spending above. Don’t scrimp on things that matter to you. Having one-ply toilet paper makes me miserable, so I opt to pay an extra $5 at Costco for the bulk pack of the cheapest two- or three-ply. Make sure every dollar is being utilized wisely for you personally. Sometimes, you have to save every possible penny. But don’t feel guilty for spending a little extra money on things that genuinely improve your day-to-day quality of life. You’re broke, but you still deserve joy. Do what you can to make your journey to financial stability more bearable, but don’t go all “treat yourself” and go completely wild. Enjoy the little things you can afford. (And don’t forget that it’s Treat Yo Self Day, not Treat Yo Self Year.)

via GIPHY

Don’t pay full price on anything you don’t have to. Now, I am aware that we live in the real world. I totally use coupons and discount codes and rebates wherever I can. But I also know that sometimes you need that new pair of work pants, and you have the kind of body shape where thrifting for those pants just isn’t an option if you don’t want to wait 6 months. Still, it’s super important to always check and make sure that you’re getting the best deal possible. Utilizing local thrift stores for a lot of your clothing needs is great, as is digging through clearance racks. Signing up for emails from your favorite retailers is also a great idea. They’ll notify you of any sales that are going on and sometimes give you extra discounts if it’s been a while since you purchased something.

If you do a lot of your shopping online, get the Honey extension for your browser. It tries a bunch of different coupon codes and tries to get you the best deal. It’s saved me a bunch of money over the years. (Also, if you use this code, we’ll both get an extra $5 from Honey!) A lot of people also highly recommend Ebates, but that’s one I haven’t used yet. Ibotta is great for getting a couple extra pennies back from your grocery trips, and they also offer rebates for lots of other things, too. You can cash out once you’ve earned $20 in rebates. If you use this code, you’ll get your first $10 just for signing up, and I get a little cash, too. I’ve never made much off of this, but it’s a nice little extra boost once you’ve made enough to cash out.

Check to see if the grocery store you go to most often has a loyalty or rewards program. I shop at Safeway and have saved thousands by using their Club Card over the years. I select digital coupons in their app each week and it applies them automatically. I know FoodsCo has something similar, though not as robust. Your grocery store might, too. Always worth checking! Also, definitely look to see if wherever you’re shopping has a clearance rack. My local store just started putting out a day-old rack for baked goods and it’s all super cheap. It’s a cheap way to treat myself or get baked goods that are still pretty dang fresh but heavily marked down. There’s also a clearance rack that has all kinds of stuff marked down due to minor damage to the packaging. Little things like this add up over time and can help you significantly reduce your spending, so always keep an eye out.

 

Increasing Your Income

The most important tip I can share: work on increasing your income. Everyone likes to talk a big game about helping you save $10,000 in just a few easy steps! But for the majority of us, that’s just not feasible, and it’s not a productive way to think about money. Sure, you “saved” $2 on that shirt, but you still paid $15 for it. Or, you were able to cut your grocery spending down to $50 a week for a family of 5 (power to you, honestly), but the money you’ve been saving keeps going to other necessities, giving you a net of $0 “saved.” If you’ve been stretching every dollar every way you can think of and it’s just not enough? It’s time to think about increasing your income. This is way easier said than done, of course, and in some cases, just plain might not be possible. But it’s worth taking some time to explore your options. Gunning for a raise or a promotion at your primary job is our best option, especially if you’re dealing with a physical or mental illness. Even an extra dollar an hour can make a huge difference.

If you’re one of those people with boundless energy, or who are just so incredibly determined you can work in all conditions, consider taking on a part-time job. This can be a huge sacrifice if you’re already working full-time (or more!), especially if you have a family. I would also not suggest this as a long-term solution. Working too much is a great way to burn yourself out and make things even more of a struggle. Still, there are a lot of great options out there with flexible schedules now. You can drive for Lyft or Uber, use dog-walking apps like Wag, or make deliveries with services like Doordash and Postmates. Most of these apps allow you to work at any time and don’t have specific numbers of hours you have to work. This can be a good solution if you need money but also need the flexibility.

Make sure you’re utilizing any special skills. Upwork is a vast freelance marketplace that’s perfect for those of us who might want to take on an extra bit of work for a short period. (Note: Make sure to do your research on standard rates of pay in your industry before accepting any job! Your time is worthwhile, and working for pennies doesn’t make sense in the long-term.) Fiverr works similarly, but as someone who has used Fiverr in the past, I can’t say it’s a particular favorite of mine. Lots of people have made it work for them, though, so if you’re willing to put some time and energy into it, it might be worth your while. Crafters and DIY-ers should definitely check out Etsy. I ran an Etsy shop for a while while I was in college. If you can find your niche, market your products well, and price your products properly, Etsy can become a great source of income.

If your response to that last paragraph was “I don’t have any special skills. I’m screwed,” don’t give up hope! First off, refer to the part-time job paragraph above. Second off, maybe now is a good time to further your education. If you don’t have a degree, get one! Even an associate’s degree can open more doors for you. Check out your local community college and see what kind of certification programs and degree paths they’re offering. Keep in mind the kind of jobs that are in demand in your area, or the area you’d like to live in in the future. Also, don’t forget to keep in mind jobs that you’d like to do. It’s probably best not to spend money on learning how to work in a field that’s going to make you miserable. I studied English Literature because that’s my true passion in life, and even though everybody (including me) jokes that getting an English degree is just me begging to be broke forever? It’s simply not true. I got a good job right out of college with solid pay that covers all my basics. It really just depends on how you market yourself and your education. Don’t be afraid to get creative.

As you explore further education, make sure to look into every possible scholarship and grant available to you! Taking out loans sucks and should be a last resort. If you do have to take them out, try to go federal–the interest rates are usually much, much lower. If navigating all that stuff feels too complicated, talk with a counselor or someone in the financial aid department at school. They can help walk you through it.

If your situation ever gets truly dire and you’re really struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to local charities or see if you’re eligible for programs like general assistance, SNAP, or WIC. That’s what those services are for. They’re there to help you get back on your feet. Whatever guilt you might feel, brush that aside. We all need a helping hand sometimes and there’s no shame in asking for it. You’re worth helping.

For more resources, or just a place to commiserate, make sure to check out the Reddit community r/povertyfinance. I also recommend checking out r/frugal and r/personalfinance. Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache are also great resources. Some of these are more helpful than others depending on where you’re at in your financial journey. Use what works for you and disregard the rest.

What are your favorite financial tips for making sure you get by every month? Share in the comments, and link me to your favorite finance blogs and resources!

Real Tips for When You're Actually Broke

A Little Progress Goes a Long Way!

I finally got rid of all of the stuff I marked as clutter in October! I am still not done with my decluttering challenge technically (340-odd items to get through still!) but the pile of stuff in my living room has finally been either donated or properly organized while it waits to be sold on eBay. There’s still a lot more work to do, but having the space in my living room that had been swallowed up by my clutter over the last month has been really nice.

I also managed to get my act together and take care of holiday plans with both sides of the family, which was nice. This is the first year since I moved out that I haven’t had to worry about needing to work on the holidays or try and juggle both families in the handful of days I could get off and I am extremely grateful.

And, best of all, I FINALLY managed to go fishing with my partner. No joke, we have been talking about going fishing together for a year, maybe longer. He loves it and I know nothing about it. But it’s Dungeness crab season and it was beautiful out on a Saturday, so we finally went.

The view from Pacifica Pier

We ended up losing the crabber we had just bought a few minutes earlier because the waves were way too strong and our line broke, and then his line ended up snapping, too. But it was great to be near the ocean and out in the sunshine.

All in all, not a bad few days!

Book Hoarding

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For the past several months, I have been trying to get rid of some of my books. It is… not going well. In the three-ish months (god, I really hope it’s only been three and not longer) since I resolved to separate my books into “keep,” “donate,” and “sell” piles, I have only been able to select about ten books that I’m absolutely certain I don’t want to keep. Some of them are gifts that I am just not all that interested in and never have been, while others were assigned reading that I always meant to finish but haven’t gotten around to. I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (yet), but from what I have heard secondhand, one of the most important things to do when tidying is ensure that the stuff you are keeping around you is stuff that brings you joy.

I love my books. I love having books on my shelf. But I’ve had to admit to myself recently that I have not made much time for sitting down and reading physical books. I read all day at work and I’ve prioritized other hobbies since leaving high school. I can’t say that it’s a good thing, but I tend to prioritize gaming and watching TV over reading. Which means that now, instead of having a shelf full of possible sources of entertainment, I have a shelf full of heavy decorations that are not being used.

I’m a big believer in secondhand books. I rarely buy any books with a hard cover or brand new, because I’m a very heavy user. I make notes in the margins and dog-ear pages. A lot of my favorites no longer have covers and are falling apart. Buying secondhand is simply part of frugal decision-making for me – why buy a book at full price that isn’t going to stay pristine? But a big part of my belief in secondhand books has always been being willing to let books go so that others can love them just as much as I did. But for some reason, I haven’t actually put that concept into practice for several years. I’ve gotten rid of a few textbooks I had no attachment to, sure, but not any of the novels I picked up from the free library in the laundry room and never started, or the books that I am entirely certain I have grown out of that I no longer have an emotional attachment to.

I’m not entirely sure why this is. I think to some degree I just haven’t had much time to de-clutter much of anything in my apartment over the last four years, and I’ve been lazy about taking on big projects. But a huge part of it is that I am deeply attached to my book hoard. The thought of decreasing my collection even by one book makes me uncomfortable. They’ve been a heavy presence at the corner of my eye for so long. Many of these books have been with me since I was very young and it feels wrong to release them into the wild for someone else to have. I can’t say they feel like part of me, but they certainly feel like part of what makes my space mine. I worry that I would be lonely without them.

But even with all those emotional ties, I can’t help but consider things like what will happen when I move out. How many boxes will all these books take up? (Too many.) Will I really want them in whatever new home I end up in? Even if I don’t move out any time soon, do I really want to keep all that space for books that are going unread when I could use it for vital storage of other, more useful items that have had to be tucked away elsewhere? And the more I think about things like this, the more I realize that my hoard is less of a comforting presence and a collection of knowledge and more of a reminder of my issue with letting keepsakes go. So I think back on Marie Kondo’s rule to only keep things around that bring you joy and ask myself: are my books bringing me joy? Some of them. But most of them feel like an anchor.

That tells me that I have to do something about this. I treasure my books, but I need to move forward and let them go. I need to let other people find them and treasure them and hopefully crack them open once in a while. And I need to do it soon.

Fingers crossed.

 

Yes, It’s September, and Yes, I’m Already Prepping for NaNoWriMo

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Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

It honestly feels weird to have already started prepping this early. The 4 other times I’ve started NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the challenge) I have waited until the absolute last minute to get started. November 1st rolls around, I remember I made a commitment to myself to do NaNo again, and I just wing it and see what happens. I’ve finished twice this way, and failed another two times. While it’s fun to just let myself type out whatever comes to mind, I feel like I’m not really the kind of person who wants to deal with the stress of pulling two thousandish words a day out of thin air as I hope for the best anymore. My time is a lot more limited and I need to be thoughtful about how I work to make sure I can actually accomplish my goals and not feel overwhelmed.

So, for the first time, I’ve been planning. I have a setting sketched out (a post-apocalyptic America where everything isn’t a gigantic mess and people are actually doing pretty okay–I’ve gotten lots of inspo from the solarpunk movement and have done a lot of thinking about non-capitalist economies), I have a main character (her name is Masha, she’s butch as hell and flies a solar-powered airship), and a general conflict (City People are weird and holding too tight to the old ways, while everyone else just does their best to avoid the City People, but, of course, trade happens between those groups, and things get ugly at one point).

Every time I get an idea, whether it’s for plot stuff or character stuff or setting or whatever else, I make sure to write it down in my journal so I can go back to it later and not forget it when it’s crunch time in mid-November and I’m losing my mind trying to figure out where this story goes and how it works. And it feels really good to be taking care of that ahead of time and feel like I’m setting myself up for success rather than just chugging along and hoping I don’t fail.

I’m also really excited about this story. I feel like I haven’t had a “good” idea in a long time, but my brain popped this one out and it felt like I absolutely needed to do something with it. It’s a culmination of a lot of my interests and sensibilities, with a main character who has been rattling around in my head for a while but just didn’t seem to fit anywhere, in a setting I really care about. So maybe it’s way too freakin’ early to be trying to plan out my book for NaNo, but it’s exactly the right time for me to be getting pumped about spending a month churning this novel out.

Non-Zero Days, or, Why You Should Be Using Habitica

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Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

I’m proud of the amount of original writing I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been writing a lot of blog posts for work lately. I’ve also been mentally preparing myself for taking on NaNoWriMo again this year (I want to finish a 3rd time!) and doing some other small writing pieces. I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks, though,  especially after putting together this post about creating productively. When discussing tips for increasing one’s productivity, a lot of what gets said is stuff that you’ve heard from people before, but I tried my best to present information that we all kind of know in our hearts as writers and bloggers and creatives and make it feel more attainable and positive. I feel like a lot of posts advising creatives to improve their habits and increase productivity tend to be sort of negative. They often read more like someone telling you off and ordering you to “stop being so lazy” or just make you feel terrible for not being able to be a Perfect Bastion of Creativity every second of your day. Like, bro, depression is real! Being tired is real! Having other things on your plate and not being able to dedicate an hour to your craft every day is a fact of life!

Rather than admonishing myself for all the things I haven’t been able to accomplish, I prefer to do my best, encourage other people to do their best, trust that they are doing what they can, and accept whatever the outcome is. I firmly believe that all you can do is try your best. Which is why I really appreciate both Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) and the philosophy of non-zero days.

The non-zero day philosophy is outlined in the comment ryans01 posted, but I’ll just state the basic rules here:

Rule 1 – No more zero days. A zero day is defined as a day in which you don’t do anything to achieve your goals. A non-zero day is one in which you do something – even something very small, like writing one sentence or doing one push-up – to achieve your goals. The idea is to accumulate non-zeros so that you know you’re moving forward and you don’t fall back into the abyss of not doing things and having zero days.

Rule 2 – Be grateful to the 3 Yous. That’s Past You, Present You, and Future You. You want to thank Past You for doing things that are benefiting Present You. You want Present You to work to benefit Future You. And you want Future You to thank Present/Past You for doing things that made life better/easier.

Rule 3 – Forgive yourself. Sometimes we have zero days. It’s okay. Forgive your past self and devote yourself to being better in the future.

Rule 4 – Exercise and books. Exercise improves your body and your cognitive function, which improves your overall outlook and makes it easier to do other things, and reading expands your mind and teaches you new things.

These rules are simple and easy to follow, and honestly how I live my life most of the time. Motivating myself with outside pressures doesn’t work very well for me. I have to do something because want to do it. If I don’t feel like doing something, there’s very little that is going to get me to get up and do it. But telling myself that my future self will be grateful, or just knowing that I’ll get the satisfaction of knowing I moved a little further towards my goals? That’s really motivating.

Unfortunately, though, I also tend to get bogged down by self-doubt if I don’t see obvious results for a while. Like, sure, I finished reading a book, but how did that really help me? Is that $10 I put into savings really going to make a difference? Did that run I went on really do anything for me? Was that blog post I wrote really worth my time? It’s easy for me to be doubtful when I don’t have something to look at that shows me my progress. Which is where Habitica comes in.

habitica

Habitica is, at its core, a task manager. It allows you to create habits (things you want to do, but don’t necessarily have to, and would like to do every day or every week), daily tasks (things that you want to do every day), and to-dos (one-off tasks that you would like to get done at some point). It allows you to “purchase” rewards with gold, which you earn by completing tasks. Those rewards can be in-game items, like armor and weapons for your avatar, or customized rewards that you come up with yourself, like an extra thirty minutes of watching your favorite show or buying yourself that new book you want.

It’s very simple, which is what makes it so appealing. It’s also very easy to customize and use exactly how you want. I use mine to encourage myself to floss daily, exercise more regularly, eat more green things, read, and do a number of other things. I’ve joined guilds like the Financial Discipline Guild, which encourages me to be smarter with my money. My partner and I made a party together, which allows us to keep each other accountable, because every time we complete one of our daily tasks, it deals damage to a monster we’re fighting together, like the Feral Dust Bunnies or the Basil-List. It gamifies the act of completing daily tasks that would otherwise feel like a chore and I get to watch my avatar level up and grow stronger as I achieve more in my real life. I can seek out support networks through guilds tailored to my interests and needs (seriously, it feels like there’s one for everything, from learning languages to writing to knitting to walking to Mordor).

To put it simply, Habitica makes it that much easier to ensure that I have a non-zero day. Because in addition to following the principles of non-zero days and encouraging myself in that way, I am also held accountable to my Habitica avatar and the other people in my Habitica support network. I also have a way of quantifying my success. My avatar levels up as I gain experience from completing tasks, which reminds me that my real-life self is leveling up, too, just in ways I can’t see as well. If I don’t do what I said I would do for the day, my avatar loses health and eventually dies, which loses me a level. It gives me consequences without punishing me in a way that actually harms me, which helps me forgive myself for not completing tasks while motivating me to do better in the future.

I honestly recommend taking the time to really absorb the non-zero philosophy and set up a Habitica account. I would never have imagined that I’d be the kind of person who flosses regularly, has a physical journal for work and life tasks to help me keep track of things that I write in nearly every day, and exercises more than a handful of times a year. It seems silly that this little game could make such a difference in my life, but it has.

Seriously, you owe it to yourself.