Paying your Bills: How Being Buried in Student Loans Can Help You Get a Handle on Your Financial Life

I’m in debt. I’ve talked about my debt before on this blog, but with the COVID-19 student loan forbearance ending at the end of this year, I’ve decided it was time to take the deeper dive into finding out what my best options are for repayment. And I was a little surprised with what I found out. I’ll be going over some of the specifics about my situation, but also what I’ve discovered along the way as I’m researching what my best options are. It seems like a lot, when you’re staring out the deep hole you’ve dug for yourself, but there’s hope. And it’s totally doable. You just need a plan, a positive attitude and a little help : )

What Did I Borrow?

If you’re like me, you borrowed a lot of money during the hight of the student loan lending frenzy. I ended up with close to 85k in student loan debt that I am in the middle of paying back. And I went to an in state school! I was completely clueless when it came to getting my degree. I had no idea what I was doing, what I wanted to do, or what I was even good at. I stopped going to highschool at age 16, but thought I was supposed to go to college to get a degree so I could get a job. So that’s what I did.

I started in community college when I was 19. This was a poor choice given the circumstances I was in. I was past the age of being a dependent on my caregivers and one of them told me to go to school, so that’s what I did. I failed by way of not going to classes, and subsequently was given the boot from my childhood home. I was 19, and as good as homeless. Years later, when I asked my caregiver why they kicked me out with no guidance and with such callous disregard, they responded with, “it’s what happened to me”.

So, with that in my rearview, I drifted around for the next five years in a haze of alcohol, seedy apartments and questionable life events (but some good stories, like the time “one” of the Allman Brothers was at my apartment telling stores), until a friend of mine got me a job at a residential program for at risk adolescent boys. This is when I decided to go back to school, only this time for social work. I wanted to help people who were in similar situations to my own. But I still had no idea what I was doing when it came to navigating the educational system. This is when I started taking out loans.

I would later switch my career focus two more times. First to architecture, but stopped that pursuit in it’s tracks when they said I would be working 80 hour plus weeks for the rest of my life. And second to journalism. This is where I received most of my education and also where I racked up most of my student loan debt.

And I did so with enthusiasm. I didn’t look for grants or scholarships, but this wasn’t surprising as I had no guidance, nor was I seeking any or knew how to ask. I was again adrift, in a financial world where I would soon be in way over my head.

It took me close to nine years to finish my degree. And when I was done, I had close to 85k in student loans and 20k in credit card debt. This was a tough pill to swallow. I fumbled my way into just over 100k in debt, with little to show for it and no idea how I was going to dig myself out of the hole I had worked so hard to get into.

Okay I Give, How do I Get Out Of This Mess?

This, in conjunction with a few other realizations, left me in one of the darkest places I’ve been in my life. This was where I decided to make some needed changes in my habits and the ways I was living my life.

This is around the time I found Dave Ramsey. Here was finally where I found the guidances I needed to take hold of my financial house. This was also a difficult place to be, because growing up my caregivers were consumed with everything finance. Though they never imparted any wisdom to me about how to handle this aspect of my life. I had to stumbled upon Dave Ramsey in my mid thirties by chance before I really began to take charge of my finances.

This was demoralizing. Mostly because I didn’t feel as though I could ask anybody in my life for help or advice. Money was such a sore spot for my entire family growing up, that I felt as though it was off limits to talk about. I spent so much time not thinking about money due to the unspoken lessons I was taught, about how money was something to be feared, that I completely neglected my financial future. This was a difficult and terrifying realization to come to as well. I wrote about this some in my blog post about what to do when you’re starting to retire at forty.

But this is also where I learned that I needed to take the reigns for myself. Because I was the only one in control of my future. This doesn’t mean that I can’t ask for help when necessary. Which is and was the case considering how little I knew/know about how to handle finances. But I couldn’t wait any longer. I knew I had to do something about my future, regardless of how I had been neglected by my caregivers.

As I said above, I started when I found Dave Ramsey and his baby steps, but it took discipline and patience to follow through with the plan. I had been so used to buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted that when it came time to exercise self control, I was at a complete loss. But there were a few things that helped to fortify my self-restraint.

How Being Vegan, Running, Meditation and Yoga Helped Me Pay My Debt Faster

Of all the changes I made in my life and my habits, going vegan was probably the most effective. I needed to learn how to cook using different ingredients while also making substitutions for staples I was in the habit of using when I ate animal products.

I also had to batch cook for the weeks ahead due to my busy schedule. This taught me how to put a shopping list together by choosing recipes and making a list by shopping from my pantry first. This was just another way to budget, only using food instead of money. But also if I didn’t cook, I had to eat pasta with Earth balance for dinner. I didn’t always want to cook, but I needed to eat, so I did.

Running was another great way to cultivate a sense of discipline. Throwing shoes on and pounding out the miles week after week helped me to build a resilience while also helping me to find a rhythm.

For me, when running mid level milage, the first few miles of a run are the most difficult. It’s kind of like waking up in the morning. You’re a little tired, it takes some time to get your muscles warmed up and head around what your body’s doing. But once you’ve settled into the motion and movements of your body, the miles start to drop away with an ease that’s hard to describe.

It’s similar to when you’re paying off debt. The first few months take some adjusting to. But once you find your rhythm, and recognize that the discomfort of your sacrifices to your new budget won’t last forever, you find that same rhythm.

Meditation and Yoga help in sort of the same ways but from different perspectives or directions. With yoga, learning to be still when you are in the midst of a difficult pose and sensation. And meditation when difficult thoughts and emotions arise, being still and present with what’s difficult builds resilience.

This is the same sort of resilience you need when you’re paying down a sizeable debt. For me it was important to sit with the discomfort of just how much money I owed. About 85k total in student loans alone. If that doesn’t put a seed of fear in your belly you’re either wealthy or in shock. Learning to sit and stay with what’s difficult, while coming up with and exciting a plan is what is most important when faced with a challenge of this size. Now let’s focus on some of the specifics of my loans and what I’ve found to be most useful.

Logistics of Paying Off Bigger Numbers

I have federal loans but when I first took out my loans I had both federal and private. About 9k in private and 76k in federal. I don’t remember exactly what the beginnings of my loan repayments looked like. I was in and out of school for 9 years, so my actual repayment date didn’t start until my mid-thirties. And probably for the best, I wasn’t in the habit of paying my bills regularly or at all before then.

Most of my bills I defaulted on with most likely the intention of never repaying them at all. But I had to start somewhere, and where I started was in my mid-thirties, under a pile of debt. I used the snowball method to start. This basically means paying the minimums on all your debt, but using all other available income to pay off your smallest debt first. For me this was all my credit cards that totaled 2-5k small debts. All together around 14k. Then it was on to my private student loans of about 9k total.

Some systems suggest you pay the highest interest rate percent first. Luckily my credit cards were all high interest and my loans much lower. So when I got to my private student loan, with about a 7% interest rate and my federal at a 6%, I put all available funds towards the private. My federal loans were in deferment, so I didn’t have to start paying them back until later. And with my private loans in the past, I could finally focus on the big one. My federal loans.

When I started paying off these loans, they were in deferment. This means that you don’t have to make any payments on your loan for a specific amount of time for different circumstances. I believe the time available for deferment is 3 years, but check with your lender to make certain yours aren’t different. But what I hadn’t realized was that when my bill came due, I would be making close to 1k payments monthly. I was not making much at the time and definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford these payments. So I defaulted to my default. I planned on defaulting on my loans because it just seemed like too much.

But after I had done all the difficult work of paying off my other loans, I realized I didn’t want to head down the same road I had been traveling for so long. I needed to take control of my financses for my future. So I began looking into what my options were for paying down my student loans.

I Have a Plan… Sort of. Now What?

My plan was to just throw money at my debt until it started to dwindle. But was that really my best option? As it turned out, yes. As we all know, COVID hit about a year and a half ago and since then there have been a lot of layoffs. As a way to ease some of the financial burden of student loan borrowers, the government put all loans on deferment without accrued interest. This has been a Godsend for those laid-off, but for folks like me, making payments interest free has been game changing. With all of my payments going towards principle, my debt is shrinking faster than expected. I’ve paid off close to 25k in principle since the COVID-19 forbearance began.

But I was still concerned with the amount of interest I was being charged. 6% seemed like a high number for such a large loan. So I started looking at private loans to see if I could get a better rate. Turns out, I can. My rate would drop from 6% on my federal loans to almost 3% in a private one. Seems like a good deal. But when I ran the numbers, this only decreased my overall amount owed in interest by 1k over the life of the loan. Not even half a months payment. So I decided to stay in the loan with the higher interest rate.

I should also mention that I plan on paying my loan off in two years, so the interest doesn’t make that much of an impact. But if I choose a more traditional route, of say paying over ten years, I would be accruing up to 17k in interest alone. Then I would look into a loan with a lower rate. But another aspect to consider when thinking about switching lenders is, the benefits of federal loans far out weighs those of their private counterparts.

As we’ve seen with COVID-19, federal loans went into a period of deferment. Something that private loans did not do. Also, if you fail to pay a federal loan on time, you have considerably more time before your loans go into default. I’ve read up to 240 days, and you still have time to pay and be in good standing with your loan. With private lenders, it’s only 30 days and that’s it, default. You also have the option, with federal loans, to pay in an income driven repayment plan. This adjusts your payment to a percentage of you discretionary income. This is not an option with private loans.

Also, you are able to consolidate your loans with a federal lender. This takes all the small loans you’ve taken out each semester and consolidated them into one loan with one payment.

With so many benefits attached to holding loans with the fed., it just didn’t make sense to switch to a private lender. I may be paying 1k more over the life of the loan than if I was with a lower interest, private loan, but peace of mind with the terms of my loan is worth more to me that a little under half a months loan payment. And when I’m doubt, ask.

If you have questions about your loan, contact you bank. Hey, even ask if they’ll lower your interest rate. Through my lender, if you’re enrolled in auto payments, they reduce your interest rate by a quarter of a percent.

And if you’re like me, you like to go hard. For me it’s do as much as humanly possible to pay off my loan in as short a period of time as possible. Don’t forget to practice a little self-care along the way. For me it’s a foot soak once and a while and a ten-pack at my local yoga studio for 175$. It’s good and healthy to take tests along the way. The road can be hard and long, don’t forget to take care of yourself. So incase no one told you, it’s okay to take a break every now and again : )

I hope this has helped in some way. Student loans can be daunting to take in, especially all at once. But don’t be deterred! Talk to your lender often and whenever you have a question, regardless of how silly it seems. They want you to be successful. So, if you have a ton of student loan debt, come up with a plan and have patients. You’ll get out of it, it just takes a little resilience. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “The Big IOU” by brent flanders is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Feeling Lost: What to Do When You’re Feeling a Little Homeless

This is something I’ve recently come to terms with and something that has deep roots in my personal history. I don’t need to go over the details of how I came to this realization, but my life experiences and my personal history paved the way for my realization, and I know I’m not alone. Here I’ll be sharing my experiences in hopes that it will help to light the way back for anyone who feels the same.

This began for me at an early age. I wrote about it some in my post on “Why am I Pushing Myself so Hard“, about the trauma I experienced and the sense of loss and feeling Lost. I was eight when things began to fall apart for me. My family had turned their backs on me collectively, leaving me to fend for myself at very early an age.

This is where feeling lost, without a home began to take shape for me. I didn’t feel welcomed or loved by anyone close to me from that day on. Without a place where you feel welcome, a sense of belonging, then you can feel as though you really don’t have a place to call home. I didn’t have the words for it at such an early age, but this was how I felt. Homeless and without a sense of belonging.

Okay, so bad things happen, I’ve come to terms with that. Once you’ve made the decision to accept the difficult things that have happened to you, then you can start to find ways to not only make up for the ways you’ve reacted to those situation or experiences, but also to heal from and move forward in your life.

The Buddha said it best when talking about anger and resentment, “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. This is so true from my experience. I was holding onto a lot of anger and resentment, as well as blame and pain also. But all it did for me was helped me to cultivate a great sense of self-righteousness and unhealthy habits. These were not the best tools to go through life with.

One of my mantras in my early twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. As you’ve probably guessed, things did not go well for me with this mentality. I found myself alone, with few friends and no real connections to anyone. There were reasons for it beyond my understanding, but as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. And I definitely did not know. The journey was almost always trying, and difficult to say the least. But there are other ways of being and different tools we can use, to navigate life with.

Feeling More at Home

The tools I’m referring to are much like resources, in that they help to bring a sense of comfort and ease, direction to a chaotic life. I’ll share with you some of the tools I’ve cultivated, to help bring me a sense of direction and a feeling of being at home.

Yoga

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for maybe five years. Yoga has helped to bring me back into my body, after dissociating from it for such a long time due to the abuse and neglect. I could comfortably be in my body while feeling difficult sensations that brought dis-ease. And there were a lot of difficult, uneasy moments for sure. But the longer you stay, the better you become at being comfortable in the sensation.

I was dissociated for a long time, so it took a lot of staying in order to feel as though I were comfortable just taking up space. If you have difficulty staying in and cultivating ease in the moment, yoga may be the key to helping you be more present.

Meditation

This one was helpful in many ways. First, it helped me to listen inwardly. There was a whole world happening inside of me that I was completely oblivious to. Tara Brach makes reference to a saying in the meditation community that’s rung a bell with me. The saying goes, “sit, stay, heal”. I like this saying because, as with yoga, the longer you stay with the difficult thoughts and emotions that arise, the easier it becomes to navigate them.

And as a friend of mine Jon said, when talking about a mutual friend who feels like they’re in a cycle of ups and downs, “what they don’t understand is, that feelings become easier to manage the more you allow yourself to feel them”. For me, I don’t think it would have been possible to separate the voice that was beating me up, from the voice of reason and better judgement. This was also difficult, and took time, but it’s doable.

Cooking

Cooking has been a source of grounding for me. The smells while the onion and garlic are frying, the steam that rises from the pots of boiling liquid. It all comes together to make a house feel more like a home. I batch cook, but also have one night a week where I cook a self-care dinner. Here is where I take my time and enjoy the process of watching it all come together. Sure it’s nice to order out every once and awhile, but the process of everything coming together holds a real sense of feeling connected to the act of nourishing yourself.

Friends and Family

Friends and family are important too. If it’s only you doing these things, it can feel lonely, and the point of these tools is to feel a greater sense of belonging and connection. Sure, first to yourself, but then to others as well. I’ve recently begun cooking with my family one night a week. This is a chance for us to connect, get to know each other a little better each time, and brings a sense of collaboration, of working on something together. Also, food tastes better when you have people to share it with.

But the bonds are what is most important when we get together for our family night. For me, I never had the bonding that I should have received when I was younger. So building something new, even though it’s a little late, has helped to fill some of that void that had been left inside of me from an early age. It also has a similar feeling as to when we gather for holidays and special occasions. It’s nice to have something special to look forward to.

We share bits of wisdom we’ve collected along the way, stories from our past, and in the process, we build that sense of belonging. That sense of being a family. And this is where feeling at home really begins to take shape. The stores and the shared sense of experience is where feeling those bonds lie. These are the moments we take with us into our lives and help to bring us a feeling of homecoming.

Writing

Writing for me has been a way to explore the ideas, thoughts and feelings I’ve had about my past, present and future. This blog has helped me to go through some of the parts of my life that I had been too scared to look at before.

Journaling as well has been an incredible resource. It has been a place where I can plan what my future looks like by writing down plans I have and things I want to accomplish. It’s a place to visit the past in a safe way by writing down my thoughts and feels about what I’ve experienced. And also a way to stay in the present. By writing down my budget, todo list, and other day to day things that need my attention while I’m living my life. I’ve written about it before in this blog, but if you haven’t yet, check out bullet journalling. This is a unique way to bring the various threads of your life together in one place.

Finding Time to Relax

This is an important one. For me, I have so many things, responsibilities and people to catch up with, that finding time for myself is in short supply. I usually find some time in the evenings. Before I go to bed, to relax a little I burn some candles, listen to some music, read a book and sip a cup of herbal tea to help unwind from the day. Feeling at ease, or like you have some time where you can feel relaxed is so important to our general health and mental well-being. Yet it’s something that we overlook or it’s the first thing to get tossed out when we have loads of responsibility to manage.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here is a perfect time to order something out, watch something mindless and just be with yourself or another and just be. We put so much weight on ourselves to accomplish so much, that we never really stop to ask ourselves, “why”? Taking the time you need to feel your best also shows you that you respect yourself and your time but also brings a sense of self-worth to it as well. And a little bit of care goes a long way.

Make a plan to relax a little everyday. Maybe there’s a park you enjoy that you can go to when you take a lunch break. Or do as I do and take an hour or so before you go to bed and set up a calming routine to help decompress from the day. Tailor it to your own needs and likes and make it a place you enjoy coming home to.

It’s Your Life, Go Live It

And I feel like this gets overlooked so often that it’s kind of amazing to me. We get so wrapped up in wanting to do as much as we’re able to, for others and what we think we need in life, that we forget to take the time to slow down and find out not only what we need, but what we want and how to best feel comfortable in our own bodies and minds.

What are some of your long term goals? Things that you want for yourself that will bring you a sense of joy and happiness. Is traveling a passion of yours? Write down a plan to visit some place you’ve wanted to go to. Even if you never make it, the act of planning can really bring a sense of curiosity and excitement, of finding new places to explore. As Adrienne says, from Yoga With Adrienne, “find what feels good”, and do that. Because life becomes a chore when it is filled with a bunch of checkboxes of things we need to accomplish. There’s more to life than what’s on your todo list.

And when you begin to tend to these areas of your life that may have been neglected for a long time, here is where the sense of direction comes together. You now have a sense of what your working towards, not just working yourself to the death. So find the things that bring you peace. They will help to make you feel more at home with yourself and with others. What are your resources, your go tos for taking care of yourself? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “lost (perdu)” by PATRICE OUELLET is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I’m 40, In Debt, and Haven’t Saved for Retirement: What to do When It Feels too Late

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been paying down some debt that I accrued in my early to late twenties in the form of credit cards and student loans. I’ve recently paid off my credit cards, and have been going pretty hard on my student loans. I’ve been following the Dave Ramsey “Baby Steps” to pay down my debt, and have been really excited with the results. Also, as a side note, these are only my experiences in researching what I need to do to retire. I am in no way a specialist in the financial field so this should only be taken as a rough guide to start asking questions. Speaking with a qualified financial advisor is the best way to get sound financial advise. So don’t take this article as the final word on investing.

Along with paying down my credit card debt, I’ve learned how to write and follow a budget, while also learning how to care for my financial needs. I have some money in savings for the first time in my life and am making some serious progress on my student loan debt. I’ve been so excited making so much progress on paying down my debt, that I completely overlooked that I’ll be paying into retirement a little bit later than most people usually start. This has me a little worried about what my future is going to look like for sure. So I started doing some research on the subject, but I first had to look at what got me here in the first place.

Planning for the Future by Looking at the Past

When I first got into debt, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to finances. Much in the same ways I knew not how to care and tend to my nutritional needs, finance was another area in which I was illiterate. I was living paycheck to paycheck for most of my adult life, and as soon as I was able to borrow money, I jumped at the chance. Looking back now, I’m not sure what the draw was. I was constantly in debt, all my credit cards were maxed out and I was missing payments and paying hefty fees for it.

But there was something about it that had me hooked. I was buying things I didn’t need, and using somebody else’s money to do it. And when it came time to pay for college, I treated student loans much in the same way I was treating my credit cards. They offered me the maximum payout amount, and I took it each time. I didn’t realize that I could accept only what I needed from the loans, and not the entire sum. But the way I was living, I don’t think I would have chose differently had I known.

I was accumulating so much debt, that I could almost have bought a small house in Western Massachusetts with the amount of loans and credit card debt I had. But I kept spending. And hadn’t even thought about what I was going to do when it came time to retire. So when I finally took financial responsibility for my life for the first time in my early thirties, the outlook for my future was sobering.

I’m Paying Down My Debt Now, But What Do I Do About My Future?

I’m about a little less than halfway through my debt currently, and the idea of being forty, and just beginning to think about retirement, almost had me in panic mode. But here is where it is important to stay in control of your emotional world, and know that just because you’re starting late, doesn’t mean that you are destined to be poor in your old age. You have options.

The first thing I did was to come up with a date that I would be debt free. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s important to stay fluid while you go over your numbers. Surprises will come up, and you will be met with setbacks. But finding your debt free date not only gives you a tangible goal to achieve, but also helps to keep you accountable for your progress. For me, I had a few setbacks. I had to buy a new car, and my pay fluctuated a few times when I changed jobs.

But each time a new challenge arose, I met it by reassessing where I was, what my new circumstances were, and adjusted from there. The one thing that kept me on track was staying persistent. And the closer I came to paying down my high interest debt, the closer I’ve come to saving for my retirement. This is one of the main takeaways of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. The less high interest debt you have, the more prepared you will be for saving for your retirement.

So when you’re finished paying interest on top of the money you owe, you’ll be able to save more money, and invest more later on. That’s why it’s so important to pay down your high interest debt first, to free up your capital for your future. So in a way, paying down debt is kind of like investing in your future in that you will be the beneficiary of your hard work, not a credit card company or bank.

I’ve Paid Down My Debt, What Next?

After you’ve paid down your debt, take a deep breath, and appreciate what you’ve just achieved for yourself and your future. This is a huge step in reaching your financial independence. The next step, according to Dave Ramsey, is to set up an emergency fund. This is usually 3 to 6 months pay.

Being in debt for so long, I’m opting for the 6 month fund. Feeling financial secure is important to me, especially if you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for most of your working life as I had. It’s also part of the Ramsey baby steps to have a thousand dollar emergency fund while you’re paying down your debt. Just in case something comes up that you haven’t planned for. It’s not much, but when you’re 95k in debt like I was, and you suddenly get hit with a five hundred dollar medical bill and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, that emergency fund is the difference between talking the hit in your budget somewhere else and feeling secure in knowing you can take care of the small problems that come up along the way. Life happens, best to be prepared when it does.

After your emergency fund is set up, now it’s time to start looking towards investing for your retirement. The usual routes for this is through traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. The difference between the two accounts are, traditional IRAs are taxed when you take your money out as opposed to Roths, where you are taxed when you put your money in.

Roths vs Traditional IRAs
Roths

From what research I’ve done, an important aspect of saving for retirement is the tax advantage you get when you decide to take your money out. If you know you are going to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, for example say you will have a lot of passive income such as rental properties in retirement, something I’ll be going over later in this article, you may want to be taxed when you put your money into the account. Using a Roth IRA, you will have been taxed when you’re rate was lower, saving you money by paying less in taxes.

Traditional

But if you plan on being in a lower income bracket when you retire, a traditional IRA may be the way to go. This way you’re contribution is taxed when you receive your payments. This also has the advantage of letting your money grow tax free and with compounded interest. So you’ll earn more with your investments. Whichever path you choose, it’s best to have a plan for what your life may look like when you start pulling money out in retirement.

Savings Vehicles

How much should we contribute to our funds, once we set them up? Conventional wisdom suggests that we sock away between 15 and 20 percent of our income a year. So depending on what you are making and your savings vehicle, you may have to spread your savings out, because you are only able to contribute so much to a traditional or Roth IRA.

As of 2021, the limits are 6,000$ for each fund and 7,000$ for those over 50 years of age. And with 6,000$ a year, if you start at age 40, that could translate to a little less that 475,000$ by age 65. That is a huge improvement over receiving social security alone. For a more indepth look at how IRAs work, check out this article on investopedia that covers the essentials.

But if 6,000$ is less than 20% of your income, your going to need to find ways to diversify your retirement savings. This could be in funds, such as mutual funds, money market funds, real-estate or physicals. These are only a few options available but worth looking into.

Mutual and Money Market Funds

These types of funds are considered low risk investments. Mutual funds are a group of securities that are managed by investor professionals. They consist of things such as, stocks, bonds and securities. This vehicle is made possible for the individual by pooling together funds from many investors. As I said above, they are considered low risk so they are a great way to pad your retirement if you have more than the maximum IRA contribution to squirrel away.

Money market funds are investments in low risk security funds. So they don’t have the highest percent interest payout, but they are solid supplements to your retirement fund. They are however not backed by the FDIC so it’s best to research funds with a history of promising returns. Slow and steady is the end goal for mutual funds.

Real-Estate

There are a few ways to invest in real-estate. One way is by flipping homes as seen by Chip and Joanna Gains on “Fixer Upper”. But another way, and the one I’ll be talking about is, by buying rental properties. With rental properties, you’re able to purchase a home or apartment building and rent out the units. The idea is to have the rent paid by your tenants, used to pay off the mortgage. Then once you’ve paid for you property in full, the rent becomes income. If you’re able to pay off the mortgage before you collect your IRA, you’ll have a consistent stream of income coming in after you finish with your career.

There is a lot to consider though, when taking on a rental property. You’re responsible for the general maintenance and upkeep of the property. For finding tenants to occupying the building and taking care of any issues that may arise. It can be a large responsibility so it’s worth considering how much time you have to invest in this strategy. But if done right, could definitely be beneficial during your retirement years.

Physicals

What I mean by physicals is, gold, silver, copper or platinum. My father was in the jewelry and coin industry, so this is something I’ve heard a lot about growing up. It can be daunting, looking into investing in something like gold. The average price per ounce of gold, as of this article’s publishing is, around 1,900$ an ounce. With bullion being sold most commonly in ten ounce bars, according to Forbes Adviser, this can end up becoming a costly investment.

Luckily, there are some more accessible ways to invest in gold. Gold coins are one way to squirrel some money away for retirement. The American gold eagle is sold as a half ounce to an ounce, and is sold at market value. This is a great way to put up 1,000$ at a time, while also getting you closer to your retirement goals. It’s also worth noting that if you spend over a thousand in physicals, the purchase is tax exempt. So an ounce of gold is the cheapest way to buy into this market.

Here are only a few options if you’re looking into retirement a little late in the game. It may take some time and planning, but it will literally pay off in and for your future. So don’t panic and don’t give up hope. The way to retirement may seem difficult now. But with some persistence, your efforts will carry you comfortably into your golden years. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Retirement Jar” by aag_photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Living Your Life: School and Career Focused

School and work. These are two subjects I knew absolutely nothing about. This area of my life was in complete disarray, and with zero guidance due to my complete lack of positive role models, any kind, I had quickly made the transition from cute kid in grade school developing normally, to almost a middle school dropout. And there was no shortage of people helping me along the way to achieve as little as possible. In this post I’ll be going over; the experience I had with my education and how I never learned how to find out what my passions are, how I dealt with the lack of role models, how I stumbled along the way, to me finally coming to an understanding of what career means to me and what I’m doing about it now that I’m behind the wheel and steering my life in a direction that works for me. Hopefully if you’ve experienced any of what I have, you’ll at least know you’re not alone and maybe get some helpful pointers along the way. Let’s start at the beginning of my schooling.

I hadn’t realized at the time, but my disinterest in school started soon after the trauma I experienced, which was between second and third grade. I was doing well until third grade, and it was then that I started showing signs of having difficulty learning to read. I had mild dyslexia, confusing bs for ds, and my overall progress slowed. I overcame the mild learning issues in elementary school, but when it came to middle school, I had completely checked out.

I was in a constant state of fear. Everything I had known about feeling safety and belonging with and around others had flown completely out the window. I was nervous and anxious around people almost constantly. I hadn’t developed any social skills in my early teen years and when I hit high school, I was modeling myself after Jim Morrison. I was overcompensating for my fear of connection by being arrogant and aloof like Jim and this is also when I started drinking and smoking cigarettes. My ambition in life was to be seen by others as someone who was cool. That was it. There was no substance or desire for something more, and I had no idea that these things mattered or even existed. My end goal was to be liked.

This makes me sad now to think about it. I was totally cliche in thinking that if I acted a certain way, I would be accepted and liked by others. It was that simple, what I was going through, and I had no idea that I was even going through it. But of course, if you don’t feel accepted by your caregivers, then who is there to tell you that you belong? For me it was just doing whatever felt good at the time, with whomever was around me probably making the same poor choices. I really felt a sense of homelessness, with no sense of belonging or what it means to belong in a healthy sense of the term. I spent most of my time with friends, drinking way too much alcohol and wandering around aimlessly from one good time to the next. I’m surprised I made it out of adulescentes relatively unscathed. But I did, and I managed to pull a life together too in spite of the adversity I encountered along the way. Though at the time I hadn’t realized how lucky I truly was until I had sabotaged myself.

I say I had pulled a life together, but that was in the loose sense of the term. I may have had a place to live, was in a stable relationship and had plans for the future, but I was really just winging it and was still trying to avoid feeling the uncomfortable, and sometimes traumatic emotions of my past. I also had little to no drive or ambition and spent most of my time avoiding living my life by either drinking or playing video games or both. My future plans felt more like stabs in the dark with nothing to back my efforts and I still had no healthy role models or direction to achieve my goals. I was just drifting, the way I had through my teen years. Only older now and with almost nothing to show for the life I had been avoiding living.

But then something shifted for me. My comfortable and somewhat stagnant life was turned upside-down when I thought I had fallen in love with another woman. Looking back now, I realize I had finally felt as though I could feel heard from all that I had been keeping inside. But I was only recognizing that the woman who I thought I fell in love with was really a reflection of how I felt. Like that Justin Timberlake song, “Mirror”. She was my “mirror”, allowing myself to finally feel what I was covering over for so long with alcohol and anger. The small, vulnerable child that was still waiting to be heard. I ended up quitting drinking while I was with the woman I thought I loved and it helped a great deal towards bringing some order to my chaotic emotional world. But this is also where I had sabotaged myself, leaving the life I had, and could have worked on for the image of the life I eventually realized I was outgrowing.

We had split up shortly after we got together, for the best, but I continued on the trajectory of finding greater focus in my life. During the time I had been drifting through life, I had started school for social work, switched to architecture school, then to journalism. I had no idea what to do with any of this schooling, but felt as though I needed to go. While I was getting my life back together, I finished my degree, this time as an English major and the only take away from my college education was how to write a blog 🙂 So I had something to work with.

But even after I finished my undergrad, I was still a drift with no direction for how my future was going to unfold. Still unsatisfied with my employment prospects and jobs, I decided that something needed to change, but again, with no direction or role models, I was in the same place as I was when I was just winging it. So, I did what I knew. For me this was baking, running, yoga, writing this blog and journaling, building up and nurturing my relationships and paying off debt.

This may seem like a bunch of mish-mash items all jumbled together, but what I came to realize was, that while I was cobbling back together the pieces of my life that had been a drift via the above areas, I began to find greater focus in all areas of my life. I’ve been baking professionally for some time now, off and on throughout my working life. I’ve come to enjoy the process of baking. I’m good at it and it’s something that’s been consistent in my life. But I know now that I don’t want that to be the focus of my career.

I have, however, learned how to hone a craft. As I’ve said above, I’m pretty good at baking, which is no surprise considering how long I’ve been doing it for. But I also have been able to recognize how I’ve build my craft, and how it’s changed over the years. I can tell things about dough just by looking at it or touching it, and have a large index of knowledge to work from, in my personal and professional life. But I’ve also come to realize that baking is not my end goal. It’s something I’m grateful I’ve learned, but also something I’ll be able to part with when the time comes.

Running and yoga have helped me to manage my physical self. I’ve gone through some considerable changes, regarding my weight, physical appearance and overall health thanks to these healthy habits. They’ve also taught me something about dedication. About getting out on the road and pounding out those three miles, even when the temperature is in the low nineties and the humidity is high. Or finding your balance when you flow through your vinyasa to down dog and bring your right foot up to high lunge. When you do them consistently, you build more than just physical strength. You’re building resilience in all areas of your life. You have that extra surge of energy that helps you to get up and do the dishes. Or to get moving at 5am before you’ve had your first cup of tea or coffee.

Writing has been essential in finding and maintaining focus for me as well. First with bullet journaling, something I’ve mentioned before on this blog. Journaling has been a way for me to map out and organize what I have in my head, and put it on paper or a screen. This way I can give myself some distance from my thoughts, find out what the steps are that need to be done, curate some order for the tasks and make a plan to do them.

And the same is true for this blog. Through this blog, I’ve come to understand where my interests lie and how they come together to give me a sense of who I’ve become and of who I want to be. The parts of my life, the personal experiences and how they’ve come to shape the ways I see things and who I’m becoming, has given me some focus and direction as to where I want to put my efforts and energies. Environmental issues and helping those that have been in similar situations as myself being a few of my passions that are on my list.

Building and nurturing my close relationships has given me a great deal of perspective on how I want to be living my life. Before, relationships were something to be feared. I was persistently unaware of where I stood in my relationships with others. Always keeping them at a distance or numbing my feelings so I wouldn’t feel the pain of being rejected by them. Something I was all too familiar with growing up.

Now, relationships are sources of comfort, strength and happiness for me. I feel more secure in relationship now, and now that I know that it’s possible to make the shift from numb and alone, to supported and loved, I want to help others find their path to their connectedness. When I was going to school for social work, I also worked at a residential program for at risk adolescence. This was difficult work, but it also gave me the opportunity to help others whom were in a similar situation as I was.

I’ve recently picked up a second job at a family shelter, that has elements that reminds me of the adolescence residential, but with much less unchecked emotions. This has given me a chance to help pay down some student loans, but also to realign myself with the types of work I want to be doing. Helping people bring their lives back together after what seems like such a hopeless situation, that of being homeless. It’s in these moments, of not so much being the change, but being a part of the support that helps them to change their situation, that makes me feel like I’m helping, by being a part of it.

Paying down student loans has been a huge source of inspiration for me in finding my focus as well. I started out paying down credit cards, but eventually moved on to the largest one, student loans. I took out loans during the height of the lending frenzy that was happening. I was taking out loans for cash I didn’t need, to buy things I really didn’t need. And again, this was a place I had no role modeling to show me how to manage money first of all, and second to show me how to responsibly take out loans to pay for my education. I was racking up credit card debt at the same time I was taking out student loans. Looking back, it’s crazy to think of the financial mess I was creating in my life!

But once I was on the trajectory to change my life for the better, debt also became an area of focus for me. Paying off my debt has shown me, first and most importantly, how to budget, but secondly also how to live inside of a budget. When I was living on borrowed money I had no restraint. I bought and did whatever I felt like, when the mood struck.

Now that I’m learning how to put my financial house in order, I’m understanding the importance of planning for the future, in planning for retirement, planning for down time, like vacations or hobbies, and how caring for my financial situation is in a way, caring for my needs.

I’ve also learned how NOT to take out debt. So when the time comes around for me to pursue a master’s in social work, I’ll be aware of how I budget and manage my money, and make a plan that won’t end up with me being tens of thousands of dollars in debt. My time is now more valuable to me than picking up a second job to pay back the money I was borrowing unsustainably in my youth. I know I won’t be going blindly down that road again.

These are the areas of my life that helped to give me the direction I needed to learn how to move forward with and in my life. Each element had its own piece of wisdom to impart. With baking, it was how to recognize when I’m growing in something, or what it looks like to be good at something while still learning from others along the way. With running and yoga, I was learning how to stay dedicated to a practice, but also enjoy that practice in the process. Enjoy the work. With writing, I was learning how to organize my time and thoughts, and also how to convey them in a way that makes sense to myself and others. And also my love for the natural world and my growing concern for the environment. Also to help process and put a structure to my story. In my relationships in that I want to grow along with and nurture these places and people in my life. But also in recognizing that you can make the switch from feeling hurt and alone to loved and supported. And with paying back my student loans in showing me how to budget for the future in a practical sense of the term.

It was when all these areas came together, that I was able to see how the different aspects of my personality made sense to me in the bigger picture. And it wasn’t easy, but what I found out was, that I care about the neglected areas. I like seeing things be brought back to life after struggle, abuse and neglect. We all go through it to some extent. Some of us more so than others, but we all come to our own understanding of what it means to have different aspects of our life feel neglected, without focus. Sometimes what we really need to do is take a step back and look at the different aspects in your life, to find out what makes you tick, and give yourself some much needed direction. That’s where my work lay. In heling others find that path.

I see it often too. So many of those close into me have been neglected to the point of not even knowing where to begin. And this is a difficult place to be. I feel that everybody deserves the right to feel a passion, to do and be connected to work that is greater than them. It doesn’t have to be larger than life. Just enough to feel like you’re making a difference. That’s what this blog is about, and hopefully soon, what the focus of my career will be.

So I’m here to tell you, if you’ve found yourself in a place where you are lacking in direction, don’t give up hope! Take a look at the things you’ve been doing, listening to, or watching. What have you been interested in lately. If you’re lucky, you may realize that you’ve been leaving yourself clues all along in the direction of your passions. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Commute” by JanneM is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What Happens When You Don’t Know How To Live Your Own Life: Five Areas That Need Our Attention; 1 Budgeting

I have been thinking about mending things with my caregivers recently and in an attempt to understand the scope of what was troubling me with our relationship while I was growing up and beyond, I went over the areas in my life that I feel have been neglected by; first my caregivers, and then by me. It was this realization, that I had been carrying the legacy of neglect on for far too long, that brought me to the point of wanting to reconcile. I was floored.

The amount of neglect I endured is somewhat staggering. As I tried to organize the areas of my life that were either neglected or I just didn’t know needed attention, I felt a sense of taking charge of my life. There are many places that need tending to, to be sure, but organizing these areas feels somehow like a foothold in what seems like a mass of an insurmountable pile of, for lack of a better term, a life that needs to be lived. And what makes me even more optimistic, is that I’ve already begun the work. A lot of which has been written in the pages of this blog.

In the next few posts, I’ll be going over the areas of focus I’ve been attending to in my life as a form of reparenting what was never taught to me, or what I was too angry or disconnected to want to learn. The areas I’ll be going over will be; budgeting and finance, nutrition and health/exercise, school and career focus, healthy relationships romantic and friendships, and self-care. I’ll be covering each topic in a separate post, and how they are integral to helping us move past the wrongs done to us in our pasts. By being better versions of ourselves, we can learn to forgive and heal from the wrongs done to us so we can move on with our lives. Let’s start with budgeting and finance.

I’ve spoke about Dave Ramsey before on this blog. He’s a financier who made a bunch of money buying property and then went bankrupt when the housing market crashed in the late 2000’s. He helps people get out of debt, and that was definitely something I had found myself in. I had taken out a bunch of credit cards in my early twenties, just to have credit! I didn’t have a plan for the money I was borrowing, I just kept on borrowing until I maxed out all my cards. It was not a healthy place to be.

It took me almost a decade to pay back the debt I ran up. I don’t even like to think about the amount of interest I paid on what I owed. But what was most concerning about what I was doing was, I was borrowing money because it’s what was modeled for me. I watched my caregivers shop endlessly for stuff they didn’t need, so I did what they did. And ran up a sizable bill doing so. I just didn’t know any better. This is the sad truth.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I took out student loans at the height of the student loan lending frenzy! Not to mention I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree once I got it. I was just getting it to get it. So by the time I was in my early thirties, I was close to a hundred k in debt and with nothing to show for it. This was sobering.

Here was the point where I made the decision to dig myself out of the hole I had dug. It was not easy. This also was the place where I found Dave Ramsey and began my debt free journey.

I began with a written budget. This was kind of a shock. Mostly because I had no idea where my money was going. I think the biggest surprise was finding out that I was regularly spending upwards to six hundred dollars a month on food! And that was just for one person! Things definitely needed to change and they needed changing fast.

I started with all the sectors of my personal spending. Areas such as rent, food and phone were no brainers. But other areas too such as; self care, gifts and donations, food and friends, areas that have gone neglected in my life for far too long. I was finally shedding some light on these places that so needed my love and attention. This is how I found out how much I was spending and on what and where. I realized I needed to set more structured boundaries around my financial life.

While I was setting my budget, I also realized I had watched one of my caregivers faithfully going over the spending for the household, sitting at the kitchen table. This was a ritual they did often, though sadly, one they never passed on to me. I realized that these were some of the missed teachable moments that I just never received. These were the lessons that my caregivers should have been pulling me aside to teach me while they were doing them. And I realized this is how we pass on the knowledge of what we know to those who are in our care.

And I was sad. This was no easy realization. I had spent so much of my time seeking approval from just about anywhere, but mostly my caregivers, by doing irresponsible things, that when I stopped to realize what I was missing out on, in short, the basic skills I would need to run my life, I realized I had missed out on the building blocks of what it means to be family. I was missing the most fundamental experiences of being part of something loving and functional.

So it wasn’t only the life skill I was missing out on, but the parts of what it means to be a family. What it means to take care of one another. The difference between caretaking and caregiving. The first being a way to do for someone, instead of showing someone how to do for themselves. I would later find out that none of my caregivers had racked up debt in the same way I had. They had been very disciplined in regards to their spending habits.

This made my journey sting a little bit more. Had I known what my caregivers had known, I would have been in a far better financial situation. But lessons learned the hard way tend to stick better. I’ve learned how to manage and pay down large sums of debt. How to build an emergency fund for unforseen circumstances. But also, and most importantly, how to be consistent in my spending and saving habits. By keeping track of what I’ve spent, and setting a specific amount for each monthly cycle. This allows me to set financial goals, such as paying off my credit card debt, and achieve them in a time frame I’ve set for myself.

There were some setbacks for me along the way, but I was still able to achieve my goal over the course of the time I planned for myself. This gave me the feeling of agency over my financial situation. Knowing I could make a plan and follow through felt strange but satisfying. Strange in that this was something that was so foreign to me because, well because no one ever followed through with anything they ever showed me.

I was left to my own devices by the time I was nine years old. Direction, goal setting and being shown how to be persistent were not values and skills I was taught how to pursue. But by the same set of circumstances, it made me being able to set these goals for myself, the learning how to pay down a large sum of debt and following through to completion, on my own, so much more gratifying. It feels as though I really earned what I had taught myself, lending even more to my sense of accomplishment.

The way I got there was fairly straightforward. As I said above, I followed Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps to help me pay down my debt. I’m currently still paying off student loan debt, but am on track to finish with my loans just inside of two years. For a link to Dave Ramsey’s site, head on over to my Community Page.

The plan was to pay off my credit cards one at a time, starting with the card that had the lowest balance first, then working my way up to the largest. I could then take the minimum payments from the cards I had paid off, and apply them to the next card. The result being a snowball effect, due to with each card paid off, I would then have the minimum payment from the previous card to put towards my debt. It was satisfying to not only watch my debt reduce, but at the same time, watch the amount of money I was freeing up to pay off my debt, increase dramatically.

By the time I paid of my credit cards and was on to my student loans, I was putting a sizeable amount of money towards it each pay period. And this was heartening, because this was the amount of money that I will be later saving and putting towards other financial goals. Instead of paying off a creditor that has already leveraged an unreasonable amount of interest from my financial unknowing.

After my debt is paid down, the next step is to create an emergency fund of at least six month’s expenses. Dave suggests between three and six months expenses, but I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for far too long. There were many a time where I was uncertain if I was going to make rent. I’ve been very lucky in that regard, and I don’t want to tempt fate by being underprepared. I have a friend who is going a full year’s worth of expenses. When it comes to being financially stable, go with what feels right.

This will look a little different for everybody. For me it’s six months, my friend twelve. The most important aspect of setting an emergency fund is how comfortable are you with the number you’ve decided on. Don’t do it just because someone else told you you should, or because someone told you this was the best way to go about it. Do it because it makes you feel comfortable with your financial situation.

And if you’re with a partner trying to hash out a number, make sure you both agree at the end of the talk, which number feels right for the both of you. This is how we begin to open those lines of communication and start to feel more connected with one another. This is precisely where a younger me would have wanted to jump into the conversation about finding the place that makes you feel safest in your financial situation. To know how to best care for and attune to this need.

When I was married, there was not a lot of communication, and especially around money. I think we were both coming from inexperienced places. I know I was. I came from the understanding that no one ever talked about money, ever. This was unhealthy and one of the reasons I had no idea what to do when it came time for me to take the reigns of my own financial life. My ex was, I think in the same boat as I was, only I don’t know because we never talked about it. This should have been a warning sign to me. But I was in a place of numb and muted emotions, trying just to survive the day to day. Any ideas of planning for the future seemed so far off it may well have been in another life’s time. But the lessons I’ve learned from this situation was, talk early on, and talk often.

And once you’re finished setting up your emergency fund, it’s time to start saving for your future. This comes in the form of some type of retirement fund. Conventional wisdom suggests to open a Roth IRA. This is an individual retirement account, where the money you put in gets taxed when you put it into the account. So when you are ready to make withdrawals, the money you take out is tax free. There is a cap you can put into a Roth IRA, and that’s 6,000$ a year and up to 7,000$ a year after you’re 50th birthday.

Of course, each individual’s situation is going to be different. So it’s best to find an advisor that can guide you through the process of planning for your retirement. This is definitely not the time and place to wing it! This brings up another lesson that was not taught to me when I was younger, which has gotten me in trouble time and time again. If you don’t know something, ask someone who does.

This seems like such a no brainer, but the amount of time I’ve spent making poor decisions because I thought I’d look either weak or stupid if I asked for help makes me a little uneasy to think about now. So incase you haven’t heard it before, or was in the same boat I was, let me tell you, it’s okay not to know. Find the people who do know, and make them a part of your support network. And don’t be afraid to ask around either. I have a friend who works in the financial industry, and they were able to steer me in the direction of someone who could explain to me what it would take, and look like to take hold of my financial future. If it wasn’t for them, I’m sure I would have found someone, but I feel more connected and sure about the choice I made knowing that I’ve been aided in my search by a trusted friend.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, after you hammer out all the basics of how you are going to survive, paying off the debt, building an emergency fund and saving for retirement, then you can actually enjoy your money in the here and now. It’s sometimes strange for me to think about. A time after my debt, because I’ve been in debt for so long. But the entire reason we’re working to pay off our debt and plan for the future is because we want a future worth planning for.

For me, I’ve been living as barebones as possible while I’m paying off my debt. I don’t buy too many things just for myself unless I need them. For example, I think the things I’ve bought for myself most recently have been iced teas in the mornings where I need an extra boost of energy and a pair of running shoes I desperately needed. Asides from those things, I’ve been funneling all available funds to my debt.

I’ve been living like this for so long that it seems just the norm to not splurge on anything other than a coffee here and there or a new pair of shoes. And this can get a little depressing, I won’t lie to you. But I have started a list of things I want when I no longer have debt. This list, in and of itself is something of a motivator for me. Looking at all the things I’ll be able to indulge in when I’m financially stable enough not to worry is something I’m looking forward to considerably.

For example, on my list are a variety of teas I enjoy from a seller who has an exceptional variety. Knowing I’ll be looking forward to my morning cup of jasmine green tea will be so much sweeter when it’s brewed from a tea I know I love.

I also plan on buying spices from an organic spice company I have used in the past and love their product. Their quality is excellent and knowing that I’ll have a freshly rotated stock of all the spices I use brings me a sense of joy. Knowing my meals will be that much more flavorful is another motivator to help me achieve my financial goals.

I’m also planning a trip to celebrate my debt free journey, to take some much needed rest after my marathon race to finish my goals. And I will feel so much more at ease knowing I’m not living on borrowed money. Knowing I’ve taken the time to take care of my financial needs and will be able to enjoy the benefits that come with a well planned for financial future.

So if you’ve left the financial sector of your life neglected for far too long, maybe it’s time to take another look at where you are, and where you’re headed. Creating some much needed boundaries around spending can be an eye opening and fruitful experience. If this is your first thought on the subject, I definitely suggest talking with someone who can guide you on a successful path towards your financial future.

And if you, like me, have found yourself in the depths of what seems like an unfathomable amount of debt, it is never too late to start digging yourself out. As I’ve said above, head over to my Community Page and take a look at the work Dave Ramsey is doing with helping to get people out of debt. Also Mint, another site on the Community Page, is a powerful tool in helping to get control over your spending and finances. Check out community sites such as Reddit, personal finance. There are loads of people with questions that are crowdsourcing answers from people who have been there before. And remember, you’re not alone. It is difficult and scary at times, looking at the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. But it is totally possible and doable to get ourselves out. Good luck, and peace, thanks for reading : )

Image credits: “I’m So Confused!” by Ian Sane is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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