Reflections on One Year of Debt Freedom

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Life has been so busy that last week when my one year anniversary of debt freedom came, it also went pretty damn quick. I blinked and poof! It had passed me by.

Still, June 5th 2015 was one of the most important days of my life.  Even though I’m eleven days late, I do want to take some time to reflect on the past year of living debt free, and what debt freedom has meant in my life.

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Why Financial Literacy Will Always Matter

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The following blog post is part of The Road to Financial Wellness blog tour. The Road to Financial Wellness is a three-month, grassroots campaign promoting financial empowerment on a national level and encourages people to pursue their dream lifestyle. Find out more about local events near you.

Yesterday was my last day at my nonprofit job. Today is officially the start of my freelance journey (and also my two weeks ‘off’, though I’ve somehow managed to fill up a lot of my free time.) I’m going after my dream, and it feels wonderful.

This new phase has got me thinking, of course, about the next chapter in my financial life. Freelancing is a whole new ballgame, and there’s a lot I need to adjust to. I’m excited for the challenge, but make no mistake: it will be a chalenge. It’s made me realize that financial literacy will always matter. No matter what stage of life you’re at, financial literacy will always be important.

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The Privilege I Have Despite Being Broke

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Privilege is a funny word. It gets thrown around a lot these days but few people I’ve met seem to really understand what it means.

People seem to think privilege means ‘no problems ever!’ when in reality it means that you simply started out in a better place than some other people. It means certain oppressions and constrictions don’t apply to you.

So it’s possible to poor and still have something like white privilege. I’ve heard the word tossed around our blogopshere a few times, but it seems there’s a certain resistence to exploring it. Well, today I’m taking it there. Today I want to talk about the privilege I have despite being pretty broke.

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An Attempt at My Dream

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I’m a woman of many dreams. I spend a lot of my time thinking about all the things I want to do, the places I want to see, the people I want to meet. (Oprah, top of the list.) Possibility is like a drug to me. In so many ways, my life is full of possibility.

I’m swimming in a lot of different privileges, which afford me chances most of the world will never get. The door is open to a lot of things, but it takes hard work and dedication to get through the door.

Well, here’s the big reveal y’all: I put in my month’s notice at my non profit. I’ve taken a few freelance projects on. I’m planning a huge project for this fall that could easily be a total disaster. I am making my attempt at my dream. 

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Guest Post: How to Travel Without Going Broke

Y’all. I am SO BEHIND. I was supposed to have this post up weeks ago. I mean, weeks ago. Thankfully my friend Matt is a patient gem of a man.

In light of my last post about taking a frugal road trip (which was great! See photo evidence of greatness here) it’s actually kind of perfect that I’m so behind schedule.

Matt is a world traveler from Australia who has perfected the art of budget travel. He’s been all over the world and has wonderful advice for how you can travel on the cheap too. So without any further ado or waiting, here is Matt’s advice on how to make a travel budget.

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A Weekend of Frugal Travel

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Today is my last work day of the week! I’m headed out to a camping, hiking and star gazing bonanza this weekend at Big Bend National Park. My boyfriend and I are taking a mini vacation and checking this park off our list. (It’s a dream of mine to visit all the US National Parks!) Big Bend is far away, even from Austin. #ninehourdrive I know if I don’t go now I will never make it!

Travel is a priority for me, but I can’t do it at the expense of my budget. You’ll never hear my tell someone to quit their job, travel the world, and figure it out later. That’s pretty terrible advice.

I’m also taking another trip in May, a two week trip in August and traveling for a month in the fall, and I spent five days in Jackson Hole in March. How does someone living on less than 4oK a year make travel happen so often?

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FIRE Advice for Noobs: The Resume Gap

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I’ve got another great post in this series today everyone! Matt from The Resume Gap is here today to share his journey to FIRE.

To new readers: this is an interview series with people are close to or have already achieved FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early). It’s a goal of my own, but I’m just beginning on the road. So I look to those who have already gotten there for guidance and advice!

Matt is newly retired at the tender age of 28. (My age!) He and his partner Daniel are gearing up for some amazing long term travel, including skiing their way across the US and Canada, and renting a lakeside apartment in Guatemala. #dreams

I asked Matt to share how he reached FIRE so quickly. His story is inspiring and he gives practical advice. I’m super excited to share this post, and I can’t wait to follow his travels!

What can you tell us about your FIRE journey?

Hey Kara! Thanks for inviting me to participate. This past January, my partner Daniel and I quit our jobs, moved out of our apartment, and sold most of our possessions. For the next couple years (at least – hopefully much longer), we’re planning to travel around the U.S. and the world – visiting friends and family, exploring nature, and seeing all kinds of historical sites and attractions along the way.

I hadn’t even heard of FIRE until two or three years ago, but I’ve known since I was pretty young that I didn’t want to follow a traditional career path. I got focused on my finances and started saving aggressively at age 21, when I started my first full-time job. I didn’t hate the work I was doing (in fact, I really enjoyed a lot of it), but I did hate the lack of freedom and flexibility. That’s what motivated me to save money and pursue financial independence.

When will you reach FIRE?

Using the 4% rule of thumb for a safe withdrawal rate, I hit FI at age 27. I quit my full-time job at 28, though I don’t really think of myself as “retired.” I still have a few active side hustles, and I imagine that my future could include many types of work – whether it’s a new entrepreneurial venture or a part-time job for fun (gigs like working at a brewery or a ski lodge sound particularly appealing). That said, I don’t expect that I’ll be looking for a traditional 9-5 office job any time in the foreseeable future.

How did you get involved in this world?

I’ve been reading personal finance blogs for years as a way to stay focused and inspired about saving and living frugally. I started blogging late last year because we love meeting new people and hope to make new friends around the world.

Will you have any streams of income in FIRE or solely just your savings?

I’m planning on three sources of cash flow: The majority will come from investments (mostly stocks, some bonds and other assets). I’m also renting my condo full-time as a vacation unit, which will produce some passive income. Finally, I’m planning to do some occasional consulting work on the side. Ideally, that will keep my withdrawal rate low and allow me to grow my investments over time, even without a full-time job.

What is the single most important step someone looking to reach FIRE can take?

Envision your financially independent future and commit to it being a priority in your life. When most people stumble upon the idea of FIRE for the first time, they want it immediately. I know I sure did! Unfortunately, reaching financial independence usually takes years even for the most aggressive savers. Pursuing FIRE requires sacrifices. It usually means fewer luxuries, fewer splurges, and a lot more self-control. You may have to say “no” to expensive people and activities. If you’re not committed to the vision of your future, it’s tough to stay on track.

What is the first step you recommend people take? 

Track your income and expenses. It’s almost impossible to know how long it will take to reach FIRE or where you have room for improvements if you don’t know exactly where your money goes every month. Once you know how you’re spending your money, attack every line item. How can I save money on my housing expenses? How can I save money on my transportation expenses? How can I cut back on my entertainment expenses? Income is on the table, too: How can I earn more in my current job? How can I make extra income on the side? I still go through this exercise every month to monitor how I’m doing financially and improve continually.

Where do you keep your investments and how did you choose?

Most of my investments are in broad market ETFs, including VTI, VT, and BND. I’m a fan of Vanguard, mostly because of their exceptionally low management fees. My asset allocation is stock-heavy, which I think is yet another benefit of FIRE. If I were 65 years old, I wouldn’t feel comfortable allocating 80%+ of my portfolio to stocks – my time horizon would be too short, and my alternatives (like going back to work) would be limited. As a young “retiree,” though, I can afford to be more aggressive. If the market crashes, I have plenty of options available – whether it’s moving to a lower-cost place (domestically or internationally), working a real job for a while, or expanding my side hustle business.

What kind of investing should newbies be looking into or do you personally recommend?

Keep it simple. Pick an asset allocation (three or four ETFs or mutual funds, at most) and stick to it. Don’t try to beat the market. Amateur investors often spend hours trying to figure out how to earn a marginally higher investment return when they could be getting ten times the value from learning a new skill, building a new source of side income, or finding new ways to reduce their expenses.

What is your annual savings rate?

Over the course of my seven-year career (that sounds funny, doesn’t it?), my savings rate was 70%.

I’m a low income earner, at 35K a year. How would you approach FIRE on that income? 

On the spending side, I would approach it exactly the same way: track every expense and work to reduce spending on things that aren’t important to you. Personally, I would have reached FIRE eventually on a $35k income – just with a longer time horizon.

On the income side, even a modest increase (say, to $45k per year) could have an enormous impact on your progress – potentially cutting your time to FIRE in half. I would consider alternative career paths (taking into account my satisfaction level with my current work) and start looking into side hustle opportunities.

How did you calculate your FIRE money needs? Which tools are best to do so?

For people just getting started, understanding your expenses and applying the 4% rule is all you need to get a good idea of your target. As you get closer to pulling the plug, you can play with the sensitivities and run more scenario analyses. For that, I like cFIREsim, FIRECalc, and Personal Capital’s Retirement Planner.

How do you deal with market dips that take away big chunks of your savings?

Frankly, I don’t know for sure. I’ve accumulated the majority of my savings over the past five or six years, during which we’ve seen steady growth and no major declines in the stock market. That said, I have a plan for what I will do: close my laptop, go outside, and not make any rash decisions.

Do you have a back-up plan? 

I definitely wouldn’t have taken this leap of faith if I didn’t feel like I had many back-up options in place.

One of the benefits of achieving FIRE relatively young is that I can always go back to work – much more easily than someone retiring at 55 or 60. I could also reduce my spending substantially or even sell my rental property. It takes willpower and flexibility to reach FIRE, and I think those are the same traits that will get me through any unexpected turn of events.

What money tips would you tell your 27 year old self? 

Keep saving – FIRE is even better than you imagine it!

Hop over to The Resume Gap to learn more about Matt, Daniel and their adventures!

Design, Purpose, and Communication

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Happy Tuesday afternoon everyone! I’m holed up at a coffee shop, coming from a meeting for my non profit, heading to catering in an hour. It’s just another day of being stressed, and feeling resentful of my jobs.

I’m closer every day to freelancing, but there’s a lot of time in between then and now, and I’m trying to see that time as an opportunity.

I’ve never been good at living in the moment, and it’s really been on the back burner for the last year and a half. Freelancing will be a welcome change of pace, but it’s not a magical solution to all my problems. So I’m working on structuring my current life with more purpose and design. I want to carry that mindset into freelancing, not try and develop it while trying to get that career going.

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Why Ambition is One of My Favorite Words

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I’ve always been a person who was comfortable with ambition. The first job I ever wanted? President of the United States. (I still think I’d be better at it than Donald Trump.)

Lately, I’ve been talking with a lot of inspirational and hard working women. As I try my best to prepare myself for the move into freelance in a few months, I’m seeking out advice from those who have gone before me.

Melanie from Dear Debt was so kind to take time from her schedule last week to speak with me, and yesterday I chatted up Erin from Journey to Savings, Kayla from Shoeaholic No More, and Chonce from My Debt Epiphany. All three badass freelance ladies, all three killing it in different ways. All three of them have also stoked the fires of my ambition.

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