Money After Graduation Reader Survey

Blogging can often feel like a one-sided interaction, but I’d like to hear more from my readers. Inspired by L Bee & The Money Tree‘s reader survey, I’ve created a super-short survey for YOU. Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 7.21.40 PM

Please click here to answer 3 questions about your Money After Graduation reader experience!

Thank you =)

More Productivity Porn For Get-S@#$-Done Junkies

My last productivity post — 6 Productivity Hacks That Will Change The Way You Do Everything — was such a hit, I know you guys are looking for more solutions to organize your busy lives. Previously I shared productivity tips from the book How To Be A Productivity Ninja by Graham Alcott, but today I’m sharing my favorite apps that I use every day to keep my personal, blog, and work checklists flowing.

 Productivity Apps & Tools To Get Shit Done

Pen & Paper – Surely you didn’t think we’d start off high-tech right from the get-go. I mentioned in my How To Negotiate Your Salary post that the most valuable thing you can do is carry around a small notebook in which you write EVERYTHING. So much of my day-to-day to-dos are completed within a few hours, and therefore do not need to be kept in any formal record. I simply write them down and then cross them off as they’re completed. Why do I bother? Mainly because I have the memory of a goldfish and probably wouldn’t accomplish anything at all if I didn’t write it down, but also because having a running notebook adds structure to my day and provides a tangible gauge of my productivity.

imgresEvernote – I forgot about Evernote when Pinterest came into my life and everything I previously “clipped to Evernote” became “Pinned to Pinterest”. However, now that I’m juggling multiple professional, academic, and personal projects, I find Evernote the most useful tool in my productivity arsenal. I use Evernote as a catchall for ideas and references I want to come back to later. I find it infinitely more useful than Pinterest because of its tags — I know Pinterest has implemented tags, but not nearly as well as Evernote. I love the sync from my desktop app to the web browser to the iPhone app, which means anything I put in Evernote is accessible to me wherever I am. This is like a virtual junkbox, except meticulously organized.

todoist_logoToDoistToDoist is my favorite to-do app (and I’ve tried more than I care to count!), mostly because I love the web interface so much. I use the app regularly on my phone but more often than not, I check in on my browser to see what needs doing in the coming days and weeks. ToDoist is optimized by its simplicity: it’s easy to divide tasks under different project buckets, rescheduling to tomorrow or next week takes a single click, etc. The premium version has even more features, including being able to attach files to your tasks and add tags, but so far I’ve found the free version meets my needs.

pocket-logoPocket – Try to clip all the articles you mean to read later to Evernote and you’ll lose the productivity of the app the same way you would hiding your to-do list in a stack of magazines. Pocket, however, is the perfect “read-later” app that extends beyond RSS feeds for your regular subscriptions. I installed the Pocket button on my Google browser and now whenever I come across something interesting like an article or twitter that someone has shared via twitter or on their blog but I don’t have the time to read it in-depth or want to revisit it later, I put it in Pocket. Pocket holds my to-read list in a beautiful interface, and also permits the use of tags so I can readily find groupings I’ve set up — this is particularly useful when researching for blog posts or school: I can collect a bunch of articles, tag them, and then read later. There are few things I love more on weekend mornings than a big cup of coffee and browsing Pocket.

UFYH152px1UFYH – I’ve been a long-time fan of Unfuck Your Habitat and my affection for the tumblr and the app shows no sign of waning. The app is super simple, but that’s all you need. In addition to being able to create your own to-clean lists, the app provides Random Unfucking Challenges (as well as motivation!) and a 20/10 timer built in (you clean for 20 minutes then rest for 10 minutes). My favorite thing about UFYH is still looking at peoples Before & After pictures on the tumblr, but the app is certainly effective for keeping my house from descending into disarray!

 

Any productivity apps you utilize on a daily basis? What helps keep you organized and motivated to conquer your to-do list?

Setting Financial Goals & Making a Plan (simple spreadsheet included!)

Setting reasonable goals is an important part of financial planning. However, many people struggle with determining what constitutes as “reasonable” and end up with stupid goals instead. We all have a tendency to dream big without actually planning or executing big, but there’s a way to stop setting yourself up for failure. I find shorter timelines are the answer to making and achieving goals. A short timeline necessitates a reasonable goal as well as provides a sense of urgency.

Below is a chart I regularly use in my own financial goal setting:

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Because I’m often managing multiple goals, I like to track them in one place so I know how much reaching for all of them will cost me — otherwise it’s so easy to think “I’m only saving $50 for this per month!” but if you’re doing it for 6 different goals you might end up feeling financially strapped.

Want the table for yourself?

I made the table using NUMBERS for Mac, but wordpress is currently not letting me upload the document. However…

Click here to download the EXCEL version!

Now I’ll walk you through it. The first thing you want to do is put in what you’re saving for, the interest/return rate on that account, what you currently have saved (it’s ok to set to $0!), and how much you plan to contribute per month.

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From my example you can see I’m starting with $6,000 and plan to save $604 per month (note: not real numbers!). The table will auto-populate with the data changes based on your inputs, but we’ll revisit that in a sec. The next step is to set your goals for each account by inputing them at the bottom of the table:

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Now the table might be doing wonky things based on how I’ve manipulated the formulas in each cell. Here’s what’s happening:

If you’re not saving enough each month for one of your goals, the “gap” cell will turn red and display the amount you’re short of this goal. In this example, I set the monthly saving of the Emergency fund to $80 a month, and now there’s a $25 gap between my goal and the amount I will actually finish with at the end of 24 months:

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$80/mo is not enough to save in order to meet my goal of having $3,000 in my emergency fund at the end of two years, so let’s say I increase my savings rate to $82/mo by changing the monthly contribution at the top of the table:

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Two things happen as a result: the number in the Gap row is now green, indicating that I’ve over-saved by $23 and some of the cells in that column have turned green:

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From the green-colored cells I can see that I’ll have met my goal. Always nice to be ahead of schedule instead of behind!

If I want to use this table for tracking my savings as well as planning, I edit the values in the appropriate cell at the end of each month. For example, when I click on the cell for January, the formula is as follows:

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But if I actually had $1,100 in that account instead of the $1,083 the table predicted, I will change that and enter my value:

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The rest of the table will auto-populate with the new calculated values:

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This way, you can go in to the table at the end of every month and enter in your new value and it will update the rest of the cells accordingly, and you’ll be able to see right away if you’re on track, behind or ahead of schedule — and you can adjust your monthly contribution accordingly.

Happy Saving!

Your ability to be frugal is limited, your earning potential is not

When you’re in the thick of organizing your finances or vanquishing debt, one of your main focuses will be cutting costs. The more you eliminate from your spending, the more money you will have leftover to achieve your financial goals. Many personal finance blogs (mine included!) offer useful tips on negotiating for lower interest rates on debts, eliminating unnecessary spending, and generally living a more frugal life. But there is a limit to how frugal you can become.

With the exception of taking on a major lifestyle change and choosing to live off-the-grid, chances are you have some basic expenses you can’t get rid of: food, shelter, cellphone, etc. While you may have succeeded in getting these costs as low as possible, it’s unlikely you’ve managed to eliminate them entirely you. Whether you like it or not, it simply costs money to live. Period.

I like reading articles about families that have made a salary of $30,000 stretch to raise their six-children without resorting to dumpster diving, but I do so only to marvel the way I would at an oddity or magic trick — I never think or wish to do that for myself. Why?

Being frugal 24/7 sucks. 

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You the day before you implement your new no-fun budget

It’s good to know what your bottom line is, but not so that you can live there. The bad thing about your bottom line is once you’re living at it, you can’t go any further down. If you’ve trimmed all the fat from your budget, there’s nothing left to cut if you suddenly find you need an extra $100 or $1,000. Sure, you have an emergency fund, but that’s not the same as having flexibility in your disposable income. Once you’ve cut what you can from your budget, your immediate focus should be on how to get more money. A little bit more money, a lot more money, whatever. Just get more.

Your ability to cut costs is limited, but your earning potential is unlimited.

There’s nothing stopping you from bringing in extra money, except maybe an idea of how to do so, but that’s a small barrier to overcome. Whether it’s earning an extra $100 or $10,000 per month, increasing your income is worth far more in the long run than cutting your budget is.

How do you get more money?

Like your earning potential, the possibilities are limitless. If you’re stuck, start small with some easy you can implement immediately such as:

  • selling items on Kijiji or eBay
  • finding odd jobs on Kijiji or Craigslist (everything from helping people clean out their garage to working gates at music festivals, there is someone out there just looking for general labor)
  • providing tutoring in music, language, or academic subject you’re proficient in
  • cleaning homes
  • babysitting children or pets
  • selling creative work such as paintings or handmade jewelry

If you have more resources or have identified a unique market, you might be able to set up a small business. You don’t need to invent a cool gadget or build a multi-million dollar business to be an entrepreneur, even a small operation that brings in a few extra thousand per year still counts. From hauling junk to freelance writing, there are opportunities everywhere.

The important thing is that you don’t wait to start making more money. Start right now. 

Finally, one of the easiest ways to earn more money is to target where you’re currently getting most of your current income: your day job. If you’re an hourly employee (like I am as an intern!), inquire about working more hours. Even 1 extra hour per week can add over $100 to your monthly income — that’s $1,200 per year! Staying a bit late on Wednesdays doesn’t look so bad now does it? If you’re not hourly, now might be a good time to negotiate for a higher salary. Nothing pays off more than a conversation that nets you a higher gross income.

Often when people are looking for ways to pay down debt or save for a major goal, like a down-payment on a home, they seem to be way too focused on cutting costs and living on as small as budget as possible. While initially effective, once you’ve cut all the costs you can you’re left with nothing more to do other than entertain whatever level of deprivation you’ve accepted until your goal is met. Instead, you should focus on cutting costs AND increasing your income as much as possible.

What creative ways have you found to increase your income? What inspired you to find another source of money?

My $1,000 Optometrist Appointment

I went for my regular 2-year eye check-up last week. I updated my prescription for my contact lenses recently, but I haven’t changed the one in my eyeglasses for nearly 4 years. Sadly, my vision continues to get incrementally worse each year which means that for the past 6 months or so I’ve been squinting to see things at a distance through my glasses. This has been annoying for quite some time, but only recently did it reach the point where I thought, “Ok, I can’t see”.

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I booked an appointment with a new optometrist, and in my exam she informed me I have super dry eyes and am spending too much time on the computer (she asked me how often I take breaks from staring at screens and I responded, “you’re supposed to take breaks??”). I walked out with a new eyeglasses prescription, plus a second prescription for eye drops, a bottle of fish oil supplements, and strict instructions to take breaks from screens every hour, plus I have to wear my glasses for 2 weeks while I use the eyedrops 4x per day. Eek!

I never scrimp when it comes to spending on my health, but even I was surprised by the bill for this visit. Apparently eye exams costs $130 now — I had been thinking they were still $70-$90 for some reason. My prescription eye drops were $70 and the fish oil supplements were another nearly $30. My graduate student health plan reimbursed me $50 (thanks) immediately for the eye exam, but I’m still waiting for my reimbursement for the eye drops (expecting another $50). Because I visited the optometrist on my lunch hour break, I didn’t have time to select a new pair of glasses, but I was told my lenses will cost approximately $450 and then the cost of frames will vary based on what I choose, but I’m expecting another few hundred dollars.

Total costs?

  • Eye exam – $135 (reimbursed $50)

  • Prescription eyedrops – $70 (reimbursed $50)

  • Fish oil supplements – $27

  • Lenses – approximately $450 (will be reimbursed partial or full amount)

  • Frames – undecided, hopefully <$300 (will be reimbursed partial or full amount)

= about $1,000

I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 13 and I don’t think it’s ever cost that much before! I’m hoping to get the full cost of the new lenses & frames covered through a health spending account but I won’t know how much until I make the purchase and submit my receipts. Also, because it will be coming from a health spending account, using these funds up means they can’t be allocated to other healthcare costs later, and since I still need to visit the dentist, I’m wary of bankrupting the account all in one go.

I regularly use Clear Contacts for my contact lens orders, but I’m hesitant about choosing frames without trying them on first. Plus I’m not sure the site offers the super amazing anti-blue-light you-can-probably-see-in-the-dark-and-see-into-the-future lenses that my optometrist sold me on. Because I wear my glasses 3-4x per week for up to 4 or 5 years at a time, I’m willing to spend more if it means getting the most comfortable and functional pair of spectacles available.

Any health costs surprising your bank account lately?