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. 


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?

How To Negotiate Your Salary

This post has been a lot time coming, so I apologize for the delay. I was waiting until I completed my internship hunt before posting, because I didn’t want potential employers to know my tactics! Of course I ended up with a decent offer that didn’t require a lot of negotiation, except an ask for more vacation days which I’m not even using because I have no trips planned this summer =p Sigh. However, for the rest of you here’s the long-awaited post…

How To Negotiate Your Salary

Step 1: Know the business, industry, and what others are getting paid.

We all know there are higher paying professions and industries than others. Knowing what’s the norm and where you stand (either entry level or with a few years work experience) is crucial to making sure you ask for the right amount. Generally salary negotiation doesn’t work well, but is not impossible, in unions, not-for-profits, or internships. In these cases wages are usually fixed by pre-determined agreements or limited by lack of resources. Generally, all else is fair game. Researching your role and industry is the first step to making a reasonable ask of your current or future employer. If the average salary in your profession is $50,000, you probably can’t ask for $70,000 but if the average is $100,000 you don’t want to lowball with $70,000. Knowledge is power, kids, especially when it comes to the amount you should be paid.

Step 2: Be able to show your worth.

The single best thing I’ve ever done at each of my jobs is record everything I do in a small black daytimer. Why? Because when a project was executed successfully, I had a detailed record of it. Keep track of everything you do at work, particularly if you’re going above and beyond your regular job description. Whenever you accomplish something major, collect the results (ie. data from number of attendees at an event, financial results exceeding set goals, glowing reviews from key customers) and either put them in your record keeping book or store them in a folder to refer to later. You can’t just ask for a raise or higher salary because you want one, you have to be able to provide tangible evidence that you’ve earned a higher wage.

Step 3: Know when to ask.

There are no real bad times to negotiate your salary (except maybe if your company is doing major layoffs) but there are times that are better than others. The best times to negotiate your salary are:

  • Your first job offer of your first career role.
  • When you are changing roles within the same company.
  • Your semi-annual or annual review.
  • 2-4 weeks after you have successfully completed a major project.

If you’ve missed the above and haven’t had a conversation about your pay for a long time, gather the material from Steps 1 & 2 and set a meeting with your boss to talk about the opportunity to increase your pay now.

Step 4. “He who speaks first loses”.

I don’t know if this rule is necessarily true, but I adhere to it anyway. What it means is don’t be the first to throw out a number — let your employer suggest a salary before you do. Because you completed Step 1, you have a vague idea of what’s coming, but you should let them talk first to get an idea of where they are. Your employer’s goal is to pay you the least amount possible to get the most work possible, so their number is likely lower than what they’re really willing to pay. You need to hear it first so you can prepare an appropriate counter-suggestion. If they ask you for a number first, you run the risk selling yourself short by naming something to low, or discouraging them from hiring you by demanding something too high.

How to respond to the question, “What are your salary expectations?”:

“Based on my level of experience and educational background, I know your company will provide a competitive offer. I would prefer to discuss salary and total compensation when a formal offer is put forward.”

If they dodge the question and ask you again, this is the nitty-gritty of real negotiation and it’s usually uncomfortable. Don’t panic — or at least don’t let your panic show on your face. Stick to your guns and repeat your position. If they ask again, they’ll just make it awkward for both parties, at which point you can say, “I’m not comfortable discussing real numbers until I receive a formal offer”. But realistically they should give a figure, or will present you with the formal offer in a few days.

Step 5. Listen to their offer and provide immediate, un-detailed feedback.

When you receive your salary offer, express gratitude for it immediately. If it is good, say it’s good. If it’s bad, say it’s fair. If you are interested in the company even after they give you a bad offer, it’s best not to exclaim anything like, “is this a joke?” because chances are they thought what they were giving you was fair. Express which parts you’re concerned about immediately. ie. “I was expecting the base salary to be a little higher” or “I am a little concerned about the amount of work travel expected of me.” This is important because it gives them a clue to what you’ll be approaching them about in your counter-offer, and gives them some time to prepare something more generous.

Step 6. Don’t respond to their offer immediately. Take 24-48 hours to think about it.

This is the hardest part. People hate doing this if they’ve just been offered a job because you always have the sinking feeling that they’re going to ask someone else, but I promises you, if they’d made an offer, you’re the only candidate they want and you should not worry that they will rescind the offer they just made over the next 48 hours. What this usually does is actually gets the employer a little panicky that you might say no, which will make them more receptive to your demands.

Step 7. Ask for 10% to 15% more than they offered and other perks

Unless the initial offer was really low and you don’t mind scaring them off with big demands, you should aim to ask for approximately 10-15% more than you’ve been offered. I’ve had friends go for 25% or even 40% and pull it off, but those were unique circumstances, and unless you’re certain that should be your compensation, I would caution against it.

The second suggestion I would make is to look beyond the salary when it comes to negotiating your compensation package. Most people are so focused on the amount actually going into their bank account they forget there’s lots of room to get more money in things like employer matched retirement plans. By all means negotiate your salary, but you should also consider asking for:

  • More vacation days
  • Performance-based bonuses
  • Stocks
  • Increased health benefits or retirement plans
  • Other perks: Ask for an office with a south facing window, ask for an automatic monthly reload on your Starbucks card, ask to work from home on Thursday mornings, whatever. If it’s something you would like, ask for it. It’s hard for your employer to say no right now, whereas it won’t be hard once you’re in the job.
  • The opportunity to review your compensation package in 3 or 6 months.

This way, even if your employer won’t budge on your salary, you’re essentially receiving more pay in other forms for the same (or if you get more vacation days, less) work. The most important point on that list, however, is the opportunity to review because your probationary period at a new job or in a new role is 3-6 months. At this point, you will have hopefully proved yourself and are trained in your role, and therefore more valuable to the company than when you started.

Those are the steps & tips I have for negotiating your salary! Anyone else have any secrets?


Monetize Your Fitness and Weightloss

Hi readers! Apologies for my recent absence. As of Wednesday I wrapped up the last of my two summer school courses for my MBA. It was a struggle to complete those classes while working full-time and helping a friend and fellow finance fanatic with a major project. Add in starting the second month of Insanity where workouts were 1 to 1.5 hours long plus moving apartments and I didn’t have a single free minute. I’m not sure I’ve ever worked so hard in my life before but the results have been amazing: extra income, 2 more classes completed towards my MBA, and tremendous fitness results.

Which is what I want to share with you today! I’m on the verge of launching a full fitness blog and the Insanity Workout is really what started it all. After 7 weeks, my cardio is amazing, my strength is killer, and my bod is looking pretty lean — and I still have 2 weeks to go!

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 8.16.55 PM

On Fridays, we flex =P me on 06/27/2014

Month 2 has totally wiped me out though and I’ll admit that I’m starting to have my fill of Shaun T and ready to move on to something else. Mostly I can’t wait to get back to yoga and keep working on advanced poses!


me working on variations in shoulder stand!

imagesI’ve been tracking my food and workouts on My Fitness Pal. I love it for making sure I’m getting enough of each of the macronutrients while still staying within my calorie goal. It’s an app I’ve been loving since before I started Insanity, but I’ve found some others out there that I wish I’d gotten on board with at the start of my journey! One of the things I’ve found particularly cool combines my love of workout with my love of money:

Sites and apps that provide financial incentives to meet your fitness goals.

imgres-1The first one is DietBet, which I found through Blogilates. There are two kinds of diet “bets” you can take: a 4 week challenge to lose 4% of your body weight or a 6 month challenge to lose 10% of your body weight. You buy in with $20 to $30 with other users so that there’s a pot of money — the last Blogilates dietbet had over $100,000! Participants then keep track of their progress, and at the end of the challenge, the pot is divided amongst those that were successful. Since a few people fall off the wagon and don’t make it through, the successful ones end up getting back their contribution and a little extra. This probably won’t make you rich, but I think the risk of losing $25 to sheer laziness might be the motivation you need to reach your fitness goals. I never got on the Blogilates dietbet bandwagon because I don’t own a scale (I briefly considered buying one but it seemed silly to spend $25 on a scale so I could spend another $25 on a fitness challenge), so throughout my whole fitness binge I have NOT been tracking my weightloss!

imgresThe second one I recently found was Pact. Using this app, you make a pledge to track your workouts or food intake for a week to meet your goals. If you’re successful, you get a little bit of money (about $2 per week) but if you miss a day you lose a lot of money ($5 to $10 per missed day!). It doesn’t accept Canadian credit cards to play but I found my PayPal worked! Since Pact syncs to MyFitnessPal, I’m happy I don’t have to do any logging in another app. It also syncs to the FitBit and other workout gadgets if you want to log your workouts. It’s not much but $2/week is an extra $100 per year which can buy some more workout clothes so why not?

Other apps and sites that are useful but sadly don’t pay any cash are the Nike Run app, Fitocracy, Blogilates, and Tone It Up! I finally ordered myself a FitBit yesterday after Cait’s rave review and I can’t wait to use it to start tracking workouts.

Any others fitness apps, sites, or gadgets that I’m missing that are really awesome? Please share!

Life Update: My MBA Internship Hunt

I have been delaying this post for awhile because my job search ended up being a winding, twisty road through the land of Oz.

This was the first year my school was offering an “internship program” as part of the MBA, so expectedly, it wasn’t well established. Initially there were few internship positions (read: none) for MBAs, so my classmates and I were competing with undergrads for summer job postings. I don’t blame companies for wanting to hire undergrads over grad students (you can pay them less and they may already have some experience), but it was disheartening to never hear back. In the end only 6 of us (out of 60!) in the MBA program, myself included, managed to secure summer employment.


I worried incessantly about whether or not my standards were too high, and thought I would eat my own words from my post: If you don’t want to work in dead-end jobs, stop applying for them. I had been blessed with good hours, good pay, and lots of autonomy in my last job, but was I asking too much expecting that again?

I wanted an internship where:

  • I worked regular daytime hours (8am or 9am until 5pm) and rarely or never on weekends
  • I could preferably walk or take the train to 
  • I would be paid at least $20 to $25 per hour
  • There would be opportunity to stay on into the school year part- or full-time 

With some jobs posting as low as $14 to $16 per hour and vaguely stating that you “must be willing to travel” or “available occasionally on evenings/weekends”, I carelessly wisely avoided these postings. My guess is if I had been more open to deviating from my list, I would have found an internship must quickly — though I probably wouldn’t have been as happy at it.

In total I applied to 28 jobs, interviewed at 5 companies, and was offered 2 positions.

Before I found the right fit, I wavered between what to do constantly. I thought seriously about going to China for an exchange. I enrolled in 2 summer school courses. I picked up a serving job for a summer just in case. At all times it felt like the right job was right around the corner… and simultaneously at all times it felt like I was doomed for unemployment forever.

My interviews were all over the place. In my journey, I interviewed for a supply chain manager role at an airline and then for a credit analyst position in the corporate finance division of a big bank. While I’m surprised and pleased at the doors that were open to me with an MBA, I found it ironic that I struggled to find jobs in Calgary’s main industry and the only one I really wanted to work in: oil & gas.

Every time I hit a low, I somehow managed to sink even lower.

I won’t go into how this was the most miserable professional experience I’ve ever had, because now that it’s ended there’s no point in wallowing, but it was pretty damn bad. In retrospect I was only unemployed for a short time but the funny thing is when you’re in that state you feel like you will NEVER find a job again. Thanks to the blog and freelance writing income, I had enough money to cover my immediate bills but without full-time studies, my days were long and empty and my finances were starting to suffer.

Summer school cost $3,500 for my two courses, and since I wasn’t working, I had to sell one of my stocks to afford it. Even though I had long ago pegged certain investments to cover the cost of my MBA, actually having to cash in was depressing, but I simply didn’t have any other choice.

Eventually I found a great position, but when it came down to it they could only offer me part-time. I decided to continue my job hunt, albeit with much less enthusiasm. At this point I was burnt out and figured the part-time job was the best I could get. Thankfully, I was called back, interviewed, and offered an internship at another company that met all the items on my list a week later! I don’t even have the words for the relief I felt. Not only am I glad to be earning money again, I feel productive and fulfilled.

I am the kind of person that needs to work in order to be happy.

While I definitely love to collect a paycheque, one of the things I really learned in my job hunt and 6 weeks of unemployment is that my self-esteem and self-worth is tightly entwined with my work. I love to be doing something that makes an organization more productive, profitable, efficient — and having nothing to do made me feel totally useless. I feel if my unemployment had lasted any longer, I would have had a total breakdown. 

Thankfully, I made out safe and I’m on a full-time contract for the next three months with possibility of extension into the academic year. Money-wise I am being paid hourly and, as expected, less than I made at my previous job though by no means poorly! Work wise I have a mid-level position in a small office, where I’m gaining experience relevant to my MBA. Having only worked in academia prior to this, I’m really happy to be gaining actual business experience.

I am thrilled! However, now I am also so busy. Because I had enrolled in summer classes thinking I’d be unemployed, I’m now working 5 days per week and then running to class for 3hrs each Monday & Wednesday night. Couple this with working on the blog and another personal finance project, and then my commitment to my insane Insanity workout, and I’m pushing my limits. Thankfully my courses end at the end of this month, but I’m expecting the next 3 weeks to be totally chaotic. If I’m absent from the blog/twitter or slow to reply to emails, I’m sorry, I gotta hustle ;)

Hustle Harder: How I made extra money to pay down my debts and save for the future

One of the reasons I was able to  get out of debt quickly and save so aggressively is I had good incomes. Notice that’s incomes, plural. I am highly doubtful I would have made the progress I did if I hadn’t cultivated multiple sources of income over the past few years. It’s for this reason that the single best advice I can give any twenty something is this:

Hustle harder. 

Make as much money as you possibly can. Use it to pay your bills, kill your debt, and save for the future. 

I think twenty-somethings are way too short-sighted when it comes to generating income. They’re all looking for 1 job to launch their career and pay all their bills, when realistically the best choice might be to work some extra part-time hours even if you have landed that first career role. Here are some ways I hustled during university and after graduation:

I tutored Chemistry. 

I tutored chemistry for $20 to $30 per hour beginning in my third year of university and continuing through my first year of professional work. Seriously, I would schedule tutoring sessions on my lunch break or after work, and even on weekends — even though I was employed full-time at a salary of $50,000. I did this to kill my student loan debt. Obviously the income wasn’t consistent, but it often translated to an extra $300 to $500 per month during the academic year. Almost all of that income went to debt repayment. When I received my annual raise at the 1 year mark in my professional job, I gave up tutoring but I love knowing that if I need extra cash and have a few hours to spare, all I have to do is post an ad for tutoring on a college bulletin board.

I taught Chemistry labs.

Getting A’s can pay off financially in more than just scholarships. I taught the laboratory sections for two organic chemistry courses every spring and summer for 3 years — including the session after graduation! I could have packed up once I had my degree, but I was paid about $1,800 each session (10 days) and I taught 2 every year for a total of about $3,600 each summer. One year I even got a bit extra for helping write questions for the laboratory manuals. To accommodate TA-ing I simply booked vacation or got people to pick up shifts at whatever other job I was working (serving tables or fixing iPads) and dove in.

I did inventory for large department stores

To this day this remains one of the most random and most profitable short-term side hustles I’ve ever found. Looking for extra work, I found an inventory service advertising on Kijiji that they needed extra hands for a few contracts. I was hired and scanning barcodes within 1 week. The work was mind-numbingly boring and I had to wear a really ugly shirt, but I remember being paid $14 or $15 per hour and all I had to do was scan the price tags on pillows and comforter sets in The Bay. Once I had a few successful jobs under my belt, the company would email me whenever extra work came up. My schedule got too packed for this to become a regular source of income, but at the time it was great to help with the bills.

I worked part-time at the Apple store

There are few things as unglamorous as working a retail job at age 25 just like you did at age 15, but I did. I picked up this gig when my graduate student stipend ($24,000 per year, minus tuition!) proved insufficient for my financial plan. I’m not a fan of standing on concrete floors all day, but this job was so good for my bank account, I can’t even think where I’d be without it. When I decided to drop out of my MSc., the Apple store filled a gap giving me full-time hours until I found my first professional job.

I was a babysitter/nanny

One of the best jobs I ever had was nannying full-time in the summers and then part-time between classes during the school year. I organized my class schedule with that of the family I worked for, and this became a regular sources of extra money for me. In the evenings and weekends when I wasn’t babysitting, I served tables. Being a nanny gave me almost full-time income at great hours. Additionally there was a non-monetary pay off of becoming lifelong friends with a great family!

I wrote (and wrote, and wrote, and wrote)

Once Money After Graduation started to really grow, my Google AdSense and affiliate income started to become a regular thing. After I had been featured in MoneySense Magazine and a few newspapers, I started to get some freelance writing contracts. As many of you know, I’ve been writing for American Student Assistance on their SALT Money blog for two years. That’s a monthly paycheque that’s been helping out for a long time!

What about now?

I never stop hustling. Ever.

When my applications to internship positions were not delivering, Lululemon got my resume next.

When my friend suggested there was money to be made during Calgary’s main tourist event, Stampede, I found a serving gig for only those 2 weeks of the summer.

I’m still blogging, with some more projects ready to roll out.

I never stop hustling. I can’t — I like money too much! Thankfully, an internship came through so you won’t find me folding yoga pants or serving beer in a cowboy hat, but my side hustles were at the ready. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, pay off your debt, or save for a particular goal, you might just be one side hustle away from making it happen.