New Years Resolutions that Will Make You Richer

New Years Resolutions Happy New Year, everyone!

Now that you’re settling in for all of the promise and opportunity that 2014 will bring, it’s a good time to take stock of those resolutions you set a mere week or so ago. If you’re already finding it difficult to keep up with your expectations of all the changes you plan to make this year, don’t fret–there’s still plenty of time to change up your plans.

And if you haven’t planned your resolutions around a certain theme or life change, what about focusing on new years resolutions that will make you richer?

With a bit of creativity and a careful look at the habits you have that cost you excess money, it’s not too difficult to find a few ways to trim the financial fat. Doing so will get you right on that path to debt reduction and/or a nicely padded bank account!

Improve Your Health

Quit smoking. Start exercising. Swap the junk for healthier snacks & meals. No matter what you do, there’s a direct improvement for both your waistline and your bank account when you commit to improving your health.

For each healthy change you make, boost the benefits of your good behavior by paying down more debt or increasing your savings by the amount of money you will no longer be spending. For instance, if you’re going to quit smoking, filter the money that you’d typically spend on cigarettes straight to your bank account.

Improve Your Finances

This one is a no-brainer. Besides fitness-related resolutions, improving finances is one of the most popular changes people add to their news years’ list. As you make your new financial goals, challenge yourself to be specific about how those resolutions can make you richer.

Perhaps it’s as simple as increasing your savings rate. Or perhaps it’s a bit more intricate and detailed such as getting a handle on your retirement investment strategies. As you’re choosing your various financial resolutions, consider a few of the following:

  • Max out your retirement contributions (or at least open and begin to fund an account!)
  • Educate yourself (add a few personal finances books to your Kindle list and apply what you learn)
  • Beef up your emergency fund
  • Get your debt in check
  • Increase your credit card rewards and perks by doing a bit of comparison shopping

 

Improve Your Overall Well-Being

As you make these great health and financial goals, don’t forget about enhancing your overall wellness. By incorporating additional wellness activities such as yoga, meditation, and “Me Time,” you’ll not only reduce your stress and improve your immunity, but you’ll also be more likely to be successful with your other goals.

What are you waiting for?! Get to work today to ensure that your tomorrow is one that you can be proud of.

What are some of your new years resolutions that will make you richer?

Sorry, But You Don’t Deserve That….

I Deserve a Medal Have you ever overheard someone lamenting about their hard work and how they “deserve” a [insert perceived reward here]? Whether it’s an extra cookie, a pair of shoes, or even a vacation, there are plenty of ways to fill in this sentence.

Have you ever caught yourself saying this type of thing?

I certainly have. At least, in the past.

Rationalizing My Way to Excess Spending

Alongside my past days of being the Princess of Interest, I was also a master at rationalizing why I “deserved” various indulgences. I worked a long day? Of course I deserved a meal out! I paid off a credit card balance? I deserve a small treat–in the form of a mini shopping spree on a different card! I ran a few extra miles? I certainly deserve that piece of 10-layer chocolate cake.

The truth is, I didn’t deserve any of that stuff. Not one single thing was actually deserved—it was rationalized. I rationalized myself into a mountain of debt by fooling myself into thinking I deserved various treats and indulgences whenever I accomplished something. I rationalized myself into countless empty calories after running races or having a hard week at work.

Destructive Patterns = Disaster

Quite possibly, this is one of the most destructive patterns of thinking because it can be a gateway for even worse behaviors. Rationalizing negative behaviors is nothing more than enabling yourself to make emotional, ill-informed decisions that almost always have negative consequences.

It’s a way of shirking responsibility and reality, yet still feeling OK about doing so. There’s zero responsibility in making an impulsive decision based on what you “deserve.”

You Don’t Deserve That….

More than a mind game with yourself, qualifying a certain behavior or purchase just because you “deserve” it is a recipe for emotional and financial disaster.

The cold reality is that you, too, don’t deserve that. You don’t deserve that new shirt, that new car, that vacation in Europe. You don’t deserve those extra drinks at happy hour and you don’t deserve to sleep in rather than exercise.

…But Perhaps You’ve Earned it

Earning things is a different story. When you set goals for yourself and develop a plan to achieve said goals, then you earned the reward of realizing a goal.

Rather than impulsive decisions made when you’re tired/hungry/sad/stressed/elated/celebrating, earning what you’ve worked hard to achieve is a positive way to motivate yourself. Setting and reaching goals, among other things, is a key part in successfully managing your finances.

What You Do Deserve

However, there are plenty of things you do deserve:

  • You deserve to be happy
  • You deserve to have dreams
  • You deserve to be hopeful
  • You deserve to be loved; to be appreciated; to be included
  • You deserve to be inspired
  • You deserve to be safe
  • You deserve to be challenged; to be held to a higher standard
  • You deserve to work hard

 

Do you notice a theme with this list? While it can be expanded to include hundreds of other things you deserve, not a single item on the list has anything to do with materialistic pleasures or luxuries. They’re all types of feelings or motivations or intangibles that we all deserve as human beings.

Change Your Thinking

So as you venture into this holiday season, take a minute to re-train your brain: Remember, you don’t deserve that. Perhaps you’ve earned it, but rationalizing excessive purchases won’t make the twinkle lights shine brighter or your family and friends love you more.

Spending beyond your means because “you deserve it” or “they deserve it” might feel good in the moment, but the spending hangover will wreak havoc for weeks or months to come. If you find yourself rationalizing bad habits because you “deserve it,” try eliminating the phrase from your vocabulary for a while.

Chances are, you’ll see a marked improvement that will be worth making it become a permanent change.

Are you Guilty of Rationalizing a Purchase because You “Deserve It?”

10 Steps Towards Financial Security

Given our current economic climate that’s riddled with uncertainty and anxiety, it’s necessary to take stock of where you lie on the financial security spectrum.Whether you have debt or not, you should have an awareness of what constitutes financial security, and you should know how your specific situation impacts your ability to attain this type of freedom.

By following the 10 steps towards financial security below, you’ll have a great shot at getting ahead in the financial game as well as making sure you’re setting yourself (and your family) up for future financial success.

Here’s a brief overview of what I consider a great start for covering your financial bases:

Track your spending! 

Do you know how much of your money comes in and where/how it goes out?  If not, develop a tracking system right. this. very. minute.  It can be detailed like an Excel spreadsheet broken down by category, automatic like a Mint.com account, or elementary like a crayon on a napkin.  Basically, it doesn’t matter how you track as long as you’re doing it!

Create a budget 

Ahh yes, the dreaded budget.  All joking aside, this is one handy little nugget in anyone’s quest for financial security.  Keeping a budget helps you make plans and goals and stick to those plans/goals.  A budget puts you in control of your money and, really, who doesn’t like the idea of that?

For a quick reminder of the power of a good budget, check out the video below:

 

Build an Emergency Fund

And keep it funded!  3-6 months of living expenses should be your bare minimum goal.  Once you meet that, continue funding for at least 12 months of living expenses.

Pay off ALL consumer debt

Credit card balances, HELOCs, and personal loans are not for the financially secure, no matter how you slice it.  If you want something, save for it.  If you fell on hard times or have previously made poor spending decisions (as I once did), NOW is the time to remedy the situation.

Max out your 401K

Or at least contribute!  She/he who pays herself/himself first now is the one who enjoys a financially stress-free retirement.

Open a Roth IRA

If you can take advantage of this type of retirement account, please do so.  As in, please do so yesterday.  Hopefully that statement helps to highlight the importance of having a Roth IRA.

Build in some “fun” money

Budgeting isn’t all about savings, debt payoff, and retirement–it’s also about having fun!  Build in a small reserve to treat yourself–whether for vacations, shopping, dining, whatever is most important to you.  Building in this cushion will help you stave off burnout and feel more satisfied with your progress.

Set goals

As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  Set goals that work for you.  They can be annual, monthly, hell, even daily!  Set them and remind yourself of what they are.

Work your tail off to meet set goals

So you’ve set your goals, now what?  Reach them; blow them out of the water!  The satisfaction and motivation yielded from meeting your goals is a catalyst for future success–ride that wave!

Consider other steps

Obviously this list is not inclusive and will not fit everyone’s situations.  Perhaps you want to open a 529, invest more, quit your job, pick up another job, or purchase investment properties.  Perhaps you need to dial down your lifestyle.  Or perhaps you need to fix some emotional wounds prior to being on-board with your finances.  Whatever your own personal steps happen to be, define them and get to work. If you need a bit of help, there are plenty of financial resources you can seek out to help you gain momentum with your efforts.

Even if you can’t do all of this now, do what you can.  You’ll be amazed at what immense progress you can make with just a little bit of effort!

 

What kinds of steps are you currently taking to ensure your own financial security?

  

How to Go to Grad School for Free Part One: Work for Your School

HowToGoToGradSchoolForFree It’s been nearly two years since I posted about how I paid less than $500 for my Masters from Harvard.

When I published that post, I had merely hoped to inspire readers to figure out a creative way to cut their own education expenses. Little did I know that the post would go on to be picked up by CNN Money and become my most popular post ever–over 21,000 views and counting!

After realizing that perhaps I was on to something and coupling this awareness with recent research about how people are drowning in student loans, I’ve decided to write more about the specific ways anyone can reduce the amount they pay for their graduate studies.

Today’s post is the first in my new series, How to Go to Grad School for Free. Stay tuned for more posts that will give you the tools and knowledge you need to make your own graduate education a FREE one!

How to Go to Grad School for Free

Whether it’s singling out one of the following tactics or combining a few ideas together, it is possible for you to go to grad school for free.

The key is to remain flexible and creative–these tuition hacks seem simple on the surface, but they require a decent amount of research, determination,and follow-through to ensure they continue to work best for your needs. Much like a budget isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it entity, you’ll need to work hard to make sure these ideas pay your way through school.

If you’re prepared to do the work, you can be handsomely rewarded in the form of a $0.00 tuition bill. Better yet, there are ways to get the school to pay YOU to attend! Stay tuned for a follow-up post for how to get your grad school to pay you to attend.

Part One: Work for Your School

Hands down, this is the single best way to reduce your tuition costs. Whether it’s a part-time or full-time job, you can score huge reductions in tuition bills if you just.get.into.the.system.

Get into the System

When I applied at Harvard, I didn’t know a single person working there. I simply submitted my resume into the online system for a handful of jobs I knew I was qualified for, and I followed-up with each and every lead that came my way. Luckily, I scored an interview for one of the positions and the rest is history…

If you’re lucky enough to know someone who works at the school you’d like to attend, ask them to search a few of the internal postings for jobs you’re interested in. At the same time, you should be trolling all online postings for the school like it’s, well, like it’s your job! :)

Be relentless in your pursuit to obtain a job at your dream school. Don’t overlook opportunities to apply for administrative roles and other entry-level positions! Remember that a school is still a business so there’s a need for employees in virtually all fields. Keep searching until something opens up that corresponds with your direct or applicable skills and experience.

Be a Patient Team Player

Of course, if you’re going to work full-time, you’ll have to accept the fact that it will take you longer to complete your degree. But if you’re patient, the rewards are incredible.

Negotiate time away with your new boss (most people in the academic setting are understanding of one’s desire to further their education) but be mindful of your team and department’s needs before choosing which classes you’ll enroll in for the semester.

Make sure that any courses you choose are approved by your supervisors and that everyone who needs to be is looped into any potential changes to your schedule. While these changes aren’t something that you  should necessarily be highlighting in your interview, you should be upfront and honest with your boss as soon as possible.

Believe in the Benefits

Lest you think these tuition assistance programs have fallen by the wayside during these post-recession years, you might be surprised that schools, including Harvard, still offer incredible tuition benefits to their employees.

For instance, you were to ever be accepted at Harvard Business School, as a university employee, you would pay only 10% of the cost. That $180,000 price tab that most single students face? An employee would be looking at a mere $18K–for the same degree.

And while $18K is still nothing to sneeze at, if you combine this step with the future steps to be revealed later in the series, you’re on your way to that coveted $0.00 tuition bill.

Even if your school limits the amount of credits you can take depending on your employment classification, don’t forget that you can take classes year-round towards fulfilling your degree requirements. While you might be classified as a “non-traditional” student and take a bit longer than your peers, you’ll still gain the education and networking opportunities.

Some may argue that you’ll receive even more networking opportunities by being exposed to multiple groups of fellow classmates. :)

Stay Tuned for Part Two: Assistantships and Fellowships are Your Meal Ticket

 

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