Latinas, Jump Start Your Finances For Summer With These Five Easy Steps

Summer is right around the corner! Whether you have time off during the summer or you’re like me working the 9-5, it’s the perfect season for fun. BBQs, laying out by the pool, vacations, your finances and lazy days are all calling your name.

Yes, I said finances. This season is recognized to be a time of play and rightfully so. The heat makes paying attention to anything, especially your bills, something you’re likely to do. I completely agree because I myself love a lazy nap.

But the summer is the perfect time to do a financial check in and make sure you are on track to meet your goals for the year. It’s also the perfect time to see if you have extra money to splurge on that concert or last-minute gateway with friends. Keep reading for more tips to jump-start your finances faster than you can say bikini!

Do A Budget Once Over

I tend to do a zero-sum budget per bi-weekly paycheck so every dollar has a job. But I also like to see what exactly I’m paying for and why. For instance, recently I canceled a subscription box I thought I had time for (Hunt A Killer) and software I was using for my business (Co -Schedule). I sincerely love Co-Schedule because it makes everything so easy but I know I am not utilizing it to its full capacity. Between both, I was able to shave $70 off of my monthly expenses and I’ll be putting that towards my health.

Look at everything you are currently forking out money for and see if there is something you’re not currently utilizing. Maybe it’s that gym membership you can put on hold so you can run outside or take one of those classes at the Parks N Rec center you’ve been meaning to. Or maybe your Ipsy package just hasn’t been bringing it lately. Think realistically about what you’re spending money on and if it’s truly serving you. And remember, you can sign up for software that tracks your spending such as Mint or Personal Capital to plug any spending leaks.

Check To Make Sure Paycheck Deductions Are Correct

For some companies, tis’ the seasons of open enrollment.  Since you’re already in your employee portal anyways, take time to go through all deductions, both pre and post tax, to make sure your paycheck looks correct. Account for all deductions such as FSA and retirement, different types of insurance you may have and taxes you are paying, like federal and state. I always owe state taxes so if you’re like me, it may be a good time to increase your withholding.

By doing a paycheck audit, you can be sure you are getting every last benefit and dollar you are entitled to. The worst thing you can do is leave money on the table that is rightfully yours and can be used better served elsewhere, such as debt or a savings goal you may have.

Review Policies & Slash Slash Slash

Along with questioning your deductions on your paycheck, take time to glance over policies you may have such as auto insurance or a phone bill. Maybe you are paying for a certain type of coverage that may be incidental now and can easily go. I didn’t realize until years had gone by (bad personal finance blogger!) that I was paying a fee for some type of coverage I didn’t need.

It’s also important to make sure you are carrying the right type of coverage just in case your car has depreciated or you have had a change in your living situation. I had forgotten I needed renters until my boyfriend’s apartment flooded. He would have been screwed if he hadn’t had coverage and it reminded me to get my butt in gear.

Make Sure Your Checking Account Is Working For You

Once upon a time, I paid checking account fees. I was young and didn’t realize that if I had a certain amount of money direct deposited from my paycheck, I could get the fee waived. I also had to pay a fee of $10 when I was stupid and had overdrawn my checking account which resulted in getting a second chance checking account for a year.

You don’t need to pay a checking account fee because now, there are plenty of alternatives to traditional checking. Radius Bank, for an example, is a great alternative for those looking for free checking that can be accessed anywhere and everywhere. With no monthly fees and free access to ATMS, Radius Bank is a free checking account that you can access anywhere online. They also offer a hybrid checking account that allows you to collect interest on your checking account. That’s pretty much unheard of and a slamming deal at 0.85% with the minimum balance.

One of the hesitations with online banking is that you can’t go into a brick and mortar branch but honestly? These are a thing of the past and will soon enough be limited themselves. You can do everything a traditional banker can do with your cell phone and the Radius Bank app, such as deposit checks and pay your bills online. You can save yourself time and be on your way.

Take Advantage Of All The Free To Little Cost Fun

The last tip I would like to leave for you is to remember all the free fun summer has to offer and take advantage of it.  Movies in the park, outside festivals, art walks and the pool are all free this summer. Your library also has cool summer reading programs (even for adults! With prizes!) and culture passes you can check out for free admission to local museums and attractions.

This summer, I am also taking the advantage of the longer days and going on a few weekend trips with friends. Between the four of us, gas, an Airbnb, and food in Mexico will cost about $75 each. And our Airbnb is on the beach with kayaks!

In Conclusion

There are so many ways to jump-start your finances this summer. From looking into alternative checking accounts to finding free fun, the sky is the limit Latinas!

“This post is part of a sponsored campaign with Radius Bank. Radius Bank has not directed my content or my views.”

How Cancer Helped Me Come To Terms With My Student Debt

My longest relationship started on August 3rd, 2004 when I picked up a pen. I looked at the financial aid officer smugly in the eye as I signed on the dotted line and smiled. Take that, I thought, mainly to myself because what did they care. They weren’t the one who just accepted student loans to go to a community college. My father had never been able to save for education but was willing to let me live rent-free if I went. I took him up on the offer and took out student loans to pay for it. Okay, and maybe I also took them out to help fund my new lifestyle. I’ll pay it back, I promised myself on spring break. I’m only in college once!

Well, I wasn’t only in college once, I was in college a total of three times. Most recently, I graduated in 2016 from Arizona State University paying what is considered cheap tuition for a university. While I don’t think paying $11,000 a year is a steal, not including parking or books, Google says otherwise. And while I’m not too angry with myself for finishing my two degrees no matter what, I was really angry for taking too long and taking too many breaks when life felt difficult.

With a reported 44 million other Americans dealing with student loan debt, I know I’m not alone but it’s still hard. Because of my student loan payment, I didn’t feel comfortable taking on other financial commitments or maxing out retirement. I still dealt with a scarcity mindset and I was consistently afraid the other shoe would drop. In November of 2016, the other shoe did drop. My doctor found a lump in my throat.

I can remember it like it was yesterday, all of it. I remember finding the lump and calling my boyfriend on the way home from the doctor. I remember all of the tests and my friends holding my hands. I remember getting the diagnosis and meeting with the surgeon. I remember the night before surgery going out to dinner with his mom and my dad. I also remember pleading with my boyfriend that if anything happened to me to please take my cat. I couldn’t imagine him wondering why I never came back after leaving one day.

After surgery, I woke up. The nurse gave my apple juice, my boyfriend spent the night with me watching Game of Thrones and my cat insisted on being a night nurse. The world didn’t end. I was still there. It wasn’t my time yet. The other shoe had dropped and I made it out okay.

It’s now been almost 16 months since I woke up from surgery. This past January, I received the good news I had been waiting over a year to hear. For the first time, no cancer is showing up in my bloodwork and my hormone levels are healthy. I’m finally feeling better, good even, and I’ve lost 17lbs. I still have health problems but I’ll make it through. The other shoe dropped and I’m okay.

Cancer has taught me that life is abundant, not scarce. I don’t have to be scared of paying down my debt while still living my life if I am responsible. I can contribute more to retirement, go on trips and pay down my debt as much as I can because there will always be more where that comes from.

Fin Health, especially when it comes to student loan debt, is important. If you aren’t financially healthy or have the proper mindset, it can really hinder you from completing your goals. It’s way too easy to become obsessed with paying down debt and feeling that you are just that. You’re debt. I think that’s what had me stuck in a scarcity mindset before rather than abundance. It’s easy to think you’re just debt or cancer, but then you realize how lucky and full your life really is. And then you can see yourself clearly again. Like, who you were before this even happened.

Today, I’m back to feeling like my scrappy self. I still have my career, stronger than ever, advocating for youth who need someone in their corner. My cat still meows loudly when I’m on the phone doing an interview. I still drink coffee, watch reality tv and read a book a week. My business is booming and my budget is rocking. Those student loans are coming down. The other shoe dropped and I’m okay. You’ll be okay too.

This post is being entered for the CFSI #FinHealthMatters competition. Wish me luck! 

 

 

Unbanked & Underserved: #FinHealthMatters 2018 w/Jason Vitug!

When I was in high school, I had no idea what my career path would look like after high school. I barely graduated on time, if at all, due to being a hot mess most of my high school career. A career with a high-income potential sounded great so I found myself bouncing around majors within the medical field while working part-time at a non-profit.  Nothing ever stuck which is how I found myself in a criminal justice class. An ex-boyfriend had suggested it since I loved watching forensic files so much. Since I needed an elective anyways, I sat in the class waiting to see what it held. And I am so glad I did.

Taking that criminal justice class was the best thing that came out of that relationship, and one of the best things in life I could have done for myself.  A passion I never knew existed awoke inside me as I started devouring my classes one by one. Although I had known the true crime side of things alone with forensics, social polices were new to me. Rehabilitation, or lack thereof, and the actual cause of crime itself were also new and fascinating. I went on to complete associates in criminal justice,  a dual bachelors in criminal justice and criminology and a minor in LGBT studies. I also spent time in Israel completing a counterterrorism program.

Throughout my academic career, I never stopped wanting to help people. Through I dabbled here and there with trying to work in policing, I never continuously pursued it. I loved advocating for youth so much that I am now going on my fifteenth year in the non-profit sector. It’s through my major of criminal justice and career of advocating for kids who look like me that I realized how unbanked and underserved low-income communities really were and still are.

One reason I feel so passionate about connecting people with resources and knowledge is to help break the cycle. Cycles of poverty and crime plague so many communities in a country that prides itself on opportunity. Where you are born should never determine your life yet it does every day. We need to make a change.

I am so honored that my colleague and friend Jason Vitug has invited me to speak during #FinHealthMatters 2018 on April 25th, 2018. The live event starts at 7am EST and I’ll be going on at 8am EST to discuss how we can better assist communities who are unbanked and under-served. I’ll be sharing my journey along with some surprising facts as well as resources and actionable steps to help others. Jason is a real powerhouse going until 11:30pm EST and I’m excited to see the other presenters share topics they are passionate about to help promote #finhealth! Many of these people I know on a personal level so I can easily say Jason is bringing the best. Catch the live stream on Facebook using this link and let me know what you think. I look forward to sharing my work and passion with so many of you.

And if you happen to be the one needing assistance? I’ll be sharing some gems for you too. I’ll also be updating my website to include resources which should be available by the end of May. Your income or social status does not determine your potential. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently.

Latinas, Make Smarter Tax Decisions w/ Louis Barajas & Cricket Wireless

Editor Note: I am so happy to be sharing my first interview with a recognized Latino money expert, Louis Barajas. Special thanks to Cricket Wireless for reaching out to help out to connect millennials and Latinos with the personal finance knowledge they need to make this tax season pop. -AL

Cricket Wireless, Spearheading The Way Towards Financial Wellness

Cricket Wireless wants to help people like its customers, who are value conscious by need and by choice, be savvy with their tax refund this season. Why? Because smart money skills matter to those on a budget.

This is why Cricket has partnered with nationally recognized financial author and expert Louis Barajas. Barajas has dedicated his life to helping people achieve financial wellness by addressing the cultural and psychological barriers that prevent them from making the most use of their financial resources.  Cricket brought Barajas to the Association of Latino Professionals for America Anaheim and Miami college symposiums to help millennials establishing their careers learn about the importance of fiscal responsibility in their professional and personal lives and how each drives the other’s ascension.

The Facts

Louis Barajas speaks about money through the lens of building a good life, not just dollars and cents. By Cricket bringing him to the community, people can be inspired by his words and life experiences and set off on a journey to financial greatness. Some things to note about Latinas, millennials and spending habits: 

  • In 2018, millennials have a new story to tell about themselves. They are the money conscious generation that prioritizes their financial health.
  • 43 percent of millennials intend to pay down debt with their tax refund versus 31 percent of the general population.

This is not a surprise Latinas. As millennials, we have grown up in the recession era. We’ve experienced hard times in our careers and watched our parents live through tough times as well. We’ve been molded by difficult economic periods and became financially savvy, and scrappy, because of it. Let’s just say we know to stretch our pesos. 

That’s why today I am happy to share an exclusive interview with Louis to discuss how Latinas can do their own taxes for free, say no to a forced savings plan (Adios Uncle Sam’s free loan!) and why this  Latino became his own boss.

Money Smart Latina Interview w/ Louis Barajas

Louis Barajas, named by Mutual Funds Magazine and Money Magazine as one of America’s top financial advisors, speaks about money through the lens of life, not just bank accounts. The author of books such as The Latino Journey to Financial Greatness,  My Street Money; Overworked, Overwhelmed and Underpaid; and Small Business, Big Life, Louis makes complex and daunting money issues easy to understand and relatable to the common person.

Athena Lent: A lot of my readers are Latinas who have parents that don’t do their own taxes. I would really like them to know how to do them efficiently. When is it okay to pay someone to do your taxes vs doing them themselves?

Louis Barajas: If you don’t own rental property or a business, you shouldn’t pay anyone to do your taxes. United Way Worldwide and Cricket Wireless recently joined forces to offer access to United Way’s FREE tax filing service, MyFreeTaxes.com, at select Cricket authorized retail stores across the country, or you can access the site from your home computer. For those that do own a business or a rental property, they absolutely need an accountant. I would hire a good CPA, because they will know way more than the average individual about tax deductions. 

AL: I just made my first appointment with mine after realizing I needed help with my taxes this year by being self-employed and setting up a new 401K through work.

Speaking of 401Ks, can you share tips for millennials saving for retirement? What should they be keeping in mind?

LB: Don’t put yourself in a “forced” savings plan. Tax season is a great time to think about adjusting your W4s so that your employer withholds more or less federal income tax from your pay. The more allowances you claim the less is withheld. A lot of people like to do the opposite so that they can get a bigger tax refund. Many people view their refund as money the government is giving them versus a return of their hard-earned dollars. Uncle Sam holds your money at zero percent interest. Withhold less money and stream those funds to an account that generates interest, like an Individual Retirement Account. Make sure your money is working for you, not sitting still.

AL: There is nothing quite like the power of compound interest and you definitely can’t get that with Uncle Sam! 

Can you also share about saving more in retirement so millennials have less taxable income and a less of a “forced” savings plan? I’m actually insanely proud that my refund this year was $1! 

LB: For millennials, it is important to think about retirement because many of them want to become entrepreneurial – so they need to be very intentional about their future. Sixty-seven percent of employed millennials want to leave the traditional work structure and become self-employed. Self-employed individuals and anyone for that matter can fund their own retirement while lowering their taxable income. They can put money into a SEP-IRA (Simplified Employee Pension-Individual Retirement Account), which is a method to contribute toward their retirement savings and ultimately gives them an additional tax deduction. The great news is you have until the October 15th tax extension to put money away for retirement and save on your 2017 taxes. For those who are not self-employed, contributory IRAs are a way to lower your taxable income and save for retirement, but those must be done by the April tax deadline.

AL: I love that we are started to see more diversity in personal finance.

Louis, what motivated you to lead one of the only Latino-owned financial firms?

LB: I had some life changing events happen to me while I was managing the money of some of the wealthiest people in the world inside one of the big financial firms. When those things happen, you tend to want to make a big change and live your truth. So I returned home to East LA in 1991 to form a wealth and business management firm and help hard-working men and women, who because of a lack of information or understanding, often made bad choices with money. I created a special financial framework to help people create wealth and use their money to live a better life.

AL: One of my life passions is connecting readers to actual resources they can use. Could you share what your inspiration was behind writing some of your books, such as “My Street Money”? 

People were fed up with financial experts going on and on about the woes and winds of Wall Street and Main Street. But no one was talking about their street—about how to take care of their family and provide for their future. Oftentimes, families never get the attention they deserve.  I wanted to give them a common sense, down-to-earth guide to using money to help create the secure and happy life they want. MY STREET Money is “street-wise” book that talks about real people’s real financial goals, dreams, and challenges.

AL: Louis, thank you for taking time to share your wisdom to help Latinas and Millenials alike gain the knowledge they need to help make empowering financial decisions! And special thanks to your partnership with the Cricket Wireless Millenial Tax Campaign. 

Does anyone have any questions for Louis? Did you do your taxes yet? Let us know in the comments!