That One Time When My Students Thought Everyone Got Food Stamps

 

Life is funny and our path to success is never direct. Which is probably why became a teacher in my late twenties and ended up going into education. I never pictured myself being a teacher, especially a junior high one. Despite never seeing myself as a teacher, I was actually very good at it. I still miss it so anytime I get to go into a classroom, my cup gets full.

As part of the curriculum I was teaching, I was ecstatic to see a personal finance section. I had already been blogging off and on about my own finances for years at this point, so I was pumped to show my kids what was up with a budget. When we were doing that unit’s pretest, my kids stumped me. My 8th graders who were 14 at the time, I might add.

One of the questions gave a list of scenarios and then asked the student to identify which one was false. I don’t remember what the answer was but I remember one of the statements being “food is taxable” and my students asking me about it. As I was trying to come up with an easy to understand explanation in my head (prepared food is taxed in AZ, unprepared food isn’t), my student yelled, “NEVER MIND!” “Great! How did you come up with the answer?!” I asked my student. They were a bright cookie, especially thinking of it a lot quicker than I could on the spot. “Miss Lent,” they answered, “you don’t pay tax with your EBT card.”

An Electronic Benefits Transfer card or “EBT” is how SNAP benefits are commonly distributed for those who receive government assistance to purchase food. While every state has different requirements for eligibility, SNAP benefits are the most common type of assistance received, by individuals and families alike. Since our school had a 93% below poverty rate for their students, EBT cards seemed to be common knowledge.

“I don’t get food stamps. Do I still pay tax on food?” I asked my student. My student looked at me confused and then asked, “Miss, how do you buy food?” Startled, I replied quickly, “With my debit card. I make too much money for food stamps.” Several of my students turned around to join what later turned into a classroom discussion about how Miss Lent bought food.

My students were honestly blown away by the fact I didn’t buy food with food stamps. They asked me repeatedly if I had to shop at a special store to use my debit card.  They inquired if I had always used a debit card to buy food. They told me I didn’t get food stamps because I didn’t have a baby. They really just wanted to know why all of them had one and I did not. Because they truly believed EBT cards were the only currency you could use when purchasing food.

It was because of this interaction I started Money Smart Latina. I was tired of there not being a lot of personal finance bloggers who looked like me and more tired of a lot of people not understanding where underserved communities came from, both mentally, physically and emotionally. There are people who for some reason make it their personal mission statement to be offended by people who are poor. Who yell about bootstraps. Who can’t believe there was an entire classroom of fourteen-year-olds who thought everyone bought food with EBT cards and was worried about their teacher not eating.

I think Financial Literacy Month is a great time promote financial literacy and education, which is why I’m happy to partner with the Plutus Foundation this year for their Plutus Voices event, Inspiring Action in Underserved Communities. I’ll be speaking about financial resiliency and how to speak to your audience, not talk down to them.

I don’t want another classroom of eighth graders who look like me to think that everyone buys food with food stamps. I want them to know that their demographics do not determine their destiny and they can get out. That their parents are trying, so take advantage of all the opportunities they have through their education. I want them simply that they just “can.”

One reason financial literacy isn't just important one month, it's important everyday. | poverty | underserved | unbanked | money mindset | community | resources | financial literacy | https://moneysmartlatina.com/that-one-time-when-my-students-thought-everyone-got-food-stamps/

How To Tell If You’re… In A Toxic Relationship

Wondering if your relationship is it? I have a few questions to ask yourself to see if it's true love or a toxic relationship.

Wondering if your relationship is it? I have a few questions to ask yourself to see if it’s true love or a toxic relationship.

Up until a few years ago, I consistently found myself in some bad relationships. Bad relationships with family members, boyfriends, friends, bosses, etc. It felt like I was a magnet for people who wanted to be mean. Want to walk on a doormat? Call me, I’m here 24/7! But I’ll be the first person to tell you when I see others are taking advantage of you. It was one of those “Do as I say, not as I do,” life situations.

When I was 28 and finally started taking some personal responsibility for my life, mainly my relationships, I realized through therapy I was a codependent. Never having heard the term before, it was the clouds parting from my eyes as I checked off all of the characteristics. Poor at setting boundaries? Check! Dependent on controlling others for my own happiness? Check check. Consistent fear of being abandoned? Grab me that red marker. A lot of people pleasers are actually codependent, out of fear of abandonment. 

Tons of therapy and years later, I’m happy to say I’m now more than ever in positive and healthy relationships. I have such a close knit of friends that I’m forever grateful for. My dad and I can actually talk without screaming at each other. And my boyfriend and I can actually go a few days without talking now! I’m not perfect by any means. My relationship with my cat is full on serious and I can be self-focused at times without realizing it. I have a hard time listening. But I’m working on it and I’m working on letting people know not to talk to me or if I don’t want to do something.

I tell you all this dear reader because as women, and especially Latinas, we carry the world on our shoulders We run our households thinking we must say yes to everything and be the rock, just like our mamis. The reality check is,

'We will never be everything to everyone and if we try, we’ll run ourselves into the ground.' @accordingathena Click To Tweet It’s up to us to decide who is on our team and to let the others go. But we don’t know who to let go because half of the time, we don’t even realize it’s toxic. That’s why I want to share the following questions with you to help you decide just that.

How does this person make you feel?

First things first, nobody is perfect 100% of the time. This includes you (I know, don’t cry.) There are days where I’m snappy and I need to give myself a time out. But for the most part, I try to be kind, listen and be my fun-loving self. This is the same for everyone.

In the book “Every day Is A Friday” by Joel Osteen, he shares that you must have a wide support system because we can’t always be there for others. As someone who used to be all about other people, and never about myself, I was consistently let down by others until I learned that it’s impossible for one single person to always be there for you.

On the flip side of this, if someone is never there, or makes you feel like shit 95% of the time, why bother having them in your life at all? You don’t need anyone being rude to you or taking out their own issues on you for whatever reason. You deserve to surround yourself with people who are happy and make you feel the same.

Are there things you don’t tell this person?

I remember having lunch one day with my friend and expressing my anger over a friend who gave me her unsolicited opinion about a relationship in my life.

My friend, chewing on her salad, swallowed and said, “Athena, don’t talk to her anymore about your relationship. There are certain people who you talk to about certain things and others you don’t.” As a chronic oversharer, I nodded and really thought about what she said. And then I decided that I wasn’t going to share anything else with that person about that area of my life.

I was hurt more than anything in the situation up mentioned above but I learned that other people can project their issues onto you and can make you feel like shit. What I learned, even more, was life’s too short to have to walk on eggshells around people who are supposed to be your friends and watch what you talk to them about out of fear they’ll be nasty to you.

Do you catch yourself lying to them?

I don’t like the outdoors. I don’t like renaissance fairs. And I don’t like watching sports UNLESS it’s a Notre Dame or Dallas Cowboys football game. There, I said it. But for the longest time, I’d pretend to like everything someone else did too out of fear they’d leave me. Now, I happily tell people my hobbies include hanging out with my cat, drag queens and serial killers. I also enjoy drinking at my local dive bar and taking over the jukebox.

The point is, we lie to ourselves and we lie to others. We’ll lie about stuff we shouldn’t lie about, such as our wants and likes, because we’re afraid. We lie about our opinions out of fear people will talk shit to us. We lie to protect ourselves and we lie to keep the peace so the toxicity stays in. Guess what soul sister? There’s no band-aid big enough for that.

Is this person judging you or are they supportive?

Everyone has a different approach to how they think they should interact with others, especially those they care about. For me, I joke with you if I like you because I feel comfortable. If I really care about you, I’ll call you out but I would never intentionally be spiteful. And if I hurt feelings, I always am sure to apologize.

So, how do others make you feel when they talk to you? Are they really motivating or hurtful? Do they say spiteful things to make you feel bad? When you confront them, do they make excuses for their behavior or try to deflect? Not everyone communicates the same way and that’s fine, we are all different. But what’s not fine is someone in your life talking down to you and making you feel worthless.

Relationships are a two-way street. No one is ever going to be 50/50 in a relationship either. People go through things and sometimes, that person may take up more of the relationship. But a relationship should never be one-sided and equal effort must be on both sides.

You should always strive for relationships that help you feel secure, calm and inspired. Don’t be with others who make you feel less than. People need you to wake up and be your best self. And you owe it to yourself to do the same.

A Pretend Minimalist Or, How I’m Practicing Minimalism

As a rookie to minimalism, I’m not perfect. But, trying to practice minimalism in all areas of my life has been helpful and I hope my examples can help you too.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve made an active attempt to practice minimalism in my life. I’ve always been a regular dabbler, but since one of my New Year Resolutions was to be a more mindful consumer, it’s been a lot more deliberate. I’ve continued to declutter my personal belongings (now at 205/3000 for my Project 3000). My hoarder stash of beauty products and candles is slowly dwindling (good bye hand soap collection from 2017!). I’ve also been more mindful when shopping and bringing new things into my home (sorry Target).

Since practicing minimalism can be in all areas of your life, I’ve recently decided to see what can go and what can stay. Despite having my non-profit career, my growing online business and a jam packed life, I crave being home with my cat drinking tea and reading a book. I know, I’m really 80 instead of 33 but if I can mainstream my life to allow me more time to pursue what I love, it’s a win. So here’s how I’ve been doing it.

Friendships

Last year I realized I lost a friend. Being chronically ill, I cancel. Depending on what’s going on, sometimes a lot. It’s hard to determine how I’m going to feel the day of. Also, I’m bad at attending multiple events in one day. I just don’t have the energy I used to and I know this about myself so I will decline. This has led to me no longer being invited to events because I’m “flakey.’ Taking a step back, it might seem that way. But I’ve expressed it’s not intentional.

I know it sounds cocky, and maybe I say this to feel better about myself, but I decided I’m okay losing a friend I’m not that close to. Now that I’m older, I know stuff happens and people grow apart. I also now realize people are in your life for a season. So with that in mind, I’m learning to be okay. I have a ton of friends and the people who accept me and my limitations are the ones I want to keep. By allowing certain friendships go, I can continue to nurture my friendships that are already strong, and keep them that way.

Work

Maybe it’s because I’m finally more confident in other areas of my life but for some reason, my fear of abandonment and being left out now happens here. This isn’t good for someone who’s trying to mainstream their life. But now, when I perceive situations of being passed up for opportunities, I’m learning to stay in my lane.

My bosses know what I excel and don’t excel in. They play to my strengths. If I feel truly left out or looked over I can say something. But the feeling usually passes and then I focus on what I’m already doing. And by accepting this, I can make it home at a reasonable hour to spend time on Money Smart Latina.

Food

I contribute my success with weight loss last year to incorporating smoothies into my diet. I’ve loved smoothies since I was little but making a conscious effort to have one every morning for breakfast I think helped. It also frees up brain power because I’m making less decisions. (Decision fatigue is real. I’ve also decided to start eating salad for lunch the days I’ll be in the office all day. Bagged salad comes with toppings and I can buy a bag of frozen chicken strips to throw for protein.

I know not everyone can eat the same thing every day but it I can so I figure I might as well. It makes life easier on me and saves my evenings for other projects or time with friends instead of additional meal prepping.

Money

I’ve been regularly tracking my spending again which is nice because I know exactly where my money is going. It also sucks because I know exactly where my money is going. I can’t do anything about my extravagant health expenses (being chronically ill is EXPENSIVE), but I can do something about all the money I spend on eating out during the workweek and drinking with friends on the weekend.

Swiping my card makes my spending mindless so I decided to start doing cash envelopes again. Once it’s gone, it’s soup for me. I don’t have to track down receipts to see how much I spent in the categories mentioned above because what I can spend will literally be in my hands.

Besides cash enveloping my biggest money wasters, I’m also focusing more on earning more instead of cutting back an already stretched out budget. Due to health expenses and COL going up in the general Phoenix area, I just can’t cut much more. Earning more also allows me to do more of the things that bring me joy such as traveling and saving for the future.

There you have it. Minimalism isn’t something that has to do with your physical space. You can practice focusing on what truly matters in all areas of your life so you can turn off the noise that doesn’t.

Tell me, do you practice minimalism in any areas of your life? Are you liking your results?

As a rookie to minimalism, I'm not perfect. But, trying to practice minimalism in all areas of my life has been helpful and I hope my examples can help you too.

How To Go On A Date With Your Dinero

Does your dinero make you feel yucky inside? Mine did too until I started I went on a money date! I’m going to share what a money date is so you can go on one too and make your dinero your boo!

When I first started taking my dinero seriously, I didn’t realize how emotional it really made me.

I had originally used my money as a tool to “feel better” in the form of shopping, collecting crap around my casa and partying. Since my ways of trying to feel better about myself were failing, I assumed it was my money’s fault and not on my own.

I never had enough of it and making more seemed like a pipe dream. Where would I even start? What if something happened and I couldn’t make it anymore? When I started taking my money seriously in the form of learning how to budget, cutting costs and actually working on fixing what I needed to fix, aka me, I learned my money wasn’t the malo I had made it out to be.

One of the ways I’ve been able to become comfortable in my relationship with money, and not be emotional about it, is by going on a “money date” with myself. Once a week, I light candles and pull up some spreadsheets. It probably sounds goofy but I really enjoy this time in my week to focus on myself and my finances so I can be the independent Latina I want to be. I’m here to share with you today a few reasons why this can work for you and then some tips on how to get the mood right for you and your MCM, money.

Dates aren’t just for your friends and boyfriends/ They are for your new boo, money, too!

Why go on a money date?

The number one reason why I recommend going on a date or spending time with your money is simple. It’s to get rid of any negative energy or feeling towards it. I know it sounds counter productive, spending time with something that makes you feel bad but hear me out.

Money is an inanimate object yet we project a lot of emotion into it. And no, this isn’t our fault. From the time you were a baby in your mommy’s belly, you were being conditioned to believe a money script by all the people around you. It’s no one’s fault, but you have probably taken on the beliefs of your friends and parents, whether those beliefs are good or bad.

For example, one common belief I heard growing up was “when money’s gone, it’s gone.” Umm, okay. Where did it go and why is it not coming back?! No one ever explained to me that you can always earn more money so until recently, I’ve been trying to cut back on my already cut back expenses. This belief I had taken, by no one’s initial fault, really roots itself in scarcity so it never occurred to me to ever earn more. And so, I was always upset I couldn’t save what I wanted.

Do you see how easy it is to make money become emotional?

Anytime you feel a certain way about your money, or anything in general, you’ve given away your power.Click To Tweet
Money isn’t a person, it’s just an object. And you are giving it more money and energy then you need to. In order to break away from this nasty cycle, it’s important to spend time getting to know it and build a healthy relationship with it.

You need to just get to a place where you feel comfortable with your money so you can feel empowered, not stressed. So, how do we get started?

Step 1- Pick A Day 

Pick a day and time where you can’t be interrupted. For example, my money date day and time is Thursday evening. I have no outstanding appointments. It’s also the day before payday so I can make a list of financial to dos such as throwing extra towards debt or schedule my online bill pay.

By picking a set day and sticking to it, it also helps you build a routine. It’s easier to stick to something when it’s a habit and becomes less intimidating too.

Step 2- Set The Mood

Anytime you are doing something you don’t want to do but know you need to, make the environment safe and comfortable. This will keep you from being overstimulated in general and relaxed during task. Not only is this a good rule of thumb for your money date, it also works in a lot of situations.

Grab a glass of wine or hot tea, light a candle and put on some comfy pajamas. II also put on a television show which doesn’t need a lot of attention for background noise. I’m currently working through reruns of RuPaul’s Drag Race (Team Shangela 4 EVA).  You’re going to be taking care of business so you might as well get comfy and relax as much as you can.

Step 3- Sit and think . Set the intention.

It’s time to now ask yourself a hard question.

“How do you want your money to make you feel?”

Do you want to feel excited about your money? Do you want to feel accomplished? It may be hard to answer at first and the answer may change. Once you’ve realized how you want your money to feel, what are some steps you can think of to help move yourself there? For example, maybe you need to make more money. Think of some ways you can earn more and get a to do list started. Maybe it’s an annoying expense that keeps making you crazy? Come up with an action plan to take care of some business!

Step 4- It’s Business Time

 

Anyone else a Flight of the Conchords fan?

Even though you may have an actionable plan to get where you want to be, you still have a current situation that needs to be dealt with. Make sure bills are caught up.  Reevaluate your current spending. Update the budget. Then start on your actionable plan to get to where you want to be with your boo money.

You want to get to the place where you have no overwhelming emotion when it comes to your money. It’s something we can find again and again. It is a renewable resource and is indefinite. Turn the noise off in your head Latina and go get it.

Does your dinero make you feel yucky inside? Mine did too until I started I went on a money date! I'm going to share what a money date is so you can go on one too and make your dinero your boo! | money date | latina money | money anxiety | financial anxiety | money mindset | https://moneysmartlatina.com/moneydate/

4 Questions To Ask Yourself When Paying Down Debt

Trying to get out of debt but need a plan? I got you Latina with these four easy questions. 

I first acquired debt when I was 19. Between student loans and needing a new car, a monthly debt payment quickly became my new reality.

Fast forward many years later (hey, I’m old but not THAT old), I’m still paying down my debt. Going back to school, multiple operations and another new car means I’m still in debt, unfortunately. However, I refuse to think of myself or my debt as bad, because it helped me when I needed assistance. My student loans have allowed me to earn a bachelor’s degree that has tripled my income. I needed surgery for my cancer treatment, now I’m cancer-free. And a new car after driving the same one for the past 10 years means I now have reliable transportation.

With all that being said, I’ve been following a simple plan to pay back my debt based on the questions below. The less brain power I’m exerting in any area of my life means the more energy I have to pursue projects and self-care. My life has definitely been a lot easier thanks to having a plan in place. I hope the questions below can help you too!

Why should you pay down your debt?

Debt is a time and money suck. Yeah, I said it. I know I have debt and it doesn’t make me a bad person, but I’m going to call it as I see it. Every month when I put $1,000 towards my debt, I get a little sad.

I’m at the point in my life where I’m trying to figure out enough income streams so I’m not worried about working full time. I have a lot of autoimmune disorders that make crawling out of bed hard sometimes. I’m also dreaming about owning a ranch home or bungalow, for me and the cat. That $1,000 could go towards some of these goals so yeah, it does sting a bit.

Besides being a money suck, it takes mental capacity to keep track of your debt. And if you’re behind on your payments? You better be good at screening your calls. (I’ve been here a few times so I know how truly shitty it feels) With all of this being said, you can see why it’s important to kick debt to the curb!

Question 1: How Much Do You Owe?

Before you get overwhelmed with your adding up your debt, take time to put on some comfy pants and grab a glass of wine. Now that you’re settled, start adding up all debts you have. What’s considered a debt?

  • Car loans
  • Credit cards
  • Student loans
  • Medical bills
  • Collection notices from overdue or closed accounts.
  • Loans from family and friends.
  • 401 K Loans
  • Anyone else you rightfully owe money to.

For me, I have a mix from a few of the above, including a car note, student loans and a credit card I’ve used to help with some medical expenses. I also have a few medical bills leftover from my gallbladder surgery last year and some dental work I recently finished.

Once you’ve gathered all information, create a spreadsheet in Google Docs or MS Excel so you can enter the following information:

  • Creditor
  • Type of debt
  • Reason debt occurred
  • Amount currently owed
  • Payment amount if arrangement has been made
  • Due date
  • Interest rate

For for example, let’s take a look at my hypothetical car loan:

Creditor: Ally Financial

Debt: Auto loan

Reason: 2018 Mustang (I don’t drive a mustang but you get it)

Amount Owed: $16,542

Payment arrangement: $350 per month

Due date: 15th of every month until loan is paid in full.

Interest rate: 5%

With a spreadsheet organized like this, I’m able to see exactly how much I owe and to who. I can also see, with interest rates and due dates, what may be the priority when focusing on future debt repayment. I know a lot of people may disagree but I am a firm believer in always paying back people you know first, despite it not have an interest rate. A lot of relationships end because of money and this is something that can be avoided with clear communication and expectations.

I’ve had to borrow money before and it hurt my dignity to even ask since I felt at the time I shouldn’t need to “ask” for help. As someone who has been scrappy since high school, it’s hard to admit that you don’t have it figured out all of the time but hey, shit happens. Make an arrangement, stay in good standing and once the loan has been finished, write a heartfelt note of how much their gift helped you out.

Question 2: What’s Your Method Aka Plan For Paying Down Your Debt?

After you’ve calculated how much you owe, you need to come up with a plan to pay it down. There are two famous debt repayment methods that I would like to share with you today, the snowball method and the avalanche method.

The snowball method, made famous by Dave Ramsay, is when you make a minimum payment on all of your debt, then throw extra money at the smallest amount. By making an effort to pay the smallest debt off first, you are going to see one less line item in your debt payment plan faster than you would if you had spread out extra money among all of your debts. When you see one less line item, you get excited then move on to the next smallest debt to keep the “snowball” rolling.

The debt avalanche method, made popular by Harlan Landes during his Consumerism Commentary days, is when after you make your minimum debt repayment,  you put any extra money towards the debt with the highest interest rate, despite the debt amount.

Interest can be a real money suck so by paying down your debt according to the highest interest rate, you realistically save the most money.

Now, which one is for you? That’s really up to you to decide but I suggest the method that will keep you motivated. Debt is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like any other marathon, you need continuous motivation and focus. Some people are motivated by paying down their debt in a snowball and some are motivated by owing the least amount of interest possible.

I do a mixture of both at the moment. Right now, my focus is to pay off a dental procedure I had completed last month. It’s not the smallest debt I owe nor is it  the one with the highest interest rate, but I plan on getting more work done soon. With that in mind, I want to free up that line of credit.

Question 3: How Much Can You Put Towards Your Debt?

The number way one way to become discouraged in life is to set yourself up for failure. Trust me, I know. As an overachiever and chronic goal setter, I have some lofty ambitions in my life. But you know what I fail to do when setting up my goals? I fail to be realistic about my circumstances.

When starting out on your debt repayment journey, you need to be realistic about how much you can put towards your debt each month. The worst thing you can do is give yourself a date of being debt free in a year when you owe thousands and only bring home hundreds. Catch my drift?

Make a budget and see what you’re working with after all expenses are paid for. I like to divide my budget  into fixed and unfixed expenses. Fixed expenses are something I know will never change, such as rent. Unfixed expenses are things I have more control over, like groceries. By making a budget and assessing your spending, it’s easy to see what can go in order to make room for that debt snowball. (I’m looking at you eyelash extensions.)

Be realistic with your spending and what you can cut. Again, don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t give yourself $50 a month for groceries because you know you aren’t going to eat ramen everyday. Same goes with allowing yourself a buffer of a few hundred dollars, because stuff is going to happen. I guarantee it.

Question 4: How Can You Earn More To Put Towards Debt?

The last question I want you to ask yourself is how can you pay more towards your debt. I know, I said earlier debt was a time and energy suck. It is. But once you start feeling better of your financial situation, you realize you’re in control. When you are in control, it feels great. And you want to keep feeling great.

I am a firm believer of earning more. You can only cut so much from your budget before you run out of stuff to cut. You can’t save what you don’t earn or in this case, use it to pay off debt! Some ways you can more money?

  • Sell stuff on ebay- My friend Jason does a phenomenal job walking you through becoming a high seller on eBay in his course.
  • Write e-books- If you are a random pool of knowledge, writing e-books may be right up your alley. One of my other friends Michelle from Michelle Is Money Hungry has a course that helps you finally get all that knowledge on to paper so you can get paid. Check that out here.
  • Walk dogs- A fun way to earn cash and get in shape is by signing up for a website like Rover.com. People are always looking for pet sitters and they make pretty good money too!
  • Take surveys- If you have a few minutes here or there, like waiting in line at the grocery store, be productive and take a survey. Websites like Swag Bucks and Inbox Dollars are cool ways to earn cash while killing time unlike Facebook.
  • New skills- I’m a firm believer in expanding your skill set, especially in an ever changing economy. A few years ago I decided to work on a few new skills, such as freelance writing and virtual assistant work. I then pitched myself to a few other bloggers and overtime, I’ve been able to build my own business! Consider learning a new skill such as freelance writing or making crafts and beauty products to sell. You can always learn a new skill and once you do, it’s really empowering.

By clearing up your debt, it’s easier to have more wiggle room in your budget and more energy to things that bring you joy. I hope the tips I’ve shared above can help you do just that.

Being in debt is such a major time and money suck. I should know, I've totally been there. Ask yourself these four easy questions to help kick durb to the curb, once and for all. | debt | debt free | get out of debt | https://moneysmartlatina.com/payingdowndebt/

3 Ways To Declutter In The New Year

While I’ve been working on decluttering and spending consistently less since starting my PF journey, I don’t think I’ve really thought about the consumerism part of it until last year. I was a wasting a lot of  food and in return, money. Since I was decluttering my kitchen, I decided to take a look around and see what else needed some sprucing up.

In doing this, I realized how much crap I had laying around my 600 sq ft apartment. Yes, I do regularly declutter and drop stuff off at Goodwill. I’m always consistently  finding items to give away. But somehow, my stuff still feels like it’s multiplying. So this year, I’ve decided to be a lot more mindful and see how I can conquer my clutter once and for all. Today, I’m sharing three ways that you can help beat the clutter too!

The KonMari Method

Last fall, I had the chance to read the book by Marie Kondo called “The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up.” Yes, I have been living under a rock and also yes, I can receive mail here. All jokes aside, I’m glad I was able to finally read the book before her television show dropped on Netflix, because I was able to enjoy it from another point of view. Mainly, looking at the results instead of questioning her process.

Kondo breaks down organizing into steps known as the KonMari method. By dividing your home into different item categories (not areas), you’re then able to pick items up one by one and ask yourself if they spark joy. If the answer if yes, you can find a new home for it. If the answer is no, it’s time to part with it. By starting with clothes, you should able to deal with the harder stuff such as mementos and photos last.

While not all items spark joy in my home (and I don’t think all items truly do as much as they serve a purpose), I really like the fact that Kondo helps people see that stuff carries an emotional attachment. For instance, she talks about presents. I know a lot of people (myself included!) tend to hold onto items because they were gifts instead of using them or (shocker!) get rid of them. How many times have you heard someone say “Oh I couldn’t do that, it’s a gift.”

Stuff that also has an emotional attachment, such as belongings of a loved one who’s passed on, are especially hard to part with. I know this first hand as I carried my mom’s belongings from house to house starting when I was 21. It wasn’t until I was 27 that it truly felt “okay” to let her things go to a new home. I appreciate this method acknowledging how hard it is and being able to give tips to process the grief associated.


 

The Minimalist Game

The Minimalist Game, created by the Minimalists duo Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, seems easy enough . For everyday of the challenge, you get rid the same amount of items from your home. So for day one, you part with one item. Day two, two items. This continues on until you get to day 30 and have successfully gotten rid of 465 items in your home.

I played this game last November and I barely got through my living room and Christmas decorations. It was so mind blowing to me that I had barely scratched the surface in my home and didn’t make a dent in my “things.” It’s estimated that the average home has over 300,000 items in it and I wasn’t a believer until I participated in this challenge myself. Even looking around my living room at this very moment, I see more things I can get rid of!

The Minimalists also have a podcast, books and a film along with their website. After playing this game, I’ve really become a fan. They talk ways to be a minimalist in all areas of your life and not just your physical space, which is what I really like. Last December, listening to their podcast was a real help when going through an extremely stressful time in my life. I’ll now associate the Minimalists with getting me through hard times just like I do with books by Stephen King.

Project 3000

Project 3000, coined by The Tidy Life Project’s Claire Bernie, is a challenge to get rid of 3,000 items in your home. Yup, 3,000 items. I know, my jaw fell on the floor when I first saw that too but after completing the Minimalist game described up above, I knew that was going to be my project in 2019.

What I love about this project is that it has a huge community on Instagram (Do you follow me yet?). So many people are striving to become minimalists but it may not feel like it if you just look around at people in your personal life. For instance, I know a few people who are pretty much minimalists but those people are ones I’ve met through blogging. The majority of people in my everyday life I interact with are definitely not minimalists.

Again, the average home has over 300,000 items in it so 3,000 is hardly a drop in the bucket if you think about it. Thinking about how much paper I have alone along with all the junk in my closet is really motivating me to participate in Project 3000 for my own home. At first, I was trying to have place way too many stipulations on myself but I decided if it’s leaving my house, it’s getting counted (with the exception of regular trash).

There you have it. Three ways to declutter your home in the new year and maybe even use for spring cleaning! Have you tried any of these methods? I’d love to know!

 

Try A Spending Fast

Holidays causing you to feel stuffed? Try a different type of detox, a spending fast. And save some money while you’re at it too!

Holidays got you feeling full? If you’re anything like me, my leggings are tight and I can’t remember what day it is. I’ve spent a good majority of the past month away from home and I’m desperate to eat a vegetable again. I’m also desperate to get back into my routine. As a self-proclaimed creature of habit, my days are regulated by my planner and to do lists.

Besides physically, another way I feel sluggish is with my bank account. A family emergency along with Christmas has my funds sitting lower than they have in years. I’m actively trying to double my income but I’m also trying to be a more mindful consumer. With that in mind, I’ve decided to go on a spending fast to help me kick off 2019 right!

What’s a spending fast?

A spending fast or “shopping ban” is as follows: you can’t buy any unnecessary shit for a set amount of time. That’s it. You determine what you can and cannot buy and for how long you can’t buy it for. Some people do it for a week, some people do it for a year. It’s completely up to you and what works for your lifestyle.

I’ve participated in several shopping bans since tipping my toes into the waters of the personal finance community. I can’t say all were a success but I can say that all were a learning experience regarding my mindset and consumerism habits.

How does it work?

As stated above, it’s completely up to you. You make the rules and you get to decide what you can and can’t spend money on and for how long it goes for.

A spending fast, made popular by Anna Newell Jones, is when you don’t spend money on anything not necessary to your survival, in order to free up funds to put towards other areas of your life, such as debt or savings. Jones made a list of wants and needs and spent appropriately. If something was a want, she went without or tried to make it work with as least resources as possible. Some of her needs were rent and utilities, while she also allowed herself to have the opportunity to do photography exhibits if the pricing was right. Her wants included random household decor, makeup, and coffee. By using this method, she was able to pay off all of her debt, in less than two years.

A shopping ban, made popular most recently by Cait Flanders, is when you don’t buy any physical items that are unnecessary. With a shopping ban, you can still eat out or spend on entertainment, so the wants area is a bit more flexible and grey. Flanders did allow herself to purchase items off of an approved shopping list (for example, clothes that needed to be replaced and a new bed), but said no to her biggest vice, coffee houses. As a fellow caffeine addict, I know first hand the struggle is real. She also shared she was spending over $100 a month on coffee alone. I also know first hand that it’s pretty easy to do.

What are the benefits?

Two of the most obvious benefits of a spending fast or shopping ban?

  • A: start to find money in your budget and
  • B: Stop buying junk.

By allowing yourself to only purchase necessities, you put a constraint on your consumerism habits. Since you aren’t shopping for the hell of it, or because something catches your eye, you’re spending less. When you aren’t shopping, you aren’t purchasing. You stop bringing junk into your home

Since we’re talking about junk, you’ll also start to realize what you really have in your home. The average home has 300,000 items in it. 300,000! That’s a lot of stuff and a good deal of it is probably stuff you don’t use. When you continuously aren’t chasing shiny new items, you can focus on using what you already have on hand. These items can either be used up or tossed. You’ll feel refreshed when your space is decluttered and you’ll be able to actually focus on what you want to do instead.

Resourceful will become your new middle name. You’ll have more time on your hands to enjoy new or already existing hobbies. When you can’t spend money, you look into borrowing items from friends or the library. You make do with what you already have on hand, which cuts down on environmental waste. 

The last benefit I want to share, which may seem like a con to some of you, is that you realize things about yourself you may not want to. When I first started dabbling in the personal finance realm, it was because I had no money. It wasn’t until I participated in a shopping ban that I realized I had no money because I had a shopping problem. It’s hard to say but in my twenties, I spent a lot of time hating myself. I was insecure about everything in my life and instead of dealing with it, I shopped. When I couldn’t spend money, I became even more irate. It’s hard to work on yourself, even if it is worth it. A shopping ban made me own up to it. 

How can I get started?

The number one way to start something is to just do it! Decide a date and commit to not shopping. Make a list of your wants and needs, then make another list to see if your needs really are wants. Depending on the period of time, you may decide to allow yourself certain exceptions, such as Anna and Cait did. Then start!

Currently, I’m not participating in a shopping ban or a spending fast, but I am working towards being a more mindful consumer as one of my goals in 2019. For me, this means bringing fewer items into my home, using stuff I already have and watching my waste, in both regards to time and food. I can’t wait to see where 2019 takes me but I know participating in shopping bans has helped me get here. I can’t wait to see where a shopping ban gets you! 

 

I Played The Mins Game. Here’s How I Did.

When I first moved into my apartment, all my belongings fit into eight boxes. “Sorry I have so much stuff!” I yelled at friends while running up and down the stairs. My friends were confused, trying to figure out why I needed five people to help me move. Coming off a year and a half of living with a roommate, I had kept my personal belongings to a minimum. My old shopping addiction had been semi-sorted out and I was trying not to go back.  But old ways have a way of returning when you least expect it. That’s what I realized after living in the same apartment for four years.

After deciding to renew my lease for another year, I decided some organizing and redecorating may be in order to keep my place looking fresh. While looking for inspiration, I came across the Mins Game. It seems easy enough to play and you end up eliminating 465 items out of your home, by donating as many items to to corespond with the day of the game. It sounds daunting but seeing how the average house in America has over 300,000 items in it, that’s hardly a drop in the bucket. Sure, my home isn’t huge by any standards but it could still have a ton of crap in it. So I decided to play for the month of November. And as I write this on the last day, I’ve successfully completed it! (Thanks competitive nature.)

So, what did I learn?

My House Was Aggravating My Mental Health

Now that I’ve been on a proper treatment plan for my mental health, I know that I don’t suffer from anxiety or depression. Instead, these are symptoms of a mood disorder and ADHD, which I’m now being properly treated for. It’s been such a relief to have the right team in place. In a lot of ways, 2018 was a growing year and taking responsibility for me. In taking responsibility, I will admit to the world I am not the greatest housekeeper.

Being chronically ill with several autoimmune issues, you have to be picky where your energy goes. My energy goes towards my career so as a trade-off, my house suffers. Since I just live with my number one man aka my cat, I usually get away with it. But this year? The common breaking point for meltdowns has been my house. Sure, there were underlying issues, but the state of my home is what would do me in. I can count at least three people I cried to about my house

Since September, I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping up on my apartment. But decluttering for the past month has really made me have an appreciation of clean counters, dusted bookshelves and a place for things.

I Fed Into the Ideal Version Of Me

The ideal version of your is something I’ve seen on a few self-development blogs but I didn’t realize I was participating in it until this past month. If you haven’t heard of the concept before, it’s pretty simple. You have an imaginary ideal version of yourself and you buy into it by purchasing items you don’t need because one day you will. The ideal version of yourself is usually someone who you aspire to become but may not necessarily even want to. For example, Ideal Athena is going to eat kale chips so she buys a food dehydrator. Current Athena hates kale so she will never even use the dehydrator in the first place. But ideal Athena will, one day, so I’m going to buy it. Pretty silly, right?

Yet, here I was, getting things for the ideal me. Ideal me has a few shelves of books she’s going to read one day. She’s also going to be really into doing her hair., wears scarves as statement pieces and wedges. And because one day ideal me will eventually be here, I’m going to hold on to all this shit.

I think it’s funny, for myself at least, how I imagine physical items are going to magically transform me, without me having to do any of work to transform. That’s why diet pills and stuff like It Works wraps are so hot. People don’t want to do the work. It’s hard. We’re tired. We’re scared. Or in my case, I don’t really want to do it but I still think I should. And I’ve spent money. So why not save it? I’ll get there some day, right?

I Buy Stuff Just Buy Stuff

When I was younger, I had a shopping problem. It was nothing for me to go on spending sprees when I wasn’t properly medicated for my mood disorder. Instead of dealing with my emotions, I ran from one codependent relationship to another. And when those relationships failed me, I partied and shopped.  I remember dancing at a club on the strip with DJ AM playing the hits while drinking a Malibu & Pineapple. Dealing with life was for losers.

I was obsessed with buying designer names, collecting items, anything I could do to make myself feel better about, well, myself. I got high off shopping. And when the high went away, I was trying to figure out what other destructive things I could do to distract myself. Needless to say, getting involved in the PF community, therapy and meds have helped tremendously. But I’m still human and old habits die hard. And a lot of the shit I’ve thrown away is a result of it.

While on a work trip, I caught myself falling into this bad habit again. I love souvenirs as I feel they are a way to enjoy your trip a little bit longer. I love them for myself and I love to give them to others. But on the last day of my trip, I was going hard at a museum. Maybe I should get a patch, I told myself. No, jewelry! I need this book! OMG, this print! I grabbed everything in my arms and walked around, looking for the next thing I could buy to remember this day just a bit longer.

Luckily, I caught myself before I had spent a hundred plus dollars shopping on stuff I was just going to get rid of anyways. I was exhausted from traveling and my coping mechanism of shopping was just trying to get me through the day.

I Will Be Playing The Mins Game Again

For the month of December, I will be doing another round of the MinsGame. I’ve only made it through part of my living room and kitchen, which leaves so much of my apartment left to declutter and organize. I want every spot in my home to be a place that serves a purpose, makes me happy and rejuvenates me. It’s important now for me to be organized and comfortable and I feel my home is the best place to start. 33, new me, right?

Tell me. Have you ever played the Mins Game? Do you declutter? Has your stuff left you feeling down? And if you’re a minimalist, do you have any tips for me?

How To Be Financially Responsible With Your Online Habits

The following has been provided by an online contact.


Most people are at least vaguely aware that its a bad idea to spend too much money online. Shopping is one thing, and sometimes necessary, but when it comes to games, subscriptions, rentals, and even things like betting or fantasy sports, a lot of people can easily get carried away. Its simply getting easier and easier to spend money digitally, through fingerprint confirmation on a mobile phone, one-click PayPal authorization at internet sites, etc. Keeping this under consideration, I wanted to do a brief look at a few ways to be financially responsible without simply surrendering these online habits.

Don’t Overlap Your Streaming

Most everyone who uses the internet regularly these days is subscribed to some kind of steaming service or other. In some cases this may even mean an app or online program that comes with a cable subscription. However, live TV streaming options for cord-cutters and services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video that are packed with films are also extraordinarily popular. Even if its necessary in your life to have a few of these services however, its worthwhile to take some time to make sure you’re not overlapping the content you need. For instance, a lot of the shows you can watch on Hulu are available on Netflix as well, and it might behoove you to choose which service better suits your needs. Many of us are essentially wasting between $10 and $50 per month on streaming services that are largely redundant.

Keep A List Of Subscriptions

Both from streaming services and other apps and online sites, digital subscriptions can pile up in a hurry. Its extraordinarily easy (because they make it that way) to forget that you’ve subscribed to Audible to gain access to audiobooks, for instance, or that you never cancelled a recurring fee to play a given mobile game. This can quickly lead to fairly significant losses, but the solution is simple. Keep a list, on your phone or computer, and record every subscription the moment you agree to it. Without such a list, you’re liable to forget about some of your obligations and overpay for something you stop using or no longer need.

Set An Upper Limit For Online Games

A lot of online and mobile games are fairly straightforward financially. They’re either free to play, free to download, or cost a one-time fee (typically something like $3.99-$7.99 for a quality mobile game). However, there are other types of mobile and online games for which you need to be more careful. Casino games for instance are very popular, and clearly cost money; however, many don’t realize that plenty of popular games can be found for free online. Mobile games with in-game payments are also wildly common by this point, but some fail to recognize that the games can be enjoyed in full without any of these purchases being made. It’s simply a matter of being aware of your options and making sure you’re not spending where you don’t need to.

Don’t Bet; Predict!

Some people simply enjoy betting on things, and if that’s the case and it’s a hobby you’re comfortable paying for, have at it. Just remember that the risk to lose money is always greater than the possibility to gain it, or betting problems wouldn’t remain in business! However, if you’d rather participate in similar activities without any risk, look into prediction games and markets that don’t cost you anything. This could mean fantasy sports, for instance, where even daily fantasy sites that deal with millions of dollars a day offer free contests for those who want simpler games. It could also mean various prediction-style games available at popular sports sites like ESPN. Or it might mean a separate market altogether, such as the PredictIt service that allows people to “bet” on political events by buying shares of stock in an outcome for fractions of a dollar. Whatever your particular interests, there’s likely to be a way to play games revolving around predictions without putting money on the line.

Time Your Rentals & Purchases

To put it bluntly, many things you can buy or rent digitally come down in price after being available for a short time. A newly released book might cost $20 to download, but will be $12.99 in a matter of months. A brand new film might only be available for a permanent purchase at something like $14.99. It will likely be available to rent for $4.99 a month later. Sometimes you just can’t wait, and that’s understandable. But try to avoid paying the early fees out of pure impatience. You can always find something else to watch or read, and come back to the original idea once its more affordable.

Unbanked & Underserved- FinX w/ CFSI

FinX, which is brought to FinCon by the Center For Financial Services Innovation or otherwise known as CFSI, is an event that strives to open consumers eyes to issues that unbanked and underserved populations face when it comes to managing their money. CFSI is an organization that strives to help bring to light on areas where traditional banking, and the finance sector, are lacking. Which is relatively important to know when someone is writing, or teaching, about personal finance. When I realized I was able to finally participate this year, I quickly signed up and prepared to go all in.

I was excited, yet still hesitant, to be participating in FinX. Excitement filled me because it was something I had always wanted to do and my schedule finally allowed it. Hesitant because as a non-profit professional, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it. I won’t say I know it all but as a non-profit professional, I do know quite a lot.

However, this event knocked me on my ass and reminded me of my humble beginnings. Money Smart Latina, who? I quickly remembered what it was like to be unbanked and underserved and it’s a place I don’t wish to ever be again. Unfortunately, it’s a reality for many who can’t break the cycle due to no fault of their own.

What’s Unbanked & Underserved Anyway?

Unbanked is just as it sounds- it means a person who doesn’t have access or chooses not to have a checking or savings account in their name. It sounds ludicrous in today’s online world but the reality is you can get away with not having a debit or credit card. I know first hand because when I was younger, I was unbanked. It sounds scary and stressful because it is. Not only do you have to look for alternatives to access your paycheck, but you also have to look for alternatives period. Without a checking account, you are locked out of traditional lines of credit, financing and many other financial products. Think about all the things you currently use your debit card for and now imagine not being able to secure one. How different, not to mention difficult, would your life be?

Underserved is a bit trickier. How does one who has access to financial institutions and products still struggle? Glad you asked! Millions of people who are underserved are denied access to prime financial products due to their non-prime lending status. Your income level, credit score, and credit report can all work against you.  So when it comes to asking for financial institutions to trust you, with any type of credit or loan? The odds are not in your favor. Banks are like a bad ex-boyfriend. Sometimes, they’ll never talk to you again. And the ones that will? They’ll try to swindle you out of every last penny and nickel.

Bottom line? If you belong to either of these, it’s going to be expensive for you to access your cash.

The Rules

After the presentation given by the CFSI team, we were then split into teams to do the group activity out in the field. Our task? Complete a list of errands using tools that people frequent when they don’t have regular access to a checking account or other financial services. Seemed easy enough, right? It was until they let us know the following two things:

  1. You must complete all of your tasks and get back to camp, all within two hours.
  2. Our team must also stay together through all of it.

I’m competitive and a school teacher by nature so I grabbed the packed to read to my team. I swear, they had some patience for my teacher’s voice. Justine from Debt Free Millennials and Chris from Popcorn Finance, I owe you a drink for being the absolute best.

The Competition Heats Up

After we jumped in an Uber, we began to strategize what companies we would try our luck at first. We had two checks to cash (a payroll and a personal) with both funds tied up in Chase accounts so we thought it would be our best bet to start there first. We ran into a few of our opponents from another team, and they expressed extreme frustration before we had even started our transactions.

Trying to stay focused, we worked as fast as possible to accomplish what we could. Justine was able to cash her check for free (it was a personal check for $15) while Chris had to pay a fee on his payroll check ($8 fee). Both checks were being cashed against Chase accounts but we couldn’t get the fee waived. While they were cashing checks, I asked how hard would it be to get a checking or savings account using an  Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and not a social.

The answer? Pretty hard. Chase, and the few other banks plus a credit union we spoke with refused unless we had a social. The same went for getting a loan at ACE financial. They wanted a valid checking account and a social security number from you. Well, this was promising. If we didn’t have a social for any of this, we were screwed. Despite being able to work in the U.S and pay taxes. (Note, this is not all financial institutions, just the ones we spoke with)

Speaking of fees, it seemed that’s all we did. Get hit with excess fees. If we so much looked at something it was a fee. Almost $30 of our $85 we originally started with was ate up by fees. We ended up almost paying 30% of our own money to access it. All because we lacked a checking account.

Revelations

By the time FinX was over, and my team sadly did not win (But I’m pretty sure we were second place!), I was exhausted and angry. I already knew I was going to be angry but I didn’t realize how damn exhausted I would be from this activity. I was so exhausted that while running back to the meeting room, my legs gave out. Thankfully, I didn’t fall. But best believe I was sucking down my puffer while going over our numbers.

My two biggest takeaways were:

  • It’s expensive being poor.
  • It’s exhausting.

How the hell can people legally charge people so much to access their own money? Not only do they charge outrageous fees because they can, they also target people to spend even more! Do you think people in good financial shape would be cashing their paychecks at the grocery store? Probably not. But let’s throw lottery tickets all over the counter so they can spend money they don’t have in hopes they’ll win big.

Also, I’m sure people who live in poverty don’t have health conditions because they are in said poverty. I’m pretty sure it’s stress related. Because having to run all these errands in a time frame right when you get paid before the money runs out? Trying to find the place that will charge you the least amount to access your own damn money or pay a bill? It’s exhausting. I almost got hit by a truck by not paying attention. You know why I wasn’t paying attention? I HAD TO FIGURE OUT HOW WESTERN UNION WORKED.

The Reality

The sad reality of this whole afternoon reminded me why I started Money Smart Latina in the first place. I remember dozens of young Latinas who looked just like me who couldn’t understand how I bought food without food stamps. They weren’t trying to game the system or brag about welfare, like so many people claim those who receive assistance do. They honestly just thought it was the currency to buy food. It was all they had ever known in their neighborhood.

The truth is, if this is all you know, this is all you know. If you don’t know how a checking account or any financial service works, you aren’t going to know unless someone sits you down and explains it to you. What if all of your life your parents told you not to trust banks? What if no one ever spoke to you about loans or credit, because they paid for everything in cash? Is it a big surprise that a lot of people lose access to traditional banking services or screw their credit up before they even have a chance?

This is peoples everyday. I was reminded of that  while I sat at a Western Union portal and overheard another woman crying. Here I am, first world problem-ing it up, not being able to type on a screen. Here she is, telling customer service she lost her entire paycheck to wire fraud. She sent her paycheck as a deposit for a loan and everything was gone. She was sobbing and asking how she was going to pay her rent.

My heart broke. This was her reality. She’s doing the best she can given her circumstances. How dare I or someone else tell her to pull herself up by her bootstraps if she’s literally just trying to survive?

A Call To Latina Action

As I walked away from FinX, and the FinCon conference in general, I realized something about myself. I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’ve been doing wrong to the people I wanted to help the most. You. Me. The next generation of Latinas, who look just like us.

I got so caught up in writing about saving money, and living frugally, I forgot something I realized at dinner one night at FinCon.

 “I can’t save what I don’t earn.”

It’s true and it hurts. As a Latina. I statistically earn 53 cents to every dollar a White, Non-Hispanic male makes. According to Labor Council for Latino American Advancement, we suffer the most from the gender pay gap. Can you believed it? Our vibrant, full of life souls aren’t earning what we should still, in 2018. Our mamis did not save and scrimp for us to be here. And neither did we.

My new mission with Money Smart Latina going forward will be to help the Latinas be “money smart.”How? By acquiring wealth ASAP. Along with earning more, I’m going to start talking about investing & helping you make smarter choices for the future while still living life like the chingona you are. I truly believe in order to be financially healthy, we can’t forget about our emotional, mental and physical well begin as well. We are such passionate people, our souls radiate with passion and touch everything we do. We must be healthy in all areas so we can kick ass.

As Cardi B says, “I be in and out them banks so much, I know they’re tired of me.” Let’s get it Latinas.