Financial Independence… Is It For Me?

When I had first heard of the term FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) I was baffled. “People actually do this?!” I asked my fellow bloggers. Sure, I knew of people who had worked really hard and sold a business so they didn’t have to work. But, I had never thought of that as being financially independent even though in the grand scheme of things it technically was. My BF is FI and I remember telling him I would never pursue the idea of FIRE, when we first started dating. “Why do I want to stop working? I actually LIKE my job!,” I sneered. (I’m such a jerk sometimes.)

It’s true though. As a fellow social justice warrior, I do love my career in the non-profit sector. Sure, I don’t make a lot but I love helping others. I believe it’s my life’s mission to help youth who have or have had similar circumstances that I did growing up. As corny as that sounds, it’s what I fully believed and still do to this day. I’m happy at my day job, and unlike so many others. I don’t actually hate Mondays.

But, something in my life has shifted to where I can easily see that FIRE may actually not only be a good option for me personally, but something that may actually be needed. An,d something to actually work towards, as quickly as I can, in the next few years. And no, it’s not because all of a sudden I hate my boss or getting up early. (Scratch that, I’ve never like getting up early.) And it’s not because I all of a sudden want to work for myself or become a millionaire (although I do eventually want to do both of these things in due time. Abundance y’all!) It’s because of my health.

Back In The Day

I’m not going to say I’m this horribly sick person because in reality, I’m not. I can get up everyday and go work at my full-time job. I was able to go to college and not earn just one but two degrees in criminal justice and criminology. And I’m able to support myself and my cat. I’m just not sure how much longer my body can keep up without fully crapping out.

I was born a premie to a mother who had severe health issues herself. My mom never waived in having a daughter to raise despite her health conditions which makes her one of my role models today. She was a single mom for several years and didn’t need anyone. But my mom also died when she was 38 due to congestive heart failure and asthma related conditions. One day she was here, the next day she was told she was terminal, then she was gone. For the longest time, I had it in my head I myself was going to die early. And by the grace of God, I am going to live longer than my mother. But I don’t know exactly what my health has in store for me.

As a chronic asthma sufferer, I had strep throat, bronchitis and pneumonia like clock work every year until I was in my mid twenties. Growing up my asthma was awful so when it seemed I had outgrown it, I was joyous. Yes, I thought. No more steroids for me!  I was happy and doing great, like any other twenty year old. Sure, I didn’t treat my body the best but a lot of people in their twenties don’t. But every year, I felt healthier making the changes you make as you mature and become an adult. Then when I turned thirty, everything started to snowball.

Coming To Terms

I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the spine at age 30 due to an un-diagnosed case of scoliosis that just got worse overtime. It was never caught when I was younger but this isn’t unheard of in adults with spinal issues. I was also diagnosed with celiac disease and then at age 31, thyroid cancer. Cancer isn’t something you want to hear ever but you especially don’t want to hear it when you are 31.  People hate hearing this but thyroid cancer is one of the easiest ones to treat and although life without a thyroid sucks, I’m lucky I had a great team of doctors. I lost a friend to cancer only a few months after my own diagnosis and it saddened me that her light was ended so quickly.

Earlier this year, I started having severe chest pain that would leave me nauseous and drowning in sweat. Everything felt like it was compressing and I called 911 several times, twice at work. I felt I couldn’t go on and actually fainted from the pain. But everyone assumed, due to my blood work, it was either anxiety caused by stress or another auto immune issue that makes your ribs pop out. As an anxiety sufferer all of my life, I knew it wasn’t true but went along with it until one night I stopped breathing properly.

Hours later, I was admitted into the hospital with severe pancreatitis and my gall bladder was ready to burst. My blood work had came back fine repeatedly until I went to the ER. Actually, one look at me the last time and they knew immediately what was wrong. After two separate procedures and five nights in the hospital, I was ready to go home and let my BF play nurse. He did a great job but I was in pain and depressed. I had to ask myself some tough questions, which isn’t the easiest to do when you don’t feel well and are mopey. But one question has stayed in the back of my mind, haunting me.

“What If One Day, I Can’t Work Anymore?”

Chronically ill people have fears that others who are healthy don’t. Or maybe they do and aren’t as vocal about it. One of our biggest fears, from the few I’ve spoken with, is what will happen when they can’t work full-time anymore or if at all. This is something that is now starting to worry me. Sure, my health isn’t that crappy compared to a lot of other people. I can live on my own and function and go horseback riding and a bunch of other things. But I also have days where I can’t go to work because I just don’t feel well.

My quality of life has gotten substantially better post gallbladder removal. Like, I never knew something like that could make you so sick for so long. But I’m still worried that my body is running on borrowed time. What if my back gets worse or I get cancer again? What if my body comes down with a different auto immune disorder? Already this year I’ve racked up another diagnosis I didn’t even realize I had. And maybe the rest will be like that. Maybe I won’t get anymore. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll get worse. And just need more days of rest in between days of work than what I’m already reasonably allowed by a full-time employer.

Maybe It Is For Me

It’s with these thoughts I’m here today, questioning if FIRE is for me. I’ll be 33 next month, which isn’t old at all but it’s leaving me time for reflection. I’ve always worked to earn more money and cut my spending just so I wouldn’t feel deprived and could make my income stretch more. And I’ve been frustrated with not being focused on my business ideas or things I’ve wanted to pursue in order to raise my income. But in reality, I might not have another chance if I don’t capitalize on it soon. You can always make money and I believe this completely. I’m just not entirely sure my body will allow it.

Any fellow spoonies here feeling the pinch? Anyone else planning for their health to fail at an early age? What precautions are you taking now so you can be safe later? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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!

 

No One Is Going To Save You… Except You

Did you know that 1 in 3 women live below the poverty line? This is article is part of the #WomenRockMoney Movement collaboration. The #WomenRockMoney movement is to help inspire women, just like you, to own your power. For more badass women and money tips, click here


After setting down my last box, my ex-boyfriend looked me in the eye then shook his head. I sighed. I didn’t ask him to help move me out of his apartment. Nor did I ask him for a free bed he insisted I take because “it was collecting dust,” in his parent’s garage. And I really didn’t ask him for his opinion on what was going on with me.

All I knew was that I had just found myself in the same position I was a year prior. A different man, a different state. Definitely the same story though. “When will this end?” I asked myself as I set about unpacking my bedding. When will I find a man who loves me no matter what and will be there when I need him? I’m there for everyone else and they just don’t love me, I thought bitterly as I stuffed my pillows into their cases.

What Was I Doing Wrong?

A few months later, I was in my groove. I was working out every day, I finally felt confident in the classroom as a first-year teacher, and was just accepted into Arizona State University for the fall semester. I was the healthiest I’ve ever been, was traveling and met a great guy. Who cared if he lived across the country? I moved in with my boyfriends anyways. And I set about my business.

My cloud nine lasted about three months. Due to my unhealthy coping mechanisms and thoughts about how relationships would be, my relationship with my significant other, and myself, wasn’t always the way it should be. My partner was, and still continues to be, great but I didn’t know at the time how destructive my way of thinking was until I found myself in therapy a few years later. I was desperate to find out why I kept repeating the same old patterns, in all areas of my life. After a particularly rough time, I remember bawling at my dad’s ranch disappointed and miserable. Why can I just be normal I wondered?

I Finally Get An Answer

Thanks to a great therapist, and okay, myself for going, I realized I was codependent. Codependency can be described in a variety of different ways and situations but in laments term, it’s when you sacrifice yourself in hopes that someone will recognize you and love you. It basically when you have a martyr complex so you can manipulate others and control the situation in hopes that they won’t leave you. It sounds harsh and it is when you first hear it, but it’s true. And it’s no wonder you repeat the same patterns with different people, hoping that one day they will stay.

Codependency is not the same for everyone and can be expressed in a variety of different ways, with different relationships you may have. For me, being codependent means if I sacrifice myself enough for someone, they will never leave me. And what I really thought was a man would one day love me so much, he would save me. Only then, would I have the life I wanted. I just needed to live with him so I could feel secure enough to get started.

Instead Of A Man Saving Me, I Needed To Save Myself

When you have a breakthrough in therapy, you realize a lot. And sometimes, what you realize is how much you depend on other people to make you feel good about yourself and how much time you’ve wasted doing that. While I’ve always somewhat maintained a sense of identity in my relationships, I didn’t really know how to focus if I didn’t have someone around 24/7 to make me feel better and tell me what to do. I had never lived on my own, did things by myself, cared about my environment or focused on my future and providing for myself. For the first time, I asked myself, what if I actually end up alone? What if, at the end of the day, it really is just me? It was then I realized, I needed to save myself.

No man was going to come and love me so hard all my broken pieces were going to magically go back together, despite what a meme on Facebook told me. No man was going to make me forget about my tumultuous teenage past and no man was ever going to replace what I felt was really missing in my life. I needed to get my shit together on my own.

The Force Awakens

After Operation Get My Shit Together On My Own commenced, I started to make some moves. I figured out how living on my own worked and got my first apartment by myself. Staying true to my personal finance blogger peeps, I found an apartment with all utilities included for around 30% of my net income in a cute neighborhood in Phoenix. Sure, Phoenix Metro is always looking for someone in the middle of the night in their helicopter, and my living walls are three different types, but hey, who’s keeping score? I’m a hop and skip from downtown without paying for the zip code.

I started my own family by myself with the adoption of my fur baby Harrison. He’s a polydactyl feline who ended up being FIV positive. But that’s okay. His expensive hospital bill helped me prove to myself I could live on my own, establish an emergency fund, use it, and be okay. Don’t get too crazy universe though, I still have to eat.

My first son!

I went back to school and finally finished my bachelor’s degree, something I had always wanted to do for myself. Lots of tears went into that piece of paper but the saying is right. No one will ever take that away from me. Along with getting my fancy piece of paper, I also got a pay raise, which now lets me contribute regularly to retirement and an FSA which I really needed when being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Oh yeah, I beat that too.

It’s Just Me, My Cat & I

As women, there is so much hubbub about relationships and what purpose they serve in your life. When all you want is to be loved, or saved, there is certainly a movie, a song or a meme that will lead you to believe this is definitely possible. Which is sad because some of us wait for these men, who may or may not come, for our lives to truly start. I was one of those women and I still have to fight myself sometimes not to be.

We need to stop doing this. As feminists throughout the years, and now, have fought for our rights, we need to act on them and quit waiting for a man to save us. We need to save ourselves!

Live on your own. Get the cat. Fund your retirement. Take that trip. Stack that cash. Dabble in all of those hobbies. And attract the best possible partner to support you when times get rough, but only if you want to. After all, you can save yourself.

 

Money Smart Latina Reviews… You Only Live Once

All progress takes place outside the comfort zone (1)

I met Jason Vitug a few years ago during FinCon13. Actually, another blogger had mentioned that he would be there and I was friends with her so she mentioned to both of us we should connect. We happened to bump into each other on the dance floor of a party I was throwing.

At FinCon, people don’t really discuss their dance skills but rather their projects, passions and purpose. Jason was filled with all of the above and since meeting him all those years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him along with working on projects with him. I’ve spent time staff writing for him as well as meeting up with him on his famous grassroots mission, The Road To Financial Wellness. One of Jason’s passions is to make talk of finances less taboo and really get dialogue started to help you think about the life you want to live. 

Jason recently released a book after coming off his award winning collaboration on the road and before going out for his second tour, You Only Live Once. He’s taken the YOLO acronym millennials are so fond of using and instead of using to make it rain at Starbucks, he’s implied it in a purposeful way to help you think about creating the life you want. And maybe I’m the one who makes it rain at Starbucks but I digress. 

You Only Live Once is different from the usual finance book in the way that it actually can be broken up into a self help book as well. I know some people groan at the word self help but I find that since becoming a self help groupie a few years ago, my mindset on life and what I can accomplish has changed. Sure, I was taking care of my finances but I’d always find myself back at square one with just about everything and that’s because my mindset never changed. 

Mindset is a big part of keeping your finances on the right course and aiding in your road trip to a purposeful life, which is discussed in this book. It doesn’t necessarily tell you about The Secret or staying positive, but it discusses personal core values. Quite easily, people are able to say certain things matter but don’t spend time or invest in it financially. If you don’t invest time or money into something, like a goal of traveling, it’s easy to get caught up in just talk and not action. 

Along with speaking of our core values, it also discusses the notion of time. What do we really spend our time on? Is it something mindless like TV watching or FB scrolling or is it something making our lives more productive, such as reading a book or spending time with a loved one? Both things that people say they value but don’t necessarily make time for, then get upset they aren’t living a life of purpose. 

When making the choice to go back to school as an adult working full-time, I convinced my roommate to actively cut our cable. I had found myself wasting hours on consumption on the TV in the living room set and knew I needed to limit as many distractions as possible in preparation of getting an education. To this day, I pride myself on not watching TV. I watch four shows and refuse to get sucked into any new ones. I own a TV but I usually forget I have it since it was a gift from my dad when I got my own apartment. As a matter of fact, it collected dust in my living room for three months before I hooked it up and then it was another month before I watched an episode of AHS on it.

Jason’s book is filled with real life examples and stories like the one I provided above as well as financial advice for beginners. Along with the great credit avalanche/ snowball debate, he also talks about budgeting, investing and spending on your core values. After making a list of my values, which I’ll be sharing next week, I realized some of my spending aligns but not all. With a recent promotion and my birthday within a month, it was a great time to sit back and think about the upcoming year. 

I highly reconnect You Only Live Once and I can’t wait to see what else Jason has in store!

Preparation Is My Financial Empowerment

The following blog post is part of The Road to Financial Wellness blog tour. The Road to Financial Wellness is a three-month, grassroots campaign promoting financial empowerment on a national level and encourages people to pursue their dream lifestyle. Find out more about local events near you

preparation is my financial empowerment

Since embarking on my personal finance journey, I always credited two events as my rock bottom. One I actually learned from and that was not being able to pay for a semester of school at a community college. My FAFSA wouldn’t go through and it was less than a month to the starting of school. It was $900, I worked part-time and had maybe $50 to my name. I was 23 years old.

Since starting my financial journey, and blogging in some shape or form over the years, I’ve had highs and lows. I’ve had thousands stashed away and sometimes, I was living paycheck to paycheck. Although I think I have a grasp on things now, I feel like I never know what’s around the corner, and that is me being brutally honest with you. At any time, you could lose your job, get in a car crash or have a close family member die unexpectedly. And I can tell you these things happen because they have all happened to me and set me back financially, emotionally and physically.

But, what I can also tell you is that you can try to prepare, like I am doing now. Actually, my twenties have felt like a whole lot of preparation and it’s the times I stop that things go south. When I take time to actually budget my paycheck, I usually have an amount leftover for my goals versus not knowing where my money went. When I take time to prepare my day the night before, I’m usually not so rushed and grouchy the next day. And when I made the financial decision to go back to school, I knew two years of hard work was going to prepare me for the next step of my entrance in the workforce and in my life.

Preparation is the way I’ve been able to financially empower myself and it comes from within. I can’t stop bad things from happening to me but I can prepare and empower myself in whatever way I can. I can work on having a healthy savings account and remind myself why it’s imperative when I would much rather go out to eat and not warm up leftovers. I can go back to school and work on my skill set when I would rather just be comfortable. And, I can let myself feel my feelings when I would rather go shopping as most recovering spenders would and talk to my therapist instead.

Financial empowerment is about finding something inside you that empowers you to financially take on the world. Preparation is mine. What’s yours?

Athena