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!

Budgets & Cats- Saving On Cat Purchases


Looking to not spend an arm and a leg on your new cat lady status? I’ve got you covered fellow cat lady! 

I picked up my child on Feb 4th, 2015. Although we had met two weeks prior, I asked his foster family if they could keep him until after I had moved into my new apartment.  As I came to find out later that I was his third try at a home, they were anxious to say yes. After being gifted a few free items he had been using, I put him in his carrier and drove home like I had precious cargo. I did. I had my fur baby Harrison George in the car.

Our first night home!

As I watched him inspect his new surroundings, I was giddy with excitement. I felt ready for my new responsibility and had stocked up on new cat supplies, with everything from food to bedding and toys. I sat waiting for him to lay in his new bed but he only wanted mine. I gave him toys, he broke a candle. After I had bought five kinds of wet food, I realized he just didn’t like. Yeah, I spent a ton of money on this guy and then slowly but surely, learned how to reign in my cat lady spending habits. We’re here to help you save where you can so you can spend more on the good stuff- the treats.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

Be frugal right out of the gate in your cat lady journey and adopt. Although it’s rarer for someone to purchase a professionally bred cat than a dog, it still happens quite frequently. I see people in Facebook cat groups who spend thousands on Savannahs or Persians, which seems ridiculous to me. SO many cats need homes and are filling shelters, so why pay for a specifically bred one?

Cats do not need to be designer or come with a $1,000+ price tag. Spend time researching cat behaviors and types, then go over to your local ASPCA to check them out. Trust me, even without having to pay an arm and a leg, your local shelter will have a ton of cats to chose from. This will also give you a chance to interact with the cat first to see if your behavior and mannerisms click. Before you bring any pet home, you always want to meet and interact with them in person first.

Prevention Is Key

Do you ever wonder how people can drive the same car forever? You assume they have the best luck then realize they take extremely good care of it. They regularly take their car in for routine maintenance such as oil changes and anticipate replacing items such as tires and belts. They also don’t drive like they are NASCAR drivers, make sure their tank is always full and wash their car weekly. I’m not one of these people but I really do aspire to be.

However, I am definitely this way when it comes to my cat. If he sneezes, I’m pretty much taking him to the vet. I’m overly cautious with him because of his FIV so I’m always in the vet’s office. But because I am in the business of prevention, he is one of my vet’s healthiest FIV patients. As part of being a good pet owner, and saving money, schedule the annual exams. Take advantage of low-cost vaccine clinics, spay, and neuter when applicable and make sure your pet is taking any medicine. Don’t neglect their health because this is how minor things can end up causing thousands.

You Don’t Need Everything Pinterest Says You Do

After deciding to bring home Harrison, my BF and I went shopping. I needed a couch for my new apartment anyway so we had decided to pick up additional items when out and about. My BF wanted to go to the dollar store and I laughed. What, you think he’s a peasant?!?! He’s getting some fancy bowls from Ross!

Well, what do you know? His fancy bowls from Ross rusted and I ended up buying new ones from the dollar store. He ignored his cat bed until I finally put it in front of the window. And he had no interest in my couch unless I was sitting on it and he wanted to be near me. I had spent a ton of money on a cat who wouldn’t even wear a collar or touch a toy from Petsmart. His toys of choice were my hair ties and bottle caps, both free.

I could have saved over a hundred dollars if I had gotten to know my cat first. When adopting your new companion, stick to the basics and get to know them first. Your cat could be playful or just lazy. He might think bottle caps are the bee’s knees and could care less about this ten dollar toy with feathers you thought was cute.

Try The Dollar Store

If your cat DOES like toys besides bottle caps and hair ties, huzzah! Head over to your local dollar store and behold all of the goodies you can score for your new child. Seriously, you can buy everything for your cat within reason at this place. Ceramic bowls, dry food, mats, towels, toys and collars are just a few of the items you can snag for a buck here.

Once I decided to quit being a snob at Petsmart, I stocked up at the dollar store for some goodies for Harrison. I have found the ceramic bowls here are the best and so are the toys for their value. Really, who needs to spend more than a dollar on balls with bells in them? I’ve also been able to find a container for his treats, pet pads for accidents and flea treatments. Like any other medications, I’d say be careful and do research, especially with your furry friend. They can’t communicate if something is wrong so be cautious.

Use Amazon

If you have an Amazon Prime account or easy access to one, check out the prices on cat products. This never even occurred to me until after I had owned my cat for a year so don’t be like me. Use them now.

After realizing some of my hair products were way cheaper on Amazon, I researched pet meds. Harrison is FIV positive and his main prescription costs $44 plus at the vet’s office. It’s not one I purchase monthly so signing up for a monthly pharmacy delivery seemed a bit steep to me but so did the vet. I realized I could get his medicine from a reputable seller through Amazon for less than $29. I may only buy this medicine every other month, but any money saved adds up over time.

Like anything else in life, you can purchase just about anything for your cat on Amazon. Some people even find it to be cost-effective for their food and litter. It wasn’t for me due to the next tip I’m about to mention until I bought a self-cleaning litter box. Due to my chronic health issues, it hurts to bend over sometimes. So, I thought it would be a wise investment. My friend found them extremely mark downed at Petsmart for $70 so she scooped one up for each of us. Besides saving my back, it had saved my apartment. However, the cost of those trays wasn’t saving my wallet. Lo and behold, if you buy them in bulk on Amazon, you save $5 off each one. Now, I honestly break even with my previous litter expenses. Thanks, Amazon!

Figure Out Sales & Shop Them

Do you ever go somewhere regularly and realize things tend to go on sale every few weeks? It’s true, stores like Target roll out deals in cycles. This means every six or eight weeks, certain items go on sale or have a free gift card with purchase offer attached. Not only are foods and clothing rolled out like this but so are household items and pet products.

During these sales, take time to stock up on cat essentials, such as litter and food. When you time these deals just right, you can match up coupons and get things at a much lower price versus buying them when you run out. It’s the worst anyways when it’s midnight at night and there is no more dry food.

Purchase items in bulk so you have them ready and on hand until the next sale rolls around. You don’t need to every buy anything at full price if you can absolutely help it. Save that money for the vet!

Take Time To Enjoy Your Cat

What’s the point of having a pet if you don’t take time to enjoy them? Cats get a bad wrap of being aloof and mean. And I’m not going to lie, sometimes Harrison ignores me and bites me out of nowhere. You know, normal cat behavior. But, if I am never home, I notice my cat gets anxiety and is especially aggressive towards me. Cats notice when you like them and cats notice when you’re not home. They get lonely too.

Take time to relax at home and hang out. Read a book, drink some hot tea or binge watch that show you’ve been meaning to on Netflix. Try knitting while your cat pounces on the extra string. Besides staying in and saving some money, your blood pressure and heart rate are going down just being around your feline. You can only imagine what you’re doing for his.

Closing Remarks

Being a cat lady doesn’t have to be expensive! By utilizing all of the tips we’ve provided above, your feline friend can actually be a sensible line item in the budget. Be sure to be in the act of prevention and take good care of your new fur baby. In return, they’ll take good care of you too.

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.”

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!

 

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