Financial S.O.S. – 3 Steps To Getting You Out Of Debt and Into Financial Freedom

Finances. Blegh.
PERSONAL finances. Double blegh.

It seems that the subject of finance is a big elephant in the room for most people. Nobody wants to think about it, much less share or talk about it with anyone else. Heck, I’m sure if people could accomplish everything through their online banking app, bank tellers would be out of a job within the week.

But yes, the finance conversation avoiders… I was one of those people for a long time. Still am in a lot of scenarios, like when I’m bombarded by the nosy inquiries of distant aunts, uncles and cousins at family gatherings. *Cue excessive head nodding and blank dead-eyed smile*

So why, oh why am I going there now? Because as a twenty-something millennial living in the height of capitalism and debt in a consumer-driven society, we’re in some deep sh*t, and we’ve GOT to start talking about it.

According to statistics, 78% of American workers are living paycheque to paycheque. And while most of us are (for some reason) at least somewhat aware of the economic, financial and/or political states of America, when was the last time you sought out information about your local current economic climate?

Being that I’m a Canadian living in BC, here are some facts according to the CPA – Canadian Payroll Association’s tenth annual survey (2018):

  • 94% of survey respondents report carrying debt in the form of mortgage, credit card and/or car payments (no mention of student loan debt)
  • 49% of BC employees live paycheque to paycheque
  • 44% of Canadians report it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque were delayed by a single week
  • 1 in 5 Canadians (1 in 4 BC employees) say they could not come up with CAD$2000 (USD$1500) within a month in the case of an emergency expense
  • 35% of Canadians (39% of BC employees) spend all of or more than their net pay
  • 34% of Canadians (38% of BC employees) report an increase in the amount of debt they’ve accumulated over the past year
  • 40% of working Canadians feel overwhelmed by their level of debt

And while 69% of Canadians (65% of BC employees) are putting money away for savings, 69% of working Canadians report saving only 10% or less of their earnings. You can read the full media release on these survey statistics here.

The numbers are not lookin’ good, people. Not only are most Canadians not adequately saving enough for retirement and only a couple paycheques away from potentially being homeless, but the chances of the average Canadian being able to afford a home here in BC are notoriously slim. But this is not a problem exclusive to BC residents. The growing millennial housing crisis spans around the world across multiple continents, from North America all the way to Europe and Asia.

Commonly shared advice on the internet, such as “Move out of the big cities if you can’t afford it!” are often inconsiderate and carelessly given. Advice such as this may somewhat make sense at first glance, but are overly simplistic, not at all sustainable, and can only serve as a temporary bandaid on the proverbial “economic bubble” that is set to burst.

So, umm, what are we to do?? I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I have the all the answers, or that I’m an expert on the economy, real estate/housing, banking, etc.

What I do know – and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out – is that it does not matter WHAT or who comes in to correct the situation if one of the key factors contributing to the problem is not acutely addressed. That factor being our behaviour. Or more specifically, our current cultural mindset around financial debt and “Keeping up with the Joneses”… although these days, it seems more like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians on Instagram”.

Note that there are always a web of factors that contribute to any given issue, hence my emphasis on behaviour being only one of the key factors. I choose to focus on personal behaviour because that is at least 99.99999% in our control and therefore more immediately productive than sitting around complaining; blaming every-one and every-thing BUT the person in the mirror.

Here is the basic 3-part step to kickstarting your financial-health journey (make some snacks, get comfy, and roll up your sleeves):

SEARCH, ORGANIZE, SCRUTINIZE (S.O.S.)

1. Search and gather everything to do with your outgoing expenses from the past year – statements, bills/payments, invoices, debts, recurring payments on auto-withdrawal, all of it. If this feels too intimidating, or if you aren’t able to set aside the time to complete this in one session, divide the work up into 3-month increments.

DO NOT IGNORE, LIE TO YOURSELF OR OMIT ANY PAYMENTS. Everything that is outgoing counts. That includes food and entertainment, monthly banking account and interest fees, transportation, donations, contributions to savings, investments, etc. This ALSO includes anything you have late payments on, or that you haven’t been paying and is in debt collections.

2. Because this information is likely scattered between paper and online, I recommend you organize all of this data on paper or a digital file. I like to organize chronologically by month and date starting from January.

Next to the month, calculate and write down your take-home income for that month. Underneath that, list out all the dates and everything that is an outgoing expense from the first of the month to the last of the month. If you’re a details person like me, I like to add in extra info such as which account the expense is coming out of, and whether or not it’s an auto-payment.

This may start to feel a bit repetitive, but is extremely important in order to get an accurate and full representation of your financial status.

3. Now for the fun part – scrutinizing the hell out of your expenses. First thing’s first, you want to calculate your incoming vs. outgoing by subtracting your outgoing expenses from your income for every month.

Important questions to ask: Are you making enough money every month after taxes? Do you have a healthy amount of breathing room at the end of the month, or are you often going in the negative and borrowing more money from your credit card? Are you routinely making payments on time? Are you putting at least 20% of your take-home pay into your savings and retirement accounts? Do you have a 3-6 month emergency fund? Are you tackling your debt?

If your answer is NO to any of these questions, it’s time to reorganize and reprioritize (*read my suggested list of priorities below).

Start trimming the excess. Look at your non-essentials and see what you can CUT OUT until you’ve made some significant headway on your debts, investments and savings – until you’re no longer working your ass off with NOTHING to show for in your bank account and no future security.

This usually looks like significantly cutting down on entertainment (movies, concerts, eating out, meal prep/food delivery services, alcohol) and subscription payments (Spotify, Netflix, that random app you never use but still pay for monthly). If you haven’t set foot at the gym, yoga studio, etc. for longer than six months, cancel that membership!!

If you’re drowning in debt and payments, consider selling or downgrading your car. If your bottom line isn’t cutting it, you need to find a way to increase your income – charging more if you’re a freelancer, requesting a raise, getting a second or third job, selling off belongings you no longer need.

*List of suggested financial priorities in order:

HOME & FOOD – mortgage/rent, strata, gas, electric, water, BUDGETED groceries
NECESSARY EXPENSES & DEBTS – cellphone, health insurance/medical bills, basic grooming upkeep, credit card, car payments, student loans, any other debts you have
3-6 MONTH EMERGENCY FUND – accidents, unexpected expenses (especially if you’re a parent or pet owner), in the case you get fired, or are unable to work for an extended period of time.
RETIREMENT FUNDS – contributing to your retirement accounts; in Canada that would be your TFSA, RRSP, etc. In the US, you’re looking at your Roth IRA, 401K, etc.
INVESTMENTS (LONG-TERM SAVINGS) – investing money into stocks, ETFs, index/mutual funds independently through platforms such as Questrade, robo-advisors such as WealthSimple and WealthFront, or through a reputable brokerage or firm.
BIGGER SHORT-TERM SAVINGS – putting money into a High-Interest Savings Account (HISA) for anything you’re saving up for in the next few years to a decade, such as a downpayment on a home.
FUN FUNDS – putting money into HISAs specifically for the fun things you want to save up for, such as travel/vacation, a new cellphone or computer, going to a festival, etc. For this, I like apps like Mylo, or Qapital if you’re in the States.
ENTERTAINMENT & EXTRAS
 – these are your set budgeted allowances each month for going out to eat/drink, food delivery, to-go coffees, shopping, non-essential grooming, Uber/Lyft, etc.

How quickly you want to pay off your debts, or build up your emergency fund is 100% up to you. It is my belief that anything worth having in life takes some pain for long-term gain. I’m also a big fan of the Dave Ramsey’s baby steps method.

Need some extra motivation? Check out this awesome debt repayment calculator to see the ridiculous amount of money you’re paying companies in INTEREST. Seriously.

The bottom line is, the faster you accomplish both of those things, the sooner you will have not only financial freedom, but total freedom, and feel that heavy weight of burden lift off your shoulders.

By taking control of your finances, you will:

Build confidence, feel empowered in your choices, and in control of your life.

Sleep better at night knowing you no longer have looming debts and late bills to pay at the end of the month.

No longer have to worry about choosing between having a full stomach and making rent.

No longer have to awkwardly dodge questions or conversations revolving around finances.

Be able to enjoy life, shopping and experiences guilt-free!!

Building financial security through investments, savings, and eliminating debt means:

Having the FREEDOM to make powerful decisions that are true to YOU and your values.

Having the freedom to say NO to demanding employers, family members, clients who disrespect your boundaries.

Having the courage to walk away from jobs and relationships that are toxic or no longer serve you.

Don’t wait another day. Take the reins and be in control of your destiny. You are 100% deserving and capable of having financial peace. You are 100% deserving and capable of creating financial wealth and success.

Have any questions? Message me privately, or leave a comment below.

🌻 #WhereHappinessBegins
@WhereHappinessBegins_
Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

Choose longterm happiness over short-term gratification

@WhereHappinessBegins_ Fondation Beyeler Artwork - Cumulo by Tacita Dean

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There is no light without the dark. I don’t believe in the idea of false positivity. Or that the point of life is to always be happy, laughing, and dancing. Every emotion on the human spectrum has its place, cause, and purpose – even the ones we deem as “negative”.
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I don’t believe in burying negative/unwanted emotions with positivity quotes and meaningless feel-good advice that miss the point entirely.
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I believe in self-awareness and going deep to locate the ROOT of our unwanted emotions. If you’re going to distract yourself because you aren’t ready to deal with an emotion yet, at least be aware that’s what you’re doing.
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Choose longterm growth and happiness over temporary emotional bandaids, and lean into the entire spectrum of your thoughts and feelings. Because what you resist persists!
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An ignored thought/feeling will only keep getting louder and louder and louder until it is addressed. It WILL demand to be seen and heard, and likely in ways you do not want.
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Don’t be an ostrich by sticking your head in the sand 😝 Learn to pull back the curtain on the shadowy parts of your mind so that the light and warmth can come through.

🌻 #WhereHappinessBegins
@WhereHappinessBegins_
Artwork: Cúmulo by Tacita Dean
Location: Fondation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland

Finding your passion when you want to do all the things

@WhereHappinessBegins_ Finding Your Passion Illustration @HeyAmberRae

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Does anybody else just want to do ALLLLLL the things? Oh man, I’ve stopped and started so many projects as a result of being interested in so many different things – and probably a little bit of FOMO, to be completely honest.
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I’m the epitome of ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None’, and used to beat myself up for being a “quitter”. It certainly has its pros and cons, but really when it comes down to it, it’s about figuring out what you like/love vs. what you’re PASSIONATE about.
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How would I describe when you’re passionate about something?
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💭 You naturally already live and breathe “it” every day
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🤔 It’s constantly and consistently on your mind, even if you’re not taking physical actions toward it right now
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💁🏻‍♀️ You could talk about it every day, whether you’re sick, tired, or busy – which doesn’t mean you’d WANT to, but you COULD, and probably would get excited about it if somebody asked the right question(s)
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⚡️⚡️ Working on it, talking, and sharing about it energizes the crap out of you! Because if fills you with purpose
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I love what @garyvee says about documenting vs curating when asked how he continues to generate content over a long period of time.
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When you’re passionate about something, and you’re already living and breathing it, all you have to do is document and share your life; your thoughts, your actions, your progress.
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When you share your passion from your heart in a REAL way, it’s palpable and electrifying for others. When you create from an authentic place with authentic intentions, SOMEONE somewhere out there will resonate with what you have to say.
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That’s where the conversation starts, and the magic happens.

🌻 #WhereHappinessBegins
@WhereHappinessBegins_
Photo via @heyamberrae

Having Total Control vs Having a Life

@WhereHappinessBegins_ @RubyEtc_ When You're Controlling

🙄🙋🏻‍♀️ I’m a control freak y’all.
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Yep. I like to control things. Which is GREAT for detail-oriented work. It makes me very scrupulous and meticulous. Not so great for everyday life though.
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I’m a controlling free spirit. Contradictory, right?

Basically, I’m “spontaneous” until something seriously screws with my plans/vision. I’m adventurous until something unpredictable blindsides me —> What??? 😂🤔
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Up until my early-mid twenties, I wanted to control and contain the unpredictable; my emotions/reactions, my thoughts, relationships, events, other people’s emotions/reactions/actions.
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I would do this through subtle manipulation via domination, people pleasing, mirroring, lying, being passive aggressive, playing games, and “pushing” the right buttons so that things would turn out the way I want.
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Why? Because if I get to say what’s what and who’s what, my ego is safe – I’m safe. If I get to call the shots, control, and predict what’s going to happen, I minimize the risk of getting hurt or left behind. It means not having to deal with as many “difficult”, “annoying”, unwanted, and painful situations.
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My saving grace was my empathy and emotional flexibility. I never INTENTIONALLY wanted to behave that way, nor was it an everyday occurrence. But it was the result of operating from a place of ego, scarcity, and fear.
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In those oft fight or flight moments, I didn’t know how else to be. In a world of “winners” and “losers”, I didn’t think there was any other way to protect myself, or get what I want. And I chose to turn a blind eye to how it was impacting my life and the people in it.
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If you want total control, that’s fine. But understand that total control is an illusion. It doesn’t exist.
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In trying to never fail, never get hurt, and always get “what I want”, I also got an inflated ego, frustration, cynicism, resentment, judgement, and broken relationships.
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So I choose having a life. I choose imperfection. I choose laughter. I choose friendship. I choose kindness. I choose happiness, and I choose sanity.

🌻 #WhereHappinessBegins
@WhereHappinessBegins_
Illustration via @rubyetc_

None of us are entitled to our dreams, and we ALL have the right to pursue them.

I regularly find myself laying in bed, scrolling through Instagram, being flooded with thoughts of, “What is the point of blogging, or sharing anything online? Why do I even bother? I don’t stand a chance!”

Whatever your “thing” is, whether it’s photography, poetry, self-development, fitness, cooking/food, travel, beauty, music, business, female empowerment, dogs, cats – or any of the hundreds of other categories and specific niches under said categories – there are likely already hundreds of thousands of other people sharing and passionate about the exact same thing.

With that mindset, it can be pretty disheartening to attempt, well… anything in life.

*distant cries of all the projects I’ve started and stopped in my adult life*

But wait a minute. Why am I even trying to “keep up” with the rest of the internet?? And what is it that I don’t think I stand a chance in exactly? Being Instagram famous? Blogger famous? I mean, Seriously? Is this really what I’ve come to?

Here’s the thing. Pre-social media, in the days of the internet dial-up, I’ve been creative writing since I was 7-years-old, and journalling/blogging since I was 10 or 11. I read, wrote, drew, performed, doodled, documented, photographed. From a young age, I’ve been awestruck and inspired by art & artists, innovation & problem-solving, design, philosophy, and the many intricate details of human life and behaviour. I’ve always found different ways to express my inner world and tell stories.

My point is, when you are clear on the things you’re authentically passionate about and why, none of that other stuff matters. It doesn’t matter how many likes or followers you get. It doesn’t matter whether your passion turns into a full-fledged career, or remains as a hobby. Although, I’ll admit that being seen and acknowledged is way more fun than not at all. And how fun would it be to get to “play” and create for a living?

(Pssst. As someone who is a full-time creative freelancer who gets to work from home every day, be careful what you wish for!)

 

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer. – Jim Carrey

I believe the act of creating alone should be enough to bring you fulfillment, with or without recognition. So here are a few questions I’ve asked myself:

If the internet did not exist, would I still be doing this, or its relevant equivalent? If the internet did not exist, would I still want to do this for a living, would it be a hobby, or would I be interested in something different?

What is it that I truly want, and think I’m going to achieve by pursuing this?

For example, in my teens and early twenties, I was certain I had to be an actor, or writer/author. What I realize now in my mid-late twenties is what I truly wanted and want is a platform where I’m free to express my thoughts and be creative; to provoke deeper feeling and thought in myself and others; to open conversations; to help others alleviate pain and suffering.

That desire isn’t attached to any specific thing, vocation, or “dream” I have for myself. Nor is it attached to a specific platform.

It is ESPECIALLY not attached to any number of likes, views, or followers.

We are all blessed to be living in an era where making an income through our hobbies and passions is more viable than ever. On the flip side, many of us forget that it is actually a privilege to be able to do so – especially for the younger generations for whom this way of life is all they’ve ever known.

None of us are entitled to our dreams, and we ALL have the right to pursue them.

What you have to share, create, do, or say does matter, and can make a difference.

My only interjection is that whatever you pursue, do it because you truly believe in what you’re doing and why. Not because you desire fame or recognition, or because everyone else is doing it and you’re scared of missing out.

#WhereHappinessBegins
Instagram @WhereHappinessBegins_

Trust that the path you’ve been taken in life is where you’re meant to be.

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Trust that the path you’ve been taken in life is where you’re meant to be.

I’ll be honest. Some days feel pretty repetitive and meaningless – this blog is, after all, a discovery of where happiness begins; why would there need to be a discovery if one was already at their desired destination?

It can be easy to fall into the melancholic trap of thinking, “Why this?

Why that?

What is the point of it all?

Who am I doing it for?

And my brain is right! Life can be repetitive and meaningless, if you so choose. Think of it this way: Life is essentially your personal vehicle on this Earth, and you are the GPS.

I love long drives (and walks) with nowhere to go, and nowhere to get to, just a good playlist in tow. There’s something meditative and lovely about simply being in life with no expectation or distraction.

 

You grow your best thoughts in silence, solitude, and meditation. When you relax and think deeply, you are giving your inmost powers their best opportunity to disclose themselves. — Grenville Kleiser

All of my best, most revelatory thoughts happen in moments of deep solitude and meditation. I think if someone told me I could sustain myself on solitude, deep thought, and philosophical ponderment for the rest of my life, I’m 98% sure I’d be content 95% of the time.

But this is real life, and short of becoming a recluse or a monk, at some point you’ve got to choose to turn off somewhere and rejoin the world of the living. For deep thought will bring about deeper thought, but it is only in the act of living in which you feel truly alive, meaningful, and human.

The act of living is simply this: to choose with intention, the acts and destinations in life which make you feel alive.

To return to our car and GPS analogy, you choose where you want to go and why. You choose where to stop, turn off, get a coffee, and who to pick up along the way.

The act of living means going from aimless driving and autopilot-mode to one of intention and choice. When was the last time you made an intentional choice to make the choices that make you feel alive on any given day? No, not planning for this evening after work, not planning for the weekend, but NOW on THIS day today.

And in that vein, when was the last time you did something just for you that adds meaning to your life?

How many times are you going to talk about starting that hobby or project, learning that new skill, treating yourself to that self-care thing, going to the place with that person, reorganizing your finances, picking up the book that’s been collecting dust on your nightstand? Even if it may be unexciting to the average person but means something to YOU, and adds to YOUR life.

Yes, life can feel repetitive and meaningless because many of us live every day waiting for the life we want to happen to and for us. We live vicariously through characters in movies and TV shows, and strangers in a box on our cellphone screens—strangers and characters, by the way, whose lives seem to bounce from BIG moment to BIG moment, skipping everything else in between.

Happiness can be comprised of moments of all sizes. While we’re waiting for those BIG moments of happiness—that promotion, vacation, graduation, relationship, proposal—it’s important to enjoy the little moments in between.

Let’s put the joy back into the little everyday things that are sacred, and just for us.

No matter what, whether your life is filled with big moments, or small… whether you prefer to spend today driving around aimlessly & freely, or GPSing it with choice & intention:

Move when you are called to move. Stop when you’re tired—in fact, feel free to take a nap on the side of the road. Switch lanes when the one you are on no longer serves in getting you to your desired destination. Crank up the music when things start to get boring. Roll the windows down. Barely make that red light. Go on cruise control. Change the station.

Remember, it’s never too late to change where you’re going. Where you end up is exactly where you’re meant to be.

#WhereHappinessBegins
Instagram @WhereHappinessBegins_

Why you should tell the truth and assert your boundaries, no matter what.

As I’m writing these blogs, it’s becoming clear to me just how paralyzed I have been in so many areas of life. Not only do I get stuck in ‘analysis paralysis’, but I’ve been paralyzed in communication from such a young age.

Ever since I can remember, it’s been difficult for me to assert my needs and boundaries. The interesting thing is I’ve never had a problem with being confrontational, or sharing my opinions and beliefs. So what gives? What is the key differentiator that separates the occasions when I’m outspoken vs. unable to verbalize my needs?

Avoiding things that risk my self-esteem, or ego.

As I speculate, one thing that comes to mind is Risk. It’s easy to share my thoughts and feelings on subjects I feel particularly passionate or knowledgeable about, i.e. I feel confident I’m not going to appear foolish. It’s also easy for me to share in social situations in which I feel safe, unthreatened, or socially dominant.

However, when it comes to scenarios where there may be a risk to my esteem and ego, or risks a relationship I care about (professional or personal), suddenly I’m mousey, and revert to a childlike version of myself. As a result of not asserting my beliefs and needs, I develop resentment, frustration, and diminished sense of worth.

Other repercussions include the breakdown of many relationships/friendships, staying in certain relationships for far too long, dissatisfaction in my work/career, feeling like I “never” get what I want, feeling like I’m GIVING too much, and just a general feeling of unease.

By not asserting my boundaries, which I see as the healthy walls we must put up to keep happiness IN, I end up building a different kind of boundary – the kind that keeps happiness OUT.

For ease of distinction, let’s label the latter as “Borders”; the primary definition of which according to Oxford Dictionary is, “A line separating two countries, administrative divisions, or other areas.” Keyword: separating.

Borders, boundaries, walls, the elephant in the room, whatever you choose to call it, the results are the same: they build a barrier between you and other people. Between you and love. Between you and what really matters. They get in the way of you getting what you truly want. Build a border high enough, and eventually you’ll block out any sunlight from getting in; light that is essential to your growth.

It becomes easy to be cynical and resentful of others.

 

That doesn’t mean walking around being a total A-hole with disregard for other people’s feelings. But it does mean cutting the bullshit that WILL eventually break the relationship down, anyway.

To tell you from personal experience, it feels so much better to finally air out your truth. Truly. The liberation and lightness you feel after unloading a truth will have you dancing down the street—EVEN if it costs you the relationship.

Is it easy? Nope. Is it risky? Yep. Nerve-wracking, exciting, scary, makes you feel alive? Yep, yep, yep, and yep. Does it put your relationships at risk? Yes! It absolutely may.

Here’s the thing: a relationship sustained on half-truths and resentment is no relationship at all. You are not doing anyone any favours by holding back. That doesn’t mean walking around being a total A-hole with disregard for other people’s feelings. But it does mean cutting the bullshit that WILL eventually break the relationship down, anyway. And if it’s not the relationship that breaks down, it will be your happiness, quality of life, and well-being that does.

Bullshit takes no prisoners, my friends. And for the most part, healthy relationships are able to withstand truthful and authentic communications.

What truthful and authentic communication includes:

  • Care/empathy
  • Open listening without internal dialogue
  • Vulnerability
  • Responsibility
  • Self-awareness
  • Genuine curiosity
  • Respect for myself and others

What truthful and authentic communication DOESN’T include:

  • Blame/accusation
  • A fixed point of view
  • Defensiveness
  • Assumption – including any unconfirmed “intuitions”
  • Expectation or setting the other person up to fail
  • Labelling the other person, or their actions
  • A fixed agenda

8 times out of 10, when I’m communicating from a place that is truthful and authentic, I am able to come to a new understanding with the other person or people, and resolve any issues/concerns at hand. Even when things don’t work out, expressing your truth—your needs, wants, boundaries, feelings and concerns—is completely rewarding on its own.

People aren’t mind-readers!

Expressing your truth also makes it SO much easier for the people in your life to actually contribute to your happiness! Instead of making them the reason for your unhappiness.

Can YOU read minds with 100% accuracy? If not, you should probably stop expecting others to read yours.

#WhereHappinessBegins
Instagram @WhereHappinessBegins_