Could you please direct me to the column you wrote some time ago about the best gift we can give our loved ones when we die is to have our affairs in order. I would like to share with family members. Thanks so much.
It's my pleasure to send the link.
Hi Michelle, love your advice, maybe you and Ms. Palmer can help me. I'm in my late 40's, working in the field in which I got my B.S. I so want to do something different, but I'm in a money trap. My husband and I have done a good job saving for retirement and our mortgage will be paid off in 5 years. We have no other debt and have about 4 months living expenses saved. BUT we didn't save well for college and are fortunate enough to pay out of pocket for our oldest who is now in college as well as the younger who will be in college in a year. The goal has always been to have the kids graduate with no debt. So in five years, college expenses are done, mortgage is done, but right now I wish I could change my job, not in 5 years. The problem is I want to do something completely different and I don't think anyone will pay me the same as my current job, which is money we need for college. As a mom, my gut instinct is that I have to stay with this job for the next 5 years and then I can make a change. But then there's the part of me that feels this is my life, too!!! Any advice would be appreciated!!!
I think you are in such an ideal spot and time to try launching something new on the side -- that way, you can experiment with a new potential career for yourself without putting too much at risk. Have you considered what kind of side business you might want to launch to start exploring? Browsing websites like Fiverr, Elance and Freelancer can help give you some ideas. You can get started for very little -- good luck!
Why not do both, as Kimberly points out. I would stick to your current job. Five years will go by faster than you think. But while you are waiting, try doing something on the side in the field that you are interested in moving into. You may find you don't like that as much as you think. Or you may find you could jump ship sooner and make the same money.
Ms. Singletary, I believe I read a long time ago that Big Mama felt her finances were between her, the IRS, and the man upstairs, not university admissions. Now that I have a young child, that philosophy resonates with me. I understand and would accept the consequences if I chose not to divulge my finances with a university. However, universities have us over the barrel in so many ways. What are your thoughts on this philosophy (less on the resulting financial impact, but more on your personal thoughts (i.e., right or wrong) on doing this)? In other words, at what point do we trade our personal beliefs when the monies involved become large? Thank you.
So my grandmother feared everything official because she came from an era where blacks didn't trust institutions and rightfully so. But I don't agree with that fear now. I didn't have a problem sharing my financial information with colleges my daughter applied to. It could have led to some scholarhips. It didn't based on need but she did get a merit scholarship. So I share when the benefit are worth the disclosure.
Can you briefly guide folks who want to recognize extra money opportunities advertised as opposed to empty promises to "get rich simply by keeping your Internet-connected PC turned on while you sleep?"
I definitely warn people to stay away from "get rich quick" kind of schemes -- one big red flag is anything that requires you to spend money upfront, for example. Tapping into your own creativity, skills and passions instead of relying on networking schemes or someone else's "work from home" scheme is a good approach.
Hi Kimberly, I've read your book, v inspiring& energetic anecdotes. What advice about starting a side gig do you have for a single mother juggling childcare (kids too young to 'work' w/the side gig) eldercare (mother too senile to work the side gig), long drive to/from work(no public transit), demanding boss who calls/texts/emails after hrs & requires working late/wknds w/little advance notice? I already sleep just 6 hrs a night, how do i start a business when none of my time is my own?
Thank you! I hear you on the time management front. It's very hard to do everything. I have two little ones myself. And you need sleep! My best advice is to steal small slivers of time where you can -- nap time, after kids are asleep, lunch break -- and be very focused about accomplishing small steps during that time. For example, open a twitter account, read a competitor's blog, edit one of your product listings, respond to a customer's comment. I know it's not easy, though! Good luck.
You might also consider that it's not your season yet for a side gig. Unless you need the money, you may have to wait until the kids are a little older, you more time on the job (or a better boss), etc. Everything in it's time. If you try to do too much, you will get burned out and then you won't be productive to your day job or side hustle.
Hi Michelle! I love your columns and discussions and I am finally taking some of your advice. I have been seriously thinking about my retirement dreams to semi-retire in 12 years when I and 56. I realized I can't do that with my debt. I went through a bad divorce and racked up lots of bills and have been making excuses why I can't start paying it off. I finally sat down and wrote it out and I have $48k in credit cards, car loans and student loans. I wrote out a reasonable repayment plan that will have me debt free in three years. 2 months in and I have stuck to the plan and have already reduced the debt $1400! So here's the rub. I could be more agressive but I can't find motivation to become more frugal in my daily life and build up a life happens and emergency fund. I'm a federal employee with a good salary, so until the furloughs I didn't really worry about losing my paycheck. I wasn't raised with a good financial habits. For the past several years my primary motivation has been watching my parents struggle to live on social security checks. How does someone like me find the motivation to follow through?
Knowing what motivates you can be so key when it comes to staying focused! I personally am a fan of visualization and creating vision boards that you can keep nearby. What does financial security look like for you? What does your 'dream life' look like? Writing that down, or cutting out photos from magazines, and keeping those reminders nearby -- especially when you have spending decisions to make, and you want to make the right one -- can be helpful. Also, setting aside time to make some small progress each week is also useful. Do you have a friend who could help encourage and check up on you as well? Good luck!
Kimberly is so on point. Put your desires in front of you. Write down on a note card that you want to be debt free. Then just pull it out when you start to feel you need more motivation.
I also want to say, you are doing GREAT. You need to also give yourself credit for what you've done so far.
I have an idea for a business, but I don't know whether it's workable or how to get started on it. Are there consultants who can answer such questions? How can i find them, and should I have concerns about them keeping my idea confidential?
Why not just test it out in the marketplace? If it's a service, you could use a website like Fiverr to describe what it is you have to offer and then to start seeking customers. If it's a product, you could list it on one of the many ecommerce sites out there. If it's something that someone could steal, like an invention, then you might want to consider getting the advice for an intellectual property lawyer. But if it's something creative, or a service, it's hard for people to steal that kind of thing, because it is uniquely yours.
Not a question. I started a small home based business -- Canine Accommodations-dog sitting in my home. This is really Plan C to have fur in my life on an intermittent basis. After my wonderful beautiful 17.5 YOA Holly went to the Rainbow bridge, I could travel but I still wanted living fur in my life. Tried fostering but not best fit and I didn't get paid. Now, with Canine Accommodations, people bring me there dogs, they go out of town, I have a fur fix and then I get paid. Part of the money goes to animal shelters and the fur parents are so grateful to have a place for their kids that isn't a kennel.
Thank you for sharing this! I'm glad you found a home-based business that works so well with your life. I found that pet-related side-businesses really seem to be growing, perhaps because many busy professionals need help caring for their pets. I even saw a "cat coach" advertised the other day -- this is clearly a rich area for entrepeneurs -- thank you for sharing your experience.
I got a dog a year ago. And so need a dog sitter. Or doggie camp. My kids haven't kept to any of their promises to walk, entertain, etc. for the pooch.
Any tips on how to keep things balanced while trying to grow a side pursuit? I work full time and have a family. What strategies seem to work in your opinion?
This is one challenge that comes up in almost every conversation I have about building a side business -- we are all already so overworked, how can we possibly find time to launch something new? My view is that yes, it can be more stressful and challenging to add a new side business to your life, but the alternative -- the potential for even greater financial stress that comes from losing a job with no back-up income in place -- is far more stressful. To balance everything, I recommend taking a deep look at priorities and seeing what types of things you can cut. Maybe you can save time on grocery shopping and other chores by outsourcing them to give yourself more time to build your business, for example. Good luck, I know it's not easy!
Steps to form a small business around something you love to do--and get paid for it--like playing the piano, designing clothing, etc
This is the dream -- to earn money through your passion or hobby. I think the best way to get started is to take a look online to see how other people are currently earning money from what you like to do -- if it's playing the piano, for example, you'll see people offering piana lessons on Craigslist for example, or selling piano-related ebooks on Amazon. If it's designing clothing, visit Etsy to see how people are earning income from selling their designs. Taking a close look at the people a few steps ahead of you can provide a lot of inspiration as well as concrete next steps for you as you build your own business.
Michelle, how did you get through your early childcare years? Daycare costs as much as a mortgage, or college tuition. I do not qualify for subsidized childcare. I can't afford to quit my job. These years go by fast, right?
I thought I would chime in on this one as well - I'm also living this reality right now with two little ones in daycare! It is shockingly expensive. I am trying to get through it by eliminating any extra expenses we can -- cable, unnecessary food items, etc., and taking the long-term view. You are right, it will go by so quickly!
We did the same thing. Just lived as frugally as we could. Not much eating out, kept our cars for a longgggggg time. Didn't shop much. Seriously, my son, the second kid, wore some of his sister's baby clothes. I say pink is the new blue.
But the years did go by and the cost got less and less.
Hi Michelle- I'm a single young professional in the metro DC area, making just above 100k a year and am contemplating buying a house or condo, ideally in DC itself. However, as I look at housing prices, I wonder how single people can afford home ownership without significant help from parents or a similar infusion /windfall of cash. Admittedly, I've just begun looking, but it seems that due to income, I wouldn't qualify for first time homebuyers programs. I know people who have purchased in the city with a single income, but I am not seeing how it's possible to do so yet still remain fiscally responsible. (ie not spending more than a third of your take home pay on housing, etc) What am I missing?
Congratulations on being so successful! Your situation sounds quite impressive! I see what you are saying, though, that it is also challenging, and given housing costs in the area, buying a first home is never easy. You might just need to wait longer until you can really save up a significant (20%) down payment. Saving that much will help get you in the habit and prepared to afford your future mortgage, too. Good luck!
You hit the nail on the head. People are buying but not being "fiscally responsible" because they can't afford the mortgage AND save. Wait and save more or look outside DC. But the bottom line, you can get a home, it may just take you a little bit longer.
Sorry that I have not yet read the book, but what about spending the energy you would otherwise spend to build a side business finding ways to economize so you have more financial freedom? (Finding a job with a shorter commute, cutting cable, cooking at home more, not buying new clothes or gadgets, etc.) Learning how to live on less could shorten the time you have to work in a traditional job and make it less risky to change to a less remunerative career you love.
I love and recommend all of those strategies as well! Living frugally and designing the kind of life you want is an essential part of building financial security for yourself and your family. For some people, another ingredient is also earning more money in the form of a side business. A side business can also offer an incredible sense of creative satisfaction that also leaves you feeling happier and more fulfilled, especially when you know you are creating products or services that are helping other people.
Also, I am certainly not recommending anyone leave their full-time job or a traditional job that they love. For many people, myself included, the ideal situation is a full-time job that provides enjoyment as well as security, and also a side-business that offers the chance for creative exploration and additional income.
Can I add one more thing?
What Kimberly says in her book is that a side business is also about security not just having more money to buy more things. I believe, as she does and advocates in her book, that it's important in this economy with employers who will lay you off in a heart beat, that you have multiple streams of income. You have to prepare yourself to take care of yourself should you lose your day job.
AND do what you say, live below your means.
What is your thought of parents (me) helping my 23 year old daughter save by contributing to an IRA for her. She has some school loans but I'm incline to let her tackle that problem. Thanks to my wife, our finances are in good shape.
I look forward to hearing Michelle's thoughts on this and thought I would also add that the best ways my parents helped me finanically at that age were not directly financial -- it was their career advice and generall emotional support that helped me most. My mom also encouraged me to open an IRA at that point (with my own money) and I'm sure glad that I did.
Actually, if you want to help her save for herself, help her get rid of that debt. I believe it's the responsibility of parents to pay for college anyway. But perhaps you didn't have the money or your kid wasn't doing at first what she should and you backed off and let her pay for school. But the best gift to start her future off right is to help her become debt free.
So I would pay off the student loans.
But do they really? I have two young boys in part-time childcare right now. And yes, maybe while both boys are in elementary school, my costs will go down. But middle and high school scare me! I'll have two teenaged sons who will have activity costs, and will likely increase my grocery bill, right?
Well, I have yet to get to the elementary school age with my own, but I would imagine it will be hard to compete with the cost of two little ones in daycare. Also, hopefully continuing to invest in your career (and side business!) means a slow and steady growth of income, too, to help offset some of those costs.
In some ways you are right. Many parents decide to send their kids to private school, which can me much, much more than daycare when they were little. My advice, do what you can afford. Always! And plan. Costs for the kids will shift to other things. So you have to continually keep track of your budget and adjust as expenses come and go for the kids.
Michelle, I have worked for two different public colleges, and my partner has worked for 3 different privates over the course of our careers. Every one of those institutions required that students who wanted to be considered for need-based OR merit aid fill out the FAFSA. So-- just beware that if you choose not to fill it out, the institution may not award your child merit aid that he or she might otherwise qualify for.
You are right on that point. But it's always a choice. If you want to keep your business your business you may lose out. I chose to divluge to get every penny I could for my kid to help for college because every penny she got in scholarhips (merit) means she has more money in her 529 plan for graduate school.
Dear Michelle, I have been for the most part happily married for 3 years. Ever since my wife came to the US 8 years ago, even while she was in college, she has regularly sent money to her family in Bolivia. We discussed this befeore we got married and agreed that she would send $250 a month. She sometimes sends a bit more, which causes some tension as we are trying to save up to buy a house and start a family, but I understand how money from the US is a lifeline for many struggling families in other parts of the world. However, I now have 2 major concerns. (1) We have visited her home town a couple times and I can't tell where this mone is going. Many local families who receive US funds have built or enlarged their homes, installed indoor plumbing, electricity, air conditioning and the like, bought cars, etc. However, her family has not done any of this. Nor are they paying for education or major medical bills. The cost of goods and labor is so low that $3000 a year should allow them to live fairly well, but that's not happening. My wife gets very defensve when I question her about this and says it's their money to ue as they please. (2) Her younger sister will turn 15 in April 2015 and they are planning an $8000 Quinceanero (15th birthday celebration for girls) of which we are expected to contribute the major portion. First, I think it's obscene for a family living in a house with dirt floors and no running water to spend this kind of money on a party. We had a very nice wedding for substantially less. Plus it would make a large dent in our house and baby savings account. My wife says her sister wold be soooo disappoined if we dont do this and her family would lose face in the community. I know I agreed she could send money to her family, but I view her agreeing to marry me as also agreeing that we would save for our own needs ad wants. I'm starting to view her family as a money pit and she's more committed to them than she is to me. We did discuss finances prior to marriage just as you recommend but now it's all coming apart. Is there any hope for our future?
I really wanted to take your question because clearly you have thought this out. I tell people all the time when they get married they often marry the other spouses' family and problems. On the surface without more time and ability to ask you more questions, you wife is violating your agreement, even sending more money above what you agreed to on a monthly basis. Right now you have a marriage problem not a money problem. She's violating your trust and the convenant of the marriage because your needs and desires (that of your family -- you and her) come first and you should be in total agreement for every single penny she gives to her family. So if you want to say no on the party. Say no. Stick to that no. But as you do, suggest that you two seek marriage counseling.
I would share your concerns about the use of the money by her family. Perhaps instead of sending cash, you could arrange for payment of services to improve their lives. If that's not what they want and you object to your money being spent for just stuff and a $8,000 party, you have every right to express that. By the way, this happens with American extended families too. My husband and I gave a relative money to buy a washer and dryer so the relative didn't have to go to the laundry late at night. She took the money but never got the washer and dryer.
If you want to talk more offline, I'm happy to help.
But you need to figure out a way to let her help her family within reason and she needs to accept that you both should agree on how much to help and for what.
Hi Michelle: I am a single woman in my mid-40s. The only debt I have is my mortgage. I am lucky to have a relatively well paying job so I save close to 30% of my pay each month. I live beneath my means. I'm working steadily towards my goal of retiring in my early 50s, while enjoying life along the way. Is there a formula to figure out how much money I'll need for retirement? I live in the DC area, but plan to move out of the area when I retire to cut my expenses. Thank you!
I am a fan of using some of the very useful online retirement calculators (such as those at bankrate.com) to help you come up with a specific number. If you work with a financial institution for your retirement savings, it might also have a custom calculator to help you with this. The best online calculators take into account a wide range of factors, including taxes, living costs, expected longevity, etc.
You can also try the retirement caluclator at choosetosave.org. Everyone's retirement number will be different depending on where you live, what type of lifestyle you want, if you retire with any debt, etc. Run the numbers and perhaps talk to a profession and you'll be able to see if you will have enough to retire.
We are the only country in the world that taxes anything overseas. The IRS has clearly overstepped its bounds in so many ways. I do not agree that people should be doing something illegal - but our govt is way out of control. Something needs to be done. I read an article not long ago where people who were born here then moved to where their parents were from are being tracked down by the IRS and given tax bills. When to them they are clearly not american and only lived here for a few years as children and do not want to be citizens. Another case of the IRS/Feds overstepping. it is really awful. At what point do we say: enough!!
When do you say enough?
When they put the handcuffs on you and haul you off to jail for not paying your taxes.
The fact is we live in the US and have to pay taxes according to our laws. Lobby your congressional representatives to get things changed but deciding you just won't pay because you object is not fair to the rest of us who do.
For the poster who asked about paying additional amounts to student loans from last week - For most of the student loan servicing websites, you should be able to log into your account and make "loan level" payments directly through the sites. Some of them require a bit of savvy clicking, as sometimes it's hard to find the link. My strategy is to sign up for automatic bill payments (usually reduces interest by a half-percent) and then to make an additional payment through the website after the monthly payment is posted, which is directed to the specifc loan amount of my choice.
Thanks. But please folks make sure any extra payments you make are directed to the principal. Companies have been found to take extra payments and count they toward future payments and not as a decision to pay down the principal.
Hi Michelle, I'm 51 years old and have been working a government job for 33 years. Also, I have a part-time job that helped me through some tough times after my divorce 14 years ago. Although I can retire from my full-time job, I'm not sure that it's the right thing to do. I have savings, but also have about 5 years left on my mortgage and car payment. Should I retire and just work the part-time job, or would it be better to continue working the full-time job and get rid of the second job? I'm really worried about the tax consequences of continuing to work both jobs. I also recently remarried, both kids have graduated college, working, and on their own. Help me please!!!!!!!!
Congratulations on balancing a full-time job in the federal government with a part-time job for so long, that must not have been easy to do. In fact, I often hear from federal workers about the challenge of getting specific side businesses cleared by their agencies given the potential for conflicts of interest. So kudos to you on that front.
I think the answer to your question is a very personal one and depends a lot on how much you enjoy both your full-time job and your part-time job. You might also benefit from the advice of a tax professional. Good luck!
When people ask when is the right time to retire, I tell them the same thing. Work the numbers. If you can live off what you have saved for 20 to 30 to even 40 years because you have no debt, know how to live within your means etc. then you may be able to retire.
And why are you worried about the taxes?
Even if you are at the highest tax bracket you are still making money by working.
Hello. Great discusion! I've worked extremely hard over the last eleven years as a Federal contractor and haven't really pursued any hobbies. I'm not sure what I would like to do as a side business. Are there any tools you recommend to help you determine your passion and match it with your skill set?
Yes! I love helping people with this exciting step of first dipping their toes into the side business waters because it can be so eye-opening to see all the possibilities. I recommend starting by just taking an hour or so to browse some of the top e-commerce websites -- I usually recommend starting with Etsy, Fiverr, Elance, Freelancer and even Craigslist -- and seeing how other people are earning money online.
Some side businesses are quite quirky! For example, writing wedding speeches for other people is a trending side-gig on Elance right now. You might get some ideas that you have never even considered before. It might involve tapping into a long-forgotten passion, like speaking in cartoon voices (another popular one on Fiverr), or offering career coaching services... the possibilities are endless!
Just have to say, so thrilled for you that you now have a dog! Yeah, your kids don't help as much as they promised, so what else is new. If you just need some doggie daycare from time to time, look into your local Petsmart or independent petstore or dog-training businesses. Many of them have full or half-day boarding options. Some vets offer the same. It's a good idea to get your dog used to this on occasion so that if you ever have a real emergency, their first time boarding will not be a multi-day experience in a strange place. I chose our vet because it is the local 24-hour-emergency place, and they have boarding and always have someone on the premises, so the dogs are not completely alone in the building overnight. If your dog is neutered, that opens up more possibilities for open play area, boarding, where dogs are not confined to crates and can play together. Only good if your dog is ok with other animals, of course.
I know. I know. He's a cute little thing. And has quickly become "my" dog. But I didn't want a dog. Love him but not happy picking up poop. Thought I was done with that when I potty trained my kids. I was the lone hold out. We had gone through a lot of deaths in the family and I caved. Shouldn't have because too much of the responsibility has fallen on me.
Moms don't believe the hype!
Just wondering, Michelle - Why do you think it's the parent's responsibility to pay for college? And thanks for all of your great advice here and in your column!
I decided to have the kids.
I decided to have kids knowing that in today's economy, for many people, a college education is a must-have thing like high school.
So, since my kids aren't working as kids and they can't save to send themselves to college, it's my job so that they don't start off their adult life in debt.
I have two kids - 11 and 8 1/2. When they were both young, day care cost us about $25,000 per year. Now, they both go to elementary school and we both work so they go to the before/after care center. It's about $12,000 per year. Food does cost more now but not $13,000 per year more. Next year, older goes to middle school and she ages out of after care so it'll drop to $6,000 and. A few years later, it'll drop to $0.
It all adds up from the time they are born til they launch. Expenses go up and down, then up (with college), etc.
I've thought of side businesses for quite a while but my ideas all require a substantial investment to get started. Any suggestions for getting money to start?
I usually urge people to consider side gigs that have very low start up costs (or even zero) in order to minimize the risk that you are taking on. The beauty of using existing e-commerce websites to get started is that you don't even have to create a new website or figure out how to accept payments and instead you can focus on the creative side of your business. If your idea really requires big start up costs, then I would recommend waiting until you can save up enough to pay for them outright. You don't want to get into trouble with debt over your side business.
I used to pay my bills within a few days of when they arrived, now I am finding myself waiting longer and longer before I realize I have to pay the bills. It doesn't seem to matter if they are paid online or via a paper statement in the mail, they all wait until the last minute. It isn't that I don't have the money, just I don't have the time and energy to do it. I am tempted to just send a 3-4 month payment to avoid having so many bills to pay each month. I know it is a time management issue, as other chores are also falling behind as the few nights I am able to be at home, my only interest is just crashing. I know that not paying the bills on time will cause problems, but finding even 30 minutes a week to devote to reviewing the latest bills and sending in the payments has been difficult.
I completely hear you on this, when you're really busy it's hard to find time to pay bills. That's why you should definitely be automating those payments. Most utilities, credit cards, etc. allow you to do this very easily with no extra cost, and you also avoid late payments that way. See if that is an option for you -- then instead of getting a bill to pay, you'll simply receive an email notification telling you that the automatic payment has been applied. And you can spend your time on much more enjoyable pursuits.
My son applied to a private college that asked that our CSS financial profile be submitted with the application. I knew that there was no way that we would be eligible for need-based aid, and did not want to share our finances with the collge for no reason. So I asked for an exemption regarding the CSS and got it. Ironically, my son did end up getting a small merit scholarship (but chose to go elsewhere). This might not work for a large, public university like UMCP where Michelle's daughter goes but it never hurts to ask.
You are right. Never hurts to ask.
If you don't want to be an American citizen and enjoy the ease of travel that affords you, not to mention job opportunities here and voting rights in the US, feel free to renounce your citizenship and give that up and you don't have to pay US taxes. (which go to support overseas counsulates and embassies which will help you if something happens to you in your chosen country of residence).
Another take on the tax cheat issue.