11 going on 30

True story. My 11-year-old cousin read me a "diary" (she insists it's a journal...but watevs) entry about what her life will be like when she'll be 30-years-old. Voila:

Yep, she'll be an actress living in a mansion, with 4 kids, in great shape, and be making $55 million--oh no scratch that (?!) $50,000 a year. To which I reply, "You'll be 30 in 18 years." Note: She turns 12 next month. To which she exclaims, "OMG! That's not that long!" And stares blankly in the distance as if the ghost of adult hoods past appeared before her.

"Guess how many years I have left?" I asked.
"2?!" in her squeaky pre-pubescent voice.
"Two and a half." I drummed up.
"NOOOOO!! I don't want you to be 30!" She exclaimed with genuine disappointment. Yes, disappointment.

"Oh wow. Really? Why don't you want me to be 30?" I said.

"No," in disappointment again. "I don't want to be 30 either! I just want to stay in my twenties."

"I don't think you're alone there kiddo." I said, "It'll be okay. Your life sounds like it will be pretty great at 30, so you'll be fine." Yes, I consoled a preteen on aging into her 30's today, whom was also unknowingly mocking me about my internal clock.

Cue eye roll to self. 


Also, we proceeded to draw comix of our inside jokes afterward. Little does she know how much fun she's having at 11, and how much fun I'm having with her. Yay! This is why I want to stay in Miami. Memories like this:

Her comic:

My comic (that's her on the left and me on the right. You can tell it's me from my fab reading material):

Family = awesome.

"Queen of Versailles"

Ever wonder what would have happened if you were building the biggest house in America right before the housing crisis of 2007/2008?

Wonder no more! This is what would've happened:

In other words, watch this film! It's on Netflix.

I'm Already Wealthy

I was wealthy for about four years and didn't even know it. I was reading this article by a former executive from a huge bank on Wall Street (Goldman), in which he describes what it means to be wealthy. I'll sum up his point with some little gems at the end are:

"Let’s say you love feeding the less fortunate.  If you have enough passive income in excess of your expenses that you could ladle soup to the homeless – even though that service pays you almost nothing – then you are wealthy.

If you would sell bonds for a living, for the sheer joy itself – the act of efficiently allocating capital or whatever you tell yourself – then you don’t care what your actual bonus is today from Goldman.  So what if you’re down 25% from last year, or you’re up 100%?  Who cares?   You love it!  If you’d do it anyway, and you can afford to do it, then you are a wealthy person."

In other words, wealth is both a state of mind and a state of financial health. Most refer to it as 'retirement'--amassing assets as early as possible until they can live off of those assets. I often hear about retirement as a time in which people "live their life." One of my life goals has been to never feel like I am delaying my life. More than a goal, it's a fear. I fear delaying myself from doing the things I love. Namely, being creative. 

But I realize now, and the aforementioned article stated it so clearly, that I have been doing what I want even though I haven't amassed monetary wealth. For instance, after graduating from a top tier undergraduate university with $28k in loans I moved back home and taught in a low-income neighborhood. I made about $37k each year. I loved living at home, being with my family, and teaching was incredibly rewarding. All the while I saved to take a year to explore (a.k.a. a year "off." I hate referring to any part of my life as "off" so I say "explore" instead). I'd planned to take half of the year and work in government and the other half to work in film/photography/art. My meager savings of about $10k enabled me to take an unpaid internship in Washington, D.C., and then move to Hawai'i to explore photography. I lived off of my savings for about 10 months, never missed a loan payment, got extra cash from photography gigs, and cashed in on some my perks from teaching to pay down my loans. I got them down to about $10k over three years and now, 5 years out, have about $7k left.

The real moral here though is not my loans, but the state of mind I was in while exploring. Although I was nervous about how things would turn out (i.e. Would I get an internship in DC?), I had total flexibility. I had no dependents, obligations, nor true direct responsibilities outside of myself besides a measly $100 monthly loan payment. This. Was. Freedom. 

Whenever a friends and former classmates called to discuss how overwhelmed they felt about not knowing which path to take, I would try to put things in perspective and tell them that we are privileged, educated, and young. And all we have to complain about is having too many choices, and too much opportunity. This was really to assure both my friend and myself that everything really was going to be okay--that we were free. Our biggest problem was too many choices. Say it with me now:  first world problems. 

Today I also finished reading Joe Mihalic's entire blog. He paid off $90k in student loans in 7 months. Here's a nice video summary of his journey:

His blog inspired me to write this blog. But I have to say that although his discipline is truly admirable, his circumstances are far different than my own, and not quite as applicable as I'd hoped they'd be. For one, he had a ton of assets--a house, 3 vehicles, $30k in investments--that I don't have. All of my earthly possessions fit in three suitcases (two checked and a carry-on) per my moving all over the place in the past 5 years. In which time I haven't stayed put for more than 12 months anywhere. Oh, and not to mention, not only does he have a job, but he banks like $70-$80k after taxes. He has a post where he talks about how his salary double from $50k to $100k after grad school. I'm now post grad school as well and my current target salary is what he was making before he went to grad school!? 

This contrast is mostly the nature of our professions: business vs. public service. I don't think I'll ever leave the public service, or my frugul lifestyle. I love it. I am very happy with the choices I've made, and the person I am. I want to just take the time to celebrate how spiritually, intellectually, and professionally fulfilled I am with the choices I've made. In other words, I'm already wealthy. 

During graduate school I worked and studied full time. That saved me about $20k and allowed me to save up again to take 6 months to "explore." I took a paid gig over the summer in education advocacy and an unpaid internship with a documentary film company in the fall. Those two things--education policy analysis and visual storytelling--are what make me feel most alive. I would do these even if I didn't get paid for them, which I've done a time or two-ha!

But now, I find myself a bit less "free" because as I brought down my undergrad loans from $28k to now about $7k, I piled on about $36k from graduate school. Ugh. So add to my 3 suitcases a $43k heavy ball and chain around my ankles, and I definitely don't feel as free or flexible. But although my net worth is negative, I have to keep it in perspective and remember that I'm already wealthy. 

Free Online Finance Course

This week I started taking "Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning" offered by UC-Irvine via Coursera. It's only 7 weeks long:

Week One: Where Are You? Where Are You Going? 
Week Two: Taxes
Week Three: Defense -- Insurance 
Week Four: Investing
Week Five: Funding Retirement
Week Six: Doing the Math and Making Reasonable Assumptions 
Week Seven: Estate Planning 

This week I was all about figuring out where you are, and where you're going. Where I'm at: my net worth is negative -$31,000 - eep! Where I'm going: in 2.5 years I plan to make it positive.

There was something in the course that really got me thinking. It was about investing and retirement. I think perhaps I need to evaluate how viable it is for me to invest in paying down my debt sooner, rather than paying it off later and investing in assets that could pay off my debt instead. So, for example, I could save up $40k over the next few years and buy a short sale, and have the rent from that pay off the loans, and at the end I'd have my loans paid off *and* a house. Sounds good right? Ya!

But before I get ahead of myself, I know it's not that easy and straight forward, but I am looking into it and going to weigh my options (aka crunch a ton of numbers, look at properties, do tons of research, read books, take classes, and all that jazz) before I go buying any investment property. In other words, before setting where I'm going to be "loans paid off in 2.5 yrs" I need to see where else I can go.

But first, let's not forget that I still need a job! Ugh! I have a few gigs here and there, but a full-time job would really be sweet. I had an interview yesterday and hear back about another job next week. Fingers crossed like whoa!

Why I'm Doing This

Why try to pay off your loans in two and a half years rather than ten? 

One word: Freedom.

As a kid I'd imagined that by the time I was 30 I would have my shit together. And that's what I want. I want to have it together, aka financial stability and independence free from the burdens of debt. I can think of a million other things I'd rather be doing for the next 10 years with a $550 monthly payment than pay back loans for an education I'd already received. 

Educational loans are also just so intangible. It's not like a car or house, it's a nebulous payment towards the knowledge that's already in your brain. I just want to get rid of them. In 10 years I'll be 37. I'd much rather make my last student loan payment at 30 than 37 and use that freed up $550 to...I don't know, invest in property, put towards my business, go on a cruise, donate to charity, buy a new phone, or have the freedom to take time off of work to do humanitarian work without worrying about a monthly payment. 

Ah, I can almost taste it. Yummy yummy freedom. Can't wait!

Job hunting > real hunting

I have $43,000+ in student loan debt. I am determined to get rid of it all by the time I'm 30 (April of 2015). But I have one big problem. I don't have any income! I'm currently not employed but looking for work, and living off of my savings. Once I have a job and income (ha!) I may check my optimism and ambition, but know I'll keep trying to reach my goal.

I've been job hunting now for about 3 months. The job hunt really is as intense as what I imagine real hunting to be like. But last week I had my 6th (!) and final round interview for my top job choice. I found out if I got it early this week! Fingers crossed!

An additional challenge is trying to remain professionally active in a field I love but pays very little (media production, documentary films, and photography), while working in the field I was professionally trained in, and pays more (public policy analysis and nonprofit management).

Don't get me wrong, I love public policy and analyzing policy, but, like many artists, I just need to maintain my creative outlet to stay sane! In other words, I have a photography business and just need to get a few gigs, or some freelance video work, to feel fully alive, and intellectually (right brain) and professionally balanced. However, policy work is truly more important to me because I can have a direct impact on communities, make systems more effective and efficient, and experience policy problems more deeply (left brain).

I'm excited to work towards my g.o.o.d. goals...but first, I gotta keep hunting!

Happy G.O.O.D. Year!

As I embark on a new year, my biggest resolution is to make it a g.o.o.d. (get out of debt) one! After seeing numerous friends in their early thirties burdened by debt, I couldn't help but vow that I do not want to feel that way when I'm 30! Thirty, to my nimble and youthful 27-year-old self, seems like a milestone of adulthood. And I'd argue every new decade feels like that to most folks. Many of my friends will be married, own homes, and the proverbial keystone of adulthood, own a piano! Once you own a piano, well, then you're truly settled in my book.

For almost the past ten years (from 18-27) I've wandering joyously throughout the world. I lived in Hawai'i for a year, was an elementary school teacher, and started a photography business, and frankly, just followed my happiness. I did this until recently crossing my metaphorical threshold into adulthood by earning a graduate degree. Getting my Masters was my personal milestone marker onto the highway of "adulthood." And there's nothing like good ol' federal debt to let you know that the unbeaten path you took in the yellow wood lead you right onto America's middle class superhighway! But I must say I did love the ride, and still do.

I've had tremendous experiences, made great friends, created tons of art, and am happy with the decisions I made. But the time has come to face the future and be a responsible adult...aka my grace period's up ya'll!

Right now my only debt is student loans--I don't have a mortgage, car payments, nor credit card debt--because I've been pretty frugal and think I manage my money quite well (i.e. I lived in a Waikiki high-rise for a year and made only $12,000 that year, but had saved for about 2 years in order to do that).

Right now I have $43,000 in loans. Here's the plan:

1/13-4/13 (Age 27) Pay $6k
4/13-4/14 (Age 28) Pay $18.5k
4/14-4/15 (Age 29) Pay $18.5k
April 2015!!! 30! Be debt free!

Here's to the beginning of my first g.o.o.d. year! Wish me luck!
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