Give Me Back My Five Bucks

There’s more to life than just money

Note: Sorry in advance, this is a long and rambling post. :)

Balancing actGMBMFB was one of the first personal finance blogs in Canada. Back in 2007, you could count the number of PF bloggers on one hand. I had a lot to work on financially, and this tiny community helped me out enormously. My life has changed a lot in the last 9 years, but this blog has remained constant. I love that I’ve been able to make friends with other bloggers and readers, as well as create a freelance career that I never thought was possible.

About a year ago I couldn’t help but realize that my life had become easy – I was making a comfortable salary, I was on track to retire early, and I was able to travel a lot. This was what I had been working on for years – ever since I started this blog. So I didn’t feel like I needed more. And because I didn’t need more, I had a hard time writing about all of the things I used to write about – like increasing my networth or finding new ways to earn and save money. Life was on autopilot and my finances didn’t motivate me like they used to. So I took a step back from this blog and stopped writing – promising myself that once I figured out what I wanted to write about, I’d come back. But one month turned into six months, and before I knew it, I had stopped writing consistently for more than a year.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking about personal finance and blogging again, but from a different perspective. Even though I don’t make a lot of money compared to others, I feel really good about where I am and I know my financial situation is solid. My income is enough to keep me on track to achieve all of the goals that I’ve set out for myself. There are still so many paths that my life could take me, so I’m trying to be flexible and open to everything. Maybe one day I’ll be married. Maybe one day I’ll have kids. Maybe one day I’ll own a home again. Or maybe none of that will happen, and 20 years from now I’ll be happily renting a tiny home and living my life just as it is. Whatever happens, I feel like my current salary could support it.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have it all figured out yet, but that’s what makes life fun. I’ve stopped comparing my life to others, and have learned to enjoy what I have. Earning more money isn’t a priority anymore… which is a weird feeling. And the thought has definitely crossed my mind that perhaps I’ve become lazy, or I’m just not ambitious enough anymore, or I’m not acknowledging my full potential by not pursuing the highest possible income every year. But there’s more to life than just money, and it’s taken me a long time to get here financially as well as emotionally.

Almost all of us have heard about that study by Princeton University researchers where they found the salary sweet spot was $75,000. I’ve been earning around $75,000 since 2011, but I’m a lot happier now than I was back then. In 2011, I had to really fight for that money. I often found myself working 70+ hour weeks, and was constantly stressed out with deadlines on top of my full-time job. Life was messy. Sure, I had the income sweet spot, but where was my quality of life?

After I came back from Germany, I told myself I was never going back to working crazy hours, even if it meant taking a pay cut. And I’ve stayed true to that goal. As I enter into 2016, I find myself working 45 hours/week at the very most, and I predict my salary will be around $80-90k for the year. This is a significant change in the quality of my life, and it’s what I’ve been working towards for years – an income level that is comfortable and sustainable.

There are still a lot of financial goals I’d like to achieve (like becoming a more savvy investor). I’ll still write my monthly budgets for this blog, and I’m still going to make financial goals for myself every year. I aspire to do well at my full-time job, and I’ll pursue freelance opportunities (with a work smarter/not harder attitude). The difference now is that my motivation isn’t driven by making more money anymore. As long as I’m achieving all of my financial goals, my only other goals are to be comfortable and happy.

TL;DR – My new financial goals don’t involve increasing my income anymore. :)

Happy Holidays!

Wishing you and your family lots of love and happiness today. :)


Awkward money conversations

We’ve all had to have 2013-05-03 09.09.21awkward money conversations at some point in our lives. I will admit that I’ve gotten more confident in having them, but as an awkward, introverted person by nature (I’m the person who takes the stairs in order to avoid conversation in the elevator), it’s never easy.

Here are examples of 6 recent awkward money conversations I’ve had over the last year:

1. Having the money talk with RD

When you start to get serious with your significant other, the money talk will inevitably come up. RD had mentioned beforehand that he was debt-free, and I could tell by his spending habits that they were similar to mine. But I wanted to know all the juicy details: salary, retirement, savings, and future financial goals. I think it’s really good in any relationship to get all of that information out in the open so that you can be sure your current lifestyle and future goals will align properly. But even though I knew we had to talk about it at some point, I actively started and stopped the conversation a few times before I got the courage to ask.

Related: When do you have the “money talk” in a relationship?

2. Answering why I’m renting instead of owning

I don’t know many people who have owned a home and gone back to renting. So it was interesting to see how people reacted when they found out I wasn’t buying another place. My default answer is “the commute was horrible, and it also just made more financial sense to rent,” which most people seem to take as me saying I couldn’t afford to buy.

What seemed to always impress people was that I was a homeowner. Since I was able to borrow a quarter of a million dollars from the bank, I somehow had my life put together … because the natural assumption is that people who are renting are only doing so because they cannot afford to buy.

And that’s just not true. I could have bought an overpriced condo on my own in Vancouver. But why would I want to? The topic of real estate is already a touchy subject in Vancouver, so in order to avoid any awkwardness, I usually just let them think what they want to think about my finances. If they really are interested, I’ll answer truthfully.


3. Negotiating my starting salary at my new job

Salary negotiations can be stressful. I had such anxiety about it when I first entered the work force, and since then I’ve been called everything from greedy and bossy, to confident and assertive. But asking for fair compensation does not make you greedy or bitchy or aggressive – it makes you smart because you’re asking for what you rightfully deserve. Salary negotiation is a game you’re expected to play, and if you don’t, you’re potentially leaving thousands of dollars on the table.

I have never taken a job offer without negotiating first, and I’ve never been turned down. Sometimes I have it written in my contract to get an automatic raise after a certain period of time, a year-end bonus, or even an extra week of vacation. A few thousand dollars may not seem like much now, but in the long run, it can add up. Your raises, bonuses, and future earning power are dictated by how you negotiate your starting salary with a company. And that few thousand dollar gap has the possibility of becoming bigger in the future – leaving you farther away from how much you’re truly worth.

When I got a job offer last month, the compensation was at the lower end of the salary range I gave them. I thought about it for a day, exchanged a couple of emails with HR (asking about overtime policy, bonus structure, etc.), and after much consideration to the overall package being offered, I countered at the highest end of the salary range I gave them (about 6% more than they offered) – which they accepted. Had I not done that, I would have ended up thousands of dollars behind.

4. Being honest about my compensation during my exit interview.

At my old position, my salary was fair for the work that I was doing, but I felt underpaid given the marketing skillset I brought to the company. Salary didn’t play a big factor into my decision to leave, but it was something I felt needed to be brought up. And finding a new job that offered more opportunity for growth ultimately resulted in a salary increase.

5. Billing a freelance client who failed to utilize my services.

This was a tough one for me, because I dreaded a potential awkward conversation with them. I signed an exclusive one-month contract with a client to work up to 20 hours for them. But nearing the end of the contract, they had used me for no more than 5 hours of billable time. I thought that perhaps I should pro-rate my contract amount, but after speaking with people in the industry who are much smarter than me, I ended up billing them for the full amount of the contract – and they paid my invoice without batting an eyelash.

6. Asking someone to lower their rates.

About a year ago I wanted to hire someone who billed $180/hour. It was about average, but was way too much for my budget – so I asked if she was able to lower her rates if I guaranteed her X amount of hours billed. I asked politely and made sure to emphasize that I totally understood if she couldn’t. She ended up agreeing, and lowered her rates by $30/hour.

Have you had any awkward money conversations lately?

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