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I am someone who likes to dream. Big, fat, amazing dreams. I am, as previously discussed, also someone who likes to make plans that allow those dreams to become reality.
When those plans go to pot, it is, to say the least, frustrating.
In terms of finances, these past two years have been frustrating. Nathan and I had some goals, with the big one involving him returning to school to get his masters so that he could finally make the career switch he’s been dreaming of. So we sat down and made a solid plan (including how we would manage him going to school full time and how we would pay for tuition). And then we put that plan into action.
We were immediately derailed. It was a happy derailment (as we found out I was pregnant), but one that still required us to massively rethink things. So we sat down and made a new plan. Which we then put into action.
And were immediately derailed.
This pattern has happened more times than I can count in the last two years. It has been beyond challenging and has forced us to become amazingly creative in order to allow our dreams to survive. It has also (re)taught me how important financial stability is to the dream seeking process.
As the finish line is in sight for this particular dream (graduation here he comes!), I wanted to take a moment and share some of the lessons we’ve learned about becoming financially stable these last two years (particularly in times that could lead to financial chaos). I hope they help someone else move forward on the paths to their own dreams.
Have an Emergency Fund
You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s one of the best pieces of financial advice out there. When derailments come, having money set aside to cover those costs is a lifesaver. For our emergency fund, I love using Capitol One 360. Capitol One 360 has a great interest rate, no annual fee, and is really easy to transfer money into (and out of). I also really like it because you can open up multiple sub accounts if you want to keep your different goals separate (we have sub accounts for our emergency fund, our general savings, our daughter, etc.).
For our emergency fund, we like to keep a minimum of $1000. We have it set up where a certain percentage of our paychecks go automatically into that account so we don’t even have to think about it. In the past two years, all the derailments have meant that we have filled up and drained that account on multiple occasions (I swear it should be illegal for your dishwasher to stop working two weeks after your bring a new baby home). Once Nathan graduates, we have a goal to build that fund up to 3-6 months of expenses.
As a special offer, if you sign up for a (free) Capitol One 360 account through this link, you’ll get a $25 bonus!
Take Advantage of Cash Back
I’m all about free money. Especially when that money comes from things that I’m already doing. Which is why cash back services can be so wonderful. I buy the things I have to buy anyway and then I get some of that money I spent back.
Now let’s be real. Cash back services are not going to make you rich. But they can be helpful when you’re in a financial pinch. I see them as my rainy day fund, which I like to build up and then use on everyday things (like a week’s worth of groceries) when things are especially tight.
There are a lot of companies out there that want to “pay you” for using their services. Many of them aren’t worth your time. However, there are two in particular that I find really make a difference: Ibotta and Ebates.
Ibotta is the app I like to use for in store purchases: the grocery store, the pharmacy, etc. All you do is download the app and then when you’re ready to go to the store, look through all the “offers” (i.e. coupons) that store has. Click on the ones you think you’ll buy, then, once you come home, simply snap a photo of your receipt and Ibotta will match up all your offers. All in all, it takes just a few minutes. Some of the stores will even link to your loyalty card, which makes the process even faster because you don’t have to upload your receipt.
Sometimes the offers are small but every once in a while there are some really nice ones that allow your cash back to build up quickly (I’m currently loving the $2 rebate on the formula brand that I already buy). They also have bonus offers every month, which can add some nice extra cash to your account. And, if you click through this link, you can qualify for a $10 sign up bonus.
For online shopping, I like to use Ebates. Ebates gives you a percentage of your purchase back when you shop through their link. From Amazon, to Macy’s, to Expedia, the percentages vary from store to store, but they can add up quickly.
I personally put the Ebates extension in my browser so I get a message to activate my Ebates every time I’m on a shopping site that qualifies. All I do is click the link, do my shopping, and then, a few days later, I get the money in my account. You can have your funds transferred to a Paypal account or they will send you a check. It’s really easy. And, if you sign up through this link, you can qualify for a $10 sign up bonus.
Start a Side Hustle
If cash back bonuses aren’t enough, one great step to financial stability is to have a profitable side hustle. There are all sorts of things that people do, but my personal choice was to start a blog. In fact, the whole reason why I started my blog is because I was looking to find a way to create the financial resources that would allow some of my bigger, personal dreams to come true. I loved the idea of doing that through writing about things that I loved and sharing my journey with other people.
One thing to know about side hustles: they are not “get rich quick” schemes. And anyone who sells you a side hustle with a promise that you will be a millionaire overnight is a crook. They take a lot of hard work, dedication, and passion. But, if you’re willing to put all those things in, then it’s amazing what can happen. And who knows, maybe your side hustle will become profitable enough to become your main hustle. Anything is possible.
While my side hustle is still relatively new (and growing), it still has been a huge help. Payments from sponsored posts and affiliate programs have paid some bills and hosted visits have allowed us to have some fun when our budget didn’t allow a lot of extras. And when Nathan landed in the hospital for 4 days a few weeks before Christmas (he is, I’m happy to say, recovering nicely), the new round of hospital bills put our holiday plans in major danger. But, some gift cards I had received as payment for some sponsored posts meant that we could still have some presents under the tree. Something we were all grateful for.
Side hustles are about the long game, but there is no time like the present to get started. Interested in creating your own money making blog? I recommend this free 5-day email crash course.
Have a Last Resort
If I’m completely truthful, even with all of the above, there was a moment when we were in a true bind. All the hospital bills came at once and our emergency fund and our cash back funds weren’t not quite enough to cover it all.
Now there’s something you need to know about me. When I qualified for my first credit card, it was drilled into my head that I should never put anything on that card that card that I couldn’t pay off every month. Interest and credit card fees are, in my humble opinion, of the devil. The charges are so astronomically high and can quickly turn a small financial mishap into a massive disaster that you spend years recovering from. Which is why I always, always, always, pay my credit card balance off in full.
Until this moment. We were stuck. We had these massive medical expenses and not enough money to cover it. I knew that if we put them on our current credit card, we wouldn’t be able to pay it off for months. And the thought of all the interest and fees made me queasy.
After careful consideration, we decided that the best course of action – our true last resort – was to open a new credit card. We chose Discover because of two specific reasons: they had a 14-month 0% APR intro period (i.e. we could take 14 months to pay if off IN FULL without being charged any interest or late fees) AND they had a cash back match for the first 12 months. Which means that every dollar of cash back we earned (which ranges from 1-5% depending on the purchase) in that 12 months, they would gift us an equal amount at the end. With no limit. Which, to us, was free money that we could put towards paying those bills.
Now, let me be perfectly clear. I do not promote opening up a bunch of credit cards. I also do not recommend using an intro period on a new card unless you have a clear pay off plan. But, in a massive pinch, taking advantage of a card like Discover that gives you some time to pay off your debt (and gives you some cash back) can be a real life saver. Just make sure you know exactly how much you need to pay off each month so that when that into period is over, you have a $0 balance.
Want some extra cash back? Sign up for a Discover card through this link and qualify for a $50 bonus.
While I sometimes wish that we lived in a world where all our dreams didn’t require some level of financial support, I do know that being financially stable is the key to making many dreams a reality. (And, for many, financial stability is a dream of its own). I hope these tips help you on your own path to your dreams.
Do you have any tips that have helped your financial dreams come true? Share them in the comments below!