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Do You Have Your Best Interest In Mind?

Is it really you, though? I’ve found whenever you don’t have a set of values and plan in place, it can be really freaking easy to let others dictate what’s best for you. Lesson learned? People love to spend your money for you. Especially when you don’t have any sort of plan for it.

Many moons ago, I was very stressed for a very dumb reason. Okay, maybe not so dumb. Looking at it now, it feels dumb but back then I didn’t think so.

When I was a teenager, age 18, new to college, I had this idea of how I wanted my life to look. A swift move caused me to declare my major as public relations-mass communication. The move came after I had my initial sit down with an academic advisor. 

“You need to choose a major right away. You already have enough credits that you’re technically almost a college junior. Not a freshman” 

I don’t remember what I said. I might have just mumbled an ‘Oh’ and preceded to point to a major I vaguely had in mind. Public relations appealed to me because I liked finding ways to get the message out about something. Being able to improve my speaking skills (since I was super introverted) was also a plus.

My advisors in my program assured it was the best thing for me. They talked about how everyone improved their professional development so much through it. I went along with it because I thought they had my best interest in mind.

The media program at my university was a typical media one. It was a competitive fast-paced environment where people loved to be defined by their work. Getting an internship or job at a well-known company was how they defined success.

So, naturally, the best interest in mind appeared to be getting a job at a prestigious media company.

Unpaid internships were very common in the field. Following the best interest of the masses involved depleting your bank account and hastily working a low-wage job in addition to an unpaid internship. It was all about getting ahead. And this seemed like the only way.

Thrust into life after graduation, a whole lot of spendy things presented themselves. Everyone knows houses and weddings can be expensive but what about everything else? Buying furniture, getting actual kitchen supplies (rather than just eating Ramen), and the cost of attending other people’s weddings.

Since these expenses rarely get talked about, the money can have a tendency to part from your bank account without much notice.


A few years ago, on a sunny day, I made my way to a Mercedes Benz dealership. I was looking to get an extra key for my smart car. (Mercedes-Benz distributes the Smart Fortwo in the U.S.)

Before I could make my way to the parts desk for the new key, a snazzy car salesman started talking to me. He made a reasoning why I needed to ditch the Smart Car and opt for something more roomy and nicer. He went on and on about how I deserved it and could afford it.

Me? A person who was working an entry-level paying job affording a Mercedes Benz? LOL.

But for a moment, I thought he had my best interest in mind. He was very convincing in the way he talked and reasoned. My monthly car payment would provide me peace of mind and reliability, he said.

Remembering Chevy’s very convincing millennial-targeted car ads didn’t help. 

My dad even told me I should get a new car. They were new and reliable! He said. This was my dad. Surely he had my best interest in mind!

Luckily I never did listen to my dad about getting a new car. I kept my old one and continued to drive it. Since then, I’ve learned a car payment isn’t a common, necessary thing. I’ve also been slowly learning that my work doesn’t define my purpose or constitute the image of success. That has to come from me. No prestigious media company required.

So, who has your best interest in mind?

I wonder about this a lot. Not just for me, but for others. When you see something so much, it starts to seem normal. People finance new cars they can’t afford and way more house than they need. When you see people spending a lot of money on professional development and self-care (ugh) you start to feel like you’re doing something wrong if you’re not spending a lot on it.

I guess it’s easy to say ‘me’ when asked who has your best interest in mind. Is it really you, though? I’ve found whenever you don’t have a set of values and plan in place, it can be really easy to let others dictate what’s best for you.

People love to spend your money for you. Especially when you don’t have any sort of plan for it.

Who has your best interest in mind? 

How To Choose The Best Robo-Advisor For You

There’s a new kid on the block and it’s the kind of person you weren’t looking for but now totally want to know. (big statement to make, I know). Let’s talk about how to choose a robo-advisor.

Investing doesn't have to be complicated. You can have a passive, hands-off option that allows you to grow your wealth. Click through to read on how to choose a robo-advisor.

Not exactly a person, more like an automated service. These automated services walk you through what you want to do with your money and create a portfolio plan around it.

If you’re any more than an occasional reader of personal finance blogs, you are probably aware of the importance of investing. You’ve seen the charts showing how magical compound interest is, stood awkwardly while baby boomers told you retirement horror stories, and even saw the fake quote from Albert Einstein about how compound interest was the 8th wonder of the world.

You know investing is important but you don’t want to have to research what funds to pick, how to rebalance your portfolio, and do a bunch of other things that leave you puzzled.

You want a passive option that allows you to be investing while not having to get too involved with managing your investment portfolio. Let’s talk about how to choose a robo-advisor.

How I (finally) got started investing

Set out to do good for myself, I got enrolled in a 401k plan at my first full-time job and it came with an employer match. I contributed into the 401k but didn’t really know anything about investing. Scratch that, I knew *nothing* about investing. So the money just sat there in my account, for several months, not invested in anything.

A few months later, I opened up a Roth IRA with Fidelity (the same place where my 401k was). I was excited and ready to invest! But…most of Fidelity’s funds came with a $2,500 minimum to invest. I had nowhere near that.

After moving on from that first job, I rolled the 401k into my Roth IRA and started to look at how to invest.

I read several blog posts, listened to podcasts, and read a really great book called, The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to be Complicated. The information, although all good, didn’t give me the desire to fully manage my hypothetical investment portfolio.

Mulling over options, I came across the idea of using robo-advisor services. I wondered how to choose a robo-advisor service that was best for me. The top two platforms, Betterment and Wealthfront, both offered a very nice appeal to a beginning investor like me. Both services offered automatic rebalancing and investment portfolios geared towards your risk tolerance and goals.

It came down to fees and situation. I chose Wealthfront, since you can get the first $10,000 in assets managed for free. The fees becomes a flat rate of 0.25% after $10,000.

Now I have a portfolio of low-cost ETFs and my investing is automated! I don’t have to check on it as often as a do-it-yourself type of approach. I like that.

How to choose a robo-advisor

I want to go through some ways to help you figure out how to choose a robo-advisor for you. Let’s get crackin’

1. Management fees

One of the big things to do when investing, besides the actual investing part, is to keep your fees as low as possible. Fees from the funds you’re invested in, advisor/management fees, trading costs, they can all add up.

As actor Billy Eichner says, Keep your fees, like your milk, under 1%. Keep them wayyyyy under 1%.

Betterment charges a 0.25% advising fee. Wealthfront is free, having no advising fee on the first $15,000 managed. It becomes 0.25% after that.

2. Investment Options

With many robo-advisors, including Betterment and Wealthfront, you don’t have a choice in which funds to invest your money. The investment decisions are made by the platform (usually via a computer algorithm). So it’s important to see what investment options there are when looking at how to choose a robo-advisor.

The money is often invested in low-cost ETF’s like a total stock fund, emerging markets, international, and some bond funds. What is unique is your asset allocation (the percentage you have in stocks and bonds) based on your risk tolerance, which is usually based on a short questionnaire you fill out.

3. Minimum Opening Deposit

When you have little money to invest, low or no account minimums can be *wonderful*. Betterment offers no account minimum ($0, yeah!) and Wealthfront has a $500 account minimum.

Don’t focus too much on getting one with the lowest account minimum. Keep in mind the full scope of features, interface, and fees each platform has to fit your needs.

4. Platform Interface and Features

One of the things surprisingly mentioned when looking at how to choose a robo-advisor is their online interface. Some of them have really great interfaces that help you visualize your long-term goals and figure out ways to do more.

This is so great at motivating you to save for retirement and your other goals.

Betterment offers a RetireGuide calculator that shows you how much your money will amount to over time and how much you need to save per month or year to reach your goals. It lets you customize your accounts to different types of goals you have (retirement, house down payment, etc.)

Wealthfront offers a similar thing with their Path tool, a visual interactive tool used to set and see your savings goals over time. You can also connect your accounts to monitor your spending with it.

Robo-advisors are a fresh face when it comes to the world of investing. It’s going to be interesting to see how they do in the years to come.

A lot of people, including seasoned investors, are critical of them due their new-ness and spot in the investing world. We all have to start somewhere, right? Robo-advisors can be a great way to get started investing or for people who know they should invest but don’t want to manage it too much. For me, when it came to how to choose a robo-advisor, it came down to three things: fees, investment options, and customer help/online tools.

I want to keep my fees as low as possible, while still being able to passively invest. Ultimately I went with Wealthfront.

For investment options, I wanted to make sure most of the pre-selected investment options were low-cost funds. Also, looks matter (sort of… :)). I wanted a platform that had an interface that made it easy to enable auto-deposits, give a snapshot of investment loss or growth, and show me how much to save based on my goals.

You’ll still find me reading over articles on investing and looking over different investment portfolios, but for now, using a robo-advisor service like Wealthfront works great for me.

Are you confused about the world of investing and want to learn more? Enroll in my free 7-day Investing 101 For Millennials email course.

Just two years ago, I knew nothing about investing and kept all my money in a savings account earning 0.05% interest. Once I learned more about investing and it’s power to build wealth, I got started with it. Investing doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary!

The course will walk you through the basics of investing, why it’s important, why everyone should be doing it, and how to set up and get your first investing account ready to go.

Click the image below to learn more!

Investing 101 for Millennials

Have you ever considered using a robo advisor? How do you choose the best robo advisor? 

How I Live Well On $1,200 a month

I live well on $1200 per month. It doesn’t have to be super difficult. Although it does help to be in a good area and have a frugal can-do mindset.

This is about how I live well on $1200 per month. It doesn’t have to be super difficult. Although it does help to be in a good area and have a frugal can-do mindset.

I get a lot questions every now and then from people about how I’m able to live on such a small income. Short answer? Location matters a lot. You want to be in a location that has a low cost of living. Although you don’t want to choose someplace solely for its ultra-low cost of living. Doing that is a recipe for disaster in the form of being bored out of your mind in a place where there is nothing to do.

Nobody wants that! I don’t want it either.

Right now I live in an area near Bangkok, Thailand. Two common things come to people’s minds when they think of Thailand: gorgeous beaches with huge limestone rocks in the background (those are Thailand’s southern islands) or they think of the crazy Thailand scenes they saw in The Hangover 2.

Well, my living situation doesn’t involve either of those things. Bummer, since I really did want to meet Zach Galifianakis!  My living area does suffice, though!

I ended up in Thailand back almost a year ago when I moved abroad to teach English here. I’ve been teaching at a private school in an area near Bangkok and have been loving it. I’m the only male Kindergarten teacher in the whole school and one of the few in the entire school’s history!

My salary for the job is 43,000 baht per month. Per current exchange rates as of this writing, that comes out to about $1,223 USD per month. Crap. Poor right? Not really.

Thailand is known for having a low cost of living. The Bangkok area and South can get pricey since they are where hoards of tourists go but places up North like the popular digital nomad city of Chiang Mai has a really nice low cost of living.

Let’s break down where my monthly salary goes.

Rent (5,500 baht)

I don’t need something super upscale for living. As long as the place doesn’t have a bug problem or crazy people, then I’m good. The apartment complex I live in is kind of dated. The walls are bland and a little dirty. There is no pool or gym or any fully staffed office. I live in a 400 square foot one bedroom apartment. The rent is 5,500 baht ($156.43 USD) per month.

There are definitely higher end options. Several other teachers at the school live in a more modern apartment complex with a pool, gym, and rooms with modern looks and appliances. However, it does come with a cost. They pay between 9000 to 12000 ($256-341 USD) baht for their apartments.

Utilities (1,350 baht)

My electric bill costs around 650 baht per month, give or take. Internet (15 mbps download/1.5 mbps upload) costs 650 per month. The speed is enough to stream things like YouTube and Netflix with ease. My water bill, and this is the one I really love, is only about 50 baht per month! Some months it’s higher, like one time when it was 80 baht, but most of the time it’s lower. I can’t believe the water bill is so cheap!

Food (8,500 baht)

If you’re ever keen on visiting Thailand, you’ll probably hear how it’s best to avoid western food and focus having most of your meals be local food. It’s because the local food is way cheaper. You can get street cart dishes for around 40-60 baht. The area I live in doesn’t have an abundance of street cart food as Bangkok does so many of my meals come from the mall or a nearby market. Every now and then I do like to buy some Subway or other western food. I like Pad Thai and other Thai dishes but sometimes I just need something familiar and more filling (since the Thai dish servings are small).

A minor problem I have is that there is no kitchen in my apartment. There is a kitchen sink off in one corner of the living room. That’s it. There is no stove, no microwave, and no dishwasher. Not even a countertop. Just a kitchen sink with a small part next to it to put sponges and stuff.

This isn’t too big of a deal since I, and many Thai people eat out for many of their meals. Since I’m a single person, it’s cheaper to eat out than try to cook myself. I can usually get breakfast stuff for under 40 baht ($1.14 USD) and lunch and dinner stuff for under 100 baht ($2.84 USD). I don’t even have my refrigerator plugged in! If I ever need a cold drink all I have to do is run down to the first floor outside where the Family Mart is.

Cell phone (420 baht)

It’s common to get data only cell phone packages. Since many of the people here communicate via the Line App for text messages and calling, all you really need is a good size data package. I pay 420 baht per month for 4.5 GB of 4G data. Way cheaper than the average American cell phone bill. I love it!

Gym (1,500 baht)

Gyms are pricey here! Not sure why. My $20 former Planet Fitness membership is small compared to what I’m paying now, which is around $43 USD. Eh, it’s not ideal but I’m okay with it. I’m one of those people who does use their membership. So at least I’m not wasting the membership away!

Miscellaneous (3,730 baht)

This is mainly reserved for any weekend travel but it’s used for other things. Every so often, I buy pencils, poster boards, and other office supplies when making educational materials for my class. This category also includes my laundry service which is around 400 baht per month.

A cool thing in Thailand is they have these laundromat services where you drop off your clothes in the early morning and pick them up in the afternoon. These laundry service places will wash, dry, and fold all your clothes for you. It only costs around 100 baht to get it done every week! No having to fold clothes and remembering to do laundry!

Wednesdays is discount movie day and movie showtimes are only 100 baht ($2.84 USD). When I go, I try not to get popcorn and a drink but I sometimes end up caving and getting it anyway.

Almost all of the foreign English teachers, myself included, don’t have cars. We usually use a mix of public transportation and taxis to get around. I can hop on the BTS Skytrain and take a 37-minute ride into downtown Bangkok for only 84 baht.

Grand total: 21,000 baht total expenses ($597 USD)

Savings: 22,000 baht ($626 USD)

Total salary: 43,000 baht ($1,223 USD)

This budget isn’t set in stone. Like all budgets, it fluctuates but I try to keep it tame. I’m able to save a good portion of my paycheck every month and I’m happy about that. Sometimes I do tutoring to make extra money (usually between $350-600 extra per month) but at the moment I’m not doing it. So this is how I live on a roughly $1,200 USD per month income. Let me know if you have any questions!

Grow The Gap

Or in other words, Why picking sides between spending less or earning more isn't thinking of the full picture.

Or in other words, Why picking sides between spending less or earning more isn’t thinking of the full picture.

Gaps are important. Write that down and say it three times! Haha. It’s true, though. Gaps are important and they’re talked about all the time. Usually, it’s with emergency funds (growing the gap between bank account zero and a few months of expenses).

In terms of building actual wealth? It’s so important. When it comes to your unique money management, what is best? Spend less or earn more? How about neither? Let me explain.

There is a rifle debate in the personal finance world of whether to focus on cutting back and spending less or, on the flip side, earning more. In fact, when you get on the path to being better with your money, the first step mentioned by several financial blogs, podcasts, and people is to comb through your monthly expenses and see where to cut back.

Cut the cable subscription, cut down on eating out, stop getting lattes, and stop going out and spending so much on entertainment. There is even extreme tips about cutting out all junk food, cell phone service, TV, downsizing to just one car, foregoing all fun and letting your soul die…(<—maybe not that last one).

You might balk at the tips and think about how you don’t want to do without certain things because you want to enjoy life. But then you read crazy inspiring stories about people who have paid off mountains of debt. Ahhh, those “person paid off [insert crazy amount] of debt in [insert a super small amount of time]” stories everyone loves to read.

The people who have paid off the debt talk about how they cut out a lot of their expenses and lived minimally. They detail how doing without cable and kicking their latte habit were the big reasons they don’t have the debt monkey on their back anymore. You read the stories, while sipping with your *bomb-tastic* delicious Starbucks mocha, and think about how you need to give up monthly indulgences. The thought sounds blasphemous. You look down at your latte and whisper “I’ll never let you go” a la Titanic-style.

Growing the gap in personal finance. It's all about growing the gap between what you spend and what you earn! Click through to read!

Switching between browser tabs, you stumble upon the other side of personal finance: earning more. The blogs tell you like some sort of fantasy fairy godmother that earning more is the more important side to focus. After all, there is only so much you can cut back on. Earning more is infinite!

As it turns out, earning more money doesn’t have to be something solely achieved through promotions at work or getting a higher-paying job. There are lots of different money making opportunities. Some of them require going on and getting extra part-time work. Others are about making money online.

So which one is better to focus on? Spending less or earning more? It’s neither and here’s why. Size matters.

When it comes to money management and reaching your financial goals, it’s all about growing the gap.

What is the gap?

The gap between what you earn and what you spend. You want to grow this area as much as possible. Pay attention to it, treat it like a precious little puppy and help it grow. Growing it will help you reach your financial goals faster.

And let’s be honest, most people, especially twenty-somethings, have lots of savings goals they want to hit. There are weddings to save up for, other people’s weddings to save up for, a three to six-month emergency fund, house downpayment, travel fund, personal development, and more.

It’s important to tend to both sides to increase the gap. There are always ways to cut back even if you’re frugal and there are always money-making opportunities to be done.

I used to dismiss the whole “spend less, cut expenses” advice of personal finance. I thought I was good with money. Back when I was working my first job entry-level job out of college, I thought I was a pretty frugal person. I didn’t have a car payment, I didn’t buy lots of clothes and go out a lot. With my entry-level wage, I thought I was saving all I needed to save. It wasn’t until I started more closely tracking my spending and doing no-spend challenges, did I realize that there was usually room to cut back.

Being more conscious with grocery shopping, I was able to cut my food budget further. For my cellphone, I got a slightly cheaper provider. Even on an entry-level wage, not making a lot of money, there were still areas I was able to cut back in.

Since I’ve gone through the cutting expenses part, my focus lately has been on giving some TLC to the other side: earning more. Because, as mentioned earlier, there is unlimited potential when it comes to earning more. I like that and I’m sure you do too.

It’s all about growing the gap. Stretch each side as much as you can! It’s a journey that requires tenacity. I’ll be keeping you updated on how it progresses for me. 

How do you go about growing the gap between what you spend and what you earn? 

How To Make Your Money Motivation Easier to Follow get it. A money motivation, the underlying 'why' behind your financial self, is important to cultivate. The problem? Sometimes it can be really freaking hard to follow.

One of the first things towards mastering your money is to understand your ‘why’. Why do you want to get better with your money? What do you want to put your savings towards? Maybe it’s to travel more or to have enough for a down payment on a house. Whatever it is, sometimes we can slip up on following our money why.

Having a money motivation. It’s so simple yet so complex. People often don’t scratch more than the surface when it comes to understanding their money motivation. Person: I need to save more money! …Oh…uh, I don’t know, cause saving more money will be better? 

Knowing your money motivation is important. It’s arguably more important than even getting on a budget. Whereas getting on a budget would be step one to becoming more money savvy, knowing your money motivation/your money ‘why’ is step one’s prerequisite.

Your money motivation is the guiding light to keep you on track towards your goals, even when they are far off. You want to buy that new game console? How is your house downpayment fund feel about that? Those shiny shoes at the mall calling your name? How will your vacation fund feel about you giving more attention to shoes than it?

So…you get it. A money motivation, the underlying ‘why’ behind your financial self, is important to cultivate. The problem? Sometimes it can be really freaking hard to follow.

Lets use an example. Monica Gellar wants to save up for a house downpayment. Her time in New York City is coming to and end and she wants to move out of her unrealistically massive Greenwich Village apartment. A big audacious goal of saving up a big amount of money within three years is set. The goal? Use the money for a down payment on a house.

For the first few months, the habit of saving money is easy. She is diligent in putting money aside every month and the goal reminds in clear view. The house is going to be hers!

But then things start to slide. Saving fatigue sets in (yep, it’s a real thing) and the habit starts to slide. It’s innocent at first, just a few lattes at Central Perk with Monica. Soon, she starts buying things she doesn’t need. That pasta maker just had to be bought. It was on sale!

A few of her friends, Phoebe and Chandler, say their going on a weekend getaway somewhere upstate. Monica isn’t sure if she wants to go and knows the money is better reserved for her house fund. Temptation sets in, she wants to spend quality time with her friends, so she drops all her monthly savings towards the trip and decides to go.

Due to her spending more money in different areas of her life, she hasn’t contributed as much to her house fund anymore. The goal is even farther off now. The goal starts to feel pointless and way too far off so she slumps down, watches Netflix and spends an embarrassingly high  amount on ice cream and pretzels for the night.

You don’t have to be like Monica. Remaining focused and committed on your money motivations can be challenging at times, but it’s so rewarding to stay on track. Achieving your money goals, even if they are far off, is one of the best feelings in the world. You feel like a superhero!

Below are a few ways to stay on track with your money motivations.

Automate savings (and utilize financial tech)

Set up automatic transfers to deposit money into your savings account every time you get paid. To take it a step further, open up a savings account at a different bank, preferably one at an online bank since they offer higher interest rates on savings accounts. Online banks like Ally Bank offer a 1% APY on savings accounts. This is a lot higher than what brick and mortar banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase, Woodforest, CitiBank and others offer.

Have the money transferred over into the savings account and it’s out of sight and out of mind until you need it.

Don’t forget about financial tech apps like Digit, which rounds up your purchases and withdraws a few dollars at a time and puts them into your Digit savings account.

Name your accounts

Holy moly, this is so awesome to do! Saving money towards a goal feels a lot more real when you’re contributing to an account that says ‘house fund’ or ‘F**k off fund’ than when you’re contributing to ‘account: 0002233’.

I have different savings accounts set up at Ally Bank for my: emergency fund, personal development fund, and Australia fund (yep, I wanna go to Australia!).

Whiteboards and memes save the day

I promise this one is a solid tip, haha. Go to your nearest superstore and buy a big whiteboard. Stick it up somewhere in your apartment or house and write down your money motivation and different savings goals on it. It being a white board, you can erase and adjust your goals as need be. It’s great!

Now let’s talk about memes. I know what you’re thinking, how are memes going to help me stay on track financially?!? Well I’ll give a personal example. I used to watch the show Everybody Hates Chris. On the show, the dad of the family, Julius (played by Terry Crews), is characterized as being hilariously cheap and frugal. Chris spills milk on a table and Julius says how Chris wasted “70 cents worth of milk!”.

Since I loved the show a lot, I decided to put a picture of Julius on my apartment door, so that every time I leave, I’m reminded to not spend excessively. It’s ridiculous but it works!

How do you combat savings fatigue and maintain focus with your money motivations? 

(also heads up, no stock photo in this post, I took this photo while visiting temples in Bagan, Myanmar!)

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