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The American Hustle

It’s not hard to find someone who works two or three jobs in order to live. It’s the American Hustle. We hear a lot about the ever constant “hustle”.

We work side hustles after coming home from a long day at work. Doing several jobs to cobble together a living. It can be hard, but in a society of stagnant wages, high costs of living and big student loan bills, it’s the clear thing to do.  Hustling to survive.

When the world constantly feels like it’s knocking us down, we race to find any comfort that will take us away from the pain. Comfort, it’s such a joyous bliss to be in. However, it has different sides to it. While it gives us bliss in making a new norm, it keeps us trapped from any outside perspective.

Advertisements tell us how we want to feel. They know we feel overworked and frustrated. They sell us the ideas of comfort in the form of new cars, over the top vacations, and general excess. Don’t let society tell you what you need, only you know what you need.

Our work ethic and drive gets beaten down and twisted. It’s morphed by societal tendencies to tell us we work to afford all the things that will make life wonderful. A new car because you deserve it! A big, spacious house with two living rooms because you deserve it! This Amazon purchase because you deserve it!

“Because you deserve it”. It’s a dangerous little phrase.

When you choose to do your hard work, without an external reward waiting on a string in front of you, people get shocked and confused. Advertisements and what most everyone else is doing influences us so much that being motivated and doing hard work without buying something afterward is strange. Motivation and determination are strange. Have motivation and hustle because it makes you better, not because it helps you get some kind of consumer good.

Throughout my life, people never understood why I had such motivation to do things. They didn’t understand why I started taking college classes when I was 15. They didn’t understand why I chose to complete my 4-year bachelor’s degree in 2.5 years. They didn’t understand why I was in such a hurry to pay off my student loans.

They didn’t understand.

When you’re used how things are usually done, doing something different doesn’t feel right. Societal expectations, whether we want to admit it or not, plays a factor in our decision making at one point or another. We don’t want to be looked at as weird or ostracized. Our comfort zones nurture us and keep out any new perspective.

When I was 18 years old, I was faced with a situation. I didn’t have enough financial aid to cover all my college costs. I did have a job but it wouldn’t have been enough to pay for an apartment or an overpriced college dorm room.

I had to make a decision. I chose to live in my car my first year of college. A 2003 Ford Focus I had bought when I was 17, with money I had saved up from working as a dishwasher at a BBQ restaurant.

A year later, I wrote about it in an article for USA Today College. The story went viral. Several news outlets picked it up, I started getting calls for interviews and quotes. One of the top questions people asked me was my motivation behind why I did it.

I didn’t really have an answer besides “Uh, well I wanted to go to college, and I didn’t have money for a place, so…”

The seed of motivation and drive 

The more I think about it now, I can see where my ‘why’ has come from: My Grandpa and mom.

My grandpa, on my mother’s side, was born in 1912. In his early twenties, he got a job in a post office doing cleaning work. It wasn’t glamorous and the other post office workers frequently made his inferiority to them known. Both in the employment and in life. He made sure to focus on his work and do his best. During his shifts, he would watch the maintenance workers do their work. After watching how they did their work, he was able to start helping on the tasks. He moved up in his job.

Despite the advancements in employment, he still always felt disconnected from the illustrious ‘American Dream’. He didn’t get all the opportunities available to other Americans. People looked down on him. He was separated from others. It was because he was a black man, working through the 1930’s and beyond.

Being biracial, I’ve always been shown from an early age just how powerful societal notions can be.

As my mom grew up during the 1950’s and 60’s, my grandpa would tell her about all the things that made up the American dream. The nice house with a picket fence and green lawn. The good jobs middle-class Americans got. The extras they were able to afford.

When he and my mom would drive around the city and pass by the nice houses, she would exclaim about how she would live in one one day. “No” he would tell her softly. People like them didn’t get to have those things.

My mom held it with her. As she made her way into adulthood, she joined the Army and got her college paid for. She earned two master’s degrees. She went after the things my grandpa said she would never be able to have.

She bought and bought and bought. Fi, st it was the nice cars. Then it was nice clothes. After a while, she was able to get the big house she had always wanted. I would always hear the fascination in my mom’s voice whenever she bought yet another thing.

Being black and born in the 1950’s, experiencing segregation and racism, she thought she would never have all the things that made up the “American Dream”. As I grew up, she would tell me how she was proving her dad wrong. She was rising up in society. At a whopping 5,640 square feet, people fawned over how big and beautiful our house was.

Originally a lot smaller, my mom enlisted the carpentry expertise of my dad and had us do home renovations and add-ons almost every year. There was something that always needed to be added. A large master bath because she had seen it a Home Living magazine. An addition with 14 foot high ceilings because she had remembered seeing one from her childhood.

There is always a need for more

To fund all of the purchases and home renovations, she worked every day at her nursing home business she had started. Every day was spent tending to the business and reaching out to people in order to get more patients in the facility.

She was an entrepreneur and she loved her business. Building it up was something she is still most proud of doing. However, she felt obligated to continue buying more stuff. She wanted to have the “American Dream” that her dad had said she would never have growing up.

I’m not sure where to line is to show a person has achieved “the American dream”, but my mom seemed to have it. The big house, nice cars, nice clothes, and copious amounts of stuff.

She thought she was happy

Last year, when everything changed. She was diagnosed with advanced stage colon cancer. Suddenly, her outlook changed.

Whenever I go home, I sit and talk with her. On the first talk after the diagnosis, she recalled the moments in her life she was most proud of which including hustling to build a better life for herself. A life that society said, statistically, she wouldn’t be able to have. She’s proud going through the army. Going to school and getting two masters degrees. And building a business that she ran for a decade and a half.

Most of all, she said she’s proud of her motivation and hustle to do it all. Her hustle to rise up in life. The American Hustle.

There was something she left out feeling proud about. It was all the stuff she bought that she didn’t really need. Maybe she didn’t need the newest car after all. Maybe those home renovations and add-on’s weren’t necessary.

She cherishes her motivation and hustle. But after all this time, maybe having them within her was all she needed.

As I’ve learned from talking with her, don’t let society tell you what you need. Only you know what you need.

Focus on yourself. Find your why. Go after things and experiences that help build your identity capital. Do stuff that helps you advance yourself rather than just to keep up with the Joneses. 

How To Develop a Money Mindset

how to develop a money mindset

Note: This is a guest post written by Jacob of Dollar Diligence

Having a financial background is always beneficial when it comes to managing your money, but you do not have to have a financial background to be able to handle your expenses.

In fact, I did not have a solid financial background or any type of economics training when I finally decided to tackle and pay off my student loan debt.

I just did it.

In this post, I want to share some tips about becoming financially savvy. I want you to be able to benefit from the advice and I want you to feel confident in your ability to manage your finances and break up with your debt, if you have it.

Don’t Give in to Your Wants

It can be easy to want, want, want, especially when the newest TV hits the shelves or when the latest phone is ready for purchase. Yes, we all want these items, but we do not need them. In fact, that TV you have in your home probably works just fine and your phone does exactly what it is supposed to.

While it is okay to indulge a bit, you do not want to overspend or overindulge. You need to learn how to be frugal. If you do, you will quickly find that you run out of money and you do not have the funds you need to pay off your obligations.

Don’t Dwell on Your Past Financial Problems

While your financial problems from the past will still exist, there is no reason to dwell on them and doing this will only cause you more financial stress. It is important to stop the habits that caused your financial decline in the first place, but they do not have to rule your life. You should take a step back and look at the whole picture. This way, you can determine what you need to do differently and how to do it.

You want to learn from the mistakes you made and avoid doing it again.

For example, maybe you used a credit card incorrectly and racked up a ton of debt. Once you have the opportunity to get a new card and a second chance, don’t spend your plastic money wildly. Or, maybe you have missed student loan payments in the past, but are now finally set on paying them off.

Don’t fall into old habits. Come up with a goal, create a plan for achieving it, and don’t settle for anything less.

Have an Emergency Savings Account

It is scary to see that most Americans do NOT have a savings account and those that do often carry a balance of less than $1,000. What happens if you were to lose your job or you were to experience a serious disaster. Most people would have nowhere to turn and they would be left in a serious bind.

It is important for you to make sure you plan for your future and that you start an emergency savings fund. Most experts recommend that you have three to six months worth of bills and expenses saved up in case something was to happen.

If you decide to follow the six-month plan, how much would you need to have in your savings account? For example, if your monthly expenses are $2,300, then you would need to have $13,800 in your emergency savings fund to cover you for six months.

Invest

Do not take a backseat approach to investments or a retirement account. It is important that you have these because you will need them, especially if you plan to retire in your life. IRAs and 401Ks will allow you to start a nice retirement fund and you can even double your savings should your employer offer a plan that matches the amount you contribute.

Experts say that if you wait to invest in your retirement account then you will need to save a minimum of half of your paycheck by the time you are 40. Most people will NOT be able to this and I definitely know I would not be able to.

Be Careful with Your Credit

You credit score is not just a score and it tells potential lenders and creditors how well they can trust you to pay your obligations. If you have a poor credit score, you will find it is difficult to take out an auto loan or mortgage, be approved for student loan refinancing, or even rent an apartment.

Credit cards, late payments, and loans all affect your credit score, so if you plan to take out any loans or borrow any money, then you need to be responsible with it. Too many late payments can affect your score as well and it is HARD to recover once your score takes a nosedive.

Don’t Give Up – You’ll Get There

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep going and not to give up. I was able to pay off $25,000 in just 15 months. I never thought it possible, but it was and I know that you can develop the mindset to pay down your debt as well. You do not have to be a financial wizard to free yourself from the chains of debt.


What has your journey been towards becoming financially savvy? How did you develop a money mindset?

Jacob is a high school math teacher by day and personal finance blogger by night. Follow his journey at @DollarDiligence!

how to develop a money mindset

But How Does It Make You Feel?

saving money doesn't have to feel like a sacrifice

Saving money is important. Duh! Right? Everyone likes to save money. Unless you’re one of those lucky souls who won the lottery and ride your Ferrari off into the sunset. For the rest of us, we like saving money.

At least I think people do. Most people would give a quick yes when asked if they wanted to save more money. If you read any of those “x tips to save more” articles on the interwebs, then you know the routine.

Cut your cable subscription, brown bag your lunch, and make water your friend rather than your carbonated pal, Coca Cola.

These are all often repeated tips. Why? Well, because they work. Lots of people do or have them and they can gain from cutting them out. The obvious gain being the saving money part. I mean, do you really need to buy a $10-15 takeout lunch every day of work? I don’t think so.

After doing the cutting back, you’re left with a nice little pile of newly available funds. You usually have a few options: put the money in your emergency fund, invest it, or use it to pay down debt. All solid options.

Making yourself be good with money usually starts with cutting back. The art of really understanding your wants vs. needs. The benefit is clear: you save more money! *fist pump*

Are there any other benefits? This is where people usually draw a blank. They’ve saved their money. There doesn’t appear to be any other advantages.

Well, pull up a chair because your impromptu saving money therapy session is about to start. Put your phone away, don’t check social media, and grab a piece of paper for notes. Let’s begin with a story.

For a long time, I struggled to give up my excessive TV viewing habit. There are just so many good shows! I used to be super into TV. I watched it, rewatched it and loved going over the different plotlines and stories. I even had an old blog where I used to write reviews of movies and television.

I was hooked.

While I’ve never had a cable subscription (#millennialstatus) I did use my parents and friends subscriptions to keep up with shows. When I finally decided to cut down on my TV viewing habits, it was difficult.

It was difficult because there was nothing tangible for me to see from cutting down on my TV viewing. I didn’t have a cable subscription, so it’s not like I was saving money by cutting a bill. Sure, I did have more time in my day, but the added time hit me like it hits most people: I didn’t know what to do with the time.

I sat around, did some extra writing, read some websites. Nothing substantial. However, through a slow progression, I started to see positive results. Without spending so much of my time watching TV, I was able to start studying Spanish again, I picked up a hobby in photography, and I started freelancing again.

Check out some of the photos below that I’ve gotten of Australia so far!

Australia work holiday visa
The South Australian Dingo Fence. Longest fence in the world!
Australia working holiday visa
Squinting while at The Breakaways in Coober Pedy, South Australia

 

Cutting down my TV viewing helped me feel better.

Every day I had something to look forward to. Instead of being huddled by my laptop watching the latest episode of Casual, I spent my time on Duolingo doing Spanish lessons. I watched YouTube tutorials to improve my photos. I sent out more pitches for freelance gigs.

To be honest, all of those new activities still involved me sitting in front of my computer, haha. However, I’m building my identity capital. Doing stuff that fuels me and really makes me feel good (rather than just that ~shook~ feeling I got after binging the latest season of Orange Is The New Black).

The same feeling came over me when I started cooking more rather than eating out all the time. Back when I was living in Thailand, it was easy for me to eat out. I didn’t have a kitchen (yes, really 🙁 ) and eating out in Thailand was inexpensive. I could usually get a meal for 50 or 100 baht ($1.50-3.00 USD). Imagine my shock when I got to Sydney, Australia (a.k.a one hella expensive place) and I realized eating out would break my budget…a lot.

Side note: visit Thailand rather than Australia if you wanna stretch your dollar further!

Once I started actually learning how to cook, my food expenses went down. It would have been easy for me to look at the savings at the ultimate be-all benefit, but it wasn’t. The biggest benefit was I started to feel better. Turns out, processed snacks and soda all the time really isn’t good for you :).

Ask yourself how your expenses and cutting back on some of them will make you feel. Sometimes you may have to cut back in order to gain more (ex. Cutting back on TV to make more time for freelancing). Maybe it will prompt you to pick up something else like a new hobby or activity. Whatever it is, don’t just see the cutting back as a way to save money. It’s always more than that.


Saving money is about more than just saving money. How does it make you feel? Click though to read about how to approach cutting back in a positive way.

The Uneven Nature of Life: An Update

bourke nsw new south wales

Hello there blog reading people, I’ve been away for too long, although I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it as much as I have. Life has been coasting on uneven territory lately, so I wanted to write an update post. Here goes!

First off, I’ve been feeling down about this website since I haven’t made a solid focused effort to work on it for the past two months. Wow. Even writing that out hurts. The truth of the matter is that I’ve been on the move a lot. Going here, going there, and having to live out of a suitcase. Contrary to what some fancy travel blogger says, it isn’t fun to have to stuff everything into a backpack and duffel bag.

That is exactly what I’ve had to do. At the start of April, I went to Italy with my mom to visit one of her friends. I didn’t get to go to Rome or Venice or any of the main attractions. The week long trip consisted of staying inside my mom’s friends house in the small town of La Maddalena on a small island.

Being a small island, there wasn’t much to do. The trip consisted of sitting in a house all day for over a week. It was still good though. I got to have dinner with an Italian family and see a talent show.

After leaving Italy, I had returned to America for two days then boarded a plane to Australia. This.freaked.my.body.out. I had gone from America to Italy to Australia in a time span of two weeks and my body didn’t know when to sleep. It felt like I had some weird kind of extended jet lag. My first week in Australia consisted of falling asleep at random times, then feeling perpetually tired the rest of the time.

bourke nsw australia working holiday visa

I got Australia in mid-April. The past two months here have been interesting, to say the least. I came here like most working holiday backpackers do: no job and ready to hit the ground running. Not too long after I arrived, I started a work for accommodation job at the hostel I was staying at in Sydney.

Work for accommodation jobs are a popular thing backpackers do to save money on accommodation costs. The way they usually work is you do around 10-20 hours per week doing housekeeping, cleaning or light maintenance duties. The job I had involved doing housekeeping: making beds and cleaning rooms. You guys…I’m shocked at some of the stuff I see in rooms, haha.

I stayed at the hostel for seven weeks, doing the work for accommodation and job searching and working additional jobs. The job scene for backpackers here in Australia is strange. There are some odd hiring practices like requiring a photo on a resume for “identification purposes”.  I mean…what?!

A lot of the employers in hospitality/restaurant work seem to want a certain type of person for their waitstaff. I was talking with an Indian/Malaysian friend of mine. She talked about the difficulty she had finding a job in her industry and she has 8+ years of experience in the finance industry! It’s crazy and I plan on talking about it when I write up a guide on the Australian Work Holiday Visa.

australia working holiday visa guide

As of right now, I’m in a little town called Bourke, NSW. It’s dubbed the “gateway to the outback”. With a population of just 2,000 people, the town is very small. There is just a grocery store, a gas station on the edge of town, and a desolate town center half-filled with vacant buildings. The town entertainment is a bowling alley. There are a few mom and pop restaurants, no big franchise places.

It’s small and without a lot but I think I kind of like it. I started my job at a supermarket a few days ago. The guesthouse I live at is located just across the street. Since there are very little restaurant options to be tempted by, I think my cooking skills will improve!

A cool thing I like about Australia is their superannuation fund. A superannuation fund is similar to an American 401(k) or Canadian RRSP. Get this, lots of people get them! Office jobs, retail jobs, waitstaff jobs, admin jobs, and so on. Many employers in many industries offer to contribute to your superannuation (similar to an American employer 401(k) match). The typical amount an employer contributes is 9% of your pay.

It’s so crazy to me that even people like waiters and waitresses have access to an employer-matching retirement account! Wow.

So far, Australian life is going good. I plan to be here for four more months or so, give or take. Hopefully I can master an Australian accent while I’m here 🙂


What have you been up to? 

The Quarter-Life Crisis

millennial quarter life crisis

Is this it? Is this what they were talking about over and over?

You sit up from your bed, hair coming out in all directions of your head. Nausea pulls you over. It lingers on a strange limbo between morning grogginess and sickness.

The plain white walls of your room stare back at you. Waiting. It’s time to get up. An inch of toothpaste on the toothbrush. Brushed hair. And? You look around for your shirt. The nice one. The one you got on the clearance rack at H&M. The one you bought with money you didn’t have once you got your real job. Your big person, adult job, as people liked to joke about.

It’s nowhere to be found.

Crap. You only have 10 minutes before you need to be out the door. A piece of white fabric makes an appearance in the corner. That’s it. The shirt.

You grab it and dash out the door. The next nine hours are spent staring at a computer screen. Emails, meetings, the usual. Home awaits you after your hour-long commute home.

The evening awaits. A few hours of pure and clear free time. Everything comes to a standstill. A low burning ache reaches from your legs and works it way up to your back. Thoughts should in and out. Your brain lately has felt like a churning pile of slush, moving gradually from one day to the next with no real progress. You feel stuck.

Is this it? Is this the millennial quarter life crisis?

No words come out. Your lips are dried, cracked, and unable to articulate. Things are not the way they were supposed to be. The thought of your job sends elicits pangs of unsettlement. You want more. You want different. Spending an hour getting ready, an hour driving, nine hours working at a place you dislike confuses you.

You’re supposed to like it. You spent years getting a degree, studying, testing, but it doesn’t feel right anymore. The direction is wrong and a solution appears deserted.

You don’t like your job. The words swirl around in circles in your head. They get written down on paper but never said. Transitions are confusing.

Wanting something different feels taboo. Vague. Nights are filled with 10 pm couch contemplations over a tub of ice cream.

Bolts of inspiration make you come alive. Options feel endless. Traveling the world, pursuing a different career, moving through a transition, it all feels possible until it doesn’t. Student loans, car insurance, and rent. Your entry-level pay can only handle so much, savings being dropped to the bottom

So your legs stay planted on the couch. Moving doesn’t feel like an option. Minutes drift by and you sink further and further down into the fabric.

It’s a turbulent period you’re in, full of shoulds and wants that just won’t away. You don’t want to be alone with them. It hurts to listen to them too much. A smartphone is the seemingly the perfect escape. Your hands reach for it faster than you imagine. A dim blue fills the room. Then the scrolling starts. People with new cars, perfect jobs, a great life. Concentrated eyes don’t notice the lingering thoughts. The thoughts that grow bigger with each scroll. The feeling of inadequacy.

Keeping up the mindset becomes commonplace. It greets you every day and you slip into it. Doubt starts to feel like an old friend, greeting you at every turn. If feeds you the ‘shoulds’ that you contemplate. It tells you it’s okay to feel down. Initiative isn’t part of its agenda.

Doubt feels strong but it isn’t as strong as you think. Ever so often your inner voice tells you to go. Get up. Take the small step of starting. Show up to that downtown gathering. Register that domain name. Take that class. Most of all, that little inner voice tells you that you are capable. It gives you examples of it.

With every step, doubt treads backward. It grows smaller. Maybe it never vanishes, but tenacity takes over and becomes your new friend. It shows you that with every step you take action, you feel more committed. More hungry. Bolder.

Your quarter-life crisis is real, but it’s neither final nor fatal. Take the first small step.


A little different kind of post since my 23rd birthday is right around the corner (#junebirthdaysrock). I think this is the age I realize I’m just getting older, haha :). Next week I’ll be posting a post on steps to take to get through a quarter-life crisis. I wiped up a nice little workbook to go along with it. Stay tuned for that!

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