Soul Driven Financial Freedom

It was back in 2009 that I started 365 and was committed to financial freedom. It seems as if that journey took a large pause while I tried just to play by the rules and ‘survive’ instead of thrive.

Right now, I’m nearly 35 years old and I have not turned my life into what I had hoped it would be when I started this blog a number of years ago. Despite the relatively fast uptick of interest with the blog, I trailed off and moved my time towards raising my daughters, working in corporate America and in the last four years getting a divorce (amiable) and learning about spirit and soul. My financial journey was not quite going the way I had hoped, but I was certainly caught up in a lot of other areas of education, service and growth.

Financially speaking, I have not taken all my learnings and applied them. I’ve been playing safe. While I’ve saved for retirement and college, and pay my monthly bills with ease, my soul is dying. I don’t mean that metaphorically or to sound woo-woo.

That’s not my thing. I want to thrive. While I have been in hiding the last few years in many ways, learning about healing my heart after divorce and heart break, it is now time to really re-invest in my future and my children’s future by focusing on financial freedom again.

I believe that I am meant to feel free inside and this means finding new and exciting ways to share my stories and my learnings with the world. There’s no better day to restart than today.

Over the time that I first created this blog, I read many books and blogs about investments, online business models and the like. In my career I have learned about the Lean Startup and various ways of creating value for others. I felt conflicted between what felt like a dichotomy of service and self-care. Helping the world and savoring life. What I have realized is that my soul knows how to do both. I have enough talents and an endless pool of creativity inside of me that will help me navigate new options for investments and business ventures. I will not start something simply because of its potential ‘cash flow’, instead I’ll use a system to help myself create a soulful life of financial success.

When I started this blog, I thought I needed to be financially free with passive income to then do what my heart desired.

I’ve realized I had it all wrong. I need to create things from my soul and then earn income in various ways through that means. Multiple income sources, some passive some from deep labors of love. And all while testing their value and success with others before investing too much time and energy into any one thing.

This is the way of the Lean Soul Based Business. And this is what I will follow.

How does one find a soul fulfilling business that helps people without wasting time and effort?

I’d like to develop a canvas or scale for this but the gist of it for now is the following.

Criteria for testing ideas before “Doing”:

1. Does this idea feed my soul (my why, my strengths and talents, unique gifts, creative genius, native genius, joy)

2. Does this serve others? (assumed answer, tested through asking others and lean startup principles)

3. Effort scale (include how much effort to get started and market this)

4. Potential income (ways to earn money and estimates on how much)

 

Financial Mistakes, and What I’ve Learned

Today, I’m on this site to clean it up and remove a lot of old posts that are no longer relevant. That includes app sites that I reviewed that have gone under, as well as tools or investment options that I tried out that I thought would work, and haven’t.

So, there you have it. I’ve tried, failed and learned from my mistakes. In other words they aren’t failures if I’ve learned at a reasonable young age and moved forward with new perspectives.

I’m removing my posts about Whole Life Insurance, with its measly 4% dividends, I’m super un-impressed and admit my folly there. I’m removing posts about Lending Club, while you can still earn a reasonable return (I averaged $10.5%), it is so immensely risky, I lost a ton of money on it. Thankfully, they have a reseller market so you can liquidate your funds there.

Overall, while I have learned about finances during this journey, I have also gotten lost more than once in finding my way, and returning back to it because of the need to pay bills. I have learned to budget, I have learned to be more organized, but I have also learned that if you focus TOO much of your energy on money and if your motivator is from that place, you will not find the inner peace or the financial security you seek. You will only find those things authentically by looking inward and moving confidently forward with a path that is truly aligned with your values.

One thing that I can say though, is that I am still not feeling confident about my investment choices. I am still nervous that the personal financial planner that I have will not understand my needs to find alternate investments beyond the stock market in the US. I don’t trust the current world’s systems for investment, and I really want other options for just reasonable returns on my retirement savings, but I also don’t want to think about them right now. What I want to think about is how to spend my precious resource of time on creating great things for the world.

And so, I take my first tentative step in that direction. Creating my first app for iPhone, writing my fantasy book, and redirecting energy towards true and pure intentions.

Thank you to those few that follow this blog, I do not write on it frequently now, and only really keep it up because it marks a journey of self discovery that others still learn from.

Is it Worth it to Refinance with PMI?

I’m refinancing *again*. Is it worth it? Yes! The rates are variable right now, but I’m locking in less than 3.5% on a 30 year mortgage. The hardship of my story is that when I had my home value appraised – and forked over $500 out of pocket to do so – it came in $45,000 less than what we had it appraised for in the past! We are now considered at much higher than the 80% loan to value ratio required for most mortgages without having to pay Private Mortage Insurance PMI.

Now, I know this is actually a better story than some have it in America. Some owe more than their values, many have foreclosed. So, I am still quite thankful and fortunate in that regard. In fact, the reason my value came in so low is because of a foreclosure next to my house. Another house across from me sold for about the same as what my house should be worth, not long ago.

Either way I look at it, even though I have to now pay a .65% PMI (grr!) fee, I still save nearly $150/mo by refinancing. I have considered refinance options every year for the last 6 years, and gone through with it many times. I have done a negative point each time so I don’t really lose my in the transaction, and I usually lower my bills by at least a few hundred a month, with more going towards principal. I keep telling myself, interest rates can’t possibly get any lower than this, so I should get that low rate, but sometimes I think I should have been wiser to just do a 5 year arm a few years ago and now have to refinance all of the time.

We would like to move, but don’t find it financially viable these days. So, either we could rent our home out or live here until the world looks a lot better. We will see, until that day I’m cracking out a few new cans of paint to keep making this place my home.

It may be worth looking into, if you haven’t refinanced in a while and are willing to risk the hit that a appraisal will set you back, to see if you can still save with lower rates than a few years back, even if paying PMI.

Obama has done a few things that have been useful in 2009 for homeowners. Keep your ears open for what happens with Obama and the re-election around making mortgages and home ownership more possible for the millions of people in America stuck or going under trying to pay off this huge ‘asset’ of debt so that they can have a roof over their head.

No More Auto Loan

About a month ago I made my last payment on my auto loan, we now own both of our cars free and clear! That feels good. Now, the only problem is they both have over 150K mile on them, so we are sort of fighting time on that note. Good thing they are both Hondas, we have a fighting chance of not having to worry about that for a bit.

So, what will we do with the extra money each month? For now, save it. We have some dreams brewing that may entail savings. I am hoping that savings won’t be spent on boring things like home repairs.

For now, its worth a celebration on this blog to have finished up paying down a debt while still investing in other areas.

What Country Should I Live in? A Better Life Visualization

While doing a project for my current job, I stumbled across this wonderful site that represents 11 key categories of well being and allows you to rank their importance to you. It then visualizes the countries that best fit your criteria across the world, in sort of a flower visualization design. It is not only beautiful, but highly functional and useful for those that care about this sort of thing. I was intrigued myself, having lived in and loved New Zealand, to see it high up on the list for me. I must admit I was also surprised to see Canada, as it is really just around the corner from my neck of the woods.

How does this relate to my journey towards financial freedom? I think its important to constantly re-evaluate if my life is going in the direction I want it to, and this can largely be impacted by the opportunities, government, quality of life and financial system that surrounds you. This chart serves as a starting point for me to explore other places that we may want to visit or possibly move to in the future if our dreams align with our actions. Which one can only keep hoping and working towards.

Best Goal Tracking Tools for 2011

Reviews Goal Tracker Software and Online Tools

In 2011 the online goal tracking tools that are out there grew and improved.

I published this post a year ago, but it is so popular that I wanted to re-publish it in hopes that it is still useful, and I have updated some of these for 2011. I still believe the tools that track S.M.A.R.T. goals (show below) are going to be the most possible to attain.

There are many online tools available for keeping track of and measuring progress on your goals. Many corporations have started to incorporate goal systems (Success Factors is one example) and S.M.A.R.T. goals. Not all goal systems utilize this method, however, it is widely accepted as an excellent way to achieve results with your goals. The following is a look at how to measure your personal goals and a review of some of the best online tools for measuring your goals.

So, what are S.M.A.R.T. Goals?

S – Specific (the more specific the better)
M – Measurable (The criteria that you will use as measurement that you have completed a goal, such as getting your degree, etc)
A – Achievable (Do you currently have the skills and resources needed to reach this goal?)
R – Relevant (How does this goal tie to your passion or purpose?)
T – Time-dimension (When will you aim to start and finish the goal, will there be milestones to reach along the way?)

Many of these goals start with the questions (that you then fill in the blank for):

  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • Next ask yourself, what specific benefits will come with achieving it?
  • When will you achieve it by? (time factor)
  • How you plan to achieve the goal?

There is a growing philosophy that if you share your resolutions or goals with others, your friends, family, or a social community can help encourage you to stay on track and keep your goals alive. The same often holds true for other areas in life, such as getting in shape, isn’t it more fun to do when you have a friend that will meet you at the gym and hold you accountable for sticking to your work out goals? So, some of the online tools focus on the social sharing element of goal tracking.

Best Online Goal Tracking Tools of 2010:

GoalsOnTrack.com Rating: ★★★★½ $68/year subscription

Goals on TrackThis simple, easy to use tool does a great job of allowing you to track your goals, visually chart your progress and see reports, create specific action plans, manage daily tasks associated with your goals, track specific time spent, as well as keeping a journal for your additional thoughts and inspirations that you want to capture. You can assign visual pictures with your goals, set overall categories with specific goals beneath that category, and assign any type of progress metric you want to show your measurement (dollars, percentage, etc). It follows the S.M.A.R.T. goal model. You can print out your goals, your daily tasks, and really use this tool to get on track. You can set email reminders, import and export your tasks to CSV or for iCal format, and much more. Just check out their full list of features on the site. This tool costs money, yet I believe its worth the investment if you want a full suite of highly effective goal tracking tools.

SuperViva.com Rating: ★★★☆☆ Free
Super VivaSuperViva is a social sharing goal or “life” tracking site that allows you to create goals to share or keep private. SuperViva was created in 2006 (runs ads and accepts donations to support it). It allows you to set up weekly reminders to check in with your list of goals. Super viva offers something closer to the SMART goal method by allowing you to group your goals, set specific goals within an overall list, assign what “Life Dimension” your goal applies to (Personal, Family, Finances, Community, etc) and also set the start and completion dates, priority, effort needed and budget needed. You can mark a goal as completed, on the backburner, or remove it. There is a section to find ideas from the community and ‘get inspired.’ Nice overall concept for a free tool, however, I find it difficult to navigate and you cannot visually see and chart your progress on a goal.

Goalmigo.com Rating: ★★★½☆ Free

GoalmigoGoalmigo is also a social sharing goal tracking tool. You start by adding your goals, and adding who is going to help hold you accountable or your ‘Supporters’ for your goals. You enter your completion date, and can set up reminders in day, week or month increments. A great feature is that you can assign a tracking log (they have some already listed such as weight, calories, etc). You can assign tags to help you to share your goal in the social environment. Once you set your goals, you can mark them as complete and also add milestones in your “Log” which display in a bar chart format. Beyond that, you can visually see a reminder of how long you have remaining to complete you goal such as “One Month Remaining”. You can also add notes to your goals. There are ads on this site, but otherwise its a pretty clean and user friendly interface.

eLifeList.com Rating: ★★★☆☆ Free

eLifeList is another social sharing tool which allows public or private goal tracking. What’s awesome about this tool, is that it has very useful categories and goals already entered in it. I’m not sure if there are from the community or were created ahead of time, but they can help you get started. You can add descriptions, photos or videos to your list, and also set reminders to be sent to your email. The site is pretty user friendly, though some of the features you don’t edit until after you’ve set the goal, such as reminders. I would think you’d create everything when you are creating the goal. You can mark the goal as complete, and see a progress indicator (from 0-100%) of how far you are toward reaching your goals. From the design of the site, it appears to be focused on a younger demographic (perhaps college students?). Overall, it does the job for simple goal tracking.

LifeTango.com Rating: ★★★☆☆ Free
Life TangoLifeTango is a very clean and effective goal tracking tool. As the other tools, you can choose if you want public or private goals. You can sort by priority, date, and other categories. You have to manually update the progress you are at in your goal by a percentage from 0-100%. Ongoing, periodic goals are considered “Tasks” and are tracked using their “Task Tracker” (as opposed to goals that you want to assign a specific due date for). And example of a Task Tracker goal would be to workout every day for 1 year. You would then set these recurring tasks and mark your progress daily. They assign stars that you click on to indicate that you have completed your recurring task goal (kinda cute like when you were a kid and got stars for getting something done). There is also a fun little sticky note for “reminders”. Overall, I like this site for their Task tracking but I think it is a little confusing for tracking larger picture life goals.

Stickk.comRating: ★★★★☆ Free

Stickk

Stick is a tool meant to motivate you to stick to your goals through the use of accountability with other people and putting a bet or monetary value at stake if you don’t meet your goals. It is much more focused on coaching and pushing you to achieve your goals than any of the other tools. You start by setting a goal (Referred to as a Commitment Contract, much more formal and committed sounding!), then setting the ‘stakes’ or what’s at risk to complete it (You literally have to pay out money to your selected charity or person if you miss your goal deadlines), then you ‘get a referee’ or a person in your life to to push you meet your goals, and you can also add friends to help you achieve your goals. Many of their pre-set goals are around losing weight, quitting smoking, or other life-changing habits that it often takes a ‘coach’ to help with. However, it can be used for other goal tracking as well. You can set the category, whether it is a one-time or recurring event, get reminders and view your progress. Oh, and you don’t HAVE to set a “Stake” of financial value, you can still use this tool without the pressure of a stake. For many people though, I can imagine that this method (fear of losing your money!) works great for actually getting them motivated and on track. This is by far the most unique of the tools I’ve seen.

43Things.com Rating: ★½☆☆☆ Free
I saw this mentioned often as a goal tracking site, but it really isn’t. This site is really just a simple social site to measure trends for goals and resolutions with the answer to 1 question: “What do you want to do in the year 2010?”. To me, it seems similar to Twitter and many other social sharing tools, so who knows if it will be used a lot. Cute idea, but not that helpful for achieving your goals.

42 Goals [rating 3.5/5] Free or $5/mo
This fun tool is web based and shows a calendar of your goals. Its easy to use, and show progress and charts along the way. It also has a social element.

Joes Goals [1.5/5] Free
I’m not as impressed by this tool as 42 Goals or others, but it is simple so it may be worth a try if you want something calendar based and easy. It does have some clever concepts such as tracking negative goals or vices.

Props to Former Fat Dudes for their suggestions on setting goals.

Which one to choose?
You decide. Just keep in mind, when searching for a goal tracking tool, I would recommend determining if you simply want to have to do lists, or if you are ready to have specific goals with associated tasks. Goal tracking is about all of the small tasks (from your TO DO Lists) that add up to one overarching goal. Sometimes, you may have random TO DO’s that don’t really seem like they fit into any goal, but you feel that they have to get done anyway. Go ahead and add them to the list and perhaps even do them, but first consider: WHY am I doing some task if it doesn’t help me reach any of my goals? This can lead to the type of self reflection that will ultimately help you to reduce the amount of mindless, or purposeless tasks that you are doing, and help you to find the best use of your time.

Let me know your thoughts on these tools or if there are some great ones that I have missed.

365 Days Marks 1 Year in My Journey Towards Financial Freedom

The above are some of the most popular posts from the last 365 days of my journey towards financial freedom.

It is amazing to me that is has been 365 days since I have started my quest towards financial education and ultimately, financial freedom.

What have I learned?

  1. I have to make a continuous commitment, at minimum weekly if not multiple times a week to do something to better my financial knowledge or take action to improve my personal finances
  2. There will always be hurdles in getting to my goals, but tracking progress with them and plugging away will get me closer to them every day.
  3. I should not make assumptions about my finances. I assumed that I could not quit my FT job b/c I wouldn’t find health coverage. That was wrong. I assumed that I would never be able to retire, but after looking at some of my better investment choices, I’ve decided there might be a glimmering hope for retirement one day.
  4. Despite the difficulty motivating myself to do something so boring, I want to continually improve my knowledge of taxes, inflation and investing.
  5. Overall, I’ve learned that life will only get more complicated, and its essential to have your finances manageable to have a chance at staying ahead in today’s world. I know that I will not be financially free immediately, but I am conscious about making the right decisions with my money, job, and choices to ensure that one day, this goal will be achievable for me.

[popularPosts]

Business Electronic File Cabinet: Review of ShoeBoxed.com

www.Shoeboxed.com is an amazing site that helps you de-clutter your paper mess, mainly geared towards small and mid to large sized businesses. For a sole proprietor like myself, this is seriously useful!

In a nut shell, you send your receipts (and anything you need to keep documented for tax purposes, etc) to them in pre-paid secure envelopes. They scan them and file and categories them for you. You can manage your categories and get reports on your receipts online.

A while back, I wrote an article for Wisebread on how to go entirely paperless at home. Though these guys are geared at business, its equally useable for home-based paper and clutter elimination! Another great step in the way to getting more organized and reducing your paper piles and file cabinets crammed full of receipts that you can’t find! I highly recommend this tool, so I am including their banner ad on my site for a while for you to give it a try (free trial). Their pricing is free for the limited version, and goes up according to how many receipts and the usage you need.

Shoeboxed.com - Scan Receipts and Business Cards

It also works well with Evernote for managing your online files.

Review of LearnVest – Personal Finance Tools for Women

LearnVest Budgeting ToolI’ve recently discovered a site, LearnVest, which is geared towards helping women improve their personal finances. LearnVest offers a variety of tools, from daily email tips to online tracking of your budgets and personal goals. Their budgeting tool is really attractive and easy to use. One of the best features of the site is that they offer useful checklists for step-by-step, manageable ways to make a personal finance goal and reach it. Awesome.

According to LearnVest’s info below, I am not alone in this quest to try to figure out and manage my finances better. It’s a life-long journey that you have to commit to. But there are plenty of tools that can help nowadays!

Women have come a long way financially over the last three decades. Women today make up half of the professional work force and are found to buy or influence 80% of all consumer purchases in the United States yet they continue to lag behind men when it comes to managing their personal finances.  According to a 2006 Prudential financial poll,  80% of women say that they plan to depend on Social Security to support them in their golden years and 38% of women 30-55 years old are worried they will live at or near the poverty level because they cannot adequately save for retirement.  So even today–despite coming so far in many ways–too many women are still ignoring their finances.  LearnVest provides a solution that is relevant and timely – it is something women need.

Saving for retirement is not the only solution that will allow people to retire, and social security may not be an option at all for someone like me, ‘retiring’ in 30 years when all the baby boomers have practically cleaned out the social security funds. Retirement is a larger issue because of the culture of our society, and the large debt that our entire society and economic structure has created over the past 100 years. We have to own our own finances, but some people, especially those later in life, need responsibility from their employers, from the government, and from society as a whole to develop new, more efficient, programs that take better care of our elderly and do not separate the wealth and class system even further than they do today. For instance, even with me aggressively saving for retirement, which I unfortunately cannot do right now, the online tools that I have used suggest that I will never reach the goals that I want to retire and live at a ‘comfort’ level at which I live today.

One of the goals check lists that I tried out was a little to simple for me at this stage, but I wish I would have had it a year ago when I was trying to tackle all of this “on my own!” Its important to note that not all of thier advice or ‘to-do’ lists are 100% fitting for you or your lifestyle. For instance, the “I’m Ready to Tackle My Debt” checklist has “Cancel a Credit Card You Don’t Use” as the 8th step. I had thought this would be the financially responsible thing to do also, but after much research and actual experience, I realized that your credit score actually takes a hit when you cancel a credit card. AND, you do absolutely should NEVER cancel a credit card that you have had a long time, because the length of time your card has been open helps your score. So, before following any financial advice, even a step by step program, I recommend that you do your own research and make sure its the right step for you. Review your credit score every year by using free tools or the free site where you can actual get a free copy of the whole report.

(UPDATE: LearnVest informed me that they do have a warning for you about the impact to your credit score when you decide to complete this step)

Overall, the LearnVest site has a lot of quick, getting started options for those that don’t know where to begin with topics from having a baby to investing. For someone like me, who has already spent a lot of time learning this stuff the last year, the site was a little less useful. And of course, the stuff I really wanted to know, like how to be a more educated investor, was only offered as a “premium” service. At less than $10, it could definitely be worth the investment though, hard to say unless I try. And I realize they have to make their money somehow by offering such a great set of online tools.

Learn VestIn general, this site is a very attractive, user-friendly site that offers a lot of tools for you to improve your Financial IQ. Give it a try: LearnVest.com.