Why I Got an iPhone / Keeping Up with the Joneses


Being the Thrift Ninja that I am, I was probably the last person on the planet to invest in an iPhone.  Like many others, I agonized over “caving in” and getting an iPhone for years.  I worked in the tech industry and the notion of not having one was a bit blasphemous.  But in 2013 I really became a luddite when I was the last standing dumb phone owner at my nonprofit.  My boss made fun of me, my friends wondered when I was going to “get with the times.”  I resisted, until I could resist no more.

It was a bit of a “Keeping Up with the Joneses” moment.  Now, I am a single woman in her early 30s who doesn’t own a house and really is not interested in material things.  But this was a time in which I felt like society was forcing me to keep up with it.  This, my friends, was the nexus of my frustration.

Thrifty friends, I am sure you can relate.  Why should I pay $100 + per month for a phone that has internet capabilities, but essentially has many of the same functions that I can do on my laptop at home?  I don’t like the electronic leash, I hate it when I am trying to have a conversation/meeting/hang out with someone and they are on their phone, and I really didn’t buy that it was better.

What finally tipped me over?  2 things.  My career and doing the due diligence.

I work as a social media manager for a really great nonprofit.  Thus, I am always aware/engaging/pushing for new strategies on the web.  I must say, Instagram is a really great app.  And it’s really only useable with a mobile device.  The combination of my job and needing to be ahead of the curve with respect to certain technologies really made it a win for me, and branding myself in my job.  Doing well at my work helps me with my financial goal of getting a raise and promoted.

I really did a lot of research on the financial hit it would have on my monthly bills.  The dumb phone was costing me $70/month, and for around $30 more I’d be on the iPhone with no danger of running out of data/minutes/etc.   Like I said, I agonized over that extra $30 per month….but in the end, paying for the upgrade was like ripping off a bandaid:  painful at first, but worth it in the end.

Thus ends my saga of iPhone conversion.  Does “Keeping Up with the Joneses” ever get you down?  What do you do about it?


My Side Hustle Dumped Me Today

It happened.

My side hustle dumped me.  I had been fearing this possibility from the beginning.  And now reality sets in.

For those of you just tuning in, I teach guitar lessons on the side.  It’s 100% a hustle….and I only have/had one student.  She was the greatest first guitar student a gal could ever have.  She was consistent, practiced, showed up on time, was excited to be there, and she paid me.  Cash.

I only charged $40 per lesson, but $40 per week adds up pretty quick.  That $160 extra under-the-table dollars earned per week was crucial to my financial goals.  Now that that may be going away, I must get creative.

The reasons were not unreasonable.  She said that the government shut down means she isn’t getting paid.  So guitar lessons is the first thing to go.  It may be temporary, or it may be a long time.  Bottom line — she loved coming to lessons, she loved playing, she said she felt “inspired” working with me.  So it wasn’t for naught.  It’s not like I was a shitty teacher.

I loved teaching and I loved this side hustle.  It was really a lot of work for me to find my perfect student…now I feel like it’s back to the drawing board.  I learned a ton and I am now armed with an excellent arsenal or teaching materials.  But I’ll never have a student like her.  I’m gonna miss you, girl.

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.  I was already thinking about expanding this business and look for a second student to double my extra income.  Now it looks like I’ll be looking for two new students.

Now, as Jay-Z would say….”on to tha next one, on to tha next one…..”

Working at A Startup vs. The Nonprofit World

Since I have left my tech days in the dust (at least for now) and am following my soul back into the nonprofit world, I find myself constantly comparing the two.  Not only the money (I know, for the millionth time — I was rolling in dough!) but the culture, the benefits, and the work-life balance are worlds apart.

I still don’t doubt that leaving the tech industry was the right move FOR ME (although I think some people think I was a lunatic for leaving) but here are some ways to compare the two and figure out what is right for you.

A Startup:

The Plusses:

The money.  I was making bank as an “office manager” — which at a startup, really meant that I got to do all kinds of cool stuff. Social media, videos, work on cool events, along with not-so-cool stuff.  Deal with people’s benefits, payroll, run the office, deal with IT problems, you name it.  Stock options were also part of the deal.

The job:  Like I said, I got to do all kinds of things.  Much more than my title.  In a sense, I got to create my own job.

The prestige:  If you are ever working for a startup that could MAYBE be “hot”, you start to get treated differently by people.  You are looked at as a source for money.  Potential people wanting jobs, realtors wanting to find you office space, furniture people wanting to sell you furniture, etc.  You are a cash cow money train that people want to get on.  In that sense, you have power.

No red tape:  it was fun working at a place that didn’t have a lot of red tape and that throwing money at it could fix the problem.  You need the newest copy of Final Cut Pro?  Boom.  It’s there.  And there is never any issue of budget, or whatnot.

The Possibilities:  I used to dream that as Employee Number 6 I would one day be overseeing hundreds of people, not unlike Marissa Mayer’s time at Google.  The allure of being among the first hires at a brand new startup is incredible.

No Real Boss:  That’s right.  I didn’t really have a boss (well, at first).  It was great to be able to dictate my own schedule, hours, and projects.

And finally:  the free lunches.  Yep.  That was awesome.  Although I should have known what was coming…

The Negatives:

As much fun as working at a startup can be, there can also be some soul-sucking experiences, too.  Among them:

Risk and Change:  I made a mistake getting too comfortable, and thinking that the inevitable changes would only be good ones. Our startup ended up running out of money the first year and we were forced to go through a really difficult merger.  The new parent company ended up being really different culturally.  I got a new boss (a real boss!) that I thought could be a great mentor to me but who actually ended up being really toxic.  Most of the original staff quit.  There are no guarantees.

Competitive culture:  When you are surrounded by a group of people who stand to make a lot of money in a relatively short amount of time, it creates a culture of competition that can be really unhealthy.  It causes people to not take vacations, or to work weekends, or to try to push other people out of their jobs.  Some people thrive in this enviro, but for me, it wasn’t a fit.

Work-life balance:  vacation?  What vacation.  See above.

What really matters is profits:  It’s a business.  So the bottom line is being profitable.  If that doesn’t happen, your startup dies.  End of story.  Also reflects the general culture of the place.

In the end I am glad I left startup life…..because I believe that my true passions in life don’t lie in business and technology (although I am pretty technical for a non-programmer).  If I was a true geek at heart, I may have stuck around.  But, being the artsy, creative, free spirit that I am, I made a conscious decision to follow my passions….and face the difficulties of a career change and a pay cut.

A Nonprofit:

The Plusses:

People are nice to each other: I found a completely new world in nonprofits…one where community and relationships are valued over business.  Funding is important, but the overall goal is not to make money.  The competitive culture goes away, and is replaced by something else.

If You’re Not A Programmer You Are Still Valued:  There are a variety of skills that people can bring to a nonprofit that can be appreciated.

Work-Life Balance: There is a much better line in the sand between work and home.  No more working on weekends, working from home before coming in, emergency calls and texts after hours, no skype, and no electronic leash.  Also, I have a life outside of work again, and time.  Time to take classes, time to hang out with friends, my boyfriend, work on my side hustle and of course, my career counselor.  (Yep, I have one!  It’s all part of the puzzle to financial freedom!)

Feeling fulfilled spiritually:  I know this will sound hippie-dippie, but working for a place that I believe in really makes a difference.  I enjoy being there and coming in every day.  It’s a pleasure.  (Well, most of the time 😉

Stability:  I know my work won’t be going anywhere.  I don’t anticipate a major shakeup, a new boss, a corporate merger or any kind of life-altering change.  I enjoy that for the place in my life that I am at.

Benefits:  I get better and cheaper health care than I did at the startup.  There is also a nice policy for pregnancy leave and more leeway and sympathy for family illnesses and crises.  I think the nonprofit world caters a bit better to moms and people with families.

The Negatives:

The money:  Another no-brainer.  Making the lifestyle adjustment was HARD, no doubt about that.  All kinds of things happen to your self-esteem when you take a big paycut.  You start to feel a bit like you sold yourself short, or that you’re a slacker, or that you are only worth as much money as you are making.  As much as I try to combat these feelings with thoughts that this is just a starting point and that it’s a career change, it is still sometimes there when I am not looking at the bigger picture.

The Loss of Being a Rockstar:  You are no longer working for a sexy company.  The rocketship is gone.  This is more like a slow cruise ship from the 80’s.  But it’s a safe cruise ship, one that won’t sink or crash.  People no longer kiss up to you, or treat you like you’re onto something.  You’re ordinary again.

Red Tape:  Back into it.  You can do all the creative projects you want, but if you want funding for them, forget it.  Nonprofits try to do everything at a minimal cost.  The good news is that it lets you try new things (for example — you get to be the photographer for the event because they don’t want to spend the $$ hiring a professional to do it).  But the bad news is that sometimes this leads to disappointment (no funding for extra conferences, classes, raises, etc.)

So there you have it.  A breakdown of the plusses and minuses of startups and nonprofits.  What’s your experience?  Does one industry fit you better than the other?

Edited to add: I wouldn’t take back my startup experience for anything. I think everyone at some point in their career should work at one. Was it high-paced, stressful, creative, exhilarating, and at times terrifying? Hell yes. Was it sustainable for the long-term for MY career? Hell no.

Update on my side hustle/summer spending woes

Hi all,

just an update on my side hustle.  I have successfully obtained a guitar student and am charging $40 per lesson.  We meet once a week, and I am really enjoying it.  I think that the time it takes to prepare lessons, set up the practice space (we meet at my place) and  the thought and energy it takes to teach someone guitar makes my price worth it.  If guitar teaching works out, I will raise my rates.  Currently this is netting me an extra $160 per month.  Not too shabby!  If I decide to take on another student, this will double my income, making it an extra $320 per month.  I am still seeing how this first student goes, so as to not to crowd my plate too much.

On another note, I am tracking my spending for June and July and am realizing that they have gone waaaaay up this month as compared to other months.  As much as I have been enjoying my vacations and time off work, there is obviously going to be a financial toll.  I try not to get too depressed about it, but tracking my spending and seeing the numbers is a HUGE eye-opener!

What do YOU do to beat the “summer spending woes”?


Side Hustles: An extra $100, $200, $400 per month?

What would you do with an extra $100, $200 or $400 per month?  I have a myriad of ideas, but I won’t go into that now.  What I will talk about in this post is my quest to generate extra income to create a monthly income buffer to start building up savings.

With my dream job salary being so low (but worth it — at this point) I am going to outline my successes, AND my failures, in generating extra income.

About 7 or 8 months ago, I approached my landlord with the idea of doing some extra work for him in exchange for lowering my rent.  He is an ANCIENT guy of 93 who still runs his own apartment complex.  Anyway, At first he seemed into the idea.  He wanted me to help him with his recycling and managing the tenants in the building (It is a Zero Waste Building.)  We negotiated $20 an hour upfront, in exchange for 5 to 10 hours of my time each month.  I thought I was a shoe-in for saving $100 to $200 each month.  I was wrong.

The first couple months, I meticulously kept track of the hours I labored.  And it wasn’t easy work, sorting bottles, cans, using my design skills to create posters about the environment, print out lease letters, etc.  At the end of each month I let him know how many hours I had worked, and I just knocked it off the monthly rent.  The first couple months my strategy to save money on my biggest expense, rent, was working.

However, I did not anticipate that my landlord would become finicky with the arrangement.  Eventually he told me he didn’t feel comfortable paying me what I was earning, and also he didn’t want me paying a lower rent for tax reasons.  So, after just a few months, the side hustle ended.  I did end up with a free parking spot, but the extra break on rent was no longer available.

This experience reenforced what I had known all along:  every job is temporary.  No matter how sweet of a set-up you think you have, it can be gone in an instant.  I didn’t dwell on my landlord’s sudden change of heart.  Instead I continued to brainstorm new ways to generate extra income.  I have come up with:

*Teaching guitar lessons from my home.

*Be a driver in ride-share in a startups like Uber, Sidecar, or Lyft.  You get to essentially use your car as a taxi while setting your own schedule.

*Become a writer from home, writing content for websites.  I have done this before and it is a nice way to earn a couple hundred extra dollars per month.  It has its plusses and minuses, like any job.

*Make money from this blog.  Full disclosure.  My goal is to eventually make some money off of this blog.  I am very impressed by the finance blog Yes I am Cheap.  She discusses how she earns $400 to $1000 per month in this post here.  In a nutshell, she does it by ads, pay-per-clicks, and also by writing good, useable content.  It must also be explained that it took her YEARS of blogging to get to this point.  My blog is yet to be filled with ads but eventually it may be as a teaching tool.  My goal to start out is to make $40 per month off my blog.  This will definitely take a lot of time, patience, and effort.

I will be documenting the successes and failures of all of these extra ideas in the coming months, as well as graphing my progress of raising my monthly income.

Finally, the obvious.  Asking (and getting!) a raise.  This is an artform all in itself.  By working extremely hard at my job, taking on extra projects, and increasing my skills and talents, my goal is to get to a higher salary in the next 6 to 18 months.

Goal: Net Gain

With a new monthly salary that was much lower than what I was used to, one of my first tasks in getting adjusted to this new lifestyle was to do a meticulous run-down of my monthly expenses.  It ain’t fun, it ain’t pretty, but it brought me something huge:  becoming conscious of what I was spending my money on.

A book that helped me see the light was a fantastic book called Your Money Or Your Life by Vicki Robinson and Joe Dominguez.  It discusses the steps one needs to take to achieve what they call Financial Independence (I will write more about their ideas later).  Needless to say, it was an inspiring read and a must-read for anyone looking to get out of debt and also anyone who rejects the idea that they must be slaves to their job.

One of the exercises in the book is to write down everything you spend on a monthly basis down to the penny.  No guesstimates, little white lies, or exaggerations.  Just the cold, hard truth.  After doing this for one month it was clear to me that my expenses seriously outweighed my income by an average of $500-$600 a month, if I deprived myself of every extra dollar and barely scraped by.  I felt defeated, depressed, and just cheated.  I felt like I was better than $33,000 a year.  I began to mentally berate myself for leaving my tech job that paid generously but made me miserable, feel scared about the future, and start to panic about money.

After going through this necessary freakout, I began to take action.  First off, I looked at my most crippling monthly payments and started to come up with strategy.  They were:  student loans ($207), car payment ($210) and my rent ($1030). I called my student loan provider and spent several days doing research on my loans to see if I could get them lowered.  And I was able to lower my loan payment from $207 a month to $58.  I was able to apply for the Income-Contingent Repayment Plan, which essentially means that if you have a more modest income, you may lower your monthly payments by spreading them out over a longer period of time.  At the same time I applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. What this means is that if you work for a non-profit, school, or government job you may be eligible to have your loans “forgiven” over 10 years (basically 120 on time payments).  So, assuming I stay in the non-profit world, my loans will be forgiven once 10 years has passed working in the field.  I was able to apply 3 years of non-profit work from a previous job to this program.

I realized my car payments were going to be impossible to keep up with.  The 2012 Honda Civic that I had bought in a bout of unconscious spending back when I still had my 60K salary was coming back to haunt me (I should write an entire post on Why Not to Ever Buy a New Car — learn from my mistake!)  But even more so, you should never, ever have car payments.  I decided to sell the car and informed my parents, who had assisted me in purchasing the car initially, of my decision.  They told me they didn’t want me to sell it, and offered to pay off the balance of the car (about 9K).  Their generosity eliminated my car payments, and it is through sheer luck of having parents who have the resources to help out was I able to exercise this option.

Finally, my rent.  I live in a 1 bedroom apartment in the Bay Area…..as a 33 year old woman, I knew moving back in with my parents OR moving in with roommates was not an option.  I also discussed moving in with my boyfriend as a possibility but we both decided we’re not quite ready. As a compromise, he offered to help me out with my rent and so he chips in $300 per month.  I also do some chores around my building for my landlord in exchange for a free parking space ($30 per month).  So, my monthly rent payment has been reduced from $1030 per month to $700.

Next on my list is car insurance ($130 a month).  I am sure I could get a lower rate but haven’t quite figured out how yet.  After all, a newer car is more expensive to insure.

These three steps have helped me greatly with the massive living expenses that I had accrued in years past.  Now, along with closely monitoring my other expenses such as groceries, going out, and other, day to day charges, I only go over my monthly budget by $100-$200 per month, which I think is pretty good for living in the Bay Area.  While I am very proud of this accomplishment, I think, “What if I had implemented these changes when I was making $60,000 per year?  How much would I have saved by then?”  However, it is all water under the bridge and I can’t dwell on it.  Besides, I am much, much happier working a job that doesn’t kill me mentally and physically.  I am living my dream job, and working on getting where I need to be financially to make it work.

My goal:  net gain.  How much money do I want to save each month?  I will discuss this in detail in my next post about Side Hustles.

Thrift Ninja Live!


Greetings, all.

Here marks my first post as Thrift Ninja.  I’ve been thinking about what to write in this post for a long time.

Last year I was earning $60,000 per year at a startup.  This year I’m making (gulp) $33,000 per year at a nonprofit.  Am I infinitely happier?  You bet.  Is the transition rough?  Definitely.

This blog is about the journey to financial independence.  Ie, the idea that even though you aren’t making a ton of money at your job, you can still not only make it financially, but that you can still strive for long term goals, such as saving, home ownership, and investing.  I had to make a TON of lifestyle changes to make this past year happen, but it can be done.  The high-stress startup job was bad for my health, soul, and quality of life.  My current gig feeds my soul and my quality of life has gone up exponentially, but now I have to be more creative with my finances.  This will include exploring other means of income besides my day job (the ever favorite “side hustle”) and minimizing my consumption and being aware of my day-to-day expenses.

Excited to start this journey.