Category Archives: Motivation

Debt: Reaching Step Zero

The first step in correcting a problem is to admit that there is a problem.  Prior to admitting that there is a problem, there is another step.  That is when a person reaches their breaking point and cannot go on living the way that they are living.  That is often referred to as step zero.  Step zero is when a person says to themselves “this crap has to stop”.  It is the breaking point.  It is the point where a person becomes willing to take corrective action.  They become willing to try a different approach of living because of a psychic change.

Have you reached the point where you realized that your way of managing money is not working?  Are you spending more than you earn?  Does all of your earnings go towards paying bills?  Do you have creditors calling you who want to be paid?  Do you have to borrow money when an emergency occurs?  Do you find yourself spending money that you do not have in order to keep up with your friends, neighbors, or relatives?  Do you feel broke even though you work hard and earn a good income?  Do you contribute any money to your retirement savings accounts?

Have you reached step zero? Do you want to change how you manage your finances?  Do you want to take control of your life?  Do you want to break away from the bondage of debt?  Are you at a point where you are totally dissatisfied with how you are living because of debt?

The good news is that there is hope.  It can get better.  It is all up to you.  It is based on your willingness to change.

Now that you have admitted that your way of managing your finances does not work, how should you start the mending process?

Measuring the Damage

Start by measuring the damage that you created.  Before you can move forward, do an analysis of what you owe.  My favorite tool to assess debt is the debt-to-income ratio.

To calculate your Debt-to-Income Ratio, see the formula below:

Debt-to-Income Ratio = Monthly Debt Payments/Monthly Income x 100

Example: $1000 in Monthly Debt Payments/$3000 in Monthly Income x 100 = DTI of 33%

What is considered a bad DTI Ratio?

If your DTI Ratio is higher than 36%, you are in the danger zone.  The higher your DTI Ratio is, the less money you have to cover your living expenses.  A healthy DTI Ratio is less than 16%.

Where to Start

After you know your DTI Ratio, it is time to start paying down that debt.  Start with paying off all of your bad debt.  Pay off all of your payday loans, credit cards, and auto loans.  Next, start to pay down your student loans, mortgage, and business loans if they exist.

Stop the Bleeding

Stop buying stuff you do not need on credit.  Identify what you need and only pay cash for those needs.  A few examples of needs are food, clothing, medical supplies, transportation costs, and housing expenses. Wants are fancy cell phones, cable TV, designer clothes, eating at restaurants, or any other expense that is not required to live.

Income

If you are part of a dual-income household, learn to live off of one salary.  Use the higher of the two salaries to pay for all of the household living expenses.  Use the lower of the two salaries to pay down debt.  After your debt is paid off, you can start to focus on saving money.

Get a second job.  Find a side gig to earn money to pay down debt.  If you spend your free time working, you will be less likely to spend money on stuff you do not need.

Create a budget.  A budget is a plan that allows you to break down where your earnings will be allocated based on a percentage.  For example, 25% for housing, 11% for transportation, 20% to pay off bad debts.  Once you have a budget established, all you need to do is follow it.

Recreation

Even though you have debt, you still have to live your life and have fun.  Find ways to enjoy what your local community has to offer.  Instead of going to high priced movies or amusement parks, go to local parks or free museums.  Instead of going to a high priced gym, exercise outside by walking.  Instead of going on a luxurious vacation, take a staycation.

Guilt & Shame

There is no use in feeling bad about having debt.  You have identified the problem.  Now is the time to move ahead and to make positive changes.  Having ill feelings is not a solution.

Focus on the positive and on everything that is possible once your debt is under control.  Try to take small steps and to monitor your progress.  Don’t strive for perfection.  If you have a slip, don’t beat yourself up.  Pick yourself back up and keep striving for progress.

Conclusion

Debt is similar to hiking.  Once you walk 5 miles into the woods, you have to walk 5 miles to get out.  Now that you have decided that a change is needed, it is up to you.  At this point, there is no use in looking for someone or something to blame for your debt.  You cannot change the past.  You can just pick up what is left and apply a solution.  If you learn from the situation, it was not a waste.  As you move forward, you can also use it to help other people who are struggling with their own financial issues.

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Be Intentional

I recently attended a leadership training seminar at a local college.  This seminar was about managing the multi-generational workforce.  The facilitator covered many topics and I am not going to get into any of those details in this post.  He said many interesting things, but the one statement that made me think was that he said that we should always be intentional.

Everything we do should be with intent.  Our actions should have an intended outcome.  Our words should have an intended message.  Even our thoughts should be focused and have a purpose.

The purpose of this training was meant for workforce development.  The message can easily be applied into everyday life.  It is ideal for managing money.

Too many people just coast in life.  They walk around making noise and bumping into things.  By not having a plan, they will just land at a random destination.  What could possibly go wrong with that approach?

To be successful in all your affairs, practice being more intentional.  A great place to start is with how you manage your personal finances.  You should know the why behind everything that you do.

Savings

Do you know what your savings rate is?  You should be able to answer this question without giving it any thought.  Is it 10%, 20%, or more than 30%?  Your savings rate is the most important factor that will determine if you will reach financial independence or not.  It is also one of the rare aspects that you have control over.  Nobody can control what the S&P 500 will return this year, what direction interest rates are headed, or if there will be a spike inflation.  Everyone, however, can control what their saving rate is.

Spending

Your savings rate is directly impacted by your spending.  Do you just spend money without thinking?  Do you go to the mall, outlets, or online and buy things that you do not need?  If you want to change this trend, become intentional with your spending.  Before you buy something, ask yourself if you need it or truly want it?  If you must spend the money, did you shop around for the best price?  Is there a low-cost alternative to making the purchase?  Even if there isn’t a better alternative, at least you did your due diligence and gave thought to the purchase.

Debt

Does your credit card bill arrive, and you cringe when you look at your balance due?  Do you make late payments or just pay the minimum balance on your credit cards?  Do you know what your credit score is?  Do you know what your debt-to-income ratio is and what a healthy ratio should be?  Do you know how to calculate your debt-to-income ratio?  If you want to improve how you manage debt, take a more intentional approach.  Learn what your credit score is, identify if you have too much debt for what your income is, and ultimately establish a plan to get out of debt.

Earnings

I bet you know what your annual salary or hourly wage is?  You get a paycheck every week or bi-weekly, so you are reminded frequently about that rate.  Do you feel that you are underpaid?  Doesn’t everyone?  Maybe you are underpaid or maybe you are overpaid.  Before you ask for a meeting with your supervisor demanding a raise, you should do your homework.  Be intentional and research what the market rate for your position is based on your location and level of experience.  If you are under market rate, you might have a case.  If you are over market rate, but not satisfied, you might need to develop more skills or ask for a more challenging assignment.

Investing

If someone asked you what type of investor you are, could you answer them?  Are you a market timer?  Do you buy and hold equities?  Are you a passive investor who invests in a few different mutual funds?  Do you simply try to capture what the market returns with a total stock market fund?  Do you use value tilts?  Do you buy dividend stocks?  Are you trying to get rich by investing in Bitcoin?  You are free to decide how you invest your money, but you should know the why behind your plan.  Your approach to investing should be intentional.  Nobody knows what the future market returns will be, but you should at least know what you are intending to accomplish with your asset allocation.

Financial Independence

Do you know how much money you need to have in savings to reach financial independence?  To declare financial independence, the general rule is to have 25 years worth of living expenses in savings.  That is based on a 4% withdrawal rate that most financial professionals consider to be acceptable.  Do you know if you have obtained this milestone or how close you are?  Most people who reach financial independence do not get there by accident.  They live intentionally for many years.

Early Retirement

Do you have a target-date as to when you want to retire?  It might be next week, or it might be in 10 years.  If you have an established early retirement date, what are you doing to make that goal a reality?  Are you doing everything you can to maximize your salary and taking on side gigs?  Are you saving until it hurts?  Do you have the right mix of investments to both reach your goal and sleep comfortably at night?  If you do, you are acting in an intentional way.

Conclusion

The nice thing about being intentional is that you can start this process now.  Start by reviewing your current financial situation.  Can you answer why for all your financial decisions?

If you have a financial plan, use it as a guide.  If you do not have a written plan, write one.  That is a good starting point if you want to become intentional.  Review your plan for areas of your financial situation that might need to be amended.

Some fixes are quick, and others require time to implement change.  Moving forward, wherever money is concerned, ask yourself why before you make a final decision.  If you cannot answer why you are doing something, give it some thought and find out what your true intentions are.

This is just another example of how to improve your financial situation.  It provides a pause before you act.  Sometimes giving a decision an additional few seconds of thought can turn a bad decision into a good decision or a good decision into a better decision.

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Financial Unmanageability Transcends Money

I believe that financial unmanageability transcends money.  When it comes to finding ways to better manage your finances, there are unlimited resources.  There are many great books, blogs, forums, websites, and apps.  There is not a shortage of information, tools, or even professional services.  If a person wants to make improvements when it comes to spending less, paying down debt, saving more of their earnings, or learning to invest, they could find out how to do it in a matter of minutes by doing a few simple online searches.

If the solution to finding ways to improve your financial situation is so readily available, why are so many people struggling?  Yes, we can blame the marketers for always trying to sell the newest gadget.  That excuse, however, only carries so much weight.  Consumers are more educated than ever and many tune ads out.

What if the problem is more pervasive?  What if the problem is beyond simple behavior modification? What if the problem is based on unmanageability?  Yes, the inability to have mastery over your life.

If the problem is based in unmanageability, there is not a blog or app to solve the problem.  If your life is truly unmanageable, trying to get a better handle on your financial shortcomings is just treating a symptom.  To gain control of your life, it will take a little more than spending less and saving more.

Denial

Nobody truly wants to admit their life is unmanageable.  Just like nobody wants to admit they drink, spend, eat, or gamble too much.  It is natural for many people to think, I don’t have an issue with my finances and then go spend more money.  It is common behavior for people who have addiction problems or a spiritual malady to deny what the problem is.  The thought process is like a broken record that skips the same verse over and over.  I do not have a problem with my finances – go spend more money.

Resentment

To resent is to keep going back to a negative feeling.  Instead of feeling and processing those bad or negative feelings, you spend money.  Resentment is not always based on harboring ill feeling towards someone who you believe wronged you in some way.  Resentment can also be rooted in harboring ill feelings towards someone who did exactly what you expected them to do.  The problem was that you were still not satisfied.  They were unable to fill that void that exists within you.  To find temporary relief, you continue to spend and try to fill that void with an external fix.  Unfortunately, it does not last.  After you exhale out and feel relief, you almost immediately inhale the resentment back in.

It is All About You

When you live an unmanageable life, there will always be a conflict with self.  It is all about you.  You cannot be of real use to others.  Sure, you might be physically present in their life, but are you truly living in the moment?  Or are you just physically there, but mentally bound to your troubles?  When your self-centered thoughts and feelings are the focus of your existence, it is difficult to make meaningful connections with others.

Anxiety 

You are not a bad person.  You might even do nice things for others.  You believe that you are thoughtful and caring.  You spend money on the people you care about and on those who you want to care about you. Externally that all might be true, but aren’t you just doing all those things to find more relief and to feel better about your current state of unmanageability?

Do you live in fear?  Do you spend more than you earn and panic when the bills arrive?  Do you lay awake at night and worry that you will never be able to get out from under all the debt you are in?  Do you see retirement as a possible option for others, but something that you would never be able to afford?  Do you obsess over your finances in one thought, but follow it up with more spending that pushes you further away from having healthy finances?  Do you feel hopeless?

Is this fear leading to other health concerns?  Is it leading to weight gain or panic attacks?  Have you gone to see your doctor because you feel overwhelmed?  Did your doctor put you on meds to take the edge off and to help you cope?

There is a Solution

Yes, getting your finances in order is great, but you first need to get your mind right.  I am not a therapist.  I am just a guy with a personal finance blog.  If you are honesty suffering from the symptoms that I listed above, you should seek outside help.  Find out if your health insurance covers visits to a psychologist without a referral from your primary care doctor.  If not, ask your doctor for a referral to one that they recommend.  You might have to pay a low co-pay, but it will be worth it.

There are also 12-step programs.  As I stated earlier, your spending might be just a symptom of a larger issue.  There are 12-step programs for spending, gambling, drinking, and just about any other type of obsessive disease.  It is up to you to dig deeper and decide if you think a 12-step solution would be a good fit for you.

Conclusion

Don’t beat yourself up.  Don’t wallow in guilt, shame, remorse, or any other negative feeling.  The past is the past.  It is time to move on.  Pick up the pieces.  You are not a bad person.  You might have made poor decisions and you might suffer from the disease of addiction.  After you put your own house back in order, you can make amends to those you feel you might have harmed including yourself.

There is hope.  There is also help available.  It is now up to you to find the right help that will be a catalyst for positive change.

Once you get your mind right, great things will start to happen in your life.  Not only will your financial situation improve, but every area of your life will get better.  How could it not, you will be moving away from the problem and in the solution.

You will be able to better accept people and situations as they are.  You will be able to let go of the past. You will better assimilate into the mainstream of life.  You will become more useful to the people around you.  You will finally find the peace that you have been searching for all along.

As a bonus, you should be able to better budget and save money.  Your whole life will become more manageable.  Having a few more bucks in the bank will just make life more enjoyable.

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Joining a Board of Directors

Have you ever thought about joining a board of directors for an organization that you are interested in serving?  I recently was invited to join the board of directors for a local non-profit organization.  It was flattering to be invited.  Of course, I jumped at this opportunity to be of service.

My wife has always been involved in community and church service.  Slowly, her good nature has rubbed off on me.  Over the past few years, I have volunteered to help the clients at the local chapter of The ARC to prepare for job interviews.  It is such a rewarding experience.  When I finish with a lesion, I feel that I receive back more in gratitude than they receive in development.

By joining this board, I see it as an opportunity to give back more to the community.  The board that I joined is for The Mature Workers Program that is part of the National Council on Aging.  It was a good fit for me since I work in HR for a not-for-profit healthcare organization.

There are many benefits to joining a board of directors:

Career

Joining a board of directors is a smart move for your career.  It looks great on your LinkedIn profile.  It shows that you are service orientated.  By being on a board of directors, it reflects that you are a well-respected individual by people of influence.  It shows that you see the big picture.  When a potential employer sees that you volunteer as an advisor, they interrupt it as that you want to contribute to something that is bigger than yourself.  Those are all great characteristics that might not normally stand out on a standard chronological resume.

People of Influence

Many boards attract people of influence.  It is common for boards to be made up of lawyers, executives, community leaders, business owners, and other financially independent people who are passionate about an organization or cause.  It is an opportunity to meet and interact with these folks.  It is a chance to partner with them and work to improve the organization that you now help to oversee.  It is a networking opportunity that is not readily available to everyone.  By closely interacting with these individuals, there is the potential to develop close relationships with them because you share a common bond.  Work to foster those relationships.  You never know how or when those connections can be helpful in the future.

Community Pride

Do you care about the area where you live, an organization, or a cause?  By joining a board of directors, you are able to have input.  Today, everyone has an opinion, but by being on a board of directors, you have an option that matters.  It is an opportunity to become a community leader and to develop an abundance mindset.  Even if it is on a small level, it is still a trusted role.  It is a position where people care what you have to say.  Everyone might not agree with you, but you still have a voice and a vote when it comes to the management of the organization that you serve.  It is truly a position of respect.

Leadership Skills

Being on a board of directors will help to develop you into a leader.  You will have to review and approve of budgets.  You will have input when it comes to shaping policy.  You will be presented with the goals of the organization and how management is working to reach these goals.  As the member of a board of directors, you are responsible to lead and to present input that shapes the best practices of the organization.  Your negotiation skills will be sharpened.  You will learn true team building skills as you work with other board members to shape the future direction of the organization.

How to Join

In most cases, you must be invited or elected to join a board of directors.  There are organizations, however, that are looking for people to join.  First, do research on organizations that you are interested in.  Try to identify organizations that have a mission, vision, and values that you feel strongly about.  Do some deeper digging and find out if you have any connections to the organization.  Use LinkedIn to identify possible connections.  Share your interest in the organization and look for ways to volunteer.  After you learn if the organization is a fit, make a formal request to join the board or to be nominated if the selection is based on an election.

Conclusion

The organization that I am now on the board of directors for wants to increase the number of clients that they serve.  They have an adequate marketing budget.  They run television ads, radio ads, and attend most community events where people over the age of 55 might attend.

At my first meeting, I suggested that they allocate some of the marketing money towards social media and brought up the idea of creating a blog.  The suggestion went over well.  It is going to be added as a topic for debate and to be voted upon at a future board meeting.

I have truly enjoyed my short experience serving as a board member.  It feels good to be able to give back.  It has been a privilege to volunteer my time.  I am looking forward to future board meetings and for the opportunity to be of service.

Have you ever served on a board of directors?

If yes, please share your experience.

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My First Year as a Personal Finance Blogger

My blog just celebrated its first birthday.  The Financial Journeyman was launched on April 8, 2017. It is hard to believe that my first year as a personal finance blogger has come and gone.  Time sure does go by quickly when you are having fun and interacting with great people.

When I launched this blog, I had very low expectations.  My expectations were low because I never created a blog before.  After I decided to create this blog, I did some research on how other blogs performed during their first year.

Many of the general posts that I read about initial blog traffic stated that traffic will be slow in the beginning.  Some bloggers wrote that they received zero traffic for months.  For some, the only person who read their blog was their Mom.  That had me worried because I knew that I would be in trouble if I had to rely on my Mom to read this blog.  Joking aside, I knew that creating a blog was going to take a great amount of time, effort, and some money.

Before I created The Financial Journeyman I never interacted on blogs or forums.  They have always been useful sources of information.  My approach was just to visit, read, and move on.

That approach had to change.  I did not know anyone in the Financial Independence Community.  To meet people and make connections, I had to start interacting with people who were sharing about their personal financial situations on various online platforms.

In a sense, I felt like the personal financial blogger who came in from the cold.  This blog was not about tracking a transformation that followed a psyche change about money.  I was already saving and investing for 20 years, close to being financially independent, and planning on retiring in 2028.

The Financial Journeyman was created to share what I have learned along this journey.  It is written for those who want to achieve financial independence first and then plan for an early retirement.  The content is for both beginners as well as for those how are already taking the required actions to make their own financial goals a reality.

Social Media

Since my blog is anonymous, Twitter seemed to be the best option to start with.  I keep my blog anonymous because I talk openly about my financial situation.  There are some people like my boss and extended family who I do not want to know about the details of my financial situation.  The other reason is that I do not want to be robbed.  I read the book In Cold Blood by Truman Capote at a young age and I suggest it to anyone who has considered sharing about their wealth without protecting their identity.  Twitter has been a great tool for growing traffic and interacting with other bloggers.  In my first year, my list of followers has grown to over 2,700 people.

The Financial Independence Community

Rockstar Finance has been an invaluable resource.  I have had three posts featured in the past year:

How the Mob Influenced My Asset Allocation

Keep Your Hands Off My 401K

Funding Retirement with the Bucket Approach

J. Money was kind to me and greatly helped to get my blog some traction.  ESI who now owns Rockstar Finance is also a good guy and featured me as M25 in his interview series about millionaires. Being featured on those sites truly helped to get my blog some needed exposure among 1,500 other personal finance blogs.

Guest posting is also important for new blogs.  It is a way to get introduced to new readers.  My first guest post was on My Millennial Guide.  Over the past 12 months, I have written guest posts on several websites including Chief Mom Officer, Keep Thrifty, Abandoned Cubicle, and for Michael Dinich.  All those posts have helped introduce me to new followers.

It is fun to meet people and chat online.  For me, however, I like to meet people in person.  It is fun to hang out and talk with people who share the same passion for financial independence.

In the past year, I have started attending my local Bogleheads Chapter Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (120 miles away).  At that group, I have had the opportunity to meet some nice people who welcomed me to the group.  At the most recent meeting, I had the opportunity to meet Erin Arvedlund from the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Erin Arvedlund might not be a familiar name, but she was the original journalist who broke the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme story while working for Barron’s Magazine.  Yes, she is the real deal.

In November, there was a Rockstar Finance Meet-up in New York City.  This was a chance to meet some of the best personal finance bloggers who live on the East Coast.  At this event, I had the opportunity to meet Stefanie O’Connell, Josh Holt from Big Law Investor, The Luxe Strategist, and Liz from Chief Mom Officer.  At that event, I also met another Pennsylvania Guy named Church who blogs at My Mattress Money.  Like myself, Church is a big Philadelphia Eagles fan.  He and I frequently chat about the Eagles and message each other during the games.  It was fun to root for the eagles together on their way to a Super Bowl victory.

It seems like I am making new friends every week.  A short while ago I was able to meet a financial blogger who lives near me.  I had the opportunity to have dinner With Michael Dinich.  Michael is a financial professional as well as a blogger.  He is a generous guy.  He and I are currently working on a few collaborations together.

My most recent financial meet-up was the ChooseFI meet-up in Philadelphia.  There are many outstanding financial podcasts, but ChooseFI is one that I tune into almost every week.  It was fun to expand my circle of friends even more.  I had the pleasure of meeting Kait who blogs at Not Your Average Millennials. This was a very friendly and welcoming group of people who are working hard to reach financial independence.  I am looking forward to hanging out with this group again.

People might think I am crazy to dedicate a whole Saturday to drive to these big cities to talk money with strangers.  If I was not passionate about it, I would not do it.  If I want to make new friends and expanded my reach, I need to put forth the effort and go to them.  It is not different from any other personal or professional relationship.

Writing

This post is about a blog, so I guess I should touch on writing.  My advice is simple.  The first post is the hardest.  I thought about creating a blog for a very long time.  I decided that I did not want to one day reach old age and look back and wish that I had written.

It is a craft.  It takes practice.  It is difficult, but I am striving for progress.

Reading makes writing easier.  You might be a personal finance blogger, or you might blog about something entirely different.  Read other bloggers that are in your space.  Read books, journals, and forums too.

Just keep writing.  Dedicate some time to write every day.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Blog posts are short.  Even longer 3,000-word blog posts are short compared to a book.  I have found that diction is super important in blog posts. It is crucial to be as clear as possible.  As a personal finance blogger, the logic is the easy part.  The difficult part is capturing the ethos and pathos.

Finding Balance

I post about 5 times per month.  This is a part-time blog.  On top of managing this blog, I have a full-time HR job where I manage the Recruiting for four different healthcare campuses in two different states.  That job eats up a good chunk of my time and energy.

Every morning, I try to dedicate about 45 minutes for reading before work.  Every evening, I dedicate at least one hour for writing and editing posts.  My time is limited, so I need to be efficient.

Blog Performance Metrics

So, how has this blog performed over the past year?  The Financial Journeyman was raked as the 15th fastest growing personal finance blogs over the past year.  That statistic truly humbled me.

This is the third post about performance metrics that I have written.  If you want to see some of the early stats, I wrote a six-month as well as a nine-month review.  Below are some of the metrics for the 1st quarter of 2018 as well as my total metrics for the past 12 months:

January 2018

  • Sessions – 1,050
  • Users – 724
  • Page views – 1,859
  • Pages/Sessions – 1.77
  • Average session Duration – 1:23
  • Bounce Rate – 71.14%
  • Number of Sessions per User – 1.32

February 2018

  • Sessions – 980
  • Users – 753
  • Page views – 1,699
  • Pages/Sessions – 1.73
  • Average session Duration – 1:38
  • Bounce Rate – 69.59%
  • Number of Sessions per User – 1.30

March 2018

  • Sessions – 3,956
  • Users – 3,289
  • Page views – 5,370
  • Pages/Sessions – 1:36
  • Average session Duration – 1:09
  • Bounce Rate – 84%
  • Number of Sessions per User – 1.20

April 2017 – March 2018

  • Sessions – 16, 537
  • Users – 12,300
  • Page views – 25,454
  • Pages/Sessions – 1.54
  • Average session Duration – 1:17
  • Bounce Rate – 76.74%
  • Number of Sessions per User – 1.36

Conclusion

There you have it.  That was what it is like to be a blogger for one year.  It is now easier than ever to create a blog.  If there is a subject that you are passionate about, you owe it to yourself to write.  You also owe it to others.  People want to read about what you have to offer.  It is a therapeutic process.  It is hard but rewarding.  It is your opportunity to share with the world. People want to read about an experience, direction, and what is possible for them to achieve.

It has been a pleasure to share this year with all my readers.  I am looking forward to an even more exciting second year of blogging.  When it comes to personal finance and especially investing, we do not know what is coming next.  That is why it is important to have a plan and find trusted resources that you can stick with.  My goal is to be one of those trusted resources for you.

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