going against the flow

Taking the stairs isn’t normal.

As I exit my vehicle and head towards the entrance of my work each day a strange little dance begins to unfold.

I swipe my security card and head indoors and wind down the hallway where 5 elevators await to whisk me to my desk on the 5th floor.

If I’m fortunate enough, no one will be there waiting on the elevator and I’ll duck around the corner and hit the stairs.

Alas, many days there will be a polite person waiting, hey this is Oklahoma not New York, and they’ll inevitably be holding the elevator for me.

“No Thanks, I’ll take the stairs.” I shout down the hallway to the bewildered polite person holding the elevator.

Taking the Stairs

I’m not sure when I became a stair taker, but I take pride in it. At the mall, stairs (if I can find them). At the airport, I’ll take the stairs in the middle of two inviting escalators.

I’m often annoyed in places like hotels which seem to hide their stairways and have them exiting outside the comfort of the lobby. Why hide the stairs?

I feel as in most places, I’m herded and encouraged to the take the escalator or elevator. I’m lulled into being pushed along the “people movers” at the airports too, instead of walking.

I often feel like cattle with these devices instead of a person with free will–and legs for that matter.

Taking the Stairs is a Daily Choice

calories per stairs chart

Small steps burn calories. Credit @ontargetcoach

It’s easy to take the elevators and escalators in life, yet they don’t make us stronger or give as much satisfaction as taking the stairs.

I burn a good bit of calories by this daily choice too. How much? This chart in our office stairway encourages us to burn the 3,500 calories needed to burn a pound of fat. That’s a lot of stairs!

Taking the stairs is daily choice. With each flight of stairs I’m burning about 4 calories. Not much right? Add that up to a daily average of 8 flights (going up and down in between departments) equals about 32 calories each day.

Weekly 160 calories. Monthly 640 calories. Yearly 7680 calories–Bam!  That’s enough to burn or keep off 2 pounds of fat each year!

Those little steps each day at the office add up to a larger yearly gain.

It Works for Money Too!

The choosing to take the stairs principle works for money too. Think you can’t save much? Save or invest a little each paycheck and see the wonder of compound interest.

Have debt? Apply a little extra above the minimum payments and see that debt start to shrink. Apply even more and that debt will be snowballing down the hill at crazy speeds.

Be Weird and Take the Stairs

Small steps pay off. The hard thing to do is the daily choice to make the effort.

Yes, you’ll be odd by taking the stairs. You risk offending others, having others talk about you, and looking weird by not following the rest of the cattle.

Do it! Apply the “take the stairs” principle to life and you’ll one stepping your way to success.

Try applying this saying literally and figuratively today, “No thanks, “ll take the stairs.”

Bobbleheads and money

How does your head bob when it comes to financial matters? Photo Credit: Adam Jefferson via Compfight cc

How do you know if you’re famous? When you have truly arrived?

The tell-tale sign is a figurine with an oversized head bobbing around. Wha?

Yes. A bobblehead is a sign of stardom. I’m not sure where this all began and especially the connection of bobbleheads and baseball–ok so maybe the bloated egos theory makes sense, but I’m already off track.

Have you ever met a bobblehead that could say no?

Bobbleheads are Yes Men

From my expert knowledge of bobbleheads, they usually bob yes–especially when they’re affixed to the dashboards of your minivan (I figure only parents would be reading a financial article about bobbleheads).

Bobbleheads are the ultimate “yes men”, never having a spin (or neck). Always agreeing with what’s happening around them and giving in to their inner child.

We’re no better. Hey want to go out to dinner? bobs yes We’re going to the movies, wanna join? bobs yes Hey I have extra tickets to that sold out concert for only $200 dollars–what a steal! bobs yes once again

How do You Teach a Bobblehead to say No?

Like a neckless figurine, we all say yes to things we can’t afford. It’s just so hard to tell someone no,especially when that means looking odd and missing out on fun.

Learning how to have limits in your spending plan isn’t always the popular thing to do. When invited out to dinner, pulling out your cash envelopes to see if you have enough is awkward.

Checking your mint.com or YNAB app before you can decide about heading to the movies takes effort and makes you look like nerd.

It’s time to teach your booblehead self to say no, go against the grain, and embrace that spending plan you took so long to create at the beginning of the month.

How will you get the motivation to say no when you can’t afford it? I can’t tell what will give you a spine (neck) at the moment, but here are a few motivations:

  • Hatred of debt
  • Desire for family to have better life
  • Meeting your goals more quickly
  • I want to do X more than Y

If your motivation is lacking read a few of these stories.

Teaching your bobble head to say no to the wrong things and yes to right things (investing, savings, giving…) is the key to winning with money–easy right?

Have you tamed your bobblehead when it comes to financial matters? 

Funny Booblehead Video to Waste Your Time


If you have another funny bobblehead video let me know in the comments and I’ll consider adding it.

budget as artist

How do you budget as an artist?

No longer do we work at traditional 9-5 jobs for 40 years and then retire. We live in a gig economy of contract workers, freelancers, and solopreneurs.

We weave in and out of traditional jobs starting our own business and having side hustles for extra income. This new reality changes the way we’re paid and thus how we budget our money isn’t “normal”.

Most personal finance books are great–if you have a traditional job with a predictable income of 26 paychecks each year.

I’ve noticed there is a large gap for those trying to do money smart in the gig economy–especially when I was coaching artists and freelancers in Los Angeles.

That is why I’ve asked several financial experts: personal finance writers, financial coaches, and previous financial advisors to weigh in on the subject of budgeting and living on a variable income.

I hope this a helpful resource to begin budgeting on a variable income.

1. What Advice Do You Have for Someone Living on a Variable Income?

Joe Saul-Sehy: Budgets love similar expenses….the same payment every month makes budgeting a breeze. My clients with big income spikes faced a dilemma: make lots of money and eat filet mignon or make little and eat ramen noodles. This boom/bust cycle of income created huge spurts of unintentional spending that would destroy a budget. So, what did we do?

First, we got ahead of the game by putting money into a reserve. Second, we set up the income stream so it paid into the reserve account. Third, we created a “paycheck” out of the account that we knew was sustainable so that we could keep a consistent budget. In this way, even though money came in and out in spurts, the family was able to predict how much they’d have available for expenses.

Even better news? Whenever there was WAY too much money in the reserve account they could “bonus” themselves for large purchases, vacations, or extra savings. Listen to his Stacking Benjamins podcast

Matt Becker: In our family, I am the primary earner and my wife stays home with our son. But she also runs a part-time counseling practice and has recently started bringing in some meaningful income. We’re factoring this income into our budget in the same way I would recommend anyone with variable income should: by estimating on the low end.

We have budgeted in an amount that is fairly safe to expect every single month, and any extra is then available to put towards whatever savings goals we’re focusing on at the time (right now that’s a house). By estimating on the low end, we’re making sure that we’re not over-extending ourselves in either our spending or our saving.

It’s also a nice little mental trick, as any income above that amount feels a little like “free” money, which makes it exciting to put towards our goals in addition to our regular savings. It feels like we’re accelerating things, even if the effect is the same as if we had budgeted it from the start. Sometimes the behavioral aspect of personal finance is just as important as the practical aspect. Find Matt at Mom and Dad Money.

2. How Do You Budget With an Irregular Income?

Grayson: Budgeting when on an irregular income is one of the hardest things to do. Since you don’t have much of a constant, you will have to learn to budget without a constant. The only constants that you can keep when budgeting are the bills that don’t fluctuate each month.

If you have a mortgage, car payment, and any other regular monthly payments, then you will have to keep these constant. You first have to make sure that you can cover these expenses.  You should setup your budget based on your lowest take home income over the past 12 months. Yes, this is a guessing game, but if you can successfully budget based on the lowest amount that you have taken in the past, then you should be good to deal with any extra income.

Steve Stewart: My wife and I used a spreadsheet I created to manage our budget. In that budget there was an area for entering our expected income. When our income didn’t meet our expectations – or we received some unexpected money – we simply changed the income totals and adjust the spending/saving categories to match. Now we use YNAB which cause us to use this month’s income for next months expenses. We barely notice irregular income because the money is already there waiting for us to spend (no mid-month adjustments needed).

Miranda Marquit: I don’t have a set budget. I have a spending plan in which the most important spending priorities are taken care of first. I make sure I have enough to do things like pay the mortgage, contribute to my Roth IRA, and fund other important items. The rest of the money is just used until it’s gone (or there’s carryover to the next month). To me, it’s important to make sure the important things are covered, and then it doesn’t really matter what happens with the rest of the money.

3. How Do You Save Money With an Irregular Income?

Grayson: I am an advocate of saving money each and every month, but when you have an irregular income, this is usually not possible, or at least much harder to do.  If you can create a budget based on your lowest take home income that you had over the past 12 months, then you should be able to create a savings plan.
If you make more than your budget, then you need to save that overage.  You should save as much as you can because there will be months where it will be harder to save.  Focus on figuring out ways to save more or make more money on the side. How Can I Save Money?

4. What Personal Experience Do You Have Living With an Irregular Income?

Edward Antrobus: The biggest thing to remember to do when living on an irregular income is to base your budget and standard of living off the low end of your income, instead of the high end. Sometimes that just isn’t possible (my unemployment in the winter only covers 2/3 of my expenses).

In that case, use the excess in the high weeks to save for the shortfall in the low weeks. Put this money in a separate account that doesn’t have any debit card, checks, or any other way of accessing the money than going to the bank or online interface. If it is at another bank altogether, that’s even better. Read more from Edward about irregular income with seasonal employment.

Steve Stewart: I have been a part-time mobile DJ for over a quarter of a century. Wedding and Christmas seasons were always busy and the rest were often slow. This was a larger part of my income when I was single – which was also the time of my life when I didn’t know how money worked. My best friend and I shared a nice apartment but after 6 months I had to move back into my parents house. I just couldn’t afford the place my friend wanted to live in so I had to bail. It definitely strained the relationship even though we are still best friends. Listen to his podcast The Absolute Simplest Budget That Works.

Miranda Marquit: I’ve had an irregular income since 2005 when I went back to school for my journalism M.A. However, I’ve tried to land enough regular gigs that the survival basics are covered, so the irregularity of everything doesn’t impact as much. Since I’ve always been the primary breadwinner, an irregular income is pretty much a way of life for my family.

Do you live a gig life and have a variable income? How do you budget your money? 

Budget Spreadsheet picture

What is the oddest item in your budget?

The budget for your family will not look like your neighbor’s budget.

Why? You are different people with different values.

Every budget is unique and is a reflection of our values, goals, and dreams.

I’ll assume you have a budget and meet monthly with your spouse or accountability parter to hammer out the details of your spending plan. If not, I suggest reading How to Budget Like a Pro.

What is the Oddest Item in Your Budget?

All personal budgets have the same items like gas, insurance, food, and the like. But, what about those items you budget for that are unique?

I’ve seen a good number of budgets in my financial coaching career and I’ve never seen the same budget.

In fact, I’ve seen a good number of quirky items of which I’d love to disclose, but can’t due to confidentiality reasons.

Personally, our current odd items beyond the normal are:

  • Spending money for our toddler to learn about money.
  • Money to spend on gifts for each other. (Helps our marriage and avoid money fights)
  • Clothing–not crazy, but I’ve noticed not many people budget for clothing each month.

I know there is nothing too odd currently, but as our income increases I’m sure a few more exciting line items will appear–or at least the dollar amounts.

We budget what we value and what we plan to spend our money on before the month begins.

What do you budget for each month that is “odd”? What is the most unusual item in your monthly budget? 

Did you know that you can change the world?

Yep, it’s true. Your single decision to act can dramatically change the world for the better.

A few friends of ours had a crazy idea to build a house for someone.

Giving Big and Changing the World

Our friend Sam became involved in Habitat for Humanity in Los Angeles on his days off from saving lives as a local fireman.

Though his involvement a small group of friends were challenged to build a house, which they couldn’t afford to do by themselves.

The video below tells the inspirational story. (Sorry, ladies Sam is a married man)

View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.

These couples are amazing! Their action is challenging my faith and humbling when I look at my selfish life.

I want to give big and change the world too.

If you want to give to this Habitat House, click this link to the Philippians House in Culver City. Or just find your own way to give big and change the world.

What if we all took on challenges like funding and building a house? What would the world look like?