Nov 15

Why the Self-Investment of Higher Education is Worth It

Education costs continue to rise and many college graduates are working lousy jobs with no relation to their field of study. For a time, I was counted among their number, but I’ve begun to see the subtle benefits of having a college education, even if it’s not paying off big time right now. Thanks to my private student loans I have an education that’s helping me build a better future for myself. These are the three biggest factors I am personally thankful for with regard to my time at school.

  • Growing Up. I fear that if I had never gone to school, left my small town home, and learned how to fend for myself, I would be a lot less happy with my present life. Without the social stimulation at my school, I wouldn’t have been exposed to a lot of the thoughts that went on to make me who I am. My social group would be homogeneous and severely limited. I would have never had the experiences you can only have away from the people you grew up with. This is not all about partying and philosophy; it’s about experiencing the essence of life. Even if your major doesn’t translate into an awesome career right away, simply being able to expand your horizons is worth (moderate) student loans.
  • College Grads Make More Overall. The college graduates mentioned above haven’t lived long enough to experience this for themselves, but it’s true. Excellent statistics gleaned by the Hamilton Project illustrate just how much more a college grad makes, on average, than a high school grad, over their career lifetimes. Young graduates can’t appreciate this (unless they look it up and think about it); a university trained worker doesn’t experience peak salary until some 26 years into his or her career. The lifetime pay of one of these workers is more than double their high school educated counterparts. And it’s not just about the money you make directly from your profession. It’s about what you’re then able to do with that money. The college graduate stands to make so much more in investments and business earnings than someone who doesn’t have the extra money to throw around. Once you’ve paid down your student loans, your options really look not that bad after all.
  • It Opens Other Doors. Employers hire people, not majors. This is true. And of course a hard-working and inspired person will make themselves marketable, no matter the limits of their own educational background. But it’s harder to get over that hump. Simply having a college degree can get you a seat at the table in many application scenarios and other specifically social employment opportunities. On the one hand, I kind of hate this. It’s a cultural differentiator that benefits some on imaginary merits. But it’s the world we live in. This is the positive side of student loans. They put education and its many social benefits within the reach of those who could not otherwise afford it.

You’ll continue to hear lots of complaining from the anti-college crowd, telling you you can make it on your own. College is a scam and a ripoff. I’m here to tell you, it’s only what you make it. Sure you may leave with debt, but if you pick the right major, have a good attitude, and focus on advancing yourself in whatever way works for you, you will be able to make more of your life, more easily, with a college degree (and some debt) than without one.

This infographic explains college financial aid letters. Read along to find out how much is offered and how much you’ll need in financial aid.

Financial Aid Award Letter Sample

**This post was a guest post written by Michael Miller

Nov 12

Side hustles that suck: ebay

ebayOver the years I’ve made a pretty tidy sum of money selling stuff on ebay. From old clothes and books to electronics and jewelry gifted by ex-boyfriends (not like I was going to keep wearing it after we broke up!) I’ve sold a bunch of stuff.

For a while when I was in college, I was making so much cash my mom was convinced thatwas some sort of illegal activity and she was going to have to bail me out of jail. Oh mama bear, you’re funny!

For several years when ebay was still relatively, “new” and, “unknown”, I was making a few hundred bucks a month buying inexpensive stuff at yard sales and thrift shops and re-selling it. It wasn’t that much work and it worked perfectly with my erratic (staying up late and sleeping in) college schedule.

Although I’m still a frequent buyer on ebay, I don’t do a lot of selling these days. That said, a couple weeks ago I did some, “fall cleaning” and found a few items I no longer needed/wanted. I took some quick photos with my phone and wrote up a few auction descriptions. About an hour later all the auctions were live and I was eagerly waiting for the bidding to begin. Sadly, the bids were exactly, “rolling in” and my overall earnings were pretty slim. That’s when I decided that ebay is a bad side hustle (when you do it, “wrong”).

Here’s how to lose money and mail people items for free (otherwise known as how to be a sucky ebay seller):

  1. Sell items that no one wants to buy. There’s a buyer for every type of item, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to find that buyer. I recently sold a blood glucose meter that I got for free with coupons. It was an expensive meter ($40+) at the drug store, but it only received one bid for $10.00. Because I offered “free shipping” I actually I lost money selling it.
  2. Sell items buyers can purchase for cheap locally. Some people want to buy things online for convenience (maybe they are home-bound or live in the middle of nowhere), but generally, if you can buy it cheaper and easier at the local drugstore, you probably won’t net much selling it on ebay.
  3. Sell items that are heavy and expensive to ship. Depending on the item’s size and weight, shipping can be super expensive. Furniture, big electronics and heavy toiletries aren’t always worth selling (unless you offer local pick up). By the time you pay the shipping, you’ve eaten into all of your profit.
  4. Sell items out of season. You might be able to sell that knee length down coat in July, but you’d get a lot more bids if you sell it in December.

money flowTips for selling on ebay and NOT losing money:

  1. Brand names do best. Buyers want designer name brands. If your item is made by a designer use the designer’s name in the title. “Black Donna Karen size 6 party dress” will get more hits (and more bids) then “Black party dress”.
  2. Specify the item’s condition in the title. Buyers want to know if the item is “New with tags (NWT)”, “Worn twice”, “Like new” etc.
  3. Take good photos and lots of them. Photos speak louder than words. What you might consider, “fair” condition another seller might consider, “good” condition. Let the buyer be the, “judge” by including lots of photos.
  4. Set the buyer qualifications to exclude people with no/poor feedback. I ask buyers with no feedback to e-mail me before they bid. If they don’t, I cancel their bids. I’ve had bad experiences with new buyers and buyers with poor feedback. Honestly, it’s not worth your time to deal with buyers who jerk you around. Stick to buyers with great feedback.
  5. Have a, “no returns” policy. When I first started selling on ebay, I desperately wanted everyone to be happy, and give me good feedback, so I offered a, “no questions asked” return policy. Unfortunately that was a big mistake and I ended up spending a bunch of money on return shipping, listing fees and paypal fees. Tell your buyers upfront there are no returns so you don’t get stuck with overeager buyers who later experience, “buyer’s remorse”.

Unexpected (weird) “good sellers”

greeniesUsed bras-yup you read that right. I’ve sold gently used designer bras multiple times with good luck.

Bulk cat treats-bought too many with coupons and they would have expired before the vultures our furries ate them all. I was shocked when they sold for over $20 plus shipping. (I was smart enough to charge for shipping that time!).

Belly button rings-when I was in college I had a pierced belly button and about 15 belly rings (good use of expendable income right? ugg). I sanitized all of them and sold them as a lot for over $50.

Used shoes-I once bought a pair of Dansko clogs on ebay, wore them for several years and then sold them for more money they I paid for them, score!

Have you ever sold items on ebay? Did you make money? What were “good sellers” for you? Did you ever lose any money?

Nov 03

My boyfriend the dumpster diver!

bookshelfOK, he’s not a dumpster diver exactly, he’s more of a garbage room liberator ;-) If you’ve been reading for a while you might remember this post I wrote a while back about all the free stuff we’ve found in our garage’s garbage room. Well, we moved our car to another garage, but we’ve recently been really lucky to score a bunch of great free stuff.

Yesterday Eric came home from the garage smiling ear to ear (I can always tell when he’s pleased with himself, which is pretty cute). He told me that he scored a sweet little bookshelf that he though would go well in the hallway.

Too Much Stuff & Too Little Space!

I’m not sure if we just have a lot of kitchen gadgets, or if we hoard food, but we never seem to have enough space in our cabinets for all of our stuff. As a result we had to, “make” a makeshift pantry out of a couple of unstained bookshelves circa my college years.

They aren’t nice by any means, but they hold our popcorn popper and some food items that don’t fit in our cabinets. Basically our kitchen is half “high end” (granite counters, newer appliance etc.-all the stuff that was here when we bought the place) and half is “college dorm room” (sadly, that’s our “mark” on the place-wink).

Sure, we could go out and spend a bunch of money buying new furniture and decor, but that’s not our style. Right now, saving is more important to us then living in a pottery barn catalog (My 20-year-old self would never type that! Oh the irony). Maybe someday we’ll invest in nicer pieces, but for now, I’m totally happy with what we have.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

I really love reusing and re-purposing old furniture, clothing, electronics etc. whenever possible. Not only is it fun and free, it also helps to keep “stuff” out of our landfills.

OK, back to the bookshelf…where did he find this little gem? In the garbage room in our parking garage! At first I panicked a little bit because you never know who owned the piece before you or how they live. But once I saw the piece I was really happy. It was clean and bug-free. Plus once Eric carried it up the 3 flights of stairs to our place (bless his heart he was snorting and panting by the time he made it to our door-He didn’t ask me to help because he wanted to surprise me-aww), I washed it down really well and let it air dry.

Now it’s holding our rice maker and coffee maker and the cubbyholes are hiding some “crap” that used to be out in the open and driving me nuts. I hate clutter, so having cubbyholes with doors is the perfect solution. What’s even better? I have a few pieces of “art work” (target) that I’ve been meaning to hang since we moved in and I never had a place to put them. I think they’d look perfect over the bookshelf. I guess that’s next weekend’s project :-)

drying rackWe (Eric) also found a drying rack that will come in handy for “line drying”. It’s a “Real Simple” model and looks brand new. What a happy day! Many thanks and good karma to the kind folks who “left” us these sweet finds.

What’s the best free “find” you’ve ever scored off the street, in the garbage, been given by a friend etc.? Am I weird…or cheap… or both, for not wanting to spend money on new furniture?

Oct 27

Some people have, “that kind of money”. You Don’t!

Oprah and JustinMany years ago I watched an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show that really resonated with me. Although I don’t know Oprah personally, I’ve always imagined that she is as down to earth and approachable in person as she was on her show. Despite her success and fame, Oprah has always been very honest about her faults, her difficult childhood and her struggle with her weight. I really admire her for openly discussing those struggles and, “telling it how it is”.

On that particular episode, Oprah talked about watching the, “skinny girls” eat whatever they want and not gain any weight. Oprah said that she envied those girls for years and often thought, “why can’t I be like that?”

In time, she came to realize that people have different metabolisms and she’ll always have to watch what she eats. What stuck with me was the statement she made next. It was something like,

“Some girls can eat whatever they want and stay skinny, but that ain’t you (referring to herself).”

So simple, but so true!

Years later, I still remember that show and that, “ah ha” moment. Not only did I identify with Oprah’s frustration and insecurities with her weight, but I also thought about how her statement applied to other areas of my life, including my finances.

As early as middle school, I remember looking at things my peers had, and wishing I had the same. I’d see the clothes, shoes and jewelry that other girls had and think to myself, “man it would be nice to have things like that.”

Thankfully I grew up in a really rural fishing village on the coast of Maine, so there weren’t a lot of, “fancy” things to envious of. In high school, I, “figured out” that I could buy the things I wanted (GAP jeans, Tommy Girl perfume, nine west shoes etc.) by working odd jobs, babysitting and life-guarding.

When I went away to college, I met a whole new class of wealthy people that I didn’t even know existed. I also, “discovered” a world of new “stuff” to admire and desire.

Image: Amazon

Image: Amazon

My freshman year of college, I befriended a young woman who came from a very wealthy family. Her family’s, “summer cottage” in Kennebunkport was next to the Bush’s home (President Bush!) and her year-round home was a mansion (think Real Housewives of NJ). She drove a brand new Volkswagen Passat and dropped fat stacks of cash on clothes, shoes, makeup and handbags.

She was a sweet girl and I appreciate that she never made me feel, “less than” because I didn’t come from a wealthy family. Despite her best attempts to keep me from feeling like her, “poor friend”, there were definitely times when she was buying a $50 lip treatment at the Chanel counter that I was “hiding” at the Clinique counter, and thinking to myself, “must be nice”.

In times like that, I had to remind myself, (courtesy of Ms. Winfrey),

“Some people have that kind of money, but that ain’t you!”

Don’t get me wrong, I had no desire to spend $50 on a glorified lipstick, I’m a Burt’s Bees lipbalm kind of gal. But I did often wonder what it would feel like to be able to spend freely without worrying about money.

As an adult, I’ve come to terms with my finances and I’m incredibly thankful for the things that I do have. While I still can’t help but wonder what it might be like to never have to worry about money, I’m so grateful to be financially secure. Not only do I/we have a cute condo, a chunk of money in my retirement account, a good reliable used car and a fully-funded emergency fund, I also enjoy a host of comforts that many people do not have.

It’s no secret that when I was a kid we didn’t have a lot of money. I’m now fortunate to be able to travel when I want, buy what I want at the grocery store and even buy a few luxury goods here and there. What’s more important is I can give back to my family and my community. I don’t worry about money (OK I do worry a little… I think I always will) and I sleep soundly at night (except for when the cat sleeps on my head) because I don’t have to worry about if there’s money in my account or how I’m going to pay my bills.

I may never have “that kind of money”, but I’m very happy with what I do have.

Have you ever felt envious of “things” that other people have? Has the envy died down as you’ve grown older? How do you get the “green-eyed monster” in check?

Photo: Lwp Kommunikáció

Oct 20

Busy bee-life update


When I can’t find the right photo for a blog post these e-cards always crack me up.

I know I’ve been quiet lately. Life has been busy and blogging has had to take a bit of a back seat. So I just wanted to write a quick post to, “check in”. Here’s what’s going on in my world recently:

Hiring. I know I mentioned this a few weeks back, but one of my case managers left the agency and I’ve been trying to find the perfect replacement. What I’ve come to find is, “nobody’s perfect” (myself included). There have been some pretty good candidates and some pretty bad ones.

My favorite, “no go?” a candidate who told myself and my social worker (we’re both women) that one of the qualities he’d bring to the job is, “being a man”. We expected he’d then elaborate on the statement with a followup statement about the field being female dominated and how he could be a good role model for male clients etc. He did not! In fact he didn’t explain the statement at all. Strange! Sorry sir, just having male parts doesn’t make you a good candidate.


Don’t ask me why he looks so disgruntled. It was early in the morning

Cat care. A lot of my time lately has been spent with Liam. He’s now taking medication twice a day (pills and liquid). He’s also receiving subcutaneous fluids daily and I’m doing some assisted feeding with an oral syringe (he’s not eating well and is super skinny so it’s important to keep his calories up). A few weeks ago the vet she told us we might have to think about putting him down. I immediately became a wreck and starting having a meltdown. She thought he wasn’t eating because his kidney levels were getting worse. Thankfully she was wrong.

His blood work and his kidney levels are actually *better* than they were when he was first diagnosed with kidney failure. So we can’t figure out why he isn’t eating well. He doesn’t seem to be feeling bad or acting out of the ordinary, so for now we’re just playing it by ear. We’re thankful for each day with him and we’re taking it one day at a time.

Visiting. The weekend before last, Eric’s sister, brother-in-law and nephews came to town from Michigan. We spent the whole weekend together playing “tourist” in NYC. We went to Korea town for dinner, watched Aladdin on Broadway, walked around central park, and ate lots of macaroons. It was so nice to spend that time together and to get to know Eric’s sister better.

Since the rest of Eric’s family is still in the Philippines I’ve never met them (I’ve only met this sister twice). Eric sometimes speaks with his family on the phone, but it’s really not the same as seeing them in person. I’m really close with my family and it makes me sad that Eric isn’t able to be closer with his. So last weekend was really special.

Exercising. I made a goal to exercise at least 25 minutes per day 5 days a week and so far so good. I have to admit that those first few days when I got home from work and I was tired and hungry I didn’t really feel like working out. It would have been easier to put on my pjs and lounge on the couch. But I’ve found if I come home and get right into my workout gear I don’t allow myself to make excuses. Over the past two weeks I’ve been eating better and I’ve even lost a little weight which is nice.

Cleaning. When Eric’s sister came to town I realized what a mess our house was. 5 years ago you could eat off my floor my house was so clean. Today, I happily embrace the 3 second rule. After a long work week I just want to relax. The thought of spending all weekend cleaning, organizing and doing laundry makes me miserable. That being said, I’ve since realized that if I keep my house at an, “acceptable” level of clean during the work week, I don’t have to spend all weekend deep cleaning. So I’m making a goal to keep the kitchen table and counters clutter-free and wipe them down daily because clutter means chaos to me.

Hustling. I’ve been fortunate to pick up a few side hustle gigs. This weekend I cat sat (sounds funny that way) for one of my dog walker’s clients (dog walker was out of town). Starting next week I’ll be doing every other day cat visits for a little over a month for a client who’s going to Paris. Her cats are sweet as pie and I’m really excited to spend some time with them. I’m also thankful to make some extra money before the holidays.

Tell me what you’ve been up to? Do you have a Halloween costume yet? We like to dress up the dog (poor bugger-that’s what happens when you don’t have kids) and haven’t bought his costume yet.

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