Financial Independence & The Side Hustle

“Dolla Dolla Bill Y’all” – Wyclef Jean

What does financial independence mean to you? For me, it’s the ability to travel to Martha’s Vineyard with my girlfriends and start the island’s first biker gang. Throwing all caution to the wind!

In this post I will discuss some of my favorite side hustles. No need to get your panties in a twist, they are all 100% legit.

Financial independence is a very important topic, and one that I am very passionate about. In fact, my newest hobby (borderline obsession) is finding new ways to SAVE and MAKE more money. Now, before you go all “Ebenezer Scrooge” on my ass, let me explain. For me, the goal of having more money is not to have a big fancy car, or Gucci clothes in my closet. My goal is total and complete freedom. I want to be able to travel to wherever I want, whenever I want, without having to worry about breaking the bank. One day it might be nice to have a nice pool to lounge at, piña colada in hand.

I want to know without question that I will always be able to provide for myself. Depending on others financially is never a good position to be in. Every adult on this earth should strive for the ability to take care of themself, by themself, because suck as it may, no one knows what the world may have in store for you or those you depend on, or when you may be forced to take over the reigns. On top of that, feeling trapped is probably one of the worst feelings out there.

I want to save and make more money because I don’t want to constantly stress over bills and budgets. I want to pay off my student loan debt, my car, and even my mortgage, and I want to do so in far less than 30 years! Gasp!

On the Boat to Financial Freedom

I grew up poor. Don’t get me wrong, I always had the things I needed, but family vacations were not a thing, you could not stand in front of the open fridge for more than a millisecond without getting yelled at for wasting energy, my mom acted as the family garbage disposal finishing everyone’s scraps because throwing away expensive food was out of the question, and paper towels were always reused. I kid you not… I may not have known exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I always knew I did not want to struggle like my mom had. God bless her and everything she did for and taught us.

When you’re poor, it’s easy to get caught up in the “money is the root of all evil” trap. To hate the struggle for money, and that you need it just to survive. I personally do not believe that money is evil. Certainly there have been a lot of people with a lot of it do a lot of evil things, but in my opinion, this comes back to the character of the individual, not the money itself. In her brilliant book “You Are a Badass,” Jen Sincero speaks about the need to have a good relationship with money if you want to have a good amount of it. Just like you will not have a good relationship with your significant other if you are constantly telling them they are the scum of the earth, how can you expect to have a good relationship with money if you constantly have beef with it and blame it for all of your problems? This all relates back to principles of the Law of Attraction, and attracting back to you the energy you put into the world, but these are topics for another time. Money can and should be used to do a ton of good for others as well as yourself.

For now, I’d just like to share with you some of the means I have found and am currently using to save and make extra money on the path toward my personal and financial goals. Hopefully you can utilize some of these toward meeting your own as well.

1. Take advantage of the fact that it’s 2019, and there is literally an app for EVERYTHING.

Goodbudget – I am not kidding when I tell you that this app changed my life. My boyfriend makes fun of me, but I get so much joy out of budgeting my money now using this it’s crazy. Not that the app itself is overwhelmingly fancy or exciting, but the control this gives me over my money is amazing. Before using this app, I lived in the world of get paid, pay the bills you currently have due, and spend the rest! Rinse and repeat. I wasn’t saving anything, had no real idea how much “spending” money I could really afford, and I was constantly frustrated at seeming to always come up short and having to play catch up.

I did have to watch a couple YouTube tutorials to figure out how to set up my budgets within the app, and how to use it starting out, but now it has given me complete control over my spending. I know exactly how much spending money I have on weekly, monthly and even annual bases, my bills are always accounted for and ready to be paid when they’re due, and I’m saving more than ever.

There are more sophisticated apps out there that help do more of the budgeting for you. I have yet to try these, but one of these days I will and then review them for you here. For now, I really enjoy using this app and the control it gives me over my spending, and I strongly recommend that you utilize a budgeting app like Goodbudget too.

Rakuten, ibotta & RetailMeNot – I have recently found several apps that are helping me to earn a little extra cash on the side too. None of these are get rich quick schemes, but anything extra helps. Rakuten and ibotta give you cash back on the purchases you already make from all of the stores you normally shop at, both in person and online. From Amazon and Target, to Groupon, Lyft, your local grocery stores, and gas stations. If you aren’t using these apps then you are literally missing out on free money you could be making from the things you already buy. I do not buy anything anymore without utilizing these, and I now earn money back on almost everything I purchase. RetailMeNot is a similar concept, and you can also find great coupons here for the places you shop and eat, and even get cash back on purchasing gift cards (the one thing that’s never on sale).

My new routine is to check where I am going to get the most savings/money back on my purchase (no matter where at) on each of these apps before I actually make the purchase, and then utilize the one that is going to get me the most for that purchase. This may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn’t once you make it routine, and to the nerd in me this is actually like a fun game. Plus I always win! Wahoo!

2. Use an Online Savings Account!

This is probably the #1 thing you should be doing if you want to make your money work harder for you starting immediately. Sick of your savings account literally earning you pennies every month? Switch to an online savings account, and start making some real money every month without having to do a thing or take any risk. In researching online savings accounts, I decided to use Vio Bank because they had one of the best interest rates available. Vio Bank is a division of MidFirst Bank, which is one of the largest privately owned banks in the U.S. They are FDIC insured up to $250,000 (which is the standard). Today’s rate on their online savings account is a whopping 2.42% APY! Cue jaw drop when you compare this to the average savings account interest rate of 0.09% according to the FDIC! This is HUGE.

To use a numbers example, if you have $7,000 in your savings account, you would earn about $14 in interest with the online savings account at the end of the month versus a measly $0.52 cents with the standard brick and mortar savings account. Now imagine how this grows over the year(s) with interest compounding daily, and if you are making regular monthly deposits to your account (with the help of your budget app of course). If you deposited just $300/month to that same online savings account (starting with the $7,000,) in five years your money will have earned you almost $2,000 without you having to do a thing! How much would the standard savings have earned in that same time and with the same deposits? Drum roll please… $70! (eye roll). You can use the calculator here to see how this will work for you and your specific financial situation.

The one thing to note if you do decide to switch your savings account to Vio Bank is that it did take about 9 business days for my initial deposit to go through. I know this is like an eternity in today’s world, but don’t freak out. All my deposits made since have taken about 4 business days or so to post, but the wait time is well worth the interest deposited into my account every month. Actual dollars instead of the change I saw on my previous savings accounts.

There are several other reputable online savings accounts as well, from companies like American Express and Discover, as well as many others. I just chose one with one of the highest rate of earnings.

3. Make Credit Card Rewards Work for You

Alright, this one is only for those of you who are super diligent. I am by NO MEANS ADVISING that you rack up credit card debt. If you already have it, you should be working to eliminate it immediately! Credit card debt is probably the worst debt to have because of the absurd interest rates, and how easy it is to rack up. I personally have worked very hard to ensure that I never have any credit card debt. That’s right, $0!!

But that doesn’t mean I don’t utilize credit cards. Today, credit cards have awesome rewards programs where you can earn up to 5% back in rewards (actual dollars) from just using them for your spending. As I said, if you are very diligent, this can be a great way to bring in extra cash. The key though is to pay off whatever you buy on your credit card IMMEDIATELY. In doing so, you earn rewards, while never carrying any credit card debt. You are not using credit cards to buy things you can’t actually afford, you are buying things you know you actually have real money for (via use of your budgeting app!,) and then paying your purchases off immediately with that money. Instead of using your debit card to make purchases using the money you know you have in your bank account, you use your credit card to make the same purchase because you know you have the money in your bank account to, I REPEAT, pay off that purchase on your credit card immediately.

This may seem like a lot to keep track of, but one last time, if you are very diligent about this, it can be a great way to earn a good amount of extra money, especially on larger purchases. And you’ll never have to pay a penny of interest, because you pay everything off before interest has a chance to accrue. I even have my bills that do not require ACH set to auto pay on my credit card so I am earning rewards on those too. And of course, sound like a terrible, horrible broken record, I pay those off immediately also.

If you are super on top of your S*#%, you can even use different cards for different purchases based on which earn the most rewards in different categories. For example, some cards will give a greater percentage of rewards in categories like gas, groceries, restaurants, and travel.

If you are just looking for a simple way to earn cash back on all of your purchases across the board, the Citi® Double Cash Card is the one I use because it gives me 2% back on everything I buy. 1% when I buy, and then another 1% when I pay off what I bought.

4. Refer Friends to Clean Energy!

Alright, this one is super close to my heart because, as you may have read, my day job is that of “CFO” of an awesome local solar company. Personal bias aside, this is an amazing way to have $500 checks literally mailed to your door. For every referral you send our way that goes solar with us, we will mail you a $500 referral check. It truly is that simple. So if you have family or friends that live in upstate NY or CT that want to save money on their energy bill and that care about the environment, email their contact info to me at contact@amberisthecolor.com so we can provide a free quote for their home.

If you do not live in NY or CT, I would still advise looking into solar! It is an excellent way to save money, protect the environment, and gain energy independence. I put solar on my home in June and have already seen savings every month since. When tax season comes and I receive my renewable energy tax credits, these will have made my first few years of energy free!

Actual Screenshot of My Solar System’s Monitoring App

If you decide to purchase your system, which requires $0 money down, your loan payments should be less than your current electric bill, resulting in day one savings. Then when your system is paid off, you will no longer have an electric bill at all! Think about how much extra money you could be savings if you never had to pay an electric bill. Like Woah.

If you decide to go solar, SunPower (the manufacturer of the panels we use) is truly the best of the best out there. Just check out the difference in their patented technology, how much energy they guarantee to produce over time, and their warranty. No other panel even comes close. There are other SunPower Master Dealers across the country I can also refer you to.

And if you think solar is ugly, check out some of our beautiful installs here.

5. Invest in Real Estate

I bought my house, all by myself, last year at the age of 27. The money I had to put down, all of the application processes, etc., all me. Not to toot my own horn, but this is freaking awesome! I understand that this is not something that is feasible for everyone to do starting now like the other money makers/savers I have suggested above, but why not at least make it your goal?

And here’s the kicker, the house I bought is a two family, so the rent I receive from my tenant pays well over half of my monthly mortgage bill. I am literally paying less every month to own my home then I would be to rent an apartment. If you can do this and also get a roommate paying you rent too, you could be in a position where you are paying nothing toward your monthly housing costs. Think about how much more money you would have/could be saving if you didn’t have to pay rent! Like Double Woah.

I should note here that having parents in the construction business has helped me immensely in owning my home, because if something goes wrong or I need advice on something homeowner related, my parents are there to help me for a LOT less money then it would be to have to pay a professional everytime. So, if you are going to pursue homeownership just make sure to keep this in mind and to budget for the unexpected repairs/maintenance you are bound to run into.

In a few years my boyfriend and I are planning to purchase our own single family home. At this point, my house will become strictly an investment property. With both units rented, my mortgage here will be more than covered, and I will be pulling in a significant amount of extra income every month. When the mortgage here is paid off, all of the money I receive from rent will just be additional income, and this will serve as an awesome piece of my retirement plan.

6. Pay Off Your Debt!

If you do not have it as a goal to pay off your debts, make it one. Yesterday. Though paying off your debt may result in less savings in the short term, in the long run, this could save you tens of thousands of dollars in interest payments. Interest in the case of debt is evil as I’m sure you already know. It can make the cost of what you paid for an education, car, home, whatever you charged on your credit card, etc. ultimately cost you many times over the actual ticket price of the item. Would you really pay 2x what that flat screen tv actually cost if you had to pay for it directly out of your bank account today? No, that’s stupid. Would you go to the cashier and say can I please pay $1,600 for this $800 tv just because? Hell no. If it’s not in your budget and you don’t absolutely need it today, then wait until you do have the money in your budget to buy it!

Ok mom… But seriously, if you didn’t have any debt you would have a lot more money to be saving and at your disposal. I have done a lot of reading from many different financial experts, and if you need a manageable goal for paying off your debt, you might do something like the following:

  1. If you do not have at least 3-6 months worth of money saved to cover all of your bills in case of emergency (you lose your job for example,) you should start by accumulating a rainy day fund. Make sure you are paying the minimum monthly requirements on all of your debts while you build up enough in your savings to cover at least 3 months worth of all of your bills should you lose your job.
  2. Once you have at least 3 months worth of bills saved in your rainy day fund (ideally more like 6 months,) determine how much per month you can afford to use for savings/paying down debt. Make sure you budget for disposable spending money also, even if its a very small amount, so that you don’t drive yourself crazy.
  3. If you determine that you can afford to put $200/month for example toward savings/paying off debt, then take the majority percentage of this to apply toward your debt and put the rest in savings. In this example, you could take $150/month and apply this toward paying off your debts, and then save $50/month for example.
  4. Apply the $150/month toward your smallest debt first until this is completely paid off! In doing this as opposed to starting with larger debts that may have a higher interest rate, you are getting the satisfaction of completely wiping a whole loan or a whole credit card for example off of your map much faster! Sayonara! You never have to look at its ugly face again, and this satisfaction is unbelievably motivating for you to continue this process until all of your debts are paid, working from the bottom up. If you do have a debt that is not too much higher than a smaller one, but does have a higher interest rate, you can work on paying this one off first.

There are many different philosophies on the best way to work on paying down debt, but the above is one that works best for me, and I can’t wait for the day when all of the money I once had to use to pay off debt can be added to my savings or spendings accounts!

7. Start a Side Hustle

Whether you decide to start a blog like me, or pursue some other side business (and there are so many other ways to make extra money with a side business online – from freelancing, to becoming a virtual assistant, web developer, marketer, bookkeeper, Influencer, you name it,) set aside the time to do your research and come up with something you can do that will motivate you and that you are passionate about. With very minimal investment, you can start a side business that may one day even make you enough to turn into a full time gig.

Peace & Love,

Amber

P.s. If you are interested in starting a blog like me, I highly recommend the platform I have used for this site, WordPress!

4 thoughts on “Financial Independence & The Side Hustle

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