Kali Hawlk

Financial Writer & Marketing Manager

Sometimes, You Should Break the Rules

pay off your mortgage

I’ve waited to publish this post until everything was very much official, and now it is. The paperwork is signed. The listing is online. There’s a big honkin’ sign in our front yard.

Our house is officially for sale and on the market. And we obviously weren’t afraid to break the rules (however unofficial they might be) in the playbook of smart financial moves to get it there.

A House Is an Expensive Thing in the Short Term

When you think about home ownership, there are a few qualifications you need to meet in order to make owning a better deal for you than renting. One of the biggies is that you should plan to live in your home for at least 5 to 7 years.

Why? Because on average, that’s the amount of time you’ll need to break even on the initial costs you paid to get into your home. Buying (and selling) houses is seriously expensive, and closing costs alone cost thousands of dollars of cash out of pocket.

Not to mention, you can only take advantage of the capital gains tax breaks on any profit you earn in selling your home if you’ve lived in it for at least two years.

Well, we’ve been in our house for more than two years. Barely. We made it to the halfway mark of the recommended 5-year stay, at 2 and 1/2 years, before we decided to head on out.

But don’t worry — we had good reason to break the rules.

We Break the Rules… When There’s No Reason Not To

As I’ve discussed in past blog posts, we got a ridiculously good deal on the house we bought right before we got married. The housing market in our area was still struggling and it was a serious buyer’s market.

That allowed us to get into a home we would have never been able to afford in normal market conditions. We jumped on the opportunity as an investment, figuring the market had no where to go but up.

It helped that the sellers:

  • Did a considerable about of maintenance and repairs before listing (like installing a new A/C unit)
  • Came down $15,000 off their original list price
  • Put in about $2,000 worth of work into the property (like limbing up trees and fixing a few minor problems) before we agreed to buy
  • Paid about $5,000 in closing costs

…and this was on top of the $20,000 or so they had to pay at closing because they were so underwater on their mortgage.

(Let that be a warning to anyone who thinks a home is an investment. It is not. It is a place to live and you better not overextend yourself and borrow more than you can really afford!)

So we got an amazing deal and were out no cash beyond what we put on our down payment.

And the market in our area has gone a little bananas recently. Just 2 and 1/2 years after we bought, our home’s estimated value is just $5,000 below the highest it’s even been valued at.

Meanwhile, other kinds of properties not in our area have not rebounded so quickly. These properties happen to be the kind we want: homes with acreage away from the metro Atlanta area. As a plus, interest rates on mortgages are still mind-bogglingly low.

Combine all these factors, and heck yes we’re breaking the rules when it comes to home ownership:

  • We’ll walk away with enough cash from the sale of our home, after paying broker commissions and paying off our existing mortgage, to fund 20% (or more) of the down payment on our next home
  • We get to continue to take advantage of historically low interest rates with a new loan
  • We can sell our house in a seller’s market, but not have to worry about buying into the same skewed market (because properties that we’re looking at now are a little more balanced, with buyers and sellers on more even footing)

No, we haven’t lived here for 5 to 7 years, and we haven’t even found where we’ll be moving to yet. But there’s no reason not to cash in on our investment right now.

We’re going for it, because the rules were made as general guidelines. Our situation is far from general or typical. It just makes sense to break the rules a little bit.

Becoming a Sensible Rule-Breaker

Why blab on about the sale of our house?

Well, for one because it’s my blog and I’ll blab if I want to. And thoughts about the goings-on with this in my life right now have consumed nearly every waking second of my day for the past two weeks (and quite a few seconds of my night when I was supposed to be sleeping, dang it).

But more importantly, because it illustrates something that I’ve been doing with increasing success since I became an adult.

My first attempts at breaking the rules failed miserably. While the motivation came from the same independent streak that has served me well in the past five years, I hadn’t quite learned to channel that desire to run rampant through all of society’s strictures when I was a teenager.

The results were often quite bad, to the point where I literally can’t remember whole periods of my high school years when I try to recall them because I’ve (sub?)consciously blocked them out. The upside is I managed to remember the lessons learned from those experiences.

But as an adult, I’ve managed to develop a more refined ability to tell when a general rule in life is not right for me and my situation. I’ve become logical, reasonable, and sensible in my rule-breaking.

For us and the house, there was little to no downside to selling the house. It’s merely the next step in the process to living a life that means something to us.

And that’s how you develop a sense of which rules to break, which you should just bend a little, and which ones to heed.

You get clear on what you want your life to look like. You sit down and have a heart to heart with yourself about what you value, what you prioritize, and what you want to accomplish. You must define what’s purposeful, meaningful, and worthwhile — and then you work to attain it.

Not all the rules out there are going to fit with what you want to do in that grand life of yours, especially if you prefer getting a little farther away from the beaten path. And that is perfectly okay.

Just don’t dismiss advice, guidance, or rules outright. When you seek to break a rule, you should do so only after careful consideration and evaluation of your situation. Make sure you’re not doing the financial or career equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. (In other words, breaking the rules just to say you broke the rules.)

After all, rules become rules for good reasons (when we’re referring to rules as general guidelines). They’re established from the experience of others who have gone before us and learned important lessons about what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Forging Your Own Way (with Your Own Rules!)

I fully encourage you to try bending a rule or two if it means working your way closer to a life well lived.

In your finances and in your career, that might mean:

Ruthlessly prioritizing what you value.. and cutting everything else from your budget. This may mean you do things a consumerist society isn’t comfortable with, like driving a 15-year old car, thrifting for parts of your wardrobe, or simply not spending money on stuff you don’t care about so you can spend on what matters to you.

Saving and investing large portions of your income. Don’t you dare let the general rule of “you should save 10% of your income for retirement” make you think you can’t save more. You can! In 2014, we were investing 40% of our income. We’re closing in on 50% now.

My friend Cait from Blonde on a Budget has an excellent post around this issue, about how general rules of thumb could be killing our savings potential.

Spending some of your free time earning extra money instead of watching hours of TV. This one tends to make people even more uncomfortable than the idea of not spending thousands of dollars on crap you don’t need — because using the time available to you to get out there and boost your income (and your skill set, and your experience, and your confidence in what you can achieve) means there is more out there. It is possible to do more with your money and your life.

But it takes a good deal of work, and most folks simply aren’t willing to take responsibility for what they can control. It’s easier to just show up than it is to take action and bust your tail to change your situation.

Quitting your job to strike out on your own. Of course, there’s more to breaking the general rule of “be a good employee” than deciding you’ve had enough and quitting your job tomorrow. But if you want to try freelancing, or working as a solopreneur, or launching your own business, that’s awesome!

You should pursue this goal of yours and prepare for an epic rule-breaking. (Which means side hustling while holding down your day job for a while to build your business, your self-employment income, and your experience in running your own show.) When you’re ready, don’t be afraid to break away from the conventional or traditional to try something new in your work.

Sometimes, you should break the rules. When it makes sense for you, it can lead to some incredible experiences and opportunities in life.

Have you bent or broken the “rules” before, with a positive outcome? Are you struggling to figure out which rules make sense for you to break? Tell me about it in the comments below!

Thank You, Emergency Fund: Letter from a Grateful Millennial

Emergency Fund Paid for Vet Bills

Dear Emergency Fund,

As much as I hated the fact that we had to interact two weeks ago, I am beyond grateful that we were able to do so. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for doing your job: you were there for me when I needed funds for an emergency.

It’s easy for folks to dismiss you, Emergency Fund. I’ll admit, I’m not your biggest advocate myself. I like keeping you slim and trim because we don’t have much financial responsibility and we can run on a tight budget.

Here’s the thing, though. Unexpected expenses are unexpected. They strike at any time (and usually at the worst of times, actually). So you’ve always been with us, but we’ve also focused on other financial priorities. You weren’t front and center when it came to money goals.

But, as you know since you paid for this incident, we had to take one of our little furballs to the vet two weekends ago.

And not just the vet, but the emergency vet.

And not just for an exam, but for procedures including anesthesia and for a 3 night hospital stay.

And four different medications to administer to kitty once he came home.

It was extremely stressful and scary, because kitty faced a life-threatening situation. Had we waited just one more day to bring him in, the situation would have been much more severe and dire. It was bad enough to see one of my four-legged, furry kids in pain and scared.

And then the vet gave us our estimated bill. For $2000.

I felt guilty after hearing that, because the number made me forget all about the poor cat that was having to physically deal with this. For about a minute all I could think about was ohmygod twothousanddollars areyoushittingme whywhywhywhywhy nononononono workedsohardforthatmoney neverhadasickcat whynow twothousandfreakin’dollars ughhhhhhhh.

The vet walked out of the room to give us time to decide what to do. What to do? Decide?

In this situation, there wasn’t a decision to be made. If our kitty got the treatment he needed, he would be fine and dandy. No surgery was required. Deciding what to do was a no-brainer.

It was all thanks to you, Emergency Fund. You were there and ready for this.

Spending thousands of dollars at the vet is never going to be fun, but that’s why we decided to work together, right? To handle these unexpected expenses that pop up at the worst of times to pop our bubbles.

Thankfully, our bill came out just a tad cheaper than expected, at $1800, and we were able to pay immediately without fuss. We got to take our kitty home and he’s now much better and doing well. (That’s our recovering patient pictured above.)

All things considered, things got back to normal around here really fast. The hubs was even able to joke (hollowly) about the expense, saying “hey, at least it’s more miles [earned on the credit card we paid with and immediately paid the balance on].”

Emergency Fund, I have you to thank for shielding us from financial harm. You’re the reason we could pay a huge bill that would have otherwise left a painful dent in accounts that we’d rather not touch for this sort of thing.

I appreciate that I didn’t have to compromise care for one of my furry kiddos because I didn’t have the money. I appreciate that I didn’t have to leave that payment on the credit card for months while I worked to pay it off. I appreciate that the only thing I needed to worry about was my little cat, and not, for once, about money.

Thank you, thank you for being there for us when we needed you.

I hope you don’t mind that I’m publishing our correspondence publicly. I don’t mean to let anyone invade your privacy, or to make judgements about you — be warned, people may say you’re too small. Others may scoff because they think you’re too big!

The Internet is a strange place, Emergency Fund.

So why publish this letter for all to see? Because I want others to understand what a powerful thing you are. I want others to see what it’s like when you can deflect a near-$2000 expense with no harm done to other financial plans and goals.

You’re invaluable to the Millennial who wants to stay on the right financial track and out of debt when bad things happen.

You become all the more necessary when someone has children to care for (of the two-legged or four-legged variety).

You can allow someone to chase a career dream, or to take a chance on themselves as they set out their shingle as a self-employed worker.

You protect goals and savings and investments because you absorb the brunt of all financial blows.

You give us a chance to get back on our feet after a setback.

You make it easier to move on, to stay positive, and to find the good in situations that might otherwise leave us high and dry.

Emergency Fund, you rock. Thanks for being you, which means being there for me.

With love and promises to start filling you back up again,

— Kali

 

PS: See, I told y’all we’d still be talking about finances over here ;)

PPS: For those wondering, kitty’s condition was struvite crystals in his bladder. This means he couldn’t urinate, and a cat who can’t urinate is a cat who is in pain and can die as quickly as 48 hours. Thankfully, we got him to the vet within about 12 hours of him getting blocked. PSA for all your pet owners out there — if you suspect your kitty (especially your male kitty) cannot  go to the bathroom, get him to the vet immediately!

Have you gone through a tough experience that was made easier to deal with thanks to the fact that you had an emergency fund? If you don’t have an emergency fund, will you make establishing one a goal for 2015?

 

Welcoming 2015 with a New Look and Focus

Welcoming 2015

Happy 2015! Regardless of how you feel about this time of year and the inevitable slew of optimistic resolutions that come with it, you can’t deny that flipping over to a new calendar leaves us feeling like there’s nothing but a clean slate in front of us — and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Starting a new year can be a much-needed mental “reset” button for some. For myself, I know I like the feeling that there’s a fresh set of months ahead of me, just waiting for me to get out there and make them all great.

Reflecting on 2014

Before jumping ahead into 2015, however, I must acknowledge the fabulous year that was 2014.

I want to give what is now last year a big fat hug for being excellent. And you know what? I want to give myself a big fat hug for taking action and making it that way.

Whether it was busting my tail during those 90 hour work weeks I experienced before launching my business full-time, or working to maintain a positive, upbeat mindset (almost) every day which left me open and ready for possibilities, opportunities, and new ideas — I’m pretty darn proud that 2014 turned out so freakin’ fantastic.

I know I played my part in that and it’s a role I want to continue this year.

Sure, I’ve had plenty of bad days from January 1st to December 31st, 2014. I’ve made mistakes, thought negatively, said stupid things (the memories of which will undoubtedly swim back to me in 10 years as I’m trying to drift off to sleep, and keep me awake as I try and reconstruct the scene in my head with me saying something not-so-stupid instead).

But the good stuff exponentially outweighs the bad. And I’m looking forward to making 2015 an even more exciting, positive, accomplished, happy, and fulfilled year.

Welcoming 2015 and What’s Ahead in the Months to Come

So what’s this awesome year going to look like? Let me fill you in on a few changes:

This site looks a little different. I rolled CommonSenseMillennial.com into my professional site here at KaliHawlk.com. I tried a number of different things first, but in the end, I think this was the best way to manage my web presence and better serve my community and audience.

At the very least, I’m in love with the new look of the site and I’m pleased with the face it presents to the world. I think this is much more fitting for me and my brand, and it’s going to serve as a better platform for me to serve you and provide what you’re looking for when you stop by.

My career looks a little different, too! One of the most exciting changes in my personal life for 2015 actually came in November of 2014. I was offered a full-time (dream) job — and I accepted.

I feel a little crazy officially announcing this, as I worked so hard in the last year to launch a successful business on my own. But I won’t be leaving that behind: part of the deal with my new position was that I get to keep my own brand and business.

So yes, I’m still running my own content marketing management business. But as of January 1, 2015, I’m also the Marketing Manager for XY Planning Network.

XYPN is a really neat company and I’m thrilled to join their team. They’re a network of fee-only financial advisors who specialize in Gen Y and Gen X clients.

This is huge in the financial planning world, because traditional business models — and traditional financial planners — don’t do a good job in serving Millennials and young professionals. XYPN and their advisors are so wildly different, and that’s a good thing.

Does this change anything with this blog? Yes and no. Growing my own business and working as XYPN’s marketing manager has made me realized that I’m really passionate about helping other people achieve big things.

So in that way, that’s how we’re changing it up here. I’ll still be blogging, but with less talk about fundamental personal finance stuff like budgeting and emergency funds, and more talk about how to get sh!t done with your finances and your career.

You may have noticed there’s a subtle focus here on the site on helping side hustlers, solopreneurs, and small business owners — and I do hope to hone that focus over the coming months.

I’ll still chat about money and Millennials, but my primary role is no longer “blogger.” That’s not a term I ever identified with, and it’s something that I’m making a move away from in 2015.

But that’s not a bad thing. I hope this shift in focus means more educational and valuable content — in blog posts and beyond — for those who want to do more with their personal brands, businesses, and finances.

If you were only here for the personal finance blogging, be sure to stop by the press page where I’ve listed out the places I’m a contributing writer — on all these sites, I’m working as a personal finance writer so you may prefer to incorporate that into your regular reading instead.

If you’re here because you want to start soaring with your brand and business, then yay! To show you how excited I am that you’re on board to make big things happen this year, I have a little somethin’ somethin’ for you.

Grab Your First Free Resource to Help You Improve Your Social Media Presence in 2015

When you hop on to receive the Start Soaring newsletter — that’s a monthly email straight from me to you! — you’ll receive 2015’s first free resource.

It’s a free copy of my Social Media Strategy Outline that I’ve created to help you boost your social media presence this year. Whether you want to focus on building your personal brand or bettering your business, social media provides you with a powerful set of tools to accomplish these goals.

You can click the button below to get all set up and have your copy of this free guide sent straight to your inbox. Because that’s my focus for 2015: getting you set to succeed on social media — and beyond.

Social Media Strategy Outline Button

 

What are you focusing on achieving this year?

Taking a Blog Break to Enjoy the Holidays

Happy Wednesday, friends!

Editors note: This is why I’m taking a break. This post published on a Friday. It took me all day to realize that this said Happy Wednesday.

I’m popping by the blog today to let you know that I’m taking a break from sharing posts here until the New Year. I’m using this time to focus on new projects, gear up for the *official* relaunch of my web presence, and of course enjoy the holidays with family and friends.

If you’re looking for Common Sense Millennial, don’t worry: you’re still in the right place. In December, I rolled over the blog at CSM into my professional site here at kalihawlk.com. It was step one in consolidating my web presence and making it easier for folks to find my corner of the web.

If you need me, I’m always reachable by email. Don’t hesitate to shoot a note my way (kalihawlk [at] gmail [dot] com). I’m definitely active and around, just taking a brief blog break. I’d still love to hear from you and chat!

See you all in January, when we’ll officially relaunch the blog here — which, I’m happy to say, will be coming with an exciting freebie. Don’t miss out on the latest news; hop on the mailing list to stay in touch and keep up with the fast-paced changes we always seem to be making around here.

How We’re Having a Holly Jolly Anti Consumer Christmas

Anti Consumer Holiday

I can’t wait to celebrate Christmas this year. It’s a good thing, then, that we’re celebrating tomorrow!

That’s one way we’re doing Christmas differently. Here’s the other: my side of the family, which consists of me, my husband, and my parents (I’m an only child), all agreed that we wouldn’t buy gifts from the store this year.

Every year, I’ve felt more and more uncomfortable with the idea of buying something my parents don’t need to give to them in exchange for something my parents bought that I don’t need to give to me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Christmas.. but the gifts part bums me out.

I don’t like what the whole gift-giving thing does to my mindset. It distracts me from what’s important and what makes me really happy, and puts the focus on stuff that doesn’t matter: namely, stuff. When we’re talking about a set of adults exchanging gifts, that ritual causes me a lot of stress and worry and unhappiness. Continue reading

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