How to Pay Down Big Debt Without Resorting to Ramen

How to Pay Down Big Debt Without Resorting to Ramen

How to Pay Down Big Debt Without Resorting to Ramen

Editor’s note: Guest post by Joan Otto

If you simplify the advice of most financial advisors, it goes something like this: Pare your budget down to the very essentials. Use the rest of the money to pay off your debt. Then you can do all sorts of things.

It’s pretty good advice, to a point.

Lots of pretty famous people share versions of the same philosophy. You know what it looks like, too. In its extreme, it’s eating ramen and driving a car that’s held together with duct tape, prayers and plenty of dirt. It’s no vacations; it’s not even driving 30 miles to a relative’s house for Christmas so you can save on gas.

Done in moderation, this philosophy is great. But when you’re trying to pay off what I call BIG Debt – like I am – moderation is key, and extremism is unlivable. My husband and I do share a pretty awful car (our only vehicle). We don’t take extravagant vacations, and we try to be reasonable with our travel.

But we’re two years into what looks like a six-year battle to pay off almost $90,000 in credit-card and loan debt. And that means that, yes, I prefer to eat something other than cheap noodles occasionally in that time.

So we compromise. We’re not lobster, but we’re not ramen, either. What we’re not willing to compromise on, though, is our debt-payoff schedule. We have a dollar amount above the minimums that we aim to hit every month. Sometimes, there are hurdles that prevent that, but we definitely try.

But what about when money is tight? (more…)

How to Find Out What You’re Really Worth

How to Find Out What You’re Really Worth

How to Find Out What You’re Really Worth

W hen I decided to leave the military and science at the same time, I had no idea how to put a price tag on future work.

A friend offered to put me in touch with a large company who specialized in hiring former military to give me an idea of what I might be worth. Having no better method, I sent the guy my resume and agreed to meet over lunch.

He didn’t waste any time. He told me, “The first thing you have to do is prepare yourself that you won’t make as much money as you did when you worked for the government.”

I think my mouth actually hung open. I’d always been led to believe that contractors made a lot more money than government employees. My heart began to sink.

But he wasn’t done giving me advice. It got worse.

“The second thing you have to realize is that the longer you’ve been away from your government job, the less valuable you are.”

That’s when I got angry. (more…)

Is Your Career Making You Schizophrenic?

Is Your Career Making You Schizophrenic?

Is Your Career Making You Schizophrenic?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Chris Lappin.

Y ou’re going around in circles.

One day thinking one thing, the next changing your mind.

You’re not completely unhappy with your job, but you’re not exactly happy either.

It pays the bills and lets you sleep soundly, but there’s this nagging voice saying you could be doing something much more worthwhile and fulfilling. You secretly yearn to fly solo and follow your dream, but just the thought of trading in a secure pay check for a future with no guarantees makes your stomach tighten and brings a tidal wave of negative questions.

Can you make it work? Have you got the skills? Are you too young? Too old?

What if it doesn’t work? What will other people think? Who are you to think you can do this?

When you’re feeling brave, you listen to your heart. What if it did work? Others have, so why shouldn’t you? This would be the making of you. Who cares what other people think! Of course you can do this.

You smile and feel alive. No more boss. No more achieving someone else’s goals. No more boring, mundane work, day-in and day-out.

But then your head chimes in again. Don’t be stupid! You’d be kissing goodbye security, a steady income, holiday pay, sick pay. And what about all that stress and worry? You could lose everything.

And so it goes back and forth. Like you’re two completely different people, trapped inside the same mind.

While this exhausting argument rages, you stay with your feet firmly entrenched in your uncomfortable comfort zone. (more…)

Making Time to Start a Business Without Leaving Your Job

Making Time to Start a Business Without Leaving Your Job

Making Time to Start a Business Without Leaving Your Job

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ellen Rohr.

A re you hanging on to a job that doesn’t fit?

Maybe it’s good enough for now, and the benefits are hard to resist. Still, if you suspect there is more in store for you, why not start a business? Starting a business could provide the financial freedom you need to quit, or it could be the resume enhancer that helps you get hired elsewhere.

Before you start in with the, “I don’t have the time,” whine, consider… (more…)

The Minimalist MBA: Smart Investments for Your Budding Business

In my first 6 months as a entrepreneur, I spent nearly $36,000 on training.

I was scared to death.

It sounds ridiculous, I know.  If I was so scared, why did I spend so much money?

Because I was scared no one would discover me. Scared I couldn’t sell to those who did.  Scared I couldn’t sustain success once I had it.

I made the mistake of attributing the various problems and set-backs I encountered as an entrepreneur to a lack of knowledge rather than the normal ups-and-downs that are inherent when doing something for the first time.

I’m not gonna lie to you: that mistake turned out to be huge, one that has nearly put me out of business.

But it’s also a fear that I see driving a lot of other new entrepreneurs.

And it’s easy to justify your continued spending when other successful entrepreneurs, usually selling a course of their own, talk up how much they invest in themselves.  They imply you can spend your way to success.

I say: invest in yourself, yes.  But especially in the beginning, you must do it wisely, thoughtfully, and cautiously.

As the saying goes, do as I say, not as I do.

Out of the dozens of courses and mentorships and premier membership circles I’ve enrolled in, there are only two that more than returned their investment. In fact, it was these two courses that led me to gross around $48K this year in my business, and secure another $54K in contract work.

That’s a 40-fold return on investment–in just one year.

In this post, I’d like to show new or on-the-fence small business owners how to get the help you need, without putting yourself in serious debt.

I’m calling it the Minimalist MBA, but it’s even better than that.  Because rather than teaching you everything, it provides just what you need to get started.  If you listen and implement these lessons, you’ll be making good money in no time. (more…)

From Unemployed to Self-employed in a Weekend: Making Money on Monday

Editor’s note: guest post by Ellen Rohr.

What’s the difference between unemployed and self-employed?


It’s a matter of choosing different words.

“Thoughts become things. Choose good ones.” ~ Mike Dooley

Your thoughts are revealed by your words. Perhaps you’ve been downsized, or quit your job as a reaction to too much stress or frustration. Maybe you’ve been fishing for a new job and, so far, not gotten many bites. And maybe you are spending too much time and energy whining about it.

In the last 48 hours, have you mentioned how tough the economy is? Have you told someone how long you’ve been looking for a job, or how hard it is to find one?

You can stop talking like that.

In fact, why don’t you just STOP looking for a job?

Instead, consider starting a business of your own. You can be self-employed as soon as the words leave your lips. And, you could create your own profitable business in a weekend.

If that sounds a little scary, consider this: The least secure position is a job. You can lose a job, even a great job, in a heartbeat. Yes, it’s risky to start a business. But at least you will be the one in charge, the one making the decisions. You’ll have more control over your destiny in a business of your own.

From School of Hard Knocks to Easy Street

Once upon a time, I had a great job, as a restaurant manager of a hip, progressive restaurant chain. My husband owned a plumbing business. When his best friend and business partner died, suddenly and tragically, I quit my real job and went to work with my husband.

It was awful. We lost a lot of money and we took out our frustrations on each other. I was ready to flush the business, and my marriage, down the drain. Then, I read an article by a fellow named Frank Blau in Plumbing & Mechanical magazine. He wrote about how to turn around a sinking business. He suggested that…

  • You get clear on what you want and write it down.
  • You figure out how much you want to make and how much you’ll have to charge.
  • You come up with something to sell and sell it to somebody.

I wrote Frank a letter. I spent two pages telling him how hard it was to be in business, how tough the economy was, how frustrated I was…blahblahblah. Unfazed, Frank adopted me as his protégée. He said, “First, stop whining. Next, if you are willing to do the basics, you can create a successful business.”

That was the turning point. It took a weekend for me to restructure our business, raise our prices and start down the path of profitability.

Is there a business in you? Ready to take a weekend and find out? Here’s the 48 hour plan…

  • Friday evening…hit the office supply store.
    • Pick up a three-ring binder and some copy paper
    • On the way home, stop at the grocery store and get food for the weekend. Simple, fresh, no-fuss items like soup, yogurt, cereal, fruit, granola bars.
    • Then, lock the door. Turn off your phone. Commit to 48 hours of focused thought and written commitment.
  • Saturday…start assembling your Biz Plan, in your binder. Answer the basic journalistic questions:
    • What do you want? To be, do and have? And Why?
    • What can you offer that is needed and/or wanted?
    • Who do you need to help you?
    • How much do you want to make and how much will you need to charge?
    • Who is going to want what you are offering?
    • How are you going to make good on your sales?
  • Sunday…keep after the big questions. At 2 pm, start assembling a list of Top Projects.
    • Of all the things you have thought about over the weekend, what are five Top Projects you could commit to doing this coming week that will help you get going and profitable? Here are some examples…
      • Find a successful business owner in your chosen industry with whom you don’t compete and convince him or her to mentor you.
      • Put together a Marketing Plan, including Social Media and Publicity.
      • Put a Budget together for 2012 and create goals for Sales and Expenses.
      • Install Quickbooks ™ and learn how to use it.
      • Take a Sales Training class.
    • When are you going to get these Projects done and done by? Write the dates in your Calendar.
  • Monday…sell something to somebody. Yep, go make a sale. Call or visit or email until someone says, “Yes!” If your idea is a winner, it should prove out.

You can build a business plan, and a profitable business, in a weekend…and be making money by Monday. Why not move fast? If your business plan is sound, you should be able to sell something on Monday. And, if you don’t, then tweak the business plan.

And, from this point forward, when anyone asks you what you do, say…

“I’m self-employed.”

Interesting bonus: As you get your own business going, don’t be surprised if you start getting job offers. It happens as surely as newly adoptive parents become pregnant. Maybe it’s because you are distracting yourself from your defeatist thoughts, too busy with your exciting new business plan. Maybe it’s because you’re acting and speaking in a more positive, proactive way. In any event, you become more attractive when you are making things happen, as opposed to fretting and waiting.

Plumber’s wife turned business mogul, Ellen Rohr, nearly sank the family business. Then, she learned how to create financial and lifestyle freedom…building a $40 million franchise organization in under two years. She shares her simple, powerful business planning basics at