What I’ve Been Reading: Simplicity, Money, Holiday Prep, and more…

I have been collecting links to share with you, and the list has grown so huge I am going to break it down by section. These posts basically represent the types of reading I do in addition to photography and design related books and sites.






Enjoy! Hope you find something here useful.

SPENCER MAIL: Mattyc in Baton Rouge, LA

spencer mail mattycspencer mail mattyc

I just found your blog and it’s totally awesome. I love Spencer most, but it’s so great that you guys decided to go debt free. I’ve been debt free for about 5 or 6 years now, and it feels great. I have plenty of monies in the bank and always have available resources to travel or purchase anything I need/want. I only had about 14k of student debt after college and decided to get rid of it as soon as possible. It only took me about a year and a half. Making the last payment is amazing. Just seeing the $0.00 next to the amount owed is so cool. I wanted to do something to support what you guys are doing. Take this money and do something you guy’s typically don’t get to do. Go out to eat… or splurge on burritos several times in one week. This money is not in your budget, so you can splurge on stuff. Keep up the good work guys.


p.s. Everyone else that sent you stuff did cool drawings. I can’t draw, BUT, I did find this random card when I was digging through some old stuff…so I figured it would be perfect to send.

This card is from our good friend that I have participated with in various online facial hair competitions. We are happy to hear your story and that you have been doing it long before us. One of the things I admire about Matt is he is able to give freely to various charities and causes. We look forward to being able to do more and more of that. Thanks for the card and money Matt! Lots of burritos were consumed by me, oh and I did take Rachel to a movie with it.


READERS: If you have a story to share, or a challenge question for us, we’d love to hear from you! We’re accepting good old fashion letters and postcards about our project, and will do our best to answer your question, rise to your challenge, or share your story. You can reach us here:

Ali & Rachel H
PO Box 11506
Portland, OR 97211

Spencer Mail

what I’m reading

I gotta be honest, I see the new Bank of America debit-related fees in direct correlation with airlines charging for luggage. I don’t understand why people don’t immediately bail on BofA for better organizations. I’m happy with my experiences with the local credit union for my business accounts, and Ali and I use ING direct for our personal finances. Recommend!

Here’s some of what I am reading this week:

Don’t duck new debit card fees by grabbing your credit card (the Oregonian, Brent Hunsberger)

Is Bank of America’s $5 Monthly Debit Card Fee Just the Beginning? (Wisebread, Paul Michael)

Avoiding the Poverty Tax (Wisebread, Philip Brewer)

Use These Printable Money Envelopes to Switch to Cash and Stay on Budget (Today’s Nest, via Lifehacker)

You don’t need the new iPhone (mnmlist) ‘Men have become tools of their tools.’ ~Henry David Thoreau

The Benefits of Buying Virtually Everything Used (TIME, J.D. Roth)

9 Ways to Earn Extra Cash When Money Is Tight (Wisebread, Mikey Rox)

hello October

For those of you who are interested (or currently residing) in tiny houses, here’s an article about organization:
Staying Organized in Small Spaces (Kent Griswold, Tiny House Blog)
Ali and I have a storage unit where most of our household basics are stored while we live in our little furnished cottage, and this helps us keep things under control.

One of the ways I kept balance during our months of extreme frugality was by occasionally indulging in little luxuries. Now that we’re done with our first major financial goal, we’ve freed up some cash to indulge in slightly larger luxuries like travel, eating out, and less excruciating decision making when out shopping.

Living a Simple Life While Adding a Few Luxuries (Jeff Nickles, My Supercharged Life)


a couple of links

Hi Everyone! In the past month we’ve been basking in the freedom of being debt free, and enjoying sharing our story with friends and family. It’s powerful to know that choices we made in the past year so drastically influenced our life and will help shape a new financial story for our family.

I haven’t yet announced in this forum that we’re now parents! We’re starting our family life debt free, which feels wonderful. Everything feels timed to perfection.

On the less positive side, around the same time I realized I was pregnant I also realized that I hadn’t been keeping up with my business accounting very well this year. I discovered a huge gap in my photography income to expense ratio, having spent much more than I thought toward re-establishing my little photography business. It looks like I was so busy micromanaging personal expenses that I neglected to watch my professional expenses and ended up getting “death by paper cut” in a lot of little expenses that added up to quite a sum. It was a rookie mistake to miss the bigger picture snapshot of my business accounting. I’m still reeling from that wake up call, and trying to figure out whether I will be able to close the gap, or should consider the difference lost “start up” expenses for the year. Whether people are generous in their portrait followup sales will make a big difference to this outcome, because I have not been able to charge what I “should” be charging in session fees this year, rather hoping for the followup sales. (Another bad idea.)

I’ll leave you with a couple of interesting links I’ve had in open tabs for a week now.

Buying with plastic not good for impulse control, or obesity (Published: Saturday, September 17, 2011) Brent Hunsberger, The Oregonian

A Comprehensive Guide to the Envelope System by Matt Bell (Wisebread)

Megan Clark on successful self-employment

This guest post is written by Megan Clark, a successful entrepreneur in Vancouver, Washington. Megan and I clicked when we realized that we were both working on similarly aggressive financial goals for the year, and that we both have many opinions in the discussion of what is means to have the consistency of a 8-to-5 job  versus living in the autonomy of running your own freelance business. Megan is the Owner and Designer of Clark & Company, Founder of The Exceptional Creative and Co-Founder and Partner of hi, friend.

Photo: Jordan Philips


Being self-employed was something I always knew I would do; I assumed I would ease into it while working a full-time job elsewhere. Maybe over the course of five or ten years I would ramp up my own studio and finally take the leap, with a large stash of cash in the bank and tons of relevant design experience under my belt. As it turns out, the entire going-out-on-my-own process was majorly abbreviated and happened much sooner than anticipated. From the time there was any hint of something amiss at the ad agency I was working for as Junior Art Director to my last day and termination letter was a mere three weeks. I had only been out of school for two and a half years at that time.

Once I got over my immediate shock, the logistics of being laid off were the most overwhelming component by far. Where would I set up my office? How could I afford a new computer? What about a printer? Fax machine? Business cards? Health insurance? My investment accounts? Should I be collecting unemployment?

Drumming up business wasn’t easy either, but I considered it easier than answering all of the previously stated questions. While working at the ad agency, I worked nights and weekends with other clients; many small start-up companies who couldn’t afford a full-blown studio to do their work came to me. When I suddenly had a full-time schedule to fill I let them know I was available and word spread quickly. Many of them sent me more work and several passed my information along to others who needed my help.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until about six months later that I made the leap to commit 100% of my efforts to myself rather than sort of working for myself and sort of trying to find a “real job”, too. At that turning point I chose myself and I knew that the path ahead would be tumultuous, but equally rewarding.

Lesson Learned: Choose yourself.

About six months after that pivotal moment, a copy of The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey landed in my hands. I devoured it like a hungry, hungry hippo (or rhino, perhaps?). My husband and I have been working our way toward financial freedom since. We listed our debts smallest to largest and have paid off five of the six initially shown our our chart.

Our chart isn’t nearly as tidy as Spencer, but it does the trick. This thing’s already more than two years old. We might just frame it once we’re done. The smiley face stickers mean we’ve completed that particular debt. Five down, one to go!

Recently, I had the realization that for many the supposed security of a full-time gig working for someone else is actually a limitation in disguise. Yes, the check may auto-deposit into your account twice a month, but literally one-third of your time is consumed by your commitment. The other third is spent sleeping and that doesn’t leave much room for making money elsewhere.

Lesson Learned: Security = Limitation

By no means have I over-earned what I was making on salary at the agency every month, but over the course of a year I absolutely do. Generally speaking, when you work for yourself, the harder and longer you work the more you make. Not all hours are billable, obviously, but the rate at which one can bill when one is self-employed and an expert in one’s field is typically high enough that it compensates for the time spent on administrative duties, business planning, sales, and so forth. Free agent paychecks may be more sporadic and varying in amount than a regular payroll check, but they pay the bills just as well… and sometimes better.

Over the last three years I have started three different companies. (I’m planning to slow down in 2012, I think…) Each of these companies uses a different method for making money, but all fall into a overall model I’d like to develop. That model is illustrated by a quadrant. The “Revenue Quadrant” comes from The Free Agent Formula, a kit that’s a must-have for any free agent. Here’s what it looks like:

The Revenue Quadrant can be found in Chapter 3 of The Free Agent Formula, available here. Copyright Reach Group LLC.

Lesson Learned: Diversify your income streams.

A secondary tool my husband and I have worked with through our Total Money Makeover is called Whiteboard Accounting. This concept was introduced to me by Frank Chimero, a renowned illustrator and design thinker in Portland, Oregon.

The Whiteboard Accounting process is as follows (from Frank’s blog):
•    Buy a whiteboard. Any size you want. I’d say maybe something about 11×14”
•    Split it into 12 sections. These are months.
•    Figure out how much dough you need to make each month to meet costs. Don’t forget to set aside a bit of cash for retirement, savings, an emergency fund, money for buying the occasional cup of coffee out. If you’re super lazy and don’t feel like exerting effort, take your rent and multiply it by 5.
•    Have that number for each month? OK. Let’s say it’s $1,000. (Just for the sake of example.) In the box you’ve drawn for each month, you’d write $100 ten times. (One hundred bucks multiplied by ten is a thousand bucks. Get it? We’re visualizing our income!)
•    As you land jobs and as checks come in, you erase $100s from the board. I get an illustration gig. It pays $400. I erase 4 $100 off the board. Repeat ad nauseam.

The thing is, once you erase all the $100 in the month of January, you’re done. Stupid job comes into your inbox, but January is cleared out? Say no! Land a job on January 20th that you really want to take, but you’ve already cleared out the month? Start erasing 100s in February!

Frank described this on his blog (which you can read more of here), but I took it and made it my own. The original idea is to be implemented so you know when you can afford to say “NO” to work. In our case, Whiteboard Accounting is used so we can visualize our income goals and cross off our progress each month. If we over-earn our goals, first we say, “Hallelujah!” and draw a smiley face, then we take whatever is above and beyond and throw it toward the debt we’re on in our debt snowball.

Smiley faces are good. They mean that we over-earned our monthly income goal. Hallelujah!

My job has enabled us to get out of debt at an accelerated rate, but I love it for more reasons than that. I always say I’m ruined because I’ll never be able to work for anyone else… unless it’s an utterly perfect job. As it stands, I have the freedom, flexibility and control to make my job exactly what I’d like it to be. Decision-making is a breeze, relatively speaking. There are no meetings, committees or ballots necessary. Whatever I do, it’s something that I said “yes” to, not what I was volunteered for my someone above me.

It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, but it’s pretty darn good. The days I feel like a lone ranger, need to make a tough decision to delegate work, face budgeting challenges or realize I may never again enjoy a paid vacation or holiday, I remember why I chose myself all those years ago. That thought never fails to put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I am doing what I love and it’s allowing my husband and I to achieve financial freedom.

Lesson Learned: If you love what you do, it will love you back.


Guest post written by Megan Clark.

Megan is the Owner and Designer of Clark & Company, Founder of The Exceptional Creative and Co-Founder and Partner of hi, friend. You can follow Megan on twitter: @clarkandcompany. Megan and her husband Bryce live in Vancouver, Washington.

Meg and Bryce Clark

Photo: Melissa Tomeoni

August Spencer Update: FINAL PAYMENT!

We are posting this a little bit later than normal…  our final Spencer payment. We were able to pay down the remainder of our Sallie Mae-held student loans on August 23. It took us a total of eight months and 23 days to complete our goal, which is actually quite a bit faster than we originally expected. We’re thankful for having gotten our income up and our expenses way down this year.


12/1/2010 starting balance: $69,176.76
8/23/2011 total payoff: $69,999.41

We went out to a fancy dinner last night to celebrate!

We finally received reimbursement from moving expenses (we had to drastically reduce our payment in July after covering the cost of a U-Pack pod and cross-country move). We also realized Rachel had a big chunk of cash sitting in her business accounts that would better serve us in finishing our debt. These two piles of cash allowed us to pay off the final part of Spencer at an accelerated rate.

Originally, when I posted the grid I mentioned that we would deal with the horn later. I figured I would adjust the remaining ten squares to eat up any interest added along the way. At Maggie’s super suggestion, I decided to leave the horn squares at approximately $500 each. (The body squares each valued at $100). So Spencer still represents our original amount, and the pile of dung represents the interest we paid.

Just wait until you see the size of the interest we would have paid if we didn’t go ahead with this goal. Another post, another day.