The Devil I Know

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Just when I had found a way to go straight, which in my case is finding a fulfilling career where I get job satisfaction and enjoyment in addition to money, the old life sucks me back in! A bit hyperbolic I know, but the idea is still the same.

The career change didn’t work out.  After weeks of trying to accommodate all the demands of my new employer to be, I found myself incapable of fulfilling their demands to their liking.  I couldn’t help but think that had I discovered this path straight out of college, I would have been successful at it. I wouldn’t have minded the salary, the restrictions and would not have had too much to sacrifice. But I’m in my late 20s now with a 6-figure student loan debt, and a mortgage both of which I want to get rid of as soon as possible. Giving up a decent salary for a job that not only pays less but also effectively forbids me from finding alternative streams of income is not something I’m willing to do.

When I returned from my first trip to China, I immediately entered the interview cycle and pretty much made my rounds at all the usual establishments. As I’ve stated so many times, professional development is one of my career goals and it factored heavily in my search for a new job. But the idea that I can change my career into financial planning, a career that not only puts me in a position to help people but also learn so much that I can apply directly to my life was more than intriguing. It’s all I ever wanted. I think it was clear that I was excited about that field too. Which is why I had gotten that far in all the interviews and also gotten a job offer in the field. But ultimately, what I had to give up was far too much for what I would have gotten.

I was willing to give up my real estate business. I actually acted on this decision and put my license on inactive status per their recommendation.  I also made peace with the fact that I will have to get their authorization for every property I would purchase from now on.  I gave them my guarantee that I would not look for investors in their client base. I never wanted to do that anyway. I value control over my projects way too much to involve other people in them. In addition to these, I was willing to even put the China venture on hold. I was going to sell everything at a discount to some store owner and be done with it if it meant I could have a shot at a career in this field. These were essentially all of their demands.

But then I did something that they did not like at all. I tried to negotiate. I had gotten a job offer in my old field that included various benefits and thought I could leverage that to get them to pay for some of my tuition. A lot of companies provide money to go towards tuition expenses for their employees.  So in the middle of me giving up everything, I asked for this one thing. I wanted them to pay for the remainder of the tuition I would have to pay. They did not like that one bit. The response I got was not just a no, it was more like ‘how dare you?’ Well, I did not like that either. I would be paid half of my old salary, left with no way to make any side income and now I can’t even get a basic expense covered? At this point, I had enough.  The ‘how dare you?’ email was followed by another email in which they pretty much suggested that maybe I should just take that other job offer because I’m negotiating for things that I want and that is not something that’s encouraged at the organization. It gave me a pause; If they’re treating me this way before I even start to work for them officially, how will they treat me once I get in there?? What will my life look like getting paid peanuts and trying to stretch my funds to cover everything? Can I even live under these conditions without a side hustle? Can I afford a career change that demands so much? The answer was no. No, with a six figure student loan debt, a mortgage, and this much ambition, I cannot take up a career that will essentially have me Oliver Twisting for the foreseeable future.

So I went back to the dark side, I responded to the offer letter with a counter offer. I requested an increase in the salary they had offered and benefits related to tuition reimbursement. I also requested a guarantee that there will be a discussion related to increasing my salary to match my credentials once I have completed my studies and graduated with my MBA.  They were willing to negotiate. So now, with the potential to earn a high income once more, I have created a plan to tackle my debt and the F.I. goals are back on track.  The basic idea, no matter how complex the methods are is to increase income, reduce expenses, pay off debt with the surplus, then acquire assets.  I have a detailed plan. But I’ll save that for the next post.

No Labor Side Hustles

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If you’re anything like me, broke millennial with bills and a mountain of student loans that sometimes keeps you up at night, you can’t afford to not have one. I venture to say that even if you were a well funded, no student loan and no mortgage having magical mystical being, you need a side hustle. People with debt need one for the obvious reasons; to get out of debt and enjoy a life without money worries.  For the ones with no debt, the reason might be less obvious but just as pressing. Just like you would need to diversify your portfolio when investing in stocks, you also need to diversify your source of income and not depend on one source.  My logic is that if anything is possible, there is a chance that it will happen. Losing a well paying job is possible, especially in the world of “at will”.  If you had been relying on that one job to sustain you, then you’re in for a nasty surprise.  The only way to ensure that you will have some sort of income despite the circumstances is to have more than one source of income.  The problem is that side hustles are often perceived as something labor intensive, time consuming and generally difficult to get. But I’ve found that there are ways you can have a side hustle without selling your labor or spending too much of your precious weekend hours somewhere where you don’t want to be.  While a part time job at a local business might be the easiest way to get a side hustle, there are other ways that you can make a significant amount of money. Here are the ones that I’m trying currently.

  1. Filling out surveys about consumer products- There are sites like focuspointeglobal.com and others that will pay for your opinion as a consumer. Depending on which survey I participate in, I can get monetary compensation or free products that I usually use, which in turn will save me the money I would have spent purchasing it.
  2. Content writing- Part time content writers are paid roughly $15-$20 per hour for their work on posts for sites. So a 20 hour work week can get me $300 (minus tax) or more, x 4 and I got a way to pay all your bills without dipping into my paycheck.
  3.  Translation services – I know everyone can’t do this since there’s a clear requirement of a foreign language competency here, but if you do know a foreign language, please make use of your knowledge and get compensated.  I provide translation services for a local university project and get compensated about $16/hr for a 10-20 hr work week. I don’t even see this money. It goes straight to paying off my debt in the order I’ve decided to pay it off (Credit card then Student Loans, then mortgage) speeding up the process by leaps. If you don’t know any foreign languages, don’t despair! You can also do this with tutoring etc.
  4. Get a roommate- I love my roomie! Because she’s a good person but also because having her slashes my housing cost in half. My mortgage and condo fees total about $1300. I rent out my spare bedroom to a young professional like me for $650 and voila! I’ve cut my costs in half. This is not quite a side hustle in that it doesn’t require me to do anything to generate revenue. But it does serve as another source of income.

Most of the jobs I mentioned above don’t require any labor (unless you count typing) and allow me to make between $600-$650 a month. While all of them don’t consistently make me the same amount of money, they do make me enough to cover a significant portion of my monthly bills which I have reduced now to $2,000 (Including my mortgage). In a good month, I probably won’t have to touch my paycheck, and it can go straight to paying off my debt! My goal is to have about 3 more reliable side hustles so I can increase the amount I will pay towards my student loans.

Shanghai Pt. 3

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It’s all in the name of F.I.

Thursday was a day full of pivots, reality checks and tough pills to swallow. It was the most productive day of them all in no small part because of Sharon.  I had met her on my first trip to Shanghai when she worked as a tour guide.  She was charming, charismatic and an effective communicator. Once I discovered the existence of this market, I contacted her and informed her of my plans to take on this venture.  She was just as excited about it as I was and that’s how I knew I found a person I can work with.  From the first time I pitched the idea to her, she took it seriously and was willing to make concrete plans with me.   We met on Thursday morning and headed back to the market.  The night before, I had to rethink everything including the quantity of things I planned to bring back. The reality was that I would be lucky if I could get 50% of the items I planned to buy back to the United States with me. I’m not lucky. By the time we made the bulk of our purchases, the weight of the items we bought was about 10 kilos or 22 lbs.  I had to scale back and reduce the amount I’ll be able to bring back once more. I started out thinking that I’ll be able to bring 500 scarves, and 100 accessories, was forced to lower this number to 1/2 by Wednesday, and then down to 100 scarves, 40 robes and 60 small accessories.  I was not doing well on this front. I did however finally improve my bartering skills significantly.

It’s all a matter of who has the most leverage. So I had a few things going for me.  The first one was the day and time. Thursday morning is not really the busiest time for shopping. Most people come to this market on the weekends. That meant that customers are in short supply and vendors are willing to negotiate. The second one was the fact that I was there to buy in large quantities. Buying in bulk meant I can negotiate some sort of bulk discount. It also meant that the vendors did not want to lose me. They could more than make up for the “loss” of giving me a discount by marking up their price for the tourists that come along. Third and probably the most important was that I went there with a local. I’d negotiate the price down to 20-25% of it’s original price and Sharon would come in and insist that I pay even less. It was such a boost to my confidence. The vendors would protest and we would start to slowly walk out of their store until they begrudgingly call after us.

We were done right at the beginning of rush hour traffic and raced to the subway to avoid the crowd. The train wasn’t jam packed like it was on Monday but had a good amount of people. We boarded and took our bags back to the hotel. There was no way I could reduce the weight to be less than the allowable amount. I had already purchased a carry on and packed it full with some of the things I purchased. And I literally only packed 3 days worth of clothes. But the weight limit was still high and by the time I was done packing it, it felt like I had packed a corpse.  When I left on Friday, I realized that I should have just purchased a second luggage I can check in and filled it with the remainder of the stuff.  Prior to me having to pay the overweight fee, my total cost for this venture was about $3,000 including:

  • $1,500 for flight, hotel and stay
  • $1,300 for purchasing merchandise to sell
  • $200 for other costs including a small payment I made to Sharon for her time and labor

Unfortunately, the overweight baggage cost me an additional $200 bringing my grand total to $3,200. This is not sustainable.

The whole idea of this trip is to start a side business that will create another stream of income for me.  Yes, I’m buying at a relatively low cost and plan to sell the things I bought for profit. But I’m losing the money I saved on buying my merchandise on transporting it here. So I’ve decided to make a few changes to reduce my cost of doing business.

  1. I’m hiring Sharon to manage the purchase and shipping. I will pay for the cost of merchandise, shipping and compensate her for her time and labor.  Since she’s gone to the stores with me, she’ll know what my preferences are. I will also be sending her a list of the things I want to purchase. Doing it this way will certainly be lower than the cost to travel over there and bring it myself while making sure these items are still curated by me.
  2. I’m doing my research and buying in bulk ahead of the season. Prices are lower when the items are purchased in larger quantities. So I plan on purchasing at least 100 of each item I plan to have available at once to take advantage of that.
  3. While pop-up shops have been the least costly way of making in person sales, I’m going to have to consider other ways of distributing the merchandise including providing it to boutiques wholesale and creating a website to make my items available for sale 24/7. The latter is already underway.

This was an educational trip.  Even if the idea fails as a business, I would have learned so much from this whole experience that I would not have learned in class. If this works out, I would have combined two things I love, travelling and finding new ways to make money.