Money Talks & The Good Life: Part 2 of 2

In probably the last year or two I’ve started to recognize the term “side hustle” on a number of the sites I frequent.  It’s become quite popular, in fact.

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So what exactly are we talking about when we say ‘side hustle’?

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A side hustle is a fancy term for a [insert whatever amount of time commitment] job.  My top frustration with the talk of a ‘side hustle’ is how it’s being toted, in some places, as an easy commitment of your time to make additional money.  I think this misunderstanding drives a lot of people away from the idea of taking on additional work because they think it must be boring, unskilled tasks that no one would otherwise want to take on for ‘real work.’  (Note: Again, not everyone sells a side hustle as this sort of labor, but I see it and I’m sure I’m not the only one.)

There are some stories of pretty great side hustles.  The ones I notice most are when people take on a side job that interests them (writing, baking, etc.).  There also doesn’t seem to be a limit on available side job opportunities.  If you are lost for ideas you can do what I did and Google “Side jobs for [insert an interest, profession, or skill].”

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If you need or want to make extra money, opportunities are out there but it will take a commitment of your time and energy.

Yesterday, I spoke about my relatively low income and how it’s become more of a frustration for me.  Like Erin Lowry and her article How I Went From Making $23K to $100K in Just 4 Years I, too, get sick of scrapping by.  For this reason, I wanted to share the end results of my “side hustle” aka getting paid to go to school to compensate for the low pay at my current position.  However, before delving into my current finances, I know it helps to share my background as well.  Different areas of employment offer different incentives and pay; those occupations also require different educational backgrounds and skills.  These factors cannot be overlooked in any conversation regarding money.

2003 to 2007: United States Marine Corps

I’m using numbers from the DFAS website as I cannot get Marine Online to view my historical pay and I no longer have the bank accounts I had back then.  There are numerous allowances one can receive: basic allowance for subsistence, basic allowance for housing, clothing allowance, hazardous duty pay, etc. which is why I just wanted to focus on just basic pay numbers.

  • 2003 E-1 w/less than 4 months of service= $1,064.70/month
    • Joined in July: Approximate basic pay for 5.5 months $5,855.85
  • 2007 E-4 over 3 years of service=$1,883.10/month
    • Left the Marine Corps in July: Approximate pay for 6.5 $12,240.50

2007-2009: Kay Jewelers

  • $10.50 an hour/typical hours worked: 30
    • Annual pay $16,000

2011: Unpaid internship with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service

  • $0.00 (16 hour a week commitment/10 weeks)

2013: Working for Public Health

  • $48,942 is the listed annual salary
  • I worked there for 6 months so my salary was $24,471 (40 hr week commitment)

2013-2017: Working at a 4-yr Institution of Higher Learning

  • 2013 ($15.63 hour/$32,500 annual)
    • Approximate 2 months worked=$5,000
  • 1st pay increase ($15.94 hour/$33,155 annual)
  • 2nd pay increase ($16.31 hour/$33,924 annual)

As you can see my pay has not been substantial.  My side hustle of using GI Bill benefits, by comparison, has greatly provided for my family and I.  Below are the numbers from my direct payments.  I received 36 months of the Montgomery GI Bill that was enhanced by paying into the $600 Buy Up program and having the Marine Corps College Fund.  I’ve also already received most of my 12 months of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

It’s important to keep in mind the Montgomery GI Bill is paid to students and students still make their tuition payments to their respective institutions.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays out tuition and fees, a book stipend, and a housing allowance for eligible persons.  Percentages vary from 40% to 100%.  (By the way, if I made a mistake about the two January 2011 payments my apologies.  I cannot open up eBenefits to ensure I didn’t make a transcribing error when I downloaded information from the site and entered it into Excel. It’s quite a long time ago and I no longer have the same bank account my GI Bill benefits went to at that time.)

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My Post-9/11 GI Bill provided greatly for me.  The amount of housing I’ve received alone make a monumental difference in allowing me to stay in my current place of employment as long as I have.

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The amount paid to Arizona State University is as follows:

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To make it easier to consume together, here’s my significant “side hustle” from 2008 to 2012 and 2014 to 2016.

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The reason I’m ok calling my education a side hustle is there are plenty of service members and veterans who end up not using their GI Bill entitlement.  It’s the same thing from a payment perspective as not taking any other sort of odd job you are qualified to do but choose not to do.  You are not taking advantageous of an opportunity to get paid for your time and effort.  (For my veterans reading this article, you have 15 years from separating from active duty to use your Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Do not let it go to waste.)

The money I’ve received from my paycheck versus my GI Bill entitlement is more important in the fact I pay into the Arizona State Retirement System.  Over 11% of my income is taken out for retirement and while my employer also pays the same amount, it’s hard to have this much money taken out as the only regular income my family receives.  When I worked for the Public Health and was later not offered full-time employment, I had to make the hard decision to withdraw my money and pay the penalties for early withdrawal.  At the time, the state’s unemployment system was three months behind and after already coping with a yearlong deployment my savings account was not sufficient to survive the second bout of unemployment.  Ironically, I gained employment again at the time I was finally eligible for unemployment benefits.

In a short while, I will find myself ending my journey in my current place of employment.  At this time, I need more freedom in my take home pay which can only be offered by a company that utilizes a 401(k) and I also want a work environment that lets me be more flexible in my hours.  My daughter is still young so working around her school commitment is a high priority in my life.   The reality of our family situation is also why I’m being a bit more honest about my pay.  I recognized the hard way your traditional job does not easily pay the bills (and for the wants that naturally we all have as people).  I used a great tool available to me and was paid to attend school.  Thankfully, I enjoy learning so my side hustle wasn’t a chore although completing papers late into the night after working all day wasn’t fun.

My diligence paid off.  My side hustle earned me a total of three degrees and gave me extra money in the bank at the times I needed it most.  The best part is my GI Bill benefits, as opposed to my income, is also non-taxable.

Down the road I know I will become better at advocating for myself and hopefully in sharing my story today, others feel inspired to assess their current situation and future goals.  Money is an important part of that personal assessment.

We shouldn’t be afraid to ask for financial compensation but also be willing to take steps to accomplish our end goals when traditional routes just don’t cut it.







2007 Versus 2017: Goals, Goals, Goals

Hello, everyone.  I know New Year’s treated you well.  I spent my three-day weekend at home and enjoyed a slight decrease (much to my appreciation) in fireworks exposure.  My new neighbors don’t seem to go quite as crazy as the ones I had in the Willows neighborhood in Gilbert.  If you like fireworks, you might enjoy a stroll through this neighborhood on the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve; I anticipate in a neighborhood of 586 houses so long as the Town of Gilbert permits fireworks, people will set up small fireworks shows just outside their front doors.  For today though, I’ll like to start my first 2007 versus 2017 post.

2007 was important for me because I completed my active duty service with the Marine Corps and started to explore what life beyond the Corps would look and feel like, my taste of adult freedom if you will.  I won’t say I made smart money moves back then so as we begin this new journey looking back and discussing my future in 2017, please know I will likely discuss money a lot.  My financial needs were met very well on active duty; Thomas and I did not have any kids while I was serving and we both collected a housing allowance.  Since we both served, we received one full housing allowance and the other received a partial housing allowance.  I do apologize that I do not recall the actual monetary amounts because I understand this knowledge aids our conversation greatly.  All too often, a young service member will complain about not having sufficient pay for food, housing, etc.  but for our household size and relative expenses, we always came out ahead even after I separated until we moved to Wyoming in 2009.  Stories for another day I know, but the short version is that many of our expenses, fixed and variable, remained the same and our housing allowance decreased significantly.

In 2007, I had some lofty wedding reception ambitions, as you can see from my journal entry below.  While we never ended up having our wedding reception the reality is I spent a significant amount of time planning for a costly one-day event.  On the skinny spending side, I think we were looking at $8,000 to $10,000 for the venue, a photographer, hotel rooms, travel, food, etc.  The dream was dropped before anything was booked but not until after I purchased my wedding gown (we got married through the Justice of the Peace in 2006) and picked up some small wedding related items.


My desire to control my personal finances did not truly begin until we moved to Wyoming. Our crash course in the broke life lead us to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  Being introduced to Dave Ramsey’s program through friends and their church, we made headway towards undoing the financial damage.  It’s not fun, but without the substantial housing allowance we received in California, we had to take a serious look at our finances. Throughout the years, we’ve still struggled to stay on the Dave Ramsey path so I still refer back to the books and resources.  My in-laws also added more Dave Ramsey resources to our collection.  Additionally, I kept my Financial Planning notebook from my undergraduate studies because I want to ensure I update our financial goals (i.e. retirement planning, life insurance planning, etc.) as our family needs change over time.

With my husband still in school, 2017 does not wear the carefree face our lives did in 2007.  We just don’t have that same amount of money to play with on a daily basis.  Thankfully, he has one semester of Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits to help cover expenses this semester but law school is one of those endeavors where we are bringing student loan debt into our lives.  This decision obviously strays from Dave Ramsey’s teachings.  We take steps towards self-improvement and I would prefer to not be shamed for student loan debt; I do not make enough money to fully fund law school.  We considered ASU’s Employee Reduced Tuition but the reality is 100% of that tuition reduction is taxed for graduate programs and I am already working on a tight single income, the last thing I need is more money taken out of my paycheck at this time.  Now that we have a more transparent conversation (thanks for not judging me or keeping your opinion to yourself) I would like to share personal goals for the year.

My goals are broadly categorized under personal achievements, family activities, and home improvement.  Financial planning is important to each one of these endeavors.  I am in a place to either spend money for the results or I am saving money to complete the goal.    Although I am not outlining these as SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based) for your respective purposes as the reader, these qualities are important whenever you desire to see a goal through completion and I’m keeping these factors in mind for each goal.

In lieu of resolutions, here are my planning goals for 2017:

  1. Finish Pauline Nordine’s Butt Bible Challenge to restore fitness discipline into my life (Challenge runs January to March).
  2. Attend an adoption education event, free other than cost to get there.
  3. Add $1,000 to my daughter’s savings before the close of 2017.
  4. Pay for a one recipient’s scholarship for the Rising Stars, Desert Nights Writing Conference.
  5. Close a credit card account.
  6. Finish painting my master’s bathroom (February).
  7. Complete a family vacation (no visiting extending family).
  8. Attend a family member’s wedding.
  9. Add additional money to our emergency fund (i.e. amount will vary depending on overtime worked and additional income received this year).
  10. Finish first draft of memoir by October.
  11. Set up college fund accounts for nieces and my nephew to be born this year in lieu of gifts and clothes for Christmas.
  12. Visit family who have not seen my daughter since 2011.
  13. Set aside money for an adoption home study (approximately $1,200 to $1,800) before the end of the year. (Goal is to adopt in 2019)
  14. Replace our large bookcase with wall shelves (May/June).
  15. Purchase (1) PAX wardrobe for master bedroom (September/October).
  16. Put in Astroturf and extend patio slab (March/April).

Time Management

Thank you again for your patience while my blog entries are a bit spaced out from one another.  April is crunch time for me this semester.  This semester, I’ve tried harder than the last to implement backwards planning (back) into my life.  Last semester, I took on the task of two graduate level courses while fulfilling a typically 40 hour week, which at times, extended into 45 hour weeks.  Offhand, I don’t have the total number of hours I completed overtime, but between semesters, I accrued an additional 21 or 22 hours.  The challenge this semester was taking 9 credit hours.  I DO NOT recommend such drastic actions for anyone, but there were three objectives behind this reasoning:

1.  Immediately earn more income (i.e. a higher rate of pursuit means a higher Post-9/11 housing  allowance.)

2. Reduce the overall time it takes to complete my Master’s degree.

3. Complete Master’s degree before my husband starts law school.

Whereas money is concerned, we’re doing well enough for ourselves.  We are, by American standards of living, potentially average for our age group.  Originally, we were very eager to earn more income to draw us one step closer to a home purchase.  We still are several steps away from  taking that leap and I, more than my husband, must remind myself a home purchase is truly not an essential accomplishment in life.  Many people do not own their own home, but they find happiness through other means (spiritual, social, academic, and so forth).  However, earning more money has enabled us to move out of ASU’s family housing, which no longer fit our lifestyle.

We found a 1,434 sq. foot home with a modest yard and a two-car garage that suits us perfectly.  In nine years of marriage, this is the first residence we’ve rented with a garage! It’s quite a life-changing moment for us.  Other Americans might scoff at our “tiny” residence but it’s a lot of house for us given how well the floor plan was designed.  We have more than sufficient storage.  It’s a safe, friendly neighborhood close to our favorite amenities, and we have the space to add a dog to the family in due time.

Adding a not-entirely planned move to our schedule fit (for me) because I’m trying to use backwards planning on my other objectives and rearranging my plans as necessary.

So, some goals/projects on my plate are as follows and their associated tasks.  I’ve specifically left out the timeframe it took to accomplish these objectives and the days that they were planned.  What worked well in my favor is I had my goals and assigned dates for the mini-assignments.  The smaller assignments gave me other timeframes in which to backwards plan.

1. Final Paper/Presentation due April 28th

  • Prepare topic
  • Get topic approved
  • Scout primary and secondary resources
  • Submit preliminary draft
  • Submit final paper
  • Present to fellow classmates and instructor

2. Graduate Research Conference on April 24th

  • Consider topic (originally presented in December 2014)
  • Review instructor feedback
  • Refocus efforts on public (versus social) pedagogy
  • Scout for additional resources
  • Restructure position
  • Receive feedback from academic advisor
  • Present on April 24th

3. Receive the AZ Humanities Grant Fall 2015 for the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement

  • Consider grant writing organization for grant writing graduate level course
  • Consider mission
  • Submit needs statement for class
  • Submit goals and outcome objectives for class
  • Submit methods for class
  • Submit budget for class.
  • Submit final grant proposal for class
  • Network with Nancy Dallett on a weekly basis
  • Submit intent to apply on April 24th
  • Submit application June 5th

Some things are easier to accomplish than others, because I have a built-in support network.  You can never discount the assistance of your team to accomplish your goals or the goals of your organization.

My instructor, Dr. Nakagawa, encouraged my classmates and I to submit our papers for the Graduate Research Conference.  I was incredibly hesitant to do so; while I love learning, educating others, and talking, I do not enjoy public speaking.  Yes, the irony is not lost on me.  As I get older though, I realize I do not like being the wallflower.  I don’t want others to represent me.  If I want my actions to be more visible in my community, I quite literally must be more visible.

With regard to my research paper, I have a slew of resources not typically available to non-recruiters to support my position on the Marine Corps’ recruitment of female applicants.  I have two recruitment dvds (2008 and 2011) featuring commercials, films, and videos plus the Marine Corps Enlisted Opportunities Book because my husband served as a recruiter.  I will also pull information from the Marine Corps’ Facebook page to help support my position.

Lastly, my grant writing class and rapport with Nancy Dallett, the Assistant to the Director of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement, are crucial to the work for the application for the AZ Humanities Project Grant.  My instructor and the TA give me feedback from my class submissions.  Winning this grant would be a wonderful opportunity for the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement, my office (as the partnering office, if not one of the partnering offices), and our veteran students.  Wish us luck!

Lastly, another crucial area of backwards planning are the multitude of opportunities I’ve taken off my schedule to focus on my academic goals and our recent move. I missed out on Laverne Cox’s recent speaking engagement at ASU.  I decided to not apply for this round of the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative.  I think my idea for the initiative will gain momentum but right now my plan isn’t established well enough to be competitive.  I am not taking late summer courses so I have the time to commit to idea development starting at that time.  On the social realm, I bowed out of a friend’s wedding.  Financially, and with my work commitments, it isn’t possible to afford an out-of-state commitment.  As well, like last semester, my gym attendance has struggled.  I’ve put on some weight this semester, which I can easily lose once I resume my fitness habits.

I feel my GPA may not be as stellar this semester, but I will learn from my mistakes and my decisions.  9 credit hours is a bit too much to take on.  However, this choice has brought unique rewards in the form of unexpected opportunities.  We have a great rental home to enjoy.  We are building a financial cushion for ourselves.  I’m honing my grant writing skills and tomorrow, I’m talking to the Veteran Vision’s Project’s Devin Mitchell over the phone.  The world is an exciting place if you get out of your comfort zone (and plan your achievements)!