Mindful + Minimal

6 Simple Steps Towards Financial Literacy

FinancesMarisol DahlComment

A version of this post first appeared on Life After College. 

There’s no doubt of the practical benefits that come with really understanding your financial life. It equips you to spend smarter, save more, and plan intentionally and realistically.

But I’ve also found that getting a handle on your finances is a great way to gain a sense of control when everything else may seem crazy. Knowing your financial foundation can alleviate so much fear and mystery, and make other areas of your life more actionable and approachable. 

Here are 6 Simple Steps Towards Financial Literacy

1. Assess Your Accounts

First thing’s first. Get a bird’s-eye view of your situation by identifying three things: where your money comes from (income), where your money goes (expenses), and where it’s stored (accounts).

Write everything down, including the credit cards and bank accounts you have open, any assets (like a car), any debts, and any stock. Mint.com is a great resource to quickly aggregate all of these aspects of your financial life and see changes in real time.

2. Make a Budget

By creating and sticking to a budget you will be able to align your financial reality with your financial ideals. Think about your goals: are you saving for something big? Do you want to start putting money aside for grad school or a wedding? Are you looking to get ahead on student loan payments? Setting a budget will help you put the systems in place to actually do these things.

3. Start Saving for Retirement Now

Thinking about retirement seems like the last of your worries when you have debts to pay off and next month’s rent check due next week. But if you don’t start saving now—even just a little bit each year—you’re robbing your future self.

So when you land a job, make sure there are good retirement benefits and options. If you’re self-employed, start saving on your own. Personally, I opened a Roth IRA, but you should investigate your options to find out what’s best for you.  

4. Refinance Your Loans

Refinancing my student loans was my first order of business (finance-wise) when I graduated college. I bundled all my college loans into one, with a lower fixed rate and more manageable monthly payment. It will still be a long time before I’m debt free, but I have peace of mind that I’m doing everything in my power to make the best of the situation. 

5. Start Building Credit (If You Haven't Started Already) 

The big (financial) things in life require having good credit, like renting an apartment, buying a car, and even getting your own cell phone line.

So the best thing to do is to start building your credit as early as possible, and understand what factors into credit score calculations. Credit Karma is a great resource to see your score for free and get a breakdown of what’s positively and negatively affecting your score.

6. Ask Professionals for Advice

A quick (and obvious) disclaimer: I am by no means an expert in finance. The purpose of this post is to document what I did and learned after a year of diving deep into money management. And after implementing everything I mentioned above, I feel awesome. My relationship with money has never been better.

So while I highly recommend the above tips, it’s always a good idea to have a chat with an accountant or financial advisor to get more personalized and strategic advice.

 

Check out more of my writing on Life After College here. 

How to Be a Digital Minimalist

MinimalismMarisol DahlComment

At its most basic, digital minimalism is about applying the principles of minimalism to our tech-centered lives.

A digital minimalist approach encourages the thoughtful curation and use of digital tools that add the most value to your life and that work in service of the things you truly care about. Digital minimalism seeks to relieve digital overwhelm, limit excess, and bring a sense of balance and authenticity between your online and offline worlds.

Digital minimalism has become a particularly relevant topic to me because of my work. Since college I have run a digitally based business, with my computer as my workplace more so than any physical location. And for the most part my work has been in digital marketing and digital platform building. I love the online world, and am fascinated by how it is shaping our culture, relationships, and sense of selves. 

But less than a year in, dread and anxiety hit. I hated the constant race to produce more content, be active on all social media platforms, and master the latest strategies for greater audience reach. Everything seemed so fleeting and results-driven. I missed the joy of the process and the mindfulness that comes when you carefully consider how each online activity contributes to the whole. 

I ended up taking a break from everything—a year and a half silence on my blog, passive social media interaction, and bowing out of work commitments that just didn't intuitively feel right (even if at the time I couldn't put my finger on it).

I didn't realize that the concept of digital minimalism existed, but I was in the beginning stages of practicing it. I'm still working my way through it all, but I've noticed three major aspects of digital minimalism. 

Digital Mindset

I'm still figuring out how to put this in words, but the overall idea here is to lay the foundation for a minimalist approach that works for you. How do you want your digital activity to contribute to and impact your life as a whole? How do you approach your digital world in the first place?

We all have different reasons for wanting to engage digitally, and digital minimalism encourages us to be particularly cognizant of our goals, and how we can best leverage technology to those ends (no more, no less). Staying true to these goals—and even acknowledging when our goals change—helps us approach the digital world with authenticity as priority. 

Define your goals. Think about how you want to present yourself to the world. And then curate what you do digitally in a way that reflects the person that you are and the person that you want to be. 

A few other thoughts for this stage:

  • There is enough space for everyone to carve their own place online.
  • Let go of the fear of missing out: trust that the activities you engage in are bringing you the most value. Doing everything else would be like running on a hamster wheel. 
  • Do it for you. Why must online activity always be so focused on the validation and attention of others? 
  • Your digital world is a blessing of modern times. But it by no means replaces or de-prioritizes your physical world. 

Digital Environment

This facet focuses on the structures of your digital and online lifestyle and is guided by the questions: where is there unnecessary overwhelm? Where can I declutter to optimize the devices, tools, and platforms for my goals? 

These questions apply to all areas of the digital/online lifestyle: the technological devices you use, how you store your data, the apps you use, the social media platforms you engage in, etc. 

The action steps here are pretty concrete. Clean out the files in your computer. Close out email accounts that just add to confusion and overwhelm. Delete iPhone apps that you don't use or that sabotage your ultimate goals (this is the reason I don't have any games on my iPhone). 

For more ideas to jumpstart this phase:

Digital Behavior 

This feature of digital minimalism focuses on being intentional in your patterns of behavior online. It goes beyond the digital cleansing and decluttering, and offers an opportunity to see how your actions help you stay aligned with your goals.

The major underlying questions here are: how do you want to spend your time online? What will you consciously engage in? What will you consciously disengage from? 

My favorite way of exploring digital behavior is through the "rules" I set for myself, in honor of the ultimate impact I want my digital lifestyle to have. Things like:

  • Only use social media platforms you enjoy using. And don't feel pressured to engage in them in "traditional" ways or in ways that are excessive. 
  • Limit the number of tabs in your browser at any given point in time, so you can stay focused on your task and keep the overwhelm at bay. 
  • Opt out of digital "norms" that are just not personally meaningful. 

Above all, consider how you best achieve certain digital objectives, like keeping up with friends and staying informed on the news. For instance, my friends and family are spread across many social media platforms, but I've chosen to stick with Facebook for social interaction online. Another example: I may use Twitter and Facebook, but I find it best to follow online figures I admire through their newsletters and RSS feeds. Major hat tip to Cal Newport for his emphasis on scrutiny for best minimalist solutions. Quantified less does not always result in the highest desired impact. 

Ok. This is it for now, but I expect to constantly be refining these thoughts—especially since I alternated between saying "digital" and "online" which are not perfect synonyms and don't always capture the whole picture. I'd love to hear from you: what did I miss? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? 

Book Notes #1: Love Style Life by Garance Doré

BooksMarisol DahlComment

Highly acclaimed style photographer, illustrator, and blogger, Garance Doré is quite the charismatic writer. Her book, Love Style Life, is a bible for the modern woman looking for sound fashion advice and peace of mind regarding the crazy twists and turns of life. She offers an honest and funny take on what it really means to be the effortless, elusive "Parisian Woman" that society is so captivated by.

On Style

I loved the author's method for finding your personal style, which lies at the intersection of four key truths:

1. What you know about yourself. Be realistic about your daily needs. 

"I adjust and adapt not only to suit my tastes but also to suit my lifestyle. Knowing yourself is knowing the distance between your dream self and your real self." 

2. What you know about your body. Keep in mind what best flatters your body type. 

"Try, try, try, and cross things off the list. In other words, edit. That's how great style is revealed." 

3. What you want to say. How can your clothes communicate how you want others to see you?

"Our clothes carry the message we want to convey to others, and it changes, depending on what we're going through in our lives." 

4. Who you want to be. Style let's us stay connected to our aspirations. 

"Go on and dress for it. Borrow from your dreams. Of being a movie star. A great lover. A great mother. A respected teacher. A free spirit. An astrologer. An artist. A painter, a sculptor." 

On Business

"If you know how to create emotion, you can create a business."

On Elegance

"But what she radiated was not only self-assurance—it was simpler than that: she didn't think anyone was above or beneath her. ... She just was who she was and instinctively knew that was the only way she could be. ... 

If I make people feel good, if I encourage them to be themselves and be at ease, then I feel happy and present. 

To me, that's the heart of elegance." 


Full citation:
Doré, Garance. Love Style Life. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015. 

Three Alternatives to New Year's Resolutions

Happiness, ProductivityMarisol DahlComment

When we have a whole 365 days ahead of us—12 months of mystery, growth, excitement, and change—making traditional resolutions for the new year feels strange. It's hard to set concrete, long-term goals for a future self whose priorities and interests evolve. 

I believe new year's resolutions, however future-oriented they are, are inherently grounded by who we are in the present. And while it's wonderful to honor our present wishes, it seems unfair to hold our future selves accountable to a past, often fleeting, idea of happiness. 

At the same time, I freaking love setting goals and intentions. Here are some substitutes to resolution-making that, I hope, take into consideration the things we can't foresee. 

Three Alternatives to New Year's Resolutions

Choose a Word or Theme

Let a particular word or theme guide how you make your way through 2017. Your word might reflect an energy you want to exude, something of which you'd like greater abundance, a result you want to achieve, and more. I particularly like this practice because a single word seems so simple, but holds so much possibility. You may choose a word with some particular actions in mind, but you'll be surprised how this theme shows up and guides you in different, unforeseen ways. 

Set Monthly Challenges

Month to month, our worlds are a little more predictable. Consider using the first of each month as a time to check in, set particular goals, and maybe try out a few new things that align with your current priorities.

You might even want to adopt a "formula" for this. For instance, each month this year I'm going to pick one thing to fast, one new thing to try, and one new topic to learn more about. Instead of making all my choices in January, I can be assured my decisions for each month will reflect my interests and needs. 

Leave It Open

If the pressure of setting New Year's intentions or thinking about how you want to improve is overwhelming, maybe that's a sign to pause. In the midst of making lofty New Year's plans, it's important to acknowledge where we are now, everything we've accomplished, and the things we love about ourselves that we don't want to change. In the spirit of this, skip the resolution-making altogether. Embrace how the year unfolds naturally. 

A Three Card Tarot Reading for 2017

Holidays, SpiritualityMarisol DahlComment
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While I am not an expert in reading the tarot, I do enjoy pulling out my deck every once in a while. I find the tarot to be a wonderful channel for mindfulness, with each card a prompt to contemplate where we are, what we have, and how we might focus for the future. 

One of my favorite traditions is to do a three-card spread on New Year's Eve as a way to reflect and align for the year ahead. The first card represents the past—maybe the big lesson or dominant energy of the year that is concluding. The second card signals where one is right now: how we're feeling and what's top of mind. The third card sheds light on the future. 

Here's my three-card spread:

Past: The Magician 

Representing "self-empowerment, action, and expansive energy." This year may have been quite tough in terms of public and political affairs, but personally it was oh so sweet and powerful. I felt many things come into greater harmony and alignment, which lent me the strength and ability to confidently take action on some personal projects. 

Present: Father of Pentacles

A "steady, entrepreneurial" figure. The past few weeks has seen me returning to side projects with a renewed passion, as a way to gain a sense of stability. Things have definitely been quiet outwardly, but on the inside ideas are brewing. And with the holidays, this past month (especially this week) has seen a shift towards family, home, and personal nesting. Right now I am focused on nurturing my entrepreneurial side and setting strong foundations for the new year. 

Future: Daughter of Pentacles

"Hard working, responsible, and vast amounts of inner strength." This card is fairly spot on in describing my role at work and with my clients, as I am a behind the scenes figure and seek to provide a sense of calm and stability. The future will have me rely on the strengths and skills that have already taken me so far. I'm more than happy to keep going. 

_________

If you're interested, I am using The Wild Unknown tarot deck and guidebook. This year I also performed a 13-card spread. It's a rather future-oriented set-up, but a nice reminder of the mystery and thrill of everything to come. Happy New Year! 

Infusing The Holiday Spirit

Happiness, HolidaysMarisol DahlComment

During my senior year of college, I wrote a whole term paper on the Pumpkin Spice Latte. I spent a good chunk of my finals period talking about Starbucks and copy-and-pasting Tweets with emojis into my paper. As a complete holiday nut, that was fine by me. 

In my study, I found that the Pumpkin Spice Latte has become a substitute for age-old traditions we don't really have time for. In our crazy-busy lives, we can't always manage the fall festivity line-up: pumpkin carving, pie baking, walking in parks surrounded by the beautiful fall foliage, jumping in leaves, decorating for the holidays.

But the Pumpkin Spice Latte saves us. Its smell is comforting and nostalgic. It brings us back to relaxed childhood days. We incorporate it into our morning coffee ritual easily, so holiday merry-making is effortless. The PSL is "fall in a cup" and provides just enough break with the ordinary routine to make one feel as if he or she is having a nice holiday treat without threatening regular work and life duties.

And okay. Maybe Instagramming a Pumpkin Spice Latte instead of going on a family hayride is just another way that we are being lazy and "busy" and self-important.  Maybe we really are just blindly buying into the crazy Starbucks marketing ploy.

It's important to be mindful of that—those things that we lean on with maybe a little too much importance. But we should also honor the role these little things play in our lives. After all, we just want to join in on the festivity of the season however we can.

In a world plagued with fear of missing out, a culture of "busyness," and just a pinch of commitment-phobia, maybe we should be more embracing of the small things we can do to brighten our days and infuse a little holiday spirit.

Personally, Starbucks syrups leave me sick. So while I happily enjoy watching others delight in the red cup festivities, I find other ways to get in the holiday mood and soak up as much of this time of year as I can. 

How to Infuse the Holiday Spirit Into Your Day

Listen to Spotify holiday playlists. No need to labor over compiling the perfect playlist. Have it softly playing in the background as you work, do laundry, shower, and get ready for the day.

Burn a holiday candle. Make the house smell like fresh-baked Christmas cookies, a real fir Christmas tree, or fall spices. 

Wear that one red sweater you have in the back of your closet. Everyone will think you put so much thought and effort into your holiday season style. And this simple change-up will help you feel much more festive. 

How do you (effortlessly) keep in the holiday spirit?

A Post-Election Game Plan

Intelligence, PoliticsMarisol DahlComment

Three Articles to Read

Because while I have no doubt our President-elect has tapped into the racist and sexist sentiments of some people in this country, that's not the whole story. We have to do better at understanding the over 60 million people who voted for this person. 

Cracked: How Half of America Lost It's F**king Mind

J. D. Vance: Life Outside the Liberal Bubble

New York Times: A ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ Lesson for the Digital Age

Three Ways to Move Forward

Education: Read. Talk to people. Peruse the Facebook feeds of people who do not share your exact views. Lean in to conversations and lines of thought that aren't immediately comfortable. 

Self-care: Let your emotions run through. Don't mind the people who scoff at these "dramatic" reactions. If your body and mind is responding to this election (or any major event for that matter) in a certain way, take time to honor what's happening internally. These feelings and gut reactions are signals of what you need to do next, and how you can best go about recovery to come out stronger. 

Action: I'll hand it over to the people at Man Repeller for this. Post-Election To-Do List: How to Take Action, Donate and Help

Three Things I Know For Sure

1. I feel more patriotic than ever. The day after the election was, for me, a day of solitude and reflection. I felt sad and shocked. It was tough to see the immediate world around me go through this first phase of devastation.

But sometime midmorning I was overcome with a sudden drive to throw myself into my work in service of others.  

My biggest question this week is not, how did this happen? It's: how can I grow to best make a positive impact on other people? 

This is our country, and we collectively decide its narrative. Let's show up in the best way possible. Let's show the ultimate form of love by demonstrating unwavering loyalty as we face some daunting challenges ahead.

On top of that, we can't forget to be proud that we had our first woman nominee from a major party. And she won the popular vote by over two million. #Hillyes

2. We have to give Trump a chance. This is our duty and the courtesy we must afford to our lawfully elected leaders.

He may have won the presidency but we can still hold him to the moral, ethical, social, and political standards that we have expected from all other presidents. We must still expect him to represent the absolute best of America, and nothing less. 

3. This is what change feels like. Progress is almost always punctuated with setbacks. In the pursuit of our ultimate vision for this nation, we have to be willing to take these risks and embrace what comes. 

Questions to ask yourself when...

Happiness, HealthMarisol DahlComment

Thinking itself is quite a mystery when you really consider it. Psychologist Charles Fernyhough has spent time investigating inner voices and notes that on average about 25% of our days are occupied by thoughts in the form of language directed at ourselves. We don't always visualize—we have conversations with ourselves.

This internal dialogue is powerful, because it brings together different perspectives. It's an opportunity to acknowledge different sides of ourselves, like rational/emotional and hedonistic/restraining. Thinking to ourselves also allows us to explore, mimic, and anticipate the perspectives of those we know (see: theory of mind). 

It's no secret that how we manage our thoughts is a cornerstone of self-care. But given this new research and understanding of internal language, I've been much more mindful of the dialogues I have with myself and the purpose they serve. 

We might also consider how we can introduce even more of this dialogue into our daily lives, to better take care of ourselves. 

Questions to ask yourself...

When you’re just not feeling well: If I were my own doctor, what would I prescribe? Sometimes we need the push to engage our more rational and tough love sides. For me, the answer is often to drink more water, eat more greens, or walk away from something that is currently stressful. 

When you’re conflicted: What would _____ do? Pick someone you admire and would like to emulate. What decision would she make? How would he carry himself? What would she say? 

When you’re happy: Why do I feel so wonderful? We tend to focus on the times we feel upset and try to combat those moments. But it is equally important to pause during the times of day when you feel good: happy, relaxed, excited, positive, joyful. Notice the conditions and variables that create those wonderful moments, and try to recreate them as much as possible. 

How to Make the Most of the Last Two Months of the Year

Career, ProductivityMarisol DahlComment

With the holidays upon us, it's easy to write off the next two months. Q4 is often considered a “lost quarter” in terms of work and productivity, especially if we have the promise of a shiny New Year just around the corner.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The key to successful quarterly planning is to not treat each quarter like all the others. It’s important to take into account the time of year, acknowledge where you are in your life/career/business, and gauge your productivity levels moving forward. You have to look at the big picture, and set realistic expectations for yourself.

3 Ways to Make the Most of the Last Two Months of the Year

Tie up loose ends: What one or two things have you been resolving to do forever but just can’t seem to finish? Now is a great time to clear the decks and wrap up all those projects and to-dos that always seem to get pushed to the back-burner. This is a great end of year goal especially if you are wary of taking on completely new projects at this time.

Focus on relationships: Instead of seeing the holidays as time and productivity-sucks, use them as an “excuse” to get in touch and open up opportunities for stronger connection and collaboration. This is a natural time to check in with your extended family, old classmates, former colleagues, and any other business contacts you’d like to keep in touch with—it won’t be awkward since this is one of the most social seasons of the year.

Do sprints: Use your schedule as an indicator of when it’s time to hustle, and when it’s time to let it flow. Instead of trying to evenly pace your work over the next two months, identify a few periods of time where you can do “sprints”—times where you can kick focused work into high gear and make a lot of progress in a short period of time. When you’re “off-sprint,” enjoy the time to celebrate what you achieved and get much-needed rest.

See my full post on Life After College. 

 

 

Book Reviews #1

BooksMarisol DahlComment

First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies

Kate Andersen Brower | 2016

"Brower offers new insights into this privileged group of remarkable women, including Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Patricia Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama. The stories she shares range from the heartwarming to the shocking and tragic, exploring everything from the first ladies’ political crusades to their rivalries with Washington figures; from their friendships with other first ladies to their public and private relationships with their husbands." [Link

The Sociology major in me could not put this book down. It's a fascinating look at how such a diverse group of women—with their own histories, ambitions, ideals, and political views—are so uniquely bonded by their defining role as first lady. Kate Andersen Brower's research process is interesting to read about in itself. Though many other reviews note the author's bias, I found the book offered a refreshingly balanced look at the strengths and flaws of each first lady featured. 

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky

Heidi Durrow | 2011

"Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I., becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy after a fateful morning on their Chicago rooftop. Forced to move to a new city, with her strict African American grandmother as her guardian, Rachel is thrust for the first time into a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring a constant stream of attention her way. It’s there, as she grows up and tries to swallow her grief, that she comes to understand how the mystery and tragedy of her mother might be connected to her own uncertain identity." [Link]

Told from alternating points of view, The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is a beautiful story of a young girl's awakening through tragedy—forced to confront her identity and how she fits in with her extended family and new community. Rachel's youth is portrayed through simple prose, drawing the reader to dissect the clashes of race, class, generations, and culture that lie just underneath. 

The Opposite of Loneliness

Marina Keegan | 2014

"Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she graduated magna cum laude from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at The New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. She left behind a rich, deeply expansive trove of writing that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation." [Link]

It is important to understand the circumstances under which this book was published—that's what makes it particularly powerful and engaging. Marina Keegan was devoted to the art of writing and determined to make a living in what many would say is a dying industry. Her stories and essays are rich and demonstrate a wisdom I don't think very many people our age have yet. As someone who finished her freshman year at Yale just as Keegan was graduating, I felt particularly close to the themes and references within the book.