International Women’s Day: Why It Matters To Me

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day or the 8th of March has always been a very special day for me. It was and still is a national public holiday in Belarus and the day is full of spring flowers and gifts. It is a day to celebrate women. But what does that mean?  All women and girls got gifts and flowers on March 8th and we all had cake. As a child that sounded great. But today, I realize that there are more important things we as women would rather have than flowers and gifts. I find it absolutely barbarian and unacceptable that in some parts of the world women are still treated and valued as less than a man.  There are places where women:

Nevertheless, I am happy to see that in recent years the holiday is getting more recognition and celebration across the globe. It is very inspiring to see this day becoming more of a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality. This is in part why I feel more so than ever the importance of being a woman and contributing to this movement. It is also on this day that I realize how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go on my journey towards self-acceptance, self-love, and self-respect.

“If you want to be respected by others, the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect will you compel others to respect you.” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Although I have made significant strides in those areas over the years, I definitely have weak moments.  This last few months have been particularly challenging.  What I really want is to believe that I am valuable, worthy, intelligent, important and good enough just the way I am. I want to feel confident that my main worth, contrary to what I’ve been told most of my life, is not in how I look and the beauty from the outside, but rather in the beauty on the inside. I want to believe that my heart with its ability to love, give and feel deeply, is my most attractive feature.

However, I realize how much I still have to overcome. There are times when I still obsess over my weight, body, and appearance, and compare myself to other women.  I have allowed room for relationships that did not lift me up but instead brought me down and disrespected my boundaries. I found myself trying to cater to the selfish and narcissistic people in my life to get their approval. All this because I never got the approval of my parents growing up. And sometimes I still feel out of control because of it, so I try to control what I know best – which is food. Above all, I realize that unless I’m honest with myself about it, I cannot change how I feel. So I choose, to be honest with myself. Sometimes I feel weak and insecure.

“You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female.'” —Erin McKean

So today, on this beautiful spring day in Dallas I’m going to CHOOSE to celebrate the progress and achievements I have made and not focus on the negatives. I’m going to choose to stay positive and surround myself with kind and compassionate people. I’m going to celebrate other women and the strides they have made for me to have the freedom and opportunities I have. And I aspire to do the same for others. Above else, today I am enough. I am exactly where I need to be.  And I will never stop working on creating a better future for myself and other women. When I am weak, there are others who are strong and together we will go far. I would love to hear your comments and stories of struggles and wins.

women's marchYours truly,

Olia

Barcelona On A Budget

BarcelonaEveryone who knows me well knows I love to travel. I take every chance I get to get out of Dallas and visit a new place. They also know how frugal I am. I managed to spend two weeks in Barcelona, Spain spending less than $3,000 for the entire trip ( flight & everything). In this post I want to share with you some tips on how a frugal girl like me travels, so you can expand your horizons and travel more.

Bring Down The Accommodation Costs

I was lucky to have an opportunity to stay with friends which cost me $20 or less per night. If you don’t know anyone you can stay with,  you need to make new friends 😉 But seriously, the next best thing is Airbnb and hostels.  As I have written in my previous posts, it’s a great way to save money on accommodations and make new friends along the way. In Barcelona, I particularly love Jam Hostel. I met some great people from that one. If you are going to go with a hotel, don’t forget to check out Hotel Tonight that has some great last-minute deals on hotels. You can always find a place to stay in Barcelona, so it’s not something you have to book way in advance.

Barcelona guideChose Excursions Wisely.

Going into every single museum could turn out to be costly as a lot of them can be around $30 dollars or more. For me personally, given how ADHD I am, it would also be torturous.  I would suggest picking a few based on your particular areas of interest and foregoing the rest. I love architecture and music so I made sure I visited  Sagrada de Familia and Palau De La Musica. Both of those were definitely worth the cost to me.  Another thing to be on the look out for is the free museum day on first Sunday of each month. If you happen to be there on that day definitely worth taking advantage of.

Take Advantage Of  Public Transportation

Barcelona has an amazing and super easy to use public transportation system. Their subway and bus systems are connected and you only need one ticket to use both. I suggest taking advantage of the T10 pass which gives you 10 rides on either a bus or metro for just 10 euros. This could significantly lower your transportation costs as compared to using a taxi. The train ride from the airport to my friend’s house cost me less than 5 euros compared to $35 minimum a taxi would have cost. Don’t be scared, look up the public transportation options when you visit a new city, download the public transit app to google maps and ride on.

Eat Out Less And Cook More

Trying local food is one of my favorite things to do when traveling. And luckily in Barcelona, it’s very affordable due to the nature of tapas. But if you’re trying to stick to a budget try limiting how often you sit down for a meal. Even if it’s just breakfast or lunch that you cook yourself. Barcelona has some amazing farmer’s markets. The most famous one is Mercat De Santa Caterina off Rambla street. If I were you I’d skim through Rambla street (huge tourist trap) and head straight for the market. There you will find an abundance of meats, cheeses, olives, seafood, fruits, and veggies. And of course, my rule of thumb is to stay away from restaurants at or near major landmarks, aka Rambla street. Those tend to be overpriced and mediocre at best when it comes to quality.

Go With Friends

One of the greatest things from traveling with friends, apart from their amazing company, of course, is the cost savings that come from splitting everything across multiple people. I have time and time again noticed how much less expensive dinners and activities become when we share them with friends. My accommodation point is a perfect example. Even if you’re set and stone on renting a hotel room, sharing it with a friend brings down the cost in half.  It’s a no-brainer f.or me and a lot more fun.

Don’t try to see EVERYTHING in one visit.

This is a continuation of my second point about activities. There is no way I could have been able to experience everything  Barcelona, as well as surrounding areas, have to offer during my two weeks there. But I sure did explore a whole lot of the city by foot, got to see how the locals live, experienced their culture and norms, and got a feel for what the city is like. I know there’s still so much more and that is why I didn’t try to see it all in one visit. I always love leaving some things out so I have a reason to come back.

Barcelona Sunset

Take Advantage Of The Freebies

Last but not least walking is still free, and there’s a lot to learn by walking the city streets. Another option is the walking tours which are almost free (you tip at the end of the tour). Those could be hit or miss, but usually fun. One of my personal favorite ways to get to know the city is to wander around, making a few stops at a whole in the wall places, meeting people and seeing the sunset on the beach.There are always ways to enjoy experiences in a new city without breaking the bank. We just have to do a little research and get creative.

Hope you find this useful and please don’t wait to travel until you’re 60.

Yours truly,

OliaTheMoneyGirl

Valentine’s Day: Celebration Of Love Or Another Lucrative Holiday

I am definitely a hopeless romantic at heart.  I am also a realist and a very practical person. And sure,  I remember the excitement I felt as a teenager when I got valentine cards and gifts from secret admirers at school. But I have a different opinion about Valentine’s Day today.  As New York Daily Tribune has put it:

” There was a time when Valentine’s Day meant something. Then it was a business of real lovers and there was a sweetness under its delicate shy disguise.”

 

As it stands today I am single. But event when I was in a relationship I never understood why we had to have a day to show or celebrate love. As if we shouldn’t do it every day. Many of us don’t know the story of Valentines Day. For those who don’t remember here’s a real quick refresher: There was a priest in ancient Rome who secretly married couples because he felt bad for the soldiers who couldn’t marry their loved ones because the Emperor Claudius II thought that unmarried soldiers fought better. That’ s a pretty noble cause in my opinion and worth celebrating. Fast forward to today. We have $20 strawberries, $200  pre-fix dinners, $80 flowers and all sorts marketing promotions to increase spending on Valentine’s Day.

We live in a culture of commercialized consumerism. If we are in a relationship Valentine’s Day represents a declaration of our partner’s love for us, measured by the effort they put in on Valentine’s Day. If we are single we are constantly reminded of our single status. Social Media has taken this to a whole different level. Now it’s so easy to portray a picture of a perfect relationship by posting the perfect Valentines Day celebration pictures. But I know better than to fall into this trap. I know better that real love takes patience, dedication, and constant effort. I don’t get fooled by the commercial message that “If he really cares, he will go above and beyond and buy this or that for you.”

What I feel like we’re missing today is the true intimacy in our relationships. This kind of intimacy that takes the time to find and build. It requires patience, compromise and accepting other people as they are not as we wish they were.  Instead, we take shortcuts and opt in for the picture perfect superficial love that we see on TV, in Valentine’s Day ads, and in movies.  We get swept away by the commercial idea of love and believe that this ” being in love stage”  will last forever. I have found this disappointing at best.  So this Valentines Day I chose to focus on the kind of love that I do have in my life today: friendship, love for my dogs, love for the environment, and love for my country. I spent the evening surrounded by people who share my beliefs and invested my time in building relationships and sharing ideas. Whatever you did this Valentine’s Day I hope it was filled with true love in any shape or form and that you can count on this love every day of the year.

Yours truly,

OMG

Investing With Little Capital: How To Start

The more I live the more I realize that building wealth comes from owning shit not so much from working harder or longer. Sure making more money is great, but with that comes more taxes and a lot less write-offs and benefits. Whether it’s owning real estate, stocks, mutual funds,  start-up companies or  having equity in anything  else that has  long-lasting value, making money work for us is key. Well that sounds easy, right?

We just need a bunch of cash, no big deal.  After all money does make money. What if you don’t have a lot of extra cash? Perhaps you have student loans, medical bills, young kids or other responsibilities. It’s actually not a deal breaker. Yes it’s true that certain type of investments require a lot of capital. However, time is extremely important when it comes to investing in the stock market. The sooner we start the better. All of this is due to the magic of compound interest.  But don’t just take my word for it. See proof here. And it’s possible to start with a lot less capital than we might think. Here are some ways  to  start investing with very little capital:

Maximize your 401K

The best way to start investing is to take advantage of what’s already out there from your employer. Unless your employer is a super small company, or you’re self-employed (read here if you are) then you can start investing by taking advantage of employer’s matching program which is essentially free money.

Track your spending for a month to find “spending leaks” and stop wasting money

If you do this,  just like me, you’ll be shocked at how much we spend on stupid stuff that could be invested otherwise. Next time you think about spending $5-$10 on a coffee or a drink as yourself: ” Is this worth the amount I have to pay that I could otherwise make money from?”  When I did this I quickly realized that I can forego lattes, weekly manicure, fast food lunches and find $50 a week to start investing.  If you need help finding ways to save read this. This $50/week can turn into $35,000 if investing continued for 10 years.  Check out this investment calculator. I used 7% as an average rate of return.

Open an account with someone like Vanguard

Most platforms require  at least $1,000 to open an investment account. If you’re not there yet, read my next section. I like Vanguard because their expense ratios are much lower than industry averages, and the company is perfect for someone like me who doesn’t actively trade . I just want to keep investing regularly and not have to worry about it more than once or twice a year. They also have really good educational tools to take advantage of.

Download an investing an app like Acorns

This app helps you invest without even thinking about it. It works like the round-up saving options that some bank accounts offer. Every purchase you make is rounded up and that money is then invested in a portfolio of your choice. Keep in mind that to minimize the fees Acorn charges it’s best to invest at least a $100/month. Read more about this here. Although you definitely won’t make a million dollars using this app, its good way to start investing until you get to the $1,000 minimum that some larger firms require to start.  You’ll also be surprised at how quickly a few dollars add up.

Whatever you do, don’t let a lack of  large capital stop you from starting investing. Passive income is a great way to start building wealth. The earlier we start the more time works for us. Saving more and spending less is the best way to find money to start investing and a few dollars really do add up over time. As always I hope you find this helpful and I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Yours truly,

OMG

Happy New Year!

BarcelonaHappy New Year to all you beautiful people! I cannot believe that it is 2017 already.  It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me so I wanted to give you an update on the ending of 2016 and what I’ve been up to. With all its ups and downs, 2016 ended on a high note with a trip to Barcelona, Spain where I got to ring in the New Year  with fireworks on the beach among old and new friends. In this post I want to share some of my reflections on this past year and some key takeaways.

Sometimes we have to let go

Whether it’s a relationship or a business idea, this one is never easy. Last year I had to make a difficult decision to let go of a relationship and the person I loved very much. As much as I loved him I had to realize that long-term we were not compatible. It’s so easy to sometimes get lost in the now and not think about the future. But we must always stay true to ourselves and our values because love is not enough. Losing a person is hard and very painful but losing ourselves is much worse in the long run.

I also had to let go of a business idea I was in love with. This one was also hard because it was my first stab at entrepreneurship. Just as the person loving a business is not enough, it has to be feasible and viable in the long run. I had to be honest with myself and recognize that the ideas was not very feasible and let it go. The best part about both of these is that I’ve learned so much in the process. We only lose when we don’t learn anything.

When we make emotional decisions we pay the price

It took me almost a year to find my current job after I left my last one because I hated it so much. There is nothing wrong with making changes but doing so without having a plan is not the best idea. I learned this the hard way. I know that I have an addictive personality so it’s hard for me to sometimes stay with an uncomfortable feeling. It’s easier just to get out. This can backfire without a plan. Creating a plan can take some time, but having one can save more than just money, it can save you piece of mind. Take this from this not at all perfect MoneyGirl. As many strides as I have made towards financial security and peace, sometimes I find myself going through certain lessons more than once. Hey, it’s all part of the journey.

Relationships matter above everything else

Over and over again I recognize the power of relationships. At the end of the day it’s not your fancy car or watch or bank account that will help you with your goals, problems, sadness, career aspirations etc it will be your relationships with people. And I’m not talking about 2,000 Facebook friends or 10,000 followers on Instagram. I’m talking about true, meaningful, deep relationships with REAL people. I try to live by the principle: people first, money second, then things. Last year was very hard emotionally, and it were my friends who have helped me get through it.

Patience is a necessary evil

This one is never easy for me and kind of goes back to takeaway number two. Patience is extremely important for all areas of our lives. Whether it’s financial goals, relationships, career aspirations, all of those things take time.  I’ll be the first to admit, I struggle with this one. Maybe because I was never a patient kid to begin with, I was fast and furious lol or because my parents weren’t really there to help me learn the importance of it and help develop the necessary mental muscle. All of that is irrelevant to my 29-year old self, because at the end of the day we have to teach ourselves what our parents didn’t teach us or life will teach us.

We don’t have to live our lives according to tradition or other people

I went to Barcelona for Christmas and New Year’s celebration to spend the holidays with friends and to make new friends.  This is not a typical way to spend the holidays, but I know that I’m not a typical person. For a while I tried so hard to change my family dynamics and to make it work. Holidays were stressful and full of emotional roller-coasters. And then I realized that instead of fighting I can let go and do my thing. Life is too short to hate the holidays. So I did just that and went to Spain. I am working on a travel guide from my trip so stay tuned.

I hope this new year brings new beginnings and new experiences to all of us! I am certainly looking forward to a great year!

Cheers,

Olia

The Meaning Behind Gift Giving

We all like to receive gifts . Some of us (myself included) like it more than others. If you have ever heard of The Five Love Languages you might have heard that we all have one or two primary love languages. We use these to communicate our love to others and they also happen to make us feel loved. One of these  languages is gift giving.  But isn’t that materialistic? Not at all. If you’re like me the thoughtfulness and effort behind the gifts are what really make us feel cared for. We feel known and that we are placed above whatever was sacrifices to bring the gift to us. Everyday gestures are extremely important and it’s never about the amount spent.

Now let’s talk about Christmas and our obsession with stuff. This is in my opinion very different from the natural appreciation for gifts and the thoughtfulness of others.  Christmas has become a marketing scheme used by retailers luring customers in with sales, promotions, new releases,  distracting us from focusing on what’s most important spending time with family and loved ones.  For a lot of people Christmas is about out doing friends on who has the biggest tree with the most presents under it.

There’s also another aspect of gift giving that sometimes can ruin the entire experience.  It’s called manipulation. I have experienced this  in the past and in some situations have decided to forego gift  exchange all together. Some people give gifts and they do not believe in the idea that when you give a gift – it’s truly a gift, not a bribe or a bait or a purchase of love, affection, or whatever else. Here is what I believe gift giving is and is not about:

Expressing love and appreciation

Giving gifts should truly be an expression of our love towards each other. With that said, gifts should not be about the amount or the quantity of gifts. Yet somehow a lot of us think that if the tree is not full of gifts it’s not enough.

Giving someone a gift does not mean the person owes us something

This defeats the purpose of a gift. There should be  no expectations. As mentioned above if we give someone a gift and expect something in return, it’s best not to give a gift at all.

The higher price tag does not equal more love

Because of the way I was brought up I used to think  that a gift is only good enough if it’s expensive.  This is total nonsense. It is truly the meaning and the thought behind the gift as well as paying attention to details about our friends and loved ones that matter. I love getting gifts that are thoughtful and personal, useful and practical. Someone else might enjoy gifts that are unique, sentimental, luxurious, etc.  The key is to learn about the person who the gift is for and keep that in mind when looking for gifts. I am not very good at this as attention to detail is not my biggest strength. I started writing down things that people say throughout the year that help me pick a gift for them during the holidays.

Gifts do not have to be material

Helping a friend move,  giving a ride to the airport, babysitting, dog walking etc are all gifts in my book. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that Acts of Service is another one of my love languages.  My point is, that gifts can have different expressions, and spending money does NOT always have to be involved. If service is not your thing, there’s always hand-made gifts as well.

However we express our love and towards others differs among us. One thing I try to remind myself this holiday season is that gifts are nice but relationships and spending quality time with people I love and enjoy are a lot more valuable than a shiny object or the latest tech gadget. I will be posting about my trip to Spain next.

Happy Holidays,

Olia

Minimalism: Simplifying Life And How I Got There

minimalism_I used to love shopping. I felt a thrill from every new purchase. My closet was full of clothes,  jewelry and accessories. I overloaded my bathroom with makeup and other toiletries. Buying a pair of shoes was like buying a cup of coffee, oh yeah I used to buy Starbucks coffee every day too.  I grew up with parents who had a million things in their house. I don’t know, it might be the communism they grew up with where everything was scarce, but things were falling out of every possible and impossible place. It was like a living in a hoarder’s house.  With all the stuff, the things I bought were not making me happy, on the contrary I felt like they were giving me more anxiety. While in counseling  I have discovered that people sometimes buy things because they feel empty inside, their life lacks meaning and meaningful relationships, and they are trying to fill in those holes with things.

So I’ve decided to stop being one of those people. I stopped buying things like a crazy person preparing for an apocalypse. The word SALE didn’t excite me any longer. I started downsizing. I’ve realized that Black Friday iss a giant scam. I avoid it at all costs. I felt a thrill when I made money from selling something I hadn’t used in a while instead of buying something new. Whatever I couldn’t sell I donated. And then almost two years ago I moved  out to my own place and have discovered a whole different part of myself that I didn’t even know existed. This part and was dying to come out.  I didn’t know that I was  actually becoming a minimalist.

What the hell is minimalism anyway? I had no idea there was such a thing until I discovered TheMinimalists blog. I just knew that I enjoyed simplicity and that having too much stuff gave me anxiety. There are several definitions of what minimalism is.  Definitely check out their blog, they are amazing. The one that resonates to me the most is: living a more meaningful life, spending time on things that are important to me, and not having to worry about stuff, getting more stuff, and maintaining stuff. Don’t get me wrong I like nice things, but I am not attached to them. If my apartment burned down tomorrow ( as long as my dogs weren’t in there), I would be upset for maybe a second but not terrified because my biggest assets are intangible. In the last several years that I have worked on simplifying my life, I have also worked on accumulating more memories from meaningful experiences.

Minimalism has helped me do a better job at:

  • Living in the moment
  • Eliminating anxiety
  • Spending more quality time with those whom I love
  • Ridding myself from unnecessary stuff
  • Helping others more
  • Living with intention

Living an intentional life does not mean we have to get rid of everything we own, it just means that we have to shift our focus and attention to things that truly matter to us. I love this saying: “I’d rather have a passport full of stamps, than a house full of stuff”. I value experiences more than things, so I choose to invest money into experiences. We all have to figure this out for ourselves but what I do know that buying stuff does not  bring lasting happiness, at least it doesn’t to me. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this.

Yours truly,

Olia_TheMoneyGirl