Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How I completed over 60 college credit hours while putting nearly $10,000 in the bank

Graduating in May 2014
with my AA in Business Admin,
100% debt free!
Just 12 months after graduating from high school, I was walking the stage for my Associate of Arts in Business Administration. Not only had I completed a 2-year degree, I was also graduating debt free with thousands of dollars in the bank. Not even 12 more months passed before purchasing my used $8,000 vehicle by writing a check.

How many 20 year olds can say that?

It boggled people's minds that I was already halfway to a Bachelors degree and hadn't even filled out a FAFSA, much less taken a loan.

Truth is, it wasn't that hard. It took what felt like a sacrifice at the beginning but turned into a reward once I realized the benefits of my choices.

During my senior year in high school, most of my friends were packing up and getting ready to go off to college. At the time, I wanted nothing more than to join them.

Problem was, I had no idea where I wanted to go to school, what I wanted to study, or even why I wanted to attend college. I kept hearing cliches like "You can't get a job without a degree" and "It'll be fun" and "These are the best years of your life"...

Feeling overwhelmed with choices and hating the idea of taking on loans with no goal in mind, I opted to stay home and attend community college.

Yup, I continued living at home with my parents and attended the local community college.

Don't stop reading! I promise it wasn't as lame as it sounds and the results were worth it. I'll make my case below. 

But first, let’s talk about some important steps I took in high school that would pay off after graduation.

My first car, a 1999 Ford Taurus,
purchased September 2012.
When I was a junior in high school, I got my first job (which paid minimum wage) and that's when I started getting serious with my savings account, socking away whatever I could. When I was a senior in high school, I got my first car. My dad and I split the cost -- $1,000. It had some difficulties and needed some expensive repairs (which we painfully forked up the money to cover, again splitting the cost), but it got me to and from classes both my senior year and the year following when I attended community college. I also purchased a laptop at the end of my senior year in high school with the generous graduation money that friends and family gave me. This was another great tool to my future success.

The other major step I took in high school which set me up for future success was enrolling in a dual credit program through the community college system. The classes I took in this program counted for both high school and college credit. And in my city, the tuition for this program was free! Many community colleges around the country offer these programs, or something comparable for free or discounted rates. (AP classes are another option.) Through this program I racked up 33 college credit hours -- about a year’s worth of college classes. That one year jump start made the next year fly by.

If you can't take advantage of a dual credit program or AP classes, getting two years of college knocked out in just over a year is still possible if you take summer classes the two summers following high school. You can also CLEP out of classes to speed up your education while saving time and money.

So I was on the fast track to finishing my degree even before graduating from high school. But how did I save all the money?

Living at home helps. A lot.

I realize this is not going to be everybody's story. Sometimes parents insist their high school graduate move out and move on. Sometimes disagreements arise and it's the best thing for the family. Sometimes parents want to charge rent after graduation. I get that. But if you have a good relationship with your parents and they're okay with you staying home for another year or two (especially for free or a hugely discounted rent), consider doing it.

It sounds lame, I know. But did you know that 4 out of 10 college graduates end up moving back in with family anyway? Imagine getting a taste of freedom just to find yourself unable to get a job or unable to cover both rent and student loans, then having to take a step backward into your family’s home. I’d rather frontload the benefits of living at home than have to step backwards later. And trust me, you'll be so busy outside of home, it won't matter. You just need a place to sleep and shower. Oh, and freeload on groceries.

Once graduated from high school, I enrolled at the community college full time and drove 12 miles each way, twice a week, to campus (we have five community colleges to choose from in my city and I was within a 25 minute drive of three of them). I was never on campus for more than 5 hours each day because I took some online classes as well (utilizing that laptop I purchased and saving time by not having to be in the classroom or drive to campus more than two times per week). In the afternoons, I worked as a nanny making $12 an hour. I'd work anywhere from 10-20 hours per week, depending on the family's needs.

Tuition and fees at the community college was only $1,000 for a 15 hour semester. This was already affordable but I managed to earn scholarships which completely covered the cost of the already low tuition rate. I spent about $150-$200 per semester renting my textbooks or purchasing them used. The only other things I regularly spent money on were gas and coffee. Gas was necessary, the coffee not so much, but I still got ahead and put money in the bank.

Attending school full time and working part time kept me busy. Finals weeks could feel a bit overwhelming on occasion as it will for any college student. And looking back, it really wasn't all that bad. Living at home actually made it easier in some ways -- I had my family to support and encourage me and of course to bring me snacks ;) For harder classes, I would befriend one or two classmates and we'd share notes or study together on campus. Believe it or not, we didn't have to live in the same dorm or even on the same campus to study together *gasp*.

Over 60 college hours under my belt, 100% debt free,
and spending the best summer ever with my little sis.
We lived just 3 miles from Mt. Rushmore and could see
it from our bedroom window!
One week after graduation with my Associates degree in May 2014, I drove to South Dakota for the summer with my little sister and worked another (nearly) minimum wage job about 30-35 hours/week for 13 weeks. We had a blast exploring the Black Hills and meeting all sorts of cool people in the evenings and on days off. I didn't save much money that summer, but the job paid for the adventure.

In September of 2014, I came home to Texas and started a job working 30 hours/week making $10-15 an hour. This employment was done in conjunction with a program called Praxis. Praxis pairs young people with a business partner to learn about entrepreneurship firsthand by being in the midst of it and just doing it. Participants also complete online coursework, discussion groups, and other assignments. Because I was already "ahead" one year on my college career and I was still unsure about the direction I wanted to go, taking a year to work and do Praxis made sense and was totally worth it! Not only did I get some real work experience and study with some super smart individuals, I also got to continue saving money. At my job, I was netting anywhere from $300-$500/month after paying Praxis tuition and income taxes. I still had to pay for gas, but I continued living at home to save on other living expenses. By March of 2015, I was ready for a car upgrade. So I paid cash for my SMART car.

Just signed the papers and paid cash for my SMART car (March 2015)

Overall, I couldn't be more pleased with how my education and my bank account balance has turned out so far. Especially since I didn't have a clear direction when I graduated high school, I believe it was the wisest choice not to get into debt during those early credit hours. The first 60 college credit hours or so are mostly basics anyway. Why pay 10 times what you need to pay to get the same exact credits?

I had some great professors at the community college. I had a few lazy ones too -- but that's at most colleges. So again, why pay more?

Since finishing Praxis, I have begun working full time at a new job. My college education is currently on hold for a number of reasons -- one of them being that I'm not completely convinced a four year degree is necessary for me to get where I want to go. So again, I'm staying away from college loans and hope to continue to do so, even if I do go back to finish.

If you're set on attending college, I will always recommend starting at the community college. It gives you an opportunity to stay debt free and to put money in the bank. Even if you can't live at home like I did, you can cut major costs on tuition which could allow you to at least stay debt free, even if you're not putting much into savings.

What greater gift could you give yourself than that freedom?

So stay free, my friends. It's not only possible, it's not that difficult to accomplish.

{Interested in Praxis? Apply now and tell them Mary Kate sent you!} 

Like what you read? Be sure to subscribe using the box on the sidebar so you won't miss new posts. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Final Thoughts & Future Plans (You Need Guts)

Since my last blog post, I only had about two chapters left in the "You Don't Need a Job, You Need Guts" ecourse. In these final pages, Ambirge covers some lessons she's learned along her entrepreneurial journey and shares some of the adventures it has taken her on over the years.

It's exciting to picture myself following in similar footsteps.

It's also daunting.

With so many people trying to "make it", how is it gonna be me?

But in the end, I realized it's not just about having guts. I mean, it takes guts. Don't get me wrong. But it also takes work.

Smart, hard, consistent work.

Since there is no such thing as job security, though, you may as well give it a go. Better to fail gloriously than to have never tried in the first place, according to Ambirge.

So in my near and my distant future, I plan to take action. I'm not gonna let my life and my livelihood be 100% reliant on and dictated by some company or corporation. It's time to take control, try hard things, and eventually to succeed.

What about you?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Getting Found and Getting Ahead (You Need Guts)

More helpful tips from "You Don't Need a Job, You Need Guts"...

Getting found

There are three ways to drive traffic to your site:
1. Pay for it
2. Win it
3. Earn it

When paying for traffic, it is best to go with Facebook, Google ads, or ads on a targeted website. Start  with a small budget and tweak your campaigns as you go. It's only worth paying for if the impressions turn into sales. If not, rework your campaign.

Winning traffic means you have to put yourself in a position of authority on a given topic. When major media outlets have a theme that relates to your edge, you need to jump in and offer yourself as the expert. Once they realize that this topic is your bread and butter, they'll have to feature you (or risk looking silly for missing an amazing opportunity!).

To earn coverage, you have to actually produce some content that is shareable. Make people read your blog post and say "Me, too". If they can't relate, they won't share. What people share online is like sharing a part of them. Stand for something, and those who stand with you will want to spread the word, for free, to their circle of influence.

Getting ahead

Just like failing to close the sale makes all of this hard work pointless, having to be involved in every aspect of your business makes it difficult to get ahead. If you died in a car wreck and your business immediately collapsed, something is wrong. You're working hard, you're making money, but your business model is not scalable.

Try things like writing a book or course, recording a training, building a membership site or paid email subscription, or promoting what you love and earning a commission. There are lots of ways to get paid online without having to be involved 24/7. Sure, it still takes work, but you'll be working much smarter and maximizing your time spent.

The end is in sight

I only have two more chapters left in this ecourse. I was a little skeptical when I started it but trusted the sources who recommended this content to me. I'll finish the last two chapters and write my concluding thoughts on it soon. However, it's all for not if I don't put any of this into practice. To do that, it's gonna take some guts... and some time. But why not try? There's no such thing as job security anyway, amiright? So it's the end, but it's also the beginning. And I can't wait.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Closing the Sale (You Need Guts)

More thoughts and tips from "You Don't Need a Job, You Need Guts"...

Email is king

Ambirge puts a huge emphasis on the importance of getting email addresses and sending the right people the right emails. She wants you to build a relationship with your business soulmates by coming to their inbox periodically and inspiring, informing, and/or entertaining them. Having this email plan is key. But what happens next?

Closing the Sale

Who cares how much they like you and feel they know you if they aren't going to pull out their credit card and say "yes" to your product? All of your work was wasted if they never purchase anything.

We have to get over the fact that our product might not be good enough. If we believe in what we're selling, we won't feel guilty about asking for money. So don't sell a junk product. Sell what's worth it and believe in that product.

Start small. Make a sales offer to your customer that they won't have to think too hard about. Prove yourself through that first sale and what you provide -- and then grow from there. You can't expect them to pull out their wallet and spend $5,000 on the first purchase. But what about $50? They could swing that. And then you have a chance to further build your trust and relationship with your business soulmates. 

Give the people what they want, not what you're selling

The angle you put on your product makes all the difference. You're not just selling a potholder... you're selling a statement about the person who has that potholder on display in their kitchen. What kind of person would buy your potholder?

To close the sale, you need a sales page. On this page you can outline the problem your business soulmate has, offer your solution and its benefits, frame the cost beforehand, then tell your buyer how much it costs, how to get it, and what happens next. Finally, show the buyer that you're not crazy -- you have a track record of delivering the result they want.

It definitely takes work to get to this point and to start making money. But who said this was gonna be easy? I mean, it says it right there in the title: You're gonna need guts.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Make it about your Business Soulmate (You Need Guts)

“There is a time-tested way to get around the unknown: Find out.
--Ash Ambirge

Okay, so there are still plenty of people using the internet for Candy Crush. But there are plenty of other people trying to make money using the internet. How many of them actually succeed?

As I continue in "You Don't Need a Job, You Need Guts", Ambirge is starting to take me step-by-step in starting my own online enterprise, what that entails, and some of the essentials.

Identify your business soulmate

Long before deciding what to sell, you need to identify just who it is you're trying to sell to.

Ambirge writes: “…consider not only whose able and willing to pay, but who will be DELIGHTED to pay for this?”

Whoever fits that description is going to be the soulmate for your venture.

Once you know who they are, you can know how to craft your message to make them feel seen.

Find your edge

There is noise everywhere. Businesses all over the world are screaming for the attention of potential clients. What gives you an edge over other people selling a similar product or service? Why should people trust you to deliver?

You have to find your edge -- and then you have to use that edge to make you memorable.

In a world full of noise, the last thing you want to do is be forgettable. "Expected is a death sentence."

.com urls only

When you're ready to name your site, name it intelligently and only go with the .com url. Use your edge to help you decide just what the name of your site and business should be.

How to make it online

Consumers are being sold to all the time. They are on the web looking for someone who gets them. They want to have a conversation with this person.

Opening up the lines of communication is key. If you aren't talking with your business soulmate, they're gonna lose interest.

Providing information, inspiration, and entertainment to them for free will allow you to open those lines of communication and build a relationship where they will trust you. Then you don't have to sell to them -- they are already listening to you.

According to Ambirge: "Becoming useful and helpful beyond expectation is the goal. When you go out of your way to help someone when it wasn’t necessarily your job and you aren’t directly getting paid for it – even through providing information, inspiration and/or their entertainment, and later, their money"

Have a plan

Don't just be useful and provide information, inspiration, and entertainment for the sake of it. Make every part of your website serve a purpose to get your business soulmates closer to the goal. The first bit of information, inspiration, and/or entertainment needs to fit the stage they are at. If they're new to your site, you need to treat them like a newbie. Tailor the content to what they need.

Finally, make it about them

They don't care about what you know as much as they care about why it matters to them.

I love this quote from Ambirge: “We don’t want to know what you do, as much as we want to know why it matters to us. In short, we want your website to be about us. Not about you. And even if it is about you, we want your story to somehow be about us.”