Teaching Abroad on the Debt-Free Journey: My Life in China

There’s nothing like a 10-year high school reunion to make you evaluate your life. Amiright?

You start thinking, “Have I achieved enough? Did I live up to the yearbook superlative, Most Likely to Succeed? Would that guy I had a crush on have a crush on me now?”

When I started comparing myself to classmates, I realized I had achieved a lot more than others, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. An undergrad degree from a great school, trips abroad and a master’s degree sure looked good. But my debt balance sure didn’t! Not to the tune of over $50,000.

At the reunion party in our hometown watering hole, I shared how I’d been thinking about moving abroad. Life in North Carolina wasn’t cutting it. The bills weren’t cutting it. All. Those. F*ckin. Bills. It seemed like I could never get ahead.

I didn’t have a husband, child or mortgage to really cause significant pause. I loved traveling. At this point, I had been to 9 other countries. Why not move away?

One great personality trait I love is once I get my mind set on something, I go for it.

That October in 2015—just a couple weeks after the reunion—I started volunteering with an adult ESOL class at a local community college. In December, I was an adjunct professor teaching 4 nights a week. I LOVED IT! In February, I started my online TEFL course. That’s when I learned China could be a lucrative place to teach.

In May, I accepted a job offer in China. In August, I quit my 9-to-5. On Labor Day in September, I sold my car back to CarMax to eliminate that loan and was on a plane to southern China less than 12 hours later.

My new life had begun!

Since moving to China in September 2016, I have:
– paid off more than $14,000 (26% of my total) in debt (medical bills, credit card debt, undergraduate student loans)
– saved more than $7,500
– paid nearly $6,000 for my teaching certification
– traveled to the U.S. twice, Thailand twice and Vietnam once

I’ve also met a lot of cool people and had kick-ass, priceless experiences in China and Hong Kong.

I asked folks on the ‘gram what they wanted to know about my experience. Here are answers to some of those burning questions.

Road to China Timeline Wise Woman Wallet

See answers to your questions about my life in China.

5 Calls to Make to Take More Control of Your Money

Ramit Sethi first introduced me to the concept of negotiating bills. It was a normal part of his cultural background, but it was a foreign concept to me. I Will Teach You To Be Rich, one of the most important books I read as a personal finance newbie, gave me the courage to pick up the phone (find Ramit’s 6 telephone scripts here if you don’t know what to say) and take more control of my cash flow. I hope this post does the same for you.

1. Would you please change my bill due date?

You can actually apply for this change online for some companies. This option is good if you get paid 2 times a month and most of your bills are stacked heavily in 1 half of the month. Been there. Done that.

Here’s are 2 workarounds:

  1. Use 1 paycheck to pay some bills early.
  2. List all your bills. Divide that number in half. Each pay period, try to set aside that amount plus a little cushion in a separate checking account than the one for discretionary spending. When bills come due, the money’s already there.

Wise Woman Wallet_5 Calls to Make To Take More Control of Your Finances.png

Click here to see the other 4 calls you shouldn’t be afraid to make.

Worthy Goals for Q2 2019

April is upon us. No foolin! That means the first quarter of 2019 is done. I hope you’ve progressed as time passed.

To look ahead, I’ve come up with a few goals that might be worthy of adding to your list for the second quarter.

Reflect on Q1 and keep what worked well.

Ask yourself:

  • What goals did I have the last quarter?
  • What did I accomplish?
  • What specific things helped me achieve those goals? What works for me? (habit tracking, affirmations)
  • What has held me back from reaching some goals?
  • How I can I overcome those obstacles in the next quarter?
  • What can I do specifically in the next quarter to get closer to my goals? (daily, weekly, monthly)
  • How will I measure success? (the amount of debt paid off, number of times I exercised per week)
  • What expenses should I plan for in the next quarter?
  • How can I monetize my gifts and talents?

Take a look at the Ultimate Goal-Setting Checklist for guidance on crafting new targets.

Evaluate where you are in terms of annual goals and list the next, best steps.

Go back and look at the big picture. Have you reached 25% of your debt payoff goal as planned? Did you earn an extra $300 each month in the first quarter? Be intentional with the next 3 months to make sure you’ll be in a better position and proud of yourself in December.

Keep reading to get 4 more ideas for your Q2 goals.

28 Life-Changing Books: My 2019 Reading List + Freebies

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I’ve eaten; even so, they have made me.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Books are bae! Didn’t you know?!

When I was kid, one of my aunts always gave me and my siblings books for gifts. We’d strain smiles and sing, “Thank you!” but we really wanted new Sega games, dolls or straight up cash. You couldn’t pay me to read then.

My fondness for a good page-turner came after leaving college. That’s when I realized no one was gonna save me from my debt or give me the life that I wanted BUT ME! The local library became my pusha and books, my drug of choice.

This year, I decided to read all of the 28 life-changing books curated by @FutureNow, formerly @FutureSuccessors, of Instagram. I had already read 8 by coincidence. So 2019 is marked for reading the remaining 20 books on the list.

I’ll also apply, at least, one thing that I learned from each book. Knowledge alone isn’t power. Applied knowledge is power.

Wise Woman Wallet Book List and Reading Log Blog Graphic

Do you want to join me? You don’t have to read all 28 books this year, but start by reading 12 (an average of 1 per month). Feel free to download the book list and reading, and start checking off your books ASAP.

Get the full list of 28 life-changing books and learn cheap ways to read them.

My 2019 Goals and End-of-2018 Reflection

*This post contains affiliate links. That means I receive a small commission that could help me on my debt-free journey —at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase using the links.

Happy New Year! Yes, it’s February, but I live in China and we’re celebrating the Lunar New Year. I’m right on schedule! (Also, it’s the year of the pig, as in piggy bank. Cha-ching! 🤑)

Check out what I accomplished in 2018 and find out what’s coming up in 2019. Check out the Ultimate Goal-Setting Checklist for guidance on your goals.

What are my 2019 goals?

My new goals include:

  • Complete Operation: Sock Away $10K by April 30. Having a huge Sunny Day Fund, or emergency fund, will give me peace of mind.
  • Visit 2-4 new places in China (e.g. Yangshuo, Xian, etc.). It would be a shame to live here so long and not explore its beauty.
  • Pay off $19K in ’19. This goal will help me pay off my penultimate grad school loan and break even on net worth. How amazing!
  • Read everything on the Life-Changing Books List and apply 1 thing from each book (20 books in 2019). Will you join the reading challenge?
  • Complete the Happiness Planner (100 days). This goal will help record my emotions and reflect on the highs and lows of each week.
  • Attend 1 social event each month. I gotta do something besides each brunch with friends. This year, I plan to branch out and meet more people.

Wise Woman Wallet 2019 Goals and End-of-2018 Reflections Blog Graphic

How did I do in 2018?

The 2018 goals included:

  • Reduce debt balance by $18,000.
  • Become a certified teacher in Florida through an online program.
  • Pay cash only for all certification costs.
  • Pay off Barclay balance transfer card by June 30.
  • Climb the Great Wall of China.
  • Create passive income stream(s).

Through dedication and the universe working in my favor, I checked off 5 out of 6 goals!
Learn which goals I checked off and ask yourself questions to reflect on your wins and opportunities to improve.

Fast Financial Fixes You Can Check Off in 30 Minutes or Less

We’re all on a time crunch, right? Especially around the holidays. Folks want to improve their finances, but they think they must spend ages doing it. The trick is to do what you can with what you have.

If you only have 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30 minutes, then guess what! You have enough time to tweak how you manage money for the better. Take a look at some quick tasks you can check off your list today.

(Psst! I’ll add to this list over time, so be sure to check back from time to time.)

5-Minute Money Moves

  1. Remove your debit or credit card information from your favorite retailers’ sites. Yep! Dump Easy Pay. Why? Having your payment information already on the checkout page makes it too easy to part with your money. You’ll think harder about purchases when you have to type in that 12-digit card number, security code and billing address each time.
  2. Straighten out your wallet. File or discard receipts, collect loose change and organize your dollar bills. Marie Forleo, life coach and author, used to wash and iron her bills. Now she just makes sure they lie flat and face the same direction by denomination ($5 with $5, and so on). “You might think this is silly,” she says in a YouTube video, “but keeping my money tight and right is a sign of reverence and respect—respect for myself, for the money that comes into my life and for the money that flows out of my life. I feel like I’m being a good steward of my money for the time that it is with me.”
  3. Download the Strides or HabitShare app and set up 1 or 2 habits or goals you want to achieve. Don’t spend your WHOLE 5 minutes in the app store trying to decide on which habit tracker to get right now. DON’T DO IT! You can get another app later. Right now, just act on creating a habit goal in the app ASAP, set a start date and an end date, if applicable (i.e. save $3,000 by mid-July). Then you’ll start getting alerts to keep you on task. What get’s measured, grows or fortifies. Work those habit muscles!

  4. Write down a financial or life goal and put it in your wallet. If you see your goal, you might be prompted to put back that shirt, bottle of wine or the 20 $1 Target items you don’t need. Love-hate you, Target! 😉

  5. List free or low-cost activities you love doing or want to try. This list with definitely come in handy during a No-Spend Challenge. When you’re bored, you can look at this list, pick an activity and already know that you’re not gonna break the bank. Mark certain activities you can do when you’re sad or stressed. If you feel yourself about to indulge in a bad habit like unnecessary shopping or binge-eating, refer to your list. Here are 103 ideas for free things to do. Your list could include:
    • walking in the park
    • hitting up a museum
    • visiting the library
    • volunteering
    • apple-picking
    • seeing a community theatre performance
    • reorganizing your closet
    • dancing in your living room to music on Spotify or YourTube
    • drawing or painting
    • playing cards or a board game
    • reading
    • listening to a podcast
    • baking cookies

Keep reading to get 15- and 30-minute money moves.

Get Your Financial House in Order with Dimitry Neyshtadt of 90DayMoneyPro

Dimitry Neyshtadt says he’s sick of the common rhetoric coming from the top of the personal finance industry.

“Not everybody wants to hear 60-year-old Dave Ramsey bark at them and tell them they have to count every latte in order to be financially successful because it’s not true,” says Dimitry, a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) and founder of 90DayMoneyPro.com.DimitryNeyshtadt-400x400

“You can have your cake and eat it, too. That’s my language. There’s a way to find optimal balance where you don’t feel like you’re choking yourself. It’s quite the contrary. You feel proud because you’re able to juggle all of the stuff you want to handle.”

Dimitry aims to be Bill Nye the Science Guy of personal finance, breaking down complex topics into easy-to-digest pieces.

“The #DebtFreeCommunity is something that I’ve always known was there and I’ve been a resource for showing them how to optimize their entire finances and not just thinking that debt-free equals financial success. You’ve got no debt, but you’ve got no money and no protection. You’re kinda fucked! I’m being real.”

That’s why seeing debt on a spectrum instead of deeming all debt bad is crucial, he says.

“When an individual listens to Dave Ramsey, it feels so one-on-one, but Dave is speaking to millions. And that’s where the challenge comes in. His Baby Steps are outdated. The best comparison is that old wiggling machine that can jiggle the fat off of people.”

Getting on that fat-jiggling machine, Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps plan, is better than sitting down on the couch and eating potato chips, Dimitry says.

“But it’s so outdated and inefficient. And it needs to be replaced with the truth. And the truth will set you free. I show folks how to turn their finances into a well-oiled machine.”

Wise Woman Wallet Fat Jiggler Machine

Learn about how much you should save for emergencies and how to pay off debt.