Living Below Financial Means

Why Living Below My Financial Means is the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

I have spent the vast majority of the last five years living paycheck to paycheck. In fact, it was only just a few months ago that it became realistic for me to spend less than I make.

Unfortunately, that’s the reality for most young adults (and many adultier-adults) right now. Housing is freaking expensive. Student debt is crippling. Cell phones and home internet are expensive necessities.

However, there are also a substantial number of people who make a great deal of money and still live paycheck to paycheck. In fact, as much as 44% of millennials who make $100,000 to $149,000 per year admit to living paycheck to paycheck.

Let me tell you, I don’t make close to $100,000. But last December I picked up enough high paying work to substantially increase my income overall.

I’m not a rub-it-in-your-face kind of person, but I think that it is important to discuss salary openly, so my friends all know that I got a substantial raise.

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of questions and comments:

When are you getting a new car?

Don’t tell me you can’t afford [whatever], I know how much you make!

When are you moving somewhere nicer?

Frugal cat says how about shut the fuck up

How I got to the point where I could afford to live below my means

By the middle of last year, I was living right at my means pretty comfortably. I could afford my rent. I could afford a reasonable grocery budget of $50/week, and didn’t have to worry about skipping meals or going to the food bank.

I could afford my car insurance and to eat out once per week.

But by the time each paycheck rolled around, I had about $20 left in my checking account.

I didn’t have crippling debt, but I didn’t have any extra cash either.

Then I got a raise. And the reason I now have extra cash is because I didn’t greatly expand my budget.

Where I Save Money

Save money on expensive car payments


It’s recommended that you keep your housing expenses around 25% of your gross income. Last fall I was spending around 23% of my gross income on rent.

Since getting a higher paying job, the same apartment I’ve been living in for the last year now only costs 12% of my gross income.

Don’t get me wrong, my apartment is a little run down and I don’t live in the nicest neighborhood, but I have enough space, a friendly and fair landlord, and I never feel unsafe in my home.

My Car

Similarly, if I wanted to, I could “afford” to drive a really nice car. However, by today’s standards, “afford” means putting $500 down and taking out a $20,000 auto loan with a hefty monthly payment + interest charges.

Instead, I am perfectly happy to keep my 2000 Hyundai Accent, which will probably last me another 5 years without major mechanical expenses.

Impulse Buys

I also try to keep my impulse buys to a minimum. If I find that I need or want something I don’t immediately go buy it, even though for most things I could.

For example, right now I have a DVD player but no remote. The DVD player I have is basically garbage anyway, so I should probably just go buy a new one. But I primarily watch Netflix, not movies, so spending $50 on a new DVD player probably isn’t a very smart use of money.

Cell Phone

Nowadays most individual smartphone plans cost from $60-$90 monthly, sometimes with additional “phone payments”.

Instead of having the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, I have an Alcatel OneTouch. While many plans will offer a 2 year payment plan for fancy phones, totalling up to $1000 over time, I have chosen to have a slightly less pretty, slightly slower phone for the total cost of $120.

I also have chosen to have slightly less reliable cell service through Cricket instead of Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint, so I pay $35/month instead of $80.


I take small road trips several times a year – sometimes to visit my family who live 650 miles away, and sometimes to do athletic competitions.

I took a trip to the Seattle area in April to celebrate my birthday, and I kept it affordable by:

  1. Bringing homemade sandwiches and snacks that I bought at the grocery store for the drive
  2. Renting an apartment on Airbnb instead of getting a hotel – I spent $60/night for a private apartment with 2 beds, a full bathroom, washer/dryer, and a full kitchen
  3. Eating at affordable restaurants
  4. Doing free and affordable activities – my mom and I spent most of our first day wandering the Pike Place Market, and the second day we went to the Tacoma Zoo and Aquarium

I’ll be heading to Colorado later this month, and I plan on staying with a friend instead of paying for a hotel.

Where I Splurge

I can’t say that I don’t spend any more money than I did on my former salary, but I don’t spend much more than $100 more a month.

Splurge on coffee shops

These are the few things that I have loosened my reigns on:

  • I go out for coffee 4 or 5 times per week instead of 2 or 3 (my order is only $2 anyway, so it’s not a huge spend)
  • I spend a little bit more on groceries (typically $45-$55 a month instead of $40-$50)
  • I have invested in a few larger home items: a desk, a bed, and soon I will be buying a window AC unit (I got the desk for $60 at a thrift store, and the bed for $80 at a yard sale, so they were still very inexpensive)

Everyone values different things – having a nice car may genuinely be important to you, while eating out or going out for coffee may be less important.

Why living below my means is the best choice I’ve ever made

My overall financial anxiety is substantially lower

Even now I feel like I can’t afford things. Every time I receive a paycheck I put a substantial chunk directly into savings, where I can’t access it with my debit card. By the time my next paycheck rolls around, my checking account may be feeling a little empty.

However, I don’t ever have to worry about money. Realistically I know that I can afford my rent every month. I can afford my rent even if my paycheck is a few days late, or there is an error with my deductions.

I can be spontaneous

If I wanted to, I could fly across the country this weekend and stay in a hotel in a city I’ve never been to. (In fact, if I wasn’t preparing for an athletic competition in a couple of weeks, I probably would be on my way to the East Coast as we speak.)

I can decide to go to a movie if I’m bored and restless on a Friday night, or I can treat myself to a nice meal to celebrate a small work victory.

While spontaneity may be easily confused with impulsivity, there are subtle differences. Leon F. Seltzer, PhD, describes spontaneous behavior as “natural, and in a good way”, and impulsive behavior as “impelled” or “driven”.

I can spend money to save money

Paying up front for things can often save you a little money, and when you can do it for everything it really adds up.

I can now pay for 6 months of car insurance instead of paying monthly, so I get a discount. I can afford to buy a 24-pack of toilet paper every once in a while instead of buying a 4-pack every week, so I am spending less overall.

Similarly, I can own my car outright instead of taking a loan or leasing.

I am prepared for emergencies

If my car breaks down or is wrecked, I can pay my insurance deductible, pay for repairs, or buy a new (used) car without worrying.

I can easily meet my health insurance deductible out of pocket, so even a medical emergency will not cripple my finances.

Most importantly, I can afford to take a huge pay cut if I ever lose my job and have to take a lower paying job, without compromising my current lifestyle.


Not being broke is awesome. Unfortunately it’s really hard to not be broke nowadays, especially in places where housing is expensive.

While it may not be possible for you not to live paycheck to paycheck right now, chances are you will eventually get a pay raise – and if you can keep your lifestyle at a similar level as today you will find that your financial troubles will become more and more manageable, until finally you’re one step ahead.

Ecommerce Insights from Amazon Reviews

3 Kickass E-Commerce Insights to Gain from Amazon Reviews

People will tell you their entire life story in the form of a series of Amazon reviews.

If you are an Amazon seller, if you sell a product that is also sold on amazon (whether you sell in a store or on your own e-commerce site), or if you know that your audience is crazy about a certain product that is sold on Amazon, there are a few different ways you can use Amazon to your advantage.

Building Personas With Amazon Reviews

I first realized the power of Amazon reviews when I was encouraged to use them as a consideration when building buyer personas.

Here are a few things you can often learn from Amazon reviews:


Many Amazon reviewers will have their approximate location listed on their profile.

Approximate Age

It’s usually pretty easy to tell the approximate age range of an Amazon reviewer. Style of language is one indicator, and products purchased as well. Some people will outright mention their age (“as a 43 year old woman, I think this style is…”)


Serial Amazon reviewers reveal a scary amount of information about their families. If you find someone who has reviewed a handful of items, you’ll often see them mentioning that the product they purchased was for their significant other.

Family details on Amazon reviews

You can often tell if the reviewer has children, and the approximate ages of their children as well. Look for purchases of toys and items commonly used by children, as well as mention such as “I bought this for my 3 year old daughter” “this fit my son very well”.

Disposable Income

The volume and types of purchases will give you an idea of whether or not this individual has substantial disposable income (or whether they spend as if they do, regardless of their actual financial state).

Keep in mind:

It’s likely that only a percentage of your customers shop on Amazon, and an even smaller percentage are serial reviewers. Amazon buyers are probably not your only demographic, and personas built from Amazon reviews probably do not generalize to your entire audience.

Generating Content Ideas with Amazon Reviews

There are two main sources of content ideas that I have found with Amazon reviews.

Reviews of your own products

Reviews left on your own products (or on products that you sell independently from Amazon) are incredible to help you improve your sales copy, as well as blog posts and other forms of content.

First and foremost, reviews give you real-world examples of how people describe your products – which helps you speak the same language as your customers.

This can be helpful in terms of keyword research, because they may give you insight into key phrases that are being used to identify your product’s features, as well as help you connect with customers with sales copy and blog content.

Other product types commonly purchased

Sometimes two seemingly unrelated products are often bought in tandem. For example, if you sell stationary, you may find that your customers are also fitness fanatics and purchase gym bags, athletic clothes, and workout videos.

There is likely no causation in the relationship – people do not buy fitness equipment because they write in journals, and they do not like sticky notes because they wear athletic clothes, but with your knowledge of your products and industry you may be able to hypothesize as to why there may be a relationship: workout fanatics use your stationary to record their workouts.

Using Amazon reviews to understand buying patterns

If you can truly find new insight and connections, it will open new ideas for content that you may never have otherwise thought of. With the example of stationary and fitness, you might decide to write a blog post about workout essentials, or if you list your journal’s many uses on your product page you might mention that it is perfect for recording workouts.

Link Building

Similarly to your own site’s content, learning about connections between your products and a different category of products can help inspire your link building and SEO efforts.

Guest Posting

Using Amazon reviews to find related product categories will help you find different places that you might be able to guest post.

For example, if you know that fitness fanatics also love your journals, you may think to pitch an article idea like “5 Things to Know Before Buying Your Next Workout Journal“, or “5 Products to Make Your Fitness Routine More Fun” to a fitness blog.

Backlinking Related Non-Competitors

Your super cute stationary company may not compete directly with Lululemon, but if a good chunk of your customers are die-hard Lulu fans, there are probably a few pages that link to Lululemon that might also link to you.

This is a great way to find related resource pages that you might also fit on (think: gym essentials links).


Using Amazon reviews can help you better understand a certain segment of your audience, and help you get your creative juices flowing when you feel like you’re in a content rut.

Don't Rely on Pinterest Diversify Blog Traffic

Why Your Blog Shouldn’t Rely on Pinterest Traffic

It seems to me that there’s been a recent surge in the popularity of Pinterest in the last few months. Several Pinterest “gurus” have emerged with courses teaching you how to get gazillions of followers and jillions of pageviews from Pinterest.

I’ve recently seen bloggers bragging, “I get 90% of my traffic from Pinterest!”

Let me tell you – that’s not a good thing! – I cringe every time I hear someone say it.

Wait, Doesn’t More Pinterest Traffic = Better?

street traffic

Getting blog traffic from Pinterest is awesome – and if you’ve worked hard to improve your Pinterest and are seeing results, it’s certainly something to be proud of.

However, if you are getting 90% of your traffic from Pinterest and suddenly things change, will your traffic plummet into the abyss?

Will your blog and business be able to recover if, overnight, Pinterest changes their algorithm and your Pins are no longer favored in search, shared, and clicked on?

If in six months Pinterest becomes obsolete, will you still have a steady source of traffic and income, even with only a small fraction of the traffic from Pinterest that you once had?

Why You Should Strive to Have Diversity in Traffic Sources

It’s bad to have a single traffic source dominate your website, whether the source is Pinterest, Facebook, email, or Google.

For example, one of the companies I work for used to make a substantial amount of money from paid search advertising. The company came into a conflict with Google at the end of January, and now three months later, we still have not been able to recover the thousands of dollars of monthly revenue we had been making from that channel.

Google PPC Crash

This same company made up for that PPC loss largely by putting more efforts into Facebook advertising, and in March a new algorithmic update cut our social advertising traffic in half too.

Luckily, we’ve been able to improve our organic search traffic almost by double, as well as make up for lost revenue with email marketing campaigns and more organic social efforts – and despite that we lost one of our biggest drivers of revenue last month, we are still having our best month in the history of the company.

If our plans A, B, and C were all the same – either PPC or social media advertising, it’s likely that the company would be getting ready to close its doors.

Similarly, if your plan A, B, and C are all Pinterest, and you’ve put hundreds of hours into building up a huge percentage of your traffic from that platform, a tiny algorithm change could completely ruin your business.

Blog traffic sources

So Should You Ignore Pinterest Altogether?

If Pinterest sends your website high-quality traffic, by all means focus on improving your Pinterest efforts.

In fact, I have done just that for a few different websites that I work with, and in just the span of a month we’ve gone from a few of visits daily from Pinterest to ten or twenty times that.

If you think that Pinterest is a good traffic source, spend a month focusing on learning more about the platform and how to best use it, creating more “Pinnable” images, and optimizing your Pinterest profile to maximize any and all of the changes you make.

After you’ve wholly re-vamped your page and have started seeing the traffic increase, find a way to maintain the momentum with less effort so that you can focus on other platforms as well.

How to cut back your time on Pinterest, while still maintaining a strong presence:

  • Create 1-5 strong blog image templates so that it only takes a few minutes to create an incredible, branded image perfect for Pinterest
  • Consider automating some of your more time-consuming tasks (for example, I use BoardBooster to re-pin images from my “blog” board to different group boards automatically)
  • Make the most out of your engagement by visiting[] and “like” and thank users who pinned things from your blog

Other ways to drive traffic to your site

After you see that your Pinterest is rocking it and sending you tons of traffic, consider focusing on other channels to balance out your traffic.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Focus on building your email list
  • Experiment with social media advertising on Facebook and Twitter
  • Make intentional efforts to improve your on-site SEO
  • Build a valuable resource and see if other websites will link to it

If you hope to one day have a successful blog or online business, growing your Pinterest traffic is a great idea – but it’s always important to keep your traffic sources diverse so your fate isn’t determined by algorithmic changes or the decline of the latest popular platform.

Censoring my Personal Brand Online

Why I Choose Not to Censor My Personal Brand Online

If you haven’t noticed, my personal brand is big, bad, and sassy.

Or something like that.

I use curse words sometimes. I talk about controversial topics sometimes or I talk about non-controversial topics in controversial ways. I post pictures in my sports bras and shorty-shorts.

Sometimes people give me crap about my Instagram because ladies “should” act or dress a certain way *cough my boyfriend*.

Let’s first get this out there.

Ladies should act and dress however the fuck they want

Oh, and for those of you who are visual learners, we can cater to you too:

women living uncensored lives

End of story. Get those narrow, utterly offensive preconceived notions of what women “should” and “shouldn’t” do out of your head right now.

Yes, some attire is more setting-appropriate than other attire. No, that doesn’t mean I would ever walk into an office wearing these shorts:

A photo posted by Annie Singer (@singerswings) on

But I am also going to be unafraid to wear short shorts, and I’m going to be unafraid to wear crop tops and bathing suits in settings where I find it appropriate.

But Annie, people will sexualize your body

Uncensored personal branding

(image by Burnside Photography)

Guess what? People will sexualize my body no matter fucking what.

People sexualize my body when I’m at the store wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

People sexualize my body when I’m walking down the sidewalk in baggy sweats.

When I post fitness pictures in a sports bra, I am not sexualizing my body. Other people will, and I understand that, but most any reasonable person will understand that when I post a flexing picture, the sentiment of my post is “gish dang look me so strng”, not “ooh-la-la I’m so sexy”.

If someone wants to sexualize my body and leave an inappropriate comment, I can easily delete it and block them. If they decide to solicit me in real life, I can exercise the wonderful power of the word “no”.

But is it okay to post sexy/sexualized pictures?

You own your body. There is nothing inherently wrong with posting sexy, sexualized, and/or nude pictures (unless you are under age).

What’s posted online can easily be seen by anyone, even if you have your profiles set to private, so keep in mind what you personally are okay with the world seeing and what repercussions there may be.

But Annie, what if your mom or dad saw those pictures, or saw a post where you used curse words or talked about poop?

Hi Mom, hi Dad.

Guess what? My parents follow my social media accounts and blogs.

They read and share my posts, even some of the ones that talk about tattoos or have the F word in it.

You know why it doesn’t bother me?

  • My parents birthed me. They used to wipe my butt. They are not going to be offended by a picture of me in a bra
  • They do not own my body, and they can’t (and don’t try to) tell me what to do with my body
  • My parents will be the last ones to sexualize my body, not the first. They understand that I am passionate about fitness, and that I am proud of my body
  • My parents can disagree with things that I say or wear without losing respect for me as a person

Actually, the typical rule I go by is if I wouldn’t want my parents to see it, I don’t post it.

But Annie, what if a future employer sees your Instagram or blog?

Censoring personal brand

Future employers will see my Instagram, blog, and other facets of my online presence.

I am okay with that.

In fact, I have already gotten legitimate marketing work from my Instagram page.

Do you know why?

Because employers are interested in hiring people who have a proven track record of their work. If I tell businesses that I can grow their website or Instagram or Pinterest account, then it’s a benefit to me to have a strong presence online.

I am confident in my ability to get work

My problem is not that I can’t find work, it’s that I don’t hardly have the time to do all of the work that I have.

I “accidentally” get jobs more often than not. I get jobs from people who find me on social media. I get jobs from local business owners whom I know personally. I get jobs from business associates who have involvement with other projects.

There undoubtedly will be a time in the future where I am looking for work, and there’s a slight chance that pictures of me in a sports bra on Instagram will negatively impact my ability to land a job.

However I work hard to build up as many opportunities as possible at all times.

If my current job fails for some reason or another, I already have my toes in the door on two other projects run by the company’s manager.

If SEO stops being such an in-demand skillset, then it’s probably a good thing that I am also experienced in social media and other forms of digital marketing, and even better that I will soon have a master’s degree in marketing research.

I have made it a goal for myself to save six months’ worth of living cost to have as a cushion at all times in case there is another recession in the foreseeable future – and if all else fails, I do not see it as “below” me to work at a fast food restaurant, retail store, or temp agency.

I undoubtedly will lose future opportunities based on my choices

But I can say confidently that sporty pictures on Instagram will never make or break my lifestyle, even if it causes a hiring manager to turn up their nose.

I have tattoos all over, including places that cannot be hidden. I post “immodest” pictures, and I use language that some people find offensive.

I acknowledge that I am not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s okay, because not everyone else is my cup of tea.


Do you censor your online brand?

Why or why not?

How to Lower Your Bounce Rate

How to Lower Your Bounce Rate with Google Tag Manager + Engaging Content

My blog is still in its infancy, but in the three months that it has been alive, my bounce rate has averaged at 13.93%.

What is Bounce Rate?

What is bounce rate?

Bounce rate is a metric provided by Google Analytics. Their definition is, “the percentage of single-page sessions (i.e. sessions in which the person left your site from the entrance page without interacting with the page).”

In simpler terms?

Bounce rate is the percentage of people who reach your site and immediately leave without engaging.

What Bounce Rate Should You Aim For?

Bloggers and webmasters typically try to keep their bounce rate as low as possible. According to Kissmetrics, the average bounce rate is around 40% – higher for lead generation and single page sites, and lower for retail and service sites.

If your bounce rate is higher than average, don’t worry about comparing yourself to others – aim to improve your bounce rate by a small percentage every month.

How to Keep Your Bounce Rate Low

As long as you’ve got reasonable control over your blog or website, it shouldn’t be very hard to lower your bounce rate. Here are a few ideas to help:

Change What Bounce Rate Means with Google Tag Manager

One of the reasons my bounce rate is so low is because I have changed the definition of “bounce rate” so that it is a more useful metric to me.

Instead of indicating single-page visits, I have doctored it so that “bounce rate” indicates people who:

  • Only visit one page of my site
  • Do not scroll through at least 10% of the landing page
  • Do not engage by clicking on buttons or external links
  • Do not spend at least 30 seconds on my site

You can define what you want Google to measure as bounces based on the goals for your site. Because my site is primarily content to be read (and I have no major e-commerce or revenue goals), I consider a user’s visit successful if they spend a reasonable amount of time or scroll through the content to read more.

If you would like to start tracking scrolling as events to re-define your bounce rate, Lunametrics has an easy way to do this through Google Tag Manager. They also have a guide to change the way GA and GTM track the time spent on your page, which improves the accuracy of Google Analytic’s measurement of time on site as well as changing the meaning of bounce rate to exclude visitors who spend a certain amount of time on your site.

Don’t have Google Tag Manager set up on your site? Here’s an easy guide to get you started.

Write Engaging Content

Write engaging blog content to lower your bounce rate

I’m not gonna lie – my content is pretty kickass.

I have heard that as a “best practice”, it is good to keep your blog posts between 400-600 words.

I call bullshit.

So far almost all of my posts have been 800+ words, many of them being over 1000 words.

I find that well-researched posts that cover a fairly specific topic in great depth have the most success on my blog. List-posts also do reasonably well, but only if they provide actual information that someone might not know off the top of their head.

Other things that keep my blog engaging include:

  • Using high quality, relevant images
  • Making posts easy to read by breaking them up with headers and bullet lists
  • Being generally friendly and responsive in the comments to encourage future engagement

Promote Your Blog to Specific Audiences

Your bounce rate will also largely depend on where you get your traffic, and what your users expect when they visit your site.

If you place a search engine ad for the search term “best baked chicken recipe”, and the link leads to a page about vegetarianism, chances are users are going to high-tail it out of there immediately.

Similarly, if you Pin an image of a delicious meal with text that reads “Click for the complete recipe for the best baked chicken ever”, and the link leads to your vegetarian page, the users’ expectations will not be met and you will quickly lose your readers.

Making sure your title tags and meta description are very true to your content is one way to ensure that visitors that find you through organic search will stick around. If you make promises in the SERPs that your content doesn’t follow through with, people will have an unpleasant experience and leave, never to return.

Here are a few examples of sources of traffic that have the lowest bounce rate for my blog:

Annie Singer ME Bounce Rate

Here are a few examples of sources of traffic that have a higher bounce rate:

Annie Singer ME High Bounce Rate

From this data I can begin to make a few educated assumptions.

Perhaps I should spend more time and energy on gaining Referrals by doing more outreach to other bloggers.

I might want to stay away from StumbleUpon because the majority of visitors coming from that source bounce from my site. Alternatively, I might want to ask myself what the user’s expectations are of my site when thy come from StumbleUpon, and find a way to improve my content so that it meets that audience’s needs.


Bounce rate is not a make-or-break metric, but it can give you insight into how your sight is performing in relation to your personal or business goals. If you run a content-heavy blog that is not a major source of revenue, bounce rate can provide great insight into how engaging your website is, and if you do have more specific events set up through Google Analytics, bounce rate can be engineered to provide you insight no matter your goals.


Are you happy with your site’s bounce rate?

What tactics have you used to help improve your bounce rate?