The Answers to All Your Credit Freeze Questions


Posted On: September 15, 2017  |    Posted by: Broke Millennial®

The Equifax data breach is the first time I’ve felt a sense of dread over hackers stealing personal information from a company. This isn’t just about  credit card numbers, names, and maybe addresses being sold on the dark web. I’ve had my credit card (and even debit card) compromised before and it’s not a huge headache to handle. This Equifax breach though, that’s all the important personal information down to Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and possibly driver’s license numbers. It’s wrapping up everything an identity thief to make your life miserable.

Like 143 million other Americans, I had the pleasure of receiving this delightful message from Equifax:

You can check for yourself if you’ve been impacted by going here.

TrustedID Premier is Equifax’s credit monitoring and identity theft protection service. I’ll be honest, I’m not terribly inclined to put my faith in the company that compromised my information to protect said private information moving forward.

Instead of immediately enrolling in TrustedID Premier, I decided to get a little more hands on and put a credit freeze on my credit reports across all three bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). When I first published this post around 4 pm on September 15, 2017 – I had been unable to get through to put the credit freeze on my Equifax report. The credit bureau claimed it’s due to the high demand which is creating technical issues. I have been able to put freezes on Experian and TransUnion. Later that night around 11:40 pm, I was able to get through and freeze Equifax as well.

At this point, you’ve probably read the advice to put a credit freeze on your reports elsewhere in the news – so I’ve had a lot of questions from readers, friends, and family about what exactly that means and what a credit freeze does. So let’s dive into everything credit freeze!


When you apply for credit – whether that’s a credit card, auto loan, mortgage, or any other kind – the lender pulls your credit report in the process to determine if you are a reliable borrower. Think of a credit freeze as the ultimate way to shut down a lender being able to pull your credit report. When a lender tries to pull a frozen credit report, the lender receives a message indicating the report is frozen. You as the rightful owner of said credit report will have a pin number that will give you the ability to temporarily thaw or permanently unfreeze your report in order to give a lender access.

If the person requesting the loan or line of credit is unable to thaw the report, then the lender will also know it’s likely a fraudster.


A credit freeze is one of the most proactive measures you can put in place to deal with the threat of identity theft. All the necessary information for an identity takeover could be floating around or already sold right now due to the data breach. That means people could be applying for mortgages, buying cars, getting cell phone plans, and opening credit cards in your name. When that debt goes to collections – the debtors are coming a knocking on your door.

Freezing your credit report with all three credit bureaus now is going to make it much harder for thieves to use your information in nefarious ways.


Yes, just Equifax experienced the data breach – but the compromised information is all a thief needs to start assuming your identity. Let’s say a scammer named Sammi has my data. Sammi can head over to Chase and get a personal loan as Erin Lowry. Now it’s important to know that lenders are not always pulling all three credit reports. Instead, maybe Chase only uses TransUnion reports. If I only freeze the Equifax report, but it’s not the one the lender pulls, then Sammi has no problem getting a loan as Erin.


For the most part, your existing lines of credit will remain largely unaffected by your decision to freeze your credit reports. You can still use your credit cards, your mortgage will be fine, student loan debts are still a burden, and your auto loan will be intact. However, if you want to change any current lines of credit, such as refinancing student loan debt or asking for a credit limit increase, then you may need to thaw your reports to grant access to your lenders.


You’ll also be able to still access your own credit reports after issuing a freeze. By federal law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus per year. Go to to pull your reports. It’s also a great idea to do this soon to check for any irregularities and, assuming it’s all correct, get a sense of what your report should look like.


One of the biggest questions I keep receiving is some iteration of “I’m trying to improve my credit. How will freezing my report impact my credit score?”

The freeze itself will not negatively impact your score because your current lines of credit will just keep reporting per usual.


The first step to continuing to improve your credit score is to keep making on time payments every month. The second is to keep the utilization rates (amount of available credit you’re using) on your credit cards nice and low. The ideal is less than 30% per month.

As long as you keep making those moves (or paying down credit card debt to get towards the ideal utilization), then you’ll keep seeing improvements in your score.

For those with healthy scores already, just keep maintaining those good behaviors after the freeze and all will be well – assuming there isn’t ID Theft that sends debt to collections.


The process is quite painless. You’ll be asked basic information including full name, Social Security number, birth date, current address, and last address if you’ve moved in the last two years. Then you’ll be taken through a series of questions to confirm your identity, which usually revolve around where you’ve lived and your previous or current lines of credit. Don’t be too freaked if there is one or two to which you answer “none of the above” or “does not apply”.  You’ll receive confirmation of the freeze along with a pin number. Protect the pin number!

You can initiate the process with each credit bureau online by using the links below:


You’ll either be assigned or asked to create a pin number when you set up your credit freeze. It will be a unique pin with each credit bureau. Do not lose this pin! It’s what you will need to unfreeze or thaw your credit report. It will become incredibly difficult to unfreeze if you lose your pin number. Also, don’t store your pin in your email.


Yes, a credit freeze can cost money depending on your state. It’s generally free if you’ve been the victim of identity theft, but in some cases you do need to file a police report to formerly claim you’ve been a victim. The cost is generally no more than $15 per credit bureau if you don’t file as a victim of identity theft and often times states allow you to freeze for free the first time.

You can learn more about the fees in your state by clicking here. 


You might be in the middle of applying for credit or about to shop around for a mortgage, auto loan or student loan refinancing. If any of those things are happening in the next month, then it’s best to just keep an eye out for unusual activity but hold off on freezing until after you secure your loan. But if it’s more like three to six months away, then it may be in your best interest to freeze now and do a temporary thaw later when you’re ready to shop around.


Not convinced that a credit freeze is the way to go? Then you could place fraud alerts on your credit reports. It won’t freeze your reports, but alerts potential lenders that you may have been the victim of fraud and that the lender should take extra precautions before granting a line of credit. Generally, a fraud alert will last 90 days, but you can ask to extend for up to seven years. You will need an identity theft report in order to place an extended alert on your reports.

It’s not a bad option, but doesn’t give quite as much protection as the freeze because a fraudster may have the necessary information needed to answer the questions a lender could ask to verify your identity.


Unfortunately, a credit freeze isn’t a cure-all for the Equifax data breach or any identity theft. It certainly helps mitigate some of your risk, but you still need to be vigilant for issues like medical identity theft as well as tax fraud. With your name, address, birth date, and Social Security number – fraudsters could claim to be you in order to receive medical care and that bill is either coming to you or going to collections and landing on your report. You may also have an issue with someone filing as you for a fake tax return. You’d find out about that when you file your own annual return and it reports that you’ve already filed. Neither of these require credit reports to be pulled, so a credit freeze isn’t much help.

You can try to beat any fraudster to the tax return issue by filing early instead of waiting until the April 15th deadline. Medical debt is a bit harder to defend against other than monitoring your credit report and flagging misinformation. Unfortunately, it will still be quite a headache for you if a medical debt goes to collections as it will tank your credit score while you fight to prove it’s not your debt.


You have to keep your guard up for a long time now. Identity theft isn’t just a short-term problem. That information isn’t going to be changing, so it could be months or years before you may have your identity compromised.

Be vigilant for phishing scams via email, snail mail, or the phone. Don’t give anyone information about your insurance plans, more identifying information, or bank details. Keep an eye on all your existing accounts as well. Set up any alerts available to you for bank accounts and credit cards so you can be notified of a scam charge or transfer immediately. This hack could mean they’re coming for your existing accounts, not just making new ones in your name.

You can also start to brush up on how to handle identity theft by reading the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft action plan.




Are You Using Social Media or Being Used By It?


October 2nd, 2017

A Social Experiment

If you, like many people, use social media and generally agree that it’s an important technology, try the following experiment.

Take out a piece of paper and list your most important uses for these services — the activities that social media is well-suited to provide and that unambiguously enrich your life. This list, for example, might include items like:

  • The ability to see new photos of your nephews, nieces, or grandchildren.
  • The Facebook Group used to run a local organization you belong to.
  • The  hashtag that keeps you up to date with the latest news from an activist movement that you support.

The social media industrial complex* likes to point to lists like these to justify its importance. “It would be crazy to dismiss our technology,” they cry, “look at all these useful things people do with it!”

But here’s the second part of the experiment: estimate honestly how much time it would take per week to satisfy these important uses. In my experience, for most people, the answer is around 15 – 30 minutes.

And yet, the average American adult social media user spends two hours per day on these services, with almost half this time dedicated to Facebook products alone.

This is the disconnect that the social media industrial complex doesn’t want you to notice. They want the conversation to stop at the assertion that social media isn’t useless, and then hope people move on without questioning the specific role these services have claimed on their limited and valuable time and attention.

The social media business model depends on this oversight.

To be more concrete, I claim that most users could probably reap 95% of the value they get out of social media by signing in twice a week, on a desktop or laptop, to catch up on the latest photos, or check their organization’s group, or to browse the most recent chatter relevant to a movement they care about. Let’s called this controlled use of these services.

Social media companies cannot reach multi-billion dollar valuations, or return consistent stock growth to their investors, based on controlled use. What they need is compulsive use, which is what happens when you launch the app on your phone with some important goal in mind, and then thirty minutes later look up and realize you’ve been snagged into an addictive streak of low-value tapping, liking, and swiping.

As former Google employee and whistleblower Tristan Harris explains, these companies carefully engineer their products — especially the versions readily available through apps on your phone — to exploit psychological weak spots to trap you into compulsive use. For example:

  • The “like” button? This was added to inject more intermittent reinforcement into the social media browsing experience — significantly increasing the amount of times people check their accounts.
  • The ability to “tag” people in your posted photos? The primary purpose of this feature (which, when considered objectively, is really pretty arbitrary) is to create a new stream of social approval indicators — something our tribal brains are evolved to take deadly seriously, and therefore induces people — surprise, surprise — to significantly increase the amount of times they check their accounts.

With this in mind, I’m going to stop short of asking you (yet again — I was chagrined to recently learn that I’m the top two results when you google “Quit Social Media”) to consider leaving these services altogether. Instead, let me make a suggestion that the social media industrial complex fears far more: change your relationship with these services to shift from compulsive to controlled use.

Still use social media, if you must: but on a schedule; just a handful of times a week; preferably on a desktop to laptop, which tames the most devastatingly effective psychological exploitations baked into the phone apps.

You have very little to lose, as controlled use preserves all of the things you seriously value from these services, but have so much to gain when you decide there’s a better use for that extra 13.5 hours a week than helping prop up real estate prices in Northern California.


This is my somewhat facetious term for the powerful combination of the massive social media platform monopolies, and the growing sector of the knowledge tech economy — gurus, consultants, online brand managers, etc. — that depends on the belief that social media is fundamental to modern commerce and life.



Approach Technology Like the Amish


September 18th, 2017

Kevin Kelly and the Amish

Eight years after dropping out of college to wander Asia, Kevin Kelly returned home to America, bought an inexpensive bike, and made a meandering 5,000 mile journey across the country. As he recalls in his original and insightful 2010 book, What Technology Wants, the “highlight” of the bike tour was “gliding through the tidy farmland of the Amish in eastern Pennsylvania.”

Kelly ended up returning to the Amish on multiple occasions during the years that followed his first encounter, allowing him to develop a nuanced understanding of how these communities approach technology. As he reveals in Chapter 11 of his book, the common idea that the Amish reject all modern technology is a myth. The reality is not only more interesting, but it also has important implications for our current culture.

As Kelly puts it: “In any discussion about the merits of avoiding the addictive grasp of technology, the Amish stand out as offering an honorable alternative.”

Given such a strong endorsement, it seems worthwhile to briefly summarize what Kelly uncovered during these visits to rural Pennsylvania…

The Amish and Technology

“Amish lives are anything but anti-technological,” Kelly writes. “I have found them to be ingenious hackers and tinkers, the ultimate makers and do-it-yourselvers. They are often, surprisingly, pro-technology.”

He explains that the simple notion of the Amish as Luddites vanishes as soon as you approach a standard Amish farm. “Cruising down the road you may see an Amish kid in a straw hat and suspenders zipping by on Rollerblades.”

Some Amish communities use tractors, but only with metal wheels so they cannot drive on roads like cars. Some allow a gas-powered wheat thresher but require horses to pull the “smoking contraption.” Personal phones (cellular or household) are almost always prohibited, but many communities maintain a community phone booth.

Almost no Amish communities allow automobile ownership, but it’s common for Amish to travel in cars driven by others.

Kelly reports that both solar panels and diesel electric generators are common, but it’s usually forbidden to connect to the larger municipal power grid.

Disposable diapers are popular as are chemical fertilizers.

In one memorable passage, Kelly talks about visiting a family that uses a $400,000 computer-controlled precision milling machine to produce pneumatic parts needed by the community. The machine is run by the family’s bonnet-wearing, 10-year old daughter. It’s housed behind their horse stable.

These observations dismiss the common belief that the Amish reject any technology invented after the 19th century. So what’s really going on here?

The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backwards to ask whether a given technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.

As Kelly explains, when a new technology rolls around, there’s typically an “alpha geek” in any given Amish community that will ask the parish bishops permission to try it out. Usually the bishops will agree. The whole community will then observe this first adopter “intently,” trying to discern the ultimate impact of the technology on the things the community values most.

If this impact is deemed more negative than helpful the technology is prohibited. Otherwise it’s allowed, but usually with caveats on its use that optimize its positives and minimize its negatives.

The reason most Amish are prohibited to own cars, for example, has to do with their impact on the social fabric of the community. As Kelly explains:

“When cars first appeared at the turn of the last century, the Amish noticed that drivers would leave the community to go picnicking or sightseeing in other towns, instead of visiting family or the sick on Sundays, or patronizing local shops on Saturday. Therefore the ban on unbridled mobility was intended to make it hard to travel far and to keep energy focused in the local community. Some parishes did this with more strictness than others.”

This also explains why an Amish farmer can own a solar panel but not connect to the power grid. The problem is not electricity, it’s the fact that the grid connects them toostrongly to the world outside of their local community, violating the Amish commandment to “be in the world, but not of it.”

The Original Digital Minimalists

I titled this post: Approach Technology Like the Amish. To be clear, I don’t mean that you should adopt the specific values of Amish life, as these are based primarily on their often illiberal and admittedly esoteric religious beliefs.

What I do mean, however, is that you should consider adopting their same thoughtfulness in approaching technology. The Amish are clear about what they value, and new technologies are evaluated by their impact on these values. The key is building a good life — not fretting about missing out on some minor short term pleasure or interesting diversion.

(If we held ourselves to this same standard, I suspect, many fewer people would own Apple watches.)

Later in this chapter, Kelly asks the key question: “This method works for the Amish, but can it work for the rest of us?”

He then answers: “I don’t know.”

I’m more confident than Kelly. I think something like this method can work for the rest of us, especially once you replace Amish values with your personal values, and the decree of your parish bishops with your own honest self-assessment.

In fact, I even have a name for such a philosophy: digital minimalism.

(Photo by frankieleon)



The Silliest Savings Strategy I’ve Ever Tried

Posted On: September 20, 2017  |    Posted by: Broke Millennial®

To the befuddlement of my millennial peers, I’m a huge fan of cash. Personally, I blame growing up in Japan and China where cash not only was, but still largely is, king. I use my credit cards a lot (hello, reward points!) – but I will always have at least some cash on my person and routinely will do a cash diet for a week or two just for a little reboot. I give you all this context because I’ve been trying out the silliest savings strategy ever for about 3 months.

For the last 3 months, I’ve been saving all my $5 bills.

How it works

Anytime I make a purchase and I receive a $5 bill with my change, I come home and put that $5 bill into a candy tin. Yes, an actual candy tin, which is a habit I’ve had since childhood.

You can imagine how I will sometimes try to game the system now when I’m paying with cash. I go to purchase a $5 latte and look in my wallet to see a $20 bill and a $10. You bet I’m using that $10 because I hate getting three $5 bills back as change these days. Or, when I just have a $20, you’ll see my trying to telepathically communicate with the cashier to please give me a $10 and either one $5 or, depending on the day, five singles!

Getting three $5 bills makes me cringe.

In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure which blog post or tweet inspired this strategy, but I’m always down to check out the equivalent of a personal finance fad diet. Not to mention, I wanted to try a manual way to play around with my savings now that I disconnected from Digit after the platform started charging.

What’s the point?

I’m generally a pretty good saver, but things have been a bit more volatile as a freelancer. I put aside 40% of every freelance paycheck to cover taxes and some retirement savings. Then I generally like to save an additional 10% to 20% for savings goals, assuming I’m earning enough that month to save 50% to 60% and still be able to cover all my living expenses. This $5 challenge makes me feel like I’m doing just a little bit more.

There’s not quite as much structure to this version of cash savings compared others like the 52-week challenge where you add a dollar to how much you’re saving each week. You start with $1 and then in week two you save $2 (so $3 total), week 3 you save $3 (so $6 total) and then $4 ($10 total) and you get the point until you’ve reached week 52 and you’ve managed to save $1,387.

I’ve saved $185 in three months. That’s not a ton of money by any means, but I’m going to keep this up for a year and then decide where to put my cash. Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve mentally already got it earmarked for the honeymoon fund! It’s on track to pay for a couple of fancy dinners or to splurge on an indulgent experience.



Are We Going to Allow Smartphones to Destroy a Generation?

teen-smartphone-640pxAugust 20th, 2017

The iGen Problem

Many people recently sent me the same article from the current issue of The Atlantic. It’s titled, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”, and it’s written by Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.

The article describes Twenge’s research on iGen, her name for kids born between 1995 and 2012 — the first generation to grow up with smartphones. Here’s a short summary of her alarming conclusions:

“It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”

I won’t bother describing all of Twenge’s findings here. If you’re interested, read the original article, or her new book on the topic, which comes out this week.

The point I want to make instead is that in my position as someone who researches and writes on related topics,  I’ve started to hear this same note of serious alarm from multiple different reputable sources — including the head of a well-known university’s mental health program, and a reporter currently bird-dogging the topic for a major national publication.

In other words, I don’t think this growing concern about the mental health impact of smartphones on young people is simply nostalgia-tinged, inter-generational ribbing.

Something really scary is probably going on.

My prediction is that we’re going to see a change in the next 2 – 5 years surrounding how parents think about the role of smartphones in their kids’ lives. There will be a shift from shrugging our shoulders and saying “what can we do?”, to squaring our shoulders and asking with more authority, “what are we going to do?”

(Photo by Pabak Sarkar)



Attention Broke Students: How You Can Actually Graduate Debt Free


According to Yahoo News, the average amount of student debt that a student holds upon graduation is $25,250. The total amount of student debt carried by Americans is estimated to be $870 billion.

That sucks. Student debt will hold you back in your 20s because all of your money will be spent on paying back the money that you owe. You won’t be able to travel, take risks, or live the life that you want if you’re always thinking about the money that you owe. Life in your late-20s is way better when you have money.

I also found this stat over at Forbes:

“The numbers say it all: Since 1985, the price of college has increased a staggering 538%. Average student loan debt is approaching $30,000 per grad. And more than 50% of recent grads are either jobless or underemployed.”

How much student debt do you have under your belt right now? How much money will you owe by the time that you graduate from college?

Graduate college debt free

Everyone accepts student loans as a part of life. We justify it by claiming that college is an investment or an expense. We don’t look into ways to avoid student debt. We don’t try to get creative. We just get into debt and then figure out a way to pass our courses without missing a party.

Don’t you wish that you could just get your degree without owing thousands of dollars at the end?

Dumb question.

Guess what?

I graduated from college with zero debt and I want to show you how you can pull this off too!

I’m here to say screw student debt. You don’t have to be plagued with debt until you’re 40 and your hair is falling out. You should be able to enjoy life in your 20s and travel the worldas much as possible.

How can you graduate from college debt free?

I’ll share with you exactly how I was able to complete my studies with money saved up in the bank and not owing a penny.

I also never missed any party. I had a blast in college and created memories that are going to last a lifetime. If I can do it, anyone can.

Living arrangements.

This is the biggest expense in college because student housing isn’t really cheap. You also have to live on your own for the first time. This creates multiple challenges.

Where are you going to live?

You have many options for where you can actually live as a student. If you move out-of-town, you’re going to have to spend money on rent. You can optimize your living situation by finding roommates that will help you bring down the cost of this expense.

I wanted to share three examples of saving money on housing that I’ve seen first hand…

Example #1: I saved a boat load of money by living at home.

I went to a school that was an hour commute by public transportation. I commuted every single day and saved money on living expenses by an astronomical amount.

The major caveat here is that being at home is lame. Yes, living with your parents greatly impacts your love life and forces you to become creative when it comes to your dates if you know what I mean.

The only way that I survived was by visiting friends and family out-of-town that lived on their own. I would only recommend this option to those of you that have a strong relationship with your parents and can survive living at home without snapping (not everyone).

Example #2: A cousin of mine saved money on living by being in a program that had work terms.

This meant that he would alternate between school full-time and then work full-time. As a result of this, he was able to save enough money to cover his living expenses.

Example #3: My brother found decent rent by living with like five other buddies.

They rented out a huge house in a college town and this brought the rent down a bit. It also increased the fun, as you could only imagine.

I must note that I likely would’ve ended up in debt if I moved away for college. I sacrificed huge by staying in town and living at home. This isn’t for everyone. It will suck. What doesn’t suck is having money in your 20s. It’s your call as to if you can survive staying at home. The one thing that made staying at home worth it was that I would plan many small trips throughout the year so that I always had something to look forward to.

The next expense is another killer…


Tuition is insanely expensive to put it kindly. Every year you can spend the equivalent of a downpayment on a new home on tuition.

I’m going to share a huge secret with you right now:

You don’t have to apply for student loans to pay your tuition!

You have the following options:

  • Work during college.
  • Work all summer.
  • Apply for all forms of funding to cover the expensive costs associate with tuition.

There are many options when it comes finding free money in college. Every college has all sorts of scholarships, bursaries, and awards offered.

All you have to do is apply. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no!

Go apply right now for free money (scholarships are one essay away)!

I was able to save money on tuition by applying for various scholarships, bursaries, and by even finding a loophole.

What was the loophole that I found? I discovered that at my school you can enrol as a part-time student and then take a full course load by just paying extra for the courses. The best part was that I was able to save one thousand dollars per semester simply by applying this strategy. Not all schools will have loopholes, but I guarantee you that every college offers some sort of financial assistance.

Never accept the tuition fees as final. Find any scholarship or financial assistance that you can. Spend all day on that financing section of your school’s website. Go to the office in person. Be persistent here because it’s your money and your future.


Working in college is a tricky subject. There are those that suggest that you only focus on your studies and getting your school work done. Then there are others that believe in working and keeping busy in school because of your youth and energy.

I personally worked full-time hours in college for my entire run.

I found that this had absolutely no negative consequences on my studies. Being able to work full-time all comes down to time management (covered in this article).

There are many online jobs for college students for those of you that are worried about being out of the house for too long. There are jobs on campus if you don’t want to travel far.

If all fails, you can always just work in the summer like mad when you have four months off.

All that matters is that you work!

Get into the habit of working. This will force you to manage your money, work on your time management, and to skip the so-so parties.

The next topic is the best part of college…

Going out and dating in college.

“You have four years to be irresponsible here. Relax. Work is for people with jobs. You’ll never remember class time, but you’ll remember time you wasted hanging out with your friends. So, stay out late. Go out on a Tuesday with your friends when you have a paper due Wednesday.” — Tom Petty

College is a giant party. I don’t want you to miss the party nor would I ever suggest that you miss out on the college experience.

How did I party in college without failing or going broke?

  • Didn’t go out every night (this happened in my mid-20s).
  • Went out once per week or when I earned it. You have to earn your partying.
  • Looked for drink specials.

I suggest that you earn everything. Earn every single drink (through training) and every night out (through getting solid results).

You can easily party in college without failing and going broke, by following these rules:

  1. When you have finals, don’t drink.
  2. When you have no money, don’t drink.
  3. When you’re behind on your notes, get your notes done.
  4. Treat yourself to a party for crushing that exam.
  5. Run away to the library to avoid everyone. I’m personally the friend who was the bad influence and I noticed that my friends would avoid me by going to the library.

I would wait until I finished my exams or papers to party hard. I got it out of my system and then went back to work. There’s no better feeling than getting together with friends for drinks after crushing that exam.

Time management.

What if you have no time? What’s this time management stuff all about? How are you supposed to work, party, study, and get enough sleep?

It’s all about setting priorities and getting things done instead of just sitting around. I just focused on what was important at the moment.

When I was at work I did my best to do my job so that I would stay employed for a long time.

When I got home I didn’t have time to waste on Facebook or YouTube. I got my school work done so that I would have some time to hit the gym or get some sleep.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Don’t leave me any excuses or sob stories.

Also, don’t feel guilty about wasting time. We all do it. Just try to stay ahead, even if it means losing out on sleep sometimes.

Quick recap: How do I graduate college with zero debt?

Let’s recap the whole process:

  • Find the cheapest living arrangements as possible. Try to stay at home. If you move away, find roommates and bring the cost down.
  • Save money on tuition by applying for all kinds of financial assistance (scholarships mainly).
  • Get a job. Stop slacking off.
  • Earn your partying.

Is it worth it?

Yes. You have to make many sacrifices, but I promise you that it’s worth it. When it comes what to do after college, your options will be directly related to how much money that you owe. Would you rather travel or be stuck in the first lame job that you find?

That’s how you can graduate from college without any debt. If you’re not afraid of work and want to have fun in your 20s, then you can live a great life after college.

You owe it to every single student you know to share this with them. Life’s too short to spend your 20s in debt.



Mike Rowe on Efficiency versus Effectiveness


June 7th, 2017 · 30 comments

Insights from Dirty Jobs

Earlier this week, I listened to Brett McKay’s interview with Mike Rowe. As you’ll learn if you listen to the conversation, following his stint as the host of Dirty Jobs, Rowe has become an advocate for the trades.

In this interview, as in many others, Rowe argues that skilled labor (think: plumbing, welding) can be both satisfying and lucrative, and yet there are still somewhere around three million such jobs left unfilled in this country. He credits this gap largely to a contemporary culture that demonizes blue collar work and preaches the best path is always a college degree, followed, God willing, by a pair of Warby Parker glasses and a job as a social media brand manager.

(I might have added that last part.)

I always find Rowe’s thoughts on shifting American work cultures interesting, but there’s a phrase he often uses in these discussions that has recently begun to draw my attention: efficiency versus effectiveness.

Rowe notes that knowledge work seems obsessed with efficiency, while the skilled trades seem more concerned with effectively solving problems (c.f., his infamous TED talk on sheep castration).

The former can be dehumanizing, while the latter tends to be satisfying.

Stepping away from the immediate context of Rowe’s advocacy, I think he has touched on an important point here that highlights a little-discussed problem rotting the core of the knowledge economy…

The Failure of Techno-Productivism

Those who work with information have become obsessed with what I sometimes call techno-productivism: the idea that introducing technologies that simplify or speed up certain work tasks will necessarily make you or your organization increasingly more productive.

(Note, I use “productive” here in the true economic sense of producing more value per labor hour invested.)

Techno-productivism is intuitive. But it has also been, in my opinion, a failed ideology.

By focusing relentlessly on making specific tasks or operations easier and faster, instead of stepping back and trying to understand how to make an organization as a whole maximally effective, we’ve ended with a knowledge work culture in which people spend the vast majority of their time trying to keep up with the very inboxes, devices and channels that were conceived for the exact opposite purpose — to liberate more time for more valuable efforts.

Instead of striving for the embodied effectiveness of the skilled craftsman, in other words, we’ve ended up a twitching hyperactive mess of unstructured communication.

Rowe hints at an interesting path out of this swamp: stop lionizing efficiency, and start asking the question that has guided craftsmen for millennia: what’s the most effectiveway for me to accomplish the things that are most important?

(Photo by gato-gato-gato)


Speaking of effectiveness, I want to pitch a kickstarter, initiated by a friend of mine, that just launched this week: Mouse Books. The concept is elegant: important and compelling works of literature delivered in a pocket size printing, roughly the size of an smartphone. When you feel the urge for distraction, instead of pulling out your phone, you can pull out a Mouse book and read something meaningful. This is cat nip for Study Hacks fans. Check it out…


An Examination of Will Power: Money vs. Health


Posted On: January 20, 2017  |    Posted by: Broke Millennial®

Sitting in my comfy desk chair with my feet firmly planted on the floor, hands clasped in my lap, a disembodied voice with an affected British accent tells me to do a scan of my body from head-to-toe. “Now note any places of discomfort or tension,” the voice coaches. Suppressing an internal eye roll because I genuinely want to give meditation a fair shake, I begin the process of mentally scanning my body. It stops at my waistline. Want to talk about discomfort. The intense awareness that a distinct roll of body fat appears when I’m in a seated position has been a cause of discomfort, tension and concern for nearly a year now. Then a transcendent moment of realization occurs to the brain I’m attempting to quiet down. This discomfort, tension and concern is how so many people feel when forced to face their financial lives.

Perhaps meditation is working for me after all.

It’s annoyingly common to draw a correlation between financial and physical fitness. Studies aplenty claim that those who have the foresight to contribute to a 401(k) are more likely to be conscientious about their physical health as well. In theory it makes a lot of sense. You’re trying to set yourself up to be financially stable in the future, so logic follows you’d nourish your body with healthy food, eat minimal junk and stick to an exercise routine – because that’s what will set you up to make it to your twilight years.

I’m calling bull shit.

Will power is not created equally. Just because someone is in excellent financial health – it doesn’t mean that same motivation to save, invest, and analyze spending patterns correlates to his or her physical life. The reverse is certainly true as well. A tight bodied individual who refuses to consume carbs, sugar and most dairy products does not a correlate to healthy financial mind.

I get that there are commonalities between being physically and financially fit. Both require sacrifice. Both take time to see results. Both set you up for a more comfortable future. However, as someone who is an innate saver and financially comfortable, but has spent more of my life stressing about what my body looks like than not, I can tell you it’s not the same will power.

Rant aside – this thought during a meditation practice did evoke another feeling. Empathy. Many of us who are financially fit look down from our fatted bank accounts upon the helpless plebs who are giving into rampant consumerism and we scoff. Don’t they realize just how easy it is to get their financial lives together? All it takes is to have the mental fortitude to dismiss the well-crafted, targeted ads engineered to get into your psyche and make you feel less than if you don’t own this car, or that outfit, or this kitchen appliance, or that piece of jewelry. Just ignore the societal pressures around you to indulge in earthly pleasures and instead put that money into an account that you theoretically won’t be able to access until you’re 59 ½. I mean, come on now. It’s so easy.

To some of us, that is actually easy. But it’s not easy to keep from buying a pint of Häagen-Dazs, or cut out pasta and bread, or avoid whole milk lattes, or motivate yourself to go running. I know the cross-fitting, yoga-doing, vegan-and-juicing-obsessed look at my 30-pounds-too-heavy-for-my-height body and think, “Ugh, how can you not just get it together enough to exercise and stop consuming sugar?” I know they do this because I’m guilty of thinking the same way when about people consistently making seemingly ridiculous financial decisions. This is why empathy for the situation is important.

Perhaps will power is finite. There’s a limited amount our brain is willing to dole out and we’re choosing, consciously or not, where to be in control. For me, it’s my financial life first and foremost (just because it consumes so much of my attention). Nurturing relationships second. My emotions third. My body fourth.

Or, maybe it’s more like the four burners theory. One burner is your friends, one is your family, one is your health and one is work. You can’t be successful and have all four running. You have to cut one off to be successful and two off to be very successful. You could argue that success is relative, but you must admit you can’t constantly and consistently give your all to four areas of your life. Even those with the best of time management skills would struggle.

I’ve tried and failed to reboot my physical health many times over the course of more than a decade. Regular exercise, fad diets, cutting out certain foods. It goes well for a bit and then eventually the dreaded weight comes back on. It’s particularly exhausting to be part of an immediate and extended family of fit people. The type of fit where family bonding on a beach vacation isn’t laying out tanning, it’s running the sand dunes together. And yet, during all this time my financial life continues to be a healthy. No yo-yo dieting or unaffordable splurging. No “maybe next month I’ll get serious and start fixing my money.” I’d love to be able to apply my financial will power to my physical health.

Perhaps someday I’ll figure out how to tap into that will power and apply it to my body, without damaging my savings account of course.

That picture isn’t me! New readers may not know that. Image from



5 Steps to Charting Your Own Course

chart your course

The important people in your life – your parents, teachers, etc. – they want the best for you, right? They probably have specific ideas about what “the best” means and how you’re going to get it.

But what do you want? Success and fulfillment in life come from discovering and following your own path, rather than plodding down the one someone else determined for you. But planning your whole entire life? Well, that’s a massive load of pressure.

Create Steps

When you’re faced with an enormous project or problem – like plotting a course for the next 80% of your life – the best approach is to break it down into little, manageable tasks. Then just focus on one at a time.

Here are some steps to help you “carpe futurum” – seize your own future:

Step 1 – Start with a Good Attitude

It’s easy to get down on yourself. But a little confidence – even if you have to fake it at first – goes a long way. When you’re thinking about your future, it’s imperative that you approach it with a sense of optimism and positivity.

You’re already a step ahead – you live in a land of opportunity. With a little work, almost anything is possible. Remind yourself that you deserve to accomplish everything you want to accomplish.

As former President Barack Obama said in a Back-to-School speech to students on September 8, 2009: “No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny.”

Step 2 – Listen to Your Heart

If you’re like most people, there’s a constant stream of babble in your head, and some of it doesn’t always make sense. But amidst the chatter there are dreams and aspirations and ideas. There’s also a deep intuition that’s often called “your gut.” The trick is to create a filter that lets you drain off some of the clutter and focus in on the kernels of genius, passion and inspiration that can ultimately guide your major life decisions.

Block out periods of 10 minutes, a few times a week (maybe right before bed) to slow down and quiet your mind. Ask yourself what inspired you that day. Where were your successes? What made you happy? What ideas would you like to follow up on?

Step 3 – Find the Perfect Combo

Your ideal future career might be a fusion of what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. Finding that perfect combo might take a little experimentation. Even if your schoolwork doesn’t always seem pertinent to “real life,” it can help you zero in on your strengths.

As President Obama said in that same speech, “Maybe you could be a good writer… but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.”

As you tackle your school subjects, don’t just focus on getting decent grades. Focus on what you found interesting about what you learned. What sparked your curiosity? What did you have a knack for? What gave you a sense of accomplishment? Somewhere in your day-to-day experiences you’ll find indicators for your future. Even a passion for computer games – or sketching, or animals, or anything – may help direct you toward a promising career.

Step 4 – Try It Out

“Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

~ Thomas Jefferson

Once you’ve identified some of your strengths and passions, pursue them. Dig deeper. Seek out people with similar interests. Find mentors. Perhaps you can volunteer in the field, or find an internship. Or you can try a summer program that enables you to get hands-on as you “test-drive” your potential career.

Don’t be afraid to change direction along the way, as you discover new things. Remember this is your course, and you aren’t chained to any one specific outcome. Don’t resist new impulses, just because they don’t seem to jive with your pre-determined plan.

Also, don’t be afraid to fail. As President Obama mentioned in his speech, “JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team… But he once said, ‘I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’”

Step 5 – Paint a Picture

Once you’ve discovered your strengths and passions, start to fill in the fuzzy lines with colors and details. Those “colors” include your priorities and values, as well as your goals. Paint a clear picture of what you want your life to be, and understand what it entails.

Then make little, everyday decisions that fit with and enable that perfect life. Again, you’ll be breaking the bigger project down into littler steps. If your day-to-day decisions complement and advance the attainment of your perfect life, you’ll find that life starting to develop, almost by magic.

If you think luck plays a bigger role in success than anything else, contemplate these words from President Jefferson, “The harder I work, the more luck I have.”

Don’t Give Up!

There are bound to be set-backs or course-corrections along the way. Just remember to keep that positive attitude, and don’t give up on yourself. Find your passion, and then develop the skills and experience that can turn passion into a gratifying and rewarding life of accomplishment.

Helpful Resources:

  • To read: What Color Is Your Parachute? for Teens, by Carol Christen and Richard N. Bolles, designed to help you discover your passions, skills, potential college majors, and dream jobs.
  • To explore: The Own Your Own Future website, with specific tips on making your college dream a reality.



Forget Camp – Career Exploration is this Summer’s New “Must Do” Activity

Blood Pressure Students

Out with campfires, sing-alongs, and lousy mess hall food. In with mock trials, surgical simulations, and authentic experiences on college campuses. More and more, students are looking at career exploration as a more impactful way to spend a part of their summer.

Why is career exploration important? First, students are facing an amazing amount of complexity and change in the workforce over the next 10-15 years. Almost 50% of the careers that will be available to today’s students do not even exist today, which means early exposure to emerging careers is key. Second, in many school systems around the country, career readiness activities are “scattershot”, with emphasis on activities (career fairs, interest inventories) that lack depth. Instead, students should not only get a chance to learn about different careers, but actually get a chance to “try” them with hands-on learning opportunities. Finally, students should have a direction and a plan for where they want to go with their careers. This should be based on an understanding of what they’re passionate about, but also on a clear understanding of the steps required to make a career goal a reality.

Career exploration programs help to address these needs by enabling students to discover what they’re passionate about, by giving them authentic “hands on” experience to determine what a career field is really like, and by equipping them with a plan that they can use to make their career goals a reality. A great example is the Envision Intensive Law and Trial program held at Stanford University. At this 10 day summer program, high school students learn about law careers directly from professors at the Stanford Law School, and work as teams to participate in a simulated mock trial – held in the actual courtrooms of the San Francisco Superior Court. What they leave with is not just an amazing summer memory, but a viewpoint as to whether law is the right career for them, informed by immersion into the field.

Many career exploration programs take place on college campuses, so students can begin to get an authentic view of what college life is like. Just as importantly, students have a chance to bond and connect with other high aspiring students like themselves.

So, as students prepare to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century career landscape, summer career exploration programs promise more purpose than a traditional summer camp, while not sacrificing any of the fun. The food’s a little better as well!