By Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie
Almost everyone has a bucket list. Whether your dream is to learn how to pilot an airplane, spend six months hiking in South America, teach English in India or ride elephants in Cambodia, a bucket list is personal and often includes a dose of adventure and travel. I recently met with two entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on planning, packaging and helping women check off some of their once-in-a-lifetime dreams through their new company, WHOA Travel (that’s: Women High On Adventure).
Meet the Founders of WHOA
Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton met only last March when they were part of a group that hiked Mount Kilimanjaro. From that life-changing trip, WHOA Travel was born and the two women found their new friendship blossoming into a partnership. Coming from the international education industry, Allison had always enjoyed travel but thrived in more adventurous trips, experiences where she could push herself but also give back a little. Danielle, who is an associate creative director at an advertizing company, confesses that she’s always felt a never-ending hunger for travel and change, and that “I always knew I was going to leave Texas since I was a little girl!” (No offense, Texas!)
WHOA’s (www.WHOAtravel.com) mission is to organize trips for women that are fun, challenging and inspiring, and that allows the group to also give back. As Allison puts it, the purpose of WHOA is “to provide a transformative experience for women through travel; at the heart of every adventure is an advocacy project that gives back to women and local communities.”
For example, although last March’s Mt. Kili trip wasn’t an official WHOA adventure, Allison arranged for the group to volunteer at Give A Heart To Africa, a nonprofit based in Tanzania that helps provide women with skills and training they need to learn English and make a living.
WHOA’s Adventure Trips
Although WHOA is only a few months old, things are already full-steam ahead! For the 2013/2014 season, WHOA is organizing three adventure trips and is currently taking reservations. The first is a trip to the Alps and Bavaria in September where the group will bike, hike and paraglide through the Alps, with a pit stop at Oktoberfest, and ending with yoga in the park in Munich. All proceeds from yoga will go towards Give A Heart To Africa.
In March, the group will head back to Mt. Kilimanjaro for a seven-day trek with plans to summit on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2014, followed by another volunteer day and safari or resort options. Finally next summer 2014, the group plans to hike the Inca Trail. In addition to the three flagship trips, WHOA can also custom organize a special trip for individuals or groups who want to do something different.
This August, both women plan to leave their jobs and embark on a 7 week trip to Africa, Europe and South America in preparation for next year’s trips. They will be meeting with contacts for each adventure, make new connections and spend time with the community organizations. The passion and enthusiasm that Allison and Danielle have for their business is inspiring and contagious–I have a feeling they can persuade the most fearful traveler to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro!
The Early Days of WHOA
Although the energy and optimism at the new company is high, the ladies had to put some work into their partnership. Early on, they realized that they both approach work differently and also have different–but complementary–skill sets. Allison is the talker of the two, engaging and persuasive, while Danielle is in charge of branding and the creative aspects of the company. While their start was bumpy at times, since holding a “come to Jesus” meeting in which they were both painfully honest with each other about their goals and expectations, the business has run much more smoothly. They collaborate on everything and both agree that even their website reflects both personalities.
Is Entrepreneurship Right For You?
The ladies offer simple advice when it comes to starting a business. If you’re ready for a change and have an idea in mind, “put it out in the universe,” says Danielle. “I knew I wanted to do something different and I was open about it.” Allison agrees, adding, “You’ll never regret the risks you take, only those you don’t.”
Both Allison and Danielle agree that when it comes to picking a business partner, it’s important to respect one another and be brutally honest (but kind) with each other. Working with a business partner is like a balancing act, and as Danielle points out, “It’s harder to find the right business partner than a husband!”
And since they are both leaving their corporate jobs, both women have cut back on spending. Both are much more aware of their expenses, have stopped buying frivolous things and know that soon those regular paychecks will vanish so they have set and following their own strict budgets. Allison admits that since she’s eating in more, she’s actually eating healthier!
Go Tell It On The Mountain!
While Allison and Danielle are very aware of the risks of starting their own business, they are certain that there is a need and a demand for a company like WHOA. After all, many of us desire unique experiences and challenges, we dream of coming home from a foreign land with bragging rights, and we want to show our gratitude by giving back in some way. WHOA combines all three by offering unique once-in-a-lifetime trips for women around the world. As Danielle puts it, by taking on challenging trips like those that WHOA organizes, “you can change yourself, you can change the way you look at yourself and you can even change the world a little bit at the same time.”
UPDATED POST FOR GOLDENGIRLFINANCE
I am your typical New Yorker. Like many of my fellow city-men and women, I know how to hail a taxi without getting side-swiped. On escalators, I stand on the right and walk on the left. I let people get off the train before getting on. I give tourists succinct, exact directions – even offer restaurant recommendations – but don’t linger for small-talk.
However, as a New Yorker, I am an enigma. That’s because I do not have a therapist.
It seems that every friend, colleague, acquaintance or person behind me in line at the drugstore has at least one therapist and sees that person pretty regularly. It’s not uncommon for a friend to start a conversation with, “Dr. Tony says my journaling is really helping me work through my issues.” Or interrupt a dinner party to proclaim, “My therapist thinks it’s because my father never came to any of my piano recitals.” Or grab the phone in a panic and shriek, “I need to call my shrink!” after a night of debauchery.
I know that going to therapy is good for one’s mental health and can actually help people learn to deal with anxiety, stress or depression.
However, as a woman of Middle Eastern descent, I prefer to spend my therapy money on more pressing matters – specifically on laser hair removal, electrolysis and waxing. No therapist will help me get over the memory of me as a little girl in the fourth grade, sitting in my reading circle surrounded by my classmates. Compared to the cute, skinny blond girls in their bobby socks and tennis skirts, I was a thick hairy rectangle that smelled like hummus, sporting tube socks up to my thighs to cover up my hairy legs. That’s a memory that is burned into my psyche and for that reason, I prefer to get rid of the evil that caused my anxiety, rather than go sit with someone and have a chat about it.
But everyone needs therapy – or even self-reflection – in order to take responsibility and move forward.
Similarly in personal finance, it’s important to do a little self-reflecting. Especially now, at the beginning of a new year and as we gather our financial paperwork for tax time, it’s helpful to examine our finances, be honest about our spending and saving habits, and set some new goals to change bad behavior.
Here are some tips for planning a more financially rewarding 2013…
1. Before setting impossible goals for 2013, be thoughtful and thorough. Review your tax paperwork and last year’s budget. Be painfully honest with yourself and ask, am I happy with the amount of money I made last year? Did I reach any of the financial goals I set for myself last year? How or why not? By actively taking the first step – looking honesty and critically at last year’s finances and identifying your satisfaction level with it – you can begin to set the right goals for next year.
2. Figure out your debt and make a plan to deal with it. Add up your total annual expenses plus any additional debt; what is the ratio of expenses to income? Were you able to manage debt and also save last year? If not, review your spending/budget from last year and find three things you can cut out in order to reduce spending, manage debt and/or save. Allocate the savings to a specific debt or to your savings in order to reach a particular goal. Be specific.
3. Don’t have a 2013 budget yet? SET ONE UP NOW! Use Mint.com to set up a budget online, create an excel spreadsheet to track expenses or just write it down old-school. Find a way to track your spending and then do it. Manage debt by consolidating into a low-interest rate credit card and make sure you are paying more than the monthly minimum if you can. Budget and save up for a six-month emergency cushion, even if that means putting $50 a week into your savings account.
4. Grow your money. If you have a savings account and an emergency fund, consider taking a chunk and investing in short-term CDs or mutual funds or ETFs. These can be low-risk options that can help you increase your savings instead of lingering in a low-interest savings account. Also, make sure you are contributing to your company’s 401(k) and if your company doesn’t offer one, set up an IRA or a Roth.
5. Set a personal financial goal (that is also attainable) for 2013 and take the steps to get there. Do you want to increase savings by 20%? Do you want to get rid of all credit card debt? Are you saving for a new home? If that means taking an additional shift at work or getting a part-time job, do it. Or, are you ready to invest $15,000? Check out some of the top online brokerage sites like Fidelity, Scottrade, or Etrade that also offer research and investing tools so you can do it yourself.
And if you’re ready to seek professional help, visit FPAnet.org to find an advisor in your area or NAPFA.org for fee-only advisors. Like a therapist, a financial advisor can help you identify bad habits, set priorities and help you reach your goals. But they probably can’t help resolve any lingering daddy issues.
It’s mid-January; do you know where your New Years Resolutions went?
Hard to believe that the holidays were just 2 weeks ago. Usually by mid-January, the mild depression caused by lack of sunlight that grips most of us in the Northeast is in full effect. This year it’s that plus the flu. No wonder, then, that many of us have discarded our New Years Resolutions like some forgotten grocery list dropped on the floor of the Times Square subway.
But even if you got sidelined by the flu and haven’t been able to make it into the gym yet, or maybe went to Macy’s with the $100 gift card you got for Christmas and accidentally left with a couple of pairs of boots, three cable-knit sweaters, a blender and a European-style mattress, don’t let a little bad behavior stop you from making good on the promises you made to yourself.
One of the top three resolutions has to do with money. People vow to get out of debt, save more, or start investing. Setting financial goals is always top of mind for most people. And like the other top resolutions–losing weight, becoming a “better person (whatever that means) or volunteering (good luck with that!)–nothing will be achieved unless you set goals, make a plan and work towards those goals.
But before you go transferring your entire savings account into your 401k, or opening an online brokerage account and depositing last week’s unemployment check, or saving up for a Bloomberg station so you can start day-trading…chillax. Think of the old adage “you don’t know where you’re going ’til you know where you’ve been.” In other words, determining your financial foundation first helps you understand yourself better and your attitude towards money which in turn will help you set–and achieve–better financial goals.
Recently, I joined a new gym. I’d been going to the good ol’ run-of-the-mill gym for years and was tired of the broken machines, humid conditions and questionable stains embedded on the “clean” towels. This new gym is beautiful, shiny, sleek; it’s the gym that the one-percenters go to, and even though I am not currently a one-percenter, this gym gives me access to this special status, if only for 3-5 times a week.
With my new gym membership , I’m entitled to a couple free personal training sessions. I recently met “Tareeq,” a tall Dominican glass of water who approached me in the gym and pretended to flirt with me so that I would make an appointment with him (yes, that’s what they do, those wily personal trainers; they flirt with you and flash smiles in hopes that you will hire them as a trainer! And of course it works.)
Last week was my first session where we basically took my measurements, did a fitness test and talked about my goals…basically a humiliating start to my Friday. Funny how I started out the session pretty optimistic, cracking jokes, telling Tareeq that my weight “ain’t nothin’ but a number, just like my age, know what I mean? Haha!” And then by the end of the session, after I had ran, walked a steep incline, attempted push-ups, sit-ups, gotten my fat pinched in various parts of my body and then stepped onto a scale–I was depressed and quiet. My goals had changed. I had walked into the session thinking, ‘I feel good, just want to tone up my lower body, and have fun working out’ but after I had evaluated my present state of health and fitness, I wanted more. I wanted to lose weight, strengthen my core, lower my blood pressure, burn more fat during a workout, fix the sag situation in various parts of my body.
When it comes to finance, just like in fitness, we often make lofty goals without truly evaluating our situation and our attitudes–and as a result fall short of our goals. By establishing a financial foundation first, you get a better idea of your good and bad habits, and the areas in your finances that need immediate attention; this leads to setting the right goals and the steps to tackle these issues.
This first step in setting a financial foundations is to understand yourself.
1. Be mindful. In yoga, we’re aways reminded to be mindful of things. “Be mindful of your breath.” “Be mindful of thoughts for they turn into actions which turns into the truth yadda yadda.” “Be mindful that you don’t scrunch your neck in downward dog.”
These are small reminders that can be extremely important to the practice of yoga and to receiving the full benefits of a pose. When it comes to money, we should also be mindful of our actions and reactions to money-related matters. How do you feel when you get your credit card bill in the mail? Do you instantly cringe and throw the bill in a desk drawer, only to be found sometime in mid-August? Or do you react in the opposite way, panicked by a fear of debt, spend your whole paycheck on bills and leave yourself with a twenty-dollar bill for the rest of the month?
What is your current state of debt? What is your monthly income? What are your fixed expenses that you need to live on per month? Find these numbers and memorize them.
2. Change your attitude. Many people approach money issues with a sense of fear. I’ve heard people complain that they don’t understand finance, it’s complicated or boring. Others don’t want to delve too far into their finances for fear that they’ll discover how majorly dramatically horrifically in debt they are (which is probably not the case). Still others may think they don’t have anything to worry about because they’re too young, don’t earn enough money, or have someone else make money and investing decisions for them, etc.
First of all, take a good hard look in the mirror and acknowledge how you feel about money, debt, retirement planning and investing. Are you afraid to ask questions at the bank, or talk to a financial advisor because you feel like you don’t make enough for someone to care about your questions or accounts, or because you don’t want them to think you’re stupid or because you don’t want them to sell you something? My advice: walk into the bank like a gangster. Act like you own the place. Look at the bank advisors like they work for YOU. I mean, they don’t, but if that’s what it takes to get you to change your attitude, tell yourself those lies!
The opposite of fear is confidence. It is incredibly empowering when you can overcome your fear–or maybe even just ignore it or side-line it–in order to start a conversation with an advisor, ask questions and take control of your money (and not the other way around).
3. Create a process that works for you. Let me start by saying that I hate math. Anything that has to do with numbers–even the calculator on my Iphone–is extremely puzzling to me. I am often stumped when someone asks me to times a number by 10. So when it comes to establishing a budget and managing my finances I don’t use an Excel spreadsheet. I like things spelled out, so I gravitate towards specialized programs like Mint.com, and I also like keeping good old-fashioned notes in a notebook (or on my Iphone).
Some couples use the envelope method to manage their household finances. They stuff money into envelopes dedicated to certain parts of the household budget and anything left over from fixed expenses can be used for the variable expenses like entertainment, big purchase items or hair extensions. I have a friend that lives and breathes Excel. She uses Excel at work of course, to manage her household budget and bills but also to manage expenses on a group outing, for vacation expenses, even for shopping.
No one process works for every person; you have to find the method that is convenient, easy to use and something that you’ll stick to. And then stick to it.
Establishing a financial foundation, like fitness, is a simple (sometimes painful) process that can lead to establishing the right goals. Once you know “who” you are–with regard to your attitude, your fears and your habits towards money–you can set real goals based on that reality.
Your financial foundation can also be a great scare tactic that inspires you into action–kind of like what happened to me after my fitness test last week. I was back at the gym every day this week, and even tried some exercises Tareeq showed me. He would’ve been so proud if he saw me on that treadmill–but he was too busy flirting with a new member at the juice bar.