How To: Make A Budget (& Stick To It!)

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Paco de Leon from last week’s interview has been working in finance for over 10 years. She’s also the co-host of the Refinery 29 Money Diaries podcast, in which she doles out helpful advice every week. So if there’s anyone we should be asking how to stick to a budget, it’s her! This week, she shares her 7 steps on how to make a budget –– and how to stay with it. 

1. Decide you’re serious. Paco says the first step is to decide that your personal finance is important to you. Say to yourself “Okay, I’m going to change”. As they say, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.

2. Set aside time. Choose a day and time to sit down and check in on your finances every week. “Setting aside weekly finance-time is hugely important and can be transformative for people. Be serious about it, mark yourself as busy, and don’t allow yourself to compromise on your finance time.”

3. Look to the past to plan the future. “Look at historical data to project what your budget is going to be.” Paco recommends looking over the last 30 days to get an idea of how you’ve been spending money.

4. Use a tool. Does printing out old credit card statements make you feel anxious? Not to fear! Paco suggests using “An application called Tiller HQ. It’s a budgeting app that scrapes your banking data into Google Sheets and makes it easy to sort into categories and run reports.” 

4. Group your spending habits into categories. Next, group your previous purchases into three categories. “The first is Bills and Life, the second is Fun and BS, and the third is Future Goals.” Go through and see how much you spend in each category, and then decide how much you want to spend on each category moving forward. “Give yourself a [maximum] number and stick to it.”

5. Open separate bank accounts. Paco recommends opening up a checking account for each category to truly keep them separate. “Have a checking account for your Bills and Life, and all of your bills should be paid with that account.” Do the same for the other two. If you’re going to do something fun, “Leave the Bills and Life debit card at home and [then] it’s not even an option to spend money out of that account.” 

6. Automate your savings, if possible. “If you can automate your savings, do that. But, if you’re [starting out] and you need to manually do these transfers, at least you have weekly finance time where you can sit down and do that.” Make it a goal to work towards automated savings and keep checking in until you get there.

7. Keep it up, and watch what happens. “If you do this method, I promise you your life will change in a way that you didn’t know it could. Once you do all that upfront investment of work, it’s just following the rules that you set for yourself.” Willpower is finite, but actual planning can keep you in check for years to come.

Great advice, Paco! Thank you so much! Readers, after you’re done downloading Tiller HQ and marking weekly finance time in your calendar, come back next week for an interview with one of our favorite Bon Appetit Magazine YouTube stars. (Photo provided by Paco de Leon)

How To: Set Up A Science Experiment

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Last week, we heard from Dr. Erin Warshaw, scientist and dermatologist extraordinaire, who also moonlights as my mother. She shared her love of science with us and how her favorite book growing up, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, inspired her to have a lab off her kitchen where she could set up experiments to her heart’s content. Today, she has authored over 207 peer-reviewed publications about experiments of all sorts. Below, she shares with us best practices for setting up an experiment. Scientist or not, Dr. Warshaw’s insights provide a wonderful framework for all of us to nurture our curiosities!

  1. Have an Idea: “The most important thing is coming up with an idea: A really important question that is novel. And it can come just from daily life. Come up with a really compelling, interesting idea.” What is something in your daily life that you’re curious to investigate? Make a list. Pick one that speaks to you!

  2. Develop your Hypothesis: “Then, determine what the main hypothesis is: so either it works or it doesn’t.” What is your gut feeling about the question at hand? Pick a side, for science’s sake.

  3. Define Change: “Figure out how to tell that difference. So, for example for one of the studies we did... if we expect the difference to be 15%, we need 300 patients to detect that difference.” Determine a framework for monitoring change, and be sure your sample size or time observing is ample enough to generate results.

  4. Write Rules and Stay Accountable: “Then, you have to write the protocol and go to the institutional review board who reviews the protocol and makes sure that it’s ethical and makes sure that patients are being treated fairly.” Write your own guidelines for your experiment if you don’t have plans to take it to an institutional review board. Share your hypothesis with friends and family and take their suggestions into account.

  5. Collect Resources:  “And then, once you get that approval, then hopefully you can get funding for the project.” What supplies do you need to execute your vision? Ask for help and apply for grants if your idea could benefit!

  6. Gather and Synthesize Data: “Then you advertise for patients, they enroll in the study, you collect all the data, you enter it in the computer, and then afterwards you analyze all the data, you type it all up in a manuscript.” Have a clear way of gathering your data, be it a new special notebook or an easy to follow spreadsheet. Write about what you’ve discovered!

  7. Get a Second Opinion: “You submit it, you get reviewers that give you all sorts of comments and suggest you do things in different ways which you can’t because you’ve already done the experiment so you just have to explain and spin it to get it published.” Ask for a second opinion (or three or four!) about your conclusion.

  8. Share Your Findings: “And then hopefully it makes a difference and advances science!” Shout your discovery from the rooftops! You’re officially a scientist.

Thanks again, Dr. Warshaw! Tune in next week to hear from another amazing woman on Okay, But What Do You Do?!.


How To: Listen To Yourself

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Last week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Meng, founder of LA-based jewelry line Ready-Made. This week, she’s back to share with us her top tips on listening to yourself, even if goes against what everyone around you is promoting. Read on for her helpful advice!

1. Notice the early signs
You know that feeling of looking at your to-do list, only to scroll down to your monster task, the one you’ve been avoiding for a while, that has made it through to a third re-write of your to-do list because you’re avoiding it so much? Well, that might be one way your gut is talking to you. Jennifer says, “When you find yourself procrastinating a lot, like when I was applying to law school, when [I had] to write a personal essay, I really couldn’t write it. I felt like I was being really dishonest. That’s a major indicator that something’s up.” So, before judging yourself for not checking something off your list, take a moment to think about why you’re dreading it.

2. Take the time you need.
It’s so easy these days to feel like everyone around you is finding success immediately, even the kids that never helped out in class projects. Meanwhile, you’re in line at Chipotle deciding whether you can afford the guac. It’s at those moments when you feel you must double down and turn your ten-year plan into a five month one that Jennifer suggests otherwise: “People say ‘Hurry up and develop your career,’ but that’s so not true. You have plenty of time. It’s ok to wait a year or two years to figure out what you want. If you really feel uncertain, what’s wrong with waiting? That’s something you have to give yourself permission to do.”

3. Prepare as best you can for people’s reactions.
Once you’ve made the tough but honest choice that your gut was suggesting this whole time, you have to tell people about it. Jennifer explains that “It’s really hard. When I told everyone that I was going to start a jewelry business, no one took me seriously. My parents were very upset. They were like, “What’s wrong with being a lawyer?” It might be hard, and reactions might not be as gentle as you’d hope, but keep your eye on the long-term outcome.

4. But don’t forget you’re in charge of the narrative
Jennifer goes on to give encouraging advice. As difficult as it might be, you have some control over how you communicate your choice, so exert your power through tactful thought. Jennifer says, “A lot of the work is on you. When you tell people about these big moves you’re going to make, how are you going to tell people? And that really sucks, because why should [you] even be considering how [you] talk to people about these transitions? But if you start the conversation with ‘I’ve put thought into this. I know this is how I feel, and I’m going to go with it, I just need you to support me,’ people will back off a little bit, even if they’re strongly opposed to it.” In other words, now that you’ve heard and followed your gut, stand up for it!


Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Jennifer! Readers, after you’ve taken the time to check in with yourself, come back next week for an interview with a doctor who runs her own practice.