Meet the Minimalist: Stephanie Xenos

I love money. There, I said it! I love earning it, saving it, and spending it (on fun stuff, but on responsible stuff, too). When I help people get organized, we talk about their priorities and so much of what they have to streamline/pare down ties right back into what they spend money on.

I stumbled across Stephanie Xenos on Instagram, also known as @money_muse, and loved seeing how open she was about building her financial wealth and independence.  She shares everything from investing tips to her own spending over time, and everything in between.

As a self-employed person, saving for retirement was something I had been ignoring since starting my business. I was focused on finding the right clients, making money, and paying off credit card debt (had definitely leveraged my savings in order to give my business the time it needed to grow). I knew I pay off the debt and be able to throw money back into emergency savings and retirement … but I didn’t know exactly what to invest in or even how.

I reached out to Stephanie for a phone consult and felt like we clicked immediately. She outlined what she thought I needed through coaching based on my goals and where I was at with my finances. It was like being on the other side of a home organization consult where I was the client, showing her where all the money was going, talking through my goals and dreams of my financial future.

I knew I wanted to learn more about her background and what lead to the launch her work today as a financial coach, educating women on how to invest.

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You share in “My Story” on your site (edited here for brevity):

“I never liked my stepdad. After he moved in with us, I started having insomnia and seeing therapists for anxiety. As soon as I was old enough, I started staying away from home as much as possible. I decided that from that point forward, I would never be dependent on anyone. I told myself I would always choose the hardest path in order to prove myself. I would be superwoman.”

 
Photo credit:  Janette Casolary

Photo credit: Janette Casolary

 

At what point did you decide that you didn't need to strive for perfection?

It’s a constant battle for me to let go of that Superwoman thing. It’s ok to not be that person. The first time was maybe when I was 25 and I wrote on my wall “Goodbye, Superwoman.” It wasn’t over, that was just the first step to letting go by acknowledging it.

Friends were always aware of my independence and knew that I had a tough childhood. Good friends could make fun of me about being so hardcore and super Type A. It’s control. The exact order of how I shower is planned! I’m a total control freak. It did amazing things for my career and studies, it made me so responsible. I was driven to do everything. I had to be so sure of myself because otherwise my world would crumble. It ties back to not being a victim. I wasn’t in a place to acknowledge my vulnerability.

Did you ever feel like you were missing out on things or experiences because you were so focused on saving from a young age?

I don’t think I felt deprived. It was relatively easy for me to save. I was in a situation where my safety felt at risk and money was the only key to independence I could think of.  I just turned off my emotions and became a machine with a lot of things. No one knew I was hoarding money around my room as a teenager- I was still shopping at the mall with my friends.

My friends knew that my stepdad wasn’t a good guy and did everything they could to offer me a place to spend time. I worked a lot of jobs. I stockpiled a few thousand dollars while in high school and then I donated my eggs in college which helped jump-start saving and investing. At the time I felt I was doing my biological due diligence (ha!).

Deep down, I didn’t want to be a victim so I wasn’t looking for a role model or mentor to deal with this. I wasn’t able to see that poor 15-year-old until about a year ago! I’m still processing it.

What were some of the early resources that resonated with you when you first started learning/teaching yourself about money?

The early, early days it was Mr. Money Mustache. It was all about the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) community but they advocated for investing in low cost index funds and  I wanted to get into investing in individual stocks, in order to make more than the market return. That’s when it became all about podcasts - The Motley Fool podcasts taught me so much. Podcasts are a nice way to consume the content and let it percolate in your brain.

Any money missteps that you are willing to talk about that you have experienced?

I took out a personal loan to buy my first Spacex stock. I don’t think it was a mistake but it was very risky for me at the time. It was the biggest “purchase” I had ever made with the exception of the vehicle I relied on for transportation to and from work. I was lucky that it worked out; it was worth it in the long run because my SpaceX shares ended up growing and eventually being worth more than the loan. If my SpaceX stocks ended up being worth nothing, I would have been in the hole for the entirety of that loan.

What are the common mistakes you've seen others make when it comes to money?

I see the same common mistakes over and over again. People don’t know what to invest in and so they just don’t invest. Or they think they’re invested just because they have a brokerage account … but the money is just sitting in cash and it’s not invested in anything. This mistake would really make a big impact because you would lose out on all that compounding interest. People mostly feel embarrassed and then open to learning about how to invest and where.

 
Photo credit:  Janette Casolary

Photo credit: Janette Casolary

 

At one point, you sold everything and moved to Europe. What prompted the downsizing and what was it like to go minimal with your move?

I was born in Greece and had been visiting my dad once a year and decided to get to know him better.

When I was preparing to move there, I gave away everything I own. I had a party and said “if you see it, you can have it.” I had a party with girlfriends and let them go through all the clothes. I had quite the wardrobe from Burning Man! We got a 3x3 storage unit and my fiance put some paintings in there, I kept my kitchen aid, there was really nothing else I wanted to store. I now own one painting and my pets, everything else - no attachment to it!

Every time people come to my house now, they ask “are you moving?” and then they love to give me stuff. I tell them to stop! Sometimes I’ll put up knickknacks that I’m gifted but then it goes. I don’t want to offend them but I don’t want stuff!

When I moved to Greece, my dad and I had a dream of building a house together. I would invest in it monetarily and he would be the manager. It was a way to get to know him better, to have a project together, and also a potential investment. I would have been ok with it never making any money, just as a way to get to know my dad. Last year was the first year it was up and running and it makes half of the income I need for my yearly expenses.

Had early retirement always been part of your plan?

I had been working toward financial independence without really considering early retirement, or what that would be like. It was a bonus. By the time I realized that I had attained my goal of financial independence and could retire, I was ready for a change of scenery. I love the idea of financial independence regardless of whether you choose to work or not. You can be independent and still keep your job!

What is your money philosophy / getting money organized?

If you want to make authentic change, you need to be able to see the whole picture, the reality, and the truth. You need to know what you’re spending each month and what you’re spending it on. Mint is the easiest tool to use to lay it all out there. I see clients who question what they are spending.

We need that little shock value to make real change. We talk about priorities - what do you want to spend your money on, what are the bills you absolutely have to pay, what are your needs. We establish the needs, then the wants. Talking about it in terms of priorities, one of mine is having connection with friends, and that means going out to eat. As long as your priorities are in line and it’s not hurting you financially, it’s ok.

I cut my expenses into about half of what they used to be. I started with the big, obvious things (housing, car, food) and worked my way down to the smaller expenses. First we downsized where we lived from a 3-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom apartment. That was a big win. Then I sold my car, invested the cash, and now take public transportation to get around. I’m more mindful of going out to eat, cook most of my meals during the week, and try to combine food out with other needs like socialization or business meetings. Finally, I got to all the small stuff like reviewing recurring monthly subscriptions. My fiance and I do not have exactly the same views on money, but it works out fine. He has picked up a lot of my habits (investing, budgeting) and I have chilled out on the money anxiety thanks to him.

What are your favorite investing/financial resources to share with people (from just starting out money novice to someone who's more savvy)?

There are a lot of great books like Broke Millennial, The Year of Less, Women and Money. I think it’s a very good book even though I’m not a big fan of hers. It covers an overview of money, credit reports, etc.

Amanda Holden from the Dumpster Dog Blog has great writing about investing. She’s the only person in this space that I really love what she’s doing. I haven’t found my role models yet which is weird to say mostly because I don’t love the work that a lot of people are doing.

In financial services, you’re paying 1% return for what they’re doing and it’s such a rip-off. Some are fee based but the percentage - this could be ⅓ of your money by the time you hit retirement. Not many people are calling this out.

Any key tips to share for different stages of life on saving/investing (college, between jobs, 30s/40s/50s)?

We live so much longer now so a lot of this advice is still very applicable to 50-year-olds. They may still want to retire at 65 but could live another 30 years!

I also try to stay away from generalizations with age because what my life looks like from a retirement perspective is very different than someone who is in poor health, for example.

Whatever you invested  last year, try to invest 1% more that that  this year. If you get a raise, put aside half of that for investments. I like the 1% goal better because it feels more gradual.

Retirement accounts come in different types. Generally, people who retire early have been able to stash away more than what they can contribute each year to those accounts. Sometimes this is passive income like rentals (live in half of a duplex and collecting the rent).

What should people know about the coaching you do?

I want people to know that I’m pretty easy to talk to. They always say “you’re not going to be judgmental, right?” There’s ALWAYS non-judgment.

Where do you see your next steps taking you?

I am serious about growing my coaching business and doing something that creatively grows my mind (Barre, ceramics). I’m working on determining my success metrics for Money Muse. Most number of people, where I can have the greatest impact. There are so many options. I’m in that period of “holy heck, what’s this going to be!”

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I highly recommend working with Stephanie when you are ready to take control of your finances and want to learn more or take your investing to the next level. She’s easy to talk to and comes from a place of educating as a tool to help you get your priorities in line.





Take a Break by Tidying Up

When I feel stressed or I don't know where I want to start with the never-ending To Do List, I like to do a quick tidy-up in a corner of my home. This makes me feel more in control of what's around me and helps knock a chore off the list. If my space feels more "together," then I'm more likely to be open to visitors stopping by (which I'm trying to be better about as I mentioned in last night's post about hygge-ing and getting together with friends more this winter).

Nothing fancy here - just my entry way table that very quickly accumulates stuff. I can tell how busy I've been during the week by looking at this table! I keep my work bag underneath, purse on top, along with mail and other notes or To Do's that come up.

In less than ten minutes, I cleared the surface (except for my purse that lives there) by putting things away, filing things away, and recycling a few pieces of junk mail. It feels so much more organized!

I love using Lapse It to capture these quick chores because it shows that it really takes no time at all to get the space a little more manageable (plus fun cameo by Walt/his tail!).

 
 

Do you have an area of your home that makes tidying seem like a break from your work? What task do you like to tackle before you get started on a bigger project? 

Getting Cozy with The Little Book of Hygge

I borrowed The Little Book of Hygge from a friend as a way to motivate myself to be more "active" this winter by getting cozy, spending time with friends, and focusing on comfort. So often when the weather turns colder, I find myself hiding away at home, finding excuses to not go out. 

This winter I wanted to recommit to being more active like walks around the neighborhood with friends, making plans like crock pot dinner parties, basically finding ways to be comfy and still socialize with friends.

How do you hygge? What are you doing this winter to stay connected to friends and family, how do you take care of yourself/take breaks, and what are your best "get cozy" tips?

I'd love to hear in the comments below! Let me know if you've read the book or have it on your list - clicking on the image below helps support this blog so thank you!

I'll keep you posted with tips this week on how to stay organized so that you can get your hygge on this winter.

 
 

 

 

Transformation Tuesday #60: Packing Light

This week's transformation is really about a mindset, and not so much the before-and-after (don't worry - plenty of those coming your way starting next week!). I have always struggled with packing for trips because there always seemed to be too many things to plan for. 

As a kid, I was used to schlepping things from my mom's house to my dad's house, so it didn't seem unnatural to haul whatever I could fit in my suitcase to my travel destination. Once I started simplifying my closet, packing became so much easier for me. I still have some challenges with shorter trips (again, what if I need something "fancy" or the weather changes suddenly?). 

For this week's short jaunt down to Portland, I knew I needed to really consolidate because I'll be carrying my bag around for a couple of hours before checking in to my Airbnb. Since I'm using my versatile Topo backpack tote as my purse, this is the perfect opportunity to use my little bag that I picked up at a Monoprix in Paris. 

My tips for packing for short trips:

  1. Stay organized by making a list!
  2. Be realistic about your travel activities - what's the likelihood of needing something for a fancy dinner out? Pick versatile items that can layer and hold up with multiple wears.
  3. Leave space in your bag for any souvenirs you plan to pick up and snacks when you're in transit
 
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How do you keep from overpacking? Would love to hear your tips!

Transformation Tuesday #54: Kitchen Pantry Catch-All

It's been a minute since I've posted some transformations and these next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of my favorites!

I had the opportunity to collaborate with my friend, Krista Kenner, and work on her family's catch-all pantry in their beautiful cliffside treehouse in Bellingham.

We had been chatting earlier this year, sharing ideas on what has been helpful in building our businesses when we decided to collaborate on one of her own spaces. Krista's in the business of helping people get into the right home. I'm in the business of helping people streamline and love their home. Her New Year's resolution was to get more organized. Yet once again, she found herself unorganized in February and was ready to get the help of a professional to get started. We knew this was going to be a fun exercise!

Before I arrived, we talked about what she wanted for this pantry and she sent some pictures so I could see what I would be working with. She described it as a catch-all closet. It's a great, huge space - most people would kill for a central closet like this in their home! Yet it was filled to the brim, with no system to keep things in their place, it mostly just stressed her out. 

The first step to every project is to clear out the space. We completely emptied it, spreading everything out on the kitchen table, island, and floor, leaving some walkways to navigate around the piles. We categorized everything, quickly identifying what needed to be easily accessible like the everyday items of snacks, paper goods, cleaning products and supplies. Some of the less frequently used items stayed up high like vases, platters, staging materials, and gift wrap.

 
 

Krista was so ready to edit down this closet's contents. As we sorted and organized, she was able to see shelves open up with more white space around what would be going back in. When you are in that mindset of simplifying, many of the decisions are easier to make. We talked about the difference between doing it on your own and bringing in support to work through it. In her own words:

"Having a plan, and the experience behind tackling a project like this, was super helpful. I tend to just stare at a mess, get stressed out, and walk away thinking 'I'll deal with this later." But having someone who was like "First we're going to do this, then this, then this," was extremely helpful. Because once we got started, we were on a roll and it was pretty simple."

Since we refreshed this space, she says she has gained confidence that to tackle other unorganized parts of the house. She used the same approach on her daughter's bedroom, which is turning into a play space now that her daughter is sharing a room with her older sister. Krista took everything out of the space - old toys, clothes, stuffed animals, baby stuff - and went through it all before it went back in. She got rid of a LOT of stuff. She now has an organized blank slate in which to reimagine, and is focused on making it a really usable space for the girls.

 
 

I loved every minute of this project! Plus, we had a couple of helpers who decided to pose for the camera :)

Not only did we have a beautiful space and plenty of storage to work with, Krista was excited to make the change in streamlining her home and we had it all documented by the one and only Ted Zee. Check out more pictures here in my new-and-improved project gallery

If you want to keep up on real estate trends in news in the Bellingham area, check out Krista's blog and follow her adventures on Instagram.

Transformation Tuesday #50: Get Your Garage Ready for Spring!

As I've mentioned before, the garage is that critical space that most people pass through everyday, but can't seem to get a handle on keeping organized. Some people struggle with being able to park their vehicle in the garage. Oftentimes when that happens, the garage starts to accumulate more stuff from empty Amazon boxes that you don't have time to break down, to friends or family needing a "quick storage spot" and leaving their stuff for safekeeping.

I spent a half day with a client going through her garage so that we could make room for her car. We spent about an hour sorting through, box by box, grouping into these categories:

  1. Trash
  2. Recycle
  3. Donation
  4. Keep - store in house
  5. Keep - store in garage

After an hour of sorting, I started moving the categories of items around. It happened to be trash day (yay!) so clearing that out helped free up floor space. All the items she wanted to keep in the garage didn't take up that much room, so I was able to stack a few bins alongside the wall. This is a great opportunity to grab a broom and clear out the cobwebs.

 
 

I moved donation items to my car so I could haul those away then spent the rest of the time putting various household items back inside. This is what takes the longest, but after seeing a newly cleared space, should give you a little boost of energy so you can finish out the project.

Are you ready to work on your garage this spring?