Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hip + Urban Girl of the Week: Krystal Yee

This week we chat with Krystal Yee, a freelance writer and marketer. She's our favourite blogger on Moneyville (The Toronto Star's personal finance blog) because we love her young and fresh perspective on money. She's living the freelance dream right now in Germany and took some time out of her busy day to chat with us. Meet Krystal - our Hip + Urban Girl of the Week!

How did you become so passionate about personal finance?

Just after I graduated from college in 2006, I realized that my debt was going to hold me back from the kind of life I wanted for myself – unless I did something about it. So, as a naturally competitive person, I challenged myself to get rid of all of my student loan and credit card debt (just over $20k) within one year of graduating college.

It was in those 12 months that I realized something about money that I had never realized before: money might not buy happiness, but it is involved in most major decisions that we make in our lives. Without money, there is no way to achieve financial independence. And when you don’t have to rely on anybody else, or allow yourself to be limited by your financial situation, a lot of doors open up for you.

A lot of our readers have just graduated from school and may be sitting on HUGE student loans. It's overwhelming, but what advice do you have on how to even start paying this back?

When I graduated college, the thought of paying back my student loans was extremely overwhelming. But the quicker you develop a plan, the easier your life is going to be. Once you land your first job out of school, keep living like a student. Never pay just the minimum amount due each month to your loans. And if need to, get a second job. It might be hard for a little while, but it will be worth it when you’re debt free years sooner than you expected to be.

What little changes can we make to save money?

For most of us, we don’t have to drastically change our lives in order to save more money. A lot of times it’s just planning ahead. Keep snacks in your purse whenever you go out. Make your coffee and lunches at home. Walk, instead of drive. And, most importantly, be happy with what you already have.

What are your top THREE pieces of money advice to someone who is 25?

1. Pay yourself first through automated savings

2. Aggressively pay down debt (all debt is bad debt)

3. Spend on what matters in life, and cut the fat everywhere else

How do you balance being frugal with getting the most out of life?

The key is knowing what you value. I am extremely frugal in areas of my life. I don’t care much for drinking, partying, buying clothing, going out for fancy dinners, collecting things, or having all of the latest gadgets. I do, however, value traveling. So that’s where I choose to spend the majority of my fun money. It makes me happy knowing that I can do exactly what I want in life, without sacrificing my savings plan, or going into debt.

But we’re all different, and that’s the beauty of personal finance. Someone might really enjoy going out to nice restaurants every weekend. So, instead of going traveling like me, that’s where they choose to spend their money instead. The same goes for someone who chooses daily lattes from Starbucks over being able to afford a nicer apartment. It’s all about our own individual priorities, and what brings us the most value and happiness to our lives.

What did you study in College/University? Is there anything you would do differently or advise others about?

I graduated from a communication generalist program in college – marketing, journalism, graphic design, photography, radio, and television. Prior to that, I studied (but did not graduate) sports marketing with a minor in journalism at Central Michigan University.

My advice to students is to think ahead in life – past school. What will you do with your degree? How will you earn a living and pay back your student loans?

So many of my friends went to University for degrees in subjects that they were interested in – not degrees that they could cultivate into work after they graduated. Have a plan of attack. If you decide to major in history, English, psychology, latin, or whatever it is that you’re studying – understand what kind of jobs you can get from those degrees, and make sure it’s what you want to be doing when you graduate. You need to be smart about an education that will most likely put you tens of thousands of dollars into debt. Education is only an investment if you can develop a career out of it.

What is your typical day like?

As a freelancer, I try to lead structured days - much like a regular full-time job. It helps me stay the most productive. I’m up by 7:00 AM, and working by 8:30 AM. I have multiple clients spread across many different industries, so I need to be extremely organized when it comes to prioritizing tasks and hitting deadlines.

My work is done by around 5 PM, and throughout the evening I will still monitor my websites, answer e-mails, and upload photos.

The great thing about being a freelancer is the flexibility it provides. For example, I am from Vancouver, BC, but am currently living overseas in Germany for the next seven months. I can continue servicing my North American clients from anywhere in the world, as long as I have my laptop, iPhone, and an internet connections. Living in Europe affords me the freedom to explore all of the countries surrounding me, without having to take time off from work. I also have the flexibility to work longer days in order to spend more time exploring different cities.

What are some of the disadvantages of your job, that maybe we don't think about?

Being a freelancer can be lonely. Especially living overseas, where the time zone change means I’m awake while all of my friends and family back home in Canada are asleep. I spend most of the day by myself with my laptop, and I’m okay with that.

Also, you have to be extremely organized. In a full-time job, all you need to worry about is your own work. But as a freelancer, you own your own business. Not only do you have to do your job, but you also have to do the accounting, administration, marketing, business analysis – and there’s rarely anyone there to bounce ideas off of.

Where are your favourite places to hang out in Vancouver? 

My favourite places to hang out in Vancouver are all outdoors. I love exploring the backcountry – hiking, rock climbing, skiing – as long as I’m outside, I feel great. In the city, my favourite things to do are to walk on the seawall in Stanley Park, eat a hot bowl of ramen soup downtown, grab brunch at Café Medina, catch a concert at the Commodore Ballroom, or just hang out at the beach. I lead a pretty laid back life.

Where would you go on your dream vacation?

Well, living in Europe for the next seven months, I feel like I’m already on a dream vacation. But there are so many places in the world that I haven’t seen yet. Tops on my list are rock climbing in Thailand, climbing Kilimanjaro in Kenya, and hiking Machu Picchu in Peru.

What would you tell your 20 year-old self?

If I knew then, what I knew now, I would tell myself not to compare myself to others. It’s so easy to get discouraged and even jealous when we see our friends achieving what we’ve always dreamt of. But I’ve realized that everything I want in life will eventually happen for me – I’m just on a different path, and working on a different schedule. Good things come to those who wait.

What life advice do you have for hip + urban girls out there trying to figure out what they want to do?

My advice is to keep all of your options open. You never know what you will end up doing, or where you will end up living. And that’s the beauty of life! Keep an open mind, and when an opportunity comes up that scares you – it probably means that it’s the right thing to do.

Twitter: @krystalatwork

Loved This? Meet a few other Hip + Urban Girls of the Week!