You've got to give yourself some credit. Literally. Fewer than half of you use a credit card, and your financial tabula rasa could mess things up when you want a house or loan. Make your life in plastic more fantastic with these tips:

Check your credit score(s). Certified credit counselor Greg Harper says that most of the credit reports he sees are wrong. Get a free report at annualcreditreport.com and check for correct addresses and bank accounts.

U.S. law entitles you to a free report every year, but because creditors report to three bureaus, Harper recommends you pull a copy from each bureau every four months.

Find alternatives. "If you don't have any credit, the hardest thing is to get about establishing that," says Kathy O'Masters, a credit union representative. If your credit application isn't approved, consider a certificate of deposit or share secured loan. You deposit money into an account, which the bank then freezes and issues you a card with credit for that amount. As you repay the loan, the bank releases the money you originally deposited.

The advantages: Interest rates are low, and you can build credit without banks checking your history.

The disadvantages: CDs report like any other loan, and if you don't pay, the bank will keep your money. Luckily, you can set up automatic payments.

Another option is to co-sign a credit card with someone who has enough income or credit to be approved. But keep Harper's advice in mind: "Co-signing is something I'd recommend nobody do, unless you go into it saying, 'I'm going to take full ownership of what I'm co-signing for.'" With cosigning, paying -- or not paying -- affects your credit scores.

Monitor your plastic. If you're living off ramen through college, you might not need a credit card yet. These cards are not for supplementing income. "You want to build credit so you can buy a house or buy a car. If you're struggling, your credit shouldn't be a priority," Harper said.

He added if you already have a credit card and want another, be discerning. "There's not a lot of people I see that have one credit card. It's 10 or 15 of them." Most of them are department store cards, too.

Pay on time. Start healthy repayment habits now to entice future lenders. Paying for rent, your cell and utilities won't build credit, but not paying on time can ruin it. Good habits will get you what you want later, according to Harper.

Budgeting can also help. Aim to spend no more than 29 percent of your income on housing and 35 to 38 percent on your whole household budget, which includes food, car insurance and health care.

Care for credit you have. Most states let you do a security freeze on your credit to prevent identity theft, which prevents people from opening new accounts without your knowledge. Do this. Such freezes typically cost $10 or less for all three agencies that track your credit, so eschew expensive companies.

Watch your credit limits. "You don't want to use more than 30 to 50 percent of your available credit. Period," Harper cautions. This means if you have a credit card with a $1,000 limit, you shouldn't use your card for more than $500 each month. If you go over, creditors see you as mismanaging your credit because you over-obligate yourself. That shiny new smart phone will have to wait until next month.

Having good credit often comes down to being friendly with your bank and finding an insider to vouch for you. "Don’t be defined by your circumstances," Harper says. "Be defined by how you handle them."

Photo by Got Credit via cc.

 

In recent years, administrative assistants have earned an average of $34,000 per year -- not a bad salary if you're a somewhat recent grad in the midst of paying your dues. But what if you find yourself doing the work of an admin assistant when that's not, in fact, what you signed up to do?

It's a trap that many junior or entry-level employees fall into easily. You're hired to do a specific job -- perhaps one that even reflects your area of study -- but because you're the low man or woman on the totem pole, you find yourself making far too many photocopies for comfort. You want to participating in meetings, not booking conference rooms for them.

Now let's be clear: There's nothing wrong or demeaning about putting in your time as an admin assistant. Even if you're the smartest person to emerge from your graduating class, without prior experience in the working world, you may have no choice but to take a job that's heavily administrative in nature. But if you were offered a completely different title with specific responsibilities that do not, by any means, fall under the admin assistant umbrella, then you have every right to stand up for yourself if your manager or superiors don't appear to be playing by the rules.

Here are three tactics for addressing the situation:

Be firm, but don't be whiny or confrontational. Yes, you should state your case, but don't just moan to your boss about how you didn't sign up to be an admin assistant. Even if you're right, you need to be diplomatic. Let's say you were hired as a junior copywriter but instead find yourself on reception desk duty for several hours a day. Try saying this: "I want to help out as much as possible, but I'm disappointed that I'm spending so much of my time answering telephones and taking down messages. Can we work something out so that there's better coverage at reception? This way I can focus on copywriting."

Remind your boss why you were hired in the first place. Let's say you were hired as a junior accountant. Try stating: "I know there's a lot of work to be done around here, and that sometimes I may be asked to pitch in on other tasks. I'm really confident that I can help get our books in order and recommend cost-saving strategies going into the next quarter. That's what I promised you back when you interviewed me, and given the time to focus on my core responsibilities, I'm certain I'll be able to deliver."

Make a case financially. If you're being paid $50,000 a year to work as a marketing professional but find yourself doing little marketing and lots of coffee-fetching, try saying the following: "I'm happy to be a team player and help out with things that may fall outside my core job responsibilities, but lately I'm doing so much admin work I feel like you're not getting great value for your money. You can hire a part-time admin assistant for $15 an hour, which is much less than I’m making. This will free up much of my time so that I can do the things I do best and add real value around here."

Remember, being the youngest or lowest-ranking employee doesn't mean you deserve to get slammed with admin duty every time the need arises. If you're tired of playing the role of admin by default, do something about it quickly -- before people get too used to the idea and increasingly take advantage.

Photo by Pedro Figueiredo via cc.

Growing up, I always wanted a pet but couldn't because of my father's supposed allergies. So when my husband suggested we get a dog, I immediately jumped at the idea. We were really excited to have a cute little puppy to play with and also thought it would give us a taste of what it would be like to one day have a kid. (Um, wrong.) As luck would have it, my husband had a friend who was moving to an apartment where pets were prohibited, and before we knew it, we were bringing home our very own fluffy cock-a-poo.

We figured the adjustment would be easy. After all, the puppy was already trained, so it was really just a matter of getting him used to his new surroundings, right? Not so much.

During those first few weeks, our dog transformed our entire house into his personal urinal. Every time I turned around it seemed like there was yet another corner that suddenly reeked of pee.

We went back and forth on where the dog should sleep -- our room versus a crate downstairs -- and one night decided to let him share our bed. The next morning, we both woke up to wet feet. At first we figured the dog had just licked us affectionately while we were sleeping, but once we realized it was in fact urine between our toes, we had to quickly rethink our sleeping arrangements.

Leaving for work in the morning was also an ordeal. Every day I'd head out to the sound of the dog crying, and while it was great coming home to a happy, excited pup, it was not so great coming home to dog poop all over the floor.

Eventually things settled down and we got used to life with our yappy little dog. But we learned some valuable lessons along the way:

Make sure you can really afford a pet before you get one. We have a small dog but still spend $300 a year on food and treats, plus another $400 a year on pet meds and annual checkups. On top of that, we spend about $400 a year getting him shaved and groomed (which, incidentally, is way more than we spend on our own haircuts). The ASPCA has a breakdown of average pet care costs that any potential pet owner should look at.

Pet care can be time-consuming. We knew we'd have to walk the dog on a regular basis, but didn't realize how much time we'd spend brushing his teeth, bathing him and cutting his nails.

Pets take up space, and they can mess up your space. Sure, you can stick a small fish tank in the corner and call it a day, but if you get a dog or a cat, you'll need room for your pet to roam around. That also means you can't rule out the possibility of your cat scratching up your beloved couch cushions, or your dog vomiting all over your area rug.

You'll have less freedom once you get a pet. Once we adopted our dog, going away got tougher. We had to travel for several weddings that first summer and each time faced the dilemma of whether to board our dog at a kennel or beg someone to temporarily take him in. The few times we did attempt to travel with our dog, we faced major restrictions, as most hotels either don't allow pets or charge a premium to bring one.

Despite the costs involved and challenges we've faced since getting our dog, we're really happy we did. Besides, what's a little hard work in the grand scheme of unwavering loyalty and unconditional love?

Photo by funkblast via cc

By this point you’ve done the math and have decided buying a house makes fiscal sense, and you're ready to begin looking for a house. Not just any house, the house. At the very least, you're embarking on a new journey that is full of promise, but can also be full of expenses if you don't look closely before buying.

Before examining the potential house of your dreams, remember this one thing: Do not make purchasing a house an emotional experience. Do not develop an emotional attachment to any house. You may absolutely love a house, put in an offer, and someone else outbids you. It happens. The chances are, if you lived in a house two blocks over with similar features, you'll be just as happy with that one (and probably several dozen others).

If you can, bring a friend, parent, aunt or uncle with you who knows about construction and who knows what to look for. Cast your pride aside -- they may spot something that will save you thousands.

Some of the first things to check for are structural. Check the foundation for any cracks, bowing, shifting or anything outside of the normal function of concrete (or blocks, in some cases). A house with a bad foundation is something you always want to walk away from. Foundation repairs can easily begin at $2k, and can cost up to $30-40K, depending on the severity. Also, look at the joists, something many buyers forget to do.

The circuit breaker box is a good indicator of how well the home's electrical system is. Older houses will have far fewer outlets, while newer ones will have several per room (I didn't discover this until after I bought my house, built in 1887). Take a cell phone charger and test at least one outlet in each room to ensure the circuits are working. Flush the toilets and turn on the faucets for the same reason, unless the water is winterized. If the home has an unfinished basement, you should be able to see some of the plumbing and determine its status as well.

The air conditioner, furnace and hot water heater are also important to examine, and are often overlooked. If any are more than 10 years old, it's wise to upgrade and budget for it now, rather than later. It's also worth taking a close look at the deck or patio, as are gutters and windows (if they're wooden frame or single pane). While you're outside, check the shingles. It's not necessary to go on the roof for this, but check the shingles that are clearly visible and peek in the attic for any holes or wood rot. In the attic, also inspect the insulation.

Before you close the deal on any house, your lender will more than likely require an inspection. Consider buying a home warranty from the lender, or asking for it in your loan. It may pay off hundreds down the road. Additionally, you can negotiate with the seller to fix something prior to the sale. Finally, you probably won't catch everything, and that's ok. Just remember, when buying a house, you are inheriting all its problems since its construction -- but you will also reap all its rewards.

Photo by Ian Munroe via cc.

When I first moved to Manhattan I shared an apartment with a roommate who was an absolute nightmare. After surviving that ordeal, I decided that my next apartment would need to be roommate-free.

I was worried that tackling rent and bills on my own would leave me perpetually cash-strapped. To go from sharing an apartment to signing my own lease, I had to be willing to pay an extra $400 in monthly rent. I also had to furnish the place myself, which was another expensive prospect. (My former roommate may have been crazy, but at least she owned a TV and a couch.)

And, oh yeah, there was also the matter of paying the equivalent of three months' rent at move-in (first month's, last month's and a security deposit). In case that doesn't sound like a lot, let me break it down for you: This is Manhattan we're talking about--the land of the $12 sandwich and $5 half-gallon of milk. It may be the city that never sleeps, but it's also the city that sucks away your money at every turn.

Once I moved in, I created a monthly budget and stuck to it for the most part. Living without a roommate meant compromising on other things. While many of my apartment-sharing friends were busy dining out several nights a week, I was in my kitchen making homemade enchiladas or whatever quick meal I could whip up on the cheap. On the other hand, once they got home from said fabulous dinners, they had to deal with roommate drama, whereas I did not--and for that, I was perpetually grateful.

Now I'm not going to say living alone was 100 percent wonderful all the time. Aside from the financial stress of not having anyone with whom to split the bills, I experienced some other challenges as a result of living solo. For example, when I was way behind getting dressed for a friend's wedding and realized at the last possible second that I needed help zipping up my dress, there was no one around to assist. Then there was the time I had to leave my apartment for several hours after discovering a scary spider with no one there to help make it disappear. (I may be brave in certain regards, but when it comes to all things creepy crawly, I'm a self-proclaimed wuss.)

And of course there were all those times I got annoyed about the mostly empty fridge or the mess in the kitchen--it would've been nice to have had the option to blame a roommate, but instead I had no choice but to blame myself. In fact, several months after moving into my own place, I realized that as long as your roommate isn't insane, having someone around can be nice sometimes.

But that's the thing about roommates. "Sometimes" isn't a choice. When there's another name on the lease, that person is going to be there, in your apartment, all the time, and you can't say a darn thing about it. When you live on your own, you get to choose when you're in the mood to have company --and when you're not. You're absolutely allowed to throw on pajamas, order an extra-large pizza and share it with no one.

Renting my own apartment was one of the best moves I could've made. I had the freedom to host get-togethers without having to consult anyone else. I could hog the TV or stink up the kitchen with zero repercussions whatsoever. Living alone was a liberating experience, and ultimately one well worth the cost involved.

Photo by epSos .de via cc

You've heard it before. Business can be cutthroat, vile and cruel. Or so it would seem. But a lot of the prevalent thinking in today's buzzing, unconventional boardrooms is that it's the people that matter most. Relationships matter. Building a strong bridge between the people you serve and the ideas that you want to bring to fruition is monumental to achieving success as a millennial entrepreneur.

It's certainly a philosophy Jay Wright has taken under his wing. The 26-year-old Queenscliff, Australia native is a man of all occasions and definitely not the typical wheeling and dealing entrepreneur type. If anything, you'd think he was an adventurer given the photo of him ascending that snowcapped mountain peak. But it seems that the real adventure is in adapting to challenges and grooming relationships within Wright's four successful businesses.

Here's a current rundown of Wright's burgeoning businesses. We're sure there will be more added to this list of movers and shakers in the future.

  • Search Insights. Sydney-based Ecommerce Marketing Agency specializing in search engine optimization, paid advertising, remarketing, conversion optimization, web project management, social networking, email marketing and strategy.
  • Granny Flat Finder. An Australian website that directs visitors to numerous resources for finding granny flats of all manner of design, granny flat builders, whitepapers on the subject of process and regulation, and guides for building a granny flat.
  • Quality Trade. An online B2B trading portal specializing in promoting ISO-certified organizations.
  • Shadow App. An innovative new application specializing in life-logging.

So for his part, Wright is no slouch when it comes to engineering a meeting of the minds nor for helping others meet their greatest potential. Business as usual for the digital entrepreneur seems to be all about life-affirming decision making, empowering bold projects and marketing strategies for clients, launching innovative appware for the forward-thinking set and nailing down niche markets to overwhelming success. TedX took notice and quickly became enamored of the digital-biz wonderkid.

Enamored enough to ask him to speak at one of their events. I had a chance to ask Jay Wright the straight-forward questions and get to the nitty gritty of what it takes to make four very different businesses thrive in today's no-holds-barred marketplace.

How did you come to Digital Marketing?

I was in finance and business consulting for a while. However, I was somewhat frustrated with the nepotistic state of play. The internet was booming - taking our market share as brokers, the tech stocks I was trading were rallying - so when offered the opportunity to create an agency with one of Sydney's best, I jumped at it.

How much of Digital Marketing is magic and how much is nuts and bolts?

Like most things, the fundamentals are still critically important. The thing with Digital Marketing is that unlike most other industries the fundamentals change every six months. We have innovation meetings every two weeks and staff have kpi's linked to identifying and acting on the movement in the sector. It's critical for our client's success that we stay on the ball and ahead of the curve.

What's harder: saying no to a client or saying yes?

Definitely saying no. It's in my nature to please and I think that's a big reason for the level of growth Search Insights has experienced. We recently had SP Jain business school conduct an independent survey of our clients and 100 percent said they would refer Search Insights. So to realise when a partnership isn't suitable or mutually beneficial, saying "no" is one of the hardest parts of the job.

What are five pieces of tech or appware you use for your business?

Built With is absolutely my favorite tool at the moment, you can instantly tell the infrastructure of a site and have a firm understanding of what they do. Couple that with Ahrefs and SEMrush and I can pretty much know where any website is at in the life-cycle in a couple of minutes.

What is one bit of advice that has stayed with you?

I have met a lot of great business people along the path. I always try and gain some insights into people's "modus operandi" when I get a chance to meet them. Relatively early on I met the head of a billion dollar UK hedge fund and asked him what he thought his success came down to. I think I have taken his answer to heart and woven it into my daily dealings. He said:

  • Hard work
  • Relationships
  • Don't send anything to anybody that you wouldn't be happy receiving yourself.

What would you say is the strongest tool for working in Digital Marketing?

For me it's relationships. Relationships with clients, suppliers, industry connections, affiliates and staff. Building an ecosystem of experts in all fields and having the ability to leverage that in the direction of your choosing is invaluable.

How do you brainstorm big ideas for clients?

For the most part I am inspired and guided by results. I am in the unique position of being able to look at dozens of online businesses every month and analyze what's working and what's not. It's also such a fast moving space that having a strong network is essential to see what's new, what's working and what's hype.

What is your first morning ritual of business?

I'm lucky enough to live in Queenscliff, Sydney, so I always roll out of bed and watch the sunrise over the ocean. Followed by coffee, emails and a run through of the day's schedule while watching the surfers.

For more follow Jay Wright on twitter at @search_insights to keep abreast of what enterprising ideas are taking shape.

Photo courtesy of Jay Wright.

Unless you live in a cave you've surely heard the advertisements about the "historically low interest rates" for buying a house. And that's mostly true -- rates are quite low after the 2008 housing shenanigans. But, does that necessarily mean it's a good time to buy a house for you? There are a lot of financial factors that first-time homebuyers often forget, or were never aware of to begin with. Renting often makes financial sense, despite the higher monthly payment. So, when is it time to consider buying a house?

First, ascertain if you can even buy a house. A credit score of 660 or above can usually get a fair loan, provided you have a solid job history -- meaning you've had a stable, well-paying job for at least a year or two. Lenders also like to see a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) of around 36 percent (including the mortgage) with the mortgage taking up about 28 percent of your total income. This is somewhat flexible, but if you're in the 45 percent or more range, it's probably better to eliminate some debt first and raise your credit score in the process.

If you meet these criteria, there's still more to consider. Can you afford a down payment of ten percent? If you can't, there are programs out there that allow you to purchase a house without a down payment, provided you meet the credit criteria, but it's always best to make a down payment, as you'll pay thousands less down the road. If you don't have at least ten percent down in savings, the chances are you are not ready to buy a house -- even if you can qualify. Being able to buy a house and being financially responsible or financially sound enough to buy a house are not synonymous. Be honest with yourself here -- no one will reap the benefits or pay the price but you.

In addition to the down payment, maintenance costs can be significantly higher. Many older houses have quirks and damage that you may not notice until after it's yours -- even with a thorough inspection. If your air conditioning goes out, can you afford a $300 service call and still make your mortgage and car payments? If your hot water heater tanks (pun intended) can you swing $400 for a new one? Once you move in, you'll likely want to paint, maybe put some carpet in and buy a lawn chair or two. These obviously aren't free, and it's best practice to double what you think you'll spend on these. Most houses won't come with appliances, but most apartments and duplexes do -- so if you're a first time homeowner, it's not uncommon to spend several thousand on a refrigerator, washer and dryer -- and putting this on credit is a huge financial mistake.

Buying a house has a ton of benefits -- you can change it to what suits you and build equity in something valuable and keep it years after it's paid off. But before you buy, be sure that it makes smart financial sense. If not, calling a landlord to repair the heater is much more preferable than living without heat until you can afford a service call.

Photo by Nan Palmero via cc.

You've worked hard all year, whether at school or on the job, and you're finally in the process of planning a much-deserved vacation. If your idea of a good time involves sun and sand, figuring out where to go is easier said than done. With all the resort options out there, pinpointing your ideal vacation spot can be dizzying. So before you start browsing through online brochures, you may want to ask yourself whether you'll be looking at an all-inclusive resort versus the type where you pay as you go along.

All-inclusive resorts definitely have their appeal, so much so that in recent years, the number of U.S. travelers who have stayed at an all-inclusive resort has increased. Not sure if an all-inclusive is right for you? Consider the pros and cons.

Benefits

You won't have to worry about going over budget. When you stay at an all-inclusive, you pay a single price up front for your room, food, drinks and activities. This means that as long as you've saved enough to cover the base rate, there's no need to keep a mental calculation of what you're spending as you go along. Instead, you can sit back and relax knowing that there's no way you'll be exceeding your budget.

You won't feel guilty for indulging or trying new things. If your food and beverages aren't included in your base rate, you may feel compelled to skip that appetizer or sip water over soda in order to save some money. On the other hand, if your meals and beverages are already paid for, you won't have to think twice about ordering that extra iced tea or treating yourself to a more elaborate entrée.

You won't have to deal with gratuities. Many all-inclusive resorts have a no-tipping policy, which means you won't have to worry about having cash on hand or remembering to add a gratuity each time a waiter brings you a beverage.

Drawbacks

You might pay more than what you would've spent otherwise. There's a reason why all-inclusive resorts are able to offer so many amenities. Most charge a premium for unlimited access to food and fun, and depending on where you stay and what your dining habits are, you could end up paying more for an all-inclusive than you would've paid a la carte. This especially holds true if you're not a particularly big eater or prefer to sit on the beach rather than participate in different activities.

You're limited to the resort itself. When you stay at a traditional resort, you can explore the neighboring town and dine at its local restaurants. With an all-inclusive, you're stuck where you are unless you're willing to pay extra on top of the premium you've already paid.

"All-inclusive" may not actually include everything. It's counterintuitive, right? You'd think an all-inclusive rate would cover every amenity and activity offered at a given resort, but that's not always the case. If you're an adventure junkie, be warned that activities like hang-gliding or parasailing often cost extra. The same goes for massages and spa services.

Weighing Your Options

When deciding whether to stay at an all-inclusive resort, think about what's most important to you. Do you want the freedom to indulge in fine food? Or is it enough to simply stay in a comfortable room with easy access to the beach? An all-inclusive isn't for everyone, and if your tastes are simpler, you may be better off sticking to the traditional pay-as-you-go model. On the other hand, if you can swing an all-inclusive, there's nothing wrong with treating yourself to a little taste of the good life.

Photo by John Menard via cc

Though dorm life is still a far cry from real adult life, it's a step in the right direction. If you're headed off to college for the first time this summer, here's a list of things you absolutely need to do before bidding your parents' house adieu:

Open a checking account. Find one with a low minimum balance or better yet, no minimum at all. Ideally, your bank should also offer features like online bill paying and mobile deposits. Also, choose a bank with several branches in close proximity to your school. Accessible ATMs mean you're less likely to incur fees for
withdrawing cash elsewhere.

Get a credit card. College is a great time to start building credit, so find a card that caters to students. Look for one that comes with no annual fee and a rewards program, like cash back on everyday purchases.

Create a budget. Be clear about what your financial aid will and won't cover, and from there, figure out how much money you'll need for your remaining expenses. If you don't have enough savings or financial support from your parents to bridge that gap, you may need to find a part-time job.

Learn how to do your own laundry. We're not judging if you've never done it before--that's one of the perks of living at home. But before you head off to college, ask your mom for a crash course on separating your darks from your whites.

Refill your medications and prescriptions. You may not have easy access to a doctor (and certainly not your usual doctor) while away at college. Before the semester starts, check in with your doctor to make sure your prescriptions are current, and get refills as necessary. This goes for everyday medications as well as contact lenses or glasses.

Get in touch with your new roommate. Your school will probably let you know who you'll be bunking with over the summer. Call your new roommate to say hello, get a sense of his or her living style and figure out who's bringing the TV or microwave.

Stock up on dorm room supplies. Don't raid your bedroom at home--if you do, the stuff you need won't be there when you go home for weekends or breaks. Make a list and purchase your desk lamp, laundry basket or shower caddy when your local store has college items on sale.

Take some pictures with family and friends. And don't just leave them on your phone--print and frame them so you can display them in your new dorm room. It'll help you avoid getting homesick.

Pack. Leave yourself ample time to do this, as getting your life in order is a process. Dorm rooms are tiny, and it'll take time to figure out what to take and what to leave behind.

Apply for a job on or near campus. Don't wait until classes are underway--all the good jobs might be taken by then. You should especially act quickly if you won't have a car or access to public transportation, as your choices will likely be limited. Bummed that you'll need to work? Don't despair. Your job will be yet another outlet for you to meet new people and make friends.

Getting ready for college can be overwhelming, but the more organized you are, the less stressed you'll be. The key is to stay calm and have fun with it--because in essence, what you're really doing is gearing up for one of the most awesome, exciting experiences of your life.

Photo by Sienna College via cc

Like many young people my first priority after high school was to go to college. However, upon doing further research (hours of Googling and browsing Craigslist for jobs), the future employment market for college grads didn't seem as lucrative as it had been made out to be. So I took the opposite approach. I figured I could get a house and rent out the rooms for income when I was ready to attend school.

In most cases you need three things to get a mortgage loan: A good credit score, proof of income and a big pile of money. I only had two of the three. My credit was good. I'd got a credit card at 16 to pay for gas and had always paid it off each month. I had a decent paying job, but after a recent setback in the stock market, I was short on cash for the down payment.

I made a spending plan and through budgeting, cooking at home and resisting the urge to upgrade my generic car, I had the money required two years later.

The large down payment necessary to purchase a house would empty my entire savings account. While I wanted a house, having no money left over for emergencies and other expenses would leave me very vulnerable, which sounded like a bad option. I wanted to find a different way.

At the time, I had just completed my first stint with the military. This allowed me to qualify for a home loan through the Veteran's Affairs office without putting any money down. The VA is notorious for making veterans jump through more hoops than a dolphin at SeaWorld, but this process was much simpler than anticipated. I went to the bank with my documentation, and left with a pre-approval letter for a $350k loan.

Just because someone is approved for a larger loan, doesn't mean they are obligated to spend the entire amount. It's smart to take future plans into account before trying to imitate the designer homes shown on TV. My intent was to rent out any extra rooms to my former soldiers and fellow college students. This would allow me to capitalize on my networking skills, relieve much of the financial strain and have some extra play money.

It's a big commitment buying a house. It ties the owner to a certain area, and obligates them to make payments for the next 15 to 30 years depending on the type of mortgage. Considering the location and future job potential in the area is crucial.

I bought a four bedroom, three bath house located on a small lot with a fenced backyard near the local college in my hometown. The loan was for $185,000 which meant the monthly payments would be around $1300 for the next 30 years. The master bedroom was massive and segregated from the other side of the house. This was important to my sanity as I wanted to escape the drama that comes with having roommates.

With a mortgage and other bills (water, power, internet, etc.) costing an additional $200, the grand total came to $1500 in monthly expenses. By renting two rooms in my house, at $400 each, I was left with monthly bills of $700. That was less than I was previously paying for my crappy, one-bedroom, wrong-side-of-town apartment.

My house ended up being the best investment I ever made as it continues to generate rental income. The key to my success was that I worked first, and set up a cash flow stream prior to taking on the additional expenses associated with college.

Photo by James Thompson via cc