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Karen Cordaway: The Everyday Bucket List

My guest is the author of The Everyday Bucket List Book: 10 Steps To Bring More Exciting Experiences to Everyday Life.

She also writes about shopping tips, cost-cutting, smart spending and other money-related topics for Clark Howard, Huffington Post and the nationally syndicated articles for US News. My guest is Karen Cordaway.

In our show, we're going to talk about something that everybody should be thinking about but might be avoiding and that is creating your own bucket list.

We're talking about the everyday bucket list and how you can bring more exciting experiences to your life every day without spending a ton of time and a ton of money. If that sounds interesting to you, you're going to love this show.

We're also going to talk about the benefit of making friends with early adopters and how that can help you grow a business. How that can put you on the front of new trends and how you can benefit from that. We'll also get into why and how to put yourself in the places of opportunity so that you can thrive.

Dustin
As a former teacher with kids to say you know a thing or two about stretching a budget might be a little bit of an understatement, but things got even more interesting for you when you went from full-time to part-time teaching. I'm curious, Karen, what prompted the switch and how do you manage going full-time to part-time on a teacher's budget?
Karen
It wasn't an easy thing, but I knew that I couldn't continue the way that everything was going. It was unmanageable. I had to bring my kids to two separate schools and everything like that. It was extremely stressful. I had a lot of daycare problems, but what I did is I jumped ship. It's one of those jumping without net scenarios. I had to find and scramble for part-time teaching to try to bring some money in knowing that I was leaving a full-time job. I did whatever I could. I would substitute. I would tutor. It wasn't like the same type of pay. I had to be extremely creative in how I spent my money, things that we had to cut. We had to do a do-over completely. Life as we knew it came to a screeching halt and I had to cut whatever I could. I had basic cable. I had to watch my electricity, my heat. Every little frugal trick you've ever heard, I tried and it helped. It kept us afloat.
Dustin
Karen, were you going from full-time to part-time because of the kids or were you making a career move at that point? You're charting a new course.
Karen
I didn't know I would be charting a new course. The plan was I did want to be a teacher, but I had such a scarring experience. I knew that as much as I liked the field, it isn't as family-friendly as you think. My husband is also in education. We had four different school systems to manage. Coordinating for my kids and my husband. We were always at report card conferences when we should have been at our kid's report card conferences. You feel like you're neglecting your own child for someone else's kids, which in a very bizarre way if I didn't work with kids, it wouldn't bother me as much. It wasn't unmanageable. I felt like I was almost always late, but it wasn't my fault.
It was the best I could do with dropping my kids off and trying to get to work on time. My husband had a different schedule so he couldn't help drop them off in the morning. I was like a single parent in a way, in that part of the day. It was like a temporary thing until I figured out that it wasn't going to work for me. What's funny is I took a career test in college and I was always supposed to be a small business person and know I loved kids. I don't like bureaucracy. I don't like being told what to do. Adults get on my nerves in those settings. I know that sounds terrible but I love kids. When you have parents, principals, colleagues and all these people trying to constantly infuse their ideas. It's like I want to do my job and I know what I'm doing. In some ways, I feel like I was always meant to work for myself.
Dustin
In your time, what I see is this difficult part of your life. You're starting to figure things out. In my understanding is you were blogging back at the time as a way to figure out a new path. Is my research correct, Karen, and that you were blogging at this point?
Karen
You’re absolutely right. I always had other interests. I would watch The Today Show. I was drawn to money shows. I was blogging about money-saving tips because I did have to learn all of that stuff overnight. I started blogging and one of my friends who was also a teacher said, “I know they're looking for writers for money-saving tips. They want teachers because they don't want to hire anyone full-time. If it's something you want to do.” I said, “Sure.” I started writing for this site. It was called Mommyverse. It was cool. The former editor of Latina Magazine asked me to do it. I willingly said yes. It led to a lot of other opportunities. I got to write for US News Money, Huff Post, Clark Howard.
It was like all of a sudden I got this momentum. I got a lot of opportunities. I was being featured. I started to get asked to be in magazines. I got asked to be in a book. I was in Money magazine. There was a book called Smart Mom, Rich Mom that somebody wanted to tell my story because another part of it is I didn't have any backup. Childcare was always a problem. My mom had passed away. That was another hard part because the school where I worked, I had a tough boss. It wasn't like regular tough. This person was like out and out, nasty. I was very worn down. I was grieving at the time. I got Money magazine because my mom had passed away and I was pregnant with my second child. That was hard with going back to work too. I wasn't fully myself. I wasn't emotionally ready to take on this job that was meant for two people. It was a big workload and I had a nasty boss. What's funny is I got to tell this type of story in Money magazine where I had to leave the workforce several times. The story got featured in Money. All of these interesting opportunities became available to me.
Dustin
I'm curious about that first one. When your teacher friend or when someone introduced and said, “They're looking for writers.” Was this a free opportunity or were they paying for you to write an article?
Karen
No, I got paid right off the bat. Mommyverse needed a lot of writers. What was cool is because I already started blogging and I was going to conferences, I had a lot of friends who had helped me promote my stuff. The more I would get people to help promote me, the more they wanted me to write for them. They were like, “You want to do six more articles?” I'm like, “Sure.” I didn’t just write, I made sure I heavily promoted it because I liked the job. You have to do that. It's not enough to write great information. Obviously, if you can have help and getting it seen, that goes a long way.
Dustin
I'm curious for those that might be in a similar situation, maybe they’re a stay-at-home mom. Maybe someone lost a job but they've always wanted to ride or maybe they were good at English in college or high school and they think, “This sounds great.” You had done this about several years ago is when you had the money savings enthusiast. Is this viable now? Are people paying for articles? Can someone without credential after credential, be a writer, put out articles and get paid for doing it?
Karen
You can. You just need some platform. If you can build up a platform, it's so much easier for people to say yes. Whenever you already have a following, a blog or you're a good writer. They know you're going to promote it. They know you're going to not miss deadlines. You're not going to be a lot of work for someone. You can get it but you also have to know how to negotiate. You have to know what you're worth and what people are paying because people will say, “I'll give you $50.” You can't accept low pay, especially when you know the people have a budget. If you want to start in any way, you can do that but I wouldn't do it for very long unless you're someone who can write fast, I don't believe in taking pay that low.
Dustin
I'm with you. On the show, we're definitely about side hustles and having people get their value. It's a good insight that you share to make people realize like don't do the $50 articles, figure out ways to provide more value, have a platform or have a following. I wanted to ask you more about the following. When you first got started, these were friends and I would assume family members. When you wrote an article, you would say, “I wrote this article. Would you mind sharing it or would you mind liking it? Is that how you went about it when you first got out of the gate?
Karen
I did. What's funny is I have a cert in Bilingual Ed. Even though I'm Italian, I have a lot of experience with Latino culture. I was a Spanish minor. I grew up around people that were from Puerto Rico. It was very easy for me to go on Facebook. Many of my friends are from that heritage. If they're sharing with their friends who happen to also have that kind of heritage, it was like a snowball effect. I was lucky in the way where I didn't have to make friends with a certain market. I already knew a lot of people in that market and that worked to my advantage.
Dustin
I think of a stay-at-home dad, I think of somebody that is in a spot that you were in, maybe they had a bad boss or they're fed up. I would love for you to share that tipping point where you realize, you started getting these articles, these gigs and these assignments. What was that tipping point in your head mentally where you said, “I can do this full-time. I don't need to go back to being a teacher?” What was that moment? Do you recall the day when that entered your head?
Karen
I didn't do freelance writing fully because I knew that I didn't like writing that much. I take a long time to write and I didn't want to be someone who pushed content out because when you're cranking all of those articles, you don't give them the love that they need or that extra little zip that if you let things marinate a little more, it might be that much better of an article. I took on what I could. It was part-time. I was still doing my other job part-time because I knew I didn't want writing fully. I also place guests on podcasts. I have a few different things that I do. Jumping into freelance writing full-time, if somebody wants to do that, it's not an easy thing. I'm not saying this is a side hustle that everybody should go for. It is challenging and you do have to network. It's not just great writing. There are a lot of other things that come into play.
Dustin
I do want to put a spotlight here. You had mentioned having a few different things, which is great because you would know and some people don't have that luxury of knowing like they think they may want to write full-time. You knew because you had been doing it. I'm curious to know, you're writing, you get your foot in the door. You've got a part-time gig, which is great because you've got two sources of income and cashflow. How did you identify that next side hustle or that next income stream, which you had mentioned was placing guests on a podcast? How did you identify that from what you were already doing?
Karen
I would go to different conferences because I would go early, if I heard of a news conference, I would go. I would make friends with whoever was there. If you keep going back to conferences, you see your same friends or they go to another conference. I was gung-ho with going to all of these different things. Many of the people who would write and had blogs, they would start to a podcast. It was like a new thing. No one was doing it. I readily made friends with these people who were experimenting. Someone said, “You know that person, can you get me on their show?” I was like, “Yeah, I'll ask for you.” It's these things that people ask you and they keep asking you. You're like, “I should charge for this.” It's funny. It didn't fully solidify until I got an opportunity to help a Today Show contributor with their book launch.
Because I knew podcasters and I wanted to rub elbows with someone of that caliber, I joined in helping. I got that person on shows. It was like the final sign. She's like, “You're good at this. You should do this.” It was Farnoosh Torabi. She was wonderful. I started out of the gate. I decided I'm going to charge X. Let's see if I could get people to pay me that. It would grow and I would raise my prices as I went. I'm a believer in trying to find things organically. You could bang your head against the wall trying all these different things and sometimes it does play out that way. If you put yourself in places where there are opportunities, it's much easier to figure it out or have things evolve.
Dustin
I am 100% with you. That definitely is a quotable right there. Tweetable, whatever you want to call it. Put yourself in places of opportunity. That's what you did. You made friends with the early adopters, which paid dividends. That was incredibly powerful. For our audience, make sure to pay close attention to what Karen is sharing with us. Karen, I want to pivot here and I want to get into one of the things that you're well known for, which is this idea of The Everyday Bucket List. Before we get there, I want to ask you about your mission and you've been on record for saying your mission is helping make people happier by adding more exciting experiences to everyday life. How are you doing that?
Karen
I came up with a simple step-by-step process that makes people get back in touch with what makes them happy. I pull from research. I infuse my own experiences. I highlight examples of other people. I tried to get people back focused on what makes them happy and not jumping on any little trend and still wondering why there's something missing or you're feeling unfulfilled.
Dustin
Happiness, it's a tricky thing. Oftentimes I found myself, I found other people that we think things will make us happy, but we truly don't. We do things that don't make us happy, but we thought they would. How do you help people discover what makes them happy versus another vacation to The Bahamas or a ski slope experience? How do you help people find happiness?
Karen
I break it down in a very simple way where a bucket list item is something that you've never done before, that you want to do in your lifetime. It can be something very small like seeing a sunset, seeing the sunrise. It's fun to watch Mr. Golden sun make the nightly exit. It's one of those things in nature that is inspiring. To get back to things that make you happy and you're willing to claim those ideas. You don't care if somebody likes what you like. You know what makes you genuinely happy. If you want me to be specific, I notice a lot of guys sometimes they're very wrapped up in like what their significant other wants to do or maybe their wife makes all the plans, not to generalize. I noticed when I talked to guys, it sounds like they're more stumped. They go along with things. It's like getting permission. I have an example in my book about attending a Super Bowl, something where if you want to go out with your buddies or something that's outside of your family or it can be with your family, but standing up for your me-time. Whether men, women because moms, we tend to do everything for other people. You have to find a way to carve that out.
Dustin
You have to forgive me, Karen, because this concept, isn't it as simple as making yourself sit down, which is a whole other ball game? I enjoyed this conversation. I like this idea of the book of lists. I've never created one. Isn't it as simple as sitting down and saying, “I want to go to South America to see this, I want to go to Stonehenge, I want to jump out of an airplane, I want to watch the ducks at the zoo or something like that?” Why would someone need a process? I'm very curious as to how you elicit these items out of people?
Karen
You were readily able to rattle off a bunch of ideas. That's awesome. Writing things down somehow solidifies things more. It's more real. It's like even in goal setting. They say if you write your goals, you're more likely to accomplish them. You have all of these ideas. It's one thing to brainstorm and generate ideas. It's completely another thing to execute those ideas.
Dustin
What is that transition from your brainstorming because that's the fun? That's easy. You're not thinking about budget, you're not thinking about vacation and all of the constraints that there are to think about before you execute on one of them. How do you advise people to jump at that bridge from brainstorming to now execution?
Karen
I tell them to be realistic because if everything on your list is a travel bucket list of things that you know you're not going to be able to do right away or you're going to have to spread it out, you want to make sure you can do something soon. What can you do this year? What could you do next month? What can you do obviously down the road too? You want to have big dreams. I would avoid putting things that are so big because sometimes people set themselves up to fail or they wait to retire and depending on what age you retire, you don't know what health you're going to be in.
You're not necessarily going to be in the same health you are in right now or you don't know what can happen. I encourage people to try to pick things that they could throughout every phase of life. Maybe you start by saying, “I'm going to do something locally. Maybe I'll pick one faraway place and that's my vacation time.” If you're at a 9:00 to 5:00 or however you have to work your vacation in, starting small, simple and local, like try to do something right away. For example, I'm mad because Hoda Kotb from The Today Show was signing books a couple of towns over. I found out last minute and you're not guaranteed to get in if you go last minute.
I'm so mad at myself. I have to sign up on this bookstore’s email lists because they get a lot of big-name people and it's not that far. I live in Connecticut and it's a small state. There are many things to do. If you look around in your local area, there could be these big exciting things to do, which I'm bummed about that one. For next time, what is it that I like to do that's close by? It could be biking. It could be becoming a better photographer. You could take a class. You could play an instrument. It’s something that's very within reach. That's where I tell people to start.
Dustin
I'm curious as to your bucket list. In terms of how you organize it like do you have a bucket list for your local area and a world bucket list? Do you separate them that way, Karen? Also I'm personally curious, what are some of the top things that are on your list that you end up sharing with people?
Karen
I want to see the band, Queen. I'm big into concerts. I try to go to at least four a year. I'm mad that I missed Queen. I got Rolling Stones tickets and I could have gone to Georgia to see Queen before they left the US. I have a master list and I do write out all those big things because if they do pop up, you have the money and you can make it work, sure you can jump into things sometimes last minute. You want to have those like on your radar and think of it as like your big master list. I have a monthly bucket list because I'm nerdy like that. I'm not suggesting people start that way, but I feel like time is very fleeting because I have kids. I have to manage a household and so many people, I feel like time goes by quickly.
I like to feel like what do I want to do this month? Because I like Queen, I've been ending up doing something that has to do with them almost every month. We went to a nearby venue where they were playing orchestra music. It was Queen. Someone was singing and there was an orchestra in the background. Another time there was the Freddie Mercury event. It was his birthday and you could get a Freddie milkshake. I'm like, “I'll do anything. I want to see them.” If I can't do that big thing, I'll still pick other things. It's a matter of what fits your budget. It's financial that always comes into play. You have to plan and set a reserve.
If you do get that opportunity and that big concert or whatever big thing you're looking to do comes up, you want to have money that you know you can spend and jump on the opportunity. I tried to do things that are local and exciting to me that I've always wanted to do. I've gone to The Today Show. I met a bunch of the people that work there and for whatever reason that fourth hour of The Today Show, I don't know when they're outside or I don't think they're even always outside. I always wanted to meet Hoda. That's still on my list. I want to start a podcast. I have tons and tons of concerts I want to see. There are definitely locations I want to go to. I want to go to Greece. I want to go to Sicily. That's where my grandmother was from. I am a now person so I see like what's coming up, what's local or I do constantly check on concerts and see who's available. I get a lot of notifications for different types of events.
Dustin
You had mentioned obviously wanting to see Queen and finding these sub-events. It wasn’t Queen because they weren't going to be in your neck of the woods, but you still made it fun because you loved the culture and you loved the music. You did some other things. I'm curious as to what other examples you might have in terms of creativity. I think about the family that may be at home and going to The Bahamas would be awesome. It might not be in the budget this year or maybe they've already exhausted their vacation. I'm curious as to what examples you have in terms of creativity, how you help people find creativity if they can't do the actual big thing that's on their list.
Karen
There are two casinos in Connecticut. Try to do something that you've never done like maybe you see a magician, maybe you see a comedian. When we talk about Queen there were impersonators and Freddie Mercury was there so I went to that. It was hilarious. If it's everyday life, literally like if you go to an ice cream shop, try every different flavor on the menu. It could be as simple as that because novelty is something that makes people happy. People don't realize it. They get into a routine and that's where people get into a rut. Trying something new and if you can make your way out to a different location. We did all the different ice cream shops that were in Connecticut magazine. We tried to hit as many as we could one summer, something very creative like that. There's also that 100 movies to see. It's like a scratch-off poster. I purchased that. I'm watching movies with my family. It's a lot of fun.
Dustin
I've been meaning to ask you about this. You have said you lose money if you don't take a vacation. That's one of those things where you say that you're like, “How does that make sense?” If I don't go on vacation, all the money stays in the bank account, in my pocket and in my purse but you say you lose money if you don't take a vacation. How so?
Karen
There's research from USTravel.org and it shows that 52% of Americans don't take vacation time. That's a loss benefit. It's thousands of dollars. If you don't take that, you don't get it back. We still get paid. My husband works in education. It's a little different, but people who still show up when they could get paid and have their free time, they're not taking advantage of that. People don't see it that way. It's funny because most people in finance and insurance, they take their vacation time because they see numbers. They're more aware of that and people in other fields, they think of it as spending and maybe I don't want to spend my money, but it's a loss benefit that they're not taking advantage of.
Dustin
I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your side hustle and things like that. Your personal website says by day I write about money, but at night I conquer the digital world to help small businesses land big media mentions. You yourself have been mentioned in Forbes, Business Insider and Money magazine among others. How do you do it? How do you help people get those media mentions? A lot of people tuning into the show would love their business to be featured in the media. How do you make that happen?
Karen
When you're on a podcast, it elevates your status. When you do media, something simple like this, you're putting yourself out there. You have to have a platform and credentials. Some people don't have the credentials and they have to still prove themselves. You have to put yourself out there on some platform and show your ideas as best as you can and you are better able to have people put you in stuff. I rely on making my creativity when I hear things and I follow a lot of personal finance, I'm like, “They always say pay yourself first or don't spend outside of your means.” It's so boring. They don't want to hear those types of tips anymore. Everybody says that.
No matter if you're a CFP, whatever acronym, whatever letters you have behind your name, they're not going to pick you if you keep saying all that same stuff. You have to be creative. You have to be confident and know how to stand out. I help people, even when they go on podcasts I'm like, “You have to know how you're unique and how you can stand out.” If you quote some research and say, “This article said X, Y, Z, but I believe this and this.” It's like, “This person has a fresh take and they're talking about something timely. I know this will be interesting and people will want to read it.” Anything like that helps, but you'd be surprised how so many people do their job and they don't know how to make themselves sound so great.
Dustin
I know one of the tricks if you want to call it, one of the tools of the trade to get into the media is having a book and you have a book, The Everyday Bucket List. I often find there's always a story behind the story of how the book came to be. I'm curious as to what your story was for The Everyday Bucket List. When did you say, “I'm going to take some of these ideas that maybe I have blogged about or written about and I'm going to create a book about it?” What's the story behind it? Why did you move forward and put a book out into the world?
Karen
As you're saying, having a book opens up opportunities and my friends were saying, “You need to write a book now. You've done this, you've done that. You've been featured. You get more opportunities when you write a book.” It was something on my bucket list. I started researching, even though I've read so many personal finance books, it wasn't that hard. I didn't have to scour too much, but I didn't feel like I had a compelling angle. Unless you have a big personality or a big platform, it's very hard. Money is very saturated. I was a little stumped, but I knew I was good at coming up with money-saving tips. I started to talk to people. I wanted to talk to real people who were having struggles and I would do their budgets with them.
Some things started to unfold where they would tell me, “I wish I could travel more or I wish I had a little more spending money,” because in some cases they were doing the best that they could. They couldn't move. They couldn't do those big things that would save them a lot of money or completely free up money in their budget. People will say, “Move to some inexpensive place, take off and go to Ecuador,” or something like that. People like their life, but they're trying to live within their current means. That's why I came up with it. When I heard travel or spending money, a light bulb went off. I got in the Money magazine because I was talking about how my mom passed away and I had to leave the workforce. When I got in that book, Smart Mom, Rich Mom, she saw me on LinkedIn, the article was on LinkedIn.
She's like, “Will you be in my book?” Even though my life years later had normalized, I’ve gotten over the death of my mom and everything like that. I was like, “This is my story. This is my big deal and I don't have to invent something or sound like a drama queen. This is something that happened to me and affects the way that I live my life. I was 29 and I was pregnant with my second child. When you have your parents pass away early, the gift with that is that you appreciate things and you look at things very differently where you see how life is very fragile. I was very intentional with everything, with how I spent time with my family trying to do things I wanted to do because my mom was only 60 and my biological father was 42.
A little bit of that fear or knowing like, “I'm not guaranteed to live, retire and live until I'm 80 or 90.” That was always there. I decided to take a little bit of my money-saving ideas, my story of my parents passing away. I ran with the whole travel bucket list thing because that's like a big thing, the bucket list thing. It came to me and it's something I do myself. Once again, I don't go against the grain. I do what feels natural, the natural next step. I came up with this because I wanted it to be for people that maybe are stuck or they have a lot of debt, but they don't want to feel like they're shackled and can't do anything. I made it so it’s for all income levels.
Dustin
I love that you've considered it because it can be very easy for someone to say, “Create a bucket list and on it is a lot of things that take time and money.” The thought of including everybody is incredibly powerful and there are a lot of simple things that I hadn't even realized like seeing a sunset. I know I've seen the sunset, but seeing it now with my family and my kids bringing people awareness that the simple things in life are the things that make you happy. The novelty of trying certain things is a fun task for not only yourself but your family. That's incredibly profound. I want to thank you big time, Karen, for sharing those. I would love to know, what are you working on now? What are you most excited about? What does the future look like for you and for your family?
Karen
I'm starting a journal because it's an everyday bucket list. It was supposed to be like everyday ideas. Someone's like, “Do you mean to bucket list every day?” I had some of my friends who are jokesters and I said, “No but I like that.” I started journaling to work on my bucket list goals daily. It's very simple. I came up with this guided structured writing prompt thing. It's fast. It's like, “What is this one little thing I'm going to do that's going to bring me that much closer to accomplishing one of my bucket list ideas?” Whether it's a plan for the weekend or researching something I'm going to do down the road. It's like you have a daily practice.
Dustin
The art of making things simple is that one thing that's going to get you closer to your goal. That's incredibly powerful. Karen, I am grateful that you have come onto the show and inspired us to make a bucket list, put it in writing because it becomes more real and also to consider that it's not about lavish experiences. There is every day something that we can be doing to make us happy, making those around us happy. For people that want to check out The Everyday Bucket List or maybe look into the journal that you're talking about because that sounds like an amazing idea or simply keep tabs with you. Where's the best place that people can find you?
Karen
I'm at KarenCordaway.com/book. If you think of you want it to rain cats and dogs of bucket list ideas, that's where you can find more information. The Everyday Bucket List book is on Amazon, but the journal I'm hoping to have come out soon. If you go to KarenCordaway.com/book, you can sign up and be updated to find out when that comes out.
Dustin
I appreciate you bringing new awareness to this and challenging each one of us to make a bucket list and cross off items on that bucket list because that's what life's about is the experiences. It is the fun and that's what we believe here at the show. Wealth is important and wealth is more than money. It is having experiences and being able to do the things that you want to do. Thank you for helping us propel that mission forward and giving us a new awareness in an area that I don't think many people were thinking about. Thank you.
Karen
Thank you for having me. This was great.

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