Tax Secrets – Can You Claim It? Part 1

It’s tax time, it’s tax time, it’s tax time. Right around the corner is April 15th, the day when your taxes are due. Even if you’ve filed your taxes a thousand times, it still can be a day that you dread.
All About The Pay
First, a little disclaimer. I am not a CPA. I’m a certified financial planner, and I know a lot about taxes, rules and regulations, but I am not the woman who files your tax returns. So, I encourage you to take this advice, research it yourself and always ask a CPA or accountant if you have a tricky question…capeesh?

Let’s set the stage a bit here. You’ve got essentially two ways to get paid- W-2 and 1099.

If you work for a company, most likely you are paid W-2 style, meaning that when you get your paycheck every 2 weeks or month the company has already taken out your taxes (federal, state, social security, etc.) When you go to file your tax return, chances are likely that you will get some money back. That is what you want, right?

Let me ask you another question. Would you rather the IRS hold your money all year-long and earn interest off your money, or would you? Maybe you are fine with that and you enjoy a big refund. That is cool. Those of you that paused when I asked you that question need to know that there is way to get more money in your pocket.

You are allowed to adjust something called your Federal Tax withholding. Put this podcast on hold and go grab your most recent pay-stub. Take a look at the number of federal tax withholding you have. My guess is 0 or 1. The higher that number is, the more money you get each month.

There are lots of ways to figure out just what that number should be for you. The IRS has a withholding calculator you can use, there are all sorts of manual deductions or you could use the good ole guess it technique. Most people stay around the 2-6 personal exemption range, but that depends on the person.

The goal you see is to get you to $0 tax refund. Yes, you heard that right. You know why though…it’s because you are getting more money each paycheck. So you really haven’t lost anything, in fact if you take that extra money and invest it month after month you could have a lot more.

If this is something you feel really nervous about, there are tons of articles online you can read, you can always call the IRS or ask your HR department for guidance. The best way is to speak with an accountant or CPA though.

Now for those 1099ers. If you are paid with a 1099 that means that you are essentially self-employed and you don’t have taxes taken out of your paychecks. Yes, the IRS will still want their money. It’s likely that if you are paid with a 1099 that you will be required to file quarterly taxes, so 4 times a year, instead of one big payment at tax time.

If you are 1099 though, you might also be able to deduct certain expenses from your income like self-employed health insurance, business travel, car payment, gas for your car, entertainment, business meals up to 50%, computers, phones, internet, books, magazines and so much more. This of course depends on what type of business you are in, and yes, the deduction has to be legitimate. You can’t deduct the cost of flying 4 friends to the Bahamas for your birthday, unless there is a legitimate business reason why you all need to be in the same place sipping Pina Coladas.
Here’s my rule of thumb: if you are paid 1099, you really should use an accountant or CPA. They know all the current tax laws and what are legitimate business deductions. If you were audited (that’s when the tax police come and want to look at all your receipts and statements to make sure you were hones with your taxes) I’d rather have a CPA to back me up then just me.
Remember though we learned that you could negotiate almost anything, so I would definitely try to negotiate a price with your CPA to do your return. There are a lot of great apps you can use to keep track of your r…

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The Art of Negotiation & How to Save Thousands


Negotiation is one of the most powerful money tricks you will ever learn, and if you practice it, negotiation can save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year.

You see, there are only two ways to repair an ailing budget- make more money, or spend less money. While making more money can be tricky, you’ve got the “spend less money” capabilities right now, so why not go for it?

Honestly, I used to hate the thought of negotiation. It was literally the last thing I ever wanted to think about, let alone try. I’ve watched so many men be really good at negotiation and thought, “I can’t do that.” What I learned though was that you don’t have to be mean to negotiate. You do have to ask a lot of questions and think on your feet.

Some of my very favorite things to negotiate that save a lot of money are:

– Your cell phone bill- oh yah, have you called to renegotiate your cell phone bill in the last 6 months? Why not? Yah, you thought the rate was the rate, but guess what, it isn’t. I guarantee you that if right after this podcast you go and call your cell phone carrier and ask them for a better rate, you will get it. On average, you will probably save between $15-$100 a month, depending on your carrier. Money is money.

– What about your car insurance? We all have to pay it; if you live in Los Angeles like me the rates are steep. If you’ve been in an accident the rates are budget busting. Did you know that there are all sorts of discounts that you can get, but most carriers won’t suggest them to you, you have to do the work? Good driver discount, multi line (other insure), and so on. There are even apps like Go Insurance Savings and Fast Discounts in iTunes store that compares your insurance cover and alerts you to savings. Check it out in the app store. I was able to save money on our current plan right away.

– Here’s a favorite of mine- rental deposits. Bet you didn’t know that you can actually negotiate your rental deposit (the money you give up front) AND your rent? I have NEVER paid the full rental deposit ever. You’ve got to have good credit and not be a psycho renter, please always try to impress your future landlord. For example, our last condo that we rented we saved over $1500 on the deposit alone. That’s a lot of money for just asking some questions and negotiating.

– What else? You can negotiate car purchases for sure, car leases, eBay, Stubhub tickets, office rent, checking account fees, credit card interest rates, and you all know my favorite negotiation tactic: Negotiation on vacation rental properties with Airbnb and VRBO- we love to travel, but don’t love to break the bank. We’ve rented apartments in San Francisco, Paso Robles, CA, Palm Springs, Paris and more and not only negotiated a cheaper rent, but also scored some freebies, again, all for asking.

Lots more tips and ideas on this weeks podcast. Be sure to email questions to us at

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Millennial Money- The B Word “Budget”

I’m guessing that if you’re like most people, month after month you look at your bank account and wonder “where has all my money gone?!” You feel like you didn’t spend money on anything, maybe you only went out to eat a few times, and you spent less on gas than you thought you were going to, yet, without fail, your balance is dangerously low.

How do you stop this from happening? The answer is simple: budget.

Okay, first things first. From here on out, we are going to change our vocabulary. The B word, like all other offensive terms, is banned. We are going to call this tool My Roadmap. You can choose any word/s you want like, my itinerary, the dream plan, and so on. Find something that fits for you.

Next, we need to look at why most peoples’ roadmap fails. The general rule is that when people try to sit down and create a roadmap, they don’t seem to find it all that helpful so they don’t keep doing it. This is because these roadmaps only have one column. A good roadmap needs to be broken down like a modified basketball play, or as I like to explain it, the 2 by 2 by 3. 2 columns, 2 rows, and 3 categories.
The First Two is the two-column roadmap system, which is the key. Column one is for what do I think I will spend this month, and column two is for what did I actually spend. This means that you go over your roadmap for each month twice, once on the first and once on the 30th or 31st.

It is important to know that a roadmap is an estimation of what you are going to spend, and it is a forward thinking, living document, meaning that it needs to be updated when things change, challenges arise, and unexpected fortune comes to you. Every dollar has a purpose at it fits in there somewhere.

Each column will also break down further, into The Second Two, known as the two rows: income and expenses. Income can be anything: salary, wages, bonuses, tips, student loan money, and allowance from your parents, self-employment income, alimony, and real estate income. Your expenses are everything that you spend money on, and this too is going to get broken down even further.
It's Expensive
Expenses come in two forms, fixed and variable. Fixed expenses are ones that are not likely to change, or cannot be changed no matter what. These are things like car payments, car and health insurance, debt payments, housing costs, and your savings. We will come back to why your savings are in the fixed section later.

Variable expenses are ones that can be adjusted depending on what income you have coming in. Variable expenses are the danger zone where most roadmaps breakdown. These are things like food, both groceries and dining out, gas, entertainment, clothing, gifts, your cell phone bill, and other miscellaneous expenses.

But how to keep track of all of these numbers? The old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper works just fine, but there are also handy technological advances that can save you time and help out with the calculations if math is not your forte. An excel spreadsheet is great for this. There is also software like Quicken that can be helpful. Additionally, you can download apps like Mint, Level Money, YNAB and Pocket Expense that can do all of this on your phone or tablet.

The easiest thing to do is to always pay with your credit card and download your bank statements at the end of the month and analyze them. I like to sit down with highlighters and divide by color. So everything that went to groceries is green, everything that was dining out is orange, every time I filled up my car with gas is purple.

Then I add all those up and put them into my what did I actually spend column. If you are a cash person, make sure you keep your receipts. A good tip for this is to have dedicated envelopes for each category of receipt. At the end of the day, or every few days, empty out your wallet of these receipts and put them in their corresponding envelope.

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Millennial Money- Listener Questions Answered

This week's Millennial Money podcast is all about answering the toughest listener questions. We tackle:

1. Where do I begin?

You've got to start with the basics – knowing your credit score, knowing your income, but more importantly, knowing your expenses down to the penny. Expenses are the danger zone for just about everyone, so print off your recent bank statement and start knowing your numbers.

2. What is a credit score and report?

A credit score is like your DNA. It is a three-digit number that is composed of many factors that is unique to you. It is based on your social security number, and tells credit companies how much of a risk you are in terms of credit. If you have a low credit score, credit companies won't want to lend you as much money. Aim for a score of 720+ for the best credit offers. You will also want to check your credit report once a year. The good news is that it is FREE to do so, and this way you can make sure that your frequent trips to Target haven't cost you a good credit score – remember all the credit hacking that has gone on…you don't want to be a victim.

3.  I'm 22 and I'm not interested in saving for retirement. Why do I need to?

I get it. Retirement is a loooonnnggg ways off, but trust me, you are going to need a lot of money to retire. How do you accumulate it? It's easy when you start saving a little every month. Even $25 is enough to start your bank account balance growing. Savings works together with a concept called “compounding”. This means that your money starts stacking on top of itself with interest, like a snowball rolling down a hill. Here's a fact, it's possible that you may need millions of dollars saved to live comfortably in retirement, and that's why you need to start now.

4. I've maxed out my credit card, do I need to pay it off?

Credit works like this: you need credit to get credit. The more available credit you have, (aka the amount you haven't used), versus what you have used, the better your credit score. The better your credit score, the more credit you can get. It's like a giant game of chess, only you want to win this one. Be smart with your cards and pay them off each month. Maxed out on anything usually isn't a good idea – remember the last time you ate too much pizza!

5. Why do I need a credit card and which one is right?

Again, you need credit to get credit. It's that simple. The right one, well I believe that if you aren't getting anything from your credit card, it isn't the right one. I'm talking POINTS and CASH BACK here. Find a card that offers you something for the money you are spending. There are tons of resources to find the right cards, so there are no excuses. Do some research and make smart choices.

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Travel Secrets That Every Millennial Must Know

It’s not a lie, traveling is one of my most favorite things to do in life hands down. I think I work just for the chance of being able to travel somewhere new.

Today's podcast is all about Travel Secrets That Every Millennial Must Know.

Let’s focus on these key areas: How do you pay for this all, Deal sites you should know about, everything airfare, tips and tricks for traveling abroad and finally unique ideas for where to rest your head.
How Do You Pay For This?
The first thing you need to learn about traveling, or really anything in life, is that you can negotiate EVERYTHING. I know it seems weird and may be out of your comfort zone, but listen, if you can negotiate a hotel rate 20-30% off, maybe even more, why wouldn’t you at least try?

Here are my favorite sites:


With Credit, Please
With all the competition out there, credit card rewards have become really rich. Rather than signing up for those frequent flier cards with airlines, get yourself a credit card that earns rewards. For example, let me run down a few of my favorites.

The old classic card is American Express. They were the first, and although they’ve lagged a bit in innovation, they are adding benefits faster than you can send out a new tweet. One of the cards I love with Amex is the Starwood Preferred Guest CC. Starwood owns all kinds of hotel brands for budget, like Sheraton, to high-end like St. Regis and everything in between.

I’m not going to go into the nitty-gritty details, but the power of this card is STARPOINTS. You earn starpoints on all your purchases, which you can then use for free flights and hotels across the world. And now, I’m so excited for this, you can use your Amex points to redeem stays at Airbnb properties. Score- more on my love for Airbnb later.

I’m also a huge fan of the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card because you can earn some mega points that you can use for all sorts of things, and you aren’t tied to one brand or one airline to redeem them. It’s like having your cake and eating it too. Who doesn't love a good piece of cake?

I also have an American Airlines AAdvantage Citi card. I fly American a ton, and they have a great alliance network. That means that I can use those points on many other airlines here or abroad. The best part of an airline card is that I save money on those silly baggage fees. With this card, I can get two free checked bags every time if I’m flying American. That alone saves me $100 round-trip for my husband and me.

Now for some strategy: if you are a responsible credit card carrier, put all your regular monthly expenses on your card- like groceries, eating out, books, etc. Pay the cc off each month. You are helping build your credit score, while also scoring some major points. I just recently found out about a company called Charge Smart- look them up online. You can set up an account to pay your utility bills, student loans and other bills that you normally can’t put on a cc. The perk is that you are getting points for all of this.

The goal then is at the end of the year, combined with your sign up points, and your yearly points, that you could easily take a trip with a free flight, and free hotel rooms. See how easy that is? 
Deal Sites
If you are looking for super good – low-cost deals, Groupon Getaways should be in your bookmarks. They change what they offer all the time, but you can get cool local trips all the way to international trips to Europe and beyond.

If you are looking something a bit more, say we say upscale, check out Luxury Link. While some of their packages might be a tad above your budget, you can find some great deals. If you are splitting with a friend, then it gets even better. They also have an option where you can straight out buy a package, but you can also place a bid through their auction feature.

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Millennial Money Podcast: Student Loan Secrets You Need to Know

Welcome to the student loan jungle, my friends. In this podcast we will show you a few student loan secrets that you must know. 

If you are in school, than surely the FAFSA is your friend. If you are out of school, welcome to the land of student loan payments. 
The “F” Word
The FAFSA, or Free application for federal student aid, is the online document that you need to complete to see how much money the federal government will give you for your student loans.

FAFSA sets the amount of aid needed by calculating the cost of attendance less the “Expected Family Contribution” (EFC) or the minimum amount a family is expected to pay toward the costs of college.

Financial aid comes in two flavors need and non-need based aid. Examples of need based loans would be Pell Grants, Subsidized loans, Perkins Loan and Federal work-study. Non-need aid is un-subsidized loans, Teach Grants and Federal Plus Loans.

Let’s break it down even more. An unsubsidized loan means that the loan doesn’t require you to prove your financial need and the school determines the amount you can borrow based on cost of attendance. You pay all interest costs during this period. Get it…you are paying for all costs.

Subsidized is the preferred type. The US Department of Education pays the interest on these loans while you are in school and during the first six months after you leave school PLUS during deferment. This is what you want if you qualify for it.

I recently spoke with Rick Castellano, who is VP of Communications with Sallie Mae. Sallie Mae is one of the biggest providers for student loans.

He’s got 4 go-to FAFSA tips:

To fill out the fafsa you are going to need your parent’s 2014 tax information. Of course taxes aren’t due until April 15th , but you can estimate based on their 2013 taxes. Just don’t wait to fill it out based on taxes.

Let’s talk Pin- you are going to need that to fill out your fafsa. Coming in the spring of 2015 is a long-awaited revision to this tired pin system. Fafsa is going to simplify, hooray, and offer a standard username and password. Until then, you’ve got to know your pin.

Remember the 3 “I”’s – income, income tax, and investments. While you might want to feel high and mighty and overstate your income to your friends, it’s best not to do this on the FAFSA. Also, your home is not an investment…it’s a home, an asset, but not an investment. Things like values in life insurance, annuities and pension plans don’t count either. That’s good news.

File online always – you will get your student aid report back in a quick 3-5 days versus 2-4 weeks via mail. Who even uses mail anymore anyway?

FAFSA & Scholarship Money
Think of the FAFSA and Scholarships as a 1-2 punch. You’ve got to fill out the FAFSA to see how much money you will get in support. Once you’ve got that number, than you can go scholarship shopping to try to fill in the rest.

There are so many scholarship books, tools, and resources you could go crazy. Just find one or two that you like best and use those. Sallie Mae even has a pretty comprehensive scholarship search.

Scholarships aren't just merit based for those brainy ones. Whatever skill or talent you have, there is a scholarship out there for you. Always check with your school first, because there are a lot of unclaimed scholarships right under your feet. Plan to invest a few hours a day searching for scholarships for a week straight. Apply to anything that might be a possible fit.

Remember the key to being smart financially? Free money is always simply free money. Never pass up free money!
The Payback
If you are lucky enough to be in the payback period of your student loans, then you need to know these 5 Key Student Loan Secrets.

1. Your payments don’t begin until 6 months after you graduate. That means you have time to save. Even just kicking your coffee addiction for a few …

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Know Your Numbers

Everything in life revolves around numbers, so it would make sense that you need to know your numbers.

You need to know your social security number, your phone number, your street address and the numbers to your driver’s license, even what number your combo meal is at your favorite fast-food restaurant.

If there weren’t numbers in sports, how would you know who won the Super Bowl? Can you imagine?

In finance, knowing your numbers is the first step towards putting together any sort of financial plan. There are four key numbers that you should be able to rattle off faster than your cell number.
 Your Credit Score:
This is the single most important number that will define most of your financial future. With a good credit score, one that is north of 720, you get the best rates for buying a car, getting a 0% interest credit card, refinancing your student loans, buying a house and so on. You are the crème de la crème.

With a not-so-good credit score, anything below 700, you are considered more of a credit risk. There are lots of things that can drive your credit score down, including too high of a balance on your credit cards, lots of credit inquires and more, but the major reasons for a lower score are collection accounts, unpaid balances and late payments. Paying your bills on time is one party that you never want to be late for.

Every year you should make a date to get your credit report. You can get a free credit report from lots of places online including Annual Credit Report.

If you do a Google search for credit reports, you will see that many times you need to pay to get a report. There are two reasons you would want to do this:

1) You want to get monthly credit monitoring

2) You want to get a credit report with your credit scores on them

Wait, you mean I don’t get my credit score with a free report? That’s right!

If you want to get your score, I suggest spending $9.95 with If you don’t know what your score is, it is always a good idea to spend the money so you can know what those numbers are once and for all.

The numbers can and do change, so make sure you are checking them once a year. If anyone ever runs your credit and asks you if you want a copy of the report, your response should always be, “Yes, please.”
 Your Paycheck
“How much money do you make?” “I don’t know I never open my paycheck stubs.”

That is a common conversation between a financial planner and their clients. If you don’t open the paycheck stub, or check your direct deposit online,  how will you ever know if your deductions are correct, or if you have vacation time or how much exactly you have to budget for that month?

If your paychecks are one of the sad and lonely paychecks that never get opened, now is the time.

Open the last paycheck you’ve received and take a good look at it. All the numbers might not make sense, but at least you can figure out how much will be deposited into your bank account. That’s a good starting step.
 Your Expenses
Expenses are those little costs that eat away at your bank account every day. They include the big things like rent and car payments, and even those silent budget killers like your coffee fix and your parking fees.

[Tweet “Knowing what your expenses are is the #1 way to stay on budget each month”]…or at least in a healthy range of your budget.

Hey, it’s normal that things come up from nowhere every month that you have to spend money on, but that’s why it’s also important to get yourself some savings.

If you haven’t tracked your expenses, there is a common cure that is easy to apply. Print off last months statements from whatever accounts you pay most of your bills through. If you use an ATM card, then it would be the bank account tied to that card. If it is a credit card, then it would be those statements.

How to Rent a Vacation Apartment for Less

Paris is the “City of Lights”…and food…and love…and really expensive hotels. The best way to save money on your trip is to rent an apartment in Paris.

My first trip to Paris was in 2007. I clearly remember stepping outside the taxi at the hotel and just turning around in circles endlessly. I’m not a huge architecture girl, but Paris is something else.

You can look at endless Paris pictures and watch movies with Paris as the backdrop, but you cannot even imagine how stunningly beautiful this city is until you've stepped foot on its sidewalks and meandered through its streets.
 The Broke Down Budget
Without blinking, you can easily spend $250-$350 per night on a decent room in Paris. Not a luxurious room, but a decent room. It is truly one of the most expensive cities, and rightly so.

Spend a week in Paris and your budget will surely suffer from the “break down syndrome.”

Tired of paying those ridiculous prices for a shoebox-sized room, I took matters into my own hands and decided to research other options to stay in Paris.
 My Favorite Friends
I would like to introduce you to my very favorite apartment rental friends:


Watch the video below for my system to scoring a great apartment in Paris. I urge you not to shy away from renting an apartment in Paris, or anywhere you will travel to.

These friends have saved me thousands and thousands on overpriced hotel stays every trip to Paris.

For example, on our last trip to Paris, we only spent $125 a night, got three nights free and had a great apartment with a kitchen, full bathroom, computer, dining table, and lounge area in my favorite arrondissement.

When it comes to negotiating, you are looking at 4 main factors.

Price per night
Price per week
How much deposit they need
Any freebies

You can negotiate on each one of these items, but especially numbers 2 and 3. I always choose to select an apartment where I don' t have to give a deposit, but it does take time to find those rentals.

If searching for hours is not your cup of tea, then I suggest you always negotiate the deposit amount and offer 35-50% less than what they are asking.

Some apartments will even let you get a very inexpensive rental insurance policy, usually under $100, to cover any damages.

[Tweet “There is nothing cooler than renting an apartment in Paris. Here's how to do it for less. @shannahgame”]

A few other great Paris rental sites:

Paris for Rent
Paris Perfect
Home Away
Paris Stay

Now for some B-roll footage…


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How to Make Money While Shopping: COSIGN

Eating out, going to the movies and shopping are three of the biggest budget busters.

Often, if your budget is in serious breakdown mode it can be attributed to one or more of these three little gems. No need to bury your head, we are all guilty.

Consumers spend close to 3% of their income on shopping for clothing every year. That could account for a couple thousand dollars every year.

Pinpoint Demographics put together this great list of the Top Ten Cities by Spending on Clothing per Capita, 2011. Interesting to note that not one of these cities is actually a big city.

1. Danville, Calif. 94506 (suburb of Oakland)
2. Los Gatos, Calif. 95030 (suburb of San José)
3. Los Altos, Calif. 94022 (suburb of San José)
4. Southlake, Texas 76092 (suburb of Dallas)
5. Novi, Mich. 48374 (suburb of Detroit)
6. Saratoga, Calif. 95070 (suburb of San José)
7. Great Falls, Va. 22066 (suburb of Washington, D.C.)
8. Santa Clara, Calif. 95054
9. Chappaqua, N.Y. 10514 (suburb of New York City)
10. Oakton, Va. 22124 (suburb of Washington, D.C.)

What does this have to do with you?

What if I told you there was a way to make money while shopping, and that it was actually very easy to do?

That might change the game for you, right?
Meet CoSign
COSIGN is a great new mobile shopping app that just successfully funded their Kickstarter campaign.

“Chances are you already share the brands you love through social media, and social media is also inspiring you at every moment. How many times have you seen something you like and thought, where can I find that,” says COSIGN creator Esosa Ighodaro.

Social media has opened up the doors to experience everyday life in a whole new way. Information travels with pictures and leaves the viewer inspired.

Remember that great pair of shoes you saw your friend wearing? What about that awesome necklace that you just have to have?

COSIGN will surely become your new best friend by combing two favorite activities together – shopping online and making money. Even mogul Russell Simmons thinks so.

How Does It Work
If I had you at make money while shopping, then COSIGN is something you should become very familiar with. It's very simple to use, and takes no more time than posting any other picture to social media.

1. Take a picture of your outfit or a product

2. Drag and drop the keywords associated with the products (COSIGN already has a ton of well-known stores that are on board)

3. Sare your shoppable post to your followers

4. If a follower sees something they like, clicks through to an online store and purchases ANY product from that store, then you will receive a handy commission check in your mailbox

Depending on the retailer, you could receive anywhere from 3-35% of the purchase price.

For instance, let's say your friend buys a new pair of $150 shoes and the vendor pays 10%. Suddenly, you get a check for $15.00 smackeroos for not really doing anything other than sharing what you love.

If you get ten friends to buy those boots, then you have enough money in commissions to buy another pair for you for free! Now that's a shopping deal that I can endorse.
No Guts, No Glory
Esosa and her partner, Abiodun Johnson, risked a lot to bring COSIGN to the marketplace.  Esosa left her job to start COSIGN and used her savings to invest in its growth.

Unlike many other entrepreneurs, Esosa learned that sometimes you have to make gut wrenching decisions to follow your dream. “Finding funding is probably been the hardest part about being an entrepreneur. I was like, hey I have this cool idea, now put your $$ behind it, and no one seemed to care as much as I did, ” exclaims Ighodaro.

Learning to manage all the demands of an entrepreneur is never an easy task. It takes time,

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