Personal finance expert Tasha Cochran made $14,000 a year at age 19 as a single mom in the Marine Corps. Last year, her business and related YouTube channel generated hundreds of thousands in revenue. Here's how she did it.

By Julia Malacoff
May 07, 2020
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Tasha Cochran has come a long way from her time as a single mom earning $14,ooo annually while serving in the Marine Corps. Now, the mom of Alexis, 18, and Reeves, 4, is a lawyer and wealth expert who runs a popular YouTube channel and personal-finance blog, One Big Happy Life.

Her path from the military to helping others secure financial independence was anything but linear. Cochran always knew she wanted to go to college, but wasn't clear on how to pay for it, so the G.I. Bill, which helps cover tuition costs for veterans, led her to join the military. During her time in Marines boot camp, Cochran got pregnant with her daughter, Alexis, and started to focus on her finances in order to budget for a baby. Before Alexis was born, Cochran rented a tiny apartment off of the military base in Quantico, Virginia for $300 a month. She also enrolled in night classes at the local community college using her active duty discount to pay for the credits.

After completing her courses at the community college, Cochran made the difficult choice to leave the military for civilian life. She decided to go to Yale Law School after research into its loan repayment assistance program, and became a banking and finance attorney. Along the way, she got married, then divorced, met her partner, Joseph, and had another child. Cochran's family, financial, and professional lives have shifted immeasurably since she was that 19-year-old single mom.

In whatever spare time Cochran could cobble together between being a lawyer and mom, she worked on her YouTube channel and blog. Centered on sharing the lessons that she and Joseph gleaned throughout their journey, One Big Happy Life now helps others achieve financial independence. Here's what she's learned along the way.

5 Unexpected Rules for Building Wealth

1. Understand what you want out of life.

"As tempting as it is to buy into little tidbits of advice or one-size-fits-all plans, that is not going to be the best way for you to create the life that you want to live," Cochran says. "We all only get one life, and money touches on all of it." That's why it's so important to figure out what you want your life to look like. Then, consider: How much money do you need to have in order to create that life?

Once you know that, you can create a financial plan that's custom-tailored to you—rather than trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

This advice applies to retirement saving, as well. "What do you want out of life when you're not working anymore?" Cochran asks. "How much do you want to spend when you retire? Now you know how much of a nest egg you need to have, and then you can backtrack into your minimum savings rate."

2. Always have a one-year plan.

When Cochran decided it was time to leave the military and continue her education, her financial situation probably would have scared others off from following through. After leaving military housing, she was making around $25,000 per year, and she had a young child. But Cochran's approach to budgeting during this time was unique, and it's something she still advises people to follow today.

"When you're planning a big financial change, a big life change, just looking at your first month of expenses is not going to cut it," Cochran says. Instead, she looked ahead a whole year and asked: How will I survive for an entire year?

"This process makes it feel like it's something that you can do and sustain year after year. Because if you can do it for one year, you can do it for multiple years. And that's exactly what I did."

3. Learn as much as possible about how finances work.

As a lawyer, Cochran worked for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with small banks and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulating large banks. It was through these jobs that she developed her financial expertise. It was also where she realized many people are afraid of utilizing financial instruments like mortgages and credit cards.

"All of that experience prepared me for One Big Happy Life. I teach people how to really take control of their financial destiny by helping them understand personal finance, instead of fearing all of these financial instruments," she explains.

Cochran believes understanding how these tools work instead of being intimidated can allow people to optimize them. From there, folks can begin to build wealth and also create a life that they love—not one based on deprivation or fear.

4. Don't blindly fear debt.

"A lot of people already have it in their head that debt is bad," Cochran says. "So they come at the problem already dismissing potential solutions or seeing some solutions as worse than others." Of course, it's important to make educated decisions about taking on debt, but it shouldn't be an automatic no-go.

And when it comes to paying off loans or other debt, Cochran has some helpful advice: "Do not prioritize paying off debt over building your financial stability. There are things that you can do to navigate your debt and financial uncertainty, but you have to have money to survive."

5. Ensure your budget lines up with your life vision, and it won't feel so hard.

Most people grumble and groan when trying to stick to a budget. But Cochran has a fresh perspective. "It is entirely possible to live a life that you love while you're budgeting."

The key is getting clear on what you want (Rule #1!), and then ensuring your budget lines up with that. "Do you want to go to Hawaii this year or do you want to eat at your favorite sushi restaurant 50 times? It's just about deciding what your trade-offs are."

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