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Money Talks: Philosophies I Live By to Guard and Guide My Finances

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Sexy topic of the day: let’s talk $$$!! I heard a podcast episode this morning that really resonated with me. The podcast is Life with Amy and Jordan, and the episode I heard was “007: How We Lived on One Teacher’s Salary.” Well worth a listen (I’ll link at the bottom)!!! But I want to share what philosophies and principals I’ve lived by that have helped me guard and guide my finances this far.

I recognize money is a touchy subject with a lot of people, and one where there are lots of disagreements or differing values. With that, I will share a few disclaimers before diving right in.

Disclaimers

The way I treat my finances is not normal.

I am no financial expert, I just know what has worked for me and my family for years. I also draw a lot of wisdom from others in my life because of the fact that I don’t claim to be right about everything. But the way I live and manage my finances is pretty countercultural. So it’s likely that SOMETHING I say below will be something you disagree with. And that’s fine. I just know that I have experienced an abundant life because of many of these principals, and I want others to have the chance to apply what works for them to experience the same.

Our seasons of life are bound to look very different, and I am not blind to the fact that I’ve started from a very different place than most 22-year-olds.

If you were to peer into my life from the outside today, you’d see a 22-year-old, single woman that lives with her cat in a 1-bedroom apartment, driving a reliable hand-me-down SUV, starting a business on the side, and making an ample salary in her day job. I know that most 22-year-olds are only just graduating college and sending out resumés for their first job, just praying they’ll be able to pay off student loans as quickly as possible. Lots of people, even much older than me, are living paycheck-to-paycheck. That just isn’t my reality; I worked hard through my high school summers to eventually graduate college at 19, and my parents blessed me with a college education (something I don’t take for granted for a single minute). So I had a little bit of a head start. REGARDLESS: Just because you’re not like me doesn’t mean these principals can’t work or benefit you. These are things I learned ever since my first day working at McDonalds at 16 when I started as a penniless teenager, and they are things I am continuing to learn and develop as I mature. I really believe they can help anyone at any stage of life or financial state.

Time is sometimes a variable, but always a factor.

It takes time to discipline yourself in your finances. It also takes time to save enough money to reach your goals. Embrace that and don’t let that discourage you. But also realize that it may take some people less time than others. Guard yourself against coveting someone else’s life or ability to reach their goals quicker than you reach yours. They may have a very unique set of circumstances that you just don’t have, and that’s ok. Keep in your lane and focus on your goals. Comparison will only slow you down.

Warning: Excessive Dave Ramsey quotes / references ahead.

If you don’t know who Dave Ramsey is, you need to get to know him. He’s an author and financial advisor, well-known especially in the Christian community. I align with a lot of his values and philosophies regarding finances.

Alright… on to the tips / principals!

1. Have a financial goal

I don’t mean, “I want to make 6-figures by the time I’m 30” kind of goal. Although, hey, go for it. What I’m more focused on is what your life will look like 10, 15, even 25 years down the road. Do you want to be a stay-at-home mom one day? Do you have student loans to pay off, and you want to do so before a certain age? Do you have a business idea you’d love to take full-time? Maybe your financial goal is just to have peace and security with your finances, to not stress about going out to dinner with friends on a weekend. Or perhaps you want to be able to give more to your church or a charity organization you’re passionate about.

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”

Tony Robbins

This is step 1, because your goal is what will keep you accountable in all of the other rules I mention below. Without a goal, you are sure to compromise on these philosophies.

2. Have a strict budget

Sorry, I have to get the really boring one out first, because this really is the building block of my personal financial rules.

My parents taught me how to budget on the same day that I came home with my first ever paycheck. I remember that day. I got off work after about 15 days of employment at the local McDonalds, and I was just beaming. I loved the number I saw on my paycheck and felt like I was on track to become a millionnaire (sorry, high-school-me… you were far from it). But then I got home and my mom said, “Alright, let me see your paycheck. Let’s make a budget.”

She sat me down at her computer and taught me how to divide up my finances on an Excel spreadsheet. And we divided it out into every detail: how much I will need for gas before my next paycheck, what will I spend for my phone bill that month, how much I need to put away for car insurance, etc. By the end of that tutorial, I was feeling pretty sad about what I had left to spend on the “fun stuff” like clothes or whatever else I was into as a teenager.

“A budget is people telling their money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”

Dave Ramsey

I used to think my budget was telling me what I couldn’t have. But when I got to college, and I had friends who were struggling to put gas in their car, or some who put money down for sports games or concert tickets then complain about not being able to afford textbooks, I learned that a budget actually tells me what I CAN have. Being wise with your money and taking care of your needs first will never give you regret. Which moves me toward point 3…

3. Know the difference between your “wants” vs. your “needs”

This is something I watch people of my generation do so poorly every. single. day. And I don’t mean to sound judgmental, because it’s something I struggle with every single day too! We grew up in the “me, me, me” and “gimme now” culture. Along with growing up in that culture, I chose to study and pursue a career in advertising and public relations. The best way I can summarize the ad & P.R. world:

Advertising is enticing you towards something you didn’t know you wanted. Public relations is handing you a band-aid when you realize that thing hurt you, and you never even needed it.

I made that up, so I expect you guys to put my name in a quote one day.

The world we live in today is exceptional at manipulating our wants vs. our needs. Don’t believe me? Why do you think Apple hosts a summit every year to unveil their latest technology? Ever clicked on a Facebook ad? When’s the last time you bought a pair of Free People jeans when there was a denim sale at Old Navy right down the road?

I have serious “retail therapy” misconceptions myself. Just this past week, I spent hours on my phone shopping because I saw someone on Instagram in a satin leopard print midi-length skirt that I coveted so hard. And I’ve often caught myself weighing the options between the $20 version of the skirt at Kohls and the $50 exact replica skirt at a boutique, thinking “It’s better quality!”

No.

This is not a need. Needs include:

  • rent for your home/apartment
  • utility bills (water, electric, gas)
  • food
  • clothing (in moderation!)
  • hygienic products (toothpaste, toilet paper, deodorant)
  • gas for your car
  • etc.

List out your needs (make sure they’re real needs), and put their monthly cost next to them. Then add them all up, and multiply that new number by 12. This is the amount of money you MUST make in a year to survive. Any excess leftover from your post-tax salary should be saved in some way (either for the “what-if” fund — which I’ll discuss next, into general savings, or towards a goal, such as a new car, home, etc.)

But the danger comes when things that are really “wants” disguise themselves as “needs.” For example, my leopard skirt story, disguised as the “clothing” need (trust me… I have enough clothes in my closet to wear something new everyday for at least 2 months). Or (and here’s another one bound to get me a DM from someone) organic groceries. *GASP*

Do you realize how much people spend on groceries because of the labels? Don’t even get me started; I can send you studies showing that organic is no healthier or better for the environment than conventional food. And you’re paying so much more for the word “organic” or “natural!” I just went to Aldi the other day, and spent about 1/3 less than I usually spend at Giant or Safeway! And I got more food for that price! AND it tastes GREAT!

Whether it’s living without Spotify Premium for a while or choosing only one streaming service, look for ways to cut down costs by figuring out how to optimize your needs (paying less for the same or virtually same product) and avoid your wants.

4. Learn to say “no” more often, and your “yes” will feel so much sweeter

This is where the controversy tends to come in. But Emily, live a little. There’s nothing wrong with going out to dinner once in a while or treating yourself. And you’d be right. There isn’t.

Honestly, will I sink if I spend $50 on a leopard skirt? No. But if I compromise on the leopard skirt, am I starting a pattern of unwise money choices?

Thankfully I can drop $50 on a want and still survive, even thrive. But only because of the care and discipline I took since I was 16 to manage my finances wisely. Not everyone can say that a $50 skirt wouldn’t put them in the hole until the next paycheck.

I fully believe in enjoying life NOW. But I also believe that part of enjoying life is avoiding unnecessary stress. If you don’t wisely manage your “wants” and “needs,” you’ll find that, in an attempt to find happiness by adopting the “Treat Yo’ Self” mantra, you actually are diminishing your ability to live abundantly. (Remember what I said about a budget? …giving us the freedom of what we CAN have, not restricting us for what we CAN’T?)

Lastly, when you’re in the moment of deciding whether or not to invest in a want, ask yourself this. “Do I want this thing now more than I want to reach my goal later?” Most of the time that answer will be no.

“Being willing to delay pleasure for a greater result is a sign of maturity.”

Dave Ramsey

And if you can’t confidently say no, then the next question is, “What is the consequence of investing in this want?”

For example, I only keep about $50 per paycheck set aside for “wants.” That means, if I spend that $50 on the leopard skirt, I have to say no to everything else for two weeks until my next paycheck. No, I can’t meet up for coffee this week. No, I can’t go see that movie with you. No, I can’t buy myself lunch even though I forgot my packed lunch at home.

Weigh the consequences. If you’re still comfortable with them, then go for it. There’s nothing wrong with a little something to enjoy now, after you’ve confidently answered those two questions.

BUT, if you can’t comfortably answer those questions, you must learn to say “no” to that “want.” And let me warn you, it may earn you some odd looks or disappointing reactions from others. Because as I said in the disclaimers, this is not a normal way to live.

Here’s an example I lived through… I had a goal for my side business to have a new camera before my first ever solo wedding this last August. The camera cost nearly $3K brand new, and I wanted to pay for it using only money earned from my business. I was one month away from the wedding and just over a hundred dollars short of comfortably paying it out. Then a friend sent a message in our group chat…

Who wants to go to the Hillsong United concert this summer? Venmo me and I’ll reserve the tickets!

The tickets were not cheap either, especially for someone with a financial goal and a limited time to achieve it. My stomach sunk, because I really wanted to go, but I said “no.” And you know what? I bought my camera, and the moment I first used it I was SO grateful I said no. If I had gone to that concert with my friends, I wouldn’t have had a new camera in time for that wedding, and the photos I produced for my couple would not have been as tack-sharp as they are now!

I weighed what was more important to me in that moment. And I weighed the consequences of my decision. Sure, I would’ve enjoyed the concert with my friends, but they’ve since stopped talking about the concert while I still love talking about and sharing pictures from that wedding.

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

Dave Ramsey

5. Prepare for “What Ifs”

(Pssst… Enneagram 6, in case you were wondering. )

I put this one after weighing “wants” and “needs” because it is often an overlooked area of that principal.

Once you have finished listing out the costs of your “needs,” look at the rest of the money left over and think about areas of savings that might be a huge financial relief in the future. Sometimes money disappears without our say-so, even if we are extremely strict with our budgets.

Things like medical bills, car maintenance, insurance fees, vet bills (for my pet parents out there), etc. can quickly put a strain on even the most financially sound people. Have an emergency fund for all areas where there might be an emergency.

I started saving for a new car since that first McDonald’s paycheck, because I realized my SUV was a hand-me-down from my mom. My parents take IMMACULATE care of their vehicles, so I had no doubt I had a quality set of wheels. But the car wasn’t brand new anymore. And one day soon, I’ll have to pay for a new car. But until then, I have to be ready for the unexpected to happen. Each paycheck, I put some money into a totally separate column from my “New Car” savings called “Car Maintenance.” This is the money I’d use if I popped a tire, needed an oil change, or my car just flat-out broke down. And I’m glad I have that fund, because my car has had a handful of incidents where it came in handy. Lesson learned — the easy way!

6. Work harder.

I am often the first person to come to the defense of my millennial peers when I hear older adults make stereotypical remarks. But sometimes it’s hard to do when I can see where they are coming from.

A lot of my friends work exceptionally hard, and it’s not easy to find lazy people in the working D.C. demographic. Sometimes we’re even known for working too hard. But in previous seasons of my life, I encountered lots of young people who were either unwilling to work hard or unwilling to work altogether.

If you have big goals for your future, and you are saving and budgeting wisely but still not making any headway, you might have to work harder. Maybe you have to apply yourself more at work to put yourself in sight for a promotion or raise. Or maybe it’s time for a second job! We live in an age where it’s pretty easy to earn extra cash somehow. Drive for Uber, become an InstaCart shopper, start an Etsy shop if you’re crafty, tutor kids, babysit, petsit, housesit, sit on anything if they’ll pay you for it! Take on 10-15 hours at McDonalds at night (I promise it’s not that bad.)

“Pray like it all depends on God, but work like it all depends on you.”

Dave Ramsey

7. Do anything but complain.

I realize a second job may not always be practical for everyone. And I realize some job situations might just suck; maybe you’re in a job with no room for advancement or you have a boss that overlooks your hard work. Be open to change. For you, maybe looking for opportunities elsewhere is one way you can apply this principal.

If you are in debt, make a plan to pay it off. If you don’t like your job, start writing a resume to send out to other employers. If you need extra cash, cut unnecessary spending and/or look for another cash cow. If you don’t know where to start, ask “dumb” questions (spoiler: there are no dumb questions for someone willing to learn). Do ANYTHING, but don’t complain.

Complaining is a way of identifying a problem, while ignoring potential for the solution.

Read that again.

Be solution oriented. Be the catalyst for change in your life. And for my final Dave Ramsey quote:

“Change is painful. Few people have the courage to seek out change. Most people won’t change until the pain of where they are exceeds the pain of change.”

Dave Ramsey

If you want more resources on how to best apply these principals and more, check out Dave Ramsey’s books!! I recommend starting with The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness. Not a reader? He has a podcast too, called “The Dave Ramsey Show” where he takes calls from real listeners and gives practical financial advice!! So many great nuggets in there. I also will link to that Amy and Jordan podcast episode too: Episode 007: How We Lived on One Teacher’s Salary. Thanks for bearing with me! I know this was a long one, but something I’m super passionate about.

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