🎉 ＦＩＶＥ 🎉
My mother likes to retell a story from my childhood. She used to have a piece of décor that looked like sheer paper leaves. I asked about it out of curiosity because I was not allowed to touch it, and she said it was a money tree. At some point later, she found me outside under one of the trees in our yard. When she asked me what I was doing, I said: "Looking for money." She thinks it's a hilarious story. Meanwhile, I'm still searching for a money tree... Share the wealth when you find one :-)
In all seriousness, our attitudes about and attachments to money form at a young age. As a child, I learned directly that money doesn't grow on trees, but I didn't receive much else in the vein of financial education beyond that. I was told to not act like money was going to "burn a hole in my pocket" when I wanted to hurry up and spend cash from holidays, but I can't say that I was actually taught how to save. My comfort was a guarantee as far as I was concerned. If there ever were hard times, my lifestyle didn't take a hit.
Then came time for college. I was a great student, so I won a lot of scholarships. In fact, I received a check back just about every semester from my award overages. Besides basic expenses for school and living, I blew all of it on clothes and eating out. Long and short, I didn't have a clue about money. I ran up a credit card that I applied for on campus in order to get a t-shirt or some trinket. Then, when I decided to go to law school, I was encouraged to attend the best institution that admitted me. That school offered me a scholarship, but even with that aid, I still amassed so much debt for that degree that I'm ashamed to share the number.
Matters weren't helped by the fact that I became pregnant in my third year of law school and gave birth the day after graduation.
By 26, financially... I was an absolute wreck.
Something had to give.
Your Mindset is Everything
When you're stuck between a rock and a hard place, you have two options:
- Give up and succumb.
- Grow up and change.
I chose the latter.
I had a wonderful upbringing, but I had to come to terms with the fact that I could not just assume the same level of comfort I had been afforded as a youth even though credit made that semi-easy in the moment of spending.
I was driven to change because I wanted to create a stable household for my child.
Although I didn't receive much of a financial education when I was younger, my parents did instill work ethic and inquisitiveness in me. I was taught to always ask questions when I found myself perplexed. So, I went to a wealth advisor. Granted, at the time, my net worth was super negative, but hey... I still went! When I released the emotional baggage that was holding me back financially, I was able to focus on making financial freedom possible starting right from where I actually was (not from where I wished I could be).
The first step is admitting you have a problem...
My advisor shared all of the basic information with me about retirement plans, life insurance and disability insurance, but I am forever grateful for a book that he recommended called Your New Money Mindset. Here's FREE access to chapter one: https://files.tyndale.com/thpdata/firstChapters/978-1-4964-0780-1.pdf. Check it out! The full book is available on Amazon. (Heads up: It does discuss personal finances and giving from a Christian perspective.)
In Your New Money Mindset, you explore whether you spend your days longing for things like security, independence or success, or if you are actually living in freedom and contentment.
After going through the text and taking the online assessment (Take it! It's super helpful!), it became clear to me that I was longing for the same security that I was afforded as a child and I was so hungry for it that I was willing to go further into debt to maintain it.
I lacked contentment entirely and that's where I had to being.
- I overhauled my budget.
- I stuck to a meal plan.
- I said "no" to a lot of invitations.
I did what some people learn early on, which is to live below their current means as opposed to trying to keep up with past (or with friends for that matter).
In addition to cutting back, I also had the great fortune of receiving higher paying jobs along the way. I worked hard and I am still working hard. By the age of 29, I was able to buy my first home as a single mother. My son celebrated his 4th birthday at that house and I was proud. Finally, we were stable and on the path toward financial freedom.
My goal is to be Work Optional/Financially Independent by 48. As long as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program stays in place, I'm on track to make this happen.
Life's a Rollercoaster
Perhaps you connect with an element of what I've shared so far. Even if our backgrounds are different, there's one thing we all learn over the years -- new financial curveballs will present themselves periodically. Even the best budgeters will find themselves taken off guard from time to time.
A significant portion of people don't even live by a budget. This isn't necessarily bad if your expenses remain below your income. However, this makes it very easy for the excess income to just disappear. Saving doesn't happen if it's not set as a priority.
Overall, each person/family should hit pause from time to time in order to check in with themselves financially. Even if you don't change a thing in your financial plan, at least you can say that you came to that determination following contemplation.
2020 showed us that the "best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." We can't anticipate all of the twists and turns, but we should at least try to build in buffers and cushions. If nothing else, we should minimally aim to be aware of what we can cut out immediately from our budgets if we had to. I've heard this referred to as your "rice and beans" budget. What do you minimally need to just get by without using credit and which alternative income options could you pursue if necessary? I shared some steps below that will help you figure it out.
The New Year is a great time to think through these and other questions. Here's a cheat sheet of five top actions for enhanced financial wellness: