START TRACKING YOUR SPEND
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Let's stop pretending that being good at money means you need to be good at math. Instead, let's listen to our body and our mind.
Over the weekend, I finally said RIP to my 20s. I’ll be honest, it was a great weekend with family and my closest friends, but it’s not exactly what I had planned to say my final goodbyes to the most selfish decade of my life. COVID-19 put an unexpected twist in the initial girl’s trip to Mexico that I had booked, and also stopped me from signing the now-cancelled second book contract that I thought would be an exciting way to enter into my 30s. I had learned many life lessons about money, and 2020 wasn’t willing to slow those lessons down by any means.
Things have significantly changed over the past six months. In many ways, for the better. People are finally spending their energy battling systemic racism and governments’ who never had their best interest. But in others, it’s worse. I’ve had friends experience some awful moments, and just last week, we ‘temporarily’ lost one income.
It’s been a year of life lessons about money, just as the last decade of years is chock full of financial mistakes I’ll never be able to fix. The only difference is that now I can confidently say, I’ve learned more lessons than how to survive a global pandemic in the last ten years, and most of them have made me feel somewhat secure (even though we are down to one income.)
Financial security has saved my life more than once, and I hope that by sharing some of my most valuable lessons with you, you’ll find a way to protect your own financial life. For transparency’s sake (because I ain’t a liar), any link with a star next to her is an affiliate one. I don’t have many, though. Because I only partner with products and companies I genuinely use.
It can be scary to wake up one day with the realization that it’s no one else except yourself to plan and save for your future. The day I learned what a Robo-advisor was, was the same day I finally felt less pressure and more confidence to take control of my money. Eliminating the scary part of finance (thinking you have to speak to a white male salesperson inside a bricks and mortar financial institution) was the best thing I ever did for myself. They don’t teach me anything anymore, because they can’t. We have nothing in common. Instead, I found female investors and financial professionals who could communicate my investing needs to make it fun and stress-free! I wish I had started younger, but I’m proud of myself for starting at all.
Unfortunately, many of the financial lessons I learned should have come earlier, but like all of us, most of them arrive after a significant life change, or milestone hits us square in the jaw. For me, that was becoming a mom. I suddenly realized that having life insurance was no longer a ‘nice thought,’ but a necessity. I also knew I would potentially need disability insurance, absolutely need home insurance, and that it wasn’t as much of a scam as I thought after speaking to a few old friends who had to use those types of insurance. It turns out; it can save your life to have the right insurance.
Trying to convert my friends who aren’t always interested in money isn’t that easy. Instead, I found new friends online and in real life who enjoy spending time chatting about money and encouraging financial goals outside of my comfort zone. These people help me achieve greater success and challenge me to take my money goals a little more seriously.
When I had finally paid off my consumer debt and student loans, I was afraid to spend money on anything for the fear that I would spiral out of control. I didn’t realize that I had already ingrained so many healthy financial habits that it would be challenging for me to push myself over budget. I also realized that you need to spend money that you save — otherwise, you’re saving for nothing. This is still an internal battle that I face when I go to make a more costly purchase after saving for months or years at a time, but I’m trying to find a balance that allows me to enjoy the small purchases that I don’t always save for, too.
Again, it’s all about finding a balance between expenses that make you happy and costs that you rush into before realizing it might not have been worth the price. Instant gratification is something that I learned to control in my late 20s when I stopped letting my emotions take the lead during a casual visit to the mall. To this day, I still practice the 24-hour rule with most of my purchases, except food, of course. I’ve never regretted spending money on food.
The first budget I ever tried to use was on a financial app that stressed me out. I tried a different app and felt the same way. From then on, I told myself repeatedly that I wasn’t a budget kind of person. And while that may be true (because I’m still not amazing at it), there are hundreds of ways to budget your money. Convincing myself that I didn’t need to plan wasn’t realistic. Even having a spreadsheet to get to know your monthly spending is an essential part of finding financial success – even if you don’t regularly update or visit that document. It’s about finding a way to budget that works for you — and that takes time.
While we’re on the topic of budgeting, another essential part of financial success is setting achievable money goals. Over the past five years, this has been the single motivator for me and the reason I’ve stayed so wholly immersed in financial planning. If there’s one thing I love in life, it’s to compete. So, having a goal is the best way to compete with myself and any barriers that stand between myself and my financial goals. I even went as far as to write a book to help others achieve the same in only 100 days.
Of all the life lessons about money I’ve learned, this one was the most emotionally rewarding. During my debt repayment, I started anonymously sharing my financial situation online. Suddenly realizing that unless I were upfront about my money in my relationships with people, I would seriously struggle to achieve my goals. I wasn’t allowing myself to go to the mall, and explaining that to friends without being truthful was impossible. So, after some back and forth with myself, I told them the truth. They were all accepting. They were all understanding. And they helped me stay in the right mindset and lane while I focused on getting financially stable.
You deserve to be paid fairly for your skills, and unfortunately, that isn’t always going to be the reality. The best way to advocate for yourself and others who face discrimination in the workplace and don’t ever earn a fair living wage is to talk about it. When you speak with people who work in a similar industry to you and find out how much they make, it might provide you with the negotiation material you need to receive the pay you deserve.
I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into learning about the gender wage gap and how restrictive it can be for many women. I became especially passionate about this gap after becoming a mother because I quickly realized that I was missing out on one year of career growth by taking maternity leave. So, I started to make up for the lost time and build up my resume in any way possible. It’s not easy to be a working mom or working woman without a child because the cards always stacked against you. But, if we keep talking about it and pushing for equality in the workplace, we will make significant changes for women everywhere.
The most significant changes we need to encourage are for minority women of colour. Because of systemic racism, if the gender wage gap doesn’t change and continues to move at its current pace, it will be 111 years before Black women earn the same as white males. For Latinx women, equal pay is 205 years away. By donating money to organizations that focus on these types of discriminatory practices, we can help in a small but significant way.
It’s harmful to call people who have access to wealth from birth ‘self-made’ when others experience disparity on a multitude of levels. When we call out people like Jeff Bezos for being self-made (near trillionaires), we forget to recognize his poor business practices and mistreatment of employees. We also forget to mention that the money he used to start Amazon was a gift from his parents, and again, a later bailout from his parents to save that same company from failing. These are all advantages in life that no other person may have the opportunity to achieve. Not to mention, no billionaire earns their money on their own. It’s just not possible.
It took me a long time to reach a lifestyle that allows me to donate money regularly. I’m incredibly fortunate to be in the financial position that I’m in. The more I learn about finance, the more I realize the importance of the ability to spread wealth to less advantaged communities. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, and it doesn’t have to be a donation of money at all. There are plenty of ways to donate that are aside from cash – and all of them are valid.
I thought I knew financial stress in my early 20s. But then, I had a kid. And suddenly, I realized that I was now responsible for paying for another human for the rest of my life. As someone who wasn’t good at budgeting before my daughter’s arrival, I sure needed to find a way to make my financial situation work in a way that allowed regular tracking and updates. If you’re wondering why I suddenly advocate for budgeting after years of denying its necessity, it’s parenthood. Because raising a child is costly, both financially and emotionally.
When I first started a blog, I did it simply to track my debt repayment and connect with like-minded people online. What I didn’t realize were the multiple opportunities that would come to earn revenue. Now that I know more about running a website and having a platform online, it’s hard not to be continually exploring different ways to make money. Once you find a hobby that you love and monetize, it can be exciting to explore every avenue of that earning potential.
Tied to the many ways you can earn extra money is the main driving force behind why I work as many side jobs as possible. The real reason is to ensure multiple streams of income. I never want to have to worry about losing one source of income and not being able to continue to earn a living without it. Instead, I focus heavily on making my money work for me in unique ways and expanding those streams of income to find more financial stability.
The number one reason you need multiple streams of income? Because your job owes you nothing. At any point, and far from within your control, you can lose your full-time income. It happens daily, and it’s not always easy to anticipate. 2020 has been the main driving force for me to share this tip with you. When companies ask you to do more work for the same income, or guilt you for using your allotted vacation or sick days, there is a problem. You should not sacrifice your health and quality of living for a company. Although, at times, there isn’t much we can do if we need an income, this is a reminder to you that you are more than your employee number, and to remember that you are valuable, even if they tell you that you’re not.
When you’re in debt, you think everyone else is doing better than you, and that there is no way they are struggling – but you’d be surprised how many people are. When I was in debt and hiding the fact that I was trying to pay it off aggressively, I was always anxious about having to say no to events, people and opportunities. The realization that everyone is fighting the same money battles as you don’t come without time. Eventually, you learn that almost everyone has financial challenges at one point in their lives – and likely more than once.
A lesson that takes years of experience to come to terms with is the decision to turn someone down who offers you an opportunity. The lesson begins with continually saying yes and realizing that the opportunity might not always be in your best interest. These days, I’m more thoughtful about the projects and nights out that I accept into my schedule. Sometimes you need to say no – and that’s okay.
The first time I told someone, “I can’t afford that,” was freeing. And it was at my dentist’s office. They asked me if I wanted an additional cleaning service, and I wondered how much it would cost. She told me. And instead of saying ‘okay’ and stressing about it later, I told her I couldn’t afford it. She was so kind. She put a note in my file saying to always ask about added cost services for financial reasons, and it was the best relief I could have at that moment. From that appointment forward, I started to be more straightforward with friends and family and told them my financial goals so that they would be more understanding if I had to turn them down. Luckily, everyone was welcoming to the idea, and some even said they were in the same boat, which was so refreshing to hear. So, although it’s not always easy, it’s wildly empowering to vocalize your financial aspirations. It only took me 25 years to learn this life lesson about money. Sharing so you might be able to shave off a couple of years.
I say this often because – spoiler alert – it’s true. Even though you might hear of a free product or free opportunity, there is always something in it for the person trying to offer you something for free. So, before you say yes, ask yourself: what am I willing to give for this ‘free’ experience?
If you find it to be worthwhile after you ask yourself what you’re willing to give, there is nothing wrong with running with it. Especially if that ‘free’ thing is a donut. I never say no to free donuts.
Money changes with you as you grow, and it evolves every time you achieve a new financial milestone. Because of that fact, you will never be fully satisfied with what financial knowledge you have. The industry is always changing, and the opportunities to learn are never-ending. Money is the ultimate learning lesson because it’s still ongoing.
One of my most significant weaknesses in my 20s was the fear of asking questions that might make me look uneducated or weak. But, I quickly learned that by avoiding asking these questions, I was losing out on the knowledge I needed to find financial success. I also learned that asking the right questions could save me money when it came to medical appointments, shopping trips and vehicle purchases.
In my early 20s, I would do anything possible to avoid discussing politics. In the last five years, I’ve learned how impossible it is, and the importance of becoming vocal and educated in our political landscape. Because money is involved in every aspect of our livelihood, even the simplest things, like buying coffee, are voting. It’s terrifying to think that I was living my life without understanding how the way I used it impacted those around me. It is an astringent and ongoing process for me, to learn how best to use my voice to better myself and my friends and family in politics.
If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that the places I purchase products need more thought than the price tag. Although it’s not always an option, and we can’t always be perfect, I promised myself that my 30-year-old self would be more conscious of how I spend my money and the companies I support.
The amount of times I have used my emergency fund since I started to build one four years ago is more than I can count. It’s the most important financial tool in my life, and I encourage everyone to focus on building a fund to protect themselves from surprise costs. A global pandemic, owning a home, and the fear of job loss are the major driving forces behind us, saving even more money into our emergency fund. You can never have enough money saved, but if you have even a small buffer, you’ll feel a lot more financially secure. I promise.
I’m still figuring out the best way to eliminate my bank fees because, honestly, it’s not (that) easy. Typically, I pay $15 a month in costs to keep my money in a bank account? Which, honestly, isn’t the move. Recently, I opened a KOHO prepaid card to load for my non-essential purchases each month. It helps keep me in control of my overspending, and it’s FREE!
You will never have the same life as someone else, even if you buy the same things. You have lived a different experience and have distinct advantages and disadvantages than them. I used to try to keep up with people who earned significantly more money than me and regret the time wasted living a life that didn’t connect with my financial situation. Now, I focus on finding the things that make me happy, and as long as I’m achieving those things, there is no need to worry about what someone else is doing.
The greatest life lessons about money come from mistakes I’ve made in my life. Taking accountability for my actions has been the best way to understand where I went wrong and what I need to do to avoid those same mistakes in the future. We are human, and we learn by doing. And sometimes, we do the wrong things. The best way to handle those mistakes is by taking the time to digest the ideas you need to change for the better.
I’m fortunate to have experienced some pretty phenomenal financial lessons over the past ten years. But, I know that there will be many more in my 30s. People asked me if I was worried about getting older (because women expected to fear their age), and my answer to that was Hell to the No. Each year, I become more and more comfortable with who I am and what I want. With age, comes challenges that are easier to digest, because you’ve already ridden that style of a roller coaster before.
Bring it on for the new decade. I’m ready to fail and succeed as a 30-year-old woman.
Oh no, you missed the live webinar! But, good news: Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a resource for anyone planning for a future child or family.
Mixed Up Money is pleased to share a free resource for anyone looking to cut back on non-essential spending. My most-requested product is these monthly calendars to share on your Instagram story, use as a phone background, or print off to track your spending habits.
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