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Simple Guidance For Investing

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about investing. I started with the foundation, debated the strategies, spoke with investment advisors, and everything in between. Out of this, three things became clear to me.

  1. I will never consistently beat the market nor do I care to try.
  2. A simple, consistent contribution strategy with an average stock market return rate over time will make me very wealthy.
  3. Not investing or deferring investment dollars until later is one of the worst financial decisions I can make.

I’m no expert by any means nor am I trying to sell you anything except for the fact that investing doesn’t have to be difficult.

Because I feel strongly about this, I’ve compiled some must-read articles on investing in the section below. If you don’t feel like reading articles on investing, and want an easy answer, skip to the end.

Simple guidance for investing

Stock Series – Everything you need to know about the stock market

Types of Investment Accounts explained

Ladder of investing by Ramit Sethi

Easiest Investment Options – Index and Target Rate Funds

Don’t panic when the stock market drops meditation

How much do you need to retire?

The 4% distribution rule

The multiply by 25 times your annual expenses rule of thumb

Investing myths

Investing can and should be very simple for 99% of people

The simplest strategy of all

With investing, it seems that less is more for most people. According to Warren Buffett, that’s 99% of people. If you resonate with having a simple strategy that makes you wealthy, here’s the even simpler advice experts give.

  • Set aside as much as you can in investment accounts (i.e. 10-15% of your gross income). Start with your 401(k) up to your employer match (free money) then look elsewhere.
  • Invest all of your money in a low-cost stock index fund, such as Vanguard’s VTSMX.
  • Continue investing as much money as possible over the years. Don’t touch any of it until retirement.
  • Ignore the news and ignore your fund performance.

Don’t believe me? Good. Start reading. This is too important to ignore.

Start today

Don’t you want to stop wondering whether or not you’re doing the right thing? Don’t let others determine your strategy or project their “wisdom” onto you without investigating yourself. Take some time and dive in! I promise it’s not that difficult.


Know of an article that you think I should include or read? Send it my way! I’d be happy to consider adding it here.

If You’re Not Progressing, Reconnect With Your Why

The main reason I started our debt-free journey was out of fear. The fear of not having enough to make choices on my own terms or without the influence of money. That changed when I learned to reconnect with my why.

As you can imagine, fear is a terrible source of fuel but it can serve as a great firestarter. This fear evolved over time. Soon after, my why for wanting to master my personal finances was to feel the freedom of choice to take epic risks in life, live spontaneously, and never feel as if money influences who I am as a person or what I choose to do.

If you’ve always said you want to get better or make a positive change with your money, why haven’t you done it yet? Chances are you don’t have a strong enough why to spring you into action.

If this is the case, I hope the rest of this article helps you find that fire within. Because if your financial choices are not aligned with your values, no amount of money in the world will make you happy. The path usually starts with you getting out of your own way.

Change the invisible script that’s holding you back

When you think about money, what internal story plays in your head? These are what Ramit Sethi calls invisible scripts that wreak havoc on your progress.

While invisible scripts relate to more than just money, the invisible scripts focused around money are often associated with less than ideal financial outcomes, financial behaviors, and other aspects of financial health. Oftentimes, these are handed down from our family members and stem from childhood experiences that we carry with us.

Have you ever found yourself stating any of the following? Here’s just a few.

  • I work hard, so I deserve this nice apartment!
  • Everybody has debt so what’s the problem with putting everything on credit cards?
  • I have a real job now so I’ve earned this new car!
  • I’ll never be able to afford XYZ so what does it matter how I spend my money?
  • That works for them but that will never work for me.
  • It must be nice! They get all the breaks!
  • I’m young and want to do all these things so I can put investing/saving off until later.
  • Money is the root of all evil and having a lot of it is selfish.
  • Wealthy people are greedy and corrupt. There is virtue in living with less.

If any of these scripts play in your head, it’s time to challenge them. You’ve grown as a person since you first heard these, haven’t you? Do you really believe these? When’s the last time you stopped to think about your own attitudes about money not what was handed down to you? 

Becoming wealthy is a conscious choice that you must make. Stop complaining about not being able to do something when your actions don’t support what it is you want to do.

It takes small change

A quality relationship with money is one worth having given the fact that it will be influential until you leave this earth. It’s time to choose wealthy behaviors and thoughts. No matter how small.

Choose to get 1% better each day or week, not unrealistically better in a short amount of time. Instead of overwhelming yourself with many tasks in the beginning, spread your lessons over the course of a week to give yourself space to think. It might not seem like much, but those 1% improvements start compounding on each other. Make them positive. Do the pre-work.

Try starting a money journal or an internet article bookmark folder related to money. Write down one thing that interests you about money, relevant or not to becoming debt-free. Save just one article a day to read each day of the week or bookmark a couple to read at a set time on a set day. Try batching about 30 minutes to an hour of time, to go over some of the stuff you’re trying to understand. Then on Sunday, reflect on what you took away from these and figure out how to work it into your financial strategy, whatever it is. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. These tiny actions over time will lead to a rich life.

I truly believe that the following things are really all you need for an epic financial life.

  • Invest 10-15% of your income
  • Spend less than you earn (i.e. budget)
  • Avoid big debts over time
  • Budget/save/spend for beautiful experiences vs. stuff
  • Grow as a human to earn more and live simpler

If you are already committed to doing these things, it’s only a matter of time until you make progress. If you’re doing these things and not progressing, think back to your invisible scripts. Find ways to implement these things however it best fits you. Plain and simple.

Remember F-U Money

There is this concept of F-U money that I absolutely love and relates well with freedom of choice. To illustrate this principle in a fun way, I’d like to share an outstanding must-watch YouTube clip from JL Collins, financial expert and author of the Simple Path to Wealth (one of only two books I’d recommend relating to personal finance).

In the video, he replaces himself with John Goodman from the movie The Gambler and edits the script for the topic. It’s absolutely fantastic and hilarious. 

You should watch this

It’s a no-bullshit way of telling you exactly what to do similar to what’s highlighted above.

Reconnect with your why

I’m slowly learning that solutions only start to present themselves when you take action towards what you want. Instead of being distracted by what you’re “supposed” to want, focus instead on implementing the steps that lead to the life you really want.

Freedom of choice is not about buying stuff. It’s about being able to make a decision not out of fear, but in a way that supports who you are. Don’t you want to be in the position of F-U? Try that as your why the next time you think about swiping your credit card for something you don’t really want.


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6 Unconventional Financial Questions to Ask Yourself

One thing we all have in common with COVID-19 is an unprecedented disruption to our normal lives. If you view things as happening for you instead of to you, unprecedented times provide good opportunities to do some unconventional thinking.

This article highlights 6 unconventional financial questions to think about and help you discover more about your epic life in the process.

1. What would I do with $10 million?

What would I want to do, have, and be if I had $10 million in the bank? How much does my dream life – or the life you might be deferring to retirement – really cost if I pay on a monthly basis?

I got this one from Tim Ferriss. The problem people face sometimes is the trap of workaholism by way of insane hours and constant stress. They may be making great money during that time but when they have a chance to step back and reflect, they might wonder what it’s all for. Is the money worth it? Maybe happiness is a better target than financial success after all.

Whether you’re in this place or not, the Target Monthly Income (TMI) exercise is a great way to figure out how much your dream life would really cost.

Chances are that the ultimate TMI figure will be lower than expected, and it will decrease over time as you trade more and more “having” for once-in-a-lifetime “doing.” Check out this exercise on Tim’s blog about lifestyle costing and TMI.

2. How much of my money is going to…?

I believe that if you want to build wealth and become debt-free, you need to know where you’re money is going. Budgeting doesn’t have to be a boring, traditional, gut-wrenching process. I’ve always been adamant about changing the stigma around budgeting and try to inspire myself and others in a way that results in action and commitment.

Instead of tracking every purchase, focus on splitting up your income into three to four main categories: fixed costs (i.e. housing, transportation, insurance, groceries, etc.) guilt-free spending money and debt payments. Start by understanding how much you are spending in the budget categories to get a baseline. This helps you understand your habits and may inspire you to change them. The picture below provides a pretty typical breakdown for Americans.

financial questions
Recommended Budget Categories

If your spending categories are much higher than suggested, ask yourself why. The goal here is to identify what is essential and what is not. Its time to learn how to build a budget that doesn’t suck.

3. Am I happy with my tax withholding?

You might have heard financial folks telling you not to give the government an interest-free loan. If so, they are referring to the amount of money that’s withheld from your paycheck to cover your tax liability. Otherwise known as the money you give to the government each month ahead of time that you could get now instead.

Everybody pays taxes and how much depends on your specific situation. Your tax liability factors in your filing status, health insurance, tax bracket, 401k, HSA, etc. If around tax time it’s determined that you owe more than a $1000 to the IRS (under-withheld), you pay that number and usually a penalty. However, more Americans end up over withholding and receiving a significant tax refund come April. But you do have the option of not doing that.

What would you do with that extra money per month that gets pushed off until April? Let’s say you typically receive $2,500 back come April. Assuming you get paid bi-weekly (26 paychecks per year), that would be an extra $96/paycheck or $192/month. If you were to dial in your withholding, you could free that money up for yourself. What would you do with this extra money each month? How would it impact your lifestyle or the life you want to live?

Of course, you could invest it to which it would grow exponentially greater over time than if you got a big check in April. Or, you could fund your hobbies, afford some luxury you’ve been putting off, etc.

When you think about this for your own life, would you rather have a steady source of extra income over a full year or receive a one-time payment? If you do like the big refund option, think about how you’ve spent that big chunk over the years. Did it make you happy or did it pay off the debt you accumulated buying stuff that wasn’t worth it?

Think about what would add more value to your life and adjust your withholding accordingly. You could start by playing with the IRS Tax Withholding calculator to see the impact on your situation.

4. Are there pain points to solve?

A true pain point is one, no matter how small and negligible, that adds up over time and annoys the shit out of you distracting you from being present or making progress. Now that is a situation where you justify spending your money.

A super successful serial entrepreneur once said, “If you’ve got enough money to solve a problem, you don’t have a problem.” It’s often true that early in our lives, we spend most of our time trying to earn money. As life goes on, we start to see time as more valuable because time is nonrenewable.

When we have few funds and many wants, it can be challenging to prioritize what to buy. One trick might be to identify what in your life is causing you inconvenience and throwing money at it to solve it.

5. How much do you need to start and continually support your creative hobby?

I’ve realized over the years how important stoking our creativity is and how flexible creative outlets can be. Years back when I was looking for a new hobby, I decided on learning guitar. I researched reviews, lessons, and the like and figured out how much I would really need to get started. Once I had that, I put money aside to get there. Simple.

Instead of putting off your creative side, put a financial plan into action that enables you to scratch that itch. Having a creative outlet is one of the many facets of a great life. Chase Jarvis has a pretty fantastic book called Creative Calling: Establish a Daily Practice, Infuse Your World with Meaning, and Succeed in Work + Life that you might start with.

7. What do I really need in retirement?

A key part of retirement planning is to answer the question: “How much do I need to retire?” The answer varies by individual, and it depends largely on your income now and the lifestyle you want in retirement.

What you “should have by age X” is total bullshit and it depends on your financial goals in life. You should be responsible for how you plan for retirement but don’t buy into comparing yourself to where you should be. If you live right, a lot of your would-be expenses in retirement won’t be there because your goal is not to be a broke American.

Mr. Money Mustache has many fantastic articles including one called The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement and another called the 4% rule. Try starting here. The goal is to figure out a baseline now thinking about the rich life you really want in retirement.

Conclusion

Many people view financial planning as an extremely boring subject. It doesn’t have to be when you ask or research better questions. It’s a lot more fun to seek unconventional ways of thinking and learn more about the people you admire who seem to have it all.

Chances are they went the opposite direction in life by thinking unconventionally. All of the exercises listed above can exist with boring financial spreadsheets and inspire you to take action towards your big life.

Balancing Money Dials and Debt

Wealth is the power to choose.
Financial wealth is the power to choose how to spend money.
Social wealth is the power to choose who to hang out with.
Time wealth is the power to choose how to spend your day.
Mental wealth is the power to choose how to spend your attention.

James Clear

I regularly spend a good chunk of money on things that others probably wouldn’t. Chances are, my rich life and financial freedom are similar in some ways to yours and different in others. But I’m willing to bet we all agree that no one wants to be a slave to debt and that spending your money freely without anxiety, guilt, and stress without incurring unhealthy debt is an admirable goal.

A rich life may have some debt but the goal should always be directed at avoiding unhealthy debt.  Most importantly, while still living abundantly without unknowingly hardwiring scarcity into your psyche. Avoiding the scarcity mindset is a tough task because our brains are wired to see the negative more so than the positive. I’ve learned that when your spending is aligned with your values, scarcity doesn’t show up as often.

In this article, I’d like to give a look into what Ramit Sethi calls Money Dials and how we’ve applied this to our own life on our path towards financial freedom. I hope it inspires you to think differently about your own financial journey.

Money Dials

Ramit Sethi has a name for the things we choose to spend our money on that lights us up in life. He calls them money dials or guilt-free spending. You could also think of these as your values that define who you are. These might include:

  • Travel
  • Health/fitness memberships
  • Relationships
  • Self-improvement
  • Personal collections

They can be big or small depending on where you’re at in your financial situation. And they are all yours. If done in a healthy way, you’ve earned the right to never be judged. The key is finding areas in your life to spend your money responsibly in a way that aligns with the person you are and who you want to become. Without any added guilt for doing so.

It does mean cutting the bogus stuff out of your life you don’t really care about any way to make more room for the good.

An example of my money dial

I get overjoyed when I find a business owner, food place, brand, etc. that I trust and admire. It’s a great feeling getting to know someone and/or exploring the business they’ve built. Its more fun when you learn by asking tons of questions about it and they’re OK with it! One of these examples for me is my wine shop, the Hidden Track Bottle Shop. 

They have an outstanding selection of wines, many of which are natural wines (an important feature to the wines I drink), that are carefully curated from across the world. The best part of my rich life involves letting them fully guide my decisions without worrying about price. All I have to do is fumble my way into describing what it is I’m looking for and trust them to select the wine.

Here’s the kicker. I don’t say, under $10, $15, or $20 or ask about price when they suggest something. I love the feeling of giving them the sole power to decide for me only to find out what that price is at the counter and not flinch. It brings me joy to see the expression on their face and excitement in the way they talk about their suggestions.  Fortunately, they know me so I won’t get too crazy with the price but there’s no anxiety, debate, or hesitation.

Passion like that is rare and hard to find and it’s beautiful to be a part of. I get the satisfaction of believing that I’ve empowered them to experience feelings of happiness and career satisfaction. This is just one of the many ways of using your money in a way that provides value to the world and people. And when price doesn’t run your life, that’s a rich life. Even if you play a low stakes game like this.

Now, how do you get here or justify this when you’re deep in debt?

It’s tough

I wasn’t always OK with spending over $12.88 on a bottle of wine. I used to penny-pinch like it was my job, even when I could afford something. I used to be stingy and fixate on numbers. I constantly worried about the balances in our checking/savings accounts and the impact of our purchases on them.

But these are the small things that make up my rich life. Sure, “live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later” is an admirable and successful model but the at all costs mindset can program scarcity. Yes, there are opportunity costs, but where do they end?

There’s always something to pay for or there’s never enough. If you choose to put off your rich life until someday, you’re deferring the amazing life you can have now with a modest couple of dollars. 

Your financial happiness lies within your ability to feel the rightness of your financial decisions as they relate to who you are as a person. It takes introspection to identify those money habits that are hindering your ability to eliminate debt and move toward a richer life. The world is an abundant place and when you see it that way, you open up the possibility of receiving (and giving) wonderful gifts without scarcity.

Start here

Although I followed parts of the Dave Ramsey model and respected it, I always made room for my money dials. There was usually a lesser option that gave me the freedom Dave won’t. If you challenge the system while maintaining 100% respect for it, you might be able to incorporate a little this and that mindset in your debt payoff strategy.

Try starting with a simple debt-payoff strategy just beyond the minimum payment threshold so that its programs in your body and mind that you’re serious. Just enough to convince yourself you have skin in the game. Stick with that level for a period of time to build a baseline of competency. From there, you can slowly progress because you see your number getting lower and lower. I found the excel amortization schedule especially helpful for accountability.

Next, start adding a little more each month. Try adding just $10, $20, or $30 extra towards your debt to reinforce your commitment to your goal in your psyche. No matter how long it takes, it takes constant action in a way that supports your values and intentions. If you program your mind to see how the debt is slowly dissipating, rather than how far you have to go, you’re training yourself to see progress. As you see progress, you’ll learn more about yourself and your values which helps you avoid the scarcity mindset. 

Go deeper

Becoming debt-free won’t be an aspirational goal until you begin shifting your mind to understanding your desires, wants, and needs. Debt isn’t the answer by itself. Where in your life do you see a limited amount of return on investment? When in your life have you spent money thinking it would provide lasting happiness but it only produced anxiety and loss? 

Start to identify these experiences in your mind and approach them with an inquisitive nature. What’s going on inside your mind just before you click purchase, or when you feel yourself starting to want? Are you experiencing a moment of weakness? Did something stressful happen which has caused you to be more impulsive about this? Have you always impulse-bought to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling sad? 

If you think of yourself as a resourceful person, more answers will come to you as it relates to the amazing things you want to do. There are ways to pay down your debt at an aggressive pace while fine-tuning your money dials. 

Keep going

If you never realize your money management or debt is a problem, you’re hindering yourself from becoming the best version of yourself. Wealth gives you freedom of choice and the choices become infinitely greater without shackles.

Your personal finances won’t magically sort themselves out overnight. Start to identify the negative thought patterns around money and the invisible scripts that run your life. Adjust your spending to align with who you are as a person in a way that brings you joy consistently throughout your life, with or without debt. 

Never forget that there are more than monetary ways to give back and receive an abundance of life. We all have gifts to share and the simplest gestures of kindness make the world a better place.

The Best Articles on Buying A Home

I’ve never blindly accepted homeownership as better than renting, even over the long term. It depends on many variables including where you live, what your housing preference is, maintenance, interest, and most importantly, what you might do with the difference between your rent payment and mortgage payments.

Everywhere you turn, you’re going to find tons of reasons why you should buy a house, especially those who stand to make money from your decision. If you don’t do your own research, you could be making a huge financial mistake by check off a box of things you should do.

I’m not saying that buying a home is a bad investment. Neither is renting. You’re still paying for a service/foundational need without baggage after all. Like everything else, bad investments are made when you don’t understand the process and all the other variables and opportunity costs in play. Maybe your financial freedom doesn’t include homeownership because of all the baggage that comes with it.

In my own research on the matter, I found some great resources related to home buying and provided the best below. I hope this article helps educate and becomes a one-stop shop for both those considering homeownership and people who currently have a home.

The best articles on buying a home

Home affordability calculator

NY Times Rent vs. buy calculator

The opportunity cost of a renting vs. owning

Why the rent vs. buy debate is pointless

An amazing downloadable pre-set Excel spreadsheet to crunch your house numbers

Hidden costs to owning a home

House advice from Mr. Money Mustache

Buying fixer uppers vs. move in ready

Pay off your mortgage early or invest the extra payments?

House hacking

Estimating house appreciation

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)

A financial planner who chooses never to buy a house

Sorry, rentals won’t make you rich by Pro Flipper, Brandon Turner

Bad reasons to buy a home

Pause investing to save for a down payment?

What does your financial freedom look like?

Don’t be fooled into blindly accepting that buying a home is the only way to financial freedom. Financial freedom varies from person to person and we shouldn’t let people shame us into buying homes.

Maybe not having the stress of homeownership is actually a better strategy for your health, which in turn keeps you less stressed, which in turn saves you thousands in medical bills, which in turn enables you to invest lots of money, which in turn helps you retire early, and the trickle effect goes on! As wild as that seems, it may not be too far off.

While on the other hand, homeownership could be a slam dunk and keep you from getting screwed by the rental companies, crappy landlords, build a family comfortably and enable you to put down roots in a place you love with comfortable payments below that of renting. If you love tinkering, home maintenance, and repairs, then you should probably buy a home. 

If you’ve ever been interested in home buying, you might start with some of these articles. I hope they challenge your existing beliefs about homeownership and get you thinking about your own financial freedom.

8-Steps On How To Get Out Of Debt

You’ve been meaning to get out of debt. You (and society) have been telling yourself that for years! The bad news is that someday never comes. The good news is you get to decide on what terms this happens. But, do you actually know how to get out of debt?

There are two important points to make upfront as it relates to debt-freedom.

  1. Debt freedom should never come at the price of your values
  2. Your life doesn’t get magically better because you have no debt or you become rich. You have to commit to personal growth and redefine your values as part of the journey.

Below is a list of what I believe to be the 8-core principles on how to get out of debt. If you don’t where to start, try these first before you read another boring article on budgeting.

1. find your debt payoff date

Knowing the month you make your final debt payment is your most powerful weapon. It provides you with the excitement, anger, and motivation you need to get going. It changes the statement “I’ll never be out of debt” into an exact month. And it becomes your responsibility to make it happen by then.

Fortunately, this information can be found for free and takes little effort. No more excuses.

The point of knowing this information is to help you on your journey of self-discovery and to put your life in perspective. Forget about all other pieces of information I’ve written on this blog for a moment. This step right here is the most transformational thing you can do for your financial situation. Combined with a commitment, you will be unstoppable. I promise. All you have to do is input the numbers.

Action: If you really want to become debt-free, you need to know when you actually will be debt-free, even if you keep on the path of business as usual. I wrote an entire article on how you can use a free tool to find this out. It’s so simple to do, guys.

Look at the video. It will help I promise. I’m begging you to do this. Start paying attention to the interest, the years of your life, the extra payments you can make, and everything in between. If you see it for yourself and you play with it, you will believe it can happen. And if it doesn’t help you, stop reading my stuff, call me to yell at me that I don’t know shit about personal finance or send me hate mail to vent your frustrations. I’ll post a video of me begging you to do this if I have to.

2. set up and automate the tracking of your spending. 

I’m not saying build a budget here. I repeat, don’t do that. Put aside everything you’re thinking about your budget at this point. All you should do at this stage is get a free Mint account, link your cards and accounts. The program will compile everything you’ve spent over the past 90 days and try to categorize it.

Hell, feel free to go to then live another 2 months doing what you’ve been doing. Just set it and forget it and let the program do its job behind the scenes. That’s it. It’s done.

Action: Sign up for Mint and link all of your stuff. Slowly, start looking and playing around it over the next month categorizing stuff and get an idea what the hell you’ve been spending your money on. Don’t start budgeting. Don’t start adding ridiculous shit the program also provides. Set it and forget it.

Then, slowly start to see the impact and the totals. Slowly become more aware of your tendencies and spending habits.

3. Review recommended budget spending categories.

You’ve heard build a budget a million times yet it hasn’t worked for you. That’s fine. All I am suggesting here is to look up the recommended spending as a percentage of your income in a number of different categories. Although they are based on averages, the category spending averages help you understand and benchmark your current spending to help you determine your priorities and how you might think about making a change. 

Let me be perfectly clear. Everyone is different. If you are purposefully choosing a higher percentage in any category because it brings you joy, i.e. housing or car, and deliberately spending less in another category, then you do you. The purpose of this exercise is to become more aware of your current habits. And if you are overstretching and shit hits the fan, will you be able to pay your rent/mortgage?

Action: Take a look at some basic information and budgeting styles. What are people suggesting? Find a baseline that you’re comfortable with. Even if it means just saving or investing 5%. You have to start somewhere and any adjustment can be an improvement in the right direction. Check out the following:

If you want to make a budget after looking at these, be sure to make it in a way that works for you.

4. Get Right with your values and cut the fluff.

When I say this, I’m suggesting you find the meaningless purchases you have made over the past months. The ones that provided you zero value, made you upset, resulted in a fight, or the ones you ended up scratching your head over.

Think about these purchases as the ones you have to justify buying. The 3’s, 4’s, or even 6’s (out of 10) that you could have lived without. What you need in your life are the 10’s. Whether it be financially or with any other aspect of your life. The 10 spot decisions or choices are the most impactful and are what lead you towards greater happiness and alignment with your true self.

Please note that I suggest avoiding seeing financial freedom solely through the lens of sacrifice. You don’t have to cut out your daily coffees, your cable subscription or the number of shoes you buy. If these are part of your “guilt-free” spending money, then have at it and frame it that way. If these are your 10’s, then let’s go.

Action: Take a look at your mint budget and categorized transactions and think about the meaning and the value behind them. Are you fooling yourself into believing your shopping spree made you happy? Look around your house. Is the stuff in it just noise and clutter? Check your calendar. Are your priorities providing you value? Check out minimalism, intentional living, and similar ideas for starters below:

Start paying attention to the shit you buy and the value it’s providing you. More importantly, evaluate every decision in your life this way as well! This is the only way to figure out what you can live without and what is a necessity.

5. Analyze what you need to live on and how you can make more. 

Maybe after you’ve identified your categories and your spending, you realize you’re pretty content with your current income and expenses. In that case, stick to your plan! Otherwise, start looking at what’s essential to live on, the baseline number. Then, picture and plan out what you actually would like to live on beyond the essentials including investing 10-15% of your income. Maybe an extra 5k is all you need to justify your current spending habits and live more comfortably. Most excellent!

As for making more, I’m not talking about “the 30 ways to make extra money” doing odd jobs that take a lot of time. I’m talking about the big-ticket items like negotiating a higher salary at your current job or finding another that pays more. 

There’s more than one way to build wealth aside from just cutting your expenses. Sure, you can always make more money doing odd jobs but is that how you want to spend your free time?

Action: There are some fabulous scripts out there that will demonstrate how you might negotiate a raise. Here are a few eye-opening resources to check out:

Or you might just work towards creating or picking up a fun side gig. Take a look at these things before you start blindly cutting things and “reducing” your current standard of living.

6. Remove negative influences in your life. 

Do you honestly believe that you can trust your willpower after a poor night of sleep and wake up early (or late) to deal with a child and making yourself lunch and getting ready and dropping the kid off and working 8-10 hours a day at a job you might not like and commuting home 45 minutes and cooking dinner instead of something easier and available? Not unless you’ve built the right habits or have the right systems.

A strong habit or system will beat strong willpower over time. Remove the triggers like the junk food, credit cards (if you’re paying interest), the online shopping accounts, the negative phone calls where you complain to your friends, the social media on your phone, the blankets you cuddle up on the couch that make TV appealing. Unplug the tv, cut the memberships or whatever it is for you that is making it too easy to backslide and eliminate the triggers.

Or, the reverse can be true. If you want to do something, make it easier. Put all your gym clothes out on your floor before you go to bed and put your gym shoes at the base of your bed so this is the first thing you see and have to react to in the morning.

Action: Identify a negative influence or (positive) trigger in your life whether financially or not. Commit to removing it for a bit and see how it goes, a micro-sacrifice if you will. Or, think about what you can add in your life that would make this easier. Try testing the following:

  • Unplug the TV and put a book on the coffee table to get you to read because it’s easy and available and turning the tv on and hooking the shit up is not.
  • Leave your credit card turned off or on hold through your banking app. This will make you really think and make it painful to pull out your phone, log onto the app to turn it on before you choose to buy something

7. Connect to something deeper.

Why are you reading this article? What destination am I hoping to get to with my money? Try thinking about these things questions more in your life. Get a journal. Write about them. It’s time to do what I call schemin’ and dreamin’.

What is your financial freedom? Buying guilt-free guacamole or appetizers? Paying for a round of drinks? Or paying for your child’s college so they don’t end up in the same hole you were once in. Remember the 10’s you defined above.

Action: How can you scheme your way into becoming debt-free and living an amazing financial life? How can you get your cake and eat it too? Schemin’ and dreamin’ are not about finding ways to cut the shit. You have already done that. It’s about being optimistic about this thing working and what that means for your new life. Were looking to trigger that moment when you think holy shit, this could actually work if I do….

8. Set aside a small amount of time each week to do any of the above things. 

Think about something real quick finishing this article. Could you or would you set aside just 20-30 minutes of undivided attention each week towards creating a better financial future? Because many of these tasks can be done at your own pace and still have a meaningful impact. It may sound like an infomercial but just 20-30 minutes of dedicated, uninterrupted time to do these things may be all you need. 

Action: Set aside the time and pick any one or multiple of these steps above and start working. Tell your spouse, friends, girlfriend, children about this time. This is your sacred time for finances. This time is what you need to commit to your financial freedom and rich life. Make it fun. Do it over coffee at your favorite place. Make it whatever you want it to be. Start by doing or continuing any of the above 7-tips and making them work for you.

Conclusion

Starting is the hardest part sometimes and it can be overwhelming but, you get to choose the pace. Becoming debt-free is no different. While everyone and their brother will suggest doing it right now, which you probably should, they are just opinions and they don’t matter.

But if you do want to be wealthy and financial security is important, statistically speaking, the wealthiest people in the world don’t spend more than they make and pay excessive amounts in interest. The happiest people are often the most intentional people. They understand their values and live by them at all costs. 

Managing your money smartly helps you live more true to your values and take greater risks that lead you to a happier life. There’s a delicate balance we are all searching for and I believe that eliminating your debt intentionally will free you up to take better care of the other areas of your life.

Stay golden.

How To Use Micro-Sacrifices To Be More Awesome

Do you struggle with willpower or moderation? Have you ever forgot how underappreciated the simplest “luxuries” are? What if you could reconnect to this gratitude and develop more discipline in your life? Allow me to introduce something that’s helped me with these things called micro-sacrifices.

But first I want to state that I don’t believe willpower is something we can master. Instead, I believe it’s our systems and environments that enable us to make disciplined decisions. And sometimes, “in moderation” fails and results in us using things as crutches that take us away from being present.

If you build a life around staying grateful for the littlest things, for developing resiliency and resourcefulness, you’re better able to thrive in good times and bad. Micro-sacrifices are about delaying gratification by practicing saying no more often. Including the things you love (or might be growing an addiction too) and things you take for granted.

Micro-sacrifices are designed to humble you and help you remember that no matter your situation, some people aren’t as fortunate as you or have what you have. Micro-sacrifices train you to be grounded and more disciplined in times of awesomeness and in times of chaos. Like now.

What are micro-sacrifices?

Micro-sacrifices are self-explanatory. The practice is to sacrifice, say no, or live without things, experiences, or actions through any specific time period. It’s not about moderation rather a complete sacrifice for a short (or long) period of time. But you have to commit fully. So if you lack confidence in yourself, start small and build up.

It’s a practice that also dates back to Stoicism. Our friend So-crates talked about this in his moral letters to Lucilus.

“I am so firmly determined, however, to test the constancy of your mind that, drawing from the teachings of great men, I shall give you also a lesson: Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”

It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs manœuvres, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. 

If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes. Such is the course which those men have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.” 

Socrates, Moral letters to lucilus

The power of micro-sacrifices is to help you remember gratitude. It helps you remember that you are capable of saying no to something when tough times hit because you’ve proven to yourself before. It’s a way to help you remember how resilient and resourceful you can be. Because when you remove something or make a commitment to say no, it becomes easier and easier to not rely on things you think you need. 

Set up your micro-sacrifices

The possibilities of what you choose are endless. They can be as silly or serious as you wish. I once gave up using condiments (i.e. hot sauce) on meals for 3 days. I also like to “boycott” things to stick it to businesses or items I feel slighted by. Here’s a couple of others that come to mind.

Maybe you…

  • Don’t drink for a weekend or a month
  • Give up IPA’s for a month or only drink wine
  • Give up driving on Tuesdays. i.e. carpool, bike, or walk to work one day
  • Limit travel/driving to a max of 2 trips per day
  • Don’t eat meat on Mondays or at all (more on this later)
  • Eat the same thing for lunch every day of the week
  • Stop eating a smackerel of chocolate after every dinner (guilty)
  • Don’t turn on the TV or unplug it
  • Try limiting outfits
  • Fast for 10, 12, or 16 hours
  • Not complaining
  • No pillows or sleep on a couch
  • Don’t eat out during the week or just once
  • Save your “would be” spent money from any of these and splurge on something better
  • Wake up at 4:30 AM or without an alarm
  • Sacrifice the gym and workout from home
  • No weekend spending (only necessities)
  • No afternoon coffee
  • Stop apologizing
  • Stop saying yes to things that don’t light you up
  • Stop feeling like life is a problem to solve
  • Stop thinking you’re alone or lacking something
  • Forgive yourself…just once

Get creative! Anything can be made into a challenge. For any period of time. Test your resiliency and start small eventually building up to something great.

You might even think of micro-sacrifices in the reverse and think about what you can add. If this is the case, you’re really sacrificing your procrastination, inaction, anxiety, etc. by taking action.

Remember to reflect

Essential to this exercise is reflecting after any chosen micro-sacrifice. If you disconnect from the item or thing by taking will power out of it such as not buying it or storing it away or staying away from environments that encourage it, you realize that you have no choice of picking that item. 

Great work happens when you pay attention to your mind in times of perceived lack. Where does it go when you don’t have that crutch or that thing you’re putting on hold? Do you feel you need something else to replace it with? Do you feel anxious, upset, happy? What does your mind focus on now that the item is removed? Are you able to move on or do you dwell on not having it? Does it make you grateful for other things you have or can focus on instead?

Test. Reflect. Test. Reflect. How did you feel? What did you learn? Keep exploring. You might just find that this small space to think allows you to reset and rediscover more of the items, the experiences, the moments, etc. that light you up. The same for learning your true addictions, crutches, and anything else.

You might just learn

The “meaningless” things we take for granted are actually very special. They are gifts that go underappreciated every single day. They are gifts that others may not have.

Or when the shit really hits the fan, you’re prepared to respond and not react. To love your fate – Amor Fati.

It is why amor fati is the Stoic mindset that you take on for making the best out of anything that happens: Treating each and every moment—no matter how challenging—as something to be embraced, not avoided. To not only be okay with it, but love it and be better for it. So that like oxygen to a fire, obstacles and adversity become fuel for your potential.

Ryan Holiday, The Daily SToic

It’s like hitting the reset button on what you think you need. Living without luxuries helps you realize how lucky we have been to have them. It brings a newfound appreciation and respect for our items. And sometimes, it also indicates how little you actually needed that item.

If we teach our minds not to fixate on something or use it as a crutch, our focus and intention can be directed towards something more brilliant like an inspired idea or newfound presence.

When the mental attachment is released, we start to look inside our hearts and less at what we lack. We refocus our minds on what lights us up. Creating this space is what needs to happen before we successfully identify what it is or what we own or do – no matter how small, or insignificant – that brings us joy.

Followed by letting go of the lower valued things in our lives to make room for the things that light us up.

Your Turn

This is an exercise to take a look at yourself and the things you have in your house, the things in your closet, the things you own, etc. Are they there because you’ve had them for a long time or do they actually light you up? Are you mentally attached to them because of some old story or belief you once held? When’s the last time you revisited that old belief? Is it still true?

If you want more abundance, let go of the things that are taking space up in your life. And the starting point is to start with micro sacrifices. Ooch into it. You don’t have to burn it all. 

Just take a step.

Financial Friday: Give Your Spouse A Financial Presentation

Cheesy pictures, humor, suspense, seriousness, my presentation had it all. This was my chance to both enlighten her on our financial situation and convince her about why we need to be on the same page with our finances. And why becoming debt-free was the first big goal we’ll start with.

The primary purpose was to show her what I had been scheming and how it related to the important things in life instead of answering random questions sporadically. You know, kids, house, travel, health luxuries, and the number of other things that we want in our life.

This was my chance to connect her to the mighty Why.

As Simon Sinek coined in his popular book Start With Why, people don’t buy what (or how) you’re doing, they buy why you do it. And whether you’re selling ideas or goods, the most lasting way to influence human behavior (and in yourself) is to inspire it.

For married couples, it’s critical to be on the same page financially if we want to squeeze as much as we possibly can out of our marriages. If you are on the same page through major turning points (including the Coronavirus) in life, the possibilities are endless. 

Whether you’re married or not, making a plan that inspires you and is actionable is critical to your financial success. And if you like presentations, you might read on for inspiration for what you might include in your presentation.

The why?

As mentioned previously, the most important thing is to start with why. To do so, I changed the “I want to be debt-free” into “we want to be debt-free” and constantly made the connection back to what it means to be financially free.

Continuous debt, I explained, was the enemy of a “rich life”.

I explained my belief that living with debt and a poor relationship with money subconsciously affects people from becoming their best selves. More importantly, I explained how I never wanted to be a slave to money and material things.

Because the sooner we paid off debt, the sooner we save up enough money to buy a home. The sooner we go to Europe completely free of all inhibitions about money. And the sooner we spend more lavishly on gifts for our friends, families, and share wonderful experiences with them.

The better we can wither any storm.

All without any inhibitions impacting our decisions. More to come on that in a bit.

Make the Financial presentation

I explained our financial situation in detail slide by slide starting with our budget.

The presentation included fun pictures and slides, both informative and light. To add more pizazz, I hooked our computer up to the big screen with an HDMI cord and sat her down with a glass of rose wine to sweeten the deal. I stood up in front of the TV and introduced myself and the subject.

The presentation included a number of key things like:

  • Financial basics and how they work
  • Emergency savings
  • Current monthly income
  • Student loan debt
  • Budget line items
  • How to smartly buy a house
  • When we could take a trip to Europe
  • How to manage “wants” purchases
  • Timing
  • How we balance a budget with children
  • Minimalism ideas
  • Planning for shit-storms…like Coronavirus
  • Q & A session

The financial ideals throughout the presentation included principles on delayed gratification, opportunity cost, and choosing to be fully present with affordable things now rather than putting extravagant things on credit cards now.

That book, that trip, that bag of coffee beans, that bottle of fancy wine, that fancy dinner, those clothes, etc. while both good and bad, all impact the final payoff date and the process of achieving the big-ticket items in life.

In the end, I tied it all together with optimism and excitement. I explained in detail how quickly this can happen if we execute the plan. I explained the intent behind discipline = freedom and what minimalism meant to me.

Convincing Michelle to go all in

I’ve driven Michelle up the wall more than a time or two with my frugalness. I’m a constant schemer and challenge conventional wisdom. When it comes to money, I’m always trying to teach her different perspectives in a constructive way although not I’m not always successful in doing so.

Fortunately, shes a pretty deep person. She understands it comes from the heart and is rooted in my constant work towards building an incredible life together.

This mutual trust is what we need to be successful with money in our marriage. Temporary sacrifice for long term brilliance. And if you don’t have a compelling why defined together, you’re throwing darts into a wall.

It’s important to talk about your finances.

Be Warned: Define your ideals together

Let me be clear. Life doesn’t fit into spreadsheets and pretty boxes. Crazy things happen. This is not an exercise on being cheap or putting off life until someday.

The purpose is not blindly cutting everything for the sake of having a false sense of financial security nor is it to sacrifice the things that make you happy. True security will never come from some magical number in your bank account, a $0 in your debts column, or $1 million in retirement.

Rather its a belief that your epic financial life is rooted in consciousness and intention. The same consciousness that encourages you to live minimally seeking only the items or experiences that light you up in life. 

Start with your financial freedom

Your journey begins with rediscovering what you value most in life and how you might get it. Things you once valued may no longer hold that same value. Are you still going through the motions of pretending they do?

The hedonic treadmill or “we will be happy when…” is real. But what’s more real is growing as a person, as a couple, and doing the inner work. Mastering your finances is just one area of life but its one that can help you live more freely. 

Think of debt (or your relationship with money) as just one of the things keeping you from becoming the person or couple you’re meant to be. This presentation is an exercise on value-based living. Its time to take a step…together.

Financial Friday: Do The Pre-Work

Do you get anxious or stressed about things before they become problems? Do you feel overwhelmed about what to do when you have a moment of free time? If this is you, I’d like to share something called pre-work that might help.

I define pre-work as the process of channeling your fear, stress, and anxiety away from something that hasn’t happened yet or that you want to do and into solving that problem in the present before it does. Then, you set that shit aside and think about more important stuff.

Pre-work is also meant for the fun stuff you’d rather spend your free time doing such as creative projects, sports, travel, or anything else joyful you want more of in your life. By setting up organizational systems, you’re doing the pre-work that enables you to jump right into something when you have free time rather than twiddling your thumbs or scrolling social media when you’re bored.

If you’re successful, pre-work prevents you from making an irrational decision when the shit hits the fan and from feeling overwhelmed by all of the other things you want/need to do in your busy life.

While pre-work is just a catchy word for being proactive, it’s meant to help you act quickly and gracefully during high-stress moments. Unfortunately, it won’t prevent them. This article will highlight a few examples to help you get started.

Do the pre-work

Instead of trying to add a pre-work exercise into your already busy schedule, do it during the free time you currently have. While I wouldn’t encourage it, you might even multi-task while watching Netflix or some other meaningless thing.

Start small in the beginning. The purpose of pre-work is to help those crazy mental loops we get worrying about what could happen or will happen. You might find that just planning something on your list completely in a way there’s a clear action plan may be all you need to feel less anxious. Then, accept your great work and put that shit aside. You have a life to live in the present.

for dreaming big

Have you ever thought about that imaginary financial number you “need” to live comfortably or achieve the lifestyle you truly want? Pull up an investment calculator, determine your number for financial freedom, what are you working towards, how much money do you need to be financially independent, what’s your budget look like, set up an automated system, could you take a big pay cut and still live wonderfully, could you make ends meet if you freelanced, traveled in an RV? Or what could you do instead if you bought less house, bought less car, tightened up over here, and loosened up over there?

Pre-work all things financial in a way that factors in your expenses and take-home pay. This is your chance to dream big and inspire yourself into action. What are the things that contribute to your best life? Figuring this out now helps you make decisions that align with your values when life throws you curveballs.

For fun stuff

Always wanted to do something fun/creative/productive but end up watching Netflix during this free time? Work a little bit one-weekend identifying fun shit you want to do, pull articles about it, line up books you might read, categorize them, make a folder on your desktop or bookshelf, create a binder with information on it, write your initial thoughts on it, start a blog post and stop. Make these things easy to pick up and run with when you’re debating what to do rather than doing all of this at the moment which burns your creative energy and free time.

Don’t have enough money to travel? Good. Channel your anxiety or FOMO towards planning trips to where you’ve always wanted to go by finding times when they are the cheapest, when you might fly out, how you might make room in your budget, time it in your life, planning the stuff you want to do on the trip, price out camping vs. hotel vs. Airbnb, vacation time, what you might do with the dog, find easy weekend trips, etc. You now have a book to reference when these last-minute things come up or you get a free weekend.

for shit that might go wrong

Is your car’s transmission starting to act up like mine? Before it breaks down, call different mechanics to get price quotes, google around for trustworthy shops to do the repair, find out who you would call in case of towing, what will you need to do to adjust your schedule to accommodate this, what’s the trade-in value, is there another car on craigslist you might want, is it worth the repair, etc.

Knowing these details ahead of time enables you to better handle this situation with grace when it happens and helps to avoid an irrational decision during a moment of weakness. Once you’re done, give yourself permission to set aside the old mental loop. The same logic applies to anything that is starting to make you anxious.

For your living situation

Where do you want to live? Your lease is up in June, but it still might be a bit early to look in March or April. However, you might start to price out stuff, estimate your budget in the future, move out of state, find a desirable area, drive around that area, simulate a commute to work, do you know the routes and time the errands you would run take, is there a park nearby, is your job nearby, could you carpool, bike, walk, etc. Do this before you run out of time and pick a place you’re not stoked about.

Buy a house or rent? Plan your down payment and pre-approval for a house, figure out your monthly payment for that house, run the numbers to see if you can really afford it, how does that location/lifestyle compare with rental, what will you have to give up, do you have emergency savings, what changes would you need to make in your life to accommodate this, etc.

For your career

What if you passively apply and/or interview for a job because you’re bored at your current work and get it? Have you really planned what you’re giving up, your salary requirement, who you’ll work with, flexibility, the culture, the open office concept, the commute, the benefits, your family? Even if you aren’t currently looking, do you know your stories, your experience, what you might say, where you want to go when the time is right?

Instead of waiting until you get an offer or an interview, do the pre-work to reduce the stress of the interview prep and all of the other chaos that’s probably going through your mind. Start compiling all of the epic stuff you’ve done in your jobs. Tie that experience into the answers to the questions you may be asked and ingrain the lessons learned.

For your morning

Running out the door each morning trying to manage 5 things at once? Use an hour of your Sunday meal prepping, putting aside clothes, organizing your outfits in your closet, picking your morning podcasts, packing your bag, filling up your gas tank, making sure you have toothpaste, contact solution, a book for the morning during the week, your meditation playlist, a comfortable spot, and a plan.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the ways you might use pre-work in your life. The goal is not to make this exercise another one of the things you “should” do. The goal is to help you reduce anxiety and avoid feeling like you’re putting off the important things you say you want to do. Pre-work gives you permission to do the work and then put it aside to live better in the moment.

Pre-work is not about completing steps 2, 3, 4, and 5. We can’t stress about that now. Step 1 is all that matters and step 1 can be as small as bookmarking an article and a time to read it.

Instead, this exercise should be a “fun” outlet that makes your life easier when the shit hits the fan so you can show up with grace AND gets you excited about finally doing the amazing things you want to do in life.

Let Go Of The Black-White Mindset

Good-bad, wrong-right, smart-dumb, and black-white are all far too common mental models in society. For personal finance, this type of thinking can lead you into making poor decisions. You might often hear:

  • You should buy a house because you’re throwing money away renting.
  • You shouldn’t buy your daily coffee because it compounds into a lot of money over the year.
  • You should get an additional or graduate degree because a bachelor’s degree is like a diploma these days.
  • You should hire a financial adviser because their returns are better than what you could get.
  • Travel young because once you have kids all of your fun stops.

There’s no shortage of opinions for what you should do with your money. But conventional wisdom can be harmful if taken at face value rather than tweaking it to your own situation. If you are learning how to be smarter with your money and are being intentional with your choices, only you get to determine what is the smart choice in your specific situation.

But be careful, sometimes we let our egos get in the way of smart financial decisions. Like justifying your fancy leased car when we have bigger bills, bigger goals, and people to look after. Instead of accepting things at face value, stick with the basics and block out the rest until you learn the full argument.

Let Go of the black-and-white mindset

Our physiological environment should partially determine the personal finance choices we make. Take credit cards for example. If you’re spending way more than you make, then a credit card is probably a bad idea for you. However, if you use a credit card responsibly to rack up points and while paying it off at the end of each month, you’re probably getting great value from the card.

Likewise, if you’re racking up student loan debt to get a graduate degree that you passively hope will lead you to your dream job rather than putting in the work, being more strategic with networking or gaining more relevant experience, then more schooling might not be the best starting point. However, if you have clarity around what you want to do and it requires an advanced degree, then getting a graduate degree is a no brainer. Responsibly of course.

there are still bad choices

Make no mistake, some choices provide little to no value. And PLEASE start treating your debt like more of the emergency it is. Like paying the minimum credit card payment with high interest. Or spending more than you make on impractical possessions. If you’ve never taken time to learn the consequences or risks behind these mental models, then you’re more likely to run into trouble.

For some people, they believe they have their debt situation under control and are OK with carrying debt. It might make sense to make the minimum payment on a car loan if you got a 0% interest rate. But often when you learn more about the details of some financial situations, you see the flaws in logic. Humans have a great ability to find reasoning to justify even poor decisions, just like we want to justify the things we want to be true.

Even with great decisions, there’s such a thing as overdoing it. Like the person who stresses over every single little purchase, trying to beat the stock market by picking stocks, or buying luxuries they can afford all while never asking what it is that is truly making them happy. (Hint: It’s often not material possessions.)

It can get complicated

Carrying debt may be causing a lot of harm for folks who might have:

  • Money anxiety
  • Childhood trauma around money
  • Scarcity mindset
  • Addictive personalities
  • A hard time with moderation

Even the Dave Ramsey mindset of eliminating debt at all costs can cause immense stress. This gazelle intensity can also cause you to fixate on what you don’t have or how much money you owe or don’t have throughout your day making you feel shameful about every purchase.

The Takeaway

We live in a grey world so let’s stop feeding people black and white solutions without knowing someone’s financial situation or psychological tendencies. Rather than accepting that all debt is bad or another out-of-the-box suggestion that may have worked for another person, it’s more helpful to think about basics that lead to financial freedom, such as:

  • Avoiding debt and high-interest rates over time
  • Saving 5% of your income
  • Investing 10-15% of your gross income in low-cost mutual funds
  • Not spending more than you earn
  • Freedom for guilt-free purchases

Looking at debt or money in a good vs. bad way is overly simplistic and will lead you to poor decision making and feeling confused around finances. Instead, personal finance should be made simple if you want a rich life. Stick to the basics and learn the complete picture of a financial decision before blindly following a black and white suggestion and trying to hack your way to riches.