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.
I will never consistently beat the market nor do I care to try.
A simple, consistent contribution strategy with an average stock market return rate over time will make me very wealthy.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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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Are you more of a visual learner? Well, then I have just the article for you! When it came to making a positive change with our personal finances, I was amazed at how eye-opening financial pictures and calculators helped put things in perspective.
The pictures within the article you’re thinking about reading probably aren’t anything you haven’t seen from me yet. They tell a similar story. Paying massive interest sucks and doing the minimum with your personal finances can cost you thousands of dollars over time.
If these pictures don’t make you think or inspire change even a little bit, well, I guess we’ll try something else next time!
Minimum student loan payments over time
If I stuck with what I was handed in terms of student loan payments over a 20 year payoff period, with a monthly payment of $251 per month, my original $33,000 in student loans would have cost me an additional $27,000 in interest.
Fortunately, a simple calculator can help you see why you might want to speed this payoff period up.
Even if you paid a little bit extra each month, you could cut this time and interest cost in half. What would you do with $13,500?
PS. If you’re serious about finally tackling your student loans, I wrote in-depth about this in a previous article.
Credit Card Payoff and interest
Do you know why your minimum payment is so low? Because the credit card companies love to make money off of you and everyone else with the high-interest rates they charge.
If numbers don’t convince you, maybe your hatred for large corporations taking advantage of you will. Also consider the fact of the harmful ways they are using your money to push their own financial agendas.
Below is a picture of a simple credit card repayment scenario and a link to a calculator too.
The fine print of literally anything…like your credit card
I call this photo the dangers of the fine print. How often do we read it?
Take a look at this simple example of a credit card statement. Not only will I get charged $38 penalty for a late payment, but they will also increase my Annual Percentage Rate (APR) by about 7-10% and lock it in at 29.99% APR moving forward.
Your 30-year mortgage interest payments
I like to play around in Excel when it relates to personal financial planning because I’m a numbers guy. I found this awesome preset mortgage calculator and amortization table online through Vertex42 excel templates.
All you need is some basic inputs that you can find across the internet (or call a mortgage broker as I did) to run your scenarios. Everything is preset and the numbers will change as you type them in.
Whether you have a mortgage or are considering one, you should run some numbers for yourself. Seriously though. Check this bad boy out.
Future Roth IRA (or any investment) over time
A Roth IRA is a wonderful investment vehicle. It gains interest tax-free over the course of your life. This means all of the money you save now is never taxed after age 59 1/2. This is important because lord knows what the tax rate will be by the time you’re that old.
Although the limit right now is $6,000 per year, Bankrate’s calculator is working off of the past numbers so that’s why we’re using $5500 per year. The numbers are illustrative so keep that in mind.
At $5,500 per year or $458 per month, you’d have…
$615,000 in tax-free money that’s completely yours to use how you wish.
Now think of this. Multiply these savings times two if you are married because you both can have a Roth IRA and the total is nearly $1.2 million by age 60! If you did nothing else with your investments (i.e. contribute to your 401k through work) you’d still be pretty well off by retirement. But you want to be epic so do a little bit more elsewhere.
You may have asked yourself once or twice: should I get an investment advisor? I’m not here to bash investment advisors that you pay to manage your money. Especially if it means the difference between you not investing at all.
However, despite all of the curated marketing material explaining why you should, the simple fact is that time and time again, study after study, billionaire after billionaire, book after book, show that most investment firms/advisors don’t usually beat the market over a 10-30 year time period. In fact, they end up quite comparable to that of a low-cost mutual fund investment account (i.e. Vanguard) for the average investor. JL Collins, the author of the book Simple Path to Wealth (100% recommend this book), wrote a fantastic article about why he doesn’t like investment advisors if you’re interested in seeing why this is.
I’ll try to keep this statement simple. If you start with $0, invest $6,000 per year starting at age 30 in a Roth IRA with Vanguard your expense ratio (i.e. fees) would be approximately .14%. Compared to an investment advisor, you’d be paying anywhere between 1 and 2% per year in fees.
Let’s assume that history repeats itself, which means no advisor will gain a significant interest increase beyond what the market returns (i.e. your mutual fund) over the long term.
The picture below shows three scenarios. In fee 1, you see a typical Vanguard setup (that you set and forget) which has an annual fee of 0.14%. If you went with an investment advisor who charged 1%, again assuming they don’t beat the market over 30 years, you’d have $95,724 less for the same average return rate over 30 years. And if they charge 2% per year, well, you can see how that eats into your returns.
Now, lets talk bigger money using the same scenario but with more money invested each year. The difference is even more substantial.
Stock market returns ebb and flow over time and just as fees add up exponentially over time. Another way to look at this is if an advisor was able to get you an extra 1-2% return beyond what the market did, it would be offset by the fees being charged in the fine print. You don’t typically find out (if at all) until many years later that the rate of return was pretty similar. Most don’t know at all.
All I’m saying is to be wary of fancy marketing material and pressure to be advised. If you desire simplicity, it may be best not to chance it for what you would probably get anyway with a set it and forget it Target Rate Fund or a DIY investment approach (assuming you do your homework).
Of course, there are exceptions but if you’re guaranteed extra returns just by hiring an advisor you might read more and reconsider your investment options. It’s hard to outsmart a game millions of people are playing against corporate America and wall street. Taking the “average” will still pay off quite nice without the added risk and extra fees.
Why not get a high yield online savings account?
Online savings accounts are super simple and there are many perks including no minimums or fees (I use a Discover Online Savings account). Although the rate of return fluctuates between 1 and 1.5%, that number is 1-1.5% higher than what most big banks will give you for your money just sitting there.
Banks are ripping you off free money that you could gain elsewhere via any online savings account and they are built around bullying you with penalties and fees to do so.
Vs. Your current big banks interest yields (I.e. Chase gives me .01% on their savings account)
Sure, its not a slam dunk, and the interest gained is not going to help you retire but it does get you a nice little bonus for doing absolutely nothing. Hell, I earned $200 last year because of it for just having money sit in a savings account.
There’s tons of flexibility with these and you can have as many as you want. Check them out.
In personal finance and life, you must remember to play the long game and you can understand the future better by using simple calculators and tools. The long game is subtle and can work against you over time.
Personal finance is a game you play over the course of your entire life. The decisions you make today could really add up in the future. So why not have a “learn it-set-it, and check-it” attitude as you progress through life?
Broke people ask how much per month. Rich people ask how much total.
The simple objective of this article is to get you a little bit interested in some online calculators to see how your strategy stacks up. These tools will answer some important questions you may have wondered about and hopefully inspire you to take the first step towards a better financial future.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spend extravagantly on the things you love and cut mercilessly on the things you don’t
Ramit Sethi, I will teach you to be rich
Cars are not things I love or care deeply about so I made a decision a long time ago to spend as little as I possibly can on them. For me this meant, only buying used cars. But maybe you’re different. Maybe a brand new car lights you up. Maybe you’re being smart about it and will end up better off than my strategy in the long term.
If you read past the catchiness of Ramit’s statement you would find it’s rooted in conscious spending and does not give you a free pass to be frivolous everywhere in your budget. Everything in life comes with an opportunity cost. Your big car payment comes at the expense of your fully funded vacation, fancy shoes, baseball card collection, yoga membership, etc. If you’re not careful, the opportunity costs of coerced spending decisions that provide little value to you (like cars for me) will leave you unfulfilled and broke.
How do you think we were able to pay off our student loans so quickly and everything in between? How might you think we are living debt free and now really putting a financial plan in place to experience the things that bring us immense joy? The past 10 years have gone by in a flash and because of our decision to strive toward living true to our values, we’ve managed to save over $25,000 on car payments alone. You can too.
Forget about any debt you might have for now. Reflect on this simple financial principle and begin to identify the areas in your life you want to spend more on and those you don’t. If you’re disciplined in the areas that provide little value, you’re better able to spend guilt-free in the areas that bring you joy! If you do this without carrying a balance on your credit card over time, maybe that’s enough for a great financial life.
As for our example, read on for the detailed story in today’s Financial Friday.
The used cars route
Since I started driving, I’ve owned and driven (still driving) a total of three cars. Frank, the 2001 5-speed Focus with no A/C, Shania, Michelles Pontiac G6 that became our only car for a long while, and Frank Jr., the 2012 Ford Focus that allegedly needs a new transmission worth more than the car itself. It’s safe to say, I’ve never placed a lot of value in these machines.
Fortunately, I’ve been pretty lucky over the years. Frank Sr. cost approximately $2,000 and was a gift from my parents while I was still in college in 2010. Shania cost us $4,000 to pay off between Michelle and me when we got serious about our money together in 2014. Lastly, Frank Jr. is a salvaged car we paid $5,000 (bought from a friend) with the partial proceeds of our selling our Des Moines house before moving to Arizona. In 2018, we added a 2009 Ford Mustang Convertible, Beyonce, which cost us $5,000 thanks to the kindness of Michelle’s Dad ensuring that she stays ballin’.
Adding up these purchase costs, we’ve spent a total of $14,000 (not including maintenance) on cars since 2013 and had less than a year of car payments over that time. Subtract that from the typical $39,890 you’ll read about below following a concerning millennial strategy, we end up saving $25,890 over a 10 year period. Which equals about half of our combined total debt when we first combined our finances in 2014.
One way to think about opportunity cost
Opportunity cost should be a big consideration in your financial life. As it relates to car buying, I’ve wrangled up some numbers to illustrate my point.
Let’s assume that Michelle and I followed the average millennial path which implies that you need/deserve a new car every 5 years (i.e. paid off car). If this car has an average car payment of $300 per month over 60 months (5 years) with a measly 3% interest, it would cost me a total of $18,328 in car payments plus interest from 2010-2015.
Feeling the pressure we usually do from society, this paid off car without car payments makes it a perfect time to trade it in and upgrade to something a little more “adult-ish” since I’m making more money now.
Instead of getting a similar $17,000 used car like the first time around, I choose to step my game up. Plus, I can get a little bit of trade-in value for my current car. This means that I sell the current car for $5,000 and buy a $25,000 ride with a bunch of gizmos (I don’t really need) and a sunroof! Because of the trade-in value, my loan only cost $20,000 at 3% interest for 60 months.
From 2015 to 2020, I will end up paying a total of $21,562 in car payments and interest with a monthly payment of $359.
It’s not always individual decisions that have a major impact. Its the small, unquestioned ones that add up over time.
You know the drill – Add the numbers
Time to add these up. If you went the two-car payment route over the past 10 years, you’d have spent a total of $18,328 (1st car) + $21,562 (2nd car) = $39,890 on car payments. Now, subtract the $14,000 we paid by driving a couple of modest wheels from the fancy cars and you get the savings of $25,890 highlighted above.
As the vicious cycle continues for the rest of your days. It doesn’t have to if you ask yourself a few simple questions:
How important is the car I drive?
Does this monthly car payment add value to my life?
What would I rather spend my hard-earned dollars on?
How could I test a new path?
If after this exercise you decide it’s in your best interest to follow the car buying model above, then you’ve earned the right to do so free from judgment.
While I do strongly believe cars are one of the silent killers to any budget, maybe they’re a wanted expense in your budget. Nevertheless, understanding the total cost of car ownership is something you might want to spend a little time learning about.
For those who place more value in other things aside from the car you drive, why are you living outside of your values and paying for a car that will never make you as happy as that trip you want to take, or that job you want but pays less, or that golf membership, shoe collection, CrossFit membership, etc?
Sure you need a reliable car but if you’re racking up debt to live big elsewhere in your budget because of your car expense, do you really need a top tier car with a big payment right now? If cars contribute to your “rich life” then you should buy them and not apologize for it. Be sure to really contemplate if you are tricking yourself into these invisible scripts. But maybe you might want to wait until you’ve nailed down the foundation of your personal finance systems.
Remember that there’s a tremendous opportunity cost that comes with tying yourself up financially to depreciating “assets” like cars. And if the fancy car ownership is not in line with your values, it might be time to consider alternative options.
Don’t wait. Think about this before you get in your car. Sit in there for a minute and think, how much value is this machine providing me? Is it worth the cost?
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Once you make a decision to be more disciplined with your budget or to become debt-free ASAP, how can you be OK with saying yes to so many things? Or in life, how many times have you said yes to the mundane which ended up adding stress and distracting you from your most important goals? Why are your amazing goals getting set aside? I believe it lies with our ability to say no.
For this Financial Friday, I’d like to introduce a couple of important articles written by a few experts on the art of saying no. Because you have to say no to the good, to make room for the “Hell Yes’s” in life.
The Art of Saying No
When you hear you should say no more often, don’t mistake it for denying everything to save money. Instead, the intention of saying no is to remove the unnecessary little things, the time-suckers, the money drains, and the times when you’re not stoked about a decision and are just going through the motions. Not just in finances, in every aspect of life.
If your primary goal is to live it up that doesn’t give you a free pass to mismanage your money. If you decide to delay your debt payoff strategy for something amazing that lights you up or really is a “Hell Yes!” then be decisive and let go of the guilt.
Regret is less likely to happen if you have a solid mental model for saying no. And that is the objective of the game. To get your no game on point to make room for the great things that truly matter in life.
Resources for saying no
I’ve identified three people you may have heard of that are shining examples of this logic; Derek Sivers, Mark Manson, and Tim Ferriss. As uber-successful people, you can imagine all of the things they have to say yes to and the limited time they have to be as top performers in their industries.
If there is just one takeaway from this article, its to open your eyes to the power of no. And I think these articles below are a simple starting point.
Sweeping declarations such as “I’ll never be out of debt” or “I’m just too busy to do that” are preventing you from getting the life you want. Busyness is a choice no matter how much you try to reason it’s not. And by not choosing an action, you still have made a choice.
Life is filled with tiny choices. Ones that compound quickly and can derail both your financial and life goals. Each choice you make in life is a vote towards the person you want to become. Will you choose to be disciplined and focus on the big things or your ONE thing?
It’s time to learn to say no to the “Meh’s” in life to make room for the “Hell Yes’s!”? The choice is yours.