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Financial empowerment

My daily money habits

March 8, 2020

When I started earning serious money, I realized this earning power was both a privilege and a huge responsibility. So as the breadwinner of my family, I took on learning personal finance, so I could optimize our money as much as possible. While my husband manages some household bills, I manage the big picture, including the long-range plan. It turns out I’m just more into money than he is. Our discussions about investing don’t last that long, because he’s not that interested. Because I take care of the financial plan, he has a carefree, “We’re fine!” mindset, as he plans his next trip to Sweden for heavy metal camp. I enable his money complacency. But I’m the opposite of complacent. I’m always looking for the next move. So here are my daily money habits that help keep us moving in the right direction, as efficiently as possible. 

Daily money habit #1: Think about money.

Maybe you prefer not to think about money or think it’s un-ladylike, but I’ve come to enjoy thinking about it, planning for it, and learning how to grow it. Maybe it’s how I was raised, but money wasn’t taboo in my family, and it means security to me. 

In addition, I’ve had some financial success, from slaying my six-figure student loans, to growing my net worth to my first big-girl goal. I attribute this success in large part to thinking about money. Because I focus on it, it grows. Personal finance is interesting if you learn a bit about it. And with this knowledge comes tremendous power. This means that I gravitate toward personal finance articles and podcasts. That extra learning makes my success a self-fulfilling prophecy because I’m always combing the universe for more ways to optimize.  

If I spot a recommendation on a mindset book to help me make money, I take it. This sets me up for success, since thought leaders in personal growth and finance are always in my ears.

Daily money habit 2: Invest in myself

With all I’ve learned about personal finance over the last several years, there is still so much I don’t know, and I know it! I can only imagine how empowering it would be to maximize my tax deductions, for instance. I have Kiplinger’s Tax Deductions for Professionals, and have read chunks of it here and there. It’s rather readable, but it’s no 50 Shades or Harry Potter… I know I haven’t optimized everything I could yet.

The other way I invest in myself is with courses. Although there is a wealth of free information on the web, like that on my blog, I’ve taken to actually buying courses, materials, and now, coaching. Whether it’s a career or business coach, meditation course, or a personal finance course, the hundreds of dollars spent pale in comparison to the rewards I know I’ll receive. When you invest in yourself, you’re investing in your most valuable asset. 

Daily money habit 3: Waste nothing 

Whether it’s eating the last few leaves of butter lettuce, or cutting open a container of hair product to get the last dollop, I’ll do anything to nix waste. My ten year old wool socks are threadbare in places, but since my toes aren’t coming out, it’s no problem. I’ll throw them in the washer a few more times to squeeze all the use I can out of them. 

“Isn’t this a scarcity mindset?” you may protest. On the contrary: using everything I have to the max helps me realize how much I have, and I take pride in using the full value of what I’ve brought into our home. It takes a lot of time and energy to find something worth buying, and you trade your life-force to pay for it. Avoiding waste and “sustainable fashion,” if you’d call my holey socks that- have environmental implications beyond the scope of this post. Having a no-waste mentality can be a socially acceptable way to be cheap. And when you cut costs, your bank account swells. 

Throwing money away

Another way I avoid waste is not buying water. Our tap water is fine, and you can filter your water if you choose. But aside from an earthquake kit, why buy bottled water? If I grab a sandwich out, I ask for a cup of tap water. In this case, what’s better for the environment also happens to be better for you and your finances. When I see people with debt buying four dollar sodas, it breaks my heart. They’ve been taught habits that will keep them poor, and likely less healthy than they could be. If this multi-six figure earner excludes bottled beverages from her budget, maybe they should too.

In contrast, when I’m writing, sometimes I buy a fancy lavender latte at my local coffee joint. When I do, it’s an intentional decision. I am willing to pay a premium for free Wi-Fi and the (toddler-free) atmosphere that comes with it. But this can turn into a wasteful extravagance if it’s too habitual. So mostly, my coffee comes from home.

Daily money habit 4: Awareness of outside forces imploring me to spend.

Would you rather be in charge of your money- or have it dictated by the consumerist society you live in? With this in mind, I try to keep my eyes open to forces that would pressure me to spend. I strive to make intentional choices that align with my goals. But sometimes, a group dynamic can make this challenging. A recent example: a friend of mine, I’ve taken to calling her the Social Chair, organized a group to attend Chicago at a local theater. Now I relish the idea of a grown-up night out with these friends- but I don’t love Chicago that much, and I can see these friends at other venues, often for free. 

When I saw ticket prices were up to the $600’s in some sections, I asked my friend about her intentions. Just because I can afford a $600 ticket doesn’t mean I actually want to! I was relieved to hear the tickets she was scoping were in the $60 range. Asking her about ticket cost- rather than secretly hoping it was reasonable- meant I could make a decision in alignment with my own values. I could have an evening with my pals, without any angst, worry, or spending hangover.

Daily money habit 5: Tracking my net worth

Tracking net worth gives you insight into the results your creating. There’s always money coming in and going out: it’s part of living. And your net worth can help to gauge whether your daily actions and habits are improving or eroding your net worth over time. If you’re earning your worth, and making good financial decisions, your net worth should increase over time. If it’s not, you may want to examine how you can change that.

I track my net worth using Mint.com. The free site and accompanying app allow you to see all of your financials in one place. I’ve found seeing everything in one place to be helpful. A huge benefit of using Mint is the ability to track your net worth. I can see my mortgage has been paid on auto-pay in my transactions feed. Under accounts, I can see my mortgage balance go down, and since Mint can link to Zillow, I can even see the estimated value of my properties creep up. Compared to manually doing a spreadsheet or a yearly audit, this is far easier. With the app and I can check my net worth in real time whenever I want! 

I love that I can see transactions from different accounts as they’re happening, without having to log into multiple accounts. Between the transaction reel and free credit alerts, it’s easier to identify any fraudulent activity quickly.

One thing Mint is not- is perfect. My health savings account and Mint just can’t seem to get along, no matter how I’ve tried. So the $20,000 in our HSA’s is not counted in Mint. It’s not a big deal. Sometimes, transactions in Mint are mischaracterized (but you can recategorize them if you wish). For some reason, when I pay myself a salary from my corporation each month, it’s categorized as “kids.” So I’m alerted to the fact that I’ve spent a lot on “kids” because it’s over $17,000. But even with its quirks, you can’t argue with the value of this free tool.

Daily money habit 6: Automation.

I aim to automate my money as much as possible. In my view, there is no reason to spend your valuable time paying bills manually anymore. Nowadays, there is an auto-pay option for nearly any recurring bill you can think of. If you want to keep tabs on your bills, you can track them in Mint or login to your online banking platform.

When auto-paying, I pay for anything I can with a credit card, then pay balances in full each month. Not only does this help protect you from fraudulent or incorrect billing, but this allows for the accumulation of credit card points. My largest monthly bill payable by credit card is our health insurance premium, at just over $1000 per month. On my business credit card, the points rack up because of this bill, and can be claimed later as free travel, or even cash back! 

Automating is a priority, in part because I’m a landlady. I aim to minimize any busy-work associated with managing my rental property, so I can use it to build wealth without it eating up my time. To that end, the rental property utilities are on auto-pay from a dedicated bank account. Tenants pay rent via Venmo. I can hear a “cha-ching” notification each month when rent’s paid. From Venmo, I can transfer money back to my bank account, so it’ll be there when the mortgage payment comes out. The alternative, dealing with checks, is unthinkable at this point. And automating as much as I can means that the management I do is otherwise limited to incidents like maintenance and repairs, not lost checks and trips to the bank.  

Daily money habit 7: Optimizing cash-flow 

To meet my yearly financial goals, I need to move money to various tax-advantaged accounts. Accounting for estimated tax payments, our largest bills, and automated savings, I look for money idling in our accounts. When I see more cash than I need, I ask myself what job I can give that money. That might mean a lump sum contribution to the family health savings account (HSA), or my solo 401k. 

Since my solo-401k goal is substantial, I’ll put $10-20k in there at a time, knowing I need to reach $57k by the end of the year. If I waited till December, that might be a stretch, and frankly, it might not happen.

Beyond that, if I still have cash, I’ll make lump sum payments on our mortgage. Recently, I was close enough to the $500k mark on the principal that it tempted me, and I wanted to knock it down (to show it who was boss). Gamifying your finances can make it fun to slay your debt. It worked for my student loans, and now, it’s motivating me to hit my mortgage. And I can’t wait to be mortgage free!

A note on staying organized 

OK, organization isn’t my strong suit, but I have a couple tricks to share. For bank accounts, I enable face ID on my iPhone. This streamlines logging into accounts as needed, so I’m not digging for passwords when I need to check a balance against Mint, or deposit a check, for example.

I use the Lastpass app to keep track of passwords I use less frequently. As doctors, we have a ridiculous number of passwords to remember, so when I need my American Board of Radiology ID a couple times per year, it’s in the app, securely stored. Every time I use it, Lastpass makes me feel successful in a small way. And who doesn’t want that?

For credit card optimization, I’ve embraced Apple Pay. This allows a way to store and use credit cards without having to actually carry them around. In this way, I can use the best card for a given scenario, even if I don’t use the card often, for example, my Amazon credit card at Whole Foods. This ensures I get the bonus points and savings attached to that transaction, without the risk of carrying excess cards around.

What are some of your daily money habits? Where do you spend, and where do you scrimp? Do you execute money moves on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis?

Share a key habit in the comments below!

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