A friend of mine once attended a yoga retreat with a very well regarded yogi. She had paid a lot of money to be there and was your typical New Yorker: big career, big life, big stress, always moving, going, going, trying desperately to find some kind of quiet space.
The yogi, perhaps sensing this, walked over to her and pressed his hand over her eyes, and she suddenly felt her mind go “dark and quiet.” I often find myself wishing for that moment of instantaneous dark and quiet to fall across my mind.
We’re inundated 24/7 with noise, noise, noise. Coffee is good for you. No, now coffee is bad for you. Now it’s good for you again. Who can tell?
Whether it’s health, the environment, relationships, or anything else in life, sometimes we get so much advice from so many different directions that we can’t tell what we should be listening to. (Editor: You should be listening to Listen Money Matters)
And it’s particularly a problem when it comes to money. For those of us trying to wade into the ocean that is personal finance for the first time, the cacophony can be overwhelming and deafening. And most harmfully, paralyzing.
It’s like everyone else speaks this language that you never learned – mutual funds, stocks and bonds, exchange traded municipal short-sell cash equivalent options…what in the hell is this stuff?
And, more importantly, how in the hell am I supposed to figure it out?
A lot of people throw up their hands and give up, either (a) leaving all their money in a checking account with zero interest (where it may as well be under your mattress), or (b) hiring someone to fleece them…I mean, sorry, “advise” them.
Many other people tune in to some financial celebrity – and while they have some good advice, it’s often wrapped up in biblical terms, directed at people who already know how to manage their money, or shouted at you in terms that just don’t make sense.
You weren’t too keen on personal finance anyway and now your prejudices have been confirmed. It’s for other people, people not like you. People with assistants. With stock tickers in their BMWs. It’s just…complicated. So you give up and go back to burying your head in the sand when it comes to money…at least for a time. But eventually the head in the sand game plan catches up with you again – and now you’re even further behind. Eventually you’ll have to crack this nut and decide how to manage your money.
So together, let’s block out the noise and find what you need to tackle your finances once and for all.
Where to Begin? Stop Wasting Your Money!
I’ll share my sad story, which I think a lot of people might share. I’m 39 and only started taking an interest in money about eighteen months ago. I realized I was not getting any younger (still cute as ever though) and had to start taking this stuff seriously. I am a big fan of Reddit and there is truly a subreddit for everything, everything. So I ventured into Frugal and that was my start.
Mint was my first step. I have virtually no living expenses and make pretty good money so as long as I had some money in my checking account, I didn’t really think much beyond that.
Frugal introduced me to Mint, an easy way to track your spending. I plugged my accounts in and stared open-mouthed at how much I was spending on lunch a week. And it wasn’t nice food, like a good steak tartar with gold shavings or something. It was bacon, egg, and cheese on an English muffin. But this is New York City and that shit was costing me $8 a day on Seamless!
The worst part is that I like to cook and I even have the fancy glass (no BPA for me) containers for leftovers. Why was I doing that? I still don’t know. But you don’t have to understand the problem on some deep Freduian level to stop the damn behavior. What made me stop was seeing that big ugly number in Mint.
Now I was kind of hooked. I was really getting interested in personal finance for the first time. But I still thought (and if I’m honest, still think) that personal finance is a pretty dry topic. So I wanted to learn more but I wanted to be entertained at the same time.
I’ve long been a big fan of podcasts. I’m always listening to one, when I walk back and forth to work, when I run, when I’m cooking, even as I fall asleep at night. So I looked around for personal finance podcasts on Reddit and that’s how I found Listen Money Matters.
I gave it a listen and it resonated with me. Not old guys yelling, not holier than though preachers, and not someone assuming that I was already on step seven of ten, when I hadn’t even learned to walk. Matt and Andrew were young, they were honest about what mistakes they had made and about what they knew and what they had still to learn.
Finding this podcast is what really made things click for me. It was total chance that I became part of the team. Even if I had never sent the initial e-mail that hooked me up with this wonderful job, I still would have absorbed everything the podcast had to teach like a sponge.
The Second Step is Easier
I started reading a few personal finance books. Nothing too weighty, things like I Will Teach You to be Rich.
I paid off one of two student loans (the smaller one, granted) that I still had hanging around and put that payment towards the second larger one. Thankfully I had and have no credit card debt.
I started looking for ways to save money on areas I would have been more casual about in the past. Little things like planning meals around what Fresh Direct had on sale for the week or walking the extra three cross town blocks (they’re looong) to get money from my bank’s ATM rather than using the one just a block away that charges a $3 fee.
Cutting back the house cleaning service (I know, I’m allowed a few indulgences, I work two jobs!) to every two weeks instead of every week. And all these things started to add up.
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The Third Step Cuts the Deepest
All of these little steps led to the biggest step and what we all have to do in order to really build wealth. We have to invest. That’s it. There is no short cut and no getting around this step if you want to build wealth.
So I started a Betterment account. For anyone who might still be on step one, you still need to go through the steps but while you’re doing so, jump ahead to this one and then pick up where you left off. You don’t have to know, understand, or be good at anything to invest with Betterment. You don’t have to have a lot of money to start the account. It is truly the no-brainer approach to investing.
You can fill in the blanks later but you must do this now.
Always Leaning, Not Always Doing
As I wrote, I don’t find personal finance to be stimulating dinner conversation. Do I find it more interesting that I did eighteen months ago? Yes, I do. Do I know more than I did eighteen months ago? Yes, I do. But if given the choice between discussing the latest in geo-politics, travel, literature, science or personal finance, personal finance always loses out. Even when I hang out with Matt and Andrew.
What I do though is give it a place in my day to day life. I am genuinely interested in money more than I was a year and a half ago and I do find myself seeking out news about the topic more than I ever have. But I don’t have one of those Gomez Adams stock ticker things in my house.
I’ve learned you don’t have to think about money all the time to grow wealth. In fact, thinking about money or really anything too much is detrimental to your physical and mental health and to the end goal. And that’s what I mean by blocking out the noise.
Find what method of learning works for you, podcast, books, classes and do that until you have a solid foundation. Once you have that, set it and forget it. Checking your Betterment account daily does not increase your gains. Personal finance is not like diet and exercise. You don’t have to think about it and do it every day to get dem gainz. Get the basics down, set it and forget it and spend your time (and increased money) on the more pleasurable things life has to offer.