Where to Start!

Where do I start?

The first thing you need to do is find out where you are with your finances.  Most of the times, people just financially “exist,” moving directionless each day.  Accomplishing these three steps will help orient yourself.

  1. 30-day Spend Plan Challenge: For 30 days, track every cent that you spend on an excel sheet, app, or something else.  Categorize each expense (i.e., Dining Out, Food, Gas, etc.) to see where you typically spend your money.  You can quickly see what you need to cut or how much discretionary money you can start saving.
  2. Net Worth Calculation: Figure out your net worth by listing all your assets and subtracting them from your liabilities.  If you have large student loans or own a home, you may be in a negative net worth situation which is okay.  Following the cycle below will help you work towards increasing your net worth.
  3. Monthly Expense Calculation: A lot of our normal monthly expenses increase without our awareness, known as lifestyle creep.  We become even more ignorant of expenses with how automated bill paying is now.  You need to evaluate your spending and make sure you have a handle on your situation.

Once you complete these three steps, you should know how much you spend every month, what your net worth is, and your monthly expenses.  This will help you know where in the cycle below to start.

This is a cycle of where to put the discretionary money that you’ve identified above.  A common economic term is the “next dollar,” which means you can use this cycle for every next dollar of discretionary money you have.  For example, you don’t need to put all your money towards debt, rather you can do these steps simultaneously.  Sometimes, like during an emergency, or making a major purchase, you’ll need to break from your current step and go back to a previous step.  If you’re just starting your financial journey, start with an emergency savings account.

  • Create/Fund an Emergency Savings Account: An emergency savings account consists of 6 months’ worth of expenses.  If you have a stable job, then 6 months is perfect.  If your job or your income isn’t stable, you may want to save more.  Given the current low-interest environment, it’s recommended you don’t have too much money sitting in cash.
    • Check out bankrate.com to search for the best interest rates.
    • I use Capital One 360 for my emergency savings account (currently, not the highest interest rate). If you’re interested in opening an account with more than $250, please use this link and we both get $20.
  • Eliminate/Reduce Debt: Debt typically carries a higher interest rate than savings or investments, so eliminating or reducing your debt to a manageable level can be a better Return on Investment than keeping an unnecessarily large cash account.
    • Focusing all your money to become debt free is a personal choice. Honestly, being debt free is an amazing feeling; however, you must also work towards retirement savings and short- and long-term goals.  Some famous advisors recommend completely eliminating a mortgage, but in this low-interest rate environment that may not always be the best option.
  • Save for Retirement: This is where you put money in tax-sheltered investments.  I recommend maxing out an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) first, then a 401(k), 403(b), or Thrift Savings Plan.
    • After nearly two decades of trying to beat the market, I’ve concluded that 99% of us can’t. As such, if you’re under 55, I recommend opening an IRA with Fidelity or Vanguard and placing all your money in a Total Stock Market mutual fund.
    • If you’re not scared of technological advances, you may want to try opening an IRA with Betterment using this link.  Betterment uses algorithms to manage your portfolio. You simply need to designate your mix that you’re most comfortable with.  I’m comfortable with more risk for the higher reward, so I have a 90% stocks/10% bonds mix.  Betterment does everything for you after that.  I haven’t noticed a big improvement in averting losses or extra gains, but it’s something to consider.
  • Short-Term Goals: Short-term goals are expenses coming in 1-10 years.  Common short-term goals are purchasing a car, having a wedding, taking vacations, etc.  I recently purchased a brand-new SUV in cash, and it was an amazing feeling.  Paying with cash helps you enjoy these purchases and stops the “debt spiral” that most Americans find themselves in.  You can place this money in the same account as your emergency savings account for short-term purchases.
  • Long-Term Goals: These are expenses coming in 10-30 years or are long-lasting costs.  Examples of these are house down payments (long-lasting) and saving for a child’s college education.
    • The money saved for a down payment can also be placed in your emergency savings account. If buying a house is 10 or more years out, you can place that money in a tax-exempt municipal bond fund with Fidelity or Vanguard.  This will reduce your tax burden and has a much higher yield than a savings account.
    • For long-term goals like children’s college education, it’s important to look for tax-sheltered options. For example, you can invest in a 529 account (Google it), and save for your children’s education while avoiding penalizing taxes.  Some jobs offer High-Deductible Healthcare Savings Accounts which also lets you avoid taxes while investing in your own health insurance.

The website is not just another personal finance blog.  This website will be used to give financial advice while explaining the complicated system.  You can read more about my Mission, Vision, and Motivation behind this site on my About me page.  Or, you can navigate to a specific chapter that you find interesting by using the Table of Contents page.