June 1, 2019 will mark the start of the first full month in my new apartment. For The Lady in the Black, her decision to move hinged on both quantitative and qualitative factors. (Essentially, there was a mixture of both financial and emotional considerations.) I suppose that’s true of most people.
Quite honestly, I haven’t written in a while and was going to wait until something really helpful to my readers fell into my lap. Then I realized that moving is something that many people can relate to. So, voila! Blog post.
From Homelessness to Renting
For those of you who might not know (or remember) The Lady in the Black’s story, let me give you a quick refresher.
Just over 3.5 years ago, I had requested my agency (where I was a full-time salaried employee) transfer me from their headquarters in upstate NY to their Arizona office in an effort to be closer to my daughter in California. In short order, I found myself in a brand new state, a new apartment, a new work office, no friends, no car (two weeks prior to leaving my car suffered a painful death by busted transmission)…oh, and no savings.
Fast forward a few months and I was miserable. I was very, very lonely and unhappy and brought that negativity to the only place I could; my work. Not surprisingly, I got fired. So, adding to all the other “no’s” I had in my life, I now also had no income and nowhere to live. In short, as a 46-year-old woman, I found myself quite literally homeless.
Fortunately, a good friend back east lent me some money. I rented a U-Haul and hightailed it the 6-hour drive over to southern California. Some old friends gave me a place to crash, rent-free until I found my feet. Inside of 4 short months, I had landed a high-paying freelance gig and signed a year’s lease on a 2 BD/2 BA apartment. A month later came a 5-year car loan on a sassy little silver Prius and a new-found promise to NEVER let myself be that helpless ever again. It turned out that while managing money had always been a struggle for me, it suddenly became something I HAD to master (or die trying.)
The Lady in the Black was born…both figuratively and literally (as that’s when I started my personal finance journey and this blog.)
The “Temporary” Apartment
The apartment I found in southern California was in a huge corporate-run complex which was “so not me” (said with elitist, barkbiter accent.) But they approved my application with a recent broken lease, no full-time time employer, and a $700 deposit. Ya. I honestly didn’t have a lot of options and I locked in a year’s lease on the apartment with the best view. It was just temporary, right? A year or two tops, I told myself.
At the time, the thought of $2,100/month was truly nauseating. Remember, I was a middle-aged woman who was riding the bus to work (gasp!) and sleeping in a friend’s guest room. The monthly rent was twice what I had paid in Arizona. But it was a decent place. Two bedroom, two bath (I was legally obligated to have a separate room for my daughter.) The complex had pools and hot tubs and was conveniently located near her school, her dad, shopping plazas, etc. I settled in and we were happy there (mostly) and in the blink of an eye, 3 years slipped by–with healthy rent increases every year.
With this year’s lease renewal notice looming only week away, I realized “temporary” was getting more and more permanent. Plus, there was the recent incident with the mold, and filthy carpets that never really come clean, and blah, blah, blah. (Insert general-disdain-but-not-complete-hatred-with-the-place here.)
I considered my options.
Me: Just move! Also me: Have you seen rents around here?
Me: Just buy a place! Also me: F’n no way! I’m in no state to consider that–fiscally or emotionally.
Me: Move in with your hunky boyfriend! Also me: We aren’t ready for that step in our relationship and we both know it.
Me: Just do that geo-arbitrage that’s trending with PF folks and get out of dodge! Also me: Ugh, I can’t. In order to retain shared custody of my child I have to live within 50 miles of my ex-husband.
The “We Are Thrilled To Offer You” Offer
As these thoughts swirled around, and right around my lease renewal period, I received an email from the community manager with information about my upcoming renewal.
“You are receiving this letter along with your renewal offer because your apartment is part of an exciting renovation project.”
Did they say renovation?
Yes, yes they did.
This struck a chord with me because after 3 years I was kinda crawling the walls. There were days I wondered if they’d notice if I ripped up that crap-ass beige carpet and installed my own floors. Maybe “temporary” could be a bit longer if the apartment was nicer, right? RIGHT?!?!
In fact, the idea of renovation was indeed “exciting” as the letter stated. Upgrades would be made to kitchens and baths, including:
Energy-Efficient Stainless Steel Appliances
New Flooring in Kitchen and Bathrooms
Energy-Efficient Lighting and Water-Saving Plumbing Fixtures
The flyer showcased shiny new surfaces and hot contractor boys doing manly things..with the promise of them moving quickly and getting sweaty. (I digress.) Oh yes, they had this Lady’s attention…until I read the price tag in the other file attached. Accompanying this “exciting renovation”, my new monthly rent would increase $2,692. (Let that sink in. Nearly $2,700 a month to put lipstick on the proverbial pig!)
Immediately, the renovations seemed far less attractive. In fact, I called to see what my monthly rent would be WITHOUT the renovations. The answer: $2,463. That was still an increase over my current monthly rent.
I felt like the fabled frog being boiled alive. (If you aren’t familiar with that metaphor, look it up. It seems to be applicable to many situations in my life.)
The Search Begins
My housing options essentially came down to a) do the renovation and pay way more, b) don’t do the renovation and pay more anyway, or c) look what else is available.
I went with C.
My first look was at another big complex in the same neighborhood. The interior was certainly an upgrade from my current apartment. It was cheaper. It was also a notorious haven for local college kids. The “cool Lady” in me thought “hey, you were young once. Maybe some youthful energy would spice things up for you.” The “single Lady” thought “Meow. Hot-looking young studs everywhere! Could be worse!” The “mom Lady” thought “you can’t bring up a tween/teen girl in a complex that parties like Motley Crue on a comeback tour.” The “pragmatic Lady” thought “keep looking, ya big dummy. It’s a big city.”
And somewhere in there, one of those life-changing ideas came to me. (If you haven’t had one of these, it’s like a light suddenly switches on in your head and you are left staring at an idea so brilliant and beautiful that its genius is blinding.)
(insert sunlight from Heaven sound effect) Look for a place in Seal Beach.
Now, for those who aren’t intimately familiar with Seal Beach, I’ll leave you with this link to explore and a description of it as one of the quintessential and quaint California beach towns (in my opinion.) It’s like Mayberry and Gidget had a baby, stuck a pier in its mouth, and swaddled it in daisy-print boardshorts.
It’s the perfect place to raise a soulful, southern California kid and, oh, and it’s only 4.5 miles south of where I currently live. With the idea implanted, I began my search.
The Miracle Find
I was rusty with the whole “looking for an apartment” thing but after only about 2 seconds on Zillow, I saw the cutest frickin’ photo of a place in Seal Beach.
It was love at first photo.
I scheduled a viewing immediately and was instantly enamored. It was 2 blocks from the ocean! It was a bigger apartment in a complex with only 12 units. The apartment was lighter, brighter, and the layout was darling. It had charm. The Kid loved it, too. Oh, and the rent was CHEAPER than my renewal rate, even without the renovation. I put in an application that night and prayed.
But I think it’s important to pause here to comment on all the things I didn’t do.
I didn’t pour neurotically over the pros and cons. (Well, in comparison to normal neuroses.)
I didn’t over-analyze the full financial picture.
I didn’t worry too much about security deposits or moving costs.
I didn’t spreadsheet the living daylights out of the decision.
I didn’t wait for validation from anyone (besides The Kid.)
It just felt right and I jumped–and I got approved!
Within a week, I had signed the lease.
It was then that I realized I was staring down the sights of a double-barreled shotgun; paying double rent for May! Oh, plus a full month’s security deposit AND the cost of moving. That’s when the panic started to sneak in. Fortunately, I have been K.I.S.S.ing my finances recently so had a bit of financial wiggle room AND an amazing boyfriend who let me borrow some money.
I found the money. The move went smoothly. I settled in to the new place. It all went like it was meant to be. Life was–and continues to be–amazing. The new place is simply fabulous.
We feel blessed everyday–and I can see being happy there for years to come. (insert more heavenly sound effects here)
The Side-by-Side Cost Comparison
Good for me, you are thinking, right? Yes.
However, it wasn’t until I started activating utilities and changing my mailing address with my various bills did I start to be curious about the true financial impact of my move. All I knew was my monthly rent was cheaper and the security deposit was large.
So, I did what any self-respecting financial blogger did. I spreadsheeted it!
Here’s what I created at first.
It was cool to see some significant savings in car insurance, pet rent, and utilities.It was surprising to learn that your health insurance rate can increase by moving less than 5 miles down the street. However, the net-net was that I would be saving money (about $1,200) this year. Even with the cost of movers, I’d be saving $500 a year. And because the old place would eventually force my hand on paying for the renovation, I’ll likely be savings on rent for years to come.
It was also around this time that I started to actually notice somethings about the apartment that maybe I had overlooked in my initial enthusiasm.
No dishwasher. Bummer.
FAR less closet space. Eep.
No private outdoor space. Eh.
That’s when I revised my spreadsheet a bit.
You can see that I divided things into Quantitative and Qualitative. After thinking about it a while, I realized that this was how lots of financial decisions are made.
Quantitative or Qualitative?
Many people not familiar with the personal finance space might be intimidated that everything is about the bottom line. However, that isn’t the case for the large majority of people. Sure, life might be in part guided by your finances but far more often your finances are guided by your life.
So which should win as an approach to life? Quantitative or qualitative?
Well, hell if I know! You think The Lady has all the answers?
But I have gained a few insights along my 49 years of life. I’ve also learned a lot about managing finances in the last several years.
Here are few tidbits this move has reminded me of.
Pay yourself first. (I’ll leave that up to interpret as a quantitative or qualitative tip!)
People don’t talk about the Quantity of Life. The phrase is Quality of Life.
The theory of abundance isn’t bullshit. Believe, perceive, and receive more.
Sometimes chasing a dream involves movers.
Struggling financially is not limited by geography. Struggle somewhere you like!
As my friend says “Choose joy.” As another friend says “Life is short. Live long.”
You can’t pay a security deposit with “joy”. (Just saying.)
The Moving Moral of the Story
Money is here to help you live your best life. Daily decisions about your spending, savings, investing of it are based on both quantitative and qualitative factors. The math and the emotions might be able to be divided and analyzed separately on a spreadsheet but they are fully integrated in real life. Where we live and work and play impact the quality of our lives…and yes, those places come with associated price tags.
There is an inherent duality to life. Quality/quantity, dark/light, logic/feeling, good/evil (brie/brussel sprouts)
But there is also a lot of gray space in between. This is the land of the parantheses. It’s the little sidebar conversations with have inside our head, the asides, the backstories, the inside jokes, the tangents that make life rich and textured.
For me, this move made sense. But I led with my heart and my pocketbook was left to chase along, trying to keep up. (Welp, that’s a lovely visual metaphor!)
I’ve done a lot of moving in my lifetime–and I can safely say I have quality memories of every house, apartment, and guest room I’ve ever lived in. Interestingly, I don’t remember much about the quantity of the cost.
I say move where you want (as long as it’s forward.)
In direct response to bouncing checks for several months in a row, The Lady in the Black needed to determine why her personal finance money machine was broken. The answer was obvious, if not a bit embarrassing to admit. She had NO IDEA how much it costed to live her life.
Sure, I knew the fixed costs. Rent, car payment, utilities, etc. But how much did I REALLY spend on “discretionary” items; groceries, entertainment, eating out, fun? While my budget listed that line item at $600/month, I truly had no idea.
I could offer a myriad of excuses why I’m so clueless about my expenditures but probably the most significant is that I kinda jumped in this whole personal finance journey without following all the “first steps” that everyone touts.
Top personal finance experts would list “track your spending” as the first step in any personal finance journey. Ya. I never did that. (GASP!)
I decided that March 2019 would be my chance to get back to basics with my money management. In short, it was time this smart Lady gave my personal finances a big, sloppy, wet K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid.)
Steps to K.I.S.S. Finances Into Shape
Before we launch into my steps, let me just say that I’m sharing this as information not advice. For my particular situation, I felt compelled to undo quite of bit of the systems I put in place. In short, if your money system ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
STEP 1: Disable ALL automated savings deposits
Early in my financial journey, the saying “give every dollar a job” resonated with me. In response, I set up multiple savings accounts and started sprinkling money into them for various reasons. Vacation, college savings, investing, emergency fund, etc. In total, I had 8 different savings accounts spread across 3 financial institutions.
I pulled the plug on everything except for the $200 monthly deposit into my HSA.
STEP 2: Disable ALL automated investments
This was emotionally tough. I talk a bit about it in my last post but it was necessary to put myself in check. If there are steps to paying off debt and building wealth, investing is pretty far down the path. My entry to investing was premature. I just had to admit it.
In addition to disabling automated investing, I also sold off about half of my portfolio and streamlined the remaining. I now own shares in 3 well performing ETFs and 1 kick-ass performing stock.
Yes. This one hurt but it was necessary. Again, retirement savings IS important, especially for a Lady my age but it’s not the first step and I needed to push pause long enough to see what I could really afford to contribute.
STEP 4: Keep automated payments
The one thing I didn’t want to mess with was my automated bill payments.
It’s FAR too stressful for me to handle manually paying bills on time. Plus, I’m out of checks so that’s that. My bills were all paid on time and with all the other savings taken out of the equation, it was like a little mental holiday knowing that none of them would bounce.
STEP 5: Use my credit card for all spending
This, by far, is the riskiest thing I did in this whole experiment. I’m terrible with credit cards. I’m the chick who has dug herself out of credit card debt at least 3 times in her life. I’m also the chick who lived without a single credit card for nearly a decade.
But it was easy and made sense to use my credit card to track my spending for 1 month and so I did. I just tallied up the results and want to puke. (More on that later.)
STEP 6: Live my life as usual
For this experiment, I didn’t really do anything differently in terms of spending. I didn’t try to be frugal. I didn’t restrict myself. I also didn’t live extravagantly either.
Like always, there was lots of eating out and trips to the grocery store. There were a few events that occurred in March that bumped my expenses up a bit but I figure any month, past or present, could claim the same.
STEP 7: Analyze the credit card statement
On Day 31, I printed out my credit card statement and starting sorting into simple spending categories like gas, groceries, work-related, and special events (daughter’s birthday, weekend trip, etc.). In the section below, I’ll give those interested a breakdown of my month’s spending.
STEP 8: Adjust my budget
After dissecting and digesting the numbers a bit, I can see that I have a few choices. I can either use this actual number as my new discretionary line item in my budget or set an arbitrary spending target that I think is reasonable.
In truth, I’m not sure what to do next. I do know, I now have a hefty credit card bill to clear out.
The Lady’s Monthly Expenses
Welcome to all you financial voyeurs. When I started blogging about my “journey”, I promised to be as transparent as possible. It is my thought that someone might benefit.
I’m a 48-year old divorced woman, freelance professional writer, share custody of an 11-year old daughter, rent a 2BD apartment in Los Angeles county. I drive a 2012 Prius and have been dating a great guy for over a year. I owe back taxes and pay child support to my ex-spouse due to discrepancy in our incomes. I pay my own health and dental insurance.
The Fixed Expenses
If my Excel spreadsheet is to be trusted, my fixed expenses run about $6,000/month. Of course, $2,500/month in rent is a huge chunk, as is $900 toward back taxes. I pay nearly $700 in health/dental for my daughter and myself. $480 in child support and $560 for a “catch up” whole life policy round out the big ticket fixed expenses. I pay more toward my car payment than what is required ($400 vs $279 required) in order to pay down interest.
The Discretionary Expenses
Now to the juicy part, right? My credit card bill for March, which represents 1 month of relatively normal spending for The Lady in the Black totals…..drum roll….$2,232. This figure is nearly 4 TIMES what I had budgeted.
Did you just throw up in your mouth a bit? Yes, I did, too. In fact, I feel a mixture of shock, shame, and amazement. But it certainly does explain a lot.
The rounded-up breakdown is pretty interesting:
$70 Work-related expenses
$90 Gas (thank goodness for strong fuel economy)
$400 Special expenses (includes extra spending on my daughter’s birthday and a weekend trip with my guy)
$1,000 Restaurants/Takeout and “entertainment” (Entertainment is a super small portion.)
So who’s getting the lion’s share of The Lady’s discretionary funds? Do names like McDonalds, Claim Jumper, Charo Chicken, Ahi Poki, The Halal Guys, Wendy’s, Chipotle, and 7-Eleven sound familiar?
Truth be told, it’s not really a surprise. I don’t really like to cook. And I do really like Mexican food and sushi. I know I run higher on eating out expenses and all of my close friends know it, too.
What is surprising is the sheer AMOUNT of money thrown at this type of spending. Most of the charges are under $30…but there are lots and lots of them.
Moving Beyond the K.I.S.S.
I’m digesting much of this information while I write this article so I’m not exactly sure what my next steps are.
However, I do want to continue to keep things simple. I let things get a bit too complex and spread too thin to properly manage. I was making too many mistakes.
Intuitively, I think I’m going to start KISSing even more. I need to love myself and pay myself first, I know, but it needs to be simple. Very simple…and smart.
Here are some of my current thoughts:
Pay off the credit card, but continue to track spending for at least 1-2 more months
Reduce eating out (maybe to 2 times/week)
Prioritize on building a healthy emergency fund (goal is at least $10,000)
Pay off my car ASAP
I’ve been toying with the idea of establishing separate and dedicated accounts for fixed versus discretionary but not quite sure how or when to pull the trigger on that.
Turns out Keeping It Simple, Stupid is turning me in the right direction…even if it is backward (to where I should have started.)
And if KISSing my finances is as good as kissing my guy, it should all work out great.
The Lady in the Black shares where she’s at with her experiment with investing. For a Lady who went a little investing crazy early on, you might be surprised how grown-up she’s being about everything.
For a financial late-blooming Lady, I’m exceedingly pleased with myself for starting to invest. Yet, of late, I’m being forced to reconsider, re-evaluate, and re-assess my entire financial big picture. (I’ll likely go into details about that in another post.) Priorities need to be decided on and adjustments made.
Taking a long, hard look at my investments has revealed a few interesting points that I thought might benefit others. And, as always, I want to document some of these bigger financial moves to hold myself accountable on this crazy journey of mine.
Not quite 2 years ago, I felt like dipping my big toe into investing, after being introduced to the concept in ways that were non-threatening and encouraging to me. (Shout out to Feminist Financier.)
From the start, I talked about investing in terms like dabbling or “fooling around.” (Check this risque little post!) The parallels from investing to dating seemed to make sense to me and I kind of just ran with that as a theme. In 4 short months, I was a self-proclaimed promiscuous investor.
All along the way, I did admit that I had no clue what I was doing. That was OK because, for me, it was far more about overcoming the fear of investing and learning something new. That said, I also had daydreams of somehow finding that dream stock and living happily ever after.
Now, The Lady has had her fun.
The time for fooling around is over.
I’m ready to get serious.
I want to commit to an investment strategy that works for me now AND for my future self. And with most big changes, there are two sides to consider; the head and the heart (or logic vs. emotion, if you prefer.)
Which brings us to evaluating how “smart” my investing has been to date.
My modest investing goal, other than education, was to exceed current savings interest rates. Pretty much, if my performance on a individual holding and/or entire portfolio exceeded 2%, I figured I was doing pretty good.
What do the numbers, as of this minute, show?
Started investing in June 2017.
Current Portfolio Value: ~$3,200
Current Adjusted Unrealized GAIN: $387 (+13.68%)
Pulled out money twice since inception
Trading fees: $1/month
Additional custodial account for The Kid: $551
Started investing in August 2017.
Current Portfolio Value: ~$3,100
Current Adjusted Unrealized GAIN: $52 (or +1.7%)
Realized LOSS in 2017: $45
Realized LOSS in 2018: $59
Trading fees: $6.95/trade
Taking both accounts’ unrealized gains collectively, I’ve succeeded in exceeding my “beat the savings rate” goal, kinda. (I’m not a math expert but my gains seem to put me in the “not bad for a noob” category.) Yay me. I also made about $120 in dividends. Yay dividends.
But am I even getting close to market performance?
Well, according to the charts, it seems like I decided to starting to invest with bulls and then got the experience of meeting a bear, a big ugly bear. I suppose this is a good thing to happen early on when my investments are relatively low. Some would say it’s a very good thing as I am getting in the market during a “sale” time. Either way, even investing experts don’t make market performance so I’ll just let myself off the hook on that one.
In short, The Lady’s current investing experiment (by the numbers) can be summarized by:
Over $6,000 invested in under 2 years
Modest gains in a tumultuous market
When it comes to these two investment accounts, there are also some intangible, touchy-feely emotions that should be weighed when judging the true vale of my investment portfolios. Apparently, my “heart” has an opinion, too.
Money is emotional. I know this to be true for myself and believe it to be true for most. What emotions have I attached to these two investment portfolios?
I strongly equate these guys with my future financial wellbeing. Unlike other savings vehicles, I am better able to imagine the stock market, and my portfolios by default, growing over time. I’ve seen the long-term market indexes and know that means long-term=growth.
Being able to attach existing funds to my future financial self is pretty damn important. Before I started this financial journey, I never could do that. It never really even occurred to me. Being able to visualize and imagine a happy, healthy financial future is something I hold dear.
There is also an intellectual challenge to investing. Yes, I’ve learned a bit over this experiment but I also know I’ve barely scratched the surface. As a woman who loves to learn new things, it’s fun to know that I could really dig my heels in on this investing topics and learn a ton.
But will I? Eh. Maybe. Maybe not. (I’ve got a lot of stuff swirling around this Lady brain.)
And fooling around with investing is fun. It really is. I check in with my portfolios everyday (sometimes more than once) just to see what’s up with them (and what’s down.) I learned early not to panic and so now it gives me a level amusement that might equate to that of a hobby.
In short, The Lady emotions tell her that:
She’s learned a lot about investing but still doesn’t know much
Investing is fun and important to my positive mindset
The Next Steps
In light of everything I’ve expounded above, does my investing behavior need to change? No, probably not. Is it bankrupting me? No. Is it making me a millionaire? No.
I realize now that my financial foundation was never really built correctly, and that includes a profound lack of investment strategy. Sure, you can fool around in the market and have a good time. No judgment from me. But, I now have a driving need to simplify my finances across the board and am in the process of making big changes.
Plus, my horoscope said it was a good time to work on finances. Because astrology and finances mix well, right?
So, what did I decide about my investments?
Streamline the Good
As of today, I have decided to keep my STASH account but consolidate my holdings from 7 to 3.
How did I decide what to keep and what to cut loose? Truthfully, I used both my head and my heart. I looked at the returns, the dividend yields, and the expense ratios. I looked at the ETFs holdings to spot areas of duplication.
I also used a bit of Marie Kondo. Does this ETF spark joy, I asked myself. Apparently 4 did not.
STASH has been good to me. He teaches without talking down. I’ll continue my relationship with this nice guy of newbie investing.
Dump the Junk
TDAmeritrade? Sorry, Charlie. This Lady is calling it quits with you.
I’m selling off everything and applying the funds elsewhere.
I currently selling off anything with positive returns and will give the remaining positions about 2 weeks to see if they turn around. Buy low, sell high, right?
I plan to use the freed-up cash toward my credit card balance and some to fund my new money machine.
Sorry, TD. Our little fling was fun but you are just too costly and, to be honest, we are just not on the same page.
The Lady in the Black is about personal finances and personal development. My experiment with investing is not concluding but evolving. I’m growing as a financial creature and there are definitely growing pains along the way. Fortunately, there can be good times and better learnings as well.
For any of my readers who haven’t “fooled around” with investing yet, don’t be scared. Just be safe.
In celebration of the new year, I thought I’d start on a positive note. For many, me included, the new year seems to bring with it a sense of renewal and hope. I believe that type of attitude is exactly what we need when it comes to our personal finances.
Did I always feel this way? No. I spent a huge chunk of my life hating money. I blamed it as the source of so many of my problems. I cursed it as “the one thing I’m really bad at.” Long story short, money and I didn’t really get along.
Now that money and I are on much better terms, I want to share the ways that I help myself stay positive about my own personal finances. These tips might not all work for you but hopefully, if you suffer from a scarcity or negative mindset, you can find one or two to help turn your attitude in the right direction.
Without further ado…19 tips to staying positive about personal finances for 2019.
19. Keep Cash In Your Wallet
It doesn’t have to be much. I try to keep $5-$20 in my wallet. It just makes me happy to see a little green paper amongst all the plastic. Plus, if I want to treat myself to a coffee or a sausage McMuffin with egg (no judging), the money is there!
18. Pay One Bill In Advance
This can be hard to think about when money is tight. But the psychological pick-me-up is so worth is. I have a utility bill that runs about $10-15 a month. I like to pay a whole year’s worth. I save myself the time it takes to send monthly payments and I can essentially forget about it for a whole year.
17. Keep a Coin Jar
There’s nothing quite like the sound of coins hitting the inside of my piggy banks’ tummies. I collect piggy banks and sprinkle them throughout the house. They are super cute and they are full of money!!!
16. Have a Savings Account
Hell, have 10! The point is to have an account that is for something other than paying bills. There is something magical about knowing that money is just sitting there. If you use it, pay it back.
15. Name Your Savings Account
I prefer to name my savings accounts after what I am saving for but the point is to personalize them to you and your situation. Share Account 01 is so cold and boring. “Little Cabin In the Woods” sounds far more interesting. Or name it “Charlie” or “Sasha” and think of them as employees you have to pay. Whatever it takes to make savings “real” for you.
14. Freeze Your Credit Cards
I believe that debt is the biggest source of negativity in personal finances. I call credit cards the devil on earth. I recently put all my credit cards in a container and put them in the freezer. (My goal is to leave them there for 6 months.) It’s a good challenge to operate off of cash-only. I also find a sick pleasure in imagining those little devils freezing their little digits off.
13. Read Personal Finance Blogs
Hey, you are reading this so congrats! You just nailed this one! (Thanks, by the way for reading The Lady in the Black!) Personal finance blogs can help you feel not-so-alone in your struggles with money. There are all sorts of people out there and many have been in your shoes. You aren’t alone.
12. Try a No-Spend Challenge
I’m not going to lie and tell you a no-spend challenge is easy. It’s not. For me, it wasn’t particularly fun either. What was great is that I walked away with a new appreciation for what my money does for me. It held new value to me. Try spending no money for a day, or two, or 5.
11. Starting Investing
Investing seemed so complex and scary to me. I started and now I’m hooked. Investing is not without risk but I found it extremely educational and interesting to learn about markets, stocks, ETFs, dividends, etc. Now, on a daily basis, I get a kick out of watching my investment balances go up and down, and up and down. Because that’s what they do.
10. Track Interest and Dividends
Once I learned about dividends, and saw other people reporting their totals, I built a spreadsheet and started tracking them right away. Dividends are monetary “gifts” for owning certain investments. It’s like a mini-bonus for investing. It’s your money making you money. Same with interest on savings accounts. It might not total much but it’s a good, positive reminder that saving and investing really pays.
9. Hold Yourself Accountable
Many of us have a negative reaction to that phrase. Somehow it seems like something your father or school principal would preach when you’ve been naughty. I propose it is a very good thing. Accountability is just a way to keep a promise; a promise to yourself–and keeping a promise feels awesome.
8. Find A Good Financial Planner
I lucked into meeting a great financial advisor. For me, she has educated me and guided me when it comes to financial products but her true value is as personal finance cheerleader. She knows where I started and where I want to go. She’s a constant source of encouragement. She cheers me up when I’m down and reminds me of how great I’m doing. (Geez, I’m actually tearing up writing this.)
7. Get Out of Debt
This is a big one. It’s not easy and it’s not fun. However, there is a certain sense of satisfaction at dinging away at your debt. I’m not out of debt completely but I’ve had some huge wins in the recent past. That sense of pride in digging yourself out of a bad situation is priceless and empowering.
6. Automate Your Finances
This was the first thing I wanted to accomplish when I started addressing my personal finances. I struggled constantly to make budgets, write checks, buy stamps, pay online, etc. Intuitively I knew that automating my payments (and deposits) was going to free me. And it has. It’s maybe the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It’s not for everyone though.
5. Talk About Money Openly
Sadly, there can be stigma in talking about your money. However, there is also a kind of freedom in being open and honest about your financial journey. You decide what level of sharing is best for you but I think it’s good to say “I’m sorry I can’t go. I’m prioritizing paying off debt for the next few months” or “Did you hear that I just opened a savings account to save for a trip to Tahiti?” Being open about your journey might even inspire others.
4. Pay Yourself First
This is my financial advisor’s mantra. Initially, I dismissed it as hokey and not applicable to me. I had debt. I had pressing need to pay rent and bills. I’ve since learned that paying yourself first really means putting yourself first. You are the most important factor in your money equation. You are also the most important person in your future. You are the one to make your dreams come true. Think of yourself as your life’s most valued employee and then pay yourself accordingly.
3. Appreciate What You Have
Gratitude is perhaps one of the most powerful tools in improving your personal finances. If you can truly be grateful for today, you can guarantee you’ll be happy tomorrow. Even when I’m down, I have now acquired the skill to look around my life and feel overwhelming awe at how good I have it.
2. Help Others
By giving to the Universe with an open heart, you are open to receiving from the Universe as well. If you can’t afford to donate money, there are other ways to help. I like to believe I help others by simply sharing my own experiences with money. Random acts of kindness are fun, too.
In writing this list, I realize my list could far exceed 19 items. In truth, there are hundreds of tips to stay positive about personal finances. And I’d encourage you to add your own in the comments. However, the real point is that a positive attitude can be transformative to your personal finances.
Start this year with a positive attitude about money and see what happens!
If you are reading this on the morning after I publish this post, you are most likely easing yourself back into the real world. I feel for you. But I’m not there quite yet. I am writing this from your past. Your past of last night to be precise. It is currently my January 1, 2019; a significant precipice of a day and the day I finally got up the energy to write a long-overdue post. Why today you ask?
New Year’s Day, in my opinion, far outshines it’s big dramatic sister, “Eve.” Eve is all kisses, champagne, disco balls, and tooting your own horn. Her just slightly younger sister, Day, is all laziness, stark reality, and last-ditch efforts for self-reflection. And since The Lady is the Black is far more “Day” than “Eve” in personality type, today seemed like the day to write. (Plus, I have to work tomorrow. Ugh. Poor you.)
So grab another cup of coffee and settle in. I hope not to bore you with too much backstory but if you are dying to know, you could read last year’s similar post that outlines where I was one year ago.
I knew it had been some months since I ran my net worth. (Shout out to my friend Chief Mom Officer for the inspiration.) Honestly, I was kind dreading it for a few important and relevant reasons. One, I’ve been slacking HARD on my personal finances (including this blog so apologies.) Next, the stock market took a serious crap. (I say that like it really has any influence in my life. It really doesn’t because I’m a long-term investor but I didn’t really want to see the numbers.) But I ran it today and it was bad…and good.
Net Worth 2017 (December): -$10,354 Net Worth 2018 (December): -$32,827
Yup, all that red looks bad.
However, I know why it dropped and actually expected it. For those who know my personal finance nemesis, you aren’t surprised to hear the drop came in the form of another year of tax bills. I can’t even stand to hear the sound of my own voice about this one any more but I’ll just say (once again), pay your estimated taxes if you have them. Just do it.
As the classy lady that I am, I don’t focus on the negative. It’s my assets you should take a ganda’ at. (For extra comic relief moment, read that last sentence again with a Mae West accent in your head. You’re welcome.)
The Lady in the Black has many assets.
Only recorded 5 months net worth for 2018.
Hey! Year end assets are about $35,000. Not bad. And my assets, although, not increasing, are NOT tanking the way I pictured.
NOTE: A few disclosures. First, my assets didn’t fluctuate too much with the market because I simply don’t have that much invested yet. My total investments don’t total $6,000. My biggest asset is Itsy (my 2012 Prius). The other largest assets are the cash values of 2 life insurance policies, 2 retirement accounts and a cash management account. Only the 401K has market exposure. Lastly, I’m one of those investors that automates their monthly investments. (I can’t explain it myself but research dollar-cost averaging.)
So, blah, blah, blah. The Lady in the Black is NOT yet in the black.
However, I strongly feel that it really is better to focus on net worth instead of your debt totals. Personally, I don’t feel I really began to change the tide on my personal finances until I started adding assets acquisition into my debt reduction strategy. I know it doesn’t make too much sense to those of us programmed to struggle with your money and battle your debt.
For me, there is a huge psychological benefit in balancing out what I have with what I’ve lost. Which brings me to celebrate a few financial victories this year.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with my current retirement funding status, let’s just say it started with a capital F and ends in a small d. I have only about $5,000 in an old 401K….and I’m 48. So, ya. Not great.
For 2018, I wanted to make some type of move to improving that situation. I opened a ROTH IRA and started contributing $200/month. It was good. I was proud. In September, I increased my contribution t to $458/month (which is the monthly payment I’d make if I was “maxing” out.)
The cooler thing is that I hope to be able to sustain that “max” contribution all through 2019.
Again, I’m pretty bored of myself talking about how I need to prioritize my emergency fund. I’m sick of my own inability to practice what I preach but it’s an important topic, and financial metric.
As a single-mom, freelance writer, an emergency fund is imperative. As such, 2018 witnessed The Lady in the Black trying 3 different strategies to build her fund. All are predicated on the concepts of automatic deposits. The difference is in the monthly amounts and into which accounts they were deposited.
As a side note, my financial advisor and I agreed that access to this fund was a barrier to me truly being successful saving. In short, if it was there, I spent it. With her help, I opened a cash management account. I can’t access the money directly. I have to ask a very nice lady to transfer funds.
For 2018, my success with my emergency fund is tepid. I got “hot” there for a while and I was contributing over $1,600 a month to my emergency fund. However, it ran a bit cold. All that digging deep plus the increase in my IRA contributions, plus my variable income had me recently backing that my contributions by about half.
However, I will say that my emergency fund has quite literally saved my ass multiple times this past year. It’s a super, duper smart move and I’m really happy I have a plan of attack While I don’t have much in way of a balance ($2,200), I am working on it. I consider it a matter of vigilance and fine tuning at this point.
I don’t have too many passive income streams but the one I’m finding fun to track are my dividends.
My year-end dividends totaled $86. I know. That’s not a lot but that $86 I didn’t have to earn or save. $86 of my money making money. It’s also the first full year of me investing so I get to actually see the quarterly patterns. And that’s some geeky graph fun right there!
Check that pattern! So amazing.
I have only a handful of consumer debt buckets. My car loan which is at a usurious interest rate, one converted secured credit card, one store card, and one gas card. The last three were solely for the purpose of increasing my credit.
My auto loan has a stupid high interest rate so I tried to refinance. Nope. Credit score was too crappy. So I did what I could, I increased my monthly payments. Instead of the requisite $272, most months I paid $400. I offering this level of detail because I think it’s important to remember that if you can’t beat a dead horse, you certainly can poke at it with a sharp stick.
Interestingly enough, I currently owe less than my car’s private party sell value. That’s a cool feeling. I’m not planning on doing that because I’m only about $5,000 away from owning her outright. And THAT will be a good day… in 2020 I hope.
There’s a segment of consumer debt called “the devil”? Yes. Because I believe credit cards are the devil on Earth. I lived without a single credit card for over a decade. Then, in an effort to improve my credit score, I opened a secured credit card for a whopping $200. After about a year (as promised), they converted it to an unsecured card and raised my credit limit. I used the card sparingly and paid off the balance in full every month.
But the devil loves good girls (good girls who used to be much, much worse.) Over 2018, my credit limit kept increasing, complete with a nice “Congratulations” email that felt more like an unwelcome dick pick than an announcement of increased credit limit. And yet, I continued to spend.
The good news? My credit limit is now just over $5,000. The bad news? My balance owed is $2,800 at 27.15%. (You see the devil now, right?)
So, I’m doing what any self-respecting good girl does when a bad boy starts up with his bullshit. I cut him out of my life. Literally. I play to cut that bastard up just as soon as I have my next paycheck in hand. While I was SUPER fortunate to only have paid $183 in credit card interest charges in 2018, the devil is breathing down my neck. So, it’s cutsville for you Beelzebub.
With all this talk of improving credit limits, you’d think my credit score would be golden by now. Well, not quite.
I started working on my credit score in earnest in 2016. It was bleak. By January 2017, I’d raised it considerably to 612. By year end 2018, I’m at 679. But worth’s celebrating is this green bar.
Green bar is 704, a first-time hit into the “Good” credit score category (as opposed to “Fair”)
For a brief moment in 2018, my credit score crossed into “Good” category. While I couldn’t sustain it, I did it. And it shows me I can do it in the future.
I admit it. I make a good wage. I’m a seasoned marketing writer who freelances with a name-brand pharmaceutical account. That’s pretty cool but the choice to be freelance is not without it’s consequences. In short, cash flow (and automated bill payment, savings, and investments) is a bitch when your weekly income chart looks like this.
I did negotiate my rate for a 5% increase mid-year.
The weirdest thing about my income is how similar my year-end total is from 2017. It’s almost the exact same! And that is a blessing for me. Essentially, I have the benefits of freelance lifestyle and flexibility with the overall security of a full-time job. Of course, the flip side to having 1 main gig is the chance you become expendable. That’s why the emergency fund is imperative.
Adulting and Other Boring Crap
Again, let’s give credit where credit is due. Adulting is hard. There’s nothing real sexy about paying your own health and dental insurance. There’s nothing intriguing about putting gas in your car or grocery shopping. But I did it this past year and you did, too.
I am an adult. With that comes certain social, financial, and physical obligations. I am a mother. With that comes an additional layer of responsibility and activity. I am single. With dating comes an additional layer of involvement. It’s a lot, people. A damn lot, in fact.
So, my adult reader, if you are anything like me (or even have a few less or more layers) I give you the proverbial slow clap. Because regardless of your net worth, or your tax situation, or the value of your investments, or your credit score, you are an adult. And that in itself is an achievement.null
Slow clap to all you adults out there.
Go Get Another Coffee
Ok, that’s far more than enough about The Lady in the Black and her finances! Go get another cup of coffee and pat yourself on the back for surviving today and all of 2018.
Happy New Year to all of my Lady and Gentlemen friends!
If I can help even one other person besides myself with this post then I’m already kicking 2019 personal finance ass!
If you have any exposure to the personal finance community, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a “no-spend weekend.” And as she’s not one of shy away from a challenge, The Lady in the Black tried her first no-spend weekend. How’d she do? Read on, my friends, read on.
Disclaimer: In my continuing attempt at full transparency, I need to preface this whole blog post with the fun little disclaimer. You see, when you are a “mature” adult female with a full-time gig, a boyfriend, and a kid starting back to school, it’s best practice to write a blog post in a timely manner when you write time-sensitive content. While I’ve done my best to recollect all the details of my no-spend Labor Day weekend, the fact is that is was 10 whole days ago. That’s like 70 days in old Lady days! I forgot some details. Sue me.
The Big Idea and The Reason Why
August 2018 was a tough month on this Lady’s cash flow situation.
I was on vacation until August 7. And as a freelance employee, vacation equals “no income.” Then, when I returned to work, a large project of mine was canceled and I was left scrambling for hours to bill to. In short, my August income was significantly lower than my average income..and it seriously hijacked my ability to pay rent on September 1.
On August 30th (2 days before rent is due), I had $240 in my checking account. My rent is $2,440.
You see a problem? Ya. So did I.
I did what I had to. I pulled savings from various accounts (designated for vacation, tax savings, emergency, etc.) and sold off some of my STASH portfolio. The next day, August 31, I had bolstered my account balance to $2,240.
I was also staring down Labor Day weekend being broke.
While I was amazed by the fact that I could pull together that much money that quickly, I was defeated that I had no money to make it through a weekend that was suppose to be fun and relaxing. Honoring all the “labor” in America was tough on me when I felt all my labor was going to squat.
Yet if The Lady in Black has learned one thing in this crazy financial journey, it’s that any success is due to a positive attitude and perseverance.
So, instead of crawling into bed and being depressed, I decided to make being broke as fun as I could.
“Hey, let’s do our first no-spend weekend. It’ll be fun,” I convinced myself. “I’ve got food in the cupboards, the freezer, and the fridge. I can totally do this.”
Then, I had to sell my uber-frugal idea to The Man in the Black (my boyfriend) and The Kid in the Black (my 10 year-old daughter.) Fortunately, they were both understanding. They weren’t thrilled but I was honest about why it was necessary. Then I sold the crap out of the idea as the best thing since cheap white bread.
The Lady’s 1st No-Spend Weekend
Friday, August 31: $0
This is where the hazy memory kicks in.
While I can verify via my bank accounts that I didn’t spend a dime, I also can’t exactly remember what I did Friday night. Based on what I know about my life, I can assume that The Kid and I probably just chilled at home. Seems like I probably even made dinner, which is a win in my book even if I can’t remember what I cooked.
Is it gingko biloba that is supposed to help enhance memory? I forget.
Anyway, I didn’t spend any money. ‘Nuf said.
Saturday, September 1: $12
Now this I do remember!
Saturday I had planned for my gang to go to the Orange International Street Fair. (Picture the cutest of historic towns closing their downtown circle intersection and filling all the streets with interesting vendors.) It’s a long-standing Labor Day event and I hadn’t been in decades.
While I reminded them of our no-spending challenge on the drive to the event and they were “in”, the instant I stepped foot inside the fair, I knew I fucked up.
In fact, it may have been one of the stupidest ideas I’ve had in a long time. The WHOLE DEAL about the fair is the dozens of food booths, beer trucks, and trendy arts and crafts available for sale. Sure, I brought snacks and waters for everyone (I’m a mom after all) but the event felt like one big-ass culinary tease. It was like bringing a Lunchable to a 5-star restaurant.
Realizing my immediate mistake, I had to come up with something to distract The Kid…and fast. Fortunately, I’d just passed down my old phone (a sweet-ass iPhone 4s thank you very much) and suggested we both take photos and then “compete” for the best photography later when we got home. (The Kid is the best kid in the world so she was down with the idea.)
Art as distraction. Score one for The Lady.
Anyway, blah, blah, blah. Click-click-click.
All was going well until we arrived to the Norway section of the international street fair. And there they were. Ableskiver. (Google it.)
I caved on a dish of ableskiver. Price $6. Now, I rationalized this treat was for my daughter and technically I owed her $25 so really it was her buying the treat, not me. (Rationalization is a bitch but I still counted the expense because I’m honest.)
Next, I just couldn’t say no to a $4 root beer float in Ireland. (Is root beer Irish? I don’t know. Doesn’t matter, I guess.)
Then, I got busted by an event authority guy for not having a wristband. The Man in the Black graciously bought me a beer but I had to fork over the $2 for the wristband. (I should also disclose that I met up with a co-worker at the event and she bought me a beer, too. Thanks, JB!)
All in all, I escaped the street fair only spending $12 of my own money! Not bad.
In fact, I challenge anyone to do better. Go ahead. Make my day, punk.
Sunday, September 2: $12
By Sunday, I knew the money in bank account wasn’t sufficient to cover my rent. I had bounced yet another rent payment.
I was angry. I was stressed. I was desperate. I bought a bottle of $12 chardonnay…and drank it. All. By. Myself.
Beyond that one indulgence, it turns out moping around feeling sorry for yourself is 100% free. Yay.
Thousand Steps beach, Laguna Beach, CA
Monday, September 3: $0
With the kids transferred to their other parents, The Man and I had Monday to ourselves.
One of the huge benefits of living in southern California is the beach. It’s right there…everyday and is surprisingly easy to take for granted. However, that was not the story for this year’s Labor Day Monday.
Monday we took full advantage of an out-of-the-way beach equipped with our sunscreen and cooler packed with goodies. Full disclosure: The Man did shell out $13 at the local grocery store to supplement the snacks I had packed.
In short, it was AWESOME. It was the perfect no-spend day.
We swam, snoozed, explored, snacked, and swam some more. We were like Sandy and Danny frolicking around in our own version of a Summer Lovin’ flashback scene.
And it was all free…and once I stripped off my bathing suit in the ocean for a few minutes of nudie swimming….freeing as well. Don’t judge.
No-Spend Weekend Lessons
My official spend of $24 on a 3-day, no-spend weekend seems like a decent first attempt.
Am I disappointed that I can’t say “I did it! I spent $0”?
No, because I think I did great.
To analyze my expenditures, I spent half my money feeding my kid and the other half drowning my sorrows. And for those of you moms out there struggling with making ends meet, that might sound familiar.
So what did The Lady in The Black learn from her first no-spend weekend?
First, meal planning is a “thing.” The better you can plan out your meals in advance, the better off you are–nutritionally AND financially. Honestly, I’m not great at meal planning and most of my “cheat” expenses involve eating out. This is not news to me but not go out once over the span of a long weekend was pretty awesome for me.
Next, don’t be an idiot. Choose your activities well. Avoid situations where you will tempted to spend your hard-earned money. Select places where you aren’t bombarded by retail temptation. The street fair was stupid. The beach was genius.
Lastly, make sure your partner, kids, friends, etc. are mentally, physically, and fiscally prepared for a no-spend challenge. Sure, I spent some money on treats for my child but she didn’t beg or whine for anything all day. She knew the situation and didn’t push. My boyfriend understood my predicament and respected it by choosing an activity for the two of us that wouldn’t cost me money or my dignity for being broke.
Oh, and if you are into this kinda of thing, can I direct you to the Zero Day Challenge from my fellow blogger, Zero Day Finance? It’s kinda his jam and he has great articles about it.)
I see no-spend challenges as a type of cleanse. They can help reset your financial metabolism and put your personal finances on a healthier path.
The Lady in The Black enjoyed her no-spend weekend, even if it was involuntary. In fact, I look forward to trying it again soon, under better circumstances.
In summary, there’s no doubt that being broke is trying–but it doesn’t mean you can’t try to make the most of it.
Like one of my good friends says, life is short. Live long.
Did The Lady in the Black just spell “stress” wrong? Nope. Does she expect you to know what “eustress” is? Hell, no, she just discovered the term herself (although she’s been experiencing it for over 2 years.) Maybe you have, too?
Let me start with a blogger confession. I was all set to write my journal entry for the week. I was excited to write again. I had my top 3 “profitable” things lined up in my head and was good to go.
Then, I realized that each of my profitable things all shared a common theme. The problem was I couldn’t put my finger on what to call it.
I would have named it “fear” or maybe “financial anxiety” but that seemed too severe.
It’s was more like the two faces of the LEGO movie’s “Good Cop, Bad Cop” character. One personality with two faces. No, more like dual-personalities in a shared body. Or maybe 1 creepy and mean and the other nice and polite.
Shit. This metaphor isn’t working out. Let me try to explain another way.
Giving a Name to The Anxiety I Now Feel
Prior to 2 years ago, I was constantly emotionally drained by the thought of money and finances. I was overwhelmed and ashamed of my ineptitude paying monthly bills. I was defeated with my inability to save a dime. I regretted past financial decisions, grieved my debt, and beat myself up on a daily basis. I ate financial anxiety for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Now, just over 2 years later, my financial anxiety is still present but with different reasons, intensity and, most importantly, different outcomes. The reasons for my current financial anxiety are now centered around saving for the future. The intensity is mild, and occurrences of panic are far and few between.
But the biggest differences is in how this new brand of financial anxiety now impacts my behavior. Before, it was defeatist and paralyzing. Now, I’d classify my anxiety as spurring or motivating–maybe even exciting.
Being a writer, I wanted to name this feeling, to search out if others experience it as well. So, I did what any normal human would do. I Googled it. I searched for the closest phrase that I could come up with on my own; “positive anxiety.”
I guess it’s positive anxiety is a thing.
Here are a few interesting snippets I found in doing a cursory online literature search.
Scientists have learned that some degree of stress or anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good stress, something now referred to now as eustress, keeps us motivated and excited about life. It appears that some degree of anxiety may have similar “silver linings.”
Eustress is a type of stress that is actually important for us to have in our lives. Without it, we would become bored at best and, in more serious cases, depressed. We would begin to feel a lack of motivation to accomplish goals and a lack of meaning in life without enough eustress. Not striving for goals, not overcoming challenges, not having a reason to wake up in the morning would be damaging to us, so eustress is considered ‘good’ stress. It keeps us healthy and happy.
There Are Useful Benefits of Anxiety
There are several articles that point out some interesting takes on how and why anxiety can actually be beneficial.
“While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be.
In essence, worry may make people ‘take no chances,’ and such people may have higher survival rates.
Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species.”
What About Positive Anxiety and Personal Finances?
So, this is all very interesting and, for me, slightly encouraging given my biological propensity toward depression and anxiety. But how does this positive anxiety, this eustress, play out within the realm of personal finances?
Good question. I went back to Google and entered “positive financial anxiety.”
52,500,000 results. (Only 1/4 of previous results). Additionally, with a quick scroll, I noticed that most of the top results are about “dealing with financial anxiety” as opposed to the positive consequences or benefits of financial anxiety.
So, I tried searching “financial eustress.”
Down to 50,200 results. But, yet again, most of top results didn’t mention “financial” in the title. In my subsequent scroll onto secondary pages, I didn’t come up with anything dealing directly on the correlation between positive anxiety and personal finances. (Seriously, if you know of articles, please send them my way.)
Have I just coined a new phrase? Huh. That’d be cool.
However, without an exhaustive search, I’ll just assume that it’s a poorly published subset of personal finances.
The Lady’s Hypothesis on The Benefits of Financial Eustress
With the void of available literature on the topic of “financial eustress”, I guess I’ll offer my own personal experiences as a anecdotal proof to my hypothesis that:
Financial eustress, as opposed to traditional financial anxiety, can be a positive, transformative force that can motivate and encourage financially sound behaviors.
Anecdotal ProofPoint #1
In response to my anxiety over the possibility of losing my current freelance gig, I am re-prioritizing my emergency fund. One of my personal finance goals for 2018 included a tactic to “Triple my current emergency fund (aim for $3,000).”
However, I knew all along that this amount is woefully insufficient. Based on my current monthly expenses, my financial advisor has suggested something more in line with 3 months expenses, or about $30,000.
How will I achieve that? Well, by re-allocating some budget lines items tagged for vacations and investments into a cash management account and sticking with it.
Will I stop taking vacations? No. Will I stop investing? Maybe, for the time being. I’m a bit sad about slowing my investment activity but since I don’t really know what I’m doing anyway, it’s probably best I focus on the emergency fund.
So, in short, my nervousness (read “anxiety”) about the security of my employment spurred additional savings to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
I’ll chalk that up to eustress.
Anecdotal ProofPoint #2
Due to my ex-husband’s catastrophic inability to manage his own finance, my daughter’s college education will likely fall to me. Since I only started saving last year at a modest $120/month, her college fund will not be where I’d like it to be in 8 short years.
That anxiety led me to recently open a custodial investment account for her. Sure, I can only afford $50/month contribution but I see this as a start. While the $120 is saved, and then transferred into a high-interest yielding CD at the end of each year (with interest rolled back in), the investment account is an S&P aggressive allocation ETF. I know it’s not going to constitute the whole of college tuition but, again, it’s another step in the right direction.
Anecdotal ProofPoint #3
Taxes. If you know me at all, you know this is the source of the large majority of my financial stress. It’s my personal finance nemesis. In short, paying past and estimated taxes freaks me the fuck out.
By acknowledging this, to myself and my financial advisor, I have a new strategy in place. In short, I’ll finally start doing what almost every financial expert advises–max out your tax-sheltered contributions. My ROTH IRA and private HSA will soon be seeing double the monthly contributions. This will help reduce my taxable income.
Additionally, I’m delegating. They say to foucs on the things you do well and delegate the rest. I’m transferring the responsibility of quarterly payments over to my financial team. I’ll continue to deposit the funds (that I’m currently doing) but now they will go into an account that I don’t control. Additionally, the team will alert me when estimated taxes are due and schedule appropriate disbursements.
Will this new method help? I honestly don’t know. I do know that if something’s not working, it needs to be fixed.
The eustress I feel over taxes has encouraged me to try multiple things. Not all have worked but all have come from a place of genuine intent and sincere effort.
Anecdotal ProofPoint #4
The entire insurance industry seems to be based on eustress.
According to Statistica, the gross premiums generated by the industry worldwide in 2016 was just over $5 trillion US dollars. That’s a lot of eustress right there!
Millions of people, including myself, insure against the rainy days, the what ifs, the worst-case scenarios, the never knows. Hell, I currently insure my health, my teeth, my car, my life (or more accurately, my death), and my household possessions.
I’m sure finance experts debate the wisdom of insurance but it’s an undeniable appeal for most to help relieve the anxiety of an unknown future.
Anecdotal ProofPoint #5
My own financial journey began out of sheer frustration and a promise never to be at rock bottom ever again.
Over the last two and a half years, I’ve educated myself about personal finances, joined a personal finance community, held myself accountable, developed financial theories, created a life philosophy, and experimented with various savings strategies and investments. I’ve maintained a financial advisor and continued to publish posts (although not as frequently) about my financial adventures.
The stress I had over my past failures and incompetence has transformed into a more future-focused worry. Instead of being paralyzed by my past, I am now empowered to help my future self by cleaning up my act and being proactive. For those familiar with my Traffic Light Model, I’m focused far more on the “green” than the “red.”
In short, I’ve been able to convert my stress into eustress–and I gotta say it feels way better. Sure, it’s still stress but it seems more tolerable and more actionable.
Surely, The Lady in the Black isn’t the only one on the planet to experience financial stress. In fact, all of my readers can relate. Millions of articles speak to it (just ask Google).
This article isn’t about tactical financial tips and tricks. It’s about opening your eyes to the fact that not all stress is bad.
If you are doing something to improve your financial picture then perhaps what you are feeling is eustress. And, by it’s very definition, it’s a beneficial thing.
Managing your finances can be boiled down to a shift in attitude, an attitude that that exists in real life. And, as we all know, real life can be stressful. Let’s give ourselves a break and try to view that stress as an opportunity to change and grow–both personally and financially.
So eustressing about finances? I am and it feels great.