Smart Magic: A dollar saved is a million invested

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with budgeting and keeping track of my money. Organization for that matter has always been both the life and death of me. I love being organized in all areas of life, but when life gets overwhelming, I tend to let my organization skills fall by the wayside…until things get too chaotic and I have to put everything in its place before I completely lose control.

That’s been my story with budgeting, too. I’ve always loved the idea of it and, at my dad’s request, began creating budgets and balancing my checkbook at age 14. But I quickly realized how overwhelming keeping up with monitoring my spending could be. So I gave up balancing my checkbook in high school, and have gone on-and-off the budgeting wagon since then.

But after reading helpful financial blogs, I now understand that there’s no reason to feel overwhelmed with budgeting or keeping track of money. All I needed to do all these years was simplify and change my mindset. How can keeping track of money be overwhelming if spending is limited?

Now my financial mantra is “spend less, save more.” Easy peasy. I’ve only seriously practiced this for the last two months, but even in this short time span, I’ve learned that spending less and saving more is not only doable—it’s fun.

I’m now über conscious of every dollar I spend. My dad used to tell me, “When you spend a dollar, you’ll never see it again.” While that’s true, it’s also depressing. To avoid feeling depressed about spending, I used to think, If I’ll never see these dollars again, I might as well spend them and spend them on things that I like. (A shocking thought today!)

But money doesn’t buy happiness. In fact, it bought me anxiety. I replaced the idea of never seeing spent dollars again with the notion that, every dollar not spent can turn into more dollars. Investing 101!

That idea is so validating and affirming—it makes me want to budget and keep track of my money so I can effectively save and invest more. Perhaps early retirement? Hmmm…

After slashing and decreasing expenses, I created a super simple budget with the main goal to spend as little as possible and save as much as possible (see budget below). I save all my receipts and add them up at the end of the week, which is easy because they pretty much only consist of fuel fill-ups and weekly grocery receipts.

I get to see the fruits of my labor and frugal spending in my simple Excel sheet each week. It’s fun to watch the savings grow and has become a hobby and game. The best hobby is investing in your happiness! Every time I want to buy something, I imagine my Excel sheet and remember that a dollar saved is dollars invested (and eventually a million-dollar investment!). Instead of feeling like I’m withholding something from myself by not purchasing something, I feel like I’m expanding my happiness by investing in feeling financially stress-free with a comfortable present and future.

For transparency, here is my budget. March and April see the following differences: 1) Rent was raised $250; 2) Cut my cell phone bill in half as I no longer pay for a family member’s line; 3) Canceled my Pilates membership; 4) Cleaned out my storage and eliminated the bill (blog to come!). This income is based on my day job and doesn’t include my minimal income from my small business since I invest those extra funds.

march 2017april 2017

 

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Attitude and Abundance: Why our attitude toward money matters

Welcome to my blog—thanks for reading my first post! I’m Melissa, I’m in my late-20s and am starting this blog because I’m passionate about investing in my health and wealth. I’m not interested in becoming rich or looking like a celebrity; instead, I believe in investing in health and wealth to experience freedom.

Investing in our personal health helps us to attain freedom mentally, spiritually and physically. In a healthy body, inflammation, acidity and toxins are generally not present to attack one’s happiness, spiritual practice or physical activity.

Likewise, investing in wealth helps us claim freedom financially, as well as mentally and spiritually because we’re less stressed about paying rent, accumulating debt, saving for a house, or investing in retirement.

So I strongly value health and wealth in the form of mental, spiritual, physical, and financial freedom, but what inspired me to write this blog? The short answer is that even though I was investing and saving for retirement, I realized I was wasting money on things I didn’t need and was tired of carrying around a small amount of debt.

I started reading invaluable financial blogs like Mr. Money Mustache (early retirement blog) and No More Harvard Debt by Joe Mihalic (who paid his $100,000 student loan off in seven months). Their blogs were so inspiring that I wanted to be like them—100% debt-free with plenty invested in retirement and mutual funds. So I started taking action and created this blog to help hold me accountable for and keep track of my progress on achieving those goals, as well as properly manage my money.

Life took a turn late last summer when another driver totaled my car and my friend at work helped me prepare my finances to purchase a car to replace it (the totaled car was a paid-off 2006 Corolla that I proudly took care of and planned to drive till it was un-drivable). He’d always helped me with investing strategies, but his role in my car buying experience gave me an even clearer lens to view and understand how he handles finances. I was intrigued that we make about the same income, have relatively the same bills, are the same age, and yet, he enjoys and makes purchases truly guilt-free, has a happy/zero-stress attitude toward finances (I didn’t know that was possible), and feels more secure in this area than most people I know—a stark contrast to how I felt at the time.

I listened to his theory about finances, which took him all of 10 seconds to explain: 1) Become debt-free, 2) Establish an emergency savings fund, 3) Contribute as much as you can to retirement, 4) Significantly reduce spending (only on needs until debt-free with a proper emergency savings fund and a healthy contribution toward retirement). Even simpler: spend less, save more…and you’ll have financial freedom.

It was that last part, financial freedom, that hooked me and effectively changed my attitude toward finances. He explained that financial freedom is so much more than feeling stress-free with money. At the time, I was spending my hard-earned money on Pilates, a gym membership, occasional meals out with friends, in-state weekend getaways, buying books (my indulgence instead of clothes or other wasteful shopping), and therapy. All things that I wanted, but didn’t need—things that were standing in the way of me and my financial freedom.

So now I trade eating out with going on walks and hikes with friends; I go to the library instead of purchasing books on Amazon; I stopped going to therapy (I’d completed my therapy goals long before) and stopped going on weekend trips (I live at the beach); and canceled my gym and Pilates memberships (I love Pilates and not going will feel like a terrible break-up…but I’ll gladly mend my broken heart if it means gaining financial freedom).

However, I learned that what I was spending my money on was not the source of my financial stress. The amount I was spending was not the source either, since I was still investing and not squandering away all of my income. The source of stress, it turns out, was my attitude toward finances. I resented the idea of keeping track of my money because I wanted to avoid the fact that I was spending it. Out of sight, out of mind (more accurately, stupidity and self-sabotage!). Ouch, how it stings to admit that now!

I earn enough to spend pretty much as I pleased, so I did so and figured it’d be fine. It was fine—I wasn’t in financial ruin or anything, but I wasn’t fine. The fact that I had no idea where my money was going gave me high anxiety (see how finances relate to health!). I knew I was spending it on the things I mentioned above, but since most of those items are one-time purchases and not monthly bills, it was easy to forget about them and let them go unaccounted for.

I’ve learned that financial freedom to me is not only being debt-free and saving/investing, but it means knowing where my money is going—having a sense of control over my money. It’s true that I had control over my money before, since I have free will after all, but I was exercising such poor control that it felt like a lack of control.

After slashing the unnecessary from my budget within the last few months, I paid off the little debt I had on my bank credit card and my Best Buy card two days ago (and canceled the latter). Carrying that debt around with me was a ridiculous choice, especially since I was simultaneously paying for Pilates, meals with friends and mini vacations. But, lesson learned.

So I started this blog to hold myself accountable for: 1) Keeping track of and properly managing my money, 2) Paying off a small loan and my car loan as soon as possible (the car loan balance is due back in five years, but I want to pay it off within one year), 3) Investing as much into retirement as possible, 4) Saving for a house.

I also hope that this blog will inspire others to attain financial freedom! While I feel much better than I did before talking with my coworker and getting the ball rolling on all this a few months ago, I don’t feel I have 100% financial freedom yet. But I’m hoping this blog will help get me there.

Check out my next post to see how I plan on keeping track of my money.