I remember a day in the late 90’s. More precisely, I remember a particular episode of self talk back in the summer of 1998. At the time I was living in St. Louis and was only a couple short years out of grad school. I don’t know exactly what prompted this specific contemplation but it was about money.
It was often about money in those days. I was learning about money but in a slow and passive sort of way. I had a degree in Finance and an MBA. And in a very tangible way, I was better equipped to dissect a corporate balance sheet that I was to balance my own budget. Sure, it could be called a shortcoming of my education, or a degree of hubris in my thinking, but in reality it was case of too much personal in my personal finance management.
When I graduated school and took my first ‘real’ job, I was making more money than I had ever made in my life. My previous feelings of having money came at the end of 50 hour weeks of landscaping during college summers for what now passes for little more than minimum wage. This was different. I was in my mid 20’s making in the mid 30’s and it was supposed to be a good set-up.
That is, until I quickly realized that more money than I’d ever made does not equate to more money that I knew what to do with. No, there was an apartment to rent and then outfit, and new work clothes to purchase, and of course a new car. The money went fast, it always did, and I often found myself thinking about it.
Had I only stopped in a bookstore and searched out a title to help me collect a perspective on my musings then perhaps today’s reality, which is not bad by any stretch, would be considerably different. But that would have been proactive or reactive learning and I was still passive on the matter.
In those days when I thought about money, it was always wrapped in a feeling of helplessness. Finances happened to me rather than me happening to my finances. The only way for me to gain control, or so I was convinced, would be to earn my way out of my hole. I did not believe (or want to believe) that my behaviors at that time could contribute, it was only my ability and luck in securing large raises. No, I’d have to earn enough money to catch-up and pass my levels of consumption.
And so there I was, speeding south on I-270 and thinking about money. I suppose it was a lottery sign or casino billboard or even a song lyric that spurred my thought train. I started thinking about winning a huge sum of money. But I paused, and thought not about a mega windfall, but a more modest amount. I started to ponder how I’d define a “life altering” sum of money. Sure, $100 million is life altering, but so too is a smaller amount. Perhaps even a much smaller amount. I started to calculate my debt – a frequent topic in my money musings – credit card, student loans, car… the usual suspects… and a few extra dollars in the bank just in case.
Yep, $50,000 was all it would take. That amount of money would have changed my life at that moment in time.
But a funny thing happened on my way to 50k. I was both right and wrong about earning my way out of my hole. Yes, in the ensuing years I’ve managed to grow my income by that $50,000 and even more. Had my hole not grown proportionally with my income, I’d be years closer to basking on the beach by now. But no, homes had to be purchased, and outfitted, vacations had to be taken, and Harley’s ridden.
My spending grew at a rate that continued to exceed my enhanced income. This was the pattern until the summer of 2007 when my life changing dollar amount swelled to well over $425,000. An unbelievable number even as I triple check the figures.
It was during this summer than I finally became proactive. I started listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast and devoured his books. I sold a rental property and sold out on getting out of debt. My number today is still large at just over $200k but it is almost all mortgage, whereas my original calculation was all consumer debt.
I flipped the switch from passive to active, I happened to my finances rather than vice versa, I recognized and reduced risk, I enforced a written budget, and most importantly I shed my feelings of helplessness. My beliefs and plans and actions empowered me. Finally, after too many years, I felt control over my finances and my financial future and it was (and is) a fantastic realization.
Perhaps the phrase “if I can do it, so can you”, is the most over used expression when selling a product or service, but it’s the only one that truly fits this occasion. I suppose since I’m not selling anything, that the words carry more weight, and I certainly hope so.
Instead of selling, I’m actually giving. When I launched this site I prepared all of my personal budgets and spreadsheets as downloadable documents on this site. I don’t reference them as much as I once did and I want to circle back to them more often. I’m planning to start a series in which I step through each of those documents to breathe new life and recognition into those tools and to introduce them to my newer readers.
Here is a link to a summary of each of my budget tools – each is accessible from this page. If you take a look at these and have any questions or need any assistance implementing them in your situation please let me know. I welcome questions or requests for assistance. I’d love to come back in a couple months and roll out a series of reader Q&A’s based on these resources.
Thanks for indulging my money minded recollections, and best of luck to you as you take charge of your financial futures.
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