Four years ago, I graduated from college with a degree in international business and finance. But there was something critical that my professors did not teach me: how to manage my own personal finances. My knowledge in that area was limited to a handful of conversations with my dad over the years about how to save and invest.
In high school I had been able to build up some savings from two part-time jobs, but once I got to college, the money didn't last long because I wasn't spending mindfully. After I graduated, I struggled with maintaining long-term money goals. Over 50% of my paycheck went to nonessentials: random purchases and going out with friends.
When I was 22, my bank account had a zero balance, I was being hit with constant overdraft charges, my investments were minimal, I had severely low credit, and I was very depressed. I knew that something had to change. At 26, I'm in a much better place. My credit score has stayed at 770 for the last two years, I have $20,000 in investments, no debt on my credit card, and $50,000 in savings.
At the beginning of 2020, I started a financial blog called No Brainer Wealth that focuses on educating people about the link between financial and mental health because I wanted to help people in the same boat I had been in. Since launching the site, it's become a source of income in addition to my freelancing writing side hustle and my day job as a junior accountant.
Here are the steps I recommend to people who want to turn their financial lives around the way I did.
When I first started changing my money habits, I pored over personal development books and blogs. But it was when I came across a book called "Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation" by Bob Roth that things started to click into place.
I had a moment of clarity hit at the end of a session of Bikram yoga. During the savasana pose, the instructor said, "This practice will eventually pour over into other areas of your life." That off-the-cuff comment empowered me to approach my finances with the same methodical calm that I used during meditation.
I went home and started by writing down what money was coming in, what I was saving, and what I was spending. I figured out how much I needed to cut down on my monthly expenses to consistently put money into an emergency fund and start growing my investments.
The next thing I did was reach out to the financial bloggers whose stories had inspired me to ask them how they got to where they were.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
To my gratitude and surprise, many of the bloggers I contacted wrote me back. They gave me some solid pieces of advice that made me feel less overwhelmed now that I had clear steps I could take.
I automated all of my expenses, including my credit card bill. I started an Excel sheet of every fixed and variable expense. And I downloaded a budgeting app.
Over six months, by staying the course and keeping an accurate inventory of each cash outflow and inflow, I saved over $25,000.
It wasn't always easy but as of June of 2020, at 26, I'd saved $50,000 and graduated with my master's degree in finance. I was able to pay for my courses with my savings. While I do still have school loan payments that amount to $990 each month, I have five years to pay off the loan, and putting many of the payments upfront reduced the duration of the loan.
In 2017, I was in graduate school and I decided that I really wanted to save more. At the time my essential expenses were rent, gas for my car, groceries, and utilities. I also had some outstanding medical bills from a hospital stay in 2014. I had to set up a small payment plan to cover the medical expenses, and my father agreed to contribute a small portion.
I knew that I wasn't going to get to my goal overnight. But thanks to incremental progress and consistent small changes, I was able to make it happen.
On the advice of one of my mentors, who was a certified financial planner and blogger, I started going over my bank statements each week. It was a game-changer to see my daily spending laid out in front of me rather than a big, intimidating bill at the end of every month.
This strategy also helped me end the cycle that I had been in for the last four years as I struggled to raise my credit score above 500. Having this information made it easier to meet my credit card payments each month, rather than paying late, overly relying on my debit card, and racking up overdraft charges.
On my 24th birthday, I applied for a new credit card. With a lot of determination and patience, I was able to pay off in full each month and maintain a credit utilization ratio of 9%-11%. Doing this made it possible to eventually transition to a travel rewards credit card. I currently have over 63,000 travel rewards points.
In addition to my budgeting, throughout grad school I took on some odd jobs like selling books I did not use on Amazon, participating in surveys, and writing blog posts for other people's blogs. All that helped me lay the groundwork for launching No Brainer Wealth.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
At the start of each month, I'm now able to project my fixed costs and variable costs. Usually, things such as rent and my utilities are fixed costs. Variable costs can be groceries or going out to eat once in a blue moon.
Challenges and setbacks always pop up, like when some medical issues surrounding my Type 1 diabetes became an issue. Recently I changed endocrinologists to help manage my diabetes better. My insurance covering these visits are a bit expensive but the benefits outweigh the costs by far.
Throughout my journey, I learned that there is always a strategy to stay mentally strong even under stressful times. For me, that can be as simple as handwriting every expense and keeping an up-to-date Excel sheet to help me pinpoint my spending and project how much I will have saved.
For anyone struggling with finances right now, my best advice is to reach out to people who can be mentors and a support system for you as you work to meet your goals. No one can do it alone, and having a community behind you can make all the difference.
Austin Wolfe educates individuals on how mental health and finances affect one another. Austin was featured on Minority Mindset, Seeking Alpha, and Family Money Adventures. He also runs a financial blog called No Brainer Wealth, which dives into behavioral finance. On the side, Austin loves Bikram Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, and spending quality time with his family.
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