When I got my first full-time paycheck, the last thing on my mind was retirement. I was so excited to be able to pay my bills without stress and not have to check my bank account every time I went out with friends. It was such a relief to finally be in a viable financial position! The one thing that weighed on me most financially was my student loan debt. For the first time, I actually had to stare the numbers in the face and make a solid repayment plan. It felt like this enormous monkey on my back and I wanted it off as soon as possible. So I decided to make a beeline toward repaying my student loan debt with any extra money that came my way.
Sometimes the smallest questions can lead to the biggest changes.
For me, it started with a road trip, too many hours in the car, a needling desire for change, and one small question: “What if?” And it ended with a brave decision to sell our 4-bedroom suburban house and move to a 2-bedroom apartment in downtown Minneapolis.
One of the hazards of dating a financial blogger is that you have to — I mean, get to — talk about money a LOT. Right from the beginning, my now-husband learned that there was no financial topic that was off limits for me. Thankfully, he was a great sport about participating in these conversations. It took us awhile to find an approach that worked for us, but by the time we got married we knew just about every in-and-out about each other’s financial lives.
As a kid, I loved staying at a hotel — especially if it had an indoor pool. But what really amazed me was room service. I would see trays from dinner outside of other people’s rooms or signs hanging off their door for tomorrow’s breakfast order. That was the epitome of luxury. I longed for the day that I’d be able to order it for myself.
By far, the number one question I receive as a financial educator is: “How much do I need to retire?” Sometimes people will even blurt out this question the minute they walk into a seminar, as if there’s one magic number that I can share with them. But the truth is, there isn’t one. There isn’t one magic retirement goal number that works for every situation – in fact, I’d venture to guess that every single person I meet has an entirely different number.
Should you or should you not indulge in that latte?
Over the summer, as some of you may have seen, the conversation about coffee and money among financial experts reached a fever pitch. With some financial experts using $5 lattes as one example of why Americans are ill-prepared for retirement. And others lashing back, encouraging you to buy your latte AND invest.
Last December, my husband and I joined my parents to celebrate my dad’s birthday in Chicago. It was a wonderful weekend getaway filled with museums, shopping, tasty food, Christmas lights, and lots of walking. But the highlight of the trip for us was that we took my parents to a nice restaurant and actually succeeded in paying for their dinner.
Why is fun always the first thing to go? The first thing that tends to get cut from the budget when money gets tight are the things we love the most, like eating out, entertainment, or coffee from a favorite coffee shop. But while it might be necessary to make some adjustments, don’t let it be at the cost of joy in your life.
Is there anything sexier than talking about budgets, compound interest, and debt? I get it … at face value money sounds like a really dull topic at best and a really prickly one to discuss with your partner at worst. But trust me: Talking about money, especially when you do it on a regular basis, can and will create intimacy in your relationship.
A couple years ago, my husband and I decided to buy a new TV. Ours was on the fritz and it was approaching the Super Bowl so TVs were on deep discount at Costco. While we hadn’t planned on this expense, between the cushion in our budget and some savings, we were able to pay for the TV out of pocket. But what if we had put this amount on a credit card?
What motivates you more, time or money? For me, it’s time all the way. I long for more concentrated time with my spouse, more time to spend with my family and friends, and more time off from work to go on adventures. Making my budget work with my salary has never been an issue — but having control over my time? That’s vitally important to me. I keep a detailed spreadsheet of how I’m spending my PTO. And flexible scheduling (like half-day Fridays in the summer) and the ability to work from home are two of the things I like best about my current job.
I have to admit that I didn’t give my student loans very much thought until I graduated from graduate school. By that point, I had been accruing debt for nearly six years. In college, even though I knew there was debt involved, I lived blissfully unaware of how much I was really racking up in the background between tuition and living expenses. By the time I got to graduate school, and had the reality check that most college seniors get during their final month before graduation, I was paying a little more attention and tried very hard to be extra careful about my budget so I added as little as possible to my college debt. But still most days, it didn’t register on my financial radar screen.
About five years ago, I was able to surprise my husband with a little getaway adventure to a historic B&B in Stillwater, MN, about a half-hour from our home. As we got off the highway and caught a glimpse of the river and quaint main street downtown, it felt like we’d traveled to another world. After an amazing dinner at a wine bar, a relaxing night at the B&B, a multi-course breakfast in bed (delivered by picnic basket), and a morning walking around the shops downtown, we felt rested, refreshed, and reconnected to one another. We were back home by Saturday afternoon feeling like we’d fit an entire vacation into one 24-hour period.
About a year after I finished graduate school, my grandfather passed away unexpectedly. My husband and I were exactly a year out from our wedding. I still remember getting the call as my mother-in-law and I were driving home from wedding dress shopping. I was working hard to save up for my contribution to the wedding and pay off at least one of my student loans before I said “I do.” It seemed like every dollar that came through my bank account was already earmarked and accounted for. My mom asked: “Can you come home for the funeral?”
There was a time in my life when it seemed like the only appropriate gift for me (or any of my girlfriends) was body lotion. Every Christmas, every birthday, every graduation always seemed to bring me Peony lotion from Bath & Body Works. The funniest part for me: I hated the smell of it! But isn’t “fancy” body lotion what every teenage girl wanted?
I remember the first time I tasted financial freedom. I was a year or so into my first full-time job and I had finally gotten the hang of budgeting and covering all of my needs. I had a plan to repay my student loans and build my emergency fund, so I could finally save toward something I wanted with what was left over. That was the moment when money became not just frugal but fun to me. Because all of my bases were covered, I had the freedom to choose and pursue my next goal.
When my husband and I first met, I was a graduate student working about 15 hours/week and living as frugally as I could. He was an art student who also worked full-time at the front desk of a hotel. I kid you not, when we met I thought my husband was rich. He lived in a 1-bedroom apartment — by himself, with laundry in unit! He even had cable TV. Seriously, what more could you want? I was living in an apartment near my school with a roommate, uneven floors, and laundry a parking lot away. To me, he was the paragon of adult living.
Have you ever heard someone say “money is just a piece of paper”? I get where they are coming from – it really is just a piece of paper. But what it represents and the power that we give to money can make it so much more (or so much less). Much of how we view and use money is forged in our early years by watching the people we love handle it. We take on the positive behaviors they taught us, but we may also bring with it their fears, anxieties, and blind spots about money as well.
After my husband Tyler’s accident last year, one of my first thoughts was: We don’t have a will. We’re both young and healthy, so it had never risen to the top of our to-do list. As I contemplated how quickly things could have turned out differently, the questions started to pop up. Like, all of our joint-owned property would come to me, but what about the things my spouse owned separately? And, what if we were both killed in a car accident — then what would happen?