Talking about money matters is taboo.
Disclosing how much money we make or being open about how much debt we owe is not on the list of topics to talk about at Brunch on Sunday. It makes people uncomfortable, and as someone that has had a love-hate relationship with my finances, I understand why. Most of us are trying to navigate our monthly financially responsibilities, chase our dreams, and build our futures.
My financial struggles made it hard for me to wrap my head around starting over in a new city where the median rent is $2,480 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. I knew that surviving on my hourly rate was going to be tough. I also knew it would be even more of a challenge if I went into this new chapter of my life afraid to sit down face to face with my finances.
So, I sought counsel from the one person I knew would help me get things in order: my dad. For years, my dad would try to get me to sit down and unpack where I was financially, but I was embarrassed and afraid that he'd scold me for not being smarter about my money. I spent years and thousands of dollars chasing my dreams of being on-camera and investing in building Mae B. I also spent years saying to myself, "If I just book this gig or if this product is a bestseller, I'll be able to pay off everything."
Looking back, using potential nonexistent income to justify overspending, even if it was to make my dreams come true, wasn't reasonable. Making your dreams a reality costs money. Nearly ten years later, I realize, I didn't have to be a starving creative to bring those dreams to fruition.
Financial planning is the key to success in life and building a career.
The first thing I did to start the process of gaining control of my financial situation was to sit down and look at all of my debt, monthly bills, my FICO score, and my projected net income each month. For years, I dreaded looking my debt. In my mind, I felt that if I just made my monthly payments and looked a way that somehow my debt would magically disappear. I was wrong.
Here is how I'm taking control of my financials while chasing my dreams:
Draft An Excel Spreadsheet
We're lucky to live in a digital world that allows us to check our account balance in seconds. But, what happens when you go out over the weekend, those pending charges hit your account, and the next thing you know you're staring at an overdraft fee? Annoying, right?
I no longer use an app to curate my finances. I use an old school excel spreadsheet. I set my budget on the first of every month, and each Sunday, I check in to see where I am for the month. Seeing my bills, debt, and disposable income has helped me organize my money —and save twenty percent of my income each month (I'll talk more about that later).
Mint offers some great free budget templates that can act as samples you can work with when creating your own budget.
Get Rid of Lingering Credit Card Debt
I have carried the shame of digging myself into a $10,000 debit hole for longer than I care to admit, but now that I am looking my credit card debt square in the eye, I feel empowered. After looking at each credit card, the outstanding balance, and its interest rate — my dad recommended I focus on paying off my Discover card first. Why? Well, it has the highest interest rate out of all of my cards. With a twenty percent interest rate, I was never going to pay off my balance paying my seventy dollars minimum payment each month. Each month, I have a recurring payment of $150, and I often contribute more if I have money left over for the month.
Have Multiple Streams of Income
If the objective is to secure the bag, you must have multiple streams of income. In a panel, Paula Madison (If you don't know her, you should) gave the best advice. She said your full-time job should be your side hustle. Now, that doesn't mean neglect the nine to five that keeps the lights on and food on the table, but there is value in pursuing things you're passionate about outside of your job.
As a freelancer, I can bounce from gig to gig, but freelancing also has its flaws. No health insurance, no job security, and when our contracts are up (usually three to six months), you have to find your next job. So, I always have an extra stream of income. It's a great way to impact your savings, pay off your debts, and build on something you love. I used to think of extra income as throw away money, but now I see it as extra money to save. There are opportunities everywhere to make a few extra dollars, whether you freelance write on the weekends or bake cakes for a few parties each month.
Plan For The Future
When you're young and ambitious, retirement might not be a top priority. CNN Money released a reporting stating that sixty-six percent of millennials have nothing saved for retirement. As a millennial that only has a few thousand dollars saved for retirement, I can relate. I also recognize this is something I need to fix. If I don't start saving for retirement now, I am mapping out a financial path similar to the one I was on for the last ten years. I have opened an IRA, but if I'm honest, I'm still learning how to save properly for retirement. With guidance from my financially savvy dad and articles like this one, I think I am headed in the right direction.
We can't forget to grow our savings account. It is a rule of thumb that we should save at least twenty percent of our monthly income. With student loans, health care (my premium is almost $300 a month.), and unforeseen expenses that can be hard to do. Instead of waiting until the end of the month to save twenty percent, I break my earnings down for the week like I do my expenses for the month. I pay my bills, shop for groceries, and whatever is left over at the end of the week, I save. Sometimes it's only ten percent of my earning, but it's something.
Trim The Unnecessary Spending
When I started my new gig in LA, I was throwing away money on morning coffee, fifteen dollar lunch dates, and UBER since I am one of the only people in LA that doesn't drive. If I was going to stay the course and continue to work on my finances, I had to rein in the miscellaneous spending. I saw the most significant difference in my monthly expenses when I cut out UBER and started taking public transportation. Taking public transit in Los Angeles isn't ideal. It's slow and dirty, but the bus stop is right outside of my house. Each morning, I take a bus to a train and walk a mile to get to work.
A commute like that coupled with the homelessness I take in every day does wear on me (Los Angeles County has the second largest population of homeless people of any region in the United States), but it keeps me humble. Not to mention, I am saving nearly ninety dollars a week. I have cut out all of my excess spending, including online shopping, three dollar morning coffee, and fifteen dollar lunch dates, and have committed to meal prepping each Sunday. I am living a no-frills lifestyle, but I don't mind. I am learning to be financially disciplined.
I understand that sacrificing now will set me up to live a debt-free, financially healthy life later.
I don't have this financial game down just yet, but the key is starting somewhere. If that means cutting weekend brunches, saving fifty dollars more each month, or picking up a job to bring in extra cash, small changes can make an impact. In the last six months, I paid off one credit card, saved twenty percent of my earnings (My savings account has never looked so good!), and changed my relationship with money.
Take it a day at a time, and if you have an off month don't beat yourself up about it. We're human, and it takes time to create new habits.