How to be a Badass with Money: Building a Foundation for Financial Success

Career and Finance Personal Development

This week I want to talk about everyone’s favorite subject, money management! *crowd goes wild*

In my early twenties, I remember thinking that I didn’t want or need that much money. I didn’t yearn for flashy things, so I would be fine, right? However as I went through life, I realized that the cost of living was more expensive than I thought…student loans, retirement, down payments…ai yi yi! Furthermore, I underestimated how my seemingly non-financial goals were influenced by money, even if it was subtle. Things like being independent, having flexibility/choices, a healthy lifestyle… Money may not outright buy happiness, but it can aid in giving you security, freedom, health, and ease if used in the right way.

So, into the research I dove – reading books, blogs, and online forums regularly to try and wrap my head around the personal finance world. As I read online forums and chatted with people around me, I realized how much of a struggle and stress money is for so many, even those with very well-paying jobs. A lot of people on forums lamented that if they had only known more about money management sooner, their life would be different. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is extremely expensive when it comes to personal finance.

Money has a tremendous influence and impact on our lives, yet we shy away from discussing it. Much of how we handle money comes down to our beliefs and values, which is why I’m going to share some of the key money principles that helped me create a foundation for personal finance in my twenties. I’m framing these principles under the “4 Nuggets of Wisdom” which I shared in this post, to illustrate how having a sturdy foundation can impact your financial life. It’s a holistic approach!

Applying the 4 nuggets of wisdom to personal finance:

If they can do it, you can do it

  • You are capable of understanding and managing your personal finances. It is not as complex as you think!
  • You are capable of earning and building wealth to fulfill your dreams.

Challenge your ingrained beliefs about money.

It kills me when I talk to another twenty-something and I hear them say something along the lines of “Finances are too confusing! I just don’t get it.” and shrug in defeat. I had a friend who had a mountain of student loan debt and it was a terrible monkey on her back. Instead of facing it head on, she ran from it because it was unknown and scary, and often bemoaned how she didn’t understand or know what to do. But with some effort and research, she could’ve mapped a plan to a better future. It may have been a long road, but it’s better to start sooner than later when it comes to money, as time is either hurting or helping you (#compoundinterest). Have courage to pull back the curtain, review a holistic picture of your financial situation, and create an actionable plan. Get that monkey off your back!

Once you start to learn more, you’ll find that basic money management is not as complicated as you believe. There are numerous online resources, calculators, spreadsheets to help educate you — all free and available! If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll actually start to enjoy it once you hone in on your personal aspirations.

Opinions have no power over you

  • Remember, you don’t need to impress people. You are confident in who you are and care little about what others think.
  • Don’t keep up with the joneses.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all spent money to fit in or impress someone (I didn’t buy that red dress for nothing, amiright?). This is normal and fine in moderation, but can become a costly problem especially when relying on others for validation. Let your self-confidence and self-worth be a reminder that you don’t need that validation to come from the outside.

Don’t compare your personal finance journey to another. First of all, there’s always someone worse or better off. Second, there are so many factors that play into why a person is at a certain point in their financial journey that you just can’t compare. Maybe their college was paid for, but you have student loan debt. Perhaps they received an inheritance, but you came from a lower class background. They have a dual-income household with no kids, and you have five with a single earner. The list goes on and on. Third, you never truly know someone’s financial situation, because #debt is real. Sometimes the poorest people look rich and the rich look poor. In conclusion, there’s no point in trying to “keep up” with anyone – it is not a competition. It’s about using money as a tool to live your happiest life, defined by the one and only you (+SO if that applies).

Make yourself proud

  • Spend money on things that will bring you meaningful happiness.
  • Align your personal finance goals with your life goals and prioritize accordingly. As Suze Orman says: “First people, then money, then things.”

Set goals, have a plan, and hey – maybe even a budget. The hard part about money is not the numbers, it’s the human part. It’s psychological. I found that setting short, mid, and long-term financial goals helped motivate me to manage my money (and stick with it) because it gave me a vision of the future. It showed me what I could achieve with discipline. Having real targets and a plan will hopefully help direct your money in an intentional, deliberate way that will bring meaningful happiness (not just another sweater or gadget lost in the back of your closet). 

Ensure your personal finance goals align with your life goals, and reflect back on them often. It’s easy to get carried away when making a big purchase, so that’s a good time to review your overarching life goals and ask yourself how the purchase fits in to the life you want to live. On the flip side, it’s also easy to get consumed by your money goals, which may make you lose focus of what’s truly important to you. Aligning these aspirations will hopefully help remind you of what’s actually important (family, friends, being charitable), and keep you grounded.

Finally, prioritizing your goals helps identify the trade-offs associated with a purchase. Do I want to spend 30k on a car over 5 years, or do I want to buy something cheaper and use the extra dough towards a house in 5 years? Depending on your priorities, you may have different answers. The important aspect is to understand the tradeoff you are making by spending your money in one way or another, and the impact it will have on your other goals.

Get after it!

  • Earn it!
  • Manage it!

You understand the basics, are focused on your own goals, and have a plan. Now, it’s time to get to work and make it a reality! Goals not mapping out? What expenses can you cut? How can you increase your income? It’s a two-part effort.

Part of money management is the hustle, baby. Figuring out how to earn it and looking for ways to increase your income – a promotion, new job, side hustle, etc. That might mean you go back to school. It depends on who you are and what skills you have, but remember – you’re capable, so don’t stop pushing.

However, it won’t get you any closer to your goals if your spending increases in parallel with your income (aka lifestyle inflation). Value that hard-earned money. Track where it goes, and find a way to stick to your goals/plans/budget. There are a bunch of tactics for doing this, but you’ll have to find a way to make it work for your personality and spending habits. Some management tactics include:

  • Make debt payments automatic
  • Deduct savings from your paycheck automatically into a separate account
  • Only pay for things in cash
  • Include a “fun” category in your budget
  • Use a spreadsheet/receipts to track spending
  • Use an app or program to track spending (YNAB or Mint, for example)
  • Writing your goals down on an index card and carrying it around as a reminder
  • Calculating how many hours of work a purchase requires ($30 sweater = 2 hours of work at $15/hr)
  • Adding items to an online cart and then closing the tab (to get a shopping fix)

Resources

Here are just a few of the resources I’ve used along the way. As with anything, consume the information and apply the bits and pieces that you need.

These are the philosophies and resources that helped me navigate the financial aspect of my life in my twenties. I’m always learning more, but hopefully this helps kick start your financial journey so you can live your ideal life! One last note – while money management is an important life skill, remember that there are much more important aspects of life. The presence or lack of money does not define your self-worth.