Tag Archives: Money

All About the Acronyms, Baby! (Keeping Up With the HENRYs?)

As winter turned to spring, I was enjoying a walk around my school when I bumped into one of my colleagues. Apparently, word had gotten around that my wife and I had paid off my student loans in record time, even though I had only told one person. The employee offered me her congratulations, and I politely thanked her.

“Must be nice that you and your wife are DINKS,” she continued.

“Excuse me?” I questioned, doing a very poor job at trying not to appear insulted.

“What? You know. . . DINKS. Double income, no kids,” she quickly responded.

With many of my employees, I had developed a reputation as “The Money Guy,” so you can imagine my embarrassment over having never heard of this term before.

“Ohhhh, right!” I said. “You’re right; it is pretty nice.”

THE BENEFITS OF BEING DINKS

Being DINKs is pretty nice, indeed. Among the many benefits Mrs. Superhero and I experience as a result of our status, I value

  • Healthy discretionary income within our monthly budget
  • Freedom to do what we want on our own time
  • The ability to cash-flow unexpected expenses rather than raiding our emergency fund
  • Time and resources to spoil our two dogs
  • The ability to focus on our careers and side hustles
  • Frequent travel opportunities (even if we often decline the opportunities as they arise)
  • The ability to focus on our marriage and enjoy time with each other

Please don’t misunderstand me. My wife and I love kids. We are both educators, and Mrs. Superhero operates a very large and successful private music studio in addition to her public school teaching career. We spend more time with kids than we do with each other. There is a part of both of us that cannot wait to have children of our own.

However, we are currently striving to make the most of our DINK status. We are in full-blown hustle mode in the present because we know that children will occupy our time in ways which we do not yet fully comprehend (this will be a good thing). We know that children will bring us immeasurable joy, and that joy will be an asset greater than lavish sums of money, yachts, lake houses, and luxury vehicles (having never possessed any of these things before, I’m making assumptions). Right now, time is our asset, and we are seeking to maximize it while we are DINKs.

There’s just one problem.

The DINK acronym strikes me as personally insulting, though not for the reasons you’re likely expecting.

A meme which is accurate for some people - just not us
A meme which is accurate for some people – just not us

EVERY DAY WE’RE HUSTLIN’

The above meme is admittedly hilarious, and for me and Mrs. Superhero, it’s pretty accurate. That is, until we get to the final slide.

While the “DINK Life” affords many couples the freedom to pursue a wide variety of leisurely pursuits, Mrs. Superhero and I live a different kind of lifestyle.

As I mentioned, my wife is a public school teacher. Even if we (erroneously and hilariously) assumed that she worked only 40 hours in her day job, that would be respectable. As a fellow teacher, I know several teachers who put in 40 hours or less and appear beaten to a pulp at the end of every school day. Not my wife.

When the school day ends and many teachers are heading home, Mrs. Superhero enjoys a brief intermission before the “side hustle” begins. On any given day, she teaches private piano, voice, and flute lessons in our home music studio for 2-4 hours. She is a wise, self-made entrepreneur who runs a home-based business with minimal overhead. She also seeks opportunities to employ her superior piano skills by accompanying musicians at a variety of contests throughout the year.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s three “jobs.” She easily works over 65 hours per week.

Even though I write a sometimes-serious, sometimes-silly blog about my personal experiences with money, I hate talking about myself, so I’ll keep this section brief. I am a public school teacher by day, financial consultant by afternoon, and blogger by night. In a matter of weeks, I will also add part-time real estate broker’s agent to my work slate.

DINKsSide note #1: Can anyone comment on the legality of using my HSA funds to have a coffee IV port permanently installed in my left arm?

Side note #2: I used to try to fight my inner-workaholic, but now I have given up and chosen to embrace this tendency.

Scoreboard: Four “jobs” for me.

Our combined total: Seven “jobs.”

Since the acronym SINKs (single income, no kids) is already taken and is not eligible to denote “seven incomes, no kids,” I’m going to go ahead and coin a new term for those couples who have multiple income streams and no kids:

MINKs.

Multiple incomes, no kids.

I should probably trademark that one and put it on a T-shirt before someone else beats me to it.

OTHER ACRONYMS

This piece would be incomplete without a survey of other money-related acronyms. Here are a few of my favorites:

HENRYs – High earners, not rich yet

SINKs – Single income, no kids

SISSI – Single income supporting spouse’s interests

DINGO – Dual incomes, never go out

DINE – Dual incomes, never enough

MAID – Master (of) Arts, infinite debt

ERROR – Empty refrigerator, running on ramen

HAGGLE – Hired after graduation, got lucky everyone

(not writing the acronym because you, dear reader, are smart) – Financially unaware college kids

SHORT-TERM SACRIFICE FOR LONG-TERM GAINS

I am certain that many readers have completely misunderstood me and Mrs. Superhero by now. On the surface, it may appear to some that we are greedy, senselessly money-driven, and maybe even self-obsessed.

Over the years, I have learned that it is not actions alone, but the underlying motivations of one’s actions, which are deserving of scrutiny.

In this sense, I believe we pass the test.

My wife and I aren’t working and earning to inflate our current lifestyle, live it up in the present, and run the risk of burn-out. No, we are sacrificing in the short-term in order to build our ability to focus on what is truly important to us five, ten, and twenty years from now. In a culture which places the highest value on instant gratification, we are embracing the opposite.

Once in a while,  when it feels like I’m burning the wick at both ends, I like to hit the streets for an evening run and clear my head. Invariably, my thoughts drift and I begin to form visions of the future: our future kids playing in the yard, sending them off to college without any debt, walking my daughters down the aisle on their wedding days, and taking the entire family, grandchildren included, on a two-week getaway to Disney World. Those thoughts are the magical panacea for my weariness.

In the moment, those visions represent the future, but it is a future worth working for and waiting for, even when it is difficult. On the particularly tough days, I recall one of my favorite Zig Ziglar quotes:

It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.


Readers, what are your favorite money acronyms? Which one best describes your current situation? Do you have any suggestions for new money acronyms?

20 Budgeting Tips for Singles – A Bachelor’s (or Bachelorette’s) Guide

Last week, the state of Illinois finally passed what I would describe as a “Band-Aid” budget. While politicians largely celebrated this move and patted themselves on the back, their budget does very little to solve the gaping wound that is the state of financial chaos in which Illinois currently finds itself.

As I read the headlines and a few articles, I marveled at the difficulty the legislature faced in passing a budget. As you may or may not know, Illinois recently went an entire fiscal year without a budget. This standoff made previous budget delays (18 days in 1991, multiple delays of several weeks in the 2000s, and the bitter standoffs of recent years) look like small blips on the radar.

While Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan set aside partisan gridlock long enough to pass a budget, public schools, state universities, and social service agencies are from celebrating. To the detriment of the citizens of Illinois, the finger pointing between Republicans and Democrats will surely resume and intensify in the next months.

Right around the time that Governor Rauner was delivering his press conference regarding the new budget, I sat down to review my planned budget for July 2016. Since September 2009, I have created a unique monthly budget using Gazelle Budget, the online software platform created Dave Ramsey’s team at Ramsey Solutions. That makes 71 unique budgets. It felt good to add yet another accomplishment to the mental list of ways in which I put the state of Illinois to shame.

MY FIRST BUDGET

As I often do when completing a budget, I took a look through the archives to see how Mrs. Superhero and I have come. My trek brought me back to September 2009, the month in which I created my very first budget.

In September 2009, I was a newly-employed, engaged bachelor, living independently for the first time in my life. Less than one week before the new public school year started, I accepted a job offer to teach music about 25 miles away from my university campus. With a week to prepare, I scrambled to locate housing, sign my contract, and prepare for a radical life change.

At the time, I had barely a tiny inkling of how to responsibly manage my money. I had recently read The Total Money Makeover in record speed, but I didn’t know the first thing about budgeting an “adult” paycheck. This was going to be the first time I had ever earned a paycheck which included a comma in the amount field!

After reading about Gazelle Budget (which is being replaced soon by EveryDollar), I purchased an 18 month membership, which included access to all three hours (ad free) of the Dave Ramsey Show podcast, for $89.95. Moments later, I created my first budget.

In all its glory, my very first monthly budget, from September 2009
In all its glory, my very first monthly budget, from September 2009

I began by projecting my total net income for the month, $2,357.29 in total. In that moment, I recall feeling pretty wealthy. I continued by inputting my desired charitable giving ($236 – 10%), rent ($400 – I rented a room in a two-bedroom condo from a friend-of-a-friend), food ($305 – for groceries and restaurants), and my debt obligations ($50 car payment and $200 credit card bill). From that point, I filled out the budget with an estimate of utilities, transportation (gas, car insurance, and routine maintenance), clothing (new work clothes and change for laundry), personal spending (spending money blow money Starbucks fund, books, gifts, hair cut, toiletries, and the Gazelle Budget subscription), and savings (emergency fund and honeymoon fund).

As you can see above, my projections for spending (middle column) were not entirely accurate when compared with my actual spending (leftmost column) at the end of the month. In fact, despite projecting a zero-based budget, I spent more money than I earned in September 2009.

This was hardly a Superhero effort.

On the other hand, the percentages of my categorical spending mimicked responsible spending.

Budget Percentages 1

Budget percentages 8-11
Categorical budgeted spending as a percentage of net income, September 2009

THE TROUBLE WITH PROJECTIONS

For the first full month of living on my own, I updated my budget on a daily basis. I kept a stack of receipts for all cash purchases and utilized internet banking to reconcile all other transactions. Yet despite my diligence, I was still brand-new to the process of budgeting.

As you can see below, I overspent considerably on food and personal spending; I had budgeted a combined $572.29, approximately 24% of my net income, but at the end of the month, I had spent a combined $761.58, approximately 32% of net income.

When I broke these spending figures down further, I discovered that I had spent $156.50 at restaurants and $80.77 at Starbucks.

Ouch.

My First Budget - Spending
20 TIPS FOR THE BACHELOR’S OR BACHELORETTE’S BUDGET

I chose to present the above figures for two primary reasons. First, I wanted to prove that it is possible to build and maintain a monthly budget as a single person. Second, I wanted to be fully transparent about my early mistakes.

Yes, creating a budget is not always easy. It isn’t the cool thing to do, especially as a young 20-something fresh out of college. Even at age 30, I can still recall the temptation to throw caution to the wind and live it up. Heck, I almost went out and leased a car!

However, I still recall one of the most powerful motivators for a 20-something single: the desire to prove one’s independence. Creating a budget is one of the best ways to set out to accomplish this goal and appear to be an adult. If you don’t manage your money responsibly, you will surely appear to be a child to you parents and extended family.

To win with money as a bachelor or bachelorette, follow these 20 tips.

20 BUDGETING TIPS FOR SINGLES - TW

1. Share costs with a roommate.

In my case, I avoided spending $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and spent $400 to rent a home in a two-bedroom condo. By sharing costs in this manner, I avoided spending 40% of my net income on housing costs.

Housing is by far the biggest budget buster for the average bachelor or bachelorette. Spending within this category can be a difference-maker.

2. Gather an accurate picture of your monthly debt obligations.

When you are just starting out, you will feel the temptation to delay examining your debts, particularly if your student loans are still in deferment. Avoiding your debts will not make them go away, so gather this information, including total principal, interest rates, minimum payments, and loan terms for each debt. If you’re unsure or unclear about any debts, contact the appropriate customer service department right away. Also, you should check your credit report; remember, this can be done free of charge once per year with each of the major credit reporting bureaus.

3. Prepare your own meals and cook at home as much as possible.

As a single young adult, preparing your own meals will accomplish two goals: you will save money, and you will not gain weight eating low nutrition/high calorie fast food. As an added bonus, you will be able to host your dates for dinner and impress them with your fine culinary skills. They’ll expect Ramen, and you’ll blow them away with shrimp creole!

Ladies, don’t forget, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

4. Maintain a college lifestyle, at least in terms of spending.

When your first paycheck rolls in, you will immediately experience the temptation to buy everything in sight. If you establish an unreasonable level of spending out of the gate, you will set yourself up for failure. As much as possible, continue to live a college lifestyle (i.e. behave as if you are poor), within reason, of course.

5. Do not go out and buy a new (or new to you) vehicle.

You need to get used to living on a budget first in order to determine what you can or cannot afford in a new vehicle. Don’t allow pride and vanity to influence your decision-making process. If your current vehicle gets you from point A to B, it’s a keeper – at least for a few months.

6. Invest in a decent coffee maker with a timer function and brew your own coffee at home.

I learned this the hard way when at the end of my first budgeted month I had spent $80.77 on coffee on my way to work. I had a decent Mr. Coffee coffeemaker, but it didn’t have a timer feature. If I happened to be running late to work in the morning, I resorted to a quick Starbucks stop, which cost me significant money without adding any perceived value (neither happiness-wise nor nutritionally speaking).

Nothing beats the sweet aroma of morning coffee, especially when you brew it yourself and save money in the process

Mr. Coffee
Nothing beats the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee in the morning – and it saves you money!

7. Stay in.

Fortunately, I did a good job of this. My wife-to-be and I enjoyed cooking dinner at my condo and watching reruns of The Office. I know that many single people will feel the temptation and be pulled into the expensive night life scene, but do so within reason. Invite friends or your significant other back to your place, where food and drinks are cheap.

8. Find affordable dates with Groupon and Restaurant.com . I’m not even sure if Groupon and Restaurant.com existed back when I was a bachelor, but taking advantage of them today is a key part of our dining out experience. With either platform, you can purchase certificates for what is usually a fraction of the value, which allows you to realize significant savings and still enjoy a night out. The most common Restaurant.com offer is $10 for a $25 gift certificate. Check out the Restaurant.com offerings in your area by following the link and entering your zip code.

9. Build an emergency fund as quickly as possible.

As a young single person, building an emergency fund is the definition of adulting. Without an emergency fund, you will face unexpected expenses and be forced to swipe your credit card. Or worse yet, you may have to beg your parents for a loan or a gift.

10. Begin charitable giving right away.

While I have always given 10% to charity and missions organizations, I know this isn’t for everyone. If you’re not a natural giver, start small. Even $1 or $10 per month will benefit worthwhile organizations. If you’re not into structured giving, pay it forward and purchase the coffee or meal for the driver of the vehicle behind you in the drive-thru.

I strongly believe that regular, consistent giving is a key to winning with money. The act of giving teaches you that money is not an asset to be horded, stockpiled, wasted, or worshipped, but a tool to help yourself and others.

11. Strive to create a zero-based budget every month.

Remember, you will fail at this at first. Over and over and over. However, I found comfort in a Dave Ramsey quote during my initial months of struggle with my budget:

Adults devise a plan and stick to it. Children do what feels good. -Dave Ramsey

12. Accept that your budget projections will rarely be perfect.

On a related note, embrace your budget mistakes as they occur. Be willing to adjust your budget several times during the first several months.

13. Share your budget with a friend who is wise with his or her finances.

Accountability is helpful for everyone. It is part of the reason why I write this blog. A good budget is not inflexible.

14. Tell yourself every day that instant-gratification isn’t all that gratifying.

A few days ago, I read that the average person only waits 5 seconds for a web page to open before becoming irritated and moving on. Clearly, we live in a culture which embraces speed and instant results over patience.

You will need to learn to delay your desires in order to maintain a successful budget. Make a plan and stick to it.

15. Don’t worry about investing money right out of the gate.

In the personal finance blogging community, the suggestion to delay investing for retirement is utter blasphemy! However, I believe that there are better uses for your first months of pay. Make sure your budget is in order, build an emergency fund, and take time to research your investment options. When the time comes to invest, look into low-cost options through Betterment and Motif Investing. You will be glad that you waited.

16. Identify your values and be sure that your budget follows them.

If you’re not sure where to start with values-based budgeting, check out my two part series on budgeting with values in mind:

Values and Budgeting – Part One

Values and Budgeting – Part Two

17. Once you’ve identified your values, create written goals that you wish to accomplish.

Writing V-SMART Goals is the best way to accomplish your goals.

18. Be transparent with your friends and family about your budget.

It is OK to explain that you are striving to manage your spending responsibly. In fact, if you keep your budget goals a secret, it will be more difficult to stick to your budget, as co-workers will invite you out for happy hour drinks and apps every Friday. Just be up front and honest.

You can still have a social life on a budget. But be willing to say "no."
You can still have a social life on a budget. But be willing to say “no.”

19. As follow-up to number 18, be willing to say “no.”

If you want to live on a budget and win with money, you will likely hurt people’s feelings from time to time.

20. Avoid making any purchases on impulse.

If you are considering a sizeable purchase, write it down and check back again in thirty days. See my recent piece, The Thirty Day List, for a step-by-step process on delaying purchases.

Note: This piece contains affiliate links. FinanceSuperhero only recommends products designed to save readers money.


Readers, what budget tips do you have for singles?

Decluttering Your Finances – Five Steps to Simplify Your Money Today

Earlier this week, I published a post about the importance of written financial goals.  Several readers and commenters agreed that the creation of written goals has been one of the largest contributors toward their financial progress. In reading and responding to their comments, it is clear to me that these commenters have detailed plans and have been able to follow them.

I believe their successful planning and subsequent written goals ultimately stem from possessing an accurate understanding of their financial outlook at all times. Furthermore, written goals often provide the added motivation and accountability needed for that final, persevering push toward achievement.

Organization is Vital

Yesterday, I was having one of those mornings. I found myself in a mad scramble to locate a pair of socks which would fit in with the color family of my pants, shirt, and tie. After a few minutes of searching through an unsorted basket of socks, I located a pair. Though this simple search only stole a few minutes of my time, it got me thinking about the perils of my own disorganization.

chaotic desk, covered with all kinds of paper, files and envelops
If your desk looks like this, read on!

When you do not maintain organization, in all areas but specifically your finances, uncertainty lingers in the air like the smell of rotting garbage; it may not bother you much at first, but if it is ignored, the problems will quickly worsen.

Five Steps You Can Take Today

Much like unsorted laundry, your money is helpless without you. If your finances require some decluttering, whether minor or major, now is the time to take control and do what is necessary to be the Superhero that your finances desperately need. You can start by implementing these five easy steps toward decluttering your finances:

1. Automate Your Finances As Much Possible

If you are like me, you value your time just as much as you value money. By automating common expenses, such as mortgage or rent payments, utility bills (such as water, trash, electricity, gas, television/internet, and mobile phone), life insurance and disability monthly premiums, car payments, student loan payments, retirement account contributions, and even savings, you can save yourself significant time, energy, and money. The days of writing countless checks, licking envelopes, and purchasing stamps will be drastically reduced.

Most major banks will allow you to set-up auto-pay on these bills with very little effort involved. You can even negotiate with most providers to establish a chosen day of the month for your auto-draft to occur, which will allow you to spread out your payments to align with your pay periods. Lastly, some institutions, particularly student loan servicers, may provide a small APR reduction when you sign-up for auto draft and paperless billing.

Alternatively, you could choose to place these expenses on a credit card each month, leaving yourself with only one condensed bill to be paid. This could be advantageous if you receive rewards.

2. Sign-up for Paperless Billing

When you became an adult, checking the mail each day surely lost its allure. Good news: you can restore fun to the act of walking to the mailbox each day by signing-up for paperless billing with all providers who offer this service. Doing so will literally and figuratively decrease the clutter in your mailbox and your finances. Furthermore, with electronic copies housed by your various institutions on secure servers, your information will be protected, you will be less likely to experience identity theft, and you will not need to fear losing an important document or missing a bill in the mail.

3. Sign-up for an Online Budgeting Tool

When it comes to monthly budgeting, I firmly believe everyone should experience working through the fine details with a legal pad or spreadsheet and a calculator. In the interest of decluttering and saving time, however, the average consumer has plenty of online budgeting tools from which to choose.

After utilizing Gazelle Budget for many years, I am currently transitioning over to a paid subscription version of EveryDollar, a product created by the team at Ramsey Solutions. EveryDollar is a very effective way to create detailed monthly budgets, track spending by linking with all of your financial accounts, and monitor progress on your goals. I particularly enjoy the features which allow users to create sinking funds and budget for irregular (bi-monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual) expenses.

I also utilize Personal Capital to gather a daily snapshot of all of my accounts and to gauge my current net worth. It is the most simple and effective way to monitor all of your accounts, and furthermore, it will be provide a variety of analyses. The best part? It is free!

4. Use Cash Allowances to Pay for Basic Spending

While EveryDollar can certainly ease the burden of tracking a multitude of debit and credit transactions within your monthly budget, I recommend providing cash allowances within basic categories such as groceries, restaurants, gas, and discretionary spending (or what Mrs. Superhero likes to call her Stitchfix Fund). You can include these cash allowances in your budget with one simple transaction on the first day of the budget month and be finished with the category.

If you are like me and Mrs. Superhero, these categories will represent a large percentage of your monthly expenses. By implementing cash allowances, your will provide an additional layer of accountability to stay on budget (you cannot spend more money when the cash is gone) while simultaneously freeing up additional time each week, which you could allocate toward a side hustle or building your own blog.

5. Eliminate Your Debts as Soon as Possible

For many families, debt can represent a significant percentage of their monthly budgeted income. When you shed the shackles of debt, you free up additional streams of income which may be re-allocated as automated contributions toward liquid savings, retirement accounts, non-retirement investments, and savings toward the purchase of rental properties.

Additionally, without multiple debt obligations, the sheer number of your monthly transactions will be reduced. Fewer transactions will lead to even greater simplification. You will also experience the peace that comes with no fear of missing a payment or incurring late fees and interest charges. Lastly, you will not experience guilt each month as financial institutions earn interest on your hard-earned income. Trade monthly debt payments for the joy of watching interest work in your favor as soon as possible!

Final Recommendations

If you are willing to dedicate a few hours this weekend, you can implement the above steps to greatly declutter your finances. The sacrifices you make in doing so will pay great dividends, pun partially-intended, for your financial future. After doing so, you will be free to turn your attention from fretting and worrying about your finances and onto creating a game plan and written goals for your future.


Readers, what steps have you taken to simplify your finances? What recommendations would you suggest, in addition to the above suggestions?

 

Welcome to Finance Superhero

Greetings, and welcome to Finance Superhero! If you are interested in money and its role in your life, this blog is for you.

This blog began with a simple idea: dedication to the protection of finances by defeating common “money myths,” combating threats to financial well-being (such as the consumer lifestyle, debt, mismanaged assets, and lack of a game plan), and “Restoring Order to the World of Finance,” one post at a time.

Why Finance Superhero?

A superhero is a relative ideal to which virtually anyone can relate as early as childhood. What five year-old child hasn’t dreamed of rising up to thwart evil and save the day? I believe we identify with superheroes at an early age due to an intrinsic understanding of and longing for justice and order; it feels good to watch the good guys take down the bad guys, even if the victory is temporary. To dismantle evil is the stuff of fantasy.

A superhero is:

  • Driven by a strong moral code
  • Motivated by personal experience
  • Consumed by courageously battling recurring foes

Notably, many superheroes posses no extraordinary powers, strengths, or abilities. Instead, they are masters of the ordinary who understand a craft, maximize their abilities, and apply them skillfully. This inspires hope! If Bruce Wayne can be successful, what is stopping you and me?

My Journey

Truth be told, my personal own journey to Finance Superhero-dom is in its infancy. I am in my late 20s, and I have experienced my fair share of ups and downs in my career, education, and yes–finances. I know what it is like to have both little and much. The journey has developed my character, resolve, and perseverance.

I grew up in a middle-class Midwest home, and I am told that I was keenly aware of money from an early age. My grandfather was my first Finance Superhero, a self-made man who epitomized hard work and valued every cent that passed through his fingertips. Though he passed away in 2013, the lessons he taught me, both consciously and unconsciously, remain as vivid ideals in my heart and mind.

Take a look around. Money speaks, and its power is undeniable. I am driven to continue learning about the world of finance, motivated to maximize my financial position to improve quality of life for me and my family, and consumed by a desire to help other people courageously don their Finance Superhero capes, as well.

It is my hope that you will come alongside me and seek to become a Finance Superhero yourself. Together, we will explore topics such as budgeting, debt, insurance, short-term and long-term planning, taxes, lifestyle, purchasing guidelines, frugality, meal planning, vacationing, education, investing, financial independence, and much more. Please join the community by signing up to receive Finance Superhero updates via e-mail, like our Facebook page, and share your thoughts via the comments on each post.

Restoring Order to the World of Finance,
Hero