- The author, Liz Gendreau, and two of her sons at her MBA graduation.
- Courtesy of Liz Gendreau
- Liz Gendreau, the Chief Mom Officer, is a 38-year-old MBA who works as an IT program manager at a large company making a six-figure salary. Her husband, Todd, stays at home with their three boys, ages 14, 10, and 3.
- She’s been the primary breadwinner since shortly after they were married, over 16 years ago.
- Personal finance has been one of her hobbies since she was a teenager.
- She says everyone should know how to track their net worth, invest their savings, and align their financial goals with their dreams.
When I was 16, I picked up a book from the library called “The Wealthy Barber” by David Chilton.
That book changed the course of my financial life.
Like most teenagers, I thought only the famous or uber-successful were wealthy. Ordinary people couldn’t become rich, right?!? The title of the book that drew me in, like it did millions of others. How on earth could a barber, of all people, become wealthy?
The book was fun and engaging, not dry and dull. It was told as the story of several friends who learn important money lessons from a wealthy barber (and the people hanging out at his shop) over the course of a year. I learned all the important foundational lessons about money that you don’t usually learn as a teen.
It covered real estate, mortgages, taxes, retirement, investing, college savings, and so much more. That book inspired my lifelong passion for personal finance. Because of that book, I opened an IRA as a teenager, invested in a 401(k) the minute I had a job that offered one, bought a condo at 20, started investing for my boys to go to college when they were born – and a whole lot more.
The financial lessons continued to pay off even into my 30s. Having personal finance as a passion kept my family from bankruptcy. When I was 32 my husband almost died of septic shock – an event that rocked our world and continues to impact our financial life. Without the solid financial foundation I’d built, starting with this book, our lives would be totally different today.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve read hundreds of books, blogs, magazines, and articles about managing money. Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned.
Don’t rely on your partner to manage your money
- Relying on someone else can be a recipe for disaster.
Many women aren’t taught important lessons about managing their money in the same way men are. But it’s so important they’re involved with their finances.
Arecent report from UBS Wealth Managementfound that over half of married women (56%) leave long-term financial planning decisions to their husbands. Why? Because 85% of those women believe their spouses know more about finances.
Interestingly, did you know thata Fidelity studyshows women investors outperform men?
Women outlive men. Nearly half of marriages end in divorce. And eight out of 10 of us will end up, at some point in our lives, being solely responsible for our money. These are all huge reasons women need to be money smart.
Relying on someone else can be a recipe for disaster. Sadly, according to that same report, 56% of these women discovered a money secret. Hidden debt. Inadequate savings. Overly conservative – or aggressive – investments.
That’s a high price to pay.
Being in the dark about where your money is, where it’s going, and why, is no way to go through your financial life. But taking charge of your money can be confusing and overwhelming. So where do you start?
Know where all your money is, where it’s going, and why
The first step to being smart with your money is to know exactly where you are right now.
You can’t make financial changes in your life without knowing where you stand. I’ve been tracking my net worth since I was 20 years old. It’s actually a lot of fun to look back on past years and see what my financial situation was in my mid-20s, at 30, and now at 38.
We often overestimate how much can be accomplished in a short period of time, and underestimate how much can be accomplished over a long one.
There are only three things you need to know:
- What you have (and owe)– This is called your net worth, or a balance sheet in the corporate world. It’s everything you own, minus everything you owe. Knowing your net worth tells you where all your money is and how much you owe. You’ll want to record what kind of account it’s in, how much is there, and what it’s invested in.
- Where your money is going – Note that this isn’t a budget. No, it’s a simple analysis of where your family’s paychecks go each month. What are you spending on? What’s going to expenses, debt, saving, and investments? If you don’t track your money through a free tool like Mint, you can usually download the information from your bank and credit card(s).
- Whyyour money is where it is– Why is it invested the way it is? What’s the reason you have X dollars in checking, Y in savings, and Z in these funds in retirement? Why are you spending on the things you are?
Even if you have a spouse that already tracks the money, it’s important thatyouknow the answer to all these questions. Make time to sit down together and go through the details.
Knowing where all your money is, where it’s going, and why, is the beginning of smart money management. After this, you need to get to know your dreams.
Establish your dreams
- What’s your ultimate dream?
What areyourultimate goals and dreams? Where do you want to go in life?
Sit down and really think about your ultimate dreams. Do you want to start a business? Retire early? Send your kids to college without debt – or finally get that degree yourself? Buy a first home, vacation home, or become location independent? Maybe your dream is to travel the world as a family before your kids grow up, or start a scholarship to help underprivileged children go to college.
Why is knowing your dreams an important money tip?
Because without clarity on your dreams and goals, you can’t make your money work effectively for you. You’ll be saving or investing with no purpose, which means you might not be doing the right things to get you where you want to go.
When you know your dreams, yourwhywill help you down the long, hard road. It will get you back on the path when you fall off, and will give you the courage to stand up to those that might mock you.
It’s your “why” that will keep you going.
Set up a solid foundation, because the unexpected can happen to anyone
- Costly emergencies happen to everybody.
- Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
You need to build your dreams on a solid financial foundation.
When I was 32 years old, I learned how important this really is. My husband, 37 at the time,almost died of septic shockfollowing a surgery that went horribly wrong. He was in a coma for a week, away from home in the hospital and rehabilitation for a month, and unable to work for over a year.
We had two young boys at that time – a 4-year-old in preschool, and an 8-year-old in third grade. Suddenly our income went way down, our expenses went way up, and our life was completely turned upside down. Having insurance, living below our means, and having an emergency fund saved us from bankruptcy.
When you’re watching your husband’s oxygen, blood pressure, and heart rate on a monitor in the ICU, listening to a ventilator breathe for him, and wondering how you would tell your kids that their father died – the last thing you want to worry about is money.
Unfortunately, bad things happen to ordinary people every day. No one thinks they’re going tolose their dream home and everything in it in a firein the middle of the night. They don’t think they’ll get cancer, get into a car accident, become disabled… bad things happen to other people, right?
No, they happen to everyone. They can happen to you. They can happen to your spouse, and your kids. They can happen even if you’re healthy, careful, and a good person. And if they do happen, the last thing you’ll want to be concerned with is money.
So how do you set a solid financial foundation? You pay off non-mortgage debt. You save an emergency fund, so you’ll have money in case of a job loss, medical emergency, or roof collapse. And you put proper insurance in place – like car, home/renters, life, disability, and health insurance.
This solid financial foundation is the stepping stone to your dreams.
Align your spending with your dreams
- Eliminate the disconnect between your spending and your dreams.
- Matthew Eisman/Getty Images
You need to take a cold, hard, impartial look at your current situation to see how it aligns with your dreams.
Often there’s a disconnect between where your money goes, and what you really want in life. Maybe you dream of sending your kids to college, but you’re spending a ton of money on your car. Or you wish to take your kids on a trip around the world, but right now not a dime is going into a travel fund (and you’re spending $500 a month on eating out).
If you’re like most people, where your money goes today isn’t taking you to your dreams. Instead it’s taking you further away from them in the form of spending on things that don’t mean as much to you.
If you value a trip around the world more than a smartphone, a new home more than expensive clothes, or paying for college more than an expensive car – make sure your spending reflects that.
Learn about investing and start as soon as possible
- The important thing is to start investing now.
- Milena Milani/Shutterstock
Investing is the only way to reach your big, long-term dreams.
Many people are afraid of the stock market. It seems so volatile, there’s so much conflicting information out there, and too much to learn. But putting money in a savings account earning 1% to 2% won’t usually be enough to get you to your dreams.
It’s important to learn about investing and get started as soon as possible. But there’s so much information out there – where to begin?
My personal favorite place to get started learning about investing is over on theBogleheads Getting Startedpage, where you can access kits on personal finance, investing, and retirement. The three-fund portfoliois a great, simple, straightforward place to start. A target-date fund can also be a great, basic place to start while you learn more about investing.
What do all of these have in common? They’re straightforward strategies that will let you get started investing easily. You can always make things more complicated later, as you continue your research into different investment options. But a simple process will help you take that first step.
The important thing is to start. Invest early and often to let compound interest work its magic over time. The earlier you start, the more time your money can grow, and the easier it becomes to meet your long-term goals and dreams.
Track and adjust your spending frequently
- Smart investment strategies don’t change often.
- Gleb Leonov/Strelka Institute/Flickr
Regularly tracking where your money is, where it’s going, and course correcting is another key to long-term success.
I personally track my net worth every three months (quarterly), and my spending every day. At the end of the month I do a complete evaluation of that month’s spending, see how it aligns (and doesn’t) with the monthly/annual budget, and make changes as required. As debts are paid off, bills go up and down, and surprise expenses come up, we continually adjust to make sure we’re still on track to reach our goals.
Spending, saving/investments, and goals should be evaluated frequently. But your investment strategy should change infrequently.
Why? Smart investment strategies don’t change often. The whims of the stock market, bubbles of the day, the hot or not stock – those change a lot. But wise investing is very similar today to what it was twenty or thirty years ago.
Aninvestment policy statementis a tool I use to make sure I don’t make rash decisions at the expense of my long term financial future. It’s a well-thought out document that outlines my investment strategy, plans for changes, and gives guidance on when I can (and more importantly, can’t) change the strategy. It’s written impartially based on research, and available to pull out when the stock market is going crazy, or someone wants me to put all my money in Bitcoin. It’s an excellent reminder on the right and wrong reasons to make adjustments to my investment strategy.
Get on the same page as your partner
- Listen to each other and compromise.
- Flickr/David Goehring
A house divided cannot stand. And a family working towards different goals cannot succeed.
If your dream is to one day save enough to open a business, but your spouse doesn’t want you to quit your day job, that’s not going to work. Perhaps your spouse wants to retire and move into a big house by the lake one day, but you hate the lake and want to stay where you are – that’s going to be an issue. You want to retire early, but your spouse wants to live the good life and spend, spend, spend. All of this will lead to financial disaster.
You’ll often hear thatmost divorces are caused by money fights. Those fights are almost never over actual finances at all. Instead they’re about conflicting goals and dreams, and an inability to get on the same page.
It’s important to talk to each other about what your goals and dreams are – and why they’re important to you. Listen to each other and compromise. It can be possible to reach both of your dreams, but only if you communicate well.
Check in together on the money every month, quarter, and year. Talk about how you’re feeling about the financial progress you’ve made (or didn’t make). Work together on the changes that might be necessary to get where you both want to go.
Find money mentors and accountability partners
- Cheer each other on and celebrate financial success.
I always felt lacking for female money mentors when I was first getting started learning about money. I would search for women I could learn from, look up to, and follow in their footsteps – and had a darned hard time finding them.
Also, I would have loved to connect with other women who pursuing similar financial goals. I dreamed about cheering each other on, motivating each other when times got rough, and celebrating financial success.
Alas, when I started learning about money as a teenager, this didn’t exist. I didn’t know any women in my real life where we could talk to about money in a frank and open way. There wasn’t really social media back then, and when there was, it wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is today.
Now, things have certainly changed. Today there’s the#debtfreecommunity on Instagram, where you can connect with others working to get out of debt. There’s #personalfinancetwitter, where you can follow tons of amazing womenandmentalking about money all day long. And there are over a thousand personal finance blogs, where you can find someone just like you talking all about money.
Social media and the internet have given us limitless opportunities to find accountability partners, money mentors, and cheerleaders. So if you don’t have anyone in your real life, find them in your virtual life.
Don’t give up
- It’s a long and hard path — but it’s worth it.
- Flickr / Aina Vidal
Reaching your goals and dreams isn’t something that will happen overnight. Depending on your current situation, it might take years to set a solid financial foundation – and more years to reach your dreams.
Anyone who sells you a “get rich quick and easy” scheme is preying on your dreams. Usually this is to try and take your money for themselves, making themselves rich, quickly and easily, but leaving you broke. Reputable personal finance authors, podcasters, and YouTubers will all tell you that it’s a long and hard path – but it’s totally worth it to finally achieve your dreams.
Life will happen along the way. Illness, death, divorce, car accidents, unexpected expenses – they’re all part of life. Some of us have more difficult challenges to overcome than others.
Not everything in life is in our control. It’s important to control the things we can, deal with the things we can’t, and get back up after life knocks us down.
After all, if we give up, we’re certain to not achieve our dreams.
But if we keep going, we just might.
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