How often do you ask yourself hard questions about money?
Not a lot.
I like to avoid conflict at all costs.
I’m from Minnesota and very passive. Just ask my wife.
And when I ask myself hard questions, my defenses come up and I try to justify my behavior, or ignore it. I’m honestly great at ignoring problems or telling myself, “I’ll worry about that later”.
How about you?
How do you respond when you’re faced with tough questions about money?
Do you like to take tough questions head on, or sweep them under the rug?
I came up with 8 tough questions about money that you should ask yourself to help you align your finances with your long term goals.
Answering tough questions about money will help you stay focused, save money, and improve your finances.
Ready to be vulnerable and ask yourself the tough questions about money?
Of course you are! Let’s dive in!
Do I have enough money in savings to cover my expenses?
To answer this question, you have to know what your total expenses are for an entire month.
Okay, I’m not trying to give you the 5th degree or make you feel bad if you don’t have enough money in your savings account to cover your expenses.
But as a lot of people have seen with COVID-19, life can change pretty quickly, and if you don’t have money stashed away in your savings account, you could be in trouble.
If you lost your job right now, how many months could you go before your bank account hit $0?
You don’t have to answer that question right now, but it’s good to think about what might happen if you lost a job for a few months, or had a few expensive emergencies pop up.
Having enough money in your savings account to cover your expenses is called an Emergency Fund.
I LOVE emergency funds.
For real. An emergency fund will take so much stress out of your life.
Knowing that you have a few thousand dollars in your savings account to cover unexpected emergencies is a breath of fresh air.
When your furnace breaks in the middle of a Minnesota winter, it’s relieving to replace it without going into more debt.
If this question stresses you out or makes you sweat a little, that’s okay. You don’t have to feel bad or guilty about not having money in your savings account.
Life treats us all differently.
We all have different backgrounds, challenges, and unique situations that prevent us from saving more money.
And depending on your race, there are systems in place that were designed to give you a disadvantage.
Over the last few weeks it’s been amazing to see the radical changes and support for people of color and the black community.
The obstacles to saving money, building wealth, and becoming more financially secure are immense when you look at institutional racism, systemic racism, and individual racism all over the country.
People of color are constantly fighting an uphill battle with money largely because of the systemic racism that our country was built on. I’m reminded now more than ever about my white privilege and the advantages it gives me to overcome these tough questions about money.
And because more people are talking about the injustice of people of color in America, it seems like there are statistics everywhere you look to show the disparities.
That statistics are unbelievable.
Here are a few that stand out:
“In 2013, the median white household had wealth that totaled more than $140,000; Hispanics had only about $14,000. And black Americans had $11,000.” GILLIAN B. WHITE is a deputy editor of The Atlantic
“According to the New York Times, for every $100 in white family wealth, black families hold just $5.04.”
Redlining policies from the New Deal resulted in 98% of home loans going to white families, from 1934 to 1962. – Forbes
If you want to read more, this article from the Atlantic goes into a lot more depth on racial differences in wealth and the systemic racism that create obstacles for people of color.
Forbes also wrote a great piece on systemic racism.
I’ve written articles like this one, full of tips to save money and start an emergency fund.
While I still think those are great tips, and I believe 100% that everybody should invest in an emergency fund, I haven’t always been fully aware of the systems in place that prevent people of color from saving money and building wealth.
I recently read “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah, and one (of many) sections stood out to me.
“The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.”
Because of systemic and institutional racism, black people historically, and statistically have less money, fewer assets, and less opportunity for no other reason than that they’re black.
And because of that, people of color have fewer choices and less freedom.
I realize I haven’t done a great job of talking about those systems and the wealth gap they create.
I have a lot to learn. And I’d argue, so do a lot of people.
Why is it important to save money?
A lot of Americans have little to no money in their savings account, and again, people of color account for a larger percent of the population struggling to save money.
Before I started a budget and made intentional choices to change my spending habits, I only had $200-300 in my savings account.
I was part of the majority, and I was SO uncomfortable with such a small amount of money in my savings account.
I had nowhere near enough money in my savings account to cover my expenses. But it took me a long time before I asked myself the hard questions about money I’m asking you today.
Want to know what really forced me to change?
I knew I wanted to be a husband who was good with money and actually knew how to use a budget. I wanted to get a handle on my debt. I didn’t want to be a burden to my future wife and family.
I knew I needed to put in the work to change my perspective on money, start a budget, and learn how to use it.
And then start an emergency fund.
So that’s what I did.
It took a lot of work, self discipline, and reflection.
And I made TONS of mistakes.
But I started saving money a little at a time until I did have enough money to cover a month or two of expenses.
I know that saving money is a lot easier said than done, but it’s a habit worth starting. Your future self will be happy you started an emergency fund so you can cover big expenses like a job loss.
Am I saving money for the things that matter in my life?
An emergency fund is an important reason to save money.
But what else matters?
Being stuck in quarantine and working from home has taught me a few things.
Life is short and family is important.
Therefore, the best time to start investing in my family is to save money for things that matter is NOW.
For me that includes:
- Gifts for my wife – receiving gifts is her love language
- Paying for my wife to go to grad school
- Addy’s college education
- A fully stocked emergency fund – you never know what’s going to happen. 2020 has proven that
- Home improvements – if we’re going to spend ALL of our time at home, I want it to feel wonderful
What about you?
What are the things that matter the most in your life?
Are you saving money for them every month?
If not, look at your budget to see how you can add budget categories for your savings goals.
And I created an AWESOME spreadsheet to help you track all of your saving goals. We use ours to quickly see how much money we have saved up for grad school, our emergency fund, and our home improvements.
It’s slick and easy with formulas already created so you just need to choose your goals and enter the numbers.
Grab your sinking fund tracker from my etsy shop.
Am I happy with how I’m spending money?
Money won’t make you happy.
But money can help you do a lot of things in life that bring safety, security, and peace of mind.
Like Trevor Noah said, “Money gives you choices”.
And when your budget aligns with your goals and values, using your money can be a lot of fun!
So take a minute and think, are you happy with how you’re spending money?
And be honest with yourself.
It’s easy to assume that everything is fine and to brush this question off.
Please don’t make that mistake.
It’s so important to take time to think about your spending habits and make adjustments when your spending doesn’t align with your long term, or even short term, goals.
And if you’re not happy with how you’re spending your money, now is the best time to make positive changes in your finances.
Every year I do an Annual Budget Reflection.
I do this to analyze what we spend money on during the year, find our Top Ten spending categories, and see if our spending lines up with our family priorities.
Here’s my annual budget review from 2019.
When things are off, I talk with my wife about how we can change and do better.
We work together to make our financial decisions as a family.
Budgeting takes constant tinkering and adjustments. It’s easy to get off course, and NECESSARY to get back on course when you notice you’re going the wrong direction.
What is my plan for paying off debt? Do I even have one?
I probably don’t need to say a lot to convince you of that.
But it’s one thing to have debt and ignore it, and quite another to make an intentional play to get out of debt.
Do you have a plan to pay off debt? Can you tell me when you’ll be debt free? Or is it just “someday…”.
Let me tell you a story.
I graduated from college with $45,000 of student loan debt. I signed my FAFSA without fully realizing the negative impacts of so much student loans later in life.
Anyone else do that?
And the hard part was my low salary after graduating. Teachers don’t make a lot of money, and I was a paraprofessional in a middle school, making even less than a first year teacher.
It took me two years, when I started dating my future wife Jenna to get serious about getting out of debt.
I discovered the magic of a debt snowball spreadsheet. It changed our lives.
If you’ve never heard of the debt snowball method for paying off debt, read this.
The beauty of a debt snowball spreadsheet is that it gave us a specific, intentional plan to pay off our debt. And after we created it, we had a target date to be debt free that was YEARS ahead of the plan our student loan companies created for us.
We used it to pay off $100,000 of total debt in 5 years.
On two teacher salaries (and extra jobs we worked in our spare time).
We’re living proof that the debt snowball spreadsheet works and can help you get debt free fast. After you fill it out, you’ll have a rock solid plan for getting out of debt.
Here is a free download to the debt snowball spreadsheet we used to get out of debt. It has video guides and directions to help you get set up and pay off debt fast.
Or you can fill out this quick form
What are my financial goals? And life goals?
This is the first thing I ask people when they want help setting up a budget or improving their finances.
It’s a lot easier to create healthy financial habits when you know WHY you want to change your spending behavior.
Often, when you know WHY you want to do something, you’ll find a way to figure out HOW to do it.
Take our story of paying off $100,000 of debt in 5 years.
We wanted to be debt free so we could afford to start a family on OUR terms. We knew we couldn’t afford daycare and $922 worth of debt payments every month. The debt had to go.
Once we solidified our goal, we made aggressive plans to use our budget, cut expenses, save money, make more money, and use our debt snowball spreadsheet to become debt free.
And then we put in the work to make it happen.
Without goals you really care about, it’s hard to create lasting change in your finances.
If you could wave a magic wand and get rid of all of your debt and create better spending and saving habits, what would you want your life to look like?
Take some time to answer that question and set goals you care about, and budgeting will get a lot easier.
Am I making enough money to support my lifestyle?
There are three ways to improve your financial situation.
- Cut expenses and eliminate unnecessary expenses
- Make more money
- Do a little of both
I recommend method 3.
Let’s say you want to save money to buy a house.
You need $10,000 for a down payment, and you only have $3,000 set aside in your savings account.
First off, give yourself a pat on the back or a self five. Saving $3,000 is a big accomplishment and something worth celebrating.
Now to save $7,000.
Cutting expenses is a great way to trim the fat in your budget and find extra money. I’d say you can probably find $200-500 per month when you start to analyze your spending and eliminate extra spending.
But that only takes you so far.
It’s more optimal to ALSO find ways to make more money.
I wrote an article on side hustles that can increase your income. It’s a good place to start brainstorming opportunities in your life to make more money.
My favorite way to make more money is the Facebook Side Hustle Course.
I bought the course and joined this community, and learned the skills to create an extra $500-2,000 a month managing Facebook Ads for companies.
Zero experience needed.
They launch this course a couple times a year, so if it’s not currently open, you can add yourself to the waitlist and get email reminders when it’s open for purchase.
It’s a great community full of people willing to help you learn the ropes and be successful managing Facebook Ads.
You can also ask your boss for a raise, or switch jobs to one with a higher salary.
Here are two resources to help you negotiate a raise: (side by side images with links)
- Ultimate Guide to Getting a Raise and Boosting Your Salary
- Word by Word Script – How to Ask for a Raise When You’ve Contributed Undeniable Value
What are my biggest priorities in my life? And does my spending and saving reflect them?
Stop reading right now and grab a piece of paper and a pen.
Write down your 10 biggest priorities in life RIGHT NOW.
And if you can’t think of 10, start with 5.
Got your list?
Okay, now look at your budget and think about your spending and saving.
Do your spending and saving habits reflect your biggest priorities in your life?
Do you spend money on things that you actually care about?
Are you saving for travel, a new house, starting a family, or going back to school?
If something is a priority for you, it NEEDS to be in your budget.
It’s as simple as that.
I know my wife loves to bake and scrapbook. It’s a creative outlet that lets her destress and brings her joy.
So we created budget categories so we can invest in these hobbies.
We also value retirement investing and saving for our daughter’s college education. Because it’s a big priority for us, our budget has special categories so we remember to contribute to our Roth IRAs and Addy’s 529 savings plan.
How can you adjust your budget and spending to reflect what you value most?
Here’s a guide you can use as a starting point.
Am I content with my current financial situation or do I wish things were different?
If you read through these questions about money and feel confident in your answers, and have a plan, you’re on the right track and doing GREAT!
But if reading these questions brought you a little stress, you’re probably ready for a few changes.
Here’s my 2 cents.
Choose one or two of these questions that really motivate you to make changes or that you don’t have a great answer for right now.
Take time to make a plan to implement changes that move you closer to your goals and that reflect your priorities.
And if you need help, please reach out.
Leave a comment or send me an email at mrjamiegriffin.pf (at) gmail.com.
Even better, download the debt snowball spreadsheet so you can get on my email list and get more resources, tips, and ways to get your financial life in order, and experience more joy in your budget.
Lastly, here are a couple great resources to help you start implementing changes to your finances.
- Annual Budget Spreadsheet – track your spending to make sure you’re reaching your goals
- Sinking Fund Tracker – track your savings goals in one easy to use spreadsheet
Until next time, let’s do the work to budget, save money, and get debt free.