Do you remember me telling you about my friend, Leif?* I knew him when I lived in Chicago. He carries one of the best souls I’ve ever encountered. Kind and loyal and good, we saw each other almost daily for years and I counted him among my favorite people.
He was also, unfortunately, a super dummy when it came to his finances. To a baffling degree. I remember him throwing away dishes instead of washing them. He would park illegally and accrue parking tickets monthly. The cable company would shut off the internet because he forgot to pay the bill. It made no sense and drove me up the wall. Gah!
He had a great, recession-proof job that would always be in demand. Yes, he had six-figures of student loan debt, but he also had the potential to make six figures of income working far fewer hours than I at the time. But every year, without fail, he drained his savings to pay the tax man, never really getting ahead on anything.
When I first started this blog, I wanted to be Gail vaz Oxlade. Gail is a Canadian personal finance guru with various money management television shows under her belt. She would comb through people’s finances who were struggling and advise them on how they could do better. If you’ve never seen the show, trust me, there is something positively delightful about watching Gail tell people their spending habits were stupid.
I wanted to tell people their spending habits were stupid! I wanted to make spreadsheets and charts, showing them how quickly they could get to the better place. This blog would be the showcase of the worksheets and PowerPoint presentations I made for the people whose finances I helped overhaul. One by one, I’d turn the world into a place full of financial independent souls with spending habits that didn’t annoy me.
So when Leif eventually approached me for the help I offered him, I giddily set to work. He was my first guinea pig. Each week for a month, we would meet and I’d give him a homework assignment for the next week. I was hopeful that some of my rantings were getting through, but, honestly, it’s hard to tell when you’re in the middle of it.
He seemed a bit apprehensive, but also eager. We concluded our sessions and he told me he would at least try some of my suggestions. It was a good start.
And then I moved to Australia. Besides the occasional Facebook message professing our delight at the anniversary of our respective births, we drifted. I didn’t nag or even ask him about his finances at all, fearing there was little I could do to help from so far away.
I saw him recently and he gave me an update. A super fun update!
In four years, he’s halved his student loan debt, going from approximately $160k to around $80k. He saves consistently and happily rattled off his various funds. He has an emergency fund. A vacation fund. And the fund he’s most excited about: a child fund. Leif is now married and eventually wants a tiny bundle of his own. Best of all, he is on track to retire in about a decade!
Back in the day, I made him a sample budget with outlines on what to cut and how to live. But of course the way he lives his financial life is different from my suggestions. I gave up on the Gail Vaz Oxlade dream because the devil is in the details and the details are so personal to everyone. Even knowing Leif as well as I did, I couldn’t tell him how to spend his money and monitor his habits.
It’s the mindset. The attitude toward living your life that matters. Once you get that, you got this. What are you working toward? Work towards it. That’s all. Really.
Leif indicated that therapy helped him a lot as well. Are you afraid to go for the life you deserve for some reason? Is there a deeper issue at play here? Poor money management is a symptom of poor life management.
And Leif confessed that he still struggles. As you can tell from my neurotic blog and occasional depressive posts, having a handle on your money situation certainly can’t solve everything. But I firmly believe, and Leif agreed, that being in control of your money is infinitely better than letting your money control you.
If I can do it, if Leif can do it, you most certainly can do it. Probably.
*Not his real name.