Wow, y’all! I figured you would like this series, but I’ve been blown away by the response – I LOVED reading your thoughts on last week’s post on time, so thank you SO much for sharing! Truly.
To catch up any new gals: Nancy Ray and I are writing an eight-part series every Tuesday in January and February covering “how we do it” in eight different areas: the rhythms, habits, and routines that help us get things done and make the space and time for what matters most. You can read more of the backstory here.
Today’s topic is finances! I’m particularly excited about this post for many reasons (obviously), but one is that it really drives home what I love about this series: that you’re hearing from two people with similar hearts but different ways of living them out, showing that there’s no one right way to do things. Anyone who knows Nancy or I knows that we are both extremely passionate about financial literacy and freedom, but the fascinating thing is that “how we do our finances” is in some cases very different.
Let’s dig in! I wanted to begin with a few of the principles that guide John’s and my thinking on money, because all the tools in the world won’t be much help if your thought patterns are constantly conspiring against you. Here they are:
1. Whenever possible, we take advantage of the power of compounding and the time value of money. We want to make our money work for us as hard and as often as possible, which means starting NOW, even if that means starting small. Time is so powerful, and it’s the only part of the wealth equation you can’t make up. More about this here.
2. We remember we can’t judge anyone else’s financial situation from the outside. We might see a coworker going on a European vacation and be tempted to think we should be able to do that, but not realize they carry credit card debt or rent a super-small apartment or never eat out or don’t save for retirement. We try not to make decisions based on comparisons, especially since they’re always incomplete.
3. We believe our money has been entrusted to us. By God, to be clear :) And because we believe that, we feel an extra measure of responsibility to spend, save, and shepherd that money wisely and for the greatest good.
4. We believe money is a tool. It’s not inherently good or evil. I’d liken it to a chainsaw. It is very powerful, and very effective at what it does, but it can’t hammer a nail. You can’t expect money to do things it was never meant to do, like make you happy.
So how do these principles play out on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis? For us, it all comes back to the budget. We live and die by our budget, because without it, I’m sure we would be in very sorry financial shape. We make an annual budget and track it in a Google Doc. (Note: our doc and how we use it have changed a bit since I wrote that post five years ago, but it’s still a good overview!) It’s a system that requires some upkeep, but we’ve found a few things that make it easier: we commit to updating it twice a month (generally on the 1st and 15th, the same day we pay our credit card bills), and we almost exclusively use cards, so transactions are easy to reference and record.
That’s right, we use credit cards! I wouldn’t recommend them for everyone, but we pay ours off in full twice a month and have never carried a balance. The rewards (2% cash back for us) and the ease of tracking our spending make them the right fit for us. We have three: one predominantly used by John for his expense categories, one predominantly used by me for my expense categories, and one used by both of us for joint expenses (which include most things, including gas, groceries, gifts, dining out, June expenses, vacations, etc.).
We also each have a checking account and savings account (which we both have access to, but our paychecks get deposited into our respective accounts). I pay most of the bills out of mine, so to keep things simple, John simply “levels our accounts” on the 1st and 15th by transferring the difference from his checking to mine, so that we each have the same amount.
Our savings and checking accounts are at Capital One 360. I LOVE CAPITAL ONE 360! I’ve considered writing a Marvelous Money post just about this bank because I love it so much :) Why? The interface is great, there are no fees, and most importantly, they let you open as many savings accounts as you want!! Over the years, we have opened accounts to save for vacations, for our backyard renovation, for a new car, for our wedding, and many other things. You can give each account a unique name and set up automatic transfers each month, making setting aside a pool of money and building it over time fun and mostly painless! Highly, highly recommended. (NOTE that that is a referral link – I get $20 if you sign up, but I would NOT share something we didn’t adore! We’ve been customers since 2006 :))
Another thing that has simplified our finances: our charitable giving account. If you give away money regularly, whether to your church or other organizations, I would highly recommend one. I went into much more detail here, but the reason it helps simplify things is that at tax time, you only have to look one place to itemize your deductions.
I’m not going to chat too much about debt in this post because aside from our mortgage it’s not a huge focus for us right now, but if it is for you, I’d recommend checking out this post which talks about how we paid off my student loans!
Retirement savings are a priority for us, and we both have 401ks we contribute to through work as well as IRAs. Most importantly, we always make sure to contribute at least enough to get the full match our companies offer. Here is my beginner’s guide to 401ks and beginner’s guide to IRAs, if you’re new to this arena! We also use an HSA (Health Savings Account) as an important part of our retirement savings plan, as they are highly tax-advantaged. Might be something to consider if you have a high-deductible health plan!
A number of readers have asked me about 529s and college savings for kiddos recently, so I will likely write a separate Marvelous Money post on that topic in the future. We do have an account for June that we have contributed to, but I wanted to mention here that it is not a priority for us right now, given that we are going so aggressively after our mortgage goal. We feel confident with the overall plan we have, and know that we can make more progress without dividing our focus unnecessarily! Just like when you’re tackling debt, I think it is often most effective to pick one area of focus and go hard after that one instead of trying to implement five different things at once.
Finally, I wanted to briefly share how we divide up the financial responsibilities in our family. I think it’s equally important for each partner to have a role, AND for those roles to be clear and defined. These are ours:
Emily: Bill payment and account maintenance (activating cards, calling customer service, etc.)
John: Taxes, investment strategy, and “R&D,” or bringing new ideas to the table (like our tweaked mortgage plan)
Together: Set yearly budget, record transactions in the budget, and participate in our every-other-month “net worth” meetings
We call them that not because our net worth is so high (ha), but because they are when we look at a global picture of our finances and our budget. We look at what’s in each account, talk about changes to our budget or financial situation, progress we’ve made toward our goals, and more. To be clear, we talk about our finances on a more regular basis than every other month, but this is dedicated time we’ve set apart to cover more in-depth topics.
Friends, I hope this post was helpful for you!! Don’t forget to read Nancy’s post here. I’d love to hear what tool or practice has been most helpful for you in organizing your personal finances! Or, if this post brings up a question for a future Marvelous Money topic, I’d love to hear that, too! :)
Where we’ve been and what’s coming up:
Time: Em’s post and Nancy’s post
January 23: Home
January 30: Personal Life
February 6: Work
February 13: Relationships
February 20: Spiritual Life
February 27: Kids