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Focusing on Finances

So I want to write about how we've been managing our finances, for better or worse, and how it's been going for us so far. I've always been apprehensive to write about this because I guess I don't feel like I have it enough "together" to try to tackle this subject. I'll be the first to admit I'm a reformed shopaholic and so I have not always been so money-minded. And though that brings a small amount of shame, I also know I have had to learn pretty much everything "the hard way." From quitting drinking, to what I spend my time on day-to-day it has been a series of trial and mostly error to get me to where I am today. In my defense (and in defense of most people I know) I was not taught anything about proper money management. Not in school, not from my parents, not from TV or social media, none of it. No one is giving much practical advice out there, and you sure as heck aren't getting any from any lending institutions. Okay, actually, I did go to one awesome seminar at my old Credit Union in Austin. It was put on by my meditation guru at the time and they merely allowed him to hold a one day seminar. So in essence they gave him the room to hold the meeting, but did not come up with the disseminated information. So my faith in a bank helping me to manage my money is not very strong. So I had to look elsewhere...

But first I want to start with my upbringing versus my husband's. I want to note that I will try my hardest to not generalize about the larger population or even people in similar situations as us. It would take serious research to glean any solid correlations about upbringing and predictions of future wealth and I'm sure those articles can be found elsewhere on the Interwebs. This is just about our story, and what has and has not worked so far. I think I am writing this in some ways to face my fears about money and finances, because in truth I'm a scaredy-cat when it comes to a bank statement. But back to the beginning. Okay, growing up both my parents worked as long as I could remember. My mom sort of stopped working around the time I was in high school, but worked on and off until I was almost 30. When I was little, my mom was in Law School and my dad worked 2 jobs to keep us afloat. We were not rich, not even remotely, but my dad worked more than he had to in order to make it seem like we could have anything. In fact, my shopping addiction came much more from my father than my mother. Perpetually enamored with new, expensive things, my father lived (and still does to some extent) abundantly whether it was deserved or not. He grew up very poor and he never wanted us to go without anything that others had, so we had a lot of stuff to say the least. The fact that I am a minimalist now, makes me wonder at this whole intergenerational-pendulum-swing-thing, but that's for another day. My mother on the other side of this duo, was also a shopaholic, but the thrifty kind. We were always getting 50 cent sweaters that she found at garage sales that we never wore because they were so awful. Now at first glance, her frugalness sounds good, except she perpetually spent money on junk just because it was "on sale," or cheap. This is another thing I inherited for a long time (I still struggle with sale e-mails!). It is also a thing that is touted on many a thrifty YouTube channel, second hand shopping is the way to go!...Yes, it is less money than buying new, but if you don't need it or won't use it, it's still a big waste (I'm just reminding myself here). Ok, on to my husband and his family. My husband grew up very poor in a small town. When I say poor, I mean, right around the poverty line, with 4 kids poor. It was very tough for him and his family, and money was a source of contention in his parents lives and he was well aware of his family situation. I don't know how long we struggled when I was little because my parents never discussed money in front of us and still don't discuss it much without my asking. My husband's family however, was much larger and his extended family was in the same town as him, so maybe because of this he heard about his family's situation from multiple fronts (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins). My husband has always taken good care of his things and is not a spender at all. Let's put it this way, if we did a No-Buy, yearlong challenge, he'd be pretty much living his everyday life and would not struggle even once. The man is low-maintenance. Okay back to my family. My parents were on an upward trajectory and did fairly well in their pursuit of the "American Dream." Albeit now, they have not done as well as I had thought when I was younger. They made a lot, but they spent a lot, and stress was ever-present, and still is to some extent. They borrowed and I believe did not invest very much for the future. Or when they tried it was half-hearted and some emergency or another always took the funds out of wherever they were placed (ahem, like my college fund, but who's counting? My student loans were in the 6 figure range, so that was not a great choice on my part.). Since my parent's separation my mother has been preparing for her retirement and has told me that she is doing well and living within her means. She has a small two bedroom house so we can come visit and has the money to travel and buy gifts and feels confident as far as I can tell financially. My father, I have no idea. I think it's not so great, but time will tell. His health is not that great, so I think he's hoping to go out in a ball of flames and call it a day, but I'm worried about what my brother and I will find if he does get sick and someone needs to take care of his affairs. As you can see, this was not a great set-up for financial success. I did some mock-investing in my senior economics class (which I attended sporadically) and did poorly. That was the extent of my financial education. I figured I was just going to tough it out like my parents. Then I got drunk and high and ran any money I did have into oblivion. I maxed out a credit card for 1200.00 and my dad just paid it off eventually when the creditors came calling. No talk about it, it just "went away." Things were not going well...

And then I got sober, and I'm telling you guys, the program is the parent I never had. I wish everyone on this planet wanted to and could go to 12-step meetings. I met people from all walks of life and a lot of them had their $#!t together (alcoholics with their $#!t together!!?). One of whom, was my first sober-boyfriend. He introduced me to the meditation guy who gave the financial freedom class at my Credit Union. He talked about the book "You're Money or Your Life," and my whole vision of my future changed. I read the book, which in a nutshell is about living below your means, investing the rest until your money makes enough money (through dividend this) that you can retire early and do whatever you want. Aptly named "Financial Independence." This book sang to me. It talked about "Making a dying" instead of making a living, because you were dying in a job you hated for 9-5 until 65, and would you like to get out of the rat-race? Yes, please! I did the program in that book and saved 1000.00 in a a student in college...I wish I could say that's when I really started investing, but no. I was still too addicted to my stuff and what other people thought of me to live honestly. But about 6 years later after a bad breakup (different guy), right before I met my husband, I decided to start investing for my retirement. I was 29, in graduate school, and re-read the book again. I told myself I was going to take 3000 dollars and invest it. Whether I lost money or made money, I was willing to lose it to learn. So I talked to some people in the program who I knew were responsible adults, who did this sort of thing and I landed on a plan. I looked up the 13F filings (investment report) for Berkshire Hathaway (owned by Warren Buffet, and this is public information you can look up btw. ), and I bought stocks in the same percentages they did, just with 3000 dollars versus billions, but who cares?! I just bought 5 top stocks. That's it. And I let it sit there in my new Etrade Roth IRA. And it started to make money...And it still does. Now I didn't contribute again for another 4 years, until our business was up and running and I was making a decent income, but it is now at 32,178.62 and I'm 37. I have it set to reinvest dividends. It has doubled, meaning I've only contributed half the amount in the account. The rest, is the money I made from my money. I did nothing, but let it hang out. And I didn't have to be a genius, or pay someone else to manage my finances. I have a brokerage account too so I can buy more if I have extra money. Now, I plan to invest in some mutual funds at some point in the near future (probably this month actually) to diversify our retirement accounts. I have read a few more books on finances and I can tell you that the get-rich-slowly method is the one for me and my family. The kinds that don't have you ruining your credit or making you think you can invest in real-estate on the side for pennies on the dollar are for me today. You can invest in real-estate for pennies on the dollar but it's hard work, and takes a lot of time to get good at, and I didn't want to make a career of it. Slowly building up cash and purchasing some investment properties outright, I could get behind though. The kind of investing I'm interested in is not trying to sell me a program or a pyramid scheme either. There are a lot of these out there. I came close once to investing a lot of money in one of these real-estate-get-rich-quickly programs, but on day 2 of the 3 day seminar I started to wonder and then I got online to see what other people had to say and thank god I did. I got out of there as fast as I could and invested that money in my brokerage account instead and I'm getting 19 percent returns these days.

All of the searching for financial freedom was tangled up in my struggle with not wanting to be a therapist anymore as well. I was going through an upheaval in my work life and I was looking for an answer to my guilt about wanting to quit my day job and not make my husband freak out. So I thought "if I can get us rich real quick then he'll be okay with me going of to do whatever the heck I want right?" He was totally fine with it in the end. And really all of my searching for the get-rich-quick schemes kept leading me back to the get-rich-slowly and minimalism schemes. It has all lead back to basics. What do I really need to be happy? Not much it turns out. I'm in the process right now of really questioning ALL of my purchases and also looking around my home for redundancies and clearing out all the non-essentials. Because, for me, in the end, I like to write, watch movies, play with my kids, connect with my friends, go running, cook amazing vegan food, meditate, make videos, garden, make pottery, and travel. Most of those things don't cost very much.

Okay, and I also really like my money making money, not gonna sugar coat it. I like investing. I like that as I'm sitting here, it is making me more money, while I am off doing the things I like to do. Its a no brainer for me. Okay, it's a brainer, it took being willing to look at it, face my fears, do the research and take some action. And a lot of prayer. It was so worth the leap though, and once over the initial hurdle it became more and more awesome. Sometimes I wonder why wanting to have financial security and planning out your wealth, and having abundance in your life get's such a bad rap in this country and beyond. We're all so hush-hush about this topic. We really need to be teaching all this to young people before it's too late and they are up to their ears in debt with no way out. It's a disservice and a tragedy to me. I'm just lucky I ran into the right people at the right time who set me on a positive path, but left up to my own devices (or the devices of marketers trying to steal my life from me because that's what they are doing, let's not kid ourselves), I'd be up $#!t creek.

Now these are trying times, and we have also made a lot of mistakes that we are working through too. Some of the mistakes I've made have been taking out over 100k in student loans, buying a new car (I did pay cash and get it 2k below MSRP, but still, I should have bought used), we have 5 mortgaged properties for our business, and I don't have a system or monthly budget that I stick to just yet. I do pay 1.5 times my payment on my loans and am paying it down quickly (10 yr plan vs 30). We do pay extra on a few of the mortgages. But we are not free yet. Our business does okay though and we are able to manage our payments thus far. This year hasn't been great due to the pandemic, but I am grateful we are still surviving. We have not done it perfectly by any means, and we are still striving day by day to whittle down to the essentials and eliminate wasted money. But it still happens. I still buy dumb things occasionally. Oh well. It's easier to lament the past instead of focusing on the now and work through what I do have control over sometimes. But just for today, I'm going to take my head out of the sand, clean up my house, get rid of the crap, look at my accounts and allocate extras to investing. And I will keep writing. And after this, I'm going to start researching mutual funds. Okay, gotta go. Happy trails. Amen

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