The following is adapted from Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack’s terrific book, “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated.”
The following is BJ’s version of their advice.
(Unfortunately, he couldn’t fit it all on an index card, but you can read all of BJ’s notes from that book here.)
1. Print out your bank statement from the last 90 days. Look them over carefully. Is there anything you’re paying for that you could cut back on? Don’t worry; I’m not going to tell you to cut out the lattes. Drink as many as you want. What you and I are looking for here are recurring expenses charged to your card that you might have forgotten about. We are also looking for things that keep coming up that you haven’t budgeted for. Once you’ve found these expenses, make a plan to budget for them or cut them.
2. Did you finish Step 1? Good. Now add up the three months’ worth of your Must Pay bills. Whatever that amount comes to, put it into a Money Market Fund at your local credit union. What’s a Must-Pay bill? If it’s the difference between having a guy name Vinnie show up to your house wanting to show you “this cool hammer I just found” and not having Vinnie show up, it’s a Must Pay Bill.
3. Take all your money out of a commercial bank like Bank of America and put it into a credit union. The corporations are in charge. Our politicians only respond to them. So. If you want that to change, you need to exercise your economic power. This is just one example that will also save you money from bullshit bank fees every month. You can use tools like the Credit Union Locator to find one near you.
(Bank of America, by the way, has made political donations to political organizations pushing to make abortion illegal in every state. Taking your money away from these banks sends them a clear message to knock that shit off.)
4. Automate Your Savings. An easy way to do this is to ask your payroll department, or if you have a platform like JustWorks that pays you, and put that 10% into a separate saving account at the credit union. This way, the money is there if you need it, but it’s being put aside without you having to think about it. This is what I do, and it was a game-changer for me because now I didn’t have to think about saving the 10%. It’s being done automatically.
If you can’t save 10%, and a lot of us can’t, just start with 1% each month. Then, once you can do that comfortably, keep increasing it. 10% savings is great. 20% is better. 50% is best. But I’m a crazy person. I once tried to get high and record an audiobook. (Your proof is on my YouTube channel.)
5. Where do you put your savings? First, put $3,000 into an Emergency Fund. Then put up to a year’s salary into a Money Market savings account.
6. Get Term Life Insurance. Do not buy any other kind of Life Insurance. Many life insurance companies will offer you investment opportunities, and while they’re perfectly fine, you can do better with your money by following the directions found in the next step.
7. NEVER buy individual stocks. The stock market is like a rigged claw machine. Yeah, you might snag a beautiful Michigan J. Frog plushie if you stick with it long enough, but the machine is rigged, so you’re going to waste a lot of money before you do.
Was it worth it? (Hint: It rarely is.)
8. Once you have your Emergency Fund and Money Market accounts created, invest the right way. Put your money into VTSAX and VLBTX over at Vanguard. VTSAX is an index fund, this is what JL Collins calls your Wealth Builder. VLBTX is a bonds fund, this is what JL Collins calls your Inflation Hedge, and your money market account (set up at your local credit union) is your Deflation Hedge and Cash reserve, also according to Collins.
Here’s what I recommend:
-Open a Roth IRA that’s 100% invested in VTSAX.
-Once you’ve maxed out your Roth IRA contribution, open a regular IRA and max that one out at an allocation of 60% VTSAX and 40% VLBTX. Depending on your age and appetite, you could also do 100% VTSAX and then slowly change over to bonds as you age.
-Once you’ve maxed that IRA, open a brokerage account with Vanguard to continue buying shares of both funds.
-When it comes time to retire at age 65, you can withdraw about 4% each year and have enough money to cover your retirement.
This is important: If you are under 40, you can put 100% of your savings into VTSAX if you’ve completed creating an emergency fund and a one-year-salary fund.
It’s only when you’re approaching 40 that you’ll want to switch to a 60% VTSAX / 40% VLBTX distribution.
For more information on this strategy, I highly recommend reading J. L. Collins’s “The Simple Path to Wealth,” where he lays it all out in far more detail. Buy this book. Memorize it.
9. Never buy a home.
Unless you MUST have one.
And if you MUST have one, never buy more space than you need.
Oh, and also? NEVER view your home as an investment. Your home is not an investment.
If you don’t want to take my word for it, ask my Dad.
He’ll give you a long list of things he needs to repair and an update on a mortgage he’s still trying to pay off at age 73.
10. Max out your 401K contributions and get the employer match if it’s offered. NEVER pass up the employer match. If you don’t know how to do this, talk to your Human Resources department immediately. Don’t piss away free money.
11. Make More Money: Create and sell a digital-only educational product that combines something you are passionate about with the solution to a problem at least 1,000 people have.
Do your research. Talk to at least ten potential customers. (If you can’t find potential customers, that’s a sign you might need to come up with something else.)
Consult with experts on solving that problem once you have a possible solution, and then make your product with your own unique spin and personality.
Look, man, I put Street Fighter 2-looking comic book characters in the personal finance book I’m publishing this year. Do you know why? Because I was high at the time and thought it’d be funny.
Rinse and repeat this step as often as you can, but go slow. Do your research. Tweak until it’s ready, publish it, and then you can move on to the next step. If you try to move too fast, you’ll make mistakes and mistakes cost you money.
12. If you have credit card debt, pay the balance in full each month for the card with the most debt. Then, get a calendar and put aside some money (as you can) to pay off this significant debt, and every time you put that money aside to put toward the monthly payment, put an X on the calendar. Aim to put an X on as many days as possible. Then move on to the next largest debt you have and repeat the process. Having the Xs on a calendar that is physical and visible is a helpful way to stat motivated and stay on track with completing a challenging goal like this one.
13. Make sure anyone you go to for any matter concerning managing your money has committed to following the fiduciary standard in all their dealings with you. This is a non-negotiable because otherwise, those people will act in their own best interests or that of the fund/bank/whatever other financial institution. Not your own.
14. Pick two or three things to spend freely on, like books or travel, and then cut back on everything else.
For more on the concept of Money Dials, I highly recommend this interview with Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich fame.
(We also recommend checking out this book for more helpful tips like what you’ve found here so far. Between Ramit’s book, Collins, and The Index Card, those are the only personal finance books you’ll ever need to read.)
15. Never buy something new if you can help it. For example, buy the most inexpensive car you can find if you need a car. As long as it has four wheels and runs reliably, that’s good enough. NEVER buy a new car. Don’t buy a new anything if you can help it.
16. There is no such thing as “good debt.” The only good debt is no debt. This includes debt created by “buy now, pay later” installment plans. Remember: The goal of our current financial system is to get you to use your debit or credit card and then “forget” about how much money you have in your account or how much money is coming out of your account so that you can keep spending. And the banks do their best to encourage this so they can ding you with overdraft fees.
17. In God We Trust, All Others Pay CASH! Not only is this the name of a great book by Jean Shepard (it also served as the basis for A Christmas Story) it should also be your personal policy whenever possible.
Pay for things in cash at every opportunity.
It’s not in the best interest of corporations for you to pay for everything in cash and keep track of your transactions. They want you to go into debt. That’s why they want to add more and more friction to having you use cash and less friction to buy something and forget about it online.
Since it’s not always possible to pay for things with cash, that’s why I started this guide by telling you to keep an eye on your bank statements. Because if you don’t keep an eye on your bank statements, your money will vanish like your patience in a bad Atlantic City magic show.
Put another way, like democracy, you need to guard your expenditures with constant vigilance.
18. Get involved. Protect Your Fellow Renters.
When I tell people not to buy a home and rent instead, two objections arise: 1) Shitty Landlords. 2) The desire to own more space.
As far as point #2 goes, I understand this. So, I want to reiterate: If you want to have something you own as a home, by all means, go and buy that home. But. Don’t buy more than you need, and don’t think that your home or property you purchased is some asset. It’s not. Your home is not an investment. You will, in most cases, lose money on it. So, own it because you want to own it, but don’t own it for any other reason.
Now, what about Shitty Landlords? They exist. They suck. And I encourage you to find organizations in your local community that advocate for renter protections on the community, state, or national level.
Find these organizations, support them, join them if you can, and fight. There are great landlords, and nobody is looking to punish them. But there are also a lot of large corporations that buy up property and look to jack up the rent and cut costs wherever they can. We need to advocate on behalf of everyone who wants to rent to ensure they are protected from these corporations.
Everyone is struggling now.
You’re not alone.
By doing the things I listed here, however, you’ll be in better shape than most people.
That gives you a chance to fight back against the fascists and their enablers because money and how much you have of it is what really determines your freedom in our world.
So the more people I can help save, the more people I can empower to do the same for others until we’re all free.
I forgot the last one.
19. Pay your goddamn taxes. Every personal finance book I’ve read, and I’ve read dozens at this point, includes some conservative garbage about how you should pay as little in taxes as possible.
Always pay your taxes.
If you’re mad that your taxes are high, remember that your taxes only go up when the taxes on the corporations go down. And wouldn’t you guess it? They keep going down. (Because the politicians work for them, not us.)
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