I never wanted to think about money.
Making money wasn’t the problem, most of the time. It was managing it, thinking responsibly about it. I felt like it was quite an accomplishment to have hacked that, as a 30-year-old freelance artist in Cape Town. But planning long-term, thinking about retirement, about investing, saving and generally being responsible with money…. I procrastinated endlessly on learning anything about it, the same way I procrastinate about a project that makes me nervous.
The truth was, I didn’t want to think about how I was actually going to retire. And things didn’t seem too dire; I seemed to always be making just enough to keep ahead of my expenses, but not actually enough to plan ahead long term. I just sort of… hoped this state of affairs would continue. And it mostly did.
And then, 2018 happened.
The year began with five months of work-drought, for which I had little to no savings, and actual drought, for the whole of Cape Town. Then one of my best friends died suddenly. Shortly afterward, I went from earning nothing for five months to earning (and spending) a lot. Then I had two BIG financial emergencies in the same week (my cellphone and my car) and suddenly even my awesome salary seemed like it couldn’t keep up.
The convergence of all of these crises led me to deal the only way I know how; by immersion. I became obsessed with sorting out my finances.
Fortunately, the material was there to hand: Sam Beckbessinger’s excellent book, Manage Your Money Like a F*cking Grown-up, had just come out and I read it in a weekend. I discovered The Fat Wallet Show podcast and chomped several episodes a day.
I discovered the FIRE movement and read “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement” by Mr. Money Moustache, and went down a rabbit-hole of podcasts and blogs for eight months. I found whole communities of personal finance enthusiasts. Ordinary people who were fixing their finances. I asked them frank questions and learned from them, and let them inspire me.
The big issue
I was desperate to turn my financial boat around quickly. It turned out things weren’t as bad as I thought. I had no debt, my lifestyle wasn’t over-inflated, and I was earning decently. The problem was (as I already suspected) that I was spending everything I made.
My net-worth was constantly hitting zero, apart from what I’d managed to throw into a retirement annuity when I felt particularly flush. And I didn’t often feel flush because I had, to my horror, absolutely no concept of an emergency fund or its role in my financial well-being. I needed to hack my savings ratio and learn how to simplify my wants and needs at the same time.
By the end of the year, I hit my emergency fund goal. I regularly threw as much money as possible into index trackers, retirement annuities and tax-free accounts. I set up a basic hospital plan (I’d lived without for the last ten years) and closed the over-priced bank account I’d had since I was a teenager. My strangest experience was when I had a meeting with my financial advisor to interrogate my fees and I could follow at least half of everything he talked about.
I’d faced my financial demons and overcome. I think about retirement a lot now. When something confuses me about my money I have people I can ask and spreadsheets I can work it out on. I’m no longer hitting zero. I watch my investments and savings make incremental progress.
I can project into a less scary future now because I grabbed the opportunity to learn that life thrust upon me.
Related: 6 Savings Tips for the Average Joe
So if anxiety about your finances brought you to this blog, that’s awesome. This is the best day of your life. Not because I’m so clever and have all the answers, but because you are ready to change your relationship with money.
If 2018 taught me anything, it’s that anyone is totally capable of it.
Article reposted with permission from Drawing Money.