In February of this year, I made a confession to all of our readers, and I will make it again.
Until a little over a year ago, I wanted nothing to do with our finances. I was happy to be the breadwinner in our household, bring home a paycheck, and have Mr. Fioneer manage our money.
I wanted nothing to do with our finances because I felt conflicted and guilty about having and making money. I’ve spent the vast majority of my time working in nonprofit organizations related to various causes – education reform, poverty alleviation, and economic empowerment.
I knew we were extremely well off compared to the people my organizations worked with, and I didn’t know what to do with that cognitive dissonance. If you want to read more about how I worked through this, I’ll point you to an earlier post “Why I Wanted to Be Poor: Debunking the Scarcity Mindset.”
I’m here to pull back the curtain and share how we manage our finances. Most of these practices were already in place before I got involved. Now that I am more aware and involved, I now realize how lucky I am to have a partner who has been so conscientious about our finances. It was Mr. Fioneer who set us up for success from the very beginning.
Both of us are now involved in the management of our finances.
We don’t usually write such nitty-gritty posts, but we thought that sharing how we manage our finances would be a nice change of pace from the financial philosophy and lifestyle design we’ve been focusing on recently.
Early in our careers, when we first started managing our money, we kept a strict traditional budget with distinct categories. At the time, we didn’t make very much money and lived in a high cost of living area, so this was necessary.
After 5 years of career and income growth, we began to save quite a bit more money. Corey deemed it wasn’t worth keeping such a strict budget. Around this time, he heard about the anti-budget from Paula Pant on Afford Anything.
According to Paula, there are 3 easy steps to the anti-budget:
- Decide how much you want to save.
- Pull this off the top.
- Relax about the rest.
While the anti-budget eliminates the need to budget and track spending in specific categories, it is a fairly advanced way to manage your money. For the anti-budget to really work well, you need to already have a really good handle on your expenses.
With this approach, you decide what your savings rate will be, but you can’t decide this in a vacuum.
When we first started using the anti-budget in 2015, we decided to save 25% of our income. This was reasonable based on how much income we were projecting for the year and what we knew about our expenses from the previous year.
Each year, we’ll sit down together to create our new anti-budget. This year, we’re projecting that we will be able to save about 55% of our income. Here’s how we came to that number:
- We projected our gross income for the year and did the calculations needed to determine what that would mean for our net income.
- We reviewed our spending from 2018 together and discussed areas where we thought we could spend less. Then we projected our likely spending.
- By subtracting likely spending from net income, we were able to determine our likely savings amount and savings rate.
Automated Investments and Savings
To fully execute the anti-budget and save money throughout the year, we pay ourselves first. Logistically, we automate our investments and savings throughout the year. Here’s a list of the automated investments and transfers for our savings:
- Employer-Sponsored Retirement Accounts: My company offers a 401K and Corey’s company offers a Simple IRA. We choose to max out those investment accounts each year through payroll deduction.
- Roth IRAs: We also have our bank accounts set-up to automatically transfer money each month into our Roth IRAs (which we max out each year). This year that equates to $500 per month.
- We also invest some money into a taxable investment account. This account will provide us some future flexibility since it is not a tax-advantaged account.
- Lastly, we also automatically transfer additional money to our savings account at Ally.
While the anti-budget is quite a bit less time consuming to manage than a traditional budget, you certainly can’t set it, forget it, and hope everything works out. There are two things that we do on a monthly basis to ensure we are staying on track.
Review Spending On Personal Capital
While we don’t focus too closely on particular categories, we do review our spending each monthly using Personal Capital. This tool is extremely helpful for us. It pulls in expenses from all of our accounts and credit cards and puts them into categories.
Since we know roughly how much we spend per month overall and in particular categories like groceries, restaurants, transportation, etc., we are able to fairly quickly diagnose if something is off.
Earlier this year, I took a look at personal capital and realized that I had spent considerably more money eating out than I wanted to spend. Reviewing Personal Capital was the only wake-up call I needed. I stopped buying coffee out and when a colleague invited me to have lunch, I suggested we bring out own lunches and eat outside.
Net Worth Tracker
Not only do we track our net worth using Personal Capital, but we also track our net worth manually in a spreadsheet.
We started doing this in 2011, before the days of Personal Capital. We’ve continued this because of the historical data and because we like to manipulate the data in ways that we can’t do within Personal Capital. We spend 5 minutes each month entering all of our assets and liabilities, referring Personal Capital to make this process as easy as possible.
Our spreadsheet allows us to more easily calculate the annual increases in our net worth (both in dollars and percentage: annual growth rate). We also track the time it takes us to save each $100K. This is quite motivating. Each $100K typically takes less time than the last.
We’ve tried to make our finances as simple to manage as possible. Not only do we automate as much as we possibly can, but we also limit our accounts to two institutions (Ally and Fidelity). Here’s how we manage our day-to-day finances.
One Month Cash Reserve
We keep a minimum cash reserve equal to one month of expenses in our main checking account. This cushion ensures that there is no risk that we will overdraw the account because of our regular expenses.
More importantly, this also means we never use any mental bandwidth thinking about whether we have enough money in our main account. Throughout the month, our checking account fluctuates between one and two months of expenses based on our income and expenses.
Automating Bills & Charitable Giving
In addition to automating all of our investments, we’ve also automated all of our regular bills and charitable giving. Because we avoid debt when we can, we have very few reoccurring monthly expenses. Here’s a list of our regular monthly expenses that are all automated:
- Electricity (Utilities)
- Natural Gas (Utilities)
- Mortgage Payment, including property taxes
- Various charitable donations
Coupled with our cash reserve, this automation allows us to never feel stressed about money.
We also keep at least 3 months of expenses saved in our emergency fund. We have this emergency savings in a high-interest savings account at Ally account so that we receive much higher interest than a normal bank.
Some people recommend creating separate accounts for large upcoming purchases, like a new (to us) car, a down payment, or a large home repair. We’ve chosen to keep one account in Ally and co-mingle our savings for these future large purchases with our emergency fund.
In fact, we are currently saving money for a down payment on a rental property. This money is in our Ally account that also serves as our emergency fund, so we have much more than 3 months of living expenses in this account.
Once we buy the rental property, we will very likely go back to about 3 months of savings in our emergency fund. Because we are both working and have other assets that we could pull from in a true emergency (e.g. Roth IRAs) if absolutely needed, we feel good about keeping the emergency fund at this level.
All aspects of our finances are quite simple until we start talking about credit cards. We each have a number of credit cards that we’ve had open for a long time, and we also churn through cards for travel rewards.
We put the vast majority of our purchases on credit cards because we like to receive rewards for our purchases. We are not the kind of people who buy more things on credit than if we used cash. In fact, it’s the opposite. If I have cash, I burn through it because what I use it on is not actually tracked in our accounts.
We pay off all of our credit cards in FULL every month. It is not worth pursuing any sort of credit card rewards or travel hacking if you are going to go into debt to do it.
We have a few basic credit cards with no annual fee that we keep open for the credit history, even if we do not use them frequently. When a card has an annual fee, we consider whether the card benefits outweigh the cost. There are some cards we’ve chosen to keep open and others we’ve closed.
We actively pursue travel rewards. In the past few years, credit card rewards have paid for flights to Hawaii, Europe, Panama and a number of domestic US destinations. While traveling, we have used credit card rewards for many hotel stays, Airbnb, local transportation, and activities. We estimate that we save a minimum of $2,000-3,000/year because of this strategy.
Travel hacking can be complicated, but for us, it is worth it. If you are interested in travel hacking, I’d recommend reviewing our Travel Hacking 101 post which will tell you about the types of travel rewards credit cards available and tips to travel for free.
Using credit cards in this way can be complicated, so it’s important to diligently track everything. This is why we keep a spreadsheet of all of our credit cards to track information like date opened, reward requirements, annual fee, etc.
Personal Finances are Personal
Managing your finances is something that evolves over time. We continue to make small improvements to our processes. We haven’t optimized all aspects of our finances, but this is the method that works for us right now.
You very likely manage your money differently than we do, and that’s okay as long as it’s intentional. Everyone has to choose what is important to them, often at the expense of something else.
We’d likely have a higher net worth if we were to keep a smaller cash reserve in our checking account and invest that money in the market. However, we prefer the peace of mind that comes with this larger cushion, even with the known opportunity cost of having less money invested.
If you are new to managing your finances or are looking to improve how you manage your money, I’ll leave you with several guiding principles that inform our approach to money:
- Spend your mental energy on the areas that matter most
- Create a plan or goal and track your progress along the way
- Automate as much of the day-to-day activities as possible
- Save more money to buy back your time
- Make small improvements to your process over time
How have you chosen to manage your finances? Do you have any practices that seem counterintuitive but work for you?