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Book Review: The Automatic Millionaire

According to one source, the best and most effective way to create massive amounts of wealth is to literally do nothing at all. Granted, there is some work to set it all up, but after that you sit back and watch the money grow. Who wouldn’t want to participate in such an easy plan?

In David Bach’s The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich, he makes a big deal about paying yourself first. He argues that the government learned the hard way that if you wait to collect payment until tax season rolls around, people probably will have already spent the money. With this out of sight, out of mind theory, Bach advocates for setting up automatic withdrawals from your checking account into separate accounts for savings and retirement funds. He also suggest paying all your bills automatically, so that whatever’s left in the account is really and truly your money to spend as you wish.

The concept makes sense. If you pay yourself first, you’ll always be sure there’s money there to keep. If you wait until the end of the month and deposit whatever’s left, you run the risk of having nothing left at all. The power of automation, a millionaire’s secret.

I am proud to say that 2 months ago, I took this advice (without actually knowing it at the time).  I automated deposits into my retirement account (mostly because I was lazy). I didn’t realize this is actually the secret to getting rich! Now I don’t see these $50 in my bank statement because they’re already allocated to my retirement account. I base the rest of my monthly budget around what’s left in the account. I’m getting rich by doing nothing at all.

The Automatic Millionaire also makes a good point about the latte factor. Every day people (myself included) waste money on frivolous things. Some of us pick up a latte every day on the way to work (hence the name) but some of us simply fall for good marketing at the checkout counter, or eat our lunch out of the office more than we bring it from home. These little costs each day can add up to a big number by the end of the month, and an even bigger number over a lifetime.

Bach points out that if you instead save this money (in a retirement account) you could not only be spending less, but also making money on top of it!

I’m trying this in my own life by taking one item out of my shopping cart before I check out at the store. It amazes me that every time a box of cookies or bag of chips magically finds its way into my cart. These items are rarely on my shopping list, yet when I pass them in the aisles it’s as though they jump off the shelves and right into my life. Even saving $3 on an impulse bag of chips will add up to more money in my pocket in the long run.

The Automatic Millionaire takes things a step further by encouraging you to think about your purchases in hours spent earning them. For example, if you make $10 an hour, and those new throw pillows cost $20, it would take you 2 hours, or one quarter of an 8 hour day to pay for them. Are the pillows really worth one quarter of a day working, or could that money (and day) have been better spent building towards a bigger and more meaningful purchase?

What I really liked about the book is that there was no judgement behind Bach’s words. He only wanted to share his wisdom and help others to step closer to financial freedom. He never tells you to sell your TV and eat Ramen noodles for the rest of your life. He never says to give up your phone and live in a spare room at your parent’s house. His suggestions are practical, and always with your best interests at heart.

Sometimes we have to give up our comfort in the short term in order to live much more comfortably later on. I’m more than willing to give up a small luxury every day in order to retire when I’m 50. (If only that’s all it took…)

I would highly suggest reading The Automatic Millionaire if finances have been on your mind recently, if you’re looking to retire early or dig yourself out of a financial hole. I have debt, and this book motivated me to put every last penny together so I can pay them down AND invest in my own future. Because if you don’t, who’s going to?

Stay tuned to Financial February for more financial book reviews and tips I’ve learned about paying down debt and finding a more meaningful life.

Cable-Free January Wrap-Up

Even before I flipped the calendar to February 1st, I knew I was never going back to cable. I actually knew quite a bit earlier than that, on January 11th, just 11 days into my cable-free month. A conversation with mom really made me question my intent for this experiment. 

Mom: “Is Grey’s Anatomy on tonight?”

Me: “I’m not sure, but my DVR is taping something. Let me check” (I hadn’t unplugged the DVR because I am a masochist.)

Me: Pulling up the web page, “No, it only starts next week.”

Mom: “Oh that’s right, tonight is Project Runway. I’ll go upstairs and watch that before bed.”

I had a realization: Our lives are controlled by what show is on TV. Well, my previous life. Now I could hardly remember the show schedule that had at once been second nature. I indulged in at least one show (and usually more) a night, often staying up past my bedtime to cram in all my viewing. I would devote the afternoon hours on Saturdays to finishing shows I hadn’t been able to catch live during the week. Without my weekly clean up, I am surprised that my DVR had room for a full month’s worth of recordings.

Cable Box RecordingI thought the hardest part of letting go of cable was going to be deciding what shows mattered enough to keep watching. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to stream all of my addictions shows online, so what was I willing to miss out on? Where did I draw the line? Which show was the one that would keep me strapped to the cable box for the next five years, season after season?

Some shows were easy to dismiss. (Marriage Boot Camp had just finished a season, and I was already checked out of the next one.) Some were more difficult to decide on (I watched Grey’s Anatomy live with my mom every Thursday and texted about what was going on). But in exchange for trading in the cable box, I would get back hours of my life. I could fill these hours with meaning, with new adventures and friends. Giving up cable means getting so much more in return.

After only eleven days, I had:

  • Finished 3 books from the library
  • Taken and edited pictures for each of my next scheduled blog posts
  • Listened to quite a few podcasts
  • Cooked more than I had in the past month
  • Dug into my finances to see where I could save more
  • Realized my life doesn’t revolve around the television

I’m still plagued by the “what ifs” of the cable box. What if a cool new show comes on that everyone knows about but me? What if I miss something really important? (Like what? I don’t have the slightest idea.) What if I regret it later?

After a month without, there are no regrets. I have not turned on the cable box once in January (although I did have a nightmare that I wound up watching the news somehow), and I have cut down substantially on the time I spend consuming shows. The time I did spend watching was spent with others, and the screen time ended after our movie was complete. Then I traded the glowing screen for meaningful conversation.

TVBefore, my movie viewing would have bled over into another hour or so of mindless TV ‘just because’. I would sit down to a movie at 6 and before I knew it, I’d be waking up to a midnight infomercial trying to sell me something useless for “three low payments of $29.99!” I will not miss the ads.

What wound up being the toughest part of breaking up with cable was dealing with Comcast. I spoke to three different agents (through chat and at the store) who all told me wildly different prices and service packages I could obtain. They ranged anywhere from $30 a month to $75 a month for basic internet. I wound up returning my cable box and dropping the cable plan at the store (for the still hefty price of $75) and then chatting with an agent once I was home to lock in a better rate of $50 a month.

They assure me this is not a promotional rate, but my firm rate for the rest of the year. If so, it’s still $80 less than I was paying, or $960 a year. This money will go directly into my savings account, removed from spendable income as soon as it’s deposited.

My focus in February is finance. Financial Freedom to me means the freedom to make choices based on wants and needs, without worrying about whether I can afford it. My goal is to one day reach this point.

The money I’m saving each month from dropping my cable plan will go directly into savings. This is an investment into my financial future, and a way to help fund my early retirement (something I’m becoming increasingly interested in after reading about it!)

I have not met one single person who regrets giving up their cable subscription (or their entire TV for that matter, although I’m not quite there yet myself). It seems there are plenty of other things to do out in this great big world than plant your bottom in front of a screen. I plan to find out exactly what those new things are.

***

Today is the first day of #FinancialFebruary! I invite you to share your financial goals and accomplishments with me in the comments below, or on social media!

You can find me on FaceBook at facebook.com/FindMoreMeaning

Or on Instagram at instagram.com/findmoremeaning

Tell me all about your #FinancialFebruaryGoals for this month, and how you’re going to turn them into a reality!

Watch

I hoard gift cards. I like to keep them for “something useful” or “something special” and it often stops me from using them altogether. Take the $50 gift card I received from an aunt 4 Christmases ago. It’s still sitting in the drawer waiting for someday. Next to it is the gift from my amazing cooperating teacher in my senior year of college. I wanted to spend it on something meaningful to remember my whole experience by. Yet there it sits.

I wanted to buy THE watch. A big, beautiful, gaudy watch for $100 that I could use to keep track of the time and also to tell everyone about my amazing student teaching experience when they asked where it was from. I had a vision of THE perfect watch and I couldn’t shake it.

But then I started seeing smart watches. Maybe this was the way to go. With another category came more options. Which one is the most suited for me? Which was going to give me the largest face, with all the numbers shown, a second hand, and so on? Which one was THE watch? I shopped everywhere. I dragged anyone I was with to look at the displays just in case they featured THE watch.

watch long.jpgBy the time I got my first teaching job, I still hadn’t found THE watch. I did however, find A watch, a $20 nice-enough placeholder until I could find “the one”.

Then life got crazy (new teachers, am I right?) so I stopped looking. Today, that gift card sits in my drawer, untouched. My someday never came.

It took me four years (and seven months) to realize that the price tag on a watch does not determine if it’s THE watch. My perfect watch is simple, functional, and reliable. My perfect watch is the one I’ve worn for four years (and seven months) because I needed one and it worked well for me. I saved that gift card all these years hoping it would help me find THE watch. The one that would encompass me so perfectly I just had to have it.

I put way too much pressure on that gift card.

I wanted to feel beautiful and expensive. I wanted to feel comfortable in front of my classroom and respected by other teachers. I wanted to know that I was making a difference in kid’s lives and sharing my passion for teaching with them. No watch was ever going to make me feel that way.

watch round.jpgSo now the gift card is in my wallet (along with the one from my aunt for “something special”) and it will be used on groceries and gas. It will help support me in my quest to serve my students, to be a better teacher and to find more meaning every day. I think this is the way they were intended anyway.

Have you ever found that your desire for something wasn’t actually for that item, but a feeling instead? Let me know!

Travel

When I was ready to graduate from college and about to set out on my own for the first time, I had more than a few fears. First and foremost I feared I wouldn’t find a job as a music teacher, and I would subsequently be unsuccessful in my field, basically meaning I would fail at all future endeavors in my life and wind up homeless with not even two pennies to rub together for warmth. (This is a bit of an exaggeration, but that’s what I felt like I was up against at the time.)

I applied for over 150 jobs teaching any type of music (band, orchestra, chorus, general) to any grade level (K-12). I applied to public schools, private schools, long term substitute positions, you name it. I picked out three states fairly close to home (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia) and applied to everything I could find.

I was called for a surprisingly small number of interviews (or large if you consider that I was fresh out of college) but none came with a job offer. So I started looking into other ways to earn a living.

I’d never been keen on traveling, I like staying in a new place for a while, allowing time to unpack and really settle in before I have to pack up and move on again. But I started to feel restless and worried so I started researching teaching opportunities in other countries. There were many companies willing to match me with a teaching job in countries I had never even heard of. I pondered which one I’d like to visit most.

Teach in ThailandFor absolutely no reason at all, I got stuck on Thailand. I spent next to no time researching it (I truly didn’t even know what language they spoke, Thai, duh) but yet it felt like the country was pulling me towards it. I couldn’t sleep, I just kept thinking about what it would be like to live in a new country, sharing my passion for teaching and educating these young children who may otherwise not have the opportunity.

I was ready to pull the trigger and sign up for my year-long trip to Thailand, when I was offered a job in New Jersey and backed out of my plans to travel.

I still think about Thailand all the time. The more I read about it, the more magical it sounds, and I now know enough to want to go (for real). I’ve been tucking away that dream for another time, when I have more money, when I don’t have an established career to take care of, when I have someone to go with.

Last week I was watching Shark Tank (I love this show) and two young adults came on talking about their travel business, Taaluma. They travel the world and buy authentic fabric from other countries, then bring it back and make it into a knapsack keepsake for your next travel adventures. I fell in love with the story, and I fell in love with the backpacks.

Taaluma ThailandI went online and found the ones from Thailand. My favorite is covered in little marching elephants, decorated in beautiful colors, trunks held high. I love the plain white background and the exciting bursts of color those elephants provide. I was seconds from hitting the order button when I realized that I, too could be the victim of impulse buying. I continued to explore the rest of the site.

Much to my delight, I discovered that part of their business model is to help people who have visited these new countries remember their trip by making them a bag from this exotic fabric.

If you buy over 15 feet of fabric on your travels, they will run a line of backpacks from your fabric! And you get the first one free! Not only will you remember your trip forever, but they will have a chance to make money off of the other bags sold.

What’s even better, Taaluma is rooted in giving back. When they sell back packs from a country, they pay it forward by offering businesses there microloans to build their own companies. I knew what I had to do. I need to go to Thailand, buy some fabric, and have a one of a kind backpack made to remember it by.

So I started crunching numbers. The earliest I’ll be able to go is over the Summer of 2020 (due to loans and financial obligations), but if I start saving now I will have enough money to make it happen. Now, every time I go to order Chinese food (a weakness) I think about whether I want it more than my trip to Thailand. And usually the answer is no.

I think I found my motivation to start saving more. How do you save for big trips? I need any advice I can get!

Exchanging My Shoes For a New Outlook on Money

For the past 4 years I’ve looked forward to Black Friday shopping like a fish looks forward to food. As soon as it gets close it’s the only thing I can think about. The familiar motion of just walking by a store becomes overwhelming and I have to venture inside.

Thursday night, after the family was tucked into bed, I would make my way to the outlets, the mall, the craft stores and anywhere else that was open to score once-a-year deals on things I truly didn’t need. Black Friday was the time to get them. They were half price, or 30% off, or buy one get one and I needed them all.

When the beast was fed, I would creep back home in the wee hours of the morning, snuggling into bed and leaving my purchases strewn across the floor to greet me in the morning when I could show my family what great bargains I scored. I was an excellent shopper.

And then the feeling when I wore my new delights! My favorite feeling was cutting the tags off an item to wear it for the first time. I would sometimes put it on before cutting off the tags, so as not to miss a single second of that magic feeling. I looked forward to the compliments I would get (whether they came or not didn’t matter). I would feel my best because I knew I looked my best.

Eventually I was buying clothes for that feeling. For the rush, the excitement, the exhilaration of cutting off tags and compliments and confidence. I didn’t need new clothes. I needed excitement.

I was a consumer. Not only that, but I was a mindless consumer. I didn’t know what I actually needed, I knew only what would make me feel good. I went shopping with money to spend, and only left when I thought that the feelings in my bags would last until my next trip. I never felt satisfied for long. They made sure of that.

***

I went to the mall last weekend. I did not go with money to spend. I did not go seeking exhilaration or confidence or deals.

While cleaning out my closet I found a pair of shoes I hadn’t worn since I bought them (over a year ago). I wondered if I could return them since the tags were still on. I did need to replace a pair of black flats…

A few weeks ago I slipped on ice leaving my apartment. After the trip to the emergency room I was given a clean bill of health. I started to wonder if the fall could have been prevented. Lo and behold, the shoes I’d been wearing were so worn there was no grip on the bottom. They were worn through at the heel, exposing the lining of the interior, and the toe had a hole clean through to my sock. I hadn’t noticed, but this type of damage clearly didn’t happen overnight. I threw them out and swore to wear boots outside for the rest of the winter.

At the time, I was struck by something else. I’d thrown out a pair of shoes. One of my rules for my year without new clothes was that I got to replace things that became worn out. I owed it to myself. I was allowed to get another pair of shoes.

So I found myself at the mall. Armed with the pair I’d found in my closet, the plan was to do an even exchange and get out of there without breaking any rules.

But of course, the shoes could only be returned at a discount. I found a coupon, and I still had to shell out $8 to pay for the new black flats. I swiped my card, bit my lip, and wound my way back through the maze of stores and elevators and halls until I was safely back in my car.

But the $8 didn’t sit well with me. The whole drive home I was plagued by the money I’d spent. I unpacked the shoes and could barely put them into my closet. I know $8 is hardly anything for a new pair of shoes. I know it’s a great deal if you’re in the market for a pair of black flats. But I wasn’t in the market for a pair of black flats. I consulted my closet.

There, tucked perfectly into their shoe cubbies were two other pairs of black flats, in beautiful condition, because I had worn them before but simply cast them aside when I bought new ones. Newer, better, more exciting shoes. I hadn’t even remembered I owned these.

So yesterday I returned the black flats. I marched myself back down those winding halls, right past the people in the Starbucks begging me to come in, past the free samples at Teavanna, through the mob standing at the hair straightening booth in the middle of the hall, and right back to the shoe store.

I returned the shoes. The woman didn’t even ask why. I’m glad she didn’t because I’m not sure what I would have said.

I feel guilty for owning these.

I don’t need them.

Upon further reflection, I bought them as a result of unconscious consumerism and I don’t want to live my life that way anymore.

None of these seemed quite right so I was happy to avoid the conversation.

She swiped my card and I saw the whole amount returned to me. I felt a wave of relief. The money was safely back in my possession. I was in control again. The guilt and unease that had plagued me for the last week is finally gone.

I don’t need the shoes. Owning them wasn’t helping me become a better person.

So this week I chose to be a conscious consumer, spending my money consciously and honoring the challenge I set for myself. I could have easily brushed it off and filed it away under “replacing” since I’d allowed myself this caveat.

Instead I am in touch with my feelings and truly know what I want. I want to travel. I want to retire early. I want to do something important with my money.

And that doesn’t involve buying another pair of shoes.

Luxury

I found Jon Bellion on the radio while I was driving to the doctor’s office. It was a weekday, I remember because I had to take off from work and drive to the next town over. It was my first appointment with a new doc, and I was nervous. Yet it turned into that nervous excitement from being somewhere new, doing something different. I was supposed to be at school, but I was driving down a one lane highway towards a new experience. Jon Bellion’s All Time Low came on the radio. I was captivated. I was concentrating so hard that I missed a turn and the GPS started kindly nagging me to turn around. I was so laser focused on the song, the lyrics, the instruments, that I had all but blocked out the outside world.

In a month I knew every song he’d written, and played his albums almost everywhere. My friends suffered through sessions of “this is my new favorite song! No wait, this one is my favorite!” every time we hung out. I stalked his website for tour dates. It payed off when a date popped up in Philly for September (before I knew I’d be living 20 minutes away), and I snatched up a ticket for myself and a friend. I can still feel that excitement. I’m going to see Jon Bellion.

The day arrived with that nervous excitement again. I was in a new city, a new venue, I’d just moved my entire life to New Jersey and I was starting over. This felt like the right start to a new chapter of my life. We stood on the lawn and waited patiently for the openers to finish. (I was not so patient.) I was ready for the main event. The man of the hour. My favorite.

The hype man called his name, and out walked Jon Bellion, a musical genius who I had been singing along with for a year at this point. Then I couldn’t see him any more. All I could see were glowing screens, and arms, and instagram feeds. I was here to see Jon and I couldn’t even catch a glimpse without him pixelized in front of me.

I had a moment right then.

In the past, that had been me. I had been the person vying for the best picture, for a recording of my favorite song. I had elbowed my way through more than a few concerts just to get a picture of my favorite band. But where were those pictures now? I would be hard pressed to find even one of them. I didn’t print them, I didn’t frame them, and they weren’t very good anyway. The memory was more important than the photograph, and I remembered the concert clear as day. So why were all these people trying to snap pictures when they could be enjoying the music?

Jon BellionWhen I took those pictures of past bands there wasn’t an Instagram. There was no Snapchat, or split second way to share your every move with the world. Maybe that’s why people needed the pictures now. Why they thought they needed the pictures now. They wanted to show the world what they were up to. They wanted people to see how rich their life was, the amazing experience they were having.

Some people viewed that whole concert through a phone. In turn, some people around them viewed the whole concert through a phone. I feel bad for those people. I refuse to be one of those people.

The concert was amazing, and when Jon sat down to play one of my favorite songs, I snapped a picture of him. Just one. Then I put the phone away, and I sang along with him just like we had so many times in the car, in my apartment, on the treadmill. I wanted the memories more than the pictures.

Jon has a lyric in his song Luxury,

“Please don’t let my soul drown in luxury.”

It’s a reminder to me that there are more important things. More important than luxury, or money, or photos. Those words keep me grounded when I start to slip. It helps me find meaning.

To purchase Jon Bellion’s CD click here. (This is an affiliate link. I will get a small portion of the profits, at no extra cost to you, if you buy through this link.)