More Money = More Freedom: Q&A with J. Money

achieving financial freedom

There is plenty advice out there on how to best manage your budget and save for the future. Most everyone agrees you shouldn’t spend more than you make and to always be saving for retirement. While I’m all about simplicity when it comes to managing money, increasing your wealth is bit of an art and takes a lot of thought and regular maintenance.

My generation (yes, I’m a Millennial) is known for migrating to major metropolitan cities post college. We’re getting married later, buying homes later and having kids even later. However, when you live in an expensive city, it seems impossible to save the recommended 15 to 25 percent of your income. But it brings up an even bigger question, how should you manage your money for marriage, a home, kids and to retire before 60 (is that wishful thinking?)

Cue J. Money, the voice and mind behind Budgets Are Sexy. While I thought I had him convinced to break his anonymity and share his name with the Haven Life audience, I was unsuccessful but was able to pick his brain on all things wealth related: saving, investing, credit cards, insurance and more.

Q: So, what’s your first name? Jason? John? Jack? Jeremy?

You can call me Jay 🙂 Or whatever you want really, as long as it’s not an expletive!

Q: Why did you become passionate about increasing your wealth?

I started paying attention to my money when I bought a house that I really shouldn’t have. It was the peak of the market, I didn’t have a budget, and every bank in the world wanted to lend me half a million dollars to “purchase the dream.” And even though I had no money to put down, nor was I in the market to buy my first house (I started the search 48 hours earlier looking for an apartment to rent!) I signed away $360,000 on the spur of the moment because I thought ownership was the next “normal” step with adulthood.

This would later become my biggest financial mistake, however it also forced me to pay attention to my money and seek out advice online. This then brought me to personal finance blogs and prompted me to start my own. A few years after that I would become self-employed as a financial blogger, have a great online community sharing ideas and thoughts on money, and grow my wealth from $50,000 to almost $500,000.

So while at first I was forced to get my financial act together, I later became obsessed with it and realized that if you can get a good foundation down early, you can accomplish your goals and dreams in life.

Q: You mention goals and dreams in life – can you expand on that?

Put simply: your goals and dreams are WHY you should care about managing your money. It’s not to become a gazillionaire or beating all your fancy pants neighbors. It’s to live the life that YOU ultimately want, and to do so on your own terms. You need to know *what* these goals and dreams are or else it’s easy to slip and not care enough to make things happen.

Constantly remind yourself why it is you’re hustling so hard to pay off your debt or max out your IRA or to buy your first home. You want freedom. Freedom from the rat race and freedom from having others make decisions for you. This is what money gives you. A lifestyle built to your own liking and free from all the stresses money troubles bring.

Is it easy or fast to reach? Hell no. But is it worth it? You bet your sweet ass it is. The people that succeed make it a priority and want it bad. You’re the one who cares the most about your life! And because money is directly tied to it, you need to care just as much about that too.

Q: You blog a lot about cutting expenses and trying to earn extra money. What are three things metro city money lovers can do to save more? And, please don’t tell us to give up coffee!

I would never say that! Haha… As my good friend Paula likes to say, you can afford anything but just not *everything*. So coffee or any other niceties you enjoy in life are perfectly fine to keep around so long as you’re not splurging in all categories of life.

Last year I started something up called the “Challenge Everything” mission where I went down through all my major bills to see how much I could save, and then threw the difference I was saving every month forward into a separate savings account. And while I also threw other amounts into this account each month like profit from Craigslist sales and other “found money,” I’ve since banked a little over $4,000 in 8 months.

What did I do?

  • Called up my cable company and asked what I can do to have a lower bill each month – $80 saved
  • Called my car insurance company up and asked them the same question – $30 saved.
  • Tackled the mecca of all luxury expenses – the cell phone! I dropped my iPhone for an Android with Republic Wireless. Shaving my bill from $150+ every month w/ my wife, down to $50 and change. That’s $100 EVERY SINGLE MONTH forever! And, I got pretty much unlimited everything.

Point is, we’re capable of spending a lot less for pretty much the same lifestyle if we actually stop and do something about it. I should point out that the second piece to the puzzle here is *actually saving* all this money you’re now shaving off.

Q: How do you feel about having multiple savings accounts?

I think if you’re awesome with money, one is perfectly fine. And honestly, the minimalist in me much prefers that. However since most people suck at saving (or at least staying motivated), setting up multiple accounts for all the different goals they’re trying to reach can really be helpful. Here’s why:

  • You won’t forget how much you had saved for each goal
  • You won’t forget what you were even saving for
  • You won’t think you’re saving more than you really are
  • You won’t think you have extra money to spend as the pot starts to grow
  • And lastly, you won’t put yourself in a last minute crunch!

A friend of mine just wrote a killer article about why you should have multiple savings accounts here.  It’s not for everyone, but if you’re stuck trying to find a saving solution, give it a shot. You can always cut down on them later, and most banks allow you to set up all these extra accounts without fees (though I’d of course double check that!).

Q: Do you and your wife keep any of your finances separate?

We used to, yes, but we recently combined them to simplify our lives more. I’m a big fan of everyone having their own, separate, account for “splurge” money (and to help avoid fights about money – which we all know is one of the leading causes of divorce), but there’s power in combining forces for the main everyday stuff.

We have one main checking account, one main savings, and one main credit card that’s used for our entire household. Both my wife and I manage and have access to it all. If there’s anything we need to buy/pay off that’s $100 or more, we run it by the other person first. This makes sure we’re both on the same page without irritating the other as it’s a rule. And then we funnel away “don’t ask” money into each of our side accounts which we can then spend however it is we’d like with no questions asked. It’s a tiny fraction of our income, but it helps immensely.

Q: At what point in your relationship did you lay it all out on the table: salary, debt, savings and all things money?

Good question! I would say a lot of it came out naturally in the first few months just because it’s when you’re trying to learn so much about the other person and most of it comes up in daily lifestyle stuff(like with debts, income or lack there of, etc), but we didn’t talk specifics until it got more serious after a year or so.

Once we got engaged and started planning the wedding, you BETTER know the financials of the other person as it’ll shortly become that of your own too. I was fortunate that my wife was a good saver and rarely spent money on anything outside of bar hopping. Bar hopping has now morphed to spending money on our kids!

Q: Investing – scary! How should Millennials tackle it?

I can’t tell you how much, or what % of your income to invest in. That’s based on your financial goals and where your priorities lie. But know this: Investing *any* amount is better than *zero* amount.

Now of course you want to be smart with your investments and not throw it into something random “just to invest.” However, if you’re considering investing, you need to just pull the trigger. Yes it’s scary at first, and yes it requires some time to look into, but once you get going it really isn’t that bad. Look up index investing or target date funds or even just mutual fund investing to get an idea of the different strategies out there.

At the end of the day, you want all your money invested working for you and producing tiny little baby monies who will grow up and then produce even more. As J. Reuben Clark once said, “Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation…” You want all your money working for you as soon as possible!

Q: There are a lot of cool online tools like Betterment, Wealthfront and Motif. Have you tried any of them? What do you think?

Yeah, I’ve heard great things about all those companies, though the only one I’ve tried personally is Motif. I think harnessing any of these services – or others – out there is smart if it gets you to take action and start growing your wealth sooner than later.

I’ll also drop the app Acorns here because it’s an easy way to get started with investing and really helps with motivation. They round up your transactions to the nearest $1.00, and then drop the difference into pre-approved investing portfolios for you. So every time you shop or pay a bill you’re actually investing at the same time! It won’t be enough to retire on, but it may help get you jump started and increase your confidence.

Q: One of my favorite games to play is: how much free money can I get out of my credit card company. Is that stupid? What’s your credit card situation?

Haha… I think that’s perfectly fine as long as you’re actually paying off your bills every month 🙂 The problem with most people is that they don’t, so they end up paying more in fees than they do in getting back the rewards.

This is a prime area where your personality plays a huge factor. And if you mostly trust yourself, sticking to just one card is probably best (which is what I do – not because I don’t trust myself, but just because it’s much easier to manage). So, my feeling here is that having a few cards is fine as long as you’re staying on top of it all. Find the sweet spot that works for you and then leave it be. There’s a lot to be said for simplicity.

Q: I’m going to ask you about life insurance because, well, I work for a life insurance company. Do you have it?

I do have term life insurance! My wife also. We wanted to make sure that we were covered in the event any of us should leave this great Earth of ours, so we made sure the term amount would at least cover that. And then as we started having kids it made even more sense to be insured so that they would be covered as well. We probably need more than we have right now, but the beauty of managing your money well is that all that can be used in a state of emergency as well. But yes – huge fan of term life and love how straightforward it is. You insure for $X amount, and if you rise to the heavens at any point within the time frame selected (we did 30 years each), your loved ones get exactly $X.

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Q: What other types of insurance do you and your wife have?

We have car insurance, renter’s insurance, property insurance, and, most recently, umbrella insurance. Which kicks in on top of the others in case something really horrible happens! When you start really growing your net worth, this becomes much more important to pay attention to.

Q: Do you consult with a financial planner?

I do not. I think there’s definitely a time and place to connect with an advisor (especially as your money starts growing). But, there’s plenty of free info out there if you’re just getting started at a young age. And honestly, it’s really not that complicated: spend less than you earn and save the rest. What you’ll find online, however, especially with blogs, is our own personal stories of how we’re learning and growing our money ourselves, along with all the times we’ve also failed. Ask an advisor when they’ve failed and see what they say, haha…

Point is, anything you’ve ever wanted to do with money has been done before and shared online. I’d start there first to find good tips and tricks to get started, and then if you’d like to “take it to the next level” or even get a fresh pair of eyes on your own specific situation, it would then be smart to reach out to an advisor.

Q: Have a closing statement?

When it comes to managing your money, do what EXCITES you the most! Yes some routes will be much more financially smarter to do than others, but every single route here is GREAT for your finances.

What’s most important is that you *take action* and don’t get burned out or else it doesn’t matter which route you choose! All these options help your finances and grow your net worth so you don’t have to necessarily wait until you’re old and gray to enjoy retirement.

J. Money is the voice behind Budgets Are $exy, a personal finance blog that won’t put you to sleep. 

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC 042017 [OK1] and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

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