Making Personal Finance Fun while Fighting for Financial Freedom

by G.E. Miller on 17 August 2010 10 comments
Photo: RLHyde

This is my introductory post as a WiseBread staff writer. And I must admit, coming up with a topic was somewhat of a daunting task. I've been blogging for over two and a half years over at 20somethingfinance.com, but I'm not running out of ideas. I just wanted my first Wise Bread post to be something special, you know?

So I sat down with a pen and a blank piece of paper and started jotting down ideas. There were the "top 5 list" ideas, the "7 reasons why" ideas, oh, and a few of the "things your (fill in the blank with any professional who comes in contact with your money) doesn't want you to know" posts. Nothing felt 'BIG' enough though.

Instead, I decided to scrap it all and give my story of how I got into this crazy world of personal finance blogging in the first place and where I'm at philosophically on how personal finance is symbiotic with quality of life. If you think you can relate, I'd encourage you to subscribe to my Wise Bread feed or check out my Wise Bread page for future posts.

Starting at the Bottom

Through college and a good portion of my twenties, I was obsessed with money. I graduated at a time when the economy was stagnant and nobody was particularly interested in hiring someone with a generic business degree like marketing who had no real-world work experience. So I unsuccessfully applied for over 200 jobs that I should have had a realistic chance at. FINALLY, after one year some schmuck offered me a sales job. It was a low profile sales job that didn't require a college degree, but I didn't care. I was tired of living at home and being broke. I took the job, worked hard, performed well, and after 10 months I was promoted to manage five co-workers and a three state territory.

One day after my promotion, I turned down the higher income and quit that job to enter the idealist non-profit world, where I stayed for three years. The low profile sales job and move to the non-profit sector resulted in me making no more than $40,000 a year for the first 5 years post graduation. At the same time, I decided to buy a house with a 15-year mortgage, finance a car, and pay for a wedding (and engagement ring) two years into that. Plus, my wife had $20,000 in student loan debt. Aye!

An Intense Focus on Finances

With my inability to make financial gains on income alone, I had become INTENSELY focused on my personal finances. I had no wiggle room for error, and very little savings to show for all of the hard work I was putting in to my career.

I began to read a lot of personal finance books and magazines and became somewhat of a self-taught personal finance guru (at least amongst my closes friends and family). With this intense focus on finances, bordering on the brink of obsession, I started to realize that the non-profit salary wasn't bringing me any closer to my goals. I didn't really have the first inclination of what those goals were. I just knew that I wasn't getting any closer to them.

Finally, Some Breathing Room!

So I left the wonderful world of non-profit work to take a job with a big corporation, increased my salary by 50% overnight, and started 20somethingfinance having never so much as even read another personal finance blog with the idea that I could join two hobbies - writing and personal finance.

I had to sell my house and move to a more expensive home near my new job so my mortgage and property taxes were higher, but the jump in income more than made up for it. I finally had wiggle room!

So, what did I do?

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

This is the part of the story where you may be expecting me to say that I spent it all and went back to ground zero. I didn't. I had learned to live on a lower income, and with the financial hardship behind me, I was grateful to finally be saving money towards undefined future goals.

Saving for Saving's Sake

We're back to this goal thing. A lot of people save a lot of money for the future. Many of them die without ever spending a dime of it. So that's what I started doing - saving for the future with no real goal in mind other than that I wanted to pay off my house and retire someday. I was saving money for the sake of saving for future goals that were decades away. I was in good financial standing, relatively speaking, but something didn't feel right. The money had no real value in my life. The goals were too distant. I hadn't really enjoyed any of my jobs because I was viewing them as a means to an undefined end. I was in a rut.

Finding Purpose in Personal Finance

Then a funny thing started happening. I started to enjoy writing about personal finance. Better yet, I started enjoying personal finance. The 'game' was becoming fun. That car I financed? I sold it via Craigslist for the same amount that I bought it for two years earlier and started taking the bus to work. The mortgage? I started looking at it as a goal to pay it off in a few years time versus 15 years. Grocery bill? Cut it in half. Cell phone bill? Cut it in half as well. I started to become Phil Brewer before I even knew who Phil Brewer was.

Defining a Realistic Goal Made Personal Finance Fun for the First Time

With short-term goals in sight, personal finance became fun for the first time. And while I was having fun, my blog started making a little side income. It was then that my longer-term goal started to become crystal clear: limit my monthly expenses to the point that I feel the freedom to do whatever I want to do for income. To leave the rat race, if I so choose. With that goal realistically in sight, life has taken on a little bit of extra meaning. There's a little bit of added passion in all of the work that I do now and in the financial decisions that I make.

So that's where I'm at - on the brink of something that I've passionately been fighting for - and as motivated as ever to get there. I have a plan to get there. I'm sure it's not flawless, and I'm also sure I'll fall on my face along the way, but my writing will be geared towards the execution of that plan, and hopefully it will bring us both one step closer to that ultimate goal. I'll be chronicling my journey to get there on my WiseBread page and on 20somethingfinance.

That's my story. What about yours? 

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Guest's picture

G.E.

Welcome to WiseBread. I love your posts on 20somethingfinance, and I'm psyched to get even more of your ideas on WiseBread.

Landon

Guest's picture
Moon River

GE - glad to see you writing for Wisebread now. This post really spoke to me in that saving money, in itself, is not an end goal, and can make you miserable if there's no purpose behind it. Money accumulation is pointless unless you give it a point (and something 40 years down the road is hard to be motivated by).

Look forward to seeing more.

Guest's picture
Kris

GE, thanks for sharing your story. I agree that setting a personal goal is critical. It will give you a roadmap to keep you on track, help keep you motivated during the tough times, and lead one to action (rather than just hoping things get better). That was the turning point for me as well.

Guest's picture

GE - great post - Can't echo loud enough the importance of Purpose in your financial goals. Too often we work toward listless goals that are meaningless, but when we find purpose in what we are doing we'll generally hit the target way more often!

Will Chen's picture

Welcome to Wise Bread G.E! I hope one day I become as cool as Philip as well.

Guest's picture

Realistic goals are all to important. I used to make the mistake of pushing those goals a little beyond reach and it is very demoralizing. By all means push them but not too far.

Guest's picture

I look forward to more of your posts, GE. My older kids (12 years old) I sure are getting tired of me telling them how important written goals are in personal finance, but hopefully they'll remember it when it counts. I wish I had been better prepared back in the day.

Now, the biggest challenge for me and others who are married is to use written down, mutually agreed upon financial goals to minimize disagreements about money and maximize the chances of actually arriving at the desired destination.

Goals can change, though, with different circumstances, and with two people in the relationship, the goals can change twice as fast. That's why we teach that even a simple 15-minute financial review each week between spouses can be a huge help: What’s important to us this week? Month? Year? What bills are coming due this week? Who is going to pay it? By check, debit card or online payment? Etc.

Best wishes for continued success!

Todd

Guest's picture
Adelle

Congrats on your new job here at wisebread.com! I've always enjoyed your blog on 20somethingfinance.com and am really enjoying poking around this site. Thanks for bringing me more great information on personal finance!

G.E. Miller's picture

@ Landon - thank you sir. Really appreciate the complement.
@ Will - step 1: grow a beard.
@ Todd - that is really awesome. Your kids are going to be very well prepared to take on their own finances.
@ Adelle - you are most welcome!

Guest's picture
Serena

It's good to find another success story! I'm a just-starting-out p.f. blogger, focused on getting out of debt AND finding peace with my situation in life. I think it's important to make that personal happiness or serenity part of the bigger picture. I think it's perfectly realistic to think that financial security and having fewer things (especially when you don't need them) will make me happier.

What's unrealistic is thinking having more money will automatically make you happier - it's what you do with it that counts, and how you feel about yourself at the end of the day!

I'll be sure to check out your blog, too!