I have known Heather virtually for approximately the last 3 1/2 years. I admire her personal finance journey, and the progress that she shares on her site. She’s also a big reader, as am I. I reached out to Heather to ask her a few questions about personal finance, her journey, and minimalism. I am delighted to share this information here. Her website is: SimplySave.
What was the defining moment or event that set you on your personal finance journey. Can you tell us about it?
I worked for the military in 2011 when there were talks of a possible government shutdown. If that happened, I wouldn’t get paid during the shutdown, until it was all resolved afterwards. Things got serious; they even gave us half of our pay check early, just in case. Fortunately the government didn’t shut down, but it was a big reality check. While I didn’t have any debt, I also had absolutely no emergency savings. I was living pay check to pay check and enjoying things like fancy purses, massages, a gym membership, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but my priorities were backwards. I didn’t have a financial plan and wouldn’t have made it more than 2 weeks if the government shut down. I also had no family remotely nearby that I could fall back on, so I was truly on my own to support myself.
I wish I could say that this was a huge life changing moment that really helped me get my priorities in order…but unfortunately I didn’t learn right away. I did start putting a little into retirement and building some emergency savings, but I bought another brand new car, more purses, and a house in practically the same month.
Shortly after all of this, I started my blog, not because I was finally going to get my finances in order, but because I liked finding deals and getting free stuff and wanted to share my finds. Eventually, slowly, this evolved into truly working on my finances. That was the real turning point, but it was slow.
What is the biggest accomplishment that you’ve had in your personal finance journey since you started your blog?
Since starting this personal finance journey, I’ve become really goal oriented. I have progress bars to track my goals on the sidebar of my blog. Putting them out there publicly holds me accountable and I get really excited every time I get to update one of them. My first goal was to save 6 months of expenses in emergency savings. My next goal was to pay off my car. Now I’m working on my mortgage and that’s definitely a bigger goal that will take a lot longer to accomplish. It helps me to set benchmarks or mini goals, so this year’s goal was to get my mortgage down to 5 figures by the end of the year, which I just recently accomplished. It’s hard to pick my biggest accomplishment, but I guess in terms of dollars, the progress on my mortgage is technically the most.
What was your biggest personal finance mistake and why?
Probably owning 3 new cars in less than 10 years. I paid off all the loans early, but there was really no need for that many brand new cars in such a short period. I could have put that money to much better use. I had no emergency savings and wasn’t putting any money into retirement. Also, it really fed the mentality that I “deserved” fancy things and should have all these things to “keep up” with the world. And that mindset can lead to a bunch of small financial mistakes that compound into a big mess.
Any advice for our readers, particularly milennials, who may be carrying lots of credit card/student loan debt?
The military paid for my college and I have never really experienced credit card debt, but I do have a few ideas.
- Build some emergency savings so that your credit card isn’t your emergency plan.
- Pay more than the minimum each month. Even if you just round up to the next solid dollar amount…for example if your bill is for $343, maybe pay $350, or more. It all helps. If you’re still in school and using unsubsidized loans, at least pay off the interest each semester.
- If you receive financial aid or tuition reimbursement, put it towards your debt! I’ve seen so many people receive their aid payment or military education benefits and use it to buy fun stuff!
- Stop using that credit card. Don’t worry about having the latest and great and “keeping up.” It’s really not worth it and probably doesn’t bring you as much joy as you might think.
Any advice for die-hard spenders or the non-frugal, who find it hard giving up Starbucks and the mall?
Really pay attention to what makes you happy. What are you doing or buying because you want to and what things are you doing to keep up or because everyone else is doing it? It’s unlikely that there is a big overlap between those two things. Focus on what makes you happy and forget everyone else.
I understand it’s hard to go cold turkey on things like Starbucks, but find less expensive substitutes like making coffee at home. With some milk and flavored syrup you can recreate a lot of your favorite coffee shop drinks. Or if you must have Starbucks, use something like Bing Rewards to earn gift cards. Many things we “have to have” can often be done or had in a less expensive way.
It can also help to put a picture of your goal in your wallet near your credit or debit card. For the longest time I had a picture of my car on my fridge, my laptop, and my wallet, with the text, “How much do you own?” You can also make your passwords goal related to keep them at the front of your mind. For example, your password could be $ave4Car!
A side note: when I got into freebies and deals, coupons would burn a hole in my pocket. If I had a coupon, I had to use it. If there was a deal, I had to get it. I didn’t start really saving until I stopped holding onto coupons, stopped looking at weekly ads, and stopped going to the mall or Target. You’re not saving money if you’re spending money.
Can you tell us a little about minimalism, and how it ties into your personal finance journey?
I never would have anticipated it, but minimalism has probably had the biggest impact on my personal finance journey than anything else. As I started working on my finances, my priorities and values became more and more apparent. Once I broke the twitch of always spending money and accumulating things I started to notice what really made me happy. And it wasn’t material things.
I started noticing all the excess and being bothered by it. I remember wondering why I had 15 pairs of flip flops when I could on wear one pair at a time. Once I purged all the excess, I was then surrounded by the things that bring me the most joy. Without all the clutter in the way, I am much more satisfied with what I already have versus what I want. (I also sold a lot of the things I got rid of which helped with my financial goals.)
Ever feel like you have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear? So you go buy more clothes? I got rid of everything that was ill fitting, uncomfortable, hiding in the back with tags still on it, or didn’t make me feel good, and was left with much fewer clothes. But now my mornings are SO much easier. I know that I look good and feel good in whatever I wear. And I don’t buy anywhere near as much clothes as I used to!
Basically, minimalism helped me realize that material things aren’t what really make me happy, so I stopped buying so many things.
Thanks so much to Heather for taking the time to interview with me today.