Momentum Series Interview – Savvy History: Creativity And Finances
This marks feature #50 in the Momentum Series – an interview series to share the stories of bloggers from across the personal finance community.
The goal is to showcase their story, the wins, the losses and the actionable advice that others can take value from and insights about their blogging journey. Whether that be conquering debt, maximizing career earnings, the road to financial independence or other strategies for financial and blogging success.
This week I’m excited to welcome Michelle from the band and blog Savvy History to the Momentum Series! On their website, Michelle and her husband Adam share unique insights and experiences to help musicians, teachers, creatives and others discuss finances and how to take control of your money, while enjoying life along the way.
Today Michelle shares some of her story, financial journey, the role creativity plays in her life, experiences blogging and much more.
If you want to get in touch with Michelle and the Savvy History duo:
Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy the Momentum Series Interview – Savvy History: Creativity And Finances.
I’m Michelle from the band and blog Savvy History. The other half of Savvy History is my husband Adam. We believe musicians and teachers can DIY their way to financial comfort or at least financial sanity.
I attended community college after high school, took a six-year break, went back to college while working full-time, and eventually obtained my master’s degree last year with an emphasis in gifted education. I paid for college myself and never took out a student loan.
People are surprised to learn my husband never went to college (other than the free classes he attends now as a benefit at work). He was scooped out of high school early into a fantastic shiny world of record deals and limos. That experience didn’t last long! By the time it was over, he didn’t mind. Let’s just say we have a post in us somewhere about the music business.
I was a part-time musician attending college and working odd jobs until I was 23. I worked in a factory, worked at an auto-parts store, worked retail, and basically didn’t set very high career goals for myself (at that time). I realized I could make more money playing music and teaching guitar lessons. So I did music full-time from 23 until the age of 26.
After that, I went back to school part time to finish my teaching degree while working as a teaching assistant. I became a full-time teacher at 28. I’ve never taught the same subject two years in a row, but this has been an interesting challenge for me. Now, at 32, I’m finally in a stable position at an awesome school down the street from our house.
Adam has been a full-time touring musician, a part-time musician with non-profit jobs, a carpenter, and now a programming technician in the music department at a local college.
Has taking control of your money and mastering your personal finances always been your mindset as an adult? Can you share the coles notes version of your financial journey?
Something in the back of my mind always told me money was a tool for freedom. I understood this concept very early (like at age 13). I knew if I wanted to protect my creative pursuits, I had to be a good saver. Consequently, I’ve always prioritized saving and entrepreneurship over consuming ever since I was young. Even so, I never had an outright goal to master my finances until my mid-twenties. Even then, my acquisition of knowledge was slow and steady.
I’m still working on it, to be honest. I didn’t have a credit card let alone know how to use one until I was 23. I didn’t know what an IRA was until I was 26. I still don’t have a will.
I suppose the first catalyst to our more purposeful approach with money was purchasing a house at 26. I realized we could’ve bought a house a lot sooner, we should have been investing a lot sooner, and there was a whole world of business, taxes, and being an adult that was actually interesting to me. I also realized I had an almost stupid relationship with debt avoidance. Around this time, we started using credit cards for cashback and always paying off the balance – things like that.
Basically, I realized we were drifting along with one part of the equation solved (the part about controlling our spending and controlling our desires). However, we had a lot left to figure out as maximizers!
Becoming parents was the second catalyst in our financial journey. Now we want to understand more about investing, scaling our side-hustles, and raising a financially savvy child who doesn’t feel spoiled or deprived. We want to make sure he is raised seeing us inspired by our careers. We never want to complain about people or complain about work around him. In order to pull this off, we try to keep our expenses to half our total income. If one of us loses our job, he won’t have to see us stressed out for long. We have also paid off our house and hope to keep a high savings rate even if we have another child.
What strategies and tactics have you implemented in your life to best set you up for financial success?
I could mention tactics like “not spending more than we make,” but as a couple, we are more curious about what would lead someone to spend more than they make in the first place. As a result of this logic, we have set up routines for analyzation and reflecting. We try to think for ourselves, keep our eyes on our own lives, and hang out with inspiring people who have similar values. We enjoy simple activities like reading, dog walking, and affordable local events.
On a more strategic level, we have implemented journaling, list-making and consistent honest money conversations. We work out our problems together, face challenges head on, and break down every choice (financial or otherwise) while cultivating a culture of awareness in most areas of living. Through writing consistently, we’re able to look back through our history, evaluate where we could have done better, what led to life satisfaction (and what didn’t), and adjust accordingly.
We’ve recently added blogging in the personal finance community as another layer to set a high bar for ourselves.
Have you made any major financial mistakes? If so, what was the outcome and what did you learn from these mistakes?
All of my personal mistakes have something to do with lacking confidence.
I didn’t apply for scholarships or grants. I could have gone to community college for free, but I was intimidated by the process. The idea of writing a paper with a rubric and achieving an A+ made sense to me. Writing a paper and submitting it to a committee of strangers in order to try to get some money a year from now while meeting with some rushed employee at a college when there was a line of other people behind me who seemed to need the money more? It looked like an obnoxious game I didn’t want to navigate. I didn’t know how to drill adults for answers or advocate for myself in an overloaded system.
I ended up being fine because my college was affordable. I worked hard while saving money through high school and continued to work through college, so I paid for community college outright. When I went back to school at 26, I obtained a scholarship. I also obtained a grant. I learned it was a game I could play, and I deserved whatever free money I could get.
I had thousands of dollars in low yield savings accounts and didn’t invest this money FOR YEARS. Once again, I was intimidated. I played it safe and assumed I was doing well by saving. Then I read some statistics about inflation, let reality sink in, and my mind exploded!
Once again, I ended up fine (I think). My mistake is still a fortunate problem to have. I probably still keep too much money on hand because I’m extra-cautious. However, I’ve played around with investing in a Roth IRA since about age 26. I’m gaining more confidence.
I didn’t advertise my work as a musician or network in the music community. I had a complex relationship with self-promotion for a long time and missed several opportunities to make more money off my music. The idea of being an “image” online, being a brand, cultivating a fan base, and pushing my music at people was very awkward and dreadful to me, so I half-participated. In addition, networking was an absolute conundrum for my literal brain. I still can’t fake liking bands or people I don’t actually enjoy. In addition, I harbor something eternally naive and old-school inside me. I’ve met local people who were supposedly a big deal (like my husband in his younger years), yet I was the last one to know he was in a band that was big or anything.
The outcome was I ended up sane and maybe even a little better off. I could have made more money and climbed my ladder to nowhere, but I don’t think I would have liked myself. Music was too broad of a scene or something. To the contrary, I don’t find it hard to comment on PF blogs, find something in common with other writers, or learn from some aspect of their take on life. I suppose that is why I am here experimenting, doing guest posts, having a social media presence, etc. I could have done this within the music community, but I didn’t have the mindset at the time and my dorky interests were too narrow.
I didn’t think I deserved anything nice for a very long time. Even with all the striving inherent in my nature, for years there was something very dark in me that downplayed any chance I had at real happiness, achievement, or social fulfillment. I attracted less than ideal situations. For example, six months after high school graduation (where the social world had been organized, I was head of all these organizations, I had perfect grades, etc.), I was playing four hour shows in bars and nightclubs, leaving with wads and wads of cash, hoping no one would knock me over the head, seeing people do coke, arriving home at three in the morning, counting my money and naively thinking, “Well, I guess this is life.” NO, IT’S NOT.
Once again, the outcome was I ended up alright. No one hit me over the head or stole my cash wad. I learned I could make money from my music and my ideas. That was a pretty powerful lesson (even if where and when I did it didn’t always fit my style).
What are some of the most influential resources that have shaped your money mindset or financial situation?
As a teenager forming ideas about minimalism and low-key spending, Transcendentalist writers like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo-Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott were huge icons to me. I carried around Walden Pond a lot when I was 18. I wasn’t trying to weird people out, but apparently I did. Henry would be proud.
Concerning mental health insights and gifted psychology, I really enjoy “Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults” by Michael Marian Piechowski and Susan Daniels along with “NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” by Steve Silberman.
My money mindset has also been shaped by writers like Adam Grant, Daniel Pink, Malcom Gladwell, and Angela Duckworth. I really appreciate the psychological story-telling mixed with statistics blend these writers offer.
People can thank my dog for our long dog walks when it comes to this extensive list! I can’t even begin to name them all.
- Simple-Minded Millenial with Erik and Simplistic Steph
- Popcorn Finance with Chris
- ChooseFI with Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendonsa
- Beyond the Dollar with Sarah Li Cain
- Marriage, Kids and Money with Andy Hill
- The Fairer Cents with Tanja Hester and Kara Perez
- Fire Drill with Gwen and J
- So Money with Farnoosh Torabi
- The Side Hustle Show with Nick Loper
- What’s Up Next with Paul Thompson and Doc G
- Financial Independence Podcast with Mad Fientist
- Afford Anything with Paula Pant
- Journey to Launch with Jamila Souffrant
- Side Hustle School with Chris Guillebeau
- Freakonomics Radio with Stephen Dubner and Steven Levit
- How I Built This with Guy Raz
To spare you from a list of 600 people, I should probably just recommend you check out who I follow on Twitter. I go to different people’s blogs to meet my randomly arising psychological needs.
For example, sometimes I want to hear from a fellow teacher with a child (like She Picks Up Pennies) and sometimes I want to hear from someone who embraces their extreme systemizing and rocks being original (like A Purple Life).
Apps or Services
I’m not a go-to person for this (see the Transcendentalist name-dropping above). However, utilizing technology is something I hope to work on more this summer. I need to put in a little upfront work (like automating our credit card payments, getting all our accounts synced up in one spot for non-manual net-worth tracking, etc.) in order to save time in the long run.
I’ll be reading a lot of personal finance blogs soon and making some decisions.
Is there an area or area(s) of your own personal finances that you’re still looking to better master and improve?
We had a positive experience flipping a house. As a consequence, we want to understand real estate better and make decisions about its role in our future. Would it be wise to diversify our investments by adding a rental or two? Should we buy a duplex or should we buy a single family home? Should we just flip a few houses and skip renters? Should we skip all of this and simply invest more in the market? These are the types of questions we are asking ourselves.
In addition, we want to learn more about diversifying our investments in international markets, along with the withdrawal reality of “3% being the new 4%.” In this arena, I think it’d be great to work out a planned vision of several scenarios that could arise for us (numbers and all). For example, I have a goal soon to understand the financial impact of having a second child. Does it make someone work five more years? Ten more years? Maybe I’m asking the wrong question, but I’m just curious.
More straightforward, we want to put together a will now that we have a child. I also want to fully understand the consequence of using a Roth vs. a 529 plan while planning for his college.
If you could send a memo to every 18-22 year old in North America about better managing their finances and understanding money but it could only be 3 sentences long, what would that memo be?
Invest in yourself. Find out what these three words mean to you because this mission looks different for everyone. Some people may not understand your mission for a very long time (or ever), so it’s important the most important person (you) figure it out by reading, listening, reflecting, and creating constantly.
How has creativity and walking off the beaten path influenced your finances?
Creativity is the only reason I have any money because it is the only reason I have a sense of self. My money would have been lost to health insurance deductibles a long time ago if I wouldn’t have figured out how to make a friend with myself. I have enormous respect for creativity as an internal igniting force. I study it formally and informally every chance I get (almost out of thanks). I want to understand its mysteries.
As a consequence of what I have formally learned while studying giftedness, I look at creativity very broadly. Even though I engage in an activity traditionally considered creative (music), I think you can find creativity wherever you can find effective problem-solving. For example, figuring out how to go to college without ever taking out a loan demands a lot of creative short-term and long-term thinking.
Also, when my husband and I remodeled a couple of houses, we would establish limits regarding our spending. These limits would force creative solutions (such as my husband learning how to dry wall and me finding a $75 Kohler sink on Craigslist). I also write musical albums with intentional limits (such as my inventors theme) because I think limits inspire novel approaches.
In a more direct way, creative activities have helped us make money. My side-hustle of guitar teaching added up to a lot after ten years. An extra ten thousand a year doesn’t seem amazing, but if you do it ten years in a row, it’s the reason we could pay off our mortgage.
If you could write a few lines of lyrics to inspire others to pursue a life of financial freedom, what would those lyrics be?
Fun question! When I was 22, I wrote a song called Don’t Buy Me Money:
“I was getting pretty good with numbers and still felt bad on a scale from one to ten, so I looked into some wise old philosophies. Did they all say one thing? Don’t buy me money if it looks like debt. Don’t buy me a lot of things if I don’t need them.”
When did you first start blogging? Was there a specific launching off point or what influenced you to go down that path?
I had a blog in 2008. I ended up using it as my music website even though I was highly intrigued by the idea of writing regularly. I have always loved writing. However, when I did try blogging around this time as a 22-year-old, I felt self-conscious and embarrassed when imagining what I wrote through the eyes of possible people I knew reading it. I wanted to edit my work constantly and felt stuck in a social network that was an inappropriate audience (hi mom) and didn’t match what I wanted to blog about.
In addition, I was changing rapidly as a person and didn’t want to write anything I would regret. I think privacy, humility, and tact are really healthy online and off. I never wanted to annoy people with loud ideas that weren’t fully formed yet. If I’m going to annoy people, it’s at least going to be well-thought-out. So I became ultra-focused on journaling for myself and writing music instead. Adding a blog around that time would have been like having a life on top of a life.
Ten years later, after the mind-bending experience of having our son, something inside me felt confident as a well-rounded person and potential writer. Therefore, I started a new blog (Savvy History) a few months ago.
I think I deserve to write if it’s my favorite thing to do. This site serves as a simple way to claim space for myself and my creative ideas again. To my surprise, my husband wants to join in and add some posts about when we flipped a house, recording hacks, pet care, and things like that.
Sharing Google docs as busy parents is our idea of a good time.
Is there a mission statement or underlying purpose to what you intend to accomplish with Savvy History?
I want to help highly-sensitive creative people who approach life differently feel good about themselves, their mission, and their financial choices. I want to expose these people to overlooked theories I have studied in-depth (like the Theory of Positive Disintegration, the psychology of systemizing, and bibliotherapy) in order to assist them in navigating their unique careers.
The more down to earth and practical side of Savvy History (let’s call him Adam) wants to help people feel more comfortable with DIY projects, remodeling homes, and frugal day-to-day life.
Together, as a bonus for a storyline, we are on a mission to record our 30 songs about forgotten and overlooked people in history.
Do you want to watch some stay-at-home musicians try to make some money from their music? It might look pretty weird. If a museum near you needs a theme song…
If you could recommend 3 of your blog posts for Making Momentum readers to check out, what would those be?
Any final pieces of advice or recommendations?
“If you want somebody you can trust, trust yourself.” – From Bob Dylan’s song Trust Yourself
The rest of the lyrics are pretty good too.
Any special shoutouts?
I’d like to do a shoutout to all the educators out there talking about money! More seem to be joining the FI world on Twitter every day.
This list is courtesy of Principal FI’s site.
- Principal FI
- She Picks Up Pennies
- Burning Desire for Fire
- The Millionaire Educator
- Wrachel Writes
- Free, Fun, Family
- Minimalism and Your Money
- Money Saved is Money Earned
- Boss Man Jax