Momentum Series Interview – Why We Money: Balance & Financial Independence
This marks feature #34 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 very excited to welcome Amanda from the great personal finance blog Why We Money to the Momentum Series.
On Why We Money, Amanda and her husband Alan share their experiences, stories and lessons learned along the road to financial freedom. In today’s interview, Amanda discusses her financial journey, top money resources, perspective on balance and financial independence, experiences blogging and much more.
If you want to connect with Amanda:
Ladies and gentlemen, please enjoy the Momentum Series Interview – Why We Money: Balance & Financial Independence.
Hi! I’m Amanda, a 43-year-old native Iowan. I’ve have been married for 21 years and have two kids, ages 15 and 18.
My blog is WhyWeMoney. It’s where my husband, Alan, and I share our experiences, thoughts, and tactics for balancing money and life on our journey to financial independence.
My best education has been life! But, way back in 1997, I earned BAs in Sociology and Psychology. I went on to get my Master of Social Work (MSW) degree in 1999.
I had a short career in Family Preservation and Public Health after I earned my MSW. I became a stay-at-home parent when our kids were very young. As they got older, I had many side hustles, including associate substitute teacher, self-defense instructor, and several other side gigs, including digital marketing and freelance writing.
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?
I’ve always had a saver mindset. Though it didn’t work out to saving much early in my adult life, it kept my head above water, even when money was tight.
Alan and I started off our adult lives with student loan debt, a car loan and a mortgage to boot. Things were okay (not great) until child care expenses were on the horizon and I quit working. For a few years, we struggled to make ends meet, let alone get ahead.
That’s when we took personal finance to a more advanced level, particularly frugal living and savings. As the years went by, we added to our personal finance knowledge and it’s eventually led us to pay off all of our debt (not including the mortgage). We’re currently working toward financial independence.
What strategies and tactics have you implemented in your to life to best set you and your family up for financial success?
We were living a very frugal lifestyle 17 years ago. From there, we built on that foundation. We saved up our e fund, paid off debt, and saved more for retirement.
When Alan landed his first “real” full-time job with benefits 19 years ago, we started contributing to his 401k. This is one of the best things we ever did.
Even though it was a constraint, in the beginning, the automation of the 401k forced us to save, even if we couldn’t save anymore. Though we started with the minimum contribution to receive the company match and continued to do that for many years, it’s compounded to put us well on our way to FI.
Have you made any major financial mistakes in your past? If so, what was the outcome and what did you learn from these mistakes?
Yes! We have a problematic history of buying cars, trucks, and campers.
But we didn’t like the debt. So, we’d pay off the loans within a year or so, with every intention of not having payments. But there was always some rational reason we wanted to make the next purchase – you know, a bigger truck to pull the camper, a more fuel-efficient model, something safer or more convenient. It didn’t matter – there was always a good reason.
For many years we repeated this cycle over and over again. I would hate to calculate how much we would have now if we had invested all that money.
Once we discovered the possibility of FI, this cycle stopped – we made a new “rule” that we wouldn’t borrow money for a vehicle (or camper) ever again. Oh! And we only buy used.
What are some of the most influential resources that have shaped your money mindset or financial situation?
- Your Money or Your Life: not only was this my first introduction to FI, but I also love the philosophy and emphasis on the value of our precious time.
- The Millionaire Next Door
- Think and Grow Rich
- The Tightwad Gazette
Blogs have been one of the biggest influences on my money mindset and financial goals. I’ve been reading personal finance blogs for over a decade now. I have waaaaay too many favorites to mention, but below are some of my original favorites that I’ve read for several years.
- 1500 Days
- Afford Anything
- Budgets Are Sexy
- Canadian Dream Free at 45
- Free Money Finance
- Get Rich Slowly
- Mr. Money Mustache
- Retire by 40
- Rockstar Finance
- The Simple Dollar
Apps or Services
Here’s what I like and use:
Is there an area or area(s) of your own personal finances that you’re still looking to better master and improve?
I used to be really good at going over the regular monthly bills, evaluating and comparing service plans and providers (or reworking our monthly spend in certain areas). But, in recent years, I’ve gotten lax and haven’t given it as much thought. One goal for 2019 is to ruthlessly trim down those monthly bills!
This might come as a surprise to some (or not), but one other thing I need to get better at spending intentionally. For example, travel is becoming more important to us, so I need to put more into our “travel” account each month – and actually use the money for travel. I have a tough time withdrawing money from any savings vehicle! But that’s why we save, right!?
What are the core financial lessons you trying to instill in your son as he navigates through life as a young adult?
We encourage him to avoid the lifestyle inflation that many young adults fall prey to when they start earning a paycheck. We remind him that – if he is mindful of how he uses his money now – he has the opportunity to set himself up for more options in the future (financial and otherwise).
It’s been interesting to watch him navigate his finances so far. At first, when he got out of Air Force Basic Training, he spent more money on “fun” things, like going out to eat and new video games (things that he missed during basic training).
Now after a little time has passed, he’s making changes. He’s now looking at the future and setting savings goals (50% of his take home!). And he’s contributing a small amount to his retirement savings.
Why do you (as self described) obsess with financial independence? What does the overall concept of FI mean to you?
Well, I’m working to cure that obsession. 😉 After discovering the concept of FI, I compulsively ran calculations. And I spent unhealthy amounts of time and energy trying to save more and more money wherever I could. All to speed up our timeline to FI.
I believe part of this self-described obsession was a way to ease the guilt of being a stay at home parent (sad, but true). I felt guilty that Alan, my husband, worked 9 to 5 while I had the luxury of staying at home and choosing my own work and projects. FI seemed like the logical answer to ease the guilt and allow Alan to escape the 9 to 5 asap. This realization was eye-opening.
Add to that the life changes that inevitably occur as kids grow up, leave home, and mid-life hits – and it all culminated into changing my FI goals. I’ve since redefined my concept of FI.
To me, FI means intentionally using money to live the best life I can. And while this means saving money to create more options in the future, it also means using it as a tool to live a great life today, not just someday.
It’s a work in progress (always!), but it’s all about balancing today and tomorrow.
How do you and your family best balance spending for happiness today vs. saving for FI tomorrow?
Our savings is mostly automated, so we know as long as we still have the automation chugging along, we’re saving enough for the future.
It’s always great to save beyond this and I’m pleased when we do. But we try to balance it out with what’s most important in our lives right now.
We’ve made peace with the fact that this might slow down the timeline to FI, but we also remind ourselves that next year, next month, and even tomorrow is never guaranteed. My go-to test question I use when trying to make a decision related to the balance is: “What would my 80-year old self say about this?”.
As old-lady Amanda is sitting in her rocking chair looking back over life, would she say “this was important” or “you’ll wish you had done this” or “you’ll regret this, it’s not worth it in the long run”?
It’s a great litmus test. And it works, not just for how to spend and save money, but on how to spend and save time.
Are there any elements of balance in life you’re continuing to work on and improve as you move forward?
It’s a constant struggle for me to balance my work (paid, volunteer, or my own projects) with downtime and just being. Can anyone relate?
Recently, as my mom and I were leaving an event for a cause I was super excited about, I told her I was really passionate about it. I wanted to be more involved. Her response? “Mandy, you’re passionate about everything.”
It’s super easy for me to get caught up in my work and dive into it head first without coming up for air. But I burn out relatively quickly. Though others see this, it’s been a more gradual realization for me.
Though it still can and does happen, I’m consciously trying to take a step back, chill, breathe and create space in my life. Right now, my methods are yoga, meditation, and scheduled “time off.”
When did you first start blogging? Was there a specific launching off point or what influenced you to go down that path?
I started blogging in early 2016 – with my first personal finance blog. I ultimately sold that blog in late 2017. It didn’t take long for me to miss writing and the personal finance blogging community, so I started Why We Money in the summer of 2018.
As mentioned earlier, I’ve been reading personal finance blogs for over a decade. I learned a ton from other bloggers’ lives, stories, suggestions, and tactics over the years.
In 2016, I felt the desire to try something new and step outside of my comfort zone. Writing, specifically, blogging seemed like an easy(!?) way to do this. Plus it’s a way to pay it forward. Who knows, maybe something I share can be useful in someone else’s life!
Is there a mission statement or underlying purpose to what you intend to accomplish with Why We Money?
Our mission is to take readers on the journey with us as we learn and explore ways to find balance, meaning, and joy on our path to financial independence. We share how we do things (financially and otherwise), our experiences, our stories, and what we are learning along the way.
Do you have any specific goals with your blog over the next 12 months? What tactics are you planning to leverage to accomplish these?
Goal: Personal growth through writing and sharing my thoughts and stories. That’s it.
I have no traffic goals, no income goals, no business plan. But that’s okay – it’s all part of creating the balance in life.
All that said, I truly hope others get value out of it along the way.
We’re trying to publish consistently (weekly) and also find the most effective, enjoyable, authentic ways to share our story as we go. Personally, I’m having a great time experimenting – and just trying to insert more of me in my writing style.
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?
In the spirit of consistency with the theme in my life and my blog, I do have some final words.
Changing our family’s money situation – from deep in debt to financially secure and well on our way to FI – took us a ton of time. But if we hadn’t taken those first steps to pay off debt, save, and eventually invest more, we wouldn’t have the options we do today.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, it really is worth it to take control and make some sacrifices to get on the path to financial well-being, even FI.
But find your balance. Keep in mind, the most awesome things in your life today don’t have to cost a ton of money. Be mindful of your values and the most important people and things in your life. Pay close attention to how you spend your money and your time. And don’t forget to value each day for the gift that it is.