Momentum Series Interview: Winning Personal Finance – Streamline Your Finances And Reach Your Goals
This feature marks #12 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’s Momentum Series Interview is with a great personal finance blogger from New Jersey – Jason at Winning Personal Finance.
Jason publishes content aimed to help readers and real people take control of their money and make educated decisions. This is a fun, insightful discussion as we touch on Jason’s financial journey, money mindset, the world of personal finance blogging and more.
If you want to connect with Jason:
With that said, let’s get started. Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Jason! Here is Momentum Series Interview: Winning Personal Finance – Streamline Your Finances And Reach Your Goals.
Hi, I’m Jason. I’m a bit of a money nerd. I’m in my mid 30’s and live in New Jersey with my incredible wife and our two sons (ages 4 and under a year).
My site is Winning Personal Finance. It’s purpose is to help readers, real people (not just extreme savers) evaluate various money decisions and make them effectively. I try to do this by sharing entertaining personal stories from myself and others along with posts that make complicated financial topics easier to understand and apply to their lives.
I have a B.S. in accounting from a top State University. While in school, I took as many extra finance courses as possible and ended up having to choose if my degree would be in finance or accounting.
I’ve passed so far on getting a higher level degree. The cost/benefit analysis of doing so did not align to my personal goals.
I’m currently completing the educational requirement for becoming a Certified Financial Planner (CFPⓇ) so that I’m eligible to take the exam.
I’ve worked in accounting, consulting, corporate finance and business strategy roles during my career. I’ve advanced nicely and have been thrilled with the way my career has grown.
I’ve always wanted to apply my financial knowledge and analytical skills to help people instead of just corporations. My current educational path is the first step in making that transition.
Has mastering your money and an interest in personal finance always been the case for you?
It has been for as long as I can remember. While I may not have had brand name clothes or European vacations, I did not grow up wanting for anything. Still, during my childhood, I noticed early on how important money was to live the life you wanted. My parents actions taught me about the value of a dollar and frugality.
In college, I learned about investing and most importantly, the magic of compound interest.
When signing up for benefits and a 401(k) contribution on day one at my first “real” job, I knew I wanted to do my best to optimize every personal finance decision I made. I started reading as many books and other financial media I could get my hands on.
See, I told you I was a money nerd.
As you’ve progressed in your financial life, what have you changed or implemented to set yourself up for the most success?
Understanding the magic of compound interest has always motivated me to build a nest egg large enough that it’s returns will cover my needs. I wanted to get it built as soon as possible.
I’m not sure how many 22 year olds graduate from college with that goal. I’m weird.
Even though I had a great job, I lived with my parents for two years post college to build up some savings. They were happy to have me back in the house for a while and I was thrilled to not have to pay any real amount of rent.
I began contributing to my company’s 401(k) plan up to the match amount to take advantage of the free money my employer put in plus the tax advantages. I also maxed out a Roth IRA at the time thinking that my tax rate would never be lower than it was at my first job. I started investing the rest of my savings in an after tax brokerage account to save for a down payment. I eventually bought a condo when I was 24.
The condo I bought was in the location I wanted but it was tiny because I set my budget to afford it on my income alone. My wife (girlfriend at the time) moved in when I bought it and paid a portion of the mortgage. Both of our careers progressed nicely while our home expenses stayed low for many years.
I’d inherited a gently used 2006 Altima around that time when my grandmother passed away. My wife and I have shared it as our only car since. Neither of us has ever made a car payment. We’ve both always taken public transportation to work and sharing a car on the weekends has never been a problem.
Increasing income by being a high performer in a high paying profession, keeping housing and transportation costs low and investing the difference is the classic formula to grow wealth.
Have you made any major financial mistakes? If so, what was the outcome and what did you learn from these mistakes?
My biggest mistakes include not investing in myself, investing too conservatively, being lazy about personal finance, avoiding negotiations and buying the condo discussed above “as an investment.”
The other two that I’d like to spend a little more time on are not setting SMART goals and succumbing to lifestyle inflation.
The beginning of my adult life was well before the current financial independence movement began. I knew I needed to save but in my 20’s did not really know how much I needed. Being a conservative person, I did some quick mental math and decided that I needed about $10M. Since the banks were paying 1% interest at the time, that amount would’ve allowed me to spend 1% or $100K of the portfolio each year and it would never run out. Had I really sat down and defined my goal, I’d have learned the key relationship between spending and the 4% rule of thumb to calculate how much savings I really needed.
By chasing this massive of a number, I realized it would take a while to get there, motivation declined and I started to let lifestyle inflation take over a bit. We went on expensive vacations, ate out often and spent money shopping for things that were not needed and not huge priorities.
I never really created and tracked a budget until my wife and I decided for her to leave her job to stay home with our children. Being naturally frugal, I had not really worried about my spending before then. Looking back, I now realize that we had allowed for some pretty significant lifestyle inflation. Doing a better job setting goals and tracking against them may have helped us reach our financial goals sooner.
Is there an area or area(s) of your own personal finances that you’re still looking to better master and improve?
One of my favorite aspects of personal finance is that there’s always something new to learn. There are countless ways for you to create assets, invest and mitigate risk. We’re all presented with countless financial decisions (many through advertising) every single day. I don’t believe anybody has it 100% figured out all the time. Plus, as life changes, so too must your approach.
Right now I’m working to overcome the mental hurdle that maximizing net worth is not the goal. The reason I’ve always saved is to live the life I want, not to end up with a giant pile of money. Making a career change to work with individuals and not corporations will reduce my income in the short term and probably over my lifetime. I’m still working up the courage to choose the career of my dreams rather than the biggest paycheck and fastest net worth accumulation.
Where do you plan to be in 5 years with your money and life? How does that change if you shift to a 10 year outlook?
In five years, I hope to have transitioned my career to be a financial planner. I hope to build a thriving practice that supports my family and more importantly, helps my clients reach their financial goals. I want to be the first person my clients call when they have a question related to their money. I also want to have educated them enough along the way that they already know the right answer before they call and are just looking for confirmation.
In ten years, I plan to be financially independent and able to live on my assets. My financial planning practice will keep me location independent. I’ll be living in a ski town in the western US. I’ll work part time because the work is rewarding.
I’ll use my financial freedom to spend my time doing what I love while making a difference to the world with my continued work. I hope to enjoy the work enough that I continue to do it, even without needing the money. From what I’ve seen, very few people would continue their current work if it was not for the money. Finding work that I’m passionate about and is purposeful has been my lifelong goal.
What are some of the most influential resources that have shaped your money mindset or financial situation?
This is so hard. I follow 100’s of great blogs. If I have to keep the list short I’ll go with:
- Early Retirement Now
- Optimize Your Life
- The Mastermind Within
- Making Sense of Life
- The Simple Path to Wealth
- Montana Money Adventures
Apps or Services
I use Mint to aggregate my spending data and then drop it into a spreadsheet each month.
I’m also a big fan of cashback sites like Ebates to reduce the cost on stuff you were going to buy anyway (Scott: Use my link when signing up to Ebates to get a free $5 bonus). The trick I have with those sites is to make sure you don’t see the emails. They are very good at showing you “good deals” on stuff you don’t need.
You have a pay down debt vs. invest interview series on your website, can you explain your own mindset on the topic and the key factors related to how an individual would make that decision?
Each person’s decision is unique. I think the the most logical place to start is the interest rate on your debts compared to the expected return of the investment you would choose. But there are so many other factors at play including opportunity cost, taxes, liquidity, emotions, goals, time horizon, personal discipline and inflation.
I wrote a post with a review of all of these considerations in deciding whether to pay off debt or invest.
At the end of that post, is a listing of other articles where I’d interview people (including myself) to walk through their decision process. A summary of my personal plan today is that the 3.65% rate on my mortgage is low enough and my investment horizon is long enough that I’m comfortable investing any extra money rather than losing the liquidity and paying down my mortgage.
Thoughtful spending and generating value from spending are topics you’ve discussed, what does that mean to you? Are you able to share some examples?
The quickest way to become financially independent is to maximize income and cut spending to the bone. I have no interest in living a life with spending cut to the bone. There are many things that I choose to spend on and am perfectly okay with them delaying my financial freedom within reason.
My favorite hobby is skiing. Most would agree that skiing is expensive, especially if you don’t live near the mountains. The price of this wonderful activity will not stop me from participating. Last year I skied for 20 days. Just because I choose to ski, does not mean I need to spend all my income on it. With some advanced planning and savings strategies, I’ve found ways to maximize my enjoyment while minimizing the cost.
For example, last winter I went on my dream ski trip to Utah while saving almost $3,000 along the way.
If you could send a memo to every 18-21 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?
Ingest at least 20 hours of personal finance and self improvement content from varied sources every three months.
Take action based on what you learn in your reading, the knowledge is useless without acting upon it.
You can enjoy your life today while saving for the future, it’s not an either or proposition.
Let’s assume there is a 24 year old that has just graduated from university with $40,000 in student loan debt. They’re entering their professional career at a starting salary of $50,000 (based on the industry they’re in it would likely take 10 years to reach six figures annually). What advice would you give to them to best set themselves up for financial success?
The first thing I’d suggest is to clearly define your life goals. Then create annual and long term financial goals to support the achievement of the life goals. Find somebody (or a group of people) to hold you accountable towards achieving those dreams. Blogging is great to hold yourself accountable.
Set up a budget based on the financial goals and track progress against them each month.
Focus on growing income via your career or side hustles. Your 20’s are the perfect time to develop your skills. Those skills will lead to increases in pay and help you reach your financial goals.
Then it’s time to grow your wealth. Don’t blindly spend pay increases and bonuses. Have a plan for them. Saving extra income or using it to pay off debt can be a fantastic way to accumulate wealth without ever cutting back on spending.
Take advantage of each and every “free money” opportunity no matter what. A common example is an employer 401(k) matching contribution.
Focus on three key areas of spending:
- Recurring expenses
If you can keep these three under control, you’re well on your way to success.
Keep it up. Before you know it, you’ll either love your job and never want to quit or you’ll be wealthy enough to quit and do whatever you want with your time.
When did you first start blogging? Was there a specific launching off point or what influenced you to go down that path?
I stared in June of 2017. I had so much to say about money topics and nowhere to say it.
I wanted to help people grow their wealth but was not ready to quit my well paying job and make a career change.
I needed a challenging project. I’d never been a great writer so commiting to put out a weekly blog post filled my need for a challenge when my day job became a bit mechanical.
I started Winning Personal Finance when my wife was pregnant with our second son. The circle of life may have had me thinking about my larger life goals a bit more than normal.
Is there a mission statement or underlying purpose to what you intend to accomplish with Winning Personal Finance?
I’ve been trying to commit to a mission statement since I started and have not been able to lock one down. I’ll share the best I have so far. Maybe one of your readers can give me some feedback.
Winning Personal Finance is a platform to help people. It’s for the family CFO’s who have not studied investing, budgeting and taxes. With just a little bit of guidance, you can be light years better off. My mission is to teach you streamline your finances and reach your goals.
What was the that first “big win” on your blogging journey that kept you motivated and reinforced your belief?
Since you said big win, I’ll go with my first (and only thus far) Rockstar Finance feature. I’d been reading the featured posts from them for years before starting my blog. Having my post, Does Your Car Cost You Millions featured, proved to me that I can produce well written, motivating and engaging content. Even if I never earn a dollar from the blog, knowing my message reached thousands of people makes it a success.
How has being in the personal finance blogging community and running your own website shifted your mindset on money?
I’ve become more aware of the financial challenges others face. I’d been in the weeds with my own financial journey for years but reading about people coming out of school with six figures in debt or trying to raise a family on a lower income was eye opening. I do my very best to relate my content to everybody but it’s very difficult to write to high earners and those living paycheck to paycheck at the same time.
I also find it so interesting how different people’s goals are. It seems that almost all personal finance bloggers are on track to reach financial independence at a young age. Most of the general public could not even define the term.
After starting my blog, I’ve had a hard time talking about much else. Between my posts that are intended to be conversation starters, learning the business of blogging and my pursuit of a career change in the field, the whole thing has consumed all my free time. Lately, I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to talk a bit less about these things. It turns out, not everybody likes talking about money all the time.
Do you have any specific goals with your blog over the next 18 months? What tactics are you planning to leverage to accomplish these?
- I’d like for my site to be known as the go to place for easy to digest best practices in personal finance. If I do so, I’ll be helping people which was the goal of the site from the start.
- Now that I’m taking financial planning education courses and will soon be studying for an intense exam, the blog has moved down a notch on my life priority scale. During this time, I’m hoping just to keep it going and get a post out each week.
- Once I’ve passed my exam and made a career change, I’d like to drop my anonymity on the blog. I’d like to use it as a way to market myself and my future financial advisory services.
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?
Your goals are within reach. Define them, focus on them and chase them aggressively. You will do it.
Any special shoutouts?
A big thank you to Scott for allowing me to share my story here.
I’d also like to give a shoutout to my wife for putting up with my craziness. It’s not always easy to do so ;).