Thoughts on money.
There are a multitude of ways that I’ve approached my finances over the years - ignoring it and making as much as I can, downloading apps to keep track, firing up Excel, watching my accounts closely, and throwing it all to the wind.
Everyone deals with money differently - that will never change. But if there’s one thing that should stand the test of time, it is creating habits that will better benefit you and your goals in the long term.
I guide my habits with money around three main philosophies - one based in religious principle, one that defines my lifestyle choices, and one that dives into strategy.
And there is no creature on earth but that upon Allah is its provision, and He knows its place of dwelling and place of storage. All is in a clear register.
My faith teaches me to see money as a medium of exchange for goods and services - and that’s it. All that money will do is enable, support, or confine the way I want to live my life.
Prioritize a lifestyle that minimizes expenses but maximizes experiences.
Play a good defense on investing when younger is another way to long-term wealth than building multiple streams of income down the line.
And here we go.
Start with where you are.
Open up your bank account, and take note of the last few months of transactions on your debit/credit card into Excel. (Before you get too deep into this, most banking sites allow you to download directly into Excel, and there are also apps that can do this for you. For my purposes, though, I tend to download reports into Excel and pivot into the different categories I’m spending. It never hurts.)
Evaluate the categories where you’ve spent the most of your money over the last few months (rent, food, travel, etc), and what categories tend to exceed reasonable limits more than others. The variable costs (food, coffee, etc) are more important than the fixed (rent, phone, insurance); small changes in habit can save a lot more money in these categories in the long run. For me, my variable costs are typically travel and food. Depending on if I’m traveling, seeing friends often, or in a particularly stressful time of year, these categories overwhelm my budget.
This is a good opportunity to explore small, easy wins in terms of budgeting:
“If I make my own coffee Monday - Thursday, and spend Friday at a coffeeshop, how will that impact my weekly spend?”
And say you’ve saved hundreds of dollars over a few months-span - maybe that can go toward a coffee/espresso machine?
“Is there a way I can keep this category (example: restaurants) under $100 this month by planning out dates with friends in advance?”
I’d recommend downloading Mint (for you) and Honeydue (for you and your significant other) - the insights are intriguing over a period of time, and I truly think that staring straight into what you’re spending is a game-changer. I use Mint. My friend Emma uses YNAB (“you need a budget”) and swears by it, but it does have a monthly fee.
Set solid, specific, and tangible goals.
When I look at my balances across the board, I try to think of what I need, what I want, and what it’ll take to get there.
Let’s say I want to go to Portland next month. I tally up the costs I can expect to see: airfare, an Airbnb for three days in the heart of downtown, food/coffee/Uber over those days, and what I’d spend on sights, museums, and shopping. Assuming that number comes out to something I’m hesitant about, I try to plan how I can best mitigate the hit.
How much can I put aside (e.g. not use) each week until I can pull this off without feeling guilty about it?
Is there a better time to go? What are normal ticket prices from where I am? Is there something going on in the area that I should avoid?
Is it cheaper to fly two one-way tickets instead of a round trip? (This happens. The algorithms behind ticket prices are insane.)
What if I left on a Thursday night instead of Friday morning? Do the savings I see on airfare exceed what an extra night in an Airbnb would cost?
Is it cheaper to get a rental car? (You’d be surprised.)
Am I getting points for this? Can I/should I use points?
Wait - what about hotels? Why am I going for this Airbnb if this hotel is cheaper?
What can I stop doing right now or today that will save me a bit of money that I can put toward the trip?
Break up with what you don’t need…
And this means Apple Music, Spotify, Hulu, Netflix, HelloFresh, Amazon Prime, or any other monthly subscriptions that you’re not using or enjoying. Many of these subscription-based services are great deals for high-frequency users, but if you’re not one, it’s time to rethink it. Take the cost of the annual service divided by the value or frequency of your usage, and if we’re not talking pennies, it’s time to up the usage or cancel the subscription and move on.
Consolidating services is a fantastic idea between family, siblings, roommates or close friends.
And get back with what you want to be doing.
Coming from the perspective of faith again, money is a medium, and not an end-goal. Setting intentions with your money is important to reframe its purpose in your life.
Charity and any form of giving (such as time, effort, money, attention) is incumbent on those who have more of something (such as time, effort, money, attention) than others. And this can translate into many forms - sharing charitable endeavors on social media, donating a few dollars, buying a cup of coffee for someone behind you at Starbucks. It can be your time - stopping by an animal shelter, sweeping at the mosque, or donating your services as an artist or photographer for those who need it.
There are some things money can buy, and there are other things that are irreplaceable. Think moments with your grandparents, or parents, or siblings, or old friends. These, in retrospect, will cost far more than any amount one can make.
No matter how much money is in your life, make it a goal to be healthy, to eat healthy, and to take care of your body. All things fall to the wayside when physical, mental, and emotional health isn’t at par.
Education and financial independence are the forefront.
When I entered college, I was adamant on taking on school exactly how I took on everything else up to that point: on my own terms. And that meant choosing my major and my extracurriculars by how hard I wanted to push myself, and I knew I wanted to go hard.
I was grateful to work part- or full-time through nearly all of my college years and to receive scholarships, or I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to make it out of school without a substantial amount of debt. There was this obsessive need to live by my own pocket; I was finicky about managing my money in a way so that I wouldn’t have to depend on anyone. Looking back, choosing to get a job as early as I could, to aim for internships that I knew were rigorous and competitive, and to live incredibly frugally, were some of the best decisions I made. I did, however, pay a steep price of a college experience and a social life, and I can never get that back. I lived off campus and took the METRO to school and back, and rarely did I stay on campus past 5pm until I had to during graduate school.
To be clear, the world does not work for everyone the same way. Throwing down advice to “get a job”, or “try to get out of debt,” or “find a side hustle” is pretentious and privileged, so regardless of how the cards fall, aim your focus at being the absolute, damn best you can at school or wherever you may be. A degree can’t be taken away, and it doesn’t ebb and flow like money, opportunity, and the job market does. And there are no greater mentors in life than those you come across in college (see: professors, friends, recruiters, advisors, etc), so take advantage of that.
After starting my first job, my dad helped me set up automatic transfers to some mutual funds. Shortly after, in college, I made a brokerage account and started buying shares of companies I was interested in.
I didn’t really know what I was doing when I first started out; investing is a whole other world to get into, and it’s a shame that it isn’t heavily taught in high school. But the concept of saving is firmly ingrained, and learning about diversification and your preferences/approach to risk is interesting from both a financial and personality perspective.
For every paycheck, pay yourself first. This is not about treating yourself on the spot — gift yourself a certain percentage of your paycheck in the form of money you will not see in the foreseeable future. Whether this means putting into your savings account at work, creating an emergency fund, or maxing out your IRA each year, try to think of what future you may want or need out of yourself, that you can give right now.
Side hustle your way around (if you want to).
This is about as millennial as it gets; having varying jobs to suit one’s passions is one of the cooler things to come about from technology and the times we live in today.
The great thing about a side hustle - you don’t have to leave your current role to do it. It isn’t a part time job, and it usually isn’t under another company or person. It’s what you like to do - monetized, and you just have to find the time, get some clients, and start operating. What’s interesting about creating and maintaining a side hustle is how some people end up leaving their full-time roles as they slowly figure out the ways of making money with their passions.
Several of my friends own their own photography businesses, DJ services, interior decor/fashion design/or social media branding endeavors - all on the side of what they do full-time, whether it be engineering or sales or law or art. It’s a great way to practice entrepreneurship, do what you love, and tack a bit more to your monthly income.
Unforeseen circumstances are a matter of life.
There will be times when money is needed, and money isn’t there. Having enough set aside to cover the potential of medical expenses, damages to self or property, etc is necessary for peace of mind. Maintain this emergency fund separately from all else.
I’m not professionally versed in Islamic finance, but there are fundamentals. In Islam, interest is forbidden, as Muslims believe that money cannot arise from money. It’s simply a medium of exchange for goods and services; money has no inherent value aside from what we give it, and thus cannot grow on itself. Creating a savings account and shaving off interest earned at the end of the year is an option (e.g. don’t touch it, donate it to a charity, or somehow get rid of it). But maintaining a fund in a checking account stand-alone can be done as well.
Reframe the way you look at wealth.
This is where perspective is imperative.
Wealth does not equal a certain amount of money. Wealth equals you being able to use what you have in order to attain what it is that you want - whether that may be travel, or a car, or a computer, or money saved away for later days. It isn’t a certain income level, or a tax bracket, or an ability to buy something that others can’t. Reframing how we look at money is the first step to changing our habits with it, especially when it comes to the way we choose to live our lives.
I want to hear what you think - let me know what has worked for you, where you stand on how you approach your finances, and what you wish you would’ve known years ago.