Welcome to Financially Alert Friends Interview #2, with special guest Sarah Noelle. These personal interviews will help us to understand how our core beliefs affect our money and personal finances, and ultimately they way we live. If you’d like to participate, click here for details.
Introduction to Today’s Guest
As a doctoral student, Sarah may not be making a ton of money yet, but she is already making a big impact with her blog, The Yachtless in the short time she’s been writing.
Sarah is a special kind of writer that has the ability to grab your heart as well as your mind. She can take everyday life and somehow relate it to a financial lesson.
Since I personally don’t have a lot of first hand experience with debt, I look to great examples like Sarah to teach me about her real life experience, how to become empowered, and turn knowledge into action.
Take it away Sarah…
1) Walk me through how and why you started your personal finance blog? Was the decision easy or hard, why? What’s your core message you’re trying to share?
The blog started out as a self-empowerment project. I had recently experienced a shift in my attitude about money and I wanted to start the blog to mark that transition, motivate myself, and document my journey. The hardest part, honestly, was choosing a name for the blog! It took me at least a month to come up with a name that I liked – I went through a lot of bad ones first. But once I got past that hurdle, everything fell into place pretty easily. The name is actually inspired by a financial philosophy that I heard from a lot of professors and classmates when I was in college, something I now call The Myth of the Yacht. Interestingly, a lot of other people have told me that this myth resonates with them as well.
Once I started blogging, I started to realize that I could also use the blog as a platform to encourage other people. I want other people to know that even if they’re in debt, they’re not trapped, they’re not helpless, and they’re not alone. On my blog I have a page called My Message to Others in Debt where I talk more about this. It’s a really important topic to me. Debt can cause isolation and regret, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be really helpful to talk about it, to share your experiences and feelings with others, and to hear other people’s stories as well. The online personal finance community is really supportive and encouraging, and it has helped me to feel a lot less alone in my journey.
2) Describe your past relationship with money. How has it evolved into your present views today? How do you want it to change in the future?
My past relationship with money was characterized largely by anxiety. I took out a lot of student loans to go to grad school, and I spent a long time feeling really anxious about this. Once I’d taken the loans out, I found myself feeling trapped and helpless, like I’d dug myself into a hole and would never be able to get out of it. I would lie awake at night just worrying and beating myself up about having taken out so many loans in the first place – in other words, I was mostly focused on the past.
The idea to start the blog came when I finally started to shift my attitude from the past to the present and the future. My “Aha” moment came when a friend sent me a post by Budget Bytes (a fantastic recipe blog that breaks down recipe costs to the exact cent), which motivated me to start tracking my spending, which in turn helped me to realize that I actually had control over my spending and could make a difference in the amount I was saving just by making different choices and changing some habits.
As for the future, my number one goal is to pay off my student loans. I also want to continue to be conscious about my spending so I can be sure it aligns with my goals and values. And importantly, I want to keep thinking about how my financial choices can have a positive impact on the world.
3) Describe 1 empowering belief you have about money and how it positively affected your life. On the flip side, describe 1 disempowering belief about money (past or present). What has been the effect on your financial goals?
An empowering belief for me is that small choices add up. I’m not making a ton of money right now, but adjusting my spending habits can still make a huge difference in the amount of money that’s in my bank account. For example, I challenged myself to spend zero money on restaurant food and takeout for the month of October, and I ended up saving $241 that month, which to me was a huge win!
A disempowering belief that I’ve come across in a few different articles is that your 20s are the most important time in your life to make smart financial decisions (because if you start saving for retirement in your 20s, you have more time to take advantage of compound interest). I understand the logic here, but this view implies that if you make poor decisions in your 20s, you’ll never recover from them. This is a totally unhelpful philosophy for people like me who are in their 30s and didn’t save a ton of money when we were younger. We can’t change the past; we can only move forward. So I try to focus on that in my blog: the importance of accepting past decisions and moving forward.
4) Who taught or influenced you about money when you were growing up? What was the impact?
My parents did a great job of teaching me the importance of paying off my credit card bill each month, as well as the importance of donating money to good causes. They also were very conscious about their spending: rather than spending their disposable income on expensive clothes or restaurant food, they spent it on experiences – in particular, travel. My brothers and I had the chance to visit some cool places while we were growing up, and I know I learned a lot from those experiences.
Even though I had a lot of positive messages growing up, it has still taken me quite a while as an adult to figure out for myself how to think consciously about money and what that means for me. In fact, I’m still very much in the process of figuring it out! I think that’s true for a lot of people: some things we learn best through experience.
5) What is your favorite personal finance book? What’s the best actionable takeaway you got from it?
I have to admit that I’ve read very few personal finance books – mainly because I’m relatively new to the personal financial sphere and haven’t had the chance yet. So instead, I’ll recommend a really fantastic book that has shaped my thinking about money, even though it’s not specifically about personal finance: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s about the ways in which habits shape our lives, as well as how we can become more aware of these habits. It’s a really fantastic read – not really a self-help book, but rather an engaging synthesis of research. I highly recommend it.
The best actionable takeaway from The Power of Habit is that all habits include three components: a cue, the habit itself, and a reward. If you can figure out what the cue is that’s triggering the habit, that knowledge will give you the power to replace the habit with a different habit and possibly a different reward. This all had a really big impact on how I think about spending and saving. I’ve created some really helpful habits in my own life, like entering all my purchases into a spreadsheet at the end of the day. In this particular example, the cue is a Google alert that I’ve set to go off each evening at 8pm, the habit is entering the purchases into the spreadsheet, and the reward is that I get to feel like I’m all up to date with my finances, and to know that there are no mysteries or uncertainties about how much I spent during the day. (Bonus: knowing that I’ll have to be accountable for my purchases at the end of the day definitely motivates me to spend less!) Anyway, I highly recommend that you check out the book if you haven’t read it. And if anyone has any personal finance books they’d recommend, please do let me know.
6) What are your top 3 favorite personal finance blogs, and why?
Blonde on a Budget: This was the first personal finance blog I discovered and the only one I was aware of for many months. It’s also still my favorite. Cait is an incredibly talented and thoughtful writer, and her blog is a huge source of inspiration and encouragement to me.
The Single Dollar: This blog is written by a humanities PhD, and it’s very smart and insightful, with really unique topics and posts. Definitely check it out if you haven’t had the chance. In addition to financial topics, C. also writes about her endeavor to produce zero food waste, which is very cool.
Our Next Life: The theme of this blog is technically early retirement…but it’s about so much more than that. It’s philosophical, contemplative, and inspiring. Every post makes me think. Recommended for anyone, regardless of whether or not early retirement is your goal.
7) Describe one investment type/class that excites you the most, and why?
I can’t claim to know much about investing at this point – I’m still learning! – but I will say that I’m a big fan of Betterment. In particular, I appreciate that a substantial portion of my portfolio there is made up of international stocks. I think it’s smart to invest in international markets, as well as emerging markets.
8) How much passive income would you need per month to live happily ever after?
Well, I’ve been a PhD student for the past five years, and so I’m pretty accustomed to living on a salary of around $30K per year. I think I could continue at about this level, though two lifestyle changes I’d like to eventually make would be to make enough that I can afford my own space (I currently live with housemates) and be able to travel a bit more.
9) Do you discuss money or financial matters with friends and family? Why, or why not?
I have a few friends who I discuss financial matters with, but this is a relatively new thing. One of my friends in particular is really smart about money, and I’ve learned a lot from her. I think it’s great to discuss money with friends who are supportive and who also care about conscious spending and conscious saving. But I definitely don’t think this is necessary in a friendship.
10) Tell us something about yourself that only your closest family and friends know about.
I have seen the film The Sound of Music at least 15 times.
11) Describe a memorable financial blunder you’ve made in the past. What did you learn from it?
The summer I was 15, I worked at a Burger King. There was a boy about my age who was hired the same week as me and had the same job. At some point I mentioned to him that I made $6.00 per hour, and he told me that he made $6.25 per hour. I remember thinking, huh, that doesn’t seem fair, but I didn’t do anything about it. At this point there’s no way to find out whether or not he was telling the truth, but I wish I had looked into it further and advocated for myself if it had turned out that something unfair was going on. It wouldn’t have made much of a difference in terms of how much money I made that summer overall, but I think that advocating for yourself financially, which sometimes include asking for more money when you think you deserve it, is an important skill to develop. (I did actually do this recently, and it really paid off.)
12) If you could only eat 3 things for the rest of your life, what would they be?
I’m seriously addicted to apples; I could eat them all day long. Also Kind bars, which I realize are probably not particularly kind (haha) to my budget, but I usually buy boxes of them using my Amazon points, so I like to tell myself that they’re “free”. Also hummus.
- The Truth About Financial Freedom - December 5, 2022
- Teaching Kids About Money is A Lot Harder Than I Thought - November 17, 2022
- Finding FI Interview #43: Invest in what you understand with Alexander Kelm - October 31, 2022