If you manage it right, your money can be a vehicle with which you can build a very meaningful life. What are the things that make life meaningful? They are those things that take into account past, present and future moments to make an impact. Things like giving, experiencing time with family and friends and using the talents we have been given to create and accomplish great things, just to name a few.
I have designed a way to organize my money that helps me consider the past, present and future moments to make the biggest impact I can.
This is how I organize my money to create a meaningful life.
- I have a money mindset.
- I have a money system.
- I have a money tracker.
My Money Mindset
Your psychology has a huge impact on the way you manage money. Financial psychologist, Dr. Brad Klontz, says the average American suffers from some type of money disorder. All of our behavior stems from our thinking.
Since all spending habits begin with thinking habits, I'll start by sharing my very counter-cultural money mindset with you.
I think about money as an unlimited resource that comes from God and belongs to God. There is a verse in the Bible that says “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord”. In other words, we are all just passers-by on this planet, using God’s stuff. He owns all of it. When we die, we don’t get to keep any of it. Therefore, the way I think about my money is that it’s God’s money and I’m just using it.
My money mindset is that I am stewarding God’s money and I want to be a good steward. What is a steward? A steward is simply a person who manages another’s property or financial affairs. In my attempt to become a good steward I implemented a system for how I handle money.
My Money System
I have a simple system for how to deal with the money that comes my way, but it’s a bit upside down compared to the way the experts tell you to run your finances.
This is the system that helps me to build a meaningful life:
- First Give (15%)
- Second Save & Invest (20%)
- Third Spend (65%)
These percentages are based on household gross income. In the past, I've created a budget that was based on net income so the percentages for savings and giving were slightly lower, as they did not account for any pre-tax investing.
I Give First
Every finance book I’ve ever read says to pay yourself first, but I decided at the age of 12 to always pay God first. That was the year I first read the Bible from cover to cover and in so doing, I learned that God did not need my money but He wanted my heart. He didn’t want anything to separate me from a relationship with Him, not even money. I learned that when we give back to God the first of what He has given to us, it ensures our hearts never hold a relationship with money as more important than our relationship with God and forces us to trust Him to provide for us. As a result, I began tithing and haven’t stopped since.
Tithing is a Christian discipline that basically means giving the first 10% of your earnings to the local church to advance the ministry of Christ to the community through Bible teaching, benevolence and caring for the needy. Tithing is the pillar example of Christian faith in action.
This lifelong discipline has kept me from making money my God and has cultivated an attitude of thanksgiving toward God for enabling me with the health and ability to do a job in addition to the provision for the work itself.
Above tithing, I also believe in funding meaningful passions. I find sponsoring children out of poverty extremely meaningful. It has been a passion of mine for the last 10 years. In the past, I’ve invested in stocks so I could use my earnings toward sponsoring even more children.
To make funding this passion possible, I set up a fund in my savings account to set aside 4% for sponsored children in one of my CapitalOne360 savings accounts. More about savings accounts in a bit.
Lastly, I believe in giving to others as opportunities arise. How many times do we see others in need on the street or friends asking to support them in charity fundraisers but we don’t participate because we don’t have the money to give? I set up another fund to save 1% to give to others as those opportunities present themselves.
Then Save & Invest
Next, I save 10% for short term goals, like home projects or vacations and I invest 10% on long term goals like retirement.
My system for saving more is having separate goals and separate sub-accounts for each goal. I look at my savings account like a big filing cabinet for my money. In your filing cabinet at home, you have separate files for everything so you can easily find what you need. (Auto file, Home Insurance file, etc. How well would your filing system work if you just threw all your papers into the filing cabinet without putting them in separate folders? That’s what we do when we throw all of our money into a savings account with no subaccounts.
I set up savings subaccounts so that I know exactly where to direct my money and how much money is available in each folder to use at any given time. I use CapitalOne360.com which allows me to set up as many separate savings sub accounts as I want for free. In the past, I have had as many as 10 savings sub accounts going at the same time, depending on what was going on that year that I needed to save for. Bathroom remodel, daughter’s wedding, new car, new couch, etc.
Whatever it is that I need or want to save for, I set up separate savings accounts for them and then schedule auto transfers each month into those accounts. Before I know it, by the time I check back in on those accounts, I am surprised how much money I’ve been able to set aside.
When I first started saving for retirement, I contributed 6% to my company 401k program, and incrementally increased it with each raise until I reached 10% of auto-savings. This investment was compounded over the years by my company match. Now that I don’t have a company 401k to contribute to, I invest in a universal life insurance policy and a Roth IRA instead.
If you have an option to contribute to a 401k and are not utilizing it, definitely start doing this today. Especially if they are providing any sort of company match, which most do. The best way to set yourself up for a meaningful life is to invest in your future. When you have someone else willing to do that too, (i.e. your company) that’s an awesome thing! Don’t waste that opportunity. Plus, if you are looking for a way to cut taxes, contributing to your 401k lowers your taxable income so that helps you come tax return time.
I Spend Last
Spending is what most people do first with their money, but I’ve found that in order to cultivate a meaningful life, spending should come last. Just like the classic “big rocks” analogy illustrates, when we live a life of spending first without saving or giving back, we end up not having room left to save or give because we tried to put those “big rocks” in last. When the big rocks go first, there’s room for everything else.
I Create a Monthly Budget For My Spending
Just deciding to give first, save and invest second and spend last was not enough of a plan for me personally. I needed to create a budget for how much to spend on what. Having a budget does not mean I live like a scrooge, it simply means I tell my money where to go before I spend it rather than wondering where it went.
I don’t use any fancy budgeting software. I have a very simple budgeting system. I create an Excel Sheet with a tab for each month’s budget for the year. I copy and paste the budget format into each tab and then modify as the months go by. You can read more about how I created a budget for my net income that works here.
I Automate My Bills
When it comes to paying bills, I auto pay as many bills as possible with one credit card. I pay all my utility bills that accept a credit card with my Amex Platinum card. Then I pay the card off in full by the 15th of the month. This includes bills like Netflix, Cell phone, Cable, Internet, gym membership, home owners insurance, auto insurance and property taxes.
The points that I gain from paying for these fixed bills give me the freedom to do meaningful things like buy plane tickets for my mom to come visit for my son’s birthday and take a road trip with my family.
Next I make sure the rest of my bills are auto-scheduled in bill pay through my credit union. For instance, my mortgage, gas bill, gardener, pool service, Luke’s school tuition, & car lease are auto-scheduled to be taken out of my account on the same day every month.
This helps me know what to plan for.
I Use Cash or Debit For Flexible Spending
While the double points can be tempting for paying for my groceries and gas with my credit card, I have learned that it is all too easy to lose track of spending when paying for flexible expenses like gas and groceries with a credit card. I inevitably over spend because my psychology gets in the way. When it's a credit card I don't think about it as spending real money, in fact I don't think about it at all, I just swipe, swipe, swipe. Not helpful.
I solved this problem by only using cash or a debit card for flexible expenses because I found that I actually stop and think about how much I'm spending when I know it is coming straight out of my checking account. This helps me stick to my aforementioned budget too.
My Money Tracker
I've found that budgeting and investing are only as good as my ability to monitor them, so I've become disciplined with monitoring all of my accounts on a monthly basis with a money tracker.
As I mentioned I use a simple excel sheet to create my budget. In that same sheet, I include one tab for tracking my net worth on a monthly basis. This tab includes information from all of my accounts, debts and investments, savings, real estate, life insurance, 401k,etc.
To track my monthly spending, I use the software tracker provided by my credit union, which is very similar to Mint.com. It tells me how much I'm spending on what at a glance and how I'm tracking toward my budget for each category.
Using these tools helps keep me focused and informed on how my money stewardship is going.
In summary, I use money to create a meaningful life in the way I think about it, manage it and track it.
My money system is to give, save, spend, in that order, and this system allows me to always have enough to do the things that are meaningful to me like giving to others, sponsoring children and spending time with family and friends.
I hope this candid account of how I organize my money helps you think about how you too can use money to create a meaningful life.