“I’m pretty sure that the old me wouldn’t be able to recognize this version of myself.”
At 30 years old, I have an emergency fund to cover a year’s worth of expenses, a six-figure investment portfolio, and I was able to quit my day job to run my business, Clo Bare Money Coach, full time. But this wasn’t always the case. By the end of 2018, I was $70,000 in debt from student loans and a car note and still consistently spending $600 about every two weeks on things like going out and ordering takeout.
I had almost nothing saved for an emergency or retirement, other than about $10,000 sitting in a 401(k) that I had been contributing the minimum to for the last three years. I was earning $70,000 a year and living paycheck to paycheck, never quite sure why I wasn’t saving more.
My mindset was, people are leaving the workforce later and later and maybe I’ll never stop working — so why worry about retirement? I thought this way until I landed a new job at the tail end of 2018.
I went from working at a nonprofit doing fundraising to working as a communications consultant in corporate America. For nearly six months, I had been searching for a new job with higher pay and more sustainable hours. This position was exactly what I hoped to find. My new salary was $91,000 a year, more than I ever dreamed I would make, especially given that I studied English and Spanish in school and started my career teaching English in China.
The pay increase was valuable in another way, too, because it made me start thinking about my money differently. At the time, I was worried that if I didn’t drastically change my habits, I’d always feel like I was struggling with my finances. So I decided to do something about that.
From October 2018 to April 2021 is when my net worth went from -$60,000 to $140,000, a $200,000 increase in about 2.5 years. My current net worth is about $200,000, and that number continues to grow.
Here is how I got started.
I consistently tracked my spending
Tracking my expenses is probably the most important thing I did to start this journey, and it is something I continue to do today. Because I didn’t know where to start, I just took out a pen and paper and wrote down every time I spent money.
At the end of the two weeks of tracking, I added up all the categories. Seeing how much I spent in certain categories like going out to bars and restaurants, essentials, and personal items, shocked me.
Once I realized just how much I was spending each month, I knew I had to get really clear on where I wanted my money to go, and what I wanted it to do for me. So I sat down and wrote out my specific vision of what financial freedom looked like to me, including travel, being with my family and friends, and having the ability to pursue my passion projects and be in charge of how I spend my valuable time.
Having this concrete vision to refer back to has helped me stay motivated over the last few years.
I found the budgeting method that worked for me
For me, trying to handle money without a plan is like driving to a destination without a map or directions. Creating a budget has been an essential part of meeting goals like paying off my debt and saving for retirement.
There are lots of different ways to budget, from the envelope method to zero-based budgeting, to values-based budgeting to the anti-budget, where you only focus on what you need to save, invest, or put towards debt each month, and the rest of the money you can spend as you please.
After some trial and error, I found that a zero-based budget, where you assign every dollar a job, was the best fit for me because I love data and seeing exactly where my money is going. Since I started implementing it, the days of living for each payday are gone, and I have a system I’m enthusiastic about maintaining that doesn’t make me feel deprived.
I used to think that my budget needed to be exactly the same every month, but that’s not really how life works. Now I use my calendar to guide my budget, knowing that some times of year will require more expenses than others.
These days, instead of being surprised by a higher figure at the end of a given month, I know to adjust accordingly ahead of time.
I focused on increasing my income
We can’t talk about increasing net worth without talking about income. You can cut back on your spending up to a certain point, but there’s always going to be a limit. When it comes to how much you can earn, there is no limit.
Over the last few years, I have focused on increasing my income as much as possible, whether that was through side hustles — like freelance social media management, driving for Uber, and commissioning my paintings — or advocating for promotions and raises at my 9-to-5.
At my day job, I’d regularly communicate with my boss about my intention to grow within the company. I volunteered for more responsibility, and I kept track of all the tasks I took on outside of my scope, my successes, and the feedback I got from the people I worked with.
When it came time for negotiations, I always had this information available for our conversations. In the three years I was at my day job, I got two promotions and five raises.
I started a side hustle that brought me joy
My business, Clo Bare Money Coach, started somewhat unexpectedly. In June of 2020, I was asked if I would hold a workshop about budgeting. I agreed and had a great time. Afterwards, the attendees asked if there was a way that they could stay in touch and work with me. Over the rest of 2020, I had about 10 coaching clients to start.
Teaching people how to manage their money is what brings me the most joy and purpose in my life, in part because I’ve seen just how life changing getting your finances in order can be. At the beginning of 2021, I started thinking more seriously about where Clo Bare could go.
The more the company grew, the more I considered running it full time. I used to think I needed money from a side hustle to completely replace my 9-to-5 income before I felt comfortable taking that leap. When I started this journey, I wanted to earn as much as I could so I could have the funds to retire early.
But if I was doing work that I loved, I realized that early retirement wasn’t really my goal anymore.
Once I realized this, I focused on saving for my emergency fund, and after I consistently made $5,000 a month from Clo Bare for six months, I decided to give my notice at my day job.
I’ve made big goals small and manageable
Instead of trying to hit one arbitrary number, I’ve learned how important it is to break things down into manageable pieces. Focusing on hitting monthly, quarterly, and yearly milestones, and having a mix of differently sized goals has made this process feel a lot more achievable.
My goals have ranged from spending $50 less on entertainment in a given month to paying off $20,000 of my debt by the end of the year, which I was able to do in 2019, and again in 2020. If I need to adjust my financial objectives as my circumstances change, I have given myself the freedom to do that.
Now that I’m a full-time business owner, boosting my income and paying off what is left of my debt, for example, is still very important to me.
But now I’m also prioritizing my investing goals too, and doing things like maxing out my SEP IRA, and taking full advantage of my 401(k), regular IRA, and HSA accounts. It was when I started investing diversely and consistently that my net worth began to steadily increase.
I’m pretty sure that the old me wouldn’t be able to recognize this version of myself. I do know one thing: She’d be super-proud of me for getting to this point. I’m not sure what the next couple of years will look like, but no matter what the future holds, I know I got this.
About the author
Chloé Daniels, founder of Clo Bare Money Coach, is a personal finance creator, blogger, and coach based in Chicago. She's focused on helping people learn how to manage money and build wealth without shame or judgment. Chloé aims to provide education in a fun, easy to understand, and accessible way, and is known for her reels and TikToks that showcase her terrible dance moves while also providing finance tips.
*All photos provided by Chloé Daniels
Original story can be found at grow, here
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