Jennifer Chan
Mar 29, 2018 · 4 min read

In May 2015, I graduated with a degree in law and $50,000 of student loans (a combination of government and a private line of credit).

While I knew, in theory, how to represent people in court, I had zero idea on basic concepts of money management: how to make a budget, what index funds were, the difference between defined benefit and defined contribution pension plans, etc. After procrastinating for six months, with the help of a false sense of security that I had a high enough income that I didn’t need to learn how to save money, I kicked my butt into gear and taught myself the ins and outs of personal finance; now, I have a whole blog centred on building a healthy relationship with your money. These 10 practical tips helped me pay off $38,000 of student loans on a legal aid salary, while still enabling me to eat out, go on several vacations and indulge in some ephemeral pleasures.

[1] Pay off your debt. Now. Unless you are making minimum wage, or close to minimum wage, you have no excuse. The faster you eliminate your debt, the less amount of interest you’ll pay and the sooner you can start seriously saving for retirement. For me, about 40% of each paycheque gets thrown at my student loans. I don’t care that my minimum payment is only $65. I’ll be debt free by the end of this year. Debt delays your future. It also impacts your mental health.You owe it to yourself to be free.

[2] Create a realistic budget. Whether it’s an annual, monthly or weekly budget, just make one. The trick is to not make a budget that’s overly restrictive or overly lenient — you need to find that sweet middle ground that enables you to still treat yourself. A good budget is both flexible and practical. I also want to dispel the misconception that it has to be complicated. A budget is really just the calculation of your fixed expenses and variable expenses. Once you subtract those numbers from your net paycheque, the remainder should be thrown to your various short-term and long-term financial goals.

[3] Build an emergency fund. It’s not a question of whether your car will break down, whether you’ll need to foot the bill for an expensive vet bill or whether your main source of income will change. It’s all a matter of when. Although it ‘ll take some time, ensure you have a high-interest savings account that’ll hold 3–6 months of expenses. Do not touch this money. This is strictly for emergencies. If it’s possible to have an account in a separate bank from where you do your daily banking, that’ll greatly reduce the risk of you spending that money on… clothes.

[4] Start saving for retirement. The best time to start was yesterday. The second best time to start is now. Ultimately, the type of investment vehicle you choose is much less important than when you start investing and how much you contribute. Start allocating a portion of each paycheque (ideally 15–20%) to your retirement and let compound interest work its magic. When you’re in your 20s, time is your best friend.

[5] Park short-term savings in a high-interest savings account. Do not leave your savings in your chequing account. There are multiple reasons for this, but the main one is that your money won’t grow (or even outpace inflation). If you’re saving for a new car, a down-payment, or even your Emergency Fund, transfer that money into an account that will actually earn you a little bit of money through the interest. Online banks tend to offer the highest interest rates, mostly because they have less overhead expenses.

[6] Adopt a frugal lifestyle. Being frugal does not mean you have to be cheap. It just means getting the most value out of the products that you decide to purchase. Figure out the things that bring you the most joy, and eliminate spending on everything else. When you narrow down your ‘wants’ to a few things, you will waste a lot less money.

[7] Get off the ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ treadmill. Avoid the comparison game. Be mindful of hedonic adaptation. Refuse to succumb to the notion that expensive cars, clothes, gadgets and houses will bring you meaningful happiness. Yes, you may experience a temporary peak in happiness, but your mood will level out within a matter of months. The sooner you realize that the treadmill never stops, the quicker you can make the decision to get off.

[8] Learn to say no. This is the hardest of them all. Peer pressure is unavoidable, so I recommend strategically choosing which events you are willing to spend money on and which ones you feel okay declining. You can also recommend cheaper alternatives, such as picnics, coffee dates or a night-in with a movie and some wine.

[9] Read a personal finance book. Raising your financial literacy has a 100% return on investment (ROI). Spend $20 and learn how to budget, invest and save for the future. I recommend starting with The Millionaire Next Door — it taught me that most financially successful people do not live in expensive homes, drive expensive cars or wear expensive clothes.

[10] Learn about your company’s retirement plan. There’s a chance that your company offers some type of a retirement plan, most commonly in the form of a matching contribution plan. Take advantage of this. Never turn down free money.

There is no one-size fits all solution when it comes to money management, but it does, universally, require patience, discipline and consistency. If you don’t follow the above tips, I ask that you leave with knowing one thing: You can have it all, just not all at the same time.

Simple, Not Easy

Purposeful Work | Personal Finance | Pragmatic Minimalism

Jennifer Chan

Written by

I’m an employment and human rights lawyer who writes about productivity, career building, and personal finance.

Simple, Not Easy

Purposeful Work | Personal Finance | Pragmatic Minimalism

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