When It Comes To Money, Just Start Small

The biggest things start small

As we go through life, we learn many new things. Every time we start to learn a new subject, for the most part, we start without much base knowledge. Over time the concepts become more advanced, until at some point you learn to master whatever it is you’re learning.

Think about things like writing or math. We start in grade school, learn basic concepts like the alphabet, or addition, and then later pick up more advanced things like writing coherent sentences and synonyms, or geometry and calculus.

We’re able to ease into it through a generally well-thought out curriculum over the course of our childhoods.

Money Is No Different Except When It Is

While this is true for things like math, science, language, and even more abstract things like art and music, it’s generally not the case with money.

The unfortunate thing about personal finance is that despite being one of the most important things to have true mastery of as an adult, it’s not taught in most schools. Despite being able to hold a job at age 14 in the US, there is no sort of formalized financial education provided in our middle schools or high schools.

Even as we ship kids off to college, many do not understand the implications of taking out student loans. As a result, many go through college racking up tons of student loan and credit card debt.

I had one personal finance class in college. I loved it, and it really resonated with me. Unfortunately, it was a bit too late and I’d already racked up five figures of credit card debt.

Popular Alternatives

Many people don’t have the option of learning about how to manage their money through formalized education. For them, popular public figures like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman are often their first exposure to the world of finance.

Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman both offer advice that serves the masses. Their goals are pretty simple: spread basic financial knowledge to the largest audience possible. Doing so requires teaching things at a relatively fundamental level.

It’s like teaching a class on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. There are a ton of other mathematical concepts, but those four will get most people by most of the time.

It makes sense to start there – it’s the foundation to more advanced concepts like exponents, and more complex areas of math like trigonometry and calculus.

Likewise, the world of financial information is extremely broad and deep. What Dave and Suze talk about is the most basic level of financial management.

Outgrowing The Dave’s and Suze’s Of The World

That means that if you want to advance in your money management, at some point you need to outgrow Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman. Once you master the basics of writing the alphabet, it’s time to put together coherent sentences. There’s little value in continuing to study the alphabet itself.

I remember after I’d started my second role at my first company. When I was in Detroit for a work trip, I was chatting with someone from HR who was on the trip with me.

Up until that point, all of the things I’d learned at the company felt so conceptual, and I’d mastered most of it. I felt isolated from the real workings of the business, but conceptually I was at my limit. I needed a new challenge, and switched jobs into a role that more directly supported the companies day to day operations.

It leveraged my skill-set I’d built up for two years prior, just like writing words and sentences leverages your understanding of the alphabet.

Suddenly with my new role, I was put deep into the weeds of dealing with real life scenarios.

It felt a lot like going to college, learning how something conceptually works, and then getting into the real world and realize there’s a lot more you don’t know than there is you do know. It’s overwhelming at points.

Personal finance is the same way, especially at the beginning. You can learn and master basic concepts, but eventually you realize that you have a lot more to learn.

More advanced things like 401(k)’s, Roth accounts, tax loss harvesting, and HSA’s are more advanced, and come up frequently when researching or trying to learn about money. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Pair those complex ideas with a plethora of services and companies that offer them, and it’s easy to see how it can be quite overwhelming. Quite frankly it likely shuts people off to wanting to think about money at all.

Stopping the Overwhelm

And this really is one of the biggest challenges I see. Getting people interested in personal finance and simply figuring out how to stop the overwhelming feeling of there being too much to learn.

A key realization I had was that while it’s true that there is a lot I could learn, there isn’t much I must learn.

I don’t need to know about everything, and I certainly don’t need to know about most things all at once. Some high-level knowledge on a subject – like the 4% rule – was a simple enough ‘rule of thumb’ to get started.

Narrowing down the vast universe of companies I could look at to invest money at to just three – Vanguard, Fidelity, and Schwab – let me get past that analysis paralysis moment.

Index funds were a huge boon for me as well, simplifying our investment strategy while still having underlying diversification.

For those who don’t know, an index fund is essentially a fund that tracks a ton of various stocks. It may track 3000-4000 different companies that represent a healthy mix of the entire stock market. By investing in an index fund, we’re not out-performing the market…but we don’t really need to in order to hit our goals.

As a bonus, we are diversifying our risk to a degree. By tracking so many different companies, if one of them goes down, it’s unlikely to have a significant impact on the value of the index itself.

Those two realizations got me set with where to invest our money, and what to invest it in. I didn’t need to explore the rest of the financial world to do that. And I didn’t need to explore the rest of the financial world to know that those two things alone would probably let us hit our goals.

Now that we’ve got those concepts and plans nailed down, though, I am eager to learn more. I love building on my knowledge as much as I can.

Start Small

If you start small and slow, you’ll realize that you don’t need a lot to manage your money wisely. The basics of budgeting (or at least tracking your expenses), understanding your net worth, and a few tips on investment basics should get most people by.

At that point if you want to learn more, there’s plenty to keep you busy.

But if you don’t, even those basics are an adequate foundation for many. Time is the other missing component. Consistency is king when it comes to financial stability.

Question:

How did you move past the basics? Did you have any mental or emotional hurdles to overcome?

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12 Comments

  1. You’re lucky that you had a personal finance class in college. I didn’t learn about any of these things in a formal setting. My parents taught me to save and live modestly. That’s about it. I had to learn everything else on my own.
    I was motivated to invest because I wanted financial security. My family struggled financially when I was young and it’s not fun. It took a long time to learn about index fund, 401k, Roth IRA, financial independence, and all these important things. That’s why it’s best to start as early as you can. I made plenty of mistakes along the way.

    1. My parents taught me well too, so I aced that class – and I actually really enjoyed it. Learning on your own has its merits for sure, but if things can be easier, I figure I’d take advantage you know?

      Even though you may have struggled along the way I think it built some great foundations for you and your family. I love following along and can’t wait for Mrs RB40 to leave her job haha

      1. I think colleges should make personal finance part of the required curriculum. It would be great if high schools bothered to touch the subject, but the lessons might stick better for college students who have gotten exposure to things like credit cards and student debt.

        Not enough people get those lessons at home.

        1. Totally agree. My personal finance class in college was awesome, but not nearly enough. I think two semesters of it would be perfect.

          High schools should definitely touch on it too though, and honestly maybe even some basics earlier like in middle school. I think it’s important in high school because at that time you’ve got kids who are 16, 17, 18 years old making decisions about their futures. Some of them have no idea what student loans are, how interest works, and what their expected earning potential is after school. How can they make an educated decision on taking out student loans when they don’t know what ROI stands for or how to calculate it? We’re doing the youth a disservice by pushing everyone toward college without properly preparing them to understand their decision.

          Okay that’s enough of a rant for me, haha

  2. I actually have never watched Dave Ramsey speak but he seems very popular. I have watched Suze Orman though.

    I didn’t have any formal classes too especially with investing, but I think the best lesson was through trial and error and my own mistakes.

    1. Yeah, Dave and Suze are pretty much the most well-known personal finance speakers I can think of.

      Trial and error is definitely a great way to learn, as long as your errors don’t discourage you too much and knock you out of the game! Thanks for stopping by as always GYM 🙂

  3. I think this a huge challenge for us bloggers: “Getting people interested in personal finance and simply figuring out how to stop the overwhelming feeling of there being too much to learn.” It’s something I’m really self-conscious about, so that’s why I’m not writing about like dividends and tax strategies and stuff. Getting people to start thinking about money is hard enough–we don’t need to turn them off with jargon and overcomplicated topics.

    I’ve also never listened to Dave Ramsey, but feel like I should start, just to see what everyone else is so enraptured by. Obviously, if he’s delivering a message that resonates with people, it’s worth scoping out.

    1. I think there’s a time and place for those conversations, but if EVERYONE who blogged wrote just about dividends and tax strategies, I feel like it’d be a turn-off to most people, just like you said. 🙂

      Dave’s super popular because he’s easy to understand and provides some good motivation. And he’s got a great marketing team.

  4. What’s funny (and I told my husband this just a few hours ago, freaky coincidence!) that I discovered Financial Samurai and MMM before I even heard or knew of Dave Ramsey. I was just in our own bubble. We never held much debt or had trouble saving. But we both had to start somewhere just the same and that was with our parents!

    1. Oh weird haha. I honestly don’t even know how I got into this blogging stuff and found FS/MMM. Dave Ramsey I knew because my dad had his book growing up, so I saw the name all the time.

      You guys are lucky that your own bubble was very responsible…ish 🙂

  5. In my opinion, Orman and Ramsay are for those who want the quick fix, without taking the time to really learn abut finances. Yes, they will help you get out of the hole, but the results won’t last unless you take the time to understand the basics behind the programs and continue to implement them in your daily life.

    As you said, net worth, budgeting, and basic money terms are all you need to survive financially. Taking a bit more time to learn about investing will result in success.

    1. I don’t think they’re explicitly for people who don’t want to take the time as a blanket statement. It seems more likely to me that it’s people just looking to take the first step. And maybe for a lot of people I guess that’s the ONLY step they take, but it’s definitely not the case for some.

      They’re a decent first step, but probably not ideal and definitely not advanced. 🙂

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