I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, and felt that now more than ever, it was so important to share what I’ve learned about finances over the years! I’ve been running my own business for a decade now, without a business degree, and without any outside financial help. It certainly hasn’t been easy navigating the waters alone, but by educating myself, I’ve been able to really understand and appreciate all things finance.
I wanted to share some basic finance tips that will hopefully help you on your financial journey. I am still by no means an expert, and I do recommend consulting with a trustworthy accountant regarding any big finance decisions. This post is really just scratching the surface and an intro to finances for the modern day woman! My hope is that it will empower you to build a strong financial foundation for your future.
Basic Finance Tips
Everyones budget is different depending on their situation. There is no one size fits all. A popular budget that many people use as a guide is called the 50/30/20 budget. Basically you take 50% of your post tax income and put it towards the essentials; housing/rent, food, transportation, utilities, healthcare and minimum debt payments. You take 30% of your post tax income and put it toward non-essentials such as clothing and travel. Then you take 20% of your post tax income and put it toward your savings account, retirement and investment funds. Another popular “rule of thumb” is to never spend more than 30% of your pre tax income on housing/rent. I’ll be sharing my tips on how to buy a house and why it’s better in the long run to buy versus rent, in a separate post.
Let’s talk about debt. We cannot talk about saving and investing before we talk about debt. In my early 20s when I first moved to NYC and was making minimum wage, plus trying to run my blog, I racked up credit card debt. Most of us have done it, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about. It happens! The best advice I can give you is to prioritize paying off your debt before buying or doing those non-essential items in your budget. This doesn’t mean you can never shop or splurge on something until you’re out of debt though! You still have to enjoy life! This article is a great example of someone who has 6 figures in debt, but is managing her payments the best she can while also saving, and having fun/enjoying life.
How To Get Out Of Debt
Make a budget for yourself like the one I shared above. You can do this in Excel or Google Sheets. Really break everything down item by item so you get a full picture of what you’re spending on, and what you can pull back on. You may be surprised at how much you’re spending on things like Ubers, workout classes, etc! Put whatever is left over from the 50% essential budget and 30% non-essential budget toward your debt.
Whatever you do, do NOT miss your minimum monthly payment on a loan or credit card. This can decimate your credit score, and a credit score is extremely valuable – will share more on that later. Don’t be afraid to call up your credit card companies or any banks you have loans with and ask them for a lower interest rate. You never know what they may say – it is always worth asking! Now especially, with COVID-19 companies are more flexible and understanding.
In my early 20s I had no clue how to save and didn’t fully understand the importance of it. Luckily I learned – the earlier you start saving the better. If you’re an entrepreneur, you should set aside about 30% of your income for taxes off the bat. If you have a salaried position, you should aim to set aside 20% of your post tax income for savings, retirement and investment accounts. And if you feel like you need outside help to save, then apps like Qapital are great because you can set “rules” for yourself.
For example, you can link your credit card and every time you spend, you can have it round up to the closest dollar and take the change from that and put it in your savings account. So let’s say you buy a coffee for $4.95, it will round up to $5 and put the $0.05 into your savings account automatically. You can also create mini goals/specific savings accounts within it for things like; Medical Fund, Travel Fund, Birthday Fund, etc. A company called Ellevest also offers this (more on that under Investing!)
High Yield Savings Account
A high yield savings account is a great place to park your savings because you can earn more interest there than in a regular savings account. The two high yield savings accounts I recommend are; Ally and Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Both offer a 0.80% APY, versus a conventional savings account which offers around a 0.10% APY. What’s great about both is they don’t require a minimum opening deposit. You could make several hundreds of dollars per year (or more!) just off interest depending on how much you put in the account.
Your credit score is extremely important. Landlords look up your credit score for homes you want to rent. Mortgage brokers and banks look at your credit score for homes you want to buy and loans you want to take out. A lower credit score could mean you lose out on the apartment you want to live in, or it could mean you don’t get a mortgage for the house you want to buy. And if you do happen to get a loan with a low credit score, it will come with a higher interest rate. So you should absolutely know and care what your credit score is!
You can look up your credit score as often as you like, but having too many “hard inquiries“ on your credit report (for example if several mortgage companies are pulling it up for a loan application) can negatively impact your score. There are three credit unions; Transunion, Equifax and Experian. You could have a different credit score from one, two or all of them, but in general they should be in the same range.
Things that affect your credit Score
What affects your credit? Not paying your credit card minimum payment on time, not paying bills on time, having a collection or lien out, having a ton of debt, loans, the amount of money in your bank accounts compared to the amount of money you owe, not having enough credit history (i.e. not having a credit card at all), foreclosures, bankruptcy, and more. When I was 18, the first thing I did was open up a credit card. I knew how important it was to start building credit. I knew if I ever wanted to get a loan someday, I needed to show that I could first pay off that loan. And the only way you’re able to prove that to banks is by making monthly payments to your credit card!
I know some people are scared of credit cards. Don’t be. Just be smart about what you’re charging! Don’t spend more than you have or make. Be strict with yourself. Credit cards and loans are not bad – they will significantly boost your credit if they are paid off on time and in full. If you’re worried about having self-control, get a credit card and charge 1 coffee to it per month for a year and pay it off every month. Something as simple as that, will build your credit up.
Do you need one? If you are a small business owner, yes. It’s one of the best investments I’ve made in my business. If you need an accountant in NYC, I’ve got a great one – feel free to email me. If you have a salaried position with barely any write offs and everything is pretty straightforward, then no. You can easily do your own taxes and save money.
Small Business Finance
If you are a small business owner, you should set up an LLC or S Corp depending on which state you live in. An accountant will be able to tell you which one will be best for you tax wise. A lawyer or accountant can set up either for you. You should have a separate business bank account and credit card, and run all business related expenses through those accounts. You don’t want your personal expenses and business expenses to get mixed up. If they do, it will make write offs, budgeting, and tax season a complete headache.
I highly recommend setting up an LLC or S Corp and hiring an accountant early on in your business. It will make everything much easier and save you a lot of $ in the long run – trust me. An accountant will be able to tell you what you can and cannot write off, and a good accountant will provide invaluable insight and guidance.
Managing Your Finances
Even if you have an accountant, you should absolutely still keep tabs on all of your finances. Do not make the same mistake I did years ago, when I got too busy to double check my former accountant’s invoicing, and a year later realized several things had never been invoiced at all! Since I couldn’t be paid until they were invoiced, I had to wait months for the payment. A great way to track your finances, create invoices, and see what you’re spending every month is through Quickbooks. The more simplified version of this would just be to create an Excel or Google Sheets document.
What’s nice about Quickbooks is you can create a special template for invoices, so each time you send one, the template just needs to be tweaked. You can also link your credit cards to Quickbooks and have something like an Uber charge be automatically categorized under an overall Transportation spending section. This makes tax season a lot easier because you’re able to see that over the course of the year, you spent X on Transportation, Y on Food, Z on Travel, etc. This info will be used for write offs during tax season if you’re self employed, but it can also be used to show you what you’re spending every month and help you budget.
Not only should you keep tabs on your accounting, but you should also be cross referencing your credit card statements 2-3 times/month. Make sure that all of your receipts match your charges. Look out for fraudulent charges (often times cyber criminals start with a small, random charge like a $10 one for a phone case so they don’t get flagged, and then move onto bigger purchases!) Also look out for double charges and unnecessary re-occurring charges.
Protect Yourself Against Fraud
A few years back, my former assistant mistook a cyber criminal posing as an Amazon customer service rep for a real one. Long story short, she compromised my identity and a large sum of money was wired out of my bank account. It was terrible, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons from the experience.
1. First and foremost, if you’re an employer you should have a code of conduct and a list of rules for all employees with access to your computers, personal information, etc. Go through it together and make sure you don’t assume they know anything – be extensive and thorough.
2. Never save any passwords for your credit cards or banks in your iCloud keychain or on your computer. If your computer gets hacked or stolen, someone could easily click your bank website and log into your account.
3. Now that I’ve been a victim of fraud, I physically go into my bank to do a wire transfer, rather than having it preset up online.
4. Make sure you have a two-factor authentication code on every website. This way, when you or someone else tries to login, you get texted a code that you have to input before gaining access.
5. Sign up for services like Lifelock which monitor your accounts and credit activity.
6. Never use airport or airplane wifi and be wary of public wifi in general. I always connect to the hotspot on my phone.
7. Lastly, I recommend using smaller, more niche banks as opposed to the big ones (Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.) Chase did nothing when my wire fraud happened despite me calling minutes after it occurred and asking for a stop payment. Big banks are also extremely backed up with incoming stimulus payments and PPP loans right now, so you’re more likely to wait a lot longer to get a tax refund or government deposit than you would be with a smaller, niche bank.
When I asked you on Instagram Stories what finance topics you wanted me to cover, I was blown away by the amount of you that said investing! It makes me so happy that so many of you are interested investing. Investing used to be incredibly intimidating to me and it felt like something that was only for men. Well, it’s most certainly not only for men! You can invest at any time, any age, and with any amount of money at most large investment firms. I personally didn’t start investing until I was out of debt in my early 20s. For me, getting rid of my credit card debt and student loans was my absolute first and biggest priority.
Once I did that, I then focused on building up my savings account to a point where I felt comfortable putting some of my income toward both my savings and investment accounts. Many people recommend having at least 6 months of income in their savings account before investing. To get started, I highly recommend listening to my friend Grace’s Bad on Paper podcast episode with Sallie Krawcheck, founder of Ellevest. Ellevest is the only investing firm built by women for women. This episode is incredibly inspiring and breaks down the basics of investing.
What I love about Ellevest is that you don’t need a minimum amount to open up an account with them. You can work with them to choose what kinds of stocks you want, whether it be high risk, low risk, or a combination of both. They can also help you buy bonds, gold, set up a 401k, Roth, Sep IRA and more. There are a ton of investment management companies out there in addition to Ellevest, and I recommend doing your own research and asking your accountant to find the best one for you.
The first type of investment account I recommend getting is a retirement one, particularly a 401k. You can easily set this up yourself online (as long as you have a job) by filling out paperwork and mailing or dropping it off to the investment management company of your choice. You do not need a financial advisor or manager to get started. If you work for a big company, you probably already have a 401k set up. If your company matches your contributions up to a certain $ amount then you are very lucky and should put as much as they’ll match into that account per year!
It’s free money and something that should 100% be taken advantage of. If you don’t already have a 401k set up, talk to your employer about one. (If you’re self employed you can set one up yourself through an investment company.) And if you can afford to, put at minimum $19,500/year into your 401k. You can get a (small) tax break on this amount. Your accountant will be able to help you determine which other types of retirement accounts (like a Roth IRA, Sep IRA, etc.) are best for you based on your job and income. You can set those up online yourself as well via the same investment management company.
The reason I mentioned setting up a high yield savings account before a retirement account is because you can freely use the money in your savings account versus retirement account. With a retirement account(s), you get penalized if you take any money out before you turn 59 1/2 years old. You can read more info about that here. If you’ve been impacted by COVID-19 and need to take money out of your retirement, this article may be helpful as it outlines the exception that was passed this year for those affected.
Other Types of Investments
In addition to all of the investment accounts I mentioned above, you can of course diversify your portfolio even more and get into things like real estate investing and angel investing. There’s more risk involved in both of these, but also a possibility of a higher return. This article gives a bit more explanation on what an angel investor is vs a VC in case you’re interested. Angel investors make early (typically 6 figure) investments in companies they see high potential in, hoping that a small number of these companies within their portfolio will give them a huge return. Before getting into any of this though, I recommend building a foundation for yourself in the form of a savings account, retirement account(s), and basic diversified investment account.
Money and Relationships
I don’t recommend hiring a family member or friend to be your accountant or portfolio manager. Money is an extremely personal and delicate topic. While it is immensely important to vet the person you choose to deal with it, it shouldn’t be a relative or pal. It could easily ruin a relationship and I think it’s important to remember that business is business, and you should keep the emotion OUT of the equation. Your judgement can also get clouded when you’re dealing with someone familiar, which is what you don’t want.
In terms of marriage, I strongly feel that all men and women should at bare minimum have their own individual; checking, savings, and retirement accounts. You can share a combined account(s) as well, but always have your own. Sallie from Ellevest spoke more in detail about this in the podcast I mentioned, and she also discusses prenups, so it’s definitely worth a listen. In terms of splitting expenses with your significant other, that’s completely up to you as a couple and will be heavily based on your income, expenses and past experiences.
The best advice I can give you in terms of money and relationships, is if you see yourself marrying your partner, you should both lay out ALL of your finances before you get married. You both need to know where you stand when it comes to bank accounts, investment accounts, savings, trusts, salaries, debt, loans, credit scores, spending habits and more. Do not be afraid to have this conversation – it’s absolutely crucial because guess what? Their financial health will effect your financial health when you get married. If you’re self employed there’s no question you need to keep your business bank accounts separate, and only use your business credit card for business expenses, otherwise your taxes will be a mess.
Whew, that was a lot of information wasn’t it?! I feel like I only scratched the surface too! I hope that you found this post informative and are inspired to take control of your finances, save and invest for your future if you haven’t already. And I really want to continue this conversation so if you have any other questions, advice or personal experiences to share below please do. The biggest thing I hope you take away from this post, is that no matter what your situation is, you are capable of building a healthy financial picture for yourself. Start slow, continue to educate yourself and grow your wealth!