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Money is a tool.
Have you ever heard that phrase before? We seem to think of it as a means to an end. A destination. Or something to just accumulate a ton of and horde until the day we die.
But, no, that's not a health view of money at all. Money is a tool -- a means of exchanging value for value.
Realizing this can do wonders for your financial health. With that in mind, I asked Lauren Rilling of The Determined Dollar to discuss her views on money. As a Dave Ramsey-trained financial coach and personal finance blogger, Lauren has seen it all.
I believe her personal and professional insights can really help us wrap our heads around the "money is a tool" concept. After all, we're all here to learn from each other become better stewards of the money we have.
Now, here's Lauren to enlighten us further on how money is a tool.
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First, thanks for inviting me to your blog and letting me share! I’m a Dave Ramsey-trained financial coach and writer for the blog DeterminedDollar.com. I live in Denver, Colorado with my husband, Kyle, our twin two-year-old daughters, and a cat named Oliver (or Olivoo as the twins say). I got my start with coaching when I realized that my hobby of helping friends and family members with their budgets (weirdest hobby ever, I know) was a legit career option. Also, I enjoy baking bread. It’s the perfect combination of art and science, and you get to eat afterward.
How were you able to cash flow grad school and graduate debt free?
Two things: a plan and sheer determination. I took my time researching degree options to know how much it would cost before I started. Then I did a quick calculation to determine how much money I’d need to have at the beginning of each semester and how long it would take to graduate. Based on the savings we had and the amount I knew we could save every month, I knew it was possible as long as we stayed focused. I write about it in more detail on the blog.
Whenever you create a written plan, it looks so nice and neat. But we know that real life doesn’t fit into a spreadsheet, so you need be realistic and plan for life’s ups and downs, and budget for the unexpected. We didn’t plan to have twins, for example, (which resulted in high medical bills and the purchase of a used mini-van). But, we had a decent emergency fund, kept contributing to our HSA, and already lived simply so it wasn’t that hard emotionally to cut out extras.
The around-the-world move was a known event— we saved up for several months beforehand specifically to have enough to cover travel and living expenses for a while, which was good because it took time find jobs after the move. One challenge I didn’t anticipate was being put on bedrest at 28-weeks pregnant; obviously in a medical situation you do what you have to do, but it cost us two months of paychecks and a couple thousand dollars in health insurance benefits, so that was kind of tough. But by then, we had just paid the last tuition bill so we were able to cash-flow some expenses a little easier.
My philosophy on personal finance is that money is a tool; it’s not good or bad, so we shouldn’t glorify it or demonize it. That said, it can be a powerful tool that helps us have choices in our lives, yet it’s easy to spend haphazardly, fail to invest, or just take sort of a passive or reactionary approach to money. For my husband and me, as Christians, our money belongs to God, and our role is to be stewards, or managers. It’s a bigger concept than writing a check to the church on Sunday. It’s about aligning our financial decisions with our deepest convictions and passions, and I want to help my clients achieve that, too.
That’s a good question. I’ve learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of finance, of course, but mostly about people. If we made every decision based on pure logic and math, there would be no struggle, debt, or need for anyone else to cheer you on. Personal finance really is personal and emotional. It’s tied to our relationships, our dreams, our inner kid saying I-want-it-now, and all the events of the day that can throw us off track. No two stories are alike and no two coaching sessions are the same. I’ve worked with clients who are great at embracing the present but struggle to find the motivation to save for the future.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve had clients with tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in a bank account, and there’s a real insecurity about losing money. Usually it's because of something that happened in the past, so they’re afraid to invest even some of it or give it a purpose. And other clients are really self-aware, know exactly what to do, and just need some cheerleading and accountability to stick to a plan. But money is never ONLY about money.
I coached a couple that had a typical amount of debt ($30,000-ish), and the typical mix: student loans, credit cards, car payment, and a little IRS debt. What got them into coaching was that the husband has a career goal that requires a three-year graduate degree program, but they didn’t want to acquire more debt. I showed them how to work a debt snowball and they totally attacked it—it was awesome!
Month one, they didn’t have to use the credit card.
Month two, they paid off the credit card and saved an extra $500 on top of the savings for sinking funds, so their total monthly turnaround was over $1500. Talk about a dramatic change! And this was on a pretty average income.
Now they paid off their student loans and they’re planning to cash-flow grad school. I’m so excited for them! And the best part is, it’s strengthening their marriage because they’re working together as a team.
That might sound cliché, but it’s incredibly powerful. I think the reason this story’s my favorite is that paying for school with cash is near and dear to my heart. And I love when someone else realizes they can make it happen.
The blog has a couple of goals. One is to pay it forward. I was so blessed to be given good financial advice right out of college. So even though I made plenty of mistakes, they weren’t financially devastating.
I realized that most of my friends and coworkers cringe at the thought of dealing with their finances because it’s stressful. I completely understand the feeling because I used to avoid budgeting and planning for the future, too. But now that I know how freeing the budget is and how good financial management opens doors of opportunity, I want everyone to know that they CAN get ahead and that money doesn’t have to be a source of stress.
The second goal is to communicate that budgeting and building wealth aren’t just about retiring with tons of money. It’s about having choices. I love Chris Hogan’s saying, “Retirement isn’t an age. It’s a financial number.” What he’s saying is that you don’t retire when you’re a certain age, you retire when you have enough money. It means when you don’t have to work, you get to do what you love and are passionate about. Building wealth means you can start your non-profit, send your future grandchildren to college, travel the world, be insanely generous, and spend time doing what fulfills you the most.
It’s both fun and challenging. Blogging and coaching ideas pop into my head at the worst times! Like when I’m driving on the freeway, or getting the kids ready for bed. So I’m working on staying focused and being present, and scheduling the day well. But it’s also intrinsically rewarding. I’ve always loved writing and I’m grateful to have a creative outlet while still being able to spend time with my family.
My husband is super supportive, which makes a huge difference. He’s always willing to hear about my latest wacky inspiration or celebrate the tiniest success or let me vent about my struggle with technology!
The really important thing about being a business owner and a mom (especially as one who works from home) is that I want to model for my girls that people are more important than business success, have confidence to do what you were made to do, and always give people your best. So I pray that I make choices in line with these values, because I know my kids will absorb it.
Our family’s budget would look completely different without our faith. We don’t actually believe that tithing (giving 10% to the church) is a rule we have to follow.
However, generosity and giving cheerfully are direct instructions, and I think that’s a more challenging call. THAT requires faith. Like, how to do adjust how you FEEL about giving money? How do you know how much or where to give? What if God wants you to give more than 10%? These are more faith issues than money issues. I’ve discovered that God loves it when we ask him earnestly and wrestle with his Word.
But back to money— I don’t believe the point of giving (as a Christian) is that God needs the money. It’s more about keeping a loose grip on your money—not making an idol of it—being intentional about where it goes, and being mindful of how you can bless others. I think that’s something everyone can relate to, even if we don’t share the same faith.
Practically, how this plays out is my husband and I pray about our giving together. We give to our church and some other organizations. And we commit to making the giving budget the last place to cut if ever we needed to. Fun money, vacation savings, even retirement takes a back seat to giving.
And hear me on this: it’s NOT because we’re so pious or extra spiritual or that this is how everyone needs to approach their giving category. It’s simply that this is how we believe God has asked us to manage our finances and we want to be obedient to that.
I’m so glad you asked, because I LOVE talking with readers! You can email me at Lauren.M.Rilling@gmail.com. Please feel free to send your money questions, topics you’d like to see posts about, and any feedback you have. Thanks so much, and I can’t wait to hear from you!
How we use money in our everyday lives speaks volumes. Are we using money to better our lives and the lives of those entrusted in our care? Or do we use money as if it has no value and we spend it freely?
It doesn't matter which one describes you. What matters is what you do with the information Lauren shared with us.
Money is a tool we should all use wisely and responsibly. That way, we will be a blessing to our families and those in our community. Be a great example to others.
Knowing that money is a tool, how do you use it in your life? Tell us about your thoughts and experiences below.
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