Simone's Blog: Money Magnet

As the Director of Affiliate Relations at HomeFree-USA, I’ve always been fascinated with how people handle their money. Like everyone else, I’ve had my financial ups and downs. In fact, it took me 32 months to pay off $32,000 in credit card bills and build up a six-month emergency fund. While that was a very difficult period, I am grateful – and wiser -- for the experience.

Through my personal experiences and working at HomeFree-USA, I’ve gained a ton of insight that I feel compelled to share. You’ll find those lessons here. Feel free to take the thoughts and ideas that resonate with you most and put aside the rest for later. I look forward to sharing my journey.

Interviewing The Experts Series

Tamika is like the fun girl in school who went to all the parties yet still managed to get straight A’s and go to a great college.

Somehow you're dragging on Monday morning after spending the weekend hanging out with her and not getting any of your work done, but she's in class, or these days at work, early and ready to get to it. You want to hate her but can't help but admire her skill and smarts. She gets things done.

One of the things Tamika got done early was having her son, who was born when she was 16. Statistics may lead you to think that she was poor, came from a broken family, and/or had no direction. Not at all. Tamika was raised in a middle class family who still expected the same achievements from her as they would had she had her son 10 years later. She was going to college, going to be very successful, and going to enjoy life. Tamika was expected to embrace her choices, not succumb to them.

"People perform at the bar you set for them."

Tamika feels her success is highly attributable to her mother, who always made sure that her daughter was supported and loved but in no way allowed her to feel like she would parent Tamika's son. She offered to babysit one night per week and would not provide any more financial support than she would to Tamika's two sisters.   That meant she needed to learn to budget and seek child care options. Fortunately, local resources allowed her to afford day care while she worked and went to college. Even for them she needed to provide her grades and other proof that she was working and going to school. No one allowed Tamika any slack, nor did she expect any.

"If you can't manage $1, how are you going to manage $100?"

Recent college graduates typically enter the work world at their industry's bottom income rung. Add to that a school aged child and the need to be financially diligent increases exponentially. Tamika implemented some excellent practices she still uses today.

1) Take care of your needs first. Tamika bought a home while she was making $38,000 per year and supporting her son.

2) Owe no one, carry no credit cards. Tamika abhors debt, which is why she paid off her student loans as quickly as possible and drives a 10 year old Ford Explorer. She also never leaves home with a credit card as she knows she'll likely use it on something unnecessary.

3) Splurge on the important. Tamika couldn't care less about a car, but she does love handbags. She allows herself one new luxury handbag per year, and that's with money she's saved in the Bag Fund. This comes only after all her bills are paid, she's given, saved and invested. As she says, money goes into the Bag Fund only if it could fly out the window today and not hurt her quality of life.

4) Accept yourself and plan to succeed. Tamika works in the banking industry so she knew how to handle money. The problem was, she had no self-control! Recognizing this, she wrote down everything she spent, down to the penny, for 30 days. Before that she wrote out how much she thought she was spending in each category. At the end of the 30 days she made adjustments, compared it to her short and long term goals, and created a spending plan. Then she got on the envelope system and began paying for everything in cash, only spending what was available for that category. This is how the self-described impulse spender learned to budget. And it stuck.

5) Remain conscious. Even now, Tamika's son is a self sufficient adult, she's making way more than $38,000, and she travels so much for work that she could fly to the other side of the world on airline points. She still has to place herself on a spending freeze at times, and she's currently on one after recently finishing a home renovation project. She's very clear on her priorities, and best of all, knows herself well enough to know how to accomplish her objectives. Tamika continues to raise her bar and meets it every time.

And so it is.