Welcome to the 2nd episode in the question series! Today we have a friend of the north, Sarah from Smile & Conquer.
1. Who are you and why are you here?
Hi to all the Budget on a Stick readers out there. I’m Sarah, and I also blog about money over at Smile & Conquer. I’d first like to thank BoaS for putting together the interview and putting me to the test! I’m 32 years old and live in Alberta, Canada with my longtime boyfriend, two dogs, and two cats. I’ve worked in finance for the past decade in numerous different roles and decided to start blogging about what I was learning on the job. At work, I deal primarily with people who are nearing retirement and have seen the impact that being good with money can have (and the opposite). I don’t think us Millennials have been given nearly enough education about finances and am an advocate of closing that gap.
2. Did your parents talk about money? What did they include you in?
I always considered my parents good with money. We lived a comfortable middle-class lifestyle in the suburbs but never really talked about money. I always remember my Dad sitting at the dining room table ‘doing the books’ every Monday night (he was an engineer and a creature of habit) but I didn’t pay much attention or have much interest.
I am an only child, and I know it was important for my parents to raise me to be independent and not spoiled. I like to think they accomplished that goal. I’ve always had a good work ethic and have worked consistently since I was 14. They were generous with what they gave me, but also emphasized the importance of earning money and buying things for myself.
Looking back, I do wish we had talked more about money, and they had passed on more of their knowledge. I left home with little to no understanding of saving for retirement or investing, but I did know debt was bad.
3. Did that help/hurt you in the long run?
I guess a bit of both. I wish I had started saving money earlier. Even setting aside small amounts when I began working would have made a huge difference in my net worth today. Instead, I spent money freely. I struggled with keeping my credit card spending under control when I was in University and was lucky to not get into too much trouble with longstanding debt.
4. When did you start taking personal finance seriously? What was the trigger?
It wasn’t until I graduated University and started working in the industry. Even after that, it took awhile for me to start getting serious. There was so much new information coming at me but seeing people who had worked for decades and were struggling in retirement was an eye-opener. I didn’t want that to be me.
The problem was that I still felt so young (and I was!) and I had financial goals I wanted to hit long before retirement was in the picture. I wanted to buy a house and travel, so I got better about saving but for shorter-term goals. I did save up a downpayment and buy my first home, and while I still enjoy travelling, my emphasis now is on saving for retirement.
5. What is the most important part of personal finance to instill in kids?
That it isn’t that complicated and it’s easier to get it right the first time than try to go back and fix it later.
With advances in technology, there are so many tools available today that make it easier to learn about your money. There are tons of great blogs you can follow, online calculators and apps that can do everything from tracking your spending to investing.
I would love to see financial education be incorporated into school curriculums but until it is the responsibility falls on parents. I don’t have children so I can’t speak from experience, but I think communicating about money and involving your kids from an early age can make a big difference. Take them to the bank to set-up a savings account, talk to them about paying bills and affordability issues. If you don’t feel like you possess the knowledge, then buy them a book on personal finance, and maybe read it yourself first. Information is out there you just have to instill the desire to learn.
6. What’s your favorite thing to cook at home?
I actually hate cooking, and I’m also pretty terrible at it. Luckily my boyfriend is a total pro, so he does 99.99% of the cooking in our house. If I had to pick something I cook, it would probably be grilled cheese and tomato soup; classic but also about as simple as it gets.
We both work during the day, so it’s key to have simple and fast recipes to get dinner on the table and avoid the temptation of take-out. Tacos fit the bill, and they make it on to our meal plan almost every week. Some type of meat (pork, chicken or beef) in the slow cooker, top it off with cheese and fresh salsa, and you are eating in no time at all.
7. What’s your biggest financial regret?
For sure it would be not starting to save earlier. When I look back at what I spent money on in my late teens and early twenties it is embarrassing. Clothing, junk food, and alcohol (the drinking age here is 18, so I wasn’t a total badass). At that time I was still living at home, so my expenses were almost nothing and my parents paid for me to go to University. It was the perfect opportunity to get a jump on saving, but it didn’t even cross my mind.
8. What is your favorite thing you do to save money?
It’s not my favourite because I often despise it, but I do think eating at home makes the most significant difference to my budget. I love eating out and trying new restaurants, but it is so expensive.
The one thing that brings me the most joy is negotiating cheaper rates on services. Every year I spend a day calling providers and pitting them against their competition to get a reduced rate on my cell phone, TV and internet, power, and insurance bills. It can be time-consuming, but I get a thrill out of it. Is my personal finance nerd side showing or what?
9. Overall, how would you say your perspective of money has changed?
I’ve changed from focusing on the now to focusing on the someday. I used to see money as a tool to buy the things I wanted instead of as a tool for securing the future I picture for myself.
10. What short term or long term goals are you most excited about? Why?
My short term goals revolve almost entirely around travel. We have a few smaller trips planned for this year, but our next big ticket trip will be to Prague at the end of next year. Both my boyfriend and I are huge hockey fans and watching the World Juniors tournament over Christmas is a tradition in both our families. The 2020 (starts at the end of December 2019) will be in the Czech Republic, and we are saving up to make that happen. I’ve never been and have heard amazing things about Prague so to knock both things off my bucket list at the same time sounds perfect.
Longer term is building a new home. When we bought our home, the most important thing was being centrally located. That means our house is small and old but in a perfect spot. Infill is very common in our neighbourhood, and we’re planning to follow the trend.
11. What do you want to retire to?
I might be saving for retirement, but it’s not something I’ve thought that much about. It still feels so far away! And I don’t mean that as a negative. Many personal finance bloggers have a goal of retiring early, but I’m not one of them. I enjoy my work and imagine I will continue doing it for years to come. It gives me enough flexibility now, and likely even more in the future, so I can do the things I want while also providing stable income. I’m certainly not the person that dreads going to work every day!
12. Any parting wisdom?
Don’t think you need to be a pro to get started with personal finance! And that is especially important for the women out there. We have a bad habit of letting doubt creep in and prevent us from taking the first steps. Let other people who already have the knowledge guide your path and don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. Thanks so much for having me!
P.s. This isn’t limited to people with personal finance sites.