FIT FINANCE

Jessica Whitney by Jessica Whitney @
Last time I talked about the importance of financial literacy and taking control of your finances. Today, I want to briefly discuss why what you currently think about being “rich” is wrong, and why you need to cultivate contentment instead.

What Society Tells us "Rich" Is

When I think of “rich” people, I think about Richie Rich with a huge house, fancy pool, maids, chauffeurs, and nice cars. I think about all the “showy” things that represent a lavish lifestyle. This image is rather exaggerated, but the same ideas still show up in 2019 as well. In today’s society, many people proudly drive the newest, most recent release of their vehicle, they renovate their homes or dig a pool, or they take beautiful vacations that look perfect on Instagram – no filters needed. Unfortunately, I believe most of these extravagant purchases are a charade and are also detrimental to the very thing the people are trying to portray. They want to portray happiness, security, money, stability, cash flow, and that they are “living the good life.” All the same things, but said in different ways depending on the people. Unfortunately, what people don’t realize when they always yearn for the most recent vehicles or they always strive for the best way to update their kitchen or they search on Pinterest for hours at a time drooling over other’s nurseries and home décor and outfits, is their quest to impress represents a culture of never being satisfied and it creates a feeling of emptiness and lacking. They are never fulfilled. So, how do you stop this vicious cycle of "wanting more" in your own life when we are surrounded by a culture of advertisements and marketing mania that screams for your attention? How do you stop the jealousy and the insecurity? The key, in my opinion, is cultivating contentment.

What does cultivating contentment mean?

When I say contentment, I mean cultivating gratefulness, appreciating what you have, and appreciating the people around you. It doesn’t mean you should stop striving for goals or reaching for financial independence, but rather it is a day to day living in the present rather than always wishing you were in the future. Contentment is being okay that if you stayed right where you are for the rest of your life. It is appreciating what God has given you and realizing the things of this world are much less important than actually living life with those around you.

Here are a few ways you can cultivate contentment:

1. Delete social media off your phone.

If you find yourself getting jealous or thinking that others have a better life than you, then stop comparing and take a break from social media. Try deleting the apps from your phone. When I did a digital detox in 2017, it made a HUGE difference in my life.

2. Start a gratefulness journal.

Every day, start your day writing down 3 things that you’re grateful for in your current life.

3. Start a budget.

Many people put themselves into years of debt in order to purchase their car, home upgrade, or vacation. Instead, take the time to save up for this purchase. It will give you a much better appreciation of the item and you will delay satisfying that instant gratification monster. Here's the best Excel budget template for couples if you just don't know where to start on a budget!

4. Delay instant gratification.

Speaking of the instant gratification monster, try deleting apps like Amazon and Target off your phone that allow you to make a purchase so easily. Before you buy anything, give yourself at least a week to think it over so that you make the decision logically rather than emotionally.

5. Plan free activities.

There’s nothing that cultivates contentment in me more than doing fun free activities with my family. From going on hikes, to visiting the park, to riding bikes, these things not only keep me busy (so less time wishing I was somewhere else) but also helps me appreciate the little things and the people around me. We have a good time and a good laugh and I overall feel better about myself! Although I’m just as likely to want the newest and shiniest thing, practicing contentment and taking steps to cultivate contentment has helped me to save more and also focus more on our financial goals. Instead of feeling empty and like I'm always striving to "appear" rich, I actually realize that I already am!

What are other ways that you can cultivate contentment?

Jess Whitney by Jess Whitney @

How to Improve Your Financial Literacy

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Financial knowledge is no exception – I think to invest in knowledge, especially when it comes to money, is one of the most important things we can do as individuals since money literally touches every part of your life.

The question is, where do you even start when it comes to financial literacy and how do you improve it?

What is financial literacy?

Financial Literacy is understanding personal budgeting, managing debt, maximizing investment opportunities, and knowing basic financial principles (like compound interest and the time value of money).

It’s actually having money goals. And meeting them – faster.

When it comes down to it, financial literacy is the ability to make smart money choices to plan for your future in an efficient and effective manner.

Why is financial literacy so important?

Whether you’re young and just starting a new job or you're more seasoned with experience in the "real world", grasping the basics of financial topics prepares you to make the BEST choices to meet your goals.

It's much, much easier to meet those goals if you start out on the right path from the beginning. I'm not saying all is lost if you find yourself on the wrong course, but increasing your financial literacy can dramatically change your trajectory for the better if you find yourself in a tough spot.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to deep dive into various money topics to help you become more financially fit so you can make well-informed money choices for you and your family!

I’m passionate about this topic because all too often I see well-intentioned men and women like yourself make ineffective and uneducated decisions regarding their expenses, investments, and money management.

These decisions eventually lead you to overwhelming debt, a lack of ability to get ahead, and <strong>constant stress from month-to-month about providing basic needs for yourself and your family. Yikes! I don't want that for you anymore.</strong>

My husband and I paid off over $90K in debt in less than 5 years, and we didn’t make a ton of money – the freedom we felt after that last bill was paid was amazing to say the least, and I want that freedom and stress-free feeling for you too.

Who needs financial literacy?

Our country and our economy are founded on the belief that every man and woman should have the freedom to prosper and pursue happiness. And in a capitalist society, every individual should do their best to make wise decisions so that they can pursue that for themselves!

So many Americans bind themselves to banks and tie themselves with ignorance when it comes to their hard-earned money. They merely survive from month-to-month – from paycheck-to-paycheck.

Every day, you and I make choices influenced by marketing experts and corporations. When made in ignorance, the choices lead to bigger debt, more money for the banks, and a never-ending struggle to try and get ahead. We never reach the ability to truly pursue ‘happiness.’

It surprised me to find out that the Federal Reserve reported in the 2018 Economic Well-Being In U. S. Households report that 39% of American cannot cover a small, unexpected expense of around $400 with either cash or a cash equivalent - like a credit card and paying it off within the next statement (P. 21). Additionally, 27% of Americans carried a balance on their credit card for most or all of the time in the last 12 months (P. 27).

This reliance on credit and lack of ability to handle small unexpected expenses tell me many families struggle with effectively managing their money and would suffer in a financially hard time for our country. This might be ringing true for you.

As far as retirement goes, 25% of Americans who responded to the survey reported they have no retirement savings or pension whatsoever. Of those non-retired individuals over the age of 60, only 45% believe their retirement savings is on track (P. 4).

While I know everyone's goals are different and unexpected events occur, these percentages strike me as being surprisingly high for such an affluent society.

We as individuals need to make the choice to improve our individual financial literacy in order to strengthen our own banks accounts and lay a healthy foundation for our futures.

So - How do you develop financial literacy?

Here are a few steps to follow to begin to develop your financial literacy:

Ask Questions

First and foremost, be curious. Don’t take anything for granted. We have no excuse in this modern world, “not to know”. Knowledge is available at your fingertips – use it!

Ask why your interest rate is so high. Ask for lower payments. Ask for a different payment plan. Ask for better investment opportunities. Ask why you are paying so much for health insurance. Ask if it's really more beneficial to buy a house versus rent. Ask about risk and what it truly means for you and your family.

Ask lots and lots of questions and be able to explain them to your spouse or significant other. This means you have become financially literate.

Keep Reading

I know you probably have a list of books hidden away on your phone, or perhaps you have a stack of books on your nightstand like I do. Either way, read about financial principles, basics of investing, and become informed so you can make wise decisions for yourself.

Here’s a list of finance books you might find interesting. I'm working my way through several of them as you read!

Talk to a financial advisor

Many men and women choose to lean on financial advisors' knowledge to develop a financial plan. But I think more people could dramatically improve their finances without investing immediately with a financial advisor.

If you’re not sure if putting your money with another individual is the right path for you, talk to a financial advisor you might be interested in and ask them questions about their philosophy for investing and what types of services they would provide to you.

This will give you an idea of areas you might be lacking in your own financial knowledge.

Then, go and do some research before committing to a financial advisor (and their fees).

Become familiar with your money

Financial literacy for most people starts with managing their own money – and managing it well.

I encourage you to begin budgeting, track expenses (like these 58 budget categories), and look at your debt to become more aware of your money situation.

Doing this simple step will at the least help you make decisions based on your own quantitative numbers and give you a starting place for setting reasonable financial goals.

Set financial goals

Having goals in place will help you remember your big picture dreams as you make daily money choices.

It will also help you improve your financial literacy and topics that you want to deep dive into.

For example, currently, we’re looking to improve our return on investments as well as increase our passive income. This led me to look into real estate investment and building wealth through the purchase of single-family homes. I wouldn't have begun researching this topic if we hadn't set goals as a family.

Know your goals and start doing one thing a day to work towards them. Like right now. ;) Answer in the comments, what are you going to do today to improve your financial literacy?

References:
Report on the Economic Well-Being of U. S. Household in 2018
Jess Whitney by Jess Whitney @
     I love finances and budgeting and I am going to help you, my readers, to start taking control of your finances, but first, since we’ve just met, I need to tell you a little bit about myself. When I was at the Air Force Academy, I never would have seen myself where I am today. A 30-something. 3 kids. Full-time mom. Dabbling entrepreneur. I never would have dreamed that the organizational and leadership skills learned from 7 years of Active Duty would take a backseat to pattering feet, midnight feedings, and diaper changes. Yet, here I am.

     Immediately after separation, I struggled with a lack of identity and direction. But what saved me, was a commitment to something bigger than myself. If you’ve ever struggled to find your purpose with a change of your status or due to a move, or other major life decision, then keep on reading because you’re not alone.

     While on Active Duty, I proudly served four years as a Finance officer, supporting the nuclear mission at F. E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, WY. Although the first assignment wasn’t what my husband and I originally wanted, we realized God had a bigger (and better) plan. We found a church we loved and dove in – growing in our faith, serving and participating in the local community. During my time at F. E. Warren, we welcomed our oldest son in 2013.

     Following that assignment, God engineered an opportunity to serve three years of duty as a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) instructor at Colorado State University. As a ROTC instructor, I loved getting a taste of teaching. I always wanted to teach, and it was everything I ever dreamed of. Being able to mentor young men and women motivated to join the Air Force was a special privilege and role that I fully embraced. Although the assignment wasn’t all rainbows and freedom like one could wish (re: bureaucracy), it was the perfect assignment for a growing family. We welcomed our daughter in 2015.

     In 2017, my husband and I decided to take a true leap of faith. And it’s from this decision that I’ve found the courage (and time) to pursue a dream of starting my own business. Why the leap of faith? Well, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell you this because his story always eclipses mine once I say it, but it is such a critical part of our story and why I’m so passionate about my business. Plus, I’m a supportive wife, and I do truly LOVE what he does. I met my husband at the Air Force Academy, and we got married in 2010 - 3 days after commissioning as second lieutenants. In 2014, we took our first leap of faith when he applied to separate early from his nuclear missile career to pursue professional golf.

Yep. You read that right.

     My husband plays in golf tournaments for a living, and he’s darn good at it too. Which is why in 2017, I decided to leave my 7-year captain’s pay for a highly volatile, highly-risky, unreliable income. I told you it was a bold, leap of faith! Our journey finds me here, living 10 miles from my parents’ home in Texas as a full time stay at home mom to 3 kids 5 and under (our second son was born in April 2018). My husband travels 20+ weeks out of the year and supports our family while playing on the PGA Latin America tour. What surprises me most about this situation, is how much peace and joy I’ve found in our situation. I’ve found the new rhythm of post-Active Duty life replenishes my soul with rest that I wasn’t even aware I needed. I really thought I wouldn’t be able to handle staying at home with my kids. I struggled (and still do sometimes) with my “lack of identity.” I dread the question, “What do you do?” Because I feel I have no “good” answer. But, I’ve found that a daily trusting in God’s provision and a reidentifying of my identity in Him has been difficult but also a blessing. I’ve also found that committing myself to something bigger than myself, like a business, has been so rewarding and has helped me find a little more sense of self. I realize you might not share my faith with me. But there are two more things I want you to know about me before I’m done introducing myself!

     The first, is that I always have and always will have a heart to serve others. It’s the reason that I joined the military in the first place. I continue to serve others through my mission at Simplified Motherhood and through writing for great websites like this one. I’m committed to inspire others to save time, stress less, and live life more abundantly.

     The second thing you should know about me, is I love finances and budgeting and helping others to start taking control of their finances. I’ve developed a passion for personal finances and budgeting over the past 8 years of our marriage, and I desire to share what I’ve learned about financial independence to help you reach your finance dreams too.

     I’ll share more about our budgeting journey at a later date. Suffice it to say, I would NOT have been comfortable leaving the Air Force if we hadn’t taken control of our debt and refined our spending a long time ago. In this column, through my perspective as an Air Force vet and young wife and mother, I’ll authentically share my struggles but also my wins so that you walk away motivated to pursue something bigger than yourself and come one step (even if it’s a baby step) closer to your financial independence goals, whether that be through budgeting, frugal living, changing your mindset, or pursuing a side hustle you’ve always been dreaming of.

     Speaking of, I’d love to hear – what’s your story? Share in the comments below!
Until next time.
-Jess
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