How to Manage Money in Your Passion Planner: What I Learned from the 5 Biggest Money Mistakes of My 20s
Exactly 30 days ago, I paid off my last credit card.
I expected it to feel cathartic but it was pretty anticlimactic. There were no congratulations from the banks I borrowed from. No applause, no streamers, no cake. (There was however, a Chipotle burrito, thanks to my proud fiancé.)
It took me four Passion Planners to pay off almost $19K in credit card debt plus a car loan. This article is about how I got here, and the mistakes I made along the way.
I have a love-hate relationship with managing money. One moment, I’m getting the hang of it, and the next I feel like an infant in a quantum physics class.
I’m turning 30 next year and I still can’t wrap my head around how chaotic my 20s were. Grad school. Career changes. Messy breakups. It’s a miracle I made it out unscathed.
This is an ode to all the hard lessons I learned in my 20s about money, career, and life. I’m writing this in hopes that you can learn from my misadventures.
I’m not a money expert or finfluencer, so you’ll find no finance hacks or get-rich-quick schemes here. Instead, you’ll read about a person in progress who messed up, learned, and is hoping to do better than the day before. And I hope my story can help you on your own finance journey.
Here are the 5 biggest money mistakes of my 20s, and the lessons that I learned from them on how to manage money.
1. I stayed silent about money.
“Negotiate with me.”
I stared at my boss in disbelief, quiet. Cutting the silence, he said again, “Negotiate with me.”
He put a post-it note on the desk with the pay rate he was offering for my job. “I’ve… never negotiated before,” I stammered, embarrassed. He nodded, gave me a pen, and told me to name my price. Terrified of being greedy, I penciled down a humble amount, a mere 50 cents more than his original rate. “Higher,” he said. Despite my discomfort, I wrote down a new amount, nervous that he would scoff at my “daring” proposal. After a few seconds of deliberation, he circled the amount and shook my hand. “Congratulations. You’ve just negotiated.”
The Price of Silence
I was very fortunate to have a boss like that. Sure, it was for a part-time position and he probably predetermined the higher amount. But he taught me a valuable lesson in the power of speaking up on behalf of my wallet.
Silence may not have a visible price tag, but it may still take money out of your pocket. Here are a few examples from my past experience:
- I exceeded requirements for a job and didn’t negotiate the pay rate.
- I took on leadership responsibilities at an entry level position and never asked for a raise.
- I made 0.03% interest on my savings when I could have earned more with a different type of savings account.
This “mum’s the word” attitude towards personal money management cost me money over time. What difference could it have made, to learn about high yield savings accounts when I was 21 versus 28 years old? How much more money could I have had, if I had been brave enough to advocate for the quality of my work?
How will we learn to manage money if we don’t talk about it?
Passion Planner Tips to Practice Financial Transparency
- Set finance goals in your Passion Roadmap and be brave. If you feel like you deserve a raise, write it down. If you want to fundraise for a cause you’re passionate about, write that down too.
- Identify your money mindset. We can have our own internal conversations about money before we talk about it with others.
- Join a personal finance community like HellaHelpful or the Financial Gym.
2. I put my debt off for later.
Debt was never top of mind for me in my early 20s. It was always a problem that future Paula would handle when she had a full-time job. Needless to say, I got the bill and I was not happy about it.
I could have paid for my student loan while I was working part-time in school. I could have avoided over $1000 worth of interest had I made more than the minimum payments on my credit cards. The consequences came to haunt me, and it was time to pay the piper.
I was afraid to face my mistakes. I saw debt as irresponsible. Shameful even. After several doses of talk therapy, I finally realized that debt did not make me a bad person. I had the power to make my debt a priority without letting it define me. Debt was something I had, but it was not who I was.
Passion Planner Tips to Track Debt Repayments
- Create a debt tracker in the back pages of your Passion Planner to check your progress each month.
- Decide whether you want to pay down debt using the snowball method or the avalanche method. (I used the snowball method myself.)
- Use your Passion Roadmap to set debt benchmarks for the next few years.
3. I made my career more important than my mental and financial health.
I was a bright eyed bushy-tailed graduate student. I took on unpaid internships and volunteered for post-work events to get my name out there. I spent an astronomical amount on conferences, certifications, and networking events. It was way more than I could afford out of pocket, so I put it on credit. It would pay for itself once I got a job, right?
When one of my supervisors assured me a position after graduation, I was thrilled that my hard work had paid off. While my frantic classmates were applying for jobs left and right, I was sitting pretty. I remained unhurried because of my faith in this person’s promise.
Months had passed before I received word from my supervisor.
I don't have any openings right now. Let me check in with some of the other managers and see what I can do.
That was the last I ever heard from him.
It’s Only Official If It’s On Paper
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what my mistake was here. I put all my eggs in one basket, and resting on my laurels bit me in the butt big time. The other side to this debacle is another lesson: make sure that companies and employers are as invested in you as you are in them.
I hate to say it, but all bets are off unless there’s a handwritten signature. Take it from someone who learned the hard way: I lost a lot more than that position. I was out thousands of dollars from professional experiences to "beef up my resume." I put up with toxic work environments to “pay my dues” in the field.
Trust me. There is nothing more expensive than work and relationships that do not see your worth.
Passion Planner Tips to Put Your Financial and Mental Well-Being First
Above: Dated Annual Passion Planner in Elite Black, SAVE IT! Budgeting and Finance Sticker Book, Passion Markers, Free Monthly Reflection PDF Download
- In your Monthly Reflection, define your priorities. Are you happy with how you spent your time and money?
- Check your People to See list on your monthly layout. Ask yourself: “Are these people as invested in our relationship as I am?”
- Use the Space of Infinite Possibility to mindmap your ideal work environment. What’s the work culture like? How much are you making?
4. I made a short-term budget.
Ah, budget management. It seems so easy in theory: take how much you make each month and divvy it up into categories until you end up at zero. That’s how my budget started. I gave myself a pat on the back because my monthly list of expenses was always below my income. Little did I know that I was missing the point of what budgeting is all about.
The problem: I was only budgeting my expenses, but not my debt payments and savings. I wrote “become debt free” as my GameChanger goal and yet I wasn’t working towards it at all.
I only started to budget effectively when I had a long-term financial goal to work towards: pay down every cent of my debt. I broke the total debt amount down into manageable chunks, beginning with the credit card with the smallest balance, and working my way up to my student loan. (This is called the debt snowball method. If you want to tackle high interest debts first, you may prefer the debt avalanche method.) Because I had a long-term goal and a plan to help me achieve it, I set aside a decent chunk of every paycheck to inch me towards the finish line.
The best way to manage money is to give every dollar a job to do. Think of your budget as a roll call sheet for making sure your dollars show up in the way you’d like them to.
Passion Planner Tips for Budgeting
Above: Dated Annual Passion Planner in Elite Black, SAVE IT! Budgeting and Finance Sticker Book, Passion Markers, Free Finance Tracker PDF
- Write your long-term financial goal at the top of your Finance Tracker each week. Or do what I do and paste the tracker in your monthly layout instead. Having it in your Passion Roadmap is a good start, but make it a point to remind yourself each time you budget.
- Reference your Yearly Overview to budget for special events like birthdays and anniversaries. Anticipate high expense months like December for Christmas shopping. Make a plan for extra income such as tax refunds and work bonuses.
- Color code your monthly expenses list by category (i.e. Eating Out, Personal Care, Transportation, etc.) to see where your money is going. You’ll know where you need to cut your budget if you’re noticing more of one color.
5. I beat myself up for my money mistakes.
I did a lot of comparing myself to others in my 20s. Seeing people hit milestones like buying a house or running their own business shook my financial ego. I beat myself up for not being there yet. I was slow. Not enough of a go-getter. In time, I learned that this attitude was holding me back from my own journey. I let other people’s progress intimidate me, when I could have let it inspire me.
One more thing: some money mistakes are not our fault. More often than not, we inherit society’s money mistakes. Context matters. We’re living in a world where women make 81 cents to a man’s dollar. Where a student loan crisis worth 1.6 trillion dollars affects 44 million Americans. Where unemployment and lack of healthcare disproportionately affects people from low-income backgrounds. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and a global civil rights movement. That’s one hell of a context we’re in.
Know your context and use that to fuel your money journey. No matter what your net worth, you are a valuable and irreplaceable human being. Affirm and celebrate that as you work towards your version of financial success.
Passion Planner Tips to Celebrate Your Worth
- Use encouraging stickers in your weekly layout to meditate on each day.
- Pencil in an affordable staycation or self-care activity into your schedule. Having fun doesn’t mean you have to break the bank.
- Donate what you can towards a cause you are passionate about. In doing this, you’re not only celebrating your worth, but that of your community.
These are only a few ways to manage money based on the lessons from my shortcomings. I am not proud of these money mistakes, but they have made me a better person. My journey is not over yet. I still have a $19K student loan waiting for me on the other side of this COVID-19 forbearance period. It’s the last and final hurdle of my debt free journey, but I’m motivated to take it on and pay it off by the end of 2021.
Financial freedom is a long road that takes grit, creativity, and a sense of humor. It doesn’t have to be a lonely one, if you don’t want it to be. I hope you’ve found pieces of your money story in mine, and that you’ll be encouraged to share your own. Our stories have more value than we can possibly imagine.
With Passion Planners in hand, let’s write a money story we can be proud of.
What’s the best money advice you’ve ever received? Let me know in the comments!
Paula Votendahl is a Copywriter with Passion Planner. Her lifetime financial goals are to own a home in San Diego and create a scholarship for aspiring writers.