Kelly Vaughn chats with Kent about the first steps you need to take to get your finances under control.
Kelly got into personal finance while she was struggling financially in grad school. Your very first step to getting your money under control should be to know where your money is going. Sit down and look at the last three months of your bank statements and categorize your purchases.
Being able to visualize and measure where your money is going is a fantastic first step for people wanting to at least see if you could make some changes to the way that you're spending your money.
After you figure out where your money is going, your second step is to make a budget. Kelly uses the envelope system. Each category of spending gets an "envelope" of money, and once there's no more money from the envelope, you can't spend any more on that category.
Figure out where your money has been going the last three months
Create a budget using an app like You Need A Budget, a notebook, or a spreadsheet
Kent C. Dodds: Hello friends, this is your friend Kent C. Dodds, and I'm joined by my friend Kelly Vaughan. Say hi, Kelly.
Kelly Vaughn: Hi Kelly.
Kent C. Dodds: Great. So Kelly is an awesome person. She does all kinds of things, really great person to follow on Twitter, especially if you enjoy laughter. Kelly, if you could just introduce yourself a little bit so we get to know you and then we can jump into our chat today.
Kelly Vaughn: Yeah, so I am Kelly Vaughn. I live in Atlanta, Georgia, with my husband. Most of my time is spent running a company called The Tap Room. It's a marketing agency specializing in Shopify. When I'm not doing that I am probably recording a podcast or running my own Shopify store. So I spend a lot of time mainly in the e-commerce space.
Kent C. Dodds: So your Shopify store has gotten a lot of attention on Twitter recently, a lot of people enjoying the products that you're creating. I'm actually curious, could you describe what some of those products are, and then where you came up with the idea to make your own Shopify store?
Kelly Vaughn: So it's all development merch you didn't know you needed, that's what I like to call it. It's all a print on demand service, and the whole reason why I created the store was because I wanted to learn more about what's called Headless Commerce. We do a lot in the Shopify space in my business and Headless Commerce, in the Shopify realm, basically means that the store's data is all stored on Shopify. But the front end of the site you're interacting with is not actually Shopify. So it's connecting the two of those, a different front end from the backend.
So I created my own Shopify store just so I can figure out how Headless Commerce works on my own personal site, which is built on Gatsby. And I decided to create, I needed some test products so I took one of my tweets that I thought was funny and I took a screenshot of it and I uploaded it to Printful, which is the print on demand service that I use, and it generates these stock photos that you can use to advertise your products. And one of the stock photos was the mug. It was a mug that I was creating with the git log and it was just surrounded by donuts and I thought it was hilarious. So I decided to post a picture of it on Twitter and people started replying saying, "No, seriously, I actually want to buy this." So I was never actually intending on launching this store. I just wanted to see how it would work and I ended up opening it up to an actual store and it's been way more successful than I was expecting.
Kent C. Dodds: So you have way more products now, how many products do you have right now?
Kelly Vaughn: That's a good question. I think I'm nearing at least 50 and I have a long list of ideas that I want to keep on creating products. But a lot of these things come off just like I'm typing up an email and my most recent sticker that I created as just one that says, "Per my last email", because I had just typed that in an email. I was like, "Oh, that needs to be a sticker." It's always just like they just randomly come up in my head.
Kent C. Dodds: And you're using Printful for all of this stuff? One thing I would love to make my own products and stuff, but I don't want to deal with the logistics nightmare that I feel like would be involved there. So are you actually creating any of these products and shipping them off or does Printful do all of that stuff for you?
Kelly Vaughn: They do it all for you. That is the beauty of the print on demand services. I use Printful, I use Printify for some of my items, and I use teelaunch for the mouse pads.
Kent C. Dodds: Very cool. Well, we'll have to look into that. Maybe I'll make a shirt or something. I don't know.
Kelly Vaughn: You should! It's so easy.
Kent C. Dodds: It's super cool. Really amazing what we can do with the technology that we have these days. So Kelly, we were talking about what we wanted to talk about today and one thing that you are super into is personal finance. Because you're an entrepreneur, you run your own business and apparently you're on Shopify store now. Being responsible with your finances is really important for you and especially with our current generation.
I'm actually not sure how old you are, but I'm a millennial and I know that lots of us millennials have grown up in this world of abundance and especially even the younger generation, lots have grown up in a world of abundance and not really caring too much for personal finance. Or there are many in the world who are growing in more impoverished situations who are, literally they hold the money for as long as they need to pay their bill. And so the idea of managing personal finances isn't really a thing cause they have none to manage, right? So what are some of the thoughts that you have around personal finance? Why do you think that it's important, and why do you feel so strongly about it?
Kelly Vaughn: So I am a millennial as well and I think I'm like right in the middle of the millennial age range, I don't know, I don't remember what it actually is anymore. I went to college for a long time. I have three degrees and I had to pay for those three degrees. So I finished grad school with $55,000 in student loan debt and that was really daunting. And while I was in grad school, I ended up struggling financially way more than I was expecting I would. It got to the point where my sister was helping me make tuition payments so I could stay in school and I was working. The problem with, kind of side conversation here, but a lot of graduate programs require internships or field placements, but they don't pay you for it and you have to pay for the class credits.
So you're basically paying to work and it takes away from time you can actually work in general. So I was doing my field placements, I was working a part-time job and I was freelancing, and I was still struggling to make ends meet. So after I finished grad school or when I was getting close to finishing grad school, I was like, I need to change something here because my credit card debt is racking up. I'm terrified of actually having to pay off these student loans and I wanted to be in a better financial position where I wasn't going to be struggling to make ends meet month by month.
Kent C. Dodds: So it was a very personal experience for you that deciding it was kind of imperative for you to learn how to manage the finances. How did you get control of your personal finances in a way where you felt, not maybe you're not totally debt free, but you're happy with the direction that you're going financially?
Kelly Vaughn: Yeah, so I have made a lot of changes in my life, not only on how I'm spending my money, but how I am budgeting my money as well. And thankfully my husband is also really big on personal finance, so I was able to learn a lot from him and he kind of help put me on the right path to make a plan to not only pay off my debt, but begin actually putting away money for retirement, because at that point I didn't have a full time job, I didn't have any opportunity for a 401k or anything like that. So I had $0 saved for retirement. And that is a scary thought.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. And for lots of people, especially if you haven't secured one of those high paying tech jobs or whatever, the last thing you're thinking about is retirement. You're just thinking about, "How am I going to pay rent this month?" So what would you suggest for people in that scenario? Should they be thinking about retirement, and if so, how can they manage it when they're struggling to pay rent?
Kelly Vaughn: Yeah, it's definitely going to depend on each person's individual kind of situation. There is a book, it's called Money Honey, it is by Rachel Richards. It is written by a millennial for other millennials. She used to be a financial advisor and went book route instead. And it's a really great read on basically how you can figure out what it is that your path needs to be as far as paying down your debt and being able to make your monthly payments for all your bills that you have and how you can save at the same time. So I think that book is a really great recommendation.
It really depends on what your interest rates are on each of your accounts, where you're paying back debt. I think the most important thing is finding that opportunity to save at least $1,000 when it comes to having an emergency fund. I don't have statistics on worldwide stats, but I know the stats for Americans is a little more public, and I think it's two thirds of Americans that would struggle to find $1,000 to pay for an emergency.
Kent C. Dodds: That's a significant portion of the American populace. There's so much money, and value, and wealth, in the world. Why is it that such a huge amount of people can't manage an unexpected expense like that?
Kelly Vaughn: I would say definitely part of that stat, I'm sure, includes people who are unemployed and, of course, they're going to struggle to make a $1,000 purchase just like anybody else. I think there's a lack of education on personal finance, especially in our generation. When my parents were in school, they had a curriculum while they were in school to learn how to do things like balance a checkbook, and we don't use checkbooks anymore. So there's not so much budget creation or, well, balancing anything really, paying off your credit card. We don't really talk about that in school. And so it's a lot of either learning from somebody who already knows how to do it or taking the initiative to learn yourself. And if you're not really thinking about it, you're not really going to pursue education in that area.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. This makes me think of my father who is a CPA, a certified public accountant. He's retired now, but when he was helping people with their taxes, he would have these doctors come in who brought in a ton of money and just got used to a lifestyle of spending a ton of money. And somehow they just, they didn't care about managing their finances and wound up in serious amounts of debt and just wondering, "Where did all my money go?" It's not a problem, I guess, that that plagues the wealthy necessarily. It's a problem that plagues people who have money. There's a conversation that we can have about people who don't have money, and ways that we can help those people. But even those who feel like they have their financial needs totally met and they just decided, "I'm never going to look at my bank statement."
Kelly Vaughn: That was dangerous.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, exactly. It can be a dangerous situation they find themselves in. And so what would you recommend people do to start getting a handle on their finances? Let's say that I'm doing okay financially. Every now and then I have a something that I want or, that I have to pay for that I need to save up for. And so I'll do that, but I'm not really taking too much care to think about my finances. What would be some good first steps for somebody in that situation?
Kelly Vaughn: I think the first step is knowing where your money is going. You have a bank statement and you have credit card statements. Sit down and look at the last, let's say three months, of your statements and categorize everything. And whether you want to do it on, you know, pen and paper or you want to use a service like Mint, or you need a budget, or I go the Google sheets route. I just manually record each of my purchases on a Google spreadsheet and I can see exactly how all of my purchases are categorized and just how much money I'm spending on coffee.
Kent C. Dodds: That makes me think of people who complain about buying an app for a dollar, but then they go off and spend like, how much do you, well, I'm not going to ask you about your personal finance, but how much do you think the average person spends on coffee a month?
Kelly Vaughn: Let's say this is somebody who works a full time job, so let's say they're driving to work five days a week, maybe let's say 20 to 25 days out of the month, and they're stopping at Starbucks, let's say three times a week. And let's say your drink is $5, I'm doing a lot of math in my head right now, that'd be $15 a week. That's about $60 a month just on coffee.
Kent C. Dodds: That's not insignificant, right?
Kelly Vaughn: That is not insignificant at all. And that's not even counting weekends and the other things that can get away from you are especially going out to eat. You don't really pay so much attention to of what you're spending when you're constantly eating out. And especially when it's related to after work celebrations or just grabbing a drink or two with coworkers, or something like that. That money really adds up. And I know because I did that research and realized just how much I'm spending.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, I think that's a wonderful first step for people to actually start measuring where your money is going because it could be a shocking realization like, Oh my goodness, I didn't realize, and Oh, maybe that's why I'm struggling so hard to be able to afford this new laptop that I really need for my job or, whatever my side gig or whatever it is. And maybe getting a little bit of insight into where your money's going is a really good first step on changing behavior. Maybe, you're okay with $60 a month on coffee, or maybe you're like, Oh, maybe I could, you know, I don't know, drink water or something, drink milk in the morning and then, make coffee at home or whatever it is, so that you can start saving for the things that you want to say for. Like if you took $20 a month and started putting it into some sort of fund of some kind, after a while it starts to add up there as well.
And I know that there are some apps and things, I can't remember what the app is called, but every time you spend money it rounds you up to the next dollar, or it takes whatever number of cents it would be to get you to the next dollar and it puts that in a savings account for you that you can't touch or something like that. It's kind of interesting idea.
Kelly Vaughn: I think some banks might do that, too.
Kent C. Dodds: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, it's an interesting concept. So, anyway, being able to visualize and measure where your money is going I think is a fantastic first step for people wanting to at least just see if maybe you could make some changes to the way that you're spending your money.
Kelly Vaughn: Absolutely.
Kent C. Dodds: So what other tips could you give to people who maybe are struggling to make ends meet right now? Maybe they're in a bootcamp or they're trying to get their first job, and in the process of doing that they still have to live. Is there certain kind of debt or financial assistance that is acceptable? Others that are pretty dangerous that people should be avoiding? Certain practices that they should change? Maybe should they cancel their cell phone bill, or what are the types of lifestyle changes that people could make to give themselves a little bit more financial stability until they start making money?
Kelly Vaughn: I'll preface this by saying that I'm by no means an expert. I'm a developer, not a financial advisor. So my experience is both anecdotal and just what I've researched and read about over time. One of the things that that book Money Honey talks about is there are two ways to have more money. One is to make more money and the other one is to reduce how much you're spending. Those are the only two ways that you can do things. Obviously making more money is great, but that's easier said than done. I mean, you can't just walk in and ask for a raise and expect to get it, or get a job if you're currently unemployed, or if you have a family at home you might not have time to be moonlighting as a freelancer or working on a side project or something like that.
So making more money is not always going to be the easiest option. So finding opportunities to reduce your spending is usually where you want to start. And going through your finances and seeing how you're spending your money is where you would begin doing that. If you have, let's say a gym membership and you're not going to the gym, maybe consider canceling the membership. You can watch workout videos at home if you really wanted to or you can go for a run, the outdoors are free so that's always an option. Let's see what else is there?
Kent C. Dodds: Netflix, as great as it is, you may not. And there are lots of subscriptions like that. Spotify or YouTube red or whatever these different things, and maybe you don't need to buy popcorn that time you go to the movie or maybe you don't even need to go to the movie for a while there, reducing the costs, like you were saying there.
Kelly Vaughn: It's really surprising to sit down and see just how many things you're subscribed. You never really notice it, especially since all these things are on auto pay and they're on auto pay for a reason. They know that people tend to not cancel. I don't remember, I don't remember when I actually signed up for Netflix. I've just been giving them my money, even when they it increases by $2 a month, or it increases by $4 a month. I don't even think about canceling and that is the kind of thing that is something I should be thinking about. I'm not going to cancel Netflix, I watch The Office too much.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, I just finished it a little bit ago. Yeah, it's fun.
Kelly Vaughn: Good, so it's time to start again.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, that's right. I actually heard that Netflix might be canceling or taking The Office off of the platform.
Kelly Vaughn: I heard that as well, and I don't want to believe it until it actually happens.
Kent C. Dodds: So reducing your expenditures, what would you say, like what if I'm struggling to make money at all? So I'm making no money, what are some ideas, maybe I'm looking for a job, but in the process, side hustles can be pretty lucrative. So as an entrepreneur yourself, what are some things that people could do while they're waiting for their product job, or maybe in lieu of a product job, that could help them to earn the finances so that they can start caring about personal finance?
Kelly Vaughn: The most common ones that I see people talk about doing are the Ubers, Lyft, Uber Eats. There are sites like Fiverr and Upwork where you can list tasks that you can do. There's also the site called TaskHusky. When I said tasks, that's when I thought of it. There were a lot of these various websites or just like service industry, kind of like gig economy businesses out there that you can find one that works within your schedule. Some of them don't require you to be out on the road for example. So you can work from home when you have 30 minutes available to do something. Of course it's really, it becomes more difficult when you are raising a family or you have other obligations that you have to tend to. So that is the hardest part about recommending side hustles because not everybody has the luxury of additional time to do a side hustle. That's the hardest part.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely. Like some people barely have enough time in the day to look for a job and then they have to go and take care of a loved one or children, which I suppose they're loved ones. Hopefully they are. Very good. So Kelly, as we are kind of coming down to the end of our time here, is there anything else that we haven't really discussed about personal finance that you'd really like to make mention of?
Kelly Vaughn: The one next step, so we talked about step one being see how you're spending your money. Step two is make a budget. There are the systems, the apps we talked about before are things like you need a budget and Mint, they can do it for you. I know Excel has a template that is a budget where you just plug in the numbers and it shows you where you're at and how you should allocate your money and how much of your money is being spent on whatever it is you have it categorized as. I personally use that one and I use Google sheets to continue to monitor my expenses as they progress. I go to the store and I immediately pull up my phone and I have like a little shortcut on my home screen to immediately plug in that information where it needs to go just so I don't forget. If you do forget, of course we all have credit cards statements that we can jump to.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah. And hopefully those are accurate.
Kelly Vaughn: Yes, yes.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, exactly. Very good. I've actually, I'll be honest, I've been really bad about budgeting the last little while, but when my wife and I were first married I made this really elaborate Google doc spreadsheet to keep track of our budget. And it was awesome and it really helped. And one thing that we did that I just was kind of our idea was this thing we called backward budgeting. I don't think it's really original, but I think we may have been inspired by Dave Ramsey's envelope method where you put money in the envelope and as soon as that money's gone then it's gone. And so the idea was we don't budget the money that we think we're going to make this month. We instead look at the money we made last month and that's the money that we have available to spend this month. And then we allocate that money accordingly, fixed expenses and then a percentage goes into entertainment and stuff like that, whatever's left over. And that seemed to work out really well for us.
Kelly Vaughn: That's pretty much what I do as well, what my husband and I do. We have our buckets for, like the envelopes, for this percentage needs to go into my emergency fund, my home savings, home emergency fund. We just bought a home nine months ago and we're learning just how expensive homes are. It's a never ending expense. But it's fun owning a home nonetheless. But also we have buckets for the things we enjoy doing most. My husband and I like to travel, so we have a specific envelope for travel fund and once we have enough money to actually take a trip, then we book the trip. The whole point is having the money in there before you spend it.
Kent C. Dodds: Yeah, absolutely, living within your means and cutting out the things that, you know, you rack up enough of these subscriptions or you add enough of these commitments for trips and things, and eventually you're spending more money than you have and you start hoping that you don't lose your job. Well of course nobody wants to lose their job, it would be you have nothing to fall back on if you do, right? And so being cognizant of that and people are saying we're on our way to a recession. So probably it'd be a good time to start padding yourself a little bit more to prepare for events like that, that are totally out of your control.
Kelly Vaughn: Yeah. And since you mentioned Dave Ramsey, it actually is worth plugging. Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover as well. He has a book. If you're in debt and you're just, you're not really sure what steps to take next. He has a program and a book, which by the way, the book is available at the library. So consider checking or getting a library card instead of buying books on Amazon. And it's a really great step-by-step guide of what path you should be taking next.
Kent C. Dodds: Great. Yeah, that's great and I have a link the show notes for that, too. Cool. So Kelly, it's been a pleasure to chat with you. Our call to action for people is for your first step on making this improvement to your life, is to find out where your money has gone the last three months. So however you want to do that, whether it's a spreadsheet or use Mint.com or whatever you want to use to kind of categorize your expenses, just go, if you haven't been keeping track, that's okay. Look at your credit card statements or your bank statements, and categorize all of your expenses for the last three months. You will probably be shocked.
Kelly Vaughn: Exactly.
Kent C. Dodds: Kelly, it's been a pleasure. What's the best way for people to connect with you online?
Kelly Vaughn: You can find me on Twitter at KVLLY. That's probably the best way to find me online.
Kent C. Dodds: Great. All right, Kelly, thank you so much. It was a pleasure to chat with you and I wish you the best. Good luck everybody else and we'll see you all later. Bye.