Read what one millennial spends his money on in a month as a 26-year old living in Houston TX. After growing up in poverty and becoming a first-generation college student, Ming is now on the path to wealth and financial freedom.
It’s finally happening, fam. Clo Bare has GUEST POSTERS and I’m super stoked about it. For a while now, I’ve wanted to highlight the stories of people from all over and talk about their money journey, their “oh, shit” moment and, of course, what they spend their money on every month.
This week, we’re highlighting Ming, a fellow money nerd with an awesome money story. Despite growing up in a socioeconomically challenged urban environment, he graduated debt-free, found himself a white-collar job and bought a house– all BEFORE TURNING 25. WHAT?!
Anyway. I enjoyed his story, and I think you will too. ENJOY!
Are You A Diamond Or A Pipe: A Case Study
Do you ever have a moment of peace and inner reflection and come to the question of “How the fuck did I get here?” I ask myself that question frequently. By all means and measures I shouldn’t be where I am and yet here, I am and if I was able to make it, what about everyone else that I grew up with?
Imposter syndrome aside, I’ve come to the conclusion more and more that life follows the quote “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
Indeed, your life will be disproportionately determined by your internal characteristics more than external events that happen to you. In this sense, the pressure that’s needed in order to make a diamond will also burst a pipe.
How Did I Get Here
You might ask well where did you come from and what do you mean by “here”? Allow me to provide some color commentary. I’m a first-generation college student who grew up in a socioeconomically challenged urban environment. Somehow with luck (btw, luck can be found at the intersection of opportunity and preparedness), I graduated college debt free, found myself in a white-collar job, and bought a house before turning 25.
As some would say, “Mama, we fucking made it”
Vision and Discipline
The next natural question is, “Well damn Ming. How did you make it?” One thing I always harp on is having a dual combination of vision and discipline especially around the topic of personal finance.
If you have vision, you have the drive. If you have discipline, you have the structure. Combine those two forces and you can achieve great things.
My Vision: Financial Freedom
For me personally, my vision has always been one thing: financial freedom. What that looks like has changed as I’ve aged, from fast cars and multiple houses to buying appreciating assets, but the overall vision has never wavered. My vision is and has always been, to utilize my money to better my life, my family, and lastly my community.
Discipline: The Role Growing Up in Poverty Played In My Life
The discipline comes from growing up in poverty. It was a very unique and traumatic experience as many of you may appreciate. 21 years of “oh shit moments” instilled in me this innate fear to never re-live those 21 years again in that same financial situation. To give you just one example of what I mean, my mom picked up discarded furniture on the curb to furnish our small apartment.
The constant reminder and fear of poverty nipping at the back of my neck drove me to understand financial literacy and QUICK. I saw it as my out. As soon as I can, I paid off my student loans and started looking at how to invest.
You are the Driver of Your Life
I again point to the analogy of pressure, diamonds, and pipes. Up until this point, there was little separating my peers and myself. We grew up in the same environment but the way we internalize and react to the same external stimulus is all different. My very early recognition of money and investing as a means of bettering my economic situation was the first step where I started to truly separate myself from the masses.
By no means am I minimizing others’ struggles or hardships. As Plato said, “Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Many had it better than me, some had it worse. My hope is that you take away the following key message: acknowledge your current lot in life and then actively work toward the life you want to live. YOU are the driver in your life.
Vulnerability and Fear on the Path to Wealth
In a moment of vulnerability, I will admit that one of my biggest failures very early on is lacking follow-through. I was ready to invest (not a lot, probably a few thousand) but I was held back by my own fear of the market and having my decision swayed by adults who suggested I not get in the market.
I didn’t realize it yet but those same adults probably didn’t have the vision nor disciple that was needed to help me achieve the large goals I had for my own personal life (no shade meant by that statement). From that fuck up, I missed out on ~4 years of investing and compounding which equates to thousands of dollars lost.
That being said, I would be an idiot to suggest I got here by myself. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t actively seek out mentors that understood my goals. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Beyond the discipline and vision, the first move for myself was twofold: educate myself on financial literacy so I can effectively use money as a tool and find mentors that can act as a guide to make sure I’m using this tool the best way possible.
Switching gears a bit and getting to the nitty-gritty.
A Fundamental Tool: Understanding Your Money Flow
As you can appreciate, one of the most important and fundamental tools available to achieving financial freedom is to understand your flow of money (i.e. your budget).
It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, but it is crucial.
I used to track my spending and savings down to the cent but once you do it enough, you can pretty much understand your budget without writing everything down. I’ve systemized my daily spending to the point that I’m able to save consistently without writing down every dollar spent. I call it intuitive budgeting. I give myself certain guardrails for each bucket of expenses to make sure at the very minimum, I save/invest the amount I target and if I miss my goals, I know exactly why. (i.e. large unexpected or expected expenses- think car maintenance, holiday gifts, vacation, etc.)
I know this might sound a bit hypocritical because I INSIST on beginners having a budget and tracking expenses, but I see personal finances much like working out at the gym. You don’t go from no physical activity to deadlifting 500 pounds. You need to work up to that. Similarly, you can’t just intuitively budget if you don’t know how to budget to begin with.
What I Spend in a Month
In terms of spending and goals on a monthly basis, the way I break it down is as follows:
- Paycheck 1- bills and credit cards paid in full. Savings: 50% post-tax take-home pay.
- When I say bills and credit cards, I mean EVERYTHING. From utilities to takeout. From my dog’s food and treats to the occasional sinning of buying a PSL at Starbucks.
- Paycheck 2- mortgage. Savings: 50% post-tax, take-home pay.
I use my savings in one of two ways: emergency fund or investing in my brokerage account. Depending on how I’m feeling and how the market is doing, I might go one way or the other. My 401K and IRA are on autopilot and excluded from the 50% savings. Those investment vehicles are funded via pretax money and aren’t included in my 50% savings rate of my take-home pay.
What I Spent in September 2020
For example, September by all intents and purposes was a perfect month financially. From a major milestone perspective, I was finally able to reach my emergency fund goal. My expenses in total didn’t hit my overall caps for each bucket so I was actually able to save more than 50% of my take-home pay. This mostly came from slimming down on my two biggest variable costs on a monthly basis: groceries and eating out/play money.
For groceries, I budget $500 a month. Don’t judge. I eat A LOT. For eating out and play money, I budget $440 a month. Again, let me emphasize how much I can eat. I slashed my grocery bills by 20% and my play money/eating out by 50% for September which was a nice little way of giving myself a mini bonus at the end of the month.
Credit Card Points
On top of controlling my large variable costs a bit more for September, I also used some of my credit card points as cashback to help pay for part of my mortgage so I was able to pocket slightly more of my take-home pay. Again, a mini bonus for myself at the end of the month.
Living Below My Means
Am I perfect every month? Certainly not. For example, this month (October 2020), I had to pay my yearly umbrella policy that will cut into my savings a bit. That is a big reason why I try to live VERY below my means. Larger expenses can be paid without batting an eye and I can invest as much as I can early on. As a millennial, understand that compound interest is the biggest avenue to wealth. TIME IS YOUR FRIEND.
My Current Financial Picture
Knowing that the internet is a very public forum and the fact that I’m a rather private guy, I always walk the line of how much to share. I won’t get into exact details, but to give you a sense of where I am financially:
- I have an emergency fund worth an estimated ~8 months of expenses. My next target is 1 year.
- Between all my investment vehicles, I’ve accumulated 6 figures from my contributions and allowing the market to do its thing. Remember, time in the market beats timing the market 11 out of 10 times.
- I have no debt besides my mortgage. In regards to debt, I believe the best way to get out of debt is to not be in debt to begin with. If you’re digging yourself into debt, put down the shovel!
- If all goes well, I plan to retire at 40- just 14 more years to go. I’m not counting at all. LOL
If you’ve read up to this point, THANK YOU. I’ve truly enjoyed writing this piece. Y’all are the real MVPs (insert KD meme here). I hope my story provided some sort of inspiration at the most and some entertainment at the very least. I’ll end this post with one more quote: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve always imagined.” With that, I ask you: are you a diamond that’s forming or a pipe ready to burst?
Ming is just a regular millennial on his wealth journey. Pre-COVID, his main hobby was the gym but with COVID that’s changed to WAY too many walks with his pup. His goal is to empower everyone, especially millennials, in securing their financial freedom. We’re taught so many useless skills in school (who the fuck uses polagarium theorem?) but never taught how to manage money. Ming is here to change that.
Interested in guest posting on the Bare and sharing your financial journey as well as everything you spent your money on in a month? Drop Clo Bare a line by heading over to Clo Bare’s contact page. Be sure to include “Guest Posting” in the subject line.