Follow the 10-10-80 rule

Gavin finished his first summer job recently. He earned a fair amount of money and asked me about the process I use for managing my money. Gavin is just learning about money. I recommended that he keep it simple, and follow the 10-10-80 rule. This formula represents how you should allocate the money you earn – save 10%, give 10% (some call this tithing), and spend the remaining 80%. I cannot remember when I learned this rule, but I have tried to use it over the years. It seems to work well, although it can be tempting to spend more than 80%, especially if you experience a windfall.

1. Save 10% for yourself – there are multiple reasons to save 10% of your paycheck. First, it is helpful to have an emergency fund to deal with surprise situations that may arise. Opinions vary about how much money you should have in an emergency fund. One month salary is a good starting point. Second, you may want to save money for a specific purchase so that you don’t have to borrow money and pay interest. In general, I like to stay out of debt as much as possible, but I think it is okay to borrow money for some purchases. For example, you will likely need a loan if you decide to buy a house. Third, you will need money for retirement. In fact, you will likely need a lot of money. Start saving early for retirement, so that you don’t have to play catch-up later on. I did not save nearly enough early on in my career and am paying the price now. Avoid this mistake if you can. Most companies offer employees ways to save for retirement. Take advantage of these savings opportunities. Here is a video that talks about various ways to save for retirement.

2. Give 10% for a worthy cause – it honors God and helps those in need. I would love to say that tithing is easy, but it can be a challenge to give away 10% of your money. I recommend starting early so that it becomes a habit. Don’t tell yourself that you will give money away when you earn more and can “afford it”. I think it actually becomes more challenging the more you make. Once again, keep it simple. If you are a member of a church then you should tithe to that church. The tithe is intended for the church to operate and support the local community. If you are not a member of a church then look for a worthy cause to support. Plenty of them exist. I have taken different approaches when it comes to charities. One year I decided to support as many as possible – even with only a small amount. More recently, I decided to focus my donations to a few specific charities that I am passionate about. For example, this year I am focused on the Lead the Way Fund. They do great work. Lastly, some charities are not worth supporting. They spend too many resources fund raising, or other events, rather than making sure the money gets to those who need it. For example, I used to send money to the Wounded Warrior Program, but stopped due to a recent scandal about how they were wasting donor’s money.

3. Spend 80% to live your life – this part covers the rest of your expenses like housing, food, utilities, clothes, and other bills. 80% sounds like a lot. Not spending more than that seems easy, but I will warn you that it is not easy. What is easy is spending more than you earn by using credit cards and other methods for borrowing money that you do not really need. Trust me, it is really easy to buy stuff, esecially nowadays. You don’t even have to leave your house to shop and they will deliver many things straight to your front door. I am a big fan of online shopping, but it can be a slippery slope when it comes to spending money.

Lastly, I have warned you before about the dangers of credit cards, and will reiterate to be careful. At one point in my life I wracked up over $10K in credit card debt and had to refinance our house to pay off the debt. Really big mistake on my part. You should not be shocked to learn that the credit card company never called me to ask why I was spending so much money. The reality is that we had just moved and it cost a lot more money getting the new house set-up than I anticipated. The credit card company did not care because they make money out of the deal. The more I borrow, the more they make.

Managing your money can be tricky. I recommend keeping it simple, following the 10-10-80 rule, and avoiding debt as much as possible.

Here is another video in which Dave Ramsey and Chris Hogan answer a question about retirement from someone who is 23 years old.

Be picky about being picky

In America, we have a lot of choices when it comes to the things we buy. Think about it. When is the last time you bought something and there were no options – only one item for purchase. If you go to a restaurant you will usually receive a multi-page menu describing all the various options. The Cheese Cake Factory menu is thick as a book. It can be overwhelming. Visit an American grocery store and you see how many different kinds of Ketchup there is. I like hot sauce. It is amazing the number of options you have when it comes to buying hot sauce. Let’s talk about Starbucks – the options seem unlimited. It is a pet peeve of mine to stand in line behind someone who takes forever to order their drink. It is not like you are making a life changing decision, but you would think so based on how difficult it is for some patrons to make a selection. Even after you order the barista may ask you more questions about what you want – whip or no whip? Really.

I am a big fan of not overthinking things when possible. With that in mind, I recommend that you not waste your mental capacity on trying to figure out what to buy. Look at your options, determine what you like, calculate what you can afford, and then buy it. Don’t spend too much of your brain power trying to buy just the right thing. You can drive yourself nuts if you do. If you get it wrong, it probably will not be a big deal. There are three exceptions to this approach that I want to share with you so that you can be picky about being picky.

1. Quality vs. quantity – you will buy many items in large quantities. Don’t waste too much time picking these items. For example, I run a fair amount and like to drink Gatorade afterwards. Gatorade comes in many types and flavors. I like G2 because it is low calorie, and am not that picky about the flavor. When shopping for Gatorade I buy whatever G2 flavor is on sale. If none of it is on sale, then I buy one of my favorite flavors. Problem solved. Wristwatches are another matter. It is unlikely that you are going to buy multiple watches at the same time. In fact, you will probably only buy a few over your lifetime. In this case, do some research so that you make an informed purchase. I don’t have a lot of money, so really expensive watches are out of the question. I own two watches – one informal, and one formal. I wear a Timex weekender watch that I really like. It costs less than $100. You can change the straps on the watch to match the clothes you are wearing. For work, I wear an Invictus watch. It is stylish and only cost a few hundred dollars. Nothing fancy for me.

Timex weekender wrist watch
Timex weekender wrist watch

2. Premium purchases – you will buy a few things that cost a lot of money. Cars, houses, and college tuition are top of list for me. When spending a lot of money like hundreds of thousands for a house, you should spend a lot of time looking, researching, analyzing, and comparing before making a decision. Work with a good real estate agent who can help find you the right house, at the right price, in the right neighborhood. Some shows on HGTV make it seem like you can find a house quickly. I prefer to take my time and spend a lot of time thinking before buying. Bottom line – you should love the house you buy. If you don’t love it, then hold off until you find one you do. When it comes to cars I never buy the first day I visit a dealer. I don’t want to make an impulse buy. It is an easy mistake to make when buying a car. I prefer to visit multiple dealers, do a lot of research, and spend some time thinking about the purchase. Three car purchases I made were good – the Accord, Tacoma, and my Jeep. The Lexus I bought was a mistake. I should never have spent that much money on a car. Choosing a college is similar – do lots of research to include visiting each school before making a selection. The good news is that researching cars and colleges is much easier these days with all of the online tools. These did not exist back when I was your age.

Jeep wrangler
Jeep wrangler

3. Money makers – you should save and invest some of your money with each paycheck so that you can retire one day. When it comes to investments there are an overwhelming number of options. Be picky about who you allow to invest your money. Many financial institutions will promise high returns and low risk. They use this marketing lingo to justify charging you high fees for managing your money. Don’t fall for it. Every dollar you spend on management fees is one less dollar that gets invested. It is really hard for money managers to “beat the market”, and they know it. I have done a fair amount of research on this topic and decided to keep things simple. I invest in index mutual funds with low management fees. Several reputable companies offer these type nowadays. I would never attempt to invest my own money in individual stocks. It takes time and energy, and expertise that I don’t have.

In most cases I don’t think there is much value in being picky about what you buy. There is a time and place to be picky. I recommend the three listed here. In case you are wondering why we have all of these choices, the video below explains why:

Learning something new

As you know I decided to start my own business. It is a new adventure for me, and requires that I learn a lot of new skills. Learning something new can be a challenge. The reality is that it takes time to learn something new. In fact, according to some experts it takes at least 20 hours to learn something new. In this TED talk author Josh Kaufman explains the learning process. It is worth watching.

We live in a culture that is big on figuring out better ways to do things. Hacks, shortcuts, and cheat codes seem to be all the rage these days. I am a big fan of learning. It is one of my strengths. I look for ways to learn things quickly, but I recognize that you have to put in the time. I am experiencing that fact first hand right now as I download new software tools and teach myself several new skills. It is taking some time. I am making steady progress, and will get there. During your lifetime you will need to learn many new things, so I want to pass along a few observations based on my own experience learning new things.

1. Starting out is usually ugly. When you start something new you do not know what you are doing, and it shows. It is going to be ugly. I remember the day Jill and I decided to play tennis together. She is good at tennis. She has played for years, taken lessons, and knows how to play the game. I, on the other hand, have played very little, never had lessons, and don’t really know how to play the game. As you might guess – it was ugly. She stood on her side of the court and simply hit the ball over the net repeatedly while I ran around like a mad man trying to figure out what I was doing. An odd thing happened the next time we played. My play improved, just a little each game, and we actually ended up having a competitive game. I still have not beat her in a game, but I bet I could if I practice on a regular basis.

2. Practice takes time. If only 20 hours is required to learn something new, then it should be easy to learn new things quickly. Right. The reality is that 20 hours is actually a fair amount of time. As Josh Kaufman points out in his TED talk, you will improve a lot the first few hours – which is great. But, you will need to press on and keep practicing if you want to actually get proficient. Riley – you are learning to drive right now. The DMV requires that each driver spend many hours behind the wheel before you get your license which is a good thing. Every drive knows that it takes awhile to learn how to drive and get used to the various speeds and obstacles that you will encounter. Put in the practice and get your 20 hours in. Don’t rely on hacks or cheat codes to make you proficient.

3. Get the help you need. The good news about our modern culture is that you can find help easily. We have numerous ways to connect and communicate with others. When I announced that I was going to start my own company on Facebook several friends reached out to me, offering encouragement, and potential help. Many of them have experience that will help me a lot, so I plan to talk with each of them. In addition to your own friends, experts exist, coaches are available, and the really good news is that you can find most of them online these days. In fact, you can learn a lot from others, and get help for free. Youtube is a gold mine of information. You may remember the time when I could not figure out how to change the tire on our old Lexus (it had wheel locks that the manual did not mention), I went to Youtube and found a video that explained how to do it. Most of these tools did not exist when I was your age. Take advantage of them. Leverage the expertise of others, and get the help you need.

I hope that both of you learn new things on a regular basis. It will help you grow and become a more rounded person. Gavin – you are excellent at playing the guitar. I encourage you to keep learning and become an expert. Riley – you are a great soccer player. I hope you keep playing later in life. It is a great sport, and will bring you a lot of joy. Scoring a goal never gets old. Trust me.

Learning never exhausts the mind.
– Leonardo da Vinci

Be a life long learner – read books

One hobby I have enjoyed immensely during my lifetime is reading.  Nowadays it is easy to spend a large portion of your leisure time in activities that do not really teach you anything new. Video games, YouTube, and social networking are fun, but not necessarily helpful. Few things are better than reading a great book.  I used to read books of all kinds in order to figure out what interested me.  Nowadays, I mainly focus my reading in areas that give me new insight, teach me new things, or are fun to read.  Specific topics that I enjoy include military history, theology, leadership, and poetry.

“Personally, the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.” 

– Teddy Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States