Financial responsibility and savvy are not commonly taught at an early enough age. Historically, these lessons are taught at the family level. But for many of us – the classical definition of family does not apply and we miss those lessons either because we didn’t have a parent available to us, or we failed to listen when they were trying to teach us. As a father, Clint Bruce passionately strives to provide the best advice for not only his daughters, but for anyone out there he can reach and encourage. These are the questions real, young, female professionals want to know the answers to, and Clint Bruce provides just that in this Q&A below.
Q1: What is the best investment you’ve ever made?
Clint: If I had to list the top 5 most painful mistakes I’ve made in my life … 3 of them would be financial. The greatest investment I’ve ever made is committing to building a lifestyle that was not based on debt, or an overly optimistic “I’ll find a way to make it work” mentality. That attitude is healthy in sports, and certainly in military operations – but not in money. I had a great father, and then he died. And before he died I know he tried to teach me how to steward resources… but I was too cool (stupid) or too convinced (wrongly) that I already knew how to do that.
Then as a member of the military I enjoyed a significant level of financial stability and predictability (not wealth, but that’s not why you serve) because in the military you get paid on the 1st and 15th as long as the military continues to exist. Pretty strong bet on that one. In addition, you can project the next 5 years of what you are going to make, and you inevitably take for granted the medical services available to you at no cost. What this can do, and I’m not proud to admit that I did it, is suppress a sense of urgency and maturity in finances that can lead to well intended wrong decisions that take years to unwind.
The thing I wish I would have done most is exactly what every great parent or mentor tells someone they care about – invest in your ability to handle the emergency/unforeseen event. The minute I began to be as disciplined about money as I was about physical training, operational skill, and entrepreneurial efforts… it was like taking off ankle weights while racing. Credit card debt, personal debt, chasing your monthly needs instead of being ahead of them… this shackles us, and keeps us from performing at a level we can because we never have enough air in our lungs.
I have 5 priority budgets now: Family requirements, Getting out of debt, Giving in accordance with my faith, and Creating savings. Unless an emergency happens… that’s the order as well. Investing in a plan and discipline, inviting (at times painful) accountability in your life … these things make every good thing better and more possible when it comes to money.
Q2: How can I create an effective budget and stick to it?
Clint: You know you. And you know your life. But unless there is a unique element to your life – what I describe above works. Ideally – debt is not as much a part of your life as it was (and is, but less so) part of mine. There are so many apps and so many tools now that make managing your money well a realistic and engaging activity. Credit cards are useful, ideally as a safety net, but they cost far more than you think. This is why making a “get out of debt” bucket part of your budget is vital. Being in credit card debt costs far more than you think. Apps and programs that help you visualize the true cost of debt are powerful tools and validate the urgency and necessity of that as a budget item. Not getting that “thing” can be painful, but paying 3x what that “thing” cost because you didn’t save up for it and can’t pay off your debt quickly is way more painful.
Start with these buckets then adjust accordingly: Life (rent/mortgage, vehicle, phone, health insurance, car insurance, etc…), Zero Debt (pay off the cards monthly), Give (regardless of your faith. Investing in others and being generous provides an amazing ROI over time for all the right reasons), Save (you don’t know when the emergency is coming, but you know it is coming). Order those as you see fit, based on your personality, beliefs, reality. But have a plan and stick to it. I wish I would have sooner.
Q3: How can I strategically create a savings plan?
Clint: Yes. Do so. Now. I’m not trivializing the question – I’m just saying it is so important to have that in place, that any strategy that produces any savings is a good thing. Be in position to borrow from yourself before you borrow from anyone else. The rule of thumb is 3-6 months of monthly needs in savings. I’ve personally never been able to get quite there, but once I get rid of all debt… that’s the goal for me.
Q4: Aside from having enough money to provide for a family, what’s the most important thing to strive for in life?
Clint: Money is a tool. Too often we make it the key to everything, but it’s not. It’s a necessary resource used to acquire what you’ve decided you need to have the life you believe you want… but that latter part of the sentence is what you need to focus on. What IS the life that you WANT?
I asked my wife and daughters a few years ago if they wanted to have stuff, or do stuff. They unanimously chose to be a family that does things, goes on trips, is active, and invites others to adventure with us. It’s one of the most important conversations we’ve had as a family, and it has dictated the house we live in, the cars we drive, and the clothes we wear. That’s stuff. The things we do, do together, and are planning to do together… that’s our life.
Slow down. Define the type of life you want to have and what it will cost, and let that drive the decisions you make about what you do, who you do it for, and how long you do it. I was visiting with a young man in my office a few years ago and we were talking about salaries and other financial things. I told him there are two ways to pay for the kind of life you want: one – make more money, two – make life cost you less. Neither of those work unless you know the kind of life you are wanting to build and what that’s going to cost.