See this picture? I think I’m telling the twins, “Mama loves you!” Never mind the fact that I’m saying this while sitting at a bar. I wasn’t drinking there, I swear. I was just with some girlfriends. And it was during the day. And it was a trendy micro-brewery. And one of my friends had her six-month old with her, and, honestly, who brings a real life already-born baby to a bar? What kind of parenting decision is that? (Deflection! Ha!)
But this is not a post about questionable motherhood-related decisions. Rather, it’s a post about something I decided to do for the twins to balance out the bad things I was already doing to them, like taking them to breweries before they’re even born.
Of course, I have no bona fides to give anyone advice. Especially financial advice, which is what I’m about to do. Consider: I made a conscious, executive-level life decision to major in English at a very expensive university and then course-corrected by getting a graduate degree in, um, art history. But… I like money! And you probably do too! So let’s chat about it today, and if we like how it feels we can do it again sometime. If nothing else, it will give you a reprieve from my posts about the babies, my dog, and how much I love my IKEA bedroom curtains.
I mentioned recently that I went through a period this spring, during which I spearheaded a reorganization of our household saving and investing plan. It sounds painful, but it really wasn’t so bad. We were already doing some productive stuff, so it was more or less a matter of beefing up some of our already existing habits and putting some thought into expenses or habits that we knew we could do without.
A quick aside: If you think talking to your partner about money sounds potentially uncomfortable, it really doesn’t have to be. Or maybe that’s easy for me to say. Because there’s no topic of conversation that seems uncomfortable anymore when you’re expecting twins with someone and get to the point when you need help putting your underwear on because you can no longer bend over. Seriously, compared to that, discussing money is N.B.D.
I do totally think couples should talk about money, though. Occasionally. As in, sit down a few times and set some things on auto-pilot and then go watch Netflix.
Anyway, let’s get down to brass tacks. Because I want to share the sneaky way I’m working to save up a bajillion dollars.
Step One: Track Spending
We track our money passively using Mint, the free budgeting platform. It’s pretty popular, but if you haven’t heard of it, Mint collates data from separate accounts you choose to link it to — e.g., checking, savings, and investment accounts, credit cards, your utility providers, etc. It’s not the only such service, but it’s been around a while and works for me. Regardless, “tracking passively” means the data is (are?) there if I ever want to log in and look at it. Usually, I don’t, because I’m busy looking at Pinterest and taking naps. But every now and then I get a hankering to see how frugal I’m being.
Typically, the frugal-meter is somewhere between: “Errrrm, okay,” and “kinda.” These aren’t absolute metrics, but basically, we don’t buy a lot of stuff, have only one, paid-off car and a modest home, and we don’t exactly get out much these days. So I would like to say I’m a frugal lady — I mean, I even do my own highlights. But I also pay someone each month to glue fake eyelashes one-by-one on top of my real lashes. So, yeah, I sometimes pay for things that more truly frugal people would find
Step Two: Find the Fat
One day I combed through Mint and noted that we were spending more on groceries and dining than we needed to. Trips to Whole Foods for something specific would turn into actual grocery runs, for instance. We’d grab lunch at work instead of taking it with us. That kind of thing.
So we decided to cut back. Over the course of a month, we planned lunches better, passed up take-out Thai food on Fridays, and bought groceries at places that don’t have nicknames like “Whole Paycheck.” The result? We saved a few hundred bucks without even really trying.
Step Three: Set-Up an Auto-Investment
I realized that we could easily save at least a good chunk of this moving forward by simply replicating some of the cost-saving measures we’d employed that month. Life gets crazy sometimes, and now and then you’re bound to just say ‘yes’ to dinner on the town or ten-dollars worth of chicken liver pâté at Over-Priced Grocery Store. But by and large, a snip here and there won’t really be felt.
So I decided we could probably keep it up and channel this newfound savings in a productive way by funneling it into a taxable investment account.
Now, there’s a lot of advice to be had from People Who Are Really Good At Money when it comes to big picture personal finance issues. The general wisdom seems to be: max out your pre-tax savings and investment accounts and have a liquid emergency/rainy day fund. But beyond this, starting a taxable account to invest in things like index funds or ETFs looks to be pretty high on the list.
I did some research and decided to try Betterment, a robo-advisory that trades ETFs and uses tax-loss harvesting to save you money on your investments over time. It’s free to sign-up, has pretty low fees, you can open your account with change from your pocket, you can set auto-deposits each month from your checking account, and you can set goals within your account to get advice on how much you should contribute and what allocation of funds you should choose.
Step Four: Prepare to Swim in a Pool of Money Like Scrooge McDuck (Twenty or Thirty Years from Now)
Turns out, contributing just two hundred dollars a month (or one hundred, or fifty bucks, or twenty-five) to an investment account is a solid way to  set aside money for long-term goals and  build wealth over time by taking advantage of the miracle of compound interest.
Why did I go with Betterment? Well, it’s ridiculously simple to use. It is, as far as I’m concerned, the simplest beginner’s investment tool out there. Of course, more advanced investors, or those with different goals, will point to other options that are even cheaper (in terms of fees), and which give you more options to self-manage your money over time. Vanguard, for instance, is a perennial favorite of Financial Independence gurus. But for me, as part of a little experiment in cutting some fat in our spending, this seemed like a good place to park some money for now.
I may move that money at some point in the future to a brokerage account at Vanguard, or Fidelity, or Charles Schwab. But for now, we are building wealth faster as a household using money we would have (sort of) literally eaten if I hadn’t spent thirty minutes one day looking at our credit card statements before telling my husband I’d make him a sandwich to take for lunch.
A clear win! And one that must somehow make up for the fact that I took my unborn children to a bar.
PS: This post isn’t sponsored, so those aren’t affiliate links above — just plain ol’ links to things I thought I’d share. Also, if you’re interested in learning more about Betterment, for instance, you can read Mr. Money Mustache’s take on it, which I found helpful. Or I’d recommend you check out the Mad Fientist’s take. And if you’re curious about investing in general because, like me, you have a graduate degree in art history but, unlike me, are not expecting twins and have, as a consequence, NOT become obsessed with personal finance, then check out JL Collins’ stock series to learn some cool and useful stuff about money and investing in general.