My Sister’s (Book)Keeper: So Did it Work?

Taking stock of what we’ve accomplished and looking to the future.

Photo credit: Rusty Clark, CC BY 2.0.

This is the sixth (and final!) in a series of articles about sisters and budgeting (read the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth). Genie, a frugal 29-year-old, attempts to mentor her sister Kate, a spendthrift 32-year-old, in the messy and confusing world of personal finance. How do you help your family manage their finances without going insane or completely destroying your relationship? We’ll find out.

So here we are. The end of our article series, though not the end of our budgeting journeys. I think Kate and I will definitely continue working together on her budget. Our next goal is to focus more on the future planning — getting better about saving for those emergencies, as well as saving for fun things like vacation.

For me, working with Kate has helped me relax a little about budgeting — mostly in working with her, but with myself too. I’ve become a bit more patient and understanding, a bit less rigid.

A bit.

I resisted a lot of the budget knowledge Genie has tried to impart to me. A LOT. So much resistance, but plenty of shame, embarrassment, confusion, anxiety, and hopelessness as well. But recently, when going over some monthly budgets and plans for the future, I realized that things were more ordered and organized than they had ever been before. To be clear, I have not slowly morphed into a Type-A personality with impeccable financial records, but I have made progress.

In the past, my response to money woes was often to stick my head in the sand and wait for the trouble to pass. While I am not completely cured of my ostrich tendencies, I am much more aware. That is the first step. If nothing else, my attempt to be more open and honest about finances is a huge accomplishment. How many of us keep digging a hole in order to avoid the shame of admitting the hole exists?

As for my own financial situation, two things have changed. First, I’m in the process of converting from contractor to full-time employee at my company. That means a change in pay, plus a transition from hourly to salary. My goal is to keep spending at the same level I have been, and divert all income on top of that directly toward student loans and savings.

The second thing is that I started reading a book that Billfold editor Nicole recommended a while ago: The Value of Debt in Building Wealth. It’s not majorly changing the way I budget or plan, but it helped me figure out more specific goals for my savings. Now, my goal is to get a checking account reserve of one month’s pre-tax income (which I’m pretty close to), plus get my retirement account up to one month’s pre-tax income, and then my savings account up to three months’ worth. These will take time, and then of course once I reach those goals there will be new ones. But for me, it was helpful to have a formula that gave me specific numbers to aim for.

I also want to proactively save for fun. My boyfriend and I really want to travel more, and not spend all our travel money only on going home to Mississippi. We want to see other cities and countries. And we are both about to have paid vacation days for the first time ever, so that’s a game-changer.

I’d love to be able to build up a travel category that’s not just about the next trip. Normally with this kind of thing, I’d save up money, take the trip, and then any money left over would move into other categories for daily life. But now what I want to do is just leave extra money in the traveling budget, and continue to add to that category even before we have the next trip planned. That way, when we make a plan for the next thing (30th birthday travel trip?!), I’ll already have made progress on that goal.

My current financial situation has recently changed. I have decided to pursue a Master’s degree and recently resigned from my salaried job. I will soon be entering the world of freelancers where new challenges await me in terms of student loans, healthcare, savings, and taxes. I’m equal parts excited and terrified.

Last week, I joked that I must be allergic to money based on my decision to leave a full-time position to go back to school (in the arts, no less). The joke got a good laugh, but I recognize that this thought process is dangerous. My finances are not an elusive entity completely out of my control. I have to take responsibility for my actions and make plans for the future. I should probably get some professional help sooner rather than later to aid me in making these plans. (How much money do you have to make to seek out the help of a financial planner?)

I’ve also gotten completely hooked on Bad With Money by Gaby Dunn (a financial podcast suggested by one of our readers — thanks!) which touches on making money as an artist and how to not end up eating ramen noodles for days in a row. Most importantly, this podcast is trying to eliminate the shame associated with being someone who is “bad with money” and create an honest dialogue about finances. Way to go, Gaby.

I have also listened to all of the Bad With Money podcast, and I was really intrigued by the episode that discussed stocks and investing. I want to be more active in my future planning — not just having the retirement account at work because it was created automatically, but actually paying attention to it, knowing what I can contribute, and tracking it intentionally. The most important thing I’ve learned is that we all need to be active and responsible for our financial lives, and that’s what I want to do.

I know it sounds like being active and responsible for your finances is a lot of work. That’s because it is. I don’t like the idea anymore than I did when Genie and I started this process, but I recognize the necessity. This whole needing-money-to-live-and-survive thing isn’t going away any time soon. Instead of complaining, let’s make our finances work for us. Let’s make our finances our bitch.

I hope this series has been helpful whether you are “a Kate” and feeling hopeless, or “a Genie” with your shit together (and thanks, loyal readers, for turning our names into personality types — love it!). This journey actually started for me a few years ago but in writing this series with Genie, I had the opportunity to objectively looked at what I’ve accomplished. It may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but it is the beginning of a continuous and important journey toward financial stability.

Thank you for reading My Sister’s (Book)Keeper! We’ve really enjoyed the comments and suggestions from our readers, and this has been a great challenge for us as writers, sisters, and adults trying to handle money.

Genie Leslie is a writer and actor living in Seattle.
Kate Leslie is a theatre educator and director living in Chicago.
In between budgeting sessions, they host the podcast
The Musical Version with their younger sister, who has not sought out any financial advice at this time.

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