NerdWallet’s How Do You Do Money? series asks people from various walks of life to share their attitudes and approach to personal finance, with the goal of bringing transparency to discussions surrounding money. In this installment we spoke with Austin Saylor, a 29-year-old graphic designer in Boone, N.C. This is how he does money.
What do you do for your main source of income and how did you get into that line of work?
Graphic Design/Videography. I got my Graphic Design degree at Appalachian State University and applied for an open position at a software company I didn’t even know existed before I heard of the job opening. I’ve been there for almost six years now.
Would you like to be doing something else instead? If so, what?
Oh boy, I have so many interests that it drives my wife a little crazy sometimes. I started a small leather accessories company called Full Harbor a few years ago. And recently I started designing and selling French Bulldog T-shirts. I would love to do either or both of these full-time.
About how much do you earn before taxes per year?
Together, my wife and I make about $55K
Do you feel secure with that amount? If not, how much would make you feel secure?
We feel pretty secure where we are because of how we budget, but we just made a “dream” budget recently. We went line by line in our current budget and said, “What would be a really comfortable number here?” We didn’t go too crazy with anything. Before taxes we would need to make $106K.
That’s a good way to set salary goals for yourselves in the future. Do you have any debt? If so, what for and how much?
Ever since we paid off my wife’s $11,000 in student loans, we have been debt free.
Congrats on paying that off and staying debt-free! Do you think incurring that debt was worth it?
Yes. Well, it wasn’t MY debt, but I think that my wife handled it well. Her parents paid for some of school, but she worked hard during school and we worked our butts off to pay that off quickly.
Do you have any savings goals? If so, what are they?
We met our 6 months of living expenses goal in January: $8,000.
That’s awesome! How did you and your wife decide on six months as the goal?
Six months of living expenses is a number we’ve heard from multiple sources and we felt pretty comfortable with that. And obviously, that is a number that will go up over the years, so we will have to address that every year or so.
Are there any resources or tools you’ve used to learn about and manage your personal finances?
We read Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” and we follow it for the most part. It’s basically a zero based budget where you spend cash for everything and know exactly where every dollar goes.
Seems like that method is working very well for you. How was the topic of money approached in the home(s) you grew up in and what factors do you think influenced that approach?
My parents tried teaching me and my brother about money by telling us to save and teaching us how to balance a checkbook. It was nothing intense. They made pretty good money and spent less than they made.
How do you think that affected your attitude towards money and your personal finances?
I came out of the home thinking that using credit cards to get what you couldn’t afford yet and things like car loans was not wise. I still think that way. I didn’t work much in college and my parents paid for it, so I had it pretty easy from a financial standpoint. They gave me a little extra cash for spending. It was really nice, but I think I will talk to my kids early on about saving and paying for at least part of college.
What three ideas related to money do you want to instill in your kids?
Three ideas I want to instill in our kids, whenever we have any, is: 1. Work hard for your money and have a budget, even (or really especially) if you aren’t making much. 2. Don’t be ashamed to have big goals. 3. Never be afraid to give away more than you feel comfortable with giving. I think generosity is the opposite of greed. I don’t want to raise greedy children.
Has your approach towards personal finance changed from the time you left home and how so?
Four years after graduating from college, I got married. My wife and I started doing this zero based budget and that changed my life. We are now very intentional about knowing where every dollar goes and talking about it as a couple. It’s difficult sometimes, but I’d rather have a difficult conversation about where to spend it before hand than after it’s gone. My No. 1 piece of advice to any of my friends who are getting married is to write out a budget no matter how difficult it is.
What is the best monetary investment you’ve made?
Flowers on June 7th. It’s not a holiday or an anniversary. Flowers for my wife on days she’s not expecting it are worth their weight in gold. I’m not kidding. That’s probably my best monetary investment once or twice a month.
That sounds like a great investment, I’m sure she appreciates it. What monetary investment do you regret the most and why?
Eating out! You don’t typically think of it as an investment. When I was 2 and 3 years into my first job making more money than I ever had before, I looked at my savings and had a few hundred dollars. I did not use a budget and did not know where my money was going. I looked into my bank statement and was a bit shocked to see that I ate at a new burger joint 12 times that month. That’s when it hit me. Eating out was draining my bank account more than anything. So now we write out what we’re eating for the week and buy groceries on Sunday. We have $50 for eating out each month and spend that sparingly and usually for when friends come into town. But I tell you what, we really enjoy eating out when we go now. It’s a treat.
What does financially stability mean to you?
Financial stability means having a written plan and sticking to it. I don’t care if you’re making $2 million, you’re broke if you’re living beyond your means. I wouldn’t mind making $2 million, but I would spend and give it wisely. My wife and I have a “just in case we come into a lot of money” plan.
What financial accomplishment are you most proud of?
Paying off $11,000 in student loans, saving $8,000 for our emergency fund and buying a $5,500 car in cash in two years. If we weren’t hell bent on meeting those goals, I know for sure we would have blown all that money on eating burgers and sushi and we’d still be wondering why we were in debt and had no money.