Image Description: A blue Little Tikes piggy bank—just like the one I chose as my gift at my first Filipinx Christmas party and thought was just a cute toy pig, not the place where my whole family at home would end up putting our spare change for over a decade…—in front of a white background.
After getting over the big wave of 1099s, W-2s, and FUs (the last one’s a joke hehe) and finishing my taxes this past weekend, I was motivated to finish a coherent write up on how I personally navigate money. I say “navigate money” in the same way I’d talk about navigating predominantly white institutions or family dynamics; I didn’t ask for it or create it, but there it fucking is! 🙃 Money’s value is generally determined by supply + demand and faith/expectations around economic growth. Some would say that money is a social construction, where people collectively go along with the belief that a flat green rectangular piece of paper with George Washington’s unimpressive face on it is worth one dollar and an alloy circle with his face on it is worth a quarter of that. If you haven’t caught on, I think that money and the capitalist system in which it operates is foolish and based on oppression. This belief was personally confirmed when my finance professor (who was a white guy) in college joked during a lecture that we should aim to have more debt in our future corporate workplaces so that we wouldn’t have to “pay taxes to the government for social services or any of that nonsense.” However, in a world where we likely can’t dismantle unjust systems in a day and maybe not even within our lifetimes, support on navigating injustice can be helpful if not necessary for everyday life.
Before I share any tips, etc. I think it’s important to note that my family was upper class in terms of money by the time I, the youngest of three kids, was born and has generally remained that way since. With this status comes a lot of personal financial security from my parents, whether it be money itself, really good healthcare benefits from my dad’s job, or all the stress alleviated from possessing relative financial wealth within a capitalist society.
With that, I think that anything resembling advice should be given and taken in context. I don’t think you have to listen to all of the advice someone offers you in order to respect them, their knowledge, and their experiences. I’m an expert of my own life experiences, and people can choose to apply as much or as little of what I share to their own life. Generally, I think that my advice is best for someone who works and has their own bank account(s).
With all of that, here are some ideas from articles, podcasts, my credit union, and my friends that I’ve found helpful when navigating money:
WRITE IT OUT
Whether or not you have a bank account, set aside some time to write out all of the income and expenses you typically have within a month in one place. Depending on your style, you can make a spreadsheet in a budget-like format, a bullet-point list on paper, or something totally different. I received this budget worksheet from BECU which you may find helpful. If you don’t have a bank account that records your transaction history, you can start collecting any receipts and paystubs you receive and keeping a list of the dollar amounts on those that you update over a 30-day period. If your income doesn’t come in predictably month-to-month, try to estimate monthly averages (i.e. figure out your annual income from last year and divide it by 12).
Do the numbers represent what I need and want for myself (the one person you can somewhat control)?
When you finally figure out your monthly expenses and income, you get… nothing lol. At least, you only really get a different perspective on things that you already do. When I first recorded all of my expenses in one place, I realized that I was spending $500-600 per month on food while the ‘average’ person, according to the BECU associate who was my Financial Health Check consultant, spends $250-300 per month. When you first write all of your expenses out, you might feel some type of way toward the numbers you see. I didn’t necessarily care that I was literally spending double the ‘average’ person on food, I just literally had no idea what the dollar amount was until I took the time to write out my expenses. At the end of the day, I don’t want to condemn my consumption but rather be informed and more confident around my actions, including consumption and spending money. The $500-600 amount actually made me laugh, especially when the BECU associate said, “You must really love food!” and I was like, “I do!!! *daydreams about jalapeño chips*”
Having a physical record of your money activities can be a good place to reflect on your personal balance of “what I have” vs. “what I need.” As in, do the numbers represent what I need and want for myself (the one person you can somewhat control)? With deeper reflection, I found that some chronic hand pain I’d been having made me very emotionally attached to food, wanting to have some control over food (e.g. consumption) when pain made it more difficult for me to cook and eat by/for myself. Today, I feel better better about my relationship with food, stay within my new monthly food budget of about $250, and ask for more support from friends about buying and bringing me pre-cooked meals or take out.
The next step after recording your income and expenses is developing a budget. If you’d like support in writing out your income and expenses, I think that the budget templates on Google Drive are a pretty good (and free!) start. And, below is a screenshot of how I set up my really simple personal budget spreadsheet (I promise it looks prettier when I’m not covering up text for my privacy lol.); feel free to hit me up if you’d like to talk or ask questions about using a budget template or even making your own spreadsheets!
AUTOMATE THAT SHIT
One helpful thing that technology can do: make automatic transfers on a regular basis from your checking to savings account so you don’t have to do it yourself every time! (There are different ways to set this up depending on your financial institution. For BECU it’s under the “Transfers” page in Online Banking, and they’ll automatically cancel the transfer if you don’t have enough money in your account to fulfill it on the scheduled date.) The beauty of automatic transfers is that, since you don’t go thru the transactions yourself each month, you have less chances to associate yourself with your money and have a little less work to do in your life. I’ve been advised to transfer 10-20% of my monthly income to my savings account each month and aim towards having 3x of my monthly expenses in savings (e.g. $3,000+ in savings if I spend $1,000 per month). Whether or not you’re able to commit to that range, I think that starting out with a lower rate of income transferred to savings would be better; that way, you’re then less likely to have to transfer money back from savings to checking which could bring up negative emotions (I’ve had to do that a couple times before and one time I actually cried! Lol).
CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME
This one isn’t a tip as much as it is an observation. When I personally buy things using a card, any potential guilt associated with the purchase is recorded (i.e. via my online banking account and mobile banking app) and therefore essentially haunts me longer… For example, my younger self was really into buying new clothes and sneakers, making my bank statement looked like an outlet mall directory LOL; when my checking account balance starting getting kinda low, I literally avoided wearing a pair of sneakers I’d bought online with my debit card (FYI - They were Nike Air Max Thea Premium in ‘Mahogany’ + definitely cute and I’ve always gotten plenty of compliments on them I just actually felt haunted by them haha). Now that I think about it more, that experience still seems to affect me because I haven’t bought any new shoes after I bought the Nike Air Force 1 Jester XX in ‘Violet Mist’ from “The 1 Reimagined” Pack featuring all womxn designers in May 2018.
Image Description: Nike Air Force 1 Jester XX in ‘Violet Mist’ from “The 1 Reimagined” Pack featuring all womxn designers—the last pair of shoes I bought, nearly a year ago!
When paying with cash, I tend to care less about and even forget about what I bought—which can be great and also terrible. Imagine me buying a bunch of sneakers with cash and then soon after just having them collect dust in the corner of my room 😮 That’s why I’m one of those people with a bunch of cash stored away in a shoebox (…the irony!). Over time, paying for more things with cash could make me less aware of my spending patterns, since I don’t have every purchase recorded somewhere to check later. People’s associations with cash and money differ, though I personally find that having my spending tracked makes me more self-accountable, or at least aware, around spending. Here are some examples of how I typically choose between paying with a card versus cash, which ultimately helps me maintain agency in relation to money:
When I choose cash - “Essential”: over the counter medicine, smaller food or drink items, cheaper home supplies like soap or paper towels, office supplies.
When I choose card - “Extra”: clothes, eating out, bulk grocery shopping trips (as in, not just buying 1 or 2 “essential” items), medical bills, “big purchases” like a plane ticket or technology.
I think there are several definitions of ‘abundance mindset’ and ‘scarcity mindset’ floating around, and I usually find them all to be a bit confusing(!!!). A super helpful resource for me was this “Future Economics” episode of Autumn Brown and adrienne marie brown’s rad podcast (that I love and am super grateful for!!!) “How to Survive the End of the World.” From their website:
“For this episode, Autumn and adrienne peel back the layers of story, assumption and shame around class, debt and money.”
If you have the 1 hour it takes to listen to the podcast, then I totally recommend it. (It’s available on their website, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, and maybe other places that I’m not aware of yet!) I think that the “layers” of story, assumption, and shame are great foundations for me to anchor my understandings of scarcity mindset versus abundance mindset. I tried writing this next part a few ways, but I ultimately decided to narrate from a first-person narrative perspective; I think that this is the best way for me, a single person, to describe concepts that encompass so many systems and lived experiences. Note: I’m about to narrate a couple scenarios of my negative thoughts and experiences around self-worth alongside more positive ideas, so if you’re not in the place to take in all of that content right now, please feel free to skip the section below, take a break, or whatever else you need to do 💜
- scarcity mindset: Sometimes I lay in bed, make my body as small as I can, and hide under my blanket so I can only see darkness and feel myself overheating. My thoughts loop around the sentence, “I’m alone and no one cares about me.”
- abundance mindset: The loop of denying my self worth goes on for a few seconds, hours, days, and/or so on. And, then I feel how warm I am under the blanket—how warm and good I, myself, am capable of feeling. I think of all the colors absorbed in the small pocket of the world under my blanket so that I can see nearly complete darkness.
- scarcity mindset: When I was in college I probably showed up late to at least 50% (not exaggerating) of my classes in college, not even including all of the class sessions I missed / skipped. [FYI - I graduated college within 4 years double majoring in Business Administration and Anthropology (with honors) while working 15+ hours a week consistently since the summer of my freshman year, being pretty involved in several student organizations, and being a politicized bitch who could pop it back one time whenever tf I wanted. Not to glorify being able to do a lot things, but just to give context to what I was doing during college.] These things were all pretty well known among my close friends. What I was really secretive about was my rapidly changing health—i.e. my chronic depression, anxiety, fatigue, and insomnia that I now know as fibromyalgia. I’d walk into a classroom with anywhere between 25-400+ pairs of eyes looking at me and calculate the odds that at least 1 out of 25-400+ people in the room assumed I was unintelligent, irresponsible, and/or lazy (which I don’t think is a bad thing, but doesn’t reflect who I generally am at all). .
- abundance mindset: I don’t like to immediately dismiss assumptions I don’t feel good about, because sometimes I can dismiss things about myself or other people that actually need / deserve work, attention, and/or care. One thing that works for me now is to try and frame things in the good ol’ improv “yes, and…” format: “Yes I show up late to everything, and I connect with my friends/classmates and professors in a way where I’m still able to learn what I need from the class”; ” yes I miss out on a lot of things, and my body deserves time to heal, rest, or experience things that I can’t from inside a classroom”; or, “yes I don’t put my 100% into my finance class that literally makes me depressed, and I apply certain things I do pick up from that class to my job where I make bomb ass budgets on Excel for my team.”
- scarcity mindset: For the past 7+ months, I’ve had morning stiffness where I have to stay in bed at least 30 minutes after I initially wake up before I can physically get out of bed. This experience is likely a (perfectly fine) symptom of fibromyalgia; however, I often mourn for the times when I could go running first thing in the morning and then think thoughts like “I should’ve exercised more when I had the chance so I’d be stronger right now” or even “I should be able to just get out of bed; what’s wrong with me?”
- abundance mindset: I get so much work done in bed!… on my computer!… like emails and writing blog posts and watching insightful videos and sending my friends funny gifs and more! 😇
Imagine the lifestyle you want and then work backwards from there.
COMMIT TO A LIFESTYLE, NOT A SALARY OR AN OBJECT
This is one of my favorite pieces of advice to offer people, but it’s also an area where my privilege likely plays an amplified role. Instead of dreaming of a certain annual salary or a particular asset like a house or car, I tell my friends to imagine the lifestyle you want and then work backwards from there. Again, I come from a line of thought that says money is a social construction; however, I can definitely see how people’s perspectives around financial wealth and how they’ve navigated everyday life + systems of inequality are strongly associated with non-material aspirations. Overall, the idea I’d like to emphasize is that I think it’s easier to answer + find information about the question “What do I concretely need to live the life I want?” versus “How much money do I need to be happy / successful / etc.?” You can certainly answer both questions at the same time, but I’ve found that—given money’s ever-changing value both on personal and economic dimensions—having goals around a lifestyle leaves you with more options. i.e. The answer to the “life I want” question might change from “a home with X, Y, and Z close to my family, a supportive community, and a body of water,” but the answer to “how much money?” is likely to be always “more than I have now” due to inflation and the way that scarcity mindset (i.e. of corporations and individuals) feeds capitalism. Even if your answer to “how much money” is more along the lines of “$6,000+ a month to pay for stable housing and my family’s basic needs,” I’d argue that the root of your answer lies somewhere in stability, housing, and/or your family.
Of course, the precursor the the “life I want” question is to ask yourself “What’s the lifestyle I want to live?,” which is a big, intimidating question in itself. Depending on how your mind works, here are some ways I can think of right now that might help you answer this question:
- Ask your friends what they envision you doing, but don’t necessarily agree with that they say. Rather, I think that honestly noting your reaction to their responses can steer you in a direction of positive self-reflection.
- Make a list of the things you spend the most time on. Reflect on your list and ask yourself, “What feelings do those activities bring up?” Positive feelings = You probably want a lifestyle with these things in some capacity, while negative feelings = You probably want to find out the steps to get to a place where you can do these things less. Personal example: At one point, I was at a place where I spent a lot of time being tired, sad, and sleepy, and I did NOT like it lol. A lot of people in my life supported me in starting therapy—specifically, generative somatics—and OH MY do I have a better day-to-day life because of it.
- Look up interviews, articles, books, etc. featuring people whose lifestyle you admire and see what they did to get there. If you’re personally connected to the person, you could even ask them to talk to you about it if you’re comfortable doing so.
Here’s where I’m currently at in imagining the lifestyle I want and then working backwards:
I dream of co-owning land with my friends, taking care of my own dog, being an artist, and having time to relax in shared space with family and friends.
What would I concretely need to get there? Maybe like…
- a “good” or “excellent” credit rating to pursue land co-ownership,
- savings to purchase land resources for purchasing land,
- health in order to sustain my art and self,
- a dog and knowledge and resources for caring for a pet,
- oh and friends I guess lol.
Damn, okay. How do I get any of those things?
- I can ask my credit union to give me more information on what credit actually is, how to build my credit history with them, and improve my credit score.
- I can commit to building my savings account.
- I can prioritize all aspects of my health.
- I can get a dog.
- I can work on my relationships and myself as an individual + friend.
That list is kinda long, but I’ll try to do these and see how it goes from there. Yay!
I know I’m an idealist with a lot helpful things going for me in terms of money, but I hope you’re able to apply at least one of the things I’ve shared to your own journey of navigating money and managing your personal finances. Unlike common financial advice such as “pay off your debt” or “make a budget and stick to it,” I genuinely think that going through the processes of writing out your expenses and income, automating your savings, noting how cash vs. card affects your spending, adopting an abundance mindset, and developing financial goals and action plans based your ideal lifestyle vs. your dream salary are all fair, feasible places you can start.
“We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.”
My last piece of advice for navigating money is to try asking for support now or as soon as you can if you ever need it, before allowing your thoughts to wander away from the present—whether “support” means cash, someone to talk to, a meal, leads for a new job, a party to go to, etc.! One of my favorite sayings is, “We may not have it all together, but together we have it all,” and it definitely helps me maintain my abundance mindset and collectivist values. The value of money is never steady, but the great importance of a life where you and your people can live beyond mere survival or ‘getting by’ is something I personally couldn’t be more sure of.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think and if you have ideas on what I should try to write about next. If you enjoyed what you read, I’d feel very supported by direct feedback; donations via my Venmo (@Allison-Masangkay), Cash app ($amasangkay), or PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org); inquiries about booking me for DJing, community organizing for arts & culture events, basic business consulting for artists, or being a guest speaker / workshop facilitator; and/or, spicy food or other warm things like hugs. Salamat / Agyamanak / Thank You 🙏🏽