3 Simple Steps to Getting Your Money in Order

My personal financially philosophy used to be pretty simple, “If I have money, I’ll spend it. If not, I won’t!”

I was always able to earn money, but I didn’t know how to keep track of that money. I never had control of my finances and at one point had a credit score of 550.

As a man, you must control your money. Money gives you freedom and money gives you options.

It took me several years to achieve “money mastery,” and indeed I’m still learning.

Right now I’m able to travel the world while earning a living. I also have sterling credit. (I even included a copy of my most recent credit scores.) That’s not bragging, it’s just reality.

That said, I had to take a lot of hard knocks to get where I am today.

There are three steps you can take immediately to take control of your personal finances.

  • 1. Start using Mint.Com.
  • 2. Monitor your credit for free.
  • 3. Educate yourself.

“Money is like oxygen. Without it, you’ll die.”

Men are under attack. You could lose your job for offending the wrong person. Even tenured professors are not safe.

There are some simple and free ways to start figuring your money out.

Mint.com

1. Mint.Com is a simple, free way to track your spending.

Mint.com is free. With Mint.com, you enter in all of your bank accounts, credit card accounts, student loan accounts, and bills.

It takes a while to set everything up properly. You’ll need to itemize a few transactions until the computer learns what a merchant means. (For example, “CO-OP” is a grocery story. I had to manually note that a $54.98 transaction was for a grocery store. Eventually Mint.com learns these things.)

The best thing Mint.com does it track your spending per month. I was spending way more each month than I had realized.

Mint.com will also send you reminders when your bills are due and will send you alerts when a bank account is approaching a low balance. Mint.com will even remind you when you’re spending beyond your pre-set budget.

2. Monitor Your Credit with Free-Credit Tracking Services.

There are three main credit reporting agencies in the United States – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. These credit reporting agencies monitor the amount of credit in your name. A car loan, credit car, or home mortgage is an example of your open lines of credit.

Credit agencies also track your payment history, your late payments, and even judgements and tax liens. They issue what’s called a “credit report,” which is sort of like a report card grading you on your financial responsibility.

Some banks examine your credit report from one or even all three credit agencies, although it seems Equifax is the one most lenders rely on.

You do not have to pay for a copy of your credit report.

Go to Annual Credit Report.

By law you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from reach of the three agencies. (There are three main credit reporting agencies that lenders rely upon before extending credit.) Go to AnnualCreditReport.com for your free credit report. DO NOT sign up with any other “free credit report” companies and never enter a credit card number in order to obtain a copy of your credit report.

Credit Sesame is a free credit monitoring site. 

You load up your info, answer a few questions, and you’ll be given a credit score and your credit history.

Credit Sesame

You can model your credit score, estimating how it will rise and fall based on whether you pay off a credit card, pay off a student loan, or miss a payment.

Credit Karma is another free credit-monitoring service.

Credit Karma will give you access to your TransUnion and Equifax credit scores.

(This is what my TransUnion and Equifax credit scores looks like in CreditKarma.)

What is my credit score TransUnion or Equifax

Credit Karma vs Credit Sesame?

I use Credit Sesame and Credit Karma, as both websites are easy to use.

However, I prefer using CreditKarma to Credit Sesame because no one is sure what scoring method Credit Sesame uses when calculating my credit score.

3. Educate Yourself.

There are several posts on Danger & Play covering personal finance. Read them.

Buy a book on personal finance – the Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness.

Some people don’t like Dave Ramsey’s message because he’s a Christian. I’ll learn something from any source and he offers straightforward advice that any man can put to good use. His $20 book will pay for itself several hundreds or thousands of times.

Total Money Makeover

5. You. What’s your advice? If you have any links to useful sources, post them in the comments.

Check out Gorilla Money Mindset: Start Scaling You.

  • Rob

    During my reckless years, I didn’t own a credit card. Paying as I went kept me out of a lot of trouble.

    • Danger & Play

      Yeah, that’s why I’m pretty anti-credit card. It’s hard to get into too much trouble if you avoid debt.

      If you’re all cash, you may run out of money but you won’t get in a hole that is made deeper every month through late fees and interest charges.

      • Rob

        Interest charges on those things is legalized theft. It’s atrocious. Great business plan though: market the product to impulsive weaklings (I need those shoes, car, whatever) who are insecure status whores.

  • Alex F.

    http://www.mrmoneymustache.com is pretty legit when it comes to being smart about money. Real lucid thinking.

    • anon1

      also recommend http://earlyretirementextreme.com/ if you’re not in much of a place to start investing. he’s very similar to mrmoneymustache

    • anon1

      also if you are in the shit financially i recommend:
      manvsdebt.com but only read the stuff from the first 4 years.

      all the new stuff is crap by his wife and female friend.

      addendum, why he left:
      http://manvsdebt.com/why-im-retiring/

  • Pill Scout

    Great writeup as usual man. I started using Mint recently and it’s made it extra convenient to keep track of my money. When you’re conscious of the numbers, it makes it easier for you to respect the dollars you have stashed away. The only hard one for me to remember all the time is cash.

    I still don’t own a credit card. If I did, there’d be no point to it since I am only willing to spend what I have in hand.

    • anon1

      the only point of a credit card is to build up credit history.

      why is that important? because when you’re starting to need loans for investment purposes they want to see you’ve been active financially a lot [they make their fiat money off of your transactions]

      my father taught me to keep a card and a couple of accounts and keep switching amounts between them often. the banks think you’re some kind of big deal and gives you more privileges and you don’t get into any debt.

      when he first started running a business in the 70s most of his employees were content to let him sort out the payroll stuff and keep the money in the company account for them when they needed it.

      the bank thought he was some kind of high roller and so over 30 years his credit history has been super solid.

      ofcourse never use the card to pay off debt but having a large 0% overdraft is useful in those one time emergency situations [that you shouldn’t be getting in]

      we’re poor as shit now but i’ve always remembered that lesson

  • Nick

    I’ve been using Mint for 4 years, it’s been great to help me get a handle on finances. I also highly recommend Rob Black’s podcasts on iTunes. He’s a financial advisor in the SF Bay Area. Does free seminars called Money 101, and doesn’t sell you products. He’s in his 40s and specialized in tech so he appeals to younger audiences.

    I got my first full-time job in 2008 and started putting money into my IRA heavily in 2009 during the crash. While most people were panicking, I was steadily investing. Things have picked up since then, so I already have over $100K towards retirement and another $20K saved. I also paid off close to $20K in grad school debt in 3 years. Living at home rent free for a year helped a lot with this. I’ve lowered my retirement contributions now and am focusing on building up my savings for long-term travel and monetizing several blogs. I make under $70K a year and live in a high tax state (California), but it’s still possible to get ahead if you’re smart and don’t live beyond your means. Victor Pride’s latest post emphasizes this.

    • Nick

      One more thing about credit cards. The best explanation I’ve heard for how to build credit is to keep a balance on your account and pay the interest. Example: buy a TV for $1000, pay it off over the course of months or a year, end up paying $1400 (or whatever your interest rate makes it) in the end. Paying off your balance in it’s entirety every month isn’t going to help your credit. Sounds like a scam, I know. I use a credit card for convenience, but only make large purchases that I can pay off in full. I’m not buying a car or a house unless I can pay for it in cash. If that means renting for the rest of my life, that’s fine.

  • Vincent Rothstein

    In addition to Mint I like to use Excel. I have a spreadsheet with each of my paydates and the corresponding bills that are due between paydays. This allows me to budget how much from each check to save for bills ~ ex divide out my rent so I don’t have to take such a big hit on the last paycheck of the month. While mint has bill reminders it does not allow to schedule in paydays, not sure why?

  • Capsaicin

    Read anything by John C. Bogle, founder of Vanguard.

    He promotes the red pill approach to investing.

    http://www.menshealth.com/fiscally-fit-man/man-will-make-you-rich?onepage=1

  • Joshua

    Starting point: Every month, take 10%+ of all your earnings and put it into savings/investments. (If you do not know how to invest, learn – start with The Intelligent Investor – or use an index fund.)

    Then, when you see an opportunity, start a business. A job is no excuse – you can work a job and launch a business, too… many people do.

    “7pm to 2am is plenty of time to do damage.” – Gary Vaynerchuk.

    Even, 9pm to 12pm is enough time to do damage…

  • VP

    Mint.com is great, I use it everyday.

    As for credit scores; my advice is to stay away from credit cards all together…

    Either way, cool post, boss.

  • RedPillRenegade

    If you get the Discover It card(which is easy to get), they give you a free credit score with every statement. Some people get the Discover It card just for that reason alone.