I first read Smart Women Finish Rich as a freelance musician trying to make a living in New York City. I think what’s hard about being a freelancer in any field is that sometimes your success is directly proportional to the amount of work, or “hustle” that you put into your career. Not only do you have to be good at what you do, have the discipline to work hard and practice, but you also have to get everything else right: you need to always be on time, be friendly and outgoing, be well-rested, be organized, and generally do whatever else you can to distinguish yourself from the many other people who do the same type of work. I had been at it for over ten years when I realized that I was exhausted by my work and frustrated with my financial situation. I kept asking myself: “Why am I working round the clock and I feel like I never have anything to show for it?” The answer to this question was really, really complicated. I’m one of those people who LOVE my job. I mean, I LOVE IT. I get to make amazing music with amazing people, teach wonderful, deserving students, and interact with people in so many different ways. On a day-to-day basis, if you asked me if I was happy, I would probably answer “yes”. However, while I was happy with my job, and felt like I made enough money, I didn’t feel like it was building towards anything. As I got older, I saw my money follow the same path each month – I would put a little bit away sometimes, but mostly my money went towards paying my huge rent, my health & car insurance, my cable and electric bills, my student loans, and then my credit card bills, which always seemed to creep mysteriously high.
I had been saving up to by an apartment for over 7 years, but set myself back a little bit by buying a car, so I was renting a very small place for $1650.00 per month which I hated. I also had really nasty landlords who kept trying to raise my rent. I dreamt of someday owning my own place but kept thinking that I would get around to it later. I also had slowed down on my contributions to my IRA. I hadn’t put anything in for three years! It was mostly because I got very scared when everything started to go south with the economy in 2008, so I figured it was better to just not do anything for the time being. When I realized how unhappy I was with my financial situation, I emailed my friends who seemed to have it more together than I did, and asked for their advice on investing and IRAs. My good friend Suzy Perelman wrote back immediately and said that the first thing I should do is to read Smart Women Finish Rich! She told me how she had read it 12 years earlier and how it had been the boost that started her on the path to owning her own apartment and making a lot of her dreams come true! I immediately ordered a copy on line and then since I couldn’t wait, I stopped off at Barnes & Noble the next day after work and started reading it there, just so I could get a taste.
I think what immediately spoke to me was “pay yourself first”. It really connected with my essential frustration, which was that I worked SO hard and such long hours but felt like everything was just slipping through my fingers. I realized just how high my latte factor really was! I had been spending tons of money on cabs, restaurants, clothes, and other things that I had been excusing as “necessary” because of how busy I was. Yes, I probably could have packed my lunch for work, or taken the subway, or made coffee at home, or worn clothes I already had to work, but I kept saying to myself “you work so hard, you deserve it!” David’s book made me realize that I deserved much more than these little items that I had piddled away my money on. By sitting down and writing out my values ladder, I realized that what I wanted more than delicious takeout four times a week, or new boots, or cute tops, or a quick way home in a cab, was that I ultimately wanted to feel at peace, as though what I was working for was building towards a sense of security and stability. I wanted to feel as though anxiety wouldn’t creep into my head every month when it came time to pay the bills. This really meant a lot to me because there had been times where I thought I might have to give up music and get a “regular” job for the purposes of at least knowing how much money I was going to make each month. By cutting out my latte factor (or at least reducing it substantially) and paying cash for everything, I was able to eliminate the dreaded surprise of the credit card bills at the end of the month. The other element that changed everything was when I sat down and wrote out the actions I would take to make dramatic changes in my financial future. I wrote out many goals that night, but I really remember this one: “In 6 months, I will own my own apartment.” What pushed me further that night was the element of having to take action in the next 24 hours. It was a Friday night, and I was near my computer, so I thought “why not just look and see what’s out there right now?”. I went on some sites and found that there was a one-bedroom available in a building I had been interested in, and so I called up the agent and made my appointment for the next afternoon. I put an offer in the following Monday, and it was accepted the next day.
It wasn’t easy – I ended up having to borrow some money from my parents for the down payment, even though I had really wanted to do it all on my own. However, where in the past I might have given up because of having to deal with family or any of those old challenges, this time I pushed myself to follow through and keep my sights on the goals I had outlined, realizing that the bigger picture was what I needed to focus on, rather than the petty roadblocks that kept me on the frustrating hamster wheel of “work like crazy, spend like crazy, be unhappy”. I even managed to contribute the maximum to my IRA before I made the down payment, and my credit card bills stayed blissfully low since I continued to pay cash for everything.
It’s now November, 8 months since I read the book, and I now own my own apartment, with a combined mortgage and maintenance that is $50 lower each month than the rent I was paying to my nasty landlords! While financially this move made great sense, the best part of it is that every day when I come home I know this place is all mine. I no longer fear a knock on the door about anything, or a letter telling me my monthly payment is going up by $100.00. The feeling really is priceless. I think the lesson I learned is that a little bit of responsibility with money goes a LONG way in terms of freeing you from having financial worries hanging over your head all the time. And what’s more, I’ll always have this place – for the rest of my life, the money I’m paying is ultimately going to me. Knowing this helps a lot when I work like crazy all the time.
After I closed on the apartment, I got a call from two friends of mine who wanted to meet to discuss career issues, and during that meeting the financial aspects of working as a freelance musician came up. I told them that I had read Smart Women Finish Rich and that they should too! A week later I got a “thank you” text from one of my friends who had already read it and had gotten her finances in order immediately. She even included a picture of her file folders just to show how excited she was. Since then, I’ve suggested it to many friends and all of them have thanked me for it and said how excited and empowered they feel to finally grab the reigns in their lives and take control of their money. It means a lot to those of us who work in the arts, especially because there is this myth out there that we should all be suffering, starving artists who sacrifice everything in order to live a meaningful life devoted to their art form. I think what finishing rich is about is not just having a lot of money or even just enough money, it’s about being rich in the sense that you don’t have to go under to do what you love, you just need to put your values at the forefront of your whole life, not just your financial life. If you do that, the money and how to manage it follows!
Thank you so much, David!