Noah Whitaker: Not Losing Sight of the Intangibles
This week, we are changing things up a little with Noah*, a student from Wisconsin who has experienced the spectrum of mindsets when it comes to managing your money and what he’s learned so far.
Occupation: Student & Server Age: 21 Location: Appleton, Wisconsin Salary Range: $25,000 — $30,000 Big Expenses: Rent, Car Insurance, Health Insurance Subscriptions: Netflix, Apple Music, Gym
Kavya: Let’s set the scene, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Noah: So I’m 21, I graduated high school in January of 2017 — a semester early. I was a chess player and I had no intention of going to college straight out of high school, instead, I wanted to be a coach. I spent the first 8 to 9 months of my adult life chasing that. I was the top high school player for Wisconsin and there was this big national tournament in August of 2017 that I was preparing for. I was working full time along with traveling all over to play chess so I basically burned myself out on it. So I decided that after playing my national tournament that I was going to take a break.
What did you do to take a break? After that tournament, I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The greatest experience of my life, I highly recommend it. After coming back, I moved out to live on my own. I got my own apartment with no roommates. Which was not wise, I don’t recommend doing that. I also got a job at a forgery working in the office. I did clerical and data entry type of things and I was in that role for about a year.
What was the transition to working full time like from playing chess? I grew up playing chess and pursued it all throughout high school. I was an expert level player. I think once I started doing it full time, it just didn’t become fun anymore. At the end of 2018, I kind of took stock of where I was at with my job. I realized I only had ~$3,000 in the bank and I was working this job I didn’t even like. I was also living in a town I didn’t love.
So going into 2019, I decided I was going to make some changes and it started with money. I needed to have money to do things so I started to keep a budget. I was saving more money and cutting down my expenses.
It was around this time that I discovered Dave Ramsey. I started reading a lot of books about money in general. In April of 2019, I changed jobs and I went to work at a different forge. This time I was on the production floor. I made a lot more money, but it was a lot harder work too. I was making $25 an hour. Here the cost of living is much lower so if I make $50,000 a year that’s a lot since you can live on like $20,000 — $25,000 where I’m from. I also moved to Appleton when I switched jobs. My sister graduated around the same time so she moved in with me. We both save on rent which is great but it’s been interesting for sure living with a sibling.
So going back to pursuing chess full-time real quick, when you decided to do that, did you consider the financial aspect of it? Honestly, no. I never thought about money until I moved out on my own and was supporting myself for a whole year. That was kind of the wake-up call when a whole year had gone by and I didn’t have much left in my account.
Once you moved out on your own, did you make any other changes money wise other than keeping a budget? I had this goal to save $40,000 by May of 2020, so about a year from starting that new job. That was my big goal. I picked up a second job as well so I was working 70 to 80 hours a week. One of my jobs was on the third shift so I wasn’t sleeping at night which really affected my mental health. So I burned out again.
I did that for a few months and I was saving a crap ton of money. I think I was bringing in about four grand after taxes each month. I was spending about $1000-$1200 and saved the rest. I did that till August of 2019 and I hit about $20,000 in my savings account.
How did you feel about getting that far? I knew that I was going to hit that number (because I had been tracking my progress) but I wasn’t really happy.
I wasn’t enjoying my life, money became the sole purpose of my life. I didn’t let myself go out to eat or do anything fun. I love to go out and I enjoy experiences over materialistic things but I hadn’t gone anywhere in a while. I wasn’t very happy and I was drinking a lot. The checks were coming in, but they didn’t mean anything anymore.
So I decided to quit my job.
What did you do next? I decided I was going to chill out for a while and do whatever I wanted to do. It was actually really hard and at the beginning of September 2019, I didn’t have a thing going on. At first, I had all this pressure on myself to save money. I thought I would relieve some of that pressure when I quit and took a step back. I thought I would be able to sleep and that my mental health would improve.
But what happened was I now had anxiety about losing all my money. I was like this is so stupid!! It took a while to adjust because I had gotten rid of all my hobbies because if it involved money I didn’t do it.
It took a while to take the pressure off of myself and to start spending my money again. In November I did some traveling and I went to Colorado Springs and it was a really good retreat for me.
When I came back, I decided that I wanted to go back to school. While I was adjusting in October, I realized that I didn’t have anything going on in my life.
All I had cared about was money and there’s just so much more to life than that. If I worked 10 years and retired early I realized that is what my life would be like and that’s just stupid. I want to actually do something that is interesting and make a difference.
What made you decide to go back to school? So I went to this open house for a local tech college. My sister was going there at the time and she told me about the open house and to check it out. So I went along and I talked to this guy in the computer science department. I always knew that if I went to school it would probably be to do something with computers because it’s mathematical and that’s how my brain operates.
He showed me that if I went to school there, I would for sure get a job in the community. Once I had that, my employer would actually help pay for higher education and then I could go anywhere I wanted. I would also get to work remotely which meant I could travel and work. So he convinced me it would be a good investment and I knew that financial aid, Pell Grants, would pay for a lot of it.
So in January, I started working again as a server at a local bar and I started school. It pushed me out of my comfort zone as I’m definitely an introvert. I was down to 10 grand at this point and I wanted to maintain that amount.
You mention discovering Dave Ramsey, but what was the first step you took to engage with your money? As a kid, my parents were involved in a multi-level marketing scheme and part of that was reading all of these books. I came across these two books by Robert Kiyosaki. Rich Dad Poor Dad and Cashflow Quadrant. He also had this board game which we were introduced to as kids.
When I started engaging with my money more recently, I started reading these books again. I also read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. That got me into him.
How did you tackle budgeting when you started? I followed Dave Ramsey’s methods, to begin with. I used his Zero-Sum budget concept and created a spreadsheet on Google Sheets. I started with a template on Sheets and customized it from there. It’s come a long way since then.
What has really worked for you budgeting wise? I try to predict what I’m going to spend and I try to actually stick to it. It’s definitely good to have a record of what you are spending but you also want to have savings goals that you are trying to hit. I had these projections of how much I wanted to save and those were the goals I was trying to progress towards.
All in all, a budget is super key. If nothing else it gives you awareness.
What financial vehicles or accounts are you saving through? I started just saving in my bank account because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my money just yet. I haven’t opened any retirement accounts or saved through investing yet.
You have had both of the extremes of not doing much with your finances but then going down a really intense route with it. Now that you’ve seen both ends of it, how have you found a balance? Now that I’m down to 10 grand, I don’t want to go lower than that. I was going to do my first semester of school without working but I didn’t want to be down to 3 grand in my bank account again so I decided to pick up a job. But being in school is different. I do a budget, track everything, and save but my goal is to really just maintain my net worth as best as I can. I’m going to graduate in two years and I’ll be around 23 years old. I think that’ll be a good time for me to start saving in a 401K and other investment vehicles.
Do you still get anxious about your money? No that’s gone. I’m enjoying my life so much right now, to be honest with you. I have a plan and I have a goal that I’m working towards. Two years ago, I felt like I was all over the place as I was figuring things out. I’d like to maintain my $10,000 net worth. In the Simple Path to Wealth, J.L Collins talks about having “Fuck You Money”. Basically enough money to be able to say “Fuck everything, I’m going to just do whatever I want.” For me, 10 grand is enough to quit school, quit my job, pay off my lease, and just leave for a little bit. Having the sense and ability to do that makes me feel good.
What financial decisions are you considering for the future? As soon as I get out of school, I want to open my retirement accounts. I want to open a Roth IRA and a regular IRA and max those out each year. Also just figuring out my career and seeing where life takes me.
Any closing thoughts you’d like to share with the readers?
Don’t lose sight of the intangibles. Money is a really measurable thing, and I got really caught up in that and I lost sight of all the other things that matter to me that aren’t so measurable. It really just comes down to the cliche of it’s the journey, not the destination. Have a goal, but also enjoy the process.
Do you use any credit cards? If so, which ones and why? I used to have credit cards but I currently only use my debit card right now. If I were to open a credit card in the future it would be for the travel perks. For my lifestyle right now, I think a debit card just keeps things simple.
Most personal finance blogs only share stories of the people who have it all under control, save 50% of their income, and retire early. While that is impressive, some of us want a career and some of us just need our almond matcha latte every morning. However, we all still face the same woes when it comes to managing our personal finances.MoneyStoriesis a series of interviews with young professionals and recent graduates sharing their stories on how they have and are navigating their personal finances.
*Name changed to protect identity.
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