• Kavya Ravikanti

Yash Balasaria: A Disciplined Approach to Finances

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Today we have, Yash, a recent graduate, and CEO of a growing business dropping truth bombs about money management.

Job Title: CEO at American Stalls Salary Range: > $75K Location: DC Area Big Expenses/Debts: Travel and Equinox Membership Monthly Expenses/Subscriptions: Waking Up App, 10% Meditation App, Calm App, Evernote, Spotify, Audible, Lifesum

Kavya: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you go to college and when did you graduate? Yash: I graduated from the good old University of Virginia in May 2017. I was supposed to be an Econ major but switched out to be a History major instead.

What has your life been like for you after college? It has been a roller coaster since graduating. I think a lot of it stems from my time at UVA. So my first and second year, like any other college kid, I was really into the nuances of partying and all. But growing up in an entrepreneurial family, I always knew that I wanted to be a CEO once I was older.

So during my fourth year, in particular, I really buckled down and got my life together. I came across this podcast where Tim Ferris was interviewing Tony Robbins who went in-depth into what a Fortune 500 CEO does. Stuff like waking up at 5 am, meditation, journaling, being super fit, and you know just kind of operating like a machine.

So then I went from being this kid who partied and drank way too much to a kid who literally woke up at 5 am, every single day. I did not party at all my fourth year, read 60 books in the course of an academic year, and really insulated myself. That carried into post-grad where year one I was still pretty insulated. All I kind of cared about was my romantic relationship at the time and my business.

That insular approach made me really anxious so this past year, which was year two, I started improving myself not only as an entrepreneur but also as a friend and in my other relationships.

That’s a big change. Was really forced you to change your lifestyle? Was it the podcast with Tony Robbins or something else? I think it was a combination. I was always a pretty competitive and ambitious kid. It also came down to the realization that I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities I had been given. I felt pretty average at UVA so I wanted to make sure that I had a really impressive work ethic in the next stage of my life so that I could achieve the full potential that I had within me.

That’s a tough realization to come to, so thank you for sharing that. When was the first time that you kind of thought about your own personal finances? I thought about money from a pretty early age. My dad would force us to sell something on Craigslist whenever we wanted to buy something else. So I was a 13-year-old kid who wanted to sell their PS 2 to get an Xbox 360. I’d have to communicate and try to handle that entire transaction. I would post it on Craigslist, photograph it, and then literally give it to the 25-year-old buying it from me.

That was that but my dad also gave me an allowance, starting from when I was 14 years old. However, that allowance was strictly to be poured into the stock market. So from an early age, I learned how to invest — money management was a big focus in our family.

Did you continue investing in stocks throughout college or did you explore other avenues of money management for yourself? During the first two years, I was a really bad money manager. My parents gave me my first credit card, which I didn’t really use with a budget in my mind. I really used that credit line and really pushed it. However, I have always been fascinated by money. I think the capitalist/entrepreneur in my always wanted to learn the nuances of money. I got pretty deep into personal finance all through college. I read a lot about personal finance and created my own Roth IRA when I was a second year. I continued to pout money into my investment vehicles and all that sort of stuff.

Talk me through your thought processes. What was the framework, if you had one, that you used when opening up these accounts and putting your money in them? I know that for a lot of families money is a very touchy topic and people don’t really like to broach it, but in my life, money was a very dinner table conversation. My mom is a very thrifty coupon counting maniac (I still don’t understand why) and my dad is pretty frugal as well. It [money management] was just drilled into me and because of that comfort level that I had with having conversations about money, I was always reading books and learning about it. Benjamin Graham’s books about investing and Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You How to Be Rich were some of the early books that shaped my knowledge. Also a couple by Tony Robbins (MONEY Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom).

Having a disciplined approach to personal finance, my dad drilled this into me at a young age, leads to long term generational wealth. Which in turn gives you the freedom to do whatever you want in life and that’s always been a big goal for me.

I know you said you were kind of pushing the credit card limit in the beginning. Did you then have a budget, were you still getting an allowance in college, how did you go about things? Yeah, so I got to a point where I had a $2,000 credit card bill. I was like, whoa, okay, time to figure out my money stuff. Then I cleared my entire savings of the time to pay off that bill. Then I got a job at Darden, I was a research assistant for this professor. That’s where I was like, okay, I need to make sure I’m more mindful.

I could never really stick with a budget, I don’t do too well with them. I just became much more mindful of my spendings. I would take my Darden income and my allowance and I would set about 30–40% of that to put into my Vanguard or E-Trade accounts. The rest I would set aside for nights out.

What investment vehicles did you use? You mentioned Vanguard for stock investing, what other accounts did you use and why did you open those ones? In college, I used a bunch of different accounts and I still have most of them to this day. I had an Acorns account where it rounds up your purchases and invests it automatically. I also have always had a stock vehicle whether it was E-Trade or Robinhood. I also learned the importance of investing in index funds, ETFs and mutual funds so I had a Bank of America for that. Vanguard was for my Roth IRA and brokerage accounts.

How did you pick what individual stocks to invest in when you are using services like Robinhood? Would you do research beforehand? No research. I’m not a numbers guy since I was a history major. I was never a numbers guy, nor am I one now. Essentially, I invested in companies — this is a really bullshit way to pick stocks — I felt like I had a good understanding of how their business operated. I also made sure that I only invested in companies whose products I used so basic stocks like Nike, Apple, Twitter, etc.

How has your relationship with money changed from college to now? I don’t think it’s changed at all. I think because of the amount of work I put in into my education during college it’s serving as a foundation of how I operate now. If anything not that I’ve graduated, I just have more money to play with. I can now leverage what I learned in college much better now that I actually have a meaningful amount of money to play with. A couple of core tenants, or money principles, that I learned in college have just stuck with me as how I operate on a day to day basis.

A lot of my money management style is really driven by the book I Will Teach You How to be Rich, by Ramit Sethi. I resonate with how Ramit thinks about money. For example, I invest heavily in my education. So if there’s a book I want to read, I just go out and purchase it. I try to find the cheapest one but I just purchase it. If there’s a seminar I want to attend, I make sure I expense it out but I just grab a ticket. So education’s always a priority.

Secondly, as a rule of thumb, I try to park, 30% of my income straight into my savings vehicles. I don’t see it, I just kind of stash it out of my checking account. I treat it as a wealth tax.

I cut costs mercilessly on things I don’t care about like drinking, going out, or Ubers, etc. Luxury travel and fitness are two things I love, so I spend lavishly on those. I have an Equinox gym membership, I hire personal trainers, but I literally won’t spend a single penny on going out.

How long did it take you to get to a point where you have a system you can rely on? It seems like in college, things were more ad hoc based on how much you were making at the time. I think it’s tough for me to say when, because from a young age, my dad specifically instilled a disciplined and money-minded approach in me. However, how I’m currently operating with finances is definitely recent in terms of how I think about where the money is going to go. I would say I’ve been following my current system for about a year now.

How did you get to your current process? Did you sit down and crunch numbers, what did you do? I have a lot of spreadsheets where I track my “net worth” and how it is sort of distributed. I do have target numbers for 2019 taped on my wall as a constant reminder. I have a number I’m trying to have saved away by the time I’m 30. I took that number and backtracked to figure out my numbers for 2019. Obviously, it’s not set in stone, finances are something you have to be flexible with and work at. I rework those numbers on a bi-annual (twice a year) basis

What do these numbers look like? Is it a certain percentage or a certain number you plan to put away for 2019? It’s kind of arbitrary — I probably should be a little bit more precise with the methodology and how to distribute the numbers.

Full disclosure, last year, I was rebuilding the company so I really didn’t have that much money to play with. Whereas this year is a completely different story. So I haven’t gotten to the point where I have a very precise methodology, because I’ve only really been making significant money this year.

But I just make sure that after that 30% is taken off each month, I figure out how much money I have to play with to set limits I don’t exceed. I don’t have a salary since I am running my own business, it’s mainly just equity, which complicates it a little bit as well.

That makes sense. For the 30% that you’re pulling out, is that what you distribute amongst investments and savings? Yup, so there’s a methodology to that. So 10–15% of the 30% comes from a very aggressive rounding up method with the Acorns app. I put another 10% of that into my Bank of America checkings account. Then 40–50% of the 30% goes towards my Roth IRA. The remaining goes to my brokerage and 8 sub-savings accounts.

In terms of time horizons, the Roth IRA is obviously super long term savings. My brokerage accounts are more mid to long term. The rounding up accounts again are like mid to long term sort of investments. But then my actual savings accounts, the eight sub-savings accounts that I have in my Capital One account, those are for my short term goals.

I have a rainy day fund, a wedding fund, a vacation fund, a Porsche 911 Carrera fund, a charity fund, etc. I try to put about two grand into my vacation fund per year so that I can take a holiday each year and I put $1000 into my charity fund per year. These savings accounts draw X amount of dollars each week automatically from my checking account.

What is one piece of advice that has really helped your relationship with money or framed your mindset around how you think about it? I don’t think I have one piece of advice that I would relay. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money. In elementary school, my family was an average family, but my parents worked really hard and did really well for themselves. So after 6th grade, I started going to private schools and we had more resources to work with. So growing up, I visibly saw the freedom that money gives you. For example, my family didn’t have to think twice about going back home to India, 4–5 times a year. Whereas I knew of other families and friends who couldn’t do that.

So I think seeing how my dad was able to achieve such great financial freedom was just really cool. I knew for a fact that I could do it too, and I didn’t want to be handicapped by money ever. So that has really just been my Northstar — that financial freedom is something that I need to achieve.

What do you think is kind of like the biggest misconception surrounding personal finances? That it’s hard. I think a lot of people get really scared and I mean even my brilliant friends who in medical school, who are 10x more intelligent than I am are so worried about their money. They are always like I don’t have any money, I’m working, I have loans and stuff.

I think that they’re just lying to themselves. Even when I was just making $300 a week as an undergrad, I was able to save some of that. Last year, I made $8000 in personal income from my company, which is peanuts, but I was still able to save $3000.

I think you can make excuses because the financial system can seem complicated, but in reality, it can be as easy as cracking open a book and having the will power to take the first step.

If you could give your college self a piece of advice what would it be? I think the biggest piece of advice I could give is that you can create the life you want to create but it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be handed to you. If you want to be a millionaire it’s totally doable, but you have to be conscious of your approach.

What are some mistakes that you made with managing your money?

Credit card debt. I mean in college I went into two grand of debt. I always used to think that people who went into credit card debt just were irresponsible but it’s very easy to rack up a lot of debt. It feels like an unlimited pool of money until you see your credit card statement.

I made that mistake in college and I even made it again post-grad during the first six months. I was just spending a lot going out. I would try to find a way to control it. Especially if you’re someone like me, who has a 0 or 100 personality, to set some sort of constraints or an accountability mechanism to keep your credit card expenditures and track.

What have you done that worked for you? I forced myself to stop being a knucklehead and being mindful of my spendings. I try to have a set X number of dollars that I don’t want to go over per week. That has been working really well for me.

In college, I would withdraw cash from an ATM and that would be my set amount of spending money for the week.

Awesome, gotta love the envelope method! Last question before some rapid-fire ones, what are some financial decisions that you’re considering like for the future?

I want to continue to really be mindful of stashing away my income towards my savings. I currently do 30%, but I really want to ramp that number up but I’m also mindful that it’s kind of tough to ramp that number up.

On the business side of things, I’m looking at finally buying a piece of land and a new warehouse for the company.

On the personal end of things, I live at home right now, but I’m looking to finally move out. So I’m debating whether I want to buy a place or rent a place. Rapid Fire

What tools, apps, or services do you use to manage your money? Bank of America for my checking, but I hate it but want to switch.

Chase Sapphire Reserved as my go-to credit card since I travel a lot.

Vanguard for investing in index funds and Roth IRA.

Acorns for rounding up and investing the rounded up money automatically.

Capital One for my sub-savings accounts for short term goals.

Robinhood for stocks.

Wealthfront for my brokerage and savings accounts.

Coinbase for crypto investments.

Personal Capital as a financial dashboard to view all my accounts at once. I used to check it a lot but since I have a lot of business-related expenses that I expense out, it wouldn’t do a good job of factoring that and giving me an accurate read.

Do you own any other credit cards and why did you get those ones? I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve which is my favorite I love that card. I put everything on this card.

I have a stupid Discover Student card which I signed up when Discover come to UVA and was like “Hey, sign up here and get this card.” Now, 3 years later, I’m just like, wow, that’s the stupidest credit card out there (there are much better cards, with better perks).

Then, I have a Bank of America Cash Rewards Card, which was just my first credit card ever.

I automate my Amazon/Audible membership to my Discover card and my gym membership to my BoA card just to keep those alive.

**HOT TIP: Remember that the length of owning a credit card will help with your credit score!

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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, most of us don’t live our lives like that. 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.

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the interviewee, not the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

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