We sat down with Catie to discuss her personal financial journey as she strives for a work optional early retirement. Catie is a visual designer who first found an interest in finance three years ago. Since discovering her passion, she has been sharing her experiences on the path to FIRE on her Instagram and blog.

Read on to learn more about the challenges she’s faced and how she motivates herself through a strong connection to her personal values.

Q: What is your current position/role and when did you first develop an interest in finance?

A: I am currently a visual designer working in big tech. I first developed an interest about three years ago, in 2017. It was the result of doing a no spend year, so I ended up saving a lot of money and I finally had a job where I had a salary that was enough to cover everything. I just had a Bank of America savings account and I finally decided that I should probably figure out what to do with that money because I knew I was supposed to be doing other things. As a result of that I started googling and teaching myself about robo-advisors and index funds, and that’s how I fell into it. I just shared my learnings with everyone as I was learning.

Q: What challenges have you faced with personal finance?

A: I would say feeling overwhelmed was a big challenge and feeling like I’m not sure about what I’m doing. I did things that I thought were safe, kind of baby steps. For example, putting a little bit of money into a robo-advisor and slowly increasing my knowledge. But, just starting itself was really the hardest part. I remember I had about $2000 sitting in a brokerage account I had started years ago, but I realized that I didn’t invest any of the funds. Ultimately, being too scared and slowly teaching myself has been the biggest challenge.

Q: If you could give advice to your 18 year old self about managing your money, what would you tell yourself and why?

A: I would absolutely tell myself about financial independence and becoming work optional. I am working towards financial independence and actually retiring earlier. That’s an option and I don’t think enough people know that.

If you are smart with money when you’re younger, you start investing it early, you’re conscious of it, you can really set yourself up to become financially independent a lot quicker than if you start later in life.

If I had started at 18, I could potentially be close to it or fully work optional right now.

Q: What is your top tip for budgeting?

A: I don’t necessarily budget, but I think what is key to begin budgeting is to track your expenses because before you can even begin to build your budget you should at least know what categories you’re spending in and the average amount that you spend in each category. So, what I do is track my money. I know where every dollar is going, so I’m conscious of what my money is doing. Also, you can evaluate what you enjoy spending on, the things you love. 

Another tip for budgeting is an exercise in values.

You need to understand what values you have so that you can spend money on the things you truly care about.

The other day I did an exercise in values, what I do is I look at a list of hundreds of core values and then write down every single value that resonates with me. I think about my life and all of the good and bad experiences that have shaped who I am, and I highlight all of the value words that end up coming out of those statements. Then, I’m able to bucket about 30 words and create value statements about my 5 to 7 top values. I eventually relate that all back to my spending. For example, if my priority is building community and friendship, then if a friend asks me to go to brunch with them, I will absolutely spend money on it and build that into my budget. But if getting my hair done and spending $600 more to feel more beautiful does not align with my values, I’ll cut that out. So, evaluating what you want to spend your money on is a good tip for budgeting and being mindful of your money.

The money will come if you care about these things and you care about working. The fact that you’re even following someone like me or reading about financial literacy shows that you care about your money. Inevitably, as a result of that the money will flow, it will come, you know what to do with it. But where people get hung up a lot of the time is the mindset of everything, what’s the point of becoming a billionaire if you don’t have a purpose and a meaning in your life.

Q: What do you think is the most critical step to ensuring financial independence?

A: I think asking yourself why you want to become financially independent. It’s underrated, it’s actually not about the money, not about the dollar amount you need. It’s really about the purpose of doing this and that is beyond money. When I think of becoming financially independent, I start by asking myself, “what do I want to do with my life?” If I were to have lived my most ideal life what are all of the things that I would have wanted to accomplish. Starting there is key because at the end of the day it’s hard, your money will grow sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, the market will go up and down, but keeping a higher vision in mind of “yes, I want to retire early, I want to spend time with my parents, be close to them, I want to potentially be a mom and not have to worry about whether my partner needs to support me if I have to be working” – those are all goals that I really want accomplish in my life, so just keeping those in mind is what you actually need to do to ensure financial independence.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

A: Something that’s really important, at least in my journey, and I feel like for others is just finding a good community and people you can talk with about money openly and feel comfortable about that. Whether it’s family or friends, there are so many platforms to be able to share your story and ask questions. So, building community has been really key for me.

Also, I know it’s easier said than done, but stop comparing yourself to others. Be mindful to celebrate your own wins and be excited about those things and don’t compare yourself to where others are on their personal finance journey.

You can learn more about Catie’s experiences by visiting her Instagram and blog.

Learn more about 5Buckets by exploring the rest of our site.

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