In Part One of this Scrum Your Money series, I explained Scrum values and establishing a positive money mindset. In Part Two, I covered the importance of money transparency and using sprint ceremonies to inspect and adapt your money progress. Here in Part Three, I will break down the exact backlog steps I used to reach my first money milestone. Disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. Please discuss your specific situation with a financial advisor.
I began my personal finance journey at age 22 when I had just started my first real job out of college. I was dodging debt collector calls for past-due bills, and my student loan repayment had just kicked in. As a first-gen college graduate facing a mountain of debt my family couldn’t comprehend or cover, I felt completely hopeless.
I struggled with figuring out how to take the next step and start tackling my debt. I felt too foolish to ask people for advice because I assumed I was the only person in the world dealing with debt. After a lot of missteps, I learned that the only way through was to crank up my income and slow down my spending in order to create a buffer to pay off the debt. I prioritized my debt payoff because that would eventually open up my ability to spend money on other things that were important to me.
In the next section, I offer some initial money goals to consider if you’re just starting out and not sure what to tackle first.
Turn Anxieties into Action Plans
Get your money anxieties out of your head and put them on paper by writing out your money goals. Then prioritize your money goals based on their importance to you. If you’re not sure where to start or what a realistic goal is for you, here are some questions to consider:
- If a surprise expense comes up, do you have the money to cover it?
- Do you have any consumer debt (credit card, car loan, medical bills, mortgage)?
- Are you facing student loan debt?
- Do you know how long it will take to pay off your debt?
- Is your debt getting in the way of other plans or purchases?
- Are you contributing to your retirement?
- Who do you need to financially support and how much does that cost?
Take the time to answer these questions. From there, create a backlog to map out and prioritize the steps to get to your money goal.
In scrum, the product backlog is a body of work that needs to be completed and, ideally, prioritized, with enough information to support why those items are important to the product goal. Apply this concept to your personal finance by creating a backlog that is aligned with your money goals. The clearer you are on your goals, the easier it will be to identify the steps you need to take to achieve your goals. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the backlog (defining, refining, and completing goals) that will determine your success. Read more about this at Your Backlog Isn’t a To-Do List – It’s a Self-fulfilling Prophecy of Success or Failure.
Below is the backlog I created for myself at 22. Then, my big financial goal was to pay off my debts. I wasn’t planning to become a millionaire or house flipper, I just didn’t want the weight of my debt to drag me down emotionally and financially. Eventually, my money goals got bigger, but this was my starting point. These are the steps I took to begin taking control of my money, but YMMV.
I worked to increase income through my 9-to-5 job and side gigs.
- I kicked butt in my role and got a promotion and raise. I left that for another job to make more money, and then I got another raise. Repeat. You certainly don’t need to jump jobs to make more money, and there is definitely the case for staying at one company. See The Big Stay: Job-Hopping May Be Lucrative, but Tenure Pays, Too.
- I picked up various side hustles and found other ways to bring in more money. That included working estate sales, home organizing, participating in paid focus groups, and selling things on Craigslist. I even searched for unclaimed property through my state treasurer.
I also managed spending in several ways.
First, I created a budget. I set a monthly budget and revisited it each year to account for income and expense changes.
Second, I paid down consumer debt. To do that, I:
- requested and carefully reviewed my credit report to understand the impact of my debt and bills in collections.
- requested and reviewed all of my bills to figure out exactly how much I owed. I called the debt collectors and negotiated smaller debt settlements to get rid of it faster.
- paid off consumer debt using the debt snowball approach. You could also go the debt avalanche route. Whichever one keeps you excited about paying off debt is the best one for you.
- tackled the student loans. I focused on the highest-interest-rate loans first and slowed down when I got to a reasonable monthly payment.
I also saved for emergencies. I started an emergency fund of initially just $1,000 but grew that to three months of expenses.
And finally, I saved for retirement. I opened and contributed the minimum to my employer-sponsored retirement plan, and regularly increased the contribution amount. I made sure to invest my contributions. See this Atomic blog post on employer retirement plans.
Scrum Your Money: Backlog
Set clear money goals, prioritize them, and create a backlog to achieve them. You will almost certainly encounter setbacks and surprise expenses along your financial journey, but clarity about your values and goals will keep you on track.