My story of turning 30 and eradicating my financial illiteracy

And my key takeaways from the book “I will teach you to be rich” by Ramit Sethi

Turning 30 was horrifying and humbling

About more than half a year ago, when my 30th birthday was approaching, if you had asked me whether I was excited about it, I would have screamed out a resounding NOOO. Quite the opposite, I was freaking out about it, suddenly seeing only things that I had not done (but thought I should have had). All the growth, valuable relationships, wonderful experiences living on 3 continents, and all those accomplishments I had been working so hard to achieve somehow diminished and vanished into invisibility in front of my blinded eyes.

As I was only staring at what I hadn’t known and failing to see what I had known, I felt like a complete idiot. “What have I spent time thinking about, learning, reading about all that time?!”

I have always had more than enough friends for a person of limited social needs like me. And no, I did not suddenly stop seeing them as my friends just because of a freaking birthday. But the only thought I managed to have in that irrational time was, “Oh no, they are all so far away from me and they are leading a very different life from me now, with partners, and kids, and houses, and stuff – I will soon lose them all.”

My luck to have lived in Asia, North America, and Europe – all before 30 – suddenly felt like the loneliness of a nomadic who has no real homes. “Why am I here? What am I even doing here, at all, while all the people I love the most are now on a different continent? What is it even for?”

So on and so forth. A full-blown crisis LOL. You can call me dramatic, but honestly, I was on my couch bursting into tears and crying on the phone with John, my then romantic partner, for a good amount of 1-2 hours on the last day of my 29.

More importantly, turning 30 was liberating and inspiring

John was right (as he always is, of course, who am I talking about). He said that I just had to survive my birthday, and after that, life would feel normal again, and that actually, the first day of 30 would feel amazing. All of these things indeed happened.

That feeling after a deadline has passed. Okay, now what. Over is over. I don’t have a deadline anymore! WOOHOO!!! Now life is back to limitless possibilities, free of time bounds. I can do what I want at the pace I desire. Such liberation and such freedom!

I could have felt way more thrilled about my newly regained liberation. But I was still battling with depression back then (and not winning). Yet, it’s another story for another time.

Anyway, I had some positivity and visibility back for my blinded eyes. Gratitude and a sense of being blessed came back to me. I was thankful for the people I had in my life, the opportunities I had been given, and what I had done for myself. I also had a calmer and more constructive attitude towards my limited familiarity with certain important topics. That’s when turning 30 became turning smarter, wiser, happier, and healthier in various ways.

Personal finance – from boredom to contentment, avoidance to control

One of such highly critical and urging areas I decided to work on was my finance. I know, I know. It does not sound fun. I used to hate having to think about money at all. I never knew how much money I had in my wallet (back to the time I still had a wallet in Vietnam). I did not even know what my net worth was either, even just approximately. My guess would easily be off by 20%. Financial goals and plans simply did not exist in my world. I had countless bad money habits. For example, I left my unused money lying dead in my checking account instead of depositing it into a savings account which would have made me easy money at the juicy rate of about 7% per year (inflation rate around 3.5%) – yep, Vietnam is paradise. When it came to expenses, I was mindless. For instance, I bought a one-serving carton of milk every day from a convenience store at a markup of 20% rather than a bunch of them on my periodic trips to the supermarket. Yet, I sometimes felt guilty when buying nice things for myself which, now looking back, I think were totally worth it. In brief, it was a mess of sub-optimal actions and unnecessary negative emotions. After I turned 30, I decided that it’s high time I got the mess in order and erased the whispering guilt I had in the back of my mind for mismanaging my money.

Now I am very proud that most of that mess has been sorted out, yay!!! I have never felt better about my finance. Finally, I know what I am doing. Finally, I am in control. And finally, I have a vision of where to head and know a path to get there.

I started by sharing my wish to learn about money with my friends and the people around me. That’s how I found out that I had more “money experts” around me than I knew I did. Better yet, they are my friends so they share a more or less similar lifestyle, mentality, and overall goals in life. That means what works for them could possibly work for me too.

Then I asked them for pointers. George, my friend-ish colleague, suggested a book on passive investing which I used to construct my current pension investment portfolio. Mateus, another friend at work, suggested enrichments to that portfolio. And Mandy, my close friend, who works as a professional personal financial advisor in the Silicon Valley for very high-profile clients suggested this book I will teach you to be rich when I asked her for materials to educate myself on personal finance. So that’s the latest book that I have finished reading.

My key takeaways from I will teach you to be rich

I have to say that I hate the title – it strikes a wrong chord to me. “I don’t care to be rich. It means nothing to me. I care about being happy, healthy, and kind. Not rich.” I dislike the style too. I have a problem with the author’s personality. And the book has a skewed focus on American money systems and products. But still, I myself would recommend it as a good starter for anyone who begins their financial journey. The fact that I’m spending (lots of) time writing this article is a testimony to that. 🙂

In fact, as I was convinced of the value of the book myself, I took some time to summarize the ideas that appealed to me and inspired me to take action. They are overall ideas that may or may not be discussed explicitly in the book but I found them to be recurring themes under the surface of various practical discussions. Here’s my list.

There are also lots of pieces of practical advice in the book. I highlighted a personal selection of them and share them here on my Goodreads profile.

  • Focus on the big wins; save time and effort on the small wins. For example, take time and make effort to save a substantial amount on a major purchase rather than try to save a few dollars here and there. A concrete example, save $100 on a laptop purchase = saving $1 on 100 cartons of milk.
  • Predictable expenses can and should be planned and prepared for, best by setting up automatic savings accounts. Weddings, for instance, are surprisingly expensive and should be foreseeable given that you are not me LOL. If you’re about to get married next year and a humble wedding costs $24k, you have to save $2k/month now for the next 12 months. What the heck, right! Yet we are caught by unnecessary unpleasant surprises like that all the time.
  • Always factor in the opportunity cost of not investing in an index fund when making a major financial decision (eg. buy or rent, how fast to pay off a mortgage or student loans, etc.) That should be the baseline with which other financial options should be compared.
  • Money for happiness. Start with a goal or vision in mind and treat it as the finish line. Do not get consumed by greed. The point is to use our money for a better life, not to get “more, more, more”. Imagine if your investments are making you a good amount of easy money – say $500 every day, how willing are you to sell such investments instead of keeping them and letting them generate yet more money? I guess it’s easier to say “keep” than to say “sell” in that situation. That’s why we should have a goal at first, saying for example, “Once I’ve got to [whatever number], I’ll sell this investment to take my family on a trip around the world.”
  • Help and encourage other people to improve their financial literacy and establish better money habits too. Have goals about helping others as well (not just your own finance). Now you see why I’m writing a blog after a year. 🙂
  • Have not only savings goals but spending goals too. Investing in oneself is the best investment one can make (eg. have a thoughtful budget for learning, networking, or whatever else that is meaningful and help you grow and live your life better). Perhaps you can relate to this point a lot if you are also a person of very few needs like me. I never thought about trying to spend my money until I read this book. As I tried to put in practice some advice in the book on how to handle an unexpected income, when I received a bonus earlier this month, I made myself spent it. It took some serious effort thinking but then I realized that a professional yoga mat would make me happier. I still had a good amount left to spend. So I had to think harder. The next day, I realized that I had been having this low-level stress about keeping the floor clean. So I ordered a nice cleaning robot for myself. I felt so, so good the moment I did it. 🙂

So there, that’s the new 6 ways of thinking about money that has led to and will continue leading to positive changes in my life that I adopted from this book. I hope that they inspire you to learn more about personal finance, and better yet, to take some action.

What do you think?

I’d be very happy to hear about your financial journey. Do you have any suggestions for me?

One last note, I have been having fun making youtube videos about my journey learning about life and about living a good life on this channel. Please let me know in the comments if you think it’s a good idea to turn this blog post into a video.


2 thoughts on “My story of turning 30 and eradicating my financial illiteracy

  1. đọc bài này e hơi bất ngờ ý, vì trong suy nghĩ của em thì chị Hải lúc nào cũng rất là thông thái và vững vàng ý. Ôi thật mong có dịp nào được chuyện trò cùng chị ak 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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